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.

The Story and Question of my Name

I was born in Taiwan. There is no reason my parents should have named me or my sister any “American” name. They gave us names that fit the context of our homeland, our culture, our ancestry. My parents named me “Hui-wen,” pronounced ‘hway-wen’ (though I usually get ‘hwee-wen?’ or is it ‘hue-wen?’). “Hui” means clever, bordering on mischievous. “Wen” means wisdom or literature. I have a mischievous streak and I love reading voraciously, so the name fits me well on many levels. 

Our family moved to the United States when I was one year old. We lived first in Nebraska, then in Ohio. Neither were places with large numbers of Taiwanese folks or with much exposure to the ways the spelling of Chinese names actually translated into American phonetics. Thankfully, I was generally too young to really feel my “otherness” as a young Taiwanese child immigrant growing up in the Midwest. I remember, however, being quite struck by the number of Asians that suddenly surrounded me when we moved out to Los Angeles by the time I was in elementary school.

I have lost track of the number of times I have corrected people in the pronunciation of my name. Lost track of the number of times I’ve been in a classroom with a teacher reading alphabetically through the roster of names, and I’ve felt myself tense when the teacher does that inevitable three-second pause and hesitatingly attempts a warped version of my name. Sometimes I correct them, sometimes I just quietly say, “I’m here.” Lost track of the number of times I’ve answered a phone call at work, “Hi this is Hui-wen, how can I help you?” and heard again that brief pause, “Hi… Leeland..? This is so-and-so…” Lost track of the number of times I’ve introduced myself and heard someone awkwardly say, “Oh, that’s… an… interesting name.”

When I was naturalized as a citizen in junior high, I remember sitting in an office as I went through the naturalization process talking with a kind man going through the paperwork with me. I remember him asking me what the National Anthem was. I was so nervous, I blanked out on the title but told him I could sing it for him, and started, “Oh say, can you see…” He smiled and said that was fine. The only other moment I remember was him asking me, “Do you want to choose an American name?” Come to think of it, I don’t know if that was a rhetorical question or if he actually had the power to change my name upon request then and there, from Hui-wen to….? Well? What would it be? What will you name yourself? I was wholly caught off-guard, though I remember the option feeling quite appealing as I was by then a very awkward junior higher who was very hyper-aware of my otherness. I wasn’t ready to rename myself on the spot, so I shyly, reluctantly declined and we moved on.

On I went through high school, college, graduate school, and more graduate school, correcting the pronunciation of my name, offering clever ways for people to remember it. “Just think, way-back-when!” I still use that little trick to this day when I introduce myself to patients and their parents, write my name on the board, and see their eyes flash with the most subtle discomfort. The little joke immediately puts them at ease and we all have a good laugh at my name.

There was a point where I almost officially, legally renamed myself. Before I met my husband, before I discovered that nursing was the profession for me, I did a brief stint as the assistant to the Director of Asian-American Ministry in a small Taiwanese seminary in Los Angeles. The director, my boss, wanted me to network amongst the Asian-American Christian community and promote our classes and workshops. One day early on in my time there, he sat down with me and gently suggested, “So you’ve told me you’ve thought about changing your name to a more American name. If and only if you still want to do that, this might be a great time for it. See, you’ll be doing all this networking, and you’re representing an Asian-American ministry, but your name Hui-wen is very… Asian. If you take on an “American” name, it’ll be easier for people to remember you in networking, and it’ll represent Asian-Americans better.” He had a point, and I had in fact still been thinking about taking on an “American” name, so I went about it. I looked on a baby name website and chose a name I liked for myself. “Alina.” I liked the sound of it, liked that it was unique, and felt it suited me. I would be Alina.

Some friends advised me that if I was going to change my name, I should make it a hard, swift, all-encompassing change, no compromise. I should insist that everyone, including people who knew and intimately related to me as Hui-wen since childhood, should call me Alina. As expected, my childhood friends balked and said they could call me nothing else but Hui-wen. I didn’t push. It felt weird to me to hear them call me Alina. But I introduced myself in new environments as Alina, and very slowly started getting used to it. So in half my world, I was Hui-wen. In the other half, I was Alina.

A few months into unofficially taking on my new American name, I met Stephen. He met me as Alina, though he knew the story behind my name. We fell in love pretty quickly, and he felt very much like home to me, but it was admittedly strange to have someone I was falling in love with call me by a name that I was barely beginning to emotionally identify with. When we started talking about building a long-term future together, I figured this was perfect timing. I could just change both first and last name with marriage.

As it turned out, it wouldn’t be as easy or efficient as I thought. I put in the application to change my name to Alina Sato, but Social Security replied stating I could not change my first name with marriage because there were no existing documents already identifying me with the first name Alina. I would have to go through an entirely separate process, including placing an announcement in a local newspaper about my intention to change my name from Hui-wen to Alina, to making a court appearance, not to mention doing all the paperwork again. Buried in wedding plans, I figured I’d get through the last name change and deal with the first name change later.

After Stephen and I got married, the process of changing my first name fell very low on my priority list. Life took off and I just didn’t pursue it, though I continued to introduce myself as Alina in all new church and social settings. My legal name remained Hui-wen, however, so I used that in all my official contexts such as school and work, which brought me into nursing school and then my current place of employment with Hui-wen on my ID card. I continued the conversations at work, “Oh…no, it’s not “hwee-when.” Yes I know that’s not how it’s spelled. Yes I know it’s tricky. Just think way-back-when!” Over and over and over, the conversations continued.

Then came my TEDxTalk opportunity. I couldn’t believe I’d been accepted to give a TEDxTalk, and knowing it would be public, I went with the easier name to remember – Alina. We prepared and prepared for the talk until a dress rehearsal, where some coworkers (who knew me as Hui-wen) came to be my mini-audience for the rehearsal. They kept referring to me as Hui-wen, and finally the TEDxPasadena director, Heather, broke into the conversation and asked, “OK which is it? Who are you? You’ve been using Alina but they all call you Hui-wen.” She looked at my coworkers and asked, “Who is she?” One by one, they all quietly said, “Hui-wen.” Passionate about her TEDx speakers speaking from a place of strong identity, Heather looked at me and said, “We have to decide today. Which name is going with you into perpetuity with this talk?” I had to go with Hui-wen. It was still my legal, given name. And as my public platform has grown, I’ve continued to struggle with the fact that the “harder name to remember” is still the one attached to all my public work. Some people can’t tell if I’m male or female unless my profile picture is connected to the work. I know it makes the platform harder to build for numerous reasons I probably can’t even fully name.

And so, to this day, I remain split between the two. I don’t blame my parents in the least. They gave me a perfectly legitimate name, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a tricky one to navigate living out here. I don’t have strong excuses for why I’ve procrastinated this long to legally change my first name to Alina, or at the very least, make it my legal middle name. There are some patients and families who I can still tell would prefer I give a name that’s just easier to remember. I tire of the same explanations, the same laughter, about my name, though I try hard to keep a sense of personal security and a sense of humor about it all. And yet there are some people as of late who have said, “I’m glad you kept your legal name. Some people change it just to fit in better,” and then I have to ashamedly confess that actually, I’ve got this other name I go by, you see…

Why I Must be Thankful for What I Do Not Have

I woke up grumpy on Thanksgiving Day. The dog gnawed incessantly all night at his hot spot and I hadn’t the heart (nor the courage) to curse him with the cone of shame. So I wrapped his tail with a light towel to cover the hot spot. He’d wake with a start after an hour to peel it off and gnaw again. The sound shot shivers through my spine and woke me upright. We repeated this numerous times. Between this battle and an uncomfortable dream, I woke up grumpy, irritable, far from sentimental, less than thankful.

I celebrate Thanksgiving Day not primarily because my heart naturally overflows with gratitude, but because I need to practice expressing gratitude more. I mastered complaining early in life, on my first day outside of my mother’s womb to be exact. I am ashamed of my ability on some days to walk away from acutely ill patients after 12 hours at work, feeling full of frustration at their neediness rather than deep gratitude for my own health and ability to serve them. Oh my soul. I celebrate Thanksgiving Day because I need to practice expressing gratitude more.

I need to practice gratitude for the basics, which I can really only even call “basic” because I still take them for granted that much, forgetting that I fall within the top 3% of the wealthiest in the world, simply because I have them.  Salvation, life, health, shelter, a car, food, belongings, education, a job, a dear husband, dear family, dear friends. Each of these alone merit a lifetime of thanksgiving.

I need to practice gratitude for the things I do not have. Perhaps they would incline my heart that much more towards vanity, and distance me all the more from those beloved friends in poorer countries who showed me once what a purer contentment looks like. Perhaps they would crowd my life and attention with their need for maintenance, stealing my energies from things more eternal. I am not currently suffering without those things. What more do I truly need?

I need to practice gratitude for the challenges and hardships that have come. They teach me about the need I have for my community to save me from a lone island mentality. They teach me about my weaknesses so that I do not die a more painful death from my pride. They magnify the mercy, comfort, hope and compassion of my Savior who Himself entered into our suffering in order to ultimately deliver us from it one day. They give me perspective to save me from a shallow, superficial existence.

I need to practice gratitude for the forms of suffering that I have not personally experienced. I need to practice this so that I might actively remember there are others who are enduring tragedies, which I am called to do something about in all my comfort and power and wealth, as an expression of the hands and feet and heart of a loving God. I need to practice this so that my spirit does not become overly entitled. I need to practice this in hopes that others might practice it with me as well.

I celebrate Thanksgiving Day because I need to practice expressing gratitude more. Won’t you celebrate and practice along with me this day, this season, and in this upcoming year.

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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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.

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.

why I regret robbing my mother

There was a law at the time which dictated that for immigrant families who wished to come to the United States, one parent had to come and stay for a year first before the rest of the family could join. A type of security deposit, I suppose. On paper, I can see how it makes sense. Protects the country, somehow. But for a young couple with two baby girls under the age of two, I can see how it felt like an impossible move. A father, determined but scared nonetheless, leaving his family behind and going to a place where he did not know the language, the culture, the street signs, the taboos. He knew no one, no one knew him, and no one really cared. Except the family he left behind.

My mom says that once that year was up, my sister and I thankfully slept quite soundly on that long, so very long, plane flight from Taiwan to Los Angeles. I often wonder what went through her mind during that long lonely flight with us. What did a young mother with two baby girls pack in her suitcase as she flew them from one side of the world to another? My father drove the equally long drive from Nebraska to LAX to be reunited with his girls. And together as a family, we turned his car around and drove back to Nebraska where my parents would finish their graduate school education. Listening to lectures in a foreign language and trying desperately to interpret and then process everything before the professor moved on to the next sentence, the next equation, the next exam. It was so hard. But it was for their girls.

Between then and now, I have mostly not appreciated my parents. I don’t think I have ever said to their face, “Thank you for giving up your entire lives so that my sister and I could have a better life.” I was embarrassed by their accents, their broken English, their struggles to assimilate into my cool American life. They were always so frugal with everything and I resented it. I had no idea what a mortgage was, and besides, what did that have to do with me? So I stole a wad of money from my mom’s purse in high school and let her think that a coworker had taken it. I remember her feeling so confused, so disappointed, that anyone at her workplace would even think to do that to her. It wasn’t until college that I confessed to her, it was me. She didn’t get mad. She was just so… shocked. We had some significant differences in personality, communication styles and overall life philosophy that took a lot of work and heartache to sort through. We were never a family that openly expressed affection very easily, and we sure broke each other’s hearts countless times. Yet somehow we’d eventually tread on superficial chit-chat in that awkward movement towards reconnecting, quietly, again and again.

It’s funny how you can know your parents so well and yet not really know them at all. I remember asking my mom once over dinner, why did you marry Dad? She’s normally not the sentimental type. But her face softened. “You know… he was just… such a nice guy.” I never really thought of them as two people who had gotten giddy around each other, but she opened up a small view hole into two younger versions of themselves, eyeing each other on the college campus, flirting, laughing, wondering. They weren’t just my frugal, embarrassing immigrant parents. They were, well, real people. Huh.

Last night, my mom received an award as “Employee of the Year” in her workplace. She is the senior systems administrator overseeing the IT system for a city police department. All that hard, hard work furiously translating her graduate school lectures in those crazy Nebraska years paid off, not just for her girls, but now, for her. She was so embarrassed at the bouquet of flowers we made her hold because of the extra attention it drew to her. But of the 60+ people who received various recognitions throughout the night, many of which were for acts of tremendous valor, she was the one person who got some whistles from the crowd when her name was called. My mother? Police officers and other non-sworn coworkers came up to us throughout the night and raved about how much they loved her, about how we couldn’t let her go on vacation because the department fell apart when she wasn’t there. She grinned sheepishly throughout the night. No… she glowed. It was her night. I was so proud of her. I was so proud to be her daughter.

awkward fine dining and the question worth asking

I am an awkward fine diner. I never know which fork is for the salad, I always drink from my neighbor’s water glass, and I’m pretty sure I’ve used my butter knife to try cutting my steak at least once. I’m an awkward fine diner because I never feel sophisticated enough to be in those restaurants, with my knock-off purse and my substandard dress among the chic and refined.

But if you put me in a hole-in-the-wall in the middle of a run-down neighborhood, I sure feel fabulous. Rich. Respectable. Uncomfortably so.

This unspoken hierarchy in the context of public establishments and business transactions is a curious one. We may not even be fully aware that it exists and that it affects our expectations, behavior and reactions. But it does. In a restaurant, we look at the décor, the prices, the reputation. We form quick judgments about the appearance and perhaps the accent of the person who is serving us. We behave and interact accordingly, to at least some subtle – or not so subtle – degree.

I saw a Facebook posting recently by someone who experienced what was unarguably very poor customer service, in any context. The cashier had cursed and thrown paper at this acquaintance of mine. In response to this person’s Facebook post describing the incident, however, another person commented, “They work those jobs for a reason.” What reason is that? And what gives any outsider the right to automatically assume with such confidence that only a certain type of person with only a certain level of competency, morality, and worth, would end up working a customer service job in a casual, run-of-the-mill restaurant?

I worked at a coffee shop while I was in nursing school for my Masters in Nursing at a well-regarded university. As I poured coffee and fetched napkins and mopped floors, I could feel that unspoken stigma towards me and towards my coworkers, many of whom were quite brilliant. I have to confess that I felt a strong need to explain that I was only working that job in passing, on my way to my Masters. See, I have bought into that mindset as well. I’m guilty too. But I hope I’ve changed and am still changing for the better since my time in that coffee shop. Because I’ve seen that for many people who work “those jobs,” their reason for being there is because they are incredibly hard-working, sacrificial, and humble. Some have travelled unimaginable roads that I am not strong enough to endure, in order to secure “those jobs.” They are their family’s heroes, their community’s heroes. And they serve some people who come in with their fancy cars and poor coffee shop behavior, day after day after day. Those friends of mine are my very misunderstood heroes. Not all people in “those jobs” are worth-less. And not all people in the CEO chair behave any better by virtue of their job title, nor are they worth more.

Why we have allowed this curious aspect of shame to pervade even our dining experiences and day-to-day business transactions is a question worth asking. I am an awkward fine diner trying not to feel ashamed about my lack of class. I am a blessed middle class working woman trying to remember not to shame others who very often work much, much harder than me, receive much less in return, but deserve so much more.

How about you? Have you ever witnessed or been a part of a dining experience or business transaction that became very awkward because of this aspect of shame?