why I do not care about social justice

I can not and should not tell his story. Not in the way that he could. This former gang member had just finished giving our class of nursing students a tour of Homeboy Industries, the amazing ministry to at-risk, formerly gang-involved youth, and the recently incarcerated, headed by Father Gregory Boyle. To conclude the tour, he sat down with us in a small room and told us of his life. Grew up with a father addicted to heroin and an older brother heavily involved in gangs. Hoped as a child to experience what it was like to have a child of his own, before he would probably die around age 18 if he was lucky. Ended up in the hospital one time after a bad scuffle, and felt the pain of the wounds not from his latest altercation, but from the judgmental comments and looks of scorn from the nurses who took one look at his tattoos, heard his unsophisticated language, and thereby deemed him worthless, no good, society’s trouble. He had grown accustomed to those comments and looks from everyone else in the community. But he didn’t expect them to come from the nurses too. The healers. The caregivers. Them too.  Huh.

All he wanted was another chance at life. On so many levels.

He pled with us through tears, and so I vowed with tears, to never look at these young men and women through such a dark lens. I believe so deeply in social justice, I said to myself. I kept this vow faithfully in my head and in my heart.

Until one of these young people showed up in the room that I was assigned to for my nursing shift.

The language.

The music. The very, very loud music. How can that be therapeutic?

The simple questions about this disease that my proud, educated self was so tempted to shun.

I saw my prejudices emerge from a hidden place that I was so sure did not exist in me. I saw my impatience grow with each ring of the nurse call light, but he started and ended every request with please and thank-you, respectively. Through the rough language, the very, very loud music, and the questions that came from a place that never afforded him a chance to learn, shone a heart of gold. This patient humbled me with his repeated expressions of deep, sincere gratitude for my help. Deep gratitude for life, for family, for everything that meant anything to him.

I realized that I can’t say I truly care about social justice until I learn to care about the actual people who need it the most. Until I learn to serve them with a level of humility and gratitude that can match even a tenth of theirs. Until I learn to talk with them in their language. Until I’m even just willing to talk with them, period, rather than cut short conversations because they make me too uncomfortable, with them, and moreso, with myself.

Maybe. Just maybe, one day, I will learn to care about social justice.

loving little, loving much

The plants from my old home show signs of being loved too little. Dry soil, brown-ish stems, undesirable flowers from basil plants that expose my lack of regular pruning and harvesting. For the new place, friends gave us fresh herbs in these brilliant biodegradable pots that could easily be replanted into larger pots, complete with potting mix and plant food, as the most lovely housewarming gift. After receiving a second collection of herbs as party favors from the wedding of two beloved friends, we now have a wonderfully fragrant mix that I diligently repotted and placed in our back deck. Now I face the danger of loving these plants too much. Overwatering is such a strong temptation. But for many of these delicate plants, less is more. They need challenges that will push their roots to grow. They need space to breathe, to absorb nutrients, to not be drowned out by my insistence on loving them with all the water I can flood them with.

Neglect in love is easy. But restraint in love can be so hard.

I had a gently confrontational, gracious but uncomfortable, expected but somewhat unexpected conversation with someone the other day. I suppose you could call it a mild form of discipline. This person, many years my minor, is dear to my heart for so many deeply heartfelt reasons. My heart longs for so much for this person, but I found that everything I wanted to say was going to come out sounding like a lecture. This person did not want or need a lecture. The discipline was needed but the love had to come through. And I felt in my gut that the love had to take the form of restraint. Making the point short and sweet, and letting the person work through it on their terms, in their time. Let the roots grow. Give space to breathe. Don’t drown out their thoughts with too many of my own.

I know how to neglect love too well. Once in a while I know how to love much. But restraint in love. That can be so hard.

obviously hidden

“We were friends for a long time. And one day, I woke up, and suddenly thought of her in a completely different light. And I wanted to marry her.”

I remember hearing this introduction to a love story from two college acquaintances, and being so moved by its drama. A life-changing, earth-shattering, world-rocking revelation. Isn’t that how a great and awesome God moves and speaks in our lives, if we are truly connected to Him? Stops us in our tracks, lights a burning bush, and brings us to our knees? I do take a lot of quiet, slow walks since my dog seems to forget on a daily basis that he has stopped to sniff and mark every tree, every day, for the past few years. But I have yet to run into any burning bushes. Life outside of work has been unremarkable, for the most part. I’ve got the same housework to do that I did just a few days ago. Unpacking and settling into a new home is about as tedious a process as it gets. It has, however, proven to be curiously, quietly revelatory.

We had slowly moved some carloads of boxes over to the new place before our biggest and final moving day, when 30 generous hands connected to 15 big hearts helped load all the larger items into a U-haul, only to unload them one block over. These 30 hands also helped to pack and move the remaining random items that seemed to multiply and emerge from hidden places in the old house as the day went on. The help was invaluable, but the lack of organization on our part led to a hide-and-seek game of epic proportions when I started to look for the most important things, like underwear. And jewelry. There’s nothing quite like calling your girlfriends at 10PM asking if they know where your underwear got packed away. Only to have them say they have no idea, maybe one of the guys packed it? That’s fantastic. And I was so certain that I had dug through every box multiple times in the house and garage, trying to unearth that single, elusive jewelry box, growing increasingly frustrated and frantic with each search. Until one day, I casually picked up a couple items on top of an open box at the front of the garage, and there it was just underneath. The jewelry box. Just where it’d been all along.

And then there was the classic male versus female difference in approach when it comes to settling into a new home. The husband’s task list was composed of fixing, drilling, sawing, installing, building. My task list was composed of cleaning, organizing, decorating, decorating, and decorating. He tried showing me all the hard work he put into sawing a hole in the wall so he could properly install the new washing machine and fit it into the laundry closet. I responded with a blank stare. I tried getting his feedback on colors and patterns and the overall look of a room, only to get a seemingly indifferent shrug. We both dove headfirst into our tasks, buried deep in our worlds, blinded by our respective missions. The inevitable argument ensued. You don’t see what I’ve been working on. You don’t appreciate what I’ve done.

Sometimes, we just need to settle down from the tizzy of over-determination and its subsequent frustration to see what’s been so obviously hidden in front of us. Sometimes, we just need our loud, proud voices to quiet down so we can see, really see, what was so obviously hidden in another person. And hence we find those things that can be ours from the hand of a generous and gracious God in the quieter but no less life-changing moments of humble daily revelation.

known

Until this point, I have driven to work wondering if today might be the day when I experience for the first time what it is like to have my patient code under my watch. I have taken part (and a small part, mind you) in other codes with other nurses, but the patient was never my patient until now. And it was relatively brief and minor, as far as codes go. Perhaps that is the mercy of God easing me in as still a relatively young, new nurse. The patient’s breathing tube became dislodged and he had some trouble keeping his oxygenation and heart rate up until the doctors were able to rush over and get another breathing tube in. My hands shook unabashedly as I pushed the drugs to help the intubation go smoothly. Thankfully, the patient stabilized after just a brief episode of chaos.

It was the first time I’ve ever had a patient (semi-)code on my watch. It was the second time I’ve ever had a parent yell at me. I knew the frustration about the child’s situation wasn’t personal, but it hurt nonetheless. I try my best as a nurse to keep a calm exterior in front of the parents, but the inner feelings eventually have to go somewhere, and I’m still figuring out where they go, and where and how they eventually show up again. They always seem to catch me by surprise. I’ll drive home feeling surprisingly ok. A day or two later, in the most normal of life circumstances, I’ll greet a friend with a casual hug and suddenly a surge of sadness and heartache spring up. They’re so curious, emotions. You can suppress them for a while, but you can’t escape them. My counselor keeps reminding me how new I still am as a pediatric ICU nurse. He reminds me to be patient with myself as I grow in my coping mechanisms. He assures me that the wild vacillation I often feel between deeply intense emotions and a reactionary strong need to distance myself from anything remotely emotional will eventually settle down, even out a bit. I hope so. Sometimes it’s like being on a bad amusement park ride with agonizingly slow hill climbs and then wild drops that leave your heart behind, trying to catch up to where you are again. I knew it was a hard profession and a particularly hard unit to work in. But I’m still constantly surprised at just how hard it really is.

My comfort this morning comes from God’s words about Abraham. Known as the great father of faith, Abraham was yet a man who, more than once, questioned, doubted, feared, manipulated, even laughed at God. I find comfort in both Abraham’s faith as well as his frailty. But beyond that, I find comfort in his God, who is also my God.

The Lord says about Abraham in Genesis 18:19 –

For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.

Ultimately, Abraham is able to walk his journey of faith, not because he is so unwavering in his knowledge of God, but because God knows Abraham and is able to do what He must do in Abraham’s heart and life to grow and sustain him when the seemingly impossible challenges come. Wait, Abraham, until Sarah is past her years of fertility so you can see My power in giving you a child. You will doubt, you will struggle with impatience, you will try to make it happen on your own, but eventually, you will see, and you will learn. And then remember this, when I ask you to lift your hand with a knife and slay that same miracle child. You will learn how to sacrifice and trust the second time, because I taught you a little bit about it the first time.

Sometimes I think, if I could just get myself to trust Him more, get myself to let go of my fears better, then I could be strong. But I don’t always sense at the core of me that He already knows me intimately, knows my name, knows my ways, my coming and my going, my hopes and fears, my desires and my struggles in seeking to follow after Him.  When I think of it as me trying to reach upward to attain faith, attain stability in life’s great challenges, it is daunting because I feel my frailty every day. But when I realize that He is here, in me, near me, around me, with me, growing me, loving me, it changes everything.

It changes everything.