Monday, October 5, 2015

The Perfect Way to Spend a Saturday Evening

My Aunt Carole gave me a Mary Engelbreit Book of Days Calendar when I graduated from high school. I took this beautiful book to college with me and began recording moments that became known as “Book of Days” days. The moments that made it into the book had a different feel than normal good days. They shimmered. They were never the big days in our lives. They reminded us how happy we were to be alive, and that life is good.

I had a lot of those days in college when pressure came in the form of homework and getting a job in the far off future. A mortgage, sleep-deprived parenting, and office politics have made Book of Days days far less frequent. Until this past Saturday.

Saturday was an all-around good day: the Salvation Army came to pick up a furniture donation and for a nominal fee, the driver agreed to haul away the other items that needed to be trashed. Later on our walk to gather kindling for the evening's fire pit, our neighbor offered to cut up brush from his neighbor's yard. 

These small gestures loomed large for me and were building momentum to make this a really great day. All of this was in preparation to welcome four college students to our home for dinner. I had signed up as a Homeplate Program Family at the University where I work.

Cadence and I pulled up to our meeting spot on campus. There was music playing and a lot of students milling around. I had a moment of self-doubt. How will I ever find our students in this crowd? What was I thinking inviting strangers for dinner? Suddenly three students with eager faces approached our car. I rolled down my window and asked, “Are you waiting to be picked up for the Homeplate Program?” They nodded.

“Are you ready to hang with the Mahoney girls?” They smiled.

We introduced ourselves and waited for the fourth student.

There are times when you instantly know you've found members of your tribe. This was that moment. I explained that the program encouraged the families to host the students 2-3 times a semester and I invited them to go ice skating with us and I wondered if they'd like to help us decorate our Christmas tree when the time came. 

They gasped and said “Yes!” in unison. 

We loaded up in my Pathfinder when their friend joined us.

There was never an awkward moment. Cadence got the conversational ball rolling by telling them that we'd gone to Taylor Swift's concert this week. Then we started talking about musicians we loved and groups we'd seen. Pentatonix came into the conversation. We heard about how great they were in concert. I offered to dig out our Christmas CD when we got home. There was a resounding, “Yes!”

At home, our dinner prep began immediately. I listed the to-do items and everyone took a job. We pre-heated the oven and Kayla got to work on making cornbread. Emily got to work on chopping veggies for the salad. Jay and Zach were left with the enchilada assembly. I went searching for the Pentatonix CD.

The music came on and my kitchen filled with singing. It was joyous. I was so glad I'd planned for us to make dinner together rather than stressing about making something in advance. We sang and talked and cleaned up as our dinner baked. I marveled at how it was possible that these four students remained strangers to us for about two seconds. 

Cadence made surprise name cards for our guests and set the table. These sweet students filled their plates high with the gorgeous meal we made together. And we dove in. We agreed that food tasted better when it was made together. I shared with the group that I had had town parents when I was in college and what a difference they had made in my college experience. I told them that I'd like to offer myself as a resource to them—a home-away-from-home. We ate and talked and smiled.

We admitted that we'd been excited for the evening, but nervous about the strangers we were going to spend the evening with. At one point, Kayla said, “You know that part at the end of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas? Where he says his heart grew five times bigger?” She gestured to her heart. “That's how I feel right now.”

“Me too!” I exclaimed. Book of Days day, indeed!

The rest of our evening included s'mores by the firepit, a reading of a Pete the Cat Valentine's Day book by Zach, whose work study is working with second graders, and a game of Chinese Checkers. I watched these students as they interacted with each other. I thought about my own college days and the friendships that were forged in the first days of my freshman year. I thought about how these four will feel a special bond for the rest of their lives—no matter where life takes them. 
I thought about the fact that I could be each of these 18 year-olds' mother. How they were ten when my daughter was born. How my family's circle of friends had just expanded. How they had treated my school-ager with kindness.  I had prayed that this would be an enjoyable evening for everyone. My prayers were answered. My cup was overflowing.

We drove them back to campus with plans for our next visit and the standing offer to reach out if there was any way I could help them.

Cadence woke up the next morning and declared, “I love those college students.”

My sentiments exactly.


  1. I just love that you did this and clearly the students did too. :) This reminds me of the kind of environment my son is living in now. Even though it's boarding school and not college, he's still living away from home and so it's nice to know there are other adults you can rely on who are nearby. In his case, it's the teachers, coaches and advisors, who all live on campus and open their homes to the students. My son has only been there 3 weeks, but he's already had dinner in his basketball coach's home and his academic advisor's home, along with their families. How fortunate that you live near a college and can do this - I can see how everyone benefitted from the experience, including Cadence.

  2. I was raised on a farm. My best memories were having exchange students or missionaries staying in our home. It gave me the gift of hostessing and the desire to reach out to others like this.

    1. My family wasn't one that hosted many people in our home. I think that's why this experience was so profound. Extending hospitality feels really good and I'm so glad my daughter has an opportunity to experience it and I have an opportunity to get better at doing it.