I met Erika on the first day of college.
I attended a small Christian university in the small Ohio town where I grew up. Some of my friends from high school also attended the school, but unfortunately, these friendships had lost their luster in my senior year, and I had decided to use college as an opportunity to break away. So I requested a roommate from anywhere but my hometown (she came from Washington state), and I intended to seek out new friends in my own time and on my own terms.
When Getting Started weekend arrived, the campus was abuzz. People were unloading cars packed with belongings, hurriedly filling their rooms and meeting their new roommates, before running off to meetings and other activities. Bewildered fathers stood outside their daughters’ rooms, where four women (two nervous freshmen and two nervous freshmen’s mothers) were trying to fit both of the girls’ entire lives into the smallest dorm room in the unit.
I was no different. My parents, employees of the university, had taken some time to help me move in. My roommate had already finished and had gone shopping for items she couldn’t bring with her from the west coast. We organized my side of the room, and my parents needed to get back to work. My nerves rose as we moved to leave; starting college was more frightening than I had anticipated. I began to feel very alone.
That’s when God changed my plans. As we left the unit, we heard voices in another room. Ever the people person, my mom decided to stop and meet them. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to meet anyone right then; nevertheless, I found myself following my parents to the D room, where a girl and her parents were unpacking her stuff. Her dad stood near the door, while she and her mother moved around the room. Her roommate had also moved in first, so they were arranging her things in the space that remained.
My mom began immediate introductions. “Hi, my name is Fran Campbell, this is my husband, Jack, and my daughter, Shannah. She’s a freshman here this year.”
They introduced themselves: Dick and Carolyn Helfrick and their daughter, Erika.
“Oh…Erika is a freshman this year, too! That’s so great!”
Our mothers bonded instantly. I hung in the doorway, friendly but keeping my distance, while Erika smiled and said hi from the other side of the room, both of us shocked when suddenly our mothers exclaimed, almost in unison,
“Oh…maybe they can be friends!”
A wave of near-panic swept over me, though I tried not to look as shocked as I felt. My mother was volunteering my friendship to this, this stranger! What if this girl was an absolute freak?!? What was my mom thinking?!?
Though we didn’t know it at the time, Erika thought the same thing I did at that moment. Still, we quickly discovered that we were assigned to the same small group, and there was something comforting about knowing even one person’s face. As the week progressed, she introduced me to her friends from home; I made sure she always knew where she was going and how to get there, and somehow, from that moment on, we were friends. And now, almost a decade later, Erika is still my best friend and living proof that God is a much better planner than I am!
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