Friendship and the Face of Jesus

best friend

I love that so many of the Gospel stories depict Jesus with his friends. Traveling together, sharing meals, teaching, talking. Plus all the scenes left to our imagination. Shared laughter, gentle teasing, hugs. It’s one of the things that makes Jesus so very real to me.

I’ve been blessed with wonderful friends in my life… too many to count. I’m positive I don’t thank them often enough for the love and warmth they bring into my life.

But what about those friends who come into our lives for a period of time and then drift away? Why were they sent at that particular time? What were they meant to teach us? Does the fact that they are no longer a part of our daily experience make their impact any less important?

One such friendship I’m moved to write about today is from the year I turned eleven. Up until then my friendships were marked by a shared love of playground games, cute boys, soap operas and candy. Sweet and loyal and true.

Kathleen was the first person who taught me about discipleship.

The summer before I entered sixth grade my family moved across town, to a more upscale neighborhood. I was to attend a new school with kids who had been together since Kindergarten. I felt alone and like a fish out of water. These kids were just different. Designer clothes. Cool and assessing stares. I sat stiff in my chair on the first day of school willing the day to move along so I could go home again to the comfort of my family. Then, a lively young girl sat down next to me with ruffled blonde hair and a million freckles. “Hey are you new?” she asked me in an accent I didn’t recognize. Kathleen moved from New York only two years before. She knew what it was like to be a stranger in a strange land. We became instant and intense friends. Making brownies from scratch in her kitchen. Tagging along after her four handsome brothers, gregarious in way unique to the Irish. Swimming in my family’s pool on hot summer afternoons. Sharing dreams and secrets as only 11-year-old girls can do.

One day—now in 7th grade—we entered the cafeteria and Kathleen’s eyes fell to a girl sitting alone at a table. I no longer remember her name, but I’ll never forget her face. She had severe special needs, both mental and physical. In junior high school, with its strict code of conformity, she was different enough to be avoided by all.

But not by Kathleen.

She marched right over, motioning for me to follow and plopped down in a seat next to her. I was frozen. What do I do? Sitting with this girl will be social suicide. What will everyone think? (To this day I cringe when I think of how I reacted, but my feelings were real in their honest brutality.) I looked over at the tables of my classmates. Laughing and teasing each other, not yet noticing my dilemma.

Then I looked at the girl. Her face radiated a light and joy that almost sent me to my knees. Was it possible this was the first time someone had sat with her all year? Kathleen seemed oblivious to the affect she had on her, chatting away about a million trivial things while the girl—maybe comprehending, maybe not—looked on in awe.

In that moment I knew I was witnessing something special and rare. Humbled and ashamed, I quickly moved to join them. It wasn’t until years later that I realized this girl was gazing at the face of Jesus embodied in my friend Kathleen. And what Kathleen saw…what I couldn’t see at the time…was the face of Jesus in this special girl.

Months…seasons…years. Kathleen and I drifted into different social circles as we moved into high school. I’m not sure why. Sometimes it just happens for no discernible reason. But I think of her often and the many lessons she taught me about friendship, love, and loving your neighbor.

Last winter I had the pleasure of co-presenting a Confirmation retreat to a group of lovely young teens from the town I grew up in. At the end of the program a girl approached me and introduced herself. Her name was Fiona and she was Kathleen’s oldest daughter. Memories came flooding back as I gazed at this beautiful young girl. It didn’t surprise me one bit that she was gentle and sweet and had a heart for Jesus.

She was her mother’s daughter.

 

Spend some time reflecting on a friendship that made an impact on you and helped you to see the face of Jesus.  Use the comments section to share your story.

11 thoughts on “Friendship and the Face of Jesus

  1. What a touching story Sheri, I really enjoyed reading it. I too think about the “friends for a reason, friends for a season” phenomenon often and am grateful for those who end up teaching so much in a short amount of time…..

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  2. You took me right to the cafeteria with you, Sheri. I could feel it and see it and be in your shoes. I have also been in the shoes of the girl no one wanted to sit with. I still remember the girl who wound up letting me sit with her on the bus. Katie Mitchell. It still makes me cry. Your story made me cry. Thanks for sharing. I will be thinking of the face of Jesus all day.

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  3. Dear Sheri,
    This reflection was truly an amazing reminder of the gift of true friendship and reaching out to those who are struggling. To meet Kathleen’s daughter was a God-cident.. to reflect on one moment in time that was in your hearts for so long and was resurrected in the heart of Fiona. Thank you Lord for our stories of
    what your Good News is all about..

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    • Thanks so much for your comment, Noranne. This “moment in time” story is one that I reflect on often and have even told my sons about. But meeting Fiona somehow brought it full circle in a very complete way. Thanks for reading!

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  4. I loved reading this story. I often think of people who are no longer in my life today that had such a great impact on how I view myself and others. I am so glad you were able to reconnect to Kathleen through her daughter.

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    • Thanks so much and glad you liked the story! It’s gotten me thinking about many other people who have come and gone from my life and all that I’ve learned from them. Perhaps a future blog post!

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  5. This story was perfectly timed for me. Having a middle schooler facing the dreaded “lunch” issues, it helped to read this as I thought about how to advise her. She wants to do the right thing and stick by an old friend even though she feels she’s outgrown the friendship, but the other part of her wants to be free to move on and sit with her new friends. But because her old friend is struggling and wouldn’t have anyone else to sit with at lunch, she feels so torn. Kathleen was really one of a kind with her huge heart at that difficult age. Too bad middle school isn’t full of Kathleens!

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  6. Your story hit home in a HUGE way as our children navigate their way thru their new schools and friendships. My sophomore daughter cried the entire way home on the first day of school and locked herself in her room and cried some more. When I finally got her to open the door and tell me about her day she responded, “I have NEVER felt soooo alone in my entire life.” She had sat down at a “safe” table of freshman girls (she being a sophomore) and the girls actually stood up and left her. She sat alone for 5 minutes before a sophomore girl (her “Kathleen”) invited her to sit at their table. Two days later on a spirit day at school, her locker neighbor brought in a brand new Catholic Central T-shirt because, “I figured since you were new, you probably wouldn’t have any spiritwear”. Yet another “Kathleen.” Your friend sounds like a gem! The trick as parents is, how do we raise our kids to be “Kathleens” to others?

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