Last night at precisely 9:19 p.m. in a muggy football stadium in the town of Snellville, over the loud speakers came, "Jackson Holbrook Huie." It was my son's shining moment as he walked across the stage, shook the principal's hand, and received his high school diploma. On one side of the stage, he was a high school student; on the other, that school's alumnus. Jackson hoisted his fist in the air and his family roared its approval, though his daddy admits to feeling somewhat bittersweet about it all.
I realize that life is about crossing "stages." It makes me wonder, what is it about "the stage"? On one side of the stage, you are a high school student; on the other side, a college student. On one side of the stage you are single; on the other side, someone says, "Kiss the bride," and you are a husband or a wife. On one side of the stage, you are married; on the other side, you receive a slip of paper that says you are divorced. On one side of the stage you are unemployed; on the other side, you receive a handshake and a "congratulations" and you have a job and a paycheck. On one side, you have no children, and then on the other side after "more than a handshake," you are declared a mom or a dad. On one side of the stage, you don't know the love of Jesus Christ; on the other side, you experience the utter freedom and joy of his tender embrace.
I myself right now am crossing my own "stage," one making me feel as bittersweet as seeing my son graduate. Today is my last actual day in the office here at Johns Creek Presbyterian Church. The boxes are almost packed up, the pictures are taken down, and I've finished training Linda Benson as the "summer interim" until a new youth pastor is called. There is a big lump in my throat right now, knowing that I won't be going to Montreat or the Great Escape. I won't be preaching or leading worship from this pulpit. I won't be teaching youth Bible study or Confirmation Class, or taking the youth downtown to serve the homeless, or kayaking down some wild river with people I love. I am no longer one of your pastors. Now we can learn to simply be friends.
How does one say good-bye when crossing a major stage of life? How do I say good-bye after over five wonderful years of discipling our young people in the Christian faith in this church (and seventeen years previously)? How do I say good-bye after running six Back-to-School Bashes, leading 117 youth through Confirmation, and taking well over 400 people on week-long summer retreat and mission experiences all over the world? How do I say good-bye after preaching over 60 sermons from this pulpit and leading worship hundreds of times? How do I say good-bye after countless meals at the Biscuit Barn, Chick-fil-A, McDonalds, and especially our own Friendship Hall with people I cherish? How do I say good-bye to so many people I have stood with and prayed for through both good times and bad? How do I say good-bye after helping to lead six Youth Sundays that brought the word of God alive and gave more proof that there is hope for the next generation? How do I say good-bye when I feel so connected not only with our young people, but with all our church members?
Through the tears, I realize that I can say good-bye only one way-with gratitude, a huge dose of gratitude! I will always remember Johns Creek Presbyterian Church and give thanks to God.
Moving from one side of the "stage" to the other, we hoist our fist into the air to celebrate the promise and adventure of a life with God and one another!
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. -Philippians 1:3-6
Prayer for Today
O God, thank you, thank you, thank you for Johns Creek Presbyterian Church. Though we now go our separate ways, may our hearts be bound together in love forever. Amen.