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  • Writer's pictureShirley Larson

Deb: The gift of coming alongside

As I embarked on my college basketball career as a freshman, I was petitioned to coach a couple of weeks of camps during the summer. Deb was the very first teammate I met, a beautiful, red headed, three point shooting sniper. I remember feeling intimidated by all the upperclassmen when college started in the fall, but I was particularly shy (not a normal attribute of mine) when I first met Deb. Maybe it was because it was summer and college hadn't started yet or because it was literally a whole new world and she had already done this. I had an opportunity to reinvent myself. Maybe I was going to be quiet and shy? Turns out who we are comes to the surface pretty quick, and I've embraced who God has created me to be; shy...not in the cards. The reality was my "shyness" likely lasted all of a minute as the ice was quickly broken when our coach took us into Calgary for a night at the Stampede before the camp started. I quickly learned that Deb is fun and smart and a pretty down to earth Saskatchewan girl. Later I ascertained that she's amongst the kindest, most loyal and wisest of my friends. She has a knack for creativity and thoughtfulness and would often find unique ways to encourage each of us through out our college careers, and even a little after. One of my favourites is writing notes only in limerick form; not only were they fun, they were impressive. (Yes notes....the things we had before cell phones) But Deb's wit and creativity wasn't the only thing that sustained me in the harder college years, it was her ability to be with, show empathy, and come alongside. I am getting teary eyed as I write in acknowledging her friendship. There were many times that Deb infused her wisdom into my life, but there are a couple very specific times that stand out above the rest.

It might be helpful to understand that I attended a small Bible College in southern Alberta that played in a league that dominated women's basketball nationally. In my four years, a team from our league, and specifically our division, won Nationals. Needless to say despite the talent on our team, our win record was low/non existent. So when we were approaching a game that we could win we were all getting hyped up. I could feel the anticipation of the game swelling within my core. Then. The inevitable then. I had received a phone call from home. My friend's mom had passed away from an aggressive brain tumour that they had only found a month earlier. I was torn. It seemed obvious that I should go home, to support my friend and her family, and be with my church family. But it didn't feel obvious. I too have a loyalty complex and it felt like if I went I would be letting my team down, in addition I didn't take my car so I had no way of getting home. Of course my team would understand, but I didn't really know how to navigate my troubled waters, and decision making. In the cloudy haze it was difficult to process logical thinking. Enter Deb. She made her way to my dorm room sat with me on the bed while I cried. We talked through all of the angles of all of the decision, and when it came down to it, she put herself in my shoes. She said if it were her, she'd be back home already. What led after was God divinely intervening a way for me to get home. There are these moments, where one decision isn't right or wrong, either party would've understood, but its in the decision and the journey that follows that you learn and grow. I've found that when life kicks you in the teeth it can be next to impossible to process those decisions on your own. Deb was amongst the first people to help me deal with and even sit in the uncomfortable pain of loss and the muddled emotions. That weekend was a blur, but I do remember my friend acknowledging the effort it had taken for me to be with them, having been a former collegiate basketball player herself.

Later that same year I was hit HARD with a bug that made me feel like death was knocking on the door. There is something about being sick in a dorm that just doesn't have the same comfort as being sick at home. This was other time Deb really showed up. I swear I had a fever of 150 degrees and my whole body ached and I couldn't move. Normally if I had a cold or felt sick I would still attend practice and sit on the sideline. But there was barely enough energy to make it to the bathroom down the hall. (About a decade later I had was worse in comparison, but I didn't have that reference at the time, and that's when I REALLY felt like death) As I lay "dying" in my bed I heard a soft knock, with all the energy I could muster I poked my head up to see Deb poking her head around the door. If someone is sick...I'm going to stay far away so I don't catch it. I'm selfish like that. Deb however, selflessly came in sat on my bedside, rubbed my back and prayed for me. It was pure comfort, something I hadn't felt since leaving home. I remember thinking how great of a mom she'll be one day, prophetic, I know. She didn't need to come. But she did. It was exactly what I didn't know I needed. Her compassion to see and know when someone needs something, as well as her ability to nurture and come alongside, was astounding to me.

Her empathy even showed up after college in the Bahamas. She along with my former roommate and her husband had all taken teaching jobs on Abaco Island in the Bahamas. What an opportunity for me, not only do I get to see and visit the Bahamas but more importantly get to connect with the newlyweds and Deb. While they were at work I took the opportunity to sit and read on the dock. A little fury of a rain storm blew in rapidly and so I grabbed my book and swiftly moved in doors. In doing so I kicked a shell that was apparently home to a wasp, who did not appreciate the disturbance to his home, and angrily stung me in the ankle. It swelled so bad the string of my flip flops could barely be seen. It was...unpleasant. I do recall Deb giving me the pity I much desired as attended a youth night from their school/church. During one of the games a ball hit me right in the bee sting. I winced and hobbled off, I don't recall all the details after but Deb was a true friend who joined me for a conversation and we caught up on all things in life.

Deb and I have done a lot things, been a lot of places. On one rather chaotic missions trip to Romania Deb always brought a calming presence.

(Funnily I was searching through pictures after writing this and found a card she wrote me telling me I kept things sane and balanced, I don't remember that being true, but I guess we helped each other.) We've competed in a "few" rounds of crib, (which I always won.) and often enjoyed her hosting a slough of people playing social group games. I even recall one time being at her house for only a few minutes before being thrown into a trunk and kidnapped to an undisclosed location for my birthday. No idea if she was the mastermind, but there's no doubt to her involvement. Oh and her baking! I loooooved some Deb baking. "Treat" both as a verb and noun is just completely understated. It was during all of it, that she truly exemplified stability and I looked up to her because of it. I also looked up to connection with the Father. She had (I assume has) an intimate relationship with God and her faith and trust, presented in her actions but also in her prayers. I felt like she prayed so eloquently, only discover for myself that eloquence just comes from a sincere heart....and rich vocabulary, both of which she possesses.

After years of forging our own paths, a boys basketball team I was involved with made to Provincials three years in a row. Her loyalty in friendship knew no restraint, and she showed up to watch a team she'd never met. We faithfully cheered them on, one of the years to a championship. While those big gestures are meaningful and will resonate for years, it's also the million little ways Deb always made me feel heard and contemplated what was happening before interjecting her wisdom. Her humility and confidence walk parallel to each other as she continues to walk with others down their path. I cannot speak to her internal struggles, we all have them, I just know that her kindness to to me has lead me to a deeper relationship with Jesus. That her thoughtfulness to reach out unexpectedly has challenged me to be intentional with the people in my life. It's the million little things that lead to the big extraordinary ways I've grown, specifically in empathy. For my grad she gave me a packet of seeds with the admonition to "bloom where you are planted." I've come back to that very phrase over and over, and found depth in having roots. I've learned that when you are transplanting repeatedly it takes longer to flourish. It took me a while to figure that out, but that's the journey to growth. Deb and her friendship have impacted my life in big extraordinary ways, and I can concretly pronounce I've grown because of her in my life. I am privileged to have been her teammate for a time and truly blessed to be a friend for a life time.

In honour of a short period of our college career this is for you Deb: ;)

My friend Deb has the kindest of souls

She is wise and always just knows

whatever you need

she'll help to lead

you to the place your decision will grow.

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