I have always been a sap for those heartwarming made-for-TV holiday movies, you know, the ones that portray a large family, who after many obstacles are all miraculously able to come home and celebrate Christmas together. Big families intrigue me, and to say I hadn’t been a bit envious of those who belonged to one would not exactly be truthful. Being one of my parent’s only two earthly children, it at first did not seem to be in God’s plan for us to share in the excitement of large family living.
But as it turns out, He did in fact have great plans for us. Fast forward a few years to the birth of my sister Elizabeth, Elizabeth Ministry (EMI), that is. Growing up alongside, nay, along with an international ministry has been one of the greatest blessings in my life.
In its early years, EMI was headquartered in the basement of our house. There were always people coming and going, working on projects and doing various other duties. Volunteers quickly became “other mothers” to me, and their children like siblings. Coming home from school each afternoon, I could always count on having multiple people there with whom to share the stories from my day and to offer advice and comfort if I needed it. My sister and I still laugh and reminisce about one particular afternoon, when we walked into the house to find an unknown woman sitting on our couch speaking German on the telephone. To many, unaccustomed to the welcoming ways of our unique ministry life, this may have been a strange, if not alarming event. However, we just quietly walked through and introduced ourselves after she wrapped up her call. (This woman would soon become a good family friend and another mentoring mother figure to us.)
Many nights, others joined around our dinner table to share a meal. These were special times of interaction and collaboration as we ate, laughed, talked and cleaned up together. As the years went on, our dates would come to the door and get the 3rd degree from not one, but a multitude of mothers. I’m sure I was embarrassed a time or two from this, but looking back on it now, I just feel lucky — lucky to have many people in my life looking out for me and taking care of me.
As I got older, I also took on more responsibilities within the everyday happenings of EMI. One of my favorite tasks was to bring the outgoing mail to the local post office. Being in a small town, the postal workers behind the counter took special interest in their customers. Since I came with a van load of boxes almost everyday, I got to know them pretty well. One in particular was always so genuine and truly took the time to talk to me. She later became involved with EMI and is still an active volunteer to this day. (She also has become another “Grandma” for me and even opened up her home and yard as a setting for my wedding pictures.)
Even after EMI moved out of our basement, first to a small house and then to its current retreat center location, the family feeling remained. We’d still gather for a meal from time to time with those who were working late. Whenever I’d walk in the door, I was greeted with hugs and love. Prepping for and working at retreats in more recent times have brought me many cherished memories and allowed me to have met even more wonderful people. One of these people in particular my children have come to adore as an extra aunt!
Through my various health issues, the amount of love, prayers and support from my EMI family (most of whom I have never even met) has been astounding. Have I ever wished that I had a “normal” childhood of small familial isolation, where the dinner conversations didn’t include words such as mucous, burial vessel, or Bishop so and so? Maybe in a fleeting moment of teenage rebellious negativism, but certainly not past that. I feel so lucky and blessed to have had every single experience, interaction and relationship that Elizabeth Ministry has brought into my life. All of you reading this, know that you are a part of this wonderful family, now and forever. I’d say that’s way better than anything we could ever view on the Hallmark channel!