Dr. Jamie Jenkins: Guest Writer Lena Jenkins: Thank God for Our Extended Family

I gladly welcome my favorite person and "guest columnist" to Monday Morning in North Georgia.  --Jamie Jenkins

Recently our daughter, Jennifer, her fiancé, David and his parents flew into Atlanta from California for a whirlwind visit. The purpose of this visit was to introduce David and his parents to our many relatives in south Alabama and a few long-standing friends here in Atlanta. 


After a short rest Thursday night, we awoke to a southern breakfast of biscuits, gravy, grits, bacon and eggs. Then we loaded our stuffed selves into the minivan and headed for Orange Beach on the Gulf of Mexico. On Saturday about seventy five or so of Jennifer's aunts, uncles and cousins gathered to celebrate her engagement, check out David, and enjoy a delicious gulf coast lunch (David won them over with a strategically placed Roll Tide yell).


There was a lot of southern style fellowship. Jennifer's future mother-in-law said she had never witnessed so much hugging. The hugging is my favorite part. One consistent thing in my huge extended dysfunctional family has been the supportive hugs. As a clergy family in North Georgia, we have lived away from relatives for over forty years. I have missed a lot of family hug fests.


In the beginning, being away from relatives was difficult, especially on special occasions and holidays. We wanted our children to experience the Sunday lunch gatherings and the large Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas get-togethers. The problem was how to do this when we lived hundreds of miles away and needed to be at the churches Jamie was called to serve.


We decided if we could not be with the ones we love, we would love the ones we were with. We started by inviting families over for lunch after church on Sundays. Hard work but well worth it. Most of these people also lived away from relatives and floundered on holidays and special occasions. This helped develop friendships that have been as close as relatives and a loving supportive network for our children. While loading the dishwasher this past Easter one friend asked me how many holidays we had spent together. My answer was well over thirty--a lot more than we have been able to spend with the relatives in Mobile, Alabama.  


This attitude of loving the ones you are with has made life much more enjoyable. We love our children and grandchildren very much. It would be wonderful if they all lived close enough to hug every day but they don't. Some of them live far away. We see and talk with them weekly via Skype and have long visits with the grandchildren during the summer and at Christmas. It's not perfect, but it works.


Our new neighbors have a ten year old son. Darren comes over to visit us occasionally. Recently he asked if I would play a game with him. He chose Monopoly. I hate Monopoly, but I agreed. While we were playing, I thought how much I would love to be playing this game with our grandchildren, nine year-old Jamie or 6 year-old Felicia. Another thought came just as quickly, "If you can't be with the ones you love, love the ones you are with."  I made a deliberate decision to enjoy this game with Darren. We played on for two hours of fun.


We can choose to focus on what we have or what we don't have. We can emphasize our losses or our gains. Thank God for all our many blessings and especially for our "extended family."


Lena Jenkins

Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," May 7, 2012, North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church