Today, all seven of us (dogs included) are piling into the car to celebrate Christmas with family. We'll travel a hundred miles and change and spend around five hours with people we see, for the most part, once per year.
At the party, we'll get our annual update on all things related to this side of the family. Of course, that update will be tempered with interpretations from each person as to the actual "story" and with high emotions and expectations.
Some who attend have slight dementia but can perfectly relay a tale from the mid-40's, with accurate detail and a delightful smile and laugh to match the cadence of the story.
Some are battling cancer; digestive issues; living with diabetes.
Some are fighting with the demons of their life.
In short, they are a perfectly normal group of people we call "family".
This party will remind us of relationships that we wish we could cultivate but, for a variety of reasons, don't.
It will also remind us of relationships that are toxic; people who don't have a firm grip on what it means to be a productive part of a larger group of people.
And, squarely, this party will be the last for some. There will, very likely, be funerals this coming year. There will be times we will get back together, under circumstances that are much less happy, to celebrate someone we loved, who is part of this family, whose time here is done.
And, the truth of it is, that there will probably also be celebrations. I envision a wedding and the birth of more children, who will get "grand" and even "great grand" before the fact that they are some one's son or daughter. I think a graduation is coming down the pike, a fork in the road that will determine what this next generation is going to do with their lives.
The Christmas season isn't about a perfect party, with perfect people, in the perfect location. It isn't about getting a picture that could have "Gittings" in gold etched on it. It's about sharing time and reminiscing and crying and laughing together, if even only for a few moments each year, until time and circumstances beckon you back together again.
So, this season, join me in approaching family parties with no expectations, except that your time together may be messy or thrilling or aggravating or inspiring. Likely, it will be a mixed bag.
But, these are the family members you've been dealt. Learn to love them the best you can. Learn to forgive them the best you can.
And, run, headlong into family festivities this season, knowing that, by doing so, you are honoring those who came before you.
And, by attending, your participation is a silent "thank you" to God for surrounding you with a group of people, for the most part, who love you unconditionally, right where you are, for who you are.
As Ephesians 5: 1-2 says:
"Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."