As the President of the United States slips his arm around my husband’s shoulder, I think I might just bubble up and burst with pride. I’m standing and applauding with everyone else, of course, trying to keep my smile lowered to an appropriately humble wattage, while Abel, bless him, bows his head, obviously embarrassed by the deafening applause.
We’re among the few who have been seated at the head table of the National Prayer Breakfast, and my head is still reeling from the honor. Dizzy as I am, I try to look around and gather as many impressions as I can. The support team back home in Wiltshire, Kentucky, will want me to recite every detail.
The woman next to me, a senator’s wife, bends to reach for her purse and jostles the table, spilling my cranberry juice. She glances at the spreading stain, then apparently decides it’s more politic to continue applauding than to help me mop up the mess.
Faced with the same choice, my heart congeals into a small lump of dread. If I ignore the stain, the President might glance over here and decide that Abel Howard’s wife is a clumsy country bumpkin. If I stop to clean it up, I’ll look like a woman who can’t cut herself loose from the kitchen.
Fortunately, life as a minister’s wife has taught me a thing or two about diplomacy and compromise. Steadfastly smiling at the President, I stop clapping long enough to pick up my napkin and drop it onto the wet linen. The senator’s wife gives me an apologetic look as the applause dies down and we settle back into our seats.
“Abel Howard and his affiliated ministries,” the President says, moving back to the lectern, “have provided us with an excellent example of how religious television broadcasts can promote quality in programming and restore morality to our nation. Not only does Abel Howard deliver a worship service to millions of American homes each week, he and his organization have spearheaded drives to lead our country back to its spiritual, ethical, and moral roots. In this special presentation for religious leaders, the Points of Light Foundation is pleased to honor Reverend Howard for his courage and many years of dedicated hard work.”
Behind the President, Abel laces his fingers and keeps his head lowered. Beside him, the Catholic bishop who has also been honored looks at Abel with open curiosity . . . or is that skepticism in his eye? From where I sit, I can’t tell.
“Abel Howard,” the President continues, “and the other worthy people who stand before you today represent all we can achieve through determined effort, concentrated vision, and dependence upon God. Our nation has no official religion, no state-endorsed faith. All are free to worship or not worship, to exercise faith or sustain doubt. Yet faith, and those who practice it, brings out the best in us. Scripture describes people of faith as salt, and salt not only adds spice to a substance, it acts to retard spoilage. The men and women standing before you have decided to be salt in a society that can, at times, seem terribly dark. I hope and pray that these men and women will be joined by thousands of others who realize that salt kept in a saltshaker is useless.”
The crowd responds with another boom of applause. The President grips the sides of the lectern as he waits for the sound to fade, and I catch my husband’s eye. Abel smiles, but his folded hands and stiff posture tell me he is eager to leave the platform. Abel has never minded attention, but this is a lot for a Kentucky preacher
The President clears his throat. “In a letter to a friend, George Washington once wrote, ‘I am sure that there was never a people who had more reason to acknowledge a Divine interposition in their affairs than those of the United States; and I should be pained to believe that they have forgotten that agency, which was so often manifested during our Revolution, or that they failed to consider the omnipotence of that God who is alone able to protect them.”
The President throws back his shoulders as his gaze sweeps across the crowded ballroom. “May we all remember that God can and will intervene in our affairs to keep America strong. May God bless you all, and may God continue to bless America.”
As the audience rises to deliver a final thundering ovation, the President turns to shake the hands of a few people on the podium. He reaches for Abel’s hand first—a fact I can’t help but notice—then moves on to congratulate the nun who oversees a soup kitchen, the Muslim cleric who founded a literacy program, and the rabbi honored for his efforts to combat racism.
A host of noteworthy people stands on the platform, but the President of the United States turned to shake Abel’s hand first.
That thought pleases me to no end.