August is generally the time when families bundle up the sleeping bags, tents and firewood and head to the hills for a reunion.
As a kid, I didn’t enjoy them very much; I’m sure there were a variety of reasons: I didn’t feel comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings, insecurity of what all those people may be thinking about me (because of course they were ALL looking at me, right?), or I just didn’t feel a connection with these people who lived lives so different from the one I lived.
I was always an alien landing on a new planet and not knowing the language.
My wish was to just close the camper door again and turn around and head back to our own familiar galaxy.
But we didn’t.
Year after year we made the trek into the mountains surrounding Vernal, Utah to spend several days with our cousins, aunts and uncles.
Like all of you, we grew up and married and got different jobs and moved away. The frequency of attendance at these reunions became less and less, until we let a decade or two pass since our last appearance.
I will admit with a deep gulp and my head down, that yes, I am guilty.
Several months ago my father’s oldest brother slipped away and, in an effort to support my dad through this loss, we accompanied him on the trip back to Vernal for the funeral.
My uncle was a mighty yet quiet man. There is no one word to describe his life other than “good.” He had been blessed with a good life, and had used that life to bless others with every action he took.
In this celebration of a life, I was reunited with all of these foreigners I had felt so insecure around decades ago.
Would it surprise you to learn that they weren’t strangers at all?
If anything, I finally realized that I was pretty much the only one who had been “strange” all these years; they had continued to grow and become the most incredible people.
Within minutes of our arrival I knew instinctively in my soul that these people were genuinely my friends.
Last weekend we made the trip out to the hills above Vernal to the same reunion that I had dreaded as a child.
And I couldn’t wait to get there.
I was able to spend a lot of one-on-one time with many of my cousins. I’m not sure when we had all grown older; but we had. I discovered that all of these adults with grandchildren of their own were still, in many ways, the same young kids we played together with on our grandmother’s lawn (or secretly out in the ditch) while the grownups sat in the back and talked.
My insecurity about worrying what all these people may or may not be thinking of me was gone.
They loved me, warts and all. They made that crystal clear immediately.
It was comfortable. It was secure. But more importantly, I knew that these people would do anything necessary to help me and love me and protect me.
Not for of anything I brought to the table, but just because I existed in part of their universe.
I deeply want to have their backs in any way that I can, just because they are an important part of my own universe.
Soon I understood why my dad had loaded the camper each year and tossed us in the back for the long trip into the mountains.
These were, and are, people who make my life better.
This year I looked through the rainy mist around the campfires and at crowded picnic tables and witnessed a wealth of human experience and wisdom. They were all so different in so many ways – ways the world may attempt to separate and segregate us.
But that is only to our detriment.
In allowing the world to define our boundaries of who we do and don’t include in our circles, we close the doors to those who may have the greatest impact on us.
And to realize that we are all united.
We are the same in all the things that our Father would have as important in our lives.
Cousins, aunts and uncles.
As far as that goes, I hit the lottery. I can’t imagine meeting finer, more genuine, more sincerely loving people in any of my travels far and wide.
I hope that this season of family reunions with all the headaches and hard work and money spent and inconveniences endured, that you see the winning ticket in your own wallet.
The greatest thing about this lottery though, is that each one of us can win.
It just takes showing up and joining together around the fire.