Grief is Velma Matthews’ calling.
“It’s been my calling all along. I just didn’t know it,” said Matthews, a certified life coach and the minister of congregational care at Star Hill Church in Baton Rouge.
Matthews, 56, said she has always been concerned about people in pain during her 21 years of ministry. But it wasn’t until she was confronted with her own season of grief two years ago that Matthews became even more sensitive to people going through the grieving process.
She has been conducting workshops to help people “understand how to cope with the pain of grief.”
“God has been doing great things, but it’s all about helping people who are hurting,” she said. “The grief piece for the last year and a half has been so life-changing for people, life-changing for me.”
Matthews’ life changed dramatically two years ago following the deaths of three close people in her life.
The first was the October 2013 death of her grandmother Alene Comena, who raised Matthews in her native St. Francisville. Comena had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.
“That was my mama. … When she died, it was a double whammy, like she had died twice,” Matthews said.
A close sister-in-law, Ida Cage, died in January 2014, followed by the drowning death of longtime friend Ernest Lee James, a minister and a 30-year veteran of the West Feliciana Parish Sheriff’s Office.
The grief took its toll on Matthews.
“I got up one morning for worship and I said, ‘I cannot do this.’ God began to pull me aside and talk to me about the pain of grief,” she said.
Matthews said she hadn’t realized how much she was grieving inside.
“When I did the research and really began to look at it, I said, ‘I’ve been grieving for a long time,’ ” she said. “I’ve grieved about many things and never knew that I was actually grieving.”
That difficult time helped prepare Matthews to minister to others in a new way.
“When I look at my life, I tell people all the time that I’m well-qualified to teach on (grief), because I’ve been through it, then I watched God bring me through all of that,” she said. “When I went back and looked over my life, I could relate to people who are there.”
The theme Scripture for Matthews’ talks is Isaiah 40:1: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.”
“I’ve always held on to that Scripture,” she said. “That’s what grief is all about. It’s about comforting people. The same comfort that we receive, we comfort people with it.”
While Matthews’ grief was from the loss of loved ones, she stressed that grief can cover a variety of areas.
“People don’t understand that grief isn’t about death; grief is about a loss in life,” she said.
That can include a loss of a job, body image, health, independence, relationship and home.
“Grief is all around us,” she said.
Ministering to help through grief and all other areas of their lives has been a passion for Matthews, who is also founder and director of Straight to the Heart Outreach Ministry, a 15-year ministry that helps homebound and special needs people.
“When people ask me why I preach so hard, why I teach so hard, I say, ‘I can hear the voice of God so clearly,’ ” she said. “I know the voice of God because I spend time with him. I can’t stop teaching; I can’t stop preaching.”
Matthews also leads Restore to Reign recovery services at Hemingbough, 10101 La. 965, St. Francisville.
Restore to Reign started as a seven-week program at the beginning of the year. It has expanded to 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. each third Sunday.
“What we teach and what we do is help strengthen people in their spiritual walk so they can go back to their churches, or they can help other people to be strengthened in their walk,” she said. “It’s almost like in the Book of Acts. We come together, we believe God and God has healed people physically and spiritually. (God) has set people free. He’s restored, and as he restores them, they reign.”
The service is followed by food and fellowship.
“We just love on each other, and some people need somebody to love on them,” said Matthews, who has a degree in agriculture economics from Southern University and also a master’s in pastoral counseling.
Matthews is determined to keep spreading the love of God through any of the many ministries in which she is involved.
“He has given me a compassionate heart, and he just opened the doors for me,” said Matthews, a student at Don Bradford Bible College. “I’m just letting him use me. My dream is just to minister and to help millions and millions of people. That’s what I want to do.”
Matthews credits her pastor at Star Hill, the Rev. Raymond Jetson, for helping her into ministry more than 20 years ago and supporting her.
“He said God spoke to him and said he was to license me (to be the first woman minister at the church),” she said. “He had just started pastoring and so I could imagine the challenges that came with it.”
David displayed five key traits that allowed him to be successful, not just in his takedown of Goliath but in his life.
In his new book “Giant Killers: Overcoming Obstacles and Seizing Opportunities” (Westbow Press), author Steve Lawson looks at those characteristics combined with the “power of God’s grace” to help readers slay the Goliaths in their lives.
One of the key points, Lawson says, is identifying the enemy. That should be obvious, Lawson adds.
“You can’t kill it if you are pretending it doesn’t exist. Too often we go from the extreme of fear and exaggeration to the extreme of denial. Either extreme will prevent us from facing, much less killing our giants.”
The giants need to be identified for several reasons, he says.
“The first is so that we are honest with ourselves and can then take intentional steps to overcome obstacles and capitalize on opportunities,” he writes.
One bit of advice Lawson offers: Start small.
“David didn’t start off killing giants. … The point is, if we want to be able to hear God with confidence and know he is going to help us kill our giants, we need to start paying attention to how he moves and works in other areas first. God is at work all around us. We need to pay attention. We need to practice. Start praying and then listening.”
Lawson draws heavily from the life of David but supplies a good dose of other Scriptures in the 150-page book.
Chapters include “The Power of Grace,” “The Incarnational Christian,” “We’re on a Mission From God” and “Fill-in-the-Blank Culture.”
Lawson is the senior pastor at Grace Community Church in Greenville, Texas.
Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Terry Robinson can be reached at (225) 388-0238 or by email to trobinson @theadvocate.com.