Everything I read about writing says not to do what I’m about to do.
It’s advisable to write clean. Write in bullet points. Be quick to the point.
But I can’t.
Not today.

I have a story to tell about the importance of friendship and how it has changed my life.
If I tried to boil it down to three points I’d be dishonoring the story that brings me to this post.
Narrative blogging isn’t for everyone so just stop reading now if it’s not for you.

The main point: your best leaders often become your best friends.  There you go.

You can stop reading, unless you want to hear my rant on why this is so.

When I moved to Florida to become the middle school pastor at Highland Park, my heart was broken.

But no one in Lakeland knew what I had just experienced. They were looking forward to welcoming a new youth pastor, her husband, and their four month old baby girl. Everyone was excited.

I was relieved.

God had provided for me in a miraculous way. The circumstances that I left were unique. My previous church had been gracious to me in many ways. And still to this day, I am thankful for the life we were able to share for a couple of years.

But there were also moments of pain–there are moments like this wherever you are–I don’t think any person can avoid them. For me, they came at a particularly vulnerable time. After the birth of our first daughter.  I don’t think the hurt was on purpose but it happened and I was crushed and felt in the first days of my sweet little girls life a suffocating feeling that choked the breathe out of me and brought me to my knees in the closets of my home.

Even after we had reached out to make relationships right and to give and receive forgiveness. I had this moment in time to remind me that humans are well, human. And that maybe, it wasn’t safe for me to trust them.

I carried a memory into every conversation.
I trust you God. But I don’t trust outsiders with my heart.
Not any more.
It’s not safe.

Enter the Bryant family.
As I began to build a youth ministry team, a couple came to me wishing to serve the middle schoolers.

Who does that?
Crazy Jesus lovers do that.
People with a passion for others do that.
Erika and Joel Bryant do that.

They began by serving wherever I asked. Joel landed in the tech booth and I think he ran the computer for at least three years. Faithful. Later, after I had come to my senses realizing his relational abilities far outweighed the work of the booth, he became a small group leader as well. There were days when he would come straight from a ten hour day at work to jump into the seat and advance the slides for me. He’d come and lead a group with passion and investment. Responsible. Reliable. Really consistent.

His wife Erika sat in the big room. Getting to know students. Nodding in agreement when I spoke. Making cotton candy when there was a machine in the room. Counseling with students and leading small groups. She also attended events and helped out in whatever way was needed.

At the beginning, Erika reached out to me often.
I didn’t always reciprocate.
She would call me.
She would text me.
She would ask me to meet for coffee.

But she didn’t always want to talk about youth ministry.
She wanted to talk about real life.
And that felt very scary.

One day, in one of our coffee meet ups that I was reluctant about, she lovingly got down to business.

She talked to me about my friends.
I forget the details of our conversation but she wanted to know who my friends were.

I told hera bout a few great friends. In Texas. In California. In Ohio. In Illinois.
But no one in Lakeland. And I was ok with that.

She wasn’t ok with that.
She probed further.

Then I told her the biggest lie I could muster.

Erika, I just need you to know up front.
I’m a horrible friend. I stink at it. I’m just not good at being friends with people.

What I was really saying.
I’m afraid of you and afraid of what you could do to me if you knew the real me.

And Erika did what any great friend would do.
She didn’t buy the lie.
She didn’t leave me alone.
She busted up my protective shell with consistent conversation and safe space.
She didn’t talk to other people about our conversations.
She seemed ok.

There was a never ending- never giving up sort of love that I saw. I’ve experienced it in my marriage and with a few dear friends but I had already decided that I had found all of the people capable of this type of love and I didn’t need anymore. I didn’t need to take a risk because I had a few safe people I could call. I didn’t want to try.

She is tenacious.
She is humble.
She serves in our ministry but she she serves me as a person.
Every lock-in, every holiday when she invited me to bake cookies with her, every un returned phone call she’d give me space and try again later.
She doesn’t judge.
And she never lets me off the hook.

Erika and Joel have become my closest friends in ministry. Five years later, I see the value of inviting people in and also sharing their lives as well.

Erika is someone I can make up a rap song with in the camp showers when we’re trying to keep our minds off of what could be floating around on the floors at 2 AM after all of the campers have gone to bed.

Erika is someone who visits me in the hospital and holds my not even five hours old baby.

Erika is someone who takes care of me. She laughs at me when I’m a freak of nature and loves me anyway.

I love being with Erika and learning more about her.

Joel is someone who befriended my husband and befriended me.

Joel is someone who wasn’t afraid of me and my eccentric youth pastor life.

Joel is someone who stabilizes and catalyzes every area of ministry he is a part of.

We love being with Joel and learning more about him.

We love that they both have dreaming hearts.

Joel and Erika and all four of their children journeyed with us on a youth mission trip to Puerto Rico. I made a huge ministry mistake that directly effected Erika and gave her legitimate reason to say “I’m done” but she didn’t give up on us.

Both of them joined us as my husband and I launched Highland Park Saturday Night, over a year ago. They got behind us and left the traditional Sunday morning worship environment to follow a crazy missional dream.

This is how it should be. This is how we want to be. And the Bryant’s have helped us among other friends and partners in ministry to be aware of our our lives can intersect deeply.

I’ve learned how to be a friend again through the authentic relationships that God has given to us. Erika and Joel were two of those who God has used and will continue to use in our lives.

And when Joel and Erika’s family faced some tough things and some big decisions, we tried to be there. We made the effort. Their lives are too valuable to ignore.

And now…

They’re moving to Kentucky.

I just typed it.
It’s real.
They are moving.

Ughhh….is this for freaking real?
I’m still in denial. I shouldn’t worry but sometimes it creeps up on me.
I see something that’s going to happen and then it happens and everything changes and you don’t have that person–you know–your best person anymore.
I need my person.
(Can anyone relate?)

I’m happy for them. But I’ve been pouting a little.
And the church that they’ll probably attend and pour into is exceptional.
The leaders at Southland are ridiculous.
I had the opportunity to train their crew a few weekends ago.
How on earth did I end up training the leaders in the very place that would steal my bff’s?
The no longer latent middle schooler whines within.

But I’m grateful. So. Very Grateful.

I remember when they invited us over to their house for Thanksgiving. It felt like home. Imperfectly wonderful. I felt like I had gained another sister and brother and a whole bunch of children (they have four!).

And now that they’re leaving, does that mean I’m homeless again? Not at all.
Because I know that I will always be at home with them wherever they are, wherever we are.

When your person leaves, keep going and you keep trusting that God provides. Always.

And God will give us new friendships. God will strengthen the existing ones. And I have been stretched this year in my relationships. There have been days when I wondered if the stretching would ever stop and I’ve been tempted to give up but people who truly care for you don’t let you do ridiculous things like that. They just keep on keeping on with you and we begin to figure it out together with a whole lot of brave mixed up with tons of vulnerability and grace. And it’s such a relief that I’m not afraid of it anymore. It’s a relief that God is making all things new and that we get to experience this reality together with other people.

I can’t sabotage every friendship that comes my way with “I’m just not good at this” or “It’s just not working out” mindset.

We love those we are with.
That is friendship.
It’s a never stopping, never giving up type of love.

And I’m committed to that. And thankful for my friends Erika and Joel.

We love you Erika and Joel.
We are thankful that you volunteered in our our ministries.
Your kids are our kids. Our kids are yours.
I hope you know how you’ve changed our lives.
We are praying for you as you start a new chapter.
I can’t say that I’m not jealous and a little mad that you’re going to a new church.
And living in a new neighborhood, and making new friends.
But I’ll be fine. You’ll help me through it. And you know we’re here if you need us.

I’ll be a better leader because of you.
I’ll be a better friend thanks to you.
I’ll be a better Christian because I’ve seen one more example to follow.

Thank you. Thank your for setting the bar high and showing me that it’s possible to trust and befriend those we lead and those who lead us.

And we know, it’s only the beginning of our adventures together!

Kirra and Kate’s Baptism

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