About a year and a half ago I had a conversation during a fun, leisurely bike ride that completely changed the way I interact with my family on a day-to-day basis.
Several months before this moment, I had packed up my little convertible and made the 2,230-mile trek from my family’s home in Florida to my new job in Las Vegas. Moving across the country was a big deal, but at the time, I didn’t realize just how big of a deal it really was. I settled into my new schedule and rhythms, meeting new friends, learning a new area, and time seemed to whizz by to the point where I would go several days—even a week—without having an intentional conversation with my family. I didn’t realize it at the time, but something in me had shifted, I was letting the three people closest to me begin to slip slowly away.
Fast-forward back to my bike ride. It had been five months since the big move, and my Dad and I were talking about life, my new friends, and my dreams and goals, when he suddenly said something I’ll never forget. Steadily pedaling his bike, he said, “Emily, I don’t want to make this conversation somber, but I have a serious question. If I were to die tomorrow, would you want to stand at my funeral knowing we had talked every day, or that having conversations here and there and when it was convenient was enough? If it’s ok with you, I want to talk with you every day—whether it’s on the phone or in a text message—because I value my relationship with you and want to live my life with no regrets. Will you make this commitment with me?”
I knew my Dad was onto something. Up until that moment, I had been so caught up in new people, new places, and my new job, that I put the three relationships that matter the most to me on the bottom of my priority list—my Dad, my Mom and my sister. That conversation was a game changer for me in how I chose to lean into my family from over 2,000 miles away. Rather than using distance as an excuse, I chose to see distance as an opportunity to be intentional in how I loved and invested in my family.
Here are a few simple ways I chose to lean into my family:
- Talk daily. My Dad was so right. Rather than periodic text messages or once-in-the-blue-moon phone calls, I prioritized calling my parents every day. For me, this usually happens on my way to work in the morning—each day we have a simple 5-6 minute phone call, and on the days we can’t connect on the phone, we text. Looking back, I can see how these daily conversations made a world of difference both relationally and emotionally for me—I was able to connect with my biggest cheerleaders, ask questions, be encouraged, share little victories and feel a “hug” from home.
- Surprise them. I love gifts—and I have a blast surprising my family when they least expect it with their favorite snacks in mail care packages or bouquets of flowers just because. We don’t have to wait for holidays to remind those we love that we care about them—surprise your family just because you love them.
- Send letters. My Dad is the best at this. Intentionally thinking through what is going on in both mine and my sister’s worlds, my Dad sends letters around events and trips he knows we are participating in. For example, when I would arrive back to my apartment after a work trip, I would always find a letter from my Dad saying, “Welcome home!” with an encouraging piece of inspiration.
- Include trips home in your budget. As you sit down and plan your budget for this next year, prioritize trips home. Add a column and financially work through what you can do this year. Maybe you can commit to going home for one holiday, or maybe several!
- FaceTime. And for the times you can’t go home, plan a creative way you can still be a part of the festivities! For example, I wasn’t home for my birthday this past year, but my parents and I were still able to celebrate together! My Mom & Dad sent me a package and when I received it, we FaceTimed, where I opened it with them and we celebrated a new year!
Wherever you find yourself this Christmas—whether you’re living under the same roof as your family or you’re continents apart—let’s commit to being intentional. Maybe that looks like taking the first step towards reconciliation by choosing to forgive or offer forgiveness. Maybe that means buying a plane ticket or packing up your car and driving home for Christmas. Maybe that means sending a special card in the mail. Maybe that means FaceTiming your Mom for the first time in a long time. Maybe that means asking that couple at church you admire to be your adopted family and allowing them to speak life into you. Whatever “leaning into your family” means this year, let’s give it all we’ve got. Because when I reach my last breath here on earth, I want to know I loved with all I had and can leave this world with no regrets. Perhaps Mark Twain said it best, “It isn’t the things we did that we most regret; it’s the things we didn’t do.” Make that phone call, send that text message, hop on that airplane. I don’t want to get to the end of my life regretting the things I didn’t do. Do you?