Sometimes, if we’re lucky, really lucky, someone comes into our life that totally redefines the word friend. Their place in our life makes all our other friends seem like passing acquaintances. The laughter comes easily – and so do the quiet conversations. We connect at a deep, spiritual level that’s hard to describe. They inspire us, value and encourage us, listen to us and share life with us. There’s a timelessness about this kind of friend. You feel as though this person has been in your life for – well, always. In fact, you can’t imagine life without them.

With these people, friendship easily escalates to a new level. They are a gift to us.

Josh and Ruby Nolt are both just like that to me. Even when I first met them, when they came to Canada for Josh’s job interview and they were only introduced to me as ‘visitors from Pennsylvania’, I could tell they were special people. When we found out Josh was coming to pastor our church, Cathy and I were pleased and looked forward to getting to know them.

Little did we know what was in store for us.

A few weeks later, we learned their new home wouldn’t be ready in time for their moving date and they needed a temporary home. We figured, hey, we could put up with anybody for a couple of weeks, and offered them our spare room.

It wasn’t long before we realized that this was one of ‘those’ friendships. We shared the house comfortably, told our stories, and had fun explaining the subtleties of Canadian versus American culture to them. I learned about baked oatmeal and Old Bay seasoning, and we had lots of opportunity to laugh together. Conner, Chloe and Christian – Mishi – had all melted our hearts in those weeks. By the time they moved out we had become their honorary Canadian grandparents. That feels good.

I now count them all as family, but especially Josh. I’m not sure if he has become an older son or a younger brother, but I know for certain he is incredibly special to me.

When they moved out of our house and into their place, we immediately missed them. But we remained a part of each other’s lives, babysitting the kids, sharing a meal and special occasions: Thanksgiving (Canadian and American) and Christmas – and just being together whenever we could.

Our time together – less than a year – has been bittersweet. While our love for them has grown, we also saw the grief they were all experiencing as they had left family, friends and a homeland behind. It hurt me to watch. I just wanted to hug them and make it go away. I knew their stay in Canada was not permanent and the call to return home would would always be present.

Then it happened. They sat us down to tell us they’re going back to Pennsylvania. No! Please, no! I knew it was coming, but now? I’m grieving. After they told us their news, Josh and I hugged. I didn’t want to let go.

It’s too soon for them to go. God, it’s too soon! I really don’t understand why you brought us together, only to separate us again so soon. I may one day figure it out. And since I’m still learning to trust you, I may forgive you for it one day, too.

Now  I understand the loss their friends and family felt when Josh and Ruby came to Ontario. It’s a pain, an ache, an emptiness. I’m jealous for them as the Nolts return home.

This feeling of loss seems irrational. They haven’t died, they’re only moving and it’s really not that far to visit. Would I feel the same if one of my sons moved away? I don’t know. And maybe there’s some guilt because I worry I may not. After all, they are my sons from birth and that bond can never be broken no matter what. But I still get that empty feeling when I think about the Nolts; just knowing that they won’t be here, nearby and easy to see, to hug, to spoil, or to hear their voice unfiltered by technology. What I really fear is that in a few years, our relationship will be reduced to the exchange of Christmas cards as our lives grow apart. “Best wishes, the Nolts”. Ugh! I seems so inevitable, too. I think that’s the source of the pain.

I want to shout at them, “Don’t go! Stay! We can make it work.” But I know I can’t. You see, I’ve been there. I’ve been to Pennsylvania, to meet their friends and their family – to see their rightful home. And I know that I cannot separate them from it. In an odd twist of fate, we’ve also been to visit the church Josh is going to lead and I know without a doubt that’s where he should be right now. Even after a brief visit, I can see it will be a good fit. I’m sure there will be challenges, but I know it will be good for them.

Yes I’m mad at them for leaving so soon, but I guess I forgive them. How could I not? I love them.

So now I say to Josh, Ruby, Conner, Chloe and Christian: Godspeed, wherever you go, whatever you do. Know that you are forever a part of our family. The embrace will never end.

I miss you already.