Showing Love to All God’s Children (Feature Friday!)

(the Best of) A Year of Being Kind, Saturday, February 28, 2015

Talk about “do unto others as you would have them do unto you!” To my mind, no one exemplifies this principle more than my friend John. John Mroczka has recently retired from his many years of work at the YMCA, yet he is still going strong. Still doing lots of things for others. God bless you, John! What a wonderful blessing you are (and have been), in so many people’s lives!

A Year of Being Kind blog – Friday, February 28, 2014

 

Men sitting on a park bench (mixed media) - credit Getty Museum

Men sitting on a park bench (mixed media) credit Getty Museum

Showing Love to All God’s Children (Feature Friday!)

I love the town where I live! Such an eclectic group of people. Such a diverse bunch of individuals. A little bit of everything—snooty, artsy, down-and-out, parents, families, empty-nesters, students, immigrants, salt of the earth. Just about all kinds are represented here.

Some of these various kinds of people cross paths at the large YMCA near downtown. Yes, many people are active members of the Y and use the pool, gym, weight room, activity classes, and its other services on a regular basis. However, about one hundred and twenty men (give or take—the number varies) live in the attached single-room residence. I love that the YMCA also serves as a place where guys can get a leg up, and have a safe, warm place to live at a reasonable monthly price. However, some of these men are living on the edge of not-quite-enough. Some are on government assistance because of health reasons. Some have lost their jobs and are on the downhill slide into extreme poverty. Some have other issues.

Whatever the individual difficulty, by and large, the lives of many men who live in the residence at the YMCA are not cushy, posh and comfortable. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

That’s where John’s Cupboard fits in. John’s Cupboard is a service of the YMCA specifically to benefit the men who live in the residence. With all the government belt-tightening, corporate cost-cutting, and lessening of social services, many of the guys in this building have real, material needs. The Cupboard provides canned chicken and tuna, Ramen noodles, canned soup and crackers. Those are its staples. Plus, additional food is provided through donations. Another important part of the Cupboard are the toiletries provided by the Y, ordered from American Hotel. These are handy since they come in small, individual-sized packages. Soap, shampoo, disposable razors, toothpaste and toothbrushes. All greatly appreciated.

Enter John Mroczka—men’s residence director at the Y. (Also the John of “John’s Cupboard.”) John has done a great number of jobs at the facility over the years, and will retire this summer with twenty-nine years of service at the Y. But how did John start the Cupboard? At first, it was some spare cans of food kept on a shelf in his office. The Cupboard has since enlarged in both number of items offered and in size. John hopes to enlarge what the Cupboard provides to new socks, too. Socks are always appreciated!

For years, John has given a Christmas present of two pairs of socks and a coffee mug to each and every resident at the YMCA. He adds, “A few other employees and I solicit Y board members for additional things, gift cards for the residents.” John has the gifts of helps, discernment and service in abundance. He certainly shows it, too!

His kindness and compassion—tempered with a savvy eye and sharp nose for scams—make him uniquely qualified to do exactly what he’s been doing for years. Which is serving others, for the benefit of these men and their families, as well as for the glory of God as he understands God. Thanks for all you do, John! May God’s richest blessings rest on you, too.

@chaplaineliza

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

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers.   @chaplaineliza And read #40acts sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er – Thanks!)

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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!)

Being Kind with a Snow Shovel

(the Best of) A Year of Being Kind, January 5, 2015

On this snowy, frigid evening in January, this post from a year ago strikes a familiar chord.

 

A Year of Being Kind blog – originally published Monday, January 6, 2014

photo by Sergei Kvitko

(photo by Sergei Kvitko)

Being Kind with a Snow Shovel

It was cold in the Chicago area today. Frigid. I mean, exposed skin would freeze if uncovered for more than a few minutes. I understand that we broke a temperature record with -15 degrees. We won’t even talk about the wind chill, with wind gusts anywhere from 20 to 30 miles per hour.

I needed to be out and about today, going to and from work. Despite the extreme temperature, it was a beautiful day! Crisp, clear air. Blue sky. Since I had a functioning vehicle and wasn’t walking, I enjoyed the trip.

During the course of the day, I met someone who needed to get out of their garage. Thank heaven their suburb was on top of things and had already sent snow plows down the alleys. One wrinkle: in sending out the plow to clear the alleyway, the snow subsequently was piled in a heap against the garages. An anxious senior was involved, and I had the time and the ability. They had the snow shovel. So, I was happy to shovel out the apron of their garage and allow them access to the alleyway.

Another case of “who is my neighbor?” I didn’t live anywhere near this senior, not like my friend with the snow blower whose story I related several days ago. However, I felt compassion for this dear senior. Of course I shoveled the snow.

I try to keep myself in fair physical condition. I consider this part of my spiritual service to God, to keep up my physical self, to stretch and exercise regularly. I try to go to the gym three times a week and do what I can. Cardio-vascular, a little strength training, and (most important!) stretching both before and after. When I don’t go to the gym for a few days, my body starts to let me know through aches and pains.

This is a roundabout way for me to mention exactly why I felt so free to just pick up the shovel and go at it. I feel blessed that I am in decent physical shape, and I don’t want to lose that ability any time soon.

But what about people who are less-abled? Like several of my friends and acquaintances, who have lost some or most of the physical range of motion and ability they were born with? They are growing more and more dependent on others to do things for them. This dependence can be a source of griping and grumbling, or of gratitude and thankfulness. I see any number of reactions and responses to offers of service, on a regular basis.

However, I can let those I serve (or offer to serve) respond as they will. God has not made me an arbiter of people’s thoughts and actions. Instead, God has encouraged me to serve. And this year, my hope, my intention is to find some kind of service each day. Not to judge people on whether they have gratitude for the service, or whether they thank me. Service is what God has called me to do.

I wonder what will show up tomorrow? God willing, I’ll find out.

@chaplaineliza

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

(also published at ayearofbeingkind.wordpress.com

Worried and Distracted? Being Kind Anyway.

A Year of Being Kind blog – Wednesday, November 19, 2014

kind words

Worried and Distracted? Being Kind Anyway.

Very early in my experience reading the Bible (in Sunday school, I suspect), I vividly remember being introduced to the sisters Mary and Martha, in the Gospel accounts. I believe I first was attracted by their poignant emotions and the down-to-earth descriptions by the Gospel writer.

So, periodically, I reacquaint myself with these two ladies.

Some time ago, the Scripture passage that accompanied my prayer time was from Luke 10. I was drawn to the verse where our Lord Jesus said to Martha, “you are worried and distracted by many things.” God, that’s me! I can be worried and distracted by all kinds of things: important, trivial, you name it. I bet I’ve been distracted by it, at one time or another. My Myers-Briggs type is ENFP, and a prayer for this type goes this way: ‘God, help me keep my mind on—look! A bird! –one thing at a time.’

This whole situation matters to me today because I was called upon to pray, several times today. I was so moved by several things, I almost couldn’t help it. Here, with my immediate, active interest and compassion, I found myself available to serve God. And, to serve others. My words of encouragement, comfort, and prayer helped calm several people today.

When I specifically have set aside time for prayer, God needs to take top priority. And, then people take a close second. Even when the distractions are genuine and worthwhile (or so I think), help me understand that they pale in comparison to spending focused, uninterrupted quality time with You.

I am so glad I was available to pray with these dear people. Such important situations. So tired, and yet re-energized by the power of prayer.

Thanks for being there, whenever I need You, God. And, thanks for accompanying other people. (me, too!!). I couldn’t manage without You. Amen.

@chaplaineliza

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Challenging Service, in Chicago (Feature Friday!)

A Year of Being Kind blog – Friday, August 8, 2014

father gave me a gift-belief in me

Challenging Service, in Chicago (Feature Friday!)

Today is Friday, and it’s time for another Feature Friday. Except—this Friday feature is more challenging than some in past months.

What would you do if you were orphaned as a small child, and had no other close relatives? Or, how would life be different for you if you grew up in a poverty-stricken, single-parent household? What other serious events or continuing situations could radically change your story?  Would that fundamentally change how you grew up? Who you were, and more importantly, who you became?

This Feature Friday post tells about Emmaus Ministries, “Ministering to men in prostitution since 1990.” (according to their website) One big part of the ministry is trust and respect. Always in pairs, walking the streets alongside of the men. Coming alongside and listening to their stories. Stories are powerful. Everyone has a story, but some people cannot tell their stories. The people at Emmaus Ministries go out of their way to find out about the stories—sometimes difficult and traumatic, often painful—from the men on the street. As these relationships of trust and respect grow, the workers at Emmaus help the men to take steps to get off the streets, into a more stable place and position in their lives.

Some on-the-street experiences come from the founder of Emmaus Ministries, John Green. “Streetwalking with Jesus,” a book written by John Green with Dawn Herzog Jewell, vividly tells about justice and mercy. As he reflects on Micah 6:8, Green deals with such questions as “how do I live justly? To whom do I show mercy?  How may I walk humbly with God?” Working with male prostitutes is truly a challenge. And, a merciful and just way to live out the Good News.

The stories can involve addiction and alcoholism. Long-term unemployment (both for the men as well as their families). Homelessness. Other forms of instability and hardship, trauma and violence. Sometimes, several of these difficult items come into the stories. But the workers and volunteers at Emmaus Ministries are there to listen with compassion, to try to understand, and to help where they can. For example, on Emmaus’ blog, a recently-released person expressed his gratitude for the letters and calls that came to the prison for him. In fact, they were the only calls and visits this man had, from anyone, while he was imprisoned. Talk about gratitude!

Just having the opportunity to say you’re sorry? Or, I’m grateful? Or, I’m so afraid? Emotions! Scary, unpredictable! Sometimes; though, taking advantage of that blessing means so much. If you came from a shaky foster family, or a dysfunctional family in extreme poverty, this relationship with the workers at Emmaus sometimes might be the first healthy relationship they have had with another adult.

God bless every person blessed by Emmaus Ministry! And God be with those who will be in sme trial or tribulation. God, please! In your mystery, compassion and love, be with every person as they go about their business. Help Emmaus workers point many people to God, and let everyone know that Emmaus Ministries is truly a loving, caring, and worthwhile ministry.

@chaplaineliza

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

Showing Love to All God’s Children (Feature Friday!)

A Year of Being Kind blog – Friday, February 28, 2014

men on a park bench - the Getty Collection

men on a park bench – the Getty Collection

Showing Love to All God’s Children (Feature Friday!)

I love the town where I live! Such an eclectic group of people. Such a diverse bunch of individuals. A little bit of everything—snooty, artsy, down-and-out, parents, families, empty-nesters, students, immigrants, salt of the earth. Just about all kinds are represented here.

Some of these various kinds of people cross paths at the large YMCA near downtown. Yes, many people are active members of the Y and use the pool, gym, weight room, activity classes, and its other services on a regular basis. However, about one hundred and twenty men (give or take—the number varies) live in the attached single-room residence. I love that the YMCA also serves as a place where guys can get a leg up, and have a safe, warm place to live at a reasonable monthly price. However, some of these men are living on the edge of not-quite-enough. Some are on government assistance because of health reasons. Some have lost their jobs and are on the downhill slide into extreme poverty. Some have other issues. Whatever the individual difficulty, by and large, the lives of many men who live in the residence at the YMCA are not cushy, posh and comfortable. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

That’s where John’s Cupboard fits in. John’s Cupboard is a service of the YMCA specifically to benefit the men who live in the residence. With all the government belt-tightening, corporate cost-cutting, and lessening of social services, many of the guys in this building have real, material needs. The Cupboard provides canned chicken and tuna, Ramen noodles, canned soup and crackers. Those are its staples. Plus, additional food is provided through donations. Another important part of the Cupboard are the toiletries provided by the Y, ordered from American Hotel. These are handy since they come in small, individual-sized packages. Soap, shampoo, disposable razors, toothpaste and toothbrushes. All greatly appreciated.

Enter John Mroczka—men’s residence director at the Y. (Also the John of “John’s Cupboard.”) John has done a great number of jobs at the facility over the years, and will retire this summer with twenty-nine years of service at the Y. But how did John start the Cupboard? At first, it was some spare cans of food kept on a shelf in his office. The Cupboard has since enlarged in both number of items offered and in size. John hopes to enlarge what the Cupboard provides to new socks, too. Socks are always appreciated! For years, John has given a Christmas present of two pairs of socks and a coffee mug to each and every resident at the YMCA. He adds, “A few other employees and I solicit Y board members for additional things, gift cards for the residents.” John has the gifts of helps, discernment and service in abundance. He certainly shows it, too!

His kindness and compassion—tempered with a savvy eye and sharp nose for scams—make him uniquely qualified to do exactly what he’s been doing for years. Which is serving others, for the benefit of these men and their families, as well as for the glory of God as he understands God. Thanks for all you do, John! May God’s richest blessings rest on you, too.

@chaplaineliza

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

Teaching—No, Showing How to Be Kind

A Year of Being Kind blog – Thursday, February 13, 2014

sending love

Teaching—No, Showing How to Be Kind

De-cluttering is almost always a good idea. I can do with some de-cluttering around here. As I sit in my cluttered living room, I look around and sigh. Yes, I ought to give things away, to Salvation Army thrift stores, or just plain toss some stuff. The same with the other rooms in my house. I won’t even think of the storage space.

What brings this to mind? A few days ago, I was helping a friend of mine go through some of his things. Mostly, he wanted to go through some papers and files. Sorting, to throw away, re-file, or shred. However, he also wanted to de-clutter his place. Get rid of some items, take them to the thrift store. He and I had an enjoyable afternoon. As he went through things, he told me some fascinating stories. We laughed, cleaned, and talked some more. And his apartment was less full of stuff, at the end of the afternoon.

This reminds me of my life (not just my apartment, either!). My spiritual and emotional life need to be de-cluttered from time to time, too. I get the feeling that God likes order. Just looking at creation and how much natural structure, order and reasonability are in this world, this seems to be an inescapable conclusion.

So, my apartment needs de-cluttering. Yes, and I can get rid of one thing every day. That way, at the end of a month, I will have disposed of thirty things. Taken them out of my living space, as well as out of my life. But what about my mind? My mental space? Certainly, that space needs some attention, too. My mind can be cluttered up with worry, frustration, fear, even despair or hatred. These negative emotions can weigh me down. Or, they can distract me from the serious, or useful, or delightful thoughts that otherwise would naturally occur in my mind.

But I want to go back to my friend. One of the things he wanted to give away was a yoga mat. I admired it. (The mat is very well made!) However, I didn’t expect the next words out of his mouth—he told me to take the mat and bring it to my son. My son is a junior in high school. When I came home from my friend’s place, I showed my teenager the mat. His eyes got really big, because apparently I brought home a high quality, super-special  yoga mat.

Yes, my son was very grateful. Problem: he wanted me to bring the message to my friend. But independently, both my husband and I urged my son to write a brief thank-you note. My son (and my daughters, too, for that matter) see me writing notes, sending snail mail, communicating with real notecards and greeting cards. (“When you care enough to send the very best.”)  My son actually agreed to send a notecard I had in a file drawer, with a personalized message. Talk about teaching by example? Yes, in both my case and my husband’s, too. What a kind thing to do. No matter when or where.

@chaplaineliza