How Shall I Serve? Good Question.

A Year of Being Kind blog – Monday, November 3, 2014

no borders to prayer

How Shall I Serve? Good Question.

Another month, another bible verse for me to think about. This is a verse that I can sink my teeth into, for sure. I usually don’t think much about 1 Peter. (And even less about 2 Peter, truth to tell.) I much prefer to dwell on the Gospels. Or think about Philippians, or Romans. And there are a number of psalms I really enjoy, not to mention certain passages in Isaiah, or Jeremiah.

But, random places in the Bible? Just open it at random, and stick your finger down. Find a verse, in a book not usually read. Actually, I did read through the Bible a number of times, some years ago. I really appreciated the depth and breadth of it, too.

This particular verse I’ve chosen for November is one that concentrates on being of service. I have branched out a bit, during this Year of Being Kind, into being helpful and being of service, too. My focus is primarily on what I might be able to do for others. Whether I might be able to make others feel good through kindness, that is true. But also trying to serve others. Here’s the verse for November – 1 Peter 4:10 “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.”

In the past few months at the church where I work, I have concentrated on prayer. Not only preaching and teaching on prayer, but actively doing prayer, too. Over the weekend, I talked with someone over social media. Through our mutual conversation, I felt the stirrings of an urging from God. As I considered the idea some more, I remembered an excellent series of books on prayer I have. (Stormie Omartian. Great, earnest stuff on prayer.) So—the outcome of my inner stirrings is this: I have decided to pray my way through November (and going two days into December). The book I’ve chosen has thirty chapters. Thirty days. I will lift up some significant people in prayer, each day.

This is not the first time I have done something of the sort. No, I did have a prayer partner for almost six years, while I went through seminary and for about two years afterwards. My wonderful prayer partner and I used to pray for each other, as well as each others’ families, once a week. However, my friend in prayer moved a distance away. We continued to pray for some months. But then, I got more and more busy, as did she. Now, I miss those times of prayer, and my dear friend in prayer, too.

Let’s fast forward to this weekend. Just yesterday. My friend knows I will earnestly try to do this. Each day for thirty days, I’ll pray for several dear people. God willing, I will try to be faithful, and loving, and caring. Help me, God! Thanks!

@chaplaineliza

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Helping? Being There for My Friend!

A Year of Being Kind blog – Sunday, October 26, 2014

Centering-Prayer-hands holding candle

Helping? Being There for My Friend!

I have a friend who lives in a neighboring state. We recently had dinner when she was in Chicago for some business. We have gotten in the habit of having lively conversations over social media. It is so enjoyable! And I hope it’s mutually beneficial, as well.

My friend told me recently about a long, difficult day she had at work. On top of that, the situation at her home was not particularly peaceful. After the stressful day at work, of course she was anxious and frustrated. (I’ve been there, too—I know!) She gave me a play-by-play on her irritating home situation. And I commiserated. Good grief! I know how families can be sometimes.

I had a sudden thought. I asked my friend whether she wanted me to give her a brief meditation. (Great for relaxation and stress relief!) She said, “Sure!” Accordingly, I started.

Sit in a comfortable, straight-backed chair. Like a kitchen or dining room chair. (Not a stuffed armchair—too soft and squishy.) Both feet flat on the floor, and comfortably underneath you. Take three deep breaths. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.

Place your hands comfortably on your lap–fold them or let them just rest there. Lift your shoulders up to your ears, hold them there–1-2-3-4—and relax. Turn your head slowly from side to side. Again. Lift your shoulders again. Hold–1-2-3-4—and relax. Again, three deep breaths. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out. Now you’re ready to come to God with a one-word or phrase prayer. Help. Thanks. Wow. I’m tired. I love you. Even, frustrated, or angry! Whatever you’ve got, that’s okay. However you feel, God knows about it. And God has dealt with lots worse! God and you together can do wonderful things.

Remember, this is supposed to be a short relaxation/prayer time! Only five minutes (*grin*). Now you’ve expressed feelings or prayer to God, let your arms fall to the sides. Wiggle them gently. Do gentle shoulder circles, forward and back. Now one last time, lift your shoulders—1-2-3-4—and drop. Three more deep breaths, in, out. In. Out. In. Out. Your breath should be more relaxed. Your blood pressure should be lower. Now you can re-engage with the family or with your co-workers, and be in a better place. Emotionally, physically, spiritually. In every way.

Afterwards, I asked her whether this meditation helped her to relax and get a better frame of reference. Her answer: Yes! “Physically, it helped me calm down and slow down. The rest of it helped me center my thoughts, and give my anxiety to God. God is much better at dealing with it than I am.”

And tears are okay, too. God has given us emotions on purpose. We are supposed to show the full range of emotions. A reminder–if you and I stuffed our emotions and feelings–stuffed crying and anger and frustration–the hidden, subterranean emotions could get really twisted and ugly.

Thanks, God! Thanks for my chaplainship training, and thanks especially for my friend.

@chaplaineliza

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Helping on World Food Day 2014 (Feature Friday!)

A Year of Being Kind blog – Friday, October 17, 2014

bread for myself, for my neighbor

Helping on World Food Day 2014 (Feature Friday!)

Yesterday was World Food Day, Thursday, October 16, 2014, instituted by the Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. This organization heightens public awareness of widespread hunger and world food problems. World Food Day also helps to build and strengthen solidarity and unity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Each day, millions around the world—from countless regions—go hungry. World Food Day strives to lessen that hunger.

I followed the links for #WorldFoodDay on Twitter. I came to http://www.worldfooddayusa.org/what-is-wfd : Amid many heart-rending statistics at this website, I found several that particularly hit home to me, as a woman and a mom. Here they are: “In a world of plenty, 805 million people, one in nine worldwide, live with chronic hunger. The costs of hunger and malnutrition fall heavily on the most vulnerable.

  • “60% of the hungry in the world are women.
  • Almost 5 million children under the age of 5 die of malnutrition-related causes every year.
  • 4 in 10 children in poor countries are malnourished, damaging their bodies and brains.”

These statistics are mind boggling to me. I cannot even take them in. However, I can try to do a little bit. I can strive to make a difference, when and where I can. For example, helping, and raising awareness about the excellent work Stop Hunger Now! is currently doing.

In both July and August, I wrote about the mission Stop Hunger Now! I told of one of their meal-packaging efforts at a mission conference I attended. This ministry opportunity was the 2014 service project for the New Wilmington Mission Conference (NWMC), informing and promoting active service and witness for God. A nutritious mix of rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and flavoring mix is packed by volunteer teams for Stop Hunger Now!, and sent all over the world. For a cost of just $0.29 per meal, too! What a caring, effective way to feed the hungry, where hunger is currently devastating lives. Through this ministry, the volunteers also strive to be the hands and feet of Christ.

Stop Hunger Now! has the same goal as so many other organizations—UNICEF, World Vision, Tearfund, Lutheran World Relief, the Presbyterian Hunger Programme, Compassion International, and so many more—to work towards eliminating hunger in our world today. May God be with these many people and these many groups doing the work of God. Feeding the hungry. Giving food and drink—just as Jesus commanded in Matthew 26:35-36.

On her blog Godspace, Christine Sine has a beautiful prayer for World Food Day. It’s found at: http://godspace-msa.com/2014/10/15/its-world-food-day-prayers-and-resources/ (thanks, Christine!).

@chaplaineliza

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Of Service Through Anxiety and Sadness

A Year of Being Kind blog – Wednesday, October 15, 2014

THANKFUL for day to live, love, be grateful

Of Service Through Anxiety and Sadness

A wet, rainy October day. Sad. Anxious. Depressing. Especially when I needed to make an emergency trip to the dentist. (At least that turned out all right.) Afterwards, I spent the morning taking it slowly, easily. Letting my mouth recuperate from the dental work.

But what about other people who spent today in less than comfortable places? Like individuals who have lost a job and can’t find another one? What about them? What about their families? How are they making ends meet, financially? What about the desperate, long-term anxiety that comes with unemployment—especially being without a job for a long, long time?

What about people who are caregivers? Who faithfully stay by their loved ones, feeding, cleaning, doing heavy lifting. Sometimes these dear ones have the most thankless jobs, but still show up every day. Still continue to care for their loved family member, spouse or significant other. I know, I have seen the care, love, and comfort displayed by faithful people stepping up and loving, caring and being an encouragement.

And individuals who are terribly sick, in the hospital or an extended care center? It doesn’t where these dear ones are located. Serious sickness happens. Sadness and anxiety afflict countless numbers of people, every single day, affecting patients as well as the loved ones. (I have some familiarity with this, from my time as a chaplain.)

When I visited one of these dear ones today in an extended care center, I tried to be as encouraging and supportive as possible. I prayed; this dear senior prayed for me, too. I cried because I was so emotionally shaken.

God be with the dear one I visited today. Thanks to you for any prayers you can offer for this dear person. And, thanks for prayer for me, too. I need it, since I am regularly dealing with emotions, feelings, relationships. All difficult, challenging, filled with anxiety and sadness. I know God is with me, in this rainy, sad October day. Thanks for good thoughts too, and may God’s blessings surround all of us–even through sadness, depression and anxiety.

@chaplaineliza

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Being Kind, Relative-ly Speaking

A Year of Being Kind blog – Sunday, September 21, 2014

girl, roses, heart in the sand

Being Kind, Relative-ly Speaking

I have a number of relatives. Including siblings. I was born into a family of six brothers and sisters here in Chicago. Now, of course, the family has scattered for a number of reasons (mostly work-related) to the far corners of the country.

One of my sisters has repeatedly been coming to my mind. One problem: even when that happens, I just do not pick up the telephone to call. At least, I usually don’t even think of calling Sue, except very early in the morning or much too late at night. You know, the times a decent person wouldn’t even think of calling unless there were a life or death emergency. Somehow, I kinda, sorta figured my sister repeatedly coming to mind is not—to my mind—a life or death emergency. In addition, I was quite busy for the last few days, on top of everything else.

I did remember to call her at a reasonable time, this evening. She wasn’t home, but I left her a cheery message. I do hope she spent an enjoyable, relaxing weekend.

I did remember something else, too. Some good advice my sister gave me, when I had just started working for St. Luke’s Church in March. Yes, it’s been just about six months, and I have been looking back over the past months, plus my track record while at the church. I‘ve only just started reflecting and assessing, and I have a ways to go. However, I am quite pleased at what I’ve turned up so far. So, yes. I’m looking backwards, to see what I did. And what advice was given to me. But wait, there’s more. Much more!

Now, I’d like to consider where I’d like to go, and what I want to do. The help and assistance with prayer is so kind! I thank everyone for their kindness and caring towards me.

From one of our earlier conversations, my sister Sue gave me an excellent advice that I will try very hard to continue to implement. With the start of the fall season already here, I know Sue’s words will be gracious and helpful! I know my sister will call back, and I have a lot to tell her.

So, I’m grateful to my sister for her kindness to me and assistance she gave to me in March. And I hope she appreciates the cheery message I left on her voice mail today. I hope so. I pray so!

@chaplaineliza

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Kind to Myself at a Silent Retreat

A Year of Being Kind blog – Saturday, September 20, 2014

Be still, and know that I am God Ps 46-1

Kind to Myself at a Silent Retreat

I spent today in silence. At least, most of the day. In silence, reflection, prayer, and meditation.

At first, when I thought about participating in this retreat, I couldn’t justify spending a whole Saturday away. A whole Saturday when I intentionally separated myself from the busy, day-to-day, hustle and bustle. But the more I thought about it, the more I considered it to be something I needed to do. For myself, and for my spiritual health.

So, yes. I was kind to myself today. As the title of the day of prayer said, this was a Soul Care Day. A day to be gentle with the soul, and to reflect on scripture. The two reflections of the day touched me deeply. (Both on the Good Shepherd; the morning reflection on Psalm 23, and the afternoon reflection on John 10.) It was deeply moving to have a connection with God in such an intimate way. Another powerful thing that moved me as well was the additional material each participant received.

I found I appreciated the prompts that helped me join this silent retreat fully. Concerns (about myself, others close to me, my work), weariness (of body, mind or spirit), distractions (that occupy or nag at my mind or heart) and fears (“what ifs,” outcomes, expectations). I was encouraged to bring any or all of these things to conscious awareness, as they came to mind, and set them aside. So I might fully enter into the retreat.

A third thing that touched me deeply was a private prayer time I had with the retreat leaders. This was a kind and giving act they offered. A precious gift, and I welcomed it. Three people prayed with me. One I have only known and seen several times. The other two I have known for a long time. One woman has a number of children, with two the exact ages of my two youngest. She and I were in a mom’s bible study together for years, before I even went to seminary. (And the third? My spiritual director, and an amazing woman of faith.)

It was restful and helpful for me to step away. Step out of a leadership position at the church where I work, and rest in the hands of God. Walk with the Good Shepherd for a short time, and rest in the green pastures of God’s grace and love. Thank You, God, for this wonderful opportunity to rest in You.

@chaplaineliza

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In Which I Am Kind to Myself, through a Massage!

A Year of Being Kind blog – Tuesday, September 9, 2014

best things in life aren't things

In Which I Am Kind to Myself, through a Massage!

I splurged. I really did. Since last month was my husband’s and my wedding anniversary, I took the opportunity to buy a half hour massage at the YMCA here in town. And, today was the day I enjoyed a half hour of pampering. Self-care. Being kind—to myself!

Most times, I do prayer, meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga to try to relax. Ease my stress levels. Calm my breathing and minimize my worry. But every few months, I go out of my way to try to fit in a massage.

In case anyone reading this has never experienced a massage, they are wonderful. Marvelous. Truly a splurge-worthy experience. Of course, I go to an awesome masseuse, when I can scrape together the money. Dori is absolutely fantastic. I told her, as she was working on my forearms and hands at the end of the half hour, that I thought I died and went to heaven. (And I was more than half serious.) And, I sincerely thanked her for the wonderful job she did on me—and my lower back, too.

Of course, there are other ways to be kind to myself. Slowing down, having coffee with a friend, going to the Botanic Garden, or reading a fiction book (my current favorite books are a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920’s). There are other ways to practice self-care, too. Regular exercise. Going on walks in nature. Practicing giving or encouragement. Listening to quiet music. Prayer. Meditation. Silencing my spirit and mind. And, countless other ways, besides. Self-care—caring for one’s physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual parts of the whole person, however that may happen best.

Listed above are all ways that appeal to me. I know they won’t appeal to everyone. (And for some, the thought of a few of these ways are probably like fingernails screeching across a chalk board.) I also give God a big praise for making each of us different from all the others—over the world, as well as over time. King David in Psalm 139 refers to each of us being fearfully and wonderfully made by God’s hands. No cookie cutter creation for us, no sir!

What about you? What kind of self-care particularly appeals to you, right now? Or, are you shy of making room or making time for self-care? Does caring for yourself sound selfish and thoughtless? If you are not clearing your calendar or your life for taking care of yourself, you are missing out! (And believe me when I say I am preaching this to me even more than preaching it to you.)

God, thanks for the awesome focus on self-care. Help me to not only practice this good gift from you, but to pass it on. Help others learn the importance of being Selfish—towards God, and towards each person. Individually. I’m no cookie cutter creation, and neither are you!

@chaplaineliza

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Being Kind at a Potluck!

A Year of Being Kind blog – Sunday, September 7, 2014

look at things from different perspective

Being Kind at a Potluck!

What an enjoyable day! What a wonderful worship service! And, what a great celebration afterwards, at the hot dog roast and potluck dinner!

The day began with me getting to church early. I needed to email and print off the intercessory prayer project sheets. (Several people in our congregation do not have email.) My good friend and former co-worker Pastor Gordon came to St. Luke’s Church today to help me out with the celebration of communion. So, we had a wonderful service! Gordon’s sermon on prayer was excellent—sort of an encapsulation of several sermons I had preached in the past few weeks. And, just what the church needed to kick off the Prayer Project, an intercessory prayer ministry here at St. Luke’s.

I’ll say one thing about our church—they sure can serve up a fine potluck! Delicious food, and so much of it. I am so appreciative of our church members.

I tried to mingle with several different tables this afternoon. Eating first at one, and then another, and last, sitting at a third table. Almost like having separate courses.

The being-kind-part came in with me doing my best to listen. Listen to what the separate individuals were saying, The conversations they had amongst themselves, the responses to questions I asked, even observing the interactions of others from across the fellowship hall.

I am still not quite used to being a pastor. I feel rather surprised, still, at the congregation allowing me to go first in the potluck line. (I solved that one by stopping in my office for a few minutes to divest myself of my robe and the cordless microphone. Necessary things to do!) Pastor Gordon and his wife already had their food, and were seated. I’m grateful that Gordon was available to say a short grace before we started to eat!

Still, I remember some worthwhile advice I received from a pastor friend: “Love the congregation. Let them know you love them. Make that your top priority and primary aim for your first year of ministry.” (Excellent suggestion, may I add!) I want to let the congregation know I am there to listen. That’s one of the high priorities for me, one of the best ways I can possibly let these dear friends know I love them. Plus, I want to be able to internalize and process what I’ve heard. And then, I can ask intelligent follow-up questions, and have solid, worthwhile interactions. These facets of listening are just so important. And, an equally important way to show individuals in the congregation that I truly do care about them. I truly do love them.

Another marvelous byproduct? When I show love to others, I display God’s love, too. I pray that many may see, know, and understand that God loves them, through my speech and actions.

@chaplaineliza

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Conversation with God

matterofprayer blog post for Friday, August 15, 2014

PRAY God can hear you

Conversation with God

Got prayer?

Levity aside, do you pray? Once in a while, or sometimes, or even daily? I saw a recent survey of “average Americans” that said over 50 percent pray several times a week. As a woman of faith who strives to stay in regular contact with God myself, my initial thought was, “That’s great!”

But—my second thought came quickly on the heels of the first one. Did the people asking questions in that survey define “prayer?” And, how do each of the individuals answering the questions define “prayer?” I can’t answer either of those questions. However, I can tell you how I answer that question.

To me, prayer is often “a conversation with God.” Sure enough, when I pray, I do have conversations with God. Sometimes, I wish they could be conversations like I have with my friends, my family, those I care for and love. Wait a moment—God is all that to me, and more. God knows my deepest thoughts, the dearest desires of my heart. When I’m anxious or afraid, frustrated or downright angry. God can go with me, wherever I go. (“Whither thou goest, there also will I go,” to quote from a poetic, older version of the first chapter in the book of Ruth.)

But sometimes—sometimes God seems distant, even hiding. It’s as if I’m all alone. No one cares. No one is there for me, not even my husband, family, or friends. Not even God. Those are the dark times. The sad times. The times of depression, even despair. Yes, I have gone through times like that. When things are more positive and moving in a good direction, I often don’t want to think back to those dark, dismal times. Those bleak, even heartbreaking situations where I felt like I was in the bottom of a slimy pit with no way out.

Yet—I have come out of those situations. With the help of family, friends, colleagues. With the help of faithful praying companions. And I do have conversations with God. I do not start the conversation. Instead, I pick up the thread of the conversation, midstream. God spoke first. The beginning of my prayer “is in response to who God has been for us, or what God has done, or is making known to us, or causing us to feel.” (“The Word is Very Near You,” p.19, Fr. Martin Smith)

Yes, this is a redefinition of prayer. Yes, God does woo me “back from isolation into belonging and from anxiety into life-giving awareness.” (p. 18, Smith) As 1 John 4:19 tells us, “We love, because God first loved us.” Just so, we communicate with God—converse with God, because God communicated and conversed with us, first.

Let’s pray. Dear God, thank You for not demanding prayer. Instead, You graciously give prayer to us. It’s a gift! Thank You so much for this wonderful experience, and an opportunity to talk intimately with You, the God who created the heavens and the earth. It’s just You and me, God, Up close and personal. Intimate. Awesome. Thank You.

@chaplaineliza

(also published at www.matterofprayer.net

Helping One Another in Friendship and Prayer

A Year of Being Kind blog – Saturday, August 2, 2014

PRAY God's help a prayer away

Helping One Another in Friendship and Prayer

A lovely day! Perfectly gorgeous, with blue sky and temperature right around 80 degrees. Almost perfect summer’s day. Just what an August day ought to be. Errands and some computer work filled up a good part of the day.

I did some self-care today, too. I went to a yoga class this morning, and spent an hour and a half working hard. Stretching, bending, holding poses. A ton of work, too. Many of the people in the yoga class are much more accomplished, even eager to get down to some advanced poses. But my teacher? Wonderful, welcoming, kind. (All things I admire.) Yes, there is encouragement to strive to do our best, to even try to reach a little further, or to get a little more out of the stretch or bend. She presents the class in just the way I prefer it. One of my children has done yoga in high school, and tells me of certain teachers who are much more dictatorial. Not mine! I am very glad.

However, I didn’t spend this whole day concentrating just on me. I particularly want to mention a friend I ran into over coffee. (Actually, there was a little group of us, but I connected with one person in particular, today.)

As we talked, I found my friend and I had a similar concern. A prayer request. It was almost funny (ironic?) how closely our two prayer requests matched. Tracked with each other. Almost as if God meant for us to talk with each other today. Of course, I don’t put such things past God. Piece of cake for the Almighty! God can certainly manage such a minor, even miniscule thing like bringing two people together to encourage and support each other.

Similar to when I was at the conference two weeks ago. There were over seven hundred people at the campus in the Pennsylvania small town. Wouldn’t you know that I happened to run into several people? It almost seemed as if these meetings were by chance. But after a few of the “by chance” meetings, I finally figured out that God must be up to something. (Just like God may well have done—orchestrating “by chance” meetings and coordinating impromptu conversations.)

In the same way, I suspect God’s hand at work in the situation later today, too. What a marvelous thing, to have such a loving, kind, gracious God. And, I continue to pray about this continuing situation (actually, in both of these continuing situations=my friend’s and mine). God, thanks for listening to us when we pray. And meditate. And everything in between.

@chaplaineliza

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