We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and his mighty wonders. (Psalm 78:4)
I’ve heard of siblings who don’t get along, who can’t spend more than a few hours with each other before a fight ensues. I’ve also heard of siblings who avoid each other like the plague and purposely plan holidays apart. Thankfully, I’ve only heard about such siblings.
I am blessed—BLESSED—with two brothers and one sister. We are all quite different, yet the love between us is strong. The tie that binds us together is God, and he is stronger than that which could tear us apart.
Church was the cornerstone of our childhood, the stake from which all activities and relationships were measured. Every Sunday without fail, we loaded into the family station wagon and drove into town to attend the Catholic church where my parents had been married, where my father had been baptized, and where his parents had met and married. Church was our second home. There was no Sunday school to speak of, so we would file into a pew and attend mass together as a family. My parents always had to separate my older brother and me to prevent us from poking each other and causing a commotion.
Missing church was not an option in our house unless you were really sick with a fever. Even on those rare occasions when we were out of town on a Sunday—perhaps camping for summer vacation—we still had to pack church clothes so we could attend mass at the nearest Catholic church. There were no sports practices, games, or dance classes on Sundays, so there was nothing to distract us from worship. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
Family time took precedence on Sundays, and society seemed to encourage that. Stores and most restaurants were closed on Sundays—except for the donut shop. After mass we would pick up a dozen donuts and head to grandpa’s house where we were sure to run into a cousin or two. When we returned home, minimal amounts of homework awaited us—or none at all. We played card games, ate big dinners and homemade desserts, and ended the day watching the Wonderful World of Disney while eating big bowls of buttered popcorn that dad would pop in the copper-bottomed pan on the stove.
There was a rhythm to life that started and ended with church on Sundays.
I don’t want to give you the impression that life was always idyllic. It wasn’t. When I was seven, my mom’s parents, who lived next door, died within four months of each other. When I was eight, my younger brother died after a two-year battle with cancer. Money was always tight, so everyone had to pitch in planting seeds and weeding the garden to help put food on the table. There was sadness and stress and plenty of arguing, but Sundays provided each of us with a day to rest and reset. God obviously knew what he was doing when he said, “Keep my Sabbath days of rest, and show reverence toward my sanctuary. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:30)
My siblings and I have not always seen eye-to-eye, but our values are the same because we were raised on Biblical doctrine that was reinforced week after week. Consequently, whenever we’ve faced an issue, we’ve always been able to work it out peacefully. When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)
Last week, three of us four siblings got together to celebrate my father’s 90th birthday. It was our first gathering since our mother’s funeral just weeks before the pandemic hit. Unfortunately, our youngest brother, Peter, and his family were unable to join us because they currently live in another country. But Paul, Loretta, and I, and our spouses, had a memorable time preparing for the party, playing our family card game of Bid Pitch, and picking on each other as we decided who would usher Dad from one activity to the next. Despite the fun, Peter was conspicuously absent.
On Friday night, we all treated Dad, his brother, and a brother-in-law to a nice dinner at a nice restaurant. We toasted his 90 years of life with his favorite gin martini over treasured stories. As I looked around the table, I was saddened by the fact that Peter and his wife were not celebrating with us. And then it hit me. Peter was not the only sibling missing. My father’s four sisters were also missing. They and their spouses, as well as my mother, had all passed away. It was a bittersweet moment.
My father was as close to his siblings as I am to mine, and had any of them still been living, they most certainly would have had a seat at the table. And this is the legacy that my father has passed on from his father: there is always room at the table for family.
I didn’t think I could love my siblings any more than I already do, but this past week proved me wrong. Maybe it’s because I’m older, or maybe it’s because I realize that time is fleeting. Whatever the reason, I am so very grateful for Paul, Loretta, and Peter, their spouses, their children, and the relationships we all share as a loving family. But even more so, I am grateful that my parents made God the top priority in our home, which made this love possible.
Happy Birthday, Dad, and thank you!
THE SONG THAT COMES TO MIND IS Sisters and Brothers by Sidewalk Prophets.
Lyrics: “We’re all a part of a family, and nothing in this world could come between”