The courage and compassion found in a complete stranger.


imageAmong the many challenges of recovery I am discovering that my mental capacity for addressing adversity is crucial. Cognitively speaking, adhering to an emotional state of mind essentially equates to a diversion of progress. For instance, this morning I woke up feeling restless in mind, body, and spirit. Instead of addressing my emotions, regrouping, and moving forward I convinced myself that in light of vast alternatives these feelings were invalid. In an effort to be “strong” I retreated all shame resilience and completely forwent any opportunity for allowing self compassion. Often times, when we face trials and others tell us we are “strong” or “courageous” what they mean and what we hear are entirely different. To put it simply; we draw strength from one another’s trials by being a witness to the testimony of one another’s embracing of ourselves. When people say, “Anna you are so strong, keep your head up” what they are really saying, cognizant of it or not, is this: I see you owning your story, just as it is, and for that reason you are strong. So why is it that more often than not when we face a trial it takes us longer than everyone else to see the triumph? Why is it that I resonate deep compassion for others but struggle to allow myself compassion? What will it take to own my story, each and every day, even if it means accepting emotions I perceive as “invalid.” Grace. I refer to the word Grace insensately. I am well aware of this…but…the power of Grace is so irrefutable. Nothing and no one can paralyze my spirit when I receive Grace in my most vulnerable moments. To illustrate a picture of Grace as it was demonstrated to me today, I want to share with you what I encountered.

Late this afternoon I decided to leave the house with my parents. Today has been particularly exhausting, which is another blog in itself. The point is that at this point my pain was high, my morale low, and my legs weak. Despite my current state, cabin fever has been fervent lately and I could not pass up an opportunity to venture out. One of the stops on the list was of course, Wal-Mart. Originally I had planned on using one of the mobile karts, but upon entering the store I witnessed a young woman maybe five years older than myself in a wheelchair. She was paralyzed from the waist down. Now normally my compassion would kick into high drive and I would strike up easy conversation with her. I would want to interject the stares encroaching her. I would intend on serving as a reminder of the goodness of human kind. I would want her to know, foremost, that she is not an issue. She is a soul and she is a spirit and she is loved. Unfortunately that is not how the situation played out. Upon seeing her there, unable to move her lower extremities I lost my breath. My heart sank and my eyes filled with tears. Promptly, I asked my mother to bring me back to the car. Understandably, my mother was concerned that I was hurt or in extreme pain. Neither was true. I explained that I needed to get to the car, and once I did, I lost it. Call it PTSD, triggered, or shocked. Call it whatever you want. I was heaving for air for two reasons.

1.) I realized that could have been me. It was a very plausible outcome has I not had surgery in time and it was a risk with surgery. I have seen people in her situation time and time again, but it today it felt like I had seen it for the first time.

2.) My compassion for her was overwhelming. Perhaps to the point of ignorance I wanted to DO something for her. I wanted to lift her up and carry her out of the store and away from the gaze of strangers. I wanted to stand her up and let her lean into me. I wanted to befriend her if only for a moment.

I was not just crying for myself but also for her…because to even have been given a dose of what is her lifelong condition bereaved me. Some may say that this blog sounds overly sympathetic, maybe even offensive…perhaps she was a confident and strong minded young lady? For the record I am sure she is; I could sense it. I don’t want you to hear that I felt she was inadequate. I want you to hear that for me seeing her reminded me of the immense Grace I’ve been resting in. But Anna you’ve said it yourself, there is fear and shame and frustration. Yes, but with those emotions comes incredibly present weakness. Yet, instead of drowning in my weakness I have a relationship with an ever present father who makes himself so known to me amidst the chaos. His Grace doesn’t just suffice, it generates life. Grace has the power to stare humanity in the face and say…sweetheart I see you. I see that your body failed you but that your spirit is something of a warrior. Grace leaves you in a parking lot crying for a stranger; both because you feel extreme gratefulness that it ended differently for you, and you feel extreme shame that it ended differently for you.

Here’s where maturity matters. I can dwell in this place. I can be shamed and triggered…or I can simply open myself to the wound. In doing so I will make myself available to the next person who needs what I have to offer in reaching out. Not necessarily someone of physical disability, just…anyone. If I curl up in a ball and feel sorry for myself or shame myself for my story I will disservice myself AND those who need the gifts inside me. So, whether the emotions are fleeting or familiar I will face them. Day by day, week by week. Being courageous is owning your story. As I take on new journeys with courage I encourage you to do the same. No matter the trial, do not stand on a foundation of guilt or shame. You will not grow there and your feet will be without direction. Ground yourself in Grace, settle into compassion, and be humble. Grasp onto opportunities to be a light to others. Rid yourself of the rigidness of religion, for therein lies entitlement. Love others without contingency, and take in people of all venues. Our stories are meant to intersect, our compassion toward one another is peace, and courage will always come in moments of owning our stories. Be blessed and be a blessing.


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