I was talking to my mom last week about missing our friends from Tulsa. I expressed to her how excited I was about their upcoming visit, and she reminded me of a song that I used to sing in Brownies (which was the 1st grade version of Girl Scouts). I immediately knew the one she was talking about. The lyrics were simple, and I remember singing them over and over – “Make new friends, but keep the old – one is silver and the other’s gold.” We would stand in a circle, holding hands with the other girls from our small town in Illinois and proudly belt out the lyrics to that song.
This weekend, four of our closest friends from Tulsa made the 550+ mile trek to Peoria to visit. Dustin and I had been looking forward to seeing them for several months. We had spent four years in a church small group together during our time in Tulsa and have known one of the couples since college. When we told them last spring that we were seriously considering moving back to Illinois, they were sad but supportive, which was just what we had expected.
The decision to move was a hard one, since there was a part of both of us that wanted to stay in Tulsa permanently. We could picture buying a house, staying at the church we loved, and raising our future kids surrounded by friends who had become our family. I could envision our small group meeting for many years – becoming parents together, vacationing as families, and supporting one another through the many seasons of life.
But, the other part of me ached to be near family – to see my nieces and nephew grow up, to be the aunt and uncle that could come to all of their birthday parties and dance recitals and sporting events. I couldn’t imagine raising our one-day adopted children 8 hours away from their grandparents. As time went on and our roots in Tulsa grew deeper by the day, we made the difficult decision to move back to Illinois, away from the city, church, and people that we loved. It felt like a very distinct turning point, one thing was ending and something else was beginning.
As we packed boxes and sold furniture, reality set in. We were saying good-bye to so many people, and I was not good at long-distance relationships. I don’t call often enough, and I get immersed in wherever I am and can quickly forget those who are not nearby. The one exception to this was the nine months that Dustin and I dated apart. But even in that case it was different. I knew that we’d be together at the end of those months. We visited often. We were young and in-love.
But this move could very well be a permanent relocation, and since we haven’t been able to convince anyone to move to Peoria with us, we probably won’t live near these friends again. I’ve always struggled as I’ve thought about these types of long-distance relationships. Maybe they are more work than they are worth. Maybe it’s impractical to keep up with people who will never be close by. Maybe it would be better to just make new friends but not keep the old. If I can only see some friends once or maybe twice a year if we’re really intentional, how can that be fulfilling? Won’t it just be so different?
To me, “different” can automatically equate to “not-as-good”. I thrive on traditions, and if we can’t watch “Parenthood” together every week, and celebrate Christmas together at our annual Progressive dinner, then what will it be like? If we can’t live life together in the same city as part of the same local church, maybe we’ll be less in sync with one another and maybe being together will just be hard, sad, and remind me of what will never be again. (I can go down some pretty pessimistic rabbit holes if I’m not careful or if Dustin doesn’t pull me out of them.)
When this type of thinking tries to take over, I have to remind myself that different is not necessarily bad; different is just different. And sometimes different is hard. But sometimes, even at the same time, different can be beautiful.
That’s what this weekend was for me. Beautiful. Even as we prepared for their arrival – making food I knew they’d enjoy, washing extra sheets and towels, putting together welcome baskets for each couple, I realized that I didn’t care if everything was perfect when they came. The nervousness that “hosting” can bring out in me wasn’t there. Of course, I wanted our new place to look its best, but I didn’t feel the pressure to impress these long-time friends. I noticed a difference in myself. For a girl who spends lots of time being “Martha” when it comes to hosting guests (many of whom have been new guests in the recent months), I settled into my truest self and rested as “Mary”, excited to spend time with people that I love.
When they arrived, Dustin and I hurried from our apartment and greeted them in the parking lot with hugs. We spent the next two days just enjoying being together. We laughed hard, ate well, and talked about life. We worshipped together, played games, drank delicious coffee, and had arguments with our spouses in front of each other – which is a clear sign of deep friendship. We even got to watch an episode of “Parenthood” complete with our ridiculous rendition of the opening song.
They left this morning, and I was a little sad. But mostly, I was refreshed and grateful. We made a tough decision earlier this year and moved back closer to our families, and it has been incredibly rewarding. We are part of a church that we truly love, and we are building new relationships with people that will last a long time. In the meantime, as those relationships develop and deepen, we still have the joy and strength that comes from “old friends”, who know our flaws and our fears and will continue to walk with us through this life, even if it’s not exactly side-by-side. And in the midst of the newness, there is such comfort in knowing that this isn’t just a beginning. It’s also a continuation of the life we’ve been building, full of people, near and far, who make it a beautiful one.
I am certain that some of the meaning of that song I used to sing in Brownies was lost on me when I was just a 7-year-old girl, wearing a brown sash with a few badges safety-pinned onto it. But this morning, as I was cleaning up from breakfast in my too-quiet-house, I felt such anticipation for the next time we’ll gather together with old friends, picking up right where we left off, and I knew deep in my soul that those words are true, “One is silver and the other really is gold.”