It’s the only word in me to adequately describe our last day at Petra.
So many people and so many hugs and so many tears. We didn’t even get to hug them all, which is how it goes when you church with 1,500 other people but sad all the same. I was prepared for the bawlfest, really I was. Orlando decided that maybe today was a day he should have skipped, but he was prepared for all the sadness, too. We just gave up and let our eyes be full of tears all morning. It was the boys, however, who were really taken aback by it all. I was not at all prepared for how sad they would be. I guess I didn’t give them enough credit for seeing ahead quite as far as they can. But when you think of it, they don’t remember us being a part of any place like we’ve been a part of this one. There were times when we at breakfast, lunch, and dinner in that building. It’s been a second home to them; many of the people as close to them as family. And this was it. Our last Sunday.
It began with Dominick, of course, getting teary and boo-boo faced when he said goodbye to his beloved friend, Tee. He stood looking at her a moment waiting for her to notice him–when she saw him she immediately came over and gave him big hugs. If you don’t know her, there is something tremendously soothing about Tee’s big hugs. They have always worked strength into me and peace into little Dominick. She’s been his Sunday morning angel, taking him for walks and and giving him things to do and handing him little treats. But mostly she just paid attention to him and talked with him in her quiet, generous way. When you’re the youngest in a busy family, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Tee always watched out for him and he loves her. Understandably, he had a hard time leaving her. He cried as we walked away. We cried, too. Of course!
The older boys had their moments, too. Nicholas shared his sadness with Nancy, his Sunday School teacher. Benjamin quizzed me on when whether or not we would visit Pennsylvania, and if so, would we do it on a Sunday so we could visit our friends at Petra? Anthony just didn’t say too much–not really like him at all. But I could see it in his face, his little armor chipping away as the morning wore on as he gave more and more hugs goodbye to the people who have loved him so well. The last hugs were the worst. Pastors Lester and Erma, who always had a kind word for them. Terry the kid Magnet, who always joked and played with them and his wife Marg, who never forgot to tickle them. Pastor Ken, who always had a hug for them. Miss Esther, who took such good care of them. Miss Kim, who always took the time to listen to them tell their stories. This was pretty grueling for all of us, but when we finally made it to the van, poor Anthony just broke. As we drove away, he turned his face to look out the window, and just sobbed and sobbed. It took him fifteen minutes to recover. And of course Orlando and I cried watching him cry.
The last thing we saw as we left was Pastor Erma waving goodbye in the doorway. It seemed so fitting–she waved hello to us back when we first walked in those doors–then carrying three babies. And it occurred to me in that moment that it’s amazing how deep our love for these folks goes when we’ve only been with them for a little over five years. Five years. And our lives were changed and our hearts were knit in to the point that we feel such tearing today as we leave. It’s a miracle, really. And if there is an overall lesson to be learned from our time at Petra, it is that when you follow God’s heart to a place, His people will be there to take you in. They may not be like the people you left behind, they may be different socially or economically or culturally. But His Spirit will reign and will speak to you should you have an open heart and willing hand. Should you choose to dive in and build His kingdom alongside them. Should you choose to take the risk, let down your walls, and become part of the place. And if you become part of the place, know that it will also become a part of you.
So thank you, dear friends from Petra Christian Fellowship. Words fail in telling you how much you’ve meant to us. Thank you for all you’ve given us. Thank you helping us become a better family. Thank you for loving our children so well. Thank you for being a place of healing and rest for us and letting us be, well, just be us.
We love you all.