A month of Sundays.

That’s how long it’s been since the day we left that beloved little church on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Memories of our last days in New England may elude me at some point, but I won’t soon forget that Sunday morning.  It is etched on my heart, right along with all of the people that line the pews of that centuries-old sanctuary.

As my tearful husband and I stood before them to say goodbye, the emotions that had been growing over the previous Sundays flooded to the surface.  I didn’t know what else to say, except to tell them they would always be home to us and to thank them for showing us Jesus.  And, as they circled around us and prayed for us, my heart ached with a multitude of feelings that only increased with the beautiful cakes we ate after church and the old benediction hymn they sang for us in the fellowship hall.  Every time I look at the framed photographs they gave us, I’m reminded of how much we love them and how much they loved us.  It is a humbling thing to receive such affection.  It was undeserved and yet more precious than a thousand Sundays elsewhere.

And with each moment that morning, my heart kept crying out, “Who are we, Lord?”  Who are we that you would give them to us, not just for a few years but for eternity?  Who are we that you would take our heart’s desires for a season and give them back  to us in the most unexpected ways, in the most unexpected people?  Who are we that you would create a people to be yours and then welcome us to join it?  Who are we that you would love us so?

Every Thanksgiving, that tiny church breaks its tradition of a weekly sermon and calls several of its members to bear witness to the ways God has worked in their lives through the church.  It is a corporate thanksgiving of sorts.  Last Thanksgiving, I was honored to be one of the four to share from the pulpit.  Not knowing what the next six months would hold for my husband and me, these are the words I offered them that morning.

Last year, we sat around Parker’s parents’ dining room table at Thanksgiving, and each person shared what we were most thankful for in the previous year.   When my turn came, I shared that it was this church for which I was most thankful.

You see, when you pack up all your belongings and move 1,100 miles north to attend seminary, you have a lot of hopes.  But honestly, you try to set your expectations pretty low.  Maybe that makes me sound like a pessimist, but I feel the need to be honest. 

What I mean is that we had a lot of desires and dreams for our time at seminary, but we didn’t know if they were just too far-fetched.  We thought they might have to wait.  Some of them never came to pass, but — without a doubt — one of them did.

Just before Christmas in 2007, after what I’m sure was the most exhaustive search for churches on the North Shore, we decided to visit this church.  And we had no idea to expect. 

But not long after our arrival that morning, somewhere between the Christmas pageant announcements and the congregational prayer, I think we realized this church – this body of believers – was different than the other churches we had visited in the area or elsewhere.  [Tim was in India, of course, so he really can’t take the credit.]

The first time I had heard about this church was in a series of classes I took at the seminary for wives of students.  Rama was invited to speak one night, and her genuineness and candor stood out from other speakers.  It was fitting to me that she was the first impression I received of the church because she was merely a reflection of the authenticity we would find here.

What we’ve discovered here is a sincerity so refreshing it’s hard to even do it justice.  When I’ve tried to tell friends or family – or even other seminary students – about our church family, the most apt description I can find is that you are real and that you really love each other.  This is not a place where people wear masks and hide the realities of their lives.  This is a place where a whole lot of different people facing a whole lot of different things are reconciled together – in Christ.  As Paul said, God “has made the two one … creating in Himself one new man out of the two.”

I found that Robin’s mother put it so well at the women’s retreat this year – it’s a group that only God could put together.  I would add that it is God who keeps it together.

And that would be incredible for me, just to have had the chance to witness the body of Christ coming together as He intends, meeting each other in their uniqueness but unified in the hope of our Savior.  But that isn’t the whole story.

Because over these last couple of years, you have welcomed these two transplanted Southerners into your homes and into your lives.  You’ve brought us rhubarb jelly, taken us for boat rides, and shared your secrets of the best restaurants in town.  You’ve broken bread with us and you’ve welcomed us to your kitchen tables.  You’ve shown us the hospitality of Jesus.  You’ve shared your stories with us and provided space for us to share ours. 

You knew we might not be here for more than a few years, and yet you have welcomed us with open arms into the fellowship of believers in this place.  Wholeheartedly.  Without reservation.  You have no idea what that means to two weary travelers far from home.  The generosity of your love has graced our lives.  You’ve taught us what it means to be a body of believers whose unity comes from Christ.  You’ve demonstrated the power and beauty of living life openly together in community. 

You are our home here.  This church has become our family. 

For however long God keeps us here, I will sit back in awe of the fact that He led us to you, that He welcomed us here through your open arms.  And whenever this season in Massachusetts comes to a close for us, we will miss you the most. 

And we do.