As a young child, I thought all adults got married and then divorced. Not only were my parents divorced, but both sets of grandparents were divorced as well as every aunt and uncle. Divorce was the cancer that plagued my family tree, bringing with it abuse, abandonment, addiction, and general dysfunction.
My mom and dad divorced when was about two-years-old and my dad was never a stable presence in my life. My mom remarried when I was in middle school and divorce when I was in high school. She remarried again when I was in college and divorced when I was in my twenties. Dads breezed in and out of my life like the four changing seasons.
Yet, there is one who weathered all the storms of life.
After my mom’s second divorce, she began rebuilding her life and decided to relocate to a new city. Unfortunately, it came at a time when I was thriving in high school both academically and socially. My best friend’s mom, Mrs. B, offered for me to live with their family so I could finish out my sophomore year.
What I did not know until recently—almost 25 years later—is that Mrs. B never asked her husband if I could live with them. Mr. B told his daughter (my best friend, Sarah), “One day Elizabeth just showed up and your mom said, ‘By the way, she’s going to stay with us for awhile.’”
He never even flinched.
That’s the kind of guy Mr. B was: warm and welcoming and ready to take someone in and treat them as his own. He loved his family, community, church, and friends, and for a short while I had a front row seat to watch him live life.
Mr. B was kind and generous; Sarah and I were full of energy and life. He let us blast 90’s country music through the car stereo while simultaneously making fun of his talk radio. He always asked me about school and somehow even knew when I had a test or project—a concern and interest I had never experienced before. And He was funny (even though our teenage selves would never admit it).
He was a thoughtful, considerate husband and for the first time in my life I watched a healthy, Godly marriage and family in action. We participated in family meals, prayed together, communicated, conflicted, and solved problems. And none of it was scary. Mr. B’s family felt safe.
“It’s builds character” was one of Mr. B’s favorite quotes, and he had no problem forcing his kids to choose the less-than-popular option to instill character and virtue. He built character in me simply by taking an interest in me.
He treated me like a daughter. He hugged me. He asked me about my day. He teared up when I moved away at the end of my sophomore year. But more importantly, he left the door wide open so that I could always come back.
Twenty-five years later Sarah and I are still best friends, married and raising eleven kids between us. We recently said goodbye to Mr. B, who passed away in April 2017. If he taught me one thing, it’s to open my doors to whoever God puts in my path, and to love big. That’s what he did for me, and my life is forever changed because of it.
Elizabeth Oates is an author, blogger, and speaker who is passionate about cultivating healthy marriages and families. She has written two books, including Dealing with Divorce: Finding Direction When Your Parents Split Up and If You Could See as Jesus Sees: Inspiration for a Life of Hope, Joy, and Purpose. Her third book, Mending Broken Branches: When God Reclaims Your Dysfunctional Family Tree, is due for release in October 2017. She and her husband, Brandon, live in Waco, Texas with their five children, including three biological, one they adopted, and one they are currently fostering.