Would you give me permission to tell you
without overstepping my bounds, personal, professional
that this is not your fault.
You were only trying to take good care of your baby;
you didn’t know,
you didn’t know.
I see the protest in your eyes,
Someone has to be to blame, and that someone is me.
If I had known, if I hadn’t done this, if we hadn’t done that
our baby would still be alive.
How can I help loosen the grip that this mistake
threatens to hold over your life?
Would you give me permission to tell you
Can I tell you, you are still a good mama
Can I tell you, you are still a good papa
Can I tell you, your baby would forgive you too if he had the words;
of this I am sure.
Can I tell you, he knew you loved him to the very end.
Your tears baptize him
and your blessings flow
If I could tell you the stories that emerged from this place over five days in early August as we staffed a camp for foster children through Royal Family Kids Camp and our local church, Cornerstone West LA. I was one of two camp nurses, and my husband served as Dean of Men to support the male volunteers. We don’t know specific details of the trauma, abuse, neglect, abandonment and instability each of the 28 children have endured, but we saw the profoundly painful consequences. Kids trying to be normal kids in one moment, triggered by sometimes hidden catalysts, became wildly agitated in the next moment, full of fury, confusion and dysregulation in response to their dysregulated childhood. Sometimes it lasted a few minutes, sometimes a couple of hours. Sometimes we watched one group play while we heard one child howl in the distance as his counselors worked to console his young heart.
It felt as though the darkness of their stories rose up like towering trees, threating to eclipse all the little lives in the campground.
But I watched as our team opened their hearts wide open with the light of God’s unwavering, unconditional, relentless, strong and tender love in Jesus Christ. They took blows from the children and absorbed their pain, and came back with hugs, affirmation, presence and mercy. In both words and action, our team told the children, “You can hit me but I will still love you.” Day after day, the team would play with the children, take more blows, and come back to love the children again.
This was the light that shone in the darkness all week. The light that says evil does not always triumph over good, fury does not always triumph over peace, selfishness does not always triumph over sacrificial love. For five days, I watched our team shine the bright light of Christ into the darkness. And though the time felt much too short, I believe with all my heart that these five days gave the children hope that light can in fact exist in their dark world, and that light can break through the darkness.
The next time you see that out of control child in the park, in the market, at school, on the street, will you love them with the love of Christ? Will you extend to them kindness in place of judgment? You don’t know their story, but you can shine light into their world.
Nothing impressive to see here. People would walk right past this, scroll right past this photo and would pay no attention. Why should they? Do you ever feel this way?
The girls and I ate loquats many months ago and they asked what we’d do with the seeds. I didn’t know much about loquats, but I suggested we plant them, water them and see what happens.
Months have gone by and the view of these dirt pots hasn’t changed. I shrugged and figured I didn’t know or do enough to nurture those seeds to get results.
So today, we took the pots to plant new plants but as we were emptying the first pot, we discovered a seed that had rooted beautifully and had started its slow but eager work of growing into a seedling! We marveled and then quickly repotted and watered it. I so hope we didn’t disrupt anything crucial with my impatience.
Some seasons we can feel so dark, unseen, unfruitful, and alone. But there is hard work and real growth happening in those seasons, even if all of ZERO people can see it. God knows the work He does in us in the dark and quiet seasons. It is a good, good work.
Ever since my TEDxTalk in September 2017, I entered a season where public speaking was a regular thing, a thread I had to figure out how to interweave into the rest of my life without letting it overtake the entire pattern. I was invited to present keynotes at various nursing conferences and also teach workshops in smaller contexts, and there was always what felt like some big thing(s) on the schedule that I had to prepare for (and feel anxious about). It was exciting and in many ways hugely affirming of strengths and giftings, but the general public doesn’t realize how much effort and intense squeezing of time it involves to prepare well for public presentations, while still trying to maintain other primary life roles and obligations.
It can be intoxicating to hear people tell you that you are gifted, that you have so much to offer, that you’ve made such a difference in the world. Jackie Hill Perry, a well-known author, speaker, artist, and mother, addressed this in her interview with the Risen Motherhood podcast when she said it’s a challenge to put that affirmation from the world in its right place while wrestling with daily faithfulness in motherhood, where your work can feel mundane, repetitive and very much taken for granted. We’re all looking for a sense of significance, and what an internal battle it was to go back and forth from public to private life and try to guard my own sense of groundedness, security and contentment regardless of where my work landed me each day.
There’s a lot of energy that goes into producing what is hopefully worthwhile material for the general public, and energy that goes into the growing and struggling with the process. My last speaking engagement was in May and there is nothing else on the calendar for now, outside of what I choose to pursue by way of blogging for AJN on my timeline, working on my own writing at my leisure, and starting the online Narrative Medicine Certification program with Columbia University this Fall, which can be at my pace. It’s a season of rest (though life with family certainly remains full), and there’s been a considerable amount of detoxing that has come with the transition into rest from the public work for the time being.
What I am realizing is that very few of us know how to rest well, or at least how to rest without some sort of apology or justification attached. The burden of guilt stifles the very freedom, joy and restoration that true rest is supposed to bring about. What is that about? Can we be more kind to ourselves and each other in this hyperproductive world we find ourselves spinning in?
I’m looking to be faithful to what God has put before me, to still serve others well, to still pursue God-given dreams. But I’m also looking to learn how to rest without apology or shame. I haven’t quite found my way in that yet, but I’m convinced that the freedom and joy that come with true rest – both on a spiritual level in Christ and on a practical level in the world – are not altogether elusive.
Back at the end of April, I was honored to receive the UCLA School of Nursing 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award for Excellence in Clinical Care, Nightingale Nurse at the SON’s 70th Anniversary Gala. Much of me is still in disbelief as I see and admire so many other nurses from whom I have so much to learn, but I am grateful for the ways that my contributions to this very special profession have been found valuable and worth recognizing – really not for my sake, but for the sake of shining a greater spotlight on the things I talk and write about: the oft hidden work that nurses do on a deeper heart level and the even more hidden burdens that we bear.
Behind every award is not only a lot of hard work, but also loved ones and mentors who stayed with me, encouraged me, and extended opportunities to me even when it meant they were taking a chance on me.
God is the giver of all good things, all gifts, all talents, all opportunities. He is the One who shows me through Jesus what it is to love, serve, and respect all persons. His grace alone has carried me when I have not been award-worthy, when I have felt weak and lacking in my ability to give to others. He has been my Foundation.
My husband is a quiet man, usually understated but incredibly generous in his support of what I do. He is not in healthcare, but his heart is wide open to the hard things I come home from work with. He has taken time off of work to watch the kids so that I could go on personal retreats when I felt in need of greater time and space to grieve, rest and recharge. He has stood by me and shown grace when I have had moments of crumbling under the weight of my responsibilities and pursuits. He has been the rock of stability for our family as my work in nursing has at times pulled me on wild roller coaster rides.
My parents have generously given of their time, energy, long commute and gas money to come watch the kids as early as 6:00am when I’ve had various speaking events. Theirs is the ultimate immigrant story. They’ve allowed me to go through all of my schooling debt-free. They will forever be one core reason why I’ve ever had any opportunity to do any of the things I have done.
I am fortunate enough to have incredibly supportive managers who go out of their way to support us, and coworkers whom I respect, admire, and learn from every day. I do not take it for granted that I work in a healthy workplace as a nurse, something I realize not every nurse can claim.
Last but most not at all least, the mentors in my life have shown me what it means to invest generously in those younger in the profession who may not be as experienced, knowledgable or well-known, but who show potential to carry on the work of leadership in nursing. Carol Pavlish has been my professor and is now a beloved mentor and friend. She has invited me so graciously to co-present with her at conferences and co-author a chapter on “Finding Meaning in the Work of Caring” in the newly published Oxford Handbook of Meaningful Work. It was Carol who nominated me for this incredible award, and I continue to be so humbled by her belief in this work I do.
Katherine Brown-Saltzman is another mentor who has taken chances on me, particularly when she heard Anna Dermenchyan pitch my name as a possibility to be the closing speaker for the National Nursing Ethics Conference. Katherine and the rest of the planning committee took a risk, and it was a tremendous opportunity. Something in my heart came alive with fire as I closed that conference. Katherine’s wise encouragement to wait patiently for the ongoing unfolding of my story with this work has helped me keep perspective.
Finally, in conjunction with posting the photos from the Gala, the UCLA SON also published online their 2019 Spring Magazine. On pages 34-35, you can read my brief answers to this fun 4-question interview:
“What inspired you to become a nurse?”
“Share a favorite UCLA School of Nursing memory.”
“Advice you’d give future nurses/nursing students?”
“What’s your proudest professional accomplishment?”
No nurse can do this job alone. This holds true at the bedside, and it holds true when the work extends to writing, speaking and any other pursuits to build this profession. I received the award, but by no means did I do this work alone.
These Are the Days
They tell me these are the days
I will miss when you are a teenager, a young adult, a grown woman perhaps with a family of your own.
These days that blur mindlessly, sometimes too heartlessly, into one long Groundhog’s Day
Waking, shepherding, feeding, cleaning, driving, fussing, feeding, hugging, cleaning, feeding, shepherding again
Negotiating all the same arguments, navigating all the same demands, cleaning all the same messes.
Have we grown at all since yesterday? Last month? Last year?
I don’t see it until I look up from the drudges and see you. When did the baby
Face, voice, squishy cuddles, innocence
Disappear into yesterday’s hazy memory?
These are the days
I still light up your eyes so effortlessly.
These are the days
I can still fix most of your problems with a long hug, a kiss, a Hello Kitty band-aid,
And reassurance that Mommy is here.
These are the days
You still want to tell me everything you do, and love, and discover and want.
These are the days
We are still so simple in who we are to each other, you and I.
These are the days.
Don’t let me wish them by too soon.
“So teach us to number our days,
That we may get a heart of wisdom.”