Twelve years ago, I packed up my beloved Virginia home of nearly a decade and moved to New England. 72 hours later, amid a sea of boxes, I called my best friend Merritt—2,000 miles away—certain that I had made a mistake.
“You were right!” I cried. “I never should have taken this job! I am so stupid and now I’m stuck here.”
Months earlier, she had been a steady interlocutor through my discernment on whether I should make the move. Whenever I leaned toward saying yes, she’d ask, “Are you sure this is what you want? You sound like you’re saying yes because you feel obligated to do so not because you want to.” Although I knew deep in my gut she was right, the possibility of a steady income after years of being a full-time student drew me in.
Now that I had made the move, I felt like a dog with her tail between her legs. “Are you going to tell me ‘I told you so.’?” I asked.
“No. I am going to tell you I love you,” she said tenderly. “I am sorry you are going through this. We’re going to figure this out.”
A week later, I opened my mailbox and discovered an envelope from Merritt with a Ziplock bag of over 270 slips of paper—one for each day remaining on my year-long contract. Each slip of paper contained a Bible verse, a joke, quote, a memory of something we had done, or simply the words, “Your present is not your future.” Each evening, I would pull out a slip of paper and read the day’s encouragement.
Sometimes, I laughed.
Sometimes, I cried.
Sometimes, I felt emptiness.
But I always felt loved.
Rather than reminding me of my failure and self-doubt, Merritt reminded me of the goodness with me, the love surrounding me, and a brighter future awaiting me. My friend had no way of changing my circumstances, but she walked with me through them.
I am reminded of Merritt and others like her as we remember Barnabas, a leader in the early church and a consummate encourager and giver of second, third, and fourth chances. When many leaders in the early church remained skeptical of Paul’s sudden conversion, it was Barnabas who advocated for giving Paul another chance. Barnabas encouraged them to make space for something new to form in not only Paul, but in themselves and in their community. Months later, when Paul wanted to dismiss Mark— a fellow apostle—for not always being reliable, it was Barnabas who gave Mark the confidence he needed to persevere beyond his past failings or the judgements of others.
I don’t believe that Barnabas set out to attain recognition as an extraordinary encourager. But I do believe that he couldn’t help but see and seek the face of God in each person he met. When others saw past failures and mistakes, he saw possibility and goodness. He saw the beauty in the ashes.
With all that aches and oppresses right now: racism, transphobia, homophobia, rampant gun violence, and a pandemic that keeps surprising us at every bend—I sometimes doubt that I or anyone can make a difference.
Then I remember Barnabas.
I remember my friend Merritt.
I remember that thanks to the love and support of encouragers like Merritt I found light in the midst of a difficult year.
May we all remember that it’s never too late to begin again.