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Compassion in community

June 5, 2011
Atlas, it's time for your bath

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks, creative commons

The same Sarah that I mentioned in a previous post, came to visit me, so I’m finally reading her favorite book, Compassion by Henri Nouwen. She sent it to me months ago, and I read a few chapters but got distracted by life. I wish I would have read it sooner, I see why it’s her favorite book.

One of the most tragic events of our time is that we know more than ever before about the pains and sufferings of the world and yet are less and less able to respond to them…

Can we really expect a compassionate response from the millions of individuals who read the paper during breakfast, listen to the radio on the way to work, and watch television after returning home tired from their work in offices or factories? Can we reasonably expect compassion from the many isolated individuals who are constantly being reminded in the privacy of their homes or cars of the vast extent of human suffering?…

When there is no community that can mediate between world needs and personal responses, the burden of the world can only be a crushing burden…

The Christian community mediates between the suffering of the world and our individual responses to this suffering.

Nouwen, Henri. Compassion. P. 51, 53.

That’s from the chapter on Community, which just feels me up to the brim full of smiles. Nouwen continues to describe how, when we are following God’s call in our lives within community, we tend to disappear. We give more of ourselves to Christ and to the world because we’re not trying to save the world, but give to it.

Questions to ponder:

  • What are you doing to live a compassionate life?
  • Relationships take effort and pursuit. Are you investing in the creating of community? If not, why not?

Marge, and the story she tells

June 1, 2011

I just re-read some old posts, and I noticed that I have the same themes repeating in my life. I feel a little bit like I’m repeating the same lessons, ideas, struggles, or dreams. I have been influenced by certain people and philosophies and I tend to hold on to those. Each time I repeat a theme, I get a little bit stronger, a little bit deeper, and a little bit more confident.

I remember in college how I would get so frustrated with people who refused to see other view points, particularly people who were much older than I was. There were people who were set in their ways and were determined to tell me how wrong I was in my way of thinking. In turn, I was a stubborn college student who was set in her ways and believed that I had all of the right answers and those old people needed to learn to be willing to see new ideas and change their opinions.

Today, I’m just as stubborn, but a little more mature. I see how easy it is to go down a path, to struggle and fight for your beliefs and be determined to follow them without backing down. To come to a point where I’ve worked so hard to figure out what I believe and want, that no other options make sense. I can’t say enough how much I admire people like my friend, Marge, who is 60+ and continually willing to learn new things and see other views. This comes so easily to her, but she’s been practicing for years. She travels the world, never ceasing to form new friendships, hear life stories, and discuss new (or old) ideas. She’s kept in touch with friends for decades because she understands that relationships matter. She has suffered deeply, and loved deeper. Marge has never stopped learning, asking questions, hearing stories, and finding new ways to serve. That’s who she is. It would be a dark day if Marge ever decided that she was always right and that there were no more lessons to be learned.

It would be a dark day if any of us decided that we were always right and there were no more lessons to be learned. Even if I repeat the same themes and write on the same topics for the next 60 years, I hope that I’ll still be willing to see new and deeper lessons. I hope that I’ll remember that it’s relationships that matter, not my stubborn beliefs in things past.

Justice for your city

May 24, 2011

Several years ago, I visited my friend, Sarah, in San Diego. Sarah worked as a Social worker with Catholic Charities at the time, and was aware of the resources that the city had to offer. One sunny day we were driving downtown with the windows rolled down. We stopped at a stoplight, right next to a man who was panhandling from the median.


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The conversation went something like this:

Man: Can you help me out? I need money for food.

Sarah: No, I’m not going to give you money.

Man: I don’t have anything, I need money.

Sarah: There are a lot of resources available in the city for you. I’m not giving you any money.

Man: Come on, I can’t go to those places. What I really need is money for food.

Sarah: I’m not giving you any money. There is (names a place) and they can help you there. If I give you money, it’s going to keep you here on the streets. I want more for you than for you to be out here asking people for money. If I give you money that just keeps you here and tomorrow you’ll be hungry again.

He didn’t like Sarah’s response. He couldn’t take the “no” and kept bothering her until the light turned green and we drove off. Sarah’s mini lecture may not have stayed in his memory, but it stayed in mine.

What is it that I really want for other people? I want them to love and be loved. I want all people, including myself, to know true justice. I don’t always know what that looks like, but I don’t want to assume that the right answer will be shouted down to me from heaven when someone is in desperate need and looking to me for help.

No matter where you are reading this from, whether a major metropolitan city or an unincorporated town, at some point you are going to come into contact with someone who is searching for justice. That could be a man or woman who is hungry and panhandling on the streets. That could be a woman who is living in a domestic violence situation. That could be a son who is not wanted by his parents. What does justice look like for them?

Does justice mean giving money and driving away, or does justice mean offering myself and my gifts/skills?

I don’t know and I’m not going to tell you there’s an answer, because sometimes there isn’t one.

What I can promise you is that you will be much more capable of finding an answer if you educate yourself on the available resources in your city. Sarah did offer this man something. It wasn’t what he asked for, but she chose not to ignore him or leave him empty-handed. She knew what she had to offer, and she knew that if he was hungry, there was more than one option available to him.

For those of you who don’t want to spend the time studying the names of all of the organizations in town (not many people do), there are still some things that you can do today so that when you find yourself needing some information, you aren’t left feeling helpless.


  1. Save in your phone or memorize your town’s Non-Emergency number. This is a police number (police exist to help you, not just to give out speeding tickets). Using this number allows 9-1-1 to remain available for life-threatening emergencies only. You can find this number in the phone book, the internet, or even by walking in to your local police station. They won’t arrest you, I promise.
  2. 2-1-1. Know this number! It’s like 9-1-1, only for information. When you dial 2-1-1, you give your first name only and your zip code. They have a searchable database of organizations, and the operators are friendly experts. Last night, I used this number to help a friend. All of his identifying documents had been stolen and his only hope for getting off of the streets was his birth certificate in Colorado. Stranded, he needed bus fare. I called 2-1-1 and gave him the number for travel assistance. He now has the choice to go there, advocate for himself, and receive assistance from someone more informed than I.
  3. Volunteer. You learn about other organizations by osmosis.
    A searchable database similar to the one used by 2-1-1 operators. Just surfing it for 10 minutes today will give you an idea of what’s around.
  5. Find a list. Hospitals have them, churches have them, the internet has them, lists are everywhere. If you take an hour out of your day this week, I’m sure you’ll find one. If you need help, send me a message. For example, Nashville has a pamphlet with all of the available meals in town – times and addresses. There are at least 2 free meals offered for every meal, every day of the week, in Nashville. Find lists and keep them in your glove box, in your office, in your backpack and don’t be afraid to give them away. Here’s one for Nashville.


Don’t try to memorize all of the available resources in your town. Just know how to find the information, because someday, someone is going to ask you for it. Give them dignity by offering of yourself while letting them be responsible for their own story.

What did I miss? Feel free to fill in the blanks or leave your opinion.

Week in review

May 20, 2011

There’s are a lot of blogs written each day. You may not read the same ones that I do, so this is your chance to read what I’m reading. Here’s a few posts I read this week that I really enjoyed.

writing in the journal

  • It’s all how you look at it. I can’t say enough how much I loved this post by Alise Write. I go through this exercise almost every day, and seeing it in writing was beautiful.
  • You put the words “Shane Claiborne” in a title and I’m hooked. Great insight, Rachel.
  • Creative idea on how to deal with coworkers you can’t stand from Tim Sanders. Not that I recommend this, but I like that truth causes change.
  • The discussion on Lindsey’s post made me smile and nod, laugh and giggle, frown and shout. If you have an opinion on When Harry Met Sally, this post is for you.

What posts did you enjoy this week? Send them along!

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I think I learned my lesson

May 18, 2011

Thanks for all of the comments and feedback in last week’s post about the J.O.Y. rule. It seems that really resonated with a lot of you. I like the conversations that it generated outside of the post as well. It’s really fun having someone come up to me and talk about something they read that I wrote. It also encourages me to keep going.

I’ve been writing Wednesday posts for a couple of months now. I really enjoyed the weekly posts and will keep it up as long as I can. Until today, I haven’t had a problem coming up with ideas and words to write, but today I’m just drawing blank. So I am just writing and hoping for the best.

I don’t know where you live, but here in Nashville, it is cold! I am wearing a winter sweater and am thankful that I used my oven to make dinner tonight and the heat is now warming my apartment. Even though I was born in Nebraska, I was designed for warm weather. The cloudy days are just beating on me! Each day I think, “You can make it through today because tomorrow will be sunny”. A woman can only say this to herself for so long before she gets tired of seeing clouds. And folks, I am tired of seeing clouds.

Do you ever have days when you’re just…done?

I had another moment like that once. The memory tried to make me smile today, but it didn’t really work.

Years ago, I was supposed to go camping for the weekend with my roommate and her friends. My brakes had started to leak that day, so I had to buy brake fluid so I could drive. Because I had to stop, I couldn’t follow my roommate to the campsite, which if you know me at all, is always a bad idea. I am well-known in my family for getting lost when driving to new places. My roommate couldn’t wait, because the park closed at 6. They had to get there and get settled, so that I could sneak in after them.

I finally arrive at the park. It’s not dark yet, so I park in the parking lot outside of the gates and am supposed to walk to meet them. Only, I walked in the wrong direction.

This is where the trip started to go sour.

I walked down a trail, carrying my backpack and sleeping bag, for about a mile (well, at least if felt like a mile and I walked a good 20 min, so a mile must be accurate – right?). I finally realized that this was NOT right. I was tired, I was confused, I was grouchy about my brakes, grouchy about having to meet up with them, and grouchy because part of me really didn’t want to go in the first place. I really liked my roommate, and her friends, but they were mostly her friends, and I think that most of them were couples.

At this point, I dropped everything was carrying, and gave God an ultimatum (since that’s always a good idea). I was just certain that if I wasn’t single, if I wasn’t trying to get there on my own, that none of this would have happened. I would have had a man to help me with my car, to navigate, to know exactly where we were going. And if he got lost, well then we would have been at least walking the trail together instead of me trying to go at it on my own. Because of course, relationships solve everything. So I dropped everything, and told God that he had precisely until the end of the day to bring me the man of my dreams who would sweep me off of my feet (and solve all of my problems).

scream and shout

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Ahem. Well. Not one of my better moments.

I finally ended up where I was supposed to be, meeting up with the rest of the group. Except for one person, a man, who was on his way (he must have been looking for me).

This guy shows up, and here I am thinking “dang, God, you’re good”.

For about 30 seconds.

Then said man began talking and quickly revealing his character. I think it took less than 3 minutes for me to laugh and understand. “Ok, God. I get your point. I certainly don’t mind waiting now”.

Truthfully, it was probably more like, “heck no. I would never consider dating that guy, so I take back that ultimatum and will wait as long as I need to. I’d rather wait until I’m 80 than date him”. (I’m sure he’s a great man, just not my great man.)

So on a day when I was just fed up with my current circumstances, I fought with God. And today I’m doing it again. I’m done with the clouds and cold weather, and it’s time for some sunshine. I know better now than to speak an ultimatum but…I won’t say I don’t want to. Some days, it’s best just to know exactly where you’re at and what you’re feeling, because then you have material to work with. And, if the clouds are out on Wednesday, I’ve got friends on standby and a God who loves enough to not listen to my ultimatums.

Week in review

May 13, 2011

There’s no way that all of my thoughts come from nowhere. I’m influenced by awesome thinkers along the way. Here’s a few posts I read this week that I really enjoyed.

What posts did you enjoy this week? Send them along!

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Christians make terrible rules

May 11, 2011

Growing up, my family was in church every time the doors were open. Sunday morning, Sunday school, followed by church. Go home for a pot roast and an afternoon of rest. Return to church for evening

service, or as we got older, youth group. Wednesday night AWANA. We liked church.

Pouring Water Somewhere along the line, I was taught the “JOY rule”.

J – Jesus first

O – Others second

Y – Yourself last

Pastors and Sunday School teachers love acrostics.

Always a fan of all things “joy”, I took this on as my motto. I scribbled it on my notebooks, wrote it on my book covers, and did whatever I could to train myself to put Jesus first, Others second, and myself last.

Today, after nearly thirty years in the Church, a college degree, and five years of studying the word “boundaries”, I’ve got to say that… this rule is just terrible.

Before you Sunday school teachers get defensive, hear me out.

I understand where the idea comes from. I lived it for years so I’ve got a decent handle on the perspective. To love Jesus well, is to follow him and place him before anything else. Before country, before family, before personal wants. Jesus is to be worshipped before all other. So place him first.

“Love your neighbor as yourself, this is the greatest commandment”. Okay, so we need to love others. We need to “turn the other cheek”, forgive “seventy times seven”, and “go into all the world and make disciples”. (Please don’t make me link references to all of those. No one owns rights to printing the Bible, right?) To be a good Christian is to give of ourselves to others.

So that leaves us.

According to the JOY rule, we’ve put Jesus first, friends and enemies second, and then we have to fall somewhere so we’ll place last. “The last will be first and the first will be last” or “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” or the famous verse that throws in both selfishness AND humility “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Phil 2:3).

I want to point out that there is nothing wrong with these thoughts in and of themselves. They are words and ideas to live by. I mean, they’re in the Bible of all places, it’s not like some theologian just made them up. Worship Jesus with all you have. Give to others. Be humble.

The danger, and what I want to speak against, is the creating of a false sense of humility and a passive-aggressive lifestyle.

If you don’t take care of yourself first, you cannot take care of someone else.


If you don’t take care of yourself first, you cannot take care of someone else.

I could give you examples of this all day long, but the one I’m going with is a water pitcher. As long as the pitcher is full of water, it can pour out and fill glasses. As soon as that pitcher become empty, it is useless, until it has been re-filled. If you are trying to fill glasses at a banquet table with an empty water pitcher, all anyone will get is really thirsty.

I’m convinced that Jesus, son of the Most High, never poured from an empty pitcher. Nor was he a doormat, constantly letting everyone go first so that he could be walked on and abused. Jesus somehow managed to love relentlessly and radically, while still being assertive and taking care of himself.

Jesus never said to love others and not yourself. He said to love others as yourself. Love yourself first. Fill your pitcher overflowing with water. When you are full, then you are not only free but completely able to let that real joy overflow to everyone you meet. You have no need to be selfish with what you have to give, because you have so much of it. Your pitcher of water will NEVER go empty.

If you say that you’re a Christian, a follower of Jesus, try practicing placing yourself first. This doesn’t mean placing Jesus second. This means purposefully spending time growing in life with Jesus, letting Jesus do what he came and wants to do – fill you up with living water.

Once you are filled to the brim, let that living water overflow to everyone you meet. Beware: if you pour out of the pitcher, you must keep refilling it or you will once again, will be empty and have nothing to give.

If you don’t take care of yourself first, you cannot take care of someone else.

Now go, fill yourself with love and good things, and then go from there and love your neighbor.