Family Reunions

Welcome back, dear friends! Did you even notice I was gone for a week? Don’t answer that, it might hurt my feelings. Anyway…. I’m back. And things are beginning to feel a bit more “normal” again. We’ve eaten out a few times, we went to church, we are actually starting to see people again… Yes, even I, the self proclaimed introvert to end all introverts, was known to remark about how I “missed” people. Especially “my” people. Are you feeling it, too? It was on my brain as a topic for this post: reunions.

Both the hubby and I are from fairly large families, and so we’re used to attending more than one family reunion. Our kids have had to share in their own mix of cousin and great auntie greetings… whether they wanted to or not. We’ve attended both the large, once a decade giant relative gatherings, and the more intimate family night with a few immediate siblings. Both are equally special. Both are meaningful. Both can be hard. Let’s think about it for a minute. What connects you? A name? The same heritage? Some little bit of DNA that gets passed around from generation to generation and mixed up along the way? Marriage creates in-laws (and out-laws). Ya’ll might have red hair and freckles or love the same weird food or share the same interest in model trains as great-great-great grandpa. Or not. Yet, somehow, somewhere along through history, you’ve become family. And that’s the connection. Like it or leave it. You can’t pick your family.

I was thinking about this as I sat in church a few Sundays ago… rejoicing in the comfort of meeting together again. Not because I particularly was dying to be with people, simply contemplating the fact that we were all there for a common purpose. There was something about meeting together that “connected” us. I didn’t even know half of the people gathered there that morning. I probably didn’t even like some of them! Many of us have different backgrounds, different spiritual journeys, different views on theological truths and different ways of practicing our faith….and yet, here we were, gathering together in the rain to be blessed by a speaker with some knowledge that he was willing to share that day. Perhaps knowledge that would hit each of us differently based on where we were in our walks with God. Isn’t that the beauty of the church, though? I don’t have to know you or even like you to be connected to you… I simply share a common bond that unites us together … like family.

The more I grow and reflect, the more I am intrigued by other people’s faith journeys and the faith practices that are meaningful to them…. and why. Many are steeped in tradition and souls often find comfort there. Others are refreshed by more “modern day” practices and open mindedness. I’m not going to debate either here… I’m simply bringing them forward for reflection. As long as we are grounded in Biblical teaching, I’m good. The Bible tells us that if we have accepted the gospel of Christ, then:

17 And if [we are His] children, [then we are His] heirs also: heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ [sharing His spiritual blessing and inheritance], if indeed we share in His suffering so that we may also share in His glory.

Romans 8:17 AMP

Like members of the family at the reunion, we share the same connection. Some common factor that makes us part of the family. I used to think it would be a great idea to have nametags at reunions that would say “Hi, I’m so-and-so and I belong to so-and-so” just to keep all my cousin’s straight. Isn’t it cool to think that in church we would all have the same point of reference? “Hi, I’m so-and-so and I belong to God because of Jesus”. Have you felt this before? Randomly, you meet someone and just get a “sense” that you are connected to them in some way? That’s the spiritual blessing of being heirs.

So my beloveds, next time you have to make macaroni salad for great auntie Mildred’s family reunion… just remember who your name tag links you to… and smile as you get your cheeks pinched by some crazy cousin.

Mother’s Day Hoarding

forgetmenot2By the time you read this post, Mother’s Day (in Canada at least) will be over and the flower shops and restaurants will be filling their coffers with yet another year’s profits.  Teachers will be breathing a sigh of relief that their entire class of 27 six-year-olds managed not to kill off their forget-me-nots, which were sent home on Friday, delicately blooming in hand-painted pots destined for moms and grandmothers.  The “mommy-I made-it-all-by-myself breakfasts in bed” kitchens will once again be tidy and neat and the dose of antacid tablets will be taken to settle the fact that you actually ate that “mommy-I-made-it-all-by-myself” breakfast.  *gag*  The moms will smile and wink at the dads who managed a card and who dressed the kids for church and dinner so you could get two more full seconds of sleep on this “special day” (Trust me… little girl tights are not something dads should handle).  Oh… but friends, I promise you this:  We loved every minute of it!

Even now, as mom of two teens, a semi-adult, and an almost grown-up pre-teen, I still appreciate the grunt and nod of acknowledgement that is directed my way every once and awhile.  Come to think of it, I also still have to clean up the kitchen from the “mom-I-made-it-myself” messes.  Hmmn.  So, I muse:  Why?  Why do we, as moms, savour every glimmer of appreciation from our kids?  Why do we never forget a Mother’s Day, even as adults? I think because we were given this God given gift of connection the moment we weloveditheld those beloveds in our arms for the very first time.  According to some early-stage scientific research, we have things called “u-opioids” that are released in our brains when we are socially connected to someone… specifically our mothers.  It’s that whole bonding/proper imprinting thing that is exemplified by those little ducklings illustrated in classic children’s books.  Moms make us feel warm and fuzzy — so we connect — and are now willing to follow them into the water even though we have never swam with our newly hatched tail feathers before.  It’s already pre-wired in our brains.  (Reminds me of that post about chocolate.  In case you missed it, you can read about that here.)

I remember studying about Rhesus monkeys in animal behaviour — when removed from their mothers and isolated, the tiny monkeys clung to warm pieces of cloth in their cages… anything to help them feel safe.   Even the basic need for food was only used temporarily… the monkeys went back to the warm, safe feeling momma.


It’s in our very nature to connect… especially to our moms. (Photo: via UoT research archives)

Not withstanding the controversies of animal research in the 1960’s, these studies certainly showed us something about our need for connection.  I’m sure it’s biological.  And spiritual. Or both.  How much more do complex humans struggle to connect and bond than our animal counterparts?  Our relationships are the key to our existence.  A God woven ticket into our complexities.  We are too fragile to exist without one another.  Every good Hollywood film or compelling book sets it’s protagonist in an entanglement of relationship woes — and we, as an audience, rejoice when they “live happily ever after”.

I don’t have any research to back it up, but I suspect that even moms who are not particularly close to their kids still hoard things that connect them to their children.  A picture, a note, a card.  Even estranged or adoption birth mothers reflect on the day of their child’s birth.  Just a little bit.  It’s really hard to ignore something that grew inside you for nine months.  I’m a die hard scrapbooker and have been since I was a child.  I collect every ticket stub, brochure and report card.  I have file folders for each one of my beloved offspring and a couple of random ones for the leftover stuff.  I am compelled to save these random trinkets — just in case.  Just in case I need to know that in grade 2 your sister got an 82 in English and was a “pleasure to have in our class”.  Seriously.  I have no idea why I keep these things.  I’m sure it has something to do with u-opioids.  Some inexplicable bond that keeps me connected to my kids and my kids to me — through random photos and sticky, wrinkled papers rescued from the bottoms of backpacks.  These things remind me of the experiences we have shared together — and so I hoard and pile them up as the kids grow into adulthood.

This was the first mother’s day without my sweet mother-in-law.  She was taken from us all too soon from the end stages of Alzheimer’s.  Even though her memories were clouded and her fragile body was fearful at times, the family rejoiced in glimmers of recognition at an old hymn, or at some pattern in the table that struck a chord with her somewhere back in the depths of her memories.  She loved to look at my family scrapbooks.  She’d point and smile, and you could tell something clicked.  This is why we keep these little bits of memorabilia.  Our humanness wants to connect.  We need to feel loved and nurtured.

So, if you are a young mom still struggling with sleepless nights and piles of laundry, I hate to tell you… not much changes.  We still have sleepless nights and laundry.  Only now we are awake because they are out past curfew.  And the laundry just stinks more.  But you learn to treasure the coloured mother’s day cards complete with sparkles that’s hoarded away in a folder.  Why?  Because they remind you of the times your little ones believed that you were all that mattered in the world, and they were willing to follow you into the pond water — no questions asked.  As they get older, your treasures become the Facebook likes on your posts,  or the “mom, how do you make that meatloaf I love?” texts. You even relish in the “Can you please wash these pants in time for tomorrow’s presentation?” just before midnight.  And when your mom needs to be the one who gets cared for, you rejoice that you have made the connection complete.  And you’ll smile when the time comes to clean out her closet after she is gone, and discover that she hoarded a few photos and mother’s day cards from you, too.