the ground on which you stand: practicing compassion here & now

Two years ago today I was serving at a hospital in rural West Africa -- treating patients who had malaria, Typhoid fever, hepatitis, parasites...and a young boy who had been gored by a steer. The three months I spent at the Hospital of Hope were meaningful, difficult, arduous, transformative.  An experience I'll never forget (p.s. the book I wrote about the experience, called WELL, is coming out in November if you want to read more stories!) It's fitting that on the two year anniversary of my Togo experience, I was working at an urgent care clinic in San Francisco, caring for patients who, like the Togolese, trusted me with their medical care.

The conditions I cared for this weekend weren't as exotic as the Togolese cases I saw in Africa.  This weekend I treated sinus infections and ankle sprains and allergies.  And honestly -- I thought back to my time in Togo and there was a twinge in my heart that I'm not practicing medicine in the developing world this summer.  I hope to practice international medicine again, but for now, until God opens that door, I'm stateside, taking care of my fellow Americans who are in need of medical attention.

It's easy for me -- and I think for all of us -- to make value judgments about what we are doing versus what we could be doing.  About practicing compassion in exotic places versus practicing compassion in our home town.  About traveling half way across the world versus walking to the house next door to show kindness to someone in need.

It's easy for me to fall into the trap of believing that I have to have a passport and a plane ticket to *really* make a difference in the world.

But here's the thing. Here's what I've been processing and learning since I got back from Togo.  Here's what I'm reminding myself of this week, the truth I'm returning to when my heart and mind tend to wander away from where I am in the moment.

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The ground on which we stand is nothing compared to the compassion inside our hearts.  There isn't a direct correlation between the amount of time we travel to get to people in need, and the importance of that act of kindness.

When I went to work yesterday, I tried to practice this truth.  I tried to show as much attention, compassion and kindness to patients who are U.S. citizens, affluent and insured as I showed to Togolese patients who speak a different language, have few financial resources and live in what the U.N. ranked the Least Happy Country In The World.

I tried to remember that for all our differences, in the end, we're just the same. And the patients I take care of in San Francisco are just as scared, in just as much pain, are just as unsure and just as in need of compassion as the patients I took care of in West Africa.


So, my friends.  If you feel like you're less-than because you're not in the developing world today, if you feel like your compassion doesn't matter because you didn't have to climb on a plane or learn a new language to show it, if you think you're inferior because you're not a full-time missionary, if you're tempted to think that the kindnesses you show to your elderly neighbor or your spouse or the kids who live down the street isn't important, if you're biding your time until you can do something that *really* makes a difference in the world.....

Take heart.  Take a deep breath. And remember what's true.

Everyone around you -- whether you're at home or half way around the world -- is a beautiful soul, created in the image of God.  Everyone you come in contact with -- whether they speak your language or not -- is deserving of dignity and kindness and compassion . Every opportunity you have to be generous -- whether it's contributing to a developing country or to your own community -- is valuable in the eyes of God.

And if each of us truly gets it.  If each of us realizes that our mission is to pour Love into the cracks we see right around us.  If each of us does our part with what we have, and where we are in this moment....

Soon, we'll see our broken world start to become healed. And whole.  And well.

We'll start to see opportunities to show compassion that lie just beneath our feet -- in the ground on which we stand.