We sat on the hot sand moments after pulling into the beach rental. We didn’t have time to find the beach chairs before all seven of our kids found the ocean! “How many years have we done this?” I asked Carolyn, my South African friend of over fifteen years.
We both squinted our eyes as we looked blankly at each other. “Let’s see, how many times did we come before the little boys were born?” (The “little” boys are now twelve and thirteen and have never known a summer without our annual beach trip together.)
Before long, the two oldest (the “big” boys, ages 16 and 18) were out of the water walking the beach. This year they stood neck and neck, both six-feet, two-inches tall. I knew this because they stood back to back earlier that week, and the younger smiled proudly when someone confirmed, “Exact same!” and the older pushed him away saying, “Six-two, buddy.”
Carolyn and I were down to counting just five heads in the water as we carried on talking about this and that. Up on my feet and back down again often, I told her about the true story I had watched on Netflix about a man who drifted out to sea. She responded in her soft, endearing British accent, “Oh Tori! Shame! You know that’s not what you should be watching before this trip.”
I saw the two “six-foot-two” boys returning as our conversation pivoted once again: How do you handle this? How do you handle that? When do you let go? When do you hold tight? We took a stab at all of life’s parenting mysteries.
The “big boys” were almost to us now, and I was more aware than ever just how “big” they had become. Mine, the sixteen-year-old, had something in his hand. Finally, the boys stopped and turned toward their chatty moms who, judging by their words per minute, hadn’t had enough adult conversation this year.
“Here, Aunt Carolyn,” my son interrupted in his deepening voice, and handed her a beautiful seashell.
I smiled, and so did he, as Carolyn received the shell from this towering boy the same way she had year after year when he brought her “treasures” as she affectionately called them. She received it like she did when he had stood below her waist, then just-to, then above, and still now. “Oh, this is lovely! Ah, thanks buddy. What a find!”
What is it about Carolyn that keeps that boy coming back to her with ‘treasures’ year after year? I couldn’t help but wonder, as I watched the boys move along through the hot sand.
The question still lingered a few months later, when Carolyn’s magnetizing ways became evident yet again. This time, it was with our younger boy.
We’d finally made our dream of taking the kids to Europe a reality – a place Carolyn’s stories made especially exciting. “Can I keep this umbrella, Mom?” my son asked sheepishly in our Paris VRBO, as he held up an umbrella we had bought on the rainy day we arrived.
“Why, buddy? It’s not supposed to rain and we have another long trip today,” I said, wondering why he’d want to hold onto a bulky umbrella for the next nine days.
“I just want it,” he sorta mumbled, clutching the black umbrella with a white image of the Eiffel Tower repeated throughout its fabric.
I had worked hard to consolidate everyone to a small carry-on and backpack while traveling three countries in ten days, so I did what every annoying mom does and pressed in, “But why, buddy? You don’t want to have to carry this thing all over the place for the next nine days, do you?”
“I’ll make room for it in my backpack,” he answered.
“Is it really worth it, buddy?” I say, rummaging through his tightly-packed bag.
“Please, Mom. Aunt Carolyn will love it,” he said, avoiding eye contact as if to protect himself from an embarrassing reaction from Mom.
I turned my grinning face from his view to gather myself while my heart melted just a little inside. “Yes, of course! Oh look, it fits right here.” I try and say nonchalantly, finally understanding his pull to get the umbrella home. It’s the same pull that brings my sixteen-year-old back to Aunt Carolyn with a seashell in his hand. The same magnetic pull.
So what is it about Carolyn that brings my boys back to her, bearing ‘treasures’? I wonder again.
As I sit thinking, I can’t help but hear Carolyn’s sweet, consistent, sincere responses to my boys. And it hits me, Carolyn is a great receiver!
She pulls out the best in my kids by the way she receives them. My boys know that it’s not just the “treasures” that Carolyn is overjoyed to receive from them. It’s them. While her hands receive their gifts, her heart receives them. She takes them fully in and they know it. And I think they believe in that moment that they are who Aunt Carolyn receives them to be.
And they come back.
There’s something about being received well in relationship that brings you back together time and time again. Carolyn has me convinced of it.
So I look up the word “receive” in the Bible and let God speak. These are the beautiful words I found:
Jesus said, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” Matthew 10:40
And yet again…
“Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.” Mark 9:37
When Carolyn genuinely and sincerely receives my kids, she receives Christ. In Him, she has the ability to see them for who they really are. Who they were created to be.
What a beautiful thing in relationship: When you receive others, you receive Christ.
Thank you, Carolyn. You’ve shown me the treasure found in receiving others. May my heart be open to receive them like you do.
“Jesus said…’whoever receives you, receives me…