Since our move to Ohio last year, six sets of friends have come from far away to visit us.
The first was Erik Chandler from Knoxville, TN. We became friends with Erik & Kim when we all lived in Southern California and attended the same church. There are roots in this friendship that run deep, and we love watching their cute family grow. Erik made the day's drive to come meet us the morning we drove our Penske truck and trailer in to Medina. He helped us move our stuff and didn't even complain that we made him sleep on the floor. Erik spoke at our church men's retreat last month, which was a real treat. Not that I was there, but I love the idea of connecting our friends, and Erik is such a gifted pastor.
Our third set of houseguests came from Costa Mesa, CA: the Jenkins family (whom we also know from our California church). They were the first ones to sleep in our guestroom, inspire us to spend a day at the zoo, and wait over 3 hours for gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches in Cleveland. Their oldest, Coen, is Chris's namesake (one of his middle names is Christopher) and godson. We have been through some times with these friends over the years, and love sharing life and ministry with them across the miles. Skype and Chinese take-out are our go-tos. Amber is a wizard in the kitchen and showed me how to make our favorite appetizer: bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese and drizzled with maple syrup.
Houseguests number four hailed from Seattle, WA. Brian & Michelle McMahon are dear friends of ours from our church in Mill Creek. Chris is one of Brian's mentors, and Michelle & I used to sing together on the worship team. We were unknowingly a part of the night they got engaged, and had the privilege of singing at their wedding. Brian & Michelle have a big heart for youth, and have spent their married life working together to reach the young people in their community and around the state. They are a spirited pair who frolicked with us in Amish country last winter and helped to encourage the young adults at our church here in Ohio (most of whom work with students).
Last week, we were blessed to have houseguests number six: our oldest niece & nephew on the Holowaty side, from Burlingame, CA (San Francisco area, where Chris grew up). Elanor just graduated high school and Nathaniel is a junior. They came in to our family ten years ago as adopted siblings from Ukraine. We occasionally reminisce about what that whole experience was like for all of us. The waiting, the prayers, the anticipation, the arrival, the language barrier.. my tears of joy when we first met. To see who they have become over the past decade is remarkable. They are kind, creative, engaging, energetic, funny, responsible teenagers. Yes, responsible, and they can hold their own in adult conversations. They never cease to amaze me.
Their visit was our birthday gift to them last year, and was a week the four of us have anticipated for months! We squeezed as much as we could in to their stay and gave them a healthy dose of Ohio life. I think Elanor would consider becoming Amish, if she didn't have her heart set on doing mission work in Africa. Nathaniel can't wait to attend Akron University in 2013. They made friends with everyone they met here, and we loved having so much time with them!
Every day we are blessed by our friends near and far. Even with all the miles between some of us, you are held close in our hearts.