Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.
~ Mary Anne Radmacher
Annually, we United Methodists meet within our regions to worship, fellowship, and conference on the principles and practices that guide us. Because there is a home for retired UMC deaconesses and missionaries in Asheville, local deaconesses that are able to drive often assist others in attending Annual Conference at a retreat location 45 minutes away.
And so it was that June nine years ago that I had the pleasure of meeting Laura Wells.
I had admired Laura from afar prior to that summer. You see, she was the kind of soul whose peace radiated from her heart. Her gentle smile and kind eyes had a way of putting you at ease when you were around her, as if you were coming home to a warm cup of tea and your favorite blanket.
When she climbed into my car that warm day in June, I’ll admit that I was a bit intimidated. I had wondered what it would be like to sit in the presence of such a faith-filled woman. I expected we would ride quietly all the way to Lake Junaluska with her pondering all that she would be doing at Annual Conference.
I was wrong.
She spent the trip asking me question after question about my calling, my ministry, and my theology. And no matter how I tried to bring the discussion back around to her, she carefully guided me back down the path she had intended for us to take on the drive that day–a path that would open my heart and spirit to digging deeper into my faith journey and my own ministry.
After that car ride, I began to visit Laura regularly at the Brooks Howell Home. She lived in an apartment in the back of the campus, and frequently, we would sit in her living room so we could admire the Creator’s handiwork as the seasons changed. I don’t ever recall her having the lights on in her home which seemed to inspire contemplation and sanctuary as we chatted about life.
In sitting on her couch, I could clearly see her kitchen table. This table wasn’t for eating;, no, it was for gathering articles from magazines and newspapers so that Laura could educate herself about important topics impacting our world. She then organized and studied that information so that she could advocate for issues close to her heart. Even when her cancer bound her to her favorite chair, she never stopped believing she could make a difference.
Some of my most important faith lessons were learned by sitting on that couch listening to stories of Laura’s life. Both a deaconess and church & community worker, Laura had followed God’s calling through many years of ministry, primarily focusing on work in jails and prisons. As you can imagine, she endured many challenges over the course of career, and yet each day, she continued to give of herself to the people who counted on her. She did it not because she had to but because she felt that she had no other choice. You see, she always reminded me that God doesn’t call you to put your faith into action without giving you a bit of courage to go along with it.
That was Laura–a bit of quiet courage. I’m sure she was never the one with the loudest voice or the last word, but I have no doubt that her humility and passion impacted many lives. Her commitment to listening to God and believing in her call gave her the strength to transform lives daily, even from that comfy chair in her living room.
This week, my dear friend and mentor passed away. In the last few years of her life, her courage took on new meaning as she battled cancer through many medical trips and transitions. I cherished those last visits with her while her spirit continued to emanate peace and reassurance and hope. I wish there had been time for more mentoring, more discernment, and more lessons learned.
I imagine in her passing, however, Laura knew that her questions and stories would carry on as the little voice encouraging us all to try again tomorrow.