We all see aspects of ourselves in our kids, but Abby’s shyness stirs up emotions in me that are hard to describe. When she’s around others, especially people she doesn’t know, often she’ll wrap her arms around me and tuck her head under my arm, chin down. She’s terrified and, no matter how much we might think her fears are irrational, they are palpably real to her. I know, all too well, because that’s how I was.
When I was in 6th grade my parents made the decision to move from the tiny country church where we were going, just down the road from our house in the tiny town where we lived, to a much larger church twenty minutes up the road. When I first walked in there with my parents and my little sister I think my mouth dropped to the floor. I was in absolute awe. In my life I don’t think I had seen that many people in one place. When you are a kid everything seems bigger, but this place was big even by adult standards. They had a balcony, a BALCONY, and a choir with more people than the entire membership of the church we had come from. When they sang it seemed like the rafters vibrated. Everyone wore suits and everyone was, of course, twice as big as me. Walking in there, amongst all those people, a small-town shy country boy with a lot of angst about social contact, I was terrified.
After the first week I was hoping my dad wouldn’t want to go back, but my parents liked the church, so we did. Why did they pick this one, out of all the churches they could have picked? We came back the next week, and the next… Instead of being in my mom’s Sunday school class with one other kid, I was thrust into a class with 20 other kids my grade and a male teacher about 80 years old wearing a suit older than he was. Back then, backward kid that I was, I didn’t initiate conversation with anybody. I kept to myself and hoped nobody would single me out. I hadn’t the slightest clue about how to make or be a friend.
Then something odd happened. A kid my age, in a suit no less, stopped at our pew and, out of the blue, just started talking to me. I don’t remember every word of that first conversation but I remember snippets of things we talked about. He asked me what I was interested in, what school I went to, what I liked to play, to watch, to eat. I reciprocated. Turns out, among other things, we both liked to read books and collect baseball cards. I didn’t think there was anybody else in the world who liked so many of the things I did, but there he stood, right in front of me. He was easy going, easy to talk to, and for some strange reason he was interested in me. That meant the world to a shy kid who could barely speak an audible word to anyone. The next week he asked me to come sit with him and his family, on the 3rd row of a church with 700+ parishioners. I asked my parents and they said yes. Making my way up there, amongst all those people, and now sitting in front instead of the back, I was scared, but it was a different, softer kind of scared. I was with a friend now. I was accepted, and the scared didn’t last too long.
So began a friendship that was to last many years and carry me through to adulthood in so many ways, a friendship that gave me the confidence and self-esteem to envision living life as something other than a hermit on a hill. He introduced me to another lifelong friend, and the fond memories we shared together will always have a special place in my heart.
When I was a junior in high school his mother made the connections to help get my mother a job at the Christian school he and our other friend attended, a school 40 minutes away that, prior to our connecting with them, we had never heard of before. With it came the opportunity for my sister and me to go to school there. So, for two awesome years, I got to go to school with my best friends and even some other kids I had met along the way.
A few years down the road a girl, the daughter of a pastor, born in Pennsylvania, moved to eastern Tennessee because her step-mom took an administrative position at that same Christian school. My mother, who was (and is) still working there, struck up a friendship with this girl’s step-mom. Turns out they each had kids who were single. Turns out they both figured those kids ought to meet each other. One thing led to another and… a decade and four kids later, I’m still married to the woman of my dreams.
“A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24
They say that if you have one or two true friends in your life, you are blessed. Today I am so thankful that, though I didn’t have the fortitude at the time to show myself friendly to anybody, someone chose to be friendly to me. Someone reached out, saw me for more than the shy, backward kid that I was, and made a whole world of difference in my life. When I see the shyness and fear in Abby, I just want to reach out and hug her, tell her how special she is, make those feelings go away, but I know I can’t, not by myself. I’m glad to see her even now starting to develop friendships, coming just a little bit out of that shell. Friendship is a powerful force for good and for evil. The wrong friends can lead to horrific consequences, but God can use the right friends to bring joy to our lives, instill accountability and virtue (as iron sharpens iron), and even order our steps, bringing circumstances in our lives to the point where He wants us to be (were it not for my friend, I wouldn’t have met my wife!). I pray that God blesses all my children with special, godly friends.