They make me laugh until I cry. They have sat with me during some of the darkest days of my life, offering comfort with their presence when there were no words to ease the pain. They have told me the truth when no one else would. They have believed in me, when I didn’t believe in myself. They showed up when others turned away. They bring out the best in me. They are my “hope sisters”, and my life will never be the same because of their friendship.  

Friendships change people. For better and for worse. Sometimes a connection with someone can bring out the best in you, and sometimes a connection can be toxic, and hurt you deeply. That’s why relationships, good and bad, are so powerful. Relationships can both hurt and heal the soul. 

It’s on the heels of a long weekend recently spent with my hope sisters that I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship and how it impacts the human spirit. Tammy, Monica, and I nicknamed our little band of three, “hope sisters”, after we decided to get matching tattoos during one of our girlfriend reunions a couple of years ago. I had recently moved from Arizona to Washington, and leaving behind these two friends had left a hole in my heart. No one knew me quite like these two did, and I was struggling to open up my life completely to other women in friendship. Women can be pretty caddy and judgmental.  Have you seen the movie, Mean Girls? Been there. At the risk of being misunderstood, I had a lot of painful history that I didn’t dare to share with other women. For me, there are few things worse than being misunderstood. So I hide my pain well. But a true friend is someone who sees the pain in your eyes when everyone else believes the smile on your face. I can’t fake it with my hope sisters. And that’s a good thing. 

You don’t have to be exactly alike to connect on a deep level with someone. While the three of us share many similar beliefs and values, our personalities are actually quite different. Monica is the more introverted of the three of us, quiet and thoughtful, but has a commanding presence, and is incredibly smart. She is reserved and cautious, and keeps us from getting into too much trouble when we are together! I am the risk taker of the group (that’s why the tattoo was my idea J); I am all about having fun; I want to be everyone’s friend, rescue everyone from their pain, and I can’t stand it when someone is mad at me. Tammy is the most outgoing of the three of us; she is the ring leader, the torch bearer, the social butterfly. She can talk to anyone about anything; she has the gift of encouragement, the biggest heart of anyone I have ever met, and worries too much about hurting other people’s feelings. To illustrate the difference between us, on our recent girlfriend getaway, we were faced with a decision involving another person. While we all agreed on what we wanted to do, the way we wanted to handle the situation was quite different. Tammy wanted to avoid the situation all together (because the other person might get their feelings hurt if we were “that” honest); I wanted to explain our decision (so the person wouldn’t be mad at us); Monica wanted to just say “no” (no avoidance or explanation necessary). End of story. Monica obviously has the healthiest boundaries of the three of us. We trusted her judgment in this situation. She is a thinker. Tammy and I are feelers, but to varying degrees. We all balance each other. It’s a beautiful thing!  

Hope whispers, celebrate friendship. 

A strong friendship is based on mutual trust and respect, and while it takes time to earn both of those, it doesn’t have to take a lifetime. When people see us interacting together, they often assume that Monica, Tammy, and I have been friends our entire life. We haven’t! While we have known one another for more than two decades, the depth of our connection has actually been forged during each of our own difficulties in the past decade alone. We are all survivors of different traumas. Out of respect for my hope sisters, I don’t want to disclose details, but we each have our own stories of the deepest kind of pain and difficulty that a woman has to overcome. That’s why we need hope. All of us. Tammy. Monica. Me. You. Life is hard, and we all need hope to get through our personal pain. Next to the word “Hope” on our tattoos, is the Scripture reference, Romans 8. We picked the great 8 because of the power of the message of hope woven throughout the entire chapter. If you have never read Romans 8, do it; it’s a game changer.   

Hope has become my personal mantra, and when I’m having a bad day, I look at my tattoo, and I’m reminded that there is hope – hope that things will get better, that there is a God who cares, that I will get through the pain, and that there are friends I can count on when I need encouragement and understanding.  

We were made for connection. Nothing will destroy a person’s spirit faster than isolation. As a mental health professional, I have seen this firsthand. As a Christian, I have experienced how following God’s example and instructions on how to best connect with others make sense. The exhortation to “love one another” is in the Bible 11 times. There are other instructions about connection, such as “encourage one another”, “serve one another”, “be kind to one another”, and “bear one another’s burden’s”.  

Friendship is an opportunity to practice both giving and receiving love. Love heals. When we are focused on loving one another, as well as encouraging, serving, giving, and all of the other “one another’s” of friendship, we aren’t focused on our own problems and pain. Friendship is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. Friendship is worth celebrating. Good friendships should also be nurtured, so take some time today to thank someone who has been a good friend to you. Or get a tattoo with them. Whatever works for you.