I should not have been surprised by the sister-like friendships between these girls. Almost twenty years ago, it only took the quickest exchanges with their mother for me to be charmed for life, and loved so wonderfully over the last two decades.
Then, this weekend arrived and so did the next generation of friends, with suitcase and toothbrushes. Mother hugged mother and daughters hugged daughters. While the eldest one stood timidly in our foyer for those first few minutes, the younger beauty spun a recently learned twirl and fluttered her eyelashes at me. I must have responded correctly because her face broke into a wide smile; her big sister smiled too. We mothers did a quick catch up, reviewing last-minute instructions like milk allergies, sippy cups and sleeping arrangements; the younger bunch - timid one included - scampered to find new Christmas presents to share (sorta). I bid their mother, and my sweet sister, a final "Happy Anniversary!" and closed the door, five little ones and their happy noise shaking the very walls as I cleaned up dinner, dished up dessert.
[Huge aside: I tease their parents all the time, something about watching their brake lines around us because their kids are so sweet, we just might take matters into our own hands. Of course, we would lose our dearest friends, the ones we've prayed through medical emergencies and spontaneous home remodels (inspired by motivators like mold and flood). So, we leave things like they are and just take them - these little bundles of sugar-and-spice-and-everything-genuine - and relish them for the weekend. ]
By the end of Day Two, they allowed me to snuggle them, brush their hair, and even let down their guard enough to earn a gentle word of correction. Although the nightly slumber parties should have labeled them drowsy, they giggle and prance their way through the weekend, both mine and hers, these girls of ours.
How else can I welcome them into our home, our hearts? I love them with an almost-motherly heart...
And yet, it was still not enough.
I know this because Saturday night, when certain slumber party participants gave in to slumber, the little one, only three years old, whimpered a bit.
"I want Mama," she cried, sleepy tears hiccuping her words.
I held her, prayed for her, and even laid down next to her for a time, until one of my own daughters needed a glass of water. Returning to the room with the Cinderella cup full of water, I wondered what had gone wrong, how had our welcome fallen short. If I'm being perfectly honest, I also wondered if I would ruin an anniversary, calling at a late hour for a mother pick-up. Tiptoes on the floor, I peeked into the room, maneuvered around sleeping children, and found the sad one in the twin bed.
Only now, there were two in the bed - a big sister comforting a little sister in a tangle of arms and whispered love.
I kissed them both good night, and carefully slipped out of the room. I climbed into my own bed, a mixture of personal inadequacy, relief, and melted heart wooing me to sleep.
Today, I ponder the weekend, especially when my oldest daughter's first words this morning were wondering when her friends were coming back to sleep in her room.
As welcome as we made these girls feel, I found our attempts fell short. They still felt foreign. In the dark and sleepy moments, it wasn't their house they missed, it was their family. And it was only in family that they found comfort.
That feeling of homesickness - which is really more family-sickness - is an ache like none other. Haven't we all felt it? No matter how welcomed I might have felt in a home, in another family, eventually that ache cropped up...
What could I have done to make these girls feel more welcome? The only thing that would have alleviated their homesickness at its core would be to make them part of the family, to either adopt them or to change their very DNA. Silly as it sounds, only becoming a true member of the household could give them that sense of belonging they were craving.
But I know that craving - to belong, to thrive in sweats and no makeup - as a secure member of a family. And yet, there were times when I've felt so foreign, both an alien and a stranger (Ephesians 2:12).
Then, when my whimpers found voice, there were arms, even better than sister-arms.
"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." (Ephesians 2:13)
I remembered this over the course of my weekend. And recognized that the welcome, the feeling of security, that I wanted to give these beloved girls can only be found in Christ, the One who stays close even when mothers and fathers have anniversaries.
"Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God." (Ephesians 2:19)
My own homesickness is cured here - in the family of God. I've not only been grafted in; my very DNA has been changed.
I'm resting in this secure place tonight as one girl who was far off having now been brought near by Christ, the perfect welcome.
Have you sensed His welcome in your own life? I pray you do! His family can be a bit odd, like Thanksgiving dinners with distant relatives that eat sweet potato pie instead of pumpkin pie (that's odd!). At times, the family tree can resemble weeds more than fruit-bearers - but even there, Christ welcomes them, and you. Have you come near? I pray that you remain in this secure home, and feel the warmth of His family.
Resting in His Perfect Welcome,