As I was driving the kids to youth group tonight on I-96, I was surprised to share the roadway with the Butler, Indiana American Legion bus. I pulled alongside and rolled down my window, hollering like a paparazzi in search of a Lindsay Lohan photo. Ted Miller was driving the bus. Ted is Butler's city manager, a veteran, and an officer at Post 202. Ted peered into our car thinking, or so I imagined, that some crazy left-wing Michigan psycho was harassing a perfectly innocent group of senior citizens returning from the casino in Mt. Pleasant (at least that's my guess.) When he saw it was me and not Al-queda he grinned and waved. I guess the folks will have a guess-who-I-saw story to tell when they get back home.
What's the likelihood that we would meet on that road at that time? We departed from different places and were headed for different destinations. Yet, for just a few moments we were able to share the common experience of tooling down I-96 together in the evening twilight.
Come to think of it, that is pretty much a metaphor of my experience in Butler, Indiana. For ten great years, my journey merged with those of a bunch of wonderful people. Together we shared victories like Eastside's boys' basketball sectional victory. We endured defeats - so many losses to Jimtown and John Glenn. We worked together building a church, a playground, a library, and new schools. We laughed together at the Eat'n Haus, in Towne Hardware, at Kaiser's and in dozens of other places. On 9/11 we cried together and we prayed.
Our church saw babies born and said goodbye to saints. We raised a crop of kids and sent them out into the world to make a difference. We served nearly 50,000 meals at the county fair in the time our paths were conjoined. We forged friendships - some of which I expect will remain until the day we walk a gold paved path.
My journey tonight took me straight on I-96 while the Butler bus made a southward arc and headed down I-69 toward home. The path we traveled together was ever so brief. It seems like the ten years we spent in Butler . . . fleeting.
Earlier today the Butler Church of Christ voted to call a new pastor and his wife, Dan and Sandy Wagner. He comes, ironically, from Lincoln Christian Seminary in Lincoln, Illinois. Ironic because Lincoln Christian Church got their new preacher from South Lansing. South went to Butler, Indiana. And now, Butler has completed a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction circle in calling Dan. Dan will do amazing work in Butler, because Butler Church of Christ is filled with amazing people who serve and amazing God.
I miss traveling the Butler path. I miss Mike and Shelly and Scott and Jenny and Nora and Stan and Bob and Julie and Kim and Diana and Jeff and Pam and Scott and Jessica and Sam and Brie and Kevin and Misty, and, and, and . . . .
I take comfort in two truths. First, our paths have diverged only for the time being. We'll travel the road together again - if not in this world, then in the next. Second, I find great comfort in the new companions with whom I have been called to journey - the wonderful people here at South.
I've often heard it said that preachers have it rough. They grow to love a group of people and then God calls them away to some other place. In truth, it has been hard. And yet, I've not considered myself singularly cursed, but rather doubly, no triply, blessed to have forged eternal bonds with people in Kokomo, Butler, and now Lansing.
Someday, in that great gettin' up morning, we all need to get together for a long walk. Until then, although our paths may cross far too seldom, we'll nevertheless be headed in the same direction, parallel lines leading to the throne of God. Better put it in your planner. I'll be looking for you on the Heavenly highway.