Much to my great joy, my sister is in town visiting this month with her two beautiful daughters. The little one, Zee, is seven months and has those perfect kissable chubby cheeks. The older one is coming up on her third birthday in August. She’s at that point where she is able to string words together in sentences and we are getting a glimpse of what goes on inside her head. It is incredibly entertaining.
She has gotten good at identifying gender, and she is friendly. The result of this combination is that wherever we go she is waving to the people who pass by her. The other day we went to a Panera where we could only find a seat by the door. When each person would enter, M would look up at them and say “Hi, Woman!” or “Goodbye, Man!” I won’t lie, I’m worried about her getting confused and shouting out the wrong thing, but so far she has a perfect record. And I’d like to think that she’s cute enough that people would be forgiving.
After we’d been together for a couple of days my whole family was able to take a walk to downtown Newport last Saturday afternoon. We wanted to check out the Strawberry Festival at Trinity Church (very cool) and tour the newly designed Queen Anne’s Square. Part of the new park includes a large rock with a water feature. It’s low to the ground, just like the rest of the stone benches that mark the foundations where colonial homes once stood. Water bubbles up from the top spilling over the sides. It is simple and lovely and perfect toddler height.
M was drenched in moments, which she kept announcing to us joyfully: “I’m soaking wet!” She was especially taken by the spouts that the water came up from, and would slap her little palms over the top of the bubbles to watch the water squirt to each side. After playing with the water by herself for some time she was suddenly moved to include others. Believe me when I tell you she started to approach EVERY stranger who walked anywhere near the seating area where our family was resting. Running up to them she would grab their hand and pull them toward the fountain, loudly exclaiming “C’mon – put your hand in the water Woman!” “Hey Man! Put your hand in the water!”
Countless visitors to the park detoured when they were grabbed by the hand and willingly let themselves be led to the water. Women with beautiful manicures and lovely dresses came precariously close to being drenched themselves with all the splashing. Grown men let go of their date’s hands to bend down and plug one of the bubbles, sending M into a fit of laughter. People allowed themselves to be ripped from conversation with their friends or totally rerouted from their path to Starbucks.
I was both horrified and thrilled for the duration of the event. It’s hard to love this child and not be at least a little concerned about her total lack of stranger danger. At the same time, it was just glorious to watch her interact with all of these people, and to see their eager response. They were happy to stop what they were doing to play in the water.
I’ve been thinking a lot about camp lately. Our summer program starts really soon. As excited as I am for the start I always spend some time thinking about the people who will be at camp for the first time. I remember well how afraid I was the first time I set foot on the property. Frankly, I’m not sure I ever would have come back had it not been for one person in my cabin who welcomed me as warmly as if I had been a long-time family friend. She was so excited about her own camp experience that she bubbled over with it. (see what I did there??) She wanted to share camp with me so that I could love it the way that she did.
My first friend from camp is still at it. She’ll be visiting staff this summer, and when the group for her week met to plan the program she introduced herself to the folks that will spend their very first week at ECC as adults. “This is your first time at camp?!,” she exclaimed, “Oh my gosh I’m so excited that I’ll be there for it! You are going to LOVE it!”
Put your hand in the water, woman!
You know we all have this deep desire to be seen and known and invited in. Even the introverts among us want to know that they are noticed and that the rest of the world yearns for their participation (I’m convinced of it!). It’s one of the reasons camp has been such a wonderful experience for so many – because the people that are already there have rushed up to them and grabbed their hand to pull them towards the fun.
It’s lovely to be an observer of this process – to stand and watch my niece pull strangers to the fountain, or to watch one of my oldest friends burst with excitement at making new camp friends all these years later. But more than just watching and appreciating this process, I want to remember to be part of it. I think we’re all so afraid that if we rush towards someone to invite them in that we’ll be rejected. I know I kept worrying that would happen to my niece – that someone would pull their hand away and shake off her enthusiasm.
And I guess there’s no promise that won’t happen sometimes. But how sad would our world be if we held back from rushing forward with that invitation because we were afraid of rejection? How many people would we accidentally ignore that really yearned to be a part of our fountain, our camp, our church, our community?
There’s risk in reaching our hand out to invite others into relationship. That’s part of life. But more often than not, the person you have reached out to will grab your hand and head towards the bubbling waters. And you just never know when the person you reach out to will have their whole lives changed because of that one invitation.
We can’t risk missing that opportunity. We have to overcome our fear of rejection and – each in our own way – extend an invitation to the people around us. That’s how we create community that changes lives.
So come on Man – put your hand in the water!