My family has been and is by far the most influential foundation of my life. My mom and dad had five children born from 1952 to 1972 and now boast (literally) 15 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. (I hope I have not miscounted – there are a lot of us!) When the family gets together on Christmas and Thanksgiving, there are usually close to 30 people there.
When most families get together on those holidays, they haven’t seen each other in a while. Our family sees each other constantly. Any talk of moving out of the area is met by waves of guilt used formidably as a weapon by my mother. Although a couple of the grandchildren have overcome this compulsion to remain close geographically, my brothers and sisters all live within a 25 mile radius of one another and all but one of us lives easily within just a two mile area. Once in a while, that seems too close – but overall it is a tremendous blessing. We don’t have to catch up on each other’s lives because we are already in each other’s lives.
As many of you know, the ones that can get together to eat spaghetti every Friday night at my mom and dad’s house. This has been going on every single Friday night for decades. There are too many of us to all eat at once, so some start at about 4:30pm and others trickle in as they get off of work. It gets loud and sometimes stuffy in the house, but we spend a couple of hours telling mostly the same stories over and over until it’s time to go back to our own houses and our own smaller parts of the great family whole. I have often said two things about “spaghetti nights:” (1) If we set up a video camera every Friday night, the unedited footage would put every other so-called reality show to shame and (2) if anyone who didn’t know us walked in, they would never believe that everyone in the room was sober (and to the best of my knowledge, that was always the case.)
In the coming days, barring a miracle from God (and He is able), this family will lose one of its pillars to cancer. My sister, Becky, has been battling this disease for over a year and it appears that God is getting ready to call her home. Of all my siblings, she is by far the loudest and most fun. She loves to instigate trouble but she has an incredibly huge heart underneath. In my mind, it is a shame that if God had to take one of us, he would take the one that is the most loved by people outside our family. (My other siblings may dispute this and that’s okay – I know it ain’t me.) Becky is always at the center of our family – we marvel at her ability to carry on one conversation while simultaneously listening to every other conversation that was going on around the room lest she miss some important piece of gossip or information. She is determined to know everything that is going on at all times.
Becky was 10 years old when I was born as the baby of the family – a title that I pried mercilessly out of her hands. She was my mom in a lot of ways. As a small child, I remember her helping me go to sleep by having a stuffed animal “talk” to me in some crazy voice she would come up with. Growing up, she was a friend and a playmate – I’m fairly certain she cheated at every game we ever played, but she taught me how to play ping pong and pool and every board and card game you can think of. She spent about two years looking for a Chewbacca action figure for my collection and was almost as excited as I was when she finally found one (these were the days before internet shopping.) I remember her surprising me when I got home from school one day with the news that we were going to see Return of the Jedi on opening night. And she was my big sister – keeping me humble by picking on me relentlessly, teaching me about life, taking me everywhere, putting up with me when I would interrupt her dates – all of the things that siblings do.
So if God decides it is time to take Becky, my family will feel a great loss. It’s really the first time our immediate family has suffered such a tragedy. But I have left out the best part about my family and that is that the vast majority of us have trusted in Jesus Christ for our salvation. If my mom can lay a guilt trip on us about living close by and making it to spaghetti night, it is ten times worse if you miss church on a Sunday. The bond we have as a family is really an extension of the bond that we have as children of God. And what that means is that when Becky (or any of us) takes her last breath here, she will be taking her first breath in heaven and it’s going to be awesome for her. And when I say goodbye to her here, it won’t be the last time that I get to see her and talk to her because I will be joining her in heaven one day. And that’s by far the most important truth in this whole rambling essay. If you want to see Becky again, I believe that the only way to do that is to get right with Jesus.
In recent years when we get together for holidays, my mom insists that we sing a hymn – we usually do “How Great Thou Art.” I admit I sometimes roll my eyes or gripe a little, but it is a sweet time to remember who has provided all of the blessings that my family has enjoyed throughout the years. We do indeed have a great God who made it so this temporary difficult earthly life is not the only thing or even the main thing.
2 Corinthians 5:1-9
“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”