“A tall stately woman in her late fifties, Phyllis’s presence made an impression. Soft white curls framed her face. Her dark, deep-set eyes regarded others intently as she listened to discover the values that guided their life choices. When she was delighted, a huge smile lit up her face. When troubled, her thick eyebrows furrowed and her generous lips tightened. I hoped she wouldn’t find any reason to furrow her brows or tighten her lips while observing our group.” ~excerpt from A Long Awakening to Grace
I wish I could reconnect with Phyllis and insert her picture here holding my memoir, but Phyllis died in October of 2004, thirteen years before the publication of A Long Awakening to Grace and five years before I became serious about writing my story in something more public than my journals.
Phyllis was an extraordinary woman. For over fifty years, she dedicated her life to ministry and being an active volunteer in the community. She served several churches as their director of Christian education. She and her soulmate and husband, Norbert, pioneered mission work in Kentucky’s mountains and Middletown’s inner city.
In the early 70s, Phyllis began serving as the Director of Christian Education for the church in which I was an active member. She asked to observe a group I facilitated in my home. Fortunately for me, she didn’t furrow her brow. In fact, when I turned around after ushering the last group member out the door, a huge smile lit her face. Her words thrilled me.
“Wow, I’m surprised at the depth of sharing tonight. The group went very well. I’m impressed with the strength of your leadership. You have gifts as a small-group leader.” excerpt from A Long Awakening to Grace
Phyllis saw something in me that needed to be nurtured. A few weeks later, she suggested I pursue a career in the church. Alice, the parish worker from my home church, was the first person to make such a proposal. Alice made her’s as I prepared for my 1960 high school graduation.
For many reasons, I didn’t heed Alice’s advice. With Phyllis’s urging, I decided to at least explore the possibility. But it took a third prompting for me to get serious about it. That one came in response to a letter I sent to Ruby, the Director of Christian Education preceding Phyllis, seeking her advice. At first I thought Ruby’s counsel outlandish. Because I already had a bachelors in education and four-years teaching experience, she recommended I pursue a master of divinity degree in seminary.
I resisted. I just couldn’t fathom my being “holy” enough to associate with the “saints” I would surely find in seminary. But when others didn’t seem to think it was crazy, I decided to explore further.
I enrolled in Dayton, Ohio’s United Theological Seminary for their fall quarter, 1975. Phyllis gave me a butterfly pin with a card that read, “Now you can fly.”
After sharing with my classmates in the first course I took about the pin Phyllis gave me, they dubbed me, “Emerging Butterfly.”
“That’s a perfect name for you,” my classmates enthused. The butterfly became my favorite symbol for resurrection and transformation — and after graduation, the symbol for my retreat ministry titled Emergings.” excerpt from A Long Awakening to Grace
I still had a lot of growing and changing to do after I entered and graduated from seminary. Phyllis didn’t get to witness it all. However, I will always be grateful for the role she played in smoothing out some of my rough edges and believing more in me than I was able to believe in myself.
Phyllis definitely served as a significant angel in my life and I regret not spending more time with her toward the end of her life to thank her for the important role she played in my life. Let that be a lesson to you. If there is someone who has been pivotal in your life, let them know before it is too late.
I did eventually learn to fly, as my awakening to grace testifies. I will always be grateful to Phyllis for her part in giving me wings. I like to think she would approve of my flight path.