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Celebrating the gifts of friendship through ups, downs and more than two decades.

It was an unlikely group of women that sat around the campfire one cool October evening — a clerk, a traveling saleslady, two secretaries, two stay-at-home moms, a nurse and a pastor’s wife — and with seemingly nothing in common, they formed a bond that night which has endured for 21 years.

Long ago I heard it said that if you can count the number of real friends you have on one hand, then you are truly blessed. If that’s correct, I am blessed beyond measure because I am one of that group of eight women, and I am a BRAT.

Like any good sisterhood, my friends decided we needed a name. We have had several acronyms for BRAT, but for about 17 or 18 years we have been the Beautiful Radiant Angel Team.

We began our friendship simply as an escape from the day-to-day pressures of work, family, church and the countless obligations that pulled us in multiple directions. It was the height of the early ‘90s “supermom” culture: We did it all and crammed more into our schedules than we could possibly complete. We needed a break, a get-away, a retreat. 

Initially we planned our “meetings” around our families’ schedules: just before the holidays in early November, right after the holidays in late January, just before school was out in early May and right after school began in mid-August. By year number two, we made the decision to meet up monthly.

In hindsight, it would be difficult to say what kept us together those first years. Perhaps it was the fact that our spiritual lives intersected at the same church. Perhaps it was those initial hours at our second campout when we played “Show and Tell.” It was a talking game we invented to get to know one another. I can still remember the details of each life as we poured out our stories until the wee morning hours. Who would have imagined that somehow we needed one another’s friendship to become who we are today?

At one particularly trying time in my life, the BRATs surrounded me with their love and protection. My sister had just escaped from a bad relationship and her psychotic ex began stalking her. She and her two elementary-aged children moved in with my family for safety. At the same time, my husband started traveling for work and only my 14-year-old son was home with us. The harassment began with my sister, but quickly spilled over to our whole family. 

The ex had our phone bills redirected to his address, and he called every member of our family in every state. We would receive up to 100 threatening phone calls a day, but the police weren’t able to apprehend him. We made so many  911 calls that they started answering the phone with, “An officer is on his way.”

After a brief stay in the county jail on an unrelated incident, the police visited us to say my sister’s ex had put a “hit” out on us with some of the other inmates. So my sister and I took a shooting course, determined to do whatever was necessary to protect our families. When my husband was out of town, the BRATs took turns sitting outside our house to alert us if the stalker made an appearance. After seven months, he was arrested again and put in jail for two years. We could finally breathe.

Shortly after that incident, the BRATs decided our group was complete — no one in, no one out. We now had a history together. An outsider would never be part of the “inner circle.”

One of the BRATs has moved around the country as the wife of a pastor. From Cincinnati, we gave them a send-off to Kansas City, then Albuquerque, then back to the Midwest in Richmond, Ind., now off to Gravette, Ark. But she has always been back for at least a couple of BRAT events each year.

As our lives have changed, so have our relationships. We have vacationed together, picnicked together as families and watched our kids grow up, marry and have children. We’re grandmothers now. How did this happen to us? Or more accurately, when did this happen to us?

Many of us have buried parents and some siblings and we were all there to support each other in our losses. Our children’s lives have not always been idyllic, and we have seen marriages come to an end. As for us, all of the BRATs’ marriages are intact. And this marriage of sorts, which we have with one another, remains strong.

As I write this article, I am packing my bags for our annual November retreat. This year we’re going to Gatlinburg. Last year we celebrated our 20th anniversary in New York City.

A weekend together is filled with laughter, shopping, a BRAT craft, memories of other weekends and eating. We often play cards until late at night, or spend hours talking about what is happening in our lives.

We have learned to love the idiosyncrasies of one another: the paranoid who is afraid of the dark, the BRAT who is always late, the control freak, the leader, the Chaplin, the care-giver, the loud one. The differences make us who we are; the craziness only makes us love each other more.

When I turned 50 (now 10 years ago), the girls decided I needed a makeover. At 10:30 p.m. we went to the store to find the right dye for my hair to hide the gray. Then the scissors came out and clip, clip, clip — I had a new style.  Was there a hair stylist in our midst? No, but my head was in their hands. It all worked out and I haven’t stopped coloring my hair since.

And when I redecorated my living room a couple of years ago, one of the BRATs made the comment that it was “about damn time.” How can we tell each other what we really feel and still stay friends? The better question is how can we not?

We share the same philosophy in life. We believe in having fun and loving our husbands, our lives, our kids, our grandkids and our religion. We talk about our feelings, our challenges and our ups and downs. We have endured the soccer years, the teenage years, the college struggles and now the reward of being grandparents. When one of us hurts, we all bleed. When one of us struggles, the others come to our defense. We often laugh and say if one of us needed a kidney there would be seven in line to be tested for compatibility. And it’s very true.

In looking back at our lives, we all realize the value of this friendship. There have been books written about us, pages of albums filled with photographs and more crazy crafts than any of us can count. We have enjoyed laughter, stories, fears and financial difficulties. We have changed jobs, changed houses, changed cars and changed churches. But the one thing that’s been consistent in our lives is this wonderful, crazy thing called friendship.

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