My mom drove me down the long dirt road, and together we waited for the school bus–the school bus that would take me to a brand new place, my first public school. I was leaving many friends behind at the Christian Academy I attended, and it was the first time that I wouldn’t be in a place that my big brothers were. We spotted the big yellow vehicle in the distance, coming up over the hill. “Just smile, Ash,” she said sweetly. “You might get nervous or scared, but you’re great at making new friends and showing people Jesus; so just smile at them when you feel unsure.”
Fifth grade was a tough year. I loved my teacher, Ms. Guy; she rode a sweet blue Harley Davidson motorcycle, and she made us laugh while we learned. I made friends, some who remain among my favorites to this day, but one of the girls in my class was just mean. She was hateful and vindictive and strongly disliked me because the fifth-grade, heartthrob developed a crush on ME, ‘the new girl.” When she sneered under her breath at me, I remembered my mom’s words: Just smile. Years later when she turned our entire crowd of girlfriends against me, that phrase remained. I held my head high. I tried to love the heck out of my friends, and I smiled.
There is quite a bit about my view on friendships then that I would change. That fifth-grade girl strongly impacted the next several years of my life. Through my smiling, I also endured a lot of heartaches, grief, and fear. I didn’t realize then that the friendship I attempted to have with her would never last. It was never of any substance or value. I wish I had been more okay with the face that I wouldn’t ‘be friends with everyone.’ I wish I had recognized that not all friendships are worth the fight. Sometimes when the girls run in the opposite direction, you can smile and believe that parting ways is for the best.
Friendships are a thing that as a twenty-something-year-old, I still think are weird. There are seasons of life, and with those seasons, friends come and go. You move to college and make brand new girlfriends. You join small groups and Bible Studies, and you click with a few other people. Some women like you and well, others don’t, at all. As a woman, I’ve realized that jealousy is never something that will phase out with age. Freshman year of college, I vividly remember a conversation I had with one of my friends, and it could have potentially ruined our friendship, all because of jealousy. Once, I asked a girl to grab a cup of coffee with me. We had several mutual friends, she was even roommates with one of my good friends, and I frequently slept at their apartment. I wanted to be friendly; I wanted to get to know her better. But she was one who ignored me when I entered a room, looked the other way entirely. A crowd of people could be surrounding us, they all leave except for me, and still, she couldn’t make eye contact. “I really don’t see the point in getting a cup of coffee with you,” she responded. “Having a friendship with you is not something I think will be beneficial.” Ouch. I appreciate honesty but dang, not that much! I won’t tell you that I didn’t care because I did. My heart hurt and I didn’t understand what in the world I ever did to this girl (nor will I ever). She may not have desired to be best friends with me, but she could have at least been kind. She could have smiled and carried on a conversation, and we both could have been completely okay that we would walk away without any real intention of ever pursuing one another again.
Since moving to Kentucky, I’ve been blessed to stay friends with girls who I have known and loved since I was five-years-old. It’s not that we haven’t endured hardships or awkward adjustments to long distance friendships, but no matter what, I know they’ll always be there. There are the select few who I know I can call in a state of emergency or simply because I miss them and need to laugh. Some, I met later down the road, in middle or high school and, of course, college. As we entered adulthood, and many of us motherhood, we know the bond between us won’t ever be broken. Those are the friendships that I hope and pray my children will develop and keep. There have been the women I texted through the night as we were both nursed our infants. Some of us have walked through our pregnancies together, had our babies days apart- and we may live on opposite sides of town. Life may be simply too busy at this stage, but that doesn’t mean we are done with one another. They know they can call or text me and vice versa, and we will always have that bond.
Recently my family walked to the playground across the street. A few days prior, Reese and I met another family there who were riding bikes and playing. The girls in that bunch immediately included Reese, picking her up and helping her up and down some steps to the pavilion. We came home, and she proudly exclaimed, “I made FRIENDS!” So when we walked back a few days later, she of course went with the intention, “I play with friends.” We got there, and there were only two elementary aged girls. They were running up and down the steps to the big blue bridge and in deep conversation with each other. Reese drifted away from us and began pointing to the dogs. “That’s Elsa and Humphrey,” I heard her excitedly attempt to tell them. “And that’s my mommy and daddy and Pierson!” One of the girls just stared at her. Reese continued, “Look! Watch. Watch me! I can climb!” The other very quietly said, “I’m watching.” Her friend, though, convinced her to run off to the second playground and Reese’s eyes filled with tears. She pointed and whimpered, “My friends! My friends! I play with friends!” Oh, I wanted to scoop my daughter up! I wanted to reassure her that this was a prime example of smiling and letting go. Her two-year-old self couldn’t grasp the fact that the girls, five or more years older than her, just didn’t see a benefit of becoming friends, but that this was OKAY!
It dawned on me; Reese has a giant piece of me in her sweet growing heart. The part that longs to amend friendships that never even existed. The part that doesn’t understand when mean things are said, when friends turn and look the other way. There is that characteristic that I see developing in her, and I know now, my daughter is going to have her heart so badly broken. She is probably going to be the one in Kindergarten who can’t quite understand why all twenty-five of her future classmates can’t all just get along. She will be the one who longs for deep and meaningful relationships, the one who works hard to love others well. This part of Reese somewhat already breaks my heart; I hope and pray that she can choose her friendships wisely. I hope that I can teach her that not all friendships are necessarily worth the battle. That there are seasons of life and these seasons are okay–friends will come and go, and many will stay consistent. But all of them, each and every one, are there for a reason. It’s okay to be friendly, to smile and be kind. It’s not hard to spread joy and kindness to everyone; but over the years I have learned that simply because you spread love, does not mean everyone is going to be your friend.
Through these seasons, through my children growing and developing, making rational as well as unwise decisions, I vow to strive each day to be the voice (the help) in their heads that say, “Just smile and be Jesus to as many as you can. And it is completely and one-hundred percent okay to cling tightly to the friendships that mean the most while letting the others go.”