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  • Writer's pictureAshley Thomas

Here: a tribute.

Spring 2012, I made the hour trip down to Brookfield, WI to meet with a Pastor from Elmbrook Church. I had been connected with the “pastor with a funny accent” a month before from a friend who had gotten to know him as the chaplain of his arena football team. I was at a crossroads. It was becoming pretty clear to me that God was asking me to give up the one thing I knew and loved, basketball. However, I was unsure of what that meant for my future. I had been involved with Athletes in Action on campus, and contemplated what a “life of ministry” could look like.

I had a non-impressive resume in hand mostly full of athletic accomplishments, and no work experience. I was extremely nervous, and had no idea what I was looking for other than someone that could basically tell me what I should do next.

While Mike didn’t tell me what to do, he laid out some clear options for how I could begin to discover what could be next.

Fast forward, I accepted the internship offered, graduated and moved to the inner city of Milwaukee. I knew no one. Even as an introvert, the idea of going from having a built-in community to no one was nerve wracking. I will never forget my “welcome meal” at my host family’s house, and Elizabeth walking in with the most beautiful (and delicious) strawberry pie. I didn’t yet know who my community would be, but I pretty quickly knew if Mike and E were in the picture, I was going to be OK.

Which was an understatement. In over the last decade of knowing Mike, he has filled many roles in my life, and been a part of the biggest choices and decisions along the way.

Boss:Encourager, Door Opener, Truth-teller.

I didn’t know Mike long before I found myself being encouraged by him. Encouraged to take leaps of faith, encouraged to learn from mistakes and most of all encouraged to discover what God said was true of me. While Mike had opened the door for me to begin serving, and pouring into other people’s lives – he consistently provided opportunities for me to be poured into too.

Mike never took credit for anything, but was the first to applaud and celebrate the work of others. Many people don’t know it was Mike who brought me to Milwaukee, or that he provided me with my first job – and that is just one reflection of his humility and willingness to allow God to use him to impact others.

Framily (Friends who become Family): Present, Safe, Fun.

I was invited into the Murphy household time and time again, I was greeted at the door by Stitch and would often see Mike in one of his two frequented chairs. He would say, “Ash, Elizabeth is in the kitchen” or “Ash, we are so excited you are here”. His greeting each time, welcomed me home, it reminded me that I had entered into a safe space where I could be fully me and accepted.

I became the “adopted sister” in a household of boys, who became bonus brothers to me – as I got to know Patrick, Andrew, Peter and John. Some of my favorite memories over the last decade are Christmas mornings followed by a competitive bowling outing, playing catch phrase or simply enjoying a meal together. There was never a dull moment when the whole crew was together.

Mentor:Integrity, Cheerleader, Listening Ear.

Professionally, I consulted Mike before taking a job at Hope Street, transitioning into the role of Executive Director, and bringing the Shechem vision to life. Beyond Hope Street, Mike did his best to connect the dots to other “good people to know”. His network was vast, and he loved connecting the people he knew in his life.

Personally, he helped me see clear eyed through some tough transitions, and asked hard questions when I needed to hear them most. I will never forget leaving a conversation where Mike stated, “Ash, I am not impressed by you. You don’t need another person to praise you for all that you have done. Elizabeth and I care about the you that isn’t in the public eye”. He taught me humility and integrity, because he modeled it.

When Taylor and I began talking about getting married, the first person I called to ask for advice was Mike. He sent Taylor and I a test and joined us for dinner to go through the results. He was willing to share from his own life experience, and made it safe for us to share and ask questions.

We didn’t have to agree on everything, but it didn’t change my level of respect for his insight. Nor did it make me appreciate any less his willingness to share. Mike made an effort to let me know he was proud of me, and more than anything loved for who I am and not what I do or accomplish.

I already feel the missing gap in my being that knows I have lost someone in my inner circle that I trust to keep it real.

But more than that I will miss the moments of watching Mike and Elizabeth and their process of preparing a meal, or Mike’s big laugh at something one of the boys had done, or his intentional presence with his granddaughters as he soaked up every moment with them. He was fully present and available to the people in his life.

The loss of his presence on earth is heartbreaking.

So I am HERE, in Milwaukee, WI because God led me to meet Michael Murphy. Mike, humbly and compassionately held the door open and walked with me as I discovered my small part in bringing His kingdom to earth. He cheered for me, challenged me, and most of all faithfully provided a safe place for me to just be me, nothing more or less than the “Ashley Thomas” that sat before him the first time with nothing glamorous to share or hide behind.

Seems impossible to capture all there is to say, but anyone who knew Mike left feeling loved, and inspired to love better. We get to receive this gift because of Jesus, which makes Mike’s last words the greatest comfort, even in the midst of a great loss:

“Wow, wow. wow. It’s all true. All the love. Incredible.”

Well done, good and faithful servant, well done.

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