As we celebrate Independence Day this year, in spite of the scandals that grab the headlines, America remains exceptional. In fact, one of the things about America that brings gratitude to our hearts and provides a sustaining hope for our future is the strength of family that has been the primary source for instilling American patriotism, revitalizing religious faith, and ensuring our cultural stability.
President John Adams wrote, "The foundation of national morality must be laid in private families." He explained, "It should be your care...to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives."
The value of family was evident when many in the Paulson clan gathered in Arizona to celebrate Aunt Gladys's 100th birthday. In years past, our extended families would have tied this celebration to our annual Paulson Family Reunion in Kirkland, IL, a town with one post office, one bank, one gas station, and multiple churches.
In Kirkland, the 4th of July has always been the biggest event of the year. There's a parade that draws far more than the city's population, fun carnival rides, an amazing fireworks display, numerous family reunions, and, of course, the competitive tractor pulls.
But the whole family hasn't been together for years, not since our 75th Paulson Reunion. The California Paulsons created a song to mark the day. At the First Lutheran Church of Kirkland that our family helped found, the Paulson Family choir sang and yours truly preached on "The Faith of Our Fathers." There were endless casseroles, fantastic deserts, and a tour of family farms and Maple Cemetery.
At the reunion, Uncle Wayne challenged our generation to make a choice -- "Soon we will be gone, and you'll have to decide whether you want to continue. Future reunions will be up to you."
Busy careers had helped us avoid finding the "right time" for family reunions. It took one of the last of a family's oldest generation turning 100 to spark a gathering! Cousins who had not seen each other in years reached out by email, bought plane tickets, and found their way to Arizona to celebrate with Gladys Paulson.
Cousin Chuck, now a retired Lutheran pastor, confided, "I recently realized that as a pastor I had let my church families be my family, and I didn't take time to be with you. Now, I realize how much I missed and needed my own family."
He was not alone. We all had other churches, organizations, and networks we valued that often got in the way of making time for family. Catching up took time. We shared experiences that had shaped us and hammered home enduring principles and values that served us well. Those lessons were honed on the anvil of everyday living on the farms and in our homes.
Alex Haley wrote, "In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future." Gladys was that link for us. Many who turn 100 have lost so many faculties, but Gladys possessed a clarity and a grounded faith that anyone years younger would be proud of. Her personal insights about our family and faith history reminded us of how much our family had shaped our lives and our success.
Gladys certainly might agree with John Adams when he wrote, "The longest liver of you all will find no principles, institutions or systems of education more fit in general to be transmitted to your posterity than those you have received from your ancestors."
Beyond family, Gladys repeatedly gave all the glory to God for the life she has lived. On this coming Independence Day, may we not forget to thank God for this great country, for our many blessings, and for the importance of family in our lives. As for the Paulson Clan, we hope to meet soon to experience the family treasures that only time together can unearth.