The Small Unforgettable Lesson

Disoriented, exhausted, and almost slightly embarrassed, she emerged from her dark room and blinked. I was the nurse for a different patient a couple doors down and had occasionally glanced at the photos she had taped on the front of her son’s door throughout the day – photos of her infant son in his healthier moments with his bright-eyed big sister, sharing moments of affection and play as young siblings do. The photos made me think of my own children, about the same age. I quietly noticed I wouldn’t let myself think too much of the similar life stages between my kids and hers. It was now early evening, about hour ten of my twelve-hour shift, and it was the first time I’d seen her emerge. Her hair was tied up and her clothes were those of a mother seeking comfort in whatever form she could find, if she had to live in the hospital with her child for weeks at a time. She blinked, looked around for her nurse, and when she didn’t see her nurse, she asked those of us at the station, “Could I just get some water? I just realized I’m dying of thirst.”

We were having a relatively lighter day, and we nurses were caught mid-conversation about something silly. My colleague said of course we could get her water, and left to fetch it. She stood there waiting somewhat awkwardly, her expression caught in some in-between place. She looked as if what she really wanted to do was return to her dark room, lonely but private, tragic but familiar, and had emerged into a half-outside world that was a change from her sad bedside vigil, but still too painful the reminder that no, she hadn’t just woken up from a nightmare, and yes she was still in the hospital with her child. Her eyes gazed hazily down the hall.

I told her the pictures of her children were beautiful. “Thank you,” she replied, her voice drifting off. A few moments later, she said, “We haven’t seen his sister in a few months.” I can’t remember my response, but it was brief, something along the lines of, “Oh…that’s so hard.” She stayed quiet. Another nurse walked by and made a side commentary related to our earlier silly conversation, and I made some forgettable reply with a small chuckle. My colleague returned with the water pitcher for the mother, and she silently slipped back into her dark room.

It’s a moment that has stayed with me. I see it as a missed opportunity for genuinely empathetic, compassionate care, and each time my mind wanders back to that brief exchange, it makes me sad and makes me resolve to do better. I sensed the tremendous gap between her world and ours, just in taking that step from her son’s room out to our nursing station. I could see she felt it and was at best disoriented, at worst feeling very much alone even among the caregivers. I had not really met her as she had opened up a bit of our conversation to her experience as a mother estranged from her precious daughter as she wearily poured her energy into her very ill son…and I closed that conversation without gently coming to her side, instead cracking some stupid side joke and shutting her back into her private world.

Some could argue, well I wasn’t her nurse and I had to keep up some emotional self-protection because her kids reminded me too much of my own and that’s hard. Some might write it off and tell me I am being too hard on myself, which may have some truth. But it stays with me nonetheless because I still think it matters. I think it is the kind of interaction that makes the difference between one who just does the work of a nurse and one who cares for the heart of a mother with greater empathy, social skill, and wisdom than I had that day.

She most likely remembers very little of that conversation. But I remember it, this small unforgettable lesson, and my resolve is to do better.

Superwoman’s Got Nothing on Me

I never really believed in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or imaginary monsters in my closet. But I’ve believed in Superwoman for a long time. Not spandex and cape Superwoman, but definitely beautiful and so all-powerful. I see glimpses of her all over social media, and because she seems to be everywhere, she must exist.

I’m pretty sure this is what she looks like:

  • Amazing at keeping her house clean with young children but also deeply secure enough to not care about the fact that she cannot actually keep her house clean with young children. She can totally have her cake and eat it too, guilt-free.
  • Incredibly involved with all kinds of activities outside of the house and also has all the time – and peace of mind – in the world to be “completely present” with her kids. In her perfectly clean house.
  • Working at the top of her game in her career and also giving 100% to her kids at home because she never lets the exhaustion affect her performance. Anywhere. Ever.
  • Getting that 30 min of daily exercise in, napping when the kids nap (because they nap perfectly for her every day), cooking homemade organic meals, perfectly organizing the perfect balance of the right toys, staying stylish, keeping up with friends, keeping up with pop culture, doing things to refresh herself daily, and spending quality time with her husband every evening.
  • The Christian version of this Superwoman also spends deep, focused, awake times in prayer every morning before the sun is up.
  • She is so sweet. So perfectly sweet. Never cross, never crabby, never impatient. So sweet with the crazy people coloring on her walls, tugging at her skirt, throwing their food, wetting their pants, repeating their requests despite repeated requests to please wait. So sweet.

I thought I needed to be her. I thought everyone around me wanted me to be her. I even thought God wanted me to be her. And then He called out that lie for what it is.

Psalm 40: 4-5

 Blessed is that man who makes the Lord his trust,
And does not respect the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.
Many, O Lord my God, are Your wonderful works
Which You have done;
And Your thoughts toward us
Cannot be recounted to You in order;
If I would declare and speak of them,
They are more than can be numbered.

He wants me to trust – I mean, put my vulnerable, insecure, weary heart seeking all its validation and worth – in Him. Trust that He has already done all the important work of making me significant. Trust that He has already been thinking about me with such deep affection from before time began. Take my vulnerable heart out of the hands of all that online boasting that says “Look at me! Look what I’ve done! Look what I’m doing! Tell me I am Superwoman!” It’s a lie. I know it’s a lie even as I post all my efforts at being Superwoman. But I fall into the trap because Superwoman is out there and I’ve got to join the ranks, and I put my trust there only to be left with the empty lie that I need to keep trying to fulfill to make everyone – and make myself – believe it.

Superwoman, you’re a lie and I’m done chasing the illusion of you. And I’m slowly learning that actually, you’ve got nothing on me. You are a magnet for envy but in my heart of hearts, what I really want is to be who God made me, and I won’t let you take that away from me any longer.

I am who God has made me to be, and that is who I need to be. For my freedom, and for His glory.