Thursday, January 18, 2018

When Friends Become Family (and Family Become Friends)

I still remember waking up that first morning to find myself nearly nose to nose with my assigned roommate. With just hours of acquaintance I could not yet imagine that this squirmy little six-year old named Nina would soon become my sister-in-law and over twenty years later, a trusted friend! On the other hand, I enjoyed many crazy moments in college with my friend Raquel before God drew us together as sisters-in-law by marrying brothers. Both ways, I am grateful for friends who became family, and family who became friends. And I am especially grateful for the gift of coming together this New Year and spending a week in one another's company!

family photo by Jen Mininger Photography

Shortly before their visit, I commented to an acquaintance that my in-laws would be in town for an extended stay. Her negative response caught me off guard as apparently the relationship with her husband's family is quite strained. I was saddened by her experience yet reminded anew of the blessing it has been to spend twenty years of marriage as part of the admittedly imperfect, yet loving and generous and gracious Garcia clan! Although our times together are often far between, my mother-in-law and father-in-law are unfailingly warm and loving. I am so glad for the three weeks they invested in us and their grandchildren through Christmas and into January. It was also a special treat for our kids to have both sets of grandparents together for the holidays, and a memory they will not soon forget!

Grandpa and Grandma's arrival

Garcia family gift exchange

Perhaps no one was more eagerly welcomed to the family celebration than new cousin Chloe. Even Silas was quickly smitten with his infant companion. Never was there a more easygoing baby, and everyone enjoyed turns holding and playing and loving on the newest member of the Garcia clan! Thank you, Nina and Kyle, for sharing your "baby doll" with us.

meeting cousin Chloe for the first time

the youngest grandkids with "Nana" and Grandpa

It was five years ago that we were last together as an entire family. Despite record-breaking cold temperatures, the warmth of love and lots of laughter filled our home with the fifteen of us reunited! When we could bear the frigid air, occasional outings (and a love for doughnuts!) took us to the Shady Maple Farm Market and Green Dragon Farmer's Market. At the latter we may have made one vendor's day, since we each bought multiple jars of her all-natural healing ointments for our sadly weathered and chapped hands! Food was a very popular part of our time together, with samples of many local delights (did I mention our love for Shady Maple doughnuts?!) 

the gang's (almost) all here!

grown up siblings and spouses

Our adult-siblings outing attempted a visit to Kitchen Kettle but due to inclement weather was re-routed to a fabulous furniture shop where one-of-a-kind pieces were made from rescued barn wood. It was attached to a coffee shop with delicious hot chocolate and next door we savored cheese steaks and other hot sandwiches at an incredible local deli and butcher shop. At home we shared meal preparation, with Aunt Raquel's amazing Peruvian fare one night and Aunt Nina's authentic Mexican meal later in the week. For good measure, we also tossed in Italian food by way of the amazing stuffed pizza available from a local restaurant in town!

getting Grandpa to play was quite a feat

Grandma patiently taught the younger generation how to play

The flip side of food was certainly games, which we enjoyed in spades (pun intended, ha.) Playing "Pit" was a loud family affair and much to our amusement we later found two-year old Silas trying to play his own version - i.e., throwing cards in the air and yelling "two, free, five" enthusiastically! "Ticket to Ride - Africa" was a new version and brother-in-law Kyle did the honors of researching the rules and patiently explaining them to the rest of us. Mother and daughters competed in "Settlers of Catan" on a couple of occasions and Uncle Mateo kindly taught chess to his nieces and nephews, but by far the favorite game this year was "Dutch Blitz" with the expansion to allow up to eight raucous players!

Uncle Mateo with Isabel

Aunt Raquel with Eva

Without a doubt, the highlight of our time together as a family came one night around the dinner table when our meal was done. It was then that the aunts and uncles shared their personal salvation testimonies with everyone present, and it was a special and holy time. My deepest desire is that our children understand how much God loves them and desires a relationship with them. What blessed me so much was hearing how despite challenges and heartaches, when the time was right each aunt and uncle was convicted by the Holy Spirit and surrendered in obedience to Him. Yet each one testified to the joy and fulfillment found only in God and following His will! I pray our children will pursue the same.

family photo by Jen Mininger Photography

So often my father-in-law has reminded our family of 3 John 1:4, the verse he and Mom hold most dear: "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." With tears and with smiles, that evening we rejoiced in God's faithfulness to our family. He is the one Who draws us into fellowship with Himself and one another. Our family - both the Garcias and Christians - are also our dearest friends, because of our bond in Christ. 

This New Year's week was an incredible blessing. We hope it will not be another five years before we are all together again! We captured some family photos with the help of a friend, Jen Mininger Photography, on an unforgettable and absolutely freezing morning of 12-degree winter weather. Yet another memory to cherish! - as we will each moment one from this very special visit.

family photo by Jen Mininger Photography

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