Over eight years ago a young family packed their things, shipped them off, and flew to a small island in the south Caribbean. This sweet couple now pastor a growing church of international students, expats, and locals. Their two small children have grown up eating more mangos than strawberries, and seeing more monkeys than squirrels. They have built a beautiful life here.
As they were putting down roots, many around them continued to come and go. They spent all these years saying goodbye; to family as they visit and leave, to friends who graduated or were relocated. Others came to serve alongside them, but it was only this family who remained a constant in the ministry. They are the ones who have always stayed.
Six years ago was the first time we were connected with them. We had friends who attended their church and this connection was an answer to our prayers! God made it abundantly clear that this island, this ministry, and serving with this family was a part of our calling.
Three years later, our family made the move to this “rock” called St Kitts. I don’t know what we would have done without these friends walking us through every step of the process. Our kids are the same age as their kids. We serve together, we spend time together, we reminisce about Chick-fil-a and Target together. We don’t need to explain ourselves when we are with them. They already know, they already understand. We do life with them. They are our friends, and they are part of our family now.
In one month, they will be the ones who are leaving. Which means we will be the ones saying goodbye and staying behind. Last year when they told us, my heart immediately began to ache. I was happy for them. After all, God was calling them home! There is no better situation I can imagine but to move back because the Lord who called us to “here” now calls us to “there”. They have given so much and served so faithfully, and their story will end here well. As glad as I am for them, the ache of goodbye is still there.
It’s never far from my mind in these last few weeks. We are buying their car, but that means they won’t be here to drive it. They are passing on school uniforms, but that means our kids will no longer be in class together. She gave me some beautiful clothes, but it’s because she is leaving them behind. The paradox of this season is so real, and so intense.
Jesus understands goodbye.
“It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end,” (John 13:1 NIV).
He had spent years with these men. They lived together, traveled together, served together. If any friends have ever really understood each other, it would be this group. They never seemed to need to explain themselves. Jesus leaving was going to be a huge loss, not just because of the pain of His death, but because of the friendship and intimacy that would never be the same this side of Heaven.
We rejoice with our friends knowing they are obeying the Father. They are continuing to follow Him as He leads their family, and that will always be what’s best. I can take comfort in knowing that though goodbye is not easy, Christ really knows what I am feeling. He is in the midst of their leaving, and He is in the midst of us staying. I can trust that His plan is good and right.
As the days wrap up, and their departure comes close, I will choose to love them to the end. I will choose to not leave things unsaid. I will rejoice with them, and I will cry with them. We will keep walking alongside of them and serving those we are called to love together.
The time left will soon be minutes and seconds. When we finally must say goodbye – at the airport, in the middle of luggage, security officers, and travelers – I will praise God that goodbye is not forever. Though months or years may separate our gatherings, our relationship with Jesus means we will get to spend eternity together someday! There will be no more counting down, and no more goodbyes.
Have you been the one leaving, or the one who stays? What do you do to say goodbye well?