June 23, 2015

when I didn't need new friends

A few years ago I took a trip around North America to visit friends. After spending time with my transplanted friends in their far-flung locations, I wrote a post about how I realized that good friends can be hard to find after moving. This wasn't a startling revelation to me, but just a reminder of something I've been learning ever since I left home: many people are in need of new friends. Once I heard that one in three people are lonely. It has become my default to assume that people would appreciate a new friend, unless I am informed otherwise. My trip around North America only confirmed that.

Making new friends and parting with old ones has always been a part of my life. In my growing up years at our expat school in South America, due to the nature of the expat community and our parents' work, there were always comings and goings. There were new teachers coming, former teachers leaving, new classmates coming, and former classmates leaving. If they weren't coming or going, I was, so my friend circle was always changing. I suppose I had a lot of friends, but many shifted in and out throughout my childhood.

Other than the moves I made as a child, I have moved to a new continent three times, and I've been thinking about the friend-making process that always has to happen after each major move.


When I left South America for North America to attend college, I was only seventeen, and while it was sad, I had always expected that I would leave someday. The future was scary, but it also seemed interesting, and many of my friends were moving away too, so it was the thing to do.

It took some time to find "my people" in Canada, but eventually I did. God gave me good friends, who would cry with me or laugh with me, talk theology or tolerate my weird (I do not use that term lightly) humour, scrub my stove for me when I moved yet again, or invite my parents over when they came to visit. I moved a few times within Canada, but mostly the moves were within the same province, and some friendships spanned that eight-year stint entirely. I found good friends, and I didn't really want or need new ones.

So, when I left North America for Asia, the goodbyes were difficult, but the vision I had for living in Asia propelled me forward. While in Asia, I missed my far-away friends terribly, and annoyed everyone within five metres of me with constant showings of pictures of my baby niece. Even with all those forced niece viewings, I managed to make new friends in Asia. We came from vastly different cultures, but their warm hospitality to me, a bumbling foreigner who didn't know their customs, blessed me over and over.

The most treasured portions of my Asia journey were not what you might expect. I enjoyed riding an elephant, but the friends who got up at 5am to arrange the ride, or to ride along with me (especially the one who later admitted to being petrified of elephants) were the ones who made the ride special. The elaborate meals my friends treated me to at nice restaurants were delicious, but better were the honest conversations in my friends' bedrooms, kitchens, and living rooms, when we talked about the things that matter most in life. These were the best moments in Asia, and though it was hard to leave Canada, I was so glad I made friends in Asia.



But last year, when I left Asia and moved to Europe, the friend-maker in me felt exhausted. I felt like a haphazard, unfaithful friend, abandoning my Asian friends who so kindly threw me pre-wedding parties (though they couldn't attend our wedding), and flying through North America just long enough to recruit friends help to pull off a wedding, not long enough to deeply reconnect to community there. Then I tumbled into Europe, into my husband's fellowship here, into a new language and culture, and into new relationships, again. I thought, I don't need new friends. I don't want new friends. I have all the friends I want, and all the friends I can handle. My heart wanted to put up a big "NO VACANCY" sign and burrow into long distance relationships. Logistically, the obvious choice was for me to move to my husband's country, not him to mine, but part of me asked: "Why do I have to make friends...again?"

But seven months later, here I am, making friends...again.

It's dangerous, this friend-making thing.
You love, and then you leave.
Wouldn't leaving be easier, if you didn't love?

One of our new friends here is the Syrian man I mentioned in a previous post. We just met him last month,  and have had him over a couple of times. He's already talking about moving to another country in the fall. I am not sure why we dare make friends with him: it is hard to love people who aren't settled, especially when you aren't settled either. Besides, he's not the happy-go-lucky, life-of-the-party type that so often attracts friends. He carries a heavy burden, as a man fleeing war-torn country would. His accented English and German blend all together; you have to have patience and a rudimentary knowledge of both languages to understand him.

We should know better than to make friends with him,
but we almost can't help it, I guess. Last week, he showed up at our table with fresh apricots. (Single Eastern male guests are better at bringing hostess gifts than single Western male guests, I have learned. I have even received a Pakistani scarf in exchange for supper one night!) He told us that in Syria they drink apricot juice at Ramadan, which was beginning the next day. He ate a meal and read a Story with us and four others.

A girl at the table asked him a question about his background, and his history started leaking out. We munched our apricots quietly, piling the pits in a dish. He spoke of dreams that gave him direction to come to Europe. His words pooled and sloshed between us, around the apricot pit bowls and Haribo gummies and supper's remains. When the deluge finished, we didn't have much to say, but perhaps the most important part was that we let the story flow, and didn't rush to wipe it up. Indeed, we agreed, God brought him here.

I remembered that day when I first told him that he should give his number to my husband, so that we could keep in touch. He grinned, raised his hands, and said four poignant words, "Finally, I have friends!" That serious, too-old-for-his-years face was brighter than usual, and I couldn't help but wonder if the tide that left him on a European shore did so that he might come to know everlasting Love. He described the bits and pieces of what he has learned of this Faith as, "...something deeper than I have seen before."

At this moment, I'm waiting for the doorbell to ring, expecting another friend, who needs someone to talk to about life right now. Actually, I don't know if I am her friend yet, because this is not warm-blooded, make-friends-in-the-elevator Asiayou must pay your dues as a Bekannter (acquaintance) before being brought into the Freund category. But I think the rules are not so stark in the family of God. Although she must know 100 people in this town better than she knows me, and although she has to struggle to find English words to express herself to me, she asked to come talk. This must mean that she needs a friend, at least today, though she might not toss up her arms with joy, like a Syrian would.

When I look at my move to Europe with the Father's eyes, I realize that maybe the Father moved me not because needed or wanted new friends, but because others did. In the last seven months in Europe we have opened our small apartment and smaller fridge to people of every assortment. We ordered a larger table. We salvaged some extra chairs. We put me to work doing something I can do without strong language skills: making food. My husband said one of the highlights of our first six months together here was his birthday party, when our home filled with faces from ten different nations, people whom we have allowed to become dangerously dear to us. And maybe the Father knew that I needed these new friends more than I thought I did.

Courage looks different in different lives. For our Syrian friend, his courage was demonstrated when he risked death to escape Syria for Europe. For my German friend, speaking a difficult truth to her friend who is walking away from the faith takes a brave heart, as does naming her sin to me and asking for prayer.

But perhaps for me, brave looks more ordinary. Brave is making green tea with ginger and honey for our Syrian friend, and inviting him back again. Brave is letting my heart mingle with my German friend's heart, as she shares her struggle across the table and we pray together. Brave is perfecting my bran muffin and chai latte recipes for another new-to-me person, or befriending internationals who are always going and coming. Brave is loving here, loving now, even when another international move could be in our near future, too (and dwelling on this makes me feel like I might tear into little pieces).

We have such a good friend in our Father. 
Even when I didn't want new friends, 
He knew that they need me, 
and that I need them.



"Do not forsake your friend
or a friend of your family, 
and do not go to your relative's house
when disaster strikes you
better a neighbor nearby 
than a relative far away.
Solomon

"Now that you have purified yourselves 
by obeying the truth 
so that you have sincere love for each other, 
love one another deeply, from the heart.
Peter

"Love never gives up, never loses faith, 
is always hopeful, 
and endures through every circumstance." 
Paul

3 comments:

  1. I have goose-bumps. Maybe it's the fellow TCK in me or the current circumstances of my own life in Asia. This was exactly what I needed to read tonight. Thank you Julie.

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  2. Ju, you have and continue to encourage me through the years we have known each other. this is exactly the post I needed to read today, as I have been struggling with friendships of late. Many moves and kids in tow make things complicated but I thank you yet again for encouraging me to examine what Christ is teaching me and who He brings into my life and why, not what I can get from it. Love you sister :)

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  3. Shaela - For some reason I thought of you when I wrote this. Thankful it encouraged you. So thankful that we have a good God who can make hard things into good things!

    Rachel, that is a great way of saying it, that friendships are not about what we can get out of them, but about God's plan for that friendship. Thank for you, and you love for Him! Press on!

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