Compassion is my Life Jacket 11


I wasn’t going to join Sarah Bessey’s synchroblog about What’s Saving you Now, because my husband is traveling. When my husband is traveling, I am in survival mode: fish sticks and cereal on the menu, too much tv, short trips to keep the youngest one from turning the living room into a giant bounce house. (Dude has a lot of energy.) Bare minimum. Mom stuff. Very exciting. I know. Writing hard stuff is harder when my beloved is not here to unwind me afterwards. When I’ve spun myself into a dizzying fit of emotions, I need him to sort of pat my arm and smile; there. All better.

But. I read some of the other posts and I realized that one way we survive is by being honest. And another way is by sharing, by being in community. So.


I’d seen the man at church a few times. He wore tattered jeans, untied, patched-up sneakers, a gold chain. His hair in dreads and a smile on his face. One day, he approached me as I spoke with a friend after church, saying, “I’m always afraid to talk to you.” Then, I’m fairly sure he tried to pick me up. Not being hip to these sorts of things, I smiled and tried to steer the conversation back to more…comfortable topics. When he wandered off, my friend made it clear that the man made a habit of coming to church high, and was clearly in that condition during our conversation.

If what had just happened had really just happened, I was at a loss for a proper response. They don’t teach this stuff at Presbyterian church camp. On one hand, seriously guy? We’re at church, and I’m married, and my kids are standing right behind me, and I’m talking to someone. On the other hand, the high man is in church. He is neither the first nor the last addicted man to go looking for Jesus.

I’ll be honest; the bitterness of judgement on my tongue tasted good; how dare he? Church as pick up joint? I hardly think so.

And then the aftertaste of shame. I understand that addiction often masks a well of pain that has no bottom, a well with an endless supply of new wounds.


“I screwed up,” said my friend. She had reacted in anger, with a thirst for revenge clouding every other desire. It was one particular thing, the screwing up she confessed. But as she spoke, the spool unwound. Every kind of sad life event or circumstance peeled off as she talked. Not excuses. Not explanations. Just background, the ruined pages of her story, like pencil marks that never quite erase.

Listening to her was seeing behind the curtain, the less-than-perfect machinations of a life that can seem so pretty on the facebook stage. For the shortest moment, I felt disappointment, sadness, regret for her. A flash of judgement illuminated the ugly parts.

But, this time, the judgment eroded quickly; it could not stand against a wave of compassion. I had been where she stood and I did not like it. Standing guilty in the court of conscience ain’t pretty and it does not feel good.


Truth is, what’s saving me right now is compassion. Compassion is hard won and costly. It comes from stumbling blind in the desert, alone and afraid. It is the child of mistakes and hurt and healing. I, alone, am not a compassionate person. I am judgy and unkind and quick tempered.

Compassion is what allows us to see the scars under the acts, the broken person coming high to church, the woman lashing out. It is how we see the grody parts without pointing the cruel finger of judgement. Compassion is what allows us to build community in trust rather than tear it down with legalisms and appropriateness. Compassion, I know, is how my friends and my family see me when I am in survival mode, when I feel like the definition of inadequate mother, when I barely manage to tolerate the bickering as I write about compassion.

When we remember from whence we came, out of our own miry pits, we are capable of the love to which we are called.

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11 thoughts on “Compassion is my Life Jacket

  • Nancy Franson

    Well I went to Baptist youth camp, so I’m not sure what they taught you over at the Presbyterian one. But, yeah, that not getting hit on thing is probably pretty universal.

    You know, I have this terrific kid who has ADD. And for way longer than I’d like to admit, I was frustrated and impatient with him. Until God showed up, like He has a habit of doing, and showed me how much he longed for me to have compassion for my son in his brokenness.

    So glad God keeps showing up and teaching me the stuff I failed to pick up at camp.

  • Caris Adel

    “Compassion is hard won and costly. It comes from stumbling blind in the desert, alone and afraid.” – lessons hard won. I’m the same way when my husband is gone. He’s started traveling some for his new job, and he’s like ‘but I’m not spending the night’ and I’m all, ‘yeah but when you get home at 10, the kids are in bed, and that’s been my day, so you might as well have.’ :p

    Our church is trying to move in that direction – being inclusive. We have a lot of meth addicts that have started coming, and it is kind of bizarre. I know of a couple of other inclusive churches and they have security guards for that kind of thing. One of them has a couple of known sex offenders that go, and the security guards just keep an eye on them. I think that’s a hard line to walk.

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      It IS a tough line to walk. We want to welcome ANYONE into our building, because it is not even our building. We worship in a wholesale grocery for low income families. The community is poor, very very poor, and they are hurting. So, on the one hand, yes, that freaked me out. On the other hand, what is my mild discomfort to the work of God?

      And yes, when the hubs are gone, life is so so different. Even though mine are 14,12, 8 and they still have needs that I alone can not meet. Praying for you, sister.

      • Caris Adel

        The hitting on part isn’t too bad, but then I’d worry about what if someone did more than just hit on….how do you deal with that? No wonder so many churches would rather not bother with that kind of stuff. It’s so messy once you get down into it.

        • Jennifer Luitwieler

          @CarisAdel:disqus That’s just it, though. Life is messy. Ain’t no way around it. And even though it was rather a weird thing, I kind of appreciated the rawness of it. Rather than the lily white, tied up in pretty bows kind of “reality” some other churches present. Still. Yes. Very weird.