Tag Archives: compassion

Living excessively

My daily walk includes a path through a park along the shore of Lake Saint Clair, a lake so large I cannot see the opposite shore. The other day, the sky was overcast and the lake a dull gray, when, all of a sudden, the sun broke through the clouds, shining on the water, and the water shimmered. Where seconds before there had only been dullness, now the water sparkled, and I stopped to look.

Three words popped into my mind: Think BIG thoughts!

Vast is the sky overhead and the water at my feet, inviting me to be expansive, to live in the abundance that our God offers us. It was a mystical moment.

Our culture encourages people to think big thoughts about success, possessions, money—building financial portfolios, expanding business, growing wealth—all with an eye toward more money and bigger things—houses, cars, etc. Excessiveness is a word we tend to associate with wealth and the way wealthy people spend their money—mansions, yachts, elaborate vacations, expensive clothes.

God-abundance-gratitude

But what if we focused our big thoughts on building, expanding and growing love, forgiveness, acceptance and compassion. What if we were excessive with kindness, gratitude and mercy? What if we focused our wants on others instead of ourselves? What if we thought big thoughts about goodness, curiosity and generosity? Pie in the sky? Perhaps.

As I walked home from the lake that day, I passed the elementary school near my house and noticed words stenciled on the sidewalk. The school district has a character-building program focused on developing positive habits in the children and more than a dozen sidewalk blocks had words on them.

I remembered back to the beginning of the pandemic when children wrote messages of hope in sidewalk chalk.

We all need daily reminders to develop positive character traits.

What does all this mean for me? What BIG thoughts am I meant to be thinking? What positive character traits am I meant to be developing? What can I do that will help spread the message of Jesus to love, forgive, accept, hope, trust, persevere?

Discovering beauty

A prayer I kept taped to the bathroom mirror for many years read, Lord, help me to accept the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is. This prayer was given to me by a friend who was aware of my insecurities and low self-esteem.

When I first read this prayer, I gasped when I reached the word beautiful. “Ugly” was the word I had anticipated. Lord, help me to accept the truth about myself, no matter how ugly it is. That was the prayer I had been praying for most of my life, to accept my ugliness, my inner darkness, my sinfulness.

This new prayer challenged me to first find my inner beauty and then accept it.

I recently celebrated my 70th birthday, and several friends wrote messages in their cards about the positive impact I have had on so many people.

Praying to see and accept the truth about myself seems to have shifted something inside me, because I smiled as I read each of these messages and thanked God for how I was created and the woman I have grown into.

God-prayer-transformation

Being healed

Do you want to be healed? Jesus asked the man sitting near the pool (John 5:5-15).

Reading that passage, I thought, “What kind of question is that?” Who doesn’t want to be healed?

Can you imagine someone asking you if you want to be healed and you would say, “Hmm, let me think about that.” Rather, I think most of us would answer without hesitation, “Yes, I want to be healed.”

So why does Jesus ask that question?

Perhaps because we may want to be healed in theory, but in reality, we get some benefit from being unhealed. Maybe it is sympathy for our suffering or a familiarity and comfort in our identity as one who suffers. Perhaps it is just that we don’t even know that we are holding onto something that needs healing, let alone how to let go and be healed.

The answer to Jesus’ question might often be a “Yes, but…”

Yes, I want to be healed, but I also want to hold onto some of the identity associated with what ails me, to stick with what feels comfortable.

Yes, I want to be healed, but I do not want let go of all of my anger, resentments and fears.

All kinds of things can cripple us or bind us—old hurts, low self-esteem, insecurity, grief—things we need to work on or through.

That work can be challenging, and the changes might not be evident for a long time. Not every healing happens the immediate way it did with Jesus.

God-forgiveness-healing

I have wounds that go way back to my childhood—and then additional wounds on top of those. Some are more traumatic than others, and some have been healed just as new hurts occurred. It seems to me that healing is the work of a lifetime.

Jesus desires that we be healed. He showed that many times throughout the Gospels, from healing Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (Luke 4:38-41) to the paralyzed man lowered through the roof (Luke 5:17-20) to the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years (Mark 5:25-29). He healed people of all ages and from different backgrounds. He brought Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:22-42) and Lazarus (John 11:1-44) back from the dead.

He wants us to be healed and live full lives. He wants us to leap up like the man healed by Peter in Acts 3 so that we, too, are “jumping and praising God.”

Oh such joy! Who wouldn’t want that?

Maybe Jesus would ask follow-up questions like, What is stopping you from receiving healing love? What is blocking the path to living more joyfully? What is one thing you can let go of that will make you freer to give and receive forgiveness?

God-forgiveness-healing

I have been thinking a lot lately about seeing people as God sees them, and I believe God sees each of us as our best self, and God’s desire is that we grow into that image, to become the person that God created us to be.

Written on my heart

God-compassion-forgiveness

I recently signed up to be an advocacy speaker for our local domestic abuse shelter, sharing my story of being a survivor of sexual assault and the help I got after I was raped.

While pondering my own story, another story I hold came to mind—of a woman I befriended after she had committed a heinous crime in my community. I recently came across a bundle of her letters and realized I carry a part of her story that no one else knows.

This woman had a mental illness and heard voices inside her head. One day, she obeyed the voices that had been telling her to do something shocking, something that would make people take notice. Her actions made no rational sense, but the mental illness jumbled rational thought.

In the weeks and months following the crime, I prayed for the victims of her crime, their families and our community; and I prayed for her.

God placed this woman in my heart, and I kept seeing her as God’s daughter, a woman God still loved despite what she had done. I did not excuse what she had done, and I understood the anger of my community toward her because I, too, felt that anger. Yet God kept inviting me to look beyond what she had done to see the woman who was ill and in need of compassion. God wrote her name on my heart and asked me to see her with the eyes of my heart (Ephesians 1:18).

Eventually, I got to know this woman, and we became friends. Although I have not seen her for a long time, I still carry her in my heart.

She is not the only person God has placed on my heart, and over the years God has invited me to look at people and situations through God’s eyes, to see beyond the external facts to a deeper truth.

It can be a great challenge for me to look beyond what people do—the pain they inflict and the damage they cause—to see them as God sees them. It helps to think of my own actions that have hurt others and my desire for God to see beyond what I do, my hope that God still sees me as a beloved daughter.

On my own, I would get stuck in anger or fear; it is only possible for me to be compassionate because of the grace God gives me.

God-compassion-forgiveness

Reading Chapter 31 of Jeremiah, I wondered what God is writing in my heart now. Where is God inviting me to look beneath or beyond actions to see the need for understanding and compassion?

What is God writing on your heart?

Hiding

They hid from God,

like children caught in the act of

taking a snack between meals or

reading after lights out,

knowing they broke the rules and

fearful of punishment.

Were they sorry for their lapse in judgment?

Did they wish they could rewind the tape,

have a do-over?

Where are you? God calls out,

seeking us in those places where we hide,

once we discover our weaknesses and

know how easily we give in to temptation

and how much we dread the consequences of our actions

when we have been found out.

In our nakedness and vulnerability,

the voice of God reaches us.

Come here, God says tenderly,

tsk-tsking at our shortcomings.

Open your heart and

let me love you back to wholeness.

"I've been waiting for you."

I had just finished making my purchase at Office Depot and complimented the young cashier on her earrings. I asked if she had made them. She hadn’t, and she told me where she bought them.

“Are they something you would wear?” she asked.

“I would.”

“I have been waiting for you,” she said. “Stay right there.”

She bent down, retrieved a package from the shelf beneath the counter and handed it to me.

I thanked her and walked out of the store with my gift—a small bag containing the same earrings she was wearing and a card with “Thank you” printed on the front and this handwritten message on the inside:

A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal. -Steve Maraboli.

Pass the kindness on. The world could use it.

She had drawn two hearts on the card and signed her name.

Since that encounter, I keep thinking of her intentionality and thoughtfulness. I am amazed at how planful she was in her act of kindness. It was only random in the sense of her having no idea who would receive it.

That encounter reminded me of a woman I met years ago after her one-woman show performed in a small chapel at my university. I had approached her to thank her for her presentation and we discovered we had both lived in l’Arche communities.

She shared that she decided to move to l’Arche after meeting a man from my community who was visiting her college for a weekend workshop designed for students to learn about l’Arche. She said that Ross had walked right up to her, lightly touched her arm and said, “I have been looking for you.” She knew in that instant that she was supposed to live in l’Arche.

I didn’t tell her that Ross did that to many people, because it did not really matter. What mattered was that she was the one who was open to hearing his message; she was the one who responded to the invitation.

How many of us are waiting for someone to choose us to hear a certain message or receive a gift? How many of us are waiting for an invitation?

Conversely, how can we be instruments of change by acknowledging someone, by inviting others to see in new ways or by acts of kindness?

After I had met the woman from l’Arche, I often thought about how Ross knew which people to approach. I wondered if he had an intuition that certain people were waiting to be asked.

Now I can see that we are all waiting, even if we don’t know it.

I walked into that store with a list of things I needed to buy; I walked out with a deeper understanding of generosity.

I was deeply moved by that young woman’s act of kindness, and I find myself telling this story with a sense of wonder.

Have you had similar experiences? The world could use more kindness, so please share your stories.

God-kindness-generosity

Transform me

Transform in me,

judgmentalism into compassion,

insecurity into confidence,

fear into trust and

anger into acceptance.

Then I will be free to

love unconditionally,

forgive without limit and

let go of all that holds me back.

Or is it that if I love unconditionally,

forgive without limit and

let go of all that holds me back,

judgmentalism will be transformed into compassion,

insecurity into confidence,

fear into trust and

anger into acceptance?

Live radically

Planted in my heart early in life was a desire to live the Gospel as the early Christians had, to live in community and share my possessions. This early Christian way of life was different from what I saw around me, radically different.

For a few years after college, I was affiliated with a congregation of Catholic Sisters, thinking I might become a nun. But when I decided not to enter the community, I was unsure what was next for me.

At the time, I was working for a small nonprofit, matching volunteers with people who have developmental disabilities for one-to-one advocacy relationships. It was important work that had a big impact on the people who were involved, but it did not feel radical enough for me.

Living in community as the early church had (or as a nun might) shaped not just work hours, but every hour of the day, and I wanted that—for my life to be wholly lived for God, to have God be the number one priority in my life. I wanted to invest every day in my God relationship and to be submerged in the spiritual, like a fish in the ocean.

During my garden year, I was continually led to pray with Matthew 25:31-46, the Final Judgment, and I gained greater clarity about how Jesus inhabits vulnerable people so that what we do for “the least” is what we do for Jesus. I remember replacing the word “for” with “to,” and seeing Jesus as the person who is hungry, thirsty, naked, ill, a stranger and imprisoned. “I am doing this (or not) to Jesus,” I would say.

That realization affected how I interacted with every vulnerable person. If I walked by a homeless person without at least saying hello, I knew I was bypassing Jesus, being rude and unfriendly. If I let an opportunity pass to visit someone in hospital or another institution, I knew I was neglecting Jesus, and I imagined Jesus tsk-tsking at me for my lack of concern.

It was not just some poor person I was neglecting; it was Jesus himself; I was deliberately choosing to ignore Jesus.

Jesus-vulnerability-spirituality

After a year of discernment as to how to live Matthew 25 in the most radical way, I moved to a l’Arche community, which seemed pretty radical. Then, perhaps even more radical, I lived and worked with Mennonites.

And what I learned from four years of trying to live some radical way of life was that no one way of life is more radical than another and no one way is better. I had left everything familiar only to discover that the outer structure of my life had very little to do with my interior spiritual journey.

It turned out that the nonprofit work I had been doing was radical enough.

I realized that what helped me live the Gospel most radically was to make God my priority and to spend time in prayer every day; and I could do that anywhere.

Jesus-vulnerability-spirituality

Transformation

“That must be so difficult,” people often say when they learn I work at a cancer support center.

“It can be,” I reply.

Every day, people tell us of their fears and anxieties, stories of their financial troubles because of the cost of medical care and the difficult decisions they face regarding treatment options.

Where can they get money to relieve their financial troubles? Should they continue with treatment knowing it is only prolonging life for a short time? Should they try an experimental treatment when traditional options have failed?

Dealing with vulnerability can be very challenging and even difficult.

But my work can also be very gratifying.

I get to see fears and anxieties melt away when people feel heard and their concerns validated. I am privileged to watch people support one another and see them move from fear to trust, from despair to hope. Every day, I see transformation.

God-vulnerability-spirituality

During the nine months my friend Jim had brain cancer, I had a few “melt-downs,” moments when my patience ran out or my fears overwhelmed me. Sometimes I yelled. Other times, I collapsed in a heap and sobbed. Afterward, I felt guilty. Here was Jim, facing his death—and there I was, wallowing in self-pity. Remorse and shame engulfed me.

Then one day at the grocery store, I met my neighbor’s daughter who was caring for both her ill husband and aged mother. It must have been just after a melt-down, because I confessed my bad behavior. Delores waved me off. “It happens,” she said.

She went on to tell me how she, too, gets tired and frustrated, and how she, too, has been known to yell or cry.

“It’s normal,” She said. “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

Before that encounter, I had felt like a terrible person, the only person in the world who would yell at a man dying from brain cancer. Talking with Delores, though, gave me a different perspective and helped me let go of the high expectations I had for myself.

I walked away from that encounter telling myself, “You are not Mother Teresa of Calcutta,” and then realizing that even Mother Teresa probably had melt-downs. We are all human.

God-vulnerability-spirituality

The value of sharing our human fears and weaknesses is not restricted to cancer care.

I have also seen it when adults walked into the literacy center where I worked in Pennsylvania, feeling inadequate and shameful because of their lack of literacy skills—and then meeting other adults are in the same boat.

I experienced it the first time I attended a gathering of adult children of alcoholics and realized I was not alone, that others understood my experience because they had gone through something similar.

Once that understanding of a shared experience happens—whatever the experience—healing can begin.

Admitting my fear, confessing my shame or giving voice to my secret can be cathartic and can lead to greater compassion—for myself and for others.

When has that been true for you?