21951_000_010As these young women from the Netherlands have learned, when you stand out from the crowd, you might as well stand tall, too. It’s easier to spot a friend that way.
Stephanie Post isn’t about to take any credit. She’s just been a friend. It’s no big thing, she assures. Anybody would do it.
Serena Oddens doesn’t exactly see things the same way. Her thoughts on Stephanie? It is a big thing and, no, not just anybody would do it.
“Stephanie really supported me through some rough times, and she’s been a great example to me,” says Serena.
It’s a Saturday in Den Haag, Netherlands. Youth from stakes in the Netherlands and Belgium have gathered together for a day-long activity, and Stephanie and Serena are happy. Although they’re in the same stake, they don’t get to see each other that often. As they sit on the lawn, the talk turns to the beginning of their friendship a few years earlier.
Serena thinks to when her life wasn’t where she knew it should be. “At my school, nobody was studying, and it seemed everybody was smoking and drinking and using drugs. I didn’t stop going to church, but I was hanging around with the wrong friends and not doing everything I should have been doing,” she says. “I see what’s become of many of my former friends, and I think had I stayed at that school nothing good would have become of me.”
Enter Stephanie. At the same time Serena’s mom asked her to transfer schools and leave her friends, Serena met Stephanie, 18, a member of the Almere Branch in the Den Haag Stake. “Stephie’s really supported me while telling me good stuff about the Church. She taught me things about the gospel that I didn’t even know,” Serena says. “Stephie always bears her testimony and tells me of the things she’s been through. It’s great for me.”
“But it’s not just one way,” Stephanie says of their friendship. “It’s not that I only helped Serena, because she’s helped me too. She’s been a really good friend.”
Stephanie was born in Australia, but when she was 10, her family moved to the Netherlands. “My mom just knew we had to come to Holland for certain reasons and to help build up the Church. My mother is wonderful. She’s a strong member, and she’s a good example for me because she’s always given me a path to follow.”
Now Stephanie is making a path of her own, and Serena has joined her. Right at the time when things seemed to be falling apart for Serena, Stephanie appeared on the scene. Although distance keeps them apart—Almere is a one-hour car ride from Serena’s home in Alkmaar—they remain close. Thank goodness for phones.
“There are no other members of the Church at my school, and I often feel like I am the only one who is doing good and right things,” says 17-year-old Serena. “I sometimes feel like I am standing alone. Stephie was there along with all my friends from church who were supporting me. But the thing about Stephie is that she knows everything about me and I know everything about her.
“When I’m feeling down or upset,” she continues, “it’s like my school friends don’t understand me or what I’m feeling or what I’m going through. When I talk to her about it, we can get things off our chests and she understands.”
Stephanie knows teenagers in Holland aren’t much different from those all over the world. Once they hit their teenage years, they start experimenting and changing. She’s just glad she was there to help Serena.
“I think it’s really sad to see the youth we have hung out with in our stake go fully inactive or have other troubles that take them from the Church,” Stephanie says. “But it’s really nice to hear that someone who has been inactive for a while is active again or going on a mission. That’s what’s been so great about Serena.”
It’s moments like this when Stephanie feels grateful she’s stayed active her whole life. Stephanie remembers turning down classmates’ invitations to parties, or the times they called her a “goody-goody.” But along the way, Stephanie’s testimony has grown.
“I’ve known since I was little that the Church is true. When you know something so strongly I guess you can’t go around it,” Stephanie says. “I’ve had my trials and I’ve had my times when I ask myself what I am doing and why I am still going to church.
“But,” Stephanie continues, “I think Serena and I have come to an age now where we don’t care as much about what people think. We are members of the Church and we are different. Some of my friends call me a goody-goody like it’s a bad thing. Well, I am a goody-goody, and it’s not a bad thing at all.”
Serena agrees. “Stephanie helped me to understand that I don’t need to be ashamed of my standards. When I think back to my inactive stage, it isn’t that I’m jealous of Stephanie because she didn’t go inactive. But if I could turn back the hands of time, I would do things differently.”
As Serena stops talking, Morwenna Kleijweg sits down. Stephanie is finishing a thought. “I think it’s great to be an example to those who maybe aren’t that strong. I’m not sure I always make a difference, but I hope I do.”
“You do,” says Morwenna, a Laurel in the Leiden Ward. She then proceeds to tell how she met Stephanie for the first time at girls’ camp. “When I met Stephie, I was going through a really rough time for myself. She told me things about herself, and I recognized myself in her,” Morwenna says. “When I went home from camp, I realized it was a great experience for me to find someone I could be close to who could be an example.”
Two days later, Stephanie and Serena meet at the train station in Amsterdam. Three American sisters, Michelle, Amanda, and Jackie Miller of the Hilversum Branch, are with them. They can’t get together very often, so they’re happy when they get the chance. It’s 6:00 P.M. as they walk out of Central Station. They’re all hungry, they decide on pizza, then they look for a restaurant. As the group walks the streets of Amsterdam with the rain coming down, they’re laughing and telling stories. But nobody is sure where the closest restaurant is. For a moment they stop. Then a voice calls out, “I know where we can go.”
Stephanie then speeds her pace and leads the way.