28.

today is my 28th birthday.

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and i have friends.

that might seem like a simple statement, but i think that it’s possible i appreciate my friends more than most humans do, and i will tell you why. it’s not because i think that you undervalue the people in your life.

it’s because when i was 11 years old, i didn’t have any.

not a one.

every year on my birthday, i compile a collection of photos from the previous year and put them into a video. it’s set to a song that makes me want to dance. and it’s to say thank you.

because i have friends. and i don’t take that lightly.

i guess part of me still feels like the gawky, awkward 11 year old girl who looked around the lunchroom, hoping that i could find a place to sit where i wouldn’t be alone. or that people wouldn’t make fun of my weird sandwiches, made using round bread instead of square.

being picked on day after day took it’s toll, and i was convinced that the reason nobody liked me was because there wasn’t really much to like. 

i didn’t think it was a big deal that i didn’t wear “normal” clothes [all of my stuff came from thrift stores, and it never occurred to me to mind], or that i had never watched the tv shows or listened to the radio stations that all the other kids liked. 

at least, not until i discovered that those were the things that made people like you. 

and that being lonely was the worst.

and that people could be so unkind to anybody who was different.

but i figured it out real quick. 

because one day, when i was walking home from school, and my sister and i were in a fight for the millionth time, and i felt like the biggest weirdo on the planet, i said a prayer. 

now, at this point in my life, i was pretty unhappy with God because i had always been taught that He made me. so, my 11 year old perspective was that He did a pretty terrible job and should really reconsider many of the key factors in His design. i was much too tall and my feet didn’t always work right, plus my hair was getting frizzier by the day and i didn’t like my teeth at all. plus, i always said the wrong thing and nobody thought i was funny or cute.

i demanded a refund. God needed to give me my money back. 

fix the parts that didn’t fit in, and make me more like the other kids. 

in the event that God didn’t have the ability or the willingness to do that, i offered Him a plan B. it probably went something like this:

hey, God. it’s janelle and i’m still plenty mad at you because i’m still a lamewad and everybody at school keeps making fun of me. so if you’re not going to change who i am, can you at least give me a friend. like, anybody. seriously i’m not picky. i would ask for more than one, but that seems a bit unlikely so hey, let’s just start small. one friend, please. oh, and thanks, i guess. for nothing.

[11 year old janelle had an attitude problem. it lasted til about 14].

 

 

 

you know what’s interesting?

i never realized that God actually answered this prayer. 

like so many other things that i ask God for, the result was given to me and i blew past it like the selfish brat that i was when i was 11. 

oh, but He heard me.

i got the friends that i asked for. 

it may have taken years for me to realize it, but last night i was going through all of the pictures for my video, and i had to take a minute because i was weeping and i couldn’t see my screen clearly anymore.

i am humbled.

the tragically unhappy, unfortunate looking junior high girl who walked home alone with her head bowed and a strong disappointment in her creator has grown up. 

and as a 28 year old woman, i have learned several things about friendship:

1. the most unlikely people can be the most meaningful. especially in the past several years, i have discovered that it’s not about finding those who are exactly like me [well, there aren’t really any of those] or who i think i’m going to get along with. i have made lots of wrong assumptions about people. and differences in perspective/lifestyle are sometimes the source of much laughter. 

2. everybody is beautiful in some way. it’s fascinating to me how incredibly beautiful all of the people in my life are. and i don’t just mean good-looking [although . . . they are]. i mean, their character. sometimes it takes awhile to see it because i’m stuck in my own pre-conceived notions or ideals. but it’s there. and when i get to see it, it takes my breath away.

3. people want to be offered friendship. i used to hold back, convinced that my friendship was something that nobody would possibly be interested in. after all, why would they? i was hopelessly uncool and a nerd to boot. but now i’ve changed my approach. i assume that most people i meet would at least like to be offered my friendship. whether they take me up on it is their decision. but it’s surprising how many people are happy to accept.

 

 

so, if you are my friend, i am grateful.

i don’t think that i can ever say quite how much. 

but thank you.

and . . . 

thanks, God, for not being intimidated by the insecure rantings of an angry 11 year old girl. thanks for listening anyways and giving me more friends than i ever, ever could have imagined. and thanks for loving me enough to help me change from the surly, angry teenager i once was into a person that possesses joy and kindness . . . characteristics of someone that people actually want to be friends with. 

it’s kind of awesome.

 

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