Family By Choice

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by Kathy Wendling

Well, it’s the time of the year when we wish each other Merry Christmas, shop and make plans to celebrate Christ’s birth with our family and friends. In my family there are a lot of people we consider family, but are not related to us. We like to call them “family by choice”. These are the people who are there to share the highs and lows in our lives. We go to each other’s family events, refer to them as Aunt or Uncle and can pick up where we left off no matter how long it has been since we spoke. We love each other.

During the last seven years, I have met MANY volunteers that would fit this definition. I am sure most of them do not realize I think of them as “family by choice”, but I do because we are one in the Family of Christ. Every Monday morning at Camp Restore, when I speak with the volunteers during orientation, I am reminded of this. Some of the volunteers have been to Camp Restore so often; it feels natural to greet them by saying “welcome home.” Diane Levan is one of those volunteers.

Diane’s church, Tallmadge Lutheran Church of Tallmadge, Ohio, has made several mission trips to Camp Restore, since Hurricane Katrina. After Hurricane Sandy devastated communities along the east coast, Diane began organizing a mission trip to the area. Once there, they worked with Pastor Ed Brashier, former Camp Restore Camp Director, praying, clearing and cutting trees from people’s yards. When they returned home, Diane saw on the local TV news a report about New Orleans firefighters who had traveled to New York to join the hurricane recovery efforts. The NYFD firefighters were some of the first to arrive in NOLA after Katrina and help out. The NOFD firefighters wanted to do the same for them.

Autumn was the NOFD firefighter being interviewed in the story. As Diane was watching, she realized she knew her. Diane and her church members installed, taped and floated sheetrock in Autumn’s house during their NOLA mission trip from five years ago. Diane said her church members would always remember the NOFD firefighter who turned the members onto shrimp po-boys and her crazy dog that would steal lunches and jump into the church van during those NOLA summer afternoon thunderstorms.

Through Facebook, Diane was able to reconnect with Autumn while she was still working in New York. Here is the Facebook response Autumn sent Diane:

“You are one of the main reasons I volunteered to come up here and help. I even mentioned
you guys on the news, but they edited out a lot. I still really appreciate it though,
thank you again.”

Diane shared Autumn’s comments with me and her mission team and sent us this message:

“I hope you all find this as heartwarming as I do. We were at her home about 5 years ago!
This is a beautiful testimony as to the work we do when we mission it is not just the week we
are there. We mean it to have a lasting effect. It is nice to see it in writing. Very encouraging!”

I love the synergy in all of this. God has connected us to each other and together we can make a difference in the lives of others. We are stronger because we are one in the Family of Christ.

So, during this Christmas season while we celebrate with our family, friends and “family of choice”, remember we are one in the Family of Christ.

Merry Christmas,
Kathy Wendling
December 2012

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