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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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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disseminate joy.

In unsurprising news if you follow this blog…it’s the 3rd Sunday of Advent!  Unlike the imgresprevious two Sundays, we will light a pink candle instead of a purple one this morning.  It is “lighter and brighter” as you might say and represents the joy of the season.

It is Gaudete Sunday, when we are called to rejoice.

I have many things that make me rejoice.  Like when the internet servers AND my EMR system at work are running smoothly at the same time. (Can I get an amen!) Or when Amazon packages arrive on my porch filled with paper towels or toilet paper just in the nick of time saving me a trip to the store.  Some of my best rejoicing comes when I get to take a long nap or eat ice cream after the kids are in bed or the Pastor has started my car and warmed it up for me on the coldest of days.  Oh, and shoes.  There is much rejoicing over new shoes in my house.

But the original meaning of the word rejoice was to “cause joy to.”  I was struck so deeply by this.  It is a radical transformation of what our first thought is when we hear the word rejoice. Creating joy for others.  To spread joy as far and as wide as humanly possible.  To see the sorrow around us and do something to make the world more joyful.  Honestly, I don’t think it would be that difficult.

What if, every time we thought of being generous, we were more than generous.  What if, every time we thought of saying a kind word, we said that kind word and a dozen more. And beyond that, what if we tried, in just a few ways each day, to be as gracious and merciful to others as we expect for ourselves. Imagine the joy created if we managed to just give away from ourselves once a day.  Once.  I believe we are content to stay safely in the confines of what makes us happy.  To make someone else happy is a risk. The Pastor and I like to talk about the “myth of scarcity.”  Living our lives believing there isn’t enough to go around.  We must choose to live in the kingdom of abundance.  Where there is not only enough for us, but more than enough for everyone around us.  Enough recognition to honor not just ourselves but the people who work with us.  Enough food not just to feed our family but to fill the bellies of a family in need.  Enough money to meet our needs as well as the needs, wishes and wants of someone else we know.  Enough grace to extend it to your enemies as you extend it to yourself on your worst day.  This is rejoicing.

As I see that pink candle glowing this morning I am challenged to live a life that brings joy to those around me.  And I don’t just mean my family and friends.  Bringing joy to my kids is wonderful, but bringing joy to a dark world is remarkable.  I am struck by the words of Richard Rohr in his Advent devotional “Preparing for Christmas.”  He writes “The darkness will never go away…we have to surrender to the fact that the darkness has always been here and the only real question is how to receive the light and spread the light.”  Let us move out of a passive season of advent into one where we see that bright light of the pink candle as a call to make the world rejoice.  Spread joy my friends.  There is enough to go around.

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finding peace.

It’s the second Sunday of Advent!  If you aren’t familiar with advent, look here for a little information I posted last week.  My house is decorated for the Christmas season and my kids are excited.  I will be excited too, when the terror of getting everything ready for Christmas is complete.  Pretty sure that will be sometime during the afternoon of December 23rd.cy2o9t-veaa5dyf

But today is about the waiting and preparation of advent.  Today many churches around the world light the advent candle symbolizing peace.

Many times you will hear people praying for peace or telling someone they hope that the person will “find peace.”  I think most people would admit that the world needs more peace.  That we as individuals need more peace in our lives.  But I am not convinced we really understand what we are asking for or what we mean.  Peace is more than just not having nations at war with one another.  It means we find peace with our neighbors, peace with our enemies and our opposites and peace within ourselves.  I think finding peace as a nation might be easier than finding peace with our own enemies and definitely easier than finding peace within.

Here’s the tough news.  Peace just doesn’t happen magically.  It must be practiced by each of us. It is up to us to lay down our weapons and befriend our enemies.  Sounds crazy I know.  You mighscreen-shot-2016-12-02-at-8-17-46-pmt say to yourself, “but I don’t even own a weapon!  I’m just a gynecologist without a gun or knives or anything of the such.”  Friends, we all have weapons.  We have the weapons of mean words and harsh looks.  Weapons of biases, fear of others, anger towards those who have done us harm.  Sarcasm and judgment are great friends of mine and great tools to make enemies of others.  I probably enjoy conflict too much.  Everyone getting along is much too Disney Princess in my book.  I mean, the struggle is real folks.

Truth be told, war will destroy us faster than it can even destroy our enemies.  Our anger, our judgment, our deeply held resentment against another will keep us from having peace in our own heart and mind.  Plus, the world will never find peace if we don’t create it in our homes, in our families, in our communities.  I’m not claiming that I’m going to spend every Sunday afternoon having lunch with my enemy and my opposite, but I am going to claim that we should put less time and energy into being upset with what someone else is doing that we don’t agree with and more time and energy breathing deeply and choosing to be peaceful.  To withhold our hurtful words and frowning faces and extend a hand to help someone we don’t necessarily get along with.  To give someone the benefit of the doubt.  To sit across the table with friends or family and find a moment of peace.

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match.doc.

I had a wonderfully interesting conversation with a favorite friend this weekend.  She’s the kind of person who, when she laughs you can’t help but start laughing.  She’s unconventional in the best of ways.  When my friend moved back into town she was looking for a new gynecologist.  So, instead of asking friends or family, she just looked at pictures on the websites of doctors in town.  She was looking for someone who was “not too old but looked like they knew what they were doing.”

I could just imagine her perusing through online images of OBGYNs like an online dating site. Well, she picked a doctor and it turned out pretty well for her.  But it got me to thinking, how should you choose a gynecologist or any other doctor?  Looks?  Personality? Experience?  Data? Wait time?  Office location?

I don’t know that there is a magical answer for this.  First, most physicians are more than adequately trained.  They have spent thousands of hours in training to get to this point.  Will they be perfect?  No, we are human.  But finding a doctor is probably a lot like finding a house, a spouse or anything else in life.  I remember growing up thinking that God was using His laser beams to find me the one and only exact right person to marry and if I missed out I would never find another.  But, I DO think finding Pastor Jason is kind of the meaning of grace.  More than I deserve.  There probably aren’t any laser beams bringing you a spouse.  And there probably isn’t a laser beam directing you to the right physician.  But, I think you should look for a few key things when choosing a gynecologist or any other doctor.

  1. Do you feel free to ask questions to your doctor?  You should be able to be open and honest with your physician.
  2. Does being seen on time matter a lot to you?  Often doctors who spend more time answering questions or have a large patient population because of their great care might run behind.  You have to ask yourself if it’s worth the wait, so to speak
  3. Do you have a serious/rare illness?  Then it’s probably best to find a specialist who is highly regarding and highly skilled.  Do your homework.  Ask people with the same diagnosis or illness about who they saw and why.  Find out if any doctors you are currently seeing would recommend someone for your specific case.
  4. Do you have a gender preference?  I would say that gender isn’t a huge issue in choosing a doctor.  If your provider is a caring physician who expresses empathy then it shouldn’t matter what their gender is.  But, if you are only going to be comfortable sharing your full un-edited medical history with a specific gendered physician then maybe you should consider it.

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 11.03.23 AMNo, there are no laser beams directing you to the perfect doctor for you.  If you’re looking for a doctor to magically fix all your ills in one visit you probably won’t find them.  If you’re looking for someone to tell you exactly what you want to hear, you might find them but you might not actually be healthier at the end of the road.  But I do hope you find a physician who can be more than gracious to you.  Who can listen, guide, and care for you.  Who you respect and trust.  If you are seeing someone who isn’t caring for you in a way you find beneficial, seek another physician out.  I don’t want a patient to continue to see me if they don’t want to continue to be my patient.  Because while I find it hilarious that my friend found her doc in the same way you would find a date online, I would hate for anyone to be trapped on a bad date with their doctor.

May you find your perfect match.

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.