My girls and I have this friend—she’s technically not imaginary, though we’ve never laid eyes on her.

We’ve never met her in the real, but she’s an amazing woman we respect and admire and consider our friend.

Etta and I first learned of her during the daily commute we make to the kindergarten campus.

There’s this little yellow sign we drive by each morning that Etta learned to read: “Our Daughter is Making a Difference – goarmy.com”

That small sign has opened up big conversations for us.

We talk about how their daughter doesn’t even know us, but got up and went to do hard work somewhere in the world to keep us safe and free.  “Safe and free” is an abstract concept for a five-year-old until paired with “so you and your friends can do things like learn fun stuff at school and play soccer.”

We pray for their daughter, that she will be safe and brave wherever she goes.  And we pray for the family living in the house just beyond the sign, that they’ll get to hear from her often and hug her soon.

With just the two of us in the car after school one day, Etta shared that on a field trip bus ride she’d told a friend about the “yellow sign girl who is making a difference” so their class could go to Dinosaur World. 

Two kindergarten girls pondering a soldier’s service in relation to their outing? My goodness, yes.

“What do you think their daughter’s name is?” I asked.

“Sharel,” was her quick reply, pronouncing it ‘Sheryl’ and then spelling it for me in the delightfully phonetic way. I asked her to describe Sharel.

“She has blue eyes and blond hair, like me,” Etta went on, “but she wears her hair in a bun because, you know, she has her army hat. She’s about twenty-five, I think. And when she was my age she liked to play on her bike.”

Etta’s depiction of Sharel as essentially an older version of herself fascinated me, so the next time big sister Sophie and I were alone in the car I drove by the yellow sign and asked Sophie how she imagines their daughter.

“Her name is Ana, with one ‘n’ not two, and she has brownish-dark hair and violet-green eyes,” Sophie answered. And when she was eleven? “She liked strategy board games, playing in the wildflowers, and reading.” Ana sounds a lot like the perfect b-f-f for the eleven-year-old who lives at my house.

I’ve found that sometimes I drive us by that house even when another route might be more efficient.

We don’t know the family with the little yellow sign, but they are absolutely right. Their daughter is making a difference, both in the broad and obvious sense of her service to her country and in the more subtle sense of two young girls identifying in their own ways with the woman behind the sign and considering how her sacrifices and service affect them.

Maybe one day we’ll pull into the driveway, ring the bell, and ask about their daughter—how she’s doing, what her real name is.  But for now we’ve agreed we’re going to call her Sharel.

“It’s okay for God if we call her Sharel when we pray,” Etta assured me. “He knows who we’re talking about.” 

Thank you, Sharel, for the difference you are making.

Shelby Slawson - attorney, business owner and passionate community advocate - is a member of the E-T’s community columnists. She can be reached at shelby@slawsonlawfirm.com.