Grief and the Good and Hopeful Life


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

On the Verge of a Dream

It’s such a curious place to find myself in, on the verge of a dream.

I’ve seen this gap in terms of available resources to help nurses deal with the internal struggles triggered by what we deal with in our profession. While I appreciate the current journals, books and videos that tell some of the story of what nurses do, I also continue to long for something a bit different, a bit deeper. I was appalled by the sheer lack of TED or TEDx Talks on nursing. There are a good handful of medicine-related talks, but really only a limited few on nursing or nursing-related topics. With all that we see, experience, and grapple with, I simply cannot understand why nurses have not sought out or created more of a voice for who we are, what we do, what we struggle with, what we need. I’ve wanted a voice to exist. I’ve wanted to have a voice in that collective.

And now, I do. I’ve been granted a couple of opportunities to contribute to Off the Charts, the blog for the American Journal of Nursing, and this has been amazing to be a part of the conversation with a broader audience of nurses. And then I recently got accepted as a TEDx Talk speaker for TEDx Pasadena Women! I still can hardly believe it. It’s both exhilarating and terrifying. There can be fear and burden with blessing. Who knew.

The writing feels a bit easier to work with. I remain relatively anonymous, and I have a bit more space and time to create the piece I want. Having a wonderful editing experience is extremely helpful too. Somehow, it feels safer.

The TEDx Talk really kicks it up a notch. The TEDx team prepares you really well with fantastic coaching and guidance over three months. But public speaking in and of itself is just an intense experience, and this platform for public speaking feels crazy. To have to pull it off in front of a live audience on a rather big stage, and then to know that the video will be put out there for anyone and everyone to see (and scrutinize)…it’s just really hard to wrap my mind around the fact that I’m actually going to have this as a part of my story.

I have no idea where this is going to go. It could go terribly, it could be mediocre and fizzle out with little “fanfare,” or it could launch into something even more. Even in being received well overall, there will be plenty of critics, I’m sure, and that’s something I’ll need to be prepared for. Am I ready to take on the Internet trolls?

I suppose it’s true when people say that this is kind of a big deal. Not everyone gets a chance to be on the TEDx Talk stage and speak about something they feel really passionately about! And yet I think it’s important to actively fight to maintain perspective. I want to enjoy it for all the amazing blessing it is, and glory in the Lord for His grace and generosity to me. Yet big picture, I remain a small fish in a big pond, just doing my part. I can already feel all the lure of supposed success, the lie that says “If you invest in all of this potential success, then you will be Someone. Not just the part-time bedside nurse otherwise cloistered at home picking up toys and changing diapers.” I’ve got two littles at home who don’t understand TEDx or journal publication – they only understand love and humility and presence from their Mama. I’ve got to keep asking, what matters more at the end of each day? The world can promise fame and fulfillment and then it can turn against you on a dime, find something irrelevant to criticize you about, say you’ve grown out of date and then you’ve gone from Someone to No One. Lasting fulfillment only comes from resting secure that I’m already Christ’s Beloved, already called for the greatest purpose of knowing Him, called to love the most important people He’s put right under my roof. All the rest, all this growing ‘success,’ it’s given as a gift for me to enjoy and share, and what God chooses to do with it, that’s up to Him. My core purpose remains.

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

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.

 

My Anticipated Undoing

As expected, the main question I get these days in one form or another is, “How are you feeling?” It’s always a hard question to answer because it’s huge, and I’m not completely sure what the person is actually asking. How do I feel, physically, at almost-36-weeks of pregnancy? How do I feel about what’s up ahead, and do you mean labor, parenthood, both or neither? The easy answers can include one or more of the following short responses: I feel big, tired, excited, grateful, uncomfortable but still functional, nervous, surreal, or the best all-encompassing answer, “I’m doing ok”.

I suppose a lot of the answers are generic and obvious for my textbook pregnancy. At 36 weeks of pregnancy, I am physically tired, awkward, and more uncomfortable (putting on socks has never been such WORK!). I am amazed at the continued growth and ever stronger movements of this baby girl inside of me. I am looking forward to the rest and transition that maternity leave will grant before she comes. I am both always wanting to talk about this pregnancy thing and simultaneously a little tired of the talk and attention surrounding it. I suppose these are all the things that most people would expect me to feel and say about how I am doing now.

Labor. Some days, I think, “It’ll be fine. It’ll be hard and painful and all of that but you just keep your eye on the prize, and do what you have to do.” Other days, I imagine all the worst case scenarios coming together. Water breaking in some ridiculously public place, awful drawn-out contractions, difficulty getting the epidural in, pushing until I can push no more, pooping in front of an audience, awful tearing and then both mom and baby in distress. And I think, “OH MY GOD. THIS IS GOING TO BE MY STORY.” The planner in me does not love anticipation of so many unknown factors.

Parenthood. I fully believe people when they say, “You will never experience love like the love you will have for your child.” “It is the best and hardest experience, but worth it all.” “Get ready to be really tired, all the time.” I will only know what they mean when we start to actually walk through it.

Some of the deeper thoughts that I am processing are about what I call my anticipated undoing.

I love having a plan for the day and efficiently checking off the things on my daily to-do list.

I love a neat and orderly home.

I love my own personal quiet time.

I love sleep.

I like…  ok fine, I love having a sense of control.

I love feeling prepared for things that are unfamiliar to me. I like instruction manuals, clear how-to’s, basically ways to help me not feel like I’m failing with something new.

I have ordered my life and habits around these loves for 30+ years. Oh I am about to be undone. I cannot run from it, and my soul knows I need it. But who honestly looks forward to the biggest anticipated undoing of their lives?  It’s coming. Baby Girl, I hope for your sake that I can give you the best of myself when I have been undone. I do believe them when they tell me it is worth it, for you, because of you, and also for my own growth and sanctification in the Lord.

Undo me.

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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Tough Love Can Be Tough

I’m used to patients being terrified of getting worse. But it took me awhile to realize that the main issue I was now dealing with was that this patient was terrified of getting better. I’m sure there are plenty of psychological publications and blog posts by some really smart people that have already covered this phenomenon, so I certainly don’t claim to be discovering anything new. But it was a new situation for me to find myself in, particularly as I had been with this patient for over a month and had a more intricate relationship with him than with patients that I have for only one or two days. There is an inherent emotional and psychological distance that you can keep from patients and families whom you care for for only a shift or two. But this changes, inevitably, when you are with them as their nurse for an extended period of time.

He had a physical disease process with some setbacks during his recovery, which sentenced him to a prolonged hospital stay. But he also had some psychological and emotional dysfunction that went even further back, which appeared to have gone unaddressed until now. He was intensely needy, refusing to let his primary caretaker from home rest, and fearfully reluctant to let go of various hospital treatments that had become his source of security over time. On the morning of my final shift with him, knowing that he would soon be transitioning out of the ICU, I started off the shift by saying, “Our big goal today is to work on boundaries.” His response: “What’s that?” Oh dear. Each step in this final push towards recovery meant that there would less of all the external support – less treatment, less comfort and coddling, less urgency of response for issues that were not true crises. The growing expectation on him to work through the uncomfortable changes and responsibilities of recovery was almost more than he could handle. I’m so used to my therapeutic nursing role being that of one who brings comfort and relief as much as possible. I wish someone had told me in nursing school that sometimes, the therapeutic nurse is also the one who will hold his or her ground with a firm ‘no’ when the patient is crying, pleading, throwing a tantrum, suffering (but not really suffering).

There is a big part of my ego that wanted him to love me as his primary nurse. I wanted him to thank me for everything I had helped him through. But my final shift with him involved me being a big source of his frustration and discomfort, perhaps some disappointment as well. There would be no thanks offered – just his desperate plea that I would somehow let him go back to the less healthy state that he was in before. It was at that point that I knew for certain I had truly given him the very best that I could as his nurse, and as his friend. Because more than wanting his thanks, I wanted him to get better.

I can see myself in him. It’s how I am sometimes too, towards life, towards others, and towards God. I have a deeper appreciation now for the times when God allows me to struggle. That is a wisdom and love that I still plead against. I kept asking my patient if he still trusted me. I think that is what my Father in Heaven asks me too.

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.

the time a fishbone threw off my routine

It takes events like a trip to the ER for a fishbone lodged in your throat to make you appreciate the most basic things operating ‘as they ought’. We sat down for dinner on a normal, quiet Saturday evening. I was glad to have the weekend off from work to rest, be with my husband, and worship with my church family. But with that first spoonful of soup slid one small, sharp, insidious bone that decided it didn’t quite want to be eaten alive by my stomach juices quite yet, so it parked itself in my esophagus, just past my vocal chords. After a big, painful swig of water, a few meek attempts at swallowing, and some tentative coughing, I just pictured this bone digging itself deeper and deeper into my throat muscles, and I could imagine the nurses describing me in their handoff report to each other: Adult Asian female, aspiration on a fish bone, inflamed esophagus, pneumothorax, chest tube in place, on antibiotics for pneumonia. OK, so I’m a little paranoid, but after some of the crazy stories I’ve seen and heard at work, this is where my mind goes now.

So off to the ER we went. I walked myself up to the check-in desk while the husband parked the car, and with no small amount of embarrassment, I rolled my eyes and told the gentleman at the desk, “I… have a… fish bone stuck in my throat.” To my relief, neither he nor the other staff seemed particularly surprised by my dilemma. After some X-rays, the ER doctor tried giving me a couple of muscle relaxants in hopes that the fish bone might become loose enough to make its way out of my throat, but to no avail. The gastroenterologist had to drive in from a couple hours away to eventually knock me out with Morphine and Versed – which I now have a new appreciation for – to put an endoscope down my throat and hopefully pluck out the bone with some forceps. Too bad the medications didn’t last long enough for me to stay asleep before he finished. I awoke quite suddenly with the scope down my throat and was quite convinced I was about to vomit the bone and other goodies out onto the doctor’s sparkly white lab coat. Fortunately for all our sakes, we were spared of such pleasantries. The doctor removed the scope only to announce he did not see the bone, that it must have passed down my throat at some point prior to his arrival. Alas, it will remain a mystery as to when or how that bone made its way out of my esophagus. I apologized to the doctor that he had to drive four hours round-trip to not find this elusive fish bone. We got home at 3AM, tired but more amused than anything at what had just happened. It was supposed to be a simple Saturday evening dinner of leftover fish soup. So much for a routine weekend.

With the luxury of self-scheduling at work, routine is thrown out the window since my work hours can and do change week to week. It is both incredibly wonderful and slightly disorienting. Friends and family are never quite sure when I am free. I’m never quite sure myself. My weekdays become weekends, and I perpetually lose track of what day of the week it is. You miss out on family traditions when you have to work holidays. Somehow, fireworks on July 6th just don’t have the same effect.

I most definitely now have a new appreciation for routine. One of the many reasons I went into nursing was because of the variety that each day and each patient can bring. It is exhilarating to always be learning in such a dynamic and challenging environment. It can also be tiring and extremely humbling. I am finding that the right doses of routine can help to center us, quiet our busy minds and hearts, and help us regain our footing on what is familiar and dependable.

I think this is partly why God created seasons. The sunrise and the sunset. The rhythms in our body that tell us to sleep and wake. The peace we find when our homes are clean and in order. After all, what if we awoke one morning and found that the sun did not rise, that the moon stayed out until noon? I can only imagine what our reactions might be. We need a fundamental level of routine; more than that, we need the One it points us to as our foundation when things start to get shaken up.

Storms will still come, life will still be full of rude interruptions, and yes, embarrassing trips to the ER for a fishbone in the throat will sometimes happen. But at the end of the day, our bodies will still tell us it’s time to rest in the faithful hand of the One who will assuredly still cause the sun to rise and the sun to set, just as we expect.