On Updating my Professional Headshot

Photo Credit: Tracy Kumono

Having slowly grown in my platform and public opportunities with both writing and speaking professionally as a nurse over the past four years, one of the greatest learning curves has been with navigating this idea of a public image. Looking to see what other people in the public eye do can be both inspiring and, well, nauseating. There are a lot of voices that come at you about how you should present yourself, how you should play the game of developing a public persona and voice.

I started this journey with a desire to speak from my heart, and if I was fortunate enough to connect effectively, speak to hearts as well. My fear is that without realizing what’s happening, I’ll begin listening to the siren song that says developing a strong voice with the things I write and speak about is for the sake of cultivating my own image as someone “up there.”

This is not to say I never struggle with pride. I wish I didn’t. But I hope to make choices in every step that continually help me remember what the point of this all really is, including my choice of a professional headshot. I don’t judge people who do the arms-crossed pose; I think it can be effective and even friendly when done right, when matched with real character. But my personal comfort level shies away pretty intensely from the corporate look; it simply doesn’t suit me at this stage. I don’t think leadership that talks eloquently all the time without ever truly listening is real leadership. My hope is to always be to others, both in real life and in a headshot, someone who listens, watches, and cares for them more than I care for myself. Introverted as I am, I want to lean in, connect, be with people where their hearts are at.

Because at the end of the day, I follow the model of Christ. He was with all of us in the trenches, loved, served and taught us from that heart. I follow Him and hope to be more and more like Him and only Him. 

New Blog Post for AJN: How I Would Prepare My Daughter to Become a Nurse

My kids have been asking me surprisingly specific questions about my work as a nurse lately. I really enjoyed writing this blog post for American Journal of Nursing because God knows the two occupations that have consumed my days and thoughts this past year have been nursing and motherhood.

And at the end of the day, I realize this was a reflection for myself as well – what I have learned and continue to need to learn as both a nurse and simply as a human and as a Christian looking to live faithfully and well in a complicated world.

You can read the entire post here.

Bless the Merciful (repost from Sarah Bessey)

This prayer by Sarah Bessey is worth praying, sharing, lingering in.

And oh…for my fellow colleagues in healthcare in these extraordinary days, these paragraphs in particular are for you.

“Bless the ones who lavish grace and bandage wounds and figure out how to make ventilators in factories. Bless the ones who intubate and the ones who are crying in the stairwell, overwhelmed by caring. Bless them for they give dignity to the rest of us. Bless them because they see us and they love us anyway.

Bless them for standing in our thin places between too-much and not-enough, the places where our hearts are breaking and our fears are manifesting and we are so scared and so alone. Bless them for being the ones that show up in the fault lines to hold our hands and pray and weep with those who weep.

Bless them for their patience, for their uncanny ability to just keep going, for their ability to be present instead of checking out for something less demanding. Bless them for long days on their feet in uncomfortable PPE gear, sweaty and exhausted and filled with mercy for us anyway. Bless them for their determination in the face of suffering, for the patience in the teeth of our it’s-going-to-get-worse predictions, and their faith in our story.”

For the Times You Feel Unseen

loquat pots

Nothing impressive to see here. People would walk right past this, scroll right past this photo and would pay no attention. Why should they? Do you ever feel this way?

The girls and I ate loquats many months ago and they asked what we’d do with the seeds. I didn’t know much about loquats, but I suggested we plant them, water them and see what happens.

Months have gone by and the view of these dirt pots hasn’t changed. I shrugged and figured I didn’t know or do enough to nurture those seeds to get results.

So today, we took the pots to plant new plants but as we were emptying the first pot, we discovered a seed that had rooted beautifully and had started its slow but eager work of growing into a seedling! We marveled and then quickly repotted and watered it. I so hope  we didn’t disrupt anything crucial with my impatience.

Some seasons we can feel so dark, unseen, unfruitful, and alone. But there is hard work and real growth happening in those seasons, even if all of ZERO people can see it. God knows the work He does in us in the dark and quiet seasons. It is a good, good work.

Resting without Apology

Ever since my TEDxTalk in September 2017, I entered a season where public speaking was a regular thing, a thread I had to figure out how to interweave into the rest of my life without letting it overtake the entire pattern. I was invited to present keynotes at various nursing conferences and also teach workshops in smaller contexts, and there was always what felt like some big thing(s) on the schedule that I had to prepare for (and feel anxious about). It was exciting and in many ways hugely affirming of strengths and giftings, but the general public doesn’t realize how much effort and intense squeezing of time it involves to prepare well for public presentations, while still trying to maintain other primary life roles and obligations.

It can be intoxicating to hear people tell you that you are gifted, that you have so much to offer, that you’ve made such a difference in the world. Jackie Hill Perry, a well-known author, speaker, artist, and mother, addressed this in her interview with the Risen Motherhood podcast when she said it’s a challenge to put that affirmation from the world in its right place while wrestling with daily faithfulness in motherhood, where your work can feel mundane, repetitive and very much taken for granted. We’re all looking for a sense of significance, and what an internal battle it was to go back and forth from public to private life and try to guard my own sense of groundedness, security and contentment regardless of where my work landed me each day.

There’s a lot of energy that goes into producing what is hopefully worthwhile material for the general public, and energy that goes into the growing and struggling with the process. My last speaking engagement was in May and there is nothing else on the calendar for now, outside of what I choose to pursue by way of blogging for AJN on my timeline, working on my own writing at my leisure, and starting the online Narrative Medicine Certification program with Columbia University this Fall, which can be at my pace. It’s a season of rest (though life with family certainly remains full), and there’s been a considerable amount of detoxing that has come with the transition into rest from the public work for the time being.

What I am realizing is that very few of us know how to rest well, or at least how to rest without some sort of apology or justification attached. The burden of guilt stifles the very freedom, joy and restoration that true rest is supposed to bring about. What is that about? Can we be more kind to ourselves and each other in this hyperproductive world we find ourselves spinning in?

I’m looking to be faithful to what God has put before me, to still serve others well, to still pursue God-given dreams. But I’m also looking to learn how to rest without apology or shame. I haven’t quite found my way in that yet, but I’m convinced that the freedom and joy that come with true rest – both on a spiritual level in Christ and on a practical level in the world – are not altogether elusive.

Staying in the Hard Thing: When Glory becomes Gritty

I seem to live in a perpetually tired state nowadays. If I’m looking for the easiest, most honest response to “How are you?” my default answer will be, “I’m tired.” Tired as a mom of two littles. Tired as a nurse to critically ill children. Friends and coworkers nod in empathy, and praise Jesus for all things coffee. It sometimes feels as though we are a people living collectively on the edge of burnout. It begs the question, how do we endure in the hard thing?

I’m not referring to acute crises. That’s its own animal, and I am guessing most everyone has a similar approach to toughing out emergency situations, which typically throw people into sheer survival mode. Bury the debilitating emotions to process later. Do the immediate, most important tasks at hand. Absolutely let the non-essentials slide. Lean on your village. Fall on your knees in prayer. Do each thing as it comes, one thing at a time.

The hard thing I’m thinking of is the hard thing for the long run that you never imagined would be such a hard thing. In fact, you thought it would be the glorious thing: Start your own business, write and publish a book, get married, raise children, work in a job you feel passionate about, become renowned in your field. We set out with a sense of calling, not completely naïve, but confident and motivated enough to choose the dream. The business. The book. The person(s). The career. The glory of a very real and truly beautiful dream.

So what are we to do when the glory becomes gritty? I dreamt about one day marrying a man who had a tremendous heart for ministering to people. The dream came true, and then I found myself crying out to the Lord in tears, “I can’t keep up with his heart! I can’t do this.” When I was first exposed to pediatric ICU nursing, I knew right away this was where I belonged and wanted to be. It was so deeply personal and meaningful. But the experience has not been without moments of tremendous struggle and doubt. I didn’t know it involved all the things it involves. I didn’t know it would make me feel all the things I feel. And I didn’t know it would make me fight so hard to feel anything at all some days. When I became pregnant, I dreamt about the sweet relationship I wanted to cultivate with my children. I didn’t know what to do with the fact that I felt dull, sad and guilty in the first few hours after giving birth to my first child. I have constantly surprised myself at how angry and selfish I can choose to be as a mother. What do we do with our disappointment or disillusionment when glory becomes gritty? How do we stay in the hard thing?

Glory becomes gritty, and this can be bewildering and disorienting. Part of this, I believe, is because in the beginning, we chase the glory because we are blinded by the glory itself. This is not a cynical statement; it’s just the nature of dreams. Maybe we need some initial blindness to even have enough courage to start the pursuit. Our dreams and ideals launch us out of inertia and felt mediocrity, and they carry us when little else can. They are beautiful and often God-given. But in an Instagram-inspired world, the glory can blind us to the fact that these are also hard things. We’ve all seen the photos: a Pinterest-perfect small business grand opening, a well-designed book display on release day, hugely romantic wedding pictures, adorable shots of kids in their Easter best smiling ear-to-ear while hopped up on way too much chocolate, a beautiful portrait of a nurse quietly holding a patient’s hand with reciprocated expressions of gratitude, an executive in his/her prime delivering an impressive speech at a podium. In contrast, there is very little to inform us of the down sides outside of direct experience. The gritty aspects of living out our dreams can catch us by surprise all the more because of the blindness we had in the early days. Perhaps this is why Jesus warned us,

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Luke 14:28-29

We may start to ask ourselves, “Do I have enough in me to see this through the way I originally hoped?” In my most exhausted, discouraged moments, I would try to remind myself, “I chose this!” I chose motherhood. I chose PICU nursing. But somehow that blanket self-motivation has been insufficient and almost even self-blaming. For how could we have known all of what we were choosing? We chose the romanticized version of the story in the beginning, didn’t we? It’s always the glorious path we want and hope for. But people change, unforeseeable situations arise, and they change people – including us – in unforeseeable ways. I’m beginning to realize, it’s not so much about “I chose this” as it is, “I continue to choose this, all of this, today.” I am not the same woman my husband chose to marry over a decade ago. I am quite certain I am not who he envisioned I’d be at this stage. This is not about my insecurities; it’s about every person’s inability to foresee the future. He is choosing me now, and I him. I am choosing my children now, and I will choose them when they change on me again and again in all the years to come. I am choosing PICU nursing for what it has shown itself to be now, and I will continue to do so for as long as my life is called to that ministry.

The discovery of how un-glorious, monotonous, or outright excruciatingly painful the hard thing can be in the trenches, may temper the glory, but it can actually magnify the meaning if you can push through. The meaning in the everyday moments may not become readily apparent until the crisis moments show up. I watched my patient and her parents endure an agonizing six-hour delay of her surgery to remove a tumor. Six extra tortuous hours of telling a very hungry toddler trapped in the hospital that she cannot eat. This is agony for any parent of a healthy child on a normal day. For parents bearing crisis-level stress, it is an indescribable test of patience and longsuffering. Whimpers and occasional whining became intermittent screaming and kicking in the last hour. The parents shut their eyes tight and clenched their jaws with grit. And then, I beheld the glory. In between screaming sessions, the little girl would say, “I love you, Mommy. And you love me too.” The mommy’s reply was always the same, “I love you more than anything.” The little girl lying next to her daddy in bed would occasionally call out, “Mommy?” The exhausted mommy’s reply was always the same, “I am always here for you.” There was no question they had a long-established foundation of love and commitment. I could imagine these exchanges practiced in their home in their everyday mundane; the parents never would have imagined they were practicing for this crisis moment in the hospital. The beauty of their shared love with their child was nothing short of glorious, in the grittiest situation they could find themselves in. Staying in the hard things now helps us stay in hard things for the future. We develop muscles of perseverance, flexibility, hope, perspective, faith, and deep love.

On this side of heaven, some things should be hard. If everyone has written a book or started a small business, then the meaning of each has by default decreased exponentially. I don’t want to feel as though it’s easy to take care of critically ill children and their parents, or else my heart has forgotten how to be moved by important issues. Some hard things should be hard, as we are people who still open our hearts to dream, hope, and care in an imperfect, fallen world. It is our gritty longing for Heaven, groaning quite frankly against the Hell we may see.

For Jesus, God in the flesh, glory became gritty as He walked amongst us and walked His final steps on a dusty road to a cross – for the love of others and the glory of God. We look to Him.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

On Thinking Small, Dreaming Big, and Being Loved

It is a strange thing to be profoundly loved, to know you have been created for a high purpose to God’s glory, and to also be acutely aware that your life is fleeting, a drop in the bucket at best, even if lived out to 80, 90, 100 really good years.

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.” Ecclesiastes 1:9-11

These are long, hidden days where the monotony can cloud over me in a mind-numbing fog of back and forth between food prep in the kitchen (because why are we eating everything and nothing ALL DAY LONG) and oft-feigned excitement about playing hours of make-believe in the living room. I’ve got a heart full of dreams that may or may not come to pass. I appreciate the encouragement to pursue them, and pursue them I will, but I’m not convinced they are guaranteed if I just believe and work hard enough at it all. I’ve got vision and desire to be involved in changing the world, but some days I can barely manage my impatience with my kids. I am brought down from the clouds over and over, to right here, right now, change starts here.

I’m fully known and seen and significant, and yet I am small and fleeting like the grass, here one day and gone the next. If my work in a pediatric ICU has taught me anything, it has taught me this: Nothing about my life is a given, and the world goes on without me. I may live 95 years and leave a legacy as a thought-provoking author with phenomenal children who will be lights in their generation. I may live just one more month and all my thoughts of book writing, all my dreams for my children, all my vision to be a part of world-changing work could die with me in a freak accident. It’s not to be morbid, it’s to say that I matter and I don’t all in the same breath, and there’s something strangely liberating about both sides of that coin. I am restless against all my constraints – the incessant duties of motherhood, the indiscriminate nature of potential disease and tragedy, the maddening inertia of writer’s block. But one day my kids will leave the nest, and one day someone else could write the book, probably better. It wouldn’t mean I was loved less or tasked with any lesser purpose. It would just be my kids’ time to go, and someone else’s time to realize an important dream.

At the end of the day, what I realize is this.

Nothing is owed to me, but grace has been given for today.

So I’ll play make-believe and stack blocks, and I’ll make the effort over and over to not send a message that the passions of my little ones are any less significant than my own. And I’ll write, and dream, and if there is a God-ordained time for some fruition of these seeds in my heart, then it will be from Him and for Him.

When Wine and Pedicures Aren’t Enough: Deeper Level Coping as a Christian Nurse

Recently, I have been meeting some soon-to-be-brand-new nurses who have wanted to hear from me about how I cope with the hardest things I see as a nurse. It is a deep and necessary question every nurse has to work through if you want to truly open your heart to the reality of others’ suffering and endure as a compassionate and effective caregiver. It has not felt like enough to say that I learn self-care. Wine, pedicures, massages, brainless days off – they all help but honestly, they don’t get to the heart of the matter. The recent tragic death of a friend whom I went to nursing school with, after being diagnosed with Stage IV cancer just two months ago, has forced me to realize that all my self-care efforts are just band-aids to the wounds that I feel from what I witness at work. Her death is pushing me to pay some serious attention to those wounds and the struggles that I’ve suppressed as a Christian nurse working in a pediatric ICU. I have had to ask myself why I believe in the goodness of God and what, exactly, do I believe that goodness looks like.

First, my suppressed struggles. The nurse, particularly the PICU nurse, stands in a very unique and conflicted place of tension between God and man. Nothing about a sick or dying child feels natural, and we are inclined to do everything we can to give a child a shot at life. The tension for the nurse is embedded in the reality that we now have more technology and medical advances than ever before, allowing us to sustain and prolong “life” even when “quality of life” has long been lost. In many cases, it becomes very difficult to then tell patients and families, much less ourselves, at what point we have all crossed the line in playing God. Patients and families can either hold out in a debatable form of hope for that “miracle” despite all suffering and costs, step tentatively into the agonizing journey of accepting death, or languish in some muddied in-between place until forced to make some kind of decision. It becomes terribly difficult to discern what God’s role is and what the manifestation of His goodness is supposed to look like in these situations. As the bedside nurse, there can be tremendous inner conflict when you feel that truly, God’s grace to very sick patients can come in the form of a gentle death, but you are the bedside nurse carrying out advanced treatment to prolong physical life and the concurrent suffering. When is enough enough? When is my role as the nurse actually doing more harm than good? I write this as a mother, with a deep reverence for the fact that it is impossible to ask a mother to part easily with her child if there might be a glimmer of hope for a cure, a remission, or at least some more time when both quantity and quality of life may be truly attainable. It’s just so hard to know how much to push the envelope when hope feels air-thin. It is a deep conflict that will only grow with technology.

Sometimes, when I watch patients’ families and friends come to the bedside to pray fervently and persistently for miracles, I just have to wonder what we all think the manifestation of God’s goodness is supposed to look like in response to these prayers. It’s not that I don’t believe in miracles. I’ve seen them, and I’ve seen them happen by way of all the technology we have available. I took care of a patient shot in the head and lungs on his very first day in the hospital when everyone swore there was no hope, and then I took care of him before he transferred to the rehab unit as he looked me in the eye and thanked me for everything. So it’s not that I don’t believe in God’s goodness in the form of miraculous healing. But we forget that God’s goodness is ultimately manifest in His provision for our souls to rest in Him, despite our stormiest of external circumstances. His goodness is first and foremost for us to find our sins forgiven through Jesus, such that come what may in this broken world, we may be confident that even death will not overcome us if we place our trust in Him. Perhaps then, we would not fear or fight death as violently as we do. Truly, it is the one who has never made peace with God who should fight death violently in the ICU. “For what does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world but lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36) The greatest miracle is the heart that can grieve, but with a foundation of solid peace, joy and hope because of Jesus, even when physical death is imminent.

As I write this, I think of a precious Christian family whose firstborn daughter Ava has been in the fight of her life against childhood cancer. They trust deeply in God’s goodness, come what may, and also battle fiercely for every treatment possible to save their beloved girl. Their time together as a family has obviously not been easy, but it has been full of deep love and very real moments of joy, and hence their relentless fight for her life. They are living in this tension, and as a Christian PICU nurse, I deeply appreciate their reflections on their struggles. I encourage you, if so inclined, to spend some time wrestling through and receiving from their blog.

 

Pretty

I feel a little lost in makeup stores and hipster clothing stores, but that’s ok. It was good to process my reflections through writing this article for Inheritance Magazine on how to honor Christ in seeking or not seeking to be “pretty” as a Christian woman. 

Here is the link to the article: http://inheritancemag.com/on-gender/pretty/7480

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.