Every once in awhile, I read a book that so captures my heart that I find myself turning to the first page as soon as I’ve finished the last. Usually, these books are fiction – stories that draw me in and introduce me to characters I can’t bear to leave behind when the story ends. About a year ago, however, I had this experience with a non-fiction book. As soon as I reached the last page, I wanted to begin again. I found myself encouraged, uplifted, and inspired. It was the book What is a Family? by Edith Schaeffer. Since I first read it, I have picked it up again and again. I just recently re-read one of my favorite chapters and decided I must share this wonderful book with all of you.

Considered by many a classic, What is a Family? was Edith Schaeffer’s response to a generation and society that was (and is) de-valuing family life at every turn. Written in 1975 when the author was facing her sixtieth birthday (her fortieth year as a wife and thirty-eighth year as a mother!), this book is still as tender and earthy and fresh today as it was then. Filled with nuggets of wisdom, Christian faith, delightfully practical hints and suggestions, and a warm and gentle philosophy of family life and love, What is a Family? serves to both instruct and inspire any parent.

Schaeffer shares many thoughts with you throughout the book, but all of the topics she covers center around what a family is meant to be. For example: The birthplace of creativity, the formation center for human relationships, a shelter in the time of storm and (my favorite chapter) a museum of memories. In the chapter on memories, Schaeffer shares,” A museum has a selection of things worth preserving. There are art museums, natural-history museums, maritime museums, and those preserving documents of a variety of kinds…Had someone not had the idea of selecting and putting things together in some sort of order, much of past history would be lost as far as the vividness of reality given by the collections of things in museums. What is a family meant to be? Among other things, I personally have always felt it is meant to be a museum of memories – collections of carefully preserved memories and a realization that day-by-day memories are being chosen for our museum.”

What a delightful thought! You are not just the mother, but you are the curator of your family’s museum of memories! As our children grow up and leave home, the traditions and memories they will hold dear are being formed today. Are we taking our roles as curators seriously?

I was also challenged and encouraged by the chapter entitled “A Shelter in the time of Storm.” Mrs. Schaeffer offers wonderful insight and advice for families who are dealing with sickness and stress. She gives practical suggestions in caring for your ill child or loved one, and encourages you to enjoy each moment with them. As she so beautifully writes, “When illness hits we should remember that this period of time is part of the whole of life. This is not just a non-time to be shoved aside, but a portion of time that counts. It is part of the well-person’s life, as well as part of the sick person’s life. ‘In sickness and in health’ is a promise made, it seems to me, to recognize that the time which sickness takes is part of the married life, part of the family life; and the time which health takes is another part of the married lifetime and the family lifetime. There is an importance attached to the use of the whole span of time which means that creativity, imagination, work, appropriate contribution, blending of talents and pitching in to do whatever needs to be done, applies to periods of sickness as well as period of health – periods of tragedy as well as periods of special happiness. We are to recognize that to waste this time is as much a loss as wasting a time we might think of as the height of productivity.

Having just been through a week of illness in my household, this admonition was important and encouraging to me! If you need a fresh burst of energy, warmth and direction in your role as wife and mother, I strongly urge you to read What is a Family?. You will be renewed and inspired.


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