Be Kind? Even in the Locker Room!

A Year of Being Kind blog – Thursday, June 19, 2014

THANK thank you God

Be Kind? Even in the Locker Room!

When I went to work today, I did a lot of stuff, wrote some stuff, talked to some people.

Seriously, I did quite a bit. Got a good deal accomplished. I felt great when I left, and hightailed it over to the YMCA. I really needed to exercise!

Oh—I’m going to take a moment to insert a plug for exercise! I am a great advocate for cardiovascular activity. I think it’s wonderful. Exercise tones my muscles, helps me feel good all over, acts as a non-prescription stress reliever, and—best of all, starts those natural, positive endorphins bouncing all over my insides. So, for all of those reasons, I just love to go to the gym at the Y. (Now, back to your regularly scheduled blog post.)

I jogged on the track, stretched, did some yoga. Came back to the locker room, cleaned up. Just as I was getting dressed, a woman came in to the rear of the locker room, too. Chose a locker at the bank of lockers just adjacent to me. I can’t even tell you who struck up the conversation, but a wonderful conversation blossomed between us.

Did you ever just fall into conversation with someone? And, have a really nice time? I am so glad this happens to me from time to time. Today was no exception.

This woman opened right up. She started telling me all sorts of things. We never exchanged names, but she was so sweet! And, just before she closed her locker, she paused. Looked straight at me, and thanked me. Imagine, she appreciated my conversation! I did not talk too much. Like I said before, she was the one who opened up. But I suspect she might have been able to tell that I was also open, receptive. People often are able to tell!

I am so grateful that I was willing to connect with her, to be friendly and encouraging! And, upon reflection, how difficult was that? It took several minutes out of my day, true. I didn’t even need to go out of my way, because the woman chose a locker at the next bank of lockers! It’s almost as if God were giving me a “freebie” for my being-kind-stuff today.

I was just being me. And that was exactly what this woman needed. God, You never cease to amaze me. Gee, God, thanks!

@chaplaineliza

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Social Media? Or a Kind Conversation?

A Year of Being Kind blog – Wednesday, June 18, 2014

God what God knows about you

Social Media? Or a Kind Conversation?

Have you noticed? People pay so much attention to social media today. Smart phones, computer laptops and tablets. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Reddit and Tumblr. So many choices! So many ways to further fragment individuals and their communication. Even when I see several people sitting in close proximity to each other, chances are that they will be staring down at some electronic device, focused on that, instead of focusing on each other—sitting at the same table, or even on the same bench.

Call me old-fashioned, but I actually enjoy the art of conversation. I may not be the best at this dying art, but I do enjoy talking with people. In a small group or tete a tete. Intimate, joy-filled, heartwarming, sometimes even heartwrenching. But all the same, there is nothing quite like it.

I have been trained as a chaplain. I’ve done several extended internships as a chaplain intern, and served as student pastor for one year. I was employed as a part-time director of pastoral care, and then on call chaplain at a hospital in Chicago for almost seven years. And this was all in the past eleven years. Extensive, specific training. A great deal of spiritual, psychological and emotional understanding of people in highly volatile, fearful, or extended situations. Challenging, anxious experiences. Lack of hope, grief, trauma, end of life concerns. Yes, I’ve seen a lot.

Looking back on it all, I can see how many of these formative experiences have prepared me for what I’m doing and where I find myself, right now. God is awesome—how God fits this all together never ceases to amaze me.

Take this evening, for example. I happened to meet an acquaintance of mine. (I don’t think he knows about my new job.) He and I fell into conversation, and he started talking about how he used to be all caught up in the church, and went through years of parochial schooling. Then, he stopped church attendance some years ago. Now, he has recently started to consider God, and spirituality from a whole different perspective. In turn, I told him a little about my experience with God and spirituality. I encouraged him to continue to explore this! (And, no, I did not bash him over the head with the fact that I am a professional, in the “church business.”)

I looked on this friendly conversation as part of my being kind. Helpful. Making positive suggestions. And perhaps, when we meet again next time, my acquaintance might remember my kind words and ask me about my perspective—my experience, strength and hope. Please God, help me be ready to be kind, and to be of service!

@chaplaineliza

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Opening Up, Confiding, and—That’s It.

A Year of Being Kind blog –Sunday, June 15, 2014

SERVE love serve Gal 5-13

Opening Up, Confiding, and—That’s It.

Ever have someone open up to you? And, tell you some stuff that is either really private, or particularly personal? Or really important?

From time to time, that happens to me. Sometimes, out of the clear blue sky. I can be minding my own business, standing in line at the grocery store, and someone will turn to me. That person will tell me intimate details of their lives, their emotions, their resentment or disgruntlement or surprise. Or pleasure or pride or caring.

Tonight was no exception. Tonight, after going to a coffee place to meet some friends, I decided to swing by a large, cut-rate department store that had a sizable food component. I needed to pick up a few things before I went home. I got almost everything I needed. (When I got home, I realized I had forgotten two things I’d intended to get. Aw, shucks! I did not have two items I particularly wanted . . . but that is fodder for another blog post.)

As I got in the check out line, I patiently waited my turn. (I particularly don’t like those self-check out lanes, since by using them the stores eliminate checkers and cashiers. Cashiers actually want lunch breaks, bathroom breaks, and they can get sick. Even want time off. Imagine! The nerve of those silly human beings!)

When I came up to the young cashier, I could tell she was frazzled. Even though she still greeted me, I could see she was distracted. So, I tried to be especially friendly and kind. I started—humorously—asking whether the computerized check out system was working properly. (I had heard that it was not, yesterday. And this computer snafu was nationwide!)

The cashier and I had a laugh about it. She immediately engaged with me, telling me the all-kind-of troubles she had and has with the computer. And the difficulties she has with her nose-in-the-air, fancy pants family. I listened, nodding my head and making encouraging words and noises.

And then—as suddenly as the cashier had begun? She stopped.

I’m used to people unburdening themselves to me by now. I was just amused that this young lady started and stopped so quickly. Like turning a faucet on and off. But was I kind? Helpful? Did I try to be of service? I think so, God. In fact, I know so. Thanks for putting me in the place of service tonight.

@chaplaineliza

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In Which I Meet New Friends!

A Year of Being Kind blog –Saturday, June 14, 2014

friends who ask about you and then really listen

In Which I Meet New Friends!

Today was a busy day! Met with friends for breakfast, then over to the library. I went to the Y to exercise, took a gander over to the little shops near the El train, and caught the El to go back home. And that was just until about 12:30 in the afternoon! I kept on going, busy doing—working—writing. And on top of everything, I had a meet-up with more friends, this evening. (!!!)

These people were people I had never met before. (As my children would say, IRL—that is, in real life.) I knew a mutual friend who has since moved to the west coast, who introduced me into this online community. This community had all attended the same Christian college, and we all shared some common interests. A select group, to be sure! I had communicated regularly with many of them over social media, but hadn’t met them in the flesh. Until tonight.

I was excited. Going into the north side of Chicago, to one of the lakefront communities. The street was hopping! Full of night life, and everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time. Me, included! At least, I was fully expecting to have a great time. Through social media, we had all agreed on a meeting place. I mean, a restaurant and bar where we would all rendezvous.

I don’t often hit the bar scene. Now that I’m officially middle-aged, and everything, it just doesn’t have quite the same attraction. (I also noticed all the people working at the restaurant were the age of my children.) But that’s neither here nor there.

As I went into the place, I noticed this joint was jumping. I just naturally put my best foot forward. My best chaplainly attitude, also. This served me well in talking with several staff. I gave my name to wait for a larger table, and went to the door to wait some more. But it didn’t take very long. In no time I had met up with the online community! There were a few moments of hesitancy, and getting to know each other, but we all were talking together comfortably. Soon, regular rounds of laughter and general hilarity overtook our table. Amazing what can happen with the assistance and aid of social media!

In no time at all, I had acquired several new friends. Yay, me!

So, how was I kind today? Through my genial, friendly smile, of course! And my open and welcoming attitude. This is so natural for me, as I think of being a chaplain. Wow, I am going to need to get used to thinking of myself as a pastor, too. My smile and attitude is a good pastorly thing to have, too!

@chaplaineliza

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What About Someone Who Doesn’t Feel Legit?

A Year of Being Kind blog – Tuesday, June 10, 2014

hugs, hearts

What About Someone Who Doesn’t Feel Legit?

The time was later in the day. A grey, cold day for June, and had been raining most of the afternoon. At the tail end of some writing work, I needed to get everything finished before I left for the day. The preschool down the hall continued to empty—I heard the cars stopping and starting again with half an ear. As I sat at the desk and pounded the computer keys, the doorbell outside the front door rang. Hmm?

I went through the outer office and peered around the corner. A tall, sort of scruffy-looking man walked back towards his pick-up. Nice, newer model truck, I thought. I opened the door. “Hello!” I called, in my best friendly voice. The man stopped, turned around. Walked toward me. Older, rather than younger. Hair mostly grey, baseball-style cap with a few faint stains. Smaller handlebar mustache, even.

“Hello, ma’am.” He extended his hand. I introduced myself as the interim pastor. “Do you mind if I talk to you for a few minutes?” I smiled and made a welcoming gesture with my hand. “Certainly. Why don’t you have a seat?” As he passed by on the way to the pew against the wall, I got a clear whiff of alcohol. Coming out of his pores. He looked clear-eyed enough, but he must have been drinking quite a large amount recently to be in that kind of situation. I could smell the booze from five or six feet away.

Then the sad story came out. I must admit, he told it well. A contractor and carpenter for most of his life, doing some roofing more recently. With little touches like, breaking his back, both arms and a bunch of ribs by falling off a roof about two years ago. His aged parents had nursed him back to health. Then a long, almost fanciful description about his parents’ home in a small town—sounded almost idyllic. Except that there was hardly a job to be had in that area. So, because of back problems, and health issues, and herniated something-or-other, he had packed the truck and come back to the big city.

Now, here I intuited that he was telling the truth, amidst the fanciful fabrications. He made mention of a specific hospital where he was being treated. A ways from the church, but that did sound legit.

I interrupted him, and asked him in a kind voice, “I’ve been listening to your long, involved story for some time. What is the most important thing for you to ask me, right now?” He took a deep breath, looked at me with an assessing eye. Then made his pitch for money. “If you could see your way to giving me a little money for gas. That’s all I need.”

“I don’t have any money available right now, I’m afraid. But you mentioned that you were really hungry. You have lost lots of weight in the past weeks, you said, because you didn’t have food,” was my response, still in a kind voice. See, I had been listening. “And what you mentioned in your story? Sounds a lot like you did Step 4 and Step 5 with that priest. Making amends? Sounds like you were working Steps 8 and 9.” His eyes narrowed. The corner of his mouth twitched—not favorably. “Yeah, I heard about that stuff . . . “ he replied, slowly. “I guess.”

I stood up and walked down the hall to the other side of the narthex. He followed. On the table stood two boxes with the collection for the local food pantry. “I’m sorry I don’t have any money, but you are welcome to any of this food.” He cast an eye over the gathered food and grabbed some cans of vegetables. He thanked me, but his bright story-telling persona had gone away. I had a suspicion it might. On the way out the door, he asked me whether I knew of any other churches nearby. Sure, I mentioned a large Catholic church about seven or eight blocks away. Right down the street. “Oh.” Again the twitch with his mouth, and he mentioned something about already going there, before.

As I sent him on his way with the cans of vegetables and an encouraging smile, I felt a twinge of sadness. I knew about the solution for some of his difficulties, at least. Since I have a certification as Alcohol and Drug Counselor, I know about the help that comes from the 12 Steps and from the recovery program. But he did not seem open to hearing about that, at all. God, I listened to him. I provided him with some food, and gave him encouraging smiles. But God, I didn’t give him what he most wanted, perhaps what he most needed. Money for alcohol. I pray for him. I pray that he can find the solution for his problems. And find You, God, in the process.

@chaplaineliza

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In Which I Did Sunday-type Things

A Year of Being Kind blog – Sunday, May 18, 2014

BK be kind - color

In Which I Did Sunday-type Things

Today is the day the Lord has made! Yes, today was, indeed! Not only did God make today, but this particular Sunday was a beautiful day, on top of everything. Gorgeous! Even more than awesome!

I did Sunday-type things today. I tried to rack my brains and think of something particular, or something special I did today, but nothing popped into my head. Yet, I know I attended church. I greeted every person in the congregation. I prayed, gave the brief children’s message, prayed some more, and co-led the morning service. I talked with most people in coffee hour this morning, and joined in the optional, brief bible study the church had, after service.

As I said, I was puzzling over and over about exactly how I was of service today. (How did I serve, anyway?) And after thinking hard for most of the afternoon, I could not come up with any specific instances. (Of course, I thought of situations where people were kind to me—like, for instance, the man from the church who stayed several feet away from everyone because he was afraid of passing along a bad spring cold. (even a not-so-bad spring cold!)

Of course, I used my smile quite a bit today. (If anyone has seen my photo, you know I have a friendly, open smile. And it just sort-of-naturally happens! That’s one thing God has indeed blessed me with.) However, I didn’t go out of my way to do something special for someone else.

When my daughter and I were driving in the car recently, she happened to comment on my daily posts on this blog. She wondered out loud how effective it was for me to look for kind things to do each day. I mean, praying for God to send intentional acts of service into my life. “How ‘intentional’ is that, anyway?” she asked. Great question, I responded! I told her that I really and truly tried to have these acts of service come from the heart. Not out of obligation! No!

I tried my darnedest! Never that. I was earnest when I said that kind of attitude was self-defeating. That attitude would also negate any positive, genuine, loving expression of kindness I showed. She wrinkled her nose and looked at me sideways. (Maybe it was the position she was in, riding in the passenger’s seat next to me, but still . . . ) I affirmed the fact that these acts of kindness and service are getting more and more natural. (Easier?? Um, sometimes. Maybe once in a while.)

I think I am starting to really get the hang of this kindness thing! At least, I hope so. I pray so. God, how am I doing with this intentional act of service thing, anyhow? If you could , I pray that you will allow me to find out. That would be great, God! Affirmation and confirmation for me, and continued acts of service for everyone else!

Thanks, God!

@chaplaineliza

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Being Kind at a Library

A Year of Being Kind blog – Sunday, April 27, 2014

library clipart illustration

library clipart illustration

Being Kind at a Library

Today was Sunday. The second Sunday of Easter. Today was also a busy day and evening for me. Since a nearby library has open hours on Sunday evenings, I decided to head there after dinnertime. I’m in the process of writing several articles for an encyclopedia, and I wanted to do some additional research. Busily (and happily), I involved myself with research until almost nine o’clock.

I could have written about several encounters I had today. But one brief encounter stuck in my mind. I packed up my laptop and came down to the library lobby, a little before nine. As I entered the vestibule with the sliding doors, I noticed two people blocking the primary exit doors—one library employee and an older library patron with a fancy walker. The older man was a bit stooped. He peered through his glasses anxiously, into the chill and the rain. He seemed to be waiting for someone or something.

This older man caught my attention. As I zipped up my coat, he turned toward me with some stiffness. I could see he had some kind of difficulty in walking or in movement. His shoulders were not quite square as he tried to face me. I smiled at him. Open, friendly. “Hello! You look like you’re waiting for someone.” I nodded with my head at the pavement—and street—outside. Relaxed and easy, I continued to smile.

The man opened right up, and engaged with me immediately. He nodded his graying, frizzy head at me, saying “Yes, I’m waiting for a cab.” He looked outside again, and frowned. The library employee excused himself, and went outside to see whether the cab happened to be waiting around the corner. (Which every once in a while, they are.)

As is the case with some people, the older man started telling me about his life. Waiting for the cab, how long it would take at times. What he was carrying with him in a bag (he showed me), and more, besides. His manner and style of communication seemed a bit awkward, probably due to his physical condition. But I could tell his mind was sharp as a tack.

Our brief interaction was pleasant, open. I could honestly say I think I made a new friend tonight. I smiled again, my bright, cheerful smile. I wished him well and a safe trip home despite the wet and the cold. As I walked to my car, I reflected on the fact that I could have asked him whether he might appreciate a ride home. But—I wasn’t sure how he might receive the offer. On top of which, I did not know what kind (kinds?) of physical difficulties he might have. I did not desire to have an unknown man of questionable health and mobility in my car. Even though he might appreciate the ride.

God, I know I could have offered him a ride. Forgive me for not offering. How sad—and awful—to be considering insurance and liability. That was why I prayed for the older man, though. I really wanted to do the kind thing, and be of service to him. I pray I was.

@chaplaineliza

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Be Kind with a Smile

A Year of Being Kind blog – Tuesday, April 22, 2014

blooming_bike1

Be Kind with a Smile

It’s good to be with friends. I had several opportunities to visit with friends in the past few days. Some friends and I got together tonight. We talked, laughed, and generally had a great time together.

I could talk further about that get-together, but I thought another encounter more significant.

On my way home from my visit with friends, I decided to stop by the grocery store. (I won’t bother you with the minute details, but we needed a few things from the store. Especially milk!) So, I swung by the grocery store I used to go to, on the other side of town. A much denser side of town, with a number of larger apartment buildings and condos, as opposed to the neighborhood where I now live. More single-family homes in our present location.

On the other side of town, fascinating people, places and things. Always an interesting trip, going to that particular grocery store. The time was later in the evening. The dinner rush had long passed, and things around that store seemed to be winding down. I went into the store, and didn’t exactly hurry, but didn’t dawdle either.

As I came out of the store, who should I see getting off his bicycle but an older man I had seen for the past few years. A number of times before. I don’t see him every single time I go to that store, but about half the time? He’s there. Sitting or standing at the entrance/exit to the store, greeting all passersby. Dreadlocks and all.

He got off his bike and met my glance. I acknowledged his look with one of my own, as well as with a friendly smile.

That took him by surprise. “You’re the first person today who smiled at me. Thank you, lovely lady, for the beautiful smile.” (If you’ve seen photos of me, or me in real life, you know I have a very nice, friendly and open smile.) “Why, thank you for noticing,” I responded. I also said I was sorry I didn’t have any money to give to this man. “Oh, that’s all right. I appreciate your lovely smile. That’s enough for me.”

How about that? I didn’t mean to give my smile to this dear man as a gift. No, it was unintentional. It just happened. I rejoice in the fact that I can give away smiles to pretty much anyone who walks or drives by! Smiles don’t cost anything. They don’t take up room, they won’t rust or wither or fade. But, they brighten someone’s day, even lift them up out of sadness or depression, or even awkward or embarrassing things. God, what are You going to send me tomorrow? I can hardly wait to see!

@chaplaineliza

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Being Kind and Neighborly (Feature Friday!)

A Year of Being Kind blog – Friday, April 11, 2014

to-do list for today

Being Kind and Neighborly (Feature Friday!)

How about being neighborly? Rural and small-town Iowa has lots and lots of neighborly people! Kind, friendly, and open, with smiles and nods all over the place.

I know this is Friday (Feature Friday!). I’ve been featuring a special mission, ministry or non-profit organization here in this spot each week. Except today. Not an organized ministry, but instead a whole area in southeast Iowa. As for me, I was born and raised in Chicago, about as far from rural Iowa as one might imagine. But, for years, my husband has told me about his memories of the small towns there. About how people are just plain friendly. Open. Nodding and waving. I experienced it for myself, up close and personal.

My husband’s family lived in southeastern Iowa for over a century and a half. We traveled to the tiny town where his grandparents lived, and went to the little historical building where many different kinds of photos, books, furniture, quilts, and other memorabilia are on display. The older woman who let us into the building was also kind enough to show us the way to a very-much-out-of-the-way cemetery, too. (We never, ever could have found it on our own. We would have gotten totally lost in the winding gravel roads separating the hard scrabble farms, hilly brush and stands of forest, and the occasional rusted trailer near the Missouri border.)

My husband saw dozens of his direct ancestors, aunts, uncles and cousins. He carefully took photos of all of the relatives he had knowledge of. How awesome is that? The kind, elderly lady who showed us to the cemetery was quite matter of fact about it. Her husband was buried there. We saw the double gravestone, and her name was already there, carved on it as plain as day. She spoke in a natural, conversational tone of her expectation that she would rest there, at his side.

And then at Iowa Wesleyan College, where we stopped by for about an hour. My husband’s mother and father had graduated from that college many years ago. His deceased mother had provided a gift for the Music Department there, and my husband took several photographs to show to his elderly father, three states away. Everyone we met at Iowa Wesleyan was so friendly and kind. Helping us and giving us directions.

So many people in Iowa who were so kind and pleasant! And I haven’t even scratched the surface. Am I a cynical, hard bitten city dweller? So unused to being kind that I had to start a blog about it? And pray that God might help me to find kind things to do every day? What about the intentionality part of A Year of Being Kind, too? I suspect that I would do well to observe these kind folks in Iowa. Thank God for them, and their helpful, giving attitude. God, I pray that You help me to be as neighborly and as kind as these people!

@chaplaineliza

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An Act of Service and a New(ish) Friend

A Year of Being Kind blog – Tuesday, March 4, 2014

An Act of Service and a New(ish) Friend

running person - clip art

running person – clip art

My son took special care in getting dressed this morning. He had his first gymnastics meet today, and the whole team dressed up for the occasion. So, dress slacks, oxford shirt, dress shoes, tie.  He was so proud to be all spiffed up! (I know—I saw him looking at his reflection in the mirror after tying his tie.)  And even though he didn’t say so, I suspect he was excited for the meet.

I dropped him off at the high school on my way to the YMCA. He stood on the sidewalk, and was all smiles as I waved to him.  He disappeared from my rear view mirror as I carefully threaded my way between the students and staff crossing the street. Yes, it was just another weekday morning, with just a slight variation.

As I’ve said before, I go to the gym several times a week. Today was one of those days. The Y is a familiar place, now. I’ve been there pretty much three times per week for the past five years. I don’t know most people’s names, but they often come to the gym about the same time. Being a naturally friendly person, I smile and sometimes say hello. This morning, I kept passing by people I recognized—so I was saying “hi” a lot.  As I went up to the track, I ran into a recent gym acquaintance. We did a few circuits around the track after I did some preliminary stretching.

My friend is a little older. A senior, and a moderately active one. My friend started telling me about the challenges of being a senior citizen—in an upbeat, uncomplaining way. Even humorous, at times. I listened, interested to hear about my friend’s viewpoints. But I also listened to some sadder stories. I heard about a few senior friends, who are not as physically active. For seniors, this can be very problematic. It’s circular. As people—and especially seniors—decrease in their activity level, they usually decrease in stamina and strength.  Which makes many even less willing to be active at all.

My mind shifted, remembering an older relative, now deceased. She broke her ankle a number of years ago, and the orthopedic surgeon needed to place several pieces of hardware into the joint. However, she was stubborn. She wouldn’t do physical therapy after surgery. It didn’t take too long for her to become more and more sedentary, which caused her to dislike physical activity more and more. Just like the other seniors I heard about today—decreasing in activity, stamina and strength, in a downward spiral.

What was my act of kindness today? I kept my friend company—and we went around the track together. I encouraged my friend in being physically active today, too. I gladly affirmed my senior friend for doing whatever they can, regularly, to the best of their ability. I delivered this act of service with enthusiasm! God, thanks for my friend. And, thanks for sending me a new service opportunity, today and every day.

@chaplaineliza

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