Do you get to pick your family?

On a recent road trip to Ferndale in northern California, I drove over the Cascade Range, through the redwoods, and then turned left at the Pacific Ocean.


Oregon redwoods

The occasion was a baby shower for my niece … although it was also a mini-reunion with family driving up from Sacramento.


Grandmother-to-be, two aunties, and the mother-to-be (second from right)

And then this past week, I was in New Jersey with daughter Summer, son-in-law Josh, and the six grands.

Family gathering times are critical. Because there’s no guarantee we’ll be together again — life is that uncertain.

There’s no guarantee that The Littles in New Jersey will always want to hang out with their grandma at the picnic table under the huge maple tree.

Or that The Teens will have time for burgers and shakes with me.


The Littles
When you tell your 16-year-old grandson to look normal

Seven hours is a long drive for a baby shower. And the trip to New Jersey, door-to-door, was fifteen hours. One way.

But my family — those who are blood relatives and those I’ve chosen — are my support team. They have my back. They say, “Drive carefully. And text when you get home.”

Frederick Buechner wrote this:

You can kiss your family and friends good-bye, and put miles between them, but at the same time you carry them with you … because you do not just live in a world, but a world lives in you.

I have kissed kids and grandkidlets good-bye. I have hugged siblings and cousins and nieces and nephews. And miles and miles have been placed between us.

Yet despite the distance, these people are my embrace of acceptance and unconditional love.

What if?

What if your biological family isn’t healthy for you to be around? What if they’re a demolition squad instead of a support crew?

It’s been said that we don’t get to pick our families. But I beg to differ.

I say we get to choose to hang out with people who build us up and believe in the beauty of our dreams. People who invite us in and would never, ever think of inviting us out.

Which means we might need to get proactive and adopt grandparents, and parent figures, and siblings and cousins and even grandkids.

Because we don’t just live in a world of immediate family, and extended family, and adopted family.

This world of family and friends lives in us. And we want this life to be strong and healthy and effective in loving others around us. Which means we should choose wisely when it comes to who gets to occupy our personal space.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. — 1 Corinthians 13:7, ESV


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  1. Lonnie Johnson

    One of the reasons we all pick you Marlys! You always brighten up a house and leave us better off than you found us. Thanks Gary!

  2. Cheryl White

    Thank you for picking us Marlys and always going that extra mile(S) to stay connected. I agree with Lonnie – THANK YOU GARY for picking Marlys … and this is your anniversary month (and Gary’s B’day month). How many years would this have been? Love you to the moon and back!

    • We would have been married 46 years this month (I was 6 when we got married in case you’re doing the math!). I’m grateful that Gary gave me so many wonderful brothers and sisters.

  3. tanya neelon

    I love the way that you write, Marlys. You’re so loving and a ray of sunshine to all of your readers.


  4. Pat Stone

    Not only do we not get ot pick our family, we also don’t pick our parents, our siblings, our gender, our genes or our time in history. But we can pick love, compassion and support. Nice article Marlys.

  5. Kathleen Freeman

    Lovely! Thanks!

  6. Marcia Musial

    Hi Marlys! What a great commentary – again. I’ve some relatives “like that”, but I’ve also those that I’m very close to; one in particular is like the sister I never had. She’s about one & onehalf hour drive from me so I won’t complain knowing Summer and her family are on the opposite side of the country from you. But, you’re exactly right about distance mount really mattering much. Take care and Happy Autumn.

    • Good for you, Marcia, for choosing “the sister you never had.” (One and a half hours away is still too far away, isn’t it?) Happy Autumn back to you!

  7. Allison McCormick


    Thank you for this reminder that real family comes from so many places, our immediate family and those we choose and those that choose us.

    I enjoyed your thought,
    “I say we get to choose to hang out with people who build us up and believe in the beauty of your dreams. People who invite us in and would never, ever think of inviting us out”.

    This is such a great description of true family, a God ordained family.

    My life is blessed by having you part of my family.

  8. Pat

    Beautifully written and awesome photos!

  9. Nasus

    Welcome home, Sweet Marlys! Thank you for sharing your life learnings from your heart about family relationships. In this troubled world it helps to be reminded how blessed I am to have some very precious family and “friendmily” relationships. I do have a great concern for you, though, that in the first picture, it appears that all of your travels are wearing your car down to almost nothing. Please see if it would benefit from protein-infused gasoline. I am so thankful for you, dear Marlys! God keep you in His care, always!

  10. Bre

    Grateful and blessed ❤️
    I love you Aunt Marlys!
    Thank you for adopting me!!

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