I was a fairly new Christian that Wednesday night in spring 1995 when I attended a new Bible study. I found the group's leader, Marilyn Parks, in the church's lounge, along with the only other woman who'd shown up: Bridget Thomas.
I didn't know Bridget well. She'd married our pastor's son, Tobin, earlier that fall and had joined the church, but we rarely had occasion to speak.
Since there were only three of us at the Bible study that first night, it seemed inappropriate to simply wave "good-bye" and rush out following our discussion, so I took my time putting on my coat and made polite small talk. Bridget struck me as open and friendly, an impression that solidified during our interactions in the weeks that followed.
I soon learned from our Wednesday evening chit-chat that Bridget and I had a lot in common. Not only were we both new to the church, but also both new to our faith in Jesus and hungry to learn more about him. We had similar tastes in music and other entertainment. I also enjoyed Bridget's encouraging spirit.
But as similar as we were, there was still one major difference—our racial makeup. I had no idea how heavily that difference weighed in my mind until Liz Butler joined our church later that year.
Liz had a sincere, welcoming disposition—and she was black. I was immediately drawn to her warm smile and deep faith, and soon I was inviting her to my home for dinner, calling her on the phone, making a beeline for her after church. I was excited about my friendship with Liz, and I ex-pressed my enthusiasm to Marilyn and Bridget one Wednesday night: "Thank God I finally found a friend in this area!"
Bridget and Marilyn smiled politely and offered congratulations. But later that evening, Marilyn phoned me. "Kim, I know you're glad, as I am, that Liz joined the church. But I have to ask—what have you been forming with Bridget and me if not a friendship?"
I was accustomed to Marilyn's forthrightness, but was taken aback at how insensitive I must have sounded earlier that night. I answered, "I've always considered you more a mentor than a peer, so I haven't really thought of our relationship as a friendship. And Bridget. … well, I guess I should have put it a different way. Bridget's a friend, too."
Marilyn confided that I'd hurt Bridget's feelings with my declaration about Liz. After we hung up, I sat wondering why I hadn't embraced Bridget as a close friend—the kind I could go places with and invite over for dinner. I finally had to admit her white skin color was the primary reason.
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