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.

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. 

anchor for the years

Ten years into being a pediatric ICU nurse, I find I still grieve the saddest patient cases the same way I did from day one. It hits the day after with unpredictable tears, and I’m discombobulated as I try to reorient myself to my “normal” life and all its demands on me as mama, while still feeling haunted by the harsh reality of the story I bore witness to for 12+ hours just the day before and all its demands on me as nurse.

It’s like having this bittersweet privilege to pass through a blackout curtain where one side cannot see the other. Normal healthy families cannot imagine the agony of critically ill ones. Critically ill ones ache to remember what normal life felt like as it now feels too out of reach. I am the witness between the two sides that pull in opposite directions. On one side, I am playful, silly and tempted to be dismissive. On the other side, I am heavy, somber and sometimes over-responsible. Sometimes they collide inside me and that too is disorienting.

But in this particular moment in history, normal life is also not quite normal. Sands continue to shift, kids’ schedules continue to change, and I am looking for the anchor when I feel unmoored.

I am fighting today to remember that one of the best things I can do is carry the lessons from the darker, heavier side into the lighter spaces where I can see through the layers of all “normal” life’s demands and find what really matters for today. Loving God, loving my neighbor, my children…and being loved.

Royal Family Kids Camp Reflection #1: Light in Darkness

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If I could tell you the stories that emerged from this place over five days in early August as we staffed a camp for foster children through Royal Family Kids Camp and our local church, Cornerstone West LA. I was one of two camp nurses, and my husband served as Dean of Men to support the male volunteers. We don’t know specific details of the trauma, abuse, neglect, abandonment and instability each of the 28 children have endured, but we saw the profoundly painful consequences. Kids trying to be normal kids in one moment, triggered by sometimes hidden catalysts, became wildly agitated in the next moment, full of fury, confusion and dysregulation in response to their dysregulated childhood. Sometimes it lasted a few minutes, sometimes a couple of hours. Sometimes we watched one group play while we heard one child howl in the distance as his counselors worked to console his young heart.

It felt as though the darkness of their stories rose up like towering trees, threating to eclipse all the little lives in the campground.

But I watched as our team opened their hearts wide open with the light of God’s unwavering, unconditional, relentless, strong and tender love in Jesus Christ. They took blows from the children and absorbed their pain, and came back with hugs, affirmation, presence and mercy. In both words and action, our team told the children, “You can hit me but I will still love you.” Day after day, the team would play with the children, take more blows, and come back to love the children again.

This was the light that shone in the darkness all week. The light that says evil does not always triumph over good, fury does not always triumph over peace, selfishness does not always triumph over sacrificial love. For five days, I watched our team shine the bright light of Christ into the darkness. And though the time felt much too short, I believe with all my heart that these five days gave the children hope that light can in fact exist in their dark world, and that light can break through the darkness.

The next time you see that out of control child in the park, in the market, at school, on the street, will you love them with the love of Christ? Will you extend to them kindness in place of judgment? You don’t know their story, but you can shine light into their world.

No Ordinary Sunday

The readjusting back and forth between intensely challenging nursing shifts and everyday normal life is a real thing to navigate. It still catches me by surprise every time, how hard it really is.
I am in the thick of a full 12+ hours of trying to manage chaos and logistics in a unit full of very sick patients as charge nurse. In the blur, I am stopped in my tracks by moments of seeing family members who had literally just a minute ago received devastating news. A mother weeps, clutching her child’s teddy bear to her chest. The teddy bear is caught in this strange in-between of what was, and what now is. And then just 30 minutes later, I see the next set of family members with the same, but profoundly unique, broken expression.
I don’t want to grow overly accustomed to that expression on the family members’ faces and what it means. Yesterday held neither the appropriate time or space to let the stories sink in, to let me pay respect to the stories by allowing a human emotional response to all that they hold.
They always hit the next day. I work every Saturday, so often it’s Sunday at church. I’m catching up with friends I haven’t seen in a week. I want to hear about their life and their own joys and burdens. In the pit of my stomach I am nauseous with sadness over the stories that are hitting me. I am singing songs about hope, redemption, and joy, and it is in the practice of trying to form truthful words with my lips that I find the rubber hits the road with what faith in a good and loving God really means. This happens every Sunday for me, this small crisis of faith, as I am reconciling everything I have seen just the day before at work with everything my soul aches to sing with conviction on an ordinary Sunday at church.
I am chasing my healthy children in the church courtyard, taking in the gift that these ordinary moments are – to be able to just chase my healthy children at church. In my mind, I find myself reverently asking the parent next to me, “Isn’t it incredible…that we are here, watching our children play?” But I realize how odd that would sound. I am trying to catch up with friends after a week apart. And I am trying to decide whether to speak of my nausea and sadness, my mini crisis of faith, my weekly reconciling at church of what hope and joy look like for me, what they look like for the families with that indescribable expression that I left at the hospital yesterday. Do they look the same, or are they altogether different? Should they?
This is the navigating that I do as a nurse, between ‘work’ and ‘real life.’ They seem so entirely opposed and contradictory to each other, and yet so deeply and profoundly connected.
There is, for me, no ordinary Sunday.

Goal-setting and measuring sticks

The past 30 minutes are fairly typical of my current life.

While boxed mac ‘n cheese boils on the stovetop, I stand at my computer trying to take in some of today’s Bible reading while my 2.5 year-old plays and intermittently chats with me. Meditation on the suffering of Job is interspersed with mindlessly echoing of “Old McDonald Had a Farm” and pretending to take bites of slime-based “pizza” that my daughter “cooked” for me. Somewhere in the back of my mind also looms the pressure of my half-baked nursing presentations that are coming up fast. I’m not sure what my plan is for dinner and toys are scattered throughout the house. Notifications keep popping up from social media outlets – some matter, most don’t. I’m perpetually two steps behind on current trends, news and nursing-related issues. I need to touch base with different friends. I ache for focus and clarity, and just keep going.

It’s the New Year and it’s a time when we set lofty goals. We want to push ourselves to excel beyond last year’s limits and failures. But today as I feel the all-too-familiar pressure to be “better” (read: perfect) in all the areas of my life, I have to wonder how much this goal-setting has really profited me when it becomes the measuring stick for how well I feel I am doing. I find myself looking for a humbler freedom to be at greater peace with my human limitations. I have a suspicion there has been more grace than I have realized, from God, from friends and family to live within my limits and imperfections. The ones in my life who truly know me and want my best are not measuring me; they’re just loving me. As more demands than ever seem to lie before me, it’s the year to live more freely and joyfully in this grace for myself.

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