above all, choose love.

I am, literally, tired of everything.  Anyone else?  I mean, can I get an amen?  And not just in the “I’m gonna go home and take a serious nap after church today” way.  Today I am keenly aware of the huge volume of things in our world to be weary of.

If you haven’t been paying attention, people are upset.  And in the same breath, they are doing perfectly fine.  We are in a season of paradox.  A time when our lives lived out on social media are full of “totes adorable” and “to die for” and our children are well dressed and even better behaved.  At the same time we vilify those who don’t belong to our political party or whose religious beliefs, skin color or patterns of behavior don’t match up screen-shot-2016-05-18-at-12-12-23-amto our own.  We don’t apologize to anyone or for anything because we are certainly right or at least more right than everyone else.  So we sip our lattes and use our best instagram filters and bask in the glow of the number of likes our candidate or our favorite team or our favorite belief systems receives.  And it all comes at once.  And I refuse to believe that I am the only one who is really just over it.

On top of all of this I think our digital age has made us keenly aware of all the wrongdoing that surrounds us.  October is domestic violence awareness month.  An entire month to educate our community on a societal problem that we can’t seem to shake.  This month also contains a day to remember our lost children and the families who mourn them daily.  We are constantly faced with a newsfeed filled will murders of our young men and women, the exclusion of our most vulnerable, the exploitation of women and children in our culture and the corruption of the most powerful.

So what then, are we to do?

My friends, do your best to choose kindness.  It isn’t easy.  Believe me, I am often the first to choose anger and judgement. But when my children are fighting in the back seat I remind them to always choose kindness.  I can think of dozens of time when I regret choosing something other than kindness.  I can’t think of anytime I regretted the opposite choice.  Also, practice empathy.  Take on another person’s perspective.  Make the choice to be open to their thoughts and feelings as valid and important.  When we practice empathy we learn to believe that the hurt of others is as important as our own hurt. (I recommend  Brené Brown’s YouTube video on empathy).

And, above all, love others. What does this look like?  For me, in my faith community, it means being the hands and feet of Jesus like my friends and neighbors were for me this weekend.

While I was at work yesterday my dear friends came to give respite to the Pastor from my two wonderfully rambunctious children so he could rest.  And then my neighbors brought those same loud and crazy kids dinner so they could all rest.  And today my children will be loved and cared for by my own church community so I can rest from a busy night of welcoming babfullsizerenderies into the world.  And while these simple yet profound acts of kindness have and will bring much needed physical rest to our families, more than that these are the tangible expression of a body of people that choose kindness over rightness, vulnerability over social media perfection.  So, friends, today instead of my usual “I don’t look like I’ve only had 3 hours of sleep lipstick and heels” I chose “messy bun, no eyeliner
and stretchy pants” for my church outfit.  And I let my four year old wear her sparkly crown and my 9 year old wear non-matching shoes because, in the end, only these few things matter.

The truth is that our world will continue to saturate us with filtered images of what is good and what is truth, but you and I can choose show grace to those around us by choosing kindness, empathy and love.  And friends, when life makes us tired, we can rest in the assurance of a God who knows us and chooses and His people who are the tangible expression of His love.

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empathy in transition.

This week marked the 7th year since one of my best friends lost her father to lymphoma.  She was 35 weeks pregnant at the time.

Loss is a terrible transition.  The Pastor would say that all transitions in life are difficult, even the good ones.  That learning to navigate transition and helping others walk through it is a sign of leadership.  I see that.  When babies are born mothers become grandmothers, husbands become fathers and sometimes everyone loses their mind.  Why?  Because it’s a transition.  A similar thing happens when we transition from caregivers to patients, from leaders to members of the group, from the beloved to the unloved.  I think what we need most in times of loss, in times of transition, in times of need is not advice, is not prayer, is not experience, but is empathy.

What does it mean to be empathetic?  Simply, as Merriam-Webster would say, it is to understand and share in another person’s experience and emotion.  I think we assume that empathy is easy.  That our culture appreciates it and puts it into practice regularly.  I’d like to respectfully disagree.  I believe that empathy is a learned practice and that we have little practice or patience for it.  You see, being empathetic takes time.  It means we are choosing to sit with another in their silence, in their sadness, and attempt to understand.

In medicine we must practice empathy.  Our patients experience pain, loss and transitions we have never been close to experiencing.  Sometimes it’s easy.  When we cut on someone’s body in an effort to cure them we know that they will be in great pain.  It’s not hard to empathize with the hurt that our incisions inflict in an effort to heal.  We may not have experienced pain to the magnitude of our patients but we understand what pain is and can walk with them through recovery.  Sometimes it’s not so easy.  Our patients experience things like stillbirth, complicated medical illnesses that destroy and debilitate, poverty and hunger we may never know.  We can imagine what they may feel and experience, but it is much more difficult to empathize: to understand and share in their grief may be close to impossible.  Finally, our own experience may get in the way.  Someone who experiences pregnancy and delivery in the same way I did is easy to empathize with.  Another who has a more difficult time may get less of my empathy since they aren’t dealing with the daily grind of carrying another human around in the same way that I did.

When Jamie stood up in the front row of the church with her pregnant round belly shooting forward in her black dress and her tears streaming down her face as she said goodbye to her father, I had no idea how to empathize.  I could not even begin to imagine her grief.  I’m sure my empathy in those early weeks and months was pretty mediocre.  But now we have sat together in sadness and sometimes silence for 7 years.  And she has taught me what true empathy is.  It takes practice.  It is uncomfortable.  It means asking hard questions about thoughts and feelings.  It means walking with someone through the most difficult transitions and staying with them for as long as it takes to get to the other side.

So whether you find yourself in the midst of a difficult transition, or you are in the role of walking with someone through that transition, remember empathy is your greatest role as a Christian, as a friend, as a care provider or just as a human.  Prayer, advice, experience all have their place but empathy will reach further than any of those and change you as you change the lives of others.

to care deeply.

I took a few days off from work last week.  It was a bit overdue.  I told my residents that when I wore black pants to work every day for a solid week and didn’t brush my hair any of those days that it was probably symbolic of my attitude and maybe I should take a few days away.  No one disagreed with me.

We spent a few days at a retreat at the lake.  Some lovely pastors we know invited us and we took the kids.  There was a lot of doing not so much.  I brought my obsessively large stack of notecards and began to fill my days with scratching out barely legible notes to many of those people that impact me on a daily and weekly basis.  I enjoy writing but also enjoy picking out just the right card, putting the stamp on and making sure my address book is up to date.  It’s a ritual that puts my heart and mind in a good place.   We came home and then I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend with wonderful friends who took the time to celebrate me growing a year older.

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I have been reminded this past week what it really means to care for someone.  I think we all feel pretty good about caring ABOUT someone but what does it mean to care FOR someone?  Pastor Jon and Pastor Jason do it well, especially crisis care.  People are sick, people are hurting, people are dying physically or emotionally…they come to their side and care deeply for them in ways that impact not only that person but their family and friends.  Crisis care is deeply important.  In medicine we often see people in crisis and are able to come and assist in the restoration of healing and wholeness.  Crisis care can be very simple for physicians such as prescribing an antibiotic to someone who is sick and hurting or it can be very difficult at times such as performing a surgery on someone very sick or dealing with a worsening chronic illness.  But the thing about crisis care is that you are very aware of the person’s needs.  You get the page, the phone call, the text.  Your mind starts working even before you look to see from whom or from where the noise came.  (For Pastor Jason and I when the electronics start beeping at certain hours of the day or night we give each other “the look.”)

What is much more difficult is to care deeply for those NOT in crisis.  To create a culture where we practice the art of caring on a regular basis.  Why?  I think because when we truly care for people we change the world for the better.  To care for everyone who walks through the door of my office even if it is the 15th time I have seen them, even if it is a “routine” visit, even if I think I know all that is going on in their life.  I heard a beautiful sermon today reminding me what we are capable of when we truly care deeply for others.  When we refuse to keep each other at arms length and move close enough to see the worry lines creep in on someones face, to hear the anxious tremor in their voice, to notice the joy in their eyes.  To take their hand, to give a hug and know that caring for others deeply will not only change them but it will change us too.

I write notes not only because the task itself brings me great joy but because it makes me carefully think about who I see and interact with on a regular basis.  To examine the people around me who are bobbing along with the waves of life and have the opportunity to remind them that they are cared for deeply.  I challenge my friends in healthcare to care deeply for their patients and coworkers, despite the struggle just to keep up with the enormous work we are tasked with.  I challenge my friends at church and beyond to move away from a life of fear of what others will do or say and move to place where we ask questions, send notes, have coffee and listen.  Listen and care deeply for our neighbors, our friends, and even our enemies and our opposites.  So the next time you see a someone  wearing all their black pants in one week or who has unbrushed hair 5 days in a row, it may not be a crisis, but an opportunity to care deeply for another.