The Nocturnists: Sharing my Story as a Nurse and Mom in a Pandemic


The Nocturnists is a podcast that has done incredible work documenting the experiences of healthcare workers from many angles, and in current times capturing this phenomenal moment in history as we endure this COVID pandemic.

I had the opportunity to reflect on the early days of the pandemic as we all began to realize that this coronavirus was to be taken very, very seriously. What was it that made me realize it wasn’t like other coronaviruses I’ve seen in our ICU? My sharing in Stories from a Pandemic: Part II – Episode 7: Remembering a Pandemic starts at 5:57.

In the next Episode 8: A Call to Arms, I share about what it was like to be a pediatric ICU nurse, a new (and overwhelmed) homeschooling mother to two young elementary age children, and a wife of a health inspector before – and then just after – the vaccine finally becomes available. What was it like to go from hoping for the best with only external protection, to finally having some internal protection on board? My sharing in this episode starts at 18:19.

We are living in such crucial moments in history, and as intensely stressful as they have been, I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful for the vaccine. I am grateful we have ways to share our stories.

Finding God in the Wild Crash between Motherhood and PICU Nursing

I needed to walk the dog, and the kids were reluctant to join me. I had to sternly remind them that if they wanted this dog, then they needed to fully participate in taking care of him. I was annoyed.

The demands of and feelings about motherhood this past year have crashed wildly with the demands of and feelings about pediatric ICU nursing. I have at times despaired of the intensity of home life in a pandemic only to wildly swing the other direction and hold these mundane, annoying moments of motherhood in precious light when I crouch as a nurse next to a mother crumpled to the ground over losing her child, longing for just one more mundane moment with her beloved.

Doing what I do and seeing what I see at work gives me a certain perspective of what it means to say God is always good, and God is always with us. It holds space for really, really big messes in life, and big messes in my own heart. He’s not just good to me in my smiling, happy, healthy moments with my children. He’s good because He gives hope for the long perspective, one that recognizes we all suffer certain ways and we are all mortal, and yet He has not forsaken us. He has joined us in those messy realities. In one moment Jesus said Father take this cup from me, in the next He said Your will be done.

I am not always as thankful as I should be for the mundane moments with my kids but still He gives them to me. I’m trying to be more intentional about capturing these #proofofmom moments in photograph and story, so when I find myself one day looking back and yearning for them, I can remember all the expressions of His grace and then look ahead with hope for the Day there is no more suffering, sorrow, death or pain.

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

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

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

You can read the entire post here.

A Letter from a Parent to Teachers in the time of COVID-19

The school year started with all the assumptions we make about how life is going to go.

She’ll go to school, she’ll make more friends, the teachers will work their magic, I will have some breathing room for myself, repeat for nine months. At the end of the year, my child will have learned whatever she’s supposed to learn for her grade level and I’ll say thank you to the teachers with a gift card, and see you in the Fall!

Come March 2020 and the notice of shutdown of school campuses due to COVID-19.

I realized in an instant that I didn’t know how to work a teacher’s magic. In fact, I was humbled to learn it’s not just magic. It’s a freaking ton of hard work, tenacity, commitment to the kids, commitment to (and patience with!) the families, incredible flexibility with each child’s unique temperament, iron stomach for politics, creativity, and an understanding of their own worth as powerful shapers of future generations even when the majority of people take a teacher’s job so much for granted.

With all the other parents, I mainly fumbled and sighed and cried my way through the first few weeks of “homeschooling.” But our amazing principal and teachers showed up to our kids and our families with a revamped plan that must’ve kept them up all hours of the night to create (and re-create). Led in that spirit, my first grader didn’t seem to bat an eyelash at all the changes. She never melted down, never complained, only remarked now and then that she missed seeing and hugging her friends and teachers. But her teachers stayed positive, engaged, affectionate, appropriately strict, and very much at the helm.

As painfully long as some of the days were with managing kids at home all day every day with distance learning, I got to see through the Zoom classes how a teacher brings a group of children together in a spirit of hope and community with an unshakable focus on continuing growth and education. I got to know my daughter’s classmates and their parents. I got to know my own child better – how she thinks, how she works through struggles, what sparks her to speak up, what inhibits her, what excites her, what makes her sad. I got to know those things about myself better as a parent as well.

By the last week of school, I finally felt surprisingly settled into the new rhythm, as exhausting as all the demands were. And then it was time to wrap up the school year. There was a winding down of online coursework, but there could be none of the on-campus celebratory end-of-year activities. There was a drive-by the school to wave to teachers and staff, where I went to shout “Thank you!!”out the window and found myself trying not to wail with sobs instead. There was a brief pickup of classroom materials and a side hug with her teacher after asking permission, adjusting her mask and dousing her in hand sanitizer. Emotions were at times muted, at times surprisingly acute, mostly confusing.

Then came the final class Zoom meetings. In a talent show on the second-to-last day, another little girl in class said she had a song to sing about saying good-bye but how everyone remains in each other’s hearts. It was off-key and acapella, but at the end of her song, a little boy then burst into sobs. I looked over at my daughter and she was quietly fighting back her tears. It was her first sign of sad emotion since the quarantine started. I wrapped my arms around her, she turned off her video, and waited to compose herself before getting back into the Zoom meeting. She said they were just happy tears.

Today. The final day of school. The online class talent show finished up, and it was time for all the children and their teacher to say good-bye. They all clasped their hands together and pumped their fists back and forth from their chest to the computer screen, “sending love” as their teacher called it. My daughter stayed on until the last minute, as one by one each little square for each classmate’s face disappeared from the virtual classroom. She was already blinking back tears but as the meeting ended, she buried herself in my arms, and we were both crying together.

This year, our kids lost so much. But in this mysterious, imperfect, painful, beautiful, terrible, magical way, we have also gained so much. And teachers and school staff, I now know that you are the most hard-working and the most magical people I know. We did it, and we did it together, but you led the way with your grit and your heart. Our family is sending you all our love.

A Mother’s Day poem and prayer, for mothers of children under 5

These Are the Days

They tell me these are the days

I will miss when you are a teenager, a young adult, a grown woman perhaps with a family of your own.

These days that blur mindlessly, sometimes too heartlessly, into one long Groundhog’s Day

Waking, shepherding, feeding, cleaning, driving, fussing, feeding, hugging, cleaning, feeding, shepherding again

Negotiating all the same arguments, navigating all the same demands, cleaning all the same messes.

Have we grown at all since yesterday? Last month? Last year?

I don’t see it until I look up from the drudges and see you. When did the baby

Face, voice, squishy cuddles, innocence

Disappear into yesterday’s hazy memory?

…..

These are the days

I still light up your eyes so effortlessly.

These are the days

I can still fix most of your problems with a long hug, a kiss, a Hello Kitty band-aid,

And reassurance that Mommy is here.

These are the days

You still want to tell me everything you do, and love, and discover and want.

These are the days

We are still so simple in who we are to each other, you and I.

…..

These are the days.

Don’t let me wish them by too soon.

 

“So teach us to number our days,

That we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Psalm 90:12

When an Over-responsible Caregiver Learns a Life Lesson from a 5 Year Old

I have in recent weeks come up against my limits at times of what I can give to others and accomplish in the course of a day, and it hasn’t always been a graceful acceptance of those limits. I have instead resented them, and then learned the harder way to heed them and their inherent God-given wisdom rather than slam myself up against them to see if they will budge (they won’t, not much anyhow).

It can be a double-edged sword, this tremendous pride and meaning we caregivers find in being so good at seeing the needs of others and going to them with openness to help meet those needs. This characteristic is both its own reward and its own potential enemy – precisely because we are so good at it and there is always more need. When I find myself holding too tightly to my caregiver persona to be my personal motivator and satisfier, there always inevitably comes a point where I am hit with my finitude, and either become embittered or humbled by it. Which response I choose will set me on a trajectory one way or another.

Choosing to become embittered may initially make me seem stronger and tougher, but in the long haul my heart only grows empty and hard. Digging my heels into the role when I have in fact hit my limits has only led to resenting others, and ultimately judging myself rather than listening to myself when I feel my own needs emerge. I become more a shell of a caregiver than true substance.

Choosing humility frees my identity from the need to always be (perceived as) the strong one for others. It allows me to value myself in all my strengths and limitations, and gently voice rather than demand what it is I need. It allows me to rest, allows me to receive help, and most importantly allows me to love and receive love based on who we all are, not what we all do or need to do.

My 5 year old daughter showed me in one simple exchange how much I had lost sight of what’s most important in my perspective as a caregiver, and invited me back into the beauty of it.

“Mommy, what is a privilege?”

“Well, it’s something that you are so lucky to be able to do, something not everyone gets to do. It’s different from a responsibility, which is something you have to do.”

“So… a privilege is like how you get to be a Mommy to me and Kayla?”

She stopped me in my tracks and showed me the change of heart that I needed. She wasn’t looking at an incomplete checklist of all my responsibilities. She was looking at our relationship.

“Yes honey. It is a privilege to be a Mommy to you and Kayla. It is a privilege.”

 

Lessons in Motherhood: Dying to Self, Finding Love

In my single and then newlywed years, I’m not sure who I imagined myself to be as a parent. I know I was scared and delayed starting a family because of what I thought to be legitimate excuses reasons, but ultimately it came down to fear of everything – how much I would have to give up, how my life and relationships and body would change, whether or not I would be a failure at it all. I didn’t have a clear vision of what kind of mother I would be. Five and a half years and 2 kids into motherhood, I’m still finding my way, learning them, learning me, learning God.

The thing that’s so hard to explain to people who have yet to experience parenthood without sounding like an ungrateful jerk, particularly when children are in their little years (in my case, ages 3 and 5), is the daily dying to self that is involved. I am an introvert who cherishes quiet and alone time; I now have very little of either. I was efficient and now I’m not (hello 36 steps, 2 meltdowns, and minimum 4 arguments to get into the car). I was neat and organized and now I’m not. I slept well and now I don’t. I felt safe(r) and now I feel vulnerable. I thrived on conversations about deep and heart-level things; now my adult conversations are limited and interrupted, and most of my everyday conversations are make-believe and weirdly perpetually argumentative and usually illogical. Even with the awareness that life would primarily become focused on raising my children after that first moment we beheld the positive pregnancy test, I still remain someone with my own passions, goals, and interests that are very much alive. I think it’s this aspect of the daily dying of self that hits me the hardest; not that I’m completely unable to pursue my dreams but I’m certainly much more constrained. Up until I became a parent, what I typically heard was loud, enthusiastic, pervasive urging to go hard after my dreams. “Don’t let anything get in your way!” I’d never been taught what it looks like to gracefully and humbly constrain my dreams for certain seasons, particularly in a way that retains deep hope and joy.

So much of this is about this death-defying fight to preserve the old me, who I was (and who I idolized, quite frankly) before becoming a parent. See, I didn’t just enjoy being an efficient, organized, deep-thinking, dream-pursuing introvert.  Fundamentally, I also thought I was really patient, decently generous, good at caring about others and meeting them where they are at. I loved that version of me in my mind. Parenthood not only challenged and/or undid the former things, which were hugely precious to me; it revealed significant deficiencies in the latter that rattled my happiness with myself, my character, to the core. Who knew that I could speak so sharply to a child who, with no ill intent, accidentally soiled her bedsheets at an inconvenient time for me? Who knew I could be so ungrateful for our food, our home, our material goods, an education, that I could become embittered about the daily process of trying to get my kids fed, dressed, and off to school each morning? Who knew that I could possess such lack of empathy as I demanded that my 3 year-old negotiate life with me at my maturity level (and p.s., turns out I am sometimes the less mature between us). Apparently, God knew, and now I know, and it’s a bit appalling. Looking into the mirror my children hold up to me is like looking into the mirror without makeup, without outward adornment, without a chance to fix my face and smile for the camera. I much prefer the face with makeup, a prepared smile highlighted just right by a groomed outfit. How do I learn to love and accept the unadorned, and then embrace the revealing and refining of it?

A common response is, “Every parent struggles, and it’s ok! You’re ok and you’re not alone!” While it helps to know that other mothers struggle in similar ways as I do, at the end of the day this is no relief for the guilt I still feel for hurting my sweet children’s feelings, nor is it any source of empowerment for me to change. No, actually, it’s not ok that I yell at my kids just because I’m grouchy and don’t want to be inconvenienced any more for the day. It’s not ok for me to trudge through their little years with a chip on my shoulder, always slightly looking past them and looking ahead to the days when I hopefully get more of my independence back. It’s not ok that I miss so much of who they are because I’m still too stuck on me. Yes, these are all common struggles among parents, but that doesn’t make it ok.

I’m realizing that loving my kids starts not first and foremost with loving God (because I fall short there as well), but knowing from my rattled core what it is to be loved by Him. Not a surface, sweet, “Oh I love you, you’re fine, it’s gonna be ok!” kind of love. But a gritty oh man He sees my crap and calls it for what it is, but He remains deeply passionate about the well-being of my soul and is committed to being with me, in my worst, for my best. He loves the unadorned face staring back at me in the mirror. And then He does what I really need Him to do: He turns my gaze off myself before I can heap any more self-condemnation, before I can offer any more self-pity, before I can work to muster any more unconvinced self-cheer. He turns my gaze to Him, the One who covers my shame with grace and forgiveness, the One who fills my daily mundane moments in motherhood with significance, the One who empowers me to serve and grow because He Himself laid down His rights and glory and life to serve and sacrifice for us. He gives me Himself as my Good and Loving Heavenly Father who wants my best in motherhood, and so He uses motherhood itself to reveal in me my worst. In that place, He is unflinching in His love for me. From that place, I can but love Him, love my unadorned self, and love these children He has so graciously entrusted to me.

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.

When You Think of Me

To each of my girls, ages 1 and 3:

Our days run into each other with repetition and predictability. Wake up, eat cereal, play, make ourselves presentable, drop you off at school, pick you up, eat, play, bathe, watch TV, play make-believe, read books, wrestle, argue over toys, argue over snacks, cleanup time, evening meltdown, Bible stories, snuggles, sleep. Every day I grow restless over the humdrum, but every night I can’t get enough of the cuddles and try to hold on to your baby-like features just a little bit longer. Our days don’t change much but you do, somehow, in secret when I’m not looking. You’re thinking about things more. You remember things more. I can’t help but wonder what you are starting to make of yourself, of me, of relationships, of God. Everyone says the mother-daughter dynamic is complicated. Are we really doomed?

I want you to think of me as gentle, but oh the times when my voice is harsh. I want you to think of me as steadfast, but oh the times I’m tipped over the edge without forewarning. All of my flesh wants you to think of me as the perfect mom, but there is nothing like the refining fire of family in constant proximity in its ability to reveal every shortcoming.

But I heard you ask a question the other day. I know you heard and learned it from me, and it gives my heart so much hope.

“Will you forgive me?”

When you think of me, if you think of good things, then thank Jesus, our best model of love and grace. But what I really want is for you to think of me as a Mama who asks for your forgiveness.

When Mama asks for forgiveness, it means we can be confident forgiveness is a thing. There is real forgiveness to be granted for real sin. Sometimes your Daddy, meaning so well, excuses Mama’s sin by saying Mama’s just had a long day. The thing is, every day is a long day for an innately selfish soul asked to die to herself to serve others over and over and over again in the context of parenthood. It is not ok for me to justify my sin by saying I had a long day. My call is to love and serve you as Christ has loved and served me. When I fail, my confidence in coming to you for forgiveness is the confidence that forgiveness exists in fullness and power, because Christ first forgave us.

When Mama asks for forgiveness, it means Mama is not perfect, and my lack of perfect will hurt you. It means you are worth enough for Mama to learn to lay down my pride and defensiveness and propensity for self-justification in order to tenderly acknowledge that the state of your heart matters, so much.

When Mama asks for forgiveness, it means Mama needs your forgiveness to have a whole and free heart. We were made for love, and you and I were given to each other to love as only a Mama and her little girl can love. I need your forgiveness to live an unhindered life with you the way we were intended to live. When forgiveness enters in, we are not doomed.

When Mama asks for forgiveness, it means Mama wants you to know Jesus. For you to lay down your own heart to show me love when I have hurt you badly, you have to know the One who laid His heart down for you that way first. That’s the real thing.

Living in the house of grace is where we can live free. You and I are going to go through our storms but I want to live this life with you.

The Thing About Young Children

This is the thing about young children.

They talk and talk and talk your ear off with what feels like noise and nonsense, until you realize you are witnessing the growth of their imagination, the revelation of their personality, the purest testimony of what is by and large still an unstained world, the development of their thought processes, and the echoing of what goes on in their lives. God help me not to wish for so much silence.

They cling and cling and cling to you to the point you want to shake them off. And then you realize the toddler is no longer that newborn who once fit on your chest for the sweetest naps, all new baby smells and little fingers instinctively wrapping around yours, claiming you as her very own. You realize the toddler is increasingly interested in others’ affection in addition to – or in competition with – your own. You realize the day is coming way too fast when you will reach for them and they will push you away, and your heart will ache for those days of innocence. You will wish for a different, less selfish heart for that frazzled young mother so that she will see what a fleeting gift these days are. God help me not to wish for so much freedom.

They watch and watch and watch you to the point where you are humbled by what they see. In their eyes, you are strong and heroic and lovely, when you feel anything but. You can snap in frustration and they will still come back to hug your legs, their unbridled forgiveness washing over all your self-induced guilt. They see you, the imperfect mom that no public eye sees in all the smiling selfies, yet they wait with pure faith and hope for you to come back to your senses. You may go to bed feeling terrible about that one impatient moment or your inability to give all the attention and play they clamored for, but in the morning you are still Mommy who lights up their eyes and fills their arms with a new embrace for a new day. The grace is so abundant it is almost inconceivable, but it is real, and it is your healing. God thank You for the grace of my young children.