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January 31, 2011

Erica was my first friend in Dallas. She and I lived in the same apartment complex and our daughters are the same age, not quite two when we met. She’s a lot younger than I am, but that doesn’t matter.

When you have small children and are new in a city, all of a sudden the world of potential friends shrinks down to people whose children are the same age as your children, or people who really and truly like small children, and who happen to share the same view of parenting as yours, and, in my case, people who understand that your child’s terrible behavior isn’t the result of bad parenting but is just a stubborn case of “she was born that way.”

Erica and I became friends immediately. It went like this:

“Hi,” I said to the mom who was walking with her kid.

“Hi,” she said. And they stopped to get acquainted as I sat outside, hugely pregnant, with my toddler who was busy decapitating the flowers planted around our swanky apartment complex.

“You are clearly not from Dallas. Your small hair and lack of a Texas drawl gives it away, plus the fact that you are stopping to converse with me instead of politely saying , ‘Hi’ and keeping going — back East we only say ‘Hi’ if we are willing to engage in conversation.”

“OMG I thought I was the only person who noticed that. Where are you from?”

“We moved here from Japan. Where are you from?”

“Philadelphia. Can’t you tell?” (I could, a mile away.)

“Oh! I went to college in Philadelphia. Where in Philly?”

“Bryn Mawr.”

“OMG I went to Bryn Mawr College. Pizzi’s Pizza is the best pizza ever. Is it still there?”

Then, at the thought of pizza, I leaned over and threw up in the bushes.

Erica laughed at me and told me she did stuff like that when she was pregnant, and, because she knew Mr Pizzi, gave me the secret of his amazing pizza crust.

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

When I got cancer, Erica, who had just had her second child, said she would be there for me, and she was. She was one of a very small group of people who knew to bring over food and hang out with me while we ate. I usually took a nap or otherwise ignored her while the kids played, but if she was offended, she never showed it.

Then she fell off the face of the earth. A lot of my friends did that, and, because they were new friends, and I was impossible to be friends with, I didn’t get at all offended, but in the case of Erica I was worried, because her cell phone was disconnected and emails bounced back and messages left at her home went unanswered.

High up on the list of Things That Are Worse Than Cancer is divorce, and hers was a bad one, as far as I can tell: she tried to move back to Philadelphia with her kids and, because she did the wrong way, wound up losing custody of them. I found this out when she popped back up on my facebook page and, of course, I called her immediately and got the whole story, fairly, because my friend is fair. A lot of people jump to the conclusion that my friend did something to deserve having her children taken away from her in the divorce, and that makes me think that a lot of people also do not live in the real world, where people with money call the shots. When someone asked me, as they do not do any more, if my friend got in trouble with drugs and that is why she lost her kids, I said that their question is like asking whether a murder victim was in a gang or whether a rape victim had it coming because she was wearing tight jeans or a short skirt. My friend is pretty freaking awesome, and the fact that she lost her kids in an ugly divorce only says that she is naive about the mean things people can do.

“When are you going to come back to Dallas,” I asked her.

“I’m getting ready to,” she said.

A few months later, I got a message from her, “May I stay on your couch for a few days?”

I talked it over with Chris.

“Yes, but not on the couch, you can share Graham’s room, and there a couple of ground rules. You have to have a job and you have to pay rent.”

She got a job and she pays rent and a year and a half later we find that we can’t do without her.

God gives us what we need.

Yeah, sure, we are doing a wonderful thing for my friend, opening our home to her and bringing her into our family, blah, blah, but it just worked out that way.

We call her Kato Kaelin a lot.

People often assume she works for us as a nanny. She doesn’t, although she’s like a combination big sister/young aunt to my kids.

Watching The Blind Side makes me happy, because it is a wonderful story, and it also makes me uncomfortable because it is too close to home, and I wonder if it would have been such a successful story if the foster kid had been a stunningly beautiful twenty-something divorcée and not an all-star football player.

We feel better about giving a helping hand when the person doing the receiving falls neatly into one of our pre-approved categories of “People Who Need Help.”  The Bible tells us to take care of widows and orphans, and I put Erica into that category even though her ex-husband is still around and her parents are not technically dead. Erica is first and foremost my friend, although I love her like a daughter, and when I have prayed for guidance about her the answer I have gotten is this, “Just love on her a lot.”

That’s clearly the Word of God because it’s not a phrase I would ever use. And so I do.

I have suggested, many times, that she go to church.

“You know that’s not my thing,” she has said, and I have prayed for her to know God, and the answer is, always, “Just love on her a lot and let Me take care of the rest.”

Evidently He did because Erica came home (from church) the other day, and mentioned that she was going to make an effort to add some God into her life. I had nothing to do with this, it was some other friends who reached out to her and brought her to church, one of the churches that takes a rock band and powerpoint approach to worship.

People speak of being born again, which is a controversial turn of phrase, even among Christians. I haven’t asked Erica whether she has been born again, or saved, or whatever the parlance is in the church she has been attending. It’s a concept I understand, because I grew up Southern Baptist, but in the wisdom of my age, I’m keeping an even keel.

“Aren’t you happy for me?” asked Erica. I was chopping onions when we were talking about her experience.

“I am, but if I were to make a big deal of it and show you how happy I was, you’d be uncomfortable, so I am trying hard to keep cool.”

Do I see an instant change in her? Yes.

She’s prettier, if such a thing were possible. She seems to be less fearful; she reminds me less of a thoroughbred. I think she is beginning to see herself as she is, as a child of God, beloved.

It’s all very new.

One change, though, is that when I pray for her I get a different answer.

As I have mentioned on this blog and elsewhere, I don’t particularly believe in the Devil. I’ve been an Episcopalian for 20 years, and I believe in not wearing white pants before Memorial Day. Nevertheless, either through the voice of God speaking to me in that still small way He has, or else an echo of memory from my Southern Baptist upbringing, I’m thinking that if there is a Devil, he is going to sabotage this new thing in Erica’s life.

She walloped herself in the eye with a hammer last week, and this past weekend, she fell down the stairs.


Not on my watch.

If there is one thing that cancer has taught me, it is how to pray, and how to ask other people to do so as well.

So, if you pray, please do so.

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One Comment
  1. I’m praying for you and for Erica. And I’m praying that all who seek God can hear the voice that says, “Just love on her a lot and let Me take care of the rest.”

    What an amazing and beautiful post, dear friend.

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