This past weekend my family went to one our favorite places on earth, Rawlinsville Camp Meeting, for the spring clean up day. Blessed with gorgeous weather, we quickly set to work picking up sticks, raking leaves, mowing the grass and weed whacking the weeds around our cabin and elsewhere throughout the meeting grounds. It won’t be too long before we will return to prep Cabin #13 for the 127th year of ministry at Rawlinsville. I’ve learned a lot of lessons about faith and family at RCM, but once again one lesson in particular came to mind as I opened the cabin and saw the sign that we hang on the outside every year.
20 years (and 30 pounds) ago I was a lifeguard at the Legion Pool in Quarryville. It was August, so Rawlinsville was in session. Closing up the pool for the night, I immediately headed out to Camp. I arrived a little after 7 pm in the evening, so I was late for the youth service and early for the evening service. Needing to kill about 15 minutes before the youth service let out and I could join my cousins and friends, I did what I always did in those situations – I headed to my Grandma and Grandpa Smith’s cabin (#13) to visit with them for a little.
It was a Sunday, and Sundays at Camp were (and still are) always “visiting day,” when friends and relatives would come out to visit with those who are part of the Camp Meeting. As I walked into the back of my grandparent’s cabin, I could hear my grandmother talking with such a relative. My grandma introduced me to the nice lady (who was distantly related to me) and we made small talk for a few minutes. Our conversation then went something like this:
Her – “You know, I have a 17 year old daughter. You are just the kind of guy she should meet.”
(At this point I’m thinking “Sounds good to me! Gentleman, start your engines!”)
Me – Sure!
Her – “Oh wait, that wouldn’t be good. You’re related somehow!
(At this point I’m thinking “Story of my life.”)
We all chuckled at this point, seemingly drawing the idea to a close. Then this happened:
Her – “Oh, what am I’m thinking! You’re not blood!”
Me – (Stunned silence)
What I haven’t mentioned yet is that Grandma and Grandpa Smith were my step-grandparents.
Now to this day I don’t think that the lady meant any ill will in that statement. It was just one of those “in brain / out mouth” sort of moments that we all have from time to time (I’ve done it once myself). She put her hand to her mouth, obviously mortified at what she just insinuated. That doesn’t mean the comment didn’t hurt me greatly. In fact, it felt like a knife through my heart.
Because essentially she was saying that I wasn’t really part of the family. I may have gotten in, but only on a technicality. Again, that clearly wasn’t what she truly meant, but that was sure what it sounded like.
There we all sat, not knowing what to say next. Ever been in a situation so awkward, the air feels heavy?
So I turned and looked at Grandma. Now if you knew Grandma Smith at all you knew that she was a woman of few words, so when she did say something it was usually important and often profound. I could tell that her spirit was (to use one of her words) “troubled.” Finally, she looked me in the eyes and said “Well Scott, we’re close.” I replied “You’re right Grandma, we sure are,” excused myself, walked out the back of the cabin and cried.
I’m getting teary eyed just writing about it.
It felt (and still feels) so good to hear her say that, because to me she was essentially saying “You belong to me. You are one of us.” One of the needs that every kid has growing up is feel that they are part of a loving and honoring family. To feel secure in the fact that they have other people who love them and accept them. To feel like someone cares.
What I have found to be true in life (and I’ve written this before), is that our relationship with others is far, far more important than our relation to them. It really doesn’t matter to kids if your last names are different, or if you aren’t connected to them biologically. Your relationship with them is all that matters. When an adult, any adult, shows them compassion and love, they will respond. Feeling like they are a part of a family is so critical to a child’s spiritual, emotional, social, and even physical well-being.
In a few short weeks school will be letting out for the summer and there will be many, many kids who will be feeling lonely, and who need an adult to take an interest in them. To make them feel wanted. To make them feel needed. To make them feel like they are part of a family.
Is there a child is your church or in your neighborhood that you can “adopt” into your family? I encourage you to consider doing so. The investment of your time and love will yield great returns in the life of that child. We all want to belong. We all want to be considered part of a family.
Oh…that sign that I mentioned that triggered this memory? I had it made up when Mary and I inherited Cabin #13. It simply says “The Harry and Betty Smith Family Cabin.”