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Growing Back Together

I pull into a parking space facing the doors of the coffee shop, put the car in park, and freeze. Butterflies flit through my stomach and up into my throat. I run my sweaty palms up and down my thighs and take a deep breath. I see her pull into one of the front parking spots, gather something from her passenger seat, and walk in. 

Meeting one of my oldest friends shouldn’t feel this way, but—other than her email invitation for coffee—we haven’t spoken in years. 

When I saw her email, I thought it might be a scam or she’d been hacked. We hadn’t communicated in what seemed like forever, so why would she reach out now? But something nudged me to open the message anyway. It started simply enough: “Hey, it’s been a really long time, but I’ve been thinking about you.” My eyebrows shot up and my jaw dropped a little. I will do almost anything to avoid conflict, so opening back up a line of communication which had been conspicuously silent felt risky. “Maybe we could grab a coffee and catch up?”

My mind flashed back to our last conversation at her going away party, the awkward way I felt and the blunt way she’d tried to hold me to a higher standard. “It feels like I don’t know you anymore,” she’d muttered sadly.

“Well, maybe you don’t,” I retorted. 

For months, I’d held back, slowly building a protective casing around a new job and relationships, thinking the old wouldn’t mix with the new life I was creating. I rarely shared the details of my life and the choices I was making. Maybe it was to avoid any conflict or maybe to prove—to whom, I’m not sure—I could do life completely on my own. I devoured every experience in front of me—those that were good for me and those that weren’t. She didn’t know a battle raged inside me—no one did. Independence pulled me one way and expectations from everyone else pulled the other way. I was trying to figure out who I wanted to be and didn’t think I needed any additional input. I wondered if it was safe to be myself around her anymore. Would she accept me if I was different than I was before? Maybe she would, but I didn’t know if I could handle it if she didn’t. So I just didn’t tell her—or anyone. 

We didn’t exchange insults or raise our voices. It wasn’t dramatic or heated. The relationship just ended. Our many years of friendship, now fully cocooned in the past. 

Before this, she’d known me deeply. We weren’t the kind of friends who merely made millions of trips to the mall and had slumber parties. Instead, we were sisters of the heart. We lamented teenage crushes and heartbreak, spent countless hours serving and worshipping with our church youth group, and helped each other achieve the appropriate height in our early 90s bangs. She cheered me on through college and finding my first job. 

Conversation after conversation, we tried to figure out the best way to get her brother’s best friend to fall in love with her. And he did. I was a part of their meeting, many of their dates, and their wedding. Even after she married, I felt completely at home as the third wheel. Until I didn’t. 

As my life began to change, we grew apart, and finally walked away from a decade of friendship. 

But, now, at her invitation for coffee, I felt a clear nudge… this time it prompted a “yes” to her simple invitation. 

***

I take another deep breath and reach for the door latch. I plaster on a smile, cross the parking lot, and open the coffee shop door. She sits just to the right of the door waiting for me. We greet each other awkwardly and quickly decide to order. She hands me a gift. I kick myself for not thinking to do the same. 

I grip my coffee with both hands to keep them from shaking. For a couple of hours we sit, meandering through old memories and carefully cracking open outer shells to reveal the lives we’d grown since we’d parted. We avoid a minefield of difficult conversations but slowly begin to reestablish a connection. Her timid, “How are your parents?” soon turns into an “I remember…” while we laugh over fun memories. Little by little, the desire to reawaken our friendship begins to be exposed. 

At first, her invitation to reconnect felt hard. After years of allowing my conflict-aversion to have the loudest voice, it felt daring and brave to say yes to coffee one afternoon—to say yes to a second chance at friendship. The choice required both of us to step into the possibility of rejection. I’m thankful she was courageous enough to send the first email and for the nudge I felt to say yes. 

***

I whip into a parking space, and my phone lights up with a text, “I’m here and have a booth,” signed with a pink heart and a smiley face. As I hop out quickly with a skip in my step, I make a mental list of all the things we need to catch up on. The vibrant colors of the restaurant mirror our light-hearted greeting—a ready smile, a quick hug, and we jump deep into conversation. “Tell me about…” we both start, then laugh, “No, you start!” I slide in across from her. She’s already ordered chips and queso, and for the next two hours we do our best to fill in all the gaps of what’s been happening in our lives over the last few months. Conversation is easy and continues out into the parking lot. Another quick hug, and we say good-bye with a promise to schedule another time together soon. 

Now, our conversations feel almost shorthand—we don’t need explanations of family background or how a story began. We laugh over old memories. We mourn the loss of grandparents. We’ve invited other old friends to join us occasionally, but mostly it’s just the two of us, usually over a long lunch and always with lots of new stories to tell. We understand how important this reconciliation was for both of us and we recognize the beauty in the longevity of our friendship. 

It turns out, all those years ago, she did want to know all that made me who I was—the fun-loving teenager and the woman who struggles through hard things. She wanted to see and understand all my thoughts and choices. In the last 30 years, we’ve both grown into something new and beautiful.


Bethany McMillon is a coffee, football, and ice cream lover from McKinney, TX.  She adores her number-loving accountant husband and her growing too fast boy.  Bethany works full-time as a teacher and school librarian, which aligns perfectly with the joy she finds in reading and writing.  She is passionate about building deeper relationships with both Jesus and those that she loves.  Her spirit is most settled after she has connected with a friend about God’s mercy and grace over coffee, sweet tea on the patio, or even a side-by-side walk through a local neighborhood.  She hopes to encourage women to find and hold onto those connections within busy and quick-paced lives.  Bethany is a member of the Hope*Writers community and writes almost weekly on her website, www.BethanyMcMillon.com.  She can be found on Instagram @BethanyMcMillon and on Facebook at Bethany McMillon, Writer.


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