"well, we made it." i must have thought that at least a dozen times this past week. it began with the drive -- monday we left atlanta at 6am and drove 12 hours north to kelley's island (lake erie, ohio). after all those hours of nonstop travel with 5 kids, 4 bikes, two SUV's and 1 kayak, we pulled off the ferry boat at 6:30 pm. "we made it!" i announced to the kids. and we had. but little did i know that was only the beginning...
no, that's not entirely correct -- i did know. i did know that was just the beginning. in fact, i had a pretty good idea of what the week ahead would hold. you see, i know my extended family well. i knew what we were walking into. i grew up here. not on kelley's island, but i grew up as the second born of four children. i grew up with these three siblings and these two parents and i was fully aware of the week ahead. we all love each other deeply and enjoy spending time together, but it does take some tricky maneuvering for us to all mesh together again. 24 family members (plus one boyfriend) sharing the week -- on an island, no less! monday, while we were on the way, my youngest sister, nicole, group texted us, "as we're approaching 'the island' this is starting to feel like a reality TV show." this was after their flight from oregon to ohio was cancelled and delayed one day. she had it pegged perfectly from the very beginning though. you don't get 24 family members together for a week without some degree of drama and a little bit of craziness. we were arriving from all over -- oregon, georgia, ohio and new york. another sister, jess, had just landed after spending two weeks in africa with her students. jet lagged and travel tired, but by monday night we were all intertwined on one small island in one great lake. i sat on the deck watching cousins of every age playing sports and games of every type and thought, "yes, we've made it."
as i drove yesterday, (all 13.5 hours!) i thought a lot about our week together. it went so fast. i felt like i hadn't even had a chance to connect with everyone. i headed back to georgia thinking of questions i had meant to ask...things i had intended to say. in fact, at one point, i called my dad to talk with him about something i had been waiting to tell him -- but had forgotten. that's the way it goes when you are in the middle of that kind of maelstrom -- life happening fast. like this wild dance of aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents...all of us mixing together in some kind of family reunion mayhem. making it through the moment. making memories for the future.
we had converged on this island primarily to celebrate my parents 50th wedding anniversary. talk about "we made it!"...isn't that amazing? 50 years! now that truly is an example of making it. in today's world where so many marriages just don't make it, i think theses big anniversaries are even more notable. and it struck me how all of this week's chaos was a perfect representation of my parents' major milestone. they have had 50 years together making it -- making memories. managing life. partnering through babies and diapers and meals and bedtimes and vacations and teenagers and graduations and illnesses and celebrations and heartbreaks ... 50 years of adventure together. as true companions they have watched their four children be born, be kids, be brave, be scared, be thrilled, be rewarded, be devastated, be sick, be married, be parents themselves. together they have laughed, cried, struggled and triumphed. side by side, they have journeyed.
one night on the island, we took a moment to celebrate them and their golden anniversary. my dad talked for a minute and one thing he said was, "it has been easy." (he called my mom a saint -- i have to agree, she is). i know what he was really saying was that he felt incredibly blessed. i couldn't help but think to myself though, "okay dad, maybe relatively easy." because i know full well with five children of my own and almost 22 years of marriage with my man, it isn't always easy. it just isn't. there are all kinds of wonderful blessings to being married, but we all know that it takes some work. most of us don't just settle smoothly into 50 years without some share of tussles and trials. even those of us that journey happily together, have our challenges, our struggles, our hard hours. that's the way it goes whether 5 days on an island or 50 years in a marriage. but oh, how rich the reward when we are faithful to the calling of coming together. how beautiful the blessing when we are willing to accept the assignment and work side by side. not always easy, but worth it.
"two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work."
~ ecclesiastes 4:9
the very best things in life rarely seem to be the easy things anyway. marriage, children, family -- they all take work. sometimes hard work, but so often can bring such sweet return. robert frost's poem, "master speed," captures the idea of working together to make it work. "wing to wing and oar to oar..." whether flapping wings or rowing oars or raising children or loving spouses, be assured, there's some labor involved.
Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar.
~ robert frost
my youngest sister, (again), had some famous last words as we all drove away from the island and from each other. her facebook status this morning capsulized our time together: "100 degree weather, 50 years of marriage, family of 24, 3 cases of head lice, 1 dysentery, dodging Lake Erie beach bacteria warnings and family political disputes...I feel like we just came out survivors of some kind of family reunion realty TV show! Our prize: bed time in Oregon."
i laughed out loud reading that post today. yes! that's it exactly! i couldn't have said it any better. we had made it. no one was kicked off the island or out of the family. we came together with all of our various issues and ideas and we enjoyed each other the way big families do. not perfectly, oh no, but authentically and gratefully and perhaps a little messily. we did have some lice and dysentery and disputes to deal with ...we did have some tears and tantrums (mostly from the toddler crowd)...we did have some challenges...because that's life, whether we're on an island or in a family or in the midst of marriage.
this morning while i was looking through the pictures from our week together, bella came and crawled up on my lap. she kept pointing to the different relatives in the photos identifying everyone she had come to know better this week. "that's my cousin!" she'd say, "and that's my cousin and her and him too!" on and on she went, making little comments about all of our family members. and then finally, she leaned back against me and quietly said, "we have a lot of cousins mommy, we're so lucky."
and, that was it. those were the words and the thoughts and the feelings behind it all. "yes, bella, we are so lucky. yes we are."