I'm not an expert at many things. Actually, I'm only an expert in one thing. The one thing in which I would rather not be an expert. Unfortunately, I'm an expert at saying goodbye.
For some reason, God's plan for our lives, which I admit to questioning more times than I care to count, has included many goodbyes. We have not had the unique privilege of living in one place for any real length of time and having our kids grow up in one place or watching our friends' kids grow up. As I was thinking about saying goodbye yet again this week, I was reliving some of the many times I've said goodbye over the past twenty years.
After I graduated from high school, God led me to a college that was eight hours from home. I remember the night before I left, sitting up with my mom, watching a bad movie, and crying off and on the whole night, sure that I would never survive without my boyfriend. Of course, I did and so did he and from what I can tell, we are both very happy.
Over the course of four years in college, I said goodbye to my parents and family numerous times. After Jeff and I were married, we moved to Ohio so that I could finish my senior year of college and Jeff could begin his new job. We settled in to married life, had a great circle of friends, and a church that we loved. Then Jeff felt God calling him to seminary. More goodbyes as we headed to Michigan, where we didn't know one single person. I remember sobbing to Jeff the day that my parents left and saying "There isn't one person in this city who cares if I live or die." Little did I know how special Grand Rapids and so many people there would become to me.
Three years and many good times and friendships later, Jeff's job moved us back to Pennsylvania. We loved being near my family, especially since grandchildren were in the picture but again we said goodbye to great friends and a church that we loved. We were in Pennsylvania for three years when God opened the door for us to go back to Grand Rapids, where Jeff had accepted a pastoral position at our former church. We were thrilled to go back to Michigan, but it was hard to leave my family and take the grandchildren thirteen hours away and again, leave friends and a church that we loved.
We were in Michigan for six years before we came to Maryland for a new church position and had to say goodbye to my youngest sister, who had moved to Grand Rapids, and a small group that had become just like family to us. And, sadly, our goodbyes haven't all been because of actual physical separation. Painful and heartbreaking church situations have caused us to lose touch with people who are close by but no longer in contact.
At times, I feel like my adult life has been one long succession of goodbyes and leaving people who are dear to me. Each time we cry and hug and promise to never let anything change and to stay in close contact. But each time the inevitability of life interferes, and no matter the promises or attempts, through no one's fault in particular, we drift apart. Jeff and I are fortunate to have several couples as very close friends, and when we do see them, even though much time has passed, it's like we've never been separated and we catch up quickly and then say goodbye again. For that, I'm very thankful. Those are true and lasting friendships that will stand the tests of time and distance.
I often envy those people who get to live in the same town in which they grew up, have the same doctors for years and years, see their childhood friends have families, etc. But then I remember how many dear friends and wonderful memories we would have missed out on had we stayed in one place for the past twenty years. Those are things I wouldn't trade for anything. And now, in God's providence, it's time to say goodbye again. And again, as hard as it will be, I wouldn't trade the friendship and memories for anything. I have been blessed and, for that, I'm very thankful.