It might have been a June Sunday like any other, except it wasn’t at all. We only had two Sundays left in Grand Rapids, before we moved 300 miles south. I attended my last chapter meeting for an organization I helped lead and then rushed home to arrive in time for the going-away party our neighbors were throwing for us. Guests were set to arrive in less than 15 minutes.
I dropped my laptop bag in the entryway and walked toward the back of the house. At the back of our kitchen was a lovely breakfast nook, walls lined with crisp white beadboard and French doors looking out into the backyard. I spent many a morning soaking up the sun that streamed in from the three walls of windows in that room. On this day, I put my hand on the doorknob, ready to step out into my backyard, but what I saw through the window panes stopped me short.
In the driveway—normally littered with sidewalk chalk nubs and overturned scooters—I saw four long tables, draped in tablecloths: my favorite shade of blue. Lindsay, Katie, and their children were filling jars with white hydrangeas. At the same time, Jim and Dustin carried an extra table from their front porch and set it in the grass beneath our silver maple tree. Bryan carried a cooler from across the street and began filling it with drinks after setting it in the shade. A banner was hung along the back fence, though I couldn’t make out what it said from where I stood.
I took some deep breaths, blinked away the tears in my eyes, and walked out to the backyard. Ian ran to my side and grabbed my hand.
“Mom, this is our party!” he exclaimed, as Sophie, his best friend, and our next-door neighbor, came running up.
“Miss Lindsey, Miss Lindsey,” Sophie said, “Come see the pictures!”
I walked back to that banner I hadn’t been able to see from the kitchen. Across the whole width of the driveway, the fence was strung with a series of pictures.
I saw my children as babies, and toddlers, and into kindergarten, their best friends growing alongside them. I saw photos of game nights and birthday parties, Friday morning playgroups and Monday night girls’ night. I took it all in, my kids at my side. They didn’t recognize themselves as babies, so I talked through how this banner spanned the past four years of our very full Michigan life.
As minutes passed and we told stories and marveled at how our children had grown, Ian said, “Mom, we are eating in almost all of these pictures!”
I looked and laughed. “You’re right, bud!” Those photographs captured popsicles on hot summer afternoons, birthday cupcakes and decorated cookies, Moscow Mules for the grown-ups and cheese sticks for kids. Dinners devoured, snacks shared, bread broken—together, in backyards and on front porches and around dining tables.
Just a few days later, Ian got it in his head that he wanted to host a pool party. (Never mind that we only had a blue plastic kiddie pool.)
“Mom, let’s have a night-time swimming party,” he said. “Please invite all my friends from the neighborhood. We will need to wait for it to be dark outside, and the grown-ups can eat food while the kids are playing.”
He was thrilled with his idea, so we informally invited everyone to meet us in the backyard on the Fourth of July for some simple fireworks and, of course, splashing in the kiddie pool.
“Mom,” Ian said, as I coated him in bug spray that night, “Did you remember to make food for the grown-ups?”
Ian was not yet two years old when we moved to Michigan, so he doesn’t remember living anywhere else. He learned and grew so much during our time there, from how to speak clearly to how to scooter to how to write his name. He discovered what it means to be a big brother. He also, apparently, learned that some of life’s most meaningful moments happen when friends gather around food and fun.
Weeks before the parties, we were driving in the van on the first day of summer vacation. Ian had come home crying on the last day of school, his excitement for summer eclipsed by the heartbreaking realization he wouldn’t see the same school friends again next year. He lamented this reality from the backseat, and I knew this was one of those dreaded motherhood moments: He had a problem, and I couldn’t fix it. In fact, it was my problem, too. How would I live without these women who have never been more than a text or door-knock away for over four years?
I couldn’t fix it for Ian, but I could tell him a story.
“You know, buddy, I felt the same way when we moved from Orlando to Michigan! I know you don’t remember, but we lived in Orlando for a long time, and we had so many special friends there. I was so sad when it was time to leave because I worried we wouldn’t find new friends in Michigan. But I prayed, and I asked God to give us new special friends, and guess what happened?”
I glanced in the rearview mirror, trying to catch his face.
Suddenly, he kicked his feet and clasped his hands together under his chin. “He did! He did it! God did give us new friends in Michigan!”
“That’s right. He gave us better friends than I even hoped for. And you know, buddy? I’m sure God will do it again.”
I send my kids to school to learn phonics and arithmetic. On Sunday mornings, they learn about worship and communion. At the playground, they learn about hand-eye coordination and balance and gravity.
But it’s around our family table they learn to pass the salt and pull up a chair. With each knock and opened the front door, they learn about welcome and graciousness. They learn to share when they see me lend a book to Katie, and they learn to comfort when they see Jolanda, and I cry over cups of tea. They learn to serve when their father offers a bottle opener to Jim and Tyson, and they can learn to host as we stretch fresh sheets over the guest bed.
This all has yet to shake out in our new home, but I keep chips and salsa in the pantry, ready to deploy at the first available opportunity.
Featured image by Holly Shafer Photography
Lindsey is a writer, reader, and mom who is slowly learning to trade perfectionism for freedom. A Florida-to-Michigan transplant, her faith and sense of purpose are shifting as she experiences seasons in the world and in her own life. Lindsey is also the co-founder of The Drafting Desk, a newsletter for anyone trying to pursue grace instead of perfection. You can find her on Instagram @lindseycornett.