The funny thing about families: Even if you're apart for awhile, when you get back together, it's like no time at all has lapsed.
Recently, my niece Jennifer graduated college. She was the first in our family to do so, and we all went to my sister's house in California to celebrate.
Dad looked the same, just a few inches shorter. He still drapes his legs over the side of a chair when he sits. I cried when I saw him, and I couldn't keep from staring at him and at my brothers and my sister. It was all so surreal. It had been 10 years since we'd all been together.
My brother's mustache is gray now. My nephews are grown men. My sister is a grandma - and so am I. The matriarch of our family, Aunt Gladys, came from San Francisco. She's lost weight, still wears pearls.
We all met for dinner at the hotel where my husband and I were staying. Because there were so many of us, the hotel restaurant put us in a separate dining room. They must have been warned that the O'Brand-Kennedy-Watson branch of the O'Rourke family can get a bit rowdy at dinner, telling the same old stories we always tell when we're together.
When I was 13, my brother Jim called me an albino gorilla and I went berserk. I screamed and cried as only a hormonal teenager can. We told that story, and the one about the footprints up the closet wall in the boys' bedroom. After all these years, still nobody claims responsibility.
On Saturday, we girls of the family pooled our money and did a makeover on my niece's bedroom while the boys did boy stuff. I think televised sports were involved. Afterward, we went out for ice cream. It's not an O'Rourke-O'Brand-Kennedy-Watson get-together without ice cream.
Too soon it was time to say goodbye. My brother had to catch a plane to Boston; my husband and I had to get back to Florida. Mom and Dad had to go back to Mexico and check on their dog. We all said the usual, "It's been too long. Let's not wait so long next time. We'll keep in touch." That's what families always say to each other when they have to go their separate ways. That's because separation of families is unnatural.
Families were meant to be together. Forever. Maybe not all under one roof - but together, nonetheless. Separation hurts, especially when you know some of those you love may not be with you in eternity.
But God is working in my family. Thirty years ago when God called me into a relationship with himself and I surrendered my life to Jesus, I was the only Christian in the O'Rourke-O'Brand-Kennedy-Watson clan. Now there are a handful of us, not because of my influence, but despite it. I still tend to go albino-gorilla-berserk now and then. Plus, I don't write or call my mom like I should, and I wouldn't let my husband hold the photos I took. Even so, God is working in my family because he's merciful and gracious and he answers prayer.
Most of my family members don't or won't listen to me talk about Jesus, so I talk to him about them. He says not to worry. He's preparing a place, although he doesn't say who will be there - so I keep praying.
When I said goodbye to my sister, I was brave - but I cried back in my hotel room. Separation isn't natural. So, I'll e-mail her every day and hope to see her again soon.
Thank God for technology. Thank God for eternity, too, because I'll ultimately never be separated from my sister. She belongs to Jesus, too.
Still, separation is unnatural. It hurts. But God's not finished with my family. I trust and hope and pray he's working on an eternal reunion for the O'Brand-Kennedy-Watson branch of the O'Rourke family.
Who knows? Maybe we'll have ice cream.