Every summer during junior high and high school, I was a camp counselor for the kids camp at our church. We would load up in the church vans and drive to a little campground about an hour or so away. The kids would pile out of the vans with their pillows secretly holding a favorite stuffed animal. We would get our room assignments and head to home sweet home for the next few days. We had lots of fun with water games and swimming and late night snacks of Famous Amos cookies and Cheezits and on the last night–full-size candy bars–everyone’s favorite. When “lights out” was called, the girls and I would head back to our room, change into jammies and brush our teeth. The girls would climb into their twin beds or, more often than not, all pile in one little bed together. The lights would go out, and they would ask for a song. One of their favorites was “Lean On Me.”
Lean on me when you’re not strong. And I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry on. For it won’t be long ’til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on.
Soon the giggles and stirring would cease, and I could hear their rhythmic breathing. Those girls are all grown now. Some are finishing up college, others are married and starting careers and families. But I always love remembering our summer camp memories, me singing them to sleep while they snuggled together in the darkness. Friends matter a lot when you’re in second grade, but I’ve found they matter even more the older you get.
I don’t know how I got to have so many amazing friends–certainly, God knew I would need a village. But I know that every chance I get, I want to tell these dear souls how grateful I am. I can’t imagine the person I would be without these brave women who walk with me daily. Some have been friends with me since 5th grade, some are from college and others since we moved to Memphis. Some I see almost every day, and others have moved to Florida and Texas and California, and I only get to see them once or twice a year. Some are a lot like me, and others are very different. But goodness, I love them to pieces.
The best kind of friends cheer you on and nudge you forward. They let you vent your irrational emotions and don’t judge you when you sheepishly say, “Okay, yeah, I know I’m talking crazy.” They laugh and cry and leave boxes of pastries beside the front door when broken hearts are on the other side. They text and call and send Muddy’s cupcakes when you cross the finish line. They know when you need a Kleenex and when you need chips and queso. Friends matter.
My pastor taught a message sometime last year about the guys who lowered their friend through the roof to meet Jesus. He taught about riding the faith of your friends when you’re feeling hopeless. This man was paralyzed with a physical paralysis, and his friends were carrying him to see Jesus. When they encountered a hurdle–the mass of people in the doorway–they removed the roof above him and lowered their friend down to Jesus. And when Jesus saw their faith, He healed the paralyzed man, his heart first and his legs second. There are days when we are paralyzed by guilt or shame or fear or perfectionism or whatever it is that we struggle with. Recently, I have been paralyzed by fear, but, gratefully, I have been able to ride the faith of my friends. My precious friend sent me a message yesterday that said, “Jeremiah 29:11…you are prayed for. I will carry you until you are ready to walk upright.” That is why friends matter. When we are weak, they will carry us. And when we are strong, we can turn around and carry them.
Reading through the New Testament during Lent, I have seen over and over the importance of our relationships. Friends matter. I did not do anything to deserve the amazing friendships God has given me, but, for the rest of my life, I will tell them over and over how grateful I am. For their friendship, for their encouragement, for their beauty and bravery, for their investment in my life. For their faith and for the days they’ve carried me so I could see the face of Jesus.