Discernment takes many paths. Many walk at times with you, maybe for a day or a season; some bless you with a lifetime. Travel partners come by your side as family by DNA. Some are invited intentionally; others are brought along by chance. Those who journey alongside stretch us, nurture us, support us, lead us to new growth. It can be years sometimes before we realize how those who walk with us transform us.
In less than three weeks, Steve and I have come to face the deaths of three people who journeyed with us during different points in our lives. The first was my second cousin who died much too young as a result of serious health conditions. Most of my memories are of a tiny little guy, 10 years younger than me, with a head of curly, white-blond hair. There was a framed piece of art in his grandparents’ house of a young Englishman. It was one of those paintings where it looked like the eyes of the person in the portrait followed you around the room. I have a picture of my cousin sitting on his grandparents’ couch with that painting over his shoulder. When my uncle died, of all the things in the house that had belonged to her sister, my mom wanted that picture. Those eyes continued to follow everyone who came into our house in Fieldale for many years.
This past Friday we learned that a friend with whom Steve played senior softball and basketball had taken his life the day before. The “Nothing Better than Age,” THE NBA, was the beginning of our path together. There were many stops for nourishment around our kitchen table. Nobody ever complemented my cooking the way he did. An accomplished athlete in his younger years, there was always a high level of energy when he was present. Yet, many also knew there was just as high a level of anxiety and stress.
Today we learned of the expected, but still difficult to comprehend death of “The Other One.” A few years after we met, the other Martha and I jokingly talked about what to call each other. The choice was “The Other One” and it stuck for 27 years. Our birthdays were just 8 days apart so the cards would always be from “The Other One.” Every email was signed, “The Other One.”
Often leadership development starts when one person sees gifts and graces in another and calls them to life. In our work of multiplying leaders for the church, the responsibility is to take the next step to encourage that person to find the place to use their talents to build the Kingdom of God. We must then continue to check in, to see if there is a match and to determine what we can do to support the new leader in their journey of discovery and service.
Not six months after I joined Shady Grove UMC, “The Other One” – with whom I had been singing in the choir – invited me to lunch. It was a fancy place, the original DeFazio’s at The Shoppes at Innsbrook. Well, for me it was fancy. We went after church one Sunday. After enjoying the meal and conversation, I was hit with the ask. Speaking as a member of the Nominations Committee, “The Other One” asked if I would consider becoming the Lay Leader. I’d only been at the church for 6 months, so my immediate reaction was that the committee had to be really desperate! Everybody else must have already said “no” or worse, there must be so many challenges that they couldn’t get any of the long-time members to take on the role. But “The Other One” continued, sharing with me the gifts she had seen in me and telling me how they were needed for that particular time in the life of the church.
I sent a card to her before the party she wanted to celebrate her life on Sunday, July 19th. After initially planning to attend, we learned that Steve would be having elbow surgery last week so we had to change our plans due to COVID-19 concerns. In the card, I shared the memory of sitting in the restaurant that day and noted that I hold “The Other One” responsible for every church leadership role that I have found myself in since that fateful day in the late summer of 1993.
Discernment can take many paths, but “you only get one go around.” That quote is from a song on the “Discernment Playlist”: “Be a Light.”
In a place that needs change, make a difference. In a time full of noise, just listen. ‘Cause life is but a breeze, better live it. In a place that needs change, make a difference.
In a world full of hate, be a light. When you do somebody wrong, make it right. Oh, don’t hide in the dark, you were born to shine. In a world full of hate, be a light.
In a race that you can’t win, slow it down. Yeah, you only get one go around. ‘Cause the finish line is six feet in the ground. In a race you can’t win, just slow it down.
In a world full of hate, be a light….”Words by Josh Thompson, Joshua Miller, Thomas Rhett Akins, and Matthew Peters Dragstrem
Who are you encouraging to take on a leadership role in this time when everything is changing? What will you say to the one who says everyone else must have said “no”? How will you encourage just one person to see how their gifts and graces can show another the love of Christ in this place that needs change, this world full of hate, this time full of questions?
Be “The Other One.” Be a light.
Discernment Playlist – Songs 1 – 10