This week I had the joy of introducing my best friend Jocelyn to Soccer Boy. It was a sacrifice in many ways, as her grandfather passed away suddenly a week ago, and this trip had to be squeezed in between two other ones.
But it was so important to me.
You see, this friend isn’t just a best friend. She is one who helped me redefine family. Jocelyn and her husband Louis have been my friends since college. We knew each other for several years before our relationship became something more.
Louis and I had a tumultuous start—we really didn’t respect one another, and we were so contentious and unpleasant that others asked us to please not sit together at meals. For both of us, it was more important to be right than to be understanding or kind. But there were other plans for us, larger than what either of us expected. Separately, events happened that softened our hearts toward one another. One cold February night, I got the courage to call him and apologize. He had wanted to do the same, and he asked if he could take me out to dinner and get to know me better.
Walls came down that night.
I learned in a concrete way that sometimes the prickly people are the ones who are hurting the most. And I can be one of them.
I never forgot it.
We found that we had more in common than we ever thought, and under all of our bravado and posturing, we were really kindred souls.
Jocelyn and I connected more easily, but mostly as acquaintances. We ran in the same circles, but each had others closer to us. But then Jocelyn and Louis started to like each other, and I got to be a confidante to them both. I watched them grow closer together, and the timing, the missteps, the little joys…they were all guided by a clock outside of our own plans. And I got to witness it, to help facilitate and soothe and listen and love them both in all the awkwardness of dating.
Then my life fell apart. I thought I knew everything, and I thought I had a lot of answers, and I thought I could handle things on my own. I was headstrong and determined in all the wrong ways. And I made mistakes, and I fell further than I thought possible. And because of it, I was abandoned by my community.
Every wrong thing that could have been said to me was said: You are going to hell. You are beyond saving. You are dirty, you are broken. Jesus wouldn’t want me to be your friend.
Unless, they said, I did this and I said that, and I followed these rules, and displayed these redemptive behaviors. I became the outcast and the unlovable. And it made me angry. It made me mean. Am I only valued when I perform the way you like? Am I only loved when I am like you? When I stifle my struggles and my hurts and my pain so that your life is a little more comfortable?
So I flipped them all off with my bravado and my gaudily decorated scarlet letter and I made a weapon out of my anger and abandonment and my disappointment in myself and I wielded it heavily against anyone who got too close.
And then Jocelyn spoke softly.
“You already know the truth. I don’t need to scream it at you. Too many people are doing that. But there is one thing I think you do need to know: I love you, and I’m your friend. There’s nothing you can do to change that, and there’s no way to push me away. I’ll always tell you what I think truthfully, but I’ll never stop loving you.”
And she never has.
She saw me through times worse than that, too. And she has loved me in every single one. So has Louis. They are the only witnesses to many of my life’s horrors. They are the only ones who were present for the entire labor and delivery of my son. Jocelyn changed his first poopy diaper (a fact my son is particularly proud of). Louis made the first repairs to my home—and many since then.
They are more than friends. They are woven into the fabric of my life. Our children have special names for us, because “Miss Jocelyn” isn’t enough, and “Uncle Louis” isn’t accurate. Sometimes family doesn’t have a name. So we just made them up. They are Commare and Compare, and I am Amica (Italian and Latin for “friend”).
So as I set out on this adventure, I couldn’t imagine experiencing it without my friends. They live over four hours away, and usually come in July for Little Man’s birthday. This year, because of various circumstances, Jocelyn came herself with their two girls.
I don’t think that she wanted to, really. She was afraid. How could she relate to Soccer Boy, a stranger? What was this hosting experience, and what did she know about how to handle herself? What if she made a fool of herself? Or worse, what if she fell in love? What then? Better to avoid and be safe.
Except that’s not her style. She can’t avoid me, and this was here, like it or not. And what she found is that she could be herself, and she could understand him, too. Language doesn’t matter. Nine year old boys have a lot of things that cross cultures.
Girls are fun to chase.
Potty humor can be created anywhere.
Ice cream is yummy.
Alarmed doors are meant to be touched.
She knew more about what it meant to love this little boy than she thought. And she found herself welcoming him into our little wordless family. Another not-son, loved differently than the first, but loved nonetheless. And I’m sure it is as bittersweet to her as it is to me.
But that’s the thing. Love isn’t about convenience and painlessness and comfort. Love is a choice you make, and family is the result.
Jocelyn taught me that. Louis taught me that.
They loved me when I was broken and bent under layers and layers of bravado. They loved me when I wasn’t behaving the way they would have liked. They loved me when I was mean. They loved me when I was rejected, when I was abandoned. They loved me when society said I wasn’t deserving of love.
I wouldn’t be able to host without the lessons I learned from them.
So, my dear Jocelyn, I know that you say that you wouldn’t be able to do what I am doing, but you have done it every day since the day I met you. You showed me that family isn’t always the one you are born into. Sometimes it is created by One who lives outside the box with us weirdos and nerds and outcasts.
And I know it hurts to love someone who we might not see again, who we have to love from afar. But I also know that the greatest blessings come from that kind of love. And the deepest bonds form when we let a family grow where it will. It’s not easy, and it’s not comfortable, and it’s not pretty.
But it is the most powerful thing in the world.