I’ve heard it said that friends are the family you choose. When we moved to Wichita Falls, I left the family of friends my parents had built in their almost twenty years in San Antonio. It was difficult to leave people we loved but knowing they were only six hours away softened the blow, as did going back several times over the last four years.
At our new home we built a new family. We made a network of wonderful friends, people who invited us to be part of their lives and welcomed us as if they’d known us forever. Then we started having children.
Having children changes every aspect of your life, including your friendships. Often when you have kids you lose friends who aren’t at the same place in their lives. But for some unknown reason that didn’t happen to us. Instead of fading away, gradually being too busy, or dropping off the face of the planet, our friends adopted our kids into their lives as well. They became aunts and uncles when our blood family couldn’t be there, loving on my son and then my daughter, always near to offer help and support.
I remember coming home from the hospital after the week-long ordeal that was Justus’ birth. There was a sign hanging in my dining room and presents on the table – a pile for me, one for Keith, and one for Justus.
When I had to go back into the hospital while Keith was TDY, Lauryn and Steven took Justus for me on a moment’s notice. When Thalia was born, Erin was the first person to meet her in the hospital, even before her big brother.
And there are so many others – Aunt Stini and Josh, who when Keith was deployed went at 10:00 at night and got Infant Tylenol for me so I wouldn’t have to take a sick infant to Walmart. Aunt Jessie and Uncle Daniel, who have taken Justus more times than I can count, including when I had to have emergency surgery. Aunt Tara and Seth, who kept Justus while his sister was being born. Claire Bear and Kari who have loved Justus as if he were their own son. Mrs. Ann, who has become an adopted grandma to us all, who sat in the hospital with my son after I’d been there for days, so I could go home, shower, and put on clean clothes, safe in the knowledge that he would be unafraid in my absence because she was there. Aunt Shannon and Uncle Josh, who kept Justus his first night away from us so we could have some alone time when Keith returned from the desert.
And this list only scratches the surface – DeeLynn, Sam, Elizabeth, Tisha, Aaron, Suzie, Pam, other Tisha, Derek, Holly, Pastor Claude, Donna, Pastor Ron, Richard, Sara – I could spend hours naming all the people who’ve impacted our lives here, who’ve prayed for us, encouraged us, laughed and cried with us, loved us when we needed it most.
How do I leave these people behind? How do I say goodbye to a family I may never see in person again? How do I embrace and then walk away from people who have become part of my life in a way I never imagined possible?
I don’t know.
But I do know I have two more months here, two more months to love and be loved, two more months to show and to tell these people how much they mean to me. Two more months with the family I chose.