As I prepare for family reunions this week and next, I share this post, written in November 2015 and dusted off in July 2019. It celebrates family and friends, and echoes some of the thoughts from last week’s post about eternity.
One of the blessings of moving back to Michigan has been the chance to reunite with people we hadn’t seen in a long time, or at least hadn’t seen as often as we would’ve liked to for a long time. I will never get tired of locking eyes with familiarity, embracing family, or laughing with dear, dear friends.
When we lived in St. Louis, a trip to see our parents, any of our parents, took thoughtful planning, time off work, and long hours in the car. Now that we are in Michigan, we can be with parents in as little as 2, 3, or 4 hours. And often, when we visit our parents, we get to see siblings as well. In fact, we have four siblings living in Michigan, plus three nieces and five nephews and their families! Since we’ve been back, we have been able to attend holiday celebrations, birthday parties, and informal gatherings with all of them! We’ve told ‘remember when’ stories that make our parents cringe and smile, re-filled plates with family reunion fried chicken, and snapped all kinds of squished onto the couch holiday photos. After ten years in another state, these moments have an added richness — the smell of home.
We’ve also been able to reunite with friends. Proximity has allowed us the privilege of seeing some we hadn’t seen for twenty years or more! Several months ago, my husband preached at the church where we were married– we saw friends who recalled when we were dating and remembered decorating our car after our wedding. Last month, we attended my high school homecoming festivities and laughed with friends I have known most of my life as we watched a classic small town parade of decorated tractors, candy-throwing school children, and the red and black clad high school marching band. Just two weeks ago some dear old friends brought their son for a campus visit and ended up joining us for dinner. Each visit, each connection, brings me joy — the familiarity, the shared experience, the expressions of love.
You know, I don’t remember being so happy to see these people before I couldn’t see them whenever I wanted to. When I was around them every day, I’m sure that I took their presence for granted. I know that I brushed people off, moved past them in haste, and was even annoyed by them from time to time. But after having been away for so long, every reunion — yes, every reunion — is filled with smiles, hugs, joy, and gratitude.
This past weekend, my sister, who lives in Texas, flew into Detroit. We laughed and reminisced as we drove the familiar highways to our mother’s house where our brothers joined us for a weekend of eating, laughing, and casually hanging out together. We didn’t go to any events. We had no milestone to celebrate. We just had time to sit together, poke fun at one another, and hug each other. We shared stories as we sat around the kitchen table late into the night. We loved being with one another.
When I was a little girl, my parents would tuck me in at night and say prayers with me. When our prayers were finished, they would leave me to go to sleep, but instead I would think about what would happen “if I die(d) before I wake(d)”. Little-girl-me often worried herself frantic — what if “my soul” didn’t like where it was “take(n)”? Forever is a very long time! The immensity of eternity totally terrified me, and I was often afraid to fall asleep.
Sometimes still today I think about heaven and I get a little anxious — it’s unknown territory, isn’t it? But when I consider all the connections of the past year, all the visits with family and friends, I start to picture heaven as one big reunion.
I will see my great grandmother who is likely in charge of a particular mansion. She’s got it spotlessly clean — the beds made with freshly pressed 100% cotton sheets, the smell of freshly baked cookies wafting through the hallways. I’ll see my grandfather who is very happy to be singing in four different choirs in between coffee and donut sessions with all of his friends. My grandmother will probably greet me, unassumingly, at the gates. She’ll smile her sweet smile, hug me, and ask what she can get for me. I’m pretty sure I’ll find my friend John laughing and telling colorful stories to his buddies, Twila buzzing around, cheering everyone up with her broad smile and tender heart, and dear Win, looking over her glasses at me and uttering sarcastically, “What took you so long?”
There will be so. much. hugging. And smiling. And laughing.
And then I’ll see Jesus himself.
Although I haven’t met Him face to face, I know I will recognize Him the minute I see Him. He’ll be the one running to meet me, arms outstretched, smile wide, eyes sparkling. He will wrap me in His arms, and all my childhood (and adulthood) fears will fall away. The tears will be wiped from my eyes.
I won’t be afraid. After all of my travels, I’ll be with the ones I have loved, and I’ll finally be home.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”John 14:1-3