I met my closest friend, Taylor, approximately 21 years, 7 months, and 15 days ago and a few years later, on the first day of fifth grade, we had our first fight: I wanted to play basketball at recess and she wanted to swing. Decades later, our freshman year at Brigham Young University, we ate dinner together every night, and coordinated our schedules so we could walk to and from campus together. She was the first person I told about my parents’ divorce in 8th grade; she was also the friend who made me laugh directly afterward. “Best friends with same name.” That’s what we’ve been for 21 years.
One night while in college, I walked into our room and saw Taylor praying next to her bed, so I knelt down beside mine and began to do the same. I remember this moment with significant clarity; it was the moment I truly understood the concept of a loving, omnipotent Heavenly Father who could hear and answer both mine and Taylor’s prayers at the same time. It was the moment I realized I was never going to be alone. I believe a lot of people learn this before their sophomore year in college, but I also know I’m one of the lucky ones, because some people go their whole lives believing they’re alone, even when they’re not.
Sometimes I lie in bed and try to picture how the next 50 years of my life are going to play out. My mind is filled with different scenarios, and I realize there isn’t a single one that doesn’t include Tay in one way or another. In one of my favorites, I decide to stop by her house for a visit. It’s a warm summer evening–the kind where lawn mowers hum and while on a walk, you seek out the side of the street with sprinklers turned on, because they feel like magic confetti, their spray cutting through a blanket of thick, summer heat. We’re sitting on a stone porch wearing grass stains and tattered mom jeans. Our conversation about nothing in particular is regularly interrupted by a scraped knee, or her son wandering too close to the street, and all the while we’re laughing about our mutual elementary school crush, or the time our junior high school literally burned down.
I know I’ll be at all of Taylor’s children’s baptisms, and recitals, and graduations. I think one night I’ll be sprawled out on a dirty waiting room floor, unsuccessfully attempting to entertain three of her cranky children with broken hospital toys while we all wait for her to deliver baby number four. And then I’ll hold that perfect little child in my arms, and I’ll learn all over again that God is real, that I’m not alone. And that’s special, you know? Because I think life is actually just full of moments where God’s trying to show us that we’re not alone. It’s why he sends us sunsets and stars and mountains. It’s why he sends us friendship. But he sends us loneliness, too, to help us appreciate the sunsets and stars and mountains. And I know there will be some lonely moments with Taylor–some shared experiences I’m not looking forward to. Like illnesses and car accidents and goodbyes. Like the distant day I’ll join her family in mourning the inevitable passing of her father—a man I’ve grown to love as much as my own. But I think God is okay with me considering more than one person to be my dad. In fact, I think He meant it to be that way.
The world is filled with pressures and rules that encourage us to fit in, to be normal. But the Savior taught people who were anything but. He preached a reverse economy—always showing how the poorest people were really the richest. He caused the lame to walk, the blind to see, and the deaf to hear. Today, if I saw a man feeling his way down the sidewalk with a white cane, the first thing I would think about is how he isn’t normal. I guess my favorite thing about Jesus is that He changed the way we’re supposed to look at other people, and revolutionized the way we’re supposed to love. His Gospel has the power to absorb our expectations for life and replace them with realities that are far better.
I think God’s idea of family is so much richer than mine. It’s so much more inclusive and fantastic and grandiose, and the more I have the opportunity to experience meaningful relationships, the more I see what it is that God wants me to understand: that the random woman who sat next to me on the bus last week is probably going find me in heaven and say, “Why didn’t you say hi to me on the bus that one time?” and I know I’m not going to have a very good excuse. But nonetheless, she and I will sit and chat for hours up there, and it’ll be a shame we didn’t do so on the bus, because all along we could have been friends; all along, I could have loved her. I think loving each other is the greatest way to understand God, and I think that if we could hear His thoughts, He’d tell us to love others more. He gets that we’re all members of one, big family trying trying to experience sunsets and stars and mountains together; we’re all just trying to experience love.
Sometimes I picture sitting down with God in front of a crackling fireplace, in beg, red arm chairs while it drizzles rain outside. And we sit and talk about life and love and the time I didn’t talk to that woman on the bus. The time this country went to war with that country. The time I may have judged someone for how she looked or talked or lived her life. And if I were able to sit down next to God in a big, red arm chair while rain drizzles outside, I like to picture what He might share with me. “If you only knew,” He’d say. “If you could only see that in the end, you’ll all be going to baptisms and recitals and graduations together.” I hope that woman from the bus forgives me so I can meet her family one day. I bet they will look beautiful in white.