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The Power of Presence | by Kate Motaung

We knew the day was coming, but that didn’t lessen the blow. In the last months of my mom’s cancer journey, every time the phone rang, my pulse quickened for fear that this was the call.

Then shortly after five o’clock one September morning, the shrill ring of our landline bolted me awake. I shot up in bed and said to my husband, “Get the phone.”

I couldn’t bear to answer it.

Sure enough, that was the morning my mom died—or night, rather, since she passed away in Michigan while I was six time zones ahead in Cape Town, South Africa.

After sobbing out all the tears my eyes could shed, I started making arrangements to travel across the Atlantic to the funeral. My husband and I managed to find flights departing that same day but realized we couldn’t make such a large single purchase on our credit card.

A few more phone calls and one short drive later, I found myself shuffling through a busy shopping mall with a friend who offered to use her credit card to secure plane tickets on our behalf.

When I arrived back home to finish packing my bags, I was met by more friends. After the initial tearful embraces, they got to work making food for my family. We sat together around a hastily assembled meal—and it was just what I needed. Not only did I not realize how physically hungry I was, but their presence nourished a part of my grieving soul that longed to be filled.

Just by showing up and providing for our material needs, these friends ministered to me in ways more powerful than they’ll ever know. Their generosity and willingness to step through an open door of opportunity became an example for me in months and years to come.

When I hear that a friend has lost a loved one, I can become paralyzed by indecision. What should I do? Should I call? Text? Send a card? All of the above? None of the above? What if I say the wrong thing? What if my words offend or only make them sadder? Should I make a meal? What if they have food allergies? What if they have too much food from other people already?

Instead of boldly walking through the open door, I often stand in the doorframe, too afraid to move beyond the threshold for fear of misstepping. But on the day my mom died, a borrowed credit card, sincere hugs, and a table spread with a hodge podge of refrigerator contents were unexpected gifts from above.

My friends didn’t go to the store to buy special ingredients for a fancy recipe. They simply tossed whatever they had into a bag and got in the car. The friend with the credit card left work in the middle of the day to meet me at the travel agency. None of them needed a full sermon on grief and loss before she could say, “I’m so sorry.”

Because of my friends’ willingness to be present in whatever way they could, I have a renewed motivation to serve others. I can’t guarantee that I’ll get it right every time. I’m sure there will be moments and days when I unintentionally say something insensitive or show up with lasagna at a gluten-free, dairy-free home. But ultimately, I can be confident that the Lord will use my feeble attempts for His purposes in the same way He used my friends’ actions to carry me.

Read the rest of Kate’s story in her memoir, A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging

About the book: A Place to Land is a globe-spanning memoir that wrestles with the question, ”Where is my home?” Kate Motaung watched ”home” slip away again and again — through her parents’ divorce, a foreclosure, two international moves, ten rental homes in ten years, and her mother’s terminal battle with cancer. Add in the challenge of a cross-cultural marriage, and Kate was constantly adapting to a new environment. Through her experiences, you’ll realize — as she did — that no matter where we go or what we do, this world is not our home.

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About the Author: Kate Motaung is the author of A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging (2018), A Start-Up Guide for Online Christian Writers, and Letters to Grief. She is the host of Five Minute Friday, an online community that encourages and equips Christian writers, and owner of Refine Services, a company that offers writing, editing, and digital marketing services. Kate blogs at Heading Home and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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