the ministry of presence

oh to be a cabbage patch kid. i attended the women’s day program at church today and the speaker was making her debut. she encouraged us to strengthen and stand on our faith. but what spoke louder to me was her cousin who was seated in the front. i saw the women as they walked in and thought that the cousin was the speaker because there was something about her presence. in fact i said to a friend, i think the speaker is wearing the orange scarf. i was wrong but in hindsight it was her presence that spoke to me.

at one point in the talk the speaker said god showed her this day, this dream she had of speaking to a group of women, encouraging women. at that, her cousin raised a tissue and wiped away tears. again, this spoke to me. it told me that she and her cousin had a sisterhood. that her cousin knew of this dream and she was celebrating its manifestation. even if this wasn’t the fullness of the dream, it was the beginning.

what i saw, felt, was familial support. sure, the speaker could have stood behind that podium and delivered her key points and felt the support and love from the sisters in the audience but there is nothing like the ministry of presence. the support of your family, people who know you, your dreams, your struggles, what it took to get there.  i don’t know if today’s speaker had a sister or a mother in the city, but what i do know is that her cousin stood in the gap and filled that space with her presence.

i was raised with those mores. my dad was the most supportive parent ever. he worked crazy hours but was at recitals, graduations, band concerts, plays, parent-teacher conferences, church events. he raised us to follow suit yet there are many in my immediate family who have discarded this and act as though presence is optional.

i can remember not attending one of my nephew’s birthday parties. i just opted not to show up. my sister was hurt and she said he was as well. it didn’t dawn on me that he cared. i drew on the year before when i drove clear to wilsonville for his party and he walked past me like i was a statue. i had to grab him to get his attention. but clearly my sister missed our presence. i can tell you, that didn’t happen again because i realize that presence, warmth, touch, smile are palpable and needed.

i’ve felt for years that i should have close family ties, because many of my close friends do. but as time has passed i realize that the people who sharpen me, challenge, encourage me, and laugh with me are my friends. they are the people with whom i share my ideas, plans, and even some of my dreams. they don’t ridicule them, gossip about them, or minimize them. quite the contrary, they ask me how i’m progressing, and for those areas that are visible  (like weight loss), they applaud my efforts and give me a much needed boost to keep going. my family does not have that skill, trait, or ability. with the exception of my dad, it’s not commonplace for members of my family to say encouraging words. it’s more common to hear snide, caustic remarks couched in playful jesting. if they do say something encouraging it’s shocking and very unexpected. shouldn’t it be more the rule than the exception?

it is in my nature to be an encourager. i want to see people succeed. get the degree, the job, the promotion, the house, the car, the certification. i want to share in the joyous occasion with you. when a friend loses steam or feels defeated my natural response is to say, “you can do this! don’t give up!” i suppose i should be thankful that i am surrounded by friends who do support me, love me, and encourage me. who see my struggles, walk with me through it, and celebrate my life’s victories. it’s a damned shame that my family doesn’t.



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