As many of you know, I'm related to a large number of people. I have lost count, but I believe that I have 35ish Aunts and Uncles, 50+ first cousins, 80ish first cousins once removed, and 4 nephews. It seems like no matter where I go or what the conversation topic is... I have a relative that lives there or is connected to this or that. The holidays always include large gatherings of relatives, whether it's just my family (of 11) or the extended family (ranging from 20 - 60 at any given event), I'm rarely without family. I even have family living with me!
This past weekend our house held three additional relatives... 3 of the little people came over for 3 nights and 4 days. Laura and I had so much fun keeping everyone busy with activities from Uno Attack to the Choo Choo Barn. I even came up with a game for those car rides from activity to activity. Although I was exhausted by the end of the weekend, I would not trade a weekend with the boys for anything (well...). Here is a glimpse into our weekend activities:
Joshua and Caleb each had their own laptop compliments of Aunt Michelle and Laura. There are not too many rooms for young boys to play in at our house, or games for that matter, so we gave them a computer and pulled up pbskids.org for them to play. It was a much better idea than the tackling each other on the wood floors they had been playing.
Getting ready for Christmas:
Nathan is patiently waiting for his turn to put the ornaments on the tree.
The tree was the right height for them to reach the back and top from the stairs.
The fun we have with the boys is greatly aided by the fact that they actually enjoy coming over to our house, and from what I'm told look forward to the sleepovers. It's nice to know that they want to be with us, well most of the time. There was one incident where Nathan was mad at me for not giving him more cookies, but we managed to get over that one and were best buddies again. So as frustrating as family can make us at times (cookie controllers and all), there are so many good times to be had with family. I only hope that my family (all 200 of us) will enjoy my company, as much as I enjoy theirs.
My family sentimentality, while heightened every year by the holidays, has been the result of my recent encounter with one of my neighbors. In the almost four years that I have lived here I have rarely seen her out of her house. In my few conversations with her she was always very friendly, but never seemed to want to be bothered too much always keeping the conversations at the doorway. The other year I took her a Christmas gift and she told me that she doesn't really care to celebrate the holidays any more. I rarely saw cars at her house... few people in or out.
The holidays provided me the excuse I needed to invade her private life and attempt to bring a small glimmer of joy and human connection into her life. I was hoping that the weekend with the boys and our cookie making endeavors would be just such an excuse, and who can't resist three smiling boys. Well, two weeks ago I began to get concerned because the newspapers were piling up on her front porch. One, then two, and finally three, so I grabbed Laura (who had never met her) and we went banging on the door. She finally opened the door and told us that she had a cold but was otherwise doing okay. It wasn't long until the papers began piling up again, but I didn't want to keep bothering her, so when the 3 paper pile disappeared I thought she was getting better. However, I came home last Tuesday to find out that her door windows had been broken and glass was lying all over the porch. Turns out that her cousin called 911 concerned that she wasn't okay. She was rushed to the hospital and placed in the intensive care unit. Wednesday night Laura and I walked in the snow from her office to visit Nancy in the hospital. The nurse told us that she probably wouldn't be coming home, so they allowed us to visit her. We talked with her a while, left a card with flowers on the front (our attempt at hospital cheer), and prayed with her before leaving. We planned on returning to visit after our long weekend with the boys. Tonight I received a call from her cousin letting me know that Nancy had passed away this afternoon.
I noticed some people at her house tonight so I took the newspapers that I had been collecting over and introduced myself to her stepson. Turns out she had several family members offering to help her through the years, but she never wanted to venture out of her house. So there she lived with newspapers piling up in the living room, smoke staining the walls a dark yellow, and relationships pushed out of the door; only to come to the end of her life with few connections and no reason to have a funeral service to commemorate her life.
I don't know the details of Nancy's life or if there was a reason for her reclusion from the world, but it makes me sad that she was so shut off from family and friends. I'm reminded again this holiday season just how precious relationships with others are, not only because I continue to need help from family for the bright ideas I have like bathroom remodels and such, but because relationships with others are foundational to my faith in Christ and my own joy in life. What would the world be like if everyone took the time to truly care for one another and love them with their life? It's so easy to be busy living that we fail to live with meaning. I can only attempt to do my part... one neighbor, family member, friend, and stranger at a time. I don't want to miss out on the overflowing joys of life that come from living with other people -- difficulties and all.
John 15: 9 - 13
"I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! I command you to love each other in the same way that I love you. And here is how to measure it - the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends...
May joy fill your hearts this Christmas and overflow into your relationships with those around you! And thanks for enduring till the end of this wordy post!