A Thanksgiving Message from Kerri...

Moved by Compassion: A Grateful Heart in Action

When I was in Seminary I had the honor of sitting under the teaching of some amazing men and women. The most powerful statement I heard in those years was not uttered in the classroom; it was declared from the pulpit in a weekly chapel service by President Bert Downs. In a brief message, directed at future ministry leaders, he made a simple but powerful statement, “True disciples of Jesus and true leaders are marked by two distinct qualities, humility and gratitude.”

I have ruminated on this statement for the past fifteen years. I have bemoaned my own lack of these two critical traits. I have begged God for a heart that mirrors His own but I have never fully understood President Down’s quote; at least not the connection between the two character traits he identified. I didn’t know how to measure this statement against the reality of my own life, until the full brunt of this truth crashed into my life two days ago.

A friend and I went out to run some last minute errands in preparation for Thanksgiving. We had a long list of stores to hit and items to find in a short window of time. We had a plan and I fully intended to execute that plan in a specific time frame. As we walked into the first store I noticed a young man who appeared to be in his twenties sitting on the sidewalk with his dog. His body language screamed defeat. His head was down, his body slumped over and the small dirty sign he once held had fallen over so I couldn’t read his words.

I glanced at him quickly but then darted inside the store, I had things to do! As I did, I noticed my mind racing with all the reasons I didn’t need to bother with thoughts of him. At the time I didn’t even realize I was making up excuses in my head so as not respond to his apparent need. Then, once inside the store, I promptly forgot the young man outside and focused my mind on acquiring my list.

My friend and I hurriedly found what we needed and headed back out towards the car. As we stepped outside we noticed it had started to rain hard so we turned left to walk down the covered sidewalk as long as possible before braving the rain in the parking lot. As we turned I saw him again and now I had to walk right by him. I tried not to look. Once again my mind became a hurricane of judgmental thoughts and assumptions. “He’s probably made a lot of bad choices," I summarized neatly for myself and continued to walk away. However, approximately twenty yards down the sidewalk I was stopped dead in my tracks. I literally couldn’t move another step. I felt like my feet were suddenly grafted into the cement.

I ministered to the homeless population in Portland, Oregon for several years when I worked for the Rescue Mission. In that time, I was trained to love, serve and empower men and women on the streets without enabling addictive behavior and to use discernment as to how to help them mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Since then I have interacted with countless homeless men and women, seeking to be of some help as the Holy Spirit has prompted me. Now though, as I tried to walk away from the young man I realized I wasn’t motivated by love and thoughts of how to help him. I was instead assuming things about him that made me feel justified in the decision I had made to look away and walk on by.

God’s Spirit in me immediately held up my own thoughts for me to see…judgmental, critical, prideful thoughts. In that moment I felt so gross and ugly. It was so hard to look at the hardness and bitterness I was choosing. However, without condemning or shaming me the Holy Spirit reminded me of His power alive in me and called me to choose His love over the fear I was operating in. I received His grace and allowed myself to be humbled…humbled so that I was available to be moved by compassion.

I grabbed my friend who was turning towards our car and the parking lot, “I have to go back," I whispered with tears forming in my eyes. “I have to go back.” Graciously, my friend smiled at me knowingly and together we turned around and walked back to the shivering, cowering, defeated figure on the ground.

I stood over him silently, he didn’t even look up. “I’d like to read your sign," I stated. “Can you please move your hand so I can see it?” He moved the sign upward so I could see it but still didn’t turn his eyes toward mine. His simple cardboard sign read, “Please help me.” So, I got down on the ground. I didn’t think about it; I just needed to look him in the eye. I needed to understand why God’s Spirit in me would not let me walk away from this precious soul that He sees, knows and loves.