I’m about to lose three people who are important to me.  Well, not lose them exactly: I’ll know where they are, and it’s not like they’re dying. But I won’t be able to see them, to share meals with them, or just spend time with them. They’ve been a huge part of my life for the past three years and I’m not sure what I’m going to do without them.

That’s the thing about friends. Sometimes they come into and out of your life like butterflies. It’s rare to have a friend who stays put for a long time. Or maybe you’re the one who leaves. Either way, all you can do is be grateful that you had a season with them.

It’s easy to take friends for granted. Sometimes they influence our lives in ways we hardly notice. Other times they accompany huge changes in our lives. The friends I’m losing are of the latter variety. They are the friends who led me to Islam.

The best thing about these friends is that we had established our friendships before we became brothers and sisters in Islam. I never felt like they judged me as inferior or not worth bothering with just because I wasn’t a Muslim. That made my conversion all the sweeter. Now we are more than friends; we’re family. And those are the best kinds of friends to have.

Years ago I had a professor say that there are all kinds of friends, but most of them are actually more like acquaintances. He said, “If you have one really close friend in your life, count yourself lucky.”  So I am more than lucky; I am blessed.

I’m slow to make friends. My children have fussed over my lack of friends for years. They’ve worried because I hardly ever do anything with the friends I do have and they wish I had more of them. So when the Muslims I came to know at work began to invite me into their homes or to offer to do things with me, they were thrilled.

Initially, I was just grateful that they took me, a new Muslim, under their wings. But gradually I came to realize that they were much more to me than mentors.

I think you know you have a really good friend when you realize that you love them. Not romantically. But it’s love just the same. I have affection for friends and I have friends who I’ve stayed in touch with out of loyalty or even obligation. But when you realize that you actually miss a friend’s company, when you find yourself thinking about the way she laughs or the way her face lights up when she sees you, then you know you have something special.

A true friend is one you hold in your heart. I need to remind myself of that. Because no matter how many miles and hours separate you, the bond between you stays the same.

I’m counting on it.