I discovered Amber’s writing when she guest posted for Rachel Held Evans about being a single woman in the Church. She is a beautiful writer and a lovely person and this summer, she may be the first in the virtual village to ever see me play in my band. I was so excited when she told me that she’d like to share about her cross-gender friendship. I’m thrilled to share her post with you today. My friendship with a smelly boy is far younger than hers, but I hope to have a similar tale to tell in another ten years or so.
Matt and I have a friendship that is sixteen years old. We met in youth group as middle schoolers, and I was good friends with his sister and I didn’t pay him much attention because he was friends with my brother and they were more than a little annoying. Most middle school boys are, I suppose. And they smelled, like lunch meat and feet, which did nothing to elicit a want for relationship. So, in middle school, Matt hung with other smelly, annoying boys and I hung with his older sister and held up my nose because I was too young to know that it is entirely possible to gain a whole lot from being friends with a smelly, annoying boy.
The more time I spent hanging out with his sister, though, the more time I spent hanging out with Matt. And with each movie we watched, each card game we played, each dinner we had, and each prank we pulled on his sister, Matt and I became friends. Like, real friends. The kind of friends who become the first line of defense when the world feels like it’s waging war against you. The kind of friends who stay in driveways long after everyone else has gone home after a movie talking about the movie, and God, and our families, and our church. The kind of friends who bring frappucinos and an empathetic ear when first romances end. The kind of friends who stay connected through phone calls and dinners together over breaks while in college. The kind of friends where I’m now best friends with Matt’s wife and “Aunt Amber” to their son and have a key to their house. The kind of friends who consistently show up for each other, over years, in such a way that being friends starts to look a whole lot more like being family.
I think as a teenager somewhere along the way I was given the message that having a friend like that who was a boy was bad. It could give people the wrong idea, don’t you know. And I’d guess that some of the little old ladies at church did get the wrong impression, but I think that happened because they weren’t willing to look past their assumptions to see what was really there. If they had, they would have seen a brother and sister in Christ taking care of each other in the best ways we knew how at twelve, and then at sixteen, and then at twenty, and now at twenty-eight.
My friendship with Matt remains as honest, simple, and innocent as it was when we were twelve and we were shooting spit balls at each other at the dinner table. He will always be the guy who can make me laugh when I don’t feel like laughing, and who pesters me for the pure enjoyment that he gets out of it. He is the person who anyone I date has to get along with or I won’t be dating him for long.
And after sixteen years, he’s still my first line of defense when it feels like the world is waging war against me. After sixteen years, I’m old enough now to not only recognize the benefits of being friends with a guy – who is still smelly and annoying – but, to treasure the gains in the deepest places in my heart. However, I think those gains come not from the fact that Matt is a guy, but from the fact that he is Matt, the one person who has been constant in my life for nearly two decades.
That’s what I hope the little old ladies and other people in church are seeing now when they see Matt and me sitting in church together, with his wife and his son. I hope they’re seeing the kind of connection and closeness that can only be earned by caring for each other over so many years. I hope they’re seeing the pay-off of people who’ve grown up together, in every sense of the word. I hope they’re seeing us individually become better versions of ourselves for the sharpening and challenging that comes from our friendship with each other. More than anything, though, I hope that when they watch us, all of us, Matt, his wife, his son, and me sitting together that they’re seeing, really seeing, what being brothers and sisters in Christ looks like. Because I think it looks a whole lot like loving each other for a really long time.
A military kid who’s heart shares space in Michigan and Maryland, Amber is someone who loves loving people and believes that God shows Himself uniquely in the moments when people are enjoying enjoying each other. She writes about the ideas of intentional relationships and community at her blog. Be careful if you become her friend – you’ll probably end up in a blog post. But, be her friend. Or at least find her on Twitter: AmberWack.
This post is a part of a series of guest posts about cross-gender friendships in preparation for the Sacred Friendship Gathering in April. For more information about the gathering, check out the website. I hope to see you there!