Decades ago, as a child growing up in the rolling hills of Northeast Iowa, I would daydream of simpler times, of the days when people were pioneers and steadily establishing their families and homes and building communities upon frontiers.
My younger sisters and I would gather in groves of cedar trees tucked into the hills and pastures and play “Little House,” inspired by the novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I would thumb through books tucked into my parents’ shelves, books like Back to Basics: How to Learn and Enjoy Traditional American Skills and 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do To Save The Earth, and ponder what it would have been like to live in the “olden days.”
On steamy, sunny days in July, my younger sisters, cousins and I would put on pants and long-sleeved shirts and carry buckets half our body size into the deep woods. We’d crawl underneath berry bushes, pluck juicy deep purple blackcaps off thorny branches, rapidly fill our buckets, and scratch up our arms. Later we’d…
People often express their condolences when the subject comes up but—the truth is—it’s really not a big deal. I grew up with asthma, so I was never intimidated by the diagnosis. Thankfully, my daughter’s asthma is well-controlled with daily medication and has (thus far) never caused her any serious issues. Though it does flare up when she falls ill or exercises more than normal, her asthma most typically manifests in a distinctive chronic cough from October through April.
Predictably, the coughing has recently started up again. It makes us very unpopular in public spaces.
At our local science museum last week, I couldn’t help but notice other parents discreetly redirecting their children away from my daughter who, although she’s pretty good about coughing into her elbow, inevitably makes quite a scene when she’s hit with a prolonged spell.
I don’t blame other parents for giving us a wide berth. Nobody wants their kids to get sick and, unless you know (as we do) that her cough is distinctly asthmatic, you’d think she had a cold and was putting everybody at risk of exposure. And so I find myself subtly justifying our presence. If I happen to catch a mother’s skeptical eye after yet another coughing fit, I give her an apologetic smile and say, “Sorry, she has asthma.”
Almost without exception, her expression transforms from one of irritation into one of sympathy and regret.
Watching this instantaneous transformation occur before my eyes over and over again makes me wonder: how many times have I presumed that I am witnessing a human failing (one to which I can feel superior) when, in fact, I’m only seeing the symptom of an underlying illness or injury (one which would immediately compel me to compassion)?
I suspect the answer is almost every time.
One of my favorite quotes, attributed to Ian Maclaren, is, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” The older I get, the more I realize how true this is. In every stage of life I meet people who are embroiled in terrible battles—battles which transform my bitter judgment into deep sympathy in a heartbeat:
Why is that boy acting so rude on the playground? Because he’s on the autism spectrum and doesn’t recognize social cues.
Why is that new mother giving her baby formula, when we all know “breast is best”? Because she has postpartum depression and breastfeeding makes it worse.
Why does that young woman get drunk and sleep with jerks every weekend? Because she was sexually abused and has no model for healthy intimacy.
Why is that guy addicted to heroin? Because he’s gay and terrified of coming out.
Why did that mom bring her sick child to the Pacific Science Center today? Because her daughter’s cough is due to a chronic, not contagious, sickness.
We are all of us sick: at the very least, in the way that humanity is sick with original sin but also—and usually far worse—in ways that are personal, foundational … and frequently invisible. Our souls may be sin-sick (as the old hymn goes), but they are also abuse-sick, grief-sick, trauma-sick, and illness-sick.
The same wounds and diseases that cry out for compassion lie hidden beneath the very symptoms which make compassion so easy to withhold. And yet Scripture, particularly the New Testament, makes it pretty clear that compassion is non-negotiable if we are to consider ourselves true Christians.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14)
I pray for the grace to see beyond the coughing spells I encounter, and to be moved to compassion for those dreadful, hidden illnesses about which I know nothing.
Nicole Steele Wooldridge is a friend of Sister Julia’s whose contributions to Messy Jesus Business usually focus on the intersection of faith and parenting. She writes from the Seattle, Washington area, where she lives with her husband and two daughters (only one of whom has asthma).
Things are occurring around this country this week that are begging for us to unite and enter into some messy Jesus business—to put our lives on the line for others. Let us make a choice to love our neighbors, even if it’s costly.
Here are three situations where others have put their lives on the line, at times without their choice.
This week, a man stood up to power in Washington D. C. and asked people to cooperate, to put down their weapons and love their neighbor.
He spoke of a teenager who literally sacrificed his life so that others could live:
Zaevion Dobson was a sophomore at Fulton High School in Knoxville, Tennessee. He played football, beloved by his classmates and his teachers. His own mayor called him one of their city’s success stories.
The week before Christmas, he headed to a friend’s house to play video games. He wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time. He hadn’t made a bad decision. He was exactly where any other kid would be — your kid, my kids. And then gunmen started firing, and Zaevion, who was in high school — hadn’t even gotten started in life — dove on top of three girls to shield them from the bullets, and he was shot in the head and the girls were spared. He gave his life to save theirs. An act of heroism a lot bigger than anything we should ever expect from a 15-year-old. “Greater love hath no man than this than a man lay down his life for his friends.”
We are not asked to do what Zaevion Dobson did. We’re not asked to have shoulders that big, a heart that strong, reactions that quick. I’m not asking people to have that same level of courage or sacrifice or love. But if we love our kids and care about their prospects, and if we love this country and care about its future, then we can find the courage to vote. We can find the courage to get mobilized and organized. We can find the courage to cut through all the noise and do what a sensible country would do.
That’s what we’re doing today. And tomorrow, we should do more, and we should do more the day after that. And if we do, we’ll leave behind a nation that’s stronger than the one we inherited and worthy of the sacrifice of a young man like Zaevion.
The man who was speaking was, of course, President Obama.
The entire speech he gave is worthwhile of watching:
Zaevion made a choice to give of his life to protect others, but it wasn’t a choice he should have been faced with. And, like President Obama said, we can make a choice to put our lives on the line out of love for our neighbors too, by at least standing up for what’s right.
This week, children have been deported back into countries in Central America that are raging with civil wars and gang violence.
This is not something I can get behind. As explained here, it was strategic for these deportations to occur this week:
The Obama administration has launched a big effort to deport those families to begin 2016. And it’s raiding residential neighborhoods to find and arrest the families — a tactic that a lot of immigrants and immigration advocates have traumatic associations with.
(I can’t help but to wonder if President Obama thought we might not notice this quiet cruelty if we’re all buzzing about ending gun violence.)
I am angry and heartsick about this inhumane way that people are being forced to put their lives on the line. We are a nation of immigrants and we have a human responsibility to be merciful to those who are poor and fleeing violence. No family should ever be broken apart and thrown into a war zone.
I hope that Christians can rally and demand a compassionate end to this family violence. Their lives are in danger and we can afford to take a courageous risk on their behalf.
This story is actually from last week. It’s an amazing story that could give us all courage and hope.
On New Years Eve while a Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina, was having service, a man came into the church with a semi-automatic assault rifle, was greeted, helped, patted down (and handed over his gun), embraced, welcomed and then peacefully brought to the hospital by police—but only after the church service was over and he was able to pray with others.
The pastor put his life on the line for his congregation and it had an effect. Violence was halted because love, mercy, and human kindness were in action.
No matter the circumstances that are crying out to us for compassionate attention, let us pray together that by the strength of God each of us will always respond with love, mercy, and human kindness. Let us give of ourselves and put our lives on the line, even if it’s dangerous or uncomfortable.
After all, a really good man, Jesus—love enfleshed, commanded it of us:
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this,j to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.This I command you: love one another. –John 15:12-17
When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and, falling at his feet, paid him homage. Peter, however, raised him up, saying, “Get up. I myself am also a human being.” Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” –Acts 10:25-26
Let’s get up and be together; we are all human beings.
We are the people of God. Really, all people are God’s people and God loves everyone the same. Not one nation is better than any other. Not one person is better than any other. We are all called to do what is right and we work to please our God.
What sort of action does it take to be a “nation who fears God and acts uprightly?”
What actions show our reverence for God? What actions say that we revere how Jesus is living in the dignity of all humanity?
Jesus made it pretty clear how we are are to act:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you
and your joy might be complete.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”. –John 15:9-17
Is there a nation that is ready and willing to be a true friend, one who is ready and willing to lay down their lives the other?
I am aware that many soldiers are willing to lay down their lives for their own nations. But are there people who are willing to lay down their lives for others, for another nation? Who are being true, loving friends in the national ways of being?
I am not sure how I will participate in the actions of the Summit. I feel compelled to say with my love- with my living- that I truly believe that no nation should ever behave as if they are better than another. After all, we are all human beings and we all deserve to be treated that way. Presently, I am contemplating what God is calling me to. I know, however, that I want to be a friend to people in other nations. I want to behave in ways that are truly acceptable to God. I want to say with all that am that I love my neighbors everywhere and the only power that I really fear is God’s infinite power.
Thanks be to God for those who live the Truth with their way of love. Thanks be to God for those who inspire me to really love my neighbor and be part of a nation who is willing to lay down its life for other nations. Creative non-violence says “I’ll live simply so you may live” & “I’ll dialogue with you so we may both be free.” Alleluia, amen, by the witness of great peacemakers, I am learning! May we all behave non-violently, in ways that are rightly acceptable to the true, holy Power.