My friend Mark passed away this last week after a year and a half long battle with brain cancer. Yesterday, J and I went to the funeral. Today, I am sad. In the midst of the sadness, I also have profound gratitude for the legacy Mark left in my life.
I first met Mark years ago when J and I started visiting our church. In fact, Mark might be the first person we met there. Our paths crossed again as we wound up in the same small group.
In that first Sunday night meeting back in 2008, awkwardness reigned. We were clueless about the demographics of the group ahead of time. I think the group wondered what us two kids were doing there, and we wondered how we got trapped in a group with people old enough to be our parents and grandparents. We stuck it out through the early awkward, and that group changed our lives. We didn’t even realize it as it was happening. And that group also had Mark in it.
As time progressed, Mark kept noting my ability to teach. Because of that gift, Mark kept nudging me to talk to church staff about teaching at church. I kept nodding and avoiding the issue. Mark kept persisting. He was good at that. Eventually, about the time that I went back to seminary, he engineered a meeting with a church staff person and myself which led to my teaching a class at church. And that mushroomed into a host of different opportunities over the past three years.
Mark’s persistence and affirmation helped me to see that God might not have abandoned a particular call on my life, even as I pulled a Jonah and spent a few years wandering in the opposite direction from God.
When I left graduate school in my early 20s, I quit in part because I wasn’t sure what I ‘d do with such a degree. I didn’t see myself as smart enough to pursue a PhD, nor did I want to be holed up in an ivory tower of books (though I love books a lot). And I grew up in a tradition where women weren’t supposed to lead at church, except for maybe children’s ministry or other women. Leadership was for men. Finding a job as an actual pastor seemed impossible, so why get an MDiv? I would never have admitted all that at the time (my tired inner feminist would’ve been mortified), but the statistical realities seemed bigger than my faith.
I left school, started work in the corporate world and soon after lost thoughts of going back to finish my degree. Had it not been for Mark, I’m not sure that I would have had the courage to head back to seminary and finish my Masters of Divinity.
Here was this older gentleman, whom I deeply respected, cheering me on in my pursuit of God’s call. I cried when he noted on Facebook how proud he was of me when I’d commented about guest lecturing during my first internship. When I lost my sense of self and God’s direction on my life, Mark kept nudging me forward. When I struggled with how to integrate my calling and my gender, Mark pointed me back towards Deborah (see Judges 4) and reminded me that God called and that I need to trust that where God calls, God will lead the way forward. Mark was firmly convinced of God’s plan and purpose for me.
I will miss having his voice in my life. Miss hearing him declare that he is proud of me. I’m preaching at my church for the first time in a few weeks, and I’m grieved Mark won’t be present to hear me.
In the meantime, I hope he’s met my mom while he’s hanging out with Jesus these days; I think she’d probably have a great big hug for him.