I just returned from my yearly family reunion where the whole clan comes together to eat, tell stories, and strum guitars for a few hours.  We adults spend time reconnecting with long lost cousins, catching up with new things in our lives and laughing at the retelling of endearing family anecdotes.  Meanwhile, our children run wild for an hour or two, reacquainting themselves with 2nd and 3rd cousins, dribbling the basketball, catching toads, and playing chase.

As with any reunion, hot dogs and ambrosia salads are plentiful.  Aunts and uncles hug nieces, nephews, and grand-babies as we all jockey for position in the food line.  It’s messy, it’s loud, and it’s chaotic, but I would not have it any other way!  This whirlwind of kisses, hugs, smiles, laughs, and pats on the back reminds me of the important things in life.

Forget the unpaid bills, the arguments, the hectic jobs, the heartaches, and the half-done projects.  Forget the rest of the world.  My yearly trip to Scotland County, Missouri, is the highlight of every summer.  This is the one place in the world where I can say i am loved in spite of my faults (who knows our faults as well as our own family, I ask you.)  It is a comfortable place where my family and I know we will be asked how we are, and an honest response is actually expected.

The guests of honor are always my elderly grandparents, who, as I write, are now 87 and 92 years old.  They are quieter and more subdued now than in earlier years, but they enjoy seeing everyone and hug them with as much vigor as they can muster.  Grandma sits in her wheelchair, and as she watches her great grandchildren playing, I see a wistful smile spread across her face.  I wonder what is going through her mind in these moments.  Is she remembering her own children playing?  Is she feeling as blessed as I do in this moment, realizing that our family has grown from two people into over fifty family members?  Does she see how important a role she has played in the lives of all of these little ones, now being taught the same values and commandments as she instilled in her own four children?  What a blessing she has been to so many!

Grandpa loves the fact that we celebrate his birthday at the reunion.  He tells every person he encounters that his family is having a big birthday party for him, and why don’t they come by for a piece of his cake?  Grandpa loves the attention, and we rise to the challenge by bringing our little ones to his lap, by kissing him as often as we can, and by bringing him endless mugs of black coffee.  We take scads of pictures with him and grandma, surrounded by their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  Grandpa is excessively proud of his family’s accomplishments and is often heard bragging about one grandchild or another.  His faith is steadfast, though his mind sometimes falters, and he often reminds us that the most important thing in life is to be saved by the power of God.  He often cries with a thankful heart when saying the blessing over the family meal.

These are memories I want to keep with me as I navigate the world and muddle through life’s trials.  I want to remember the inimitable harmony of laughter created by my father and his siblings.  It is one of the most joyful sounds in my world!  I want to laugh until I am breathless and giddy after listening to my cousins recount ornery tales from glory days in the hay fields and farm houses of our youth.  I want to remember how to smile like I do on this day, how to take this love and mirth with me as a beacon through the dark times.

Every year, I learn something new about my family.  I learn something new about life through their stories.  This year, I learned that a person can, indeed, fall in love at first sight at any age.  My five-year-old daughter was immediately enamored with one of her teenage cousins.  When I asked her why she was following him around, she simply said, “Mommy, he has a pretty face and glasses, and he is wearing brown tennis shoes.”  I guess that was enough to hook her for life, because she cried when we had to leave him.

The other thing I learned this year is that everyone has trouble in life.  No one is immune, no one comes through the world unscathed.  So, as the years pass, family becomes more and more important for love and support.  Despite our differences, we have so much in common, so much to be thankful for, and so many people who love us through good times and bad.  It is a comfort to know we are all a part of the Grand Plan.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

“Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”  Psalm 139:16

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