Lessons in Compassion


Near the end of last night’s Yatzee free-for-all, my ten-year-old started to cry when she realized she was going down in blaze of glory.  As she dried her tears, my eight-year-old gave her big sister a sideways glance and quietly picked up her dice.  She then proceed to throw the game (allowing the eldest to win) by super slowly rolling her dice and paying no attention to the result.  

I watched in awe as this unfolded.  And it got me thinking about compassion.  My youngest wears her heart on her sleeve.  She sees someone suffering and acts immediately.  This is often noticed and applauded.  My eldest quietly observes and thinks.  She sees suffering and absorbs it.  This is often dismissed as uncaring and callous.

Is one kind of compassion better than another?  

One daughter learns that a friend was bullied at school and seeks them out on the playground to comfort them.  She then gives this friend daily hugs for the next week.  The other daughter learns about this same friend being bullied and wants to understand why anti-bully days and classroom discussions have not prevented bullying at their school.  She then discreetly watches the bullied friend throughout the week to make sure that she is OK.

Is one kind of compassion better than another?

We visit the SPCA. One child wants to adopt all the animals. The other child questions why there are so many animals at the shelter.  We sponsor a child in Zimbabwe.  One child want to send cards and gifts.  The other child asks why children in other countries need sponsors and why some people are poor and others have so much.

Is one kind of compassion better than another?

I’m much like my youngest daughter.  I see someone hurting and I want to help.  Sometimes this help comes in the form of a hug.  Sometimes it’s a long chat over a cup of tea.  Sometimes it’s the delivery of a homemade baked treat.  My compassion is swift and immediately tangible.  

My eldest daughter also feels deeply but her response is more subtle and abstract.  Her compassion leads to questioning, investigating and challenging the way in which things are done to see if there is a better way.  Her ten-year-old self hasn’t yet made the leap to acting on all this yet but I sense it is not far off.

My sweet, I’m sorry for not recognizing and celebrating your compassion just because it looks different than mine.  I will do better.  I will champion you as you champion others. Take on the world my quiet, thoughtful child and make it a better place.

Is one kind of compassion better than another?  I think not.  Everyday I watch two very different young girls demonstrate compassion in their own unique ways.  We need those who are willing to wrap their arms around those who are hurt by injustice.  And we need those who are willing to take on the systems that create injustice.  You go girls.


An Empathy Yarn



You pull your empathy from the drawer,
And tug it over your head like an ill fitting sweater.
A sweater you knit for just such an occasion.
But the wool is itchy and distressing.
You move perversely.

I loathe your sweater.
And in turn I loathe you.
You make a mockery of my heart.
I ask for clemency.
You are impervious to my demands.

One day I will boil your sweater in scalding water.
And when you next pull it from the drawer,
It will strangle your vain attempts at compassion.
You cannot become something you are not.
A fool at play and nothing more.

But this is not a game.
Empathy is not a sweater to wear at your whim.
No!  Empathy is the yarn itself.
Yarn wound so tightly around the heart,
It constricts with each new affliction.

The yarn entwines itself through the body.
Strangling all logical thought from the brain.
Rupturing the circulatory system,
Spewing emotion from every artery.
An erratic puppet on a string.

Empathy is woven into the very fibre of my being.
It pulls tighter and tighter until I can no longer bear it.
And now as I unravel you with my words,
The yarn grips my lungs.
With every breath I struggle to accept your deficiency.

The Cost of Discipleship


Luke 14:25-34 The Message

25-27 One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.

28-30 “Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’

31-32 “Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?

33 “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.

34 “Salt is excellent. But if the salt goes flat, it’s useless, good for nothing.

“Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

The NIV translation of this parable begins,  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”  

And this is the reason I chose this parable.  I could not accept the idea that God – who is essentially love – was telling me I had to hate my father, mother, husband, children, etc. in order to follow him.  Chances were good I was misinterpreting yet another bible passage so my research began.

The Cost of Discipleship is neatly tucked between The Parable of the Great Banquet and the Prodigal Son.  And there are actually three mini parables within The Cost of Discipleship.  Jesus tells the parables about the building of a house and a King going to war.  It wouldn’t be smart to begin to build a house without figuring out if you had enough money to finish it.  And it’s not the brightest King who engages in a battle without first determining if he has the resources to win.  Nor is it the best idea to become a disciple without first knowing how it will impact your life.

In “Stories with Intent” Klyne R. Snodgrass states, “Discipleship changes allegiances with family, requires the willingness to die, shifts the focus off self-centeredness, places one at the disposal of another, and changes the way one handles financial resources.”

I was unknowingly discipled for two years by my friends Dan and Kathy before they asked if I was ready to be baptized.  And I answered them with a resounding “NO!”  I knew this required a really big “yes” and I just wasn’t there yet.  Mostly because I knew this “yes” would continue to change and shape my life in ways I couldn’t even imagine so I wanted to be sure I knew as I could before taking the plunge.  I became the homeowner deciding if I could build and the King determining if I should enter the battle.

I experienced much of what Snodgrass references.  The biggest challenges for me were being less self-centered and putting others’ needs first.  Not that I was incredibly selfish and ignored those around me prior to knowing Jesus.  But what would it look like to be intentionally less selfish and more giving of myself?  What demands would this put on my time and my wants?  This was not as difficult as I imagined.  My eyes were opened to a new way of viewing the world.  I saw more, felt more and cared more.  My world became smaller.  People became bigger.  Their needs, wants, hurts and joys came into focus.  A moment, a conversation, a confidence to keep, a hand to hold, a sorrow to shelter or a laugh to share.  For me this is being a disciple of Jesus.  

There are days when this is challenging.  Days when I don’t want to listen or hold someone.  Days when I need to be heard and held.  And this is the rhythm of life and being human.  The times when I am heard and held recharge me to then do the same for others.  Geez, it’s like we are all one body – connected – one part in need of the other – rather useless all on it’s own.  

Oh.  And then there is the “way one handles financial resources.”  I suck at money.  And quite frankly, I would happily give Jesus my debit card right now and turn the whole sorted mess over to him if I could.  If it’s God’s money he should really take over because I’m doing a lousy job.  But I continually trying to be a better steward of my money.  And while this is icky and uncomfortable I want to do it.  Not so much out of need for obedience but out of desire to fully surrender myself.  What would that look like?  What would that feel like?  What would that do?

The Cost of Discipleship closes with the parable of Salt, “Salt is wonderful; but if salt has become insipid, how can you make it salty again?”  

I had no clue what Jesus was talking about here.  Once again Mr. Capon to the rescue.  “Salt is not worth buying for it’s own sake, but dirt cheap considering the way it perks everything up.  Much the same can be said about salvation.”

I don’t follow Jesus because it’s my ticket to heaven.  I don’t follow Jesus because I fear hell.  I don’t follow Jesus for a thousand other wrong reasons.  I follow Jesus because my life is tastier with his salt.  

I started going to church and asking questions about God because I was terrified of dying.  And life felt empty in a way that was hard to describe.  I’m not like my husband, Chris, who can hardly wait to kick the bucket and hang out with God.  But over the last few years my fear of death has evaporated.  As has the emptiness I felt.  Much as salt enhances the flavour of food, becoming a disciple has enriched the here and now.  The future will hold what it will hold and I am all good with that because what matters is how I live right now.  How I follow after Jesus.

As Snodgrass states, “Discipleship is not about humans straining on their own; it is the necessary result; and consequence of faith in and following after Jesus.  Relation to Christ activates and empowers the whole of life, but if humans do not choose to act and actually act, nothing happens.”

So now back to the hate.  Use of the word “hate” is strong in almost any context.  And this was no different in Jesus’ time.  Jesus needed to use strong language because at that time, family was the most influential voice in an individual’s life. Jewish families lived by strict moral, social and religious rules.  Husbands were the legal and spiritual head of the home.  And children were taught at a very young age to honour their parents.  So for Jesus to tell his parents he believed something different from them and had decided to follow a totally new path was a really big deal.  And then for Jesus to encourage others to allow God – not their families – to be the influence in their lives was blasphemy.  

In Mark 3, after appointing the twelve disciples, Jesus enters a house and is accused by his family of “being out of his mind.”  And by the teachers as “being possessed by Beelzebul!”

Jesus needs to counter this with equally strong language “…hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—.”  Had he said, “Come guys, we should totally hang out.  And you should listen to my rad ideas instead of your family.  For real man, it’s gonna be sweet!”  This would not have grabbed their attention or ear like the use of the word hate.  It wouldn’t have grabbed me either.  Or maybe it would have if Jesus spoke like a surfer dude.

So Jesus is not asking me to hate my family.  But He is telling me that He should be the one shaping my life.  Not my family.  Today this family metaphor applies but in a different way.  Families are obsessed with themselves – school, sports and extracurricular activities – these influence and dictate family life.  And there are tons of other influences too.  Jesus saying something like this would likely have more impact in our time, “If anyone comes to me and doesn’t hate their iPhone, Netflix, tattoos, beards, craft beer, bacon and squad goals – such a person cannot be my disciple.”

My friend Dan suggested I “elaborate on one specific situation where I had to make a choice; something that went against the grain of self-interest.”  The most obvious examples are relationships.  God wants us in relationship with Him and with each other.  I think Chris would agree that one of the reasons we are still married is because we know this.  And just like we choose God everyday, we also choose each other.  If I was only interested in myself I would have ditched him like a hot potato and pursued some loud, extroverted millionaire.  I joke but there is truth here.  In our darkest days as a married couple, I have clung to the idea that life isn’t all about me and my happiness.  I need to stop thinking about my needs and think about Chris’.  I need to extend the same grace and love to him that I receive daily from God.

Choosing Jesus was not a one off for me.  I have to consciously choose Jesus everyday.  Everyday I choose to surrender my plans and dreams to Jesus.  And so far it’s worked out pretty well.  I am living a salty, abundant life.

Some consider the cost of discipleship high.  But can you put a price on the freedom Jesus offers us?


Mental Illness is Not a Choice


Five years ago, I found myself calling in sick for every shift of a very part time job.  I struggled to play and engage with my young children.  Every task and conversation required tremendous effort.  I felt sad and hopeless.  I knew I was drowning but I could not save myself.

My doctor diagnosed me with depression brought on by perimenopause and diminishing estrogen levels.  She prescribed an antidepressant and several lifestyle changes.  After six months, three medication changes, four dose adjustments and immeasurable grace, patience and kindness, I surfaced.

I’m one of the lucky ones.  I was diagnosed early and responded quickly to treatment.  I had a handful of people in my life who understood depression and helped me keep my head above water during my darkest days.  So many people live with mental illness their entire lives with varying success of treatment and little or no support.

And I am angry.   I am angry that despite our best efforts to educate people, there is still a terrible stigma attached to mental illness which only deepens the feelings of isolation and loneliness for those battling it.  I am angry that there is a time limit on our compassion for those struggling with mental illness.  I am angry that people suffer alone.  I am angry that people continue to say hurtful things.

Know this:

  • I don’t just need a good night’s sleep
  • Yoga and vitamins are not the answer
  • This is not a case of mind over matter
  • A fun night on the town will not do wonders
  • I do not have any happy thoughts to think

Trust me if it was as simple as any of these I would have done all of them over and over again until the emptiness and despair were distant memory.

Don’t judge me or try to fix me or offer advice unless you know what the hell you are talking about.  I don’t want your ignorance to result in more guilt, shame or self-loathing.

I need you to listen to me.  I need you to educate yourself.  I need you to ask how you can help.  I need your compassion.  I need your love.

You know someone with depression, anxiety or PTSD.  You know someone with a mental illness.  They are within your reach.  You need to hear, support and love that someone.  We need you.  Even on the days when it is impossible to accept your love.  We need it.  No one should fight this battle alone.

Mental illness is not a choice.  I did not choose it.  It chose me.  The question is how will you choose to respond  when someone confides in you about their mental illness?

My Front Porch – Seating for Two


Things I will not do this summer:

  1. I will not attempt to live off my land.
  2. I will not purchase plants that I will then neglect.
  3. I will not entertain people in my backyard.

I despise gardening.  I do not like weeding, watering or pruning.  I do not like watching a tomato slowly ripen to perfection only to have it become my dog’s afternoon snack.  I do enjoy pretty flowers and fresh vegetables.  But I can get fresh veggies, fruit, herbs, eggs, honey and more at the local Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  It’s all there for the buying.  And some of the produce still has actual dirt on it thereby proving its freshness.  This also allows me to avoid pesky weeds, bugs and gross things under my fingernails.

I am more than happy to live off my local farmer’s land and allow my garden to become the wild jungle it was always meant to be.  And while I do love the vision of riding my bike home with the wind gently blowing carrot tops and wildflowers draped casually over the edge of my wicker basket, the reality is I’ll be in my Mazda 5 with the windows down, Justin Bieber blaring and children bickering over the last donut hole.  I’m totally good with this whole scenario.

With the amount of money I save not planting plants I can afford to buy the yummy spring rolls and real-deal-super-squeaky cheese curds at the market – every single week!  And I won’t have to watch my hard earned cash get choked out by weeds, pooped on by dogs or nibbled by adorable bunnies before shamefully turn a blind eye on the whole sorted mess.

Nor will I spend two days completely guilt ridden about the state of my back yard before having friends over for a barbeque.  Or spend hours trying to nonchalantly hang towels and sheets on the clothes line in an attempt to hide my disgraceful garden.  Yup, those days are gone.

This summer I am entertaining exclusively on my front porch – seating for two.  I purchased flowers for three small pots and a lovely hanging fern.  I have created a cozy, lush get away right outside my front door.

The front porch is an extrovert’s paradise.  Walkers, joggers, runners, rollerbladers, cyclists, bikers and golfers (yes, I live across from a golf course) all need a wave, chat or word of encouragement.  The front porch provides for some of the best people watching and neighbour getting knowing ever.

This shall be the summer of tea and wine, scones and jam, cheese and grapes, ice cream and hot fudge.  No big potlucks, barbeques or strawberry socials.  I’m going to sit on my porch, share simple food and elaborate conversation with one human at a time.  Accepting reservations now.


Invest in Your Menopause


Invest in some thirty-something friends.

Hanging out with hip, beautiful young people twenty years your junior seems like a counter intuitive, demoralizing, destructive idea.  But trust me.  These are your new people.

First off, while those your age find your unpredictable, cantankerous ways unpleasant and irritating, the thirty-somethings find you fascinating and quirky.  They don’t know that this hormonally imbalanced, erratic whacko looks nothing like your pre-menopause self.  Embrace the thirty-somethings because they will embrace you back.

These are also the people who are conscious in the wee hours of the morning.   Yes, while you are awake for NO REASON, the thirty-somethings are intentionally awake.  So at 1am after you have tossed and turned for forever, unsuccessfully relaxed using your deep breathing exercises and checked out Instagram you can text your thirty-something friends and solve all the problems of the world.  Not only is this highly productive but also much less lonely.

Invest in layers.

The ability to remove the majority of your clothing in less than twenty seconds is critical to surviving hot flashes.  Two words: loose layers.  Loose is less hot and easier to remove with the added benefit of hiding your disappearing waistline.  Win, win.  Layers mean you don’t end up sitting awkwardly in your bra and big girl panties while out in the big bad world.

Obviously natural breathable fabrics like cotton, linen and muslin are best.  Polyester can kill you.  I’m working on a flowy Annie Hall look – sans the tie.

Invest in disclaimers. 

I am not responsible for my actions, words and inappropriate hand gestures at this time.  Menopause is responsible.  I’m a moody, unpredictable jerk.  If I could crawl out of my skin and punch myself in the face I would.  In an effort to prevent others from punching me in the face I have come to use disclaimers throughout the day.

Morning husband disclaimer, “The sound of you chewing your cereal is filling me with rage.  I hate you and your cereal.  I’m sorry.  I don’t hate you.  I hate that you make chewing a soft, mushy cereal sound like a microphone jammed in a garburator.  Sorry.  I’m clearly over-sensitive this morning, proceed with caution.  I hate your stupid cereal.”

Afternoon kid disclaimer, “I am tired and grouchy.  I’m putting myself in a time out.”

All-encompassing evening disclaimer, “I’m barely keeping it together people.  Run.  Save yourselves.”

Invest in you.

Cut yourself some slack.  Menopause sucks.  Be good to yourself whatever, however that looks.   The world is not actually ending – just your ability to menstruate.  So layer up, throw out a disclaimer or two and go hang with your thirty-something friends.  You’ve got this.

Beautiful Broken Bits

Screen Shot 2013-03-25 at 9.02.24 AM.png

I admit it.
I’ve wanted your
Slick angled haircut
Flawless skin
Horned rimmed glasses
And wrap around pants.

I’ve wanted your
Perky breasts
Sculpted triceps
Tattooed back
And perfectly pierced nose.

I’ve wanted your
Beat-up station wagon
Mid-century house
Eccentric husband
And carefree life.

I’ve wanted your
And tenacity.

I’ve wanted your
And desire.

I don’t want you.
I only want bits of you
To replace my unhappy bits.
And you want bits of me
To replace your unhappy bits.

Admit it.
We shout, proclaim, preach and teach.
But we don’t love us any more than before.
We are two-faced liars.
Selling our wares but never buying.

I will fight myself to love.
To love every ordinary, damaged, imperfect bit.
Every bit of me.
Every bit of you.
I will fight to love all the
Beautiful broken bits.