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."