Last week, I received a call from a woman on our church’s stewardship committee. She asked if I would give a presentation on the Loaves and Fishes ministry to the congregation. I assumed I would talk about the ministry in general, so my main anxiety initially was that I haven’t spoken in public in a while. Lack of practice makes this harder for me, but it’s church, for Heaven’s sake. Literally. I can handle a little stage fright in that setting.
So I agreed, but then she explained that the presentation should focus on how the ministry touches people.
My first thought was not very spiritual. It was this: “How in the heck will I get through this without crying in front of everyone?”
You see, I’m one of those people. You know: the people who cry at Hallmark commercials. It’s a rare church service that doesn’t see me digging in my purse for Kleenex. Anything can set me off: a hymn, an urgent prayer request, the prayers in my own head, children singing, the sermon, the benediction. Once, the prayer before the offering got me going. Church is a veritable mine field of opportunities for weepy embarrassment.
And now I have to stand up and tell how the Loaves and Fishes ministry touches people, both those who serve in it and those who are served by it.
Good grief. I’m just typing the topic and need a tissue.
I come by my weepiness honestly. My grandmother was a weeper. One day, I walked into her house, yelling hello. No response. Oddly, the door to the living room was closed. That door was never closed. In fact, not long after this, my grandfather took down the door because it just got in everyone’s way. That day, however, the bothersome door was closed. I went to it and listened. Nothing. I knocked and heard a muffled come in.
What I found on the other side of the door alarmed me. My grandmother and cousin Kathy sat on the sofa, hugging one another, sobbing.
“What’s wrong?” I cried.
They couldn’t speak. They just pointed at the television. Little House on the Prairie. It took a few seconds for me to realize it was the episode in which Laura’s dog dies.
I sat down and sobbed with them.
Flash forward half a decade or so. My sister is living in New York City, and both my mother and I are visiting. Lisa scores tickets to Les Miserables, and as Fantine is dying, mom and I blow our noses quietly into our tissues. Lisa leans over to Mom and says, “I can’t take you two anywhere.”
See. It’s not my fault. It’s genetic. And by the way, since Lisa had babies, she cries, too. Or at least tears up. So there.
But I do have it bad. I cry at weddings, even when I don’t know the happy couple and even when I do know them and suspect they will soon be divorced. I cry reading books. The Bridges of Madison County made me lock myself in my office in the English Department at Wichita State. I had to blow my nose in my gym towel because the box of tissues was empty. If someone had knocked, I would not have answered. All those jaded English grad students and professors would have mocked my vulnerability to the manipulative prose of a sentimental novel.
When reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I cried when Dobby died, very quietly because George was sleeping the night before competing in Ironman Lake Placid. But it was no surprise that I cried for the loyal house elf. I’d cried when the owl Hedwig died in Chapter 2, too.
As for the Loaves and Fishes ministry, I pray before taking a meal into a newly bereaved widow or a family facing the death of a child. I pray that I won’t break down in front of them, that I will provide nourishment to their bodies and comfort to their hearts rather than add to their suffering. Mostly, the prayers work and I hold off the tears until I’m safely alone in my car. Once, however, just talking on the phone to a mother whose baby was dying of leukemia, I broke down and she comforted me.
That was so wrong on so many levels I don't even know where to begin. How do you ever make up for adding to someone's burden like that?
In the ordinary course of life, however, I’ve made my peace with tears and take my husband’s mockery as I cry at movies and, occasionally, commercials, with good grace. But gently dabbing tears from my face while sitting in the comfort of my home or in a church pew is one thing. Tearing up while standing in front of the congregation with all eyes on me is quite another.
Oh, Lord. Help me not to make a fool of myself. Amen.