At the end of the church service on Sunday, I joined our pastor on the stage, and tried to calm the loud beating coming from my chest. Public speaking doesn’t usually unnerve me but yesterday was a little different. I was saying goodbye to two of our closest friends and I wanted to do it right.
I held it together as I thanked them for their friendship, their hospitality, their service in our community, and prayed for them. I held it together as I looked out across the church and saw mutual friends with tears flowing. And even when I made it back to my seat and my usually-unemotional husband sat with red-rimmed eyes.
Goodbyes are hard. And they happen more frequently than we would like, living in a country where 50% of the population are not locals. But I’ve been reminded these past few weeks, as I’ve spent as much time as possible with my sweet friend before she leaves, that the pain of parting is the surest sign that this is the kind of friendship worth looking for, working for, living for.
Moving was a stressful experience for me. I know that’s not exactly a radical statement – most people find the upheaval and big change of a move between houses or cities a massive ordeal. It’s exciting, mostly likely, but also at least a wee bit stressful. Add in the unknowns of moving to a brand new country – new languages, new customs, new legal obligations, new school systems, new foods – well, it’s bound to produce a few tense moments.
One of the biggest stresses for me though, was the thought of having to find a new church. Our church in Brussels had been such a massive part of our lives. Our community there had stretched us and challenged us and supported us and loved us. We got engaged and married while attending that church and they celebrated with us every step. We were given leadership roles and responsibilities, we were believed in, mentored. It was far from perfect – don’t even get me started – but we saw God there and it changed us.
And so coming to Luxembourg, I was nervous. That’s probably the biggest understatement I’ve written this year. The first time we visited a church in Luxembourg, I was so anxious I felt sick to my stomach and my hands shook. I clung to Rasmus like a terrified child the whole time, and I looked at everything with a critical eye. I picked apart the music, the sermon, the welcome, the people sitting around us. I came up with a hundred reasons why this wasn’t the church for us.
Fifteen months later, they’re family. Family in all its weird and beautiful diversity. We have the kids running in packs after the service and stealing biscuits when parents’ backs are turned, we have the sullen teenagers and the grandparents. We have the weird uncles and the slightly awkward aunts. We have the cool young professionals and the quirky creative designer-types. We have the dad’s with their bad jokes and the mums who are a little too bossy.
Every week there are new people. And every week people leave. When you’re an English-speaking church in a Luxembourgish/French/German speaking country, it’s the normal to say goodbye as often as you say hello. It doesn’t make it any easier.
But we’re family now. And family exists always, no matter how many separations or divisions. They will always be my sister, my aunt, my cousin, my grandpa. And though it may be years or a lifetime before we meet again, when that moment comes I know it will be like coming home, like walking through the door into the presence of the people who love you best, no matter the time or distance, no matter the story in between.