She came to our church shortly after we did, this vibrant blossom of a children's pastor with a large personality and a passion for the hearts of children. Within a few weeks, she knew all of the parents and kids by name and was well plugged into the scene at large. She was stretched thin, going in all directions at once, but never would you see her not stop to chat with a calm demeanor and friendly smile, or bend down to meet face to face with a child. In fact, frequently, she would have a shy or autistic child following along with her as her special helper. Courtney was a bright light. Bold and courageous. Passionate with purpose. A good leader.....easy to follow.
Our much beloved Children's Pastor finished her last day with us today. Off to Chicago she goes where a new and exciting phase of life awaits her family. Admittedly, they've had their share of doubts and uncertainties throughout the decision process. But at each step in the road, God showed up in very evident ways. It was as if they were being pushed along from behind. Anyone who's heard their story of how the Chicago move came to be could hardly deny God's hand in it all....starting and ending with a rare and dramatic thunder and lightening storm. And, we're all excited for them!!....for the path God so clearly laid before them! It's a bit as if we're watching as Buzz Lightyear confidently proclaims...."To infinity and beyond!" And zoom!!!.....away he goes.
And.....then there are all of us left behind. A big something will be missing next Sunday. A hole. Sure, there are those that will be stepping in to hold things together while we search out someone new. Six people and countless other volunteers to fill a hole left by one. As many times as you tell someone...."Oh, surely you'll visit"....or... "Let's all meet up for vacation!", the reality of every day life with work and small children leads you to believe otherwise. There are limited pools of desired resources...namely, time and money. And, as life continues to progress, she and her family will become an intricate part of their new community just as life will continue on for each of us. It is what it is. And, as much as we can all be thankful for social networking....allowing us to "see" and "stay in touch" with their lives each and every day, it's just not going to be the same as it is now. Life has once again changed.
Really, then, what we are all processing through is simply loss. Change. Saying goodbye. A new phase of life, forced upon us, even if in the end good things will come for everyone. And when doesn't change and loss look like this? Many of us have experienced a great loss due to death. Or, a once deep friendship has faded away. Or, perhaps, like in this circumstance, someone has moved away. We might have envisioned these people into the future as part of our ongoing story. Sometimes life, as it is today, seems like it will go on forever. And then it doesn't. They are experiencing something new. We are experiencing the same....without them.
So what do we who are "left behind" do with all of this? How do we move beyond the tears and feeling of loss? How do we move from the panicked state of......"one last goodbye before they leave'....to finding new joys, new friendships, and new purpose?
There is a family who I admire greatly....one who has experienced a loss far more significant than the moving on of a friend. They lost their elementary aged son Luke to cancer. Month after month, I followed their journey via the online journal they kept. The second Christmas following their son's passing, Luke's dad, Steve, wrote the following. And, while I don't in any way wish to convey that the sadness we feel from the moving on of a dear friend is in any way comparable to the loss of a child or loved one.....there is great wisdom in Steve's words:
"Years ago, when I was still a teenager, I adopted a life motto: “Never satisfied, always content”. The idea was that I should always be pushing forward with purpose, working toward a goal (Never satisfied -- Philippians 3:12-14). At the same time, I am to be ever-thankful for where the Lord has me, with the peace and confidence that the Lord is in control of my circumstances (Always content -- Philippians 4:11-13). Now, twenty years later, I see that there’s a catch. How can we be fully content in a life that has suffering? Am I supposed to be numb to pain, in denial of my loss?
This is where hope comes in. Not just hope for the sake of hope, and not just wishful thinking. We have hope in Christ, that He has given us new life through the power of his resurrection. It is a hope for my future -- that one day I will be face-to-face with my Creator, the very one who has carried me each day. That there will be no more tears, sickness, or heartache, and that we will see our son again. This hope serves to close the distance between “what is” and “what will be”, which means I can be content in the midst of the pain. It is a hope for my future, but also for today. It means that I can put my eyes on today, on the life in front of me, and live with joy and purpose.
As I’ve said, many of you can relate to this. Those of us who have experienced significant loss (grief, divorce, abuse... we all have known some form of loss) understand the unending thirst to feel wholeness, comfort, peace. How do you quench this thirst? What do you place your hope in?
I don’t know what lies ahead in 2012 and beyond. I do know that it will bring some crazy mixture of highs and lows. I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to what God has in store for the year ahead, and I’m confident He will be faithful every day. It’s for that reason that I can say: Happy New Year"
One thing's for sure, our lives will always be richer for the knowing these loved ones. Memories cannot be taken away, nor can their place in our hearts. The fact that they are not physically present does not mean they do not exist in our lives. They are now a part of who we are, and we are a part of them.
And so, as I ponder the sadness in my heart....and my future, which will undeniably contain sadness alongside more joy from many different circumstances in life, I can rest in the fact that God will be faithful in all circumstances. Always has been. Always will be.