This community thing has to go beyond nice exchanges with our neighbors when we are out in our driveways at the same time. It even has to go beyond sitting in church with others week to week. Community must have depth, because without depth, it slithers away as soon as life gets difficult. While we may be hurt by those who run away when life’s road gets rocky, more often than not, we push people away or isolate ourselves to the point where those around us don’t even know our struggle.Can’t Steal My Joy: The Journey to a Different Kind of Brave, publishing fall of 2019
We opened her front door, my oldest son hand in hand with me. We walked through her living room and out the sliding door to her backyard. She was there with her son and my nearly 2-year-old son. A quick glance told me the boys were having the time of their lives digging in the kiddie pool full of sand. She and I made eye contact and I tried my best to smile. I had just come from a doctor’s appointment with my oldest – an appointment where they finally had answers for what was making him so sick.
“How’d it go?” I knew she was trying to be a calm presence for me, for the kids.
“Not good.” I barely squeaked out, before my vocal chords were overtaken by a giant lump. My face scrunched and I raised my hands to cover the desperation exploding from my face in sobs.
In seconds her arms came around me. She held me strong, allowing the tears to fall and the guttural sobs to escape out in frantic grief.
“What did the doctor say?” She probed gently.
I stepped back, took a shuddering breath and tried to wipe my now wet face and runny nose. “He has a disease that is killing him. He won’t survive to his teenage years and there is nothing we can do to stop it. And, its genetic. Which means his brother might have it too and I just can’t…” My voice broke off, the grief taking over again. In that moment, my dear friend held me. And that’s exactly what I needed.
The search for new friendships
Let’s rewind to 6 months before. My family had just moved to the area. The transition of getting settled in had started to calm as we sank into our new normal. I was deeply missing my friends from “home”. One Friday morning, after copious amounts of research on local moms’ groups, I found courage to show up to one by myself, my two young boys in tow. After getting each of them situated in their appropriate classrooms, I made my way across the patio to the fellowship hall where the moms met. I breathed a prayer that I wouldn’t feel like a total idiot joining an established group and that, perhaps, God could find a friend for me in there. I walked in, a fake confident smile on my face and tried to look like I knew what I was doing. But I didn’t fool this small group. I was definitely the newbie. As my courage waned and my self-talk was informing me of my mistake to think I could belong, a mom greeted me and invited me to sit with her. Kelly was her name and I could join her table if I wanted. I nodded my head and we jumped in to easy conversation.
I spent time with Kelly and “our” table every Friday from 9-11:30 in the weeks that followed. During this time, I was also working outside the home part- time. This left me with a full schedule with rare opportunities to connect with friends outside of those Friday mornings. But when a hole in the schedule did open up, Kelly and I would try our darndest to squeeze out some bonus connect time.
Prioritizing space for truth-speaking and soul-filling
When we would meet up at each other’s homes, our boys would launch into hard play. We didn’t waste time and jumped into meaningful, soul-caring conversation peppered among the regular refereeing that comes with 4 boys under the age of 4. Our friendship grew fast and deep allowing safe space for both of us to be vulnerable. As my oldest started growing sick with seizures and other symptoms, she heard my fears, struggles, anxieties. And when I needed someone to watch my youngest for an important doctor’s appointment my husband and I needed to be at on that April morning, she volunteered without hesitation.
Kelly and I never would’ve entered this level of friendship without intentionality on both sides. As I move into my late 30’s, I have experienced so many different ways this type of connection can happen. I experience over and over the life-giving spring we drink from when we dive deep with our friends. How thankful I am to God that the moments following the stunned whiplash of my son’s diagnosis weren’t spent crying in isolation. My plan when I walked through her home out to the backyard was to NOT break down. But that backyard had held many an honest conversation. That day, I was walking out there to a safe space, my heart utterly shattered. It wasn’t the time to feign bravery.
The danger of isolation
One of Satan’s greatest weapons he uses to attack us spiritually is isolation. He uses busyness, financial stress, cultural expectations and lies we speak to ourselves in the hidden spaces of our minds to draw us away from the anecdote- community. What Kelly held for me, whether she knew it or not, was truth. When we intentionally took time to be in rich community with each other, the lies in our heads lost their power as they were spoken out loud. Through the love of Christ, we spoke truth in love, supported each other and created a space free from judgement and full of grace. This space was propelled by empowering hope that redemptive beauty was sprinkled along this hard life. Our friendship was just one example of that beauty.
Maybe you have a Kelly and a Kelly has you. Maybe you remember once having a friendship like this but its been a while as life continually gets in the way. Or perhaps as you read this, the thought of friendships leaves you with an empty ache. Take heart, dear one, for God has called us to community and desires this gift for you.
Transitions and friendships
My girlfriend community has looked different along this journey of life. As I felt a desire to connect and grow friendships, I have learned to ask myself this question: Does my time with this person fill my soul?
I don’t ask this question to keep me in a bubble, shut people out, or limit who I interact with, befriend and do life with. But on a deep level of truth-holding, soul-filling friendship, there are certain individuals who center you in truth and fill up your soul. It is important to pay attention to that and to acknowledge that you, too, get to be someone’s else’s soul-filler and truth-holder! A regular check-in with a friendship like this is life-giving. Through these kinds of friendships, I found Christ propelling me to conquer the next thing in front of me, whether it was a new symptom of my son’s disease, that load of laundry mocking me, a wild dream I wanted to pursue, or investing in the people He has placed around me.
I pray for your courage and challenge you to invite others into your life, and you into theirs. I pray that you experience the great love of Jesus and the unique joy that comes from a soul-filling, truth-holding community of friendship.
Thanks for listening,