When I was fourteen, I went through a weird stage where I wanted to be an only child. I can’t remember why, though I imagine being the oldest of eight kids had something to do with it. So much noise, so much activity! I had dreams of living in a home with wall-to-wall carpet and a giant room devoted to my favorite person — me!
I don’t think that phase lasted too long, but I remember it well. It’s not that I didn’t love my own family; it’s just that in my teenage mind, I could (clearly) see the benefits of time away from them. I had a good friend who was an only child until she was thirteen; her room was amazing.
Fast forward all these years later, and my siblings are now among my very best friends. I can’t tell you when it changed, but time marches on and people grow and mature and you look back on everything you have together — so much history, so many hours logged — and suddenly you can’t imagine life without these goofballs.
And so it was, last week, when four of the Swenson children and our beloved parents, drove thirteen hours to surprise our brother for a monumental birthday. Josh was turning 40 and we wanted to celebrate with him.
We loaded up in my van at 4 a.m. and within the first 90 minutes I had already laughed more than I had in weeks. And I like to laugh. And my life isn’t boring! What is this, I marveled, because I have plenty of fun in regular life.
But that’s the thing about siblings — they reach a part of your heart, of your being, that no one else gets. You are YOU when you’re with them, the whole of it all. For better or for worse, you can let it all hang out and just relax, and sure being the oldest maybe that includes a little bit of bossy. But there is nothing like it, what an incredible gift.
We headed out on our thirteen hour trek and the only item on our agenda was time. Being together. Spending time together. No grand party planned, no lavish gifts bestowed. We were driving to be together, to enjoy time together. And we did, and it was wonderful.
Family is such a mystery. It can feel like the greatest gift God’s ever given you, but it can also be hard. There are hurts and conflict, ways of relating that aren’t always ideal. No family is perfect and the minute you can get on board with that, that’s when you can start really loving the family you got.
Believe me when I say there is no perfect family out there; everyone gets stuck with an element of crazy. But I’d like to think God knows what he’s doing when he puts us all together. Appreciate the gift of family, of your family. Don’t compare! There is freedom in loving the people around you, for who they are warts and all.
For me, spending time with my siblings gives me a deeper appreciation for my mom and dad, for the sacrifice they’ve poured into our life. They taught us family is important, not in any lecture, but by their actions. My parents put time and energy into family life and we learned that building family isn’t always easy but it is time well spent.
Over the weekend with my parents and siblings, I reflected on my family back at home. I thought about my husband and our efforts as we raise our crew. I prayed for the same love and joy to permeate the relationships of our six children, that the seeds planted now will yield the same deep friendships and joy in time together.
“Miss you goobers already,” was the text I sent my siblings the morning after our trip, a heart swelling with love, grateful for these companions on the journey of life. Family takes work, but it is always worth the effort.