When was the last time you reconnected with extended family? If you are like me, it’s been a couple decades.

Two years ago my cousins were planning a family reunion. Then Covid hit and restrictions prevented them from completing those plans. But now we are past the worst of it and we can all travel again, so the reunion plans were rebooted. My passport had expired, and I procrastinated getting it renewed since I didn’t have anywhere to go. Until I did have somewhere to go, and then I had to pay all the extra dollars to fast-track my application.

My travel date was drawing nearer, and I waited impatiently for my passport to appear in the mail. I tried checking my application status online – the website was broken. I tried calling – all I got was a busy signal. I began to resign myself to the likely fact that I wouldn’t be able to go. Finally, with less than a week until my proposed travel dates, my passport arrived in the mail and my husband made my travel arrangements that same day. California here I come!

One of my nieces lives a few hours away from the cousin who was hosting the reunion, and she made plans to drive up and meet me there. This was an extra bonus since it had been years since I have seen her in person.

When I arrived at my cousin’s house, I stepped out of my rental car and heard familiar laughter riding the warm California breeze drifting from the backyard. Does your family have a distinct laugh? Mine does and hearing it again after so many years hit me right in the feels. And I hadn’t even knocked on the front door yet.

I took a quick inventory of my emotions. Excited – check. Anticipation – absolutely. Anxiety – yup. My anxiety was mild, but it was present. No depression symptoms, no PTSD, for which I was very thankful. You can read more about the treatment that helped me overcome the worst of those illnesses here. I clutched the little Calla Lily plant I brought for my cousin who was hosting in my nervous hands, took a deep breath to calm my brimming eyes and my nervous tummy, and rang the doorbell.

I was warmly welcomed and led out to the patio where the rest of my first cousins were already settled in and visiting. I was surprised to see my aunt who I thought wouldn’t be there.

She got up to give me a big hug – that’s when the tears started.

We all laughed and hugged and caught up on the latest family news. The entire weekend was a beautifully crafted experience, planned by my cousin who hosted us, who I hadn’t seen since she was a baby and now she has a grown daughter of her own. We had a wonderful time looking through old pictures and memorabilia from my uncles who served in WW2. Endless pots of coffee, generous slabs of Danish Cake, and so many stories were shared about relatives a couple generations back, many of whom I had never met but only heard about once or twice in my lifetime. I finally figured out how the “shirt-tail relations” were related to me.

I was SO EXCITED to see my niece and had the immense pleasure of introducing her to our cousins – an entire branch of the family tree that she didn’t know existed, and had no idea that they lived so close to her. Connections were made. Phone numbers were exchanged. Relationships are now being built.

When I told people I was going to a family reunion the typical response was “Ooohhh. Hope that goes well for you.”

“It’s going to be great” I would reply. “These are the fun cousins!”

It’s true – they really are a lot of fun! I had the best time. I felt safe and loved and accepted just the way I am. I didn’t have to conceal or modify any part of myself to gain their approval or acceptance. That healed a life-long wound deep in my heart that I thought would just always be there. That dark little bruised spot in my soul that still hurt when it was touched is now pink and healthy and beating in a steady rhythm with the rest of my heart. That was a gift I didn’t expect. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this experience, to be honest. I am typically careful about actual expectations, but I also hope for the best, and the best is what I got.

I learned a few things, and was reminded of a few things, and if you know even a little about me, you know I love to share what I learn, so here goes:

  1. I was reminded that I am loved and accepted just the way I am. I don’t have to chip away pieces of myself to fit someone else’s expectations of me.
  2. I have a voice and I am allowed to say out loud the stuff that needs to be said out loud. I learned I don’t have to apologize for that. My cousins held respectful space for me and my thoughts and feelings, even when they didn’t always agree.
  3. I thought I had to find my tribe outside my family of origin. I discovered that’s not true anymore. I have an amazing foo tribe, and I fit perfectly within it.
  4. I was validated in the work I am doing now – my blog, my mental health work in my faith community, and the book I am writing. It is good work, it is needed, and my foo tribe is cheering me on. They are cheering hard.
  5. I learned that reunions aren’t only about family. I reunited with my worth.

Do you have a tribe?  Maybe it’s family, maybe it’s friends, maybe it’s people you serve/volunteer/work with. Lean in hard. Invest in healthy relationships. We aren’t meant to do life alone. It’s ok to struggle. It is NEVER ok to struggle alone.

Do feel like you to have to hide who you truly are to be accepted? Find a new tribe. It might feel hard and scary to search for that, but when you find them, it will be worth it all.

Do you still guard a piece of your heart where the bruises of relational hurt just don’t heal? Hope remains. Even if you can’t see it or feel it now, hope remains. Go find it. Awesome is pursuing you. Awesome is chasing you down and it will catch up to you sooner or later. Don’t quit before that happens.

Cousins, if you are reading this, thanks for everything. Thanks for accepting me and loving me and healing my heart. Next reunion is at my place, ok?

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