When Your Day Goes from Bad to Worse, and Threatens to Take Your Heart With It

There are days you’re ready for, days you’re not but try to prepare for, and then days that you just have to recover from.

This day falls into the last category.

It was the day before I was supposed to go on vacation – specifically a personal retreat, because I knew by this point in the calendar, I was going to be run down, worn out, ready for respite.

The weeks leading up to this, I had three speaking engagements in as many weeks, my normal work shifts plus precepting a new graduate nurse, and of course ongoing wife / mother / friend / community commitments that I wanted (well, struggled) to give sufficient attention and energy to.

I knew I would be running on fumes, and just needed to get through this last day of trying to get the family and house’s needs in order before I went on my retreat. It would be a day of just dotting all my i’s and crossing my t’s. Tedium but at least I could exhale at the end.

Until the plumbing in the main bathroom that the girls and I share went awry in the early afternoon. The toilet wouldn’t flush. It didn’t respond to plunging. Husband used the snake and went 25 feet deep but still, the toilet was clogged and now the bathtub was draining slowly too. In a last ditch effort before we looked for an emergency plumber on a Sunday, husband put Drano into the bathtub and sink drains, instructed me to wait an hour before running hot water through those and trying the toilet again, and then he left to play basketball.

I did as he instructed but to no avail. I tried plunging the toilet again, which remained futile.

Defeated, I went to my computer and started to research emergency plumbers.

My 8 year-old then came to me, looking quite concerned. “Mommy? Do you know what that stuff is in the driveway?”

Frustrated by the vagueness of her question (which happens ALL the time), I assumed my husband had just cleaned out some items from the garage and set them in the driveway.

“Sweetie, I’m not sure what you’re talking about, but I really need to focus on trying to find a plumber to deal with our bathroom issues right now.”

“Well….Mama… I’m just….wondering what all that yellow stuff is in the driveway. Can you just come look?”

I sighed, and reluctantly went to the front of the house to just try and get my daughter off my back.

And then I noticed the stench of sewage, and saw the stain of water covering the driveway, peppered with clumps of toilet paper and human waste.

Oh dear God.

It turns out, someone-who-shall-not-be-named forgot to put the drain cover back on at the front of the house after he tried snaking the pipes from there. The front of our home reeked of raw sewage and I was mortified on behalf of our neighbors.

I secured an emergency appointment with a plumber who said he could send someone in about two hours, and then texted my husband about the appalling situation happening in our driveway.

“Ah… sorry. I deal with this stuff all the time with my Health Dept job. I’ll go pick up lime powder [to absorb the stench] and come clean it up.”

Husband gets home, dons gloves and cleans up the sewage, and covers the driveway with lime powder. I am using all my emotional energy to not be upset with him. It was a mistake, and he’s cleaned it up, and I still have other things to take care of.

He comes inside the house, and we suddenly hear the toilet unclog itself. We hear the water move through and breathe a deep sigh of relief. Two minutes later, the plumber arrives and confirms things look ok, and he goes on his way.

I am nearly catatonic as we get through dinnertime, I am so drained by all that’s just happened. So we finish dinner, and I take Max the Dog out for a walk, because both I and Max really need some fresh air, and I need to blow off the last bits of internal steam.

I walk Max down a street we don’t normally walk down too often. He steps off the sidewalk just to the outside border of a green grassy lawn, and crouches to do his business. Just then, I notice out of the corner of my eye that the homeowner is standing at her car in the driveway, and she sees my dog pooping in her lawn. She stares with her mouth agape at me, and then rolls her eyes. “Oh NO… in MY LAWN???” I’m embarrassed and exhausted, but I’ve got doggie bags like a good responsible neighbor, so I quietly and swiftly go to pick up Max’s poop. I pull him off her lawn and we keep walking, but we have to pass her. I can tell she is glaring at me and I don’t engage. I have no energy left, and I cleaned up.

“EXCUSE ME, MA’AM. I know you picked up after your dog, but could you PLEASE NOT LET YOUR DOG POOP IN MY LAWN??”

I am exhausted, grouchy, frustrated, and quite frankly just very confused at her aggression because I cleaned up after my dog and am not sure why she feels a need to continue yelling. I know if I look at her, my eyes will glare. I know if I open my mouth, nothing good will come out, so I keep quiet, look straight ahead and just keep walking.

“I KNOW YOU CAN HEAR ME!!!!”

I summon all my energy to not yell back at her, to just walk my dog and now try and blow off even more steam that wants to boil over in me.

I don’t want to come home to my family in this extra angry state, so I walk Max for some extra time, meandering one block after another through the neighborhood until I feel my emotions have calmed enough for me to be somewhat decent for my family.

I just need to get through the last couple hours of this night.

Max and I get back to our house, and I walk to the side of the house to throw away the poop bag. My 6 year old daughter has come out to greet us. I turn around to say hi to her and to go to the front door, and as I look up, I see her.

It’s the neighbor, from however many blocks away, who yelled at me about Max pooping on her lawn.

She’s in her car, slowly driving by, looking at me.

She FOLLOWED ME HOME. In her extra quiet electric vehicle, so I didn’t hear an engine humming behind me. All those meandering steps that I took Max on – she followed me.

She keeps driving. I am stunned.

My husband is inside and I tell him what just happened. I burst into tears, full of anger and confusion and defeat and desire for evil things upon this neighbor.

I tell my husband how I just have been trying so hard to be responsible for everything I’ve been juggling. I had so little left to try and be responsible with the plumbing situation. I was trying to be a responsible dog owner, and the way this day caps off is with me being creepily followed home by an unreasonable, spiteful neighbor.

It is not worth articulating all the mean, angry, passive-aggressive, vengeful things I wanted to say, write or do, in the general direction of this neighbor.

What is worth articulating is Romans 12:9-10, 14-21.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

What is also worth articulating is that I have trusted people in my life who can talk me down from the ledge when I’m driven by sheer emotion in a weak moment and am strongly tempted to act on it in ways that do not reflect the fact that Christ loves this woman, just as He loves me in my most ridiculous behavior.

He overcame my evil with His good; His life for mine. Through His Word, and through wise friends, He helped me not only consider the evil from this woman, but the evil springing up in me, and gave His grace to overcome evil with good instead.

He helps us choose better ways than our own selfishness-driven ways, and I find such comfort and freedom in this.

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Diving Deep: Where is God in the PICU

I spent all week writing this post, “Where is God in the PICU: Cases of Injustice,” which can be found in its entirety on my nursing blog.

There was a lot of deep wrestling here, and some vulnerability in sharing parts of me I’m not proud of, but the beauty is that through the uncovering we find the glorious extent of the goodness of God.

Dive deep with me. There is treasure worth finding.

What Love Must Do

She was so mad at me.

She’d been playing her online video game and was >this close< to a huge victory and all the intensely proud satisfaction and online rewards that came with this victory.

She’d already been playing for too long and I’d repeated myself twice already.

“Time’s up. You need to turn the computer off.”

“But… just…! I just….almost got this villain! Just a few more minutes!”

“You’ve been playing too long already. It’s not good for your eyes, and I already gave you your five- minute and your two-minute warning. Time’s up. Shut down your computer.”

“…but…I just… I’m almost done with this battle, Mama!”

“We can start talking about consequences, hon.”

Without looking at me, she closed her computer, hard, and scrambled up to her spot on the top bunk bed. I knew that quiet rage. It didn’t show itself often, but I knew that when she was really, really fuming, she had a tendency to turn deeply inward and shut me out. I heard the sniffles betray her desire to hide her feelings from me.

I gave her a few minutes to work through the climax of her upsetedness, and when I heard the stifled sobs quiet down, I took a deep breath and climbed up the bunk ladder to sit next to her.

“You’re mad at me.”

“I worked so hard to fight that super hard villain. I was so close to winning an ultra-rare prize that you only get when you win against that villain in your first battle. But then you made me get off and I lost my chance to win, I lost my chance to get that ultra-rare prize. You should’ve let me stay on!”

“Sweet girl.

I’m sorry that me making you get off your computer led to you losing the chance to beat that villain and win that prize. I know you’re really sad about that, and I’m sorry.

But sweet girl…I need you to understand, it’s a game. It’s not reality. My job as your parent is to teach you how to treat reality as more important in your life than a game. Reality is, I love you too much to let you play a game endlessly throughout a day and have all your best energy and biggest emotions caught up in it. Reality is, that ultra-rare prize you wanted doesn’t actually exist. Reality is, it’s time to spend time with family and have real bedtime snuggles. Reality is, once that computer is off, the game is gone…but I’m right here. Your Daddy and your sister are right here and it’s family time now.”

Her shoulders dropped and she sighed softly.

“Ok Mama.”

“I love you, sweet girl.”

“I know. I love you, too.”

Sometimes, Love lets us hurt over the wrong things so that we can learn to live for the right things.

A Letter from a Christian PICU Nurse to the Western Christian Church

To my Western Christian brothers and sisters,

I come to you as a fellow Christian and as a pediatric ICU nurse with a burden and a plea.

I come to you as someone who knew in theory and through some personal experience before I became a nurse, that this world can be cruel and unfair. I come to you as someone who has had my share of struggles, but who has also had my share of privilege and comfort. I come to you as someone who, like you, wants to have a deep foundation of hope and faith – and wants to share a real hope and faith for others who may be searching.

I come to you from my perspective as a nurse who has worked for 11 years at the bedside of two-, five-, eight-, fourteen- year-olds who were playing at school just last week, and today are near motionless in an ICU bed after an explosive night of unrelenting abuse, a freak car accident, a suddenly ruptured brain aneurysm, an insidious raging blood infection. Some of their parents are in jail. Some parents are faithful, upright citizens in their community. Some parents are nowhere to be seen. Some parents are addicted to drugs but limping along and now devastated by the critical diagnosis of the once-healthy child they’ve been trying so hard to get their life together for. There is no rhyme or reason that I can see for what has happened to who.

I have been at the bedsides of these patients, tending to their little broken bodies. I have stood with their parents in stunned silence. I have literally picked their parents up off the floor. I have not had any easy explanation for why? Why did this happen to us? How did we get here? How do we go on?

I come to you because I see your desire to also be people of hope and faith, to be people who cultivate a hope and faith that is worth sharing with a hurting world.

I come to you because I have a burden for me and for you.

I am burdened with the sense that we are a people who struggle to gently, patiently, courageously, honestly allow for the reality of present suffering and grief in a world where we also believe God to be present, loving and good.

When we sit up close with someone in the throes of acute suffering and loss, or someone in the weary and isolating cell of chronic illness and disability, we are at times too quick in our acknowledgment of the very real pain. “Oh I’m sorry that hurts – but REMEMBER GOD LOVES YOU, AND KNOW THAT HEAVEN WILL COME ONE DAY!”

Is this real faith talking? It might be. But I know for myself, it’s usually a response borne more out of my discomfort with the hard fact that God allows this present suffering. It’s my fear of inadequacy in helping the sufferer with this current pain, and so all I can do is promptly ask all of us to look away from it to some future day. It’s a response borne out of my own struggle to see how God is right here, right now, even in this awful mess of grief. I am learning how dismissive and outright hurtful our half-present platitudes can be to someone who may very well know that they will be at least a little better in the future, but in the present, they sit under a weight that is unbearable alone, feel ashamed by their inability to contribute to a culture addicted to “positive vibes only,” and feel dizzy trying to navigate a life that feels acutely upended.

A lot of our struggle to gently, patiently, courageously, honestly allow for the reality of present suffering and grief is cultural. I fear we have not paid sufficient attention to the ways our culture has seeped into our perspective on faith (hello, prosperity gospel) and our approaches (or lack thereof) towards real, drawn-out, presently-unfixable suffering.

In a previous blog post, I’ve touched a little on why we don’t know what to do with grief. The broader Western culture feeds and informs our perception and definition of the good life. A comfortable home with a comfortable salary is a great place to start, so that any problems can be rather easily remedied. A busted pipe? Frustrating and inconvenient, but throw some money at it and it’ll be fixed in a few days. Running low on a necessary personal item? Order it on Amazon and it appears on your doorstep potentially that same day. Feeling a little chilly in the winter months? Invest a bit in a new heating / air conditioner unit and keep the home at the perfect temperature all year round. Feeling down? Eat your feelings at this trendy restaurant – or better yet, get their food delivered right to your doorstep. Feeling lonely? Log onto this app and chat with any willing stranger within seconds. Don’t like the sad news about suffering people in other parts of the world? Just turn off your TV and your notifications so it doesn’t get you down.

We are a culture that almost exclusively defines a good life with immediate comfort and quick resolution. We’ve come to expect it. This is a key issue happening in our minds and hearts, the issue of expectation when it comes to our discomfort and suffering. We don’t just hope for comfort and resolution – we expect it, and we expect it fast. This is a very pervasive mindset in our culture.

What then, about God? Somewhere in there, I think we’ve come to expect that God too should provide quick fixes the way the world provides quick fixes (because otherwise, is He really much better than what the world can offer?) It’s easy to start thinking, well as God, He should be both faster and stronger. If He doesn’t seem to be faster and stronger than the world is with quick fixes, then is something wrong with Him?  

My brothers and sisters, don’t you see this is the very lie that Satan himself tried to tempt Jesus with in the desert? “Jesus, if you are really God, then stop your pointless suffering from hunger and turn those stones into bread already. Easy! Jesus, if you want to show you’re stronger than death, then throw yourself down from this pinnacle and let the people see how the angels swoop in to save you. Easy! Jesus, if you say your purpose is to be glorified among the nations, forget all that foolish talk of the cross and that brutal, unjust death – just worship me and I’ll give you all these worldly kingdoms; you’ll have all you want the easy way.” Over and over, Satan pressed Jesus for the easy fix. Over and over, Jesus Himself said that simply was not the way He would go about things. He would walk the long, painful, agonizing, shameful, unjust road in order to meet us and walk with us on our own long, agonizing roads.

This interaction between Satan and Jesus doesn’t explain the shocking cancer diagnosis, the freak car accident, the horrific child abuse. My heart still aches as I think upon the patients in our ICU, past, present and future. But it does tell me something about what Satan wants us to believe about God: Satan wants us to believe God should give us the quick and easy fix in every form of struggle, and if He doesn’t, He’s not worth worshiping. The exchange also tells me about the nature of lowly Jesus: He knows the long road of suffering, and He chose to walk it all the way, out of undefiled love for us. He chose to love us this way, out of worshipful obedience to the Father.

Church, my plea to you is this.

When you meet someone who is walking a long, hard road of suffering and grief, don’t rush to look for ways to assure them God will turn their stones into bread. You can’t say if He will or not. Acknowledge their hunger pangs, and walk with them as they work out what trusting the Father looks like when they feel weak and depleted on this road.

When you talk with a nurse like myself who is overcome with anger and anguish over the deaths I witness in my patients, don’t rush to swoop me up with the angels towards heaven quite yet. Acknowledge that I am looking at the brute agony of death square in the face, and walk with me as I work out what faithfulness to God looks like when – before the resurrection – I still have this issue of death to wrangle with.

When you see in your own self how you would prefer to focus on all the riches and glory of a comfortable kingdom before you, don’t rush too quickly to dismiss the possibility that maybe this is a temptation from the devil himself and not the true fulfillment of God’s ultimate promises. Maybe, before we enter into that glorious future kingdom, we still have a road to the cross that we need to walk – gently, patiently, courageously, and honestly – with our Savior, the suffering, and each other.

NPR TED Radio Hour Podcast: What can grief provide us?

My NPR TED Radio Hour podcast episode has dropped! 🎙

In this podcast, Manoush explores a few TEDTalks connected to the topic of Heartache. Starting at 27:00, my interview with her explores some of my bittersweet experiences as a nurse and the hard-wrought lessons grief has brought about over the years in this profession.

I can think of no other time in our lives when we as an entire world have experienced sorrow, heartache and grief as a collective whole for over 1.5 years. I hope a bit of what I share here is an encouragement, a balm for our weary souls.

You can listen to just my segment alone here, find the entire episode here, or you can click below and listen through Spotify.

Grief and the Good and Hopeful Life


In my last blog post, I took a birds-eye view with some thoughts on why we don’t know what to do with grief. I’m not trying to talk us out of grief by rationalizing. It only makes sense that we don’t readily know what to do with grief. It can hurt like hell. Its existence means something has gone dreadfully wrong. There are moments where it feels completely dark; I’ve known those moments myself. But perhaps it’s for those very reasons that I think it’s important to look at it from more angles than the typical ones we come at it with.

In this blog post, I want to spend some more time on my final thought in the previous post: We struggle to see what a good and hopeful life can look like with grief always present.

This isn’t to deny the permanent wound a significant loss can leave on us; life will never be as we knew it. But with social media feeding into the rather narrow (read: curated) ways we define a good life which often include some version of lying carefree, young and beautiful on a luxury vacation, it is no wonder that we can feel almost doomed once significant suffering or loss find their way into our lives.

What are we doing to ourselves – and to each other – when we primarily define a good life as one that involves minimal heartache and tears?

What we do when we define a good life in a narrow, idealistic way

We live superficially and don’t allow ourselves to be challenged to consider what can make for a meaningful existence even when circumstances are deeply painful and far from ideal.

We miss out on a certain depth to our perspectives and our care for others that can really only come through wrestling with harder questions and circumstances.

We create a divide between perceived haves and have-nots, further isolating those who are suffering and compounding their sadness with despair.

We set our hope solely upon ideal circumstances that aren’t guaranteed to hold up, and this lays shaky ground for our long-term sense of well-being.

What we can do when we learn to broaden the definition of a good and hopeful life to one that includes grief

We can discover a different and more solid foundation for life – a process that is, quite frankly, work. It’s built through a process of dismantling old foundations that might’ve been easier to establish, ones that are sufficient for effortless days but can never hold up in the storm. It’s built with hammering, fire, sweat, tears, questioning if it’s worth all the cost and effort. But in the end, the new foundation holds solid, firm, unshakable when everything else is shaken. It can be terrifying to build and test, but it ends up providing the greatest sense of security we could find.

We develop an intimate understanding of hope beyond ideal circumstances where there was once ignorance.

We are less intimidated by people who are suffering and develop more capacity to share space with them without feeling desperate to sugar coat the conversation.

We discover deeper and more authentic community. Is it not true that when we are hurting, we gravitate more towards those who have been through similar heartache and less towards those who seem to have never tasted hardship? Our ability to truly know and be known by one another grows in new dimensions through shared suffering. My richest and most significant relationships are with those who have shared their grief with me and who have borne mine as well.

I wish grief upon no one, but we do ourselves such disservice when we pretend that we can or should avoid it throughout our lifetime. Its reality is sobering, but its reality also does not automatically mean a good and hopeful life becomes unattainable for all who experience it. Without discounting the very real pain that suffering brings, my years of being an ICU nurse and my own encounters with personal grief have taught me that in some ways, those who wrestle hard with grief are the ones who find a deeper understanding of what a good and hopeful life really mean.

Why We Don’t Know What to do With Grief

(Taken from my nursing blog, http://heartofnursing.blog)

In my recent interview for an upcoming NPR TED Radio Hour podcast (9/17) on “Heartbreak,” the host, Manoush Zomorodi, asked a series of insightful questions from many angles about my experiences with grief over the years as a pediatric ICU nurse. Those questions have sparked many thoughts that I believe are worth exploring and sharing in a series here on grief, with hopes that we can take a closer, courageous look at grief and reframe our perspective on it during a time when we are all feeling it perhaps more than ever.

Unfortunately, recent world events give us countless issues to grieve on many levels. Please note this blog series will primarily focus on grief and loss more on the individual/personal level, though I think some of these ideas will be pertinent to broader societal issues.

And with that, the first thought I want to tackle is: Why we don’t know what to do with grief.

Before we tackle some reframing of grief, I think it’s important to consider why we run for the hills from it before we even give it a chance to just be a normal part of our lives.

Denial of its possibility is ingrained into our culture from day one.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard or said myself, “I just thought that happens to other people in other places, not to me, not to us here.” Our blind spots to the assumptions we make about life as people in a wealthy, powerful nation profoundly shape our shaky personal response to real suffering, loss and grief.

We are a culture obsessed with convenience and easy fixes. Any ICU nurse (that’s me) can tell you how much we love our easy fixes to life’s pains and problems (hello, all the medical interventions), but also how powerless and detrimental some presumed fixes can actually be (again hello, all the medical interventions). We just keep assuming we can always find a way out of our grief, if not avoid it altogether.

Grief is too closely associated with negativity.

This is a tricky statement because there is obviously some connection between the two. But sometimes “toxic positivity” is completely out of touch with reality, and grief is more in touch with reality than we care to admit. You can have days of intense grief and intense negativity, but they don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. You can also have days of intense grief and also have solid hope. Because we have such a hard time recognizing this, and we are a fix-it culture addicted to “positive vibes only,” we are strongly tempted to reply to someone’s healthy, normal grief with “At least you…(can still have another child),” or “You should just be thankful that x, y, and z.” This actually ends up invalidating and somewhat shaming what is actually a normal, healthy response of grief to a real loss. We think it’s necessary (and even possible) to somehow cancel out the grief by diverting attention to some more “positive” thing over there, instead of giving healthy space and permission to cultivate and process normal grief.

In other words, we only know how to battle negativity by trying to shut it down, which in most cases is probably wise to not indulge it too much. Unfortunately, because we almost automatically associate grief with negativity, this means we typically respond to grief by trying to squash it as well, even when its manifestation is actually a very healthy thing.

We struggle to be quiet and patient with hard questions.

With Google Search at our fingertips, we are more accustomed than we realize to having all the seemingly hard answers so readily accessible. Will my children growing up in this Internet age really even learn to think for themselves? It is in many ways a gift to crowdsource knowledge and have others do so much of this hard work for us. But when it comes to grief and loss, which are so intensely personal and complicated, we have to do the work ourselves of wrestling with the hard questions grief often raises, and this feels daunting because we simply don’t practice it much day to day. We deeply resist the discomfort of having our worldview and our assumptions of how life “should” operate be so profoundly challenged, and often prefer relief and escape from that discomfort over working towards the building of a different, deeper life foundation.

We don’t know what to do with things that cannot be explained.

Even as we work through hard questions, there remain some things that cannot be fully explained. There may be a medical explanation, coroner’s cause of death, but there are other types of answers we often search for that we simply won’t find in their entirety. Our need for control and power chafes against this. But when I’m suffering, it’s usually not clear and specific answers that actually soothe my soul. As the wise singer/songwriter Rich Mullins once sang, “And I know that it would not hurt any less…even if it could be explained.” When I’m suffering acutely, I find the most comfort in having space to lament, being accepted and embraced as I am by safe loved ones, and being helped to just take the next step forward when everything else about the future seems too murky or overwhelming.

We struggle to see what a good and hopeful life can look like with grief always present.

This, I think, is key, and will be the topic of a future blog post. (Note: it won’t be a blog post with answers, per se, but an exploration of what we do to ourselves and each other when we only define a good life in a narrow way – and what we can do for ourselves and each other when we learn to broaden that definition of a good and hopeful life.)

Thanks for reading this far. I would love to hear thoughts, comments, disagreements, as long as they stay civil and productive.

A Strange Gift

Warning: This post is a bit on the heavier side, especially compared to the silliness of my recent conversations with Siri.

Yesterday was the first time I’ve ever done post-mortem care on a little patient, minus the partial experience I had as a nursing student a few years ago. Surreal hardly begins to describe the experience, from cleaning up a messy room that bears witness to the intense activity involved in coding a patient, to making eye contact with parents who are absolutely raw with grief, to bathing the patient in order to restore some small sense of dignity, to wrapping the patient with a shroud and bringing the patient to the hospital morgue.

Surreal. But it is part of my world. Our world, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.

I was drawn to ICU nursing because I have a strong appreciation for the depth of issues that we face there, and I see it as an incredibly precious time to be a support for not only the patient but their grieving family members as well, particularly when we are dealing with end-of-life care.

But the weight of it all is substantial. The quiet entrance into a room full of grieving family members is the entrance into a space that has just suffered the most violent of all emotional earthquakes, looking for a foundation, is there one left? A space full of disappointment beyond measure but sometimes also hope, anger but sometimes also peace, and exhaustion… always exhaustion. After all, it takes everything you have and everything you are to say good-bye to the heart of your own heart. It takes all your being to search for light in a very dark place. This is the space that I entered as a nurse yesterday. What could I bring? What could I bring, and would it change anything in this space?

I could bring juice and crackers to parents who have thought very little of their own needs for hours, days, weeks, months, years.

I could clean up the room, quietly, gently, respectfully. There are some parts of saying good-bye that you just don’t need to remember, especially in an ICU. I could reduce the sense of chaos in some small way. I wanted such a clean room for them.

I could bring silence. Of course if they had questions, I would do my best to answer. But in terms of consolation for newly grieving parents, I am convinced that less is more. Maybe I say this out of my own lack of tolerance for pat answers. The movement towards resolution with our suffering is simply not as neatly packaged and bow-tied as some might have us think, and I am convinced we need to learn how to get more comfortable with being really uncomfortable in the gray areas – even as people of faith. I am convinced that the gift of silence to a grieving family is the recognition that they have now been thrust into an extremely uncomfortable, gray area, where they will likely stay for a very long time. Trying to move them out of it with premature clichés is counterproductive and potentially very hurtful.

I was so thankful for the accompaniment of an incredibly tender-hearted, skilled social worker who truly bore the brunt of the family’s grief yesterday. I told her how thankful I was that she was there, and that she did what she did so well. Her response was inspiring, sober, and honest. “Some of us are just gifted for this. And it’s a strange gift to have.” I am not an expert. I am awkward and new and scared as a young nurse facing these kinds of big issues. But by the grace of God, I believe I am gifted and called to this work. And I could not agree more. It is a strange gift to have, but it is mine, and it is what I have to offer.

The answer to a Charlie Brown prayer

The other evening, I received a small but profound blessing, a seed.

We had gone away for a brief vacation, both of us burdened by the sadness of many hearts, and weary from the battle for hope and joy and light when the darkness felt so thick. I asked a dear friend to house-sit for us. Yes, and can my other friend come too? She has been looking for a time of retreat. It couldn’t have worked out better. We prepared and cleaned as hastily as we were able, and I was glad that our time of getting away could in turn allow for other hearts to also find a time of hiddenness and rest. We left a small list of things we needed them to do – gather the mail, water the plants, take out the trash. I wanted their work to be minimal, and their rest to be true. I felt a bit badly for the countertops I didn’t get to clean before we left, though I knew these friends wouldn’t mind.

Our vacation was perfect. Mammoth was my much-needed reminder that beauty did not always require heartbreaking effort to find. That is the mercy of God over me. I hope in His redemption but I rest in His unshakable love.

Returning home from vacation always involves a mix of relief (there’s no place like home) and low-grade dread (I’ve got some work to do). On the long drive down U.S. Highway 395, I began to plan what we would do when we got home. First things first. Wash the towels and bedsheets. Wash the dusty dog. Semi-organize all the stuff we unload from the truck. Wash up. The rest can wait until morning.

Weary, though in a lighter-hearted kind of way, we finally arrived home. After unloading our vacation-in-a-truck, I walked into the main living space, and there it was, the blessing. Clean towels, washed and folded. Bedsheets newly washed, beds remade. A handful of thoughtful gifts, and a note. Everything has been washed. Enjoy your rest after a long drive. I walked into the master bathroom, and saw there was more. The countertops I hadn’t gotten to were now wiped down. Even the jacuzzi bathtub, which we hardly use, had the embarrassing spiders and dust rinsed from it. These friends had served us in their own time of retreat, beyond what we could have asked. They gave us a blessing.

In a profound Peanuts cartoon strip by Charles Schulz, Charlie Brown whispers a prayer one dark night after reassuring a very frightened Snoopy that the sun would eventually come out again. Who comforts the comforter? That was my heart as I wept in my prayers before leaving for Mammoth. God, my heart feels so drained, and so lonely. Who comforts the comforter?

These friends had given us the blessing of meeting anticipated needs. They were God’s answer to my prayer. I know what you need. I know what you need. He moved hearts to be thoughtful in the most substantial form of the word, to be sacrificial, to be incarnationally compassionate down to the most minute details.  I took this blessing, this seed, and put it in my heart. It is growing. Hope. Joy. Light. Life.

Reblogged: Can Grief and Joy Coexist?

I deeply appreciate the honesty of this blog. I have lost my stomach for pat answers laden in overspiritualized vocabulary that invalidate the reality of what people experience when life is just honestly, hard. I have a deeper hunger for something both honest and real when we talk about joy in Christ, because of Christ. The same Christ who knew the Father was good, loving, and in complete control when He was broken on the cross and asked why He had been forsaken. He knew He wasn’t back Home yet, and He knows we are not either, not yet. This is the Savior I love, in whom I hope and in whom I can rejoice.

Clearing Customs

There is a phrase in Mandarin Chinese, bei xi jiao ji (悲喜交集), meaning “mixed feelings of grief and joy.” Grief and joy aren’t commonly thought of as partners, but when faced with loss, cross-cultural workers need to understand that one doesn’t necessarily cancel the other one out.

Expressing Grief

Dr. Steve Sweatman, president and CEO of Mission Training International (MTI), says that the call to take the gospel of Christ to another culture “inevitably is a call to sacrifice, to losses, to things that you will have to leave behind or give up.” This sacrifice takes many forms, and MTI has identified five categories of loss experienced by Christian cross-cultural workers. They are

  • a stable home
  • identity
  • competence
  • support systems
  • a sense of safety

In an audio presentation at Member Care Radio (entitled “Good Grief“), Sweatman also discusses the differences between concrete and abstract losses felt by cross-cultural…

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