words: Jessica Sowards
images: courtesy Mikela Sowards
I was never the kind of girl to have a lot of girlfriends. As a child, I was a tomboy. While the girls in my class played with dolls and painted their nails, I could be found in cut-off jean shorts and cowboy boots, catching frogs in the creek and playing baseball with the boys. Middle school brought me a few friends that were girls, but as I grew out of frog-catching, I began volunteering at the animal shelter and much preferred the company of dogs to makeup and clothes shopping.
In high school, I was overwhelmed by the stereotypical mean girl drama and found sanctuary in friendship with guys. I loved the simplicity of hanging out with them. I adored the quiet, and would have chosen an evening of watching movies and eating Hot Pockets with my best guy friend over dinner in heels with all the girls any day.
College brought a new dynamic. Sororities began recruiting during my first semester, and I made every excuse to stay in the dorm reading books about farms and avoiding the social awkwardness that would come if I tried to have a conversation with a bunch of women. The problem appeared to be solved for me when I got married young, settling in to do life with a husband seemed to be a reasonable solution. He could be my friend, and all of that girlfriend nonsense could be left behind me. But then I had babies, and I was catapulted into the world of playgroups and mom wars, immersed into forums where women attacked each other over breastfeeding and car seat choices.
Don’t get me wrong; there were a few friends that I maintained a relationship with through all of this, but throughout my adult life, my very best friends were my cousin and my sister, two people I couldn’t really keep at a distance. I had women friends, but there remained a hard and unaddressed place in my heart that I kept walled up. There was a part of me that kept women at arm’s length. I just felt like I was made that way.
Through my twenties, my friendships were all based around kids, or work, or ministry. They were based on what I did, not how I felt. I made all the excuses. I’m introverted. I’m not girly. I don’t like drama. And I believed them all. By the time I closed in on my thirtieth birthday, I had accepted the fact that I just didn’t have a lot of girlfriends, and I wore it like a badge of honor. I would even dare to say that I took pride in the fact that I was the kind of woman that didn’t do deep relationships with other women well.
I was reading in the book of Matthew when God confronted me about that badge and made me question why I was wearing it. It was in the story of Mary hearing from the angel Gabriel that she was carrying the Messiah that I saw, as bold as the black and white of the pages, that the first place Mary went with her news was to her cousin Elizabeth. Of course, I knew the story; I was raised in church. But on that day, it hit me differently. And I realized God designed women to need each other.
It was one of those realizations for which there isn’t an immediate remedy. I just knew, at that moment, I was going to have to do things differently. I knew I was going to have to fight for connection instead of taking pride in independence. And I felt certain that if God wanted me to have close relationships with women, he would send the women and I would just have to be intentional to love them and be the kind of friend He was showing me to be.
About a year or so has passed since this revelation. I couldn’t know then how intentional I would have to be. It’s hard to recognize something in yourself that needs to be changed and then follow through with waging war against your habits and nature.
…on that day, it hit me differently. And I realized God designed women to need each other.
I realized the extent of the work God had been doing in me when my good friend Sandra approached me at church the other day and told me she was ready to talk about her daughter’s birth and NICU journey. Sandra gave birth in January, and I was standing by her side when her daughter was born with no signs of life. As the minutes passed and time seemed to stand still, I was there with her and her husband Matt and their family. I was there because Sandra and I had been intentional in our friendship, and we had the kind of relationship that takes you into a person’s birth room. And I was invested enough, that when baby Abigail did not breathe minute after minute after minute, my whole heart was in the prayers I prayed alongside Sandra and her family. We prayed until Abigail came back, after eighteen minutes of being lifeless and unresponsive. And while she is now a completely healthy baby, the months following her birth included a lot more prayers and a lot of trial and testing.
It was such a testimony to the goodness of God that sweet Abigail lived, it never even occurred to me to marvel at the friendship that shone through the situation. Then Sandra told me she was ready to talk and all of a sudden, I thought back to the months of praying and crying and standing by her side, and I realized, “Wow, this is what friendship looks like.”
Of course, it’s not all so heavy and serious. It’s been a journey to learn to do everyday life with girlfriends as well. And it’s the everyday stuff that the heavy stuff can be built on. While I still am not the type to gush over wedding planning and I’m certainly not the person to call for advice about how you should fix your hair, I do have a handful of girlfriends that I talk to on a regular basis. My cousin Amy and my friend Jessica and I have a standing date to meet up and just spend time together. We talk about plans, and God and ideas, and our farms. I have friends that I have regular coffee dates with, friends that I can call for advice and prayer, and mom-friends that I can hang out with without any competition or criticism. It’s nice. Life feels more rounded, and I’m not kidding when I tell you I simply was not capable of that kind of relationship before.
Throughout the year-long process of tearing down my carefully built walls, I’ve been surprised to find there are so many women out there with the same mindset I had. So many ladies have sworn off of meaningful, connected friendships with other women because of the way our culture sets women up against each other. And so many women are lonely, missing out on the kind of support God truly designed for us to be for one another.
Of course, there’s no quick remedy. But I think the key is just coming to the realization. It’s saying, I’m introverted, and that’s ok. I am not girly, and that’s ok. I do not want drama in my life, and that is certainly ok. But it’s also saying, I need people who understand where I am. I need people to hold my hand in life’s most trying moments. I need women to be my friends, and I haven’t been intentional, and that’s not ok.
Then you become intentional. You become a friend. And one day it hits you that your life has become richer, and the depth of your relationships has become richer.
Just be intentional, because I promise, the good girlfriends are worth it. And God has some set aside just for you.
Follow Jessica on her blog @thehodgepodgedarling.blogspot.com