Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Eli, Sanford, Me

"You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, 
as you are to them."
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu

It was a joy being at a family reunion Saturday that my brother Sanford and his wife Martha, who live in Costa Rica, were able to attend. In all there were some 150 people gathered, representing four generations of descendants and in-laws of our late parents, Ben and Mary Yoder. All eight of us remaining siblings were present, most with at least some of our offspring. An older sister, Lucy, who died in 2003, was represented by her husband and three of their daughters.

After our meal and some picture-taking we had an open mic time to share stories, reminiscences and appreciations, clearly one the best family reunion experiences I can remember. I was again impressed by what a loving, interesting clan I’m privileged to be a part of. I was especially moved at the sight of Ernest and oldest sister Lovina's family gathered for their picture. There must have been over fifty of their descendants with them, with Ernest, nearly blind, in an overstuffed chair beside Lovina, his petite bride of 65 years, surrounded by nothing but love and blessed ties that bind. A beautiful sight.

I was of course especially glad to see Sanford, he and brother Eli having been major positive influences on my life. Eli was the brother with whom I shared the most, he being the closest to my age (less than five years older) and considerably wiser than I, and the namesake of our grandfather Eli Nisly, a much loved Amish minister and bishop. My brother's one and only Ruth is a gem of a person, and she and Eli have an enviably happy marriage.

Sanford, nine years older than I, went through a time of open rebellion as a teenager that caused a lot of grief for my parents and for all of us. Then at age eighteen he experienced a dramatic conversion that led to his transformation into the minister and church planter he later became. He and his beloved Martha have been role models I’ve always looked up to.

Each of us three sons is an ordained minister, following in the footsteps of our grandfather Nisly. While we don’t see eye to eye on everything, and don’t get together as often as we’d like, there is still an inseparable bond between us.

When Sanford suffered a serious heart attack several months ago, Eli and I immediately made plans to go to Costa Rica to see him, hoping to spend time with him before his scheduled bypass surgery. Then a virtual miracle happened, one we have all celebrated as an answer to prayer. He improved so much that his doctor no longer recommended surgery, and gave them the go ahead to come to the States to see their four married children and families and the rest of us in the US.

Meanwhile, Eli and I, and possibly my second oldest sister Esther (now widowed), are now hoping to make the trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua to see Sanfords and their sons, daughters and families in early spring.

My Alma Jean, while choosing not to make the journey herself, is encouraging me to go on this family pilgrimage, similar to one Eli and I made to Central America soon after our mother died.

Ah, family. What would we be without it?
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