A Season of Goodbyes

Sometimes I feel crazy at how quickly things start connecting for me. It’s like I spend weeks pondering something. Then, SUDDENLY, it is like He presses the download button and it all becomes clear (or maybe just clearer). Tonight is one of those nights.

I just came back from a quick day trip to New Jersey. My sister, nephew and I rose before the sun this morning, so we could be at church with my god family. We wanted to ensure that we didn’t miss the opportunity to hear my godfather preach one last time before he retired. After 35+ years of pastoring at Mt. Olive in Hackensack, he preached his last sermon – on the last Sunday of 2019. His title, Second Calling. His text, Philippians 3:12-14. I won’t re-preach it (at least not today) but I can attest that there’s a good word in there!

The Speeds and the Jacksons go way back. Over 40 years of history with our families. Rev. Jackson was our family’s pastor even before I came on the scene. But when I was born, our bond was solidified. Greg and Barbara Jackson became my godparents. Let’s stick a pin right here. Yes, Rev. Jackson has always been our family’s pastor, no matter where life’s journeys took us. But I know him and my godmother, Barbara, best as an ever-present, loving surrogate parents. I’m not sure what my parents considered when they asked them to be my godparents. But their constant love and care from afar has been one of the most valuable gifts my parents could’ve ever given me. The friendship that our families have sustained over 4 decades is incredible. And although I don’t see my family often, they are just that. Family.

So, to be able to celebrate this important goodbye with my family today was quite meaningful. In some small way, my immediate family is a part of this family’s story and the legacy their ministry leaves behind. I am proud to have shared in the celebration of an impactful ministry and the anticipation of this second calling in retirement. The day was filled with smiles, fueled by fond memories and well wishes for the future.

My sister Kendra and her family are preparing to say goodbye to their home in Charlotte. We spent one last Christmas together with family and framily. There’s an exciting next chapter awaiting Johnny, Kendra and Kadence in Austin, TX. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel a little sadness as I pulled out their driveway for the last time. I have so many memories based in Charlotte, from Kendra’s bachelorette days to precious auntie moments. For many of us, their home has been a second home to many. A place of welcome and invitation, it is a given that you are going to be showered in love and laughter when you go to their house. That’s just the type of people my sister and brother-in-law are. They are open-handed kinda people, extending their hearts and love to so many.
This Christmas that was on display. We had a wonderful time relating as family, across generations. Us being together while preparing for an inevitable goodbye (until we hang out in Austin) was necessary and good and very healthy. We smiled and laughed as we enjoyed the present and anticipated future times together.

Solemn and sudden goodbyes happen as well. Earlier this month both sides of my family gathered in Willington, SC to say goodbye to my cousin, LaWan. This goodbye was difficult. She was young- the same age as my oldest sister and a few other cousins. She had fought a long, serious and painful battle with cancer. She was strong, resilient and self-less. Her vibrancy and fearlessness were left to bear witness and help us remember her.

This type of goodbye doesn’t come without sorrow and pain. But I recall sitting at her memorial service and realizing, His grace was there. Those that were praying for us, their prayers were being answered. Despite the heartache and grief, there He was in the midst of it all. Because it is rare that so many of us are together at one time, despite the sadness that pervaded we wanted to have a picture of all of us together. So my dad, his nieces and nephews, my mom’s siblings and nieces and nephews, my sisters and I squeezed in and with a warmth only possible from the love and bonds of family, we smiled.

Even in a goodbye, we can smile. We can smile through the tears. We can smile, even with uncertainty looming. We can smile as we hold tight to memories and remain open to the possibilities. We can smile as a gift of and testament to hope. For, a goodbye can lead to a new hello. Maybe the new hello is awkward or lonely or lined with tears. But with every goodbye and every hello, He is right there, guiding (in some cases carrying) us and never leaving us alone. That, to me, is a priceless gift embedded in and essential in every season of goodbye that we find ourselves in.