the world comes alive

There is something about photography that causes a deep place in me to come alive. I inherited my father’s serious, at times overly somber personality. But when I have my camera in hand, my heart beats with the anticipation of finding beauty:

Wonderful, hopeful, surprising, delightful, simple beauty.

I can feel the transformation in my heart when I take pictures for this simple quest for what is good and lovely. My eyes look past facades. They look for something that is beyond cliche. I don’t want the easy pictures, the generic pictures, I want the real thing. My eyes search out corners, cracks, expected places, unexpected places. There is no end to what can be found in any time and any space when my heart and eyes begin to search this way. A new way of seeing what I thought I’d already seen. Seeing what I had never seen before.

Wonderful, hopeful, surprising, delightful, simple beauty.

Abbot Kinney Road, Venice, CA

Tough Love Can Be Tough

I’m used to patients being terrified of getting worse. But it took me awhile to realize that the main issue I was now dealing with was that this patient was terrified of getting better. I’m sure there are plenty of psychological publications and blog posts by some really smart people that have already covered this phenomenon, so I certainly don’t claim to be discovering anything new. But it was a new situation for me to find myself in, particularly as I had been with this patient for over a month and had a more intricate relationship with him than with patients that I have for only one or two days. There is an inherent emotional and psychological distance that you can keep from patients and families whom you care for for only a shift or two. But this changes, inevitably, when you are with them as their nurse for an extended period of time.

He had a physical disease process with some setbacks during his recovery, which sentenced him to a prolonged hospital stay. But he also had some psychological and emotional dysfunction that went even further back, which appeared to have gone unaddressed until now. He was intensely needy, refusing to let his primary caretaker from home rest, and fearfully reluctant to let go of various hospital treatments that had become his source of security over time. On the morning of my final shift with him, knowing that he would soon be transitioning out of the ICU, I started off the shift by saying, “Our big goal today is to work on boundaries.” His response: “What’s that?” Oh dear. Each step in this final push towards recovery meant that there would less of all the external support – less treatment, less comfort and coddling, less urgency of response for issues that were not true crises. The growing expectation on him to work through the uncomfortable changes and responsibilities of recovery was almost more than he could handle. I’m so used to my therapeutic nursing role being that of one who brings comfort and relief as much as possible. I wish someone had told me in nursing school that sometimes, the therapeutic nurse is also the one who will hold his or her ground with a firm ‘no’ when the patient is crying, pleading, throwing a tantrum, suffering (but not really suffering).

There is a big part of my ego that wanted him to love me as his primary nurse. I wanted him to thank me for everything I had helped him through. But my final shift with him involved me being a big source of his frustration and discomfort, perhaps some disappointment as well. There would be no thanks offered – just his desperate plea that I would somehow let him go back to the less healthy state that he was in before. It was at that point that I knew for certain I had truly given him the very best that I could as his nurse, and as his friend. Because more than wanting his thanks, I wanted him to get better.

I can see myself in him. It’s how I am sometimes too, towards life, towards others, and towards God. I have a deeper appreciation now for the times when God allows me to struggle. That is a wisdom and love that I still plead against. I kept asking my patient if he still trusted me. I think that is what my Father in Heaven asks me too.

a messy answer to a loaded question

It is an incredibly hard question to answer. You’d think that I would have some kind of ready response, given that I think about it every day, but there simply is no neatly packaged answer that seems to do any meaningful justice to the question,

What is it like to be a pastor’s wife?

First, I need to explain why it is so hard to answer this question in the first place. Complexity. This is not just one question. It is at least two. What is it like to be the wife of a pastor? And what is it like to be in the separate but related role of “a pastor’s wife”?

So now, part one of that question: What is it like to be in a marriage relationship with someone who is a pastor?

Well, relationship is fundamentally molded by time shared. And for the pastor, there are demands on his time that do not exist for any other profession, coupled with expectations that he can or should find a way to meet many, if not most, if not all of those demands. This makes for an irregular schedule for your home life. His meetings with people are generally scheduled around the 9-5 work schedule that the majority of people abide by, which means that others’ free time is his work time, i.e. evenings and weekends. The spouse, then, either comes with him or stays home without him, both options having their challenges if the spouse works full-time herself. And it’s not just demands on his time. It’s demands on his emotional, mental, intellectual and spiritual self. He is constantly asked to give, and give well, on all these levels. He needs to find time to recharge, through our marriage but also apart from me. He needs his man-cave time too. It takes a lot of intentional effort on both his and my part to help make sure that happens.

If you are married to the pastor, you don’t hear the sermon the same way as everyone else in the congregation. At least I don’t. I am thinking about the sermon, but I’m also thinking about how he feels about his sermon and what kind of feedback he will want and need from me afterwards. I listen to sermon podcasts from other pastors so that I can listen to a sermon just for the sake of my own learning and growth, and for nothing else. I also have learned how to better negotiate with my pastor-husband just how much he uses me and our relationship as analogies or examples for the things he is preaching about. While I consider myself to be fairly honest and open about my life, I am nonetheless uncomfortable being the center of attention, especially in a larger group. I don’t always want to be worked into the sermon. Our dog has been a nice substitute.

If God gives you children, you are going to raise the pastor’s children. You want them to be just your children, but the fact remains, they are also the pastor’s children.  No pressure.

You know the pastor in ways that no one else does. You know his dreams, his hopes, his fears, his frailties. And you are to be his main support and encourager through it all. It is wonderful and amazing. It can also be heartbreaking.

Now, part two of the question: What is it like to be in the role of “the pastor’s wife”?

The expected “role” of “the pastor’s wife” is largely defined by your denomination, and more specifically, the personalities in your church congregation. They determine a lot of the underlying definitions and expectations of that “role.” Even if you have a supportive congregation and a fairly healthy sense of self, you still feel yourself constantly negotiating those tensions between what you want and need and what you feel others want and need. What is more, the tensions are not completely static. They will change as your congregation changes, and they will change as your own personal life changes. As a result, you are constantly re-negotiating them to some degree. You’re evaluating your personality type, your social preferences, your boundaries with time, the needs of the church, and your own needs. And you’ve stepped into this role, regardless of any other roles you already play in your own career, family, and other circles of influence.

There are other miscellaneous dynamics that are somewhat unique to the role of the pastor’s wife.

Your financial situation is different from everyone else’s. I’m not talking so much about salary and tax laws, though those can certainly be sticky topics. I’m talking about perception and expectations related to finances. What you buy, what you wear, what you drive, where you live, where you go on vacation. You feel the presence of perceptions and expectations related to all these things more than the spouse of any other profession, I would argue. I know of one pastor’s wife whose husband won a contest from a local sports radio station, which landed a huge HDTV in their living room. I know of another pastor’s wife whose wealthy mother-in-law passed on a used Mercedes to her and her husband. These would be much more normal and acceptable in any other context, but because the husband’s occupation is that of a pastor, they receive, at times, questioning looks about these nicer things in their possession, and they feel a need to explain.

Your relationships are just different. It’s hard to articulate the dynamics in this arena. But I remember going to a family’s home for New Year’s Eve, and they had two energetic, playful dogs who proceeded to do what dogs sometimes do – they humped. Mortified, the teenage son pulled one dog off of the other with this specific scolding: “Not in front of the pastor’s wife!” I was mostly amused but also a little sad. He didn’t feel like he could let his dog just be a dog, simply because I was there, and I was the “pastor’s wife”? I never forgot that, maybe because it reflected a bit of this underlying threat to honest and real relationships that I wish with all my might didn’t exist, but does. Adam McHugh describes this well in his blog post, Why I Sometimes Lie About My Profession.

There are spiritual aspects around this question that I have for now intentionally left out of this post. Not because they aren’t important, and not because life is really that compartmentalized. God knows that without the spiritual aspects for me and my husband, none of this would ever be possible or worth it. But I left them out because usually when people ask me the initial question presented at the beginning of this post, they are asking about the day-to-day, nitty gritty stuff, which is what I’ve tried my best to describe here in hopefully some measure of succinctness.

I also do not intend this blog post to come across as a litany of complaints. I’m just trying to describe the experience of at least this one pastor’s wife as honestly and as straightforward as I can. These are the challenges and tensions that I am constantly working through. Can it be hard? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Guest Blog Post: The Collision of Introversion, Culture, and Confrontation

They say that it is in our relationships with other people where we see our true selves come to light. This is especially true when we are faced with situations in which we must decide whether to confront another person. If not, why not? If so, why and how?

Personality type and culture are obvious factors influencing how we approach (or shy away from) confrontation. I wrote this recent guest post on Adam McHugh’s blog, addressing some of these issues after a very uncomfortable encounter at a local farmer’s market which left me wrestling with a big moral dilemma and a whole lot of soul-searching. Adam is the author of a most wonderful book, Introverts in the Church, which I’ve alluded to in previous posts.

Here is the link to the guest blog post:

http://www.introvertedchurch.com/2012/05/introvert-saturday-collision-of.html

God’s Blessing to the Impure of Heart

It is the tail end of Nurses’ Week around the country, and what a wonderful week it has been. All around the country, all throughout the hospital, and throughout our unit, people have recognized that,

“To do what nobody else will do, a way that nobody else can do, in spite of all we go through; is to be a nurse.” – Rawsi Williams

Our hospital holds an essay contest for Nurses’ Week each year, and this year’s topic was, “Describe a Moment When You Knew You Made a Difference.” Friends encouraged me to submit an entry, and I was excited to do so. People tell me I am a good writer. They tell me they are encouraged through it. The honest truth is, I find writing to be wonderfully cathartic, and so I write, in some (good) ways, for me. The honest truth is also that my ego revels in the fact that others enjoy – and give some praise to – my writing. And so I write, in some (not so good) ways, for me. It’s true, we ought to acknowledge the talents with which God has indeed graciously gifted us. But oh how our egos love to rise, and so quickly, so easily.

One physician stood at the front of the conference room and read the third-place essay. It was wonderful, and it was not mine. Another physician read the second-place essay. It was even more wonderful, and it was not mine. My heart pounded, and my ego stood on its toes, trying to peer over the sheet of paper that the final physician held in his hands, to confirm if that first-place essay was the one with my name on it. He read the first two lines, and it took that many seconds for me to realize, I hadn’t won. I hadn’t even placed.

The first-place story was remarkably special, incredibly powerful. Objectively speaking, I knew it merited its place, as the essay spoke to the beauty of nursing at its absolute finest. Everyone around me was moved to tears, but my eyes were shamefully dry. I was honestly trying to be present with the story as it unfolded in the doctor’s reading. But I was expending too much energy internally mourning my personal loss, to have enough emotional reserve to give to this beautifully moving story. It took an embarrassing amount of time and effort for me to get over myself.

The duplicity of my motivation for entering this essay contest was brought into a glaring light. Here was a room full of people, an entire nation spending an entire week, celebrating the collective story that nurses have to tell about what God-given compassion looks like through their hearts and hands. I, however, missed out a bit on the honor and joy of this greater story, because my compassion was focused on me, myself, and I for just a little too long that day.

Encouragement from other people can of course be good to a certain degree. Humble pie from time to time, however, is necessary and best, as it brings impurity of heart to the surface and burns it away. This refining is God’s blessing, God’s gift, to help my impure heart experience a deeper, purer joy in the bigger picture of what He is doing every day through nurses everywhere.

Backwards Faith

Recently at work, some of our human resources staff had us take a look at what they called our ‘behavioral style framework.’ Generally speaking, people fell into one of four categories: controlling, supporting, promoting, or analyzing. I fell into the analyzing category, and while these personality tests of course have some degree of overlap and imperfections, I would for the most part say that the description of the “analyzing” type fit me well.

Theme: Tends to be thorough, organized and a good planner

Strengths / Pluses:

–       Planning and organization

–       Conscientious and logical

–       Persistent and steady

–       Following through

–       Setting up systems and procedures

Approach to Work:

–       Problem solver

–       Thorough / accurate

–       Reliable and dependable

–       Anchor of reality

–       Defines and clarifies problems and issues

Challenges / Minuses:

–       Can be indecisive

–       Too detailed

–       Risk-averse; overly cautious

–       Not expressive / persuasive enough

–       Overly process-oriented

(Taken from “the human operating system: an owner’s manual” by Senn Delaney.)

It’s true – I am not a big risk-taker. When confronted with big challenges that involve the unknown, I am usually hesitant, indecisive, and, well, analytical. Most of the time, I am always able to make a longer list of risks and potential dangers than I am of potential benefits. I can’t deny it – I like what’s comfortable, predictable. I can generally relate more to the potential disciples who shied away from Jesus’ call to leave everything and follow Him, than to the ones who actually did so with little (or at least less) hesitation, though they had no real idea in that moment what His call actually entailed. For these reasons and many more, I do not tend to see myself as a person of great faith.

What I do see compelling many of my decisions to move forward in the face of fear and uncertainty is more of a backwards faith. First realizing on the surface, and then eventually coming to know on a very deep gut level that

I can’t not move forward.

When my parents came down hard on me during my college years for my growing faith in Christ and the impact it had on my life priorities and choices, the criticism was incredibly painful and deeply personal. They told me I was crazy, brainwashed. In so many ways, it would have been so much easier to just walk away from, or at least de-prioritize my faith a bit. I could avoid all the painful arguments and the criticism. I could have the approval that I craved so intensely from my them. But I couldn’t not move forward. God had done too much to transform and heal my life; He had been too good to me. I simply could not go back to a life without Him.

When I was faced with an incredibly difficult choice in my 20s as to whether or not to confront someone on some very serious issues, I was no masochist. I knew the confrontation would thrust me into the center of public controversy for an extended period of time. I knew I would lose friends. I had no desire to walk into that kind of heartache. But the issues had already been swept under the rug for too long, and they were now too serious to ignore.  I had no idea what lie ahead, but we couldn’t go back and we could no longer stay in our state of pretending things were ok. I couldn’t not move forward.

Sometimes, I think faith for me has been less out of a heart that is certain of the things hoped for, and more out of a heart that just knows it can’t go back or stay stagnant. An analytical heart that trembles with each scary, tentative step, but a heart that knows that life is always better with the One who loves me with His very life, than it is without Him.  And the more I see His faithfulness behind me, the more I am able to learn to trust His faithfulness to find me here, and to go before me.  Hope rises.

the darkness and the light

If I take the wings of the morning,

And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there Your hand shall lead me,

And Your right hand shall hold me.


If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall fall on me,’

Even the night shall be light about me;

Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,

 But the night shines as the day; 

 The darkness and the light are both alike to You.


For You formed my inward parts;

You covered me in my mother’s womb.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Marvelous are Your works,

And that my soul knows very well.

Psalm 139:9-14