I’ve had a hard time discerning a focus word or phrase for 2021. After my choice last year, I’ve almost been afraid to commit to anything. Gilda Radner’s quote that moved me to settle upon “Delicious Ambiguity” as my focus phrase for 2020 couldn’t have been just a random statement that appeared from a simple search. How much more ambiguous could a year have been? Doubtful, of uncertain nature, obsure, problematic, puzzling, difficult to comprehend….all of those definitions of “ambiguity” perfectly describe 2020. I had almost reached a point of keeping the ambiguity going into 2021.
But three words have continued to call to me this week: reset, emerge, embrace.
- Time Magazine had a cover and article in early November which described “The Great Reset,” how the COVID-19 pandemic has presented all of us with the opportunity to think about the kind of future we want, to transform how we live and work. Entering 2021 demands a resetting of priorities, intentions and outlook. Turning 60 soon demands a RESET.
- The Oxford Languages dictionary defines EMERGE as to “move out of or away from something and come into view,” to “become known.” With a reset, new visions and demands come into view. Marianne Williamson, author and political activist, is quoted as saying: “Every problem emerges from the false belief we are separate from one another, and every answer emerges from the realization we are not.” That is a vision that cannot just emerge in 2021 but must take hold in our communities, in our church and in our world.
- Did I mention that I’m turning 60 soon? If you teach and preach that getting older can mean accepting who you have become over time and are continuing to become…that purpose and meaning can become more clear…that priorities come into focus…you better live that way. In her book, The Black Hawk, one of the characters created by Joanna Bourne remarks: “I like the woman you became better than the girl you were. I like the story you’ve written on your face.” This year ahead is the time to EMBRACE the story that has been written thus far on my face and anticipate the story that will continue to unfold. Oh, how deliciously ambiguous the story unfolded in 2020! Embracing a COVID vaccine, family members and friends we haven’t been able to hug in so long, uncomfortable conversations with the power to transform, challenging decisions that may change the church…are all anticipated to be part of the unfolding story of 2021.
Three focus words for 2021: reset, emerge, embrace.
As I begin to reset on this first day of Janaury, it’s good to remember how the name and focus for this blog were chosen. The first post to what was then “Walking Martha Home” was at the end of May in 2013. My early morning walk that day 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 had tweeted a few weeks prior 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.”
As my walk ended and I came to the lamp post at my sidewalk, I snapped a picture which is still attached to my profile: a blooming clematis vine wrapped around a garden flag and an old brick. That day in May, the climbing vine was breaking forth with purple blossoms 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 had grabbed my heart 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 was set in place to remind 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 that same 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 drink 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. I 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.
In “Discovering Your Authentic Leadership,” an old article from February 2007 in the Harvard Business Review, authors Bill George, Peter Sims, Andrew McLean and Diana Mayer described 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.
So, my journey of authentic Christian leadership which began the day Ronnie walked me home continues 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 AIDS. His life continues to impact my life story.
My prayer on May 31, 2013, was that this blog would impact the lives of those who are on this journey with me to be the best United Methodist lay leaders we can be. Little did I know then that today I’d be the Virginia Conference Lay Leader…and “Still Walking Martha Home.”
A different clematis vine grows on the lamp post of our house now. The holder for the garden flag has been RESET in a new community. Since foot surgery has kept me from cutting it down, the vine is frostbiten but new white blossoms will EMERGE soon enough. The brick from Joyce’s Drug Store greets me everytime I walk to and from the house. And what better time than now for all of us to EMBRACE the story of incarnation in the words on the flag: “Love is born.”
May just the right focus words or phrases find you this year.