We hope to begin a new Stephen Ministry class in September. We presently have 30 of us in care-giving, one on one, woman to woman, and man to man relationships. The following story, with a little editing is from our training manual.
When Arlene's husband, Phil, died in an automobile accident, Arlene was left to care for three young children on her own. There was a wonderful outpouring of support in the weeks following the accident; people helped care for the children, brought over supper, and called to give Arlene a chance to talk. In the midst of this horrible tragedy, she felt as if she were not alone.
Two months after Phil died, however, most of the support had pretty much dried up. Arlene came to feel very alone and became very angry. Caring by herself for three young children was more than she could handle. She felt angry at Phil for dying and would break down in tears for an hour at a time. She would feel angry at herself for neglecting the children, then angry at the children for all their demands. One time she walked out the door with a full suitcase, determined just to get away. Fifteen minutes later she was back, extremely remorseful yet completely overwhelmed.
Arlene's neighbor, Mary, checked in with Arlene now and then. She dropped by that day, noticed the suitcase by the door, and innocently asked if Arlene was going on a trip. Arlene broke into tears and spilled the whole story to Mary, full of self-recriminations. Mary listened, stayed with Arlene the rest of the day, and took care of the children while Arlene got out of the house for a while.
Mary asked Arlene if she could talk to her pastor to see if a Stephen Minister could visit Arlene, Arlene said yes. Later that day Loretta, the Stephen Leader who served as Referrals Coordinator, contacted Arlene and made an appointment to visit her the next day.
After the visit, Loretta assigned Sandra to be Arlene's Stephen Minister.
Sandra visited Arlene the very next day. At first, they were fairly formal with each other. Arlene made tea. She felt in control that day. When Sandra telephoned the next day, however, Arlene felt totally overwhelmed and told Sandra about her sadness and frustration. Sandra listened for almost an hour. They agreed that, in addition to their weekly visits, Arlene would call Sandra whenever she was feeling overwhelmed.
Sandra and Arlene met once a week and talked on the phone once or twice every week (although not for an hour like the first time). With Arlene's permission, Sandra talked to a couple of teenagers about Arlene's situation, and they each offered to baby-sit once a week so Arlene could go grocery shopping without the three children.
After a while Arlene's anger turned to deep sadness. Sometimes when she and Sandra met, she would cry for much of the hour they were together. Arlene found it difficult just to get up in the morning, not to mention take care of all her responsibilities. She felt terribly lonely. She missed Phil, and the hurt kept getting worse. With Sandra's support, Arlene managed to carry on, but just making it from one day to the next was the most difficult thing she had ever done. Sandra and Arlene would pray together, asking for God's presence and help, and Sandra assured Arlene that she prayed for her every day, often many times a day.
Arlene's pain weighed on Sandra also. Sandra cared so deeply that she felt quite a bit of Arlene's sadness and loneliness.
It was as if Arlene was walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and Sandra was walking right beside her. Sometimes, after Arlene had wept for the hour that they were together, Sandra would go home and let her own tears flow. Sandra shared her own pain and sadness with her Supervision' Group, and that helped her to provide good care and remain as objective as she could. Sandra counted on God to provide her with the wisdom and strength she needed to care for Arlene.
Sandra made sure she was with Arlene on the one-year anniversary of Phil's death, and that day seemed to mark a turning point. Arlene began talking more frequently about good times she had had with Phil. She and Sandra would talk about the children's grief and ways that Arlene could help them express their feelings. Certainly there were still bad days, but they were becoming less intense and less frequent. Arlene was sometimes able to look toward the future with some hope.
Arlene made friends with Caroline, another single mother who belonged to the church. They went on several outings together, the two women and five children all enjoying one another's company.
On the second anniversary of Phil's death, Arlene and Sandra went out to lunch together. Arlene was very sad that day but talked about how she was finally resigned to missing Phil. Then they talked about a vacation that Arlene and her children were planning with Caroline and her children. At her next supervision session Sandra told her group that she thought it was time to talk with Arlene about closure. They agreed and discussed how she might proceed.
Sandra and Arlene met once a month for the next two months. They spent a lot of their time talking about all that the two of them had shared in almost two years.
When Sandra brought up the idea of bringing the formal caring relationship to a close, Arlene was a bit apprehensive about not having Sandra as her Stephen Minister. But Sandra assured her that they could still be friends, and she would be there for Arlene whenever Arlene needed her. About a month after they ended their official caring relationship, Sandra was assigned to another care receiver, Betty who had just entered a nursing home.
That story would be the exception here in Divinity because we usually only have a few of our Stephen Ministers in a relationship with a younger person in crisis. The norm would be Sandra’s new care receiver in a nursing home because Divinity usually has around 60 members who are either shut-ins or in nursing homes. Presently we have 6 younger care receivers and 24 elderly care receivers. Those numbers are very fluid.
Our text today from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians has much to say about how we relate to one another in the church and in our families.
Ephesians 4:25 . . . 25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.
I’m guessing not many of us have a neighbor like Mary who checked in with Arlene now and then after her husband died. Or how many of us would be like Mary and check in on our neighbor? Or how many of us would follow Paul’s advise and “speak the truth to our neighbor” or family member or church member in telling them they could use help from a Stephen Minister, or counselor, or support group and then help hook them up with one?
Ephesians 4:25-26 . . . 25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.
I share with you some words of wisdom about how we express our anger from our Stephens Ministry training manual . . . Feelings come from within us. Someone might say, “That guy really made me angry”, but that is not completely accurate. No one can force us to feel a certain way. While others’ actions may affect us, how we interpret their actions determines our feelings.
This is why people can respond differently to the same event. For example:
Since so much depends on interpretation, people need to be careful about blaming their own feelings on others. It is very easy to be mistaken about others' motivations and respond inappropriately by expressing angry or hurt feelings. While people can't choose what feelings will come to them, they can choose how they will respond to feelings and sometimes to what extent they will continue to feel them. Even if the other person intended to inflict hurt, you can refuse to react or you can choose not to hold on to your initial emotional response. For example, a person might think, "It's been a long day, and my friend is having a lot of problems at work—I won't get angry at what he said."
Feelings help show what is going on inside us and signal well-being or warning. Feelings of peace and contentment can mean that all is well. Other feelings may warn that something is wrong and change is needed.
Feelings are vital for understanding relationships. Happiness and thankfulness can accompany a healthy relationship. Frustration, despair, or jealousy can stimulate people to examine or change the relationship.
Feelings also motivate people to react to their surroundings. For example, anger at injustice impels people to work for societal change. Love leads to giving oneself for and to others. Love leads to giving ourselves to our children as Corey and Kristin give themselves to Tanner, promising to love him and to raise him in the Christian faith. Tanner’s great-grandparents, Dennis and Pat, so committed to our Divinity ministries are here in spirit, thanking God for the blessing of Tanner.
In Ephesians, Paul suggests we put away anger and learn to forgive and love one another as God in Christ has forgiven and loved each of us.
Ephesians 4:31-5:2 . . . 31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you . . . 1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.