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Grace Notes: Diary of a terrible friendship

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By The Staff

Last year, my granddaughter's best friend was 4-year-old Braden because he lived next door and had a trampoline. Braden liked Caroline because, at 5, she was someone other than his baby brother.

Except for the occasional meltdown because one or both of them were tired, the friendship worked well. Then Braden moved away, Connor moved in, and Caroline has a new best friend.

Why can't adult friendships be that easy?

As friendships go, I'm a terrible friend. Outgoing and bubbly, I can talk to anyone about anything and can be entertaining when I'm in the mood, but that doesn't mean I'm a good friend.

I would like to be one. I'm just not sure I know how. Does anyone? Maybe it comes naturally to some, but not to me.

Having said that, Tara and I are friends. We truly are perfect for each other because she's a self-admitted terrible friend, too. As strange as it sounds, that's actually the basis for our friendship.

Several years ago I realized that, despite my people-oriented job as a newspaper reporter, I had been isolating myself from any genuine human interaction. At the time, my husband worked out of town; my daughters were grown and gone, and I liked being alone a little too much. That bothered me.

I called Tara, who's on staff at our church, to see if she knew anyone who would be willing to be my friend and she volunteered herself.

"I'm basically self-absorbed," I told her. "I love others poorly and I'll most likely forget your birthday." She laughed and said that described her as well and that maybe God wanted us to be "test case" friends - terrible friends together, working out what a real friendship means.

So, we began meeting together. I'd show up at her office and we'd chat and pray. Sometimes we'd go weeks without meeting, as we knew we would, but whenever we did, we just picked up where we had left off.

Christian friends often tell each other "I love you," and I told Tara once that I doubted if I would ever be able to say that to her since I mostly loved only myself. Again, she laughed. She had thought the same thing about herself.

Then one day I realized that, albeit poorly, I loved my friend and told her so. It was awkward and beautiful and God was there - I think he was smiling.

I think God smiles when his children are honest with each other and admit their flaws and their lack and their need and then go to Jesus together.

Mine and Tara's friendship from the start has been based on what the Apostle James admonished his readers. "Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed" (James 5:19, The Message).

I love that, don't you? That we can make it our common practice to be our true selves and walk with each other toward the cross of Christ and find healing and wholeness and health.

Since our first tentative attempts at friendship, Tara and I have made progress. Maybe not great strides, although maybe for us we have. We took a trip to Charlotte, N.C. together a few years ago. We went to church there and worshiped together. We ate and shopped together. We shared a hotel room.

It was scary and amazingly not. It was difficult and yet comfortable and comforting.

We may never be each other's "BFF," but Tara's the first one I called when my husband had heart surgery. We don't have many stories together, but we haven't given up on each other - yet.

Sometimes I envy my granddaughter. When you're 5 or 6, friends are interchangeable and your biggest struggle is over who jumps on the trampoline first. With adults, we've got our baggage and neediness and annoying habits. Our friendships take work, and the truth is, most of the time I'd just rather be alone.

But God has called his people to do life together, confessing our sins to each other, praying for and with each other, learning to love someone other than ourselves.

When we do, as feeble as our attempts may be, God shows up and we find wholeness and healing - together.