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Unlikely friends, 20 years later

By Tonya S. Swindell

Growing up in church, we sang about Jesus’ love for children who were “red, yellow, black and white.” In other settings, people acknowledged pleasing aspects of diverse cultures by saying, “Variety is the spice of life.”

God appreciates differences, and so do I.

The juxtaposition of unlike individuals walking, living and loving can be a powerful thing.

King David proclaimed, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in peace!” He also said God commands a blessing for unity. So being a part of an unlikely pair of friends makes me smile.

Recently a friend and I talked about the uniqueness of our “unlikely” relationship. I’m from the East Coast. She’s from the West Coast. I’m shorter. She’s taller. I have a more reserved personality. She tends to be bold. I’m black, and my friend is white.

We met by introducing ourselves in a stairwell at our former workplace. During conversation, we discovered our shared faith in Christ. From then on, we became intentional about getting to know one another through work, church and social activities.

Eventually my friend and I met one another’s parents and came to know and love them. Later, we both experienced the death of a parent. But my friend and I supported one another as best we could, even after she returned to the West Coast.

Over the years our relationship had challenges. Sometimes our differences became apparent, and we argued. Many times it was because I was too pushy or overbearing; but she wisely and consistently called me out on my weaknesses.

We talked, made up and continued our friendship. Almost 20 years after meeting, we still talk on the phone occasionally. We love each other just the same — or perhaps a little more — because we’re both older and wiser.

I smiled while watching a PBS program about a cheetah named Kasi and a Labrador retriever named Mtani that were placed in the same living quarters to see if a bond would form. An animal keeper said they were brought together because of similarities; but they became friends by choice. From my experience, friendship requires intentional effort.

Human beings are fearfully and wonderfully made, with unique variations in color and race. We differ in our likes, dislikes and eccentricities. But we all have flaws, just like Adam and Eve.

Because of the compassion and love I’ve received, I can get to know people who are different from me. Once I experience God’s grace, love and mercy; I can dispense it to friends and others relationally. But it takes a willing heart, divine strength and courage to really love others with my actions, not just my words.

As I embrace my friend’s uniqueness, I learn to value her completeness. And when I see her I embrace her, and she embraces me. Although we rarely have a chance to see one another in person, we still consider ourselves to be an unlikely pair of friends.

Tonya Swindell writes a blog for www.inspirenewlife.org and a teacher for Kingdom Building Equipping School (KBES.com). She can be reached at 1brightot@gmail.com.