here’s to lights & virtues


    I’ve had my share of days when I wondered why I was on the planet; Sunday was not one of them. The wonderful folks at our church here in Marshfield and several other friends gathered to remember what our years here together have meant and to wish Ginger and me well in what is to come as we head south to Durham in a few weeks. The evening was affirming, amazing, and crammed full of fun and meaning.

    When we leave Coffee Hour this coming Sunday, we will leave the church for good. Ginger’s final service will include a baptism and the welcoming of ten new members into the congregation. The closing of this chapter of our lives together falls in the middle of the manuscript of a story far larger than ourselves.

    The story Ginger told from the pulpit was one of gratitude: Jesus’ encounter with the one leper who came back to say thanks for his healing. She talked about how easy it is to be hard on the nine who didn’t return and cautioned us not to take the easy path so quickly. We don’t have any idea of what was going on in the hearts and minds of those who didn’t come back to Jesus. She recounted how one of our foster daughters, who lived with us for six months while her mom was in prison and she was in middle school, told us how much she loved us but she couldn’t see us anymore because we were a reminder of the most painful time in her life. Even healing hurts sometimes.

    So does love. Leaving people you love is like trying to unmix brownie batter: the ingredients don’t separate easily. When I first started doing weddings, the image I had whenever I said, “What God has joined together let no one tear apart” was of two pieces of metal welded into one. Tearing them apart would leave both pieces damaged. The relationship between a pastor and a congregation is, by definition, not as permanent as a marriage and the attachments are deep and difficult to release. We have loved our days here in Marshfield almost as much as we love the people we have gotten to share them with. It is hard to say goodbye and that’s a good thing. The tragedy would be to leave and not hurt at all.

    Jackson Browne has a song on his World in Motion record that fits here:

    here’s to lights and virtues
    here’s to truths yet to be known
    knowledge to light the darkness
    the search for things of your own

    here’s to lights and virtues
    here’s to reaching higher ground
    a life of hope and purpose
    here’s to strength yet to be found
    honor — though it goes unrecognized
    and truth — though liars abound

    the pleasure of love and friendship
    the courage to be alone

    One of the passages of scripture I know I have quoted before and find to be one of the true touchstones of my life is John’s description of Jesus as he prepared to wash the disciples’ feet: “knowing he had come from God and was going to God . . .” We were breathed into existence to live our lives in a circle of grace and gratitude. I’m a fortunate person to have had a night when a room filled with people took the time to tell me they loved me and gave me the chance to tell them the same. The pleasure of love and friendship fuels the courage to move farther round the circle, and deeper into grace.


    P. S. — Speaking of church friends, there’s a new recipe.


    1. Milton–I, too, have had the experience you describe (not with a church, but with long-time friends when I was moving to a new place), and it touches me to read your description, as it reminds me of those precious feelings, the mixed sensations of excitement to be going, fear of what had yet to come about, and sorrow at the departure and severing, at least in the small sense, of the ties to my friends.

      Thanks for bringing it up for me, again.

    2. “Even healing hurts sometimes.” Yes, it does. And the wounds never go away. They may scar over but they don’t disappear. Even the risen Christ comes to his friends bearing his wounds.

      Thank you for this bittersweet piece, my friend.

    3. Milton,

      You and Ginger will be new to the Triangle area. For that reason, my family and I would like to send an early invite to our Thanksgiving Celebration here on the farm. We have between 25 to 80 guests each year and we spend the day together remembering all we have and all those who need.

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