Being Kind—at a Funeral Home

A Year of Being Kind blog – Thursday, December 18, 2014

winter pathway

Being Kind—at a Funeral Home

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas—“ except when it’s not.

Yes, it’s just a week before the “big day.” Yes, I drove past a large shopping mall on the way home this afternoon (against my better judgment). I did not see a single empty parking place in the parking lot from my vantage point, driving by. Yes, the children at the preschool were excitedly talking about Christmas coming soon. “Is it tomorrow?” “Is it the next day?” And, I know the teachers patiently go through the calendar, counting the days until Christmas. “Next Thursday. We have a week until then.”

But it isn’t beginning to look much like Christmas for a good friend of mine, and their whole family. They have lost a dear, senior loved one earlier this week. This afternoon, and evening? The viewing. The wake. I went to the funeral home so I could be there for my friend.

So incongruous. Frenetic, anxiety-laden, rush-rush. Mad, frantic preparations for the holidays. (It doesn’t particularly matter whether the holidays people celebrate are Christmas, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, or Kwanzaa.) And then—to have a loved one die in the middle of all of that? As I said, so incongruous. It’s the holidays! There isn’t supposed to be any death, or sickness, or fighting, or negative emotions, or negativity of any kind. Not now.

But, life doesn’t work that way.

So, I took the sad opportunity to be kind to my friend. To offer my condolences on the passing of this sweet senior. To be with my friend for at least a little while.

I reflected, later on, that this is exactly why there is a Christmas. So we could have hope, in something much better and much greater than we could possibly imagine. Yes, it’s very sad to us, here. Yes, people are grieving, right now. And yes, people are rejoicing in new life, the life to come, with God.

I don’t want to say this too loudly, in case I step on the toes of someone who is grieving, sad and even angry right now. But—I look forward to a merry Christmas. Quietly, looking forward. Expectant. Quietly.

@chaplaineliza

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

Helping, While Saying Good-bye!

A Year of Being Kind blog – Sunday, June 1, 2014

God makes a way

Helping, While Saying Good-bye!

It is difficult to say good-bye. Transition is a constant, and a necessary part of life. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it!

My friend and colleague, Pastor Gordon, preached and celebrated his last service at the church where I am working. Today. He is moving into another specialized ministry with his denomination, where he can use both his ministerial credentials as well as his real estate broker’s license. It sounds quite exciting, and I wish him the very best!

But—that leaves me as the solo interim pastor. Exciting! Gasp! Yes! I can certainly preach, and do pastoral care for the congregation; facilitate and teach bible studies, and lead in worship, singing and prayer in the service each week. I’ve been doing each of these things for years, one or two at a time. However, this is the next step. A new position, where I need to do all of these things at once, plus church administration. As I said before, exciting! And daunting . . .

Gordon has been a wonderful colleague. Experienced, positive, savvy, almost a cross between a sage, an encourager, and a cheerleader. During the past few months, he has coached me in how to serve this congregation fully, and I have appreciated his every suggestion. (I also have thanked him so much for his cautions and corrections! And believe me, I need them. On a regular basis.)

A few days ago, as we sat in the pastor’s office and had one of our last meetings together, Gordon mentioned he felt like Elijah, passing on his ministry to Elisha. (Gosh, if Gordon is casting himself as Elijah, I guess that makes me the other guy—I mean, Elisha.) I laughed, and I was only half-joking when I made the quick come-back, “Well, I sure hope you give me a double portion of your skill in administration, and especially with people!” (Maybe I was more than half-serious, now I come to consider it.)

I have Gordon’s blessing, as well as his dedication in front of the congregation at the end of the service today. He dedicated me for my work at the church and with the congregation, and he also dedicated the president of the congregation, too. I so appreciate his prayers and good wishes. “As long as she is needed,” were Gordon’s words. They will stick in my mind, that is for sure.

So, how did I help Gordon? For the past few months, I was the best colleague that I could be! I know I work well in tandem with people, and especially as a second fiddle. But now, with Gordon’s encouragement and help, I’m moving into the first fiddle position. Wow! I think I am ready. (Gordon says I am! And I respect his knowledge and understanding of human nature very much.) So, I am ready to take up the mantle. Gordon (and his ministry) is a hard act to follow! But, God willing, I can go forward. Lead this congregation. With God’s help, and with the prayers and encouragement of this flock, and my dear friends and prayer partners.

God, thanks for sticking close, right by my side. You and I make a great team, too!

@chaplaineliza

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

Helpful Conversation—on Such a Topic! (Feature Friday!)

A Year of Being Kind blog – Friday, April 4, 2014

Helpful Conversation—on Such a Topic! (Feature Friday!)

Life - limited warrantee
Conversation starters. We all know them. “Hello!” “Pleased to meet you.”“How’s the weather today?” “How ‘bout those Bears/Hawks/Cubs?”

But what about topics that bring conversation to an absolute standstill? How about—death?

Small groups, medium-sized groups of people gather to talk about death at what is known as a Death Café. Some talk candidly, openly. Some with wistful sadness or still-palpable grief. Others with realism, tinged with fear or anxiety, seasoned with love for those who have passed on. Death, that final parting.

These Death Cafés can be made easier by adding tea (or coffee) and sweets. Here in the Chicago area, Death Cafés have been facilitated since October 2012 by Victoria Noe and Dan Bulf. A Café is not a therapy session, not a support group. But it’s a safe place, a space to be freely open about death and dying. Dan especially has taken the idea of Death Cafés and run with it. Dan Bulf is a trained group facilitator. He has hosted and facilitated Cafés at such diverse places as senior citizen residences and coffee shops, and—in ten days, at the Whole Foods in Northbrook.

But where did the idea for a Death Café come from? For that, we need to look to Switzerland, at the “café mortels” of the early 2000’s, organized by the Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz. Inspired by this whole topic, a British man called Jon Underwood held the first Death Café in his home in England, in 2011. From there, the concept has taken off and become modestly successful. Modestly, because of the leery feeling that mainstream American culture maintains concerning death.

Dan recently reflected on one of several reasons behind these gatherings. “One of my personal challenges doing cause-based workshops like the Death Cafe is the accepting money in exchange for growth experiences. These experiences are offered to provide growth, connection and some fun. They come from my heart, so I make up that it should be a gift freely given. But there’s the reality that my time and efforts have value at a monetary level as well and intra-personal.”

One of Dan’s friends, whom he was trying to get to donate his time and expertise as a regular contributor, told him that money is like energy. It needs to flow, it isn’t natural to be contained or directed in a straight line. His philosophy made sense: a circle needs to be created and sustained for this energy. Dan figured that his efforts will dead end without participants completing the circle.

Dan has asked me to help him facilitate several of these Death Cafés around Chicago in the past year, because I have training as a chaplain, and with grief and end of life concerns. All kinds of thoughts of God—or a Higher Power—or a Life Force—are discussed. These conversations affect many, if not all, of those listening to a deep extent. I find them to be revealing, sensitive, even humorous at times. And many of those who attend have a Christian outline or understanding to life and death. Yes, sometimes certain people who come to a Café might still be dealing with some painful, raw issues. But Dan also wants those who attend to celebrate their finite lives, and not just get caught up in dark or sad thoughts.

He also needs to balance. To pick and choose where he might use his knowledge, understanding of group behavior, and ability to lead a conversation—and where the energy needs to flow. As Dan says, “It’s not easy.”

Thanks, Dan, for leading the way in this important conversation. (For more information see the website http://deathcafechicago.com/ )
@chaplaineliza
Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Being Kind? Be Patient.

A Year of Being Kind blog – Thursday, January 23, 2014

baby and butterfly

Being Kind? Be Patient.

Sometimes it’s easier for me to be patient. For example, when life is going smoothly, when everyone in my family is healthy and happy, I feel more relaxed, and things are generally on an even keel. Then, I find it easy to be patient in my relationships. But during certain periods in my life, that hasn’t been a very large percentage of time. Specific, stormy periods come to mind, where I could easily compare my life to sailing through crashing, stormy, wind-tossed seas. And this has been a good portion of the time. What then?  How can I be expected to be patient, with all heck breaking loose?

I am reminded of a scripture passage from the New Testament on patience. James 1:2-4, where James talks about patience and how the believer receives it. James’s letter was written to a small group of believers in Jesus the Christ (or, Messiah). James wrote it so his readers could be encouraged and comforted. When James puts down in verse 2 “Count it all joy when you fall in various trials,” I can relate to the “trials” part. However, I’m still working on considering the “joy.”

Patience can be both a blessing and an encouragement, in my experience. The first big place I particularly exercised patience was years ago, when I had babies and small children. I loved being a mom, and I loved the time I spent with my children. I enjoyed the slower pace that child-raising necessitated. (Ever take a leisurely stroll with a toddler or preschooler, and see the world through their eyes? Or dance, or sing, or just be silly? Great fun!) But even in the midst of that time with small ones, my life was not all peaches and cream. Worries and concerns, long periods of economic stress, times of personal struggle. Those were definitely not fun.

Going back to James, I’ll mention verse 1:3, “knowing the testing of your faith produces patience.” I understand the word translated “testing” can also mean “challenge.” Another way of thinking of this challenge called life, it produces patience. I know the refining of precious metals requires heating over a steady, consistent flame. Heating the molten metal causes the impurities to rise to the top, where they can be skimmed off. This leaves the precious metal all the more pure and valuable. However, I’m afraid I don’t want to be “challenged” too much more. Ever feel like crying out to God? Telling God to quit it, already? Enough with the steady flames, the fiery furnace. I know this makes the impurities in me rise to the surface. But with the regular fires I’ve been through, my precious metal must be really pure by now. Either that, or there were a whole lot of impurities and dross to skim off.

I used patience today, and yesterday, too. It’s easier to be patient when things are okay. I honored God by showing some amount of patience in my life. I think God is pleased, especially since patience is not one of my preferred gifts of the Spirit. Thanks, God, for helping me show patience to others.

@chaplaineliza