A Good Night to Remember Why This Blog is About Walking Martha Home

When I first started a blog, it was to share my reflections on lay leadership as a member of the Virginia Conference Connectional Ministries staff. The blog was started on Blogger with the email address I had before the VAUMC moved to Google Mail. When the address changed, the original blog was lost. I recreated a few entries, including this one about why I named the blog “Walking Martha Home.” I’m now into the second iteration of “Still Walking Martha Home.” With all that is going on following the 2019 Called General Conference, maybe it’s time to remind myself why I chose that name, and to share the story with those who want to read along. So, from the fall of 2013….

My early morning walk today was filled with reflections on events of the last week.  In the midst of all the thoughts swirling in my head, there was a constant call to write about my experiences.  There was a persistent question of whether my life lessons could impact the direction of lay leadership in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church. There was also a flashback to a quote I retweeted two weeks ago from Todd Adkins (@Todd Adkins):  “Sometimes God puts young leaders around you who need to hear your past so it doesn’t become their future.”  Then there came the realization that in my presentations about developing intentional Older Adult Ministries I emphasize that we all feel the need to leave a legacy – to add dimension to the lives of those we journey with throughout our lives – and since I’m in my midlife season now, I need to spend more time living what I “preach.”  

As my walk ended and I came to the lamppost at my sidewalk, I snapped the picture at the end of this post: the blooming clematis vine wrapped around a garden flag and an old brick. The climbing vine breaking forth with new life and stretching in every direction possible, unconcerned about how I tried to tie it off and make it conform to my expectations.  The garden flag that grabbed my heart immediately when I saw it at a local produce stand because of the goofy blue bird in its center: a bird so wacky looking that I just had to have it in my yard to prompt me daily to enjoy life.  The brick that reminds me of my life story, taken from the pile of rubble after the demolition of a 90-year old building in my hometown which was destroyed by fire last year.

Joyce’s Drug Store filled part of that building for many, many years.  It was across the street from the primary school I attended.  When I was young, that store is where I would meet my mother after school, have a Coke or ice cream and possibly buy a comic book, before we walked home.  Sometimes I’d have to wait a little while in the safety of the drug store before she arrived.  In 1968, the school system was finally integrated, and one day that year when my mom was very late coming to the drug store, a new male friend who was in my second grade class decided to walk me home.  

The house I grew up in was on the edge of the road that divided the black and white sides of our little village.  Ronnie lived on one side; I lived on the other. At age 7, we were too young to know the turmoil we might be creating.  As we rounded the curve toward my house, I remember seeing my mother on the front porch but can’t recall the look on her face.  I do remember Ronnie’s words:  “I’m walking Martha home, Mrs. Ensley.”  

I realize now that my journey of authentic leadership began that day.  What was swirling in my head this morning that brought all this back and led to starting this blog?

We invited a group of friends to our house last Friday night (-now remember I wrote this in the fall of 2013).  As the early arrivals gathered at the kitchen table and began to share a meal, the conversation turned negative when they realized that one of the guests was an immigrant to the United States from the Middle East and of Muslim faith.  I couldn’t tolerate the conversation so I walked into another room. For a week now have tried to deal with my troubled heart for not speaking out and addressing what was being said.  How can I claim to be the advocate for justice that I believe Jesus calls me to be when I didn’t voice my displeasure that this conversation was happening in my own house?

The extreme introvert that I am, I have been in recovery for two days after talking for almost 1 ½ hours straight each way between Virginia Beach and Glen Allen on Wednesday as two of us “old” directors on the Connectional Ministries staff traveled to Licensing School with three of the interns in our office this summer.  These young adults are struggling with questions of faith and church life that it took me into my forties to even think about. How do we live authentic Christian lives? How can we exclude people when Jesus called us to love everyone? How do we move the church forward without fear?  It pains me to my core to see the hurt and questioning in their eyes.  How do I as a lay leader in The United Methodist Church encourage holy conversation and action that will transform the lives of people of all ages and let them see that we truly live what we say we believe? (-Wow, was this really 6 years ago or last week?)

I had to make a very difficult phone call yesterday to share the decision of a board for which I serve as chair.  The call had the potential to change the professional relationship that I have had with the individual for 13 years.  Upon sharing an update of the conversation with the other members of the board, I sensed a new round of great mistrust and anger.   How do I lead in ways that build trust, allowing all the voices to be heard, yet keeps the focus on God’s call for our individual and corporate ministries above our own desires? (- Mistrust of and anger toward leaders, still emotions in the church???)

In “Discovering Your Authentic Leadership,” a February 2007 article for the Harvard Business Review, authors Bill George, Peter Sims, Andrew McLean and Diana Mayer describe a process of research interviews conducted with 125 leaders identified for their success.   The interviews were based upon one question:  “How can people become and remain authentic leaders?”  In analyzing the results, the research team found that the leaders did not identify specific essential leadership characteristics or traits.  It was their life stories that formed the foundation of their success. “Consciously and subconsciously, they were constantly testing themselves through real-world experiences and reframing their life stories to understand who they were at their core. In doing so, they discovered the purpose of their leadership and learned that being authentic made them more effective.”  (On-line article:  http://hbr.org/2007/02/discovering-your-authentic-leadership/ar/1 ) 

Robin Sharma, author of The Saint, The Surfer and The CEO: A Remarkable Story About Living Your Heart’s Desires (2003: Hay House, Inc.; Carlsbad, CA), states that authentic leadership “is all about being the person you know in your heart you have always been destined to be.”  (You can find an on-line summary article of the “Ten Things Authentic Leaders Do” at: http://leadership.uoregon.edu/resources/exercises_tips/leadership_reflections/10_things_authentic_leaders_do ) 

So, my journey of authentic Christian leadership which began the day Ronnie walked me home will now continue with this blog.  By the way, we all knew by the time we became teenagers that Ronnie was gay.  By the early 1980s, he had died from complications of HIV/AIDS.  His life continues to impact my life story. My prayer is that this blog will impact the lives of those who are on this journey with me to be the best United Methodist lay leaders we can be.

The Joyce’s Drug Store brick which now is waiting for a new clematis vine to bloom in Montpelier.

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