I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me but no, there they were – five strands of grey hair, carefully etched, like pencil-drawn highlights on an ebony landscape. I carefully searched his face for more signs of aging and sighed in relief; there was nothing else new.
Then he got up from the chair and my heart ached. Very slowly, he eased himself away from the table and began limping away, his hunch just that tiniest bit more pronounced.
‘Please don’t go…’ my heart pleaded, but it was precisely why we were in that meeting today.
We were discussing how we each could rise up to the place where collectively, as a team, we would be able to stand on our own feet, before the year was over. He was being transferred to another branch of the company – for greater responsibilities and his greatest wish was that the team would be able to unite in one heartbeat.
‘I don’t want him to go,’ I whispered to my neighbour.
‘None of us do,’ she replied. ‘Who would defend us, once he’s gone?’
‘That is precisely why he’s toughening us up, getting us to make our own decisions… he knows that once he’s transferred, we need to be strong enough to fight our own battles,’ someone else added.
The grey hairs on his head – I’d never seen them before and today, catching them glint in the light of the setting sun, I realized that time was moving on. And so must I.
When I first came to church, I was a beaten, broken girl. Fresh from a tumultuous relationship, still drinking, smoking and clubbing heavily, church was the last place I wanted to be.
I actually grew up in a Christian environment. As a child, I remember walking in the gardens of my old church, waiting for my mother. I recall plucking the flowers in the dark of night, brushing off insects that crawled up my leg, playing with pebbles and hearing the strains of singing waft on the cool air around me.
I accepted Christ when I was four and God was a real friend to me. He was always there – in the night garden – playing with me while the adults worshiped Him.
As I grew older, I felt the weight and burden of being a good person deaden my feet and I stopped seeing God as my night companion. Filtered through the adults’ demand on me needing to live a life of purity, I got angry. It grew worse, year after year. In rebellion, I began to walk down paths – any path – as long as it took me far away from that intimate night garden.
Finally, at 16, I turned to God and yelled at Him. ‘Leave me alone! Let me go to hell, I don’t care. Just leave me alone because I hate this. I hate the hypocrisy of Christians, I hate church and their constant masquerade parties. I don’t care if I die. Just go.’
I stopped going to church after that.
But years later, I found myself walking in to a different church one Sunday morning. Perhaps it was the hunger in me for a God, perhaps it was the desperation of a girl who’d lost everything and knew that there is only one truth. I wasn’t too sure. All I knew was that I sat defiantly on my chair while my insides coiled and cowered in fear of rejection.
When the worship began… the tears started flowing. I have no recollection of what was sung or preached. All I knew was that I’d found home.
The lead musician on the stage that day? It was him – the man I lovingly call Grandfather. He was (and still is) a breath of fresh air in church. When others daren’t speak the truth, he does with no qualms. When others feared being the ‘bad guy’ to make the changes that were needed, he boldly walked right into the fight. When others recoiled from humanity’s ugliness, he stepped forward to embrace the outcasts.
He saw me through the years of change, noted the little sacrifices I made (when no one else did) and tried his best to give something to me, every time he met me. He disciplined me, scolded me, loved me and built me up. Through every mistake I’d ever made, his one constant refrain was, ‘I never doubted your heart…’
Oh he knew I loved God and loved being in church, but he went one step deeper than any other leader had ever done, he understood the frailty of my weaknesses and he judged me no less for that. He never stopped believing in me.
These days, I rarely see him around anymore (as he’s already started on his new portfolio) but he still impacts me greatly. I’ll never stop letting him have that special place to speak into my life. Why? Because… I want to be like him.
‘Why must things be so hard? Why do we need to go through these challenges?’ Softspeaker once asked her husband.
‘Maybe God’s training you, training the team,’ her husband replied.
‘Training us to do what?’ she whined.
‘To be like your leader – a man fearless of other men’s opinions,’ he replied.
Fearless. I like that.
And in honour of the man who walked out the room today, I will stand tall.
I will fly.
Even if it hurts to say goodbye.