Serving, Rejoicing, Moving Boxes!

A Year of Being Kind blog – Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter - happy Easter and eggs

Serving, Rejoicing, Moving Boxes!

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! That is the traditional call and response for this Easter morning. At church today, we lifted voices in praise to God. We sang hymns, prayed prayers, and listened to my co-pastor deliver a fine Easter message. Of course, we rejoiced in the victory of Easter. We praised God for the conquering of sin and death, and the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. I played the piano as well as leading worship. I played some wonderful hymns and songs for this very special time of the year.

After the morning worship service, many people met in the fellowship hall, and I visited various relatives and visitors to the church this Easter morning. And we did, indeed, have some visitors. Praise God!

Such a beautiful day, too. After such a long, drawn-out winter, I sincerely thanked God for the wonderful weather and the warm temperatures (at last!).

And then—and then, I went home. I came home to an apartment still topsy-turvy from the moving of things for the carpet guys. Don’t get me wrong—I never, ever would say that I regret it! No, certainly not. However, putting back everything that was packed away is a daunting task. And, a task that I am taking some pains to accomplish with a great amount of care. After all, we are going to have to live with (most of) the choices and the places where I put things.

I moved two larger boxes last night, and three more today, this afternoon. The stacks of boxes in the basement are becoming smaller, indeed. Not quite to the halfway point yet, but almost there.

God, I get it. I may be slow on the uptake sometimes, but I get it—finally. This whole process of moving boxes, repacking books on shelves, deciding (once again!) which books to keep, which ones to cull, and which books go where—this process is an object lesson from You. Lord Jesus, You want me to learn something from this whole thing. Yeah, I recognize the grin on Your face by now.

I will enumerate the lessons I am learning. First, anything worth doing is worth doing well. And thoroughly. Second, anything I do is not to be done in a slap-dash manner. In other words, I need to pay attention to arranging this apartment and these books, and to do it in a methodical manner. (Which is similar to the first point, but has enough differences that I gave it a separate heading.) And third, deciding which books to get rid of? Ooo, this is a huge learning point for me. I need to be careful to willingly give up books we’ve outgrown or have no more use for. But at the same time, I am urged not to get rid of things willy-nilly. And, I suspect God wants me to look at other things/attitudes/habits in my life, too. I feel the urge to cull here, too!

Now, if I can just get my brain to process and come to terms with these facts . . . and these books. <grin> Seriously, happy Easter to one and all!


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Holy Saturday, Batman!

A Year of Being Kind blog – Saturday, April 19, 2014

Daffodils - photo by Kevin Jones, 4/18/14 Chicago Botanic Gardens

Daffodils – photo by Kevin Jones, 4/18/14
Chicago Botanic Gardens

Holy Saturday, Batman!

Today is Holy Saturday. Or the Great Sabbath. Or the Saturday of Holy Week. Whatever we call it, today is the day after the commemoration of the death of Jesus on the cross. Traditionally, this is a day when Christians wait outside our Lord’s tomb, in quietness, prayer and fasting. The Church is to meditate on Jesus, His Passion and death, and His descent into Hell. (As is spoken of in the Apostle’s Creed, just to serve as a reminder for those of us with non-liturgical backgrounds.)

Yes, I grew up with a liturgical tradition, but I have never observed a Holy Saturday service, with the altar stripped bare. Or, an Easter Vigil on Saturday night. So, these practices are very interesting to me—and somewhat odd. Different.

How do I see Holy Saturday? I look on today as a waiting-time. Waiting for the celebration of Easter, waiting in the quiet of that garden long ago, waiting beside the tomb—with the stone still standing in place. I do not necessarily think of going into a church for a service on Saturday; but that does not mean I am not thinking of Jesus, His Passion and death, and His presence in that tomb.

My husband, daughter and I took today to go to the Chicago Botanic Garden, to see the lovely growing things. As I reflect on this now, after the fact, going to the Botanic Garden reminds me of the coming of Easter, for the most part. Sure, there are a few blooming spring flowers (You should see the daffodils and crocuses!). For the great part, the garden itself is waiting. The buds and leaves of spring are almost ready to unfurl and push their way out into the sunlight. For example, the vivid, bright green of the weeping willows—about to pop open! But, not yet.

Sure. The Botanic Garden on Holy Saturday is not the first thing that jumped to my mind this morning. However, this choice of ours (in response to my husband) to go up to the Garden and to enjoy the relative warmth of the day? Certainly a welcome opportunity after the long, harsh, cold winter.

My intentional act of service today came later in the afternoon, when I brought over some things to my sister’s house. And I did enjoy myself as I spent some time with my sister, family and friends (Yes, the food was definitely a high point!).

I hope the time of quiet I had this morning helped me to concentrate on the death of Christ. I know this afternoon in the gentle beauty at the Garden caused me to think of the beauty and infinite creativity of God, even while waiting for the resurrection on Easter morning. Lord Jesus, I’m waiting! Waiting for You, the Light and Life of the world.


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Serving with Heart—at Heartland Health Outreach (Feature Friday!)

A Year of Being Kind blog – Friday, April 18, 2014

BK one kind word

Serving with Heart—at Heartland Health Outreach (Feature Friday!)

Helping the homeless—going out on the streets. That’s what Heartland Alliance does in Chicago. Heartland mixes service to the poorest of the poor, the homeless among us, with connection and caring.

This agency tries to bring a human rights component to their work with those in poverty. Heartland has a several-pronged approach to their efforts among the homeless, and offers people the opportunity to improve their lives and conditions, and to break the painful cycle of poverty. The volunteers and workers at Heartland try to offer housing, healthcare, jobs and justice to the homeless and down-and-out people.

I’d like to focus on one particular work of the Heartland Alliance: the Health Outreach. I talked today with Rachel, a registered nurse who went out with the groups quite a number of times. Her task was to reach out to the homeless in Chicago, several years ago. She had one major hurdle already taken care of She was not hesitant to go out on the streets. As she said, “I’m not afraid. Cautious, yes. Afraid, no.”

Heartland Alliance believes that health care is a human right. That is why the Health Outreach tries so diligently to reach out to the homeless, recent and illegal immigrants, refugees, people with mental issues, and issues with substance use.

Just hearing Rachel talk about her work with Heartland Health Outreach was moving and heart-rending. She came into regular contact with “Stanley.” (not his real name) Stanley was an older man, very intelligent and literate, but insistent about remaining homeless. (Common newspaper reading for Stanley were the New York Times and the Guardian.) However, Stanley’s self-care was much less than adequate.

Rachel and the other workers at the Health Outreach finally convinced Stanley to come to one of their clinics where they were able to clean him up. They cut his straggly beard and matted hair, washed him thoroughly, and—especially—got him to take off his boots. (The boots had been on his feet for approximately one year. Imagine what the state of his feet were, inside. Rachel told me, in graphic detail, what was under the clothing and inside the boots.)

She talked about a shy, disturbed woman, “Anna.” (not her real name) Anna had serious issues with trust and control. The workers finally gained her trust enough to get a little of her background, her story. Horrific details came out. People from the Health Outreach were able to get Anna to go to a hospital emergency room and let them know about some of the physical things that had been happening.

So sad, yet longing to be back, Rachel told me of the toll her work took on her, personally. She would be intensely moved, and need to think about the people she met, for some time afterwards. Unwind after the difficult times of work. Or I should say, ministry. Rachel is a woman of faith. Even though the Heartland Alliance is a secular organization, many people who work or volunteer there are also people of faith. They actively work for the betterment of treatment for the homeless. For those who do not have enough. For those who need health or dental care.

What did Jesus tell His disciples to do, on that Maundy Thursday evening?   “I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” Just so, Heartland Alliance and Heartland Health Outreach are following in Jesus’ footsteps. May we do the same, and intentionally pray and seek out opportunities of service.


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Following Christ’s Example—Being of Service

A Year of Being Kind blog – Wednesday, April 16, 2014

cross -lenten quiet day 2011-

Following Christ’s Example—Being of Service

As I sat in bible study today, the leader ended the study with a call to service. Serve as Jesus served. Not surprisingly, this blog was the first thing that popped into my head. Accordingly, I spoke up. “I have a blog where I write about acts of intentional service. God gave me this idea at the beginning of this year, and I have been looking for opportunities to be kind every day.”

The other people around the table nodded, and seemed interested, but we were just finishing up. I did not want to get started on another conversation. So after some prayer, we left for the morning. But this idea kept rolling around my head. This call to service—because our Lord Jesus served others—is a tremendous reason to be kind, intentionally.

I thought I would go back and look at what I intended as I started, in January. Yes, I thought I would focus on acts of service during each week. And I am intentionally pursuing acts of service for each day. That’s every day this year. At least, that’s what I am trying to do.

What did I do today, you ask? I used my listening skills. I actively listened to a friend, and talked with this friend for some time. I hope I provided some encouragement and assistance. I know I was encouraged, for sure!

Our Lord Jesus provided encouragement and assistance regularly to people. According to the biblical record, He was never in a hurry, rarely upset, always calm and collected. Lord, that is what I want to try to do. Please, God, help me in this endeavor. I want to serve as Jesus served. Thank You so much for hearing my prayer and doing what You can to respond! I know I am faulty, flawed, and sometimes angry or upset. But, God, You can make things right. You can make things beautiful. I pray that, please!


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Remodel a Room in My Spiritual House?

A Year of Being Kind blog – Sunday, March 30, 2014

bathroom painting - by Oleg Kujala  (Lichtenstein exhibition)

bathroom painting – by Oleg Kujala
(Lichtenstein exhibition)

Remodel a Room in My Spiritual House?

A week from tomorrow. That’s the deadline for the day the contractor is coming to do work on the bathroom. On top of that, a handyman friend of mine is going to paint our living room later this week. One problem: we have A LOT of books. And I mean A LOT. I promised we would box them all up and move them down to the basement so the four bookshelves in our living room would be easy to move. As a result, our place is topsy-turvy right now.

Is topsy-turvy an analogy for my life, or what? My life seems to be off-kilter. I just left a job last week. I just started a job two weeks before. My house is a jumble. I am excited at the prospect of things coming up. I’m not quite sure what they are, but they are still exciting.

Because almost every facet of my life is turned upside down right now, I am falling back on the trusty old one-day-at-a-time thing. That wonderful way of life tells me not to worry about tomorrow, not to concern myself with yesterday. Only consider today. It sure simplifies a lot. At first, today I paid attention to the morning service. I handled my responsibilities, and everything went well. I enjoyed meeting people at church and talking with them, praying with them. It was great! I didn’t overthink anything, or worry too much. I think Jesus would be proud of me. That’s the way to follow Matthew 6:34—only concern myself with one day at a time.

This afternoon, after boxing up some more books and staging them in the living room, my daughter and I went to the big box do-it-yourself store to buy some tile and grout for our bathroom. Yes, it was inexpensive tile, with a nice, stylish accent tile around, under the top border. Understated, and attractive. Best of all, the price was great. Came back home, boxed up more books. Today’s activities? All accomplished. Good enough.

While packing and going through our books, my husband and I are sorting, too. Separating, and choosing books to give away. I brought another big bunch to the resale store today. I still see piles of stuff when I look around my apartment, but I realize most of the piles are staged to go various places. I am giving away a lot of books. And, we are in the process of making our condo a more comfortable place to live.

God, do You have something for me to learn from this exercise? Is my life in need of a spiritual overhaul? Do I have a “bathroom” inside where the old, tired tile needs to be pulled off the wall, and fresh, new tile gets put up? I already know You are my Contractor. You get to say where things in my life need attention, and when I ought to work on things. I hesitate to ask You where and when work needs to be done next, because You will let me know! All right, already. I will. Show me what needs work. And help me have the persistence and gumption to stick to it. One day at a time. Thanks, God!

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Be Kind = Show Love = Love Neighbor

A Year of Being Kind blog – Tuesday, February 18, 2014

LOVE God is love

Be Kind = Show Love = Love Neighbor

This morning, I went to the gym at the YMCA. I had a good workout! So, I needed a shower afterwards, in the locker room. (I was going to work later in the morning.) The shower area is bright and shiny, with a number of shower spots. Sometimes there are just one or two people in there, but other times it’s like Grand Central Station—wall to wall ladies! They often chat while they wait for showers, when it’s so crowded.

I took a quick shower, and there were only two other women in the shower area. By the time I finished up—maybe two and a half, three minutes—the number doubled. A swimmer was turning on the last shower when I said I had just finished. Her eyes brightened. That last shower head was really rotten, she said. She thanked me sincerely! She and I exchanged smiles and several comments as I grabbed my towel. She mentioned again—with a smile—how kind I was to let her have a good shower spot.

Being kind? That’s what I am trying to do every day, with intention. Except, this time, my kind act just happened. I offered my shower spot to another person, just as a matter of course.

I thought about what this swimmer said. I know she said it in a half-kidding manner. But I could see she was half-serious, at the same time. Her comment kept coming to my mind. I was kind to my neighbor, to someone else in the locker room. I’ve mentioned a small book of short selections before, written by Fred Rogers (of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fame). Here’s a pertinent quote from Mr. Rogers:

“The more I think about it, the more I wonder if God and neighbor are somehow One. ‘Loving God, Loving neighbor’—the same thing?”

Mr. Rogers raises a deeper question. Additional, going further. Somehow more fundamental. What a loving and caring way to go through life. Yes, intellectually, I know I am supposed to love God. As the greatest commandment of Jesus states, Love God, and the second is like it—love neighbor. (I think Mr. Rogers was referring to this twin set of commands of Jesus in the quote above.)  And as Mr. Rogers wonders, aren’t the two commands two sides of the same coin? Yes, loving God is the greatest command. Certainly, there is nothing greater. But Jesus gives “loving neighbor” almost equal billing! (Take a look at Mark 12:28-34 if you want to get a direct take on Jesus and His words.)

What a tall order! Living like this, treating each individual in this way? God, I’m not sure I can live up to all this. That may be just the point. I can’t. God can. Ask God for help. Then, go forward with my hand in God’s, living life the way God means me to. And God can help you, too! Just ask.


Be Kind—Reunite Kids and Moms (Feature Friday!)

A Year of Being Kind blog – Friday, January 24, 2014

BK kindness workboots on

Be Kind—Reunite Kids and Moms (Feature Friday!)

The weather outside is frightful. As I look out the window, I think of blustery weather and dangerously low wind chills. A difficult time of year to travel, here in the Midwest. It’s even more of a challenge for people to travel, if they must rely on public transportation.

The prison ministry I used to drive for eases just such a challenge. The prison ministry of First Presbyterian Church of Evanston reunites incarcerated moms with their children—for at least part of a Saturday. Lutheran Social Services of Illinois organizes transportation for children and their caregivers (grandmothers, aunts, and other family members or friends). First Pres Evanston is one of their transportation volunteers. For years, this church has used their bus to transport loved ones to federal penitentiaries—for no charge to the relatives. The relatives transported are often on public aid, Social Security, or some other form of assistance. They have very little money to begin with, and often rely on public transportation. This makes trips to downstate prisons to see incarcerated loved ones almost an impossibility.

I was one of the main drivers for First Pres during most of the decade 2000 to 2010. I transported these relatives many miles on Saturdays. Never mind that I had to get to the church extra early to check out the bus, warm it up, and head off to the pick-up point on the south side of Chicago. (I didn’t mind. Really. Honest.) That pick-up point—a huge strip mall parking lot next to the expressway—struck me as particularly sad. Shrewd, cynical shysters crassly make money (a LOT of money) doing the same thing. Transporting loved ones in similar situations, at a considerable profit. A few years ago, the price for one of these for-profit seats on the commercial buses lined up at the lot’s edge was in the area of $35 to $40. That was the price PER SEAT. If a grandma wanted to take two or three grandchildren to see their mom in prison, the cost would triple or quadruple. Way out of reach for those on a limited income.

I willingly gave up frequent Saturdays to drive the church bus, because I believed in being kind, offering what I had—some driving ability and a commercial driver’s license—for others. But I didn’t immediately make the connection with the words of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse, specifically in Matthew 25:31-46. I finally got my elbow nudged from God: I helped these relatives to go see their loved ones, the incarcerated women. So, yes. I was aiding them to do what Jesus directed in verses 36 and 39-40. (“What you did for the least of these.”) I had a small part in making the world a more nurturing place, a more compassionate place. And most especially, allowing children to have some kind of personal, face-to-face relationship with their moms.

Thank God there are people who still willingly give up their Saturdays to drive to prisons a long distance away. And I pray for ministries like that of First Presbyterian Church in Evanston and Lutheran Social Services. Bless them, and prosper their continued ministry. What a way to be kind and tender-hearted.


Being Kind Through Forgiveness

A Year of Being Kind blog – Tuesday, January 21, 2014

forgive others

Being Kind Through Forgiveness

Have you ever suddenly realized something serious? I mean, deep down significant? Yup. That happened to me today.

This afternoon I talked with someone I sincerely respect and appreciate. I was going on and on (as I sometimes tend to do when excited and/or emotional), and my friend pointed out something significant. She summarized what I had said and then lifted up the pertinent point. I mean, the thing practically bit me on the nose, it was so obvious. I needed to forgive, badly. I couldn’t hold on to that resentment any longer.

Awestruck, I sat there for a moment or two, and then I thanked my friend. Newly resurfaced, the thing was bobbing around at the top of my mind. Not that I was gnawing on it regularly, but something caused the thing to resurface last week after a long time of not thinking about it. I vividly had the realization that resentment was curdling inside of me like extremely sour milk. (Eww!!) Again suddenly, I realized I had been holding that awful, nasty feeling inside of me for many, many months. I had to let it go.

For this blog, the verse I have been focusing on for the month of January is Ephesians 4:32. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” I’ve spoken a lot about being kind and tenderhearted to one another already. But I haven’t said anything about the second half of this verse. Until now. I need to forgive others. I mean, I really need to forgive, because God has forgiven me. I can think of three distinct times (there are more, of course) in the Gospels where Jesus specifically deals with forgiveness. (The three times I have in mind are two parables and in the Lord’s Prayer). Yes, Lord. You’ve got me. Right between the eyes. Guilty as charged.

I received abundant, loving forgiveness from God for my many faults and flaws, for sins of commission and omission. Therefore, I need to freely turn around and forgive. Any personal, practical outworking of God’s forgiveness in my life will be realized as I actively forgive others. Yes, Lord. Intellectually, I know this truth. I even have experienced it, on any number of occasions. However, this half-forgotten thing in my life was secretly curdling on some inner, recessed pantry shelf. On my insides, deep within. Pulling it out of my memory last week was just the beginning. When I discussed it today with my friend, I received some relief. Going further and acknowledging it to God will bring me further peace of mind. Taking that additional step of asking forgiveness of God and releasing that horrid resentment will bring me serenity. Then and only then, will I experience serenity and peace first with God (most important), with others, and (also significant) with myself.

I suppose today I was kind to myself. Not that I have completely forgiven the situation. No, but I’ve taken several steps towards forgiveness. I’ve started; I am halfway there. <deep sigh> Thanks, God.


Of Sermons and Service

A Year of Being Kind blog – Sunday, January 12, 2014

Worship - New Row Presbyterian Church

Worship – New Row Presbyterian Church

Of Sermons and Service

I was of service today. A friend of mine, Chaplain Sarah, asked me to help out. So, I did.

Let me back up, and give a little background. Chaplain Sarah went out of town for several days. A little vacation at holiday time. One of her relatives needed additional assistance, so she took a few extra days off from work to help out. Sarah knew she had Sunday services today to lead, and did not want to unnecessarily be concerned about preaching. She contacted me last weekend. She asked whether I could play the piano as well as prepare a sermon to preach at the two retirement homes where she’s a chaplain. Of course, I said!

That’s one of the things I have found I can do. (on a fairly regular basis!) I can be a pinch-hitter, to use a baseball analogy. I can willingly step up to the plate and go to bat for those who have emergency needs. I’ve noticed that’s one of my gifts—not that it’s listed in the ‘official’ listings of the spiritual gifts, but still.

As last week progressed, I knew I had to prepare a sermon on John 2:1-11, the wedding at Cana. I prayed about it, and had an outline and a general idea of what I wanted to say to the two little congregations. But I had the darnedest time just sitting down. Writing. Or, not writing, as the case may be. One thing came up after another. Friday passed and went. Saturday—anxiety time, except for the fact that the message was straight-forward and solid, and I basically knew what I was going to say. And I still couldn’t write. Correction. I finally could, but it was like pulling teeth.

I did finish the sermon by the time I got to bed last night. I was having so much difficulty that I was starting to think there was something spiritual I was up against. Something not of God, something that did not want me to be at the two services this morning. As I took off my hard contact lenses at the bathroom sink, the second lens popped out of my hand. I’m particularly near-sighted, so I was only able to hear the ‘click’ of the lens as it bounced on the sink—and then, nothing. No second ‘click’ as the lens bounced on the tile floor. Arrgh! Where did it go? In the water? On the rug? Not in the waste basket? I ended up looking for that lens for over an hour. Going over every inch of that bathroom, even to the other side of the room, five or six feet away. No lens.

So, I have lost my contact lens. Lost. No idea where it might have gone. Thankfully, I was able to call my optometrist and leave a message. I wore my glasses, except that the prescription is over twenty years old. I hurried to the services. My husband was kind enough to drive me in the car, since my eyes were adjusting to the foreign glasses. (I really don’t wear them much at all.) And, I played the piano and preached at both services. Chaplain Sarah did everything else. She did a great job! It was a team effort, and I was heartily glad I could help out. Oh, the sermon? It did the job, I think. Jesus changed a whole lot of water into a whole lot of wine. Superior wine, too! He provides for us abundantly. Extravagantly. I’m grateful to Jesus for blessing me abundantly, each day. I have a suspicion He can take care of me, too.