Friends for Real

Friends for Real

I’ll never forget the day Carrie Lake* first started hanging around me. She just turned up next to the table I was sitting at in the school cafeteria.

“Mind if I sit here?” she asked with a slight hopeful smile on her face.

I couldn’t believe it. Carrie Lake–the girl no one in the entire school liked. Why me, God? I asked silently, noticing how her green knee-highs (no one wears knee-highs in our junior high) drooped around her ankles. And how her long dirty hair clung to her scalp before it fell in strings around her face. And how her left eye stared blindly into space as a result of her being hit in the eye with a baseball when she was a child. I could see or think of nothing about Carrie that made me want to include her on my list of friends.

Why me? I thought again as I tried to smile. Why do the weirdos always find me?

After having lunch with me that day, Carrie seemed determined to become my friend. She’d stop me in the hall to discuss her weekend.

“You’ll never guess where my family went over the weekend!” How could I tell her I didn’t want to guess? I didn’t even want to hear about her weekend.

She’d interrupt my conversations with friends to ask me to go over her homework.

“I don’t understand how Mr. Kearney came up with this answer,” she told me as she thrust her math paper into my hands. “Could we go to the library and go over this?”

“We’ll see you later,” my friends said. The minute Carrie appeared, they always disappeared. I sighed, realizing Carrie was quickly becoming a nuisance.

I knew as a Christian I was called not only to befriend, but to love Carrie, yet my heart rebelled. “God, if You knew what this was doing to my social life, You wouldn’t ask me to spend so much time with Carrie,” I complained.

Just the previous day some friends had canceled some plans we’d made when they found out Carrie would be with me. “When I’m with her no one wants to be with me!” I told my mother. Yet neither she nor God seemed to be listening.

After I’d put up with Carrie the best I could for five weeks, she disappeared from my life as fast as she had come into it. To be honest, I really enjoyed those first few days she was gone. Suddenly there was no more being bothered between classes or in the cafeteria. I figured Carrie had the flu and dismissed her from my mind. Besides, I was thankful to be able to spend more time with my real friends.

When weeks passed and there was still no sign of Carrie, I heaved a sigh of relief. Maybe my problem is over, I thought. Apparently God finally realized I had done enough in befriending Carrie for a few weeks. He doesn’t expect anything more from me, I reasoned.

With Carrie gone, my school life returned to normal. I no longer slunk down the halls trying to avoid her or jumped when someone called my name. I talked, laughed, joked, and worked to reestablish old friendships.

Toward the end of the school year, Carrie reappeared. She was thinner but otherwise the same old Carrie. I’d heard a while back that she had been in the hospital for the past few months recovering from several delicate eye surgeries. I had felt a gentle nudge from God that I should go see her in the hospital, but I had ignored it. I hadn’t even sent her a get-well card.

I wasn’t exactly sure what Carrie’s surgery had done, but when I saw her again I did notice her eye looked a lot more normal. With a sinking feeling I realized that after working for months to get back on my friends’ good sides, everything would change again. I didn’t want my relationship with Carrie to start up where it had left off. Once more it was back to slinking through hallways.

I had successfully eluded Carrie for a few days, but she finally caught up with me one day on the way to my third period class. “Can we have lunch together?” she asked. “I want to talk to you.”

“Sure,” I muttered, glancing around to see if my friends had noticed me with Carrie. “I’ll see you later.”

By the time lunch rolled around, I had forgotten all about Carrie. I was going to the cafeteria with a group of friends when we passed her outside the cafeteria doors. “Hey, there’s your old friend,” one of them said with a smirk. Embarrassed, I looked at my feet and walked right past Carrie to the lunch line with my friends.

As I slid my tray along, my mind was a mass of confused thoughts. Special K loaf or leftover pizza? . . . Why did I walk away from her? . . . I wonder how old that piece of cake is? . . . She was waiting for me. . . . I’m really not that hungry. . . . How could I do that to her?

I paid for my lunch and found the table where my friends were sitting. Conversations whirled around me, but I didn’t notice. I felt miserable.

Deep down I knew I was commanded to love others as Jesus did. Even if I didn’t feel love for Carrie, I could show love for her. If I couldn’t do it on my own, I could ask for Jesus’ help and do it through His power.

But God, why does it have to be so hard? Why can’t it be someone who’s pretty and popular and fits in with the crowd? Why can’t it be someone lovable? And why me? my mind asked, still trying to find a way out of this situation. But I knew that turning my back on Carrie had been like turning my back on Jesus and turning away from my responsibility as a Christian to demonstrate Jesus’ love. I knew what I had to do.

I picked up my tray, got up from the table, and scanned the cafeteria for Carrie. I spotted her sitting alone in a far corner, took a deep breath, and started toward her. There was no turning back.

Maybe she’ll tell me to get lost, I thought. Maybe I’ve hurt her so badly she hates me now. Maybe she won’t want to be my friend.

I finally reached Carrie’s table. “Mind if I sit here?” I asked with a slight hopeful smile on my face. Carrie looked up at me, her gaze taking in my appearance from head to toe. As she continued to stare, her look softened and a smile appeared on her face. She pushed out a chair for me.

I sighed with relief. I knew this was the start of a very special friendship.

Written by Teresa Cleary
Illustrated by Joel D. Springer

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Friends for Real

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