what friendship looks like
My daughter is sixteen, so for her birthday we throw a big party at the building where our church meets. And I receive this: a solid view of friendship.
“Do you need help?” My friend asks, not in a maybe-I-can-do-a-few-things-if-it’s-convenient kind of way, but the way she always does, as though she’s already climbed up on that altar and stretched herself out; like she’s just waiting for me to tie her hands. And she smiles about it too, all ready to be offered up and finding her joy in it. When I think of this beautiful friend, I almost always think of that verse about true and proper worship—“in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.” And because she never sees it that way, because she’s humble in her Christ-following, I also think of the righteous ones who didn’t even know they’d been serving Jesus. It’s just what she does, this unwavering, unpatronizing offering.
“Yes,” I say, smiling back, looking levelly at her just an arm’s reach away from me, because I know she’s sincere. The week before the party, when I text and say I’m overwhelmed, she’ll text back, “Don’t be overwhelmed. We’ve got this. What do you need? Just name it.”
And so it happens that on party day, she and a close mutual friend of ours come early to help me move tables and organize food and tie curled ribbon onto helium balloons. They stand and kneel and bend and lift beside me, giving away half a Saturday along with their energy, their creativity, their gifts.
When everyone arrives, and guests fill the happy space, these friends of mine smile across the room while I greet other friends; they serve without thinking about it; they lay their hands gently against my back to remind me of things I will otherwise forget, to nudge me when it’s time to start or move or change or do. I turn around to find them filling cups with ice; pulling foil coverings away from food; finding the perfect music to fill the room; wheeling a cart down the hall for the cake, and I think, this is what friendship looks like. We could not have celebrated Riley’s birthday so well—with so many loved ones—without the two of them glinting like silent stars in the background.
We have another multi-talented friend who excels at drawing people together through active games, and before the party he readily offered to help us facilitate some fun for Riley and her friends. When in the first hour thunder and drizzle threaten the kickball game on the lawn, we find him inside putting down tape for four square and stickball. Soon sounds of laughter and chatter rise above the music, and I stand at the edge of the room, taking in the sight of all these knots of laughing children huddled around our friend and his family, and I think, this is what friendship looks like.
When the rain comes in earnest, we have to move the grill up under the covered walkway. The smoke collects, billowing up under that roof. Kevin swings his arms sometimes to clear the air. And right then in the thick of it, another friend comes to stand with Kevin and help him for a while. Time comes for Kevin to bless our daughter, so he walks inside, pulling out that folded paper from his pocket. His voice wavers and breaks right over Riley’s head while she stands there giggling and grinning so wide, eyes glittering. And three more of our friends stay outside, standing around the grill, finishing up the cooking.
My friends and I serve chocolate cake—decorated with purple-frosted roses, dripping with vanilla ice cream—to a room full of people who have spent the afternoon with us. They might have been doing a thousand other things, and for some, I know the drive, the timing, the clutter of responsibility itself could have inspired a sigh. But for the love of our daughter, they show up. I sink into a chair with my cake surrounded by friends being friends, only soon to discover that two more friends have spent the last half hour tidying the food tables, collecting everything into one place, offering up their hands to make the clearing a little easier on us.
And then those two beautiful friends of mine who show up early for me also stay late, even though they’re tired and they have more work yet to do at home. They stay, helping until they’re sure that only the last manageable task remains and they know I’m nearly done, hugging me before they leave, their arms still offering, still lending me strength.
This is what friendship looks like.
At the end of the party, we gather up armfuls of gifts left on the table for Riley, bright-wrapped, bag-packed, and cursive-lettered. And as we leave, I think maybe my daughter and I feel giddy over the same bold display, in all the various ways it’s come wrapped: this rich, solid view of real and precious friendship.
Many, many thanks to all of our dear friends for being friends, for helping us to become the friends we want to be, and for sharing in our celebration.