“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?” –Robert K. Greenleaf
I got two solid punches to the gut last week when I received letters from two very important people in my life announcing their retirements. My son’s school counselor is retiring after twenty years of service and my doctor, the only one I’ve had since moving to Memphis, is retiring after fifty years of service. As silly as it may sound, I stood at my kitchen counter after opening my doctor’s letter and tried to imagine my life without him in it; I couldn’t, and still can’t.
I can’t imagine what I’ll do next year when our school counselor- who probably counseled me more than my son- is not at the front door greeting us, or down the hall waving to us, or sitting at her desk listening to us with an open heart. I do imagine it is that heart- that servant’s heart- we have all found, at one time or another, in a fellow Memphian which leads us to mourn their departures from our lives, whether planned or not.
When basketball player and community champion Zach Randolph returned to Memphis on January 19, 2018, now as part of the Sacramento Kings, the fans at FedEx Forum that night made it clear to him that his heart both on and off the court had left such deep impressions on our city that no matter who he played for, he would always be our Z-Bo. His departure from the Grizzlies roster was one deeply felt even by those who had no interest in basketball because his service to those around him extended far beyond the floors of the court. He held an annual shopping spree for kids during the holiday season; he helped pay utility bills for our city’s most underserved through annual donations to the MIFA (Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association) Plus-1 program. When Z-Bo left we felt a collective punch to the gut that left us gasping for air, not because Zach Randolph The Basketball Player couldn’t be replaced but because Zach Randolph The Servant With The Colossal Heart can never be replaced.
I have been assured by both the doctor and school counselor that I’ll be in good hands with whomever fills their positions following retirement. Perhaps. But they have made it quite difficult for me to envision anyone having the capability of filling their shoes- of having the capacity to walk me through, as they did, life’s most challenging and scariest moments.
Though he always had a full schedule and may have explained things to me a dozen different times in as many different ways, my doctor with the patience of Job never once dismissed my fears as folly or my disquietude as silly when I considered the million-and-one ways a high-risk pregnancy might turn out. Thank God it all turned out okay, and thank God for my doctor with the servant’s heart who gave unrestricted amounts of love and compassion to his patients for fifty years.
Thank God for my son’s school counselor who has wiped many a tear and shaped many lives in her twenty years of servant leadership during which she preferred to live, rather than preach, the fruits of the Spirit such as charity, joy, kindness, goodness, generosity, and gentleness. She was certainly the glue that held me together during my son’s first couple of years in school when I had to dismiss the aforementioned disquietude and learn to entrust my only child with those I believed to be most trustworthy.
Once I’ve caught my breath I’ll give them both a call just to say thank you- for helping me grow, become healthier, wiser, freer, and seek ways in which I, too, can grow a servant’s heart.
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