Sunday, September 15, 2019

Jesus, The Master of Customer Service

Spending time at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles was not my idea how to begin a recent Tuesday. Since the office, located in Noblesville, is closed on Monday, I could feel my anger building, realizing I needed to add one more thing to the next day already stacked with activity.

Since my attitude was not helping my approach to the day, I asked God on Monday evening to make my wait at the BMV a time of holiness - either give me an opportunity to bless someone or open my heart to what another could teach me.

On Tuesday, I arrived early. Walking to the lobby inside the front door where people wait for the office to open, I quickly was joined by a man and woman who seemed to know each other. We chatted about the Colt's game the previous day.

As our wait continued, these people described their places of employment - the man worked in a warehouse and the woman was a Kroger manager.

I asked the woman, "What is the most challenging part of your job?"

She replied, "People try to get things free and use outdated coupons."

We chuckled, still waiting for the office to open.

The lady added, "I am always thinking of customer service in my job. I wish these people would at least let us take a number and wait in a chair rather than just stand. I'm getting tired."

Customer Service

When I worked for St. Vincent Hospital, patient care was our primary focus. Our department scores on patient satisfaction were given at quarterly meetings. These markings, comparable to customer satisfaction, were monitored closely. We often attended programs or workshops on effective communication with and care of patients as well as their families and friends.

When I read the gospels, Jesus' pattern of interaction always demonstrates attention, love and compassion - even to those people on the fringe.

In Jesus' day, those on the fringe had diseases like epilepsy, leprosy or were considered demon possessd. Women were regarded as secondary citizens, certainly not worthy of association with someone like Jesus or other men in positions of town leadership and authority.

Jesus regarded everyone with love - that's wonderful customer service.

Thinking about people on the fringe today, the homeless come to mind quickly as well as those who are unemployed, living in poverty or struggling with addictions.

Everyone in some way may feel on the fringe at various times in life as struggles with illness, relationships, grief, job loss, and other challenges of living can make us feel alone or isolated. We all need excellent "customer service," especially during those times in our lives - whether from people or directly from God.

The woman waiting with me at the BMV lobby had compassion for those who were standing behind her, waiting to enter the main office. Although she couldn't change the circumstances, her thoughtful remark carried desire and concern for others that reminded me of Jesus, the master of customer service who regards everyone with love. I know I felt loved that day by simply chatting. The day, indeed, offered a moment of holiness, just as I had prayed.

Questions for Reflection

1. Are there places where you have to go, like the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, that are unavoidable, but dreaded? Maybe grocery shopping isa time you would rather spend other places. Perhaps sharing your desire with God for an opportunity to bless someone or open your heart to what another could teach you, will change your venture.

2. What other ways can you make "customer service" which is really modeling Jesus' example of receiving and treating everyone with love a part of every day life?

Prayer: God, providing customer service to those we encounter means following Jesus' model of love and compassion. Strengthen us to go out of our way to reach those whom we see "on the fringe" with the embrace of Christ. Open our eyes to family and friends who may be going through circumstances that make them feel "on the fringe" even temporarily. Deepen our capacity to love greatly all we encounter for in each other we see you. Amen.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Forgiveness - Climbing Mt. Forgiveness

Forgiveness can be one of the most difficult challenges we can face. We are wronged. We wrong others.

Forgiveness is necessary for healthy living in body, mind and spirit. Not offering forgiveness can cause physical symptoms as well as harbor resentment and anger.

David Peterson in his article "Climbing Mount Forgiveness" says, "There is no place where we reflect more of Jesus than when we forgive others. But, it's important to remember what forgiveness is not.

Forgiveness is not denial of the wrong and hurt.
Forgiveness does not diminish the pain.
Forgiveness does not remove the responsibility for the harm done by the other.
Forgiveness does not justify.
Forgiveness does not require warm and loving feelings."

Peterson continues, "Forgiveness is always difficult. Some things even seem unforgivable. But forgiveness is like climbing Mout Everest. We don't have to make it all the way to the top to improve our view. Even if we never reach the summit of Mount Forgiveness, we can at least keep climbing."

Jesus and Forgiveness

Jesus talks about forgiving others seventy times seven, which means 490 times (Matthew 18:22). I've also heard forgiveness explained like peeling an onion - there are layers to forgiving someone and forgiveness takes time.

Forgiveness is often a "one way street." We forgive so we can be free of resentment and anger when the person who offended us may not offer reconciliation.

My Experience with Forgiveness

Recently, I began the process of forgiving someone who wounded me greatly. I was overwhelmed, numb, and couldn't even think about forgiveness initially. As time passed, I knew forgiveness was the only way to get rid of anger and betrayal I experienced about an injustice that was causing  physical symptoms and emotional discomfort.

How did I start to walk along a path leading to freedom and peace?

1. I began by asking God to help me and give me strength. I knew forgiveness would not happen without God's leading and grounding.
2. Letting God know about my desire to forgive this person gradually shifted the energy in my heart, slowly releasing anger and resentment and allowing room for quiet and comfort.
3. Knowing Jesus forgave those who crucified him offered companionship as I walked through the  circumstances and emotions generated.
4. Exercise regularly. Experiencing a wrong doing can create a lot of energy. Dissipating this energy helped relax my body, release tenion, and open my heart and mind.

Wondering how I would know when I had reached forgiveness was a question that arose frequently. Could I think about the incident with less anger? Did I have fewer flashbacks of what happened? Would my physical symptoms that developed afterward go away?

Although I have not completely reached a place of peace, I know that I am making progress toward forgiveness compared to where I was a month ago. My anger is reduced when I think about the person and what happened. Flashbacks occur with less frequency. I have stopped taking the medication my doctor gave me because the physical symptoms have gone away.

Inviting God into my desire for forgiveness helped me feel like I was not alone on a difficult path.

Reflection Questions

1. Is there someone you need to forgive?
2. Ask God to help you begin to forgive by using the suggestions listed above or creating your own way to start.

Two Prayers for Forgiveness
1. For all those I have harmed, knowingly or unknowingly, I am truly sorry. Forgive me and set me free. For all those who have harmed me, knowingly or unknowingly, I forgive them and set them free. For the harm I have done to myself, knowingly or unknowingly, I am truly sorry. I forgive myself and set myself free. Amen.
2. I let forgiveness rest on all of my memories of you (name a person). I bless you and ask God to fill you with his love in this instant and for eternity. Amen. (You may want to pray these words for a certain period of time, such as daily or for forty days.)

Closing Prayer
God, we try so hard to live with love, but sometimes we are wronged by others in various ways, and we wrong others. As you offer forgiveness so freely, strengthen and guide us when we need to forgive another, even when there is no possibility of reconciliation or acknowledgement. Amen.

Monday, September 2, 2019

I am taking a break this Labor Day holiday. Have a nice day - see you next week! Thank you for reading. Jacquie

Sunday, August 25, 2019

What Does It Mean - My Faith Is Tested?

In the YMCA locker room, I chatted with Judy, a woman I see frequently. She has custody of her eight-year-old granddaughter. Admiring Judy's stamina to raise a young child, I frequently ask what her granddaughter is doing. We talked recently about summer vacation, Judy explaining how she  challenged her grandchild to read and complete math and English workbooks two levels above her grade.

"You certainly value education."

"Education is key," Judy replied. She mentioned a friend, whose full-time job at a local hospital was recently reduced to part-time, putting a financial hardship on the family consisting of four children.

"This job situation has really tested my faith," Judy said.

We talked a few minutes longer before I went to dry my hair. Reflecting on Judy's words about her friend, made me wonder: How is our faith tested?

Thoughts on Faith

We can assume or hope all who believe in God have faith that is foundational, an anchor that grounds our interactions and responses to all events.

But what does it mean to have our faith tested? Is our faith only tested when unfortunate  circumstances come our way?

Do we ask questions of God when we are confronted with an unpleasant challenge, emotionally, personally, professionally? When unexpected illness or other uncertainties come our way, is our faith tested by asking God, "Why is this happening to me? How can this be?"

When "life is good" can we say our faith is strong or tested? When something unexpected happens to us or to someone we care about, do we automatically say, "my faith is being tested?" Or is our faith tested when we see a homeless person and question how to respond offering money, purchasing a hamburger or cup of coffee or walking by?

Whatever trial or test comes our way - life brings those things. We aren't immune to them. It's our response that either brings us closer to God or takes us further away.

Examples from the Bible about Testing Faith

Looking at Genesis, chapter 22, we hear God speaking to Abraham: "Sometime later, God tested Abraham. 'Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love so much and go to the land of Moriah. There on a mountain I will show you, offer him as a sacrifice to me.'"

God continued with specific instructions for Abraham to follow. Can you imagine how difficult this test was? Abraham, however, complied with faithful obedience. Just in the moment when his knife was raised to slay his son, God intervened.

An angel of God called to Abraham from heaven: "Don't hurt the boy or do anything to him. Now I know you have obedient reverence for God, because you have not kept back your only son from him."

In the New Testament, I wonder if Mary's faith was tested when the angel delivered the news that she was pregnant with Jesus? Her astonished response, "How can this be?" (Luke 1:34) might suggest a momentary waver in faith.

How do others answer the question - What does it mean to have your faith tested?

After I found examples from the Bible of people whose faith was tested, I decided to ask some of my own friends, what they thought and asked, "What does it mean to have your faith tested?"

One person answered: "My faith was tested when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. So many thoughts ran through my head when given that news among which was 'why me'? I was more afraid than anything, but I fairly quickly realized I was in God's hands and prayed for mercy that he would see me through whatever happened."

Another friend explained, "My faith was tested when my life plans didn't go along with God's plan for me. I could have walked away, but I chose to stay with the Lord and accept the life he has blessed upon me. It has taken many years to fully accept my new situation, but by putting my trust in him, despite my frustration and heartbreak for this path, my faith has strengthened."

Another person wrote: "What does it mean to have your faith tested? Good question. It seems tied to trials in 1 Peter and in James 1:2-4: 'Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.' 
Trials seem to be the testing of our faith. When I talk about trusting in God or having hope and then life falls apart do I still believe? Do I still trust? Do I still have hope? The trial stretches me to see if I will stick it out and hold to what I believed."

I spoke with my neighbor who shared these thoughts: "My faith is tested when I see a world that hates God and it seems like evil is winning. If God is just, why doesn't he right some wrongs now? Why do miracles not happen anymore?"

A long-time friend remembered a time when her faith was tested. "In March, 2015, our adult daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Our family was in shock and shut down with fear. I was angry - how could this possibly be? My own mother died of a brain tumor when I was six. My daughter lost her mother-in-law to a brain tumor in 2012. How could my son-in-law handle all of this with two small daughters? This did not seem fair, and I was quick to tell that to God. When my faith was tested, I was surrounded by my family, friends and church - they took care of us and got us through. They were the hands and feet of Christ. This is what helped me to keep my faith during this difficult time."

How To Respond When Our Faith Is Tested

When our faith is tested, however we perceive these times, it seems the only words to say to God, with deepest honesty, are "I can't get through this (name the trial or situation) without you. Increase my faith and trust so I can receive the care you will offer."

 Have we failed whatever trial or test by asking or questioning God? I think not especially if you still believe in God's presence at all times. You can end your prayer with, "Affirm my belief despite not seeing."

Reflection Questions:

1. How do I describe my faith?
2. What is a test of my faith?
3. How do I respond when I feel my faith tested?

Prayer: God, we do have moments and circumstances that test our faith. We wonder how to respond when life brings disappointments and hard times. Steady us, with comfort and the awareness that you are with us always. Amen.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Do I Give Others Fifty Percent or More?

Every Tuesday, I am a volunteer chaplain at the Indiana University North Hospital. Each week, I look forward to meeting people and helping those I encounter. When I enter the hospital, I am always looking for those who need assistance.

There are always those persons who are lost and need direction in or out of the hospital or to a doctor's office. I can read the expression on their face when they appear lost and ask, "How can I help you."

I know I represent the hospital, so I try to be as observant and helpful to those I see in the lobby or on the patient floors.

A Visitor Experience

A couple of weeks ago, I had just arrived, logged in at the computer in the volunteer office and walked across the lobby to get the mail. I am always on the look out for those who need assistance - I watch for people who seem lost or upset or nervous.

That Tuesday morning, I saw a woman sitting in one of the comfortable chairs in the atrium surrounded by a pool of spilled Pepsi on the floor.

As I went over to greet her, she said, "I must have fallen asleep and knocked my Pepsi over."

"I'll get someone to clean up." I went to the information desk to request housekeeping to come. Meanwhile, I got one of those yellow plastic signs to set near the spill to warn people to be careful.

"What kind of Pepsi do you drink?" I asked, waiting with her. She showed me the empty, plastic bottles.

"I'll be right back." I knew the cafeteria had the same kind of Pepsi she liked, so I purchased two bottles.

Realizing, I needed to check in at the chaplain's office, I handed her the bag with the bottles and went on my way, carrying with me her face of gratitude.

Did I Give Enough?

Reflecting later that afternoon, I remembered two challenges from a sermon I heard two days prior to my encounter with the woman.

"God, help me recognize you in this moment."

"God, if you can use me today, help me pay attention."

I gave my self a rating of fifty percent on my response to this woman, wondering why I didn't take a few extra minutes to ask why she was in the hospital or how she was doing, especially since she had fallen asleep in the chair.

The following Tuesday, I walked by the where she sat with Pepsi all over the floor and seat cushion and asked myself why I didn't interact with her further.

That spot is also a reminder to take a few extra minutes to be present to all of God's children and inquire about their circumstances, especially when I am at the hospital. There was nothing urgent at the chaplain's office to prevent a few more minutes with this woman. People need one hundred percent of me when I am there to serve.

Questions for Reflection

1. Who do you see each day? Be present to those you encounter wherever you go. Ask God to open love and compassion in your heart to extend to others.

2. Take time to care for those you see or those you know by listening to their concerns or celebrating their joys.

3. Record these moments in some way so you can remember how you have been the heart of God to others.

Prayer: God, we are surrounded by your people wherever we go. Help me to pay attention, to be present and care for those I see. Help me take a few minutes from my personal agenda to listen to those who may need a kind and compassionate ear, for my heart's desire is to love others in your name. Amen.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Walking Around the Elephant in the Room

Yesterday, my friend, Sue and I went to visit a mutual friend, Jan, who was suddenly diagnosed with acute leukemia. We entered the hospital room, both of us anxious, not knowing what to say to our friend who was exercising last week at the local YMCA and three days later was getting intravenous chemotherapy.

We let Jan set the tone of our visit as well as the flow of conversation. First, she explained the chronology of her illness. Then, we joked with the nurse, who entered the room to answer the beeping machine attached to Jan's arm, that Jan looked like a crime scene with bruises up and down both arms. Laughing helped break the tension we were all feeling.

We caught up on her family and their responses to her hospitalization. Another hospital employee came in and asked what Jan wanted for dinner. The employee read choice after choice, to which Jan answered how terrible each one tasted. After only four days in the hospital, she already had a list of likes and dislikes. She settled on grilled cheese and tomato soup, a meal we decided couldn't be ruined.

Sue brought some books to leave. I selected a bouquet of flowers which I discovered too late were not allowed on the cancer floor.

As our visit was ending, I asked Jan how we could pray for her.

She held up a pamphlet with the name of her type of leukemia on the front. "This is what I have. Do you know anyone who survived?"

We finally acknowledged the elephant around which we danced for thirty minutes.

"Yes," I said. "I know someone." One of my daughter's friends, had the same diagnosis in high school and now is a healthy mother of three young children. Jan seemed somewhat encouraged by the news.

Visiting Jan was not easy, as we were in shock how a seemingly healthy person could be so sick in such a short time. It forced us to consider our own mortality while facing the possibility of losing a friend.

However, we knew our visit provided company and distraction to our friend whose home was five hours away. Given the distance, she would have few visitors during this time of stress and fear.

How Do We Approach People Who Are Confronting Difficult, Life-Threatening Illnesses

Here are some suggestions.

1. Show Up - It's never easy to be present to someone with a serious illness, but showing up to visit, mirrors the compassion Jesus had for those with physical or emotional discomfort.
2. Bring somthing for the person to do. - Hospital days can be long. If the person left home in a hurry, as our friend, Jan, did, he or she may not have remembered to bring an activity to fill the long hours while receiving treatment or waiting for the doctor or other staff to arrive.
3. Let the patient direct the flow of the conversation. - He or she will let you know what to talk about.
4. If you feel comfortable, pray with the person before you leave. - Bring an awareness that God is present and at work in the life of the patient. You'll offer comfort through your words.

By the time we left, Jan seemed more relaxed than when we first arrived- in fact when I turned to wave good-bye, she had a huge smile on her face. I want to believe we were vessels of God's love and our care and concern will linger in Jan's heart when she is afraid or lonely.

Prayer:  God, thank you for strength needed  to visit those who are sick, for we face our own mortality when we do so. Give Jan whatever she needs, for you are the great provider. Amen.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Words From The Marketplace

Thoughts or new perspectives can come from unexpected places. Here are a few words of wisdom that came as I was "going through my day" the past few weeks.

The Kroger Parking Lot

During a recent rainy Saturday, I went to my favorite Kroger on the northside of Indianapolis. When I got out of the car, I noticed a Kroger employee gathering grocery carts scattered across the parking lot.

I walked by and said, "What happens when it rains and you are collecting carts?"

"I get the good Lord in my face," she replied with a big grin.

Now that's a new perspective! I dodged rain drops, pushed open my umbrella and rushed into the store.

My Church

John, the evening custodian at the church I attend, is a retired postal service employee who was part of a class I taught on prayer a few years ago. When I go to the church every Monday night to lead a support group, John is usually vacuuming the carpet. His positive, upbeat attitude is always refreshing.

One evening, I asked how he was doing and he replied, "Making things happen!"

"That's a great motivating phrase, " I replied, reflecting on how I can take the initiative to bring about good in the world.

Indiana University Hospital

Sue, the director of volunteer services at the hospital where I volunteer each Tuesday, is a former nurse. She managed a floor for many years before retiring and taking a part-time job with volunteer services.

Sue is full of wisdom gained from dealing with patients, families and hospital staff through the years.
When I finished my shift one day, I overheard her talking to a new volunteer, "Always manage up," she said.

She later explained when I asked about the phrase, "Always be positive and encouraging with people." Although she was referring to those she encountered in the hospital, her words can apply to any interaction.

My Thoughts

Walking in the rain through the grocery store parking lot, talking with a custodian at church and listening to a former nurse -  all unsuspecting places to glean new thoughts and insights in the marketplace of my life.

For Your Reflection

1. Be mindful of the places and people where you go each day. Listen to what you hear people saying, even though they may not be talking to you. What can you learn?

Prayer: God, thank you for people who spread your word with phrases that have come to them through their life experiences. Keep our ears and hearts open to receive what you want us to capture wherever we go. Amen.