When I was a young teen I met a girl called LJ. We were in a play together, a musical, and we hit it off right away. She was the closest friend I had in my teens, even though I was homeschooled and she went to public school she still made time for me. When I look back on my teens I can’t help but think of her, and the lessons she taught me.
LJ was a beautiful teen, she wasn’t the conventional size, but she was by no means over-sized. While so many girls like that (cough ME) vainly flip through magazines praying to suddenly turn into a size zero, LJ was a constant beacon of inner beauty. Everyone loved her, because she was the kindest, most loving, radiant person there was. I saw LJ a few years ago, we were both in our early 20′s and she is still is beautiful, only now she has added a grace and poise that is reminiscent of the 1940′s. In short she still radiates love and kindness, she is simply the role model of the woman I want to be.
LJ has always had a sense of humor, there never was a shortage of jokes or laughter in her house. Even now that she is a wife and mother she still has a sense of humor and when a status she posts on facebook gets on my feed I usually have to chuckle at what she’s written. She is never crude with her humor, she is constantly joyful, and it seems that even in her dark moments she sees the lighter side of things.
If there is one thing LJ and her mom have in common it is their ridiculous amounts of strength. I have never seen women stand apart so brightly. Not because they go against the grain, but because they have faced a lot of hardship and heartache, stood in a mess of their struggles, and yet they just beam inner calm and strength.
This lesson is one that has impacted not only me, but my family as well. I spent 10 years in Arizona, where the population is mostly Catholic and Mormon, and my parents were Christian. We had many Mormon friends and neighbors and they were always there when we needed them. I remember when building our house my parents had hired a few local boys to help, the day that we were putting up trusses one of the boys dad’s showed up stating he was going to help. We all watched in a state of awe as Mr. Jackson walked all over the trusses like a cat, the man knew what he was doing, had he not been there I’m not sure if we would have got the trusses up. I have many stories of when friends just picked up and helped us out, and they almost always invited us to church functions. Often times I would go, the Mormon church held dances, had a Wednesday night teen study, and various other events, so it got me out of the house and I really enjoyed myself.
One particular event a woman came up to LJ and I and asked who I was etc., this was pretty normal, I think LJ spent a lot of her time just introducing me to people. As the conversation went on the woman asked if I went to this particular ward and I answered “No my parents go to such and such”, “Well, we will just have to work on getting you over to this church now then won’t we?” the lady replied. To my surprise LJ responded, in the most loving, gracious tone I have ever heard “No, Meredith is fine where she is, she is just here because she is my friend”. At that moment I realized that the stigma of a Christian and a Mormon being friends has snuck into my life. People at my church didn’t approve of my friendship with LJ because of her religion, and often times it seemed as if some people from LJ’s church had made it their personal mission to convert me and my family. In the back of my head I had let those comments in and unintentionally I wondered if LJ was friend’s with me for me or because she was trying to convert me. This moment erased any doubt, and for the first time I really felt accepted by someone.
There has been serveral times my mom has used that story with friends to point out how we shouldn’t just one another by our beliefs, and how friendship enriches our lives no matter the belief system. One simple sentence, and it still resonates with me, and has had a huge impact on my life. I try and accept everyone where they are, and when I stumble I think of how strong LJ was for not only accepting me, but kindly telling an elder to bud out, she accepted me as I was and wasn’t there just to try and change me.
I often miss the closeness LJ and I had in our friendship, but as teens do, we grew up, and went to our college’s and found our husbands and are now filling our houses with children. Even though we don’t share the tight friendship we once did I still consider her a friend, and while I miss her I remember the lessons she taught me everyday.