Have you ever experienced an instantaneous friendship? You meet someone for the first time, yet it seems as if you’ve always known them? That’s exactly what happened when I met Shannon. Both of our husbands had new jobs which brought us to Liberal, KS. She was the wife of a pastor and me the wife of a high school assistant principal. We both had young children and were navigating a new place, far away from old friends and family.
If you’ve never been to Liberal, well…there is an actual edge of town. You can see nothing but fields for miles and miles in all directions. The town had a Walmart, a few restaurants, and a small shopping center. We would drive an hour and a half to Garden City, KS just to eat at Applebees. Needless to say, it was quite an adjustment for both families.
Our move to Liberal was the second big move we’d made in nine years of marriage. Memories from previous moves brought images of tear-filled goodbyes with many dear friends. Some of those goodbyes turned into lifelong friendships, but in that actual moment of leaving it felt like our world was falling apart. As for me, the tears often continued as I adjusted and searched to figure out my place in a new location. Looking back now I understand that those lonely times strengthened our marriage and brought our family closer together, but oh were they hard.
Soon after we settled in our new home, I heard an advertisement on the radio for a MOPs (Moms of Preschoolers) group meeting. I’d never been to one of these before but was excited at the prospect of meeting other moms with small children. There was also a weekly storytime at the library. My two oldest would be starting school soon, so that would give Ryan (my youngest) and I a fun outing.
It’s funny looking back now, I can’t remember if I first met Shannon at the library or MOPs. I definitely noticed her at both events with her young kids. She had such a welcoming smile, maybe we would become friends! We introduced ourselves, and it wasn’t long before we had traded phone numbers. At least now there would be a familiar face at storytime and our MOPs meetings.
Not long after school started, Shannon asked if I’d like to go for a walk after we dropped our older kids off at school. Our youngest kids were the same age, and still enjoyed short stroller rides. That first walk remains etched in my memory. We chatted about our families, what had brought us to Liberal, our future plans. And then Shannon shared the most amazing thing. From the time they knew they would be moving, she had been praying that God would send her a friend. I will never forget her words, “I think you just might be the answer to my prayers.”
From that point on, we were inseparable. Playdates, family dinners, babysitting for eachother…things all young moms desperately need. I’m not sure how I would have survived that year without her. It felt like we had known each other our entire lives. She would even laugh and say she must have named her daughter Kelli after me before she even knew me. And to make the year even more exciting, she soon discovered they were expecting their third child! So much to plan and celebrate!
Telling Shannon that we would be moving back to Oklahoma for the following school year was not easy. I dreaded making that phone call. We were in Oklahoma for the interview and she was in Kansas, having just given birth to their sweet baby. Terrible timing, but I knew it couldn’t wait. Always gracious, she understood. Moving would eventually be part of their future as well. There were tears and promises to keep in touch. Despite having experienced this kind of goodbye with friends before-it was not any easier.
Although Shannon and I had become close friends in such a short time, I had no idea the lasting impact she would have on my life. After our move, there were regular phone calls in those first months and even a visit despite the distance between us. But our communications quickly took a different tone as Shannon was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.
How could this be possible? A young mom of three, healthy, no family history…the wife of a pastor. She fought so hard. Surgery, treatments, more surgery…and so many prayers. I witnessed the outpouring of support from their family and friends past and present. There were also a few misguided individuals who thought if her faith was just strong enough, she would be healed. Most certainly they did not truly know Shannon.
If ever there was a time in life where I questioned my own faith, this was it.
I had the privilege of spending a week with Shannon and her family shortly before she died. Oh, my sweet friend-fighting with courage and grace I had never witnessed before. Her cancer had spread once again causing tremendous pain and weakness. But she was determined we would go shopping, and we did. She had also planned an outing for us at a lovely tea room, and we went. I watched as she pushed through, insisting on serving dinner and giving attention to her family-she loved them so much.
Shannon’s kindness as a friend, patience as a mom, and her unwavering faith in the face of terrible tragedy continues to impact my life. We may have only lived in the same town for one year, fifteen years ago, but I miss her. The grief that she is not here with her family remains. I keep a picture of the two of us on a shelf in my closet. When I look at this sweet photo, I think about the power and importance of friends. And remembering our instantaneous friendship, I am grateful.