Reunited, and it feels so good! (Revisit)

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. 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? 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

Hope does not disappoint

So many thoughts in my head this morning.  It’s like I can see words swirling all around inside of my brain and the one that sticks out the most is hope. 

Now, as one who has been tossed about in the sea of depression on and off for most of life, hope is the flotation device that I cling to.  When hope gets submerged, I start to sink.

Had enough of my analogy?  Ok, I will leave it alone for a moment.

Why am I thinking about hope this morning?  I’m not entirely sure, so let’s look back over the last couple of days.  Let’s have a little Story time with Mrs. Rathje.

On Friday afternoon, my husband and I drove to my hometown in the ‘geographical center of lower Michigan’ to attend the homecoming parade and football game. We parked the car behind a shop at one end of the main drag and walked through a swarm (ok, it’s a small town, but for St. Louis, Michigan, it was a swarm) of people toward the restaurant/bar where some of my high school classmates had planned to meet.  When I was in high school, I thought I knew everybody in this town of 4,000 people, but walking through the crowd, I didn’t recognize anyone.  In fact, I told my husband that my fear was that someone would recognize me and I would not recognize them at all.  I mean, I did graduate (gasp) thirty years ago. But before I knew it, I saw a face I recognized.  I said his name, and he immediately hugged me.  I said, “I’m Kristin Rathje, I mean Kristin Kolb!”  He said, “I know who you are!”

Isn’t that something? This guy and I weren’t best friends in school.  We really didn’t even run in the same circle, but we knew each other.  We went to middle school and high school together.  We had a shared experience, and those words, “I know who you are!” were so powerful to me.

As I left his embrace and turned to enter the bar, another former classmate stepped through the door and said, “Hey, that’s who I was looking for!” He hugged me, too, introduced me to his kids, and chatted for a few moments.  Guys, I had not seen this man in thirty years and he was looking for me!

Now let’s take a little trip back in time and meet high school aged Kristin.  I was voted ‘moodiest’ for the yearbook superlatives.  No, I am not kidding.  I was on an emotional roller coaster most of my childhood and even into adulthood.  I was grasping through most of those years at hopebut it was eluding me.  I could see it bobbing in the distance, and I was reaching for it, but I just couldn’t grasp it.  So, what did I do?  I flailed about, grasping at other things, and yelled when I couldn’t reach them, or when they let me down.  I was not entirely pleasant to be around.  I was demanding, emotional, and unpredictable.

So, why, on Friday night, did I meet so many people who were willing to hug me? to smile? to welcome me?  

We were watching the parade and one of my best buddies from high school snuck up behind me like he always did in high school and tried to startle me!  Just like old times!  We hugged, he pointed out the children of school mates in the parade, and made me laugh.  Later, my best friend from high school and her best guy, also a classmate, joined us.  It was one reunion after another.  With a dozen or more of us around a table, I didn’t stop smiling for hours.

It was like their memories were clouded and they didn’t remember the bad stuff. They only remembered the good. They didn’t remember my bad days, they remembered our connection, our relationship, our shared experience.  No matter how long it had been, I belonged.

This morning I was reading my Bible study, and we were focused on I Thessalonians 4:13 where Paul says, “we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Now, I realize that Paul was talking about people who have died, ‘those who are asleep’, and that is not lost on me since my good friend, Twila, finished her fight with cancer last week.  I am grieving because she is no longer here, and because I haven’t seen her in so long, and because I didn’t get to properly tell her how much she meant to me. But, I do have hope.  I am confident that Twila was reunited with Jesus, and her parents, and all the hospice patients that she cared for.  I am confident that she walked through the swarm only to be embraced by friends she hadn’t seen in years who said, “I know who you are!”  or “That’s who I was looking for!”  They didn’t remember any human shortcoming or flaw, they just knew she belonged.

And I know that one day, after many more earthly reunions with those who I have connected with throughout my life, I too, will find my way through the crowds of heaven to be embraced by my grandparents, Twila, and Jesus.  They will say, “We’ve been waiting for you to get here.”

Thanks to my St. Louis High School classmates for giving me a taste of that this weekend.  It gave me a tangible picture of hope and reminded me of how blessed I am.

Psalm 146:5

How blessed is [s]he whose help is the God of Jacob,

whose hope is in the Lord his God.