For our small, scattered family this weekend was the first time ever we all assembled as a group. It was a wonderful reunion for all present: those who hadn’t seen each other for years or decades, and those, like newly-added spouses or grandchildren, who met for the first time.
Since 2,400 miles separated my grandparents’ desert home from my parent’s East Coast one and my mom’s closest relatives lived over 10 hours away, when I was growing up we didn’t do Sunday dinners at Grandma’s or celebrate special occasions with large family gatherings. While I don’t have lots of memories of our time together, there are precious slivers—a Christmas in the desert, Thanksgiving in the Midwest, summer road trips. As I recall, my grandparents always made the trip east for all of our important family milestones like graduations and weddings.
But because of the geographic barriers and infrequent visits, when it comes to family, I never developed a strong sense of “place” or a deep-rooted feeling for my “people.” It's the way it's always been and I've just accepted it.
This weekend I added a piece to the puzzle I didn’t even realize was missing.
From the moment we first gathered, storytelling, reminiscing and laughter—lots of laughter—filled the air. Over wonderful meals, a canyon hike, champagne toasts and birthday cake we connected and re-connected. Everyone truly enjoyed one another’s company.
As I observed the goings on, I realized I’m part of this. These are my "people." We're all connected. I saw the face of my grandfather in my uncle. My great-grandfather in my cousin. My grandmother in my mom and her sisters. I heard variations of the laugh they all share. Even the in-law spouses seemed to fit just right.
And at the center of it all is my grandmother, the family matriarch—a blend of Midwestern sensibility and rugged western independence. Like the stately saguaro cacti that dot the landscape around her, she’s a woman of quiet grace and dignity. Her faith is the root that sustains her. In her outstretched arms we find comfort and rest—and always a ready laugh.
I’m so thankful I’ve gotten to know my grandmother as a person these last many years. It was she who first opened the door for God’s light to shine into my life nine years ago. For that I am eternally grateful. Together we've shared conversations on faith and family, enjoyed one-on-one visits, traded book recommendations and even noodled over crossword puzzles. I have been immeasurably blessed by Grandmother’s love and kindness. I know my husband and children have been as well.
To my family, as you return to your homes far and wide, I pray for traveling mercies. And I hope you take with you the memories of our time together, a greater appreciation for family and an abiding love for the beautiful woman we came to celebrate. Thank you for showing me my roots and that I’m part of something bigger than I thought.
To Grandmother, Happy Birthday! Let's do this again next year! I love you.