Category Archives: compassion

compassion faith justice Living in community

Lying in Green Pastures With a Heart that Will Not Sit Down

I write to teach myself, and with the hope that someone else might be able to glean encouragement or exhortation from it as well. Still, usually when I sit down to write a blog, I have a somewhat solid idea of what I want to say. Not this time. I am restless. My heart is heavy. But I need this ritual of thinking and praying through typing so I can learn how to rest.

My heart is heavy because of turmoil in the world, in my country, and in my personal life. I see injustice. I see people being hateful to each other and drawing lines in the sand over politics and beliefs. Many of these people claim Christ. It is disheartening to see people who follow the same Savior become venomous toward each other over differences of opinion. And I’m not saying these opinions or issues are not important. They are vital. And that is what makes them so volatile. Still, the lack of peace and grace is hard. I admit that I participate in this. It is hard for all of us when we think we see something so clearly and others can’t or won’t see it the same way. I know I have the same difficulty seeing things from the other side. But every time I get on Facebook I am overcome with a heaviness of spirit. That is largely because what is going on in our country and the world is truly heavy and in some ways quite frightening. It is right to feel sorrow and grief and a sense of unrest with the ways in which people are being devalued and the truth is being twisted. But at the same time, to live under the oppression of fear cannot be the right thing. We have not been given a spirit of fear.

Even without the relational aspect of the climate of our country and world right now, there is just the unrest of seeing things happen that grieve me and the unrest of feeling like there is no way to even know what is really going on. News outlets seems either biased toward one side or the other, or just plain fake. I feel a new urgency to be informed, while at the same time feeling powerless to even know what’s true.

And then there is the unrest in my personal life. People I’ve known and loved for many years — the people closest to me in the world — who suddenly (or maybe not so suddenly) are not on the same page as I am on the things that are the core of who I am. People I love letting go of their faith at the same time that I’m finding myself grasping it more and more tightly. I am not standing in judgment. In some ways their response makes complete sense. My love is not altered. But there is fear in this, too. There is grief. It’s the loss of something I once had, or hoped I had, as a common foundation.

Recently, my mom told me about a children’s book called My Heart Will Not Sit Down. The title is an African saying meant to express the feeling we have when we are moved with deep compassion for others that demands action. Oh, this describes my heart so perfectly. My heart will not sit down in response to the knowledge that there are people who are living in fear and real persecution as a result of the decisions of world leaders. My heart will not sit down in response to knowing that there are parents and children who are separated by oceans. My heart will not sit down knowing that millions of unborn babies are killed each year. My heart will not sit down knowing that there are parents who feel so hopeless for one reason or another that they feel that abortion is their best option. My heart will not sit down knowing that there are women who give birth while incarcerated who are not given the human dignity to labor without shackles.

This phrase also describes the restlessness I feel. I have a heart that is burdened and without peace. It cannot sit down. It cannot sit still. It is anxious and fearful and sad. But that is not what I am called to. I am called to let peace reign in my heart. But how?

Colossians 3:15 tells us to “Let the peace of Christ reign in [our] hearts.” This is not a passive thing. This is not wishing for peace or hoping for peace. It is putting the peace of Christ on the throne. Letting it reign. If we have the Holy Spirit, we have access to His peace. We have to grab ahold of it and put it in charge. All of this is very vague. I don’t exactly know what it looks like practically, but I know that there are times when I am tempted to fear and I remember to let peace reign — to remember that when all seems hopeless there is a God who is not surprised by it and who is good and holy and who will be glorified in the end. When I fear for those in my life who might be deciding they don’t believe in Him, I remember that Christ loves them more than I do. Which doesn’t make the journey less lonely, but it does bring comfort. Preaching to our own hearts when anxiety and fear loom can help put things into perspective. It doesn’t always take away the immediate pain and difficulty, but it can strengthen us to bear it.

Something I am grateful for in the midst of all this unrest is that it has upset my complacency. For years and years I “knew” that spending time in the Word was important, and something I needed to do consistently. I “knew” that praying and listening to God was vital. But somehow it felt like knowing that was enough. It felt like enough to feel bad about not doing what I knew I should do, without actually doing it. Similarly with working for justice in the world and helping others in practical ways, it had felt like enough to just think the “right” thing or have the “right opinion” — even better if I shared that opinion on Facebook. Now I can see that an intimacy with Christ and really walking in the Spirit is vital. It is not something I can pursue tomorrow. It is something I need right now. Delayed obedience is disobedience — at least that’s what my mom used to tell me. And the people who are terrified — the people who are hungry and displaced and left without the hope of Christ — they cannot wait either. They need me to do the next thing. They need me to do what my conscience has been prodding me to do for years. And this brings a certain peace, as well. Having a heart that will not sit down prompts us to move. Like when you wake up at 4am and can’t get back to sleep. You might as well get up and get something done.

I also feel the need for discernment in what I take in and entertain more than ever. If my spirit is heavy every time I log on to Facebook, maybe I shouldn’t log on as much. Maybe I should protect myself from the confusion and clamor. This is not to say that we should bury our heads in the sand and disengage. I just said that actively working for and seeking justice is one of the ways to respond to this lack of peace. But for me, and I suspect for many people, social media is something that either leaves us feeling hopeless and helpless or just angry or even feeling like we’ve done something when we’ve really just stated an opinion. Of course, letting people know where you stand and what you see as important is valuable. But we often stop there; at least I do. I think one way to pursue peace and let it reign can be to get away from the constant tumult of social media and seek out reliable sources of news and information, and take action based on that. Even as I type that I think to myself, “But does reliable news exist?” But I do believe there are journalists out there seeking real truth. We just have to do the work of finding them. And then we can talk to people in person and come together and support each other in taking action.

When I first heard the phrase, “My heart will not sit down,” the next thing I thought of was the 23rd Psalm. The psalmist says God makes him lie down in green pastures. He prepares a table for him in the presence of his enemies. David says he walks through the valley of the shadow of death, yet fears not evil. The psalm is a peaceful one, but it is not without turmoil. There are enemies. There is death. But David doesn’t fear because his Shepherd is with him. He is near to the One who sees and cares for him. The way to lie down in green pastures with a heart that will not sit down is in intimacy with and obedience to Christ.

We need to let peace reign in our hearts — acknowledge that the other feelings are there and there for a reason, but put peace in charge. Let peace and faith make the decisions because fear and anxiety and anger are really bad at making good choices. Stay close to the Shepherd. Listen to Him and let Him lead you into the actions He has for you to take. And then you can lie down in green pastures, even with a heart that will not sit down.

compassion faith justice

The God Who Sees

One of my favorite Bible stories is about Hagar and Ishmael. It feels strange to say that it is a “favorite” story, because it really quite troubling. Most stories in the Bible are. Hagar was the servant of Abram and Sarai (before they were renamed Abraham and Sarah). When it looked like they were not going to be able to have children of their own, Sarai and Abram decided to take control and Sarai gave her servant, Hagar to Abram as his wife. When Hagar found that she had become pregnant, Genesis 16 says that she began to despise her mistress. I don’t know if this means that Hagar was angry with Sarai for using her or if it means that she taunted Sarai because she was able to conceive and her mistress wasn’t. Either way, we can agree that Hagar was objectified and used as a tool for Abram and Sarai. She was seen only for how she could be useful to her master and mistress, and had no value in their eyes beyond that. Because Hagar despised Sarai, Sarai complained to Abram about her. He responded that Hagar belonged to her, so she could treat her however she wanted. Sarai abused her so much that Hagar ran away. And here is why this is one of my favorite stories. When Hagar was in the desert, on her flight from Sarai, the angel of the Lord came to her. He asked her where she was going, and she responded that she was fleeing from her mistress. The angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her …I will make your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” After this encounter, Hagar said, “You are the God who sees me. I have now seen the God who sees me.”chagall_hagar-ishmael-in-the-desert

Now there’s a lot in this story that is hard to wrap my mind around. There are points when I question God. Why would he allow Hagar to be used in this way in the first place? And why, after she had been so mistreated, would God tell her to go back into slavery? Why not deliver her somehow and provide for her in a way that she wouldn’t have to go back? Later, after Hagar’s son Ishmael was older and Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah, Hagar was sent away again. Again God came to her and provided for her, and repeated His promise to make Ishmael into a great nation. So there is part of me that wonders why God didn’t just provide for her in the desert the first time. But what strikes me the most is that Hagar doesn’t seem to have these questions. She is, above all, encouraged by her encounters with God. She comes away feeling valued — she has been seen. Even though she was one of the least valued people in her community — a woman, a foreigner, a slave — God valued her. She was a person who was used to being seen only for what service she could provide for other people, and yet at her very lowest and least “useful” she was seen by God.

God sees the unseen. He hears the silenced. Jesus touched the untouchable. And we are called to imitate Him.

So here is the challenge for us as followers of the God Who Sees: Who is it that we are not seeing? Who are the Hagars in our lives? Who are the ones who are objectified? Who are the ones who are stripped down in your mind to the most narrow and objectionable versions of themselves? If you are a follower of Christ, your God sees them. He doesn’t see them as “what’s wrong with the world.” He doesn’t see them as disappointments or people who are somehow less-than. He doesn’t see them and then quickly look away because it is too hard to try to understand their pain. And He doesn’t just see the surface of who they are. He sees their struggles, their pain, their hopes. Yes, He sees the sin in all of our lives. But I truly believe that His response to sin is not anger and dismissiveness. I believe our God, the God who sees, responds to our wandering with compassion and grief at our distance from Him. He is ready to welcome us home with open arms. So we cannot be flippant about turning a blind eye to the parts of humanity that we don’t want to see.

There are some we refuse to see because we don’t know how we can help. There are some we refuse to see because we know what must be done and we don’t want to do it. And there are some we refuse to see because we don’t believe they are worthy to be seen.

If we are going to become people who see, we will have to do some rearranging in our hearts. In order to really see the unseen in our lives, we have to be willing to get rid of the idea that things are black and white. That people are bad or good. Even that a certain perspective is completely right or wrong. No, I’m not denying that there are moral absolutes. I am not saying that there’s no such thing as right or wrong. What I’m saying is that there may be people with whom we disagree, but who also have integrity in their motives. There may be people whose perspectives we don’t understand because their experience of life is so far removed from our own. And we are often really bad at empathy. It is hard to understand, for example, that there is systemic racism in this country if you are white and haven’t seen or experienced this for yourself. It is also hard to understand how people could be so chained by addiction that they neglect or abandon their own children, if this is not something you have personal experience with. It is especially hard to understand and see people who have hurt or threatened us or those we love. We like to call these people disgusting. We like to push them as far away from us as possible. And yes, it is terrible and tragic when anyone is abused or neglected. It is terrible and tragic when people respond to oppression and violence with more violence. But these people — the people we see as wrong, or disgusting, or despicable, or ignorant or hateful — are people who are made in the image of God. They are people that our God sees. The people we often want to push away are people our God longs to embrace. When we see things in black and white we miss all the beautiful and complicated greys and colors around us. It is easy and convenient to categorize people. It is painful and rich to see them.

Does this mean we do not work for justice and do what is needed to keep the innocent safe from those who would hurt or neglect them? No. But it does mean that we also work to realize the humanity in every person.

Once we begin to see the unseen, the next step is to take action — to do what we can to help and let them know their great value in the eyes of God. I am not trying to put unnecessary guilt on us (see previous blog). We cannot do everything. Each of us as individuals are only capable of so much, especially if we want to do it with passion and excellence and dedication. But I do believe that there is a specific call for each of God’s people to begin seeing those who are marginalized in our communities and cultures. If we begin to really seek out who it is that God would have us see, individually, we could show so many their value in Christ.

And there is another thing I want you to take to heart: you are seen. Not only does God see the poor, the oppressed, the addicted, the angry, etc., but He also sees you. He sees your secret pain. He sees the confusion and the questioning in your heart. He sees your grief when it feels like those around you have tired of it. He sees the ways in which you may have been dismissed or undervalued. He sees you and He hears you and He wants you to know.

Let us live knowing that we are valued and valuable. Let us live in a way that shows others that they are valued and valuable. And let us do the hard work of opening our eyes and reaching out our hands.

compassion faith joy

Choosing Gratitude Over Guilt

Anyone who knows me well can tell you that my default emotion for most of my life has been guilt. I feel guilty for not keeping my house clean enough. I feel guilty for being stressed out and grouchy on the days when I decide keeping the house clean is the most important thing. I feel guilty if my husband comes in after his work day and starts picking up toys because that means I didn’t do “my job.” I feel guilty for being able to go on regular dates with my husband because I know other couples who aren’t able to have that luxury. I still sometimes struggle with guilt for the way that I felt while dealing with mild postpartum depression after the birth of my first child — feelings I had no control over. I feel guilty that so many have experienced tragedy and loss, and that I have honestly led a privileged life. The list of things that I’ve allowed myself to feel guilty about could go on and on. But I am starting to see how unhealthy and fruitless this response is.

It feels strange to say I was convicted about feeling guilty, but three years ago I experienced a particular and needed grace that opened my eyes.

When I was pregnant with my third child, I was not excited. We had wanted more children, but the timing was difficult. My husband and I had just decided that he would quit his job to pursue music full time, we moved and put our house on the market, and as part of his pursuit of music my husband was gone on tour for two months of my pregnancy. My oldest was not yet three when my third was born, and my daughter was only eighteen months old. I was short-tempered and tired, and feeling like I couldn’t handle the two children I already had. I knew that I would love my baby, but I was not excited about him. Of course, I felt a lot of guilt for these thoughts and feelings. No mother wants to admit that she isn’t feeling positively about her baby’s arrival. But when he was born all of that blew away. I had the instant, overwhelming love for this little boy that I had been so anxious about bringing into the world. I couldn’t wait to get to know him and see who this unexpected gift would turn out to be. Normally, I would have felt guilty for the way I had felt during his pregnancy, and I would have allowed that to color his newborn stage. I could also very easily have gotten trapped in regret about my first two children’s newborn stages — one clouded by postpartum depression, the other by a very fussy baby dealing with an undiagnosed dairy sensitivity. I could have let those regrets steal the joy I was experiencing with my sweet, squishy, easy third baby. But somehow I was able to escape the guilt and just feel grateful. I can’t explain this freedom from guilt except to say that it was a special grace from the God who knew what I needed to feel and what I needed to learn.

Guilt feels productive, but it is actually paralyzing. When I sit in my guilt I somehow believe that I am being virtuous. I know I’m not doing things right. I know that others have much, much more difficult lives than I have. Aren’t I so aware and in tune? Beating myself up can be cathartic, but it is never fruitful. Guilt keeps the focus on ourselves, which is where most of us like our focus to be. When I am looking in at myself — at all the things I think I’m not doing well enough or think I shouldn’t have — I can’t see the God who is blessing me, or the people I could be serving. Feeling guilty about not experiencing the pain or loss that someone else is dealing with doesn’t usually translate into any active compassion. Guilt says, “I shouldn’t have what I have” instead of saying, “what can I give to those in need?”

Gratitude is not self-focused. I cannot say “thank you” without looking outside of myself. Gratitude puts the focus on God, and gives the freedom to look to the needs of others. If I respond with gratitude when someone helps me, I am saying, “You are a blessing to me. You have given something of value.” If I see that a friend is struggling in an area in which I have abundance, I can thank God for blessing me so that I can be free to be a blessing to others. I can also enter into my friend’s grief in a way that would be hindered if I was stuck feeling bad for not grieving. We cannot “weep with those who weep” if we are constantly saying, “I’m sorry for not experiencing what you are.” Gratitude lifts our eyes up to the One who gives, and out to those who need. It inspires action. It bears fruit.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t feel conviction over actual sin in our lives. We ought to be listening to the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to reveal to us sinful and destructive behaviors, attitudes, and habits. Of course. What I am talking about is this general, vague sense of “feeling bad” about things that are either completely outside of our control, or are actually blessings. And I’m certainly not saying that if you’re finding yourself in a constant stage of discouragement and depression that includes overwhelming feelings of guilt that you should just “get over it” and be grateful. Please know that I fully acknowledge the reality of depression and other forms of mental illness, and I never want to give flippant advice about a medical condition. I’m talking to myself here, and people like me. People who have gotten into a habit of looking into ourselves with negative thoughts instead of looking up and out with gratitude.

So this is a challenge to myself, and anyone else who needs it, to choose gratitude when we might usually feel guilty. I often have to decide whether I’m going to say “I’m sorry” or “thank you.” I want to say “thank you” more.

compassion contentment faith joy marriage

Living the Dream

Shortly after my oldest child was born, I sat on the couch with my husband, Andy, after a particularly rough day, and said, “I just need you to acknowledge that my life is harder than yours.” He graciously conceded that it probably was. But in the years since that conversation, I began to feel that my assertion was a bit self-absorbed. As I watched my husband struggle every day to go to a job that he hated — spending so much of his life doing work that he couldn’t talk to me about and didn’t enjoy, surrounded by people who couldn’t understand why he wasn’t just thankful to be working, and feeling conflicted at home between spending time with his family and pursuing his true passion of music — I saw a heavy, dark cloud grow larger and larger over him. I realized that though my life as a stay-at-home mom of then 2 children was sometimes legitimately hard, my husband’s daily life was just as challenging. My days were filled with constantly tending to the needs of little people who whined and made messes and poked and hit each other, and pooped and spit up and screamed and asked the same questions over and over, and didn’t want to be put down for long enough for me to cook the food they were demanding. But at least they were little people I loved and enjoyed. I had little time to write or dance or socialize with other adults. But at least I knew that, however mundane my day to day tasks were, they were for an important purpose. Andy carried the heavy burden of trying to stifle his feelings of despair in the interest of providing for his family. He carried the guilt of feeling pulled toward spending time on his music, and feeling that he really should be spending time with his family.

So when I was with other women and we would talk, as we often do, about how hard it is to stay at home with our children, and how jealous we are of our husbands who get to go to work all day and be with grown-ups and have real conversations, and do jobs that they enjoy, I admit that I felt the tiniest bit of pride and self-importance that I had figured it out. That I was the one who really understood my husband and the struggles of his life.

But now that my husband has been a full-time musician for over a year, the resentment has begun to creep back in. I resent his days spent creating. I resent the time he gets to spend with friends and bandmates in practice and meetings and concerts. I am jealous of all the time he gets to spend alone. And even though I am so happy and thankful that the dark cloud is gone, I do sometimes resent that he is able to spend his days doing what he always dreamed of doing.vivpedals

But when I let myself wallow in this self-pitying attitude, I forget something. I forget that I, too, am living my dream. Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to be a mommy. I’ve wanted to have lots of babies, and play with them and cook for them and teach them to read and write, and… find someone else to teach them math. I have found myself getting annoyed that my husband still sometimes gets discouraged or anxious or worn out because, after all, isn’t this what he chose? But the truth is, we are both living the lives we chose. It’s just that both of our dreams are more difficult and daily than we ever thought they would be.

When I sit in front of a blank page to write, I remember how hard it can be to force creativity, and Andy is doing that every day. In order to support us, he is having to work in a lot of different areas, some of which take a lot of time away from the music part of being a full-time musician. And then there is the added stress of having a significantly lower income. In coveting the apparent cushiness of my husband’s day to day life, and magnifying my own struggles, I failed to make room for his humanity.

Before I get to real point, I want to tell you what this blog is not about. It is not about wives and mothers and women in general stifling our feelings of frustration and loneliness. It is not about greeting our husbands in heels, with plastered-on smiles and cold beers and perfectly clean houses and gourmet dinners on the table no matter how emotionally, spiritually, and physically exhausting our days were. And it is not about putting all other aspects of our personalities and passions aside just because we are women and our “place” is in the home. I believe that the place of a woman is wherever God has placed her and her passion, and this could be several different places over a lifetime. This is not about not pouring out your heart to God, and your husband, in the interest of feigning contentment.

Now that we have that out of the way, here’s what I really want to say. Stop keeping score with your husband. The fact is, you are playing different games, so the score will never be even. You will each have different stages of your life with varying degrees of challenge. The point is to love each other, see each other, and allow each other to be human.

Maybe having children wasn’t your dream. Maybe it was a surprise and something you never saw yourself doing. Maybe you are a stay at home mom, and you have a passion to have a career. Maybe you are a working mom who longs to stay home with her kids. Still, it is a gift. And maybe you are not even married, or married and are struggling to begin your family. I’m not saying that we should just get over whatever situation we are in and be happy. We are called to both “cast all our cares on Christ” and “bear one another’s burdens.” What I am saying is that we must open our eyes and choose to see the ways we are privileged — see the ways in which God is already handing us our dreams — and respond in gratitude. We must open our eyes and choose to see the ways in which others may be struggling and respond with grace. Because what we all really need is to be allowed to be human and broken sometimes. So let’s not let our perception of the “easy” lives of others, especially our husbands and those closest to us, stop us from making room for their humanity.

 

compassion faith justice Living in community

Hope for the Monsters

blakeultrasoundIn Albuquerque this past month, there was a vote on a proposed ban on late-term abortions. People have travelled from all over the country to my home city in order to obtain legal abortions at up to 35 weeks gestation. And as a result of the vote on November 19th, this tragic pilgrimage will continue. The ban on abortions after 20 weeks was voted down.

In the days after the decision, I scrolled through my facebook newsfeed and noticed reactions from both sides of the issue. Many people were grieved, as I am, that the murder of these babies right up until they are full-term is going to be allowed to continue. And there were others who expressed gratitude that they would still have the freedom to decide what to do with their own bodies. Some people used words like “disgusting” and “sickening” to describe the decision. I agree that the killing of babies is disgusting and infuriating, but I’m not sure this language is productive.

While I am deeply grieved to think of babies in the womb being injected with a poison and struggling until their hearts stop beating — a safe little world suddenly invaded by sharp pain, the sound of their mothers’ hearts fading, and muffled voices from the outside disappearing — I can’t help but to also grieve for the mothers. What kind of desperation would lead to this decision?

I want to encourage us to advocate, not only for the babies, but for the mothers. I don’t know the stories each of these women carry. But I do know they carry stories. I know that whatever the circumstances are that lead them to decide to have their babies killed before they are born, they must feel hopeless. It must feel like there’s no other way out. Because I don’t think that these women are monsters any more than I am a monster. I make selfish, cowardly decisions daily that are based in fear or doubt or in forgetting that I’m not longer a slave to sin. I don’t think these women are evil. I think they are lost. I think they live in a fallen and broken world that has sold them the lie that the only possible way to deal with their situation is to run away from it and try to convince themselves that it’s for the best. Maybe they are told that their babies are too damaged to have a good “quality of life.” Maybe they think they are being humane. Maybe they are so deceived that they think the life they are carrying truly isn’t a life. Whatever their reasons, they are victims of their choices.

I know there are many, many people longing to be parents. I know there are many whose empty arms ache to hold those discarded children. And that grief and longing are real and deep. There are many who suffer in many ways. And Satan and sin and lies are at the root of it all. But remember, these mothers once felt their children kick and flip and hiccup inside them. And, even if they somehow didn’t realize what they were doing at first, they allowed their babies to be injected with poison, and eventually, they felt the movement stop. And then, days after the injection, they labored and delivered their babies, fully formed, but lifeless. Their decision will haunt them. They have endured and will endure great physical, emotional, and spiritual pain.

So in our efforts to uphold the sanctity of human life, let us not dehumanize the women who were so hopeless and frantic to be free of the people growing inside them that they are now imprisoned by their own desperate choice. We need to think about the words we use because we never know who is listening, especially on social media. Be careful, Church, how you speak about and to those who may be suffering, whether it is as a result of their sin or not. Instead of labeling them “monsters” and causing them to retreat into their shame, let’s offer forgiveness, hope, and freedom. Let’s offer Christ.