The sides of the path begin with buildings then move to company headquarters, then to warehouses. Somewhere an hour or so away, you will see a giant mall and retired stadium. Then pine trees. Maple trees. Spruce. Then oak. It is the route to "Up North" which in Michigan has become an official place. On the way you have to watch for deer jumping into the road and keep your eyes on the road while trying to watch the hawks weave around the silhouette of a Stay Puff Marshmallow Man looking cloud.
When we reach our destination, we read magazines and buy gasoline for the boat. We sit in the wicker and wooded chairs and sway with the wind and the distant hum of boats on the lake. All around is the sound of a big family...at least big by my standards. I was never used so many people calling themselves brother, sister, father, grandma, nephew, niece, cousin, or mother. I was used to my mother and my brothers. It freaked me out at first...having so many family members in one house, stepping on each others toes. It didn't take long for me to love it. I had never played catch with a nephew before. I'd never grilled hot dogs for 15.
Laura and I watch this television show called "Parenthood." Laura had to beg me to watch it with her because I thought it was clearly for girls. She won and I loved it from episode one. The thing that I loved the most was big and how close their family is. Rain or shine, strength or fault, they were always there for each other. I never knew I ever wanted to be in a large family. But here I am, in one. I love it.
Thanksgiving and Christmas was always great for me. It was me, my mother, my brother, and most years we had a straggler or two. I remember once I brought home a homeless man I found under the viaduct while riding my bike. I wish I had a picture of those moments...the one where the homeless guy is riding on my bike pegs and the one of my mom's face when I got to the front door with some dirty, smelly guy. She might not remember this, but she showed me Christ when she gave him food. He did not come in as there was something off about him, but my mom always had a big heart. We would watch the parades together and my mom would sit down and say this prayer: "Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the food you have provided for us and use it for the nourishment and strength of our bodies, in Jesus name, Amen." We would eat too much and take a nap, which I still do. We would then go see a movie, the three of us, and come home and put up the Christmas tree and eat the banana pudding she is famous for. It was great so imagine what a shock it was to go from one house 30 min. away and hug 40 people, then another 40 min. away and hug another 30. So much more to be thankful for than I had previously been accustomed to. It was shocking. Now it is warm.
Christmas. My big brother and I would wake up at 5 AM and sit in his room listening for any sign of movement from my mom to give us the slightest inkling that she was waking up. We usually made up a phantom noise and went running out into the living room, where she slept so we could have our own rooms, at about 6 or 7AM shouting "Santa came here!" She would sit up and grin and tell me to sit down and wait. She would stagger, still barely awake into the kitchen and get me orange juice and make a pot of coffee. The rule was, since I was hypoglycemic and definitely would pass out at times, that I had to drink a glass of orange juice before I could open presents. We would open them and go crazy until we fell asleep on the couches, playing with our toys. We grew up and Christmas became different and just as beautiful. Christmas Eve, we go to see Laura's family on her mother's side and eat a feast and open presents, but most importantly share in the second most important part of Christmas, family. Growing up, my uncles and aunts were all distant and I never knew any of them very well. The few times I saw them, it was like sitting in a room full of people that can't stand each other. It was so different to sit in a room full of people who care so deeply for each other. Christmas day, we open the presents with the kids and hold back tears thinking of Will and loving our excited kid's faces as they get everything they wanted. My mom and big brother come over and exchange gifts and we eat until we are full, then Laura and I fall asleep while we are all still talking and the day ends well.
I write all of this stuff because it still amazes me the way that God sustains a person from where they came to where they are. God was with me as a child and He is with me now. I was happy then and am happy now. Whether there are three of us in the room or 50, my God is always there too, celebrating life with us. I thank my God today for my family, who has become larger than I ever expected it to be. There was a time I could name my family...Mom, Jason, Andy, Will, Joe. Now I fear I would forget people it is so big and disrespect my love for them.
Thanks for reading...Z