Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The gift of Family

I was honored to be a guest at a family reunion this weekend. After indulging in a few extra hours of sleep Saturday morning, the car was packed with fresh warm cinnamon muffins, a cooler filled with ice cold beverages for the hot summer day ahead, corn hole (a personal favorite) and ladder ball to encourage the competitive spirit of this already competitive family, a fishing rod and tackle box in hopes of stealing away moments of peace and quiet off the fishing pier and of course a bag full of must haves for an overnight road trip.

Once the battle over finding a static free station to jam some tunes to was won, the ride was smooth and filled with singing, laughter, and of course a "take no mercy" game of tweetie--I confess, that my bootie got SCHOOLED---even if you minus the points that were obtained by cheating! J We took 301 most of the way, and enjoyed the peacefulness of "the back roads" as the cityscape vanished behind us. The weight of the daily to do's fell to the wayside and the responsibilities of being an adult were forgotten, for the time being.

We pulled into the driveway lined with large trees decked out with white Christmas Lights. It was the middle of the day, so no lights were on, but I could envision the beauty as you passed through the long drive and arrived to the old farm house that over looked Patuxent River. I wished I had thought to take more pictures, because the view was breathtaking.
Whatever nerves I may have had stepping out of that car, where quickly disbanded when I was welcomed with huge smiles and opened arms. Jerry and Janice (for a quick second I thought I was entering into Duggar-ville where everyone would have a “J” name, no worries folks it wasn’t the case) did a great job setting the stage for an environment where I felt more like one of the family vs. an outsider. From then on, I knew I was in for a treat, and this family did not disappoint.
I could write in detail about the amazing food that covered the tables. Or the laughter that continuously embody wherever you went or the smiles that radiated from every face. I could write about the stories that I heard, or how I had to ask sixteen hundred times “now, how does this person connect to the family?” But that is not uncommon at many family reunions and really not what made this weekend stick out for me. (Even though the 36 feet of table lined with the most delicious fresh blue crabs was a close competitor to the point behind this blog.)
Saturday evening, we all walked down to the river's shore. As our feet hit the sand, the sky could not be bluer and held a just a few wispy white clouds. There was a gentle breeze, and the soothing sound of the moving water in the background. We gathered at the water’s edge to remember life. Only days before this family reunion, one of their own, Patricia, lost her battle with cancer. As we stood and spoke the Lord’s Prayer and read Psalms 23, tears fell, hands were placed upon shoulders, embraces were clutched tighter and I was reminded why we are given the gift of family.
It’s easy to be there when laughter is abundant, when smiles come easy, when thoughts and ideas fall on the same page. It tends to get a little messier when opinions differ, when hard times arise and when loss is experienced.
Standing on that beach in the midst of this family---beside the sibling whose tears poured generously from memories of losing his brother, the fun uncle to three remarkable children just a few months prior, standing on the same beach where twin middle schoolers, and their older brother remember the loss of their dad, standing on that beach, hearing the sniffles of a sweet widow and seeing her tears flow over the loss of her husband this past Spring, and standing on that beach among the sisters, and the nephew and nieces who just lost their aunt to the hated C word, was a beautiful reminder of what family is about.
It’s about being there for one another. Setting differences and annoyances aside and uniting under and common purpose and loving each other like nobody’s business. It’s about driving 2.5 hours, or 3 hours, or from Texas, or Maine or North Carolina on Labor Day weekend and spending two days catching up and sharing stories and memories and laughter and good food and fun games, but more importantly it’s about sharing the details of life and remembering loved ones who are no longer there and sharing prayer request and struggles and opening the doors to let one another in and living out forgiveness and kindness and generosity. And I was more than honored to witness that this weekend. To be a part of some of those conversations. To be the “stranger” that the door of vulnerability and struggle was opened to. To see how forgiveness doesn’t change the past but makes a better future. This family’s got it. They are not perfect. And I am sure they have their own set of skeletons in the closest like my family, your family, all families do. But they’ve got love and compassion and grace toward one another despite those skeletons and imperfections . . .and that’s what makes them stand out. That’s what I will remember from this past weekend. And that is why I am privileged to call them friends … to call them family.

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