It’s so hard to say good-bye

It’s been a busy, eventful couple of days in our house plus it’s VBS week, so we’re tired, out of rhythm and emotionally spent. Thus, today’s post is a little later than usual. (FYI: The blog posts might be less frequent for a few weeks. We’ve got NEWS to share later this week!)

But first: We left our church this week. It was inevitable but the date snuck up on us. At the end of May, we were looking ahead at our summer calendar and realized there would be a stretch of 6 weeks where we’d not be in the same place two Sundays in a row before the end of July (and Lord willing, we’d hoped to be moved by then!). So, we announced our departure a week ago and said our farewells two days ago. (Although we’re attending VBS this week, so some of the farewells are stretched out.)

The tears flowed freely, which also caught me by surprise. Not because I’m not sad to leave but sometimes I avoid the emotion for so long that I think I’ve grown cold to it. Not so. I was sloppy crying all over the place. A book I read recently contained this line: “Sometimes prayers are wet.” And I like that because yes, sometimes they are.

Photo by Tim Nisly | courtesy of Stock Exchange

Photo by Tim Nisly | courtesy of Stock Exchange

Almost five years ago, we walked through the doors of this church as strangers from Illinois with high hopes for seminary, an adorable 5-month-old, and not a clue how hard it would really be to live 800 miles from family.

But this church, these people, embraced us like we were already family. They became to us grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers. They watched our children. They fed us. Clothed us. Supported us. Encouraged us. They’ve given so much, and we feel the inequality of our lives in return.

As we looked around us on Sunday at the congregation, a special word or memory began springing to our minds about each person or family, and Phil and I knew if we started to count our blessings and name them from this church, we would find ourselves overwhelmed by the number and overcome with gratitude.

We leave, not as strangers, not even as fellow members of the same denomination, but as family whose bond will not end though distance will separate us.

As a writer, I don’t have enough words to describe how this community has touched us. But, of course, I’ll give it my best shot.

This was our first family church. My husband I have the same home church, but we’ve only ever attended there as singles or dating each other. Our first church after we were married we attended only until our daughter was five months old. It was more of a couples experience for us.

Here, though, we learned how to function as a family within a spiritual family. Our daughter has grown up here and has learned to love Jesus because of faithful teachers. Our son, this is the only church he’s really ever known, and he and his sister sometimes “play church” with one of them being the pastor and the other providing the singing. He has his favorite people; they both do, really, and I don’t know if they quite understand that we won’t be back except on a few special occasions.

We’ve done our fair share of leaving places in our short marriage, and it’s hard each time because we form bonds quickly, sometimes, and the leaving tears out a piece of our hearts and keeps it in the places we leave behind. And though social media and e-mail make things easier, it’s never really the same.

Good heavens, I’m going to start crying again if I keep this up.

It’s weird, how five years ago, these people were strangers and now they’re like family we didn’t know we had. And that’s exciting because we’re moving to another church where that’s possible, too. And I know it will be good for us.

Still, it’s hard to say good-bye.

But maybe we don’t say good-bye, just “see you later.”

Because in the end, that’s the truth. We will see our brothers and sisters again. It’s a mystery to me, this promise from God that our lives don’t end when our bodies die and that we’ll come together again as a family in spirit.

But that is our hope.

In the meantime, we carry with us the memories of our beloved family in Christ and the imprints they’ve made on our lives that will outlast our earthly relationships.

Until we meet again, dear church. Until we meet again.

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