Presence

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Our family room seats thirty comfortably.

In fact, it seats thirty consistently.
What are we all doing here?

Welcome to evenings at the Mater Ecclesiae household.

Call me a socialite, but there’s nothing like the feeling of drying your hands on a dish towel and heading down to the student lounge. There’s something about meeting up after the bookwork and doing nothing together that feels just a little nostalgic.

Granted, being women, doing nothing looks fairly active from the outside. Normally the options are pretty open. The poker game is always promising, although it takes an insider to know that there’s no cash-out. There’s always a good-sized group huddled around our new portable fireplace, which we have affectionately dubbed donation of the year. And recently we’ve had a nice cinnamon scent wafting from the back corner, which can only mean that Adrienne lit those Christmas spice candles. Of course, it is Halloween…but we’re not too concerned about “out of season” ambiance here. Call us eclectic…call us poor. Either way, it smells delicious.

As attractive as our “little women” type of existence can seem from the outside, there are nights when, quite frankly, you just don’t feel like trotting down to social hour. For me, that was last night. After an unproductive day of thesis-drafting, phone calls and kitchen prep, the absolute last thing I wanted to do was spend that hour of my precious time “doing nothing” with the team. Hanging up my dish towel, I glanced down at my watch and sighed.

A full hour.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy my community time. But thoughts of emails to answer and essays to write tugged insistently at the back of my mind. With each step down the hallway, I could hear my pragmatic shoulder angel whispering “Jacquie…you have to get those things done”. As I approached the family room, I debated whether or not to just keep walking through and go straight to the library. The temptation was hard to refuse. “Well…it’s has been busy this week” I decided, putting my hand to the door. The library was sounding good.

A lively strain of music broke into my thoughts as I let myself into the family room. Ten of the freshmen were gathered merrily around our off-key piano, and several shouted out their greeting, “Hey, Jacquie!” Swinging their arms, performing for no audience in particular, their antics were entertaining to say the least. I waved my hello and dropped my backpack against the wall amusedly. “They’re actually pretty good,” I thought, smiling to myself. As they rounded off into the fourth verse of their Irish drinking song, my eyes inadvertently wandered over to the rest of the group. Maybe it was the nostalgia of the Irish ballad. Maybe it was the Christmas candles in October. Or maybe it was just the first opportunity I’d taken to slow down and look at the people in my life. Whatever the reason, I found myself leaning against the wall that night, asking myself a familiar question.

It wasn’t the first time I’d asked it. A farm girl from the foothills of Idaho, I have often wondered how I ever got mixed in with this cohort of Salvadorian warmth, Spanish determination, and Mexican wit. From the outside, people would probably see us as a somewhat mismatched group of friends, swapping stories and unwinding over a game of cards in our oversized lounge.

But for myself, in my little reverie that night, I couldn’t help but remember just what this group of thirty-three women really were. They weren’t removed acquaintances that happened to live in the same house. These were the women who laid their lives on the table for the God that we love. They are the sisters who have suffered deeply, and in some ways, still suffer deeply, for the love of the God who called them. Shifting my gaze from face to face, I realized: we were once thirty-three strangers who set out for Calvary together.

And even if the seriousness of the journey can be disguised by Monopoly boards and Dominos tournaments…we still walk side-by-side to the Cross. And sometimes, I think, even finding traces of the Crucified in the eyes of the other.

I don’t tear up often. But I had to swipe at moist eyes before I went to join them at the piano. Four more verses and a checkers game later, I had struck an understanding of community that I couldn’t have learned from a book.

Presence is powerful.

Walking next to each other comes in a lot of different forms. I can be a brisk walk in the neighborhood, a smile from the library computers…even a triumphant laugh over a winning poker hand. The opportunities to love are limitless…and one thing is certain.

Love we must.

We are Magdalenes at the foot of the cross: for Christ our Love, and for each other. And by committing my life here, I commit to standing not only under my own cross…but to stand with my community under the shadow of theirs.

It’s funny…but sometimes “doing nothing” is the most beautiful thing we can do for each other.

So, yes…our family room seats thirty comfortably. It seats thirty consistently.
But I hope that, for all of us, it seats thirty consciously.

Because presence is powerful.

About Jacquie Lustig

Jacquie Lustig is a consecrated woman of Regnum Christi. She is from Idaho, and is part of the Ohio team based in Cincinnati.
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