On the day of my mother's funeral, a minister friend gave me good advice. She said the mother is what usually holds together a family. When she is gone, her children and their children have to work harder to preserve what is special about their family.

My wife Jo Ann and I recently returned from the mountains of western Maryland where we attended as a result of that advice - Koz Fest 4. Every summer since Mother's death, my brother Phil, his wife Helen and their adult son Greg; my brother Dave, his wife Holly and their adult children, Christian and Claire; my sister Mary Jo, and Jo Ann and I get together for a few days around the Fourth of July.

The vacation house we rent immediately is transformed into a home the minute we walk in the door. The first few years, most of the group went white-water rafting. This year, one day was spent on a pontoon boat on Deep Creek Lake.

But the best part of the get-togethers is back at the temporary family home where a large picture of our parents Joe and Mae Kozlowski is set on the fireplace.

Outside, there are games of corn hole, a Midwestern bean bag toss game introduced by the Ohio Kozlowskis. Indoors, there are games of 31 and Uno, and the annual group-effort jigsaw puzzle. This year's gathering had the added attraction of a pool table.

Eating is nearly constant, but the high points are the evening meals. Every family takes a turn at preparing, so this year we had grilled tilapia, barbecued chicken, baked ham and, on the final night, shrimp and leftover tilapia, chicken and ham.

Even better than the food, though, is the conversation. Many fine and funny memories are recalled as we are gathered around the dinner table, playing games or just relaxing. These begin in our childhood and go up to the present.

We also get to hear about the lives and dreams of the newest generation: Christian, a recent graduate of Ohio State who is off to his mom's alma mater, George Mason University School of Law; Claire, an incoming junior civil engineering major at Notre Dame just back from studies in Spain, and Greg, an incoming sophomore in business at James Madison University.

The love our folks gave so generously to my siblings and me has spread to our most fortunate choices of spouses and to the youngest of our group.

Family love is the closest we can get to imagining how infinite God's love for us must be. These annual Koz Fests prove that point ever better each year.


Family love is a reflection of God's love.

(Kozlowski has just published his second book, "God's People: They Walk by Faith." It features over 100 stories of people of all ages and from many walks of life, and the inspiration and faith their lives provide.)