God loves to surprise me. There are some life partners, some life legacies, some fellow pilgrims on life’s long and winding road we can anticipate, see and expect. There are many we work hard to cultivate on our team because we want or need them in our lives. But every now and again, a precious unexpected divinely providential surprise appears, a gift of friendship God plops right into our relational lap. I cannot architect nor plan these gifts of wonderful people. They can materialize literally out of relational thin air, or come walking out of the mists of earlier life chapters to re-connect. For me, both men and women of all ages whom I have come to love, respect and deeply admire. A few share some common characteristics with me (social awkwardness, quirky humor, voracious readers, students stuck on coursework of life and history and God and creation and literature and science fiction and the Middle East) while others are radically different (“Don’t you DARE get that geek _____ anywhere NEAR me!” a good friend loves to say). I enjoy folks with intellects far superior to mine (that’s quite a long list) and how they process information and see our world. I love those who serve, and won’t stop serving until the task is well completed. I value durability, contextual flexibility and the deployment of adaptive humor as an evolutionary protective mechanism. I don’t mind a big personality as long as they don’t bully or brandish entitlement. Kindness, gentleness, patience and a capacity to admit shortcomings are all huge for me, as long as there is searing honesty between us.
Today we move further down the Epiphanytide ordinal list of how God manifests Himself (sorry can’t help it) to us. Past the Triune God of Father, Son and Spirit, past yesterday’s inner sanctum sanctorum of just two or three wingfolks, that closest interior concentric relational circle, now comes The Twelve. Why The Twelve you may ask? Let’s skip a geeky excursus on biblical numerology (except to remind you that 1,3,7,10,12 and 40 are considered sacred numbers for good) and just say there were twelve tribes of Israel while Jesus reflected those tribes by choosing twelve special companions we call discipuli in Latin…students. Later they become (in Greek) apostoloi, ones dispatched on a mission. Always they are called The Twelve. Thus…my evangelical teachers in younger days challenged us to construct concentric circles of relationships, inner few, middle more, furthest circle out largest number, as did our Lord. My The Twelve include my blood family, a few close friends, and those God has placed around me in professional ministry. But don’t let the collar distract or fool you (ever). We all need a ring around us of those we call our Team, because it often takes a team to instruct us in the ways of the Lord. No one person can do all of that or even small batches of that by themselves. We need our customized The Twelve, those with whom we are willing to spend significant time with, work alongside, travel with geographically or spiritually or both, and choose to impact the world through even though they may hear just a teeny bit less of our inner guts we share with our interior 3.
God sent me a beautiful The Twelve, almost all of whom happen to be women at the present moment excepting our fine parish deacon. A wife and two daughters from whom I learn almost every day. Yep, Doctor Suess said it best, paraphrasing the Grinch: when my daughters were born, my heart grew three sizes that day, finding the strength of 10 Grinches plus 2! (Ironically, the tally of 12 that Theodor Suess Geisel actually wrote, something I just noticed…honestly, look it up!) My heart remains so to this very day. God sent me an amazingly talented and super durable team of ordained and lay servants to help Transfiguration find her true congregational self. My parish mentor once said, “Always hire colleagues far more capable than yourself and then turn them loose and ask what they need. Just get out of their way!” And I have. They are magnificent to watch in action, especially through the grinding quicksands of COVID. I am inspired by every one of them weekly, and always have been. They are a joy and a blessing from God to me and to all of us. With these souls on my Team I can do just about anything, face the myriad challenges of daily Christian ministry, and have the time of my life doing it. They speak truth to me, conveniently and often inconveniently so. I cannot imagine life without them. After God and after my three wingfolk comes my Team, thanks be to God. And yours?
- My Team sounds arrogant in my own ears but I wish to convey not their connection to me but rather the gifting I receive from them. Who is you’re The Twelve then? Do they know how incredibly precious and significant they are in your life? Who can you not imagine life without?
- The point is not to arithmetically get to 12 of course, but rather to identify that second relational concentric circle which lies between those chosen few and a larger number we’ll reflect upon tomorrow. Jesus chose 12 perhaps because He could not invest sufficient leadership energy in any more. If you find yourself shy of this middle concentric circle, Epiphanytide and Lent is a wonderful time to add a few more!
- Often these life companion pilgrims are those we already know or perhaps knew in a previous chapter of life. And a few, as I mentioned above, literally drop right out of the sky. Who has God surprised you with in life to this point? Who needs an invitation to be on you’re The Twelve? What are you waiting for?!