I’ve learned that some of the holiest moments in a young minister’s life are when mentors become friends. These moments are hard to mark, because the relationships shift gradually, in the same way that a mother and daughter shift from instructor to counselor to friend – you don’t always notice it happening, but when you do catch a glimpse of the movement, you treasure that moment and all the beauty that lies within.
Pam and I met when I was a student at McAfee, preparing to take her Baptist Heritage class. I instantly fell in love with the class, because I am a huge nerd who thinks Roger Williams is one of the most awesome human beings ever to walk to planet, but also because of the passion Dr. Durso brought to the subject and to caring for the students she taught.
Over time, we bonded over our common love of Baptist nerd culture, and she became one of the first people I’d call when I needed to hear a calm, affirming voice on the other end of the phone. During many lunch outings in seminary (including one after which a creepy man followed us out to her car, but that’s a story for another day), she challenged me to discover the gifts that make me unique and special and to minister through those. She would call me out the minute I started to sound whiney or entitled, holding me to the high standards I already set for myself. I thrived off of our conversations together.
But sometime between seminary and now, our relationship has morphed from a purely one-sided mentorship to a true friendship, both of us taking a genuine interest in the other’s lives – not just as ministers, but as people.
So, when I decided that I wanted to hike Stone Mountain with 27 different people while I am 27-years-old, my first text went to Pam.
We met one Friday morning before work, and to my surprise and excitement, she brought her son Michael with her. Her kids, Michael and Alex, are two of the brightest joys in Pam’s life and it’s always an honor to get invited into their special world, although this time was a little scary, because Michael drove (yes – I am becoming one of those people who is scared to get in the car with young drivers, but hey – I live in Atlanta, so it’s permissible).
Our trek up the mountain was not speedy. I think that no matter how many times I walk up Stone Mountain, I will be one of those people who stops at the picnic tables half way up to “hydrate.” We took our time navigating the rough patches of rock, hunching over so we were closer to the ground in case we fall, making sure we took the path with least risk of injury.
Fearless Michael stayed yards ahead of us as we wove from right to left and found our footing. He would come back every once in a while to offer his mom a stabilizing hand when the steps up were too big, and in those moments, I felt like I was being allowed to witness something so tender and sacred that I knew this day was a gift from Pam – drawing me deeper into her life and extending another day of true friendship.
I don’t remember everything we talked about that day, nor am I allowed to share (what happens on the mountain stays on the mountain), but I do know that I am now secretly challenging Pam to a dual to see who can read more books this year and I left feeling affirmed by Michael in my dislike of the series finale of How I Met Your Mother.
I look back on that day, the three of us sitting on top of the mountain, looking over the city we’ve shared for almost the same length of time, and I think about the providential God who puts us in places among people whom we most desperately need in our lives. And taking a moment to be with those people staring down on the place that has shown you so much of the world is a reminder that the journey is always worthwhile if you let others take your hand until you can find your footing.
For my first three years of life in Atlanta, Pam was that stabilizing hand for me, and at times she still is, but it’s fun to think about the ways we journey together now – the ways we get to help each other find the right rock to step on and the most efficient way up the proverbial mountain. And for these small moments when I catch a glimpse of the way our relationship has morphed from mentorship into friendship, I am grateful.