Jonathan Wright

It was absolutely the greatest family gathering possible—without being connected to a funeral.

I’m talking about a phenomenal event I attended last weekend in St. Simons Island, Georgia—none other than the one-hundredth birthday celebration of my stepfather, Leonard W. Mann.

Leonard has one of widest networks of friends, family, and associates you could imagine. A good chunk of it comes from his 38 years as a United Methodist minister throughout Ohio and a few other locations in the East, plus the 15 books he has penned. From these pastorates and literary endeavors have come an incredible “cloud of witnesses” who have filled his life with warm friendships and a rich heritage of faith.

He and my mother, Sallie, were both widowed over a decade ago, one thing led to another, and they married in 2001. Leonard grew up in Greenville, my mother in Huntington, with many mutual family connections in Monroe County and Huntington, so it was a natural thing for them to come together in matrimony.

Although moving around more slowly now, Leonard, 100, and my mother, 95, have remained in remarkably good health these past few years, for which we profusely thank the Lord.

The weekend gathering led not only me and my son, Zach, to travel to the Georgia coast—it also brought in an impressive assortment of relatives we had not seen for years. Some of these family members had not seen each other since childhood—many, many decades ago.

Whereas it’s always a special treat to get together with people who are related to you, it’s an inexpressible bonus to see those you’ve been apart from for more years than you remember. The thought crossed my mind several times this past weekend: “This is a small taste of what heaven will be like.”

And indeed heaven will see a lot of this. While the focus for untold millions of believers will rightfully be turned constantly to our Creator and Savior while eternity unfolds, a fascinating incidental attraction will be dramatic reunions with friends and loved ones we haven’t seen in ages.

The reunions I experienced a few days ago at St. Simons Island at my stepdad’s 100th birthday celebration are but a faint preview of such expressible joy that’s in the future of all who know Him. It reminded many of us relatives that we need to do this more often.

Way too frequently in way too many families, of course, we lament that virtually the only time extended family members get together is at the death of one of them. That’s a shame.

Take time—and be deliberate about it—to plan occasions for bringing your family together. Such occasions are precious and worth any trouble it may be to see them through to reality.

Don’t wait until it’s time to plan a funeral.

Come to think about it, you don’t even have to wait until a one-hundredth birthday.


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