Two years ago, I started praying to find a friend.
Specifically, I was praying for a friend with whom I could have a natural, easy connection; who lived close by (not at all a given where we live); and whose husband and children would get along well with mine.
Yes, that’s a fairly tall order.
The problem was, I was about to lose just such a friend.
I took for granted, back when I was in college, how simple it was to walk into any building and immediately see people I knew and loved.
That’s not what the real world feels like.
The real world feels more like a giant game of bumper cars. The goal is to crash into each other, to make contact…but it’s a chaotic frenzy where every other person could potentially hurt you. So the goal is also to avoid eye contact, to steer away and live to ride another day.
Motherhood is like a bumper car arena, too.
It’s loneliness in a sea of people. It’s moving in circles for an unknown length of time. In a car that refuses to be steered in the direction you want to go.
You laugh and wave when another mom bumps into you because it’s fun, because you are sharing a moment, because this connection feels familiar and needful…but she doesn’t then hop into your car and help you wrestle the steering wheel. She keeps going. Because she has her own car-full to worry about.
I am confident, but I am also awkward and shy. I tend to drive around near the edge of the action, bumping into the same two or three cars over and over until they move away. Sometimes I want to unbuckle and look for a quieter place where I have more control. Or maybe I want someone to chase me back.
Sarah inspired and encouraged me. We walked with each other through difficult and frustrating phases. We baked together and played games together and rented vacation houses for our two families to share.
I hadn’t known her long, but there is something about the little years that can really form deep bonds of understanding between moms. I loved that I could walk to her house and ring her doorbell. I loved that our families shared weird traditions, like sitting on the floor eating Ethiopian food with our fingers while watching the Superbowl.
I hated that she was a military spouse.
I had known from the moment we became friends (after I announced that I thought we should be besties and she didn’t find this at all awkward) that Sarah was going to move away. And I knew it would be hard to put my heart into a friendship that felt like it had an expiration date.
But I also believed she would be worth it. And she was.
With Sarah, I experienced something new: a friend who could walk literally beside me, pushing her stroller next to mine, speaking to my kids as if they were her own. She got it when my confidence failed or when I rolled my eyes at my children—she was willing to sit around my table eating leftovers, talking over the din of small voices. I didn’t have to impress her; she was as comfortable as family.
When she moved, I wasn’t looking for an occasional, once-a-month friend — not a rotating roster of playdates and dinner parties. I needed a deep, soul connection.
And so I prayed.
In the meantime, I became convinced that I could forge a fulfilling friendship with anyone as long as I was willing to spend time (maybe years) getting to know her. So I geared up to put myself out there and then slowly build camaraderie with someone new. But in my heart, I hoped that I’d find someone much like myself, that the journey would be simple and I could stay in my own lane. It seemed like one less roadblock to hurdle.
And then a surprising thing happened.
My 5-year-old son made a friend. They bonded over Legos and never looked back.
When Jake started begging me for playdates with his new buddy Jack, I dutifully scheduled one. I knew Jack’s mom a little—we had served on leadership together at our moms’ group—but Kelly was so bubbly and outgoing that I felt intimidated by her. Later, she told me that I seemed so self-assured that I intimidated her right back.
I hauled my kids over to her house, where they played quietly and happily for several hours. Hours. And Kelly and I spent the whole time talking.
We did it again the next week. She invited us to stay for dinner, so I tossed vegetables in olive oil and salt while she pulled pre-made soup out of the fridge to reheat.
The more I got to know her, the more differences I discovered between us. Where I am increasingly a minimalist, she is a master thrift shopper and lover of plenty. Where I am a homebody, she is a social butterfly. She once told me that she went to school to eat her lunch…but I went to school to get straight A’s.
Though I couldn’t walk to her house, it was on the way home from my son’s school, so I often stopped by and let the kids play. Her friendship became a safe place for me to let my guard down. I have seen her in sweatpants, and she has seen me with dirty hair. When I went into labor at 3 am, Kelly came to my house and slept on my couch so I could go to the hospital. We have agonized together over potty training and family drama and danced to the tune of the New Year’s fireworks.
She is exactly the kind of friend I needed but didn’t even know to hope for.
Kelly is the “fun mom.” Nothing seems to faze her. She is always ready for adventure, and she would rather laugh for hours than button up.
If I’d had to pick out a friend from a list of character traits, I’m not sure I would have seen the value in “fun” before I became friends with Kelly.
But I believe God placed this friendship in my path, just as he placed Sarah in my path. My life would have been a much heavier burden without their shoulders beside mine.
Maybe all friendships are part luck, part determination; maybe my village will look different year after year, just like my kids do.
I have learned to be open to the unexpected. I have learned to say yes more, to extend more invitations, and be more spontaneous. I have learned to stop trying so hard to show my best side and just be the friend I want to have. (If I had to be my best all the time, then my friendship with Kelly would have been over twenty times before the night my son got diarrhea and pooped all over her backyard, which also did not faze her.)
Mostly, I have learned that my intuition about friendship was true: anyone can become a dear friend, given enough time. And the best time to start is now.
Featured image bu Holly Shafer Photography
Melissa Hogarty lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and three very loud and silly children. She believes deeply in the power of reading and the love of Christ. She loves to bake, sing loudly, and make her own home décor. She blogs about food, faith, and family life over at Savored Grace, and you can also find her on Instagram.