By Darbie Andrews
Making friends came easy until I reached my forties. In my younger years, it happened so effortlessly through work, school, and activities. I always had friends nearby who I’d see on a regular basis. All that changed when I moved away from everyone, divorced, became a single mom, and started a new job. My closest friends lived five hundred miles away during one of the most painful times of my life. Talk about lonely. I desperately needed and wanted to find new friends, but struggled with how to go about it since I never had to make such a conscious effort in my earlier years.
I ventured out to the gym.
The first time I saw her I had no idea we’d become friends. I noticed her for many reasons. Unlike me in the back of the room in all black, she wore all matching, bright colored Zumba clothes and she stood in the front row of class. Her ability to follow all of the Zumba instructor’s choreography with ease impressed me. Many of the people in the class knew her and they hugged before class. This woman had style, friends, courage, and great dance moves. With my self-esteem in the toilet from the battles of divorce, I didn’t see us as potential friends.
A few months after I first began going to Zumba, we ran into each other in the locker room. She complimented me on my dancing. Shocked that she noticed me at all, I felt my face turn five shades of red. That’s the beauty of exercise rooms covered in mirrors, no one can really hide. We had a short conversation about upcoming classes and we introduced ourselves. From that point on, we greeted each other before every class – the beginnings of a friendship with Stephanie.
Then one day she took the stage as a Zumba instructor. Wow, I thought to myself, how did she do that? Her courage to move from being a participant to a leader intrigued me. I started moving closer to the front of the class and talking to her more about being an instructor. We seemed so different in many ways, but seeing her make this leap of faith helped my confidence grow enough that I became inspired to become an instructor as well.
We chatted about choreography, songs, class size, mistakes we made while leading dances, and anything Zumba. She became a Zumba friend. I greatly appreciated what we shared, but we weren’t friends outside of Zumba until one day she did something that no one else has ever has done. She took out her planner and asked me, “When can we do lunch?” I stood there staring at her with my mouth open for a while before I grabbed my planner and we found a date to meet.
The first time we had lunch together, I realized how amazing it feels to be in a friendship with someone who intentionally seeks to connect with you. It felt profoundly different than my friendships of the past because it didn’t just happen. She made sure it happened. Her passion for connection made me feel special. I felt honored by her attention to our potential as friends.
We’ve filled our planner with many other lunch dates over the years and become close friends. She has supported me through painful dating fiascos and day to day challenges, but the most beautiful thing she’s done is shown me the power of true friendship and the beautiful heart of a devoted Christian. Stephanie loves deeply and much of that love comes from her devotion to Christ.
Called to teach Zumba for God, Stephanie brings her love for others to every class she leads and the people feel it. The genuineness of her caring for others brings people into her life that want love and acceptance. I’m sure that’s why our paths crossed. I stayed in a bad relationship and she prayed for God to show me what I needed to get out and it happened. She stood by me and helped me stay strong through the break up. Stephanie knows my struggles with the Christian church and she has never preached to me. Her love for God shines through her actions. She lives in love.
I could go on and on about the many wonderful things Stephanie has done for me and many other friends, but this one occasion speaks volumes. On one of our recent lunch dates, I told her how all of the people I meet and know are devout Christians. She listened. I told her again how I don’t like church. She listened. I told her how I went to this church coffee shop and felt somewhat comfortable talking to the youth pastor about a mentoring program. She listened. I told her that I might go to a service there someday. She took out her planner and said, “I will go with you. When you want to go?” Again, my mouth dropped open. There she sat, ready to go to a church, other than her own, to help me make that step, that very uncomfortable step. She didn’t want me to go alone. My eyes filled with tears.
I would not have gone to church if Stephanie hadn’t offered to go with me. She did what no other person had ever done…again. People have invited me to their churches a
nd I’ve gone, but Stephanie brought it to another level. She and her husband sat there with me. She’s that friend. She’s the one who will go above and beyond. As I sat there in this church, totally uncomfortable, I looked over at her and my discomfort lifted a little. When the pastor went on about the struggles of dating and how people often short change themselves, tears poured down my face. I looked at Stephanie. I knew she knew that message was meant for me. After the sermon, she said, “God definitely called you here today.”
I’m not sure about what God calls me to do or not, but I am sure that my prayer to find new friends has been answered. To have friends nearby improves my life on so many levels, but what I appreciate more than anything is the lesson of being intentional. Being treated like I’m important and my friendship is important sends a beam of love into my heart and I want to do the same for others. The message of “I want to know you” is powerful. It’s what we all need and deserve to hear because it communicates that we are valuable.
In these times of full schedules, it’s easy to go months or years without making time for those we love or for potential new friends. We are often caught up in stuff and forget to express how much we value the people in our lives, but it’s a simple fix. Be intentional. Pull out your calendar and pick a date. Make it that important. We all deserve to feel that important. Thank you Stephanie for wanting to know me. I’m so happy to know you. We need to get our next date on the planner.