One Monday night in October several years ago I spoke for a women’s church banquet in a small community. It was a traditional annual outreach event that crossed all denominational lines. The steering committee plans a year in advance so no detail was left unattended. The decorated fellowship hall in the basement of the older church was warm and welcoming decorated with fall leaves, acorns, and candles. Every once in a while I caught a whiff of Frito Pie, most likely served at youth group the night before.
Two men were rolling up the basketball goals and the finishing touches were being added to the tables when I got there. The women’s ministry director showed me to a seat at one of the round tables by the stage. She made sure I had everything I needed before excusing herself to greet and fill out name tags.
The theme for the evening was “Skeletons In The Closet”. The committee asked if I would address leaving the junk of the past behind and moving on. Putting that together had been challenging. As I sat down to go over the notes my stomach felt like a snow globe turned upside down. This was baffling. I love what I do and don’t normally battle nerves. I haven’t been that nervous since a high school debate tournament.
As I sorted things out I realized why the near panic attack. So many people have kicked drug addictions, lived through multiple divorces, survived abuse and overcome the guilt of abortions. Who am I to tell 200 women how to leave the past behind? I don’t have a dramatic come-to-Jesus story and I have wonderful memories of the past. The only thing I have survived is everyday life. Besides my comfort zone is to encourage people and make them laugh. There’s nothing funny about closet skeletons.
As I walked to the podium, still praying it would all come together, I noticed a large woman in a suite and a lot of jewelry sitting about 10 feet from the stage. She flashed the most comforting grin when I made eye contact with her. “OK, I can do this,” I firmly said to myself. Evidently she thinks I can.
For the next 45 minutes the lady in the suite and jewelry laughed loudly sprinkling in “that’s right” and “amen”. She not only encouraged me, she energized the entire room. After I left the stage I went to the table to thank my cheerleader, but she was gone. I asked several women if they knew her. No one did. When I asked the women’s ministry director she said, “I wondered who that woman was, too. I have been here for 25 years and I know just about everyone in this community. But, I’ve never seen her before and she didn’t have a name tag. She was a joy and obviously had a wonderful time.”
I never found out who the woman was or where she came from but for 45 minutes she was my angel of encouragement. You’d have a hard time convincing me otherwise. In the fellowship hall of a church in a remote community I was once again reminded … you never know when all someone may need is a smile and a kind word.