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It’s Valentine’s Day. Not a typical day to be discussing friendship - but maybe it should be.

For several years, I’ve been part of a group called, “Circle of Sisters.” For the last 4 of those years, I volunteered to lead the monthly program that occurred during the month of February because it was close to Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is not even one of my favorite holidays, but I feel like there aren’t many holidays or times of the year where we focus so much on love. And I’ve never looked at this special day, or at love for that matter, as purely romantic or intimate.

Do you remember those childhood days of decorating a bag or shoebox for collecting Valentines from your classmates? Of course, I was always hoping to get a really special one from that cute, blonde-haired boy on the second row. One that was chosen especially for me from that pack of perforated, cutesy messages held by Cupid (or a teddy bear): “Won’t you be my Valentine?” We could read a lot into a couple of lines on a 2 x 3 inch card back then. “Do you see how he signed his name, though? With a RED pen??” But, I was just as excited to open the Valentines from all of the friends in my class - male or female.

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately and the special part it plays in our lives. This year has made some friendships more difficult to maintain; however, some became easier and might never have happened without the lockdown of a pandemic.

There are so many different types of friendships. In my youth (or actually maybe not that long ago), I felt like if someone was your true friend, you could tell each other anything, trust each other with your secrets, and depend on each other through thick and thin until the end of your days. There are not a lot of friends who can meet these guidelines - this is fair and not unreasonable. We are all human and being human is difficult. There are all of the emotions we have to deal with, and loving unconditionally (something we expect only God can do) is certainly beyond our grasp most of the time, and these feelings are generally reserved for and more easily felt toward our children and pets.

But there is no doubt you have a special connection with some people - sometimes from the moment you meet them. And from that point, this special person usually, but not always, falls into one of these categories: 1) The “3 a.m. friend” you would feel comfortable calling in the middle of the night if you were in a crisis or just needed to cry it out with someone. 2) The “make-you-feel-better friend” who always seems to know just what to say to let you know you’re understood. This friend doesn’t question your thought processes, as illogical as they may be - they simply help you feel you aren’t crazy for feeling that way. 3) The “accountability friend” you wouldn’t necessarily go searching for, but definitely need in your life. They help you see and understand things about yourself that might need to be redirected or refocused. Somehow these people can usually accomplish this without being promptly removed from the ‘friend list.’ 4) The “fun and laughter” friend is critical when you really just want to escape everything else. You know you will think the same things are funny - sometimes it only requires making eye contact and a few eye rolls to get you started. Nothing but humor, love and a little wine should be necessary here.

Of course, some of our friends are able to accomplish the delicate task of melding with or switching to the other qualities as the occasion warrants. This, however, is an area that requires treading lightly, and is how a lot of friendships become damaged. Wait, she or he is supposed to help me laugh my way through this, but that really was hurtful. Some may even encompass all of these qualities with ease. These are the rare ones you should make every effort to hold onto. They are the ones you will most likely carry with you throughout your lifetime even if not in close proximity. At times, our family members can fulfill a lot of these roles as well; it certainly helps if your spouse is also your very good and trusted friend.

I believe with a lot of our friendships, God chooses to put a particular person there at just the right time in our lives to help us muddle through and make sense of things so we don’t give up. Sometimes these are short-term friendships and I have learned to come to terms with that (referencing the previous comment about thinking all friends should be for life). It doesn’t make your time together any less special - in fact the brevity and intensity can make it more so. There were friends I had through my years in school that I honestly am not sure I could’ve made it without, and we haven’t been in contact since that time.

Have you formed a pandemic friendship you didn’t expect to have? There are younger women in our church with young children who I previously only knew well enough to smile and wave as we passed each other in the church buildings. How many children do they have? What’s their wife’s/husband’s name? Would they be willing to sign up and participate in the worship service or serve on that committee?

But when everything else was stripped away and the building was closed for worship, Sunday School, and meetings, we suddenly found ourselves all on the same playing field. We were no longer moms with babies, choir members, Sunday School teachers, committee chairpersons - we were people who felt lost and needed to find a way to stay connected with each other - with our church. We chatted by phone calls, text messages, Facebook and Zoom. For me, like so many other discoveries I’ve had during 2020, it was down to the bare and basic need we all have to be together. Which is why one of the best “worship services” I’ve ever attended was sitting on the lawn distanced from each other, smiling and eating sandwiches before praying together. No one had to rush to drop their child off in the nursery or robe up for the choir, or quickly plan the next meeting while comparing calendars. I no longer feel I’m too old or out of place to be a part of some of these precious friendships that have formed during this time. I have heard and prayed about their struggles with kids at home, with sick relatives, with angst about this virus and needing to be back in the church. We have formed a bond that will forever be a part of us - just because of this shared experience, even though my experience may have looked different from theirs.

I feel like if I hear the words, remember, we are all in this together, over the intercom one more time while walking through the grocery store, I will literally scream. But, the truth is, we are. And I would rather go through it together with friends - those who have been in my life for many years, but also those formed during the craziness of 2020. Friends I’ve yet to meet who might show up on the next Zoom call. Friends who have seen us at our best and our worst and love us anyway.

Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you.

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