By Sandy Welch Thompson

Family. If there is anything I value it is the security in knowing I have someone to turn to when I need them. I refer to my company as my family and I know how special they have been to me over the years, but there is nothing like the family I go home to every single night.

Not just the crazy, beautiful kids I have and the husband I have been blessed with, but with every single branch or seedling that has ever come from that tree. My sisters and my brother are my best friends. My nieces and nephews could just as easily have been born my children and I am fortunate enough to have them as part of my life every day.

What I didn’t realize is how much more family I truly have.

We went to Michigan last week. That trip was just phenomenal. Firstly, because I allowed myself to simply enjoy the 12-hour trip there. That alone stood out as a memory I will hold always.

Secondly, because it was so special for my husband. David’s father passed long before I met him. His mother lives close but the majority of his family lives out of state, in Michigan. From the time we got there to the time we left, we experienced love that I didn’t actually appreciate until this recent trip.

Having siblings and relatives that are so close to my heart, and well…to my driveway, has been a true gift. As I sat watching my husband do homework to further himself for our immediate family, I cried. I cried because I realize what he doesn’t have here in Oklahoma. That physical closeness to my relatives. Not that he’s a hugger but well, we all need one from time to time and it is great to have that from a loved one who isn’t your kid or your wife.

I also cried because I know that we connected to our out-of-state family in the most wonderful way. To be fair, I have extremely close family ties to my out-of-state relatives in Mississippi and Louisiana. Some of those ties sadly were enhanced by my mom and dad’s failing health, and their eventual passing. Along with that, I lost several members of our extended family in recent years so I became even closer to my southern roots. Well, my northern roots (by marriage) were watered and fed last week and it worked like Miracle-Gro! I am pumped! I am beyond pumped at what we experienced in that simple week.

FaceBook and phone calls/texts are great to stay connected across the globe but a trip like we took to Michigan opened up so much more. It’s nothing for me to go over to my brother’s house and watch a movie, or go over to Tresa’s, Candy’s or Jeanette’s just to visit. That’s what old folks like me do now…’visit’

Oh I gripe, vent, cry, laugh and commune in all other types of conversation, but visit is what I like to do! Back to my trip. I know so much about my side of the family but never realized just how much David’s side means to us too. We hadn’t gone to Michigan in 8 years. That was a shame. No…it IS a shame. A shameful timeframe that I don’t plan to extend so long again.

I’m not a great traveler. I don’t necessarily like being gone from work. I worry about the house. I certainly don’t plan. And above all, contrary to what most folks think about me, I’m not great with strangers. Strangers.

Yup, that is what I tend to think of people no matter how they are related to me IF I haven’t put the value on what they could mean to me, nor the time to get to know them. I was a stranger in Michigan for about 10 seconds. It didn’t matter if we had been gone 8 minutes or 8 years. We pulled into Watervliet – 900 miles from where I live BUT, to everyone there…we had just come home. And I do mean home. David got to reminisce about his childhood. He got to relive moments about his dad that are never brought up really at our house. He connected in so many ways to the common, every-day occurrences I typically take for granted. He related (yes, pun intended) with his cousins that he so very much looked-up to when he was a kid. They talked about events that were long ago with as much enthusiasm as if they happened yesterday. And he talked about hunting. Lord knows that man was glad to visit about that with his family!

Thank you Ronnie for indulging him. Faye’s beautiful family and her lovely neighbor Rose Ann planned a grand celebration for David’s birthday – complete with 46 candles on the cake (Thank you Amanda)! He blew them out in one breath like he was 5 again. Got to see Amber and Sarah again, who don’t even look like they aged in 8 years!

We went to Lake Michigan which is just a bit colder than Keystone Lake…with Amanda, Ashley and their precious babies. The girls were welcomed by those angels like they lived right next door. Funny what came to me: Sand castles are in fact built with love AND sand. Both moms made me laugh because no matter what part of the country your accent is from…when we discipline our kids, we all sound the same!

We spent time with Kyle before he headed out of state. Even went to a little Peach Festival, much like the small events we have in Mannford. P.S. It was lovely to meet Kelly and see Matt again. We had the honor of celebrating Dessie and Jim’s (David’s cousins) 50th anniversary with so many family members. That day was special for so many reasons. I envisioned my own mom and dad because she truly reminded me of mom and he is so much like what dad would have been, if they would have been blessed with more years on earth. So, so very proud of every single member of their family.

Mike…a special THANK YOU for sitting with me and the girls at the table, while they made bead jewelry with our Watervliet and Coloma garage sale finds!

It wasn’t just an anniversary, it IS a testament to love, honor and deep prayers over half a century. It is also a testament to stamina through hard moments, struggles when times are lean and the commitment to withstand whatever comes at you…together. You don’t make it 50 years without knowing that couple nourished their marital growth with the spirit of planting a seed and watching it bloom into a tremendous garden rich in vibrant colors, healthy soil and a bountiful harvest of blessings.

We discovered our family has even more military heroes. THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR SERVICE. It is my honor to be part of your lives. We added to our family history by having the pleasure of hearing some of the amazing and yes, sad stories that were shared about their military careers. I take for granted that I spend my birthday every year with my family here in Oklahoma. It was something truly special to spend David’s birthday in Michigan, along with just all that went into that trip.

When my husband blew out those candles, I can only imagine that his wish was that we would spend more time up there with the Thompson and Burtchett clan – and Norma…we love you so much too!

All this to say – thank you to all my family no matter where you live. I truly do love my home in Oklahoma and all my family down south. What I discovered was our Michigan home isn’t 900 miles away at all, it’s in our hearts…right here on Coyote Trail.