A few days ago on Facebook one of my friends posted something like “I’m babysitting kids, that don’t need a babysitter, on a Friday night. I must not have any friends.” I giggled inwardly because I knew this funny, sweet girl has lots of friends and she was totally joking about her evaporating prospects for a fun Friday night, not lamenting. I posted back, “Oh no, you don’t. Once you’re my friend you’re always my friend. Yeah, true, I’m the older version of a friend.” This made me stop and think though. What does it mean to have a forever friend?
Today is Julia Smith’s birthday. Her name might not mean anything to you, but it means everything to me because she is a forever friend. When I was 10 years old, my mom and dad moved our family from a tiny berg in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to a huge city in Wisconsin. Well, it was a huge city to a small town girl anyway. It was really just a large town, but to a small town pre-teen, it was NYC. I had no friends – literally no friends. This was way before the days of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. I shed plenty of tears over having left behind a school and church full of friends for a church full of people who were all older than dirt and an entire 3-month long summer without school. I pretty much felt like Jeremiah 30:14 “All your friends have forgotten about you; they care nothing for you.” I still remember praying every night for God to send me a friend. “Please send me a friend at church. Just one is all I really need.”
Then one Sunday the Porterfields walked into the church where my dad was pastoring. They had two girls and a boy; one girl my age and the boy the same age as my brother. Wait a minute. I don’t remember my brother praying for a friend, but there he was. Imagine that! One girl friend and a bonus for my brother. Plus, an older, teenage sister which always comes in handy when you’re crossing the pre-teen threshold. Julie and I lived 15 miles apart, but our parents became close friends too and that meant we spent many hours together while we lived in Wisconsin.
Julie’s parents had been missionaries to Bolivia with New Tribes Missions. Her dad, Bruce Porterfield, had authored two books: Jungle Fire and Commandos for Christ. Even at the age of 10, I wanted to be a writer. Her dad was a celebrity and her mom was one of the cool moms. Julie’s whole family spoke fluent Spanish and I couldn’t even manage to pronounce a few words from a coloring book my mom got to help me learn the language. Awesome! Our moms even got us a couple matching outfits and when Julie’s mom let her wear nylon stockings like a grown-up, I got to wear them too. Even more awesome. See? Julie was such a cool friend.
I’m not sure how the tethers of friendship become woven so tightly in some relationships. We were young and lived in the same area for just two years. Julie and I didn’t have the college dorm experience, take trips together, or live through both joys and sorrows. We didn’t even experience the boyfriend era or homecoming. Because of our family lives though we had the God connection of Philippians 2:5 “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus”. Above all, when friends share faith, they share a supernatural bond. Julie and I had that and it’s one reason we can be separated for many years, but never heart separated. When we meet or talk, it’s like finding the bookmark in our last conversation where we continue.
Fast forward to current day – life has changed. I have a trail of friends and so do you. Some friends we keep close; others maybe not at heart level, but still warmly distant. When we change neighborhoods, get a new job, start attending different churches, or take up different hobbies, our circle of friends expands. The relationships that were once life linked become a little more tenuous while new friends filter in. In today’s culture we have friends we’ve never met in person and they will remain our friends even though never inside the same physical space. It’s the way things are. Not better, not worse, just are. These are friends; treat them as friends.
One of my newer friends recently posted this on Facebook “What is it about bonfires, s’mores, laughter and the best friends a girl can ask for…it’s a beautiful, memory-making night…that’s what it is! Little did I know 25 years ago that so much goodness would come from the friendships . . . “. I hope she doesn’t mind that I quoted her, but what she said was so real. I feel like I’ve lost a lot of friends lately due to unforeseen circumstances of life. I realized after reading Rojean’s post that friends are friends forever – if we want them to be. I went in search of something that would describe friendship at the core. Maybe you could come up with something even better, but this is what I want to share Hebrews 10:24 “Let us consider how we may encourage one another on toward love and good deeds”. Make new friends but keep the old as the old poem goes. Keep them, treasure them, encourage them toward love and good deeds – even though circumstances usher in the new.
Happy Birthday Julie – and happy unbirthday to every friend I’ve ever called friend. It’s forever. I’ll be your forever friend.