A few weeks ago we had a farewell gathering at our church. A beautiful slide show and many words of encouragement to our family were shared from members of our church family. I spent the majority of it bawling like a baby. The tears have flowed freely and easily for me in the weeks since we've made the very difficult decision to resign.
It's been nearly 12 years since we first said hello to this group of people that we would do life with. Saying good-bye was definitely high on the list of the most difficult things I'd ever done. The reality is, I deeply love the people that we've walked through life with over the years. I wouldn't trade it for anything and I will always look back with fondness at our time at North Albany Community Church.
Because of this I knew that as uncomfortable as it might be, I needed to share my heart with these people. So through my tears I read this letter: A final farewell to our church family. I know there are a number of people who weren't able to make it, so I thought I would publish it here.
When I first walked through the doors of this church I was a 20 year-old girl that had been married less than 6 months. I had only been a Christian for a year and a half and I was absolutely certain that but for the grace and calling of God, I had no business being a pastor’s wife.
But Rob had taken a chance on me, and you as a church took a chance on us. I am so grateful for both.
The first summer we were here leading the youth ministry, I think I learned far more from the youth than they did from me. It was a joy and pleasure to get to serve our students and learn and grow alongside of them.
After a few short years in youth ministry you watched as we became parents over-night. You celebrated with us the adoption of our daughter and the birth of our son in the span of one short year. You supported us and encouraged us as we learned what it meant to be parents—and as we quickly found out how much we didn’t know that we didn’t know!
It was about this time that Rob also started to transition out of youth ministry. It seems like in the blink of an eye we went from white water rafting, all-nighters and tossing frozen turkeys around in the Jack-In-The-Box parking lot, to a different kind of all-nighters—the kind where the all-nighters lasted night after night and the responsibility of caring for the kids we were now “partying” with, never ended. It was a beautiful, terrifying, exhausting time in our lives!
During this stage of life, shortly after the birth of our son, you hired me on as a Children’s Ministry Director. Once again, I’m so grateful you took a chance on me! It was in this role that I developed my growing passion for reaching kids for Christ. With my own precious kids in tow, the need for reaching kids for Christ and helping them grow in their faith never seemed more urgent. I learned a lot about the ups (and downs) of leadership as I fumbled my way through that role. But it was during this time that I also developed some of the strongest friendships I’ve ever known. I found myself daily working alongside of the world’s most awesome and dedicated children’s ministry leaders and working with the world’s most precious children. And again, more often than not I feel like they were teaching me more than I could ever teach them.
My kids’ preschool years came and went in the blink of an eye—as all of you seasoned parents know. As Leeann entered school, Rob started yet another transition, this time into the role of Lead Pastor. Our lives seemed to be in a constant state of change.
One thing remained constant throughout all of this change though. You. As you watched us quite literally grow up before your very eyes—you supported us, you encouraged us, you prayed with us and for us. You gently prodded and firmly rebuked us. You cautioned us at times and pushed us forward when necessary. You’ve given us grace and mercy. You’ve given us your trust and you’ve been trustworthy. You have been so very generous and gracious to us. You’ve allowed us to serve you and shepherd you. You’ve served us and shepherded us as well. You’ve grieved with us and rejoiced with us. You’ve allowed us to do the same with you.
You have taught me that Christ’s words aren’t just something you study, but they’re something you live out.
You’ve taught me that we are to boldly be the hands and feet of Christ as I’ve watched you fully embrace the hard to love time and time again.
You’ve taught me that Christians aren’t perfect—but that forgiveness and reconciliation are always the better choice.
You’ve taught me that life is more fun with friends. And food. But especially friends AND food. You sure do know how to throw good parties around this place!
You’ve taught me that God has given us all different gifts, skills, talents and abilities—and you’ve allowed me to find my own path, instead of insisting that I must be a certain way or do certain things to be a proper pastor’s wife.
In short, you’ve given me the freedom to be myself—exactly who God made ME to be. You’ve also given me plenty of room to grow and change. Suzan likes to joke about how I didn’t even know how to cook a hotdog that first summer. It took me a few a few potlucks and dessert auctions to realize that maybe, just maybe I could learn to cook some of these amazingly tasty, beautiful things that women like Debbie, Rita and especially Nancy, often blessed our church family with. Inspired by these ladies I developed a passion for creating food. I’ve come a long way from not being able to cook a hot dog! Really though, it’s just a small glimpse of the many ways I’ve grown over the past twelve years.
In the same right you’ve fully embraced my husband and allowed him to lead you despite the fact that he’s human. You’ve allowed him to make mistakes and learn from them. You’ve allowed him into your lives and you’ve opened your hearts to what God has laid on his.
You’ve allowed my kids to be kids—and for that I cannot thank you enough. You have cared for them, nurtured them and taught them what it means to love Jesus.
Not only have you embraced us, but also 19 foster kids we’ve brought into our home. You’ve even wrapped your arms tightly around one very special foster kid’s family.
We simply could not have done it without you. You have brought us meals and lent us baby supplies. You have offered rides and childcare. You’ve taught our “spunky” kids in Sunday school—even when it occasionally meant chasing them as they bolted out the door and ran wildly into the parking lot. You’ve had long conversations with our teenagers and rocked our babies. And yes—you’ve even been available to do an emergency 9:30pm run to the store to get head lice shampoo when a new set of foster kids came and Rob was tied up in a late night meeting where he couldn’t be reached.
You’ve fixed our cars and repaired our home. You’ve shared the harvest from your garden and the fruit of your labor. You’ve baked us treats, given us gift cards and showered us with words of encouragement. You have walked alongside of us. You have been so good to us.
You have painted a beautiful picture of what it means to love like Jesus loves. I couldn’t have asked for a better training ground.
Dear church family, I love you more than words could possibly express. I am grateful beyond measure for the opportunity to have done life together with you. Regardless of the miles that may separate us, or the number of years that pass before we meet again, you will always be family, and I will always hold you close in my heart.