We humans are social animals. Studies show that people with a rich social network enjoy a happier and more fulfilled life. So we all should surround ourselves with good friends, but it’s easier said than done. Each American used to have on average 3 close friends and now the number has gone down to 1.5.

Jane, over the years, I’ve seen many of the friends you brought home. I still remember all those slumber parties from the time when you were about 8 to 16. Now when you return home from college, you only connect with a handful of them. Most of your friends either didn’t last or have dropped from the scene because somehow you’ve grown apart emotionally or geographically. That’s the nature of the most connections, like a revolving door. I am happy that you are connecting with a few of your long-time friends and making new ones where you are.

Good friends like each other. Chemistry is important in any type of lasting relationships. Real friends are those who love, appreciate and accept you for who you are instead of who they think you should be. I believe the reason most relationships are so fragile and short-lived is because the foundation is shaky. Instead of a sign of weakness, vulnerability allows people to connect in powerful ways. So take the risk to be seen, deeply and vulnerably by your friends and embrace their vulnerability with open heart and mind.

I spent most of my adult life in a church community and made lots of friends in the process. A few years ago when I decided to abandon my faith and consequently left the church, I also lost almost all my friends. For me, it was a period of utter loneliness, sadness and confusion. However, one friendship survived this trial that touched both of us too deeply.

Kathy and I have been friends since Junior High. We used to walk the 2 mile home from school together talking and laughing the whole time. She and I studied together (she had better grades than I did) and went to the park to take the black and white pictures of each other when we had the time and money to buy film. One summer we were both selected to join the summer camp for high achievers. It was the first time I had ever left Grandma. I didn’t know how to wash my clothes and I was terribly homesick. Kathy took care of me. At night she washed my clothes in the sink outside the building, with me standing by holding the flashlight. Our legs were covered with mosquito bites after the washing was done.

I never told Kathy about my struggles with your dad and my Christian faith because I was too proud to bother other people. A couple of years ago when I finally shared with her my reverse conversion, she was quite shocked. Our friendly and rational discussion soon turned emotional and I declared we should just stop talking about it. We didn’t communicate for quite a while and I was skeptical about the durability of our relationship. The cynical side of me took hold. I had seen the same pattern from my other friends over and over again like a movie scene, why would this be different?

But Kathy and I share a deeper bond from the time when we were teens and non-believers. Both of us are passionate about our families. She is the rock of her original family, taking care of elderly parents and sister. Her little girl Ragan is 5 weeks younger than Jake. Kathy had a miscarriage after my ectopic pregnancy, and later she became pregnant a month after I conceived Jake. Isn’t that amazing? Jake and Ragan used to have so much fun during our planned annual family camping trips. Today Kathy and I are still friends because we are able to look beyond our differences and focus on our commonalities as women, mothers, wives and daughters.

So dear Jane, hold on to your friends especially those you grew up with. Whatever qualities you desire in true friendship, demonstrate them to your friends frequently and abundantly. Most importantly, remain best friends to your siblings. I don’t plan to go anywhere anytime soon, but I am not going to be around forever. You are my oldest and I want you to hold our family together after I am gone. Like it or not, you already have four close friends (including me and your dad) who will be with your through the thick and thin of life, who will cheer for your success and stand by you and lift you up when you fall. You are one special girl. Love you, Jane!

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