You remember the first time you meet some people. The really important ones.
I was working at a day care. I took the job because my young family needed the money, but I couldn’t stand to leave my infant daughter with strangers. It was my first day, babies were screaming and I was wondering if I had made the right choice. Into that vacuum walked this person. She was trying to drop her baby daughter off while her other daughter held onto one of her long legs and wouldn’t let go. She side stepped over to me and unlatched her baby girl from around her neck and deposited her into my arms with a kiss and a quick swipe at her face with mom spit. Then, she gave me her warm grin and made a big deal of leaving while dragging her older daughter behind her along the floor. It made us all laugh. Me. My baby. Her baby. Even her older daughter who still wouldn’t let go of her mom’s legs. As she clicked the door shut behind her she winked at me.
That set the tone for decades of friendship. I could always count on her to bring some humor and warmth to whatever situation we found ourselves in. And, folks, there were lots of situations. We were the moms of that age. We went to work every day, but we still made every soccer practice and game. We made cookies for every party and helped our girls memorize a Bible verse for all 26 letters of the alphabet. We served countless plates of spaghetti at PTA fundraisers. We went to music programs and listened patiently while hundreds of kids butchered every Christmas song you’ve ever heard. We didn’t care. We were in the audience waving like idiots at our girls as they stood on stage in their full little dresses rocking back and forth to make them swish and scanning the audience trying to find us. When they did, we would wave even harder and smile even bigger and relish in every minute.
As the girls got older, we were thrilled when they became friends. Real friends. Quitting time became a flurry of who was going home with who. Her brunette and my blonde taking turns begging to drop their backpacks at our feet and disappear into another family for the afternoon. My kid knew there was more snacks at her house. Cosmic brownies and frequent trips to K-bobs for chicken strips and ice cream. Her kid knew there was a big brother at our house that would tease them and lock them out and add an air of mystery to everything. It was a good thing. In my life and in my daughter’s.
How valuable is another house you feel perfectly safe with your kid spending time in? On a normal day it’s wonderful. On a day when you’re sick, or mad at your husband or have an important project to get done it is the best thing anyone can give you. And, she was always willing to help me in any way she could. And, honestly, she was just farther along than I was. In every way you can be. She had already lived through one baby and knew you didn’t feed them Taco Bell refried beans (don’t ask!). She knew that kids will always find a way to hurt themselves. They will fall off of monkey bars and step in pipes hidden in the ground and do ridiculous things on a trampoline the first time you aren’t looking. She knew that a house will never stay clean and that there is always time to bake something. And, she knew God.
Her faith was as much a part of her as her corny jokes and her inherent kindness. If my daughter was at her house I knew to pack her a dress to go to church in. I knew if there was intrigue and gossip and cattiness happening at work (which there always was!) she would find a way to calm the waters and call out our better side. I knew that if I asked her to pray for me she would. And, I knew those prayers would happen every day until I told her otherwise. Most important? I knew she loved people. In word and deed. She was just there. And good. And ready with a smile. As a young mother, she was one of my first spiritual heroes. I don’t use that word lightly. She really was. She taught me to live my faith in every corner that my life touches. She taught me to show up for people and to extend them grace when they are being a little too human. She taught me how important a friend in Christ can be. And, she continued to be that person for me. For years and years. She was at my daughter’s wedding. I have pictures of our girls together on that bright fall afternoon. Mine in her white wedding gown and hers in a beautiful bridesmaid dress. Miss. Freda and her entire family loaded up and came. Including a new grand baby. Drove for hours just to be there with us on that day. Still living her faith in every corner her life touches. Still cracking jokes and smiling her smile. Still offering me prayers and friendship in equal portions. I basked in both.
This last fall my husband and I walked in a fundraiser for Alzheimers. It was a complete no-brainer. No way would we have missed it. Our t-shirts were purple and glittery and when they took pictures our group was huge. The biggest. It was Miss. Freda’s group. We were all there for her. So many familiar faces from years gone by. So many people touched by this wonderful human. Tears and smiles mixing easily. All of us hoping that every step we took might lead to a cure. A way to stop this disease from passing a shadow over her life. A way to give our sweet friend more time. To be her secret weapon like she has been ours. To live our faith in her life.
I hope we did that on that day. I hope our steps mattered and that some of those dollars raised find a cure. I also hope me being there said thank you. Thank you to my friend who taught me so much, who loved my daughter, who was partially responsible for me finding our Lord, who is the real deal in every way that matters.