By Shawnelle Eliasen
A friend is one of the nicest things you can have, and one of the best things you can be.
Michelle dropped into my life just when I needed her. Like manna from heaven. Five of my seven closest friends had moved in the past year. I just knew if I stood on the end of my drive, waving goodbye to a sweetheart sister one more time, my heart would break.
Enter Michelle. I met her at church, and she was a master at making friends. Her husband had been in the Navy. And his civilian job brought many transfers, too. Moving was a way of life for her, and she rose to the challenge.
"Want to come over for lunch today?" Michelle asked.
We were scraping glue from eight-foot tables. Day one of Vacation Bible School and the craft room had gone wild.
"Today?" I asked.
I barely knew Michelle. She'd been around church for a while, but our paths hadn't crossed. Until VBS.
"Sure," she said. "I'll make pizza. The kids can play."
Michelle had three young sons and a daughter. I had three young sons, too. Sounded like a good fit. But I was tired and the morning had been full.
"C'mon" she said, as if tapping my thoughts. "I'll make you an iced tea. I have a nice porch and we can sit."
My sons and I went to Michelle's that day, and it took about ten minutes for us to feel like we'd all been friends for a hundred years. Michelle had that way about her. And by the time the boys and I loaded into our van and headed home, I felt as though I'd been given a sweet gift. Michelle eased some of the hurt of those relocated friendships.
And I didn't even have to try to find her.
The next day at Bible school, Michelle was waiting by the door. "I need to get groceries tonight," she said. "Want to come?"
I thought of my cupboards at home. Mother Hubbard for sure. But I'd never gone for groceries with a friend. Seemed like a solo task to me. "Together?" I asked.
"Of course," she said. "Another friend is going to go, too. But there's plenty of room in the Land Rover."
I agreed. And when Michelle picked me up that evening, I was surprised. Her other friend was much younger. Single. I wondered where Michelle had met her and what we'd have in common. I expected a thirty-something mama, like me.
But the evening was a delight.
It was fun to meet someone new and to hear about a life that was so different from mine.
And such was life with Michelle. As I got to know her better, I got to know many others, too. Michelle was different from anyone I'd ever met. And she had a lot of friends. Older friends. Friends in their twenties. Single. Married. Friends with no children. Friends with a half-dozen kids. I'd always played things safe, choosing friends who were just like me, but Michelle reached far. She had friends who were working through divorces and addictions. She was a friend even to some who were hard to befriend.
And I was in awe of her. She'd more than filled a void in my life. And I learned from watching her love.
Then came a sad day. The day she told me she was going to move.
"It's a transfer," she said. "But it will be good for my family. I know we'll meet others who could use a new friend."
But what about me? I wondered. Another friend. Moving away. Maybe it wasn't worth it, getting so deep into someone's life. Who would take her place? Who would be my friend?
The weeks rolled by and Michelle's home became a maze of cardboard boxes. I helped her pack her life, and it felt as though I were packing my own heart. Then came moving day. Once again I stood on the end of the drive. Michelle's children waved like wild and mine waved back hard. I kicked a few pebbles with the tip of my shoe as her white truck became smaller and disappeared.
Gone. Another friend.
The next few days were hard and quiet. Michelle was a pursuer. An inviter. An initiator. With her gone, the phone seemed quiet. I missed her smile. Her warmth. The way her kitchen was a haven for women of all walks of life.
Then one afternoon my boys and I were playing outside. Their laughter rose above the high squeal of the swings. But I didn't feel like laughing. I was lonely for a friend.
And that's when I saw the young mother.
She was walking down the sidewalk, newborn babe strapped to her chest. Her bright red ponytail bobbed high on her head. Two young boys ran in front of her, darting off the sidewalk and back on. She was young. Very young.
I pushed gently on my little son's back. His swing flew high. The mother was just about in front of our house. I pushed again. My little guy cheered. The little parade moved closer, this mother so much younger than me.
And I thought of Michelle.
"C'mon, guys," I said. I pulled on the chains and gently stopped their swings. "There's a mama and some boys coming down the block. Let's go over and say hello."
My sons raced forward, filled with the anticipation of a new friend. I moved forward, too, recognizing that desire in my own heart.
"Hi," I said when we reached the sidewalk. "Nice day for a walk."
That young mother and I chatted in the afternoon sun, and in time, she became one of my very close friends. But my friendships didn't stop there. I began to stretch out. Look beyond my own age, life stage, and circumstance. Before too long I had older friends. Friends without children. Single friends. Friends whose lives were very different from mine.
And the blessing was sweet.
I still miss Michelle. But I know she's reaching others, spreading joy, providing a shoulder, loving and teaching others how to love. And I sometimes wish she hadn't moved.
But this special lady left me with the very best parting gift — the ability to see the beauty in a wild bouquet of friends.