So lately I've been thinking a lot about friendship, and community, and doing life with others. I have the best friends in the whole universe (no, I actually do - I don't care how good you think yours are, mine are better).
4 weeks ago I made vows of dedicated singleness at my beLOVED ceremony (you might not know that - I haven't mentioned it much ;-) ) On that day I was surrounded by my closest friends and greatest supporters. In fact it was really hard because numbers were limited in the venue and there were lots of people I wanted to invite but couldn't. During the ceremony I made vows to the Lord as to how I intend to live my life. And my friends made a vow to support me in doing that. What an amazing, incredible gift that is - the Bishop asked them "Will you support Kate as your friend and sister in Christ in the commitment she is making? Will you pray for her, encourage her and sustain her with your love as she makes this journey of faith?" And they replied "We will!" And they really meant it - they said it really loudly!
So these wonderful people publicly pledged to walk with me through all that lies ahead, both good and bad. I was given lots of beautiful cards on that day. I had asked people not to bring presents (although some still did - naughty! - and thanks!). The cards were an absolute gift and a joy. Words of affirmation are my love language (I've blogged about that before too!), and I love receiving cards with lovely things written in them. The cards have been on display ever since, but this week I took them down so that I could put up my Christmas cards. As I did so, I reread them all. Wow. What an overwhelming display of love and affection and support. I'm an only child and my entire family could fit inside a phone box. And yet here were my brothers and sisters, who had chosen to be there, vowing to stand alongside me through whatever lies ahead. Incredible.
Friendship is such an extraordinary gift. It's a gift because it isn't automatic. There's a choice. No one ever *has* to be your friend, at least not once you're over 5 years old. It's chosen, because of a spark, a shared interest, a shared experience, a sense that here is someone who 'gets' you. With all of my really close friends I can remember the moment I first met them, that feeling of "this is a good person, a fun person, this person could be my friend." Even past the age of 5, there's an excitement in that feeling, as you wonder where it will take you. And there's that fun as you get to know each other better and spend more time together; as you choose to share your secrets, to confide and confess and challenge and console.
My friends are massively important to me. I try really hard to make and maintain friendships. I really need them in my life. I'm an off the scale extrovert (if you know me even 1% of a tiny bit that won't surprise you) and I need to externally process all over the show. This very evening I've been having a long Twitter DM conversation with 2 wonderful friends who have helped me to process some of the stuff in my head.
This is, obviously, even more important to me as a single person. It's not that friendship isn't important when you're married - of course it is, and in fact, many of my closest friends are married. But as a single person I need to build community in a more intentional way. I need to make the effort to maintain friendships with people I don't live near to, and be prepared to travel to see them. I need to make the effort to host people for meals and parties and not simply bemoan that I don't get invited anywhere. (On that - I'm cooking Christmas dinner this year, for the first time ever - think of my poor friends...!)
Today I hosted a Christmas party that I've done ever since 2005 when I first moved to Liverpool (with one year off last year when I was on sabbatical). I invite my local friends and cook up an absolute storm. There's normally enough food for approx. 3.5 times as many people as are present. I love it - it's one of the highlights of my whole year. Today, in my home, old friends and new ones, adults and kids, gathered together to eat and drink and laugh, and I am grateful.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I think it takes a community to live a life as well. My life is the richer for my friends, who are family, community to me.
Here's a photo of the wonderful beLOVED cards I received, which started this whole reflection...