I am reminded of one of the greatest blessings of my mission at least once a week.  One of my companions, Shelley, lives a couple of miles from our house.  Twice a week, she watches the boys while I work.  Shelley’s daughter Hannah has become one of John’s best friends.  They’ve been friends since John was about 6 months old.  They both move so fast that it is almost impossible to get a picture of them together but there is this old one from about a year and a half ago.

The main difference since then is they are both a lot taller and have longer hair.
Hannah is 2 years older than John and is a great example to him.  Frequently, Doug and I will be baffled by John learning some bit of manners or something.  We’ll look at each other and agree as we say, “I bet he got it from Hannah.”  It got me thinking a bit about how important good examples are when it comes to friendships.
I’ve mentioned before that my childhood was less than ideal.  However, I was blessed with some key friends that helped me to navigate through my otherwise difficult circumstances.  I would be in a much different place if it was not for them and their love, example, gentle support and guidance throughout high school and college.  Not only did they value me but they helped me to recognize my own (divine) value.
(Don’t mind the snowflake stuck to my face…it was actually there on purpose.)
Shannah and I met my first day of kindergarten at a new school and have remained close.  Like most of my friends from high school, we do not talk much anymore but when we do we just pick up where we left off.  Even in the face of peer pressure and adversity, she always held true to her Christian values.  I am sure she has no idea what an example she was to me.  She helped me to know that we are only accountable to God and to ourselves.
One friend in particular, taught me a lot about the family life I would want to have (and do now have).  More than anyone, her family taught me what it meant to have a Christ-centered home with a strong family focus.  I have so many fond memories of life at Melissa’s house.  Those memories seem to flood back at Christmastime because her house was magical then.  There were carols being played on the piano, twinkling lights, the Dicken’s Christmas Village, smells of delicious goodies and just a feeling of love and warmth.  The best word I can think of to describe the feeling is “refuge”.  It was a refuge from everything else that was going on in my life.  I spent a lot of time there throughout high school but Christmas was always my favorite.  I hope that even in just a small way I am able to create for my family a bit of what I felt whenever I was in their home.  I will be forever grateful to them for all they taught me.
When I got to college, I met the sister I’d never had.  Jolene has been my best friend ever since.  She is the friend that travels hundreds of miles to take care of you when you have a baby.  She’s the friend who, on days when I am particularly stressed out, Doug has even mentioned, “I think you need to talk to Jolene”.  She helps me re-center and put things in perspective.  College is a very pivotal time in life and I was grateful for a friend who seemed to see everything the same way that I did.
I am grateful for all of the amazing people that have been put into my path to help me along this crazy mortal journey.  I am grateful to have Shelly and Hannah and their family close enough that they can influence my children.  They are a force for good in the lives of my children, and therefore, in my life.