Friday, May 6, 2016

40 Days of Gratefulness - Day 55

The ministry of presence. That was a sermon my Pastor preached on Maundy Thursday. And for some reason that thing has stuck with me over these last few weeks. I too, like many others found myself sad over the passing of Prince – possibly, the greatest musician of his time. And while Prince leaves a legacy through his music, I found myself particularly saddened that he died alone. I know, death is merely a fact of life but things seem more enjoyable when you have a little company.

'Reading the Express'
Now, I’ll share with you - there's a gazillion things I don't mind doing alone. Shopping, traveling, eating out, going to the movies, reading the express - which is really one of my all-time favorite things to do. But of all the things I don't mind doing alone, I really prefer company when I attend church. I suspect it's a holdover from growing up - we always went to church as a family. And as I get older, that desire to sit next to someone who I care about is no different. Now, for the record, you can always find a friendly face at church; someone who loves the Lord and is has come to worship. They usually have fabulous energy. Now, I've made plans attending with one or two friends - but after sitting next to their coat, pocketbook or cell phone, typically I tend to just meander in and sit wherever.

This is not to say that I don't enjoy service when I attend alone. I do. In fact, on Maundy Thursday, which was a phenomenal service by the way, during Communion I found myself particularly moved - grieving those folks who were no longer a presence in my life. I don't use the word grieved lightly for if fell fast and hard. And there I stood, weeping feeling like I could collapse at the enormity of it in that moment until ... a dear friend, who was in the pew in front of me sitting with her husband, reached back and grabbed my hand. Whew, that thing is messing me up right here as I capture my thoughts. By the way, Tanai, I love you for that. She didn't ask me a gazillion questions then nor later, she simply held me hand. No words, no judgments, no penetrating, questioning glances - just presence.

Now, it could have been Communion or the choir magnificently ministering my favorite song or simply because it was Holy Week, it is a time for reflection and I did have one or two things I was praying my way through. It could have been PMS but wherever I was, feeling utterly alone and amazingly small until ... someone simply held my hand. And instead of belaboring those who were no longer with me (although I miss them) - I began to focus on those who are here, who elect to walk beside and with me.

Now for the record, it just occurred to me in this very moment that I can't remember the last time I was feeling 'some kinda way' about attending church alone. It seems like ages ago but I suspect it's being in this Greeter ministry that I'm in the presence of fellow believers each and every Sunday. That for me shaking hands, smiling at folks, wishing them good morning - greeting them with a Holy Ghost hug or some sanctified sugar makes me feel not alone even when I'm am. It amazes me how writing my thoughts down, and apparently sharing them on the internet, which clearly doesn’t make any sense, brings such clarity to me -- but it does.

Looking back, I find myself trying to recall that sermon, wishing I had taken the time to take notes. Ahh, but let me be honest -- I cannot take notes, listen and comprehend all at the same time. Even when I sing in the choir, I can't sing, clap and rock side to side. Only two at a time for me and taking notes is just the same. Generally, for sermons I simply direct all my energy to 'being present' and in the moment, if you will. Listening, praying that the lesson falls deep into my heart and take root even when my head can no longer remember.

Some time ago, when I was young :-) a dear friend asked me would I come to the hospital for her first love was to be taken off of life support and she wanted me nearby. I don't know if I ever admitted this to her but I lied saying 'I wasn't sure I could make it because I had to go to work.' She said she understood.

And when I hung up that phone, I immediately got my little @$$ up, dressed, drag raced up the road, picking up my first boyfriend en route (as we're still friends) and sped to the hospital to be with her. Now, I'm not proud that I lied and am ashamed to even write that down - I pray that she forgives me. I could conjure up material to support the fact that I had planned to go to work that day but it simply frightened me to perhaps be in the presence of someone who was transitioning. But in that moment, shaking off that oh, so unattractive selfishness, I thought how frightened must she be, that just a week ago they were sharing dinner over their dining room table. And all she required -- was for me to just be there - in her presence. I absolutely could do that for she is my oldest and dearest friend - we go back like one-way pagers and name belts.

So, as I walked down the hall in the hospital -- holding hands, if I remember correctly with that first boyfriend. Haha - that makes me laugh as we were definitely not the type back then but his presence during that time made all the difference. He affirmed me, telling me I was going to be perfectly fine - that I was strong and I could do this;  simply being there for my friend. Aside: He actually talked me off the ledge when I took my friend to the funeral home later that week. I'll have to call him and thank him for simply being a friend for if he had put the press on, I would have backed it up on 'em real, real good. Anyway, I was a nervous wreck really, until ... I saw the expression of folks who cared about my friend. Our good girlfriend, ooh, we used to tear up those streets, friends from our middle school and the apartment complex where we met and became friends. Folks stopped and embraced me, remarking that they were glad I was there and that she would be happy to see me. Let me tell you, at the end of the day there was nothing macabre about his transitioning for when I entered the room, standing with her and her family, a silence filled the room and in that moment we knew he was gone. I remember not having any words, but she didn't require any - she only required my presence. 

A few weeks ago, I shared with you what I learned about serving (Day 54) and now I'd like to share with you what I've learned about this ministry of presence. See, there is something important about having good people who care for you, love you and genuinely have your best interest around you, in your midst .. in your presence. That's plain and simple. Jesus understood - the importance of being in relationship with His father, prayer and being surrounded by people you care about and who care about you. Grr, I must get those sermon notes. I mean the Messiah aka 'The Son of Man', the only one, ever, in his human frailty wanted company when he went to pray in the Garden (Matthew 26:37, Mark 14:33). If I remember correctly, Jesus had just finished the last supper with the disciples but when he went to the garden, he only took a few disciples – the ministry of presence. And don't get me started how he even took the time from saving all of humanity forever, while he was on the cross no doubt, to make sure his Momma wasn't alone when he was gone (John 19:26 ) – there it is again, the ministry of presence. Now, the few disciples he had with him, those jokers kept falling asleep even when he asked them to stay awake and pray but ... he still felt better with them there. I mean, come on, you know how your family gets on your nerves, or folks act like they absolutely cannot miss the game or Fear the Walking Dead or Empire -- you get where I'm going with this thing. We simply feel better having our ‘peeps’ around even when they get on our nerves.

'Ministry of Presence' is fun!
I'll tell you, when this post first came to me, I was sitting on the plane with my crazy roomie. Now, my presence must have made this joker sleepy for she didn't say one word to me on the entire plane ride but look at how much fun I had taking pictures of her napping like her life depended on it. The ministry of presence sure is fun.

All of this to say, there's a ministry simply in your presence, period. Married? Get in each others' presence. Got children? Get in their presence. Family jacked up? Get in their presence. A friend or family member is struggling? Get in their presence.

Just this week, I went to the doctors with my mother, I even helped move her from the stretcher to the MRI machine for it was my pleasure and privilege to do so – she sure is brave. I even visited my grandmother that afternoon who's in the hospital suffering from the beginning stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s - she's brave too, for all she wants to do is get a fish sandwich and hit the casino ... hahaha, that is so her. Oh, and before I forget, my dear friend who lost her first love some almost 20 years ago, her and my first boyfriend (yup, the same one) came and sat with me while I visited my grandmother for she helped raise them too. Oh, yes, there is something about that ministry of presence because I felt better when those jokers walked in the room. Later that evening, I had dinner with a friend and a spa date with yet another for the week was heavy and I needed a healthy treat - those $5 Popeye's boxes are killing a sista'.

And just the day before, my dear friend, whose husband was ill, shared with me that he was not expected to make it and I'm sorry to say he didn't. But, in our brief conversation about everything and nothing, when I asked my dear friend what she was doing -- she simply replied, "I'm sitting here with my husband" -- yup, just sitting in his presence. Now, he transitioned at home, surrounded by his wife, his children, his siblings, his friends and I'd like to think it eased his mind and allayed his fears having those who cared for him most ... in his presence.

So, on this day 55 of 40 days of gratefulness, I'm grateful for the 'ministry of presence.' #40daysofgratefulness #beblessed

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

40 Days of Grateulness - Day 54

"Give Thanks."

I came upon this little sign at a dear friend's house. Her husband had been ill for some time and I wanted to spend time with her and her family. My intention --  as she likes to say "was to stare into her eyes" -- meaning I was simply there to enjoy her company. My hope, desire or whatever one may call it -- was to simply be with her as I had no real agenda. And if by some divine circumstance or appointment, I could encourage her, love on her or as my women's bible study prayed during our closing prayer ... to "minister" to her - then so be it.

For some reason that use of the word, minster stuck with me. So, I looked it up. The word, minister, the verb not the noun, originates from the Old French, word, menistrer which means to administer, be of service or to serve. Well, isn't that interesting.

If my memory serves me correctly, when I first started this blog one of my early posts (Day 4) spoke of me promising to serve more. And as ... but I don't believe in luck or coincidence ... life would have it, one of my very first comments on this here blog was "How have you started serving more?"

At the time, I thought the author was simply trying to bust my chops but with a little perspective, I believe that comment was meant to hold me accountable. Well it's been over 3 years since that post and I'm proud to say I've at least kept my word. Currently, I'm involved with a number of ministries and I actively participate in both corporate and women's bible study. Aside: hmm, perhaps there's something to writing down one's goals. Looking for a 5'3" brown cowboy. Ritz Carlton rooms for Residence Inn prices. Peace. Joy. I digress, but it doesn't hurt to try :-)

And with all the ways, I'd like to think I know about serving, it's clearly evident after this week-end, I'm still learning about what serving really looks like - just by visiting my friend.

For not only did I witness my friend serve her family by maintaining a home filled with Holy Ghost Goodness aka 'good energy' and an air of normalcy even during this trying time, I watched her friends serve her. Her friends, who stopped by, helped her shuffle the kids to their respective play dates so my friend and I could catch up. They helped her wash dishes, put them away and load the dishwasher. They made light conversation about everything and nothing; discussing sales, the latest in eyewear, politics and husbands that know exactly what to do -- one friend had told her husband that she thought it was too late to just stop by but he simply kept driving - she remarked how she was glad he didn't listen. They spoke of future dates for a girl's night out and they even served me. But wasn't I supposed to be doing the serving?

Her friends thanked me for coming to check on our mutual friend. They remarked how it was so very thoughtful that I would take time to come by and visit. And yet another made a special trip to stop by and say hello to 'lil 'ole me. Oh, it gets even better. Not only did her friend stop by to say hello, and exchange oh, so pleasant conversation, she took the time to make me this incredible salad.

'Incredible Salad'
Not only did this fabulous joker (she is quite stylish) make me a salad, she took the time to whisk up some lemon-garlic-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink vinaigrette to adorn it. And just before presenting me with this fresh, hand-chopped, beautifully-assembled, delicious but healthy treat, she took a spoonful of the salad dressing and put it up to my lips to see if the salad dressing was to my liking. It blew me away for it felt like she had just washed my feet -- like Jesus did the disciples. And with that simple expression, I was done.

You see, my visit to my friend wasn't for me to minister to her - it was for me to witness what ministering or serving really looks like. For it is my friends' pleasure, her privilege to serve her family.  It was her friends' pleasure and privilege to not just serve our mutual friend; they wanted to serve me too. And I'm convinced there is no better way to demonstrate love than to serve. Serving behind the scenes with no fanfare, no requests, no petitions, no shout-outs in the bulletin on Sunday morning, no coming up to the front for presentations, no recognition ... is what serving is all about. That thing right there could make me shout.

Her friends didn't serve for any other purpose other than to express their care, their concern, their love, their gratitude, their humility and their heart's desire to simply serve their friend.

So, on this Day 54 of 40 Days of Gratefulness, I'm grateful for witnessing what serving really looks like and I am going to serve better. #40daysofgratefulness #beblessed

Saturday, February 13, 2016

40 Days of Gratefulness - Day 53

Hello, my friend. It's been quite some time since we've last connected and I must admit it's been me procrastinating, putting it off, wondering if I had anything of substance to share or perhaps I simply forgot. I forgot that this here putting my thoughts to paper helps me to be more grateful. The silly things we tell or un-tell ourselves.

I mean how many times have we sworn off a certain gentleman (don't judge me)? Or the mall, sugar, drinking - you get where I'm going with this. How often have we sworn to work out, get organized, be more patient, spend some quality time with our spouse or start being 'on time.' And, we really mean it when we say it, until we conveniently forget. It could be the next time he calls or texts ... or when the Nordstrom catalog comes in the mail or those moments when we easily convince ourselves we can drive 30 miles in rush hour traffic on Friday in 15 minutes. Oh, yeah, we forget stuff all the time.

For me, forgetting feels a lot like falling down. You know, my forgetting things always seems to trip me up. Just last summer, I fell down on my beloved bike. Now, when I fell down - I didn't hurt myself too much but I was beyond angry. I thought, I could count on my beloved B (that's what I affectionately call my bike). I mean he's never had a flat. How could he let me down? Was I not good to this joker? Riding him all over the place, taking him on fun-filled adventures on beautiful sunny afternoons while we listen to Pandora. Note to self: I must get a boyfriend very soon - I digress.

At least that was my first thought, but I fell down because I had borrowed  a gigantic backpack, overstuffed it and decided to ride my bike while wearing it. I suspect my traveling down that hill at some 18+ mph, leaning as I hit the curve with that backpack strapped to my back had something to do with me losing my balance and falling down. Nope, I forgot that - all I remembered was falling down and this chick right here doesn't take falling down lightly.

Looking back, I recognized the only person who had borrowed this gigantic backpack, stuffed it until it burdened and weighed me down was me, woo saa. There was no one to blame but me. That relationship I continue to grieve, that money I used to make, those infrequent visits to my mom in that nursing home - all things that had me feeling like I was falling down and forgetting how very blessed I am.

I forgot that revisiting that bad situation, getting in touch with pasts hurt, disappointment, shame; belaboring the past just like that gigantic backpack -- all weigh me down. I forgot that the devil doesn't have to bother tripping me up - I do it all by myself. I forgot that I'm in good health, that I can still afford to pay for this roof over my head and keep food in these cupboards. I forgot that I have a favorite cozy chair (look at Karamel pretending to be me) where I rest on pillows embroidered with phrases like "Love & Peace" and "Forever Friends."

this lil' boot
I forgot that I try to place a little bit of whimsy in every room in my home. It's supposed to remind me that life is really about the little things we so often take for granted ... ahh, but I forgot. I forgot how looking at this little boot, makes me smile I bought it several years ago but there was only one boot in the box when I opened itp at home. But it was too cute to throw it away so I set it up front and center in my living room. Oh, how could I forget? That boot continues to makes me smile but now it conjures up time spent with a good girlfriend's daughter, she bothers that little boot each time she's over here. And even though she destroys my house each and every time she's over here, I keep letting her back, because I forget.

I forgot that there's a lesson in each and every experience. I forgot the importance of being intentional about those activities and relationships that are most dear to me. I forgot that life challenges - bankruptcy, foreclosure, divorce, illness, and chick-fil-a running out of fries  #&@)!@#  can easily change the course of our day, our week and our lives, if we're not careful. I forgot that this simple exercise of being grateful will always fill that space between experience and expectation.

So on this Day 53 of 40 days of gratefulness, I'm grateful for forgetting.