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