I haven’t posted in a long time as we prepare for move to a new home. But Mark Steele was not only a pastor but a friend and mentor and employer for years and had a huge impact on my life. We served for years together at a church plant called Stonebridge Community Church. He is now in heaven after a short battle with cancer and my heart grieves. Here’s part of a letter I wrote to him a few days before he died. Not sure if he got to read it or not. I pray that somehow God can use me in the lives of others like He used Mark in mine.
June 1, 2011
I want you to know how much I appreciated you and the time and effort you put into mentoring a young woman in grad school who had been hurt by a previous church experience. I learned so many things at Stonebridge. You just happened to be a large part of those memories although God was always the One doing the work. Thank you for your investment in me.
I remember the first time you ever asked me how my relationship with God was. I felt a little on the hot seat, like I was going to be taken to task for any slip up. But that was not the case. I soon learned that you asking about my relationship with God was an expression of love and a desire to help me continue to grow in my faith. Over the years I have had so many people ask why I get up so early in the morning – but it is because that is one of the few times in my day when I can be alone with God and my thoughts and prayers. I still have so much further to go – but have come so far by His grace and patience with me. Thank you for caring enough to ask.
I remember when we did our Sunday mornings at the YMCA and we would pray and see God do amazing things. To see people come to Christ. To see them serve in their area of giftedness and passion. To see sacrifice and joy in the tasks before us. We were a family – one that I am still a part of in so many ways. I’m blessed to still have friends from those days who are intersecting with my life, some on facebook now and others in person at times. How amazing it all was.
I remember learning to “stay engaged through the pain.” If that wasn’t an axiom of Mark Steele I don’t know what was. I so often wanted to run when the pain got to be more than I thought I could bear. But you never let me. You didn’t tell me I couldn’t, but you let me seek God and entrusted that HE wouldn’t let me run. And He didn’t. Ministry is tough. Leadership can be lonely and painful, but you taught me that integrity was priceless and to persevere anyway. Not that I didn’t make my share of mistakes as I “grew up” in our Stonebridge family, but I learned from them and moved on and “I will never be the same again, I can never return, I’ve closed the door. . . “
Songs: “Saddle up Your horses – we’ve got a trail to blaze!” “Fear Not, for I am with you, fear not, for I am with you. . . “ “Be bold, Be strong, for the Lord Your God is with you!” (I remember Allison yelling out those words loud!), ‘Leave a light on for me. . .” oh, and so many others. Those songs are Stonebridge to me – a precious moment in time I hope I never forget.
I remember an orange van that we painted burgundy. I remember loading that van over and over and over again!
I remember music rehearsals taking place in your home late into the night on Mondays.
I remember meeting at Hardees and later at Mayfair mall food court for our “staff meetings”.
I remember getting paid $1 for my first year of employment!
I remember you coming through a colored curtain a la Johnny Carson!
I remember being taught about protecting a marriage with firm boundaries.
I remember when you debated whether or not to shave off your mustache – and you did it and never went back! Right after that we had more men in our church with mustaches and beards than ever before! Too funny. (You have a mustache in our wedding pictures!)
I remember you liking cherry pie.
I remember after a conference, how you would always quiz us about what we learned and took away so that our experience would stick and not just be a moment to be forgotten (I do this with my kids now!).
I remember fearing your return from study break because I knew you would come back refreshed and full of ideas that I would somehow have to put legs and feet to.
I remember your hugs. You were always a hugger. I loved that. I miss your hugs.
I miss the synergy of what we had as a team on Sundays. There was, most of the time, something very precious and beautiful that happened.
I remember having to make sure you were presentable before going up on stage – and one day asking if your fly was zipped – and surprisingly enough you found it wasn’t! I hadn’t noticed personally – it was just part of the routine! (giggling)
Many people will criticize Stonebridge for having been seeker-targeted. I don’t. It opened up my heart to the reality of hurting people who needed Jesus and trying to make a place where they would feel welcome. It’s a value I carry with me today.
I learned about the dangers of triangulation. I learned about confidentiality. I learned about the value of a pastor who “has your back” when times are tough. I learned about authenticity and perseverance and spiritual warfare. I learned to submit to godly leadership (even if I didn’t always like it.) I learned to accept change better. You always said I would kick and scream at first (metaphorically) and then settle in just fine! I learned about the power of encouragement.
I learned that even serving with a limp (depression) is something that can bring honor and glory to God and no matter how unacceptable we feel we are – the church is blessed when we come and step up in faith to serve our glorious King.
I learned more about worship at New Community than I had ever learned before.
I see my time serving with you at Stonebridge as a series of life-defining moments.
I remember laughter and tears and prayer walks.
I remember camping.
I have learned it is sometimes better to take a risk and fail than to always play it safe. I learned that pushing the envelope can be a very good thing if God is behind it.
I learned that none of us are “normal!”
I remember that you always loved to be on the cutting edge of technology and always knew “just enough to be dangerous.”
I have seen God redeem pain in amazing ways. I have taught many women master’s level theology and leadership classes – and some of my lessons don’t come from a textbook . I found that I love to teach. Because of what I have learned at your feet, Mark, I have strived to be a blessing to the leaders at the church where I serve. I’ve been blessed with leaders who strive to be “healthy.” I continue to learn so much but fear that if I hadn’t had the foundation for it, which you helped me build as a leader, I would not be as nearly effective for the kingdom.
Because of you, I value more than ever true life change – that process of sanctification we all should be embracing but many Christians don’t. I have raised a higher standard for women in leadership that involves godly character (not as easy to find as some might think – leading women is much harder than working with men in my opinion!).
You have definitely left your “mark” on me for sure as well as on many others. (pun intended!)
I continue, Mark, to pray for your healing. Yet I felt that if God chooses to favor you with the joy of His presence face-to-face while the rest of us wait in a pain-filled sinful world, that I couldn’t not let you know, once again, how much you have impacted my life for the better.
Okay – I am sure I could write more. Heck, I write novels but you probably wouldn’t have the strength or patience to read that much! There is a nice pile of Kleenex next to me to give testimony to the grief in my heart over what you and your family are suffering through. I know God gives grace for the journey and my own tears are more selfish than anything.
I will continue to pray for healing – even knowing that God’s view of that might be ultimate healing that comes from being in eternity with Him.
With much love and fondness, as your sister in Christ,
For His glory alone,
Well put Susan. You captured the essence of his ministry well. He did impact a lot of people one at a time.
Susan…I never knew your friend but I am sad for you and those who had the pleasure of meeting him…he sounds like he was a wonderful man and teacher. So sorry for your loss! ♥
Thanks Janet, he was – you would have liked him. Your parents admired him a lot too as they sometimes visited Stonebridge.
Susan, what a beautiful, loving tribute to a very special man. What a gift to Mark to let him know how well his approach to spreading real Faith worked! Tom and I were both so glad to have had the chance to experience Mark and all of your team during the times we attended services at Stonebridge…You all brought a whole new meaning to worship! It was Fun, Loving, Beautiful, Creative, Faithful…and left us feeling like we really had something special and useful to take home with us. We’ll keep Mark and all who loved him in our prayers.
Thanks Susan. Very well written and very touching.
sorry for your loss, Susan. he must have been a wonderful pastor. you wrote a beautiful tribute!