I was 29 and attending one of my first meetings as a newly elected member of the Elder Board. I could blame my conduct that night on my youth and inexperience, but it was really a matter of sin. Prideful sin had a grip on me.
Among the Elders
Don was a founding member of the church, going back to when it was a Bible study in a fellow veterinary professor’s home in the years just after World War 2. Don came to our town after serving in the war, recruited to teach and do research at the newly formed veterinary school in a very small town in California’s Sacramento Valley. He and Elizabeth, his young wife, accepted the challenge of helping to start a new congregation for the growing post-war population in their new home on the west coast.
I met Don many decades later, as he approached a well-earned retirement. You see, Don not only taught at California’s only veterinary school, he served as its dean at one point in his career. His research in dairy production and disease prevention improved the lives of people all over the world, including developing countries.
Don and Elizabeth served their church faithfully as well. After raising their children, they bought a duplex so they could live in one half and rent the other side to college students from the church at very low rates. They both led Sunday school, outreach and hospitality ministries. They took their positions among those who started the church very seriously.
By the time I met Don and Elizabeth, they were the only founding members left in the congregation. And there I was on the board with Don as the chairman. You’d think this would have humbled me.
Instead, I was proud of my position, being so young and considered by the congregation to be qualified to serve alongside Don and the others. Frankly, I thought I was pretty hot stuff.
A Little Too Hot
In one of the first meetings we were going over some item on the agenda. I have no idea now what it was, but it was something that generated a lot of discussion. Don was doing what he did well in managing the meeting, and at one point he started to respond to something someone said.
Midway through his first sentence I cut him off and proceeded to give my opinion on the subject. If you envision me leaning forward, raising my voice to drown out others and pointing my finger more than necessary, you’ve got the right picture.
I said my piece and the conversation continued. Don didn’t say anything else on the subject until he called for a vote.
By that time I’d had a chance to think about what I’d done, and I didn’t think much of it.
Don said it was break time since we were about half way through our agenda by then. Break time at these meetings meant snack time. I didn’t have much of an appetite. I was right behind Don as he got something, though, and waited for him to step away from the table.
I took a deep breath and felt myself flush, sure my embarrassment was showing crimson on my face. I started to apologize for cutting him off and speaking out of turn, trying to say that I knew I should have waited my turn. I hoped he’d accept my apology. He didn’t. This time he cut me off.
“No, no, you felt strongly about that and needed to say it. That’s fine,” he said with the most gentle and kind voice imaginable. I think he may have even patted my arm.
The Grace of Acceptance
Don reminds me of the father in the story called The Prodigal Son. The son talked his father into giving him his inheritance early and then spent it all on wild living, reducing himself to poverty far from home. When he came to his sense, he realized he had to go home and beg his father to take him back, even if only as a hired hand. He even had a speech and rehearsed it all the way home. Before he could finish that well-rehearsed speech, though, his father cut him off and welcomed him home.
The son is called the prodigal one for spending all his money, but it is the father’s grace that is truly prodigious: Welcome home, my son, and enjoy all the riches I have to offer.
That’s the way Don made me feel. He graciously overlooked my abhorrent behavior and treated me as his equal on the board. This is a lesson I have tried to remember – with varying degrees of success, I might point out.
Don’s few words were mighty with grace. I hope mine are too.
[This first appeared four years ago as a guest post for Cara Meredith’s blog, where she wrote this very kind introduction:
I was sitting with a group of other writer-mamas when I first heard of Tim Fall: “Oh, you don’t know Tim? Well, you SHOULD.” And just like that, Tim entered my list of people to someday connect with, mostly because I’d heard that he’d be encouraging to me – but soon it wasn’t just about receiving what Tim might be able to give me. Instead, it became a back and forth, burgeoning online friendship. So friends, I am delighted that he’s here today; soak up his wisdom-filled words, especially if you’ve ever found yourself serving on a committee or a board, thinking you have the world figured out. Because you know what? You SHOULD.
I think you should check out Cara’s writing too.]