Fifty-Nine Songs, 4 Hours and 13 Minutes

A long, challening period of discernment began for me in early February. By the time a decision became time sensitive, COVID-19 had begun to craft a new reality for all of us. Decisions that Steve and I were in the midst of about church community had to pause. A multitude of concerns were happening that impacted my current leadership roles in the church. The United Methodist General and Jurisdictional Conferences were postponed, pushing decisions about the future of the denomination into the second half of 2021. The discernment continued through March, then into April and May. Still today, I wonder if I have made the right decision. More on that at a later time.

COVID-19 changed the vision I had for a Clearness Committee. In its place was a series of Clearness Conversations by phone, Zoom and FaceTime. Knowing how powerful music is in my life, one of those surrounding me in this process asked what songs I would have in my playlist for this time, this questioning, this decision-making. And a “Discernment” playlist was born, just like the “Called General Conference” playlist that some of you reading this blog helped create. There is also now a “Forward to 2021” playlist.

Today seems like the right time to start sharing a little about the songs on the playlists: 37 songs (to date) on the “Discernment” list and 22 on the “Forward to 2021” list. Fifty-nine songs, 4 hours and 13 minutes.

So the first song, chosen with deep memories, struggles and learnings: “Humble Yourself” by 2nd Chapter of Acts.

Heading to college in 1979, I didn’t have much exposure to contemporary Christian music. Honestly I don’t remember there being much of it. Patty Jo Riddick would be the one to introduce me to Tim Sheppard, Amy Grant, and 2nd Chapter of Acts. I carried the 2nd Chapter of Acts *With Footnotes album from place to place for years, having memorized every song and loving the tight harmonies of the siblings in the group. Patty Jo also introduced me to homemade souse meat from her family’s hog farm but that’s another story. She was the only other young woman on 3rd Stringfield at Meredith that fall who wanted to watch the World Series. Patty Jo should actually be credited with the beginning of the Psychiatric Help 5 Cents role in my life as we paraded around campus for Halloween that year dressed as Lucy and Snoopy. By the spring, we were singing “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” for Stunt and laughing so hard that we couldn’t continue the song.

Patty Jo married during our junior year. Soon after we graduated, she and her husband, Rick Pulley, began traveling up and down the East Coast hoping to start a contemporary Christian singing career. I had the opportunity to see them perform a few times. They eventually moved to a church in Ringgold, VA, that I drove within 5 miles of every time I traveled home to Fieldale from Richmond. For the years they were there, we were never able to connect because they were traveling or involved with church activities or I felt too pressured to get to my Mom or back to Richmond. You know…twenty and thirty-something year olds are busy! We stayed connected – before cell phones – with cards and notes.

I’ll never forget the phone call in May, 1999, telling me that Patty Jo was missing. She left home to go shopping and did not return. Her remains were found over the state line in Caswell County, NC, in December, 2002. In February of the next year, Rick was charged with first degree murder in her death.

For some reason, the physical distancing of COVID-19, the feelings of loss and mourning that have come in this odd season and this period of discernment brought back wonderful memories of Patty Jo. At the same time, I realize how wrong my priorities were in not nurturing our friendship. I allowed my perceived priorities to become more imporant than a person who had enriched my life in so many ways.

So in memory of Patty Jo, “Humble Yourself” became the first song on the “Discernment” playlist. It is a reminder of how I need to approach God and the continuing formation of my faith. “Humble yourself before the Lord…

If you’re weak, He is strong
In His strength you can carry on
When you lay down your life before the Lord.”

Songwriters: Anne Herring / Jim Tenneboe
Humble Yourself lyrics © Latter Rain Music

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