We spent the weekend saying goodbye. Even though we’ve known for months that these goodbyes would come, they were no less painful. After the whirlwind of loading the trailer and cleaning and making sure everything was gone, I stood alone in my empty living room and fell apart. We only lived in that house for 2-1/2 years, but it’s an adequate representation of our life here.
When we moved into that house, we learned shortly after that my mother-in-law had stage 4 breast cancer. What we thought would be a season of remodeling and settling into our new home became a season of maximizing time spent with family. But as sweet as those last months with her were, living in the basement of a house with everything upstairs torn apart began to take its toll on us. We would try to squeeze projects into the crevices of our disappearing time, but we lived in a constant state of upheaval. Through that season, our church family faithfully brought meals, chipped the ice off of our driveway, painted our walls, and, in what is still one of the sweetest acts of generosity I’ve been privileged to witness, rounded up a crew of people to come finish our floors so we could actually move into our bedroom and use our kitchen.
I stood on those floors in my empty living room and cried tears of gratitude. For that house, for those people, for our life here.
I moved to Fargo in 2007. Though Fargo had never really been “home” to me, I was pregnant with Hadley and needed my mom. But I dreamt of leaving the moment I arrived. I would just take a year or two to get my bearings, then head back to the city, I thought. I never imagined living here for ten years. I never imagined what this life would become.
On Saturday, I went to some friends’ house to drop off something I’d borrowed. As I drove the way to their home, I noticed how familiar it was. Seven years ago, this was a well-worn path. These were the people who welcomed Hadley and I into their family, who told me over and over again about Jesus, who taught me what it looks like to follow him, who protectively interrogated by now-husband and who helped us learn how to be married and raise children together. These are the people we turn to in crisis, the ones who bring a team of people over to clear off our driveway and finish our floors. Despite the fact that recent years and the natural course of our lives have created more distance between us, there is no being prepared to say goodbye to people like that.
On Sunday, we braced ourselves for our final goodbyes at church. As I listened to my pastor’s sermon, I remembered that Sunday I sat there seven years ago, waiting for him to say something that would give me an excuse not to come back. Instead, he preached the gospel and I was ruined. As we’ve navigated the messy and beautiful paradox of life in a church, these people have become our family. They are the people I’ve learned from and alongside. Through conflict and crisis, joy and grief, these people have become fixtures in our lives. We can’t picture life without them.
In the midst of the grief, I’m pondering grace. I’ve been thinking how God’s grace is so vast–there’s his grace that saves us and grace that sustains us. But through this transition, I’ve realized that one of the primary ways he extends his grace to us is through his people. His comfort in our grief was in the form of people who cried with us and supported us. His provision was in the form of people who brought meals and watched our kids and helped with house projects. His love was in the form of sweet friendship. His growth in the form of the mentorship and discipleship of others.
When the Bible says that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, I think it applies here. In order to experience the grace of the family of God, you have to be willing to need it. I can’t say that we’ve always been so humble as to say we need it, but more often humbled by God’s gracious provision through his people in spite of our pride. I can testify to his grace at work in my people–they have been loved deeply in Christ, and that love has poured over into my family through the years.
When the Israelites are standing on the border of the Promised Land, after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, Moses lays out the law one more time and warns the people not to stray from their God. He says:
“And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Deut 6:10-12)
I thought of this warning as I stood in my empty living room that friends had cleaned, on floors I didn’t install, surrounded by walls I didn’t paint, having emptied our fridge of food I didn’t prepare, knowing that a trailer sat outside that was loaded with the help of many. These words warn me, too: “Take care lest you forget.”
My ten years in Fargo have been marked by God’s grace. The Lord graciously drew me to this place where I could encounter the truth of my wretchedness and his holiness. Where I could be confronted in my prideful self-sufficiency and learn for the first time what grace actually is. Where I could learn to love God and share my life with others. Where I could learn how to be a part of this family God was growing around me.
This is the place where God rescued me. Where I brought my babies home. Where I met and married my husband. Where we loved and said goodbye to foster children. Where we said goodbye to my mother-in-law. Where we have lived and celebrated and laughed and wept alongside our people.
Growing up and moving a few times, my mom would always insist to me, “Home is where your people are.” That truth has taken root in me, and as I look at this little family God has grown, I’m grateful to know that I’m bringing home with me. And yet, “my people” have expanded over the last ten years. My home is not this house, but in some ways it is this place and these people. There’s a grief in this goodbye that I’ve yet to fully swallow.
And yet, I want to take care, lest I forget God’s faithfulness these ten years. Lest I forget his love and provision through his people. Lest I forget that all that we’ve gained here was by God’s grace. Lest I forget that it’s God’s grace that will continue to sustain us as we go from here.
As I say goodbye and prepare for this next chapter, I do so marked by my seasons here in ways I’m sure I still don’t comprehend. I’m so deeply sad to leave, and so overwhelmingly grateful.