Most everyone can point to an early friendship that forever shaped them. Besides my sisters, my earliest friends were Briony and Stacy.
Briony had a treasure trove of Colorform sets (those vinyl cut-outs that were like stickers except that you could peel them up and place them on a different a background), and we would play with them for hours on end. Her collection included Barbie, Holly Hobby and Monchhichi, to name a few. Not that it seemed remarkable at the time, but she was my first non-white friend. Her father was African-American and her mother was from England. Her mother’s accent plus her toy selection plus the fact that their house had a bay window (I always wanted to live in a house with a bay window) made Briony an excellent playmate.
My friend Stacy lived behind us until I was seven. Her mom had a water bed, and when I spent the night there we got to (sort of) sleep aloft the motion sickness-inducing waves of her bed. The summer my family left Louisville to move to Nashville, Stacy gave me a going-away gift. It was a belt made of wide, red elastic and a magnet latch on the front with a picture of the Louisville Cardinal’s mascot. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it was probably her mom’s attempt at giving me something special to remember my first home.
My son Ezra was born on the other side of the world in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We have few details about his first year, but we can feel confident in saying that his first best friend was Max, a boy who’s nine months younger than Ezra. They lived in the same orphanage until they were 3-4 years old, followed by the same foster home for about 18 months, until they were able to come home to their adoptive families in the U.S.
Max’s parents live in Kentucky, and we live in Tennessee, so we don’t cross paths very frequently. Still, I know that Max will always be a part of Ezra.
A few months after Ezra arrived, if he looked sad and I asked him why he would say, “Me miss Max.” He would talk about Max and ask to watch videos with Max in them. He would pray for Max every night, asking God to help his friend to “sleep good and no cry.”
When I watch Ezra interact with other children, I am so grateful for Max. I believe that Ezra’s ability to nurture and encourage those younger than him was developed as a result of their friendship. I also believe that his closeness to his big brother Knox can be traced back to the bond he had with his “Congo Brother” Max.
In spite of difficult circumstances, God carved a path for Ezra and Max. While their American families were fretting over bringing them home, they had each other. Because when we’re lucky that’s what best friends become—family.