Monday, December 31, 2012


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. {Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities}

This was the year in which I learned eve.ry.thing the hard way.

Good riddance to idols and selfishness and all this pain.

What a year for a new year! And maybe... maybe... this year will be better than the last.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Prince of Peace

What better day than Christmas to practice childlike faith? To find awe in the everyday? To acknowledge God's great love in the simplest ways?

In The Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones summarizes Isaiah 9, 11, 40, 50, 53, 55, and 60 to compose a message of hope from God to us through the prophet Isaiah (emphasis mine):

Dear Little Flock,

You're all wandering away from me, like sheep in an open field. You have always been running away from me. And now you're lost. You can't find your way back.

But I can't stop loving you. I will come to find you. So I am sending you a Shepherd to look after you and love you. To carry you home to me.

You've been stumbling around, like people in a dark room. But into the darkness, a bright Light will shine! It will chase away all the shadows, like sunshine.

A little baby will be born. A Royal Son. His mom will be a young girl who doesn't have a husband. The baby's name will be Emmanuel, which means "God has come to live with us." He is one of King David's children's children's children.

The Prince of Peace.

Yes, Someone is going to come and rescue you! But he won't be who anyone expects.

He will be a king! But he won't live in a palace. And he won't have lots of money. He will be poor. And he will be a Servant. But this King will heal the whole world.

He will be a hero! He will fight for his people, and rescue them from their enemies. But he won't have big armies, and he won't fight with swords.

He will make the blind see, he will make the lame leap like a deer!

He will make everything the way it was always meant to be.

But people will hate him, and they won't listen to him. He will be like a Lamb-- he will suffer and die.

It's the Secret Rescue Plan we made-- from before the beginning of the world!

It's the only way to get you back.

But he won't stay dead-- I will make him alive again!

And, one day, when he comes back to rule forever, the mountains and trees will dance and sing for joy! The earth will shout out loud! His fame will fill the whole earth-- as the waters cover the sea! Everything sad will come untrue. Even death is going to die! And he will wipe away every tear from every eye.

Yes, the Rescuer will come. Look for him. Watch for him. Wait for him. He will come! 

I promise.

Love, God

Unto us lowly, unworthy sinners, a son is given today. He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He is everything I need, and more. He came that we might live.

Merry Christmas, friends!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Joy, Peace, and Love

This Advent has been pressing on my heart like never before. I mentioned in my last post that I finally realized Advent is more than a countdown to Jesus' birthday. In fact, it's not really about Jesus' birthday in the traditional sense at all. It's a celebration in anticipation of the second coming, because this world is a mess and in need of a Savior. I am a mess and I need a Savior. I have nothing to bring to the table. My heart is so dark. What better time of the year to remember that Jesus is the light that shines in dark places!

As my favorite carol this year says, "pray for peace, people everywhere."

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Traditions

I think this is the first year I've realized that Christmas is more than the remembrance of Jesus' birthday, and that Advent is more than a countdown to Santa Claus. (Obviously, it's been a few years since I waited for Santa and spread reindeer food around our backyard with my brothers.)

Growing up, Advent was very present in our house and around our table. We had an Advent wreath, and my brothers and I took turns lighting a new candle each successive week and saying the prayer before dinner. I still remember it:

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation. In the darkness and in the light. Blessed are you in this food and in our sharing. Blessed are you as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly.

But as things often are when you're a child, I don't remember experiencing any deeper meaning behind this prayer. It was a family tradition and we always fought over who got to light the candles and who got to blow them out. What I do remember about Christmas is the magical feeling of anticipation. The warmth of family and food and laughter around the table. The stillness of walking home in the snow after evening Mass and entering a warm house that enveloped you like a hug. Sitting in the living room looking at the twinkling lights on the Christmas tree while Bing Crosby sang Silent Night.

My parents were careful to focus on the real meaning of the season in addition to the usual excitement of gifts. Us kids added handfuls of straw to Jesus' manger for each selfless deed performed during Advent. I don't remember being told to be good because Santa's watching, but I do remember setting out cookies for him the night before and delighting in the crumbs that he left the next morning, along with a note in curly-cued handwriting congratulating each of us for our achievements in the past year. We also got three individual presents, because  Jesus got three presents from the wise men.

Growing up, my parents certainly fostered generosity. Not in an over-the-top way, but definitely in a way I've come to see was an incredible blessing, not to be taken for granted. The older I get, the more I simultaneously appreciate it and grow uncomfortable with it. My mom and dad have been incredibly supportive of my brothers and me, and it's humbling.

The last few years, I've been the hardest person to shop for because if I want something, it's usually something really specific which takes away any element of surprise on Christmas morning. Also, for the third time in five years, I'm scheduled to work Christmas Eve and Christmas and this year. But I'm actually somewhat looking forward to it for once... oh man I am so ready to squeeze some baby cheeks and fall into the familiar role of NICU nurse. (I had no idea how much this new job would stress me out. But if you know me at all, though, you're probably not surprised.)

All this rambling to say, I'm so blessed to have fond memories of Advent and I'm excited that Ross and I are starting memories and traditions of our own, as well!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

To Give His Only Son

To lose a child seems unbearable. I've seen the anguish on parent's faces in the NICU when the doctors tell them nothing more can be done. I've held little ones with hours left to live. I've given last baths and taken pictures and made baby handprints in times of joy and in times of sorrow.

The first day of this year was the first day I said goodbye to a baby I'd been taking care of. And I'm so very aware that my distress was only a shadow of the pain her parents felt. Her parents held her for hours, saying quiet goodbyes. When that sweet dad started crying, it was the first time I teared up at work enough to have to step away from the bedside. When her parents left, I had nested her in the bed with a cute outfit on and for a moment, she looked so normal that I had to listen with a stethescope again to make sure there was no heartbeat and no breath in her lungs. She was eerily silent.

Since I'm not a parent myself, I can't even imagine the loss of a part of yourself. This latest shooting has reminded me how fleeting life it. It's reminded me that the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.

I can't pretend that there's a rhyme or reason to tragedy in light of the recent Sandy Hook losses. Sin is sin is sin. We live in a fallen world and free will doesn't always equate to good will toward fellow men. Every good gift comes from God. Often, children in their innocence and curiosity are the best gifts one will ever receive. I say this not even having any children to hold: but how do you hold them loosely? How do you remember that, sure, you 'made' them, but God orchestrated every second of their lives before they entered your life? Then how do you deal with someone taking that life in an unjust, unexpected way?

I wish I had answers because I'm sure it's true what they say: when you have a child, you will forever have a part of your heart wandering around outside your body. When they die, a part of you dies. I cannot imagine the anguish and I'm so sorry for those who know this pain inside and out.

Please know that I'm not trying to diminish such a loss or try to make light of it and expect mourning parents to find sense in a senseless tragedy. But it does bring Christmas close to home. God willingly sent his son into a lost and broken world, knowing that His child would suffer and His child would die. Knowing his mother would have to watch Jesus' final breath. God did this because it was the only way to save us.
In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity... down to the very roots and sea-bed of the nature he has created. But he goes down to come up again and bring the ruined world up with him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself under some great, complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.  -C.S. Lewis
Jesus came once, and he will come again because the God who has promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23). How deep the Father's love for us, who gave His son that we might live. Jesus will come back one day to wipe away our tears. As my friend Melody says, he will make all of this sadness untrue. We are not without hope!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Day I Never Thought Would Come

Last year around this time, the Chair of my graduate program sent out an e-mail to the MSN students declaring that they were initiating a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) position and any grad student could apply. The job would entail 20 hours a week as a lab assistant and clinical instructor for the Accelerated BSN (ABSN) students. The perks were free tuition and a small stipend.

I was two classes into my Master's program, and I thought free tuition sounded awfully nice. So I applied on a whim, thinking I was far too unqualified to even be considered. But lo and behold, they called me for an interview. I left that interview feeling like an inexperienced nurse, incapable of being in an authority position over the extremely driven ABSN students. I was so shocked when I got an offer letter two days later that I accepted without thinking. I felt so lucky that I was getting free tuition for a whole year!

Oh, self. Didn't you know? Nothing in life is free.

But this launched my PLAN. A plan that quickly grew from a rough curriculum outline to a lifemap that I could not stray from, lest I non get what I want out of this life.

It didn't take long for the anxiety to set in. I could stand apart from myself in moments of clarity and laugh at the irony that I may not have watched all of those Mosby nursing skills DVDs when I was an undergrad, but I sure as heck had to sit through them now if I wanted to have a clue what I was talking about in skills lab!

But overall, to say that I felt an impending sense of doom by late February would not be an exaggeration. I knew there was no way I could survive the year with my sanity intact: the bouts of panic, the tears, the 60-hour workweeks + homework...

I was already unraveling when I received unwelcome and unexpected news in March. In one instant, I crumbled beneath the weight of all the things. One small mercy of that situation was that I had to got to let go of the plan. I was struggling to function from day to day and it only took one brief, embarrassing meeting with my advisors for all of us to see that a summer spent teaching intense ABSN clinicals in an unfamiliar unit was out of the question.

So I took 8 weeks off of school and teaching. I went to work and came home and read my Bible and journaled and went to counseling and got into a workout routine and God poured peace on me like I'd never known.

Literally the day I finally laid aside my delusions of playing catch-up on my meticulous plan and decided that I was okay with not finishing grad school any time soon, I got a phone call from my advisor, asking me to come back to my GTA position this fall. I was terrified, but I said yes because I had signed a contract in January and I wanted to fulfill it. Of course, to be a GTA, you also have to be a grad student. So I started classes again.

That means this fall brought busy and crazy and doubtful and heaping doses of humble and inadequate right back into my life. Thankfully, even though there have been a lot of tears and not a lot of sleep, I never quite reached the epic levels of panic I was dealing with last March. When I think back to my heavy heart last spring, my today heart hurts for that lonely girl looking for hope in all the wrong places.

This morning, I helped another teacher with one last lab checkoff. Then I walked out the doors of the nursing building into the welcome sunshine and just like that... a whole year flew by. Done.

If those walls could talk...

It wasn't pretty. It wasn't easy. I won't pretend I did this on my own strength. I also won't pretend that I was wholly surrendered to God every moment of every day. It's been more like a long game of tug-of-war! Yet somehow, with everything that I've messed up and all the selfish decisions I've made, I can't deny that God has been kind to me. In pain and in peace. He's instilling confidence in me slowly, carefully, and deliberately. He's teaching me to place hope in the right places and not in myself or my situation or in the opinions of others. 

He really drove this point home yesterday at our clinical wrap-up meeting. I finished up some paperwork with my students, all the teachers and the other GTA and I had a little dedication ceremony for the students, and then the students headed to the computer lab to fill out a program survey. I asked my advisor what I should do, and she said, "we're done, see ya!"

Um. What? No, Thanks so much for your selfless service. We couldn't have survived without you? No, Oh, remember that time you bawled your eyes out in my office? How's that situation working out for you? I was a little offended.

In one blinding moment of clarity, I saw my pride. As if that program was about me. As if. And even though I've said the words and seen it in my actions, I finally felt it: I really do think the world revolves around me. God knew he had to break me to show me. And what better time of the year to celebrate my need for a savior? It took me a year to see it.

P.S. The last two weeks have been fueled by sugar and coffee and I feel like I've aged 6 years in the last 6 months. But. As of today, I'm also halfway done with my MSN! 18 credit hours down, 18 to go. Now I would love to celebrate by sleeping for 18 hours!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Wolf

There's an old Cherokee legend about a chief teaching his grandson about life. He says,

A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. 

One is evil-- he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego.

The other is good-- he is joy, peace, love, hope,
serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. 

This same fight is going on inside you-- and inside every other person, too."
(in Banff in 2008)

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old chief simply replied, "The one you feed."