Tag Archives: compassion

Jonah Moment…

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I nearly tripped over a homeless man today on my way to the bust stop from work. He was tucked up on one elbow, reading a book, and precariously wedged into the very small space available between sidewalk and parking garage exit. As I stepped broad to miss him our eyes met and he scowled at me. In my imbalance I had fumbled the unspoken cultural politeness of ignoring him in his living space.

I checked in with God if he had a message for this man who flipped his page angrily at me in rebuttal. I mentally sorted through the contents of my bag, if there was food or anything for him. There was half a chocolate bar, but that was for me for later, my chocolate bar. God knew his name, hadn’t forgotten him, blah blah blah. But I didn’t stop. I didn’t speak. I didn’t go back. And who would blame me, I thought. No one would blame me.

For one, it’s after work and I’m on my way to catch a bus. But two, I’m a woman and, you know, I don’t want to be unsafe, as if God has called me to safety. And three, well, I have plans for that chocolate bar.

I read the gospels over Lent which particular activity always leads to an uncomfortable stirring sensation within my too-viscous soul. And something that jumped out at me, tweaked my nostrils, and slapped me upside the head in a very three-stooges fashion was how frequently it talks about Jesus healing in response to being moved.

It’s so comfortable for me to think of Jesus as already knowing everything, no surprises, “I’m gonna heal a lame man today and I’m gonna do it like this”. It’s decidedly uncomfortable to wonder if he didn’t. Maybe he went out to preach and just happened to come across these holy prompts in their broken physical forms and healed them urged solely by a movement in his heart. How undefinable and unpredictable! No one would have blamed him if he had kept walking, would they have? No one would have blamed him. And it wasn’t like he avoided it, he went to the cities, he walked along the ways where the broken people waited, and he listened for them.

I have had Jesus in my heart for a very long time. I am becoming more like Jesus every day. I have covered the very longest of distances to get to the point where my compassion can move me to think a silent prayer on the bus.

And as I traveled home on the one-bus waiting for the massive breakdown in which I would have to yell over the screaming, “It’s me! I ignored God’s message! Kick me off the bus and save yourselves!” and return to the angry reading man and give him half of a chocolate bar, I thought, thank goodness Jesus is Jesus and not Barbara. Thank goodness Jesus is moved to do more than pray. Thank goodness he is moved to touch us, heal us, and weep with us.

This is my God. He works in me every day so that, hopefully, in another thirty years I can give away my chocolate bar.

Big…

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I remember being a little girl driving home at night with my Dad. Everything was black except for the long stream of Los Angeles highway running bright with headlights in one direction and bright with taillights in the other direction, the only demarcation of the rolling hills being the offset lines of red and white. Into this meditative silence my Dad said, “God knows all these people. He loves every single one of them.”

I had a similar moment this morning as I rode the bus to work. There were so many different people, so many different types of attractiveness, so many different ages. I was thinking about my morning as a parent getting dizzy vacillating between the emotions of only three small humans. But God is a Father to all these people. And I found myself wondering at how it must feel to wake up with the emotions of billions. How do you wake some up with singing and others to the worst day of their lives? How do you take joy in giving a tired mother her morning cup of coffee while dealing with the despair of a beloved son waking up on Van Ness in the aftermath of addiction?

God was suddenly that big again, bigger than the California-one bus line, bigger than San Francisco, bigger even than the infinitesimal system of Los Angeles freeways. He’s that big.

Biker Gangs and Meth Addiction…

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I used to do nerve conduction velocity tests for a physical medicine clinic. You calculate a nerve conduction velocity by running electricity along the nerve and measuring the distance. So, yeah, I electrocuted people for a living. I had a lab coat, a tape measure, and a lovely two-pronged zapper. I was very official.

You’d be with a patient for half-an-hour and, often, you’d end up getting the same patients back months or years later. In this way, I made a few friends.

One was a fellow who had been in prison and gone through a Christian recovery program. He was a round jolly man, with a pasty face, and the most horrible teeth. He was kind and funny and he told me some incredible stories.

He used to be part of a biker gang, evidently, a real one, not the kind of biker gang I used to imagine when someone said “biker gang”. He was writing his biography, brought it to me to proofread once. It was twenty-or-so loose leaf pages with atrocious penmanship and nonexistent grammar telling the story of a drug pickup that turned into a pedophile ass-kicking. Oh, that kind of biker gang! Yes, the real kind.

He often lauded his ability to ass-kick a pedophile, even in prison. There was some shit you just didn’t stand for. I can’t say I disagreed with him.

I don’t remember why he had gone to prison, but I do remember that his body was messed up from getting into a meth cooking accident. The meth being cooked had gotten into his suit. It was all over him, trapped against his body like that.

He used to do drugs he told me. But he was done with that now. He had gone through recovery. I was proud of him. We prayed together. I prayed for him.

I watched him leave one day and one of the providers appeared at my shoulder.

“You know what those sores are all over his face don’t you?”

“Yeah,” I said, “They’re the sores from when the meth got in his suit.”

“No,” he said, “You get those from doing meth. You have to be currently using.”

“Oh,” I said.

All this to say, I recognized the sores today on a woman’s face in the laundromat. She was there with a paranoid old woman and an angry man. They were a frightful trio whose presence totally absorbed the corner where they were sitting.

She walked with her head down.

And I know nothing about this woman except that she’s addicted to meth.

What would it be like if I walked around wearing my weakness for everyone to see? What if every loss of temper or self-control flared out in red spots on my face? Would I be less likely to give into the temptation if I knew everyone would be able to read it there? What a horrible consequence. I deserve every single sore she had, but, oh!, how glad I was they weren’t mine to wear! How fortunate I counted myself this afternoon to carry the consequences of my sin invisible in my breast.

For, I am the leper, the sore marked meth addict, the walking unclean.

Pity used to be considered a Christian virtue. It’s sort of gotten a bad rap. “Don’t pity me!” “How dare you pity me!” I don’t know. I think there’s still a place for pity as a virtue. I pitied the ex-biker patient. I pitied the woman. And I only feel grateful that God pities me.