This past weekend, I had two extraordinary experiences with two of my dearest friends in two of America’s greatest cities – my childhood BFF Liz in New York City and my college BFF Rochelle in Chicago.
On Saturday afternoon, Liz and I co-preached together at the Highbridge Community Church in the Bronx. Liz and I have been friends for 40 years – since we were ten years old. We met in fifth grade in Syracuse, New York, and our friendship has spanned three states, three continents, the deaths of three of our parents, our marriages, the births of our three children, plus seminary and ordination to the ministry for each of us. It is a true privilege to be in active ministry with her in the tri-state area wherever God calls us to spread the message of life, hope, and love. Who knew when we were ten years old that this is where we would be today?!
In 2000, Liz was the first friend with whom I shared the news of my initial breast cancer diagnosis. Right after I got the news, my dad drove me to the airport in Buffalo, where I boarded a flight to NYC to speak at the Women’s Leadership group at Marble Collegiate Church about my work in Benin, West Africa. Liz picked me up from the airport in New York, and as soon as I got into her car, I told her my sad news. We hugged, cried, and then the Kirk Franklin gospel song “My Life is in Your Hands” came on. Liz and I knew then that there was no need to worry or fret because this battle did not belong to us; it belonged to the Lord! Seventeen years later and three more cancer diagnoses later, I’m a witness to this truth!
On Saturday, by God’s grace, Liz and I inspired women present at the monthly Outreach event with a message entitled “Women on the Move – What’s your Role in the Roll Call of Faith?” We told the story of our enduring friendship, interwoven with the following biblical text from the book of Ruth “But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” The verse refers to the intense loyalty Ruth has for her mother-in-law Naomi, and her pledge to be by Naomi’s side come what may.
Liz and I have been by each other’s sides as many things have crossed our paths – in our personal lives, professional lives, and in our ministries. Chronicling our friendship publicly against the backdrop of faith and sharing it with others was a powerful experience for us and a testimony to the rich treasure that friendship is. There is a saying “Friends are the family we choose for ourselves,” and I believe this wholeheartedly.
After the event at Highbridge Church was over, my husband drove me to LaGuardia airport, where I caught a flight to Chicago to celebrate the 50th birthday of my BFF from college, Rochelle. Rochelle and I met 32 years ago when we were freshmen at Northwestern University. Being back in Chicago brought back so many memories of the nine years I spent there. It’s a vibrant city with much to offer, but on Saturday, the greatest gift I received was the reminder that although distance may separate us and we don’t speak daily, as true friends, Rochelle and I are always bound together in our hearts. I spent the weekend in Chicago and thankfully made it back home on the last flight out on Monday before everything was canceled due to the monster snowstorm in New England. It was fulfilling and rewarding to renew old ties with old friends and to pick up seamlessly where we left off the last time we saw each other. I have deep friendships with several sister-friends all over the country whom I can say the same thing about, and I’m grateful for each and every one of them.
My sister friends are the greatest blessings in my life. At our wedding, my soul sisters and I celebrated, sang and got our groove on to the timeless Sister Sledge song “We are Family.” Its great line – I got all my sisters and me - resonates with me every time I hear it! No men were allowed on the dance floor for that one – not even my husband! This was about the women, for there is simply something singular and sacred about the bond of sisterhood.
Lastly, the 1986 rallying song “That’s What Friends Are For” by Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder perfectly sums up the meaning of friendship. Here are the lyrics to the chorus:
Keep smiling, keep shining Knowing you can always count on me, for sure That's what friends are for For good times and bad times I'll be on your side forever more That's what friends are for.
I would never have made it without my dear sister-friends by my side every step of my winding journey with all its milestones, peaks, valleys, unexpected roadblocks, obstacles, detours, and unknown destinations. They have kept me smiling and shining, and I can count on them. I know the feeling is mutual; we’ve found each other in the dark places and have led each other back to the light. Take a moment to call up one of your true friends today and let them know how much you love and cherish them. Then thank them for continuing to walk beside you every step of life’s journey. See you next week!