I first met Lula Gibson in first grade. We were in Mrs. Mullins’s class along with about thirty other kids. For the next twelve or so years of our lives, ten months out of the year, we spent on average five days a week together. We weren’t in the same class every year, but we still hung out together on the playground. We’ve had our ups and downs through the years as most people do. There were several years where life happened, and we didn’t speak so much. It wasn’t that we were mad or feelings were hurt or anything like that. Hubby and I had moved to Indiana, and social media as such didn’t yet exist. I hate the telephone, and if they handed out awards for being the world’s worst correspondent, I’d run away with the title every year. Then Facebook happened, and we moved back to Hazard for a while, and Lula and I reconnected in real life. We’d already found each other on Facebook.

You may remember Lula from a long-ago blog post about the ghost we encountered when we moved into the log cabin in Eastern Kentucky that had belonged at one point to my husband’s grandparents. Yep, she’s that friend. She’s the one who got to experience all that awesomeness with us–more of it in a way, since the ghost really took a liking to her. Anyhow… When I spoke to her earlier today, I asked her to give me an assignment for the blog. Her first suggestion was that I write about our kitten Pip. I’m not quite ready to share that bundle of energy with the world just yet, so I decided to go with Lula’s second suggestion. “The balloon.”

If you’ve read the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich, you’ll note that her best friend in that series is named Lula. Where the fictional Lula and my friend Lula couldn’t have come from  more different backgrounds, they both share an over-the-top personality, the ability to offer snappy comebacks, and a wickedly humorous common sense when it comes to philosophizing about life. They also share a love of animal prints and bright colors, though my Lula knows how to appropriately size her clothing. She’s the kind of person who can make an off-the-cuff remark that has you in stitches or peeing your pants before you even realize you’re laughing. And she’s one of the hardest working people I know. She doesn’t shy away from any kind of work, whether it be blue-collar or white-collar. If you happen to be lucky enough to work with her, you know that the day won’t be boring.

A few years back, Lula was blessed with a precious bundle of joy whom she named Ciara. When Little Miss started school, Lula was faced with an empty nest. When the opportunity came for her to take a position at the same school, she jumped at the chance. She loves kids, and she’d get to keep an eye on Ciara. Win-win. Little did she know that this choice would change the course of her future.

Here’s where it gets personal. Between our junior and senior years in high school, Lula’s grandmother, the lady for whom she was named and the woman whom she thought of as her mother, became very ill. Lula had to make the tough decision to quit school and care for her. She was never able to come back to school and graduate with the rest of us. After her grandmother passed, her grandfather went not long after, and Lula went to work. I don’t think she stopped or even slowed down much until she had Ciara. So when this job came along at the school, it felt like a second chance. Not just that, but it helped her discover her purpose–to work with special-needs kids. There was just one problem. That’s right, no high school diploma.

For several years now, this has been something that has weighed heavily on her. She’s often contemplated going back and picking up her GED. But the timing hasn’t been right, and life has a way of happening, and we all know how that goes.

That changed with this new job. This summer, Lula got her GED. I cannot emphasize enough to you how big a deal this is. Big. Deal. And I couldn’t be prouder of her for taking that step. But she didn’t stop there. Holy moly, y’all. As soon she had her papers in hand, she marched herself to the local college and enrolled. Since she’s going to be working full time, she’ll be attending classes online. *insert streamers and ticker tape and fireworks* Seriously, isn’t that awesome? She’s not stopping with “good enough.” She wants more. And that is perhaps even a bigger deal.

In any event, this is where the balloon comes in.

Last night, technology was giving her fits. It often does me the same, so we commiserated via a rare Facebook call. (I hate the phone to this day, and that counts as the phone.) As she was trying to relay the problem to me, my husband was trying to relay the answers to her. And because Lula is Lula–boisterous, exuberant, and over-the-top in the best way–all I could do was laugh. Reason being, trying to hold her on one subject before she jumped to the next was like trying to hold on to a bouncing, helium-filled balloon. “Kid in a candy store” is a good way to put it, except you have to suspect the kid had already consumed half the sugary treats in the store given how excited she was.

In any event, we got her lined out and sent on her way toward turning in the troublesome assignment. It was a simple software glitch with the program that spazzed up the delivery system, one of those utterly frustrating situations where you know how to fix it, but you’re so excited and stressed, you can’t get your mind to add 2+2 and come up with which buttons to click. Once that was clear, she was able to breathe a sigh of relief. So when I told her this morning that trying to talk to her was like holding on to that balloon, she laughed. And then she gave me the idea of blogging about it.

Now, I feel pretty sure that this resulting blog post is not what she had in mind. She probably expected something funny and witty, not something that took a serious turn. And she’s probably going to chastise me for saying all this. But she opened the door, so I’m going to step through it. She is accomplishing so much that she never thought was possible, and she’s working so hard toward accomplishing something she believes in. She needs to be bragged on. I’m tremendously proud of her, of what she’s accomplished, and I admire her strength and perseverance. I know this course she has set for herself won’t be easy, and it will come with some frustrations–like computer programs that don’t want to cooperate. But I also know that she has found her purpose like never before, and she will not be held back any longer. She has the support system now that she needs, both at home and professionally, and I’m excited to see where she goes with this. It wouldn’t surprise me if that didn’t end up being all the way to the top.