When I was young, my family made an annual trek to West Michigan. We would pull into Grand Haven and settle in with my Grandma or one of my aunts or uncles. My Mom came from a large family affectionately and collectively known as “the Wallishes”. Always while we were visiting there would be at least one large family gathering at someone’s home. It was called Family Night. And it was not only reserved for our once a year visit. They have it weekly. Food and laughter. The Wallishes know how to do togetherness.
It was at the few Wallish Family Nights that I would have a chance to interact with my cousins. There were several my age or somewhat close to my age. I’m sure we talked about things but I can’t remember any of our conversations. Still, it was nice to have people about my age to spend time with at these family gatherings.
My annual trips to Michigan stopped after I got married and had my own family. We make a much more infrequent trip to Michigan these days. I love going back and seeing the Wallishes. But many of the cousins I spent time with when I was growing up have grown up, gotten married, and moved away. It has been at least a decade since I saw Elizabeth, Christina and Amy (married to my cousin, Josh).
So when Elizabeth messaged me asking if I would consider making a trip to Washington D.C. where they all lived, I was intrigued. Her only caveat was that I would be “required” to make a personal appearance at the book club who read my book. She enticed me with offers to show me all the sights.
With a trembling heart, I said yes.
I am a stay-at-home-mom. The last time I have been away from my children overnight was when Reagan was 9 months old. I’ve never been away from Maddie or Hunter for more than 24 hours. This is not completely intentional – it just sort of happened. Brian and I did try to plan a special anniversary trip one year, but it was waylaid by a very sick little boy who had a terrible infection after a tick bite. I have only flown once in my life in 2002 when Brian and I made a trip to Washington state. I have never flown alone. The thought of flying all by myself and being away from my family for several days was daunting.
Plans were made. Plane tickets were purchased. And I literally rallied friends to pray for me.
When my first flight was cancelled, I was blessed with a direct flight much earlier in the day on Thursday, January 18. Brian drove me to the airport, giving me flying tips all the way there. He walked me right up to the little check-in counter and helped me get my boarding pass. And then he sent me on my way. Just a little over two hours later, I was disembarking at Reagan National Airport. And then Amy was there to welcome me with a warm hug.
Over the next several days, Elizabeth, Amy and Christina showed me so many wonderful sights. We did so many museums. I stood in front of the Hope diamond. I saw the Constitution with my own eyes. I stood in quiet reverence amidst the pile of shoes from Holocaust victims. I climbed the many steps up to the Lincoln Memorial. I read the wise words of Franklin Roosevelt. I saw people Marching for Life and people Marching for Women.
It’s impossible to visit D.C. and not be confronted by political views. We had rich discussions and found we had more in common than I ever knew.
There was a D.C. Family Night with the D.C. Wallishes. We enjoyed some wonderful meals together. They taught me how to ride the Metro. I even Ubered a few times.
I met with the book club at the CRC church so like my own. I loved their questions. I loved hearing their comments and observations. I loved spending time with those dear ladies and my heart soaked up their encouraging words. You can bet I would be a member of their club if I lived closer.
To sum up the entire trip would take too many pages of words. It was amazing. I was awestruck at the beauty of the museums and buildings that lined the Mall. I passed through one of the actual cars that carried Jews to the concentration camps. I bought souvenirs for my kids and missed them.
And these three beautiful women, Elizabeth, Amy and Christina set aside all their to-do lists. They didn’t just put their lives on hold for me – they did something braver. They invited me into their homes, into their families and into their lives. I got to know them in a way I never had.
Seeing all the amazing sights was wonderful, awe-inspiring and important. But spending time with those three beautiful, smart, brave women was the very best part of the trip. I loved seeing where they live and meeting all of their most important people. I loved visiting their churches and eating meals with them. I loved talking with them and learning from them and enjoying their company.
When it was time to come home, Elizabeth’s husband was so kind to drive me to the airport, walk me in and help me get my boarding passes and then walk me right up to the security line. Hours later I successfully navigated my way through Chicago O’Hare. As my final flight descended and neared the Des Moines airport I started pouring out my thanks. I named every good gift I could think of as the wheels touched the runway. And as my plane taxied up to the terminal I was choking back tears.
I come back home feeling blessed. I am so blessed to call Elizabeth, Amy and Christina cousins. I was blessed to meet their sweet families. I am blessed to have experienced all I got to see and do with them. I am blessed to live in this country, chaotic though it may seem. I am blessed to be a part of the rich history of this nation. I am blessed by people who encourage me with my writing. I am blessed to have had a wonderful first experience traveling alone. I am blessed to have my dearest parents waiting for me with big smiles and warm hugs. I am blessed to walk in the doors of my house and have three little kids run to me with wide open arms. I am blessed by a husband who held down the fort while I was away. And I am blessed by so many sweet friends and family who were praying for me.
It was a marvelous trip filled with so many good gifts. And I am thankful that I was invited, that I went, that I enjoyed it all, and that I am home.