Sunday, November 27, 2005

It's All Relative

On my side of our family -in the traditional sense - I don’t really have much family.

Since Amy and I have been married, the Thanksgiving holiday has always been reserved for my side of our family which amounts to an eclectic bunch of folks most of whom I'm not related to by blood in any manner no matter how far up the family tree you climb.

My Aunt Kathy is the heart and soul of this bunch of misfits and fit-givers, and although she's my Aunt, technically I'm not related to her either. Kathy's ex-husband was my mother's half-brother - my Uncle - a man with whom I rarely if ever communicate. My Uncle and I never did have much in common and we've both allowed time to widen that gap to a point that really amounts to a one sided Christmas card relationship – Amy and I buy a lot of Christmas cards…mailing them is something we’ve yet to master.

Kathy is my surrogate mother and has been since I was 14 years old. I suppose I treat her like too many sons treat their Moms...I don't call often, certainly I don't visit enough and I take her for granted far too much. Yet Kathy forgives me…like most mothers do I suppose.

It's confusing even for me to keep up with but in simplified terms my side of our family is a non-traditional gaggle of friends, friends of friends, and folks who somehow got in the door but no one really remembers how. The only time I normally see any of them is on Thanksgiving.

This year was the first of the past three that Amy and I have been able to make it to Dallas for this gathering of "kinda cousins" and it was joyous...and sad. Some members of the bunch have passed away, others are in too poor of health to travel, and still others couldn't be with us for reasons of their own making.

We were determined to be there although Amy was sick the entire trip and she felt horrible about being sick. As a result, she was drained from the emotional beating she was giving herself on top of being feverish, and generally miserable.

Our first night in Dallas, I was physically sick - personally I think Braums poisoned me but Amy says I caught her bug - whatever it was I felt like...well there are several words that come to mind all of which may be literally correct but none would be polite to use. Suffice it to say one of the things I was most thankful for Wednesday night was the little wrapper across the toilet seat in our hotel bathroom.

The Gomez family members say they liked Dallas, but Amy and I didn't have the time or energy to do a lot of things we had hoped to do with them which I'm sure added to the general awkwardness they felt of being in a strange town amid strange people... not to mention the even stranger noises emanating from the bathroom down the hall in our hotel.

Everyone was out of sorts in one fashion or another.

In terms of food, Thanksgiving went was not an issue. No one went away hungry...

Yet I know Lee, John and Ana still felt somewhat ill at ease. They didn’t know that it's normal for people on my side of the family to feel a little out of place. We're an odd knotted tangle of humankind leaning on each other like there's nothing unusual about it at all.

Quirky as it may be, I am thankful to have Kathy and all my "kinda cousins" as well as a place to call "home" in Dallas. I'm thankful that Amy and I were able to give John the birthday present we had hoped - thanks to my quasi-cousin Michelle.

Michelle and I took John and Michelle's son to watch the Cowboys/Denver game at Texas stadium. John is not particularly loquacious on the best of days and amid the strange surroundings in Dallas he didn't exactly open up. When Amy and I told him about his birthday present he sort of shrugged it off which I confess initially surprised and disappointed us. I know I expected more…but now I realize that was because I wasn’t seeing the situation through John’s eyes. I was deciphering his behavior and seeming lack of enthusiasm from my perspective – the wise old man who already has quirky, inexplicable situations all figured out…except for this one.

The only time John said anything indicating he was appreciative of the gift was after we had already arrived at the game. We were trudging up the 84 miles or so of ramp-ways to our seats at Texas stadium. During that trek - from which I'm still sore by the way - John mumbled, "You know going to a real NFL game is probably the best birthday present a boy could ask for..."

It was John's way of expressing both thanks and awe...and I almost missed it because of pride and the fact that I was breathing so hard due to a lack of oxygen at the stadium's highest level.

John didn't react the way we expected initially because John had no point of reference from which to react. This was all unfamiliar territory to him: Dallas, my weird collection of family, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with unrelated folks who call themselves family, and then being surprised by tickets to a real NFL game – his first - all on his birthday.

Truthfully, Lee and Ana were in much the same boat. They didn’t come to the game, but they were unsure how to act in unfamiliar surroundings, unsure who everyone was and how I was connected to them, unsure of almost everything. So they were quiet and kept to themselves more than usual. This is also something I think Amy and I nearly misinterpreted.

God didn’t have to kick me in the butt to help me figure it out...instead He used His usual tactic: He gave me time...He was patient.

Weaving along the back corridors of Texas yesterday as we drove home we admired the small valleys filled with trees bursting with color as they prepare to drop their leaves for winter. At one point Lee said, ”I really liked this Thanksgiving…but I think the best part was the driving.”

The driving was her favorite part. Five pretty much full grown people crammed quasi-comfortably in one car, journeying together, laughing, napping, and playing road games while admiring the beauty of God's was during that time that Lee felt we were “a family” of sorts. An odd quirky little family, but family nonetheless.

It made perfect sense to me.

Today I realized this is how I am too often in my relationship with Christ. I don't know how to act.

I had a Pastor once who was fond of saying, "When people first get saved they should be locked up for 3 years until they settle down." He was only kidding...I think...but his point is well taken. I have seen a lot of newly born again folks who could easily be mistaken for escapees from the nearest nut hatch.

It’s easy to feel out of place in my relationship with God, like I don't really belong. I've seen Christians change radically in all sorts of "outward" ways from the clothes they wear to peppering their conversations with every "churchy" word imaginable, but inside I suspect many of them feel undeserving of a place at the table…like they’re not family...not blood relations.

I know I have felt that way and it’s understandable because it’s true.

I don't deserve to be there. I don't deserve to be surrounded by loving people who care about me and whom I call “family” even though we're not related.

For a very long time I didn’t know how to say, "Thank You" to God. I had no reference point.

Technically, I don’t spend Thanksgiving with “blood relatives.” Lee, Ana and John are not blood kin to Amy and me in any way...if you look at things that way.

However how you look at things is all relative.

This mixed up bunch of oft-times confused travelers with whom I journey through life toward a destiny with God are part of my family. They are in fact my closest relations.

We are blood kin.

They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
Revelations 12:11