I've just started to read a book on child-rearing by the mother of one of my dearest friends. (She turned out ok, so I figured the book was worth a try). In this book, Gail says the following:
"I also firmly believe in raising children with a great deal of expressed affection--physical and verbal. Children grow strong and true, and self-confident where they are accepted and enjoyed."
-Who's Flying this Plane? by Gail Gammell
I had barely finished reading those two lines when my mind went immediately to thoughts of my childhood--how did my mom show me she loved me? I think the strongest way she communicated her love for me was through physical touch--through hugging.
As I think on it now, I don't know if everyone my age gets a hug from their mother every time they meet. Now maybe most of you do, and for that I am glad! But those hugs that happen now, they must have started somewhere. The squeeze that says "Welcome back, I'm so glad you've come home"--I think that hug has been around for me since the days when my absence was merely the three hours away at pre-school.
But as the length of time separated from my mom has increased, our hug time has not diminished. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if my welcome home hugs are a bit longer now than when I was at "that age" and didn't need long, drawn out hugs from someone as "embarrasing" as my mother. We've all been there, I'm sure, and in fact some people may have never left that state of mind.
But I am thankful that one of my primary love languages is physical touch, so whenever I come home, there's that hug, that "Welcome back to the family" embrace.
Some people's "families" are a bit larger than blood relatives. My church family, for instance, is a rather huggy lot. I don't know if it's a culture thing or what, but I can guarantee myself at least three good hugs every Sunday morning. And that's not all--when I go to my friend's house for house group (small group/Bible study) I not only get a hug from the other members but also I can claim a squeeze from any of her children that happen to be roaming about. In fact I don't have much choice in the matter concerning a few of them--they just come right up to me, arms open wide.
It took me a while to get used to my new, huggy church family. My church growing up just didn't do that too much. I always gave our pastor a hug at the end of service (partly because shaking his hand on the way out felt weird considering I hung out with his son all the time and seriously, how many girls shake the hand of a friend's father once a week?), but most outward displays of emotion were saved for a return from college or the Christmas eve service. So having people hug me on my second visit to my current church in two weeks was just odd. Until it suddenly hit me. Those strange huggy people were simply saying "welcome back, welcome to the family, we're glad you're here."
And after all, don't we all yearn for that? Don't we all want that welcome back embrace? Even if it's hard for you to touch people, it's that handshake, that chuck on the shoulder, that "guy hug" thing that's a cross between a handshake and wrestling... it's in all those little motions that tell you "Hey, it's good to see you again, I'm glad you're here."
Remember the story of the prodigal son? He forced his father to give him his inheritance, went off to the city and wasted it. He ended up alone, dirty, and working in the mud with swine, an animal that was labeled as unclean for his people. He had reached the bottom, and finally in anguish decided that the shame of returning home was no greater than the shame he was currently enduring, and he journeyed back to his father's house. The father, who had himself been anguishing over the loss of his son, did not see the boy and say "There's that scoundrel who made me half as wealthy as I should have been!" no, he ran--ran--to his son, his arms open wide, and threw his arms around him. He then called for a party to celebrate that his son had come home.
When I think on that story I realize that the hug I get from my mom, my aunt, my church family... that hug says everything I need to hear from them. It says "Welcome home, welcome back, welcome to the family." It says that I am never truly alone because there are always people somewhere who love me. And it makes me realize that my mom must have known some of this when I was little, because all I have to do when I feel separated from the love of others is go home, because there is always someone there with their arms open wide. Saying "welcome back, welcome home, welcome to the family."