“Every girl needs someone to giggle about boys with,” Kay said to me, leaning close, her warm brown eyes searching my face.
“I’m fine,” I said. I folded my arms across my chest and tried to ignore the flush of my cheeks. My mom’s friend was giving me advice, and I wasn’t sure it was okay.
Still, there was truth to what she had said. I went home that evening, knelt on the floor of my bathroom where I knew I could have privacy and prayed for a friend. “Just one friend, Heavenly Father,” I whispered. “It would be nice to giggle about boys with someone, even though I don’t like boys right now.”
I had never really had a close friend. There were girls who were around my dad’s church, and sometimes in our neighborhood. There were the girls that I spent one afternoon with outside while their parents talked to my parents about our church. There was the girl who lived next door to us for a while and whose parents were a part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. She told me that Jesus was a star in the sky. She also dared me to lick a fire hydrant, which I did while she watched and laughed at me. There was the girl who came to my dad’s church because we picked her up each Sunday while her mom slept in. I never went inside her house, though, because I was afraid of the old and run-down trailer.
As a missionary’s daughter, I wasn’t taught to make friends. I was taught to make disciples and converts. At 14, I was a teacher in the children’s ministry in the church. Little kids swarmed around me, nicknamed me “Miss Katie”, and always marveled at my two-color eyes. I would hug them, sing with them, sit at their table at church dinners, and teach them Bible verses. I loved being the center of their attention.
Yet, now, I was resisting against only being a teacher of young children. In the privacy of my bathroom, I was down on my knees on my plush purple rug, begging God for a friend.
Enter Leslie. Her parents had joined my parents as missionaries in Germany. They were from the South and had deep, beautiful Georgia accents. They loved sugary tea and Gospel music. She was my age.
When I first hung out with her, I wasn’t sure if we would be friends. I didn’t know if it was allowed, and also I simply didn’t know how to be a friend. Leslie was vastly different than me: She wore Winnie the Pooh shirts and quoted Disney movies. I wore floral tops and quoted the Bible. Her nails had fresh coats of bright paint on them. Mine were plain. She read Christian romance novels. Ok, I did this too. She excelled in school. I was okay in school. She could rollerblade. Yeah, no. She wore pants. Oh man, my long skirts were in the way of life.
She was, in short, the coolest girl I’d ever met.
When my parents allowed, we had sleepovers. I met her other friends, Katie and Audrey. We baked cookies. We fast-forwarded through VHS tapes of Disney movies to our favorite parts. And yes, we giggled about boys together, just as Kay had suggested. Granted, the giggling came over boys depicted in romance novels rather than real-life boys, but still. They were my first audience to the stories that I wrote. Captive and compliant and fascinated by my work. The perfect fans.
They spoke their minds freely. They laughed without reserve. They were wholly themselves.
These girls showed me that maybe, just maybe, having friends was an important aspect of being human in the world. In the book, “The Horse and His Boy,” C.S. Lewis wrote this line about the Narnians, “They were ready to be friends with anyone who was friendly, and didn’t give a fig about anyone else.” Being ready to be friends with someone is different than being prepared to convert them to Christianity. I began to see that, perhaps, getting to know someone is the first step in walking next to them in life. Once you know them, have listened to them, and have spent time with them, it’s easier to love them than to judge them. It’s more natural to pray with them than to shun them.
Jesus Himself knew how to have friends. He ministered to crowds almost daily when he was on the earth. He healed the sick, raised the dead, and fed the hungry. But, at the end of the day, only a select few stayed close to Him. These men knew His heart, His suffering, and His purposes. Jesus revealed Himself to them in a way that the large crowds had never experienced.
How to reveal one’s soul and be vulnerable was what I learned from those early friendships. Suddenly, I didn’t have to be perfect. I wasn’t the preacher’s kid. Or the missionary’s daughter. I wasn’t on a pedestal, trying to be a Godly example. I was just a girl, talking with other girls about hopes and dreams and guys and plans and silly stories.
I was accepted. I was challenged. I was loved.
Letting friendships happen naturally became a desire in my heart and mind. Later, when I finally branched out on my own, I searched for honest, open friendships. I looked, not to save souls, but to love other humans with the passionate and compassionate love of God. This practice, amazingly, gained me several close friendships over the years. After all, humans were created to live in community and connection, not in a solo vacuum.
Leslie and I stayed close friends for 5 years while she was with her family in Germany. Then, she moved back to the U.S., graduated from college, married, and built a family. All before me. She expanded her world first.
She was my first friend in my teenage life. My one friend who introduced me to other girlfriends and started to teach me how to be me in the world. My one friend who started to open my eyes to a world that was brighter and wider and more fun than I had ever experienced.
My one friend who taught me actually how to be a friend.
To the girl who helped spark a fire in me—-
To the girl who laid a foundation of friendship for me—-
“True friends are always together in spirit.”