A few weeks before school started, our family moved into a new home in a small close-knit neighborhood. In the chaos of the move, I was scrambling to make sure my son was starting his first day as a big first grader with everything he needed. I met with the principal and his teacher, and raced to Target about a hundred times to tick each item off the long list of supplies needed.

Mostly, I prayed. A lot. I prayed for his steps, for the courage it would take to start somewhere new, in a school where most of the classmates had grown up together. What a daunting feeling that must have been for my son. I prayed for friendship. I didn’t want to be greedy, so in my small quiet prayers I begged God to give him just one true good best friend. Give him someone he can trust, someone who wants the best for him, who respects him, and can laugh and imagine and play with my boy.

These were the words I whispered over and over on that first day of school, as he anxiously stood in the first grade line of small kids in shiny new backpacks and bright shoes, bouncing with excitement and nerves. It was pretty obvious he was the new kid on the block, as he stood anxiously shuffling his feet and wondering what to do next. Parents all around me were chatting and smiling with one another, talking about how relieved they were for summer to be over, how much they loved Mrs. So and So, and already planning after-school play dates.

To be honest, it’s hard to be the new mom on the block, too. I found myself feeling quite alone that morning, standing by myself waving good-bye and trying really hard not to cry too much as my son’s little curly head bobbed in a sea of new faces.

On our walk home from that first day, we found ourselves walking a few paces behind another family. “That’s Brody,” Emerson whispered. “He’s in my class. He’s really funny.” Brody was walking with his dad, little sister, and baby brother. Soon they’d slowed enough that we caught up. They quickly offered introductions, and within minutes, us adults were happily chatting while the kids laughed and discussed their adventures from school. And I heard my heart whisper: friendship, abundant.

God loves us so extravagantly. He always does. Sometimes we notice. Sometimes we don’t. 
Sometimes it’s so obvious there’s no denying it, while other times it takes a deep dive to find what He has for us. On that warm fall afternoon, He gave my family the gift of new friends—people who have quickly become some of our dearest friends, memories made over backyard dinners, summer night whiffle ball tournaments, and holiday parties.

The church can be a wonderful place to find friends. Community is a structural beam that holds the church together. Small groups and section gatherings and MOPS and service projects are just some of the many ways to find belonging within your faith community.

But don’t underestimate the power of your neighborhood. I like to think that God wants us to be the church, not just go to it on the weekends. I like to think that our very own front doors and dinner tables and messy houses and grassy yards can serve as perfect places for community to thrive. It doesn’t take much. It really doesn’t. Start with hello and go from there. Make your life available, tell God what you want, and be willing to be surprised at how He responds.

Since my experience moving into our neighborhood, I’ve learned to look for people on the fringe. I try to notice who floats on the outside, the moms and dads who aren’t planning play dates or getting invites to birthday parties— these are people I can relate to. I was one of them, on that first day of first grade. And all it took to change my story was a simple introduction, a willingness for my new friends to invite me into their life.

As we prepare for another school year ahead, let’s be parents who live invitational and intentional lives. Let’s look for ways to be the church, right in our own backyards and sidewalks and schools.