I was driving to work yesterday and saw a sign in front of one of the storefront churches that inhabit our downtown neighborhood that said, “This is the year of great grace and great growth.” The rhythm of the words, when I said them out loud so I could remember them, pulled me towards writing a villanelle, which is a very specific form of rhymed poetry. (Think Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night” or Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.”) Here is what came from my encounter and effort.


Caught by surprise by this statement of faith,
Drive-by wisdom from a church-front sign:
“This is the year of great growth and great grace” —

A slogan of hope I’m compelled to embrace,
As my grief-colored life undergoes redesign . . .
I’m caught by surprise by this statement of faith,

Black plastic letters, declarative case,
I hear more invitation than I do bottom line:
“This is the year of great growth and great grace.”

Though the scars left by sorrow are never erased,
My heart, ached with absence, can choose to incline
To be caught by surprise by this statement of faith,

Even as I keep driving, feeling lost and misplaced,
Somehow I am pulled by the simple punch line:
“This is the year of great growth and great grace,”

Which reminds me that grief is a gathering place,
Where we call one another to do more than resign
And be caught by surprise by this statement of faith:
“This is the year of great growth and great grace.”



  1. Milt, I love this – and there are two young men I know here who will be blessed by hearing this. As an aside: I know *everyone* has a book on grief that they’d love you to read. I have two… “Gentle Closings: How To Say Goodbye To Someone You Love,” and “After Goodbye,” both by Ted Menten (who has also written a large number of teddy-bear books). They are cheap, on Amazon, and they are some of the best counsel I could recommend. Better than a lot of the crap they fed me in seminary, to be sure. (If you get them, and don’t love them, I will gladly buy them from you.)

  2. Milton, your poetry is lovely but what really struck me about your piece is how strongly the statement hit you. Grief can either close you up and bring you down OR it can cause you to see things you have never before noticed. Great pain can bring great (or maybe small) insights. Sometimes one needs to acknowledge the pain in its fullest and admit how much it hurts in order to admit how helpless one feels. Only then do those messages begin to come through. Keep on listening

  3. Seen recently on a church sign: “FINDING CONTENTMENT IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY”.

    Only when I first saw it, I read it as: “Finding CONTINENCE in the Face of Adversity”, and almost drove off the road.

  4. You’re truly special, Milton. Thank you for your continued insights and your encouragement to those of us who stand on the sidelines.

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