Jay Lenkersdorfer

One of the highlights for our family this past summer was to attend a family reunion that took place near Kelowna, British Columbia on the shores of Lake Okanagan. The reunion was the first of its kind for me and my siblings as nearly all of us traveled to Canada to be with our cousins who live in Canada.

No, we haven’t all fled the country to avoid the craziness of this political cycle, we simply went to Canada to be with our cousins who are all Canadian citizens. My mother was Canadian but immigrated to the United States to marry my father, who she had met when he was a missionary in Canada. After coming to the United States my mother quickly became a naturalized citizen and essentially left her Canadian roots behind. Back then the idea of being a dual citizen hadn’t caught on so when you left Canada you never looked back.

Ironically, one of my American cousins moved to Canada a few years ago to work as a mine safety manager in the oil sands of Alberta. Because his mother had been born in Canada he was able to claim dual citizenship. As much as he loved Canada, he only stayed a few years before returning to the states. The determining factor for his leaving Canada was the season we call winter. In Idaho the winter season is three to four months at the most, but north of the border where he lived it was a six-month test of your toughness, which he clearly didn’t possess.

Meeting up with members of our extended family has been difficult for my siblings and I because of our father’s birth order. The youngest of nine children, seven sisters and one brother, our dad was born when his father was 54 years old. By the time our dad was capable of holding a memory, his only brother, the first born of the group, was already in college. That left his sisters to be his family, but they soon graduated from college and all but one of them married and moved away.

The result was a complete absence of any immediate family living anywhere near us. With our mother’s Canadian roots being a thousand miles north and our father’s siblings scattered all across the country we were on our own.

But five years ago, something happened that has breathed new life into our veins. It seems that one of our Canadian cousins had been invited to a nieces wedding in Idaho Falls and his wife, Helen, decided she would reach out to some of their cousins living in the United States. Maybe because all of my stories are searchable on the internet, I was the person that she ended up contacting.

In the years since that first introduction we have enjoyed a number of trips with Helen and Craig, but something was missing. There were many more relatives in Canada that we hadn’t met and the best way to meet them was to do a family reunion. Two summers passed with tentative plans for a reunion, but forest fires in British Columbia made the summers nearly impossible to enjoy. This summer passed without the outbreak of fire and so the reunion took place.

As a part of the reunion, my cousin, Craig, took It upon himself to organize everything including water fights, boating, raft racing, sing-a-longs by the campfire, lots of food and a Sunday service. Not all of the cousins in attendance are active in a church, so I was concerned that we might offend some of our siblings by holding an informal church service. But cousin Craig put it all into perspective when he said, “We’re doing a Sunday service because it’s who we are.”

My Canadian cousins had been raised in large part on the Queen Charlotte Islands off the western coast of Canada. While they lived there they were pretty much isolated from everything, including a formal church they could attend, so they did the next best thing which was to hold a regular Sunday service in their home. This tradition became a part of who they were, so when announced a Sunday service there wasn’t a single complaint.

Having this opportunity to worship together, even for a short service, turned out to be one of the tenderest experiences any of us had at the reunion. Who we are has everything to do with how we were raised and sometimes includes where we were raised. For our Canadian cousins, meeting together on a Sunday afternoon became a part of who they were, and they were kind enough to share that experience with us. In retrospect, it would have been a shame had it not happened.

If you want to enrich your life I would encourage you to seek out some of your relatives to whom you haven’t met or maybe haven’t seen for many years. Getting together is not only a good way of learning about them, it’s a beautiful way to enrich your life by inviting them to be a part of your life. If your experience is anything like ours, it will be unforgettable.

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