Meet Justin. He is Ambria's absolute best friend, confidant and hero.
It is this boy's kindness, support, and heartfelt concern that has gotten Ambria through her hardest, loneliest times. We are so, so grateful for the blessing he has been in her life through all of this. I couldn't tell her story without acknowledging him, and what a huge role he has played in helping her endure this trial.
Ambria and Justin have been good friends for about 2 1/2 years. They met while both performing in the school musical. She was in 7th grade, and he was in 8th. Their friendship became even stronger about a year later thanks to some silly teenage girl drama (insert eye roll), when he stood up for her to some other (girl) friends of his that had a problem with his friendship with Ambria, and started saying some not nice things about her. He and Ambria were pretty tight after that - but nothing would strengthen their bond like the trial Ambria was to face next, and the worth of his friendship has been proven a million times over.
Justin is the friend that helped Ambria out to the car that night of the region dance when this nightmare began. He hasn't (emotionally) left her side since.
When Ambria first started missing out on all her school days, she began to feel very lonely and left out. All of her friends were continuing on with life and fun and laughter at school together. And although I know they each cared about her, and wanted her to be better, they're also kids - teenagers that have their own lives and things that are going on. I knew that Ambria wasn't at the top of their thoughts all the time when they weren't all together. And that is absolutely okay. I had no resentment about them continuing on with their lives while she was at home trying to get better. I also know that people, and especially young people, just aren't sure how to reach out, or what to say, or how to act when someone they know is going through a trial like this. But it was still very lonely for Ambria.
However, Justin was different. Ambria WAS at the top of his thoughts all the time. Even when she wasn't with him and their other friends. He was truly worried about her, and was ALWAYS checking up on her. When it became apparent that Ambria might not be returning to school anytime soon, he took it upon himself to help her feel less cut off from everything that was going on. Justin's mom teaches at our school, and is usually there for an hour or longer after the school day ends. So he started coming home with my other kids after school, and visited with Ambria until his mom left school and picked him up. He brought the stories of their friends and everything going on at school to her, so she could stay caught up on everything. He visited with her, and made her laugh (although that made her head hurt worse!) He brought back her smile that had been missing for so long. And when she just didn't have the strength to talk because the pain was too much, he let her sleep. She didn't have to feel like she had to be "on" all the time like she would if other friends came to visit. He made her feel okay about laying down on the couch for a nap when she just couldn't keep going. He was fine to patiently sit and watch TV, or play blocks with Hollyn while Ambria got the rest that she needed - knowing that he'd be there when she woke. I'm getting emotional all over again, just typing this.
I know Ambria knew that she had us. She had her dad and I in her corner and on her side every second. But it's just not the same as having someone YOUR age to be with you, and help you, and listen and try to build you up and help you feel better. What a blessing it was that she had Justin to be all of those things for her.
I know that in my community of friends there have probably been a few raised eyebrows, maybe even some disapproval for how much time I've let them spend together, without their other friends around (although always 100% chaperoned by myself or his parents). We have a pretty conservative culture and some prominent beliefs (beliefs I wholeheartedly embrace) about boys and girls pairing off at a young age. I would have never thought I would allow a daughter of mine to spend so much time with just one boy at this age. But the truth is, he is her best friend, and she just is not up for hanging out with a group of friends very often. She needs to stop and rest frequently, sometimes sleeping for an hour or more when Justin is over visiting. That's not really something she can do with her other friends. And as time has gone on, and I've seen the gift that Justin's company is to her, there's no way I'd take that away, and have her be lonely and sad all the time. This friendship has saved her over the course of this past year.
When summer came, Ambria hoped and pleaded and prayed that she would be able to attend our church girl's camp. It was MaiLee's first year attending, and Ambria wanted so badly to be there with her for her first experience with camp. But it wasn't in the cards, and she just was not able to go. So instead, Justin planned a perfect day for her to help keep her mind off of her disappointment. Ambria has always wanted to learn to fish. Justin happens to be a lifelong fisherman! He scouted around to help me find a place they could fish that was nearby (short car ride and not up the canyon) and that had plenty of shade (to keep her headache low). Then the day that MaiLee left for camp, he surprised her with a day out learning to fish. We couldn't stay long, because she just wasn't up for it, but she still remembers it as one of the best days of her life.
Justin is always trying to think of ways that he can help ease her burden. He knows he can't take away her physical pain, but he tries so so hard to do what he can to take away her emotional pain. And his patience with her emotions is amazing. Because she can get pretty emotional at times, and he just rolls with it and lets her have her moment, and then helps her to move on.
We recently went ice skating - something Ambria has been missing so much and has begged to try doing again. She was given permission from her doctor, with the warning to be very careful because hitting her head would be catastrophic. We went to the rink, joined by a couple of friends, including Justin. I had been debating over whether to make her wear a helmet - an idea that horrified Ambria. At first I gave into her wishes, but as the rink got more crowded, with more and more skaters trying to show off and be fancy - many times causing other skaters to take a spill - her dad and I KNEW that she needed to wear a helmet. If her head hit the ice - we couldn't even finish the thought. She was mortified. She wasn't sure she would even keep skating, she thought it was so humiliating to be 15 years old and to have to wear a helmet at the public skating rink. She went to the desk and checked out a helmet. She started to put it on 3 different times, each time dropping the helmet back down to her side before it reached her head, and looking over at me with a mixture of pleading and anger in her eyes. I wanted to cry - but I didn't crack. Seeing this interchange, Justin walked away without a word, went to the desk, checked out a helmet and without batting an eye, put it on his own head. Then he took Ambria's helmet from her hands and placed it on her head. It was all I could do to keep my emotions in check and not lose it right there in the middle of the skating rink.
Over this past year, I've watched him worry about her, take care of her, write her sweet letters, bring sweet little surprises, he texts me BEFORE texting or calling her, just to make sure she's not sleeping, because he doesn't want to wake her if she is. He has helped her do her piles of homework from all her missed school days. He has participated with us when we've fasted and prayed for her, and he's been a shoulder to cry on when it all gets to be too much for her. I've watched him break down in tears himself once Ambria is done for the night, and I'm giving him a ride home. This big, strong teenage boy, who has had enough of watching someone he cares so much for be in so much pain all the time. He has a huge heart and has given it all to Ambria in her time of need.
He is not only there for her, but has befriended all of her siblings as well. Hollyn ADORES him, and often fights Ambria for is attention! He is good to everyone in our family and we truly love him.
MaiLee really wants to learn guitar, so he brought his over to show her a few things.
Waiting with Hollyn after school for Ambria to get out of a meeting.
As you can imagine, they have formed quite a bond. And as Ambria has gotten stronger, she's been there for him through some personal trials of his own. Doing her all to repay him for all that he's been to her through this struggle of hers. As I've watched their relationship grow, I'm struck by how truly blessed they are to have each other - because they both honestly have each other's best interest at heart and want each other's happiness more than anything else. That's not to say that they ALWAYS see everything eye to eye - but they have grown pretty smitten with one another.
Do I think they are WAY young to have such strong feelings for one another? Of course I do. I worry often about how things might play out as they are still so young and have lots of growing and changing to do over the next few years of growing up. But I don't know how you go through something like this together, and not develop strong feelings. And I wouldn't trade any of it away, because this relationship has truly been a gift and a blessing in her life when she needed it most. There are honestly no words to express what his care for her has meant to me as a mother.
Whatever does happen in their futures, I will be forever grateful for Justin's friendship, and all he has done for, and been to my daughter.