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Chosen Family (Pt I)

The event was pure magic. Well maybe not magic, no one had a wand or cauldron or a Harry Potter robe, but it was the best night I possibly could have imagined

On September 8th at a campus auditorium in Bismarck, a large group gathered to hear me debut my “signature speech,” and recognize Unwillable’s “Chosen Family.” I had no idea of the size of the crowd until my bestie, Lacie, came into my makeshift holding room, and told me, “Jackie, it’s packed.” That was about ten minutes after Sean came in and said, “It’s a decent crowd, but everyone’s sitting on one side.” I thought it; he said it. “Just like our wedding.”

I’ve been known to have quite a few friends in low places, but every now and then I have a widely popular and well-known author and Humanities scholar as my wingman. He is a guy I absolutely adore, Clay Jenkinson. A few months ago, we found our company rather humorous and agreed we’d take our antics to a stage near you. Unfortunately for him, I didn’t forget and made him do it.

When I walked in the room, a bit begrudgingly as I wanted to wait until he was through with his introduction, but he wanted me to sit up front and hear (his roast), I was overcome. As I sat down, I couldn’t believe the sea of faces looking back at me. In my nervous state, it was almost hard to see who was there.

He talked about the early stages of my book, and gladly announced that he saved readers from 400+ pages of my life’s history (he wasn’t lying). He said I used the word “incredible” way too much (truth). And while he read various drafts of the book and the great detailed background, he prayed, “Can you just get sick already?!” He also reminded me that lots of people have been very invested in my recovery, which was quite humbling.

I gallantly laughed along and then swore I didn’t need any enemies with a friend like him. He had warmed up the crowd, and it was showtime.

I hadn’t publicly admitted it before, but the secret is out now: I’ve been taking private singing lessons since last December. My friend Lacie’s husband Todd’s talented sister Becky (follow along) famously said, “Anyone can sing, they just need to be taught.” Ave Maria Becky told Todd who told Lacie who told me who told Sean, who fell on the floor laughing at me. Joke’s on him, I’ve learned to “sing” (sort of) and I love it.

After a small slideshow, including a short video of my then 5 yo and 3 yo kids telling me how much they loved and missed me while I was at the Mayo Clinic, I belted out my tune that opened up my speech.

Clay and I then assumed our perches in the front of the room, where he quizzed me and we bantered for about an hour. There were so many laughs, a few gasps as I recited tales of AE and its aftermath, and a lot of tears. And the tears weren’t all from me.

I was finally able to see the faces in the crowd as I spoke, and I couldn’t believe my good fortune. There were so many friends from various places and it was so humbling that they chose to share in my story on that Thursday night. I also couldn’t believe how many people I didn’t recognize. How they heard about the event or what drew them there I’ll never know. It was all truly overwhelming.

But the night was really about my “Chosen Family,” the heroes of Unwillable.

To be continued …


“Tell me your story and I’ll tell you mine I'm all ears, take your time, we got all night Show me the rivers crossed, the mountains scaled Show me who made you walk all the way here” ~ Chosen Family by Elton John and Rina Sawayama


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