Monday, July 27, 2015

Camps and Clans

Well, I survived camping for two nights alone with just the girls...





...AND I did it despite afternoon rainstorms and hail! To be honest, it has been a long time since I've felt so cozy and comfortable on a camping trip. I forgot my air mattress, but an extra-prepared uncle lent me thick comfy pads, over which I put my flannel sheets and a big fluffy comforter with an extra thick blanket on top for extra warmth. I settled myself in between the girls - Madelyn lay to my right in her sleeping bag and Anna was on my left in her car seat. It was a precious feeling, being there between my two girls, sharing a new and special experience with them. 

For two nights we came merrily back to our tent under the stars after late evenings enjoying excellent company from my amazing extended family. Every two years or so growing up I came to reunions with my mom's side of the family. Lately, with a family-owned ranch to visit in Wyoming, the reunions have happened annually, where as many who can of the 170ish of us get together for an extended weekend to camp, chat, play games, eat, and chase the littles - the fourth generation, the children of my grandparent's grandchildren. 

I expect to have a nice time when I go, and this year I had even more fun than I anticipated. The first night I was up late playing pairs Nertz with my siblings and cousins in the pavilion while Madelyn ran through the darkness in a cluster of second cousins alight with glowsticks. As we headed to bed in the (for her) very novel and exciting tent, Madelyn was glowing with enthusiasm for the fun she had had, and eagerly anticipating more fun the next day (so much so that at 5:20 in the morning she popped up in her sleeping bag with a look of supreme excitement on her face, saying, "Play with cousins now?!!"). 

On Friday, groups of us collected throughout the day to chat or play card and board games, then after lunch the whole group - those ages 2 to 60 - paired off into random teams for a relay that had us giggling and cheering and scrambling to do things like grab marbles with our toes, string yarn through our clothes, and build cardboard boats to set sail in the pond. That evening we gathered for a home video/talent exhibition that kept us cheering all night. Madelyn and I fell asleep exhausted but happy in our (slightly soggy) tent that night, listening to the sound of happy chatter around the nearby campfire.

What I hadn't expected of the family reunion was to be edified as well as to be entertained. We milled around in the pavilion throughout the reunion, chatting in small, rotating groups, and while we caught up on each other's lives, we also bore testimony to each other. It was amazing how naturally it happened: 

While one cousin talked about the ups and downs of his career, I heard him bear strong testimony about the principle of tithing. 

As one cousin who recently moved spoke about the challenges of trying to fit in with a new group of people, she acknowledged that it was an opportunity for her to stretch and grow and help others by reaching out to those who needed friends and who weren't used to being accepted by already established cliques. 

I heard one of my cousins, in a quiet voice full of faith, talk about how she has learned to fill her life with love instead of fear, to guide her family in paths of righteousness, and to recognize the value of the usually unappreciated talents and gifts of others. 

I heard cousins affirm the value of gospel obedience. 

I watched young cousins step in willingly to help even younger children, sacrificing other activities to watch, shepherd, and love the young ones. 

As we spoke of those who have passed away within the last three years - my grandma, a cousin, and my mom's oldest sister - I saw everywhere the confidence that there is life after death and that families can be together forever. 

In the past, there have been debates about whether we should go on having these reunions, now that the family has grown so big. One of my uncles has talked about how important it is to him that the reunions continue so that his grandchildren know their second cousins, know they are part of something bigger than themselves or even their immediate family. He wants his grandchildren to know what kind of legacy they are a part of. During this most recent reunion, I saw how that legacy provides so much more than just fun or even companionship. It provides faith and strength and testimony. 

My sweet grandparents started this clan and connect us to that legacy. My grandpa is alone and approaching his mid-90s now, but he was at the reunion giving hugs to everyone he saw. He doesn't remember all of us anymore. I don't think he knew the names of any of his numerous great-grandchildren. But he loves them so much. What a blessing in your 90s, to have a whole clan of people who came from you, who belong to you, who love you, who have patterned their lives after yours! Who come together frequently and delight in each other's company, and who lift and buoy each other up. David and I just celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary; we are young still. But I have the best examples to aspire to. Maybe one day, we'll be blessed to be surrounded by such a clan of our own. I can't think of anything better.


Grandpa and Anna