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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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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