I walked through a door one day that changed my life forever. It was at the top of a flight of wooden stairs that hung off the outside of the feed store. I was sixteen and searching for something far different than what I found...
I walked through a door one day that changed my life forever. It was at the top of a flight of wooden stairs that hung off the outside of the feed store. I was sixteen and searching for something far different than what I found.
I had spent the summer between my sophomore and junior high school years on Grandpa Harry’s ranch in North Idaho, fencing. Not with foils or sabers, but with pliers and stretchers and sweat. I came home with an education in the vernacular that accompanies barbed wire; and with the desire to learn the old cowboy arts of leatherwork and braiding. My great-grandfather had been a rawhider. In Harry’s barn I found his long-forgotten tools, books, and notes; then began to ply my hand at the ancient art.
I was not good at it, and on returning home, quickly ran through the raw materials I’d brought from Idaho. That fall day, at the top of the wooden stairs outside the saddle shop, I hoped I knew just enough to appropriate the right leather and leave, without appearing as ignorant as I knew I was.
Ian Tyson was on the radio and a scrawny guy with big mustache looked up from behind a saddle-stand and studied me. He would have had to stand twice to make a shadow, but the knurled hands that held the carver belied a strength of character and iron poise that the years would allow me to later appreciate. This was Joe. He was a craftsman. And Joe had his ways.
On the third trip to his shop that fall, Joe offered me a job. Not really a job, an apprenticeship. A true, old-school apprenticeship. I would not be paid until I could produce something worth selling. Then I would be paid only in the leather I could use to educate myself and make myself better in the art. By this time, I had learned that Joe had three beautiful daughters and, despite the non-pay issue, I agreed to give it a try.
“For what it’s worth,
"...I think Heaven is riding stirrup-to-stirrup
with your best friends, through belly-high grass,
on your best horse, forever.
Jesus and I think you ought to be there.”
That singular decision, regardless of motive, turned out to be the best I ever made. Joe was more than a craftsman: he was a horseman, a farrier, a father, a philosopher, a teacher, a mentor, and a profound Christian. My education expanded beyond the saddle shop: eventually he agreed to teach me how to ride saddle-bronc horses and then to shoe horses, again as an apprentice all the while showing me what it meant to walk as a Christian.
Joe had his ways. Even now, the kernels of wisdom he imparted ebb and flow into my life as sage gems. As our relationship grew beyond friendship and mentorship, he taught with patience, love and respect. Everything had a double-entendre. Speaking of horses, he’d say, “You have to give to get.” I understood it to apply to horses, humans, and Christ. He taught me “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast”; patience and diligence and effort, in waiting for the Reward. He’d say that he was alright to not be wealthy, because he was as rich as he ever hoped to be. This was just his way. He expected me to understand and he expected me to grow. In life, in manhood, and in Faith.
I worked for Joe for about three years. Somewhere in there he started to pay me, or at least he would sometimes let me bring in my own business. I spent more hours with Joe in the shop, in the truck, or bending over underneath horses than I have spent with any other man outside of family, before or since.
Joe loved me and I knew it. What I didn’t know then, was how he groomed me into the man I became. Gently, never harshly, never rushed, and always measured against what he thought I could handle. Between my first and second year of college (freshman and sophomore years denote a successful passage from one to the next), I came home to shoe horses with Joe, again.
That summer, I thought I would marry an Idaho rodeo queen but when she showed up with another guy’s truck and his ring on her finger, I lost it. I’ll spare you the details. I drove across four states for two weeks before I drug myself back around to silently (and smellingly) climb into Joe’s truck at 4:30 one morning for the day’s work; as if nothing had happened and nothing had changed. He took it all in stride. He didn’t pry. He didn’t judge. He was just there.
About a week into my silent brooding he finally looked at me over a bologna sandwich and asked, “Dave, what does Heaven look like to you?” The simple question rocked my shaken world. At that point, I was beyond recognizing normal, much less Heaven. I told him so. He grunted, and half the sandwich disappeared under his mustache. He took a drink of water and told me, “For what it’s worth, I think Heaven is riding stirrup-to-stirrup with your best friends, through belly-high grass, on your best horse, forever.” Then, “Jesus and I think you ought to be there.”
In my worst moment, Joe showed me he loved me the way Christ loves me.
Many things have happened since then. I feel, guiltily, that life swept me away from Joe. Years and miles have churned up between us. Happiness and sorrow; failure and success; the steady drum of time and place have pushed me on. I sometimes yearn for the soft eddies of our companionship: one quiet, humble man tutoring a naive apprentice about life and love; earthly and heavenly. The years make that horizon seem further and further behind.
But Joe has his ways. And Jesus and I look forward to that ride.
I don’t know why she called me. I don’t even know why she noticed me or knew I existed. She called to invite me to join a high school/college girls’ group she’d started. I couldn’t make it on the day and time they were all meeting. So she, with 4 children, a husband, a household to run and other ministries going on, rearranged her whole life to allow me into it. She offered to have me...
I don’t know why she called me.
I don’t even know why she noticed me or knew I existed.
She called to invite me to join a high school/college girls’ group she’d started. I couldn’t make it on the day and time they were all meeting.
So she, with 4 children, a husband, a household to run and other ministries going on, rearranged her whole life to allow me into it.
She offered to have me come over for a couple hours on a specific day. These hours would bleed into dinner time…a time that I now know is rather hectic when you’ve got any number of kids at all.
I often think of how inconvenient a guest I was. And I cringe. I often should have left earlier when kids were sick or she had a ton going on. I should have helped more with her kids. I should have brought dinner for them instead of just partaking in the family meal every week. I should have asked more about her and how she was doing.
But she never, ever made me feel that way.
Her goal was to obey Christ, of course…to make disciples. She did this so graciously and effectively with each of us who met with her. But I always truly believed that she really just wanted to hang out with me. I always felt that she genuinely enjoyed my presence and was glad I came.
I honestly had a very immature relationship with Christ when she began meeting with me. We began working through a Bible study book together….the first of many. I had so many wrong ideas about God, His word, and “truth”. She gently and skillfully corrected me in a way that made me want to seek out more and more Biblical truth. She was patient.
She welcomed me warmly and listened intently, affirming my feelings while pointing out truth…she was kind.
She hardly ever spoke about herself. If she did, she confessed her own sin to me. I’ve never known anyone who confesses so much and so often. She was always so aware of her sin and so repentant of it. She never bragged, was never arrogant, and never acted unbecomingly.
She made our time about Jesus and about me and whatever was going on in my life on any given week. I cringe again as I think about some of the things I said…sometimes silly or trite or just typical American twenty-something chatter. She placed importance on the things that were important to me. She prayed for me in those things. She didn’t think her opinion was something valuable enough to dwell on…she sought out Jesus’. She taught me how to pray scripture. She did this in the midst of parenting 4, then 5, then 6, then 7, then 8, then 9 children. She’d apologize for times she’d have to stop our discussion to discipline or comfort or direct a child. I was grateful for the instruction, and still am. The magnitude of the time, peace, and so much else she sacrificed to pour into me is completely humbling. She did not seek her own and was not provoked.
The magnitude of the time, peace,
and so much else she sacrificed
to pour into me is completely humbling.
I lied to her once. She asked me a question and I lied right to her face. I thought I could shake it off and forget it, but called her in tears an hour after I left her house. I was so ashamed. Her response was completely gentle and gracious, and soothed my broken heart that just yearned to crawl in a hole and disappear. She prayed for me on the phone and reminded me of the mercy bought for me through Jesus’ death. She did not take into account the wrong(s) she suffered at my hands.
She was there, in the dressing room, at my wedding. “You are stunning”, she sweetly said. She knew Matt and I had decided not to even kiss each other for months leading up to our wedding. She’d kept me accountable concerning the purity of our relationship for almost the entirety of it. She’d reminded me sternly at least once that Satan did not want to “mess” with us…he wanted to kill, steal from, and destroy us. She prayed fervently for our protection and resolve. And on our wedding day, she celebrated and rejoiced more than most of the guests present. She did not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoiced with the truth.
I called her right after I called my mom when my first son died. She sobbed on the phone right along with me. She visited me that evening in the hospital. She held my hands as I sobbed at her kitchen table. She wiped tears away when she saw me crying in church. She continued to pray, continued to encourage, continued to spur me on to seek the truth as she sought Jesus right along with me. And when my other children were born, she was there…to counsel me through the hard first weeks, the problems with nursing, the first illnesses, the puzzle of intense shyness, the potty training, the school decisions, and so much more. At my worst and my best, she was there at every step to lift my eyes, mind, and heart to the Author and Perfecter of our faith. She bore all things, believed all things, hoped all things, and endured all things.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ll say it simply: she loved me. And that is the way I always left her house…feeling loved. I left feeling confident in what God was doing in me, glad He made me the way He did, hopeful about the future, convicted about my sin, grateful for God’s grace, and empowered to walk the path He’d marked out for me.
This, my friends, is true discipleship. It is painful and trying and messy and beautiful. I can’t ever hope to repay Molly Malizzo for the way she loved me. I pray that she sees some of the fruit of her actions, as I learned to disciple others (my own children included) by being discipled by her. I learned to invite others into my life (though a natural introvert…like Molly) as she invited me into hers. She showed me how to love others in their mess by loving me in mine…over and over and over. She’ll never know all the ways those hundreds of hours impacted me. God used her mightily in my life; and through her love, I experienced His.
Discipleship is costly.
But if you and I are willing to
open up our schedules, our homes,
our lives to those God puts in our path,
we will be utterly shocked at all that God
does through our sacrifice.
Discipleship is costly. But if you and I are willing to open up our schedules, our homes, our lives to those God puts in our path, we will be utterly shocked at all that God does through our sacrifice.
To Molly and all those who have done the hard, glorious work of discipling (loving) us:
Thank you for picking up the phone and calling us. Thank you for making room for us in your lives. Thank you for loving us. We thank God every time we think of you.