Monday, April 18, 2016

just for a season

I know my story is not your story, and my friends are not your friends, but if I had to guess, you too have experienced the toll that distance can take on a friendship.  You have lost touch with dear friends and feel guilty about it from time to time.  Making new friends sounds exhausting, and sometimes you'd rather just binge on Netflix than put in the time and effort it takes to make a friend who really knows you.  If I'm right, you just might see a little bit of yourself here. 

It has been over fifteen years, and the loneliness of my first weeks as a college freshman can still tie my stomach into a knot.

Saying good-bye to my high school friends was excruciating.  You can chalk it up to teenage hormones or girly drama, but leaving the comfort of those friendships left me paralyzed.  When every other college freshman was running around with their friendly in high gear, I was being quiet at best, cold if I'm honest. I ached for people I had history with, people who knew me, and I had absolutely no interest in making new friends.  After all, I already had friends; they just didn't live near me anymore. 

I didn't know at the time, but that transition forever changed how I handled future good-byes.


As to be expected, I didn't stay a hermit for long.  I soon managed to put on my big girl panties, introduce myself to some friendly faces, and before long, I was all in on this friend thing.  College life creates the perfect condition for friendship at its finest.  You get more than just the highs and lows - you get the mundane - the weekday breakfasts in the dining commons before 8 AM classes, the drives to Walmart to buy white undershirts and puffy paint, the Thursday night countdown to the final episode of Friends.  And somehow, those hundreds of mundane moments add up to friends who know your heart.     

And within the blink of eye, four years of college was wrapping up.  I was again facing another round of goodbyes with the potential to crush me, but this time, it didn't.

It wasn't a conscience decision, or even one I realized I'd made until years later, but when faced with this second wave of goodbyes, I wasn't taken down the same way I had been four years earlier.  I suppose I knew going in these friendships were just for a season, and in order to protect my own heart, I wasn't so foolish as to think these friendships would forever stay the same. 

This term "just for a season" has become a running joke in our home.  All in good humor, Stephen will occasionally criticize me for being callous, hard-hearted, and giving up on friendships.  He doesn't understand my "heart of stone," and grieves deeply for friendships of the past. I have often felt the need to defend my perspective, eagerly proclaiming my affection for past friendships, while willingly admitting my acceptance that most friendships are just for a season.


Earlier this year I flew to Arizona to spend the weekend with girls I haven't seen for nearly ten years.  These were the five girls I lived with my senior year in a house we dubbed The Ritz as it was the only house in small town Upland, Indiana that was built in the past decade and therefore was without leaky pipes, cracked walls, or the permanent stench of college boys.  Such luxury.

The first couple years after college the six of us kept in touch with an occasional email and enough weddings popping up that we'd see each other on the dance floor once a year, but we really hadn't all been together since 2005.

"Is it going to be awkward?" a colleague of mine asked when I told her about the upcoming reunion.

Awkward?  That thought had never occurred to me.

And sure enough, our weekend together proved what I knew to always be true.

There were no apologies for not calling to check in over the past ten years.  No "I'm sorry I didn't send a gift when you had a baby," or "I'm sorry I never texted on your birthday."  We'd all missed special occasions, and we all mistakenly thought everyone was doing fine when we weren't.

We all knew we were just trying to hold our own shit together, and our lack of communication didn't mean we didn't care.  It didn't mean we were never thinking of the others, and it didn't mean that every time we heard Kelly Clarkson's Breakaway, we weren't overtaken by a physical ache in our gut for the safety of friends who just knew.  (We experienced the first season of American Idol together, so Justin and Kelly -- both the people and their movie -- will always have a dear place in our hearts.)

And, most importantly, it didn't mean our friendship wasn't real.

That is what I'd tell my 18-year-old self.

Distance will separate you from your dearest friends.  Time and time again you will hug someone goodbye saying "til next time," not really knowing when that next time will be.  If you're lucky, next time will be in a few months.  If you're realistic, it will be in ten years.  You won't keep in touch, and you will miss all kinds of significant events in each others' lives.  You will begin to wonder if that friendship even mattered because if it had, shouldn't you be having weekly phone dates or yearly reunions?

There is great comfort in being surrounded by people who knew you, and it might be even more comforting than being around people who know you.  I have a deep love and admiration for the girl I used to be, and whenever I get the chance to catch up with people who knew that Joy, I am thankful for time to remember her.  It did my soul good that for one weekend I could visit with a part of me that had been buried under responsibilities like packing lunches, dealing with health insurance, and learning about 401Ks.

Although the six of us  did a fair share of lamenting over what a total drag grown up life can be, it was clear we were all a bit more confident and a bit wiser, readily admitted we didn't know as much as we thought we once did.  We are now more willing to hold future plans loosely because the past ten years have thrown us all the unexpected, both the confusing kind and the terrifying kind of unexpected, and I was so proud to be in the presence of women who loved Jesus through it all.

Shauna Niequist strings words together so beautifully to match my feelings that I often end up replying back to the pages of her books with an avid "Yes!" or "That is so true!"  In her book Cold Tangerines, she describes the deep sadness she had after moving from Chicago to Grand Rapids.  She goes on to describe the image of newborn puppies, huddled together in a box keeping warm.

"They didn't want to be held, even if you held them tight, 
because really they just wanted to be back in the box with other puppies."

Yes.  That is so true.

Through ever transition in my life, I have felt like I was lifted from my box of puppies, aching for the warmth and comfort friends provide by just being there.  Knowing my life will be a revolving door of transitions and goodbyes and awkward hellos is exhausting.

There is such potential for guilt when I think of the friends I should be calling, texting and flying across the country to visit.

There is such potential for frustration when I wonder how it is that for a season my life was intertwined with girlfriends I now only text when they're pregnant.

There is such potential for disappointment when I remember the season of my life when every picture, every weekend, every laugh, and every decision involved couples Stephen and I now only see at weddings (if we're lucky).

Ugh. I hate it.

But I will firmly plant my heart in the truth that these friends still matter, even if their physical presence in my life was just for a season

A lunch filled with laughter as we remembered our college crushes


  1. Yep. That's me.
    I often find myself in a ball on the floor wanting the closeness and the laughter and the frequent memories to be my every day again. Yes yes yes.

  2. Your writing is so honest and so glad I was part of one of your seasons!

  3. Your writing is so honest and so glad I was part of one of your seasons!