We get by with a little help from our friends…

post-1-1172930215

One of my favorite scenes from The Full Monty is where Gaz and Dave find themselves stuck in the middle of a canal. They see a man approaching, walking his dog, and it may be an opportunity to get help. This is how the conversation goes:

Man: “All right?”

Gaz: “Aye. Not s’bad.”

Dave (after the man has walked by): “Not s’bad? Not s’bad?! That’s not much of a chuffing SOS, is it?”

Why is it so hard to ask for help? We often seek to be the helpers but don’t want to be the receivers. Maybe it’s pride, vanity, stubbornness… in my own case, it’s definitely all three along with my ego and not wanting to be a disappointment- it’s stupid, really.

My son and I moved into our neighborhood almost 15 years ago; our neighbors, Wendy and Mike, were among the first to welcome us. Through many joyous celebrations and some tragedies, the most heart-breaking being the loss of their daughter to cancer, they and their son Jeff have become family to us… a very real family. We know each other well (the good and the faults), speak the truth when needed with unconditional love and without fear of losing friendship, and always have each others’ backs.

A few months ago, I had roof damage. Making the decision to not make a decision (one of my worst faults) and thinking I would eventually make the right decision, I’d ignored the problem and it had become more extensive. My deductible is high and I was scared of the cost.

Jeff came over one morning and this was our conversation:

Him: “I saw your roof.”

Me: “Yeah. It’s not so bad.” (Channeling my inner ‘Gaz’)

Him: “It is bad. Don’t be stubborn. Do you need some help?”

Me: (screaming in my head ‘NOOOOOOO!’): “Yes.”

Jeff took the tape measure he’d brought over out of his pocket and we went outside to survey the damage. He made a list of what was needed, did a rough calculation of supply costs, asked me if I could afford it, and then we were off to the hardware store. On the way, I told him, “I’m glad you came over when you did. I was thinking about arson.” He replied, “No one in our family has gone to prison yet, and we’re not letting you be the first.”

Over the next several days, we worked to replace rotten wood and repair the structural damage so the roof didn’t leak any more. Actually I’m using the word “we” too liberally… Jeff and Mike repaired the damage. I handed them tools, held stuff, and gave them water.

It wasn’t long before the next difficult but inevitable conversation took place; I needed a new roof. Jeff broke the news, patiently explaining that if I delayed I could have a few good months before there was further damage but that it might get worse instead. He hugged me through all the very dramatic whining and tears that he’d known were coming, and when I finally said “Let’s do it,” told me he’d already contacted five different contractors for estimates and the first was on his way.

I have a new roof, the bank account has made a recovery, and I’m so grateful for my neighbors.

Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” My prayer for Jeff, the friend who has become my little brother, is that very soon he knows his worth and sees himself through the eyes of all of us who love him. That will  be a glorious day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bedside Table and Rollercoaster Rides

Being a witness to true, pure, selfless, and unconditional love is so powerful that it can transform the soul and change a heart forever; I was blessed to have seen that kind of love a few days ago with one of my patients and her husband. God must have known my heart needed to be filled as He showed me the special bond between a brother and his little sister just the very next day.

Jo is a woman in her 60’s who has been a patient on our unit off and on for the past few months. She has a big heart, a dry sense of humor, and is well-loved by her husband, Robert, and their three adult children. Her liver is failing fast as she waits for a transplant and none of us know how much time she has left. Whatever her course may be, Robert will be right there by her side.

When I first entered Jo’s room that early morning just as the sun was beginning to make its appearance above the dark blue clouds, she was sleeping and Robert was sitting in a chair beside her bed. He was fighting tears as shared with me how scared he was because she’d become so sick very quickly. His voice cracked when he said, “Just a few months ago, she could do everything for herself. She was normal. And now…it’s just…I’m afraid of losing her.” I longed for the right words to say, something comforting…anything really… but sometimes there are no words and none came at that moment. All I could do was nod as we shared the silence that followed.

After I’d seen my other patients, I went back into Jo’s room. Robert had lifted her from the bed to the chair, and I found them sitting across from each other sharing breakfast on the battered hospital bedside table. Our tables are used for many things- a place to set medicine cups, water pitchers, procedure trays. This was the first time I’d seen one used for a breakfast date with a couple who’d been married 40 years and it was such a beautiful sight! A true gentleman, Robert made sure his bride was seated so she could look out the big window and have the best view. He told Jo, “I wish I had some flowers so you’d have something pretty to look at,” to which she replied, “I like looking at you.”

Jo left later that day to have a diagnostic test performed, and Robert finally laid down on the couch to rest. When she returned and I heard him snoring, I tried to be quiet as we moved her from the stretcher to the bed, knowing how tired he must be. As soon as he heard his wife’s sweet voice, though, he immediately awoke and jumped up to help. I wanted so badly to tell him, “It’s okay, we’ve got her,” but then remembered the words of a coworker far wiser than me caring for another patient near the end of life who said, “I used to think I knew what was best for patients and their families. I had good intentions but I was wrong. It’s not for us to decide what’s most important to them; it’s up to us just to honor whatever that is.” It was a gift that day to hear their lively banter during Jo’s good moments and see the gentleness between them during her bad ones- the kind of love that develops from spending a lifetime together.

Will is a 20 year old young man who received a liver transplant after having developed an autoimmune disorder. He and his parents were so sweet and engaging; I loved getting to know them all. Will had become really ill right after he started college and had spent the past year living back at home. He has an older sister and brother who were able to take turns being with him at his sickest when his parents had to work. He also has a little sister. Because their home is out of state, his siblings had not yet been able to see him since his surgery but were making the trip the following weekend.

When the doctors made their rounds, Will’s mom asked them all the “important” questions- about medicines, follow-up appointments, wound care, etc., then said, “ I just have one more question. I promised his 14 year old sister I’d ask this. Will he be able to ride roller coasters again?” I’ve never seen the surgeon smile wider than he did just then! He was grinning when he said,” Yes. Not right now! But please tell her ‘yes.’ In a few months, he can definitely ride roller coasters again.’ We loved hearing that a little sister’s top concern was that her brother could do fun things again… with her.

Will was discharged later that day. I waited with him while his parents left to load the car and he told me how excited he was to see the rest of his family. He said, “I really love all of my siblings. My little sister and I are especially close and I can’t wait to see her!”

I have a shameful secret, one that’s very hard to admit. For much of my life when I saw two people in love, I was happy for them, but there was always the whiny and very selfish thought, “Why not me? Why can’t I have that kind of love?” There are a myriad of reasons. I’ve made poor choices and have lost myself before in relationships. I’m not social. I like people pretty well but am so much better with dogs. I’m stubborn. Fortunately I have a few good friends who know me well and love me anyway. They keep me grounded, ask the hard questions, and yell at me if I isolate too much. I may never have the kind of love that Jo and Robert share, and that’s ok. I’m grateful to God that they have it and all the selfish thoughts are gone for good.

Recently while my brother and I were talking about our father, he brought up some thoughts about my previous relationships with men. He’s always conscious about being tactful (his sister should try to be more like him in that way) and he was afraid of being hurtful but sometimes when you see someone you love making bad decisions for a long enough period of time, the words you’ve held back just come tumbling out. I’m so glad he did. It was a relief for both of us and has brought us even closer together.

I have two brothers. Though we didn’t grow up together, we entered each others’ lives when we were supposed to and with Divine timing. They show their love in so many of the wonderful ways that brothers do- through their words, actions, and the examples they set- and I couldn’t be more thankful to have them in my life. In addition, they have both gone above and beyond in unique ways: one has promised to intervene if I become completely crazy (it’s a slippery slope) and the other has promised to pluck unwanted facial hair if I’m ever in a coma! Both vows are of high value and equal importance.

Please don’t ask me to cut my hair

hair

Beauty is something we women obsess over, cry about, and feel that we can never achieve. Because of our own insecurities, we find ourselves inadvertently bringing other women down with us, thereby fulfilling the old saying, “Misery loves company.” This is not an intentional act, but rather something that has been handed down to us from generation to generation. It is way past time to stop. We have been programmed since early childhood to “know” what a beautiful woman looks like. Madison Avenue tells us she should be tall, very thin, have long legs, porcelain skin, etc. The message is that women who look like this will be desired by all and will achieve ultimate happiness and women who don’t are out of luck.

Here’s the deal…We all want to be happy and we all want to be desired. How many of us as very little girls twirled in our dresses wanting to be seen as beautiful? How many of us pretended we were a princess waiting for our Prince Charming? How many of us fantasized that we were the heroine of a story… beautiful, strong, and irreplaceable? I think the answer is that a lot of us did. So despite having grown into rational, clear-thinking adults, we are still influenced by past perceptions and hurts. Perhaps our fathers called us plain, or our brothers criticized our choice of dress. Maybe we were teased in school for being the ‘ugly duckling’. Our mothers may have been critical of our bodies, pushing us to lose weight for our “own good” so that we could “be happy.” Every woman has at least one story to tell, and most of us have several that have stuck with us for many years, and can still bring tears to our eyes.

We work toward achieving the image of beauty that has been burned into our minds and our very psyche, constantly striving and continually disappointed. Some of us live in despair knowing we will never obtain the perfection we are looking for, while others are just as frustrated seeing how close they are and thinking, “If I could just do a little more, then I would be happy.” Have you ever been witness to a conversation between two women who are good friends? Often it turns to the dissatisfaction over their bodies. You will hear one saying, “I only ate 500 calories all day yesterday, and I worked out for three straight hours.” The other will nod in commiseration, saying, “If I could just lose five more pounds, life would be good.”On and on this goes, as they discuss their self-hatred. It is such a sad thing to witness, and I certainly have been guilty of this same behavior. These are women who truly care about each other, yet instead of lifting each other up, they bring each other down in their battle for perfection. Certainly this is not what our Creator wants for us. He has decorated the world with His beauty:

Psa 93:1 The Lord hath reigned, he is clothed with beauty:

Surely He has made us beautiful as well.

Psa 45:2 (45:3) Thou art beautiful above the sons of men: grace is poured abroad in thy lips; therefore hath God blessed thee forever.

We spend countless hours and not an insignificant amount of money viewing information to make us feel bad about the way that we look. We watch TV shows and read magazines that tell us how we should dress, i.e. make your hips look smaller if you are pear-shaped or fuller if you are an apple shape (why is it ok with us to be compared to fruit?), dress to minimize your derriere or maximize it if it is too small, hide your full bust or enhance your small breasts, etc. In short, the message is that we should all strive for the same “perfect” body. Why should all women try to look the same? It seems we should rejoice in our diversity, each of us recognizing our own beauty that is a gift from God.

Women with pure intentions give their friends the same advice that they themselves have received from other women. They desire the best for their friends and want them to be happy, so they advise their friends on how to dress, on how to wear their hair (hence the reason for the title), and on how to do their make-up. Often, this advice, though it is given with love, has the opposite effect from what was intended. Instead of making us feel better about how we look, we feel worse knowing we have failed miserably in the area of “beauty.”

I have long hair; I like it that way and intend to keep it long. End of story. I have received numerous negative and unsolicited comments about my hair from other women, some who love me and some who don’t. Here are a few:

“Your hair is long.” My reply is usually, “Yes, it’s long.”

“Your hair is too long.” “What is the right length?”

“You should cut your hair.” “Why?” “Because it is too long.” See above.

“You would look better with short hair.” “Really?”

“Your hair is long. Are you gonna donate it to Locks of Love?” “No, I think I’ll keep it.”

And my all-time favorite (usually said with a self-righteous smirk), “You know, after a certain age, women should not wear their hair long.” “Who says?”

There has never once been a man who has advised me to cut my hair.

Why do we women do this to each other? It is a spirit of unrest, which does not come from our Father. There are always two forces at work, and Satan tries to destroy us by creating our fears and then preying upon them as he did with Eve. Life is brought forth from God through us when we give birth; Satan can bring only death. Isn’t it clear why he hates us? He is the one who brings us fear. In the Bible, whenever angels appeared to men, the first words they uttered were, “Fear not.” Instructions regarding fear are present in the Gospels as well, these being just two examples:

Luk 1:74 That being delivered from the hand of our enemies, we may serve Him without fear;

Luk 12:32 Fear not, little flock, for it hath pleased your Father to give you a kingdom.

Mankind is drawn to beauty and through it we get glimpses of God’s glory. Who has not had his or her breath taken away by an awesome sunset where the sky is painted with deep shades of purple, pink, red, and orange? I believe that God created woman to be beautiful for men to be drawn to Him through her beauty. So, of course Satan will try to make us feel that we don’t have beauty. He certainly wants to keep man from moving towards God.

We have received instruction regarding concerns that we are ‘not enough,’ whether it be not smart enough, beautiful enough, or so on.

Mat 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father. Mat 10:30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

Mat 10:31 Fear not therefore: better are you than many sparrows.

I think of women I have been around, some of whom are from cultures different from my own, who are able to see the beauty (outward and inward) that they and their friends possess; they are a joy to be with because they are relaxed and at peace. Instead of striving in discontent, they have happiness which shines from their souls reaching their countenances. They enjoy each other simply for who they are rather than sharing unhappiness and personal dissatisfaction. How refreshing! Have you ever met someone who, at first glance, is not physically attractive, but once you got to know that person, you viewed them as gorgeous? And conversely, someone with great physical beauty that became completely unattractive once their spirit was revealed? Let us all stop the striving for the cookie-cutter beauty that Hollywood dictates we must achieve, and recognize the gifts that God has given us. Oh…and please don’t ask me to cut my hair.

 

 

 

 

Gratitude

bills

 

When I finished paying bills today, I cried. Undoubtedly, this was not the first time in history paying bills has made someone cry, but these were different tears. They were tears of joy and thanksgiving.

Years ago when my son was little, his father and I separated then divorced. Expenses that I had not incurred became ones that were my responsibility; I was fearful of not being able to provide for my son and too prideful and ashamed to tell anyone of my struggles. At the same time, though, I was so grateful holding that sweet baby in my arms, knowing how blessed I was to have that special love!

At first, things were a juggling act…making partial payments to utility companies, paying with one card to make a payment on another… all things many of us have faced at times. Gradually things became better, and I remember clearly the day I’d paid ALL the bills and saw I still had money in my account. It was five dollars, and I was so excited! That was THE day I knew we would be okay. Five dollars between paychecks became a little more every time, and about a year later, I bought a blue portable stereo/cassette player from K-mart. It was the first non-essential purchase I’d made in a long time, and I felt really guilty until I saw how much my toddler loved “dancing” to the music and hearing me sing to him… that was back when he enjoyed my singing, and those days were short-lived! Understandably. I really can’t sing… or rather shouldn’t

Though I’ll never be rich in the material sense and there probably will be times again that may not be easy, today my son and I have everything we need, I was able to pay bills and have a little money left over, I have a job I like, a car to drive, and a house to live in. Most importantly, I have a few close friends, family I love who love me back, and great coworkers- riches I certainly don’t deserve but do appreciate. I thank God for that every day.

The Point

(There really is one; I’m just always painfully slow getting to it whether the communication is written or verbal. My friends, family, and boss can attest to that. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by very patient people!)

For those who are struggling, and there are so many, please hang in there and persevere. We develop our strengths the most when we are at our weakest; tough times really don’t last forever.

For My Son

What I want you to know:

There are times I am disappointed for you yet I am never disappointed in you. I am so thankful that God chose me to be the vessel through which you came to be here; He is the One Who made you and He loved and knew you long before I did. You are a precious gift.

Even as I am happy being with you, it is not your responsibility to ensure my happiness. We choose to be happy or unhappy and any poor choices I have made are my own, not yours.

You inspire me. I am braver when I am with you. I see your love, your sincerity, your ability to make others smile, and I want to be more like you. I have never wanted for you to be like me; God made you who you are, and He knew what He was doing.

I want you to know, really know, that you are loved. You are loved not just by me, but by those who want to be a part of your life and to have you in theirs. My prayer is that you see yourself through God’s eyes- when that happens, you will have immeasurable joy and peace.

My wishes for you:

To love and be loved back.

To find your path doing what makes you happy. Please don’t waste your time with a job that you hate as a means to an end so that ‘one day’ you can be happy. ‘One day’ may never come and I don’t want you to ever look back with regret. It’s the little moments in life that bring smiles and they are easier to recognize when we do what we enjoy.

For you to laugh and to laugh often. Your laughter is a blessing to you and to those around you.

That you may know your worth, share the gifts God has given you, and see how much He loves you.

The Cat’s in the Cradle

That darn song gets to me every time I hear it…

I’ve worked at my job for 23 years now; it would take less than two weeks to replace me. That’s pretty humbling.

As a lot of us do, I started out in my 20’s ready to become the best nurse ever and with haughty dreams of changing the world. My career was very important and I was ready to learn as much as I could as quickly as possible. In my early 30’s, I felt like I was the best nurse I could be, had ‘seen it all’, was valued and valuable, and was changing the world… or at least my little corner of it. Work was the highest priority.

In my mid- and late 30’s, time spent at the ball park with my son was way more important than work. Throwing a baseball, sweating profusely, the taste of stale hotdogs, and the smell of red dirt ranked much higher than starting IVs and performing endless physical assessments. Playing board games was priceless. Even as a teenager, my son still enjoys having a ‘family game night’ now and then. We have a close relationship, and I thank God for that every day.

As much as I invested in my son, I neglected spending time with extended family. Nieces, nephews, siblings, and parents were ignored by means of physical distance, emotional separation, and perceived lack of time. There were some visits but not often enough. Birthdays were missed, as were graduations, weddings, and many holidays. I grew apart from my family, always declining invitations then feeling sad when they were no longer offered and it seemed I was forgotten. It took a crisis several months ago to make me realize finally the importance of family.

Now in my 40’s, my job is something I do for three 12 hour shifts a week and the occasional meeting or conference. Though I work hard for my patients when I’m there, I don’t look to change the world of nursing and being a nurse no longer defines me. I’d rather define myself as a mom, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, and a friend. It’s challenging to make a re-entry into the family I put in last place for so long, and I wonder sometimes if it’s even possible or if it’s too late. I pray that God guides me so that I can continue to give love without coming on too strong (I have a history of doing that!) His way is so much better than ours.

A Tale of Two Patients

model cars

Sometimes we pray for signs from God giving us guidance, asking Him to let us know we are on the right path as we struggle with our own inadequate decisions. My answer was given when a bible literally slammed into my chest.

Patient One, Sam:

Sam lived on our transplant unit for about six months some fifteen years ago awaiting a new heart to replace his own. He had dilated cardiomyopathy (in essence, a giant and floppy heart) and was dependent on two continuous IV infusions to keep that heart beating, in addition to a slew of oral medications. A magnanimous man in his 40’s, Sam was the kind of person others cannot forget. Always wearing a smile and having a great sense of humor, he was a born-again Christian who had remarried; he had one little boy from that second marriage in addition to several grown children from his younger and wilder days. I was his nurse most days I worked.

Passing the time at a hospital is challenging, particularly when a patient is there for a much extended stay. Sam built model cars during his days there. His family would bring him a couple of new ones every weekend, and he worked on them throughout the week. He’d sneak to the nearest stairwell, pulling his IV pole with him, to apply paint to his latest car; when administration happened to visit our unit, the other nurses and I would cover for him and deny that we had any knowledge whatsoever of just where that lingering scent of spray-paint was coming from.

As much as I loved Sam, I was very uncomfortable when he spoke of his faith and of Jesus; it was a time in my life I just wasn’t ready to hear about it. He would start talking and I’d try to change the subject. He would push, and I’d resist. He eventually won… I’m so glad.

When a heart finally became available for Sam after all those months of waiting, he decided against having a transplant. He was discharged shortly afterwards and died at home with his family by his side. Before leaving the hospital, Sam gave me a bible. I keep it at work, and have shared it several times throughout the years with patients and their families who have expressed the wish that they had a bible to read.

Patient Two, Lindsey:

Lindsey is a 24 year old beautiful girl that we have known since she received a liver transplant at the age of thirteen. Since that time, she has spent at least half of her life with us in the hospital. Most of her Christmases and birthdays have been at the hospital with our staff as her only visitors. We have seen her through multiple surgeries and recoveries, loads of new hairstyles, and a particularly difficult period of smart-aleck teenage attitude.

The last major surgery Lindsey underwent was about three years ago, and it nearly killed her. She spent weeks in ICU, hooked to machines, with no one at her bedside other than our staff. It is a miracle that she survived.

Lindsey’s mother visits once a month, on the first of the month, so that her daughter can sign over her disability and welfare checks to her. The only times that the visits last longer than 20 minutes is when the woman falls asleep on Lindsey’s couch in her hospital room. Lindsey’s siblings are the same way- they drop by to get their sister’s car keys.

The Moment:

I had a break from being charge nurse, and was caring for my own small group of patients when Lindsey’s nurse approached me and said, “Lindsey is crying her eyeballs out, and I don’t know how to help her.” When I went to her, Lindsey was crying hard enough to barely catch her breath. I held her as she sobbed that her family didn’t care about her- she’d finally had enough and had understandably reached the point of utter despair and loneliness.

We spoke of faith and how much God loves her. When she said that she wished she had remembered to bring her bible, I offered her mine-relief washed over her.

When I opened my locker, the bible immediately slipped quickly off the top shelf and hit me so hard in the chest that it made a loud thud! Two of my coworkers were eating lunch in the break room, and jumped at the sound, asking, “What was that?” They remembered Sam with great fondness from all those years ago, and we all shared a laugh as I briefly explained what was going on… Sam always knew I needed to be pushed a little (or a lot!)

Lindsey and I held the bible in our hands; when we opened it, we saw Psalm 40 and read aloud together.

A little side-note here… Just a few days before, my sister Mary had shared part of Psalm 40 with us as she offered an Easter prayer for our family. It was a beautiful prayer of love, hope, remembrance, and gratitude that felt like a new beginning of healing for our family.

Amazing how perfect God’s timing is…