Thursday, May 20, 2010


I have written several blogs about compassion, so bear with me here, I may repeat myself. I can't help it. I guess it keeps coming to my mind and my heart because compassion is so important to me. It is central to who I am. It is really hard for me to accept it when I see heartlessness and lack of compassion in the world.

 It just seems so wrong, and unfortunately I think it is indicative of the Me, Me, Me nature that so many Americans possess. It saddens me to encounter people who would kick a person when he is down, or ignore him all together, rather than help him simply because "It's not my problem that he made bad choices." I have to shake my head and wonder what makes someone feel so superior to his fellow man.

I know that the whole world is not Christian, but I am, so I look at every situation through that lens, so bear with me again as I use Christianity to illustrate my point. A superior attitude flies in the face of everything that Jesus stood for.

 There are numerous examples in scripture of Jesus' compassion for all people. Many times he warned his followers and religious leaders around him against piety and superior attitude. He demonstrated with his words and his actions that being his follower was about humility, not superiority. Why did Jesus do this? After all he was the Lord of Lords. The whole world belonged to him.

 Why should he care about people who just kept making bad choices? It wasn't his problem that the people of the city were about to stone a woman for adultery. She made a bad choice and committed a crime. The punishment was simply being carried out.

 So, why not just let justice prevail? It wasn't Jesus' problem that the people who came to hear him teach didn't bring anything to eat. They may have been just a bunch of beggars anyway. Everyone should work hard and then they would be able to feed themselves, right? So why not just let them go without? To teach us lessons, that's why he stepped in at those moments.

One of the main lessons we should take away from the life of Jesus is this: We are all a few bad choices away from doom. Doom can mean a lot of things; homelessness; welfare; addiction; poverty; death. We have no right to feel superior to any other human being on the planet because "There but for the grace of God, go I.".  Grace is something given to us that we do not deserve.

 Yes, we may be in better circumstances than our neighbor, because we were smart with our money; we went to college and got a good education. Our own choices, our stations in life, should not keep us from showing compassionate hearts towards those who didn't make the same choices. The fact that we are in a comfortable station in life simply means we were in the right place (figuratively) at the right time and made the right decision, or, dare I say, grace was extended to us at just the right moment.

Our lives could easily go the other way, and once we make one wrong choice it takes us farther from that right place, and it becomes harder and harder to make the good choices that would bring us back to where we ought to be, so we just keep drifting down the path of wrong choices. We need something dramatic to happen in order to turn our lives around at that point. It is not as easy as making one better choice. It is a process, and that process requires help and guidance in order to work through.

Help never comes in the form of condemnation. We can't be shamed into making our lives better. When we encounter disapproval and condemnation time and again, we start to think there is no use in trying to make our life better. People around us have told us in word and deed that we are worthless, so why bother? And the cycle continues. Generation after generation of people are deemed worthless by those who felt smug and happy with their own life choices.

Quite frankly, a lack of compassion makes me sick. Congratulations to anyone who has never made a bad choice in their life. Whoop-de-freaking-do. I think these people are the ones I feel sorry for. They go through life, hiding behind their masks of superiority, not deigning to touch the unclean rabble in the streets below their diploma and book lined offices, thinking that the check they wrote to the charity or the money they put in the offering plate at church means they are compassionate. They are not.

Compassion comes from humility. It comes from a place in our hearts that tells us that we are a few bad choices away from doom ourselves and that knowledge allows us to see inside the dirty beggar; the strung out addict; the welfare mom.

 Inside each of the them, beats a heart that only wants to be accepted as a human being; only craves a measure of compassion. Extending a little grace and showing a bit of compassion never hurt anyone and to deny compassion to others is to deny ourselves the joy of being the hands, feet and heart of Jesus in the world today. Why would we want to deny ourselves that opportunity?

~Matthew 9:35-37
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Am I Significant?

I want to matter. I want to be significant. I want to leave my mark on the world. Am alone in this wish? I think it is pretty universal. I think we all want our dash to mean something more than sheer existence. How to go about making that difference and how to figure out how wide a net to cast in our endeavors are what hangs most of us up. We flit from one activity to the next, get caught up in the busyness of life and for lack of time to actually figure out what to do to really matter in the world, we just coast through life. I suppose there's nothing wrong with that, but it sure sounds more fulfilling to hunt for and achieve our destiny; to make a difference.

Last month I was lucky enough to take a week off, be by myself, and focus on nothing but me. It was a wonderful time of reflection and healing. I feel like I made some discoveries, but I still have not found that little 'thing' I'm looking for, the thing that I really, truly love doing that I feel is worth sharing and making a difference while doing so. Well, that's not all together true. I know what I love to do, and in all humility, I think I have something worth sharing. How far I want to reach, and how big a leap of faith I am willing to take, are still unanswered questions.

I have felt God stirring me for quite some time. As a matter of fact, I remember feeling that stir as a teenager. I pushed it to the side though, because I had no confidence in myself, and I was busy making my own way in life. I never really stopped to think if I was doing what God wanted me to do. Now that I am older and a bit more sure of myself, and am a tad more discerning, I am starting to see the dots that have been placed on my life's page and I can imagine how they are all connecting to form a lovely picture. Even the detours I selfishly took along the way, can be shaped by God and become part of the picture.

Even though I can pretty clearly see the outline of the connected dots, the picture is far from finished. I still have plenty of work to do to truly see the pattern; it's still fuzzy around the edges, with some lines leading nowhere. I feel as though I am straining with all my might to bring it all into focus and I just can't quite make it clear. I admit, at times I get discouraged because things aren't clear, the aren't moving fast enough, or I reach a dead end, or I encounter a Negative Nelly. I am still not very patient, nor am I sure enough of myself to completely blow off mean comments and negative people. Oh, how I wish I were. What amazes me in this process, however, is that when I am experiencing times of discouragement, someone or something will invariably come along to prop me up. That is grace at work, right there, I believe.

Just the other night, I encountered a moment of grace and encouragement from a very dear friend, just at the right moment. She and I were chatting and she shared with me some of the most supportive words a person would ever want to hear from a friend. It really touched my heart, and it crystallized to me that I am significant, even if it is only in my small circle. I would love for that circle to open up and become larger, with branches going in all directions (remember the pretty picture I mentioned earlier?) but if it doesn't, I will be content with that. God can use me either way.

One of my favorite quotes, from whom I don't know, is this: Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet. I daresay he never will be, but I can see that he has added a few more clearly traceable lines to the picture recently. Ever hear the song You Can't Hurry Love? Well, you can't hurry God, either. He takes his own time and makes everything come together in his own way. Luckily, he does give us glimpses of the (sort of) finished product so that our discouragement doesn't become too great a burden for us to carry. I am still not sure what the long-term future holds, but for now, I just grab hold of those precious moments of encouragement and thank my God for the people whom he has placed in my path to give me the little boosts I need along the way. Hopefully, I can be the booster in someone else's life, as well, as they are trying to find their own significance. It's the most we can do for one another, I suppose.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers, for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel, from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he would began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
~Philippians 1:3-6

Thursday, May 13, 2010

It Takes Time to Raise a Child

I am a slow learner. Not in the educational sense, but in the school of life sense. It seems to take me quite a bit of time to learn life lessons that I thought I already knew. Funny to think back now at how smart I thought I was at 20 and even at 30. I was just a baby and I thought I was all grown up. Silly me. Some people may actually be as smart as they think they are at 20 and 30, but I have learned so much about life, myself and human nature in the fifteen years since I turned 30 that I wonder how I ever managed to keep a job, live on my own, get married and sustain any relationships during those years.

Maybe it took me a while to learn some of these lesson because I delayed having children until I was 30. Having children teaches us so many things, the list is too long to cover everything I in a short blog, so I will save some of that for another time, but suffice to say, I am not the same person I was before I had my children. They have forced me to confront so many issues that I had no desire to deal with. They have made me a better person, but I am not finished yet. I am still a work in progress.

Growing up all I ever wanted was to be was a mom. It was my deepest desire and longing. Blessedly, I was able to see that dream come true four-fold. These four people are the most important people I will ever form relationships with. I have been fortunate in that I am able to be a stay at home mom. Although my children don't fully understand the benefit of having me around all the time; in time they will. Motherhood is a serious exercise in delayed gratification. The things that we do for our children from giving birth to breastfeeding to taxiing them from activity to activity are all things that, although rewarding in a sense, we will only see the full benefits that grow out of those things at some later date. Yes, patience and delayed gratification are definitely life lessons we learn as moms. Whether we thought we needed a course in these subjects doesn't matter, we receive the lessons nonetheless.

At no time in my children's lives up until now have I known without a doubt that mothering is not for the faint of heart. Admittedly, those first years as a mom, when I was birthing a baby a year for four years were hard. They were exhausting and draining, but those years pale in comparison to what I am experiencing now - ten years down the road. At 15, 14. 12-½ and 10-½, to say that mothering them is a challenge is an understatement. It is hard. It will take all of everything I am and everything I have knowledge of to get me through these next few years.

Gone are the days when all four of them followed behind me like baby ducks following after their mom. They no longer hide behind my skirts and look to me for constant reassurance. No, they are stepping out on their own in four different directions. Now I am the one following behind them, anxiously looking to them for a sign or reassurance that they know what they are doing - ready to step in if they need me, but staying safely behind the line they have drawn in the sand. It is so important that they learn how to handle their own business, and yet I am still their mommy in my mind. I want to be the one to kiss the boo-boo and make life all sunshiney again, but that's not my role any more. I haven't graduated to spectator, but I am no longer the orchestrator either, it is difficult to define the role of mom to teens and tweens. Advocate for sure. Director at times, adviser other times, but always, always Mom. Mom should always be available to our kids, no matter what age. Mom should consistently be a soft place for any child to fall. This is a lesson I am in the midst of learning.

My two oldest boys (14 and 12-½) are teaching me this lesson, to be more flexible and driving home to me the reason for my being a mom in the first place - to be that soft place, the one person my child can always count on for nurturing and understanding. I wish I could say that I quickly learned this lesson as soon as my boys started to pull away from me. I wish I could say that I haven't gotten my feelings hurt and traded barbs with them when they have told me they didn't want to be seen with me. I would be lying if I said that, though, and lying never got anyone anywhere. I haven't always been patient, understanding and nurturing mom. In an effort to get them to appreciate and respect me more, I have pushed them back as hard as they have pushed me and in the process I have pushed them even farther away and given them reason to respect me less. Boy, do I regret that. It's time for a paradigm shift, I can't keep going on with this same set of reactions.

All of my children deserve the best mom in the world. Unfortunately for them, they are stuck with me. However, horrible as I may be at times, I am teachable. I know how to admit when I have made a mistake and pull from that mistake some valuable lessons. I think I have managed to learn this lesson in a timely manner. It is in no way too late to forge ahead and make my relationship with my children (especially these two boys) better. Again, I will have to follow their lead and be there for them when they need me and back off when they don't. I will be empathetic instead of reactionary when they don't want me around. I can't let my ego be hurt by a normal childhood response to mom's presence. I have to be a mother and not a smotherer. They need that. They deserve that.

Yes, delayed gratification is the overriding and most on-going theme of motherhood. I just hope I live long enough to reap all the rewards!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

When Thoughts Turn to Action

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." ~Matthew 25:44-46

This verse has to be one of the most convicting passages in the Bible. In fact, all of the most convicting passages are the scriptures written in red. As Christians, all important life lesson can be learned directly from the words and actions of Jesus Christ. I can't emphasize enough how, as Christians, we have to imitate Christ. There can be no other authority on right behavior in our lives. So many lessons to learn and only one life in which to learn them. I think I had better shake a leg and start putting some verbs in my sentences when it comes to living a life in imitation of Christ.

Verbs. Action. That is what Jesus spoke of in Matthew 25. He wanted his followers to actively help those less fortunate, those in need, outcasts. Jesus didn't simply say, feel bad for them, or to pray for them exclusively. No, he said to do something for them. This distinction is key to living our life as Jesus lived. He was not a passive observer, nor just a preacher, teacher or intercessory prayer warrior. He was out in the midst of the most chaotic events of his time. He touched people. Spoke to them. Gave them food. This was Jesus.

So many times, when tragic events, like death, job loss, serious illness, for instance, happen to those around us, we say to the hurting "Let me know if I can help.". While this is a nice gesture, it doesn't really have much of a tangible impact on those who need us. Likewise, when horrible natural disasters happen, we read about it and see pictures of it. We ache for those affected. We pray for them. We may even write about it, talk about it or otherwise get the word out that people are experiencing loss, but our empathy/sympathy for them doesn't go a long way towards giving them a bed to sleep on tonight or food to eat tomorrow. We have to step out of our own insular world and do something. Just like Jesus would were he here today.

Sometimes, all we can do is send money. Other times, we can roll up our sleeves and get to work. Either way we are doing something beyond ourselves and these actions tend to have a ripple effect. People see other people acting and they are more likely to act themselves and on and on it goes. It is poetry in motion, I say. And let me tell you this, any time I have put thoughts into action, pitched in and helped out, no matter what the cause, I have always come away with more blessings than I ever gave. At times I have felt almost selfish volunteering because it is so rewarding.

I am pretty sure Jesus knew how rewarding action was and I have a sneaking suspicion that he wanted to share that joy with his followers, those he called his friends, his brothers and sisters. When you find joy in an activity, don't you want to share it with your friends and have them experience it for themselves? I know I do. So, it is not only obedience that should drive us to put some verbs in our sentences next time we hear of something that stabs our hearts, but also the realization that out of pain can spring the joy of giving back. We trade that joy back and forth with those we help. It's what Jesus did. Isn't it the least that we can do in his name?

It's Only - Danny Gokey

Friday, May 7, 2010

PTA - Social Organization or Advocacy Group?

Pardon me today if my blog takes on somewhat of a defensive and/or angry tone, but I feel the need to be a tad forceful about this subject. The subject is PTA. I want to clear up a few misconceptions about this organization. First of all, PTA is not insignificant or unimportant, nor is it made up of a bunch of bored housewives who have nothing better to occupy their time besides selling wrapping paper, throwing parties and socializing amongst themselves. PTA is an organization of dedicated women and men who sacrifice many hours a year, year after year, for one reason and one reason only - children. We cherish not only our own children, but all children and we are one of their fiercest advocates. I say we here because I am a PTA member. I was honored as a state PTA Lifetime Member several years ago and it is one of my proudest accomplishments. Let me tell you why.

PTA has a long history of advocating for children. As a matter of fact, it is the largest volunteer organization actively advocating for children. This is an organization that does not simply sit on its hands and complain about what is wrong with the public education system in this country. To the contrary, PTA is directly involved in lobbying not only at local and state levels, but also at the national level. There are thousands of men and women, nationwide, pounding the pavement to exact change in legislation regarding myriad educational issues. Issues that impact children of all ages, races and income levels. PTA is there for every child. Those fees we pay to join the PTA goe toward those efforts. I don't complain about having to join three different PTAs in the same school district, (my kids are in elementary, middle and high school) because I know that those paltry dues are gathered and together with other monies are used in for great cause - one that I believe in. One that I believe does make a difference in the grand scheme of things.

At first glance it may seem that your local PTA is simply there to ask you for donations, hound you to volunteer and otherwise pester you, and we are, but, it is so much more than that. Let me just tell you just a few of the things that we do behind the scenes that you may not know about; what we do with all that money you donate. We bring fun, yet educational programs into the school. We provide supplemental monetary support for field trips not fully paid for by the school district. We donate books, both to the school library and to individual classroom libraries. We organize events that are designed not only to raise money for programs and such, but also to foster a sense of community among staff, parents and children. These events are staffed entirely by volunteers who dedicate countless hours because they care deeply about the community and the children. Local PTA also steps in when financial crises occur within our school family, providing school supplies, backpacks, spirit wear and other items to children in need. It is important to us that all children have an equal chance at success in school regardless of financial status.

Probably the most important, and certainly the most rewarding, thing we do as a local PTA is volunteer inside school. I have been an active PTA member for going on 11 years now and I have received many more blessings than I have ever given during my hours spent at the schools each week. Children seem to sense that you care about them when they see you around all the time. I have formed bonds with all sorts of children over the years and those bonds are special to me, to say the least. I know that I have made a difference, no matter how small; I have touched the lives of children and that makes me proud. Proud, not in a boastful way, but proud to be a part of something bigger than myself. One need only to go to a State (or National) Convention to understand the smallness of what an individual does compared to the bigger picture of the organization, but the sense of pride and community you get knowing you are but a small part of it is something that has to be experienced in order to be fully understood.

So, for all of those who believe that in the grand scheme of life, PTA is some triviality, scoff if you will, but you are dead wrong. PTA is not trivial; it is a strong, healthy force working diligently to make a successful educational community for every child in America. What bigger contribution is there than in the educational success of our nations children? Our future depends on it. And I, for one, will hold my head high as a proud member of this great PTA team.

Monday, May 3, 2010

No one ever said it was going to be easy.

Whenever there is conflict our lives it is fitting for us all to take stock in the situation at hand. We have to look at things objectively, ask ourselves some hard questions and try to learn something in the aftermath of what can only be seen, at first glance, as devastation. Asking ourselves these hard questions is...well...hard. It is often difficult to know where to begin, or even what questions to ask ourselves. It can seem so much easier to tell ourselves that the other person is the one with the problem, that way we can continue to ignore our own issues and put them off on others. After a while of doing this, we begin to think that there are a lot of messed up people in the world and wonder how we, the only sane humans around, keep running into all these crazies. It become easier and easier to apply blame to the crazies and bury our own issues deeper and deeper.

Well, I for one, don't want to be that person. I don't want to bury my head in the sand and pretend I have no problems. I know full well that I do have problems, so who would I be kidding? I may be able to fool some of the people some of the time, but I see no long term benefit from that kind of behavior. So, it is with this in mind, that I have remained here these past few days and pondered. I have asked myself the hard questions. Did I do enough? Could I have stopped it? What could I have done differently? Did I act in a mature manner or did I act in haste? Is my conscience clear? Answering these questions requires me to be brutally honest with myself. I can't shy away from it, or I risk becoming stuck in denial.

I have gone over and over some things in my mind and while I know that I am far from perfect, my conscience is clear. I did enough. It was not my responsibility to stop it or resolve it; I can't always be the grease that keeps the wheel running smoothly. Sure, things could always be done differently, but that doesn't mean that the outcome will be different and it is no guarantee that other problems won't pop up as a result. My actions, though not always seen as such, were done out of compassion, in truth and with deliberate consideration for all involved. Yes, I can say I have a clear conscience, but that doesn't mean the discomfort ends, nor does it mean that I can avoid working through the difficult feelings conflict stirs inside of me.

One thing I have learned over the past year, through a couple of different trying situations, is that I have changed. I am no longer the yes-person I once was. I no longer choose the feelings and avoid the reactions of others in deference to my own. I don't go along to get along like I used to. In addition, I no longer pick up the slack when it is not my job. This shift in my focus has not been comfortable for everyone. Some have seen it as selfish and cold. It took me a while to realize that the people who have viewed it as selfish and cold were the ones who had benefited the most from my former way of dealing with problems. These people were the ones I continually gave in to. They were the ones whose slack I used to pick up. The statement "You teach people how to treat you." comes to mind.

I have found that the friends worth keeping around are those who don't expect me to agree with them all the time. These are the same people on whom I depend to tell me the hard and honest truth about myself when need be. That is what real relationships look like. Real, grown up relationships have to be grounded in honesty and mutual respect. In adult life we get upset sometimes. People don't always agree with us. We can't take it personally. We have to learn to work through conflicts in a way that both parties come away with some dignity.

Sadly, I have come to realize that there are people out there who are simply not ready for real, honest, grown up relationships. They aren't ready to take responsibility for their own actions. They would rather shut down and/or trade barbs. They would rather surround themselves with people who support their habit of deflection and play into the state of denial in which they live. I don't play that game. I left the sandbox many, many years ago and I have no desire to get my feet dirty any time soon. I'm too old for that kind of thing. I have choices and I choose honesty, maturity and respect. If that leaves some people behind, then I mourn the loss, but I press on.