Next month, I’m taking a trip to see my best friend. We never had a conversation in which we settled on the status of our friendship and handed down a verdict of “best friend.” But she is–she’s my best friend. Her name is Lynn, and she calls me R, and it’s my most favorite nickname I’ve ever had.
We haven’t seen each other in almost 5 years, when she came to visit me in 2011. I thoroughly enjoyed that time together. This time around, though, I won’t be attempting to parent and nurse my younger son and make meals for my family while also focusing on visiting with Lynn. I’m anticipating a long, rich weekend of talk and laughter and soul-satisfying friendship.
Lynn knows my junk. She is familiar with the dark, ugly, slightly crazy, somewhat scary bits of me. I feel accepted and safe knowing that she knows.
But not every friend is safe, and not every person offers to love and embrace you as you are, with the messy and complicated parts all hanging out and hard to hide. Like the friend who tells you with derision that you need “mental help” when you confide in her about the stress of college.
As I’ve gotten older, vulnerability has come more easily to me–in part, I think, because I’ve learned how to articulate myself. I’ve developed a language to be able to say how I feel and why I’m angry and what makes me cry. I’ve learned to be able to talk about what hurts, or what I dream of doing with my life. And also–I’ve learned not to share those deepest wounds or most jagged fears with just anybody.
Being vulnerable with a new person, with a new friend, can start small–we can lay a foundation of trust and then move on to the broader, wider facets of our souls . When I lived in Romania for a year after college, I met a missionary kid teacher named Jodi. Like me, she had traveled from the U.S. to serve in Romania and had recently graduated from college.
We met at a small Romanian church where services often took place in Romanian and English. We connected and began to spend time together. One night, when my roommate had made plans to go out, I hosted Jodi for dinner at my apartment.
Soon after arriving in Romania, I realized I actually enjoyed cooking. I hadn’t done much more than throw some calories together for myself in college, and now that I had my first “real” (post-college) job, I wanted to pursue adult activities such as cooking meals. I made mushroom turnovers and homemade chili and even a Coca-Cola cake for a teammate’s birthday.
Over time, I developed my cooking skills and intuition. But it took more time to learn to gauge how much I should cook. For that meal when I hosted Jodi–in warm, balmy spring weather–I’d fixed a pasta salad filled with fresh vegetables I’d purchased at the market close to my apartment building. Back then, the markets only ever sold produce that was in season, so my winter staples included carrots, potatoes, and onions. I even kept the slip of paper where I’d written down the recipe for carrot muffins I discovered in my roommate’s cookbook that year–“something fun to do with carrots when they’re one of the few vegetables available,” I’d jotted down.
Even though only Jodi and I would sit down at the table in the apartment’s little kitchen that night, with stools instead of chairs that backed up to the gas stove, I had cooked a mountain of pasta. I didn’t use all of it in the salad–much of it I dumped back into the pot after straining it. After we’d talked and joked and shared our impressions of Romania, I decided to tell Jodi about how I’d cooked far too much. Suddenly it seemed funny to me, and I felt I could trust her to laugh with me, not at me. When I lifted the pot lid and revealed my mistake, I revealed a little of myself–the self who wanted to be grown up and independent but who didn’t always like that she still had much to learn.
We laughed at the sight of that pasta lump, practically congealed in the pot at that point. Jodi’s friendship was one of my best during that year. Jodi and I lifted the lid off ourselves with one another, and that laid a foundation for our friendship. Not one that has lasted a life-time, but one that endured a hard season. One that God used to sustain us far from home.