Saturday, March 03, 2012

On Compassion

I have been trying to write this post in my head for the last 30 hours, but honestly I am still trying to process the events from yesterday. I am also struggling a bit with how to honor my friend with the telling of this story. This is, afterall, her story, not mine.

I know so many of you have been praying for her. I can't wait to see her again and tell her how people were moved on her behalf. The bottom line is that while we have SO MANY feelers out and local media coverage, we still haven't been able to confirm any sightings of C since Wednesday morning.

Friday morning was spent with two other people trying to retrace C's last known steps. We were at the shelter in downtown Atlanta where she was last seen and on the nearby streets. Flyers were distributed to homeless people living under nearby bridges and in the process we got to know some of their names. One of the tent-dwelling women, Melinda, took a special interest in C's story. She spent an hour and a half escorting the group around all the likely places where C might be found.

Volunteers from almost a dozen direct ministries offered to take C's information out onto the streets with their known contacts. Real-life friends of mine who were in the Atlanta area went out on their own searches. Some of the other young residents of the shelter offered us details of what she was wearing when they last saw her.

It was a day of compassion. Police officers, accountants, former prostitutes and homeless people united in a common purpose of finding a young lady they didn't even know.

I have had a yellow sticky note on my desk for the last 3-4 weeks with the words "compassion without condescension" scribbled on them in blue ink. It is a phrase I have been pondering and praying over. How can I train my children in compassion that is not always connected to feeling superior to those we seek to help? It is difficult to separate the two. By its very definition, compassion is "a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering."

As we prepare for our trip to Guatemala over Spring Break, I have really been trying to set my children up to love the Guatemalan people for who they are, to want to aid where they can in their plight of poverty and malnutrition but to NOT just "feel sorry for them."

Yesterday, when walking the streets with these homeless people that I would normally pity, I was able to see them in that moment as quite powerful--helpful, kind, knowledgeable. And through that experience I caught a glimpse of the phrase I had been trying to pin down--compassion without condescension.

I did want to aid their situation, but I was grateful for their kind and helpful spirits. Their life experience made them sensitive to the cause. While parts of their circumstances were clearly heartbreaking, there were gifts they offered as well. Likewise, they offered a similar sentiment to me. At least four of them said, "I hope you find her. She's lucky to have someone looking for her."

In the midst of an intimidating situation, I received compassion from the 'least of these' and learned a great lesson in the process. Everyone has something to offer the world. We must simply slow down and take the time to look for it.


Love Being A Nonny said...

*She's lucky to have someone looking for her* got me. I have never even thought about it that way before. Can you IMAGINE NO ONE looking for you if you were missing? Breaks my heart. They ARE somebodies child, mother, sister, aunt. I too am learning compassion without condescension.....

Thank you for sharing. We are all praying for C.

Marti said...

It is so easy to be condescending to those most unfortunate street people, but we are lucky not to have had to endure their trials. I pray for a compassionate attitude. Have a good day.

Jeannie said...

Wow! The way you put feet to your faith challenges me! You being out on those streets pursuing C and hunting her down to try to "save" her from what lurks out there is such a picture of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! I am so glad she has now been found!