how to be a friend



Recently I found myself tensing up in a conference room office chair as I listened to an update about a child who had a traumatic, acute mental health event at a school. This event is one that I’ve personally experienced inside my own home, so I’m familiar with the situation’s postmortem. After the story was over, someone asked, “What are we doing to care for the staff who had to deal with this?” While it was absolutely the right question in that setting, I just kept swiveling in that chair under those fluorescent lights thinking about who was caring for the child. And it felt like no one at all was asking who was caring for their parents.


Our family dynamic means we’ve had multiple kids in crisis over the years. We’re intimately familiar with obtaining medical, psychiatric, and academic support. We've been to countless meetings with case workers, doctors, teachers, and law enforcement. There are people in all sectors of society who are there to offer their professional advice and serve our children well.


Inevitably appointments and school days end, and you have to go home minus those professional supports. Too often, no one else is there. There’s no therapist guiding you carefully through your interactions with your children. There’s no one helping you cook dinner when you can barely follow a recipe because you’re so preoccupied with the crisis at hand. There’s no one in that bathroom with you while you baptize the floor with your tears or in your bedroom at night where you cling to your side of the bed in silence. Those moments? Those are the ones where you need a friend, not a professional. You need someone to care for you.



There's a fellowship among the afflicted, and it's marked by silence. Kate Bowler


Who cares for you?


Who texts you when they know your schedule and know you’re facing a hard day?

Who calls when they see your social media post that no one else thinks twice about, but they know something deeper is there?

Who do you have that you can set up a standing coffee date with?

Who shows up at your door even when they know you typically hide from unexpected guests?


Sometimes I get envious of the easy lifelong family friends that I observe other families having. The ones you spend vacations with and hang out after games and your kids grow up together and you’re in each other’s houses weekly. I’ve longed for that “girlfriend” group that other women have. The four besties who do everything together and who have the group texts and inside jokes and girls’ weekends. My life hasn’t turned out quite like that, but when I spend time longing for the friendships I think I want, I miss out on the friendships I definitely have.


I’ve had people text, call, and just simply show up in my living room to be with us even while police cars are lit up outside of our front door.

They’ve waited with us in that unspeakable moment that occurs right after the professionals leave.

I’ve had a teacher buy my child a pint of ice cream “just because” during an extremely stressful event.

I’ve discussed 504s, therapy, trauma, and inpatient services with ease and safety with friends who’ve walked that same path.

I’ve sat in awkward silence when there are no words.


And last week, in the space of a day, a long-distance friend booked a flight from several states away, Door Dashed groceries to my front porch, and showed up in my living room for 36 hours.


If you’d asked me if I needed her, I would have most definitely said no.

If she’d asked me if I wanted her to come, I still would’ve said no.


That’s not what she did. She said ‘I think I’m supposed to come’, ‘here’s what I’m going to do’, ‘here are the days I can be there’, ‘which do you prefer’. That was the end of it.


Don’t mistake this for some life-long best friendship - we don’t call or text daily or even weekly. We’re just the regular kind of friends, I guess. The kind that spent time in community together at one time and now who message occasionally and keep up with each other’s families online. It was an uncomfortable act of humility to say yes, but I did it without hesitation out of sheer knowledge that given any time to think about it, I would find an excuse to say no.


This friend came without ceremony to my blue velvet couch, and she sat in that awkward space of trauma, anger, grief and inappropriate humor right next to my kids’ backpacks and trash. She made me dinner and breakfast, ordered us sushi for lunch, and we worked on a puzzle together next to my spiced cider candle. She was quiet when she needed to be, asked hard questions without fear, and spoke truth to me and over me. It wasn’t complicated or fancy, but it was exactly what I didn’t realize I needed.


 

It’s a beautiful anecdote, one that brings me to tears just writing about it, but you could read just that piece and think ‘well, I don’t have anyone who would do that for me’. Or ‘that’s not how real life works - people just don’t do that sort of thing for people they don’t spend their everyday lives with.’ Or ‘no one would even know what I’m going through anyway.’ All of those things are, in large part, true for many of us. Most of life isn’t like the Tiktok where the lady stops by a stranger’s house with cash just because God told her to. That’s lovely, but it’s not this story.


While both of us would clearly tell you that we listen to our guts because that’s how we’ve learned God speaks to us, it wasn’t quite like a voice from the sky told my friend a thing that she otherwise wouldn’t have known and told her what to do about it. There was a build-up - she’s shared about her life, even the hard parts. I’ve shared about mine. I was bold and vulnerable enough to open up messenger and ask a question I thought she might be able to help with. It wasn’t magic. It was effort and intention and vulnerability.



You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes. A.A. Milne


Friendship takes work. It takes space and time to develop relationships. We cannot stay in our houses, arrive late to every event to avoid people, and still be able to build healthy relationships. We cannot just sit around and then complain because no one shows up for us. We have to put ourselves out there. We have to make the effort it takes to begin to build friendships. The old adage does ring true, “If you want a friend, be a friend.” If you want someone who will show up for you, the easiest way to start that process is to start showing up for others.


Friendship takes intentionality. There’s usually a second step to putting yourself in proximity to people. Sometimes you have to say something. You might need to make the space on your calendar to schedule a regular coffee date. You'll have to say yes to invitations and then follow through on that yes. I’m not too proud to admit that there have been times in my life (now, in fact), when I need to put friendships on the calendar. Nestled among my to-dos of making dinner and doctor appointments and work deadlines are things like texting a friend, making a call, setting up a lunch.


Friendship takes vulnerability. You have to tell the truth. You have to say, “me too.” You have to open up messenger or snapchat or Voxer and pour your heart out. You have to allow yourself to cry, even if it’s in the front window of your local coffee shop. You have to say “yes” when someone tells you that they are flying in from several states away to spend a day and a half with you. And then you have to be willing to answer her questions honestly and openly and without agenda.


 


Maybe your children don’t have to have law enforcement or medical or academic intervention. Your marriage might not be buckling under the stress of the life that we’re all being forced back into. Maybe you don’t have acute traumas in your household that inspire cross-country visits. Some of you aren't married, and some of you don't have children. Maybe your job is secure. But we’re all dealing with stuff inside our homes that we aren’t sharing with everyone, or in some cases, anyone. Who do you have on the line? What are you willing to do in order to have someone in that position for you?


This obviously isn’t the end all and be all of friendship. It’s complicated and messy. I do not have this all figured out, as is evident to anyone who knows me. Maybe none of this post will work for you. In spite of the confident title, I know very little for sure about life in general and friendship in particular. All I can do here is tell you my story and challenge you to try something new.


Go to coffee. Or breakfast. Or drinks.

Arrive early to an event, sit next to someone, and start a conversation.

Say “Me too” and “I KNOW” and “Say more about that” and “I’m here”

Send that message you've been composing in your head.

Respond to the post in that Facebook group you’ve never actually engaged with.

Put your lawn chair right next to another family’s at a ball game.


This obviously isn’t the end all and be all of friendship. It’s complicated and messy. I do not have this all figured out, as is evident to anyone who knows me. Maybe none of this post will work for you. In spite of the confident title, I know very little for sure about life in general and friendship in particular. All I can do here is tell you my story and challenge you to try something new.


Do the work.

Be intentional.

Be vulnerable and open.

Keep your boundaries - not all people are safe for you and your story, but try to drop the defensiveness.

I’m willing to bet that more people care for you than you imagine.

Let them show up for you.

And then show up for them too.


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