It was a gift I didn’t see coming. Truthfully, it was a gift beyond my deserving, but one I will always treasure. It was like a pearl of great price. I could never purposefully appropriate it for myself. I guess, much like God’s grace, a colleague and highly valued friend freely gave it. His words left me teary-eyed and filled with emotion. Of course, his words were also spoken with emotion. Initially, he too, looked a little teary eyed. It was an emotional and heartfelt moment in time.
I reviewed his impressive resume before I ever met him in person. He was new to the greater Austin area, having moved here following graduation from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with a master’s in marriage and family counseling. He moved here to become a bi-vocational pastor of a church. In other words, he was a pastor at heart, but needed additional financial resources to provide for the needs of his family. His application was for a case manager position in STARRY’s emergency shelter.
Was that really eleven years ago? Wow! The years have gone by quickly. He really took the ball and ran with it. For the past several years he has been the Executive Director of the corporation and they have excelled in ways that only God could orchestrate.
I remember the interview. My thoughts were along the order of: “This guy is the perfect prototype to become hooked on services to children and families from hard places. If somehow I can coax him in the door, he’ll never leave. He has an intuitive heart for hurting families”. A heart for hurting families is a gift that can’t be learned. You either have it or you don’t. This guy had it. I knew that once he got his first taste of child welfare work up-close and personal, his sense of satisfaction and fulfillment would be like a cup that runneth over into his soul.
I knew that the privilege of responding to needs would forever be a change maker in his own life. The work would both whet and satisfy his appetite in ways he never expected. Through the process of helping others, ironically he’d discover his own life changed and enriched.
So what was the setting for receipt of the gift? It was a STARRY board meeting that took place yesterday afternoon. I noticed that the Executive Director had re-ordered the agenda and his report was last. We’ve never done it in that order before, but I didn’t ask any questions. I noticed it, but I didn’t think much about it.
The Executive Director gave his report and then he turned down an avenue I didn’t see coming. Honestly, I’ve never been more surprised. He expressed his thoughts this way:
“Time. It’s a precious gift. It’s a gift that Don has invested in the STARRY family for longer than any other employee.
It’s a gift that he’s invested into my life as we’ve walked through celebrations, heartaches for hurting kids, joyful moments of fitful laughter and tear-filled times of hurt or sorrow.
In the summer of 2006, I met Don for the first time. He was dressed to the nines, as is customary for Don. In fact, he has haberdashers at fine clothing stores around town. And, they have him on their call list when the annual sale comes, but, I digress.
Don interviewed me and subsequently offered me an opportunity to become the case manager for our Emergency Shelter.
I said yes.
Days later, I found myself sprinting (or walking as Don calls it) across the street for orientation. We dodged traffic and Don, quicker than any Mays Street motorcade with wit and humor, made his classic joke about Treva wanting it to be work related and accidental.
It was a fast friendship.
My career in child and family services rests on the foundation of Don’s investment of time into my life, my ideas, my visions, and my struggles to try to get it right as much as possible…and being provided a lot of grace when I didn’t.
Don, I’m so grateful for you.
Over the past several years Don has often joked about being 7 years away from retirement. He seemed serious.
So, when, on April 21st Don announced that his retirement was closer to 7 weeks than 7 years away, we all took a collective breath and tried to start the very difficult work of envisioning our family of ministries without the cornerstone of tried and true stability that has seen us through the ups and downs over the years.
Time. It’s a precious gift. And, these last 11 years for me have been, to borrow a phrase from one of our favorite writers, a “more than enough” blessing from God.
Don, we miss you already. But, we’re glad to see that you’re going out in style!
Don’s not just riding off into the sunset. He’s doing it in a gorgeous Miata convertible. For 25 years that was his dream car and he recently made that dream come true (to the chagrin of the wheelers and dealers of the Houston dealership that found out that no one is a match for Don’s power of persuasion).
Not everyone has embraced the zoom zoom Mazda philosophy the same as Don, but there’s no one in my life who I know with more energy, more zest for life and more excitement for what’s next than my friend, mentor and boss.
Now, the Miata isn’t the only engineering marvel that Don has been overjoyed to own. Don loves all things Apple. And, maybe if we could’ve transitioned to their products here at STARRY, Don would have stuck with us for a few more years. Okay, that’s probably wishful thinking.
Don, you’ve reminded us that time is precious and that new adventures are a way to welcome God’s blessings for what’s next. As you launch the new journey ahead, we hope that STARRY’s retirement gift to you is a reminder of how much we know your eye for fashion, your love of great products, but most importantly, a constant reminder of how much your time with us has helped us to innovate, grow and reach towards a future of service that we never dreamed possible without your support”.
STARRY graciously provided me an Apple watch. I didn’t see that coming. Yet the gift that I most didn’t see coming was the heartfelt words of affirmation that my investment of time and friendship have served as source of encouragement through the privilege of being a friend, mentor and boss.
I’ll never look at my wrist to check the time without remembering the real gift that I’ve been given. The gift of working with the incredibly gifted, talented and called individuals who go the second and third mile every day to meet others at the point of need. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by so many incredibly gifted folks who make a difference for others every single day of their lives. That gift has made a difference in mine.
All My Best!