stop apologizing.

The Pastor and I both get to work alongside some all-stars. We can debate about who has better co-workers (me) but today I’m going to tell you about one of his coworkers. Pastor Brit.  She is a unique spirit to say the least.  Brit has chickens; not for food but for pets because she doesn’t eat meat.  Not even bacon.  The chickens all have names and she can tell them apart.  I’m not making this up. She recycles everything, (EVERYTHING!), probably doesn’t own a pair of heels and doesn’t need fancy expensive lattes, just coffee from her thermos.  Sometimes it’s enough to make me roll my eyes.  But the craziest thing about Brit is that she will gladly give me the bacon that came on her salad, she will tell me I look great in my shiny high heels and she doesn’t make evil eyes at me each week when I walk into church with my non-recycled coffee cup with an expensive latte inside that probably is harming the planet…at least not to my face.  Why? Because Brit doesn’t expect anyone to apologize for where they are in life, good or bad.  She has the true gift of opening her arms and welcoming whomever shall find themselves within her reach. In her current role she ministers to our college students and young pastors around the country and I am CERTAIN that she has, and will continue to, save lives by loving and accepting young people exactly where they are at the moment she meets them.

Honestly this is a tough one for me.  One of my most over repeated mantras in life is that “That’s just the way I am” doesn’t fly with me. “We don’t let bank robbers or kidnappers get away with saying it so why should we let you continue to (insert some poor effort or unkind behavior).”  I have spent thousands of hours of my life reviewing my shortcomings and working towards becoming a better physician.  I probably should spend more time working to become a better person but that’s another story altogether.  Accepting you where you are now? Difficult.

But then I started reflecting on some conversations I have had in the last few months.  I found myself at the receiving end of several apologies.  These apologies weren’t for things like accidentally hurting me or even saying something unkind.  These dear friends were apologizing for their mental and emotional burnout.  Apologizing that they weren’t OK.  Apologizing for needing help or prayer or both.

I found myself saying more than once “stop apologizing.  it’s ok not to be ok.”

You see, no one apologizes for having diabetes…or high blood pressure. (Although when it happens to me I’m sorry I ate all those peanut butter M&Ms and bacon.) So why do we expect someone to apologize for their emotions? Sometimes life is hard and you have nothing to give.  It’s ok just to receive.  Some of you, my friends, have experienced unimaginable loss or abuse. It’s ok not to package up neatly your grief, your burnout, your depression or whatever else is going on in your heart and mind like it’s a 30 minute sitcom that needs to end on time so we can all watch the news. (Pro tip: stop watching the news.)

Take your time.  Move through your grief and do your work at your own pace.  May we come alongside you and accept you in wherever that place is you are staying. To love you at that moment more than you love yourself.  Until you are ready to move on. Then, when you are ready, please give away compassion and kindness and mercy like it’s your job.  Shoot, it probably is our job. Give as strongly as you received.  Remember that you were welcomed with open arms and recount the mercy given to you and return the favor.

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If you don’t listen to Lauren Daigle you are missing out on one of the true wonders of life.  She has a song called “Rescue” that summarizes what every human needs to hear on their worst day, and maybe even on their best day.

I will leave you with just a few lines from this remarkable anthem.

“I hear you whisper you have nothing left….I will never stop marching to reach you in the middle of the hardest fight it’s true…I will rescue you”

grace and peace my friends.

 

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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your grandma ain’t my grandma.

If you recognize this line from Chance the Rapper’s song “Sunday Candy”….bravo and let’s hang out.

I’m on the return leg of a few days away from work with the Pastor. We enjoyed a good bit of rest and reprieve, but I couldn’t help to notice that people are people no matter where you go.  I saw a man spend 10 minutes complaining to the pregnant hostess at a restaurant because his waiter didn’t stay at the table long enough after bringing out their meal.  I watched a woman tell other patrons at a breakfast place that her waiter just couldn’t understand that she wanted “CRISPY bacon!” and how this was completely unacceptable. People were anxious to be the first in line to get off the plane just to stand around waiting for luggage with the rest of us.

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At work I often refer to myself as “grandma.”  While I’m not the oldest member of the faculty, each year I find new situations where a resident or medical student will ask me about how a technology or medication was used during my training to which I will reply, “um, well, that didn’t exist when I was in training.”  Then comes the look.  The one with the big eyes and the raised eyebrows indicating that my learner just realized that their attending came “before.”  Before topical hemostatic agents were commonly used or available.  Before targeted cancer therapies.  During my training the HPV vaccine was introduced and we added sub-dermal contraception to our regimen of just 2 other long acting reversible agents.  Now we have an even better HPV vaccine and our patients have more reliable contraceptive options than ever before.  Residents are now trained in robotic surgery. In the last dozen years since I started residency the number of female physicians has grown by 40%. We’ve come a long way.

Certainly being a grandma isn’t all bad.  You have the benefits of time and experience on your side. One thing I learned from my grandma is that as much as things change…things also stay the same.  Narrow the differential diagnosis. The basic principles of surgery such as sterile technique and proper tissue handling are always going to be important.  People are still people from generation to generation. No amount of technology or scientific advancements will replace careful listening to your patient’s history and learning to do a detailed physical exam.  Nothing will replace what you accomplish when you put patients first.

I was fortunate enough to know both of my grandmothers.  They cooked whatever food their grandchildren had in mind for that day or that meal. (Seriously- potatoes and chicken for me, spaghetti for my brother.  Two entirely different meals!) But more than that they were generous with their words, their love and their lives.  They put others before themselves.  They made sure those around them were cared for and had their needs met. Above all, they treated others with kindness.

Maybe if we focused a little less on “me first” we could help eliminate a lot of the “me too” and the “not for you” we see across our screens on an hourly basis.  If we could eat less crispy bacon, be a little more patient, move to the back of the line or give up our seat we just might notice our neighbors in need of help or our friends who are suffering.  The world just might change.  While we excitedly embrace new technology and advances in the world around us, may we also embrace the helpful lessons from our grandmas, like always choosing kindness and putting others first.  In those ways, may we all strive to be the “grandmas” of our professions.

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what comes next.

Near the end of the summer the Pastor and I went to Chicago to see Hamilton© the musical.  The Pastor had listened to all the songs, knew the story, listened to podcasts about Lin-Manuel Miranda and just about everything you can do to prep for seeing the musical.  Then there was me.  Did I remember that Aaron Burr shot someone?  Yes.  Did I remember it was Alexander Hamilton? Maybe.  Did I have any idea what role Hamilton played in history or who he was at all?  Nope.  So I went in blind.

The other thing you should know is that the Pastor has been known to overhype things.  Cajun restaurants, songs, TV shows, people.  Occasionally he will find something he enjoys so much he is just sure it’s going to be life transforming for me as well.  So, you can imagine that while I was thrilled to take him to see the show I wasn’t so sure that this would be the wonder that he had prepared me for.

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Score one for the Pastor.  Hamilton© is genius.  Amazing, incredible, moving.  It would be impossible to over hype this thing.  Impossible.  It is massively creative, funny, tragic, thoughtful and uses the word “afterbirth.”  What more could you ask for?

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Near the middle of the show there is a song called “What comes next?”  It’s about what will happen after the colonies have gained independence.  You’ve worked so hard and sacrificed almost everything to get where you wanted to be…and now what?  As I have (repeatedly) listened to this soundtrack these words have resonated with me.  It’s the beginning of a new year.   What now?  Where do we go from here?

What comes next?

It holds both prospect and peril.  What awaits us on the other side of an accomplishment, an anniversary, a new dream or a new year?  Some of us are holding our breath hoping this year will be nothing like the last.  Waiting for the new year to break in and disrupt the disappointments and distress of the last. Time will only tell.  How do we embrace the hope of possibility and push away the anxiety of the unknown?  Will our efforts in the new year be enough? We will have enough? Will life be different this year? One of my favorite strategies is something I think Hamilton himself employed when he thought about the future: Never. Stop. Moving.  [the man was non-stop].  I am more than uncomfortable sitting still.  And I’ve convinced myself that if I move fast enough and never stop working, reading, thinking, doing, writing, running and more working (whew)…there will be no time to worry about what lies on the other side of the horizon.  The problem with this only comes when either you are forced to slow down or you simply run out of gas.

As we emerge over the horizon into 2018, this year holds much promise.  A year for us to eliminate some of the hate, discrimination and harassment in our world.  A year for collaboration, cooperation and tolerance. For equality and equity. A year in which we will certainly have mis-steps and failures alongside of our triumphs and treasured moments.

Maybe there is a better way.  Maybe there is a way that we; you and I, find the balance between “non-stop” and “being enough.”

In my last post I wrote about finding hope in the midst of hopelessness, peace in the midst of anxiety.  In the same sentiment, the Pastor preached last Sunday about the journey of life we are all on together.  He spoke of those moments where we carry each other when we simply cannot carry ourselves.  If we live our lives in “non-stop” mode we will move too quickly to notice those around us who need help along the journey. In the same way, when we learn to “be enough” we allow others on the journey the joy to carry us during the moments we simply cannot make it alone.

Maybe this year we can slow down, learn to be enough, and share life with one another.

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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.

you’ve got a friend (in me).

As many of you know from the rest of my social media presence, my youngest graduated from PreK this week.  It was all the gloriousness you would imagine.  There were caps and gowns, diplomas, pictures, refreshments.  For part of the program her class sang the song “You’ve got a friend in me” from the movie Toy Story®.  It was, as you can imagine, adorable.  And then the big one had her first acting gig in the church musical.  She nailed it. And back to the little’s ballet recital.  Killed it.  And now we ready ourselves for the last week of school. Of course, you can’t go through this time of year, full of its transitions, without some reflection on the months that have passed.

It was a little over a year ago.  I was listening to some music on a run and for some reason I started thinking about what it meant to be merciful. I was quick to realize that I didn’t really have any idea how to describe or understand or even think about mercy. This, of course, was disconcerting to me having been married to the Pastor for almost 15 years at that point. I was at a loss.  So I decided I would spend some time trying to figure out what mercy was, where it was present, how it happened.  And turns out, mercy showed up in all sorts of places. What I discovered is that mercy might be hard to understand because it is that sneaky thing that is always around but not obvious.  But when you start looking for it, when you take the time to seek it out, you will find it’s all around. In the last year I have been enveloped in mercy.

Mercy is your best friend from long ago and also today getting up before the sun does to go to the YMCA with you.  Even though she could go later…because you can’t.  It is a new friend who came along just at the right time and always tells the truth even when it’s not nice.  And reminds you they are there to stick through the best of times and the worst of times. You can feel it when you sit for coffee with someone who has been in your shoes and nods their head in understanding.  You feel it when that call or text arrives at the exact perfect moment from someone you don’t often get to see but the friendship remains none the less.

Mercy shows up in a big blue van driven by a teensy twenty something year old who picks up kids, who look nothing like mine, after school and nourishes them with food, education and love four days a week.  It’s there when those same kids are on stage at your church next to your own reciting lines in the cheesy kids musical that makes you tear up because you know that this demonstration of inclusion and unity is what God intended. And soon those kids aren’t those kids at all.  They are just kids like mine and yours, showing up every week.

Mercy happens when that person who thought she’d never have a baby sees that face on the ultrasound, or even better, holds that person in their arms. But it is also there when you hold someone’s hand as you give them bad news or grieve with them in the losses great and small.

Mercy happens when the Pastor does a funeral for what can only be described as a tragedy and reminds us that the gospel is an unconventional story and we have an unconventional Savior.  And so is mercy.  It’s there in the loud and in the quiet.  In the wins and in the losses.  It’s wherever we show up and remind each other that there’s mercy enough for each of us.

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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.