There's a Place that Only You Can Fill
We laughed so loudly the nursing assistant who was passing in the hallway cast a startled glance into the room, and then smiled.
"They'll practically drag you out of your dying bed to have some oatmeal," the woman my family affectionately calls 'Nanny' had just grumbled. She wasn't a fan of the required trip down to breakfast each morning at her care center. As soon as the words were out of her mouth we both cracked up.
Suddenly I realized that there wasn't any place I would rather be that morning. Nanny shared stories of the childhood sweetheart who became her husband, of her brother who had spent time as a prisoner of the Germans in World War II, and of how her parents had met. We reminisced about the determined way I had recruited her to watch my new baby when I needed to return to my teaching job, years ago. The sweetness of the hour we spent together lingered in my heart for days.
More than two decades ago, this woman blessed me when I was a new mom shedding tears over leaving my baby in daycare in order to finish out a teaching contract. Now she is widowed and in frail health, no longer able to get out to enjoy community activities. The heart connection we made years ago now offers me the privilege of brightening what could otherwise be a lonely hour.
Throughout our lives, we become a part of other people's stories.
The childhood friend who was there for your first date, graduation, and your wedding, as you were for hers.
The woman who was the other rookie your first year in your first 'real' job.
The teen you once rocked in the church nursery.
The neighbor you have raised children beside for ten years.
The shared history that was forged in the past has built something important for today.
I have come to see that those relationships are a trust. They give us the honor of being part of moments that matter. A good friend of mine calls it the "ministry of presence".
Holding a hand, giving a hug, drying a tear, making a meal, sitting by a hospital bed, sharing an encouraging word - these are sacred appointments. When we see a need or a hurting heart and step into that space, we are following the path our Savior marked out for us.
Jesus saw humanity's need, and knew that only He could fill it. He entered into the pain and mess of our world, offering his love to the sick and sinful. His compassion changed hearts and changed history.
After his resurrection, as he prepared to return to heaven, Jesus gave one of the disciples closest to him the charge, "Feed my lambs." He repeated this statement two times, with slight variation. The Good Shepherd asked his friend to tend and care for his people. It was a charge to protect and nurture.
To participate in this high calling of offering spiritual nourishment, we must also care tenderly for the practical and emotional needs of those Jesus has entrusted to us.
Rippling out from my own home to my church, neighborhood, workplace and community are people God put me in place to care for. In the same way, there are souls you are uniquely positioned to love.
We don't have to make headlines to make a difference. And we don't need to look very far for important work to do. Each of us has a ready-made place in the ministry of presence. If you are unsure, ask God to show you who needs your love and care. What feels like a small gesture to meet their need may be the biggest thing you do today.