I married into a big Italian family. To be honest, it was a bit of a culture shock for me. The food part was easy to embrace. A big fan of Italian cuisine, I claimed Tiramisu as my favorite dessert and, as a young person, spent time with a beautiful older sister in church learning to make gnocchi from scratch.
Besides food, the other thing that Italians are known to celebrate — family — was a bit overwhelming for me. I was raised in a loving family, but it was a rare occasion to interact with extended family outside of my parents, siblings and grandparents. So as a young wife, I suddenly found myself spending holidays with soooo many people, who were sometimes loud and very affectionate, and I would need to take a step back and retreat to a quiet corner away from all that action.
The first time I went to a family reunion with my husband, I was still reclusive, but I remember being amused by so many people running around who shared the same features and build as my father-in-law. The family resemblance was undeniable. And I had to admit that it was cool to see all the generations interact.
Our own children have thrived growing up in the center of such a family environment. Yearly summer visits with cousins and events like family weddings are highly anticipated. It’s been good for them to develop relationships and feel connected to a bigger family outside our immediate one. My husband convinced our kids that they are 100 percent Italian (genetically impossible, right?) joking that Italian blood cancels out the rest and that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who are Italian and those who want to be. (Please send all comments on that directly to him.)
After spending a week with my husband and kids at GMBA campout, I can’t help but see it as a highly anticipated yearly family reunion of sorts — for the family of God. I’ve attended GMBA camps since 1978, when, as a young girl, I began to identify with my bigger church family outside the local congregation I saw each Sunday. The relationships I’ve developed at camp are priceless, with my peers as well as with older brothers and sisters. The interaction between the generations is a beautiful thing.
All the years we traveled to camp with our young family in a van packed with strollers and kid gear, hoping we had enough stuff in each kid’s “church bag” to keep them quiet for all the meetings, was so worth it. Now we see our older kids’ lives deeply impacted by their own friendships and interactions with this big spiritual family. When our family visits other branches in different parts of the country, the love of God and sense of belonging is evident very quickly, even if we’ve never met those saints before.
Maybe you are new to the church, and large gatherings like camp or conference leave you a little taken aback, like I was at first with my husband’s natural family. After all, we can be a loud, happy, affectionate bunch. And it may take some time to allow yourself to become a part of something bigger than what you may have known before. Even if you are a seasoned saint but don’t get out much, consider attending GMBA, church conference, a VBS, YIA, or Ladies Circle event in another location and support the church’s large events. You won’t regret it, no matter your age.
As I look at the faces in small or large gatherings of my church family, one thing is clear. Although, in The Church of Jesus Christ, we may not resemble each other physically, and we are of different nationalities, shapes, and sizes, the spiritual family resemblance is undeniable and palpable. The blood of Christ applied to each of us individually cancels out everything else. And maybe there are two kinds of people in the world: those who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ and those who don’t realize yet that they want to be.
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.