In college, I somehow made friends with those graduating before me. The end of my junior year of college saw me saying farewell to most of my college friends. Somehow, also, they were mostly boys. Being that I was in a long-distance relationship with Aaron, this wasn’t exactly ideal for our relationship either. I entered into my senior year of college ready to jump into relationships with other girls.
My only two-year-in-a-row roommate came back engaged, and I was asked to be a bridesmaid. My more-like-an-acquaintance-not-really-that-close-friend came back expecting to be engaged but was dumped instead. She was devastated, heart-broken, crushed. Being that I had a long-distance boyfriend and wasn’t too excited about weekends to begin with, I jumped into loving her when she wanted to be cooped up inside her apartment on the couch on weekend nights. I loved her, and I loved loving her in her pain. I hurt so much with her. I saw a lot of weaknesses in my own relationship with Aaron as she grieved through her loss, and God blessed that time to strengthen Aaron and me as I hurt with her. Through that season, our friendship blossomed. Since she lived off-campus, she frequented our on-campus apartment and quickly bonded with my roommate. A former roommate of my engaged roommate and me was also a mutual friend, and the four of us quickly became a close group. We planned a spring break trip together. We did a weekly Bible study together. I imagined the three of them being in my wedding someday, gatherings with our future husbands and kids – all the things I had seen other people do with their college roommates and friends.
Instead, after our spring break trip and after Easter break, I was confronted with what a terrible friend I was. I was no longer going to be a bridesmaid. My roommate hardly slept in our room; she stayed off-campus at our friend’s apartment. I was confused. By God’s grace, I eventually realized where I had failed as a friend, where I had been selfish and hurtful and stubborn and prideful, but I struggled through a lot of questions. Why did it seem like sides had been picked? The real conflict was between my roommate and me, but the other two seemed to have chosen her side and ditched me in the process. So instead of celebrating graduation with friends, I moved home the week after finals and before graduation. I didn’t feel like I had any friends with whom to celebrate. (This is all sounding very morbid, and as I type, I am remembering what an awkward season of life this was for me. I have to paint the season of hurt and sorrow to share the season of joy, so bear with me.)
The year after graduation was an interesting year. I tried to keep in touch with the other two girls, but they rarely – if ever – called me back. I got engaged that October and ended up not inviting any of them to the wedding because none of them would reply to my calls or emails for their address. I couldn’t even send an invitation to my wedding. I remember grieving the loss of people who I thought would be in my wedding now wouldn’t even be at my wedding, not even invited.
Aaron and I married and moved to Nashville, and during that first year together, I realized how paralyzed in fear I truly was. Relationships with girls scared everything out of me. I didn’t trust people to enter beyond the surface. As we plugged in at our church in Nashville (Midtown Fellowship), I was challenged by God’s grace and how it has the power to change everything, even broken and messy relationships.
One of our first weeks in Nashville, we met Matt and Rachel at a young couples Bible study. I liked them a lot from our brief interactions over dinner, and much to my excitement, they got our number from the hosts and called us, inviting us to dinner at their place. From there, a friendship blossomed. Somewhere along the way, I confessed to Rachel my fear of female relationships. She loved me through it and my harsh and brutal honesty. (She’s definitely helped me become gentler in how I say things after I unintentionally offended her on numerous occasions – and still do.) Almost two years into our relationship, some other things happened, and junk erupted. It was ugly and beautiful at the same time. I saw God’s grace work in ways I had only heard about from the testimony of others. That season changed our relationship (all four of us), and even though Matt and Rachel moved away, I love that we can jump right into the messiness whenever we are together (or on the phone if our little girls aren’t hollering in the background).
While in Nashville, I also found a dear friend in Rebekah. At first, I thought she was really rude or just didn’t like me because she didn’t realize I worked with her in the pediatric intensive care unit or that we went to the same church. She actually visited my brother and Lauren (when they were still dating) out in Utah before we really became friends. About a year after I’d been in Nashville, she wanted to start up a Bible study with some girls from work, and I told her all my hesitations about it. Essentially, I told her it was a bad idea. Good thing she ignored me because that group evolved into some of the truest relationships in my life. Even though I fail to keep up with all of those seven girls regularly, whenever I go back to visit Nashville, they are quick to welcome me to their biweekly gatherings and pray over me and my junk. I love them – Rebekah, Adrienne, Leah, Natalie, Deidre, Kim, and Kristen.
Kimberly was one of the first people with whom I interacted at Midtown, and she immediately dove into my heart (on the phone, no less, the first time I talked to her) – pulling out everything I was feeling about being in a new city with a new husband who was so busy with grad school. (She had done similar adventures with her physician husband.) She also quickly picked up on my organizational/coordination skills (which is just polite for anal tendencies) and eagerly passed me the meal coordination baton when she became pregnant with their second. It wasn’t until the last few months of our time in Nashville that we’d get together weekly, but she was a huge mentor and friend in my life – and still is! Though getting to the phone or computer to send her a coherent thought is not always the easiest thing to do between time zones and her three kids and my one kid. Nonetheless, we catch up every now and again and (so far) always when we visit Nashville.
I knew Tiffany for a year via meal emails before I actually ever put her face with her name. She somehow knew every pregnant woman in the church and would alert me regarding each one. She also always knew when said pregnant woman had given birth and signed up to bring each one of them a meal. (Come to think of it, I first discovered gdiapers from her, too.) We grew closer towards the end of my time in Nashville and have shared conversations since regarding our husbands in similar job situations.
I thought my college friends were supposed to be the people with whom I’d have in my wedding and visit and laugh and remember. Thanks (or not) to Facebook, I still “see” my college friends and interact with them casually. In January, I was having regular dreams about them (one of them is due six days before me, and the other just had a baby in November who is a constant reminder to me of what Lydia was doing last year), and the dreams were driving me crazy. Why was I having them? Why were these people consuming my thoughts? Why did I care? I talked to Rebekah and Rachel about it, and after visiting with them in Nashville and returning home, God gently revealed his grace to me. My college friendships taught me things I needed to learn. After hurting people about whom I truly cared, God wrecked a lot of my pride and arrogance, teaching me how to listen, to be more compassionate and gentle and humble in relationships. I am certainly not perfect (nor will I ever be), but God’s grace is big enough for even the deepest hurts and the biggest messes.
God's grace is also enough to remind me that my identity is not found in the failures of those relationships. Just because I was a bad friend in some ways with those girls in college doesn't mean that I will now forever be a bad friend. The gospel is all about renewal and grace. By God's grace, I am not defined by my failures. I am a child of the Lord, and he delights in me and rejoices over me with singing (Zephaniah 3:17). My identity is found only in him, not in my successes and failures (which is much easier to type than to believe on a daily basis).
When I saw the pictures (on Facebook) of some of those college friends reuniting the other week, for the first time in almost six years, I wasn’t jealous, defeated, nor full of a sense of failure. I honestly rejoiced over their friendship, that they had friends with whom to live and love. I could feel the Lord nudging me, “I have given you dear friends, too, the kinds of friends of which you had only ever dreamed. So they weren’t from college. Does it matter? You were just looking past what was right in front of you. See?”
Real community is hard. And ugly. But it can also be so beautiful. I am so thankful for the lifelong friends God introduced to me in Nashville. I am really only starting to find my community of friends here in Philadelphia, but I am thankful for the fresh perspective the Lord has given me on this journey.
As the Lord taught me so much about relationships during our season in Nashville, I find that Nashville stands as a unique place in my life – like an Ebenezer (as in a memorial established to remember what God has done for a person or group of people – heard a sermon once like this that I can't find in my podcasts). I look back to that time in that city and am reminded of all the Lord showed me regarding relationships through his grace. I don’t look back and then move forward forgetting; I look back and remember as I continue on my journey.
I think that also sums up my Nashville trip. It was refreshing to be with some of my dearest friends for a whole week. One night, some of us went out for dinner and took a picture before we left. It's a bit blurry – shucks – but it will do.