A photo from 1980 enjoys top billing on our refrigerator. It shows us with friends Daryl and Lyndell, and our combined total of four little kids, around a barbecue at a clearing in the serenity of a national park.
Seated on the ground, the kids are demolishing cremated sausages wrapped in bread. A cardboard soap-packs carton is crowning the levelled stump of a thick tree. No napkins, cutlery or Tupperware are to be seen, and smoke from the fire has temporarily cancelled its ‘search and destroy’ mission on everyone’s eyesight!
The photo is anchored by a magnet they sent us, with a warm, simple message: “Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.” A twist on the old adage: “You can choose your friends, but you’re stuck with family!”
Reflecting one of our better mistakes, it also reflects an amazing twist.
But more of that later...
Since that photo was taken there have been some changes …
The earth’s crust is not as soft and warm as it was back then (a fact I’ve included for younger readers’ benefit.)
Photos are no longer sentenced to waiting on rolls of film to be completed and sent away to be developed, then returned three weeks later replete with blanks and other snaps that nobody remembers.
The two young couples’ heads are less hidden under thick dark, curly stuff.
Four little kids have become eight, and added six and a half of their own little kids.
Retirements have arrived.
Yes, it was a good mistake; against the prevailing wisdom that pastors should not make friends with church members.
It could lead to favouritism...
We should treat all members equally…
How could we maintain our leadership if people got to know us too well?
But are isolation and self-sufficiency mandated for pastors and their families? This rhetorical question surfaces only to address that vexed question: “How do pastors’ kids get to be the way they are?” Answer: “By playing with other people’s kids.”
We began our first ministry with only one child in tow, matching Daryl and Lyndell, who arrived in town the same week we did. He was a school teacher and guitarist, and she later proved to be brilliant at administration. Some months later we clicked as a creative, intuitive team; shaping an informal service that we held before our more traditional worship, designed for young families whose kids might otherwise be too noisy or energetic.
Daryl and Lyndell often invaded our family mealtimes, adding to the food and the fun, and naturally we avenged their raids.
Along with shared holidays and picnics, Daryl and I played baseball together and worked on household projects, while Judy and Lyndell spun wool, knitted clothes and handcrafts and built their recipe arsenals together.
Thirty six years of friendship have encompassed several moves, family and financial stresses and successes. We have laughed and cried and prayed out a path along the way. Our kids have always reconnected with nothing to prove, since they all know their roots. And now they enjoy combined holidays and get-togethers without needing any ancestral involvement or permission.
Yes, you can choose your friends.
But three months ago Lyndell phoned me. Amazement and excitement were vying for top place in her tone.
“You’ve never met my cousin Carolyn,” she told me, “but she is a family-tree freak, and she saw your surname on my Facebook page. She’s checked back and found that our grandmother had an older cousin called Hannah Maria Perkins!”
Celebrity sleuths and paparazzi may have slept on, undisturbed by such a breath-taking scoop, but my eyes were wide open.
For in the 1870s, sixteen-year-old Hannah sailed with her family from England to the fabulous wealth of Australia’s goldfields. It was there that she married Gerasmo, a Greek immigrant almost twice her age.
This same Gerasmo was my great grandfather!
We chose these close friends thirty-six years ago. We’re now happily tied to them as family, and our kids have been blown away to discover that for their whole lives their closest friends have been fifth cousins!
Author’s note: This story is totally true.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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