I scurried into church just in time this morning. Michael and Brenna had gone early to practice with the band. I dropped Daniel at the nursery with the white haired woman who complains about the idiosyncratic pottying techniques of the toddler boys. (shoes off, backwards, pants off...etc.) She asked if Daniel had any special instructions. I lied and told her no. He won't go while he's there anyway. Then I quickly headed downstairs to the computer.
After double checking that the service layout was in place, I opened my phone to check the time. 10:55. I was late starting the 5 minute countdown. (We start ours at 7 till.) Not a good start to a service that would eventually run overtime.
As the countdown played on the screen, Michael leaned over my shoulder to ask if Jonathan had had a chance to talk to me this morning. Confused, I shook my head. It was then that I learned of his resignation. Jonathan, who is the youth pastor, and his wife and two kids are moving back to Texas. His wife and kids are leaving this week. Jonathan will follow later in the summer.
Jonathan's older daughter is Emily. Age 5. Brenna's constant companion at church. They sit together nearly every week and dance together as the band warms up. They walk to kids church holding hands where they keep each other company and color pictures together as they wait for Jonathan or I to pick them up. Afterwards, they play and giggle like little girls should in the rec room while we tear down from the service and prepare to leave. It's that way every week.
After church today, I picked up Daniel and then climbed the stairs to the kids church room. Brenna and Emily were sitting on the floor, coloring and laughing. When they saw me, they quickly put their supplies away and Brenna followed me out the door, with a quick "See ya later Emily!" over her shoulder. As we descended the steps, I gently shared the news of their move. By the time we hit the bottom step, Brenna was sobbing. I knelt down to my knees as she wrapped her arms around my neck, crying hard and asking why.
We stayed like that a few minutes and then began to move down the hallway, toward the stairs to the rec room. Jonathan brought Emily down and I confirmed that this was, indeed, her last week. Brenna's tears began afresh and she reached to hug her dear friend. She told Emily that she was her best buddy and that Sundays wouldn't be the same without her here. They hugged again as Brenna cried harder.
I looked up through my tear speckled glasses to see the tears running down Jonathan's cheeks and the ones welling in Michael's. Our hearts broke for the pain of a five year old. I reminded Brenna that we could write to Emily, and send her e-mails...and even call her. At which point the girls each very seriously recited their phone numbers to each other and Emily said, "If you can remember that, you can call me." Grinning, her dad whispered that they would send us the new one - in Texas.
Much of the way home, Brenna wanted to talk about how much saying goodbye hurt and how Sundays would be so different and lonely. I told her about how I cried when my friends Jonathan and Tara moved to North Carolina. We talked about all the good things that will happen to Emily, like getting to see her grandma. After a while, I looked up in the mirror to see the tears had stopped and she said, "It hurts a lot because I love her so much". So true. So very true.
Emily was Brenna's first real friend at our new church. In a congregation where attendance fluctuates dramatically, she could always count on the youth pastor's daughter to be there. She's mentioned precious few other names of girls "who are friendly to me." I think the girls are nice, they just don't come every week.
She knows she'll make new friends at school in September, but she also knows new friends don't replace old ones. Emily will always have a very special place in her heart.