Brent and I moved to Illinois with our kids six years ago. My daughter, Kirsten, turned 3 just after our arrival. She met 3-year-old Jennifer at church on our first Sunday. To make a long story short, their friendship has blossomed.
<Jennifer and Kirsti in Jennifer's back yard.>
Sometimes Kirsti and Jennifer get so excited to tell each other stuff that they disrupt their church class.
Sometimes Kirsti has to borrow my cell phone because she simply can't wait until Sunday "to tell Jennifer _____."
Sometimes I find Kirsti busy crafting something (like a paper doll, or a card, or a doll's quilt) that must be delivered to Jennifer immediately.
Sometimes Kirsti and Jennifer dream about having a slumber party and sometimes they talk and plot and plan about it soooo much that their mothers sigh and finally decide on a convenient date.
Sometimes I just look at Kirsti and Jennifer and relive my childhood...because I had a Jennifer.
Her name is Erica.
As an only girl amidst three brothers, I always longed for a sister. Though I absolutely loved my tomboy time digging for salamanders, collecting toads, creating forts, climbing in creeks, playing baseball in the back yard, and cheering for sports teams with my brothers...I always missed having a sister.
Thankfully, I have been blessed with many other "sisters" along life's path.
Erica is one of my all-time favorites.
<On the day Erica's family moved to Utah after we'd graduated from high school, she and I posed by the infamous insulation in her attic.>
As the years rolled on during those growing up years and the phone rang during dinner (back before texts could buzz less conspicuously) my entire family would chime, "It must be Erica." I would giggle and jump up from the table to answer. 99% of the time they were right. "I'll call you back right after we finish eating," I'd say with a smile. Then we'd giggle back and forth for a few more minutes while my food grew cold.
Besides church, Erica and I went to the same school(s). We both remember having Ms. Esser in first grade and I'm sure she remembers the time when I-think-his-name-was-Matthew had stored ice cream in his lunch box after lunch and the melted mess was discovered just as the take-home buses were being loaded at the end of the day. I can't remember if Erica was on the paper towel committee with me during that classroom crises, but she probably was. Erica has always been a very hands-on helpful kind of gal.
A few years later, we both started band together. Erica played the clarinet and I played percussion...all the way through high school. During both our junior and senior years we were each named Illinois All-State musicians, which meant memorable trips to Peoria, IL in the middle of winter. One of those years our nose-hairs froze (for real) in sub-zero temps every time we walked outside from our hotel to the performance hall. Good times.
During our high school years, we attended an early-morning scripture study class at our church every day from 6:00-6:45 (except when I came late) and then we'd walk over to our high school across the street together and wait for our first classes to begin. Our lockers were both by the band room and therefore right across the hall from each other, which simplified our desire to share hourly news updates with one another. Erica was the one who decorated my locker when my varsity basketball team had to face the #1 girls' high school basketball team in the country who also happened to be in our conference...even though she knew I probably wouldn't play very much in that game.
I recently reminisced through old photographs and sure enough, Erica is in most of them...band pictures, jazz band pictures, marching band pictures, church pictures, seminary pictures, Girls' Camp pictures...the trip to Tennessee, the trip to Toronto, the trip to Boundary Waters, the trip to Yellowstone...
One day, while Erica and I were roomies at a band camp at U of I during our middle school years, 911 was summoned to our rescue. My dear friend had left her curling on high while it was sitting on her bed. Then she had tossed her pillow on top and left the room to go to a concert. Luckily, she was absent-minded enough that she'd forgotten her umbrella and upon returning to our smoke-filled room, she wisely alerted a staff member. When the smoke cleared and the fire trucks departed, we packed our bags and moved to a room that didn't have yellow caution tape across the doorway. I tried hard to convince Erica that her mom and dad wouldn't be too upset..and that some day we'd look back and laugh.
<ancient evidence of the curling iron incident...after we stopped crying and started smiling about it>
A few years later when we were tent mates at Girls' Camp, we anxiously awoke one day to participate in the beauty and peacefulness of a canoe ride at sunrise. Only the older girls who'd been canoeing dozens of times were invited on this serene excursion due to limited space. Erica and I rose a bit late, so we ran down to the dock. Along the way, I tripped and fell on a (big!) rock. My knee was badly gauged (I still have a scar). The deepness of the wound made my stomach feel uneasy. We decided to go out on the water anyways. But all I could think about was my painful, bloody knee and after rocking in a boat for just a few minutes, I said, "Erica, I think we better go back." Erica stood by my side while I puked in the grass and then walked me to the nurse without at all complaining that I'd ruined her peaceful morning with Mother Nature.
A couple of year later, Erica was again my canoe partner when we traversed miles and miles of Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota. We quickly realized that I should sit in back and she in front...we trusted my directional skills and her constant strength. On the last day of the trip, we paddled through a sudden, major rain storm (way before smart phones--or even cell phones) while in the middle of one of the largest lakes up there. White caps splashed over the side of our boat and wind pushed against our every stroke. We both felt weary but had no choice but to continue. At one point, above the sound of thunder and pounding rain, I heard an angel singing "I am a Child of God"...it was Erica. My voice tried to join hers, but her timely reminder that God is bigger than any of life's storms choked my throat as tears from my eyes joined the raindrops that were falling on my face. I began to pray with renewed faith in my heart and I felt a new energy surging through my paddle. I distinctly remember thanking God for Erica that day. It took us more than two hours to journey about 1 mile, but we made it safely to shore just as the storm calmed.
<We think no-bake cheesecakes should be part of every camping trip...as well as self-timed pictures of campers eating no-bake cheesecake.>
So many of my growing up memories involved Erica.
Erica joined Brownies in first grade because I was already in. (We both quit a few months later.)
Erica threw me the only surprise birthday party I've ever had. She also co-hosted my bridal shower.
Most of my TPing experiences included Erica as an accomplice.
I tagged along when Erica decided someone needed to be heart-attacked or ding-dong ditched with a plate of cookies.
We took prom pictures near her house.
And Erica patiently endured the hardships of being a third wheel when I decided to like a boy in high school. I don't think I'll ever stop owing her for that.
<We're smiling so big here because we were just about to meet (or just had--I don't remember which) Donny Osmond back stage in his dressing room after watching Joseph in downtown Chicago. And my aunt had just bought us each one of the biggest desserts we'd ever seen.>
When I searched through my box of high school memories, I found a letter that looked like it was from Erica (because back then we used a pen and paper to share thoughts). Erica and I passed a gazillion notes back and forth to one another. But this particular letter was from Tiffany, Erica's older sister that I always admired. When I saw Erica and Tiffany interact, I always wished I could have an older sister or be an older sister to a fellow female. And even though Erica and I regularly annoyed Tiffany and her friends when we had joint sleep-overs, Tiffany still took the time to write me a lovely big sister kind of letter when she was headed off to college. That's how close Erica and I were. I was like family.
And then Erica and I went to Brigham Young University together. Because we were pretty much sisters by then and had helped each other mature so marvelously (*winkwink*), we had the wisdom and foresight to live near each other but not in the same apartment...since sisters don't always get along and we honestly might have never met another soul if we had had the perfect friend right at our fingertips already.
<Erica and I are on either side of the flag.>
Erica watched me fall in love for good and get married to my lovely sweetheart during our sophomore year of college and she gracefully accepted that our lives would take different paths. We both graduated from BYU a couple of years later...Erica single and ready to go out into the world of work and grad school...and me married with with my first baby in my arms excited to embark in full-time motherhood.
<at my wedding with Kirsten and Erica>
photograph by Hart Photography
When Brent and I lived in MN (where Erica was born) I was pregnant with my first daughter, Kirsten. Her due date was June 28. I thought for sure she would come a week early so she could share a birth date and a birthplace with Erica. It took some emotional regrouping to come to terms that Kirsti's week-late arrival on July 5th was still acceptable in place of my grand and meaningful planning.
When Erica and her husband were sealed in the Temple, Brent and I packed up our four kids and drove.
Erica lives in Texas now and I live in Illinois. Whenever we talk on the phone, we agree on why the Lord didn't settle us as neighbors in the same state after marrying twin brothers like we always dreamed of...we would giggle way too much, stay up way too late, and be way too absorbed in our own world of friendship that our children would go way too unattended and the people around us would stare with confusion watching grown women carry on like pre-teens.
We each have our own missions to accomplish in separate places now.
But back then was different...back then, the Lord placed us together all those years ago because we needed each other. We each needed a friend who shared the same faith, someone who could remind the other about which path to walk on even if it seemed hard. We each needed a friend who could finish the other's sentences, someone who cared about both the trivial things in life and the grand life-changing events. We each needed someone who would look past personality flaws and love completely, someone who personally sacrifices to be a good friend.
God knew I needed a sister, so He gave me Erica.
About a year ago, Erica and I shared a rare phone conversation. We picked up where we'd left off and in the midst of our conversation Erica's words answered a prayer I'd been uttering for several weeks. Once you have a friend like Erica, your life is forever changed and she will always inspire you to reach your potential. God speaks through best friends like Erica.
Now that I know about brains a bit, I'm even more grateful that I had someone who accepted me and loved me through my strengths and my weaknesses during such a critical time in my life. Not a day goes by that I don't think about you, wonder what you're up to, and feel grateful for how you've influenced my life for good, Erica. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! You will always be "The Wind Beneath My Wings."
Sometimes I look at Kirsti and Jennifer and just know that whatever life brings and wherever they end up, they will always cherish the bonds that they are sharing and building today.
So when Kirsti packed her suitcase (not a pillow case or backpack or duffle bag, but a SUITCASE!) full of treasures to bring along on her first sleep over at Jennifer's house a week ago, you can see why I glowed all over...My daughter has found her Erica. A treasure too precious to express with any more words.
I bet Kirsti and Jennifer enjoyed brushing their teeth together last week. It's something Erica and I always loved doing.
Happy Birthday, Dear Friend!!