Soul Sisters

They’ve been best friends since they were in diapers, these two girls with the matching flip-flops. And theirs is a story even I, the one with all the words and dramatic hand gestures, couldn’t come up with on my own.

It began in Oregon ten years ago, in a small town on the banks of the Umpqua River. We went to the same church, her grandfather the pastor and her parents the only people our daughter put up with in the nursery. We all became fast friends: playdates in the park, camping trips in the woods, picnics at her grandparents’ pool.

But after a couple of years, life beckoned us back east, to my childhood home on the banks of another river.

Before we left, my husband and I wanted to be baptized; we’d never made a public profession of our faith. So when her grandfather invited us into the Umpqua after church service that Sunday in June, nothing stopped us, not even our pretty church clothes.

The girls stood on the water’s edge that day watching us get wet, giggling at the sight of us, not fully understanding the meaning of it all. And a few weeks later, when we packed up our things and slept over at their house on the eve of leaving town, I still think they were clueless, unaware of the impending separation.

But I felt it profoundly and wept the next day at the airport when I opened the card from my friend and read her parting words, saying how much our friendship meant, how much we’d be missed. The tears soaked my clothes like the river had earlier that summer, like a second baptism.

Not too much later, though, our friends from Oregon came to visit and fell in love with the Susquehanna Valley, and within a year, they, too, moved east to a neighboring town about twenty minutes away. We joke that they’re stalkers, that they followed us here, but mostly we just scratch our heads and smile at how God really does move in mysterious ways.

But living in different towns has its challenges. We don’t see each other as often as we’d like, blaming jobs and kids and hectic schedules, joking, too, that we saw more of each other when we lived on opposite coasts.

That’s why her mom and I stole a weekend away together recently, bunking at my dad’s place with free access to their pool while he was out of town. We indulged in Mexican food, frosted animal crackers, and People magazines. We slept late and got way too much sun. It was awesome.

We returned Sunday evening, refreshed and caught up on each other’s lives, and we stood together on the rocky shores of the Susquehanna, watching and giggling as my daughter drenched her clothes and made her own profession of faith on a hot, summer Sunday.

Among the crowd were my daughter’s best friend and her grandfather, the one who baptized us almost a decade ago. He and his wife were in town visiting, and the next night our families gathered together again on a different branch of the same river to watch him baptize his granddaughter.

Soul Sisters

Soul Sisters

Soul Sisters

Neither girl knew the other was going to be baptized that weekend. They both made the decision separately and privately between themselves and us, their parents. So when our plans for the weekend crystalized somewhat last-minute, the timing of both services took us all a bit by pleasant surprise.

But nothing surprises God. He knows where we’ve been and where we’re going and whom we’ll meet along the way. There’s no such thing as coincidence to Him.

It reminds me of an old hymn, the one we sang on the hillside overlooking the Susquehanna the evening my daughter plunged into the current and claimed Christ as her own:

I have decided to follow Jesus.
I have decided to follow Jesus.
I have decided to follow Jesus.
No turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me.
The world behind me, the cross before me.
The world behind me, the cross before me.
No turning back, no turning back.

Tho’ none go with me still I will follow.
Tho’ none go with me still I will follow.
Tho’ none go with me still I will follow.
No turning back, no turning back.

And I remember years ago, when we moved to Oregon, how I’d prayed for a friend who could be to me like a kindred spirit. God not only provided that for me, but for my daughter as well. And our history and friendship stands in stark contrast to the final stanza of that song.

Yes, we’ve decided to follow Jesus, but we’re not doing it alone. Thankfully, we have our best girlfriends to go with us.

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