I was sitting across the stage with my good friend Ed Eason. We were at Long Live Mentoring, a two-day conversation hosted by The Mentoring Project. Ed was talking about his upbringing—his violent stepdad and the mean, junkyard dog his mom got to protect them. Then I asked Ed about his mentor, George. Ed just looked at me and pressed his lips together. Tears arose. His hand, holding the microphone, started shaking.
Ed was slow to find words.
After after ten seconds, I said, “I love how George was there for you. He loved you. Protected you and your brother. Two weeks ago, you and your brother were in the family photo with George, two decades after meeting him.”
Ed said George was not a perfect guy. He had plenty of rough edges. Cussed some. But maybe a rough-edged man was the perfect guy to protect Ed. George showed up for Ed and his brother. Wrestled with them. Hunted with them. Listened to them. Talked to them about dating and getting jobs. He loved them.
Don Miller shared next. He talked about David, who showed up and named him a writer. When Don talked about David, he choked up. Later, Josh teared up. So did Rosanna. So did a single mom named Wanda. Nearly every speaker teared up, including me. Why?
The people who mean the most to us are those who show up in our lives.
In all the stories shared, there have been quiet, unseen forces of love shaping the outcome. They are the forces that anchor us. Forces that root us. Forces that love us ferociously, protect us bravely, and accept us unconditionally. This love is more powerful than words or promises.
When someone shows up for another person, they echo the divine promise that says, “I am with you.” This is the Great Promise—that although we screwed up and made a universal muck of things—God fights to be with us. He shows up in the runny mess of life, in the stacks of late bills, in the car wrecks, and the inevitable tears of loss.
This changes everything. We don’t have to be talented. We don’t have to know the latest bands, newest haircuts, or fashion tides. We can slow down, turn off our phones, see the person right in front of us, and be fully present.
Our calling is the person right in front of us.
But I often focus on the invisible audience. On the growing crowd that may be looking at me. Take the right selfie. Show my best side. Get more "Likes." Meaning is found somewhere “out there.” Be more, do more. So I construct my life to impress, lobbing prizes to the imaginary crowd in hopes they’ll clap and cheer. Once they cheer loud and long enough, I may then find what I’m looking for.
But maybe a better plan is to throw down the microphone and leap into the crowd. Or maybe not even leap at all. Maybe quietly step off the stage and regard the first guy I see. To see him not as an interruption but as an addition. Perhaps then, my life will echo the promise that says, “I am with you.”
And maybe, in some small way, I will become a loving force for good. Like David. Like George.