Emily French is probably the first friend I made when my husband and I moved to Bartlesville, Oklahoma just over 5 years ago. I’m a very introverted and socially awkward person (although I am getting better!), and if it had been up to me by myself it may well have taken two or three years to make a good friend!
But if you know Emily, you know that she simply loves people, and she has a way of making you feel welcome and loved in her presence. She went out of her way to get to know me… why, I still don’t really know, ha! Maybe it was that my husband plays bass in the worship band she leads at church. Maybe it was that she found out I run a Knitting for Charity blog, and as she calls herself a “craftivist” (she loves to make jewelry and sell it for charitable fundraising purposes), she thought I was a kindred spirit.
Or maybe she just sensed that I may well have never made a friend, a real friend, at our church if I had been left to my own devices, and she thought that simply wouldn’t do.
Whatever it was, Emily did her best to include me in many different ways not long after we met. She attempted to start up a ladies’ crafting and fellowship group. When interest seemed to wane, she invited me to come to her former church’s group crafting night. (I did it once; never went back, not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I was at that time too scattered and disorganized to get there regularly, and thus I never did it at all. Very mature, I know…)
Emily also consistently made me feel good about how I worshipped in church. Those of you who know me well in real life probably know that one thing that makes me come alive is music. When I’m surrounded by music I love, I lose my inhibitions, I forget that I’m shy and awkward and introverted. I just lose myself. Emily noticed, and she encouraged me to continue. Even though I wasn’t on the stage performing every Sunday, she made me feel like an essential part of the worship team, just by being in a front row.
A few years after we had become friends, Emily launched Mutual Gold, an incredible after-school program for tween girls designed to help them recognize just how valuable they are in the eyes of God. Emily has 3 young sons, one of whom was in kindergarten when she started, and the other two who were in not-daily preschool programs.
Emily had a nanny for quite some time, but she moved away, and Emily needed someone to watch her boys while she was directing Mutual Gold. Somehow, she thought I would be the right person for the job. It made sense, of course; I don’t work outside the home, and I had at that point managed to raise two daughters well past early childhood without killing them.
To be honest, I was scared! I had two daughters. Emily had three very rambunctious boys. I wasn’t entirely sure I could handle it. The fact that her two younger boys took naps during the day did reassure me. The fact that her older boy wouldn’t be with me as long during the day (because he was in kindergarten) also reassured me. I prayed and prayed about it.
And then my older daughter Kiersten’s band program announced that they would be putting together a trip to Italy. An expensive trip! It was the opportunity of a lifetime…literally. (I’m 42 years old and have never been outside the country!) Eric and I both wanted her to go, because what if she never had another chance like this?
It seemed preordained. My taking care of Emily’s children would enable our family to earn enough money to help send Kiersten to Italy. It would free Emily up to run Mutual Gold and help countless numbers of young girls learn their true worth in God.
So, with great trepidation (if also a great belief that this was what I was supposed to do), I said yes.
As it turned out, the year and a half that I spent watching Emily’s children was one of the most enriching times of my life. Yes, there was sacrifice. I had heavily volunteered in Elena’s school before that point, and I had to cut back. I had to compress my blogging schedule (meaning my “professional” blogging schedule, i.e. the way I was attempting to earn an income aside from babysitting).
Yes, it was stressful. The French boys were every bit as rambunctious as I thought they were, and I had to (at times) break up fights, place children in time-out, hold wriggling boys down when it was time for their naps, and so on.
But it was also amazingly fun. The boys made me crack up weekly with their wicked senses of humor. I got twice as many hugs as I had before (even when I had put those same boys into time-out earlier!). We played outside. I watched their amazing train-track creations. They spent time coloring. They put together Legos. They sang and danced when songs came on over the closing credits of their favorite movies.
And let me tell you, Emily was one of the best employers I ever had. (It feels SO weird to call her “my employer,” but I guess she was!) She always paid me promptly. In fact she usually had to remind me to give her my hours, and she always paid me the next day. She often brought me Salted Caramel Lattes from Starbucks just because. She was always ready to make other arrangements if I needed (or just wanted) to participate in some sort of activity with one or both of my own daughters.
This school year, I’m no longer watching the boys because Mutual Gold became a during-school program rather than an after-school program. Plus, the youngest boy entered daily pre-kindergarten.
While I’ve appreciated having more time to volunteer at Elena’s school and more time to write regularly, it has at times seemed oddly quiet at my house without any small boys! (And I’ve especially missed my time with the youngest, since he was still in the nursery program at our church this year, so I didn’t get to see him every Sunday in children’s Sunday school like I did his older brothers.)
And now, my dearest and oldest friend in Oklahoma is leaving for Orlando, Florida. She and her amazing husband Larry (whom I feel like I’ve shortchanged here, but I’ve always greatly appreciated his warmth, his deep thinking mind, and his ever-present smile and friendliness) will be working at a church with several of Larry’s friends. Emily will be working for Campus Crusade for Christ and, I know, will absolutely slay. Bartlesville (and I) will feel this loss, but Orlando is about to have its world rocked by these incredible people.
Thank you, Emily, for being my first friend here, and for encouraging me when I didn’t feel like I had much to offer.
Thank you, Larry, for always being here, for always having an ear to listen, and for all your wonderful insight.
Thank you, Koby, Ky, and Levi, for expanding my world and bringing your energy and your fun into my life for a terrific year and a half.
Thank you, French family. I know you will bless Orlando the way you’ve blessed Bartlesville.