Archive for the ‘Compassion’ Category

No Place to Sit You!

Posted: May 25, 2013 in Compassion

This family had been the textbook definition of poverty, right before my eyes. They had lost their ability to work, lost their health, lost what little wealth they had and lost their dignity. They struggled with legal issues and illiteracy. Yet, they found a way to come volunteer every week, driving some 20 miles just to “give back.” The relationship we built while working together has blossomed and developed into true friendship and a form of discipleship.

They invited me to come to their home to teach them about the Bible and to give instruction in how to be the church. What an honor! I was humbled to be trusted with such a large task. I called an associate to help me and we made arrangements to go to their home for the meetings.

When we arrived, my friend opened the door with the brightest smile I had ever seen on her face! Her husband stood behind her greeting enthusiastically and waving us inside. What I saw shocked me!! Rather than the borrowed folding chairs I expected, I saw a brand new set of ornate sofas! A beautiful royal deep burgundy with gold trim, high sides and large pillowy cushions. At first I attempted to scold her for going to such an expense just because we were coming. Her eyes filled with tears. She was confused as she asked me if she did something terribly wrong.

I was immediately convicted in my heart. She tearfully told me, “Amy! I had no place to sit you!” I recognized her desire to do a very basic thing to provide their best for someone they deeply cared for. Her heart wanted to honor God and honor her guests. In some ways, one could say she did it as an act of worship of this God they wanted to know more about.

“I had no place to sit you” rings in my mind often as I struggle to understand why people do what they do. Sometimes their spending precious dollars is not the way I think it should be. Sometimes, I have learned, I am the one who does not understand what is important. Who am I to say what someone should not do if God is calling them to do it as an act of worship and obedience to him?

Again, I find myself walking a tight rope. I feel the tension between coaching someone in responsible stewardship and honoring what God is calling them to do. Perhaps coaching them should be a conversation, not dictation. Maybe it is more about obedience to God rather than obedience to a norm of society. Each situation and each person is different and is in a different place in their faith journey. It is our job to listen carefully, to hear what God is calling us to do or be. To listen to the other person and encourage them to follow God’s call in their lives.


Finding more benches

Posted: May 21, 2013 in Compassion, Reflections

I watch her manage his day, keeping everything the same. His room, his clothes, his routine. Any deviation unsettles him and causes fear. Unfamiliar surroundings can bring on panic and he becomes angry as a means to show he is in control and not afraid. I see a child within the man and I have come to understand, how afraid he must be as he loses himself and relies on her to be his constant. They made a pact early on, to be strong partners in this journey. To be “The one” that would always be there to quell fears and set boundaries for safety. Day after day she runs the routine, without complaint. She takes time to count her blessings each day along the way and finds her strength in her generous God who gives her grace. She prays for mercy and gentle blessing for the day ahead and busies her hands working in dirt. He sits beside her and watches her hands till the soil and comments on plants and foods soon to be on the table. Like a child, he asks, “Do I have to eat that?” And she gently says “no”, but you may want to try a bite since you liked it yesterday.

I am amazed at the stamina and the courage she faces each day on this long, long journey of care. She loves so deeply and cares so high, commits very wide and watches so far. He finds peaceful rest in her company.

A prayer was offered for them today. A prayer for grace and peace as she walks with this one she loves. A plea for presence as they journey on side by side and when things get hard, may they find more benches along the way to provide some sojourn and a place to chat, maybe watch birds and hear a child’s laugh.

I cried at the thought of such tender love. And prayed for myself, to have such a one that would walk beside me in my raw times of need, when I may feel overtaken with fear of the unknown. One who will brush my cheek, wash my back and whisper reassurances in the dark. Oh what compassion!  Or perhaps I will be this one who comes alongside.  May I honor her legacy with the  same loyalty and deep affection she spends day by day caring for her beloved.


Posted: March 10, 2013 in Compassion

“I have my daughter with me, she’s 7 ½ months pregnant. She’s still in school…” her voice broke as she went on to say “I just haven’t been able to keep my head above water since I lost my house. It went into foreclosure and we lost everything.”

I asked her the usual questions, filling in the fields on the computer screen as we talked. I asked “have you been homeless in the past year?” She humphed as she said, “Yes! I am floating from one couch to another and sometimes sleeping in my car. My daughter, is still in school,” she gasped to catch her breath through the emotion that tried to choke her. “It’s been so hard, really hard! I can’t take care of my daughter and she is going to have a baby!”

Her ex-husband had stopped working and wouldn’t pay any child support. Her health was poor and she couldn’t work herself until the Dr. released her. She has recently recovered from two surgeries and bronchitis. Her income was a paltry 386.00 a month. Her phone was due to be shut off tomorrow. There would be no way to get calls about apartments or Dr appointments. She asked if we could pay her phone bill.

Well, she applied for and received a housing voucher to pay her rent with. She had 30 days to find an apartment with the voucher or it would be given to someone else. In a panic, she asked if I had a list of apartments that accepted her voucher. I did not.

With a less than 1% vacancy rate in our community, finding anything to rent is almost impossible! There are restrictions on the housing that prohibit a roommate situation with the voucher so she is locked into what she feels is a hopeless situation. Tears spilled out onto her cheeks and she dropped her head.

Not wanting her to leave feeling hopeless, we brainstormed a plan of attack for stopping at apartment complexes as she made her way home. We gave her some clothing for both of them and enough hygiene items for a week. Snack food filled the rest of the bags and off they drove to find an apartment.

While we were not able to offer housing to her, we offered some focus. There was time taken to listen, to pray with and to give her some ideas to move toward improvement. As she left, she looked over her shoulder and said, “Thanks for taking time to listen. I really feel like you listened to me! You don’t know how much that means to me!”

I found myself asking why we don’t listen more. Our culture seems so crammed with a rush to something or another that robs us of focus and relationships. I am just as guilty of that as the next guy. This lady’s hope was found in simply stopping for conversation and a full breath of air. She needed someone to invite her to sojourn for a bit and in that, find some focus for her chaotic life.

Building relationships with strangers is not so difficult. Often the relationship is just a few minutes. Other times, it may last a lifetime. To offer hospitality to those in need is to offer the hope of Christ. It builds value and dignity. It pours hope into a life being drained at a rate faster than lungs can fill with air.

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” ~Hebrews 13:2

Soul Danger

Posted: March 1, 2013 in Compassion

JosieDo we really know what it is to be in need? Do we know how it feels to be really cold and not be able to get warm? I never cease to be saddened that these issues are present here in our community! This is America, after all! I interviewed a family this week who needed help with their electric bill. As we visited, I discovered the conditions they endured daily in a home that had no heating system! For a small two bedroom trailer, they used a very small heater that had broken so the fan no longer blew warm air. Not only that, but six people lived in this home! The walls were barely over an inch thick. I thought about what I do when I wake up cold in the night. How accessible an extra blanket is. How easy it is to simply turn up the furnace a degree or two. I struggled with the question, “how do I simply offer a payment on a utility bill and not also offer one of my blankets? Don’t I also look for a working heater that will fill her home with warm air?” I am praying God will speak to me and show me how his body, the Church, can come alongside this family with very real help that demonstrates a Kingdom justice. Maybe God will even use us!

To walk away from issues such as these, hardens my soul to the biblical mandate to care for others. I John 3:17 makes it plain. If I fail to allow a gut level reaction to a person in need that compels me to share, how can God’s love be in me?

It is easy to insulate ourselves from those things that sting or make us uncomfortable. But that is a danger to our souls. Jesus looked on the crowds and had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:6) He felt something stir within his bowels. To be a Christ follower, we take on his lifestyle, his truths that lead us to a Kingdom mentality that is concerned about the welfare of people in need. We do not turn away as ones who have nothing to offer. We have the Kingdom of God even in the simplest of material goods. Perhaps we offer the Kingdom in our time and our concern. A touch while we offer a prayer. A bowl of soup from our lunch. A sharing of moments of time are just as important as a blanket. BUT! Sharing a prayer and driving away in a brand new SUV is not justice. A harsh statement, I know, but must be said!

To live the spiritual discipline of simplicity means we hold loosely to the things God blesses us with so that we share easily with others. It is tangible as well as spiritual. We must not divorce the two. True religion that loves God is demonstrated in physical ways as we offer to share our lives and possessions.

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and truth.”
~I John 3:18 NIV

Wounded Worshipper

Posted: October 12, 2012 in Compassion, Reflections
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I am convinced that our created selves are formed in ways that are remarkably resilient. The human body can heal itself and regenerate parts of itself in ways that are nothing less than a miracle. It can withstand unmentionable injury and find ways to compensate for lasting weaknesses.

But then there are those times our bodies are profoundly fragile. One wrong little substance introduced, one injury to just the right body part and a cascade of breakdown removes the vitality of life.

The first funeral I did as a minister was for an 18 year old high school student. He was carefree and cheerful in the way he carried himself. He was the grandson of one of my first parishioners. Her name was Gracie.

Gracie was one of those resilient people. Her body was literally only half here in this world. She had only one lung and one breast, no appendix and only one kidney. She had a full hysterectomy. She was in a wheelchair due to severe arthritis that prevented her from walking. She had been a domestic violence victim who related stories of being thrown down a flight of stairs and being slammed against walls. One of her children suffers from mental illness. She did most of the parenting of her grandchildren because of it. She suffered from small strokes that robbed her of her creative outlet of oil painting.

I could hardly believe she could survive all of it. She was a remarkable woman of strength who made her mark with the saying “Jesus loves me!” She lived that proclamation. She put skin on it. She demonstrated how to be resilient with a working faith.

She called me one afternoon and said simply, Kenny is dead. He died in his bedroom. I could hardly believe the words she spoke. She discovered him lifeless, lying on his bed. She was helpless to reach him however, as her wheelchair would not fit past the furnishings blocking his door. Calling for help, they discovered he had died just hours before, his heart stopping.

Upon further examination, it was discovered he had been using Gracie’s pain patches along with other drugs. With an undiagnosed heart condition, his heart simply stopped beating as the medications released the drugs. Gracie struggled to overcome the grief. She spoke of the memory of delivering him on her living room floor 18 years prior. With dignity, she lived up to her name and pressed on. She was resilient.

One day, she called me from the hospital. Cancer. Again. Pneumonia. Infection. Barely able to breathe, she asked me to bring communion to her. She struggled for every breath. She struggled to press on. She struggled to be resilient…again. Every time I went to see her, she struggled. She fought to remain strong for her kids, her grandkids, her great granddaughter.

One day after her doctor came into the room, she looked at me with a longing in her eyes. She said she was tired. She was afraid she could not fight any longer. I could sense she was looking for permission to let go, to be the wounded one, to be the one who would be carried and cared for. Her battles had been many and her scars were deep and thick.

I told her it was okay to be the wounded one now. I gave her permission to be wounded. Quiet, large tears rolled down her cheeks. She smiled and thanked me. She asked how she could tell her son she was too tired to fight anymore. Her main concern was always for her family who depended on her to be the strong one. As we talked and prayed, her spirit seemed to breathe deeper even though her body would not.

She died, struggling for every breath. I could tell she was waiting for Jesus. With her wounded body, she rested in the arms of one who was wounded for her.

I wondered then. And I still wonder, what makes a person strong and yet so fragile at the same time? Why was her young and strong grandson so fragile and she was so incredibly resilient? I found myself being more careful with my own life and health. I watched my adult children more closely. I coached my grandchildren to be safer.

The addicts I work with- My heart longs to tell them. When they wake up tomorrow, will their bodies be strong? Today will they be resilient? Or today, will they be fragile?

To my daredevil sons- My heart leaps and longs to caution them. “You may not be resilient today! I am glad you are strong. Please be careful! “

I think of Gracie often. Her example of resiliency I believe is directly a combination of her personal tenacity and the mercy of God. She lived Romans 12:1-2. She gave her everything to her Creator, even her body as a sacrifice to be used for Kingdom work. She sang Jesus Loves Me wherever she went and lived it with all the life she could muster. It was her act of worship to be used, however it would benefit God’s Kingdom.

Gracie worshipped God in and with her woundedness. She worshipped with her scarred body, a God who was also wounded and scarred.

I think there is redemptive value in her example. Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character and character produces hope. And hope does not disappoint us. My heart is overflowing with her reminder of pressing on toward hope.

Broken Ones

Posted: October 9, 2012 in Compassion
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There are moments when I ask God a hard question.  “Why do I fall in love with broken people?”  And I wonder what is it inside of me that draws me to the broken ones like a magnet.  I wrestle with deep emotions that stir within me when I look on the chaos of their lives and my heart weeps.  My heart hurts and my body eventually follows suit.

I go too far, you know.  I get too involved.  I let them in too close. My boundaries are not firm enough.  Some say the balance of work/family/ministry/self is out of whack.  And I ask, “How can that be truth?”

How can I hold back compassion that stirs in my bowels.  What do I do with the Image of God within me when God’s heart is breaking and I feel it in mine?  How do I stare into the empty eyes of sinned against people and choose to do nothing?  Where do I draw a line?

I heard a question at a retreat recently where Diane Le Clerc asked a hard question, “What does the cross have to offer the sinned against ones?”  Her voice rings in my mind and pulls at my spirit for an answer. 

When I sit and talk with the meth addict who cannot identify with anything less than chaos, how do I offer redemption? Her own mother was her dealer! How many layers does that add to her healing journey?  She cannot know security or value in herself because she was herself abandoned and treated as a commodity.

What about the young man with socially awkward disorders?  He cannot find a space where he is accepted let alone tolerated!  He seems to be tortured by his own head and can’t seem to get comfortable in his own skin.  Loneliness runs rampant in his world and yet his quirky behaviors alienate people.  He sits alone, seeking any connection he can find with human contact.  All too often that is found in all the wrong places and he finds himself in situations he cannot dig out of by himself.  Trouble hangs on him like a thrift store sweater, stretched out and worn by overuse.

Jesus loves you is such a platitude. There is no comfort in those words.  Words are simply noise.  What backs them up and gives the words truth?  How does the truth of Jesus reach beyond the noise of our words and give redemptive value to the broken places?

It is me who falls in love with the broken ones.  It is me God puts in these places of discomfort and awkward silence.  It is me.  And I‘m afraid I must be what the cross offers the sinned against ones.  I must be.  That image of God within me must be allowed to incarnate himself beyond my own self, my own comfort and my own convenience.  How do I put healthy boundary lines on that?  How do I balance the movement of the Creator of all that is and my puny self?  I can’t.  And I find I must simply yield.  It is me the cross wants to offer.  I have to yield to falling in love with broken people.  I have to yield to all the pain that comes with such love.  A love that suffers; A Jesus kind of love. The kind of love that falls in love with broken people.  Why do I fall in love with broken people?  Because Jesus fell in love with me.  Jesus was willing to yield to pain and suffering. Jesus was inconvenienced. Jesus yielded to my chaos when I was the sinned against one.

I can do no less.


Posted: January 9, 2012 in Compassion

I hear a lot of chatter about benevolence and compassionate ministry.  People are puzzled about what it looks like. How do we do it like Jesus did? Questions are asked about how the person in need came to their needy situation.  Some would say they simply need to get ahold of Jesus and their life would go well. Some would say it is our job to alleviate their suffering.  While both may have elements of truth, they both fall short of the Jesus model. Over the years of studying service and shepherding ministry, I have noticed one consistent theme-  Inconvenience.

Consider this scripture passage:

While he [Jesus] was saying this, a ruler came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.  Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”  Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment.  When Jesus entered the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd, he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him.  After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region.   ~Matthew 9:18-26

I had long wondered why this little story of the woman bleeding was in the middle of this story of the ruler’s daughter dying.  Was it a mistake? A scribes error?  After really thinking about it and studying writers who have gone before us, I think it is a purposeful lesson in compassion.  It gives us a model for how we are to live-willing to be inconvenienced by the needs of others around us.

I am not saying we shouldn’t have healthy boundaries. I am saying this thing we call being a ‘Christian’ needs to be through an understanding that we live not for ourselves but for others.  Jesus was willing to stop for this woman in spite of being busy, on a very important mission for the ruler.  He stopped not only because he was touched (Luke gives more detail and says he felt virtue leaving him) but for the sake of this poor lady who was an outcast for 12 years. Who had no value to society. I have no doubt she questioned her very existence as a human when she was deemed unclean and had nothing to contribute to her community or even her family!

Jesus stops. He speaks to her.  He makes sure she knows she has had his attention, his value, his healing.  He calls her “daughter,” a very intimate and personal greeting.  She feels important enough to have his attention and touch. She is forever changed by the encounter.

I John 3:16-18 teaches us our faith is infused by compassion.  It is a part of our DNA as a redeemed community.  If Jesus was inconvenienced for us, How can we do any less?  Do not say, “This is not my gift. This is out of my comfort zone.” Do you think the torture and crucifiction of Jesus wasn’t inconvenient or uncomfortable?  Scripture says it plainly. “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”  Pity is that gut level reaction to something we percieve.  If you are not feeling that, you have allowed your spirit to be calloused and closed to the movement of the Holy Spirit!  BEWARE!  That is a dangerous place to live.

Compassion is inconvenient.  It moves us.  It causes us to act.  Can we do any less when Jesus did just that for us?  Take some time this day to notice someone.  Spend yourself in giving kind words that add value to someone’s life.  Allow moments of physical interaction.  Remember what God has done in your own life and extend the same to others.

~continuing the conversation