Family of Certainty

Rich, Vaite, and Ryan
Counting Kin
My niece Vaite visited us last week. She’s Tahitian and attends university in France. She’d been home to Papeete for the Christmas holidays and planned a week’s stopover here on her return trip.
We’d negotiated a schedule so that she could spend time with us, visit my daughter in San Diego, and visit my dad, my sister, and her family in Lake Elsinore through the week. It had been two years since Vaite had come to California and we were all eager to see her.

Then on the ninth I was admitted to the hospital. I texted my dad and my daughter from a gurney in the emergency room: “Please coordinate among yourselves for one of you to pick Vaite up at LAX tomorrow morning.” I included her flight information. Only a few minutes later, Elaine replied to tell me that she would greet Vaite at the airport.

This turn of events led me to think about family, and the expectations, rights, and obligations that go along with being family.
First, I never thought to email Vaite and say, “You know, I’ve gotten sick and I’m in the hospital, so this visit just isn’t going to work out. Sorry.” Because she’s family, I knew she would understand the circumstances and that we’d rearrange her visits with the various households to accommodate my unexpected unavailability.
Second, I trusted that Elaine and my dad would arrange her retrieval from the airport. I didn’t ask, “Can one of you pick her up?” I knew, because we’re a family, that if I asked them to handle it, one of them would fetch her.
Anthropologists divide family into two categories: There’s your family of orientation, the family you’re born into, and your family of procreation, traditionally your spouse, children, and later, if you’re lucky, grandchildren.
Tahitians construct families behaviorally: Your family consists of  those people who treat you like family, and whom you treat as family. It’s a long story, but that’s how Vaite came to be my niece: her mother and I, since our meeting in Papeete in 1990, have treated one another as kin.
Last week’s events lead me to suggest another kind of family: Your family of certainty. These are the folks whom you depend upon in times of calamity. They’re the ones who are always on your side. Your family of certainty will never desert you.
God’s family is a family of certainty. When we accept the gift of our salvation, we’re assured of membership in His family–a family that endures for eternity.

4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent Him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that He could adopt us as His very own children. 6 And because we are His children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are His child, God has made you His heir.
Galatians 4:4-7 (NLT)


  1. What a wonderful post! I love how the Tahitians view family. A term I have always used to explain the unrelated aunts and uncles to my children is that they are the family we get to choose. Our close friends that we view as family are the family we choose for ourselves. Not that I don't love my family, but they are very complicated 🙂 Becky

  2. Thanks for your comments, Becky! It's always seemed like a sensible way to figure kin to me, too.


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