Compassion

“I miss you, Mr. Bruce.  I wish you were still my therapist.”  

The words above are ones I heard today from my office.  I got up, walked down the hall, and found a chubby, 10-year-old boy looking up at my husband.  My husband is not a therapist, but a child welfare case worker, and we work at the same agency.  This boy had been on his case load for several years until he was recently transferred to another worker who could focus more on his adoptive recruitment.

The minute the boy walked away, tears started to well up in my eyes.  I could barely keep them in.  This boy, the one who missed my husband, is the same boy who my husband worried about, had on his mind long after work hours ended, and had a hard time letting him go to another worker.

This boy has no one, but case workers.  He has no birth family to connect to anymore.  He only has the people in his life who are professionally charged for caring for him.

His small, vulnerable hands reached out to staff members today.  He introduced himself, shook our hands, and used his little hands to make pictures for each of us. He needed this activity to fill his day until he met his new foster mom.  He seemed fine, and had some boundary issues, but overall, he appeared to be a sweet and resilient little guy.

As the day went on, I thought about the boy, what has happened in his life, what might or might not happen, how innocent he is in so many ways, and how empathy tends to rip out one’s heart.  I’ve been confronted with empathy and compassion several times this week.  Just a few days ago, I posted this quote on a friend’s Facebook wall:

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” ~ Henri Nouwen

My friend, whom I’ve known since junior high, is part of a group of citizens who are organizing meals for the homeless in our community.  During a recent lunch conversation, our thoughts turned to the idea of how helping others loses its “doing good for others feeling” and becomes an experience that causes full immersion into the trauma, poor choices, dysfunction, and despair of others.  I think my friend has hit “that wall”….that painful, raw wall of human experience.

It is a wall that I ran smack into when I first started working in the field of child welfare.  I was going to change the world.  I was going to find families for the kids who just needed to be loved.  I was going to make a difference.  To say I saw my role through rose-colored glasses is an understatement.  The first week or two were wonderful.  I was warmly welcomed by other staff members, and was slowly being introduced to foster families, and I was starting to get some “cases”.  By cases, I mean children.  

Then, I opened up my first file of documentation about the history of the children I was assigned to find families for.  There before me were the stories of gut-wrenching abuse at the hands of adults charged with caring for these little ones.  Within the stories were layers of neglect, past trauma, dysfunctional family systems, and lots and lots of despair.

The stories of child abuse were no longer stories.  They were images of innocence ripped away.  I wanted to pretend that what I was reading was not that bad….but….how could I?  How could I gloss over horrific sexual abuse, or babies being found laying in cribs among animal waste?  How can I ever forget the picture of a 4-year-old, blue-eyed beauty with staples in her head from the physical abuse suffered at the hands of her mother’s paramour?

I hit the wall.  My vision of the community I thought I lived in changed.  I entered the underbelly of what is really going on behind lots of doors, dark alleys, and drug-fueled minds.

I remember weeping at night about what I witnessed through the pages of life stories unfolding in front of me.  I had bad dreams…nightmares really.  I know I was going through what is typical in the helping relationship field.  Others before me had already hit the wall, and had successfully built their own resilient walls to shield them from the pains and problems of their clients.

The wall is necessary to get through the day, but it does not make us less compassionate.  Compassion forces us to go to places we would never choose to go on our own.  It kicks us in the gut, compels us to move, and pushes us to keep on “keeping on”.  There is a difference between a “do-gooders”, and compassionate people who seeks to make differences in their worlds.  Doing good does just that….it does good, but compassion does so much more.

Compassion reveals the gut-wrenching human existence that is part of life on Earth.  As a Christian, I believe that compassion leads us to the place where Jesus exists.  It puts us in the most broken of painful places.  It causes us to see others with fullness, not just splinters.

It is the place where Jesus calls us to be.

I’ve thought a lot about the little boy who looked up to my husband today.  I’ve thought about his future.  I’ve wondered how it is possible for him to even dream beyond tomorrow without the safety of yesterdays.  I’ve shed tears for him.  I’ve felt pain and worry for him.

If compassion can lead us to feel all of this, then surely, it can lead us to imagine the depth of how the Lord sees us.  Though broken in my vision of this little boy, and the others I’ve met along the way, I know that my human vision is nothing compared to the vision that the Lord must have for these children, and others in our world who have fallen on the downside of society.

Compassion calls us to wake up each day with the desire to grasp a glimpse of the lives of others.  It breaks our hearts, and stirs our determination.  Most of all though, it begs us to live a life walking in the full measure of the mercy we have been given, and to reach to others in ways that they see Him living in us.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12 

Room 452

Envelope kept from my hospital stay in ’83

Room 452 is where my life lay in the balance back in 1983.  The beeps of machines and buzz of nurses and doctors scurrying in and out of this room were a stark contrast to the isolating existence of being stowed away in the hospital.  In this room, prayers were said, tears were shed, lives were changed, and courage was shown.  In this room, a miracle occurred – the miracle of my life being brought back from the thin edge of death.

My mom kept every note, card, picture, and letter sent to me while in the hospital struggling to survive the ravenous bacteria that had already killed my uterus, right Fallopian tube, and right ovary before the doctors discovered it.  It was working its way to my bladder and throughout my abdomen when found….just in the nick of time.  Looking through these mementos of that fragile time makes me realize how very fortunate I am.

Of course, I am extremely blessed to be sitting here typing my story.  I am also even more encouraged by the faithful loving Father who gifted me with the adoption of my children despite the barrenness that entered my life.  But, I am not talking about these things when realizing how fortunate I am.  I am talking about the kindness, encouragement, generosity, compassion, and faith-driven prayers that were lifted up to our Father in Heaven in room 452.

The notes from my schoolmates were all very sweet and humorous.  They still show the type of innocence that made up typical eleven and twelve-year-old’s back in 1983.  Their wishes for a speedy recovery and for me to get back to school to play paled in comparison to how desperately ill I really was.  While I enjoy glancing through these scribbled and colorful letters, I find myself most moved by the cards and notes from adults.

Several of the cards and notes were from adults with-whom I had never met.  They were friends of my parents, friends of my extended family, and other adults who had become aware of a girl whose life had just been turned upside down.  These loving letters were sent to lift my spirits while they lifted me up to the Lord.

Years ago the wife of the doctor who performed my surgery disclosed that she led a small prayer vigil in her home that fateful night in 1983 when her husband had to perform one of the most difficult tasks in his medical career and adult life.  Again, there was a group of adult strangers tucked away pleading with the Lord to bring me through the surgery and for complete healing.  It blessed me immensely to hear she this.  I know the surgery greatly affected her husband as well.  He will always be one of my “angels on Earth”.

I do believe that prayer is quite simply one of the most authentic ways that Christians can express their beliefs in a loving, powerful God.  It is a mighty powerful thing, and I believe that the Lord listened to the cries of those who loved me during those days and nights while I fought to survive. It continues to make an incredible impression on me twenty-nine years later when coming across prayerful messages jotted down and sent to me during that time.

My life was forever changed in room 452.  My life was greatly impacted by my name being whispered to Heaven by the lips of adults.  As an adult now, I hope that I do not fail in lifting up children to the Lord.

In a world where it seems that children are the last things on politicians, leaders, and adults minds, we need to commit ourselves to being mindful of their futures.  We need to pray for this generation of young ones growing up in a fast pace, quick fix, and digital world.  Children need this now more than ever.

I wonder how many lives could be changed if Christians remembered to pray with purpose and passion for youth of this world.  It matters to people to know they are being prayed for.  There may not be a room 452 where a child needs prayer.  It could be in a hut, one room apartment, mansion, or even a street.  Will you commit yourself to lifting up children to the Lord?  You never know what kind of eternal impact can be made in the life of just one child in need.

Philippians 4:6-7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I thought of you today, birth mother

I thought of you today, birth mother.  I watched him graduate from preschool.  You would have been so proud.  His name was called and he was handed his first diploma of sorts.  The years have swept away from the three of us since the last visit we had together.  Four years ago tomorrow, your child became forever mine.  You did not choose to give him to me.  He was taken from you.  I know in the rhythm of my heart that you never imagined not raising your son.

I owe you nothing; and yet, I owe you everything.

Our lives are woven together by poor choices, heartache, legalities and love.  Just like the energy that is poured out of a quilt maker’s hands into the quilt, our lives are sewn and patched by the hardship of the years.  Surely, God knew when He created this precious child in your womb that you would labor to bring him into this world, and I would labor bringing him up in it.

I see you in him. birth mother.  He smiles your smile.  His left eye is just a little lazy like yours.  Your love of family poured into him.  He is rarely at a loss of words…just like you.  I wonder if you long for him when you watch children play.  I wonder if you feel haunted by this child you will never raise.  The loss you have suffered must be felt from every cell in your body.  The hollowness you feel at times must resonate deep down.  Sure, we send pictures to you, but pictures don’t breathe.  Pictures don’t smell.  They don’t bleed, hug, speak, cry, or do any of those things that remind us of our humanity.

I owe you nothing; and yet, I owe you everything.

I too have felt that sorrowful ache.  I have cried thick tears.  I have longed for a child.  Barrenness created a stale world for me; a hollowness that never ceased.  I felt haunted by a child I would never have.  What at one time seemed pointless, lifeless, and void of purpose has been replaced by immeasurable significance.

The selfishness I feel from time to time benefiting from your great and terrible sadness overwhelms me.  To be honest, all of it overwhelms me.  God’s blessing of your child has given me more than the mommy experience.  It has refreshed the staleness, filled the hollowness, and brought to life the child I thought I would never have.

I owe you nothing; and yet, I owe you everything.

I thought of you today, birth mother.  Truthfully, I think of you nearly every day.  Perhaps, the world might expect me to not care for you so much.  I wonder, “Is it really possible to separate you from the goodness and richness of this child?”  I don’t think so.  There is goodness in you, although others may not see it.  You are a part of him and he is a part of you.

I delight in his quirks.  I fret in his worries.  I am challenged by his willful spirit; yet, I love him with every pore of my being.  I hear him say “I love you, Mommy” and it stirs my soul.  I know you would feel the same way.

The hug I gave him was for you today, birth mother.  I imagined your arms wrapped around him….how good that would feel for you to touch him.

I thought of you today,  birth mother.  I said a prayer for you today, birth mother.  Your son is mine, and my son is yours.

I owe you nothing; and yet, I will not forget that I owe you everything.