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"Sticking to the Straight and Narrow"

For the past week, I've been living at Starbucks and writing proposals for my company. When it comes to writing such documents, I'm certain it's not a passion of mine. To be quite honest, I would prefer writing about my dad or create some new web designs. So I'm finally getting the opportunity to write again.

It's been a little while since I've updated the home page. I've been doing some traveling for the past three and a half weeks. In October, I was rejoined with my family in Florida to celebrate my cousin's wedding. I had such a wonderful time. Seeing everyone together again brought about so much joy. Being with all the relatives, whether it be swimming, eating, sight-seeing, laughing, watching Joey's baseball game, going out at night, or having little Sam (just 5 years of age) wake me each morning at 5 a.m. asking, "What are you doing?" made the entire stay extra special. The last time I recall laughing this hard was prior to my father's illness. I also haven't danced that much for quite some time as we did that weekend. I felt like I was in college again, going from one celebration to the next (Kelli, when's the next party? I'm driving. :-) I can't wait to come down early in the new year.) I believe the weekend brought about much healing for me.

The essential component which made this occasion extra special was my family. There's something about the idea of family that makes me want to understand and experience it more. Family was always a priority growing up. Nothing could interfere or change the high value placed upon it. My parents sacrificed much for their three sons and I feel I'm just starting to understand why.

After the celebrations were over with and we found some "down time," I enjoyed listening to my aunts, uncles, and cousins bring me up to date since we last met in the spring. Many of our discussions revolved around family traditions, values, and faith. As I listened to them, I realized even more how special these invididuals are to me and the significance their life bears on my future and the future of my family. As I played with my little cousins, I wanted them to know how much I love them and how much I want to be a part of their lives. The discussion of family reunions was brought up once again, as it does whenever there is a large gathering for some special occasion. I look forward to those gatherings. If anything, we will have fun at Sydney's 1st communion, next spring (BTW, I forgot to tell Aunt Rosemary, Holly, Kelli, and look good! - inside family joke).

I heard many discussions about my father, both in group and individual settings. I even heard some new stories. Each recollection made me wish he could have been present to be a part of the festivities. But even though he couldn't be a part of the weekend's celebration, in some large way, he was there: he was there within our hearts. Each one of us had something to share about my father. Just the mention of his name brought a smile to our countenances. At times, the humor found in some of the things he used to do brought us to tears. They were good tears, not tears of sadness. The stories were varied, but we were all clear that he loved us very much.

Loving someone is a very special gift we've been given, but there is something unique about knowing YOU ARE LOVED. There's a sort of comfort and security in knowing that someone is there rooting for you, supporting you, believing in you, and will stand by your side when everything seems to fall apart. Even when your so-called trusted friends - especially your best friends - abandon you and they no longer choose to be in your life, one can find hope in those faithful few. Time has a wonderful way of proving who our friends are especially during times of crises. Unfortunately the loyal ones are few. But perhaps tough times are good in one sense because they sift away those who claim to be faithful and define those who are companions for life.

My father always gave that impression to each family member. When you were in his presence, you felt like you were his favorite. He had a way of engaging you. He made you feel as if what you had to say was important. He valued you, all of you, the good and the bad. In fact, the things you wished weren't part of you past were irrelevant to him. He loved you as you were, not what you did wrong or failed to do. And whatever he shared with you, you knew his advice was sound and trustworthy, always shared in a manner of love.

I have to say my trip was very much like a confirmation of sorts. Each discussion I had with my family hammered home the importance of not compromising who I am, especially the things I value and treasure just for someone or something else. When I was alone, running along the beach, I had plenty of time to reflect on this specific thought. I pondered on the great sacrifices my parents made for my brothers and I so that we could have opportunities to succeed in life. But their sacrifices weren't only for us; they were for our wives and our children, and our children's children. To veer from that godly heritage would be selfish on my part and only God knows the generational ramifications from such a poor decision. I can't imagine the thought of breaking their hearts at giving up what took much sacrifice and love.

My resolve to stay the narrow course only grew stronger during this trip. I still think of that commitment each day, and I pray that my appreciation for my family will continue to grow as I move on in my years.

- Justin