Helping, Serving—One Woman at a Time (#BestOf)

(the Best of) A Year of Being Kind, Monday, April 18, 2016

I am thankful. Thankful for good health, thankful for a snug apartment in a good part of town. Thankful for a livable wage for me and for my husband. But, it was not always that way. Years ago, I remember living at the poverty line. Not able to find decent jobs, for many, many months. Health and depression issues came in there, too. My life was filled with anxiety and fear. The constant knot in my stomach, stress headache that just wouldn’t go away. Thank God, that period of my life is over.

As I was looking over several entries in A Year of Being Kind, I came across this Feature Friday blog post. I really feel for anyone stuck in this sad, hopeless, even despairing situation, described below. Sarah’s Circle is a non-profit, helping agency that serves as a helping hand. Helping in a variety of ways! I am so glad that Sarah’s Circle is here.

 Year of Being Kind blog – Friday, April 25, 2014

heart and people illustration

Helping, Serving—One Woman at a Time (Feature Friday!)

Imagine being afraid. Downright terrified. Needing a safe place to stay. On top of that, being homeless. No place to go. Nowhere to sleep. Nothing to eat. On top of everything, you’re a woman. Got that? All of those things, rolled up into a tight ball of frantic fear and anxiety. What to do? How to cope?

There is a place to go. There is a solution. In the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, Sarah’s Circle provides a refuge for women. They may be homeless, or in need of a safe place to go, or both. Sarah’s Circle provides assistance in terms of housing, case management, referrals, and other necessities of life. In other words, this organization provides hope for women who have just about run out of hope.

A friend of mine, James, is the business manager for Sarah’s Circle. I talked with him recently. He told me this organization “is a place where any woman can come and find support no matter what their situation is.” James is quite enthusiastic about the services and other resources these caring folks provide. Their day program is open to anyone. That means—anyone. Regardless of the reasons for homelessness and loss of family, employment, living space, dignity—women can come to Sarah’s Circle and find help and hope for themselves.

In addition, this non-profit organization also supports twenty-two units of permanent housing. (This is in partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.) Sarah’s Circle is an oasis in the challenging, sometimes fearsome desert that is the city of Chicago. This group helps vulnerable women through difficult times, as they rebuild their dignity, stability—their very lives.

Women have gender-specific reasons for difficulties in their lives, which include many types of trauma. Not only can homelessness be a result of poverty and domestic violence, but Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder frequently occurs. As a result, trauma can contribute to mental illness and substance abuse.

Sarah’s Circle reports: “Approximately 56% of women who are homeless have been sexually assaulted; this is more than three times the rate for homeless men and for women in the general population. Research shows a strong correlation between frequency and seriousness of past victimization and diagnosis of mental illness as well as reported drug and alcohol problems. Women are more than twice as likely as men to develop PTSD. “

Sarah’s Circle is not a religious organization, but many people of various faith expressions work or volunteer at this organization. As I reflect upon service to the poor and homeless, giving a cup of cold water to those in need, I can’t help but be reminded of the verse I’ve chosen for the month of April. Colossians 3:23 tells us “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” May I be given the willingness to go and do likewise. Please, God, may it be so.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a PEACE journey through Eastertide. #PursuePEACE. Thanks!)

(also published at ayearofbeingkind.wordpress.com .   @chaplaineliza And read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er – Thanks!)

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Being Kind with a Snow Shovel

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

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

 

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

photo by Sergei Kvitko

(photo by Sergei Kvitko)

Being Kind with a Snow Shovel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@chaplaineliza

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

(also published at ayearofbeingkind.wordpress.com

I Try to be Kind, Try to Journey with Others

A Year of Being Kind blog – Saturday, November 8, 2014

BK hug a blanket of kindness

I Try to be Kind, Try to Journey with Others

Ever have someone close to you need help? Assistance? Someone to be there, with him (or her). This kind of situation is probably all too similar to so many people. As someone who is familiar with care centers and people who might need more care at home, that clears my brain and heart to be present with people.

I know I’ve spoken about this aspect of care and concern before. As a chaplain, my inner ‘antennae’ are sensitized to people who are going through stuff. Any kind of stuff. And it’s not only the people I know, but it’s also others who know them.

It doesn’t particularly matter. Whether I’m called a chaplain or a pastor, I still come alongside of people. I still try to be calm, gentle, welcoming. A practice I’ve developed in the past few years, it doesn’t always work—it doesn’t even usually work. But when it does, I try to journey alongside of others. Use my less-anxious presence.

Sometimes, I am so grateful to have people appreciate my presence. At other times, they haven’t. They want to be alone, or with their friends. They can be hungry, angry, lonely or tired, and therefore snap my head off. But regardless, I offer to be there. To be of service. To be kind.

Thank God that many people are grateful, thankful for company while they are going through stuff. And for the others who aren’t, at the time I asked? That’s okay. Some people have real challenges, and it’s difficult for them to come up smiling all the time. I understand, better than others. Hugs help, too.

@chaplaineliza

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

Helping? At a Car Wash!

A Year of Being Kind blog – Saturday, September 6, 2014

car wash illustration photo credit - timesunion.com, 9/11/11

car wash illustration
photo credit – timesunion.com, 9/11/11

Helping? At a Car Wash!

Yesterday? Wild weather! Torrential rain, powerful wind gusts, sky black as shoe polish for more than half an hour. Absolutely a 180 degree change from today: powder blue sky, low humidity, with picture perfect weather. Perfect weather for a football game (my husband is a Northwestern alum, and he follows the football team). And—perfect weather for a car wash at my church.

This was the second annual car wash at St. Luke’s Church. Rally Weekend, the Sunday school kickoff for fall! I helped a little bit, by providing taxi service for two of our young people. I drove to the El station to pick them up, and bring them to the church to help out with the car wash. I really enjoyed being of service today!

A steady stream of cars and vans came through the wash line today. Enough to keep the volunteers busy, active and washing for most of the time the car wash was in operation. Plus, the hot dog lunch we offered to those who waited was much appreciated! I considered the time all of us spent out in the church parking lot to be time well spent: raising the church’s profile in the community. All good!

I did not need to get involved with the actual washing of cars, this time. I was ready, and willing! However, my services in the car washing department were not necessary. But—I did keep some people company while they were waiting for their cars to be washed. Providing hospitality? Helping people to feel comfortable? Making pleasant conversation and giving information about our church and the coming activities this fall? I tried to do all of these things!

This reminds me of what different roles people play in the church. Or in other religious organizations. Some people do the hands-on stuff, the actual physical labor. Others do the set-up, and the preparation. Some provide that necessary social lubricant, the customer service, public relations and advertising. Some also make sure that people are fed, that their needs are taken care of. And lastly, there is the cleanup. When individuals work together, have camaraderie, and talk and laugh together? That, in and of itself, is one of the best things that can come out of an event like this. Relationship building.

What about relationship building with God? Vertically? I need to work on that, too. When I consider how much God wants a relationship with me? I find myself thankful. And grateful.

Thanks, God! Thanks for wanting me back as a friend. As a follower. As a grateful person. Even when I sin, or fall away, or just leave undone those things that I didn’t do work last sign. Help me to do better, please! Thanks, God.

@chaplaineliza

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

How to Show Love? At a Food Pantry (Feature Friday!)

A Year of Being Kind blog – Friday, February 21, 2014

feeding the community

How to Show Love? At a Food Pantry  (Feature Friday!)

Unemployment. Food stamps cut. Lack of jobs. (Sounds more and more like the daily newspaper or news website, doesn’t it?) Some people in some places already do something about it—like at the Soddy-Daisy Food Bank. The Food Bank has its beginnings in 1989. A group of people from Daisy United Methodist Church and Soddy United Methodist Church (from Soddy-Daisy, a small town about a dozen miles from Chattanooga, Tennessee) joined together. They started the Food Bank to feed about a dozen families.

From these humble beginnings, the Food Bank’s outreach and ministry to hungry families and individuals has grown; during 2013, 370 families per month received food. Six churches are now involved—including United Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal and Catholic churches. The Soddy-Daisy Food Bank is now an ecumenical ministry for the larger community. Open twice a week on Monday afternoons and Thursday mornings, the Food Bank offers foods from the major food groups (including produce!) and on Mondays the regular services of a certified nutritionist associated with the University of Tennessee.

This feature wants to focus specifically on Daisy United Methodist Church and its pastor, C. Don Jones. He considers getting involved with the local community around his church to be an important part of his larger ministry. He leads by example and encourages his church members and friends to get involved, as well. Pastor Don has had a strong commitment to the Food Bank for years, working there on a regular basis. He’s one of eighty volunteers who serve 70% of the people in northern Hamilton County, Tennessee that the USDA describes as “Food Insecure.” Every distribution day begins with prayer for the clients and the workers. About 400 orders go out each month with an estimated 1600 people being fed.

But let Pastor Don speak for himself:

September 26, 2013: “Today at the food bank we served 37 families and jump started two vehicles. One family asked me (I was wearing my Daisy UMC “ask me” shirt) if we could help with their electric bill. I told her we could. Someone told the family, ‘we say bad things about him, but he’s a pretty decent guy.’” [about which Pastor Don received additional humorous ribbing on his Facebook page.]

October 31, 2013: “Today I am thankful for the ability to help at the Food Bank and to not need its services.”

November 7, 2013: “November 1st. Food Stamps are cut to pay for bailouts of financial sector, unnecessary wars, and new subsidies to the insurance industry. This week Soddy Daisy Food Bank serves 131 families. Eight were turned away today for lack of food. Hopefully they will have something Monday. Folks, this is wrong!”

February 6, 2014: “Food Bank day. I recall the words of Dom Helder Caldera. ‘When I give food to the poor I am called a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food I am called a communist.’ His point was simple. No one wants to think about the issue.”

Few people want to think about the Food Bank (indeed, any food pantry!) until they need its services. Perhaps that’s a prudent reason to consider giving to a food pantry or related ministry near you? Give because we can. Give because people have needs. And most important, give because giving from a sincere and loving heart can be giving to the glory of God.

@chaplaineliza

Showing Love? Listen! Encourage!

A Year of Being Kind blog – Sunday, February 16, 2014

LOVE we love 1 John

Showing Love? Listen! Encourage!

I met someone new today. Nothing out of the ordinary. What I did and how I acted after I met her was.

Today was the typical weekend day, not terribly busy, but with enough to do to keep me occupied. Church, errands, going with my daughter to a store.  I happened to meet two other women (one I knew), and a third came up to us a minute or two later. So there we were. The woman I hadn’t met before had just begun a detailed explanation of a difficulty she had. It was an intricate problem, and the three of us stood there, listening. Fascinated.

I could see how my new friend got animated, just by sharing her difficulty. Puzzling, and problematic, too. The other three women (me and my two friends) encouraged her. We were a receptive audience, nodding and letting her know we followed the many-layered story.  She apologized several times for bending our ears, but we reassured her that it was all right.

As I listened, I felt myself accessing my chaplainly skills. Something reminded me of situations with people in a chaplain situation. I knew I wasn’t in that particular, official role for that woman, but I could feel my active listening skills coming into play. I knew the ministry of presence was surrounding us, too. I could sense those spiritual tools right there inside me—ready, set, go!

I’m reminded of a passage of Scripture, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.” I saw the principle expressed in this verse shown by example today. As the four of us stood there, listening and talking, we had in common the consolation of God. Even as my new friend was afflicted by a serious, intricate, ongoing difficulty, all of us were able to share the consolation with which God has consoled each of us.

As my new friend finished relating her difficult story, I stepped closer to her. She took a deep breath and smiled at me with some relief. “I hadn’t realized how much I was holding inside.” She felt so much lighter after unburdening herself. I returned her smile and told her I was coordinator for an intercessory prayer ministry at my church. I asked whether we might pray for her, but she was hesitant to accept prayer—at first. I assured her that the prayer ministry would be happy to pray for her for four weeks, for her encouragement and comfort. That struck a chord. She nodded with gratitude, and thanked me. Then she apologized again, but had to leave. Her whole air and attitude seemed lighter as we said good bye.

I said only a few words to my new friend, but I listened, and encouraged her.  And, we all shared in God’s consolation. Thank God we can be there, for one another. I’m thankful God is there for me, too.

@chaplaineliza

Blessed Are Those Who Keep Their Mouths Shut

A Year of Being Kind blog – Wednesday, February 12, 2014

fruit of the Spirit

fruit of the Spirit

Blessed Are Those Who Keep Their Mouths Shut

Recently, I had another experience that showed me how blessed it is to keep my mouth shut.

It happened this way. I was in conversation with someone. I talk to a number of similar people, at least several times a week. I try to be courteous and kind. Naturally! Of course! It’s simply the way that I customarily operate.

But not this time. I don’t know quite what was the matter, but I must have felt out of sorts. Maybe I was tired or hungry. Or something. But for whatever reason, I had a short fuse. And I almost exploded in my acquaintance’s face while we were talking.

This situation reminds me of the fruit of the Spirit, from Galatians 5. I get the sneaking suspicion that I have a certain amount of most of these qualities—I have love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness. I’m pretty patient, gentle, and faithful. But the one where I consistently fall down is self-control. I do not have the best self-control in the world, especially when things can be really exciting, or fun, or good-tasting, or an awesome experience. No, my self-control does not rate very highly.   I’ve known about this difficulty with self-control for years. Decades, in fact. I have prayed about it off and on ever since. I’m still waiting.

I know that God is pleased with me when I’m involved with others. Or doing things for others. Could be showing kindness or love. Any way out of myself, and towards someone else.   We’ve already talked about how pleased God is because of acts of service. When a believer in God does something loving or honest, or exhibits attitudes that are kind or gentle, those kinds of actions can also be thought of as acts of service . . . for people in recovery, too.  One of the foundation principles of recovery is doing things for others—in other words, getting the focus away from “myself” and performing some act of service

But back to the story. As I mentioned, I had a conversation. I was somehow out of sorts. The other person made a comment that struck me as really silly. I was about to fire back with a sarcastic statement or cynical comment, when . . . I didn’t. Instead, I finished up the exchange with two or three more sentences and excused myself. So, I wouldn’t be further tempted to make any more snarky comments.

All I can say is, I am grateful to God for helping me to shut my mouth and keep it shut, instead of “flaming” others. To change up an old children’s rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can stay in my head and heart forever.” I am grateful and thankful that God helped me to stop before I said anything unwise or unkind. Words can hurt in a powerful way, and words can stay in the heart and mind for years. Thank God that I didn’t add to those mean, nasty words. Thank God that I was able to keep them to myself.

So, yes. My act of service in that particular situation was keeping my mouth closed.

@chaplaineliza