How do you put words on a page that adequately convey the depth of gratitude and affection for a friendship that has spanned three decades? We hold each other's embarrassing moments and regrets, victories in the momentous and the mundane, intellectual and theological queries, honest questions and deepest doubts. We've shared the major events of life: weddings, first homes, the birth of children, and the death of a beloved mother. Ours has been a loyalty tested by distance and time zones, personality and style, and proven true because of its longevity, depth, and strength.
I was a shy college freshman in November of 1989 when I walked into the meeting and saw a tall senior girl go from group to group, lighting up the room with her laughter and command of attention. She was hard to miss, and I felt invisible. By the end of the night, she noticed me and invited me to lunch.
Jessica came to lunch with a planner and a friend. She was on mission! Jessica shared with me the most important Person in her life: Jesus. She shared how I could know Him also, and it hit me for the first time that I could come to Him with my messy life and emotions. I didn't need to get myself in order before I came. That meeting was a turning point in my life, and I went home and surrendered my life to Jesus. Now I knew Who it was that lit up Jessica.
I spent as much time as I could with Jessica the rest of that school year. I was like a sponge, wanting to learn as much as I could about following Jesus. In that first year, I idolized Jessica. She was everything I was not: confident, outgoing, spontaneous, and carefree. I also thought that after graduation she would go out into the world without looking back, as I had done after my high school graduation.
Those scant six months in college have been the only time we have lived in the same city, unless you count June and August of 1991 when I lived with Jessica and her mom in a one-bedroom apartment in West St. Paul, along with another friend Marilyn, and sometimes Jessica's fiancé Frank who slept on the couch. Gathering people together is something that Jessica has been extraordinarily gifted in, and I began to see that life and distance would not end our friendship.
Jessica asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding along with other high school and college friends. She said that she chose friends from her past and friends for her future, and she wanted our friendship to go into the future. This comment changed the way I viewed relationships. I had, up to that time, been reckless with my friendships, keeping them as long as they were easy, or they suited me – using people like rungs on a ladder, stepping on them to get me where I was going. Jessica taught me how to be a friend.
It was at Jessica and Frank's wedding that I first laid eyes on the man who would become my husband. A year or two later, when Jessica had organized a college reunion, she exclaimed to Mark, "You should get to know Danielle!" To which he replied, "I'd love to! Will you see if she is interested?" So Jessica not only introduced me to my Maker, she also introduced me to my mate.
I don't know when our friendship changed from her generally being the leader and me the follower, but eventually we both found the courage to go beyond our natural tendencies to promote each other's well-being and challenge each other to grow. I began to see that following Jesus wasn't just a personal life choice, but a decision that gave all of life's choices purpose. I saw Jessica being intentional about spending time with others so she could tell them about Jesus, making every gathering, big or small, a reason to celebrate. She made me think bigger.
Now we support each other an ocean apart, studying, praying, laughing, counseling, and pointing others to the One Whose love has changed us both.