Goodbye is such a final word. I have always prefer the phrase 'See ya later' because to me it does not seem so final. It is true that people come and go in our lives. It is true that friendships change. It is true that even life as I know it at Open Hands will change soon as well. This time however the change is different. This time the change is a goodbye to a dear friend as well, and that for me is much different. So I am processing. I have feelings. I have feelings about my feelings. This is becoming one of those things that I cannot really grasp just yet. It is difficult for me imagining all of the times we have had together actually coming to a close, an end if you will. I am trying to wrap my mind around saying goodbye one last time to a person I have been working down the hall from for the past 3 1/2 years. I am talking, of course, about Pastor Joy Johnson. Back on September 17 she told me she wanted to let me know, before I heard it elsewhere, that her last day as Pastor, after 30 plus years, would be Sunday December 31.
8 years ago Open Hands had our official start because of the prayers, vision and call To serve the Midway with open hands. Many times I have heard Joy say that when she took the call to be Pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran that there was a mission field right outside the walls of this church building that we have to address. This is exactly what she has done for far longer than the last 8 years she has been an integral part of Open Hands.
The Lord has enlightened me as to how important it is to have someone like her who I can trust with my honest feelings, concerns and frustrations about being the one in charge of Open Hands. God desired that for 3 1/2 years I would have Joy here to support me on days when I was not so sure what to do or what would come next or if I even wanted to keep doing this. Things change, circumstances change and people change. Why would Open Hands and Bethlehem Lutheran be any different? So I am allowing myself to experience change, to feel this emotion of grief, if you will, and this one really gets to me. I am not one to show my feelings. I am strong, independent, and resilient. I often gloss over emotions so nobody feels sorry for me. I do not want anyone to know I am weak. Truth be told I am learning to let myself feel and process and let the Lord be part of it all. My life tagline, since I came to Open Hands, has been, "The reward is IN the journey." It has been a wonderful journey to have Joy as someone I have looked up to over these past 3 1/2 years. It will be hard to say goodbye but I must think of it as a celebration for her and be grateful that what God started through her and others has a great future because of them. She will be missed but never forgotten. She has inspired many and no doubt will continue to do that.
16 years ago I met Joy through MN Via De Cristo, a weekend church retreat. When I took over the role of Executive Director after Pastor Steve Slostad retired in December of 2014, Joy left a note on my desk that said,
"As you start this new challenge as Director of Open Hands, you are equipped by the ONE who called you to serve Him in this way, and He will always be there to help you. Joy."
There will be a different feel to the day when I arrive in my office on Tuesday January 2, 2018 and I do not hear her arrive, humming a tune as she comes up the stairs. But I am thankful for what has been and I know, without a doubt, God will be with us and Joy.
And so I say, "See ya later Pastor Joy, many thanks for so much more than I can ever express. God's blessings on the next chapter on your journey and remember, 'The reward is IN the journey', just sayin'...