Practice Compassion

I’m learning that kindness and compassion take practice. This seems to be especially true in my most difficult moments. When I choose kindness, instead of my habitual reaction, it’s powerful, disarming, and transformative. In any given moment, the kindness you offer to others affects what happens in the very next moment. 

Studies show that thinking about, observing or practicing a kind act stimulates our vagus nerve, a bundle of nerves that originates at the top of the spinal cord and surrounds the heart. The vegus nerve activates different organs throughout the body (such as the heart, lungs, liver and digestive organs). It literally warms up the heart and may be closely connected to the brain’s receptor networks for oxytocin, the soothing hormone involved in maternal bonding. Kindness also triggers the reward system in our brain’s emotion regulation center releasing dopamine, the hormone that’s associated with positive emotions.

God is amazing! We are intentionally created and designed to love one another. Showing kindness and compassion to others is actually good for our physical and our emotional well-being. Do good, feel good. Our sinfulness would have us lean the other way, to avert our eyes from the need around us and protect our time and possessions. I find that I need make an intentional choice to show compassion and the practice itself has cumulative effect. The more I choose compassion the easier it becomes. I am instantly rewarded with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and humbleness at the realization that God has allowed me to partner with him in showing love to a hurting and sinful world.

What we practice and how is our choice. When we practice being busy, frustrated, and reactive we become better at it. When we practice peace, kindness and compassion we reset our brains to recognize the reward of living generously. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t come naturally. But it’s how we were created to live. Here are a few ideas on how to start practicing kindness and compassion:

  • Take care and be kind to yourself.
  • Allow yourself to be interrupted.
  • Initiate a conversations with neighbors and friends, ask questions and listen.
  • Give away money to a cause that you are passionate about.
  • Get creative if you’re on a limited budget.
  • Volunteer! With whatever time you have to give.
  • Study Jesus’ example. He was really good at living a compassionate life.

As Christ followers we are walking, talking reflections of Jesus. We must live it with intentionality and audacity. Be curious, open your eyes and heart to opportunities to love compassionately. The world will know us by our love.


The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose
Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson

The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness
Dacher Keltner, Jason Marsh, and Jeremy Adam Smith

Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life
Dacher Keltner

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess
Jen Hatmaker


Interruptions and Opportunities

At the Church, one of the ways God has uniquely placed us to Share in our community is through our Preschool, where so many children and their families get to know Jesus and His love.  Preschool teachers, parents, and anyone who’s spent time with little ones knows that kids = interruptions.  Just when you think you’re out the door and will make it to school right on time, someone spills her lunchbox contents all over the car, or tells you that he needs to go to the bathroom, NOW!   How we handle interruptions with kids is a great opportunity to think about how we handle interruptions in general.  Be Jesus In Your Neighborhood reminds us that “God loves to interrupt our lives” and that there is often excitement that comes along with interrupted plans.  

The preschool staff is getting excited about the start of another school year and looking forward to reconnecting with one another and with our returning preschool families, as well as meeting our new families.  So I’d like to reach out to discuss a few practical ways to head off some avoidable interruptions and make the most of the opportunities that a new school year presents.  We all want the transition into the new school year to go smoothly, so here are a few tips for making that happen:

  • Talk with your child about what to expect; talk about the classroom and the other children.

  • Self-help skills are important in school. Give your child opportunities at home to do things for themselves such as putting on jackets, putting toys away, and cleaning up after snack time.

  • If you and your child have fallen out of your bedtime routine this summer, get back into a solid routine! A week before the first day of school is a good time frame in which to begin.

  • Practice the morning routine that you will be following after preschool starts; doing this during the week or so before school starts will give your child the opportunity to know how the mornings will be going.

What routines have helped your family as you go about day-to-day life?


Or, can you share a time when you were able to embrace an interruption? 


South Carolina Mission Trip-Day 5

God is good. He is faithful and compassionate, delighting in His children and ever providing for each need. Today was a day to grow in our relationships with each other, reflect on the week, and celebrate God's goodness. 
We began this morning with a 6:45am prayer breakfast hosted by the church where we are staying for the week. The gentleman I sat with has been coming consistently to this Friday breakfast for 14 years. We definitely enjoyed the southern breakfast, complete with grits, biscuits and gravy, and sweet tea! 
We had a few hours of free time in the morning and early afternoon, and we were eager to take advantage of it! The staff took us to a river where we had the option to jump off of a rope swing into the water. It was a great adventure!! After that we headed to Lake Murray for lunch and some playtime. 
After worship and showers, we headed off to a community cookout in the neighborhood where we have been working all week. It was definitely the perfect way to end our week! It was such fun! We played with the kids, talked with new friends, and enjoyed some watermelon and hot dogs. The gathering had a really great feel to it - like being with family. It was evident that this community has really embraced and appreciated all of the students that have been working there all summer. It will be exciting to see how God transforms this community over the next few years. 
Finally, our trip to South Carolina is ending in the perfect way (well, at least for Higher Ground) - as I write this I am listening to an "Open Mic Night". These students love to praise God together and celebrate each other's gifts! They are excited to share those talents and passions with you at our  Brunch on August 24th from noon-2. Come join us as we share stories and pictures from both the middle school and high school mission trips.
As you read this we will be in the vans driving back to Madison - ready to hug our loved ones (and sleep on real mattresses!) We sincerely thank you for all of your love and support of our youth!


South Carolina Mission Trip-Day 4

We finished our work week! A lot of us finished our projects, and a few have just a few last touch ups for next week's group to do. Either way, we feel accomplished and proud of what God allowed us to do and provide for our new South Carolina friends. I wanted to share our students' perspectives on the trip so far, so I asked them to share their thoughts with you.

Here are some of our students favorite highlights or God Moments from the week so far:
"Today I was able to join another work crew for the entire day. It was really amazing to see how they had developed into a "well-oiled" machine. Even though they hadn't known each other at all at the beginning of the week, they were laughing and enjoying each others' company. Not only that, but they were very welcoming to me even though I had not been a part of their group the whole week. It was really fantastic to see how serving others can bring so many people together, even if they come from different states." -Charlie Strange, 18
"One big thing for me was realizing how good hard work and a good work ethic can feel! That might sound cheesy... but putting the last nail into the floor of the bathroom my crew was fixing up was super satisfying, especially since the the project was way more work then we thought it would be. (What was just a re-tiling job turned into a full replacement of the floor and the support beams underneath.) Another thing that hit me, and seems to always hit me on trips like this, is how encouraging and fun spending time with other brothers and sisters in Christ is! Everyone seem's to have a better attitude and a more Christ centered outlook. They seem to realize that they are all here for the same purpose- to  worship and glorify God through everything we do! And it makes me wonder why this mindset and outlook only happen's at times like this and not in our everyday Christian walk." -Joshua Kueber, 16 
"This mission trip has been very challenging for me physically, spiritually and emotionally, because I came in with a lot of expectations. This week I was stressing out about how much sleep I was getting, if I had enough food in my lunch, who my friends were hanging out with, how sweaty I was getting, a whole bunch of stuff that isn't really what mission trips are about. I was getting caught up in everything but serving the community, which is what mission trips are all about, right? So after three whole days of a lot of frustration, we arrived on the final work day. Our homeowner, Rachelle, came outside to see all the work we had done on the house. She told us all to stand in front of her, and she put her hand to her mouth and she cried. She told us that we had done such a beautiful job, that she was so proud of what we have done, that she was really going to miss us, and that she was going to pray for us every day. It really made me think that only four days of my life could make such a big impact on someones life. That was my favorite moment this week because it was when God reminded me why I came on this trip. To serve in the name of Jesus Christ." -Renata Jaeger, 15
What is the youth director's favorite highlight? Your kids. They have been hard working, honest, vulnerable, compassionate, motivated, respectful, and full participants in the journey God had prepared for each of them this week. We have a meeting each night with the leaders from the other church that is participating with us this week. The adults from that church have, every night, highlighted how impressed they are with your children. They talk about their work ethic, good attitudes, confidence, faith, and the love they show. Way to go moms and dads!
We'll be back Sunday night with highlights on our free day and community cookout!


South Carolina Mission Trip-Day 3

We did it! We made it half way through the mission trip! Even after just a few days,we feel like we are in a routine with our days and work. We feel like we have known our new friends for ages. We feel at home in our neighborhoods and at our work sites. And, as much as possible, our air mattresses actually begin to feel somewhat comfortable.
Our group has been divided into around 11 different "crews". Each crew is working on a different project - and some are working on multiple projects during the week. Here are some of the things our students are working on this week.
  • At Miss Al's house they are replacing fascia and soffits  (which includes lots of climbing on the roof and working on ladders!). They are also painting a room. 
  • At Ms. Rochelle Dorn's home, students are siding, caulking, and painting.
  • A group at the Lexington Interfaith Community Services is building large shelving units for the thrift store and painting shelves and walls.
  • Students at the Carmichael's house are replacing subfloor and then tiling in the kitchen.
  • At Chandler's home they are putting in a new roof - replacing old shingles and damaged roof panels.
  • Miss Sheila is getting a new deck behind her house!
  • Another team is fixing and shingling Richard's roof, including reinforcing joists.
  • Another team was able to mud and paint a bathroom.
  • At Sam's home students replaced the floor in his bathroom.
  • Finally, another group is working at the Nehemiah house. The Nehemiah Project is one of the reasons Next Step is working in this neighborhood. It is an organization that Next Step is partnering with as part of their community development plan for this area. There are 3 projects being completed at this spot. We are rebuilding a large shed, building a wheelchair ramp and deck, and grouting the whole house.  If you want more information on the Nehemiah Project, please go to: We are part of the Bellemeade project.

Day 3 is always an important day on our mission trips. It's important for 3 reasons.

1 - Enough physical work has been done that students are able to see that they are actually making progress and making a difference. All of those hours in the sun begin to seem worth it.

2 - Students are tired enough, and have spent enough time together, that walls begin to fall down and a level of vulverability surfaces. It is when this happens that God is able to really begin to do his work in our hearts.

3 - We pray for each other. During Wednesday night worship we wash each other's feet, lay hands on each other, and pray. It is an incredibly humbling experience, to hear teens pray for their friends. 

I was inspired tonight by one of our students, Mae. She began each prayer, "Awesome God, I thank you for the blessing that we call ________(insert a friend's name)". Who are you praying for today? Do you see the person you are praying for as a true blessing from God? How could that perspective shape your prayers today?
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know if we were able to finish all of our projects before having to leave for home!