Teaching us How to Listen, Lead… and Live
When your child…, strike that… when your daughter … goes off to college, you hold your breath. You hope that she connects with friends and gains a sense of community – in a hurry. You wish for peace of mind (both hers and yours) about an environment that is safe and nurturing. And you pray for friends who will be a positive influence on her.
And then someone like Peggy Gasior walks in the door and you realize that you’ve hit the trifecta. Hope realized. Wish granted. Prayer answered.
My daughter Carla, and her freshman roommate, Lisel Allbee, hadn’t been on campus for a full day yet at the University of Miami when they received a visit from Peggy, the College Ministry leader at Granada Presbyterian Church. She wanted to welcome them to the U and invite them to church. She’d gone through the same freshman drill years before. She was a Miami alumnus. A Cane. She was also friendly. She was engaging. She was cool.
Carla and Lisel checked out Wednesday night Bible Study where Peggy introduced them to the rest of the crew. They then went to church on Sunday, and Peggy made them feel at home. The College Ministry group was a mix of students, both undergraduate and graduate, who came from all over the world, and attended not only UM, but also FIU and Miami-Dade.
Soon we heard reports about the group’s activities, like a Habitat for Humanity project and a missions trip to the Bahamas. There were excited updates about the weekly routines, like Sunday lunches and Wednesday night Bible Study. Over the next four years there were countless football games, cooking adventures, local sightseeing trips, and spontaneous dinners or movie marathons. Suddenly, Carla didn’t have just friends, she had family. Everyone in the family had a big sister named Peggy. And they loved her.
Peggy is optimistic, but grounded enough that she can empathize with students going through struggles. She is always on the go, but never at a frenetic pace. She can carry on a conversation with anyone, but is even a better listener. She has a foundation of faith that gives her perspective and a kind of strength that people are drawn to.
Peggy is quite a photographer, and is always ready to capture the proud moment, the priceless expression, or document the event. In the book Nuts, Kevin and Jackie Frieberg describe the corporate culture at Southwest Airlines. They tell how the company’s Culture Committee tried to identify specific ways that Southwest could promote a powerful sense of family. Employees recognized that one thing that families do is memorialize events with pictures and then put those pictures all over their houses. So when you walk through the halls of Southwest Airlines’ headquarters, you will see hundreds of pictures of team members at corporate and community events. Likewise, Peggy has taken thousands of pictures of her students and chronicled them having fun, doing ministry, and living life. The camera captures her pride…and her love. In this digital age, those pictures get shared on Facebook from person to person and continent to continent.
The College Ministry has had quite an introduction to music, and jazz in particular. Peggy’s husband Jim is an accomplished jazz pianist, composer and arranger. Jim has recorded and / or performed with such musicians as Arturo Sandoval, Smokey Robinson, Jane Oliver, and Kelly Clarkson. When Peggy puts the word out that Jim is performing locally, the College Ministry crew turns out.
Peggy is passionate about her students, her church … and her Canes. She has season tickets for Miami Hurricanes football and regularly joins her brother, Paul Ting, for road games. The two recently flew to New York to see Jimmy Johnson and Russell Maryland get inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Through her example, students see that ministry isn’t tame, and it isn’t lukewarm. The energy she brings to cheering on Duke Johnson on a touchdown run, she brings to encouraging students to persevere through difficulties and to make a difference in the world.
When you think about undergraduate and graduate students coming together you have a group of students who simultaneously are dealing with: living away from home for the first time in their lives, while others are seeking their first full-time job and preparing for life beyond college. You also have those who are dealing with fragile new relationships, while others are preparing for marriage and babies. But everyone knows they have a friend they can talk to, and who will keep them spiritually grounded. She’s part coach, part mentor, and always a friend. The lessons learned in the ministry provide a foundation for the future, and the relationships among members become lasting.
Donna and I have been able to spend time with Peggy – tailgating before a Canes game, listening to Jim play piano at Joe’s Stone Crab, and over breakfast in South Miami. She has a personality that seems to put her at ease in front of people of any age and in any setting. She is comfortable in her own skin. She laughs. She learns. And most of all, she listens. She has the Bill Clinton-esque ability to have you believe that you are the most important person in the world when you speak to her.
Several weeks ago I was moving boxes in our garage, and a book fell out of one of Carla’s many (many, many) storage boxes from College. It had a plain green cover, and looked like it had been handled often. I opened it up to typed notes glued to the pages in the book. My eyes caught Carla’s name and I saw that she was requesting prayers for her mother and brother, who were dealing with health issues at the time. I felt like I was intruding looking at this prayer journal. But before I closed the book, I saw the names of other people and appreciated that parents, siblings, and friends were being prayed for by a special group of students. I had a lump in my throat recognizing that my daughter and her friends had been praying for my family. Week after week. And I immediately thought of Peggy and her role as a conductor of this symphony of prayer and thanksgiving.
I think we all strive to identify God’s calling for our lives. There is tremendous peace and power when we feel that we are doing what we were meant to do. I can’t imagine Peggy doing anything else. She is impacting students, families, and the local community in a powerful, palpable way.
Anyone who plays a positive role with our kids deserves special recognition. But we all need a Peggy. Someone who will encourage us. Someone who will listen to us. Someone who will pray for us. Someone who will be our friend.
My hope is that you will find your Peggy and that you, too, hit the trifecta. Hope realized. Wish granted. Prayer answered.