IMG_3067_copy As a cloud cover settles over Switzerland and the old North winds blow across the Midwest of my birth land, it is time to hunker down and draw warm comfort from the gift of family. I am grateful for the people who shaped my life and stuck by me during transitions along the way.

I am thankful for my husband and children, my parents, grandparents, siblings, in-laws and outlaws, nieces and nephews, aunts, uncles, and cousins in my extended Olson-McKinzie-Elie-Lechault family.

Families come in all shapes, sizes and combinations: traditional, mixed race, same sex, single parent, blended, or cross cultural like mine. No magic formula exists as to what works. What matters is not one’s religion, nationality or ethnicity, but one’s capacity to invest in another. The love binds us – a love that is tolerant, that forgives mistakes, overlooks shortcomings, endures over time, and stands strong in the face of hardships. Families stick with you during the tough times like unemployment, illnesses, deaths and celebrates the good times like weddings, birthdays and milestones.

Like a patchwork quilt, my family is an eclectic mix of athletically inclined, musically gifted, hard-working American, French, German, Norwegian and Scottish, stitched together with old-fashioned values – loyalty, dependability, and integrity.

We spread across different countries, yet remain connected. We travel thousands of miles to share 48 hours of holiday magic. No matter how great the distance between us, our annual family reunion at our cabin in the Wisconsin Northwoods remains sacred.

Like this priceless lake property – a gift from my ancestors – family values have been passed down through generations. My parents showed us respect for our elders making sure they were a part of every event, and shared stories of the past, so I grew up valuing my heritage. My grandparents were such an integral part of my life that classmates still remember my Grandma’s oatmeal cookies and my Grandpa’s (Coach Mac) grumbling over bad passes at my ball games.

Families learn to accommodate different schedules, so we celebrate whenever we can get together instead of on the actual holidays. We make the traditional pork roasts, bake favorite cookies, and cater to gluten free, low fat, no sugar, healthy heart diets.

When members stumble due to bad diagnoses, professional setbacks or personal disappointments, someone else catches them before they fall.

Families share a sixth sense. My sisters know when I am at the breaking point and call out of the blue when I most need to hear their voices. My husband reads my face like an open book and knows when we need to leave the party or restaurant ASAP, so I can crash in quiet, dark room.

By hand holding, card writing, email sending, text messaging, and phone calling, families find little ways to stay connected. They sustain us through heart surgeries, cancer treatments, broken engagements, painful miscarriages, job losses, challenging relocations and unexpected emergencies.IMG_3712_copy

Families help pack boxes, plan parties, support dreams and give us hope. They stand in the rain to watch marathons and marching band performances. They sit on hard bleachers to see countless baseball, basketball, football, soccer and rugby games. They attend concerts, recitals and graduations. They support mission trips, help fund college education, offer opportunities to learn and grow and share each other’s talents with the world.

They drive us to doctors’ offices, listen to a million complaints, wipe away oceans of tears, but most of all, they believe in us even when we doubt ourselves.IMG_3945_copy

Good families got your back. Always.

And I am, oh so, grateful.