Five Things I Remembered from Bowling with my Family



*Photo Credit – Stefanie Sevim Gardner

On Saturday we went bowling.

The bowling alley was alive with activity. Families, buddies, friends — all gathered together on this weekend after a holiday to enjoy each other and the game. I have not been bowling in over 20 years and it was an afternoon to remember.

And through the course of throwing a heavy ball down a wooden lane I remembered some important things about family and about sticking with family as they grow and change.

First off – I’ve no illusions about family – either my nuclear family, my extended family, or anyone else’s family. We’re part of a broken world and nothing shows this like family. But the glory in this is that family is a unit that God uses to show redemption in a powerful way. What is broken can be fixed, what is cracked can be restored, what is lost can be redeemed. And sometimes we see this through activities as common as sharing a meal, or in our case — bowling. 

So here are some things I remembered as I spent a cold December afternoon bowling with family.

Be yourself, Keep it real. At one point my son Micah tried some fancy footwork. The ball went into the gutter like a slap in the face. My daughter-in-law Lauren looked at him and said “Babe, You never do well when you try and do tricks. Just be yourself” Bam. Exactly. We work best in our families when we are who we are, when we excel in how we’re gifted, when we don’t try the fancy footwork to impress — when we don’t try to do tricks! Trying to impress family, the people you grew up with, the ones who watched you through your awkward stages? It’s never going to work; they’ve seen too much of the real deal. They aren’t there to impress — they exist to love us, to help us be and express ourselves, to care when no one else does.

Encourage. Our time spent bowling was full of encouragement and friendly competition. Helpful tips from those who are better bowlers spurred those of us on the lower end of the score sheet to do better. Our successes were shared as a group. All of us celebrated the triumph of a strike or a spare. Encouragement is a gift that families can give each other.

Be fully present. We put away our cell phones. There were no distractions. We were fully present. We all focused on the game and each other. It was a gift. Being fully present in situations is becoming more and more rare. There is so much to take over our minds and hearts. Instead of enjoying an event we are thinking of how quickly we can post a picture on social media sites so that others know how much fun we’re having. Who honestly cares? What matters is that your family is having fun. It doesn’t matter if no one beyond the family ever knows how much fun it is. The point is that you are together, creating memories, creating life together, learning to reconnect after being away from each other.

Connecting happens best when you least expect it. Truth is, I almost didn’t go. I thought it may be fun for the rest of the family to go bowling while I got some ‘alone’ time. The reality is that in a week, two weeks tops, I’ll have plenty of alone time and I’ll be longing for the next time our family can get together. I would have missed out and been the poorer for it.

Connecting takes time. When your family is scattered across the country or the globe, setting aside time to get together is critical. On Saturday we had the luxury of time. We used the time to connect. With family in town for such a short time we cleared our schedule of everything but family. Sounds selfish? In a culture where family is replaced by gadgets and work it’s not selfish, it’s survival.


None of this is easy – family isn’t easy. We have enough ‘stuff’ in our family to last to eternity and beyond without grace, and to eternity with grace. But I believe in it. And I believe it’s worth fighting for. So next time they’re in town, we’ll put on our bowling shoes again and go bowling as a family. Because ultimately God uses family to remind us who we are, to remind us that we belong, to work out the miracle of redemption and leave us with our mouths open and our lips proclaiming praise. 


“Family,” she announced. “They’re the people in your life you don’t get to pick. The ones that are given to you,as opposed to those you get to choose.”

“You’re bound to them by blood,” she continued, her voice flat. “Which, you know, gives you that much more in common. Diseases, genetics, hair, and eye color. It’s like they’re part of your blueprint. If something’s wrong with you, you can usually trace it back to them”…..”But,” she said, “even though you’re stuck with them, at the same time, they’re also stuck with you. So that’s why they always get the front rows at christenings and funerals. Because they’re the ones that are there, you know, from the beginning to the end. Like it or not.
― Sarah DessenLock and Key emphasis mine. 

17 thoughts on “Five Things I Remembered from Bowling with my Family

  1. I have always loved bowling. There is a natural team building element to it that happens without effort, even when you are with those who are not your best friends.  That is what it is like with my family at Christmas…a gathering of Democrats and Republicans, scientists and teachers, Christians and agnostics…all circled around the buffet and eggnog laughing and making merriment.  It’s “Modern Family” and “All in the Family” all mixed together with the periodic  gutter ball being lobbed into the conversation that nearly incites a riot. But within minutes, one of the calmer voices will speak, backed up with a spare from another, and voila—the pins are cleared and a new rack is set up in an instant.  It kind of extends the metaphor—when we try fancy foot work, and are not real with ourselves or our family, and our comment hits the gutter, then grace comes.  Morning by morning, and  minute by minute, new mercies are extended and new pins are set up for us to try again.

    Sometimes, in the midst of the chaos and gifts and arguments, I look around and think, how can I love these people?  How can I extend His love especially to those that refuse to believe?  And then it comes. You are right Marilyn. I actually hear the word “encourage”.  And once I step into that role…the room becomes a team….just like my memories of the bowling alley in my youth.  No one ever remembers the score or how many strikes there were.  What we remember was the journey, the high fives when we knocked down more pins than the last time, the laughing and the  experimenting with everyone else’s bowling ball, until we realize the one we started with was the best after all.  The important memories included the sharing of the cokes and pizza, the fellowship, the clattering of pins in an echo chamber which forced us to listen to the speakers more carefully by looking into their eyes so we didn’t misunderstand.

    Yes, in retrospect, when we tossed our rented shoes up on the bowling alley counter, exhausted yet invigorated, and we extended hugs all around, it was that time together that mattered most. The “Gardner Bowling Day” truly depicts holiday gatherings with the Brennan Family. Marilyn, you gave me the gift of seeing my time together with them in a new way this year. Thank you for that.

    Today I found a bowling pin ornament at an after Christmas Day sale. I used a sharpie and glitter to inscribe it with 2013 so I will remember this wonderful blog for years to come. I will add it to the tree again next year—-to remember the entire Brennan clan. They are family. They are my family.  They are the ones I have been given. I chose to love them. If I can live this out, I am sure to roll a strike at every turn! Thanks again Marilyn–for reminding me that I have always loved bowling!


    1. Scott – thank you so much for this comment. It spoke volumes to me. These words in particular “Sometimes, in the midst of the chaos and gifts and arguments, I look around and think, how can I love these people? How can I extend His love especially to those that refuse to believe?” Right?! It seems such an impossibility – yet that’s what we’re called to and to live out grace, whether it be in the bowling arena or kitchen or living room. Thank you so much for this and a Happy New Year!


  2. Marilyn, what a marvelous way to spend family “together time.” And the 5 things you remembered are priceless. I particularly like your reminder to Be Fully Present because I think that’s one of the biggest challenges today. With so many distractions, it’s so easy to be … distracted. :) Happy New Year to you. We have so enjoyed getting to know you this year and look forward to more of your wonderful posts. :) ~ Terri & James


    1. Yeah – I wrote the ‘being present’ one for my benefit. I first got a smart phone 2 years ago because of some consulting work I was doing. I really have to watch it! It’s been wonderful to peruse your blog, enjoy your photography and live somewhat vicariously through you! Happy New Year to both of you!


  3. Cheers, lots of them, for family and for simple joys and for GRACE. And I so agree that making time, connecting, being present, being real and even encouraging aren’t easy, but so worth fighting for. Our families are worth fighting for. I loved your thought that, “God uses family to work out the miracle of redemption.”
    Amen, and I would add that in family, God uses our love to redeem one another.


  4. You know, Marilyn, bowling is in the blood. Grandpa was a candlestick bowler. I don’t think Gramma ever went anywhere without her bowling ball and shoes in the trunk. You can’t not go bowling. . . not in this family! So glad you had the day. Maybe when I come up we should go bowling?


    1. Yes!! I was remembering sitting in Grandma K’s living room eating Ritz crackers and watching Candlepin bowling on Saturday afternoons while my mom and dad were out speaking at churches….wonderful memories. So we’ll keep it in the family!


  5. I am so happy and thankful that you had this time to be together, and bowling! What a great activity to do together! I’m especially glad you turned off the cell phones. Seems to me that it’s worse with every one having smart phones. I feel sad when I look around a room of people who should be talking and listening to each other to see most of them with their phones or ipads out. I’ve been tempted to say, “Hey, family, look around. Someone who is here now may not be next year or even next month. Pay attention, appreciate this moment together.”
    Well, we read “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” aloud on Christmas Day in the afternoon, and it was great – amazing, as many times as we’ve heard it, it still makes us laugh, and want to cry at the same time. Love and hugs to everyone who is still there!


      1. Wasn’t Cliff the one who first introduced “The Best Christmas Pageant..” to us? It wasn’t the year we were in Dover was it? Do you remember?


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