I lost a dear friend Saturday. He was 27 years old. A treasured man of God. A police officer. A guy who loved roses and asked me to photograph them for him at a local park. A man who helped me through some very difficult situations in the strictest confidence. A man who held my trust. This guy was the real deal. He was famous for loving pineapple and smiley faces.
Me: You and your smiley faces! LOL - what am I supposed to derive from this one?
Franco: Enlightenment, knowledge, justice, truth, peace, prosperity, a wellspring of joy, honor, love, patience, unwaivering diligence, and compassion. ;)"
It's so hard to believe he is gone, and it's so painful knowing that I won't be enjoying late-night conversations about intellectual or spiritual topics while he was on patrol in-between calls. I'm sad, but that's not why I am sharing this with you. Deeper in my heart, I'm joyful.... for two reasons. 1. I am grateful I was able to know him and for him to be a part of my life. 2. I KNOW that this man is now dancing with Jesus.
You'd think that learning about a friend's death would make me afraid, but the most important thing I learned from Jonathan Franco was how to live fearlessly.
I first met Jonny when we were at a singles Valentine's Day dinner that was organized for the twenty-somethings of our church. One of my oldest and dearest friends invited me to the event, and I begrudgingly agreed. After all, it was better than sitting at home! While I was there, I overheard his name and thought it sounded familiar, so I went up to him to introduce myself. I was a little bored, and wanted to make some new connections. He was so friendly - I introduced myself, and said, "But you probably won't remember that later," and he laughed that wonderful, one-of-a-kind Franco laugh insisting that he would, and that he did.
I ended up being seated next to him during the dinner and we became fast friends. He even shared his seafood cannelloni with me, insisting that it was the only thing he ever ordered there and waxing poetic about it's delicious attributes. I was completely floored by how genuine he was. When he found out that I was a single mom, he reached out to me although he barely knew me. Even asking him tough questions didn't faze him, nor did it discourage him from asking the tough ones back. Divorce. Abuse. PTSD. Politics. Faith. We covered it all. We both had the uncanny ability to smile through the discussion of deeply painful subjects. Something I wish more people could do - wouldn't life be so much more meaningful if we could talk about the "tough stuff" with a smile? Unafraid of pain?
Stephen, Myself and Jonny at dinner. :)
The very next day, he friended me on Facebook and asked for some photography advice for the eclipse (remembering that I was a photographer), and casually telling me exactly what model of camera I used that night to capture the image. Holy memory, Batman! It wasn't the first time he'd surprise me. He also made this photo his profile picture. The man jumped into friendship head-first.
From then on, he ignored social norms and reached out to help at any opportunity. Being divorced can tend to make people shy away from you, especially being a mom of three young sons. But, Jonny didn't think that way. He took the time to frequently encourage me, lift my spirits and simply make me smile, on a minimum of a weekly if not daily basis. He gave me advice when I was desperate and afraid, and he in turn was unafraid to ask me to pray for him about being a better Christian and about tough situations in the line of duty.
He was involved in our church on so many levels, making an impact on the youth of our community that will leave a permanent mark in our hearts. As a police officer, he was known for his honesty, fairness and caring for everyone he encountered, regardless of status.
Jonny left this earth doing what he loved, riding his motorcycle. It was the last day of summer weather for us here in North Idaho, one of the most perfect beautiful days I can remember. His last two Facebook statuses were to encourage us all to enjoy this last day of beautiful weather, and that he was headed for the "HAWT" springs in Canada. His positivity and desire to live his life enjoying God's creation and the company of good friends was his driving force until his very last moments. An hour after he posted, he was gone.
I woke up that morning to read those statuses, and took his advice to the letter. I scheduled a father-daughter date with my Dad at a local deli's Oktoberfest, soaking in the warm sun and telling my Dad that I loved him. I spent the afternoon wandering the Farmer's Market without an agenda, just taking it all in. I smiled all day. I ended the day with Stephen and several other friends with the boys in tow having a "gourmet weenie roast" over the fire. Kids were laughing, we were enjoying some adult conversation, and as the sun went down and the stars came out, I found out about Jonny's fate. God could not have put me in a better place at that moment to hear that devastating news.
It's been just four days, but it seems like much longer since I last heard his lilting laugh and read about his adventures, sharing his resonating joy.
In two days I will be celebrating my 27th birthday. The year Jonny made it to. My birthday celebration with my family will be on the day of his funeral service. This loss has made me realize just how precious life is. He is the last person on earth I would have guessed would have lost his life so young. I've known few people as vibrant and full of life as him. He reminded me of my deepest desire in life - to help others. My quote in the yearbook senior year was by Mother Teresa, "The only way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." He did that very thing every single day.
I want this year to be one that would honor his memory. I want to live more fearlessly for the Lord than ever before. This one's for you, Jonny.