When Angela and Isabel West draw pictures of their family, they don't just draw themselves, their parents, and their brother Jonathan.  Each picture they create also includes at least one of their friends.  Those drawings show a bit of what God must see when He looks at His people - a worldwide family connected not just by biology, but by the power of His love.


Jesus spoke of true family ties when He said, "Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother," (Mark 3:35). Welcoming other families into your family's life together helps you experience the loving connections God wants His children to enjoy.


"When you meet other believers, you can consider them family, because we share God as our Father," says Karen Bueno, mother of 5-year-old Valerie and 2-year-old Krista.  "It helps us understand more about that big universal family of God."


Building friendships with other families "is actually building family beyond the walls of your house," says Ruth West, mother of 5-year-old Angela, 3-year-old Isabel and 1-year-old Jonathan.


And sometimes, Christian friends can share an even stronger bond than members of the same biological family. Annie Lienert, her husband Ian, and their 5-year-old son Jonathan enjoy friendships with several other families that greatly enrich their lives. "I feel like they would do anything for me, and if I'm pursuing a dream, they're right there with me," says Annie.  "Because of our spiritual connection in Christ, there's even a tighter sense of family than I have with my biological family."


Families who live far away from grandparents, aunt, uncles and cousins can informally adopt friends from other families into their own extended family.  "Our society has become a lot more mobile than it used to be, and now a lot of people - like us - don't live anywhere close to their extended biological families," says Bob West, father of Angela, Isabel and Jonathan. "So it's good to have our Christian family close by."


When your family shares friendships with other families, all of you can grow in ways that surpass what would be possible if you focused solely on your own family.  The experiences you share together and the advice you give each other help shape each person in each family.


"Another family can act as a sounding board for sharing similar experiences about parenting issues, job issues - just about anything both of you are dealing with at your particular stages of life.  And you can also give each other counsel that's valuable," says Mark Scanlan, who invests in friendships with several other families along with his wife Barbara, 4-year-old daughter Allison and infant son Michael.


"Exchanging ideas always brings new perspectives on things," says Camilo Bueno, father of Valerie and Krista. "Your communication with your spouse and children can get predictable.  But if you each talk with people from other families, you'll have new things to talk about.  The kids can see other points of view through their play, and the adults can, too, through their conversations.  And sometimes, when you're talking with other people, you can hear the voice of God. Sometimes God uses other people as His messengers in your life."