Room at this Quiet Table for the Weary

It’s been a noisy year. I’ve never had to think so hard about everything and still never feel like I could come to much conclusion or rest. The kids’ online schedules and endless chatter saturate me with mommy words. Don’t get me wrong, every shift at work reminds me to be thankful for life at home with healthy kids, but there’s also a reason why something deep in me sighs every time I hear “Mama! Mama! Mama!” I have been their primary person for the past nine months straight.

My microbiology, public health and nursing training make me think too hard about everything I touch, whose air I have breathed, who has breathed my air, and all the possible implications. I want to be gracious, and I also want to scream at people who deny the severity of COVID.

Social unrest and political tensions make me feel the importance of reading, listening, thinking with greater intention about hard realities in the world, but it also feels nothing I want to say or ask can be interpreted without some potential misunderstanding, so the conversations just swirl loudly in my head. If I try to turn it off for awhile, I feel like I’m choosing ignorance or entitlement. I’m not trying to be ignorant or deny the fact I’m privileged. It just feels near impossible to have any reasonable conversation that doesn’t just result in anger, and sometimes even the most justified in anger amongst us need a break from angry feelings.

I am inundated with emails at work about today’s updated practice in how we’re trying to keep our patients and ourselves safe. “PLEASE READ THIS IMPORTANT UPDATED INFORMATION!!” In two days, I won’t remember if this is today’s very important update, or yesterday’s, or last week’s. I’ve tried so hard to impress each very important bit in my memory but I’m out of room. I’m also scared of making a mistake by not keeping up with all the very important information.

I am trying very hard to keep up with friends. Who was it that had a family member in the hospital from COVID? There were a few now. What’s the status? Who could use a meal? I could use a meal. We are all overwhelmed by meal planning.

I have it pretty good at home with decently happy kids but I also keep thinking, I should find more ways to get them outside, figure out a way to make Thanksgiving and Christmas special, figure out creative ways for them to reconnect with their friends. I am constantly overwhelmed by their needs but also feel guilty I don’t just feel more grateful and content with what we do have.

I’ve realized sadly that I sometimes stop listening to people a couple sentences in. It’s not a conscious much less intentional thing. When it happens, I only realize after the fact that my brain just short-circuited again. It was still trying to process all the other ongoing internal conversations.

Faith feels complicated. Challenged and refined. If I say I trust Him, I also hear people argue back at me that I am disregarding them and not empathizing deeply enough with their present sufferings. I’m not trying to disregard anyone, and I’m suffering too. I’m just saying I still find real reasons to trust Him, and I’m working through my real questions as well. Please don’t @ me. There’s enough grace at the table for all of us, with our various degrees of suffering and our complicated questions. Jesus knows suffering.

I came to an overnight sola retreat for a bit of respite. I didn’t realize how quiet true quiet can actually be. I didn’t realize how profoundly unfamiliar it is, and how multi-layered the sources of noise are. I sat on a cushioned chair in front of an outdoor fountain hoping to start unpacking some of my burdens, only to realize I feel like a terribly tangled web of Christmas lights (or MRI tubing, for my nursing people who get that analogy) – you know, the kind that makes you just want to throw it all away and start anew. I realize quickly that I’m in knots. If I pull on one strand, it tugs on others, almost makes it worse. Untangling this will be agonizingly slow and tedious, and there are some knots you realize you’re just going to have to live with.

I don’t write this for pity, and I hope people won’t stop sharing with me their hard things after reading this. I want to connect, I want to listen, I don’t mean to tune out. I still want to help anyone I can. I suppose I’m writing this as part of my own untangling, and because I suspect there are others who feel this way as well, and I want you to know you’re not alone. There’s room at this quiet table for the weary.

Guest blog post for American Journal of Nursing

I’ve been thinking a lot about why it can be so challenging for very well-intentioned friends and families of nurses to support us when our work takes its toll. My guest post for the American Journal of Nursing blog, Off the Charts, provides some suggestions for support that nurses may not always know how to directly ask for.

Here is the link:

https://ajnoffthecharts.com/how-to-support-the-nurse-in-your-life/

 

 

To Porche Laronda Washington –

You’ve been on my mind, and maybe not for the reasons you think. I have no doubt you have heard plenty of condemnation from so many people around you. People you know, people you don’t know. People who know you, people who think they know you, people who don’t know you at all.

I have never met you. I have only seen your name, age, and a brief description about your life, which really is none of my business. They said you were scared. I’m sure you were. I’m sure you must be now, and my heart goes out to you. I wish I could come and find you, take your hands in mine, look you in the eye, and tell you “There is hope for you.”

I don’t know your life, so I am just imagining. It seems you grew up in a rougher part of town. They said you were scared to deliver the baby and you wanted to hide your pregnancy from those around you. You were not expecting or planning for a child, and you clearly did not feel ready or capable to raise her. You didn’t feel that the people around you would support you enough to help you raise her. You must have felt so alone. So terribly alone in a time when you needed someone to come alongside you and say, “I won’t let you go through this alone. Let’s figure out a solution together. I will stay with you and help you.” I am so sorry that you didn’t have that in your life.

You brought this baby to term and somehow got to a hospital to deliver her. I truly give you credit for that. I am not a Labor and Delivery or Postpartum nurse, but I wonder what might have changed if a sensitive, compassionate nurse read some note of despair in your eyes during your brief hospital stay, and took the time to sit down with you and draw out from you how you truly felt about having this baby. Could someone have changed something for you in that moment? Told you you could leave the baby at that very hospital where she was born, without repercussion? I have to be honest and tell you that I will never fully understand why you left her in that crevice. I don’t know what was going through your heart and mind. Shame? Relief? Disappointment – in the most profound sense – in life, in the people around you, in the baby’s father, in yourself? I imagine you felt so afraid. What if someone had been with you in those moments to help sort through all the conflicting voices and emotions, to tell you “I won’t let you go through this alone. You don’t have to do this. Let’s figure out a solution together.” I am so sorry you didn’t have anyone who could do that for you in that private moment between you and your baby at the Riverbed. I am so sorry.

Have you been told, through many voices and circumstances, that your own life was so invaluable, so easily discarded, so disregarded at the end of the day, that this was the lens through which you saw your baby? I can only wonder how this all might have played out differently if someone in your life had told you, “You are worth it. Your life, as hard as it might be, is worth something. YOU are worth something.” I wonder if you would have had a different kind of ability to feel that for yourself and your baby in that private moment at the Compton Riverbed. If it would have been enough to help you gather the strength and courage to pick her up from that crevice and move forward to figure out a different solution.

You’ve now been arrested and are facing serious legal charges. Do you still feel so tremendously alone? Shame heaped upon shame? Oh…dear Porche. I’m sorry I know your name under these circumstances. You surely wanted to be known for so many other reasons than this. Porche Laronda Washington. I am sorry for all that drove you to this place. You have deeply painful consequences to face for the decision you made at that Riverbed, but I want you to know that you are still worth something. God Himself extends such compassion and grace to you through Jesus… and sometimes it can be so hard to receive this kind of unconditional love when perhaps all you have known is anything but that. But that does not make it any less real, or any less available. There is grace for your life. Yes, even yours. Even now. Please know this. You are not alone and there is grace. Even now.

A Shared Sense of Rest

She was not my patient, but I had briefly met her earlier in the day, and my co-worker asked if I might be free to go in her room and just be with her awhile while my co-worker caught up on charting. The patient was having an anxiety attack, and the Ativan we had given her was not relieving her. I entered her room and saw that her family member, resting on the side, was also clearly not well. There was so much story in that room. So much loyalty. So much suffering. So much celebration of the patient’s recent birthday despite the suffering. So much medical equipment. So much brought from home in an attempt to bring home to the hospital. There was just so much in that room.

The TV was on, but at low volume. I introduced myself to the patient and asked if I could just stand next to her and hold her hand. She graciously accepted with a weak but sweet voice, slipped her hand into mine, and closed her eyes. It must have been five minutes, perhaps ten. Not a lot of time. But we were both so comfortable with the quiet, and I could have stayed there into the evening, just quiet, with her. She only broke the silence to ask me how she was doing. I told her I wasn’t familiar enough with her background to say, and asked how she thought she was doing. “Still weak,” she said. “Your body has been fighting hard,” I told her. She nodded and closed her eyes again.

Our beloved Child Life Specialist then entered with the most lovely, thoughtful birthday gifts for the patient. The patient opened each gift, and her weak, sweet eyes lit up with each one. “Thank you so much,” she said. It felt so good to celebrate her birthday, her life, with her and the Child Life Specialist. Acknowledging that the day she was born into this courageous fight that would be her life….was a beautiful, important day, worthy to be celebrated.

After the Child Life Specialist left, I stayed a few more minutes, and then asked the patient if she felt ok enough for me to step out of the room. She nodded yes, then looked at me and said, “Thank you for being quiet here with me.” I thanked her in return. It was a privilege.

For a few days, I couldn’t pinpoint why that brief encounter made such a deep impact on me, beyond the obvious ache stirred in seeing a patient’s suffering, as her family member physically suffered in the room as well. Finally it occurred to me, it had to do with the profound power of that quiet shared presence, both for her and for me.

It sounds cliché but it always remains true. We enter into healthcare truly wanting to help others, to relieve their suffering. Yet I realized that most of my shifts, I feel that what I do for, or rather to, my patients as their nurse, actually contributes to their suffering, even though I know in my head that much of this is necessary in the long run for their healing. Needle pricks, in-line suctioning, repositioning, hourly neurological checks that severely disrupt sleep, procedures. I am often rushed, stressed, feeling anything but quiet for them. Feeling anything but truly present with them. They are in their world, and I am in mine. We meet but we don’t really meet.

But that afternoon, I was able to share with this patient what I think she and I both really longed for. An assurance beyond words that neither of us would feel the aches in our hearts alone, regarding her condition, for at least a brief period of time. That we would give and receive from each other this shared quiet, this shared sense of rest from all the fighting that we all do in this hospital every day. It was truly a gift, something I hope to share with more of my patients in the days and years ahead.

My heart, at 5 1/2 months

What I currently love about you:

How you wake up in the morning and the first thing you say is your tentative attempt at “mmmaa…mmma!” Ÿ

How your little hands wrap around my forearm when I’m changing you and you pull me into you Ÿ

How your eyes light up with a half-moon smile and your arms flail excitedly when you see me coming to pick you up

How you grab my finger and gnaw incessantly at it with your gummy gums

How you don’t really get what “hi-five” means after you roll over but you’re smiling big because you know it’s something good

How you teach me to be silly and playful even when I’m sad, and you help joy return to a real and deep place in me

How you don’t care a lick that you have to wear a helmet or that people notice because you’re still so beautifully free from insecurity

How you know to anticipate something fun when I say “I’m… gonna…get…YOURR…” Ÿ

How you study my face when I’m talking with your daddy

The sweet coo of your voice as you’re learning to make new sounds

How your arms wrap around my neck when you have the sleepies and I’m holding you close

How I can feel your breathing slow as you fall asleep on me, and for awhile we become one being again

Don’t grow up too fast, baby girl. 

my heart, at three months: part two

Who could imagine that a 3-month old child could have such power to transform a 30+ year old adult. It goes beyond a greater willingness than I ever thought I had to give up sleep for the sake of savoring the moments you want to babble with me at 3:45AM. It goes beyond a willingness to settle for a messier home. It goes beyond new time constraints. It is so much more than these things.

You show me the wonder of everything I take for granted. I have never marveled at hands, feet, eyes, ears, and cheeks, like I marvel at yours. I never knew it could be so fascinating to peel a mandarin orange, take note of its citrus fragrance, and behold the act of peeling the pieces apart and popping them into one’s mouth. But it is fascinating, isn’t it! I never knew how curious and brilliant it was to have so many different cooking utensils to serve specific purposes. Absolutely brilliant!

I never knew I could feel a love so intense for another person. I have never desired the well-being of another person like I desire your well-being. I have never felt more protective, more amazed, more captivated, more hopeful, more fearful, than I feel towards you. I sense that you have the capacity to hurt me in a way that no one else can, and yet I find I am unable to build up the same protective walls that I might build towards other people in my life. I am incredibly vulnerable with you.

I feel more threatened by the world than ever. Disturbing cultural trends, bad drivers, boys, guns, germs, strangers, they all pose more threat than I ever felt before.

I feel more threatened by myself than ever. My temper, my selfishness, my lack of filter when I am tired, my weaknesses, my often frazzled ways. I am so afraid to hurt you, and it is terrifying and sobering to know that this is inevitable, to some degree.

You make me question everything I do, because I know you are watching me, and I know one day you will ask why one thing is important and not another. You will ask why I became angry, why I became sad, why I became so overjoyed, why I sacrificed one thing for another, why I do or don’t do certain things. You will know whether the things I preach with my lips are the same things I live out at home. You will want to know, and as a result, I need to know.

All of these things humble me before our loving, sovereign, merciful, intimate God in Heaven. I realize I can’t protect you, not fully, from the world, from myself. But you are loved that much more intensely by your perfect Father in Heaven who can bring good from evil, who can redeem the broken, and who always has your best in mind. I realize all the more that our hope is in our Savior who gives us forgiveness and healing for our sins and shortcomings, who helps us show grace when we hurt one another, who refines us and moves us forward in our growth. You make me so thankful for our Heavenly Father’s love for you and for me.

You are teaching me about love, wonder, forgiveness, integrity, truth, simplicity, intimacy, presence.

You are teaching me about God. 

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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NOLA on Fresh Pressed!

Status

I’m a little blown away, and very much overjoyed, that my last post on New Orleans was not only Fresh Pressed but so well received! I greatly appreciate all the kind words re: my photography. But more than anything, I’m just so thrilled that so many people got to read and see good things about the amazing and very special city of New Orleans. For those of you who posted comments about your appetites being whetted to go…   do it!  You won’t regret it. I’m already trying to plan my next trip back to discover more of the magic that is New Orleans. Thank you again! It’s pretty incredible to connect with such a diverse group of people through blogging.