this is forty.

At the beginning of June I turned 40.  And on the last day of the month the Pastor and I celebrated 17 years of marriage.

A few weeks prior to my birthday a good friend Jennifer asked me about my plans for the weekend.  I wanted to have a party. She asked if I liked surprises.  My response?  “I don’t like to be disappointed.” So there’s that.

Jennifer was smart enough to know that even though I had big plans, my life is just too busy to execute any other big events.  She is also just bossy enough to take over and plan something great. The best memories of my adulthood are moments when lots of people I really care about from the different aspects of my life are all having fun together.  So we had a party.  A big party; with music and food and dozens of friends….and it was totally worth it.

I have been alive for 40 years.  I remember thinking that being 40 meant you had been alive forever!  It has occurred to me that I have spent roughly half of my life in medicine. Studying, testing, learning, preparing, practicing. Twenty years of sleepless nights and long days and lots of restless moments.  Twenty years sprinkled with memories of incredible joy and terrible tragedy.   The profession of medicine can be a deep sea where the waters cover over you, and not just over your head but push you deeper and deeper down and into more than you intended.  Some of those years were true immersion. Some years you manage to keep your head above water; and some you might even feel like you are riding the waves. This year I was surrounded by water.  Completely immersed. It didn’t matter where I looked.  Up, down, left and right as far as my eyes could see there was work to be done. And if you know anyone in medicine, when there is work to be done we do the work. And so I did.

My 40th birthday was an opportunity to lift my head above the waves and take a deep breath.  I spent 5 whole days away from work.  Not just away from the hospital and the office, but away form my computer.  The Pastor was very concerned to see me detached from the laptop.  In fact, he panicked and asked if I had left it at home on purpose.  It was the first time in a long time I was away from email, away from charting, away from creating schedules, answering questions and solving problems.Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 4.42.07 PM

The thing is, I don’t think we even realize how far immersed we are in the work until we come up for air. I suddenly found myself in the midst of conversations about books and parks and outings and all the rest of life.  And I literally could not think of a single book I had read or a non-scheduled activity or even a day without work in the last few months.  The opportunity to take a giant deep breath and put my head above the water and look around was both a moment of relief and a moment of sadness. You see, the work needed to be done.  It still needs to be done.  And I will continue to do the work. To get to thebottom of the to do list. To find a day when there are not problems to be solved, schedules to be made, charts to be completed or projects to be fleshed out.

The truth is that the work will never be done. But I can do better and be better balanced. As a part of our anniversary celebration, we went to see the documentary about the life and career of Mr. Rogers.  One of Fred Roger’s lifelong virtues was to “love your neighbor AND yourself.”  In my forty years of completed life, my 17 years of marriage and 20 years in medicine, I more than believe that you cannot love your neighbor if you do not love yourself well.  And you cannot love

Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 4.44.29 PMyourself if you do not know you are loved. Every Sunday as I sit by the Pastor on the front row we hear the phrase “God’s mind about you is made up.  And the news is good.” What a great reminder that we are constantly and consistently loved. For me it is a reminder to have the birthday party, to celebrate with friends, to go see the movie, to play the game with the kids or take them to the park.  To sleep in or be still and accomplish nothing on a rare day off.

We are at our best when we know we are loved and take the time to take care of ourselves.  With so much bad news infiltrating our news feeds and our tv’s and radios these days it is critical that we remember we are loved and that we care for ourselves so in turn we can love and care for our neighbor.  So in the next forty years I will try to live a more balanced life.  Take the nap, read the book, write the note, shoot hoops with the kids host the friends, take the vacations. Then go back and work fiercely and care deeply.  Solve the problems, cure the diseases, publish the research, set the standards and, most importantly, love our neighbors.

Here’s to the next forty years.

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we hold these truths.

The Pastor and I don’t have many absolutes in our lives.  At our house you can count on things never being the same.  Our schedules are always changing.  One of us is likely to get called away in the middle of an event or have to rush off to work.  But there is one thing you can count on.  One thing that always remains the same. We cannot, I mean CANNOT, watch America’s Got Talent without both ending up in tears. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I mean, there is the kid that used to be blind; the girl who lost her hearing; the 9 year old who is getting a little sister and for goodness sake a sweet girl from my home state and her puppet.  On stage stands someone who is probably in one of the most vulnerable moments of their lives.  Sitting across from them are those whose job it is to pass judgement. These people muster up all the guts they can find in their body and get on stage and hope and pray that they will find success.  And then, when they are finished, the most wonderful thing happens.  The words are spoken.

If you’ve seen the show you know what I’m talking about.   It’s more than just telling these performers they were excellent.  The power of the words they speak is life changing. Because of the enormous weight with which they are delivered, the words “you are a winner” or “you have a gift” or even “you are beautiful” seem to penetrate into the very heart and soul of those on stage. You can see it in their eyes. It’s as if all the sudden they believe in the person they have always been.

And cue the tears.

Over the past few weeks the Pastor has been teaching our girls about the Sh’ma. It’s an Old Testament Scripture or prayer that contains the Greatest Commandment.  And then goes on to remind God’s people to bind the words onto their hands, their foreheads, their hearts.  To recite it morning and night. To never forget those important words.

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It is not lost on me that the lesson in all of this is that words matter. And as someone who likes to blog and helps keep both the post office and her local Hallmark® store in business, I am a big believer in the power of the written word. But a spoken word is different.  It seems to be more weighty, more full.

I hope someday I have the opportunity to speak the truth into someone’s life and change them for the better.  Even more I hope someone does the same for both my girls.   And I hope they learn the Sh’ma and I hope they know their own words matter. That in a digital world full of memes and gifs and over the top OMGs, that you and I and even they, will have the opportunity to look someone in the eye and tell them how incredible they are and how much they are loved.  I hope none of us miss the opportunity.

in plain sight

It was Holy Week.  The week of Easter. The mother of all weeks in the church. There was preparing, cleaning, cooking, shopping, eating, egg hunting and so much more.  Frankly, as fun as it is, it is exhausting.  So I won’t belabor the point today.

This Easter I cannot let go of the words from Luke 24:5.  “…why do you look for the living amongst the dead?”  I think now, more than ever, we are looking for signs of life. We are flooded with images of death and destruction from our own country and around the world.  Mothers and children in war torn countries, live streaming videos of crime or self harm, the dropping of bombs, all the way down to angry emails and rants on social media.  It’s enough to make you feel withered and dry and near dead.

Where are signs of life?  I think it’s tempting to say that we will find them in our beautiful pictures on social media of our well dressed slightly less well behaving children on Easter or in our waxing on about our job, house, or whatever new or exciting thing has come our way.  I would argue that there isn’t true life found here. Where then, will we find signs of life? For me it’s in those text messages from friends far and near who understand the daily struggle to balance all things work and church and home.  It’s sending a note to remind someone that they are loved and prayed for.  It should be obvious to those of us who have spent most of our lives wandering in and out of the church doors.  If you lose your life you gain it.  We find signs of life when we extend ourselves to another.

I sent a giving key to a fellow pastor’s wife.  One of the tribe.  If you don’t know about giving keys they are necklaces, with a key on them, and a word inscribed in the key. Someone who tak51412342510__07BB8511-CA17-4486-9560-2002B6474851.JPGes the time to remind me to breathe and relax sent me one. The word I sent was “hope.” It was a promise to hold out hope for my friend on the days where it didn’t seem like hope was possible. When the problems in life, the problems in church, the problems in the world seem too much.

So when you find yourself overwhelmed by all the death and deathly news that surrounds you, give away part of yourself. Make a phone call, write a note, sit down for coffee, send a token of care. Find signs of life and share them with those around you.

but that’s my seat.

It was supposed to be a giant ice storm.  That’s what the ladies and gents on TV told us.  A large amount of ice and freezing rain was heading to the metro and we’d better prepare. So schools were closed, patients were moved up, generators were readied, salt and sand was placed on the roadways. Grocery stores were emptied of bread and milk and lots of other things this week in preparation for the ice.  If you actually needed bread and milk, because you were out at home, you were out of luck.  It was being gobbled up by anxious citizens bracing for the ice apocalypse. And then we waited…and waited…and waited.

We did eventually get some ice on the trees and a bit on the roads but it came about 24 hours after everyone predicted and wasn’t nearly as bad as anticipated.  Overall a good thing.  But times like these always make me realize how much we buy into the myth of scarcity.  There will be a disaster and not enough to go around.

So what are the other myths in our lives?  I’ll try to tackle some that I see on a not so infrequent basis.

  • “I did such and such method, (cry it out, shushing baby, swaddle, feed on demand, screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-8-39-30-ametc etc) and my baby was such a good such and such (sleeper, breastfeeder, transitioner).”  Reality check:  Babies do what they want.  We can try all the tricks in the book but some kids sleep well and some don’t.  Some are good eaters and some, who shall remain nameless, just jump up and down on their chair instead of eating during dinner time.
  • That spot in that public place you’ve claimed?  Well it doesn’t actually belong to you.  This happens at all sorts of places.  Someone takes “your seat” at church.  You are “saving” that piece of gym equipment while you use something else.  This is where you “always” park.  Reality check: None of those things are yours.  The church pew doesn’t belong to you no matter how many weeks in a row you’ve sat there.  That leg lift machine you’re saving is going to be used by me now, well, because you’re not actually using it. I get it.  We find security in routine. But I’ve only got so much time at the gym in the morning and you’re wasting it leg press saving guy.
  • “Someone else will do it.”  Giving the money, cleaning up the trash, standing up for injustice, speaking out when someone is doing harm.  Reality check: If you aren’t willing to do it, then why do you think someone else will?  None of us are really braver than you.  Either do stuff or don’t do stuff but don’t let yourself off the hook by assuming someone else will do it.  That someone else thinks you are already taking care of whatever it is.
  • Just because you can post something doesn’t mean you should.  Reality check: As first conceptualized by one of the church girls and then paraphrased by yours truly…”If you won’t say it to someone’s FACE then don’t post it on FACEBOOK.” img_3945 Seriously.  You don’t like someone’s opinions or beliefs?  That’s ok.  But it doesn’t mean you need to attempt to harm or discredit them.  I am almost 100 percent certain that no one’s mind or heart has ever been radically transformed by a hastily penned angry Facebook comment.  Trust me, it’s not easy.  I have about a thousand deleted comments that I thought were not only on point but witty and sharp.  They never made it to publication.  Why?  Because it just doesn’t help.
  • And finally “that’s just the way I am.”  The Pastor knows this is my least favorite myth that people live by.  Reality check:  You are never too old to change.  The person you were in 2016 does not define who you are in 2017.  The person you are today does not control the person you can be tomorrow.  And if you change something about yourself and you don’t like it?  Guess what?  Change again.  My favorite people in life are those who have lived enough and learned enough about themselves to know what to hold on to from each phase of life and what to let go.  That bad attitude you had all last year?  Don’t drag it along to 2017, let’s try something new.  Those hateful things you said?  Do better in the coming days and months.  Living your life as “that’s just the way I am” seems utterly disappointing and fairly sad to me.

There was no massive ice storm.  So maybe take that extra bread and milk and those extra hours at home and see if you can debunk any myths in your own life!  Here’s to living in reality and realizing you can make change in your own life in 2017!

 

call it like it is.

I often wonder what the girls will say about their home growing up.  I grew up in a home where my dad worked in health care administration so I was familiar with the halls of a hospital and nursing home.  Mom was working full time too so we stayed with our grandparents after school.  I have lots of amazing memories from those days and hope my girls will as well.  But, as you might imagine, our house is a little more crazy.   Midnight phone calls sometimes come for the Pastor, sometimes for me.  Emergency babysitting needs are not infrequent.  Dinner conversations are, to say the least, interesting.

My oldest never really had a desire to know what I was doing while at work.  In fact, she gets nauseated when some other kid at school gets a bloody nose.  But my little one, well, she is totally into mom’s career.  I remember finishing up dinner one evening and I was called to the hospital as my patient was ready to delivery.  She looked at me and said, in her best pirate voice, “is that lady gonna push out her baby or are you gonna cut it out?”  I lost it.  She was holding up a butter knife from the table like she was going to come and screen-shot-2016-01-23-at-7-40-39-pmhelp me.  I politely explained that my patient was probably going to push the baby out but I and a whole team of people would be there in case cutting was needed.  She seemed relieved.  The older one just rolled her eyes.

The Pastor and I have always tried to be honest with our kids.  We figure that eventually they will encounter all the joys, fears and difficulties of life and the more information the better.  It’s how I operate in daily life.  Knowledge and information is comforting and empowering to me.  That being said we have always tried to teach our kids the truth about their physical, as well as their theological health.  The rules in our house are that the Pastor will explain the Trinity and the resurrection to them and I will tell them where babies come from.  And so they know about their bodies.  When they are taking a shower and spilling water everywhere I will hear one of them saying “don’t forget to wash your vagina” to the other in the loudest voice possible.   It’s no different for them then making sure all the shampoo is out of their hair or than their stinky feet are clear.  For many years this declaration was followed by the Pastor or I asking “and who is allowed to see your vagina?” and them shouting out names off a list like it was a Jeopardy game.  Names that include mom, dad, Dr. Melissa (another hero to my 4 year old), and Grandma.

There is a reason why we approach our kids with anatomically correct names.  And it’s not just because hearing a 9 year old screaming at her sister about washing the thing is entertaining (although that is hilarious sometimes).  It is more about empowering them.  I wanted them to know from an early age that their bodies belong to them.  They should be handled responsibly and, most importantly, they can be honest with the Pastor and I about whatever is happening to their bodies.  I think we do a disservice to our kids when their genitals become “woo hoos” and “ding dongs” and even “private parts.”  We disempower our kids to call it like it is.  To tell us, out loud, what is happening to them in private.  I want to know if anyone is making them feel uncomfortable.

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So at our house we have dinner discussions on how babies are born and what God looks like and who this Holy Spirit character is.  We remind them daily to always choose kindness and to act like the Jesus they hear about each week at church.  And they will continue to ask how long mom will be gone delivering those babies and whether they are being pushed out of someone’s vagina, or cut out of someones uterus.  I have my speech ready for when they ask how babies get inside the uterus.  But for now they are satisfied knowing who is picking them up from school and when mom will be home.  And I am satisfied knowing they have been empowered to know their bodies and speak up whenever and to whomever when they feel uncomfortable.  And to call it like it is.