Just a Handful of Rocks {love pursues love}

20170111_162933

Just a handful of rocks and an old ring, right?  Well, not quite.

The week before Christmas, my daughter withdrew $100 out of her savings account so that she could purchase items for the homeless in our community.  You can read about her experience with this by clicking on this link: 7BillionOnes

Yesterday, I received a message that the gentleman my daughter met at a homeless camp had a gift for her.  He told our mutual friend, a photographer, that he wanted her to pick out some things from his collection as a thank you for her gifts to him.

I told my daughter that we had an errand to run and needed to stop by the studio before she went to gymnastics.  She was excited to go back to the photography studio as she just loves walking around it and looking at the incredible images on the walls.

When we got there, our friend took her to the office and told her that “D” had picked a few special pieces out for her and wanted her to look through the trinkets and rocks.  She was thrilled.

As I watched her little fingers meander their way through the bag, I couldn’t help but feel so humbled by it.  With an impending winter storm heading our way, and a recent event that affected “D”, his generosity and appreciation for what my daughter did for him a few weeks ago pressed right into my heart.

20170111_163020

To some, this handful of rocks and an old ring might seem like junk.

To my daughter, they are priceless. 

To some, this handful of rocks and an old ring might seem trivial.

To my daughter, they are meaningful.

To me, they are a powerful reminder that giving breeds giving. 

LOVE PURSUES LOVE.

Let us all stop minimizing what acts of kindness can do for each other.  I know my daughter’s experience interacting with our homeless friends has changed her and, oh my, it has changed me.

Friends, would you say a prayer tonight for “D” and all of our homeless friends?  Would you consider giving what you can to help change the life of a person who is homeless?

I promise your life will be changed because of it.

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 

Let Freedom Ring

photo (90)As July 4th came to a close, I decided to go for a run through my neighborhood.  The neighborhood we live in has a couple of lakes that all connect by a system of drains.  Large trees, wide streets, light traffic, and streetlights make for safe and scenic evening runs.  The rushing of water running alongside me, chirping crickets, splashes of bullfrogs hopping into the water, and the steadiness of my breath are sounds I have grown accustomed to on my runs.

On the fourth of July, I could hear the sounds of fireworks going off in the outskirts of the city.  The popping noises and blasts were not a distraction; instead, they reminded me of the annual reunion our nation has with American pride and independence.  The sounds of the night did not frighten me or cause me to wonder what was happening in my city.  No, they were the sounds of celebration.

For some in other parts of the world though, the harsh non-celebratory sounds of blasts are heard.  For those in the midst of a warring nation, or a nation in revolt, these popping sounds must evoke terror.  There are also many in the United States who are enslaved in violent relationships, addictions, and hopeless situations.  The more I ran and listened to the fireworks echoing throughout the sky, the more I was reminded of what freedom means for someone like myself, and maybe even you, and how it must evade many.

I’ve been confronted this past week with the word freedom from a variety of sources.  Last week our church showed a video of a church member reciting a spoken word poem about freedom.  He spoke of freedom in Christ.  He reminded us that Jesus used his freedom to set us free.  In the end, he asked, “How will you use your freedom?”

On July 4th, my dear friend’s wall post on Facebook caught my eye.  In it she justified her reasons why she spends time on a weekly basis organizing, cooking, and serving food to homeless people in our community.  She is part of a grassroots effort to serve those in our society who are often invisible to most; even to those of us who are active in our faith.  I do not know why she felt the need to give her reasons, but I suspect something was said to her, or she was questioned about why she would help “people like that”.

My friend is serving others in a way that some of us who claim to follow Christ are not, or would not consider doing.  How many of us cook food for the homeless?  How many of us take our children along to help serve street people?  How many of us offer a hug, smile, or kind words to lift up someone who has been rejected by society?

Sadly, how many of us walk on by and pretend these people are not out there?

Her post stuck to me the rest of the day.  It humbled me.  I thought about it on the evening run I spoke of earlier, and at work the following day.  While sitting at my desk, I noticed the following Scripture on the calendar hanging in my office:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. –Galatians 5:13

There it was again.  The word free staring back at me.  As a believer in Jesus Christ, I know that my freedom is not solely represented by fireworks or the fourth of July.  There are many who are not physically free in this world, but have found freedom through the unfailing redemption of Christ.  There are also many who boldly serve others because of their freedom in the Lord, even if it means possible persecution for themselves and their families.

We are a very blessed nation.  American Christians are probably some of the most free believers in the world; and yet, what are we doing with our freedom?  Do we use it to judge those who are different from us?  Do we use it to buy things that please us?  Do we think “someone else will take care of that” when it comes to the lost in our own communities?

How are we using our freedom?

I say, let freedom ring in the way we act towards one another.  Let the sound of our freedom be one that is undeniable.  There is someone in your community that needs for you to show him or her the greatest love and freedom you have ever found.  

We are not called to be served by our Savior.  He’s already done that.  We are called and set free to serve one another.

Let freedom ring, my fellow Christians, let freedom ring.

Life in a Fish Bowl

Here is a brief part from my memoir I have stored away on my computer.  I am getting closer to making a decision about trying to publish it, but in the meantime, I am finding that parts of it inspire me to write blog posts that are not necessarily even related to my story at all.  This section is part of chapter two where I talk about the medical aspect of what occurred, as well as, my stay in the hospital.

There was an aquarium on the pediatric unit at the hospital that housed a Newt.  When I was able to, I visited Newton (not sure if this really was his name or if I called him that on my own) just about every day.  Our eyes would make contact, and I would stare at him in his fish bowl world wondering what he was thinking.  I wished I could have jumped in the tank with him and swam around to escape.  I too had people staring at me probably wondering what I was thinking or if I really understood what had happened.  My hospital room had become my own fish bowl.

Although this is from a section of my story about the time in the hospital, I cannot help but think that we are all living in “fish bowls”.  We tend to watch each others’ actions and form opinions based on how others are swimming around.  When sad times make their way into life, we sometimes stand by and watch the reactions of people.  Often, their reactions affect our responses.

What if instead of just standing there on the outside of the “tank”, we would all make a more committed effort to jump in and swim around a bit with those who are going through a difficult time?  I wonder how many people could be eternally impacted if Christians would walk alongside people we differ from, or people who are grieving, or lonely, or homeless, or orphaned, or guilty, or addicted, or whatever else makes us think we are on one side while they are on the other.

I know it is cliché to say “what would Jesus do?”….but seriously, “What would Jesus do?”  His life, as written in Scripture, depicts a Savior who walked with people most of us would stray from.  His love is for everyone….everyone.  We are all living life in a fish bowl.  We watch others, and more importantly, others are watching us.  I think it is time that Christians (including myself) stop wading in the shallow end of the pool with only those we are like, and jump in head first with those we are least like.  After all…”What Would Jesus Do?

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” – John 13:34