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thanksgiving partnerWe celebrated my son’s birthday yesterday. On these occasions, the family gathers at our house, and we all have the chance to reconnect and catch up on what is happening in each other’s lives and just enjoy each other’s company. My dad, who is 86, all the way to our 5-month old grandson, glide around the house in a noisy bustle of comforting activity.

In a few short days, all of our family will be spending time with my brother and his family for Thanksgiving. The scene will be repeated and conversations will ensue, food will be eaten, and games will be played.

As I get older, and as each of our kids start their own lives and families, I cherish the moments that we have with loved ones even more. Birthdays, holidays, weddings, and funerals seem to be some of the only times we all gather.

As our house slows into the pace of just my wife and I, there is time to reflect on just how much has changed in a short period of time. One of our kids is still at home and may be engaged soon, one is single and living on his own, one is married with a new baby, and one is married with a baby on the way. We are seeing our past being walked out in our kids’ lives.

Conversely, my dad has been living alone for the past 10 years since my mom passed away, and I am seeing the challenges that living alone brings; him being in even less contact with people on a regular basis.

It feels like we are in a unique observational period of our lives when we can easily see what we recently went through, as well as what lies ahead of us. My wife and I have new lives waiting for us as well. A time to go back to school for Julie, and a time for both of us to reconnect. Because of all of this, the longing to stay connected to everyone becomes a major priority because time is so fleeting.

As I go through these ruminations, I become deeply grateful and full of thanksgiving over these relationships in my life. I think about my friends and extended family, and that grateful feeling drifts over to them as well.

wrecking ballI stood there staring in astonishment, and it was hard to fathom. I mean, I am a self-proclaimed gardener, and a pretty good one too, I thought. This was something different though. It made my gardening efforts look like amateur hour.

Our summers always involve back-to-back weekends of family reunions. This has been going on for over twenty years. The reunions are on both my mom’s and my dad’s side, so I get to bump into aunts, uncles, and cousins too. The reunions are usually at a neutral location, close to most of the people. This can involve a drive of a hundred miles or so, which translates to a full day commitment.

My wife’s birthday usually falls on one of the reunion weekends, and with so many other things going on in the summer, it can be a press to make them regularly. This year, I was waffling about going to one of them. It was at my cousin’s house for the first time, which I had never been to, and the next day we were celebrating my wife’s birthday. In other words, the whole weekend was taken up. 

Ugh! What to do? After some poking and prodding from my dad, I decided to go. 

Now, my cousin and her siblings can look a bit rough around the edges. They lost their father when they were young, and their mother gave them over to our grandparents to raise. It was like they were basically starting over, with three new kids to raise. Growing up with them was a little like seeing these wild children trying to be raised by grandparents who were overwhelmed and under-prepared. What transpired is that the kids entered adulthood with alcohol and drug issues, abuse issues (not from the grandparents), and general instability problems.

It is funny how these impressions of them have become permanently etched in my mind. My only connection with them now is at the annual reunions, and not everyone makes them every year, so really, it is less than that. 

My cousin is now in her sixties, living in rural America with her longtime boyfriend. When we arrived, their place looked pretty nice. They have a modular home on a lot of a little over an acre. The lawn was well maintained, and everything was neat and clean. We hung out in the garage, which was well organized and super nice. Why do I mention that? Because, maybe I was subconsciously expecting some sort of junky, run-down home. 

grillsmokeMy eyes burned as the smoke blinded me. I knew I had to stay there and finish the job, but smelling like a chimney all day wasn’t what I had in mind. I closed the cover and stepped back. There were only a few more hours left, and I knew it would be perfect—if I had the patience to wait that long.

As I stood there staring at the beef brisket barbecuing in my charcoal grill, I thought about how brisket, being a cut of beef from the lower chest, has a significant amount of connective tissue. The meat must be cooked slowly, over a long period of time, to tenderize the connective tissue. The result, if done properly, is a tender, tasty, beautiful piece of meat. If not, it can be a disaster—tough, overcooked, chewy, and dry. 

The key to breaking this down is cooking at a lower temperature for a longer period of time. This could be twelve hours or more. This takes an investment of time and effort. You have to plan ahead and be patient with the process. It can be a labor of love if you know the results. If you do, you will be rewarded with a meal that doesn’t compare with much else.

While I waited, the Lord brought to my attention the similarities between the process of tenderizing tougher cuts of meat and the process of helping to tenderize other people’s hardened hearts. 

The process is a consistent level of love over a longer period of time. It isn’t a flashy, in-your-face, get-your-act-together mentality. It needs time and patience to have its perfect work. 

“But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:4 NKJV)
Patience is an act of love. You are willingly enduring a level of suffering without complaint. I am not saying it is easy to do, but the Lord tells us the result will be worth the effort.

I was reminded of Julie’s letter last month, and the hope she placed in being able to affect a certain classmate’s negative attitude over the course of the semester. The easy thing to do would be to just avoid contact with this person and try to stay happy through dodging her.

Well, she has an update, and I will let her finish the story:


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