In Which I Ride the El (evated Train)

(the Best of) A Year of Being Kind, February 6, 2015

As I reread this post, I vividly remembered the situation. I was back there, in the El car. I pray for both of these men, even today.

A Year of Being Kind blog – Saturday, February 8, 2014

 

Under The El Tracks  Painting by J Loren Reedy

Under The El Tracks
Painting by J Loren Reedy

 

In Which I Ride the El (evated Train)

I rode the Elevated train (or, the El) downtown, amidst the big flakes of thickly falling snow. Since the ride downtown lasted approximately one hour, I had my trusty reading material. (I’m currently reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. But I digress.)

About twenty minutes into the ride through Chicago, a young man in an older jacket, stocking cap, hoodie and sweat pants came walking slowly through the El car. He gave a practiced little speech about how he was broke and hungry, and he needed money. I looked up. I usually am leery of people who ask for money. In fact, this guy looked and sounded like a typical panhandler—practiced, and too pat. I checked him out, looked him up and down. Since I have some experience working with people in a drug and alcohol rehab, I suspected he was mildly high or intoxicated. (For my money, I’d bet high.)

He stood there after he finished his spiel, gazing from person to person. Most of the passengers completely ignored him. I sat there for a moment, and then dug into my bag. I pulled out a wrapped chocolate biscotti. Held it out to him. He took it, and looked at it with a big question on his face. “It’s a cookie,” I said. “A chocolate cookie. I really like them.” The information I gave him slowly registered, and he said thanks. Then ducked out of the train car through the connecting door.

I continued to read my book, traveled to the Loop, went to a restaurant to meet my sister, and had a wonderful lunch. After a pleasant afternoon, I traveled back on the El. Got on a very crowded train car, and was fortunate enough to find a seat. After about ten minutes, similar story. A young man in layers of clothes and a stuffed backpack got on the El. He stood in a group of people near the door. He seemed a bit nervous, but got up some gumption and started to speak.

This time, I could tell the man was desperate. He told a story of job loss last fall, and then homelessness. He had been sleeping on the El train for a number of weeks, by his own account. He had just gotten out of the hospital and offered to show discharge papers to anyone who wanted to verify his story. He said his leg was getting better after being infected and inflamed, and that he needed some antibiotics. $18.60, he said they would cost. He showed everyone on the train his calf. (Yes, the calf did look puffy and inflamed. I know what that looks like, from my years in the hospital.) Again, no one moved or looked at the young man. I could see the desperation on his face. Even despair. His eyes filled with tears.

I waited almost a minute. I hardly ever do this—again. (I usually do not have the money to spare, to tell the truth.) But, I gave him some money. And I said, “God bless you,” as I gave it to him. I held his hand for a moment. He and I made eye contact. Held it. His voice broke. “Thank you. Thank you, and God bless you.” I could hear the gratitude in his voice. Then he got off the train at the next stop. I waved and smiled as he got off the train car. He nodded at me and then ducked his head as he made his way through the mass of people clambering in or out of the car.

Two people. Two situations. Honestly, I do not usually give things to panhandlers. But today, I did. I wasn’t even thinking or making a conscious decision—the compassionate gifts just happened.

A friend of mine is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, reporter Maudlyne Ihejirika. She had an article published the other day that featured three people who had lost their jobs many months ago. (In case anyone is interested: http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/25404540-418/still-jobless-little-hope-of-long-term-benefits.html) Just like the second man on the El. Perhaps I was empathizing with his situation. Perhaps I was recalling my friend’s article. Whatever the reason, I acted in a loving and giving manner. Just like in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

God, thank You for the loving, caring nudges. Thank You for the opportunity to be of service to these two men, these members of God’s family.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)

In Which I Am Kind to a Sister

A Year of Being Kind blog – Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas presents

In Which I Am Kind to a Sister

Who doesn’t like to get presents? I think of little children. My four little ones (when they were little), and just about every other small child I have ever known. Even most adults I know enjoy getting presents. Receiving a gift-wrapped package, wrapped in pretty paper.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Two of my children and I drove into Chicago mid-afternoon today, to see my sister. She had been quite sick for most of last week. So sick, she needed antibiotics from the doctor, right in the middle of the holidays. Sadly, last week was one of my busiest weeks of the past few months, so I was not very available to her. After spending several days quiet at home, she is now much improved. We all went to one of the Christmas movies currently showing in the theater. Afterwards, we went to a nearby restaurant to get some delicious Italian food.

True confession time: when she was living, my mother was difficult to buy presents for. She was a tremendous woman, strong-willed, kind to a fault, generous, artistic, fond of music and books and the creative impulse within. And—she was incredibly picky. (I haven’t been willing to do a full analysis of it, but I know that some of my attitudes and “stuff” associated with gift-giving comes from this.)

I do try to choose presents that I think people will enjoy. With everything I know about that person, I am on the lookout all year for presents. Understand, I definitely do not haunt retail establishments on a weekly basis. No, that’s not my favorite thing to do, at all. However, if I see something—even something little or inexpensive—that I am reasonably sure one of my close relatives likes or might enjoy, chances are that I’ll buy it. And put it away for a gift-giving occasion. Just so, in the case of my sister.

At dinner after the movie, we brought the presents into the restaurant. My sister pulled them out of the small bag they were in. She made the comment, “This is the first present I’ve opened this Christmas.”

That sudden statement made me reflect. Some people do not receive Christmas presents. Do not have anyone to give them Christmas presents. Or, sometimes, do not have any money to buy Christmas presents for their loved ones.

A sad thing. Desperately sad. Just as some people are alone on the holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day. I know that some years, I have been caught up in my own family doings, and haven’t been as attentive to others as I ought. I am sorry. I hope I can make up for it by being a good, gracious, loving person from this point onward.

I hope my sister enjoyed her small presents. I honestly chose them with great care. And—despite all the attitude “stuff” that is a legacy from my mother—I hope all my presents this year are useful, or enjoyed, or bring a smile to people’s faces. God willing, may it be so.

@chaplaineliza

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Unexpected Service—Serving the Homeless (Feature Friday!)

A Year of Being Kind blog – Friday, December 19, 2014

you are not alone

Unexpected Service—Serving the Homeless (Feature Friday!)

Posted outside of the church I attended, some years ago, was a sign by a small tree covered in blue ribbons: “While celebrating One homeless Family, these ribbons ask us to remember the homeless with us today.” I had never thought about the Holy Family in that way before.

Some people in the 21st century probably are so accustomed to the Christmas story that their idea of shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night is somehow associated with Christmas cards. But it was life as usual for these working people. An everyday way of life in Palestine. What’s more, being a shepherd was not a particularly high class job. The lowly vocation of shepherd was on the outskirts of society. A possible comparison today is to think of a person selling “Streetwise,” the news sheet sold for $2.00 outside of grocery stores and coffee shops here around the Chicago area.

And suddenly, the angel of the Lord came to these shepherds—came to people in homeless shelters, people selling “Streetwise,” people down on their luck, people on the edge, on the outs of society. The angel of the Lord came to them with good news. Good news. With news of God’s birth announcement. We can see God again breaking through, in an unexpected way, to an unexpected group of people.

Are some of these people the “underclass?” Are these people undesirables? Untouchables? Not to God. And, not to the Night Ministry, either.

As their website says, “The Night Ministry is a Chicago-based organization that works to provide housing, health care and human connection to members of our community struggling with poverty or homelessness. With an open heart and an open mind, we accept people as they are and work to address their immediate physical, emotional and social needs while affirming their sense of humanity.”

The Night Ministry served over 138,000 individuals last year, including more than 12,000 young people (aged 14 to 21) who were homeless. Trying to live—to survive in Chicago on their own, without any family or guardian. The Night Ministry works to reach these teens, as well as adults and new moms who have nowhere else to go.

This vital ministry works in Chicago neighborhoods to build relationships and provide immediate, practical resources. They have a new Health Outreach Bus (replacing the old bus that had clocked over 90,000 miles), offering medical exams, treatment and HIV testing, as well as coffee, conversation and a sense of community. The Youth Outreach teams reach out to homeless and LGBT youth in the Lakeview neighborhood to offer non-judgmental support, guidance, food and self-care supplies.

So—especially during the holidays, at that time of the year when the thoughts of many turn to family and friends, this is an especially difficult time of the year. Think of these homeless people, far from family or friends. Send thoughts and prayers to them. Just as you think of that homeless (Holy) Family, two thousand years ago. I know God blessed that homeless (Holy) Family, as I pray God blesses the homeless in my own hometown, tonight.

@chaplaineliza

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Kindness to a Daughter (and Granddaughter)

A Year of Being Kind blog – Sunday, August 10, 2014

birdhouse and flowers

Kindness to a Daughter (and Granddaughter)

My youngest daughter is leaving home, for college. Soon. This afternoon, we went for a drive, and ended up at a mall. I bought my daughter some needed clothes. We did a little windowshopping, too.

The wonderful thing about our drive (on such a beautiful day, too!) was that it was unhurried. We took our time, and had no time constraints placed on us. A wonderful feeling, too! We went into Chicago and drove through some areas that I had not visited for some time. We saw some really attractive areas of Chicago, and I went a little out of my way to show my daughter some special houses, and houses from the turn of the 20th century, too. (Fascinating!)

I took the opportunity to relate some vignettes about my mother—dead these past twelve years. My mom was an amazing lady, and her wide and varied interests included art, architecture, real estate, history, and political science. (She had a bachelor’s degree in political science, earned in the 1940’s.)

Traveling down those very familiar—yet not-recently-traveled—city streets sparked some bittersweet memories. My daughter and I continued to talk about her grandma, mentioned some things she used to do and places she liked to frequent. As I went further into Chicago, we also talked about her great-aunt, my mom’s sister. She died a few years ago, over ninety years old. Another dear lady.

My mother loved being a grandma. She loved all her grandchildren dearly. She would have been so excited to see her first grandchild (my niece) get married. Just two weekends ago, that happened in Washington state. I was unable to attend, but Grandma would have loved it. And, it’s another of the grandchildren entering another stage of life.

This is my third daughter going off to school. Yes, it’s bittersweet to have another child leave home. Yet, I am so pleased another of my children is doing so well. She is growing up to be a curious, competent, capable, and interesting young lady.

So, yes. I acted as a mom. I did more mom-things today, by buying my daughter several items for the fall semester. (My daughter really appreciated the clothes, and told me so.) I realize it’s kind-of my job, as a parent, getting my daughter outfitted for college. But, it wasn’t a chore. My daughter and I had a very enjoyable afternoon. It was fun. A good time. And yes, a bittersweet time.

I wish my mother had had the opportunity to see her grandchildren continue to grow, and learn. But I know my children were glad for all the time they did have with their Grandma. My mom was regularly kind and helpful to her grandchildren. And me? I was kind to my daughter today. Thanks, God, for a wonderful afternoon.

@chaplaineliza

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Of Airports and Expressways

A Year of Being Kind blog – Monday, May 26, 2014

BK kindness is contagious

Of Airports and Expressways

I visited both major airports in Chicago today. Really!

Picked up various family members at both Midway and O’Hare airports today. I was very glad to be able to serve in this way. I appreciated some time with my family members in a more intimate setting, rather than just at the reunion tomorrow! I mean, that will be wonderful, too. Seeing all of our various family members? Sure! But it’s also great to have some quiet, friendly talk in an intimate conversation. Giving people a ride in my car provided just that opportunity.

I can remember family reunions and extended relatives all at some dinner. Everyone sitting around the dinner table. Imagine the hullabaloo when I ask questions about their lives! It’s so hard to divide the time into nice, neat little portions. So hard when I consider the desire for connection that is so ultimately important I should not concern my self with just trying to hold on, to serve as best I can.

What about you? Have you been in a similar situation (like, for example, I wanted to earnestly talk with some family member or some other thing)? Although, the impromptu dinner we had at my sister’s house was great tonight. And the conversation! I had forgotten what a joy it is when we all get going (through talking, of course!).

I’m sure tomorrow will hold even more interesting parts. But for today, I am very glad I volunteered to be kind—I mean, pick people up at the airport.

@chaplaineliza

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

In Which I Ride the El (evated Train)

A Year of Being Kind blog – Saturday, February 8, 2014

Under The El Tracks Painting by J Loren Reedy

Under The El Tracks Painting by J Loren Reedy

In Which I Ride the El (evated Train)

I rode the Elevated train (or, the El) downtown, amidst the big flakes of thickly falling snow. Since the ride downtown lasted approximately one hour, I had my trusty reading material. (I’m currently reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson.I’m intrigued by the book—but I’m not yet halfway through it. I’ll reserve judgment until I finish it. But I digress.)

About twenty minutes into the ride through Chicago, a young man in an older jacket, stocking cap, hoodie and sweat pants came walking slowly through the El car. He gave a practiced little speech about how he was broke and hungry, and he needed money. I looked up. I usually am leery of people who ask for money. In fact, this guy looked and sounded like a typical panhandler—practiced, and too pat. I checked him out, looked him up and down. Since I have some experience working with people in a drug and alcohol rehab, I suspected he was mildly high or intoxicated. (For my money, I’d bet high.)

He stood there after he finished his spiel, gazing from person to person. Most of the passengers completely ignored him. I sat there for a moment, and then dug into my bag. I pulled out a wrapped chocolate biscotti. Held it out to him. He took it, and looked at it with a big question on his face. “It’s a cookie,” I said. “A chocolate cookie. I really like them.” The information I gave him slowly registered, and he said thanks. Then ducked out of the train car through the connecting door.

I continued to read my book, traveled to the Loop, went to a restaurant to meet my sister, and had a wonderful lunch. After a pleasant afternoon, I traveled back on the El. Got on a very crowded train car, and was fortunate enough to find a seat. After about ten minutes, similar story. A young man in layers of clothes and a stuffed backpack got on the El. He stood in a group of people near the door. He seemed a bit nervous, but got up some gumption and started to speak.

This time, I could tell the man was desperate. He told a story of job loss last fall, and then homelessness. He had been sleeping on the El train for a number of weeks, by his own account. He had just gotten out of the hospital and offered to show discharge papers to anyone who wanted to verify his story. He said his leg was getting better after being infected and inflamed, and that he needed some antibiotics. $18.60, he said they would cost. He showed everyone on the train his calf. (Yes, the calf did look puffy and inflamed. I know what that looks like, from my years in the hospital.) Again, no one moved or looked at the young man. I could see the desperation on his face. Even despair. His eyes filled with tears.

I waited almost a minute. I hardly ever do this—again. (I usually do not have the money to spare, to tell the truth.) But, I gave him some money. And I said, “God bless you,” as I gave it to him. I held his hand for a moment. He and I made eye contact. Held it. His voice broke. “Thank you. Thank you, and God bless you.” I could hear the gratitude in his voice. Then he got off the train at the next stop. I waved and smiled as he got off the train car. He nodded at me and then ducked his head as he made his way through the mass of people clambering in or out of the car.

Two people. Two situations. Honestly, I do not usually give things to panhandlers. But today, I did. I wasn’t even thinking or making a conscious decision—the compassionate gifts just happened.

A friend of mine is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, reporter Maudlyne Ihejirika. She had an article published the other day that featured three people who had lost their jobs many months ago. (In case anyone is interested: http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/25404540-418/still-jobless-little-hope-of-long-term-benefits.html) Just like the second man on the El. Perhaps I was empathizing with his situation. Perhaps I was recalling my friend’s article. Whatever the reason, I acted in a loving and giving manner. Just like in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

God, thank You for the loving, caring nudges. Thank You for the opportunity to be of service to these two men, these members of God’s family.

@chaplaineliza

Of Piano Playing and Being Kind

A Year of Being Kind blog – Sunday, January 5, 2014

piano lady

Of Piano Playing and Being Kind

I received a call last night. A pianist was unable to show up for two worship services this morning. I was asked whether I would be able to substitute at the last minute. Of course! I said. I’ve been at both of these retirement homes in Chicago a number of times, just not under these last-minute-circumstances.

Sometimes I preach and lead worship, more recently I’ve also played the piano, and a few times I’ve played both roles. So when I walked into the chapel at the first home, I knew all of the dear seniors present. I spoke to a few on my way to the piano. Because of snow and ice on the roads (as well as on my car), I came just two or three minutes before the service was to start. I played through two hymns as a prelude. After the service, I played a number of hymns as a postlude. Familiar hymns. Since I’ve been preaching, leading worship and playing for services at retirement homes over the past number of years, I know which hymns are more likely to elicit sighs and nods of recognition, and even seniors singing the words along with my playing. Thus it was with my postlude. One dear senior (mid-eighties? late eighties?) still has a very nice-sounding voice, and a marvelous memory for the words of many, many hymns.  As I played, I smiled as I listened to one, two, then three seniors singing the words of the hymns.

After almost ten minutes of playing the postlude, I rose from the piano bench to get ready to leave. I noticed that fully half of the seniors gathered there for the service had remained. They were listening to me, playing the piano. I stopped for a moment, realizing why they were still there. It was then that I heard the thanks. Sincere thank yous and gratitude coming from several of these dear seniors.

I quickly slogged several miles through the snow to the second retirement home, where this worship service was repeated. Again, the piano playing. The hymn singing was not quite as strong, but equally heartfelt. And after the worship, I again played a number of hymns for the postlude.

I wonder if this piano playing was the most important thing I’ve done all week, in God’s eyes? And afterwards, to have several of these dear seniors say ‘thank you’ with such sincerity and gratitude? I know many in this youth-oriented (even youth-worshipping) culture do not put much stock in their seniors. Many thoughtless or uncaring people today consider them to be not-as-important. Even forgettable.  The descriptive word to reference them is no longer ‘elders’ but ‘seniors.’ This telling change in vocabulary begins to show the shift in thinking.

Thank God that I was available and able to play the piano at a moment’s notice. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had this revelation. What a way for me to be kind and tenderhearted, as Paul reminded the believers in Ephesus. Please, God, show me how to be kind and tenderhearted tomorrow, too.

@chaplaineliza