Friends Share Gift for Life

Friends Share Gift for Life

Four friends, separated by a thousand miles, are reunited by amazing circumstances.

Jenni (left) and Haylee, outside the Cleveland Clinic

HAYLEE
Something was wrong. I could tell by the sound of her voice. “Jenni, what’s going on?” I asked.

Jenni and I had been good friends since we were little girls. Our families met at church here in Ohio and we went to the same middle school and high school, even college.

I married Ryan after graduation, and Jenni lived just down the street. When she met Octavian, we were thrilled. He fit right in with us.

Then Octavian landed a great teaching job out in Colorado. I was sad when they moved away. Jenni and I would talk on the phone, though, and she usually sounded so happy. What had changed?

“Octavian lost his job,” Jenni said, sighing. It was January 2011. There was no way Octavian could find another teaching job so late in the school year. Ryan and I knew what we had to do. But would our friends go for it?

JENNI
For once I couldn’t speak. I’m usually the impulsive one, but this...was Haylee crazy?

“We have the bedroom in the basement,” she said. “Move in with us. Just till Octavian finds another job.”

I told her I’d think about it. But I knew it was impossible. We had two kids. They had three. There was no way nine people could live comfortably in a 2,000-square-foot house. We’d just have to tough it out in Colorado.

By May, Octavian hadn’t found a job and we needed a solution fast. Haylee’s plan still seemed crazy, but we were running out of options.

“It’s too much to ask,” Octavian said.

But the Creccos wouldn’t let it go. In June, Haylee flew out to Colorado for my sister’s wedding. At the reception Haylee talked to Octavian and me about logistics.

“Trust me,” she said. “Ryan and I have thought this through. We’ve totally prayed about it. We want to do this.”

So that July, we packed up a U-Haul and drove to Ohio. I was still uneasy. How would we ever make this work?

HAYLEE
We had a game plan. The Maianus would get the downstairs bedroom and bathroom. We’d stay upstairs and share the master bathroom with our kids. That first night, the kids were so excited to be with their friends under the same roof. It was one big sleepover.

The next morning, we all woke up at different times. Our families had different schedules and habits, and we’d have to get used to that. That night for dinner, though, all nine of us squeezed in around the table, my elbow almost in Jenni’s plate.

Octavian grabbed Ryan’s hand. “Let’s say grace,” he said. We held hands and gave thanks to God. After that, we ate dinner together almost every night.

JENNI
Haylee and Ryan didn’t want us to feel like guests, but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to disrupt their routine. My kids were high-energy, sometimes practically bouncing off the walls. Haylee worked from home.

So while Octavian was at the library researching jobs, I tried to get out of the house with the kids to give Haylee some quiet time. I even found part-time jobs at my son’s kindergarten and our church nursery during the week.

Still, we were a distraction. At one point, both of my kids had to have their tonsils removed. Two adults and two sick kids in a small room with no windows–that was rough.

One night my two-year-old, Gabby, was in such pain, she wouldn’t stop wailing. I’m so sorry about the noise! I texted Haylee from the basement. I wouldn’t blame her if she was annoyed. Instead, she ran downstairs and asked what she could do.

We never expected to stay longer than a month or two. But after six months, nothing had panned out for Octavian. He was hoping to work in higher education. I just wanted him to find something, anything. It was hard for me to rely so much on others, even our best friends.

HAYLEE
It wasn’t a bed of roses. We had to parent together. If one set of kids couldn’t have dessert after dinner, it wasn’t fair if the other set could. There were scraped knees and tantrums and homework problems.

Eventually, though, we settled into a routine. We took turns cooking meals. Ryan and Octavian read to the kids at bedtime and dropped them off at school (and then snuck off for doughnuts!).

Jenni and I staged epic laundry-folding sessions in the family room. Pretty soon, we knew each other’s socks and T-shirts inside and out.

We had plenty of fun too, from Dr. Seuss Night to frosting fights. Whenever we needed space, Ryan and I would take the kids out for dinner. Or the Maianus would visit family for the weekend.

We’d never discussed a timeline, but we didn’t need to. Ryan and I just couldn’t shake the feeling that God wanted the Maianus to stay with us, that he wanted us to do life together.

It was like one of our favorite Scriptures, I John 3:18, said: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” I even wrote that verse on our kitchen chalkboard as a reminder.

JENNI
Nine months in, I was running out of hope. Day after day, Octavian sent out résumés. He didn’t get so much as an e-mail back. The stress of it all, both financial and emotional, was getting to me.

“We can’t stay here forever,” I whispered to Octavian one night, after the kids had fallen asleep.

“It won’t be forever,” he said. “God has a plan.”

I wondered about that. Sometimes my faith felt as small as a mustard seed.

One day in December, Octavian put on his best suit, marched into the office of one of the deans at Kent State University and persuaded the dean to give him an interview. It went well, and for his second-round interview, the school asked him to prepare a presentation.

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