Head Above Water

Here are my very proud children standing in front of our family van:

I don’t know if they have ever cheered so loud as they did when we brought the van home this morning.

And you can bet those little rugrats appreciate the van a lot more after being stuck going in my car in shifts with no heat for a whole week.

So here’s the moral of the story: when you have to choose between paying for your daughter’s life to be saved or being late on your house and van payments, choosing your daughter is the right choice.

But find a nice bridge, because you won’t get your house back, no matter what they tell you.

And thank the Lord (seriously) when family helps save your van.

Except when you save your van, make sure you update the address to your new house.

Because if they charge a fee for it being late, and you don’t see it because you moved, and so you keep sending payments like normal but are $5 short three months in a row (in fees, not principal), then all the money you keep sending them goes into a savings account instead of on your balance.

And so then, on paper, it looks like you didn’t pay for your van, even though you thought you did.

And they won’t apply all that money in savings until the whole back amount is paid in cash again, without using the money you already sent.

So you have to pay double for three whole months, plus fees, all because of $15 missing.

But if you don’t know it because your mail isn’t coming, then they let you know by taking your van away.

Do you know who was amazing? The guy who came to take away our van. He was very soft and kind and encouraged us instead of shaming us in a shocking and horrifying moment.

And that’s how we learned more in our year long lesson of how expensive it is to be poor.

Because being $15 short cost us almost $1700.

It was insane.

So we spent the week scrambling. We scrambled for rides, and we scrambled for money. But in the end, once we showed up with three months worth of van payments, then all the money we had sent for van payments was there to use for the fees.

And then we scrambled to make sure all of our mail really was being forwarded.

And then we scrambled to make sure and double check and triple check everything was paid and caught up.

Because despite all the drama, we really have fought hard. We’ve gotten the children what they needed, the same as we would have done had they been born to us. Except we also promised to take care of them.

So, we have some new rules:

First, when we move, we make sure all the mail is forwarded, not just the post office card you fill out.

Two, no more preschoolers checking the mailbox (which maybe I have said a thousand times).

Three, no more moving.

Four, pay your stinking bills. I mean, like, ahead of time. So this doesn’t happen even with the level of chaos in our home.

We did. Today everything (except our purgatory houses that they won’t let us pay and need to sell but aren’t selling) is paid. The house where we live is paid. Both vehicles are paid. Insurance is paid. Utilities are paid. Everything is paid, and most things one month ahead. Everything will be a month ahead by next week.

We will never have credit again, I assume, but our actual crawling out of this medical crisis cancer sick baby hole is happening.

And I am less panicked since finding our lovely home that fits us so well, which is way better than a bridge, so I hope they let us stay for ages.

We even have – in Kyrie’s own fund – and with my job doing Home Studies, the money to get to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and back, if we can do it in overnight trips, and if we pack our food. We did that all by ourselves, with book sales and home studies. The tshirts we are selling are to cheer her up and help us have what she needs on the way, which will use extra supplies not covered. That’s so good for us! We’ve come a long way!

So things may have been hard and awful, but we are making progress! We are better off than we were a year ago! For the first time in three years, it feels like our heads are above water. We are still in the water because our houses are a disaster and there is nothing we can do if they don’t sell, so that’s the drowning still. But our faces are above water, and we can breathe, and their is sunshine bringing us hope.

And Kyrie is worth it.

And these children are worth it.

And when I wrote this week about needing some kind of foundation or organization that helps people who want to support fostering but not foster themselves, and how they could support families who could foster? I was half joking because there is nothing that formal. And because it won’t happen with state cuts right now.

But you know who does make it happen. Community. You, all of you. People who bought our books. People who bought our tshirts. People who came to dinner theater nights. People who dropped off eggs or blankets or sacks of groceries or plates of cookies or just the right bag of stickers. It was not formally organized, but it was community, and we are grateful.

I mean community in an Acts chapter two kind of way.

And because of those tiny miracles, our tiny miracle who is now almost a very grown up three year old is doing so well.

I mean, considering, right?

And if we can keep her healthy and strong for one more month, we will have her at her healthiest and strongest ever going into the next round of surgeries.

And if she does well, it will buy us another summer. Maybe autumn. Maybe a miracle winter. Or not.

But she will be as ready as possible.

And we will not be in as much crisis as before, even though it’s still a hardship, of course. There is not easy way to do those Cincinnati trips, not financially or emotionally or even just energy wise.

But we are starting out with our bills paid.

And my home study job and the book sales will cover what I lose by not working while we are there – that’s provision in a new way for the first time ever.

And we have hotel points and gas money saved.

Because we may still be drowning, but our heads are finally above water.

We may still be in the deep end, but we are past the rapids.

We may have a long way yet to float without sinking, but we still have a little dog paddle left in us.

And just a little hope is enough to have a whole lot of courage.

We may be a hot mess on paper, with too many children who have too many special needs.

But we have sufficient for our needs, and we will be okay.

And when Kyrie crawls into bed after church to (not) take a nap, and she wants to pray about a better blanket because ours is too small and too old and too scratchy, then we aren’t surprised when the doorbell rings and we open our front door to find a new comforter set.

And when Nathan and I pray in our couple’s night for more vegetables, then we can only smile when the chaplain’s office sends me home with trays of sandwiches and vegetables.

And when I drive home from work to find our van still in the driveway, I might cry a little bit.

Not because we need fancy cars, but because there are a lot of us, and because Cincinnati is a long way away.

And then when I pray my prayers of gratitude, I pray for those who have less. Not just less, like no house at all much less a fancy van, but less like without family or friends or church support, less like without community.

There is no way we could repay our friends and family for the generosity and help and even so many simple kindnesses.

Except for finding ways to be kind to others myself, even if it isn’t just financial generosity.

I don’t write about this because I’m gifted at talking about all the impolite topic kinds of things like money, but because I have learned so much about not having money. And how businesses make money off of poor people, and punish them in ways they can’t recover. I’m not talking about users who abuse resources and the system and all that. I’m talking about how you are one tornado, or house fire, or sick baby girl away from losing everything you thought kept you comfortable.

Anyway, because of all this – getting the van back and making sure all our bills were not just caught up, but paid ahead – I have been thinking about it a lot.

When we were drowning, trying to hold her up, our loved ones wrapped around us like life jackets.

That’s really what kept Kyrie alive, people doing that for us, whether it was tiny gifts or wholehearted prayers.

Now I want to see, pray to see, how I can do that for others.

It might be putting aside the mail to play with preschoolers, even though sorting mail is super important, as our family now understands.

Or maybe it’s putting down your phone long enough to actually connect with your spouse.

Maybe it’s closing the eyes of a man who has passed away when there is no one else around to notice it needs doing, or maybe it is carrying a baby down to the morgue when no one else can bear to do it.

Maybe it’s making up a goofy jingle on the elevator to make the housekeeper smile, or maybe it’s just calling her by name.

Maybe it’s talking about personal things, like money or miscarriages or your punk nine year old running through the halls during scouts. Maybe we need to talk about these things so that we are less alone, so that we can stop repeating our mistakes, so that we can help each other progress – even when progress only comes through difficult experiences.

Or maybe the jokes on you, because who really wants to be stuck in the van with six little ones for a whole thousand miles to Cincinnati?

Except you would tolerate it better if you knew what it was not to have a van.

Or those children.

It’s bitter and sweet, you guys.

It’s learning to tell the difference between them.

And appreciate both.

And just keep swimming.

Work Date

So, this girl decided to go to work with me today:

Well, she didn’t go on my floors or substitute as chaplain or anything, but when we had a Mama date and I asked her where she wanted to eat lunch, she picked my office.

Because they are young, and still think going to work is cool.

Except my work is amazing, and I keep telling them that! So I am glad they are believing me. I am also super grateful for my colleagues and the soft spirit in our department so that Anber, of all my children, felt safe there.

She was using a Christmas gift card for lunch, and I was glad to let her have a treat. She colored and played and then proudly waved goodbye as she headed out with her sack of creations and goodies.

That’s how I felt by the end of the day. We have spent many mornings in recent weeks getting through winter testing to document the progress the children have made in school this year, and by the end of the day I had all of our bills paid, and after some very busy days at work there was time this evening to spend more time with patients and families rather than only running from one crisis to another.

And time with my family.

I missed Nathan’s parents, who came to substitute for me (because I was working) this evening at the Blue and Gold Banquet. Nathan and the boys baked cakes today (because we have two boys, so that’s two cakes), and the boys decorated them this evening with Nathan’s mother. I’m so grateful, especially when I have to work, that we have Nathan’s parents.

Alex apparently had some struggles with autism at the banquet, spending most of the evening hiding in the bathroom to get away from the noise and chaos.

He also tried to con his way into ice cream with the grandparents later, but that was just behavior and unrelated to autism!

That boy!

And speaking of autism, that’s our next book and it’s almost done. It’s been a tricky one to edit, but Alex is super excited about it. I can’t wait to share a sneak peak soon!

Tomorrow is Friday, and it’s an actual Friday for me! It will be the first time in three years that I got two weekends in a row! I am very excited about that… and need to claim it since next weekend I will be doing another seminar.

I will rest and play with my children, and that is all, except defend with my life that very time and space to rest and play!

“For thus saith the Lord God,

the Holy One of Israel:

In returning and rest shall ye be saved;

In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength…”

~ Isaiah 30:15

Old School

I inherited a box at work today, and this was inside.

That, my friends, is older than pagers.

What were we in, like fifth grade or something when we moved from the big floppy ones to those?

Guess what else is ancient?

Me.

Today is my 41st birthday, and it’s about time I grew up into my own age.  I have been waiting for this my whole life!  I am officially middle-age, assuming I make it home on the iced up highways tonight.  If I don’t, then my middle-age was in my very early twenties, and I’m going to be pretty upset about pretty much wasting that.

But this?  Forty-one is glorious, with every single grey hair earned.  I can tell you which ones came when my mother died, and which ones Alex gave me, and which ones grew as Anber screamed that first year.  I can tell you which ones came in on that first helicopter ride to Cincinnati, and how random gray hairs turned into patches of gray as I have lost everything trying to pay for that baby ever since.

Fostering wasn’t as hard as paying for fostering, and I think there should be some kind of humanitarian program that helps support those who are willing to foster – like somehow matching them with sponsors who don’t want to foster but believe in the mission and want to help those who do.   Three and a half million dollars, that’s what it has cost so far to keep Kyrie alive.  My brother and I were talking about it today.  Medicaid has paid for about half of that, and another fourth is in appeal.  But the rest was a house, and then another house, and double jobs and little sleep and every anxious moment worth it for that precious face.

I mean literally, the face they keep reconstructing as they rebuild that airway to keep her alive.

Anyway, we found a new foster placement (without medical issues) who came with almost nothing usually, cost about $800 just that first week alone if we also got them church clothes, not counting school supplies or winter coats.  We had 85 of those in four years, plus the teenagers who were about $1500 (without spoiling any).

Know what is even more expensive?  Being off work because of court dates for foster care or babies who get life flighted all the time.  That’s the part no one talks about, how your expenses just skyrocketed but you don’t actually have any income to pay the regular stuff, much less these new crises.

I’m not complaining.  I just mean I’ve earned some gray hairs that way.

But I’ve also had cancer, twice, so I’m grateful for any hair at all.  I don’t care what color it is.  I earned these hairs, and they are mine, and they are numbered.

Mary’s are prettier, all beaded up today, but mine are numbered, too.

I know, because there are not as many as there used to be!

The very hairs on your head are numbered.
~ Matthew 10:30 and Luke 12:7

I’ve thought a lot about it, why my hairs would be numbered.  I especially thought about it back when I lost my hair and had nothing but a bald head – which, by the way, is really cold.  You have no idea.

But I think it’s more than just inventory.  I think it’s about how well He knows us, and how much He loves us, and how in-tune Heavenly Father is with our very needs.

I relied on priesthood blessing so much during those difficult years, after my father died and then my mother was killed, and then the miscarriages, and then fostering, and then cancer, and then Kyrie.  Priesthood blessings kept me alive, I know it, as much as they offered comfort and gave instruction.   They gave me hope.

And sometimes it seemed, in the temple and in my dreams, that other kinds of blessings came from the other side of the veil.

So maybe I can pretend that each gray hair came from one of those blessings on my head, where the divine deigned to meet my mortal self.

My gray hairs are evidence, or testimony, of those experiences.

They are the signs of my tokens of obedience, when every bit of life force was spent out of me in sacrifice for what was the right thing to do, for obedience to promptings, for meager attempts at consecration.

I am so very mortal, though, and it has wiped me.  I have lived on hospital food – at work or for Kyrie – for three years, and haven’t slept much in as long as all that, and my cardio workouts have consisted of wrestling preschoolers.  My body gives its own evidence of that, not in a self-shaming kind of way, but in a I-have-done-my-best-with-where-I-found-myself kind of way.  My back aches from four years of other people’s babies, from bending over hospital beds, from doing CPR on my daughter.

Oh, and that time I fell on the ice a year ago and cracked my spine and broke four ribs.

That, by the way, is why I am still in my office typing instead of going home just yet, because of that new ice-phobia, which as it turns out, is part of getting older.

I also know we get more financially anxious as the next hospitalization looms over us.

Even though it’s scary, it’s easier to worry about money than worrying about when your daughter is going to die.

And because I can’t do anything else about her, besides what we have done and are doing, then I focus on what I can do.

Like working.

Or writing book.

Or selling tshirts.

And, of all things, being grateful.

I can process all the traumas we have endured, and make sure the children have a good palliative care therapist, and I can honor our struggles by processing them here like a grownup – even if I don’t have any interest in perfect picture taking or fancy giveaways or guest blogging.

Because I am exhausted.

And maybe I am snarky, partly because of coping (survival) skills and partly because of personality style and mostly because mortality.

But it is also true that I am so very grateful.

I am grateful for my husband, who is exactly perfect for me. He is good and kind and gentle to me. He doesn’t yell at me or abuse me or oppress me. He is tender, and wise, and those magical violin hands are the same ones that bless my head anytime I ask and lots of times when I am asleep.

I am grateful for my children, and their biological families, and the family that we have become. We navigate the same developmental waters as everyone else, plus extra issues because of their medical and trauma issues, but they are amazing kids and just the thought of them makes my heart swell with tears in my eyes for the joy they are to me.

I am grateful for provision, especially the house we found and the home we have made here. It has been a safe refuge for us, and I so grateful. I pray heaps of blessings on the family that found it and the family that let us move here and those who helped us.

I am grateful for heat and electricity and water. I am grateful for groceries, and boys’ haircuts, and conditioner for my daughter’s now beaded hair. I am grateful for foster support agencies with clothing closets, miracle gas cards that come in the mail, and even a car with no heat that brings me to a job I love with people who are good and kind and safe.

I am grateful for friends I never get to see, who know me and love me still. There are friends who share with me a love for my Father and my God, and friends who share other gifts I need to learn to be a better person in this world. There are friends who know what it is to grow a sick a child, friends who know the gut wrenching pain of raising other people’s children, and friends who connect with me right where we left off in those rare moments I finally get to see them.

I am grateful for doctors and nurses and specialists and therapists who are kind to my children, patient with me, and who believe in miracles – but also respect our efforts at comfort, and are prepared to hold our hand through that when the time comes.

He will not break a bruised reed,

And he will not extinguish a smoldering wick.

~ Isaiah 42:3

I am in a bruised reed and smoldering wick kind of season, and not just because I turned 41 today.

And while I do not at all blame God for all we have endured, I do understand He has used it to teach me things I never would have understood otherwise.

And I still trust Him.

And I know He will not break me.

Driving home on the ice might, though, so before I leave I send Nathan the kind of text that you only send five years after a jeep and a semi squashed your mother.

I’m headed home. The roads are bad, but security tells me it’s clear enough I should be fine. If I’m not, don’t make them keep doing compressions and don’t keep me plugged in. Let me go. I’m a chaplain. I know.

Plus, my parents have been waiting. You know we have work to do. It’s their turn.

You know all my passwords. Give David Funk our tax refund and he will take care of our insurance. Use the same funeral home we used for mom. Bury me down the street and the kids can wave on the way to the playground. Kirk can help you figure things out if you need, and ask Adam for help if you get stuck.

Don’t forget my name.

And know this: that I love you, that you were the best thing ever to happen to me, that every bit of searching was worth finding you. And that I will help you every way I can, and you will feel me, and you will hear me. And that you can do this, even though it’s awful, and even with the children.

And know that I know Heavenly Father is real, that the Savior is real and resurrected, and that the Spirit guides and corrects and instructs and comforts. I know the church is true, the Book of Mormon is true, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet. I know the priesthood was restored, and that we have temples again, and that we are sealed for all eternity.

He will roll his eyes at my dramatic response, and he will call me to be sure I am okay.

But he will know it’s not drama, or some kind of threat or death wish.

He knows that’s how my mom died, so I know how real death is.

He knows that’s what I have been doing all night, helping people as they pass away and then holding their loved ones who scream for it not to be real and then cry because they realize it is and then panic because they don’t know what to do next.

That’s chaplain life.

And I don’t want Nathan to panic, tonight or forty years from now. So sometimes we practice it, like I teach in my grief trainings. There’s a plan. You will be okay. Figure it out one piece at a time. We will see each other again.

I’m not dismissing the heartbreak.

I’m talking practical things, like a fire drill, or like one of those old floppy disks.

And Mormons are very good at being prepared.

And turning 41 is an excellent time to go over everything.

So that’s what I tell him before I drive home.

And while I drive, there is a fantastic piece of perfection playing, Haydn’s The Oxford, and I forget I was even anxious about the ice because there isn’t any.

It’s just gone, and the roads are fine, as if I didn’t spend all night doing traumas in the ER because of it.

And then when I get home (I am now home safe, by the way), it will all seems silly and unpleasant, like Barrett crying from the cold when he ran outside without shoes after the smoke alarms went off while making his birthday burgers.

And we joke and laugh about how of course I got home fine, because Heavenly Father has never let me off that easy.

We push the dumpster to the curb, then, because that’s as real as life gets.

And I check my voicemails: the Bartlesville house can’t have its open house until we turn the electricity back on (twinge of grief for my children’s hospice that I can’t open right now because of budget cuts), and the yellow house won’t sell because it needs paint and carpet (which we cannot do), and we can get our van back next week if this and this and this.

It’s exhausting, especially for a bent read of a smoldering wick who turned 41 today.

But none of it matters when I see my daughter in her bed breathing (sleeping with her eyes open all creepy like, the way her half-sister does), and when I check on all my other babies cozy in their beds, warm against the cold outside.

Because we are safe.

And they are loved.

And everything’s going to be okay in the end.

So happy birthday to me, on this day we celebrate my formidable choice to come to earth and endure all this nonsense.

Nathan says it’s my fault. He says that when we had all that pre-Earth training, they passed out papers for people to mark which kinds of experiences we needed to have on Earth to learn and practice what we wanted and needed to grow more like our Heavenly Parents. Our choice in it had to be something like that, he says, because that’s what agency is all about, he says.

The problem with you, he says, is that you checked ALL the boxes.

So yeah.

Happy birthday to me.

New Video: Poop in the Potty

We are celebrating Kyrie’s latest milestone. This girl has been potty trained for a year, except for regression every time she was hospitalized. We are trying to support and encourage her as we return back to the hospital again in a few weeks. She is so proud of herself!

 

Naming in the Palm

Sometimes I hold a tiny baby in the palm of my hand, and wash the tiny body for burial while the mother washes me with her tears.

Sometimes I am able to help the mother wash the baby herself, or the father, or a grandmother, or even once a big sister.

It’s not a baptism, but an initiation into grief, a formal saying goodbye to one who barely got to say hello.

When babies are that tiny, there is no black or white, only purple, a deep purple that is deeper than the purple in your own veins. It is the purple of a baby who should still be inside its mother, and the purple of blood without oxygen.

And even though it may be horrifying to just open up a blog and read about it when you thought you were sitting down to avoid work on your computer or to hide from your children, a vision of these little ones will quickly remind you how much a life is worth, how every minute matters, and that even the bickering of siblings is something sacred.

It’s not a scary thing, to hold such a tiny one in my palm.

It’s something sacred, even holy, to wash and dress one whose spirit was too noble and mighty to squeeze into their tiny body for long.

And I urge the mother to name her baby, not just so that she can name her grief or have a way to reference the child if anyone ever dare speak of him or her again, but so that this woman can speak aloud the experience of who she has become and will always be: a mother.

And the father, if he is there.

Sometimes there is no father, they say, as if he can hide well enough to avoid bearing the weight of this moment. Sometimes there is a father, but he cries alone in his truck instead of in the room full of beeping monitors and machines that could not save such an early life. Sometimes the father is there, stoic and distant, and sometimes he is there but melted to the floor with abandon.

Sometimes the father holds the mother, sometimes she clings to him, and sometimes they hold each other.

Sometimes she is in danger herself, and not aware, and there is no one to hold the little one for the only breath they will take – except me.

Because no one dies alone.

That’s what we say.

And so there I am, with a perfectly formed body, tiny and purple, in the palm of my hand and waiting for a name.

הֵ֥ן עַל־כַּפַּ֖יִם חַקֹּתִ֑יךְ חֹומֹתַ֥יִךְ נֶגְדִּ֖י תָּמִֽיד׃

I could never forget you! Your very name is written on the palms of my hands.

(Isaiah 49:16)

Because even in this moment, the hardest moment, even then is the plan of salvation, a plan for resurrection, a plan for families.

I try to remember this for the mother while it is too much for her.

I try to remember this for the father while it is too much for him.

I try to remember it for me, on days when Kyrie is not well and fights for each breath, and on days when she has air in her lungs enough to scream mean toddlerish things at me.

Because we fought for that air, for those lungs, for that minute for her to scream.

Screaming is breathing, baby girl.

The naming in the palm.

His arms ever outstretched toward us.

His arms ever outstretched for us, even in death.

It was all so that we could live, and be named, even with covenant names, and then pass away from this hard life and return home to Him again, where still, He remembers our name.

I try to remember that on rainy mornings when I snuggle my children close to me.

I try to remember that on long days when it’s hard work not to scream their names.

I try to remember that on long nights when I am tired, but the elevator doors open and there before me is someone – someone with a name – standing there, with burdens weighing down their shoulders.

I try to remember that when Caren (with a C) comes to mop my floors and take out the office trash, and I help her tie the bags because it’s one tiny way to show that I remember her name.

I try to remember that when the doctor schedules Kyrie for surgery a thousand miles away but wants more money first, when the bank declined the third house sale offer in a row, when the man comes to take our van away, or when the lady in line behind me at the stoplight thinks that honking a Deaf girl will make her drive any faster.

Even you have a name.

And a mother.

And the same Heavenly Father as me.

I try to remember it when I feel extra mortal, and cannot solve every problem overwhelming me all on my own, and seem to mess up even my best efforts at saving the world.

Because having a name means you are loved.

And getting named means you are not alone.

And living your name means understanding both of those, which means believing Him when he says your name is remembered in His very palms.

You are known.

You are not forgotten.

You are not alone.

You are loved.

Pager Anxiety

Pager Anxiety is what they say at work when you are trying to remember when you are on call or not.

My pager anxiety is more about the Deaf girl wearing three pagers by the end of the night, and not being able to tell which one is going off.

I have three pagers because one of them is for the women’s floors (women’s surgery, new moms, labor and delivery, PICU, pediatrics, and NICU), and one is for the trauma room in the ER in the evenings (car accidents, shootings, etc.), and then the other one is the on call pager for the whole hospital after everyone else has gone home (code blues, rapid responses, etc.).

Pagers, you guys.  Because it’s 1995.

And seriously, three pagers.   It’s hilarious.

Here’s a picture of my new desk (with nothing private showing), including that amazing picture Nathan made me of a Metropolitan Museum of Art painting of Joan of Arc.  I also have a toy for each of the children, some of my favorite books, and pictures of my family.  I will get more pictures up, add a lamp, and see what else I need in the next week.  But that’s a start of feeling cozy.

Not that I ever get to sit around feeling cozy very often, as I am now even busier than I ever was on the BAT team.  I thought I was busy plus having one pager to share for ER patients and other behavioral health emergencies, and that was when there were two of us covering thirty or forty patients.  Now I am responsible for around a hundred patients just on my own, plus the other pagers for emergencies.  I don’t even get to sit down except to do notes sometimes, and I have collapsed every night when I got home.  But I am loving my patients and my work more than I ever dreamed, and I adore the people I work with in pastoral care and on my floors.  They are amazing people with genuine hearts who care so much about our patients.  I even love my little desk, after two years of not having my own space, and it’s nice to have a safe space to return to and rest – it gives me the resources I need for what patients need from me and for the renewal of who I need to be present as a chaplain for patients.

That is, of course, about all I can share about my work.

But the point is that my transition from the BAT team back into chaplaincy was smooth and beautiful and wonderful and I love it.  It is such an integrative experience, using both my clinical skills and my spiritual self, and I am in awe of what I see God doing in and through people all over the hospital.  I have felt welcomed on my floors, and I worked hard to do a good job, and I connected with my tiny patients and their families to bring about healing in the ways that I could – or that Heavenly Father can through me.

And really, that’s what we all do for each other, right?

That’s how we are an angel for others when we believe in them when no one else does.

That’s how we are an angel for others when we set the boundaries we need to be healthy.

That’s how we are an angel for others when we offer counsel that is wise but gentle, or firm but compassionate.

That’s how we are an angel for those who are not even aware of it, cannot respond, and may not remember it.

We do it anyway.

A prayer we read in the chaplain office this week was one from Mother Theresa:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
     Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
     Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
     Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you.
     Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
     Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
     Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
     Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
     Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
     It was never between you and them anyway.

          ~ Mother Theresa

Whether it’s parenting or just the everyday mundane effort of trying to live some form of a consecrated life, we do what we do because it’s the right thing.

And the sacrifices we make trying to do it? They do matter, even if no one notices.

Because the power isn’t in the noticing, but in the act of faith that is the doing.

Even when it seems impossible, or like you are drowning, or like hope is growing fainter.

Do not give up. Just keep going.

That’s what Kyrie does.

This weekend was marvelous.

I mean to say, it was an actual resting weekend.

For the last two years, I haven’t had weekends hardly because I was working at one hospital or another, and now I am officially Monday through Friday. I will have a Saturday rotation, not not every weekend or every other weekend like before. I rested and napped and rested some more. I played with the children, and let them help me cook, and took them on walks. I even was excited to go to church until I remembered Kyrie still can’t stay for nursery, but at least I got to be there for all of sacrament meeting!

There were a thousand things we needed to do, like paint in the yellow house or clean up the garage here that we moved so quickly. There were a million things to worry about, like getting our van back or wondering how to get us to Cincinnati and back again. But we didn’t. We rested and played and just spent time together, and that was most important – even with Cincinnati looming over us like a shadow, and a hundred other anxieties about life and parenting and children and provision and protection. We let it go.

Besides, it was a weekend to celebrate!

Barrett turns six this week!

We got him when he was two!

I can’t believe he is six!

Not only that, but I will be 41 on Wednesday. How crazy is that? I have maybe, finally grown into my age, just in time to be too tired to care.

Those years of chemo wore me out.

These years of children have worn me out.

Ongoing opposition has wiped me out.

Nathan said tonight he knows God isn’t punishing us because he knows we are faithful and obedient. I mean, we aren’t perfect, but we are trying. We read our scriptures and pray, we do the same as a couple and we do it with the children. We keep our covenants, follow the commandments, tithe on the rare occasion we get income, fast, have FHE, serve in our callings, and do the things we are asked to do and don’t do what we shouldn’t as best we can.

So it must be, he said, that Heavenly Father knows this difficult season is an experience we need and one that we will need to testify of.

And so we endure, because it’s what we do.

And as Nathan said, we’ve made it a lot longer than either of us thought we could in circumstances so difficult.

But to be honest and vulnerable and prayerful over our flocks all Alma like, it feels like that story toward the end of Alma when the guy is like, “Hey! Why aren’t you helping us? We are going to die. We need serious help over here, and it feels like you aren’t helping us.” And they send all those emails back and forth about being in crisis and needing help and it turns out they weren’t betrayed after all, just the king was under siege and needs his own help, too.

That’s what our life feels like sometimes, like we are out of provision and out of resources and tired of being in crisis, except then find out our calling is to help others who are themselves more besieged than us.

Because that’s consecration.

And acting in faith.

And hoping against hope.

It was two months before Kyrie was born, when I turned 38, that for my birthday Nathan gave me the book Re-Reading Job, because of course my life had been hard so it made sense to give me a book about the Old Testament Job story.

We just didn’t know it was preparatory, that life was going to get harder yet.

And it’s hard not to worry about how much harder we still have yet to go.

But what we know is that we don’t have pager anxiety.

Do you know why?

Because even when life is really, really hard, and even when circumstances are impossible, and even when you don’t even know how to keep breathing… we still know who is our God, and whose children we are, and what He has asked us to do.

And that’s what we are going to do, as best we can, as messy as it is.

Because nothing, long as we are faithful to our covenants, nothing can separate us from Him.

I don’t know what the answers are, but I know who holds the answers.

I don’t know when deliverance will come, but I know who will be the deliverer.

I don’t know what this story is that He has asked us to live so that we can tell it, but I know of whom I will testify.

And that is sufficient for my needs.

Reality

Nathan somehow has been holding out on us, apparently having had these virtual reality goggles of the “cardboard” type the entire time we’ve been married.

Now, though, it’s becoming more popular with fancy technology and expensive equipment, so there are more opportunities to use virtual reality apps and videos for different things.

And last night, he found that the Olympics have a virtual reality app!

So we spent the evening watching figure skating – a treat in itself since normally we don’t watch sports on Sundays – but watching it via virtual reality. It was intense! I had no idea! It was really like being there, where I could turn my head and see the camera men behind the rink, or look behind me and see the crowds, or look straight ahead and almost feel the rush of air as skaters passed me!

Then, on a commercial break, I went skydiving and also scuba diving and also he took me to France!

It was amazing!

He totally wins best valentine’s date ever, taking me to France for a bite of cheese under the Eiffel Tower while the children were sleeping.

By the time we were done playing, I was actually a bit dizzy. I don’t know if it was the tad-bit blurry VR cameras, or if it was all the excitement, or just that one time I tried bungee jumping and almost fell on the floor in real life. But regardless, the more you moved around, the more you got out of the experience.

I was thinking about this as I did my scripture study this morning, in those pre-dawn moments you try to relish without watching the clock counting down the seconds until the children wake.

I know I am a daughter of God, right?

And I know I am here on earth for my very ancient spirit to learn to use this physical body (that seems less “new” as I prepare to turn 41 next week), and to practice making choices regarding living up to that very godly daughter-ship-ness.

And if those choices have to do with serving my Father who is my God, then I’m going to get the most out of life the more I look around and explore ways I can serve others.

Except, obviously, it can’t be a virtual existence. I really have to do it. I can’t hide behind cardboard glasses and wait for life to happen for me. I experience life by living it, and experience is the only way to progress.

Today will be my first day in my new position as a chaplain at the hospital where I have worked for the last year and a half. I’m anxious, like anyone would be for any new job. But it’s also true that I know who I am, and being me is really my only job.

That makes it a lot less scary.

Even when part of reality is going out to start the day, which means facing six hungry children who need shoes tied and hair done and homework started and helped and finished.

But we did it just fine, and had as good a morning as we could have on such a pretty day, before I left for my new job.

I gave them a good breakfast of eggs, bacon wrapped dates, and fresh fruit. We got through everyone’s scriptures and praying and family scriptures and praying, and finished homework (even Mary’s multiplying double digits by double digits), remembered violin and piano practice, and made it all the way to playing outside before lunch.

I even got the girls’ hair done.

So yeah, I’m as ready as I can be.

Griefing

Today I gave a six hour seminar on grief, which is always a good time.

And by six hours, I mean I had to be here two hours before, plus an hour not to get lunch, and an hour cleanup. So that makes it a nine hour seminar, and I am exhausted. My body hurts and my back aches and it was all worth it. I loved it, and I loved the people who came, and I love how much they taught me while I was supposed to be teaching them. It was a good group, and I am super excited about doing this every month this year.

By the time we were done, my car had a thin layer of ice and the sky was spitting snow.

It was bitter cold, especially without a coat, but somehow crisp in the quiet calm as I sat by the lake warming up in my car.

It felt like life, cold and harsh, except also everything is okay.

I felt at peace, relieved by the seminar being completed well, and the at home in my own skin in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.

There was no begging for it not to be cold anymore, and no yearning for summer, and no trying to pretend it’s not as cold as it is.

I was just there, in the cold, but okay.

Like life, right?

Like how a moment with a friend can change everything, how loving your husband changes the world, and how watching your children play somehow softens the hard work of raising them.

And I loved how, even though I use more self-disclosure in this seminar than any other, I was okay. My grief wasn’t present, or drowning me, or right now. It was somehow, finally, “back then”, and dealing okay with Kyrie as far as whatever kind of day she is having or not. I have grown some, it felt like, and healed lots, and just there for a while knowing that and being glad for it.

It’s okay, you see, to just be okay.

And Nathan is still here on the other side of it.

And so are friends.

And so is my God.

And I am okay.

Not finished, and there will be more hard things because winter is always cold.

But I am okay, and I can finally remember what Spring is like – even if it isn’t quite here yet.

Endings and Beginnings

When I am up in the tower on just the right side, those nights I can escape the ER long enough to follow up with patients who were admitted, then I have the best view ever of Hillcrest as the sun sets through the blinds in the hallway.

 

I spent what felt like two years in that place, though really it was only one year.  But that year was broken up by Kyrie being born, and life flights, and working two jobs and sleeping four hours a night.  They were hard years.  It was where I finally started talking about losing my parents, where I finally started thawing to the idea of friendship again, where the chaos of fostering began to be replaced by the settling that comes with adoption.  It was where I knew it was time to just go home to Owasso, and accept palliative care for Kyrie, and just be with my family.

When I see that place, it is like a college campus to me.  I was called to chaplaincy and sent there, dove into my pastoral studies there, and “grew up” with colleagues near to my heart whom I will never forget – because they were in the trenches with me.  It’s where we walked dark hallways alone at night, laid down to sleep only for the pager to send us to another code blue, and where we learned to sing someone to sleep for eternity.  We prayed there, and cried there, and laughed there.  We had to face our own selves there, and figure out what to do about it, and managed to come out on the other side again.  Residency is intense, and exhausting, and there is nothing left of you at the end of it, except what was really you all along.  Everything else is stripped away, and it’s painful and messy and beautiful.  That’s what I remember when I see that place.

But now I work down the street, and have spent the last year as a therapist in the ER instead of a chaplain-in-residency.  Our team assesses those who are homicidal, or suicidal, or psychotic, or drunk, or high.  We make safety plans, transfer people to psychiatric facilities, and refer people to treatment.  Clinically, it is very intense but I have loved it.

The schedule is grueling, though, with two weeks of work and then a weekend, and then repeat.

And I don’t usually get home until midnight, which makes me exhausted for getting up to care for the children in the mornings and do their homeschooling, or when I have to sleep then I miss them all together.

And also, I’m a chaplain, so it’s been hard not having that part of me functioning.  Serving as a chaplain integrates for me my clinical skills and my spiritual strengths in a way I have never experienced before.  It is not easy.  It is gut-wrenching to walk alongside a person in what is the hardest moments of their lives, the kinds of moments you can’t undo or fix or help lift them from or from which you can rescue them.  It’s hard enough that the church calls us to meetings every October, for personal interviews and blessings and trainings, to be sure we are okay and to be sure we are caring for our communities well.

And now it’s time to return to my chaplain duties.  After six months of interviews, lots of Bible Belt discussions about what Mormons believe anyway, and being able pass the questions on Catholic biomedical ethics, I am going to be a chaplain again.

I have accepted a position transfer at the hospital, and I start Monday morning, officially as a chaplain again – approved by the hospital and endorsed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I send monthly reports (about me and my work and my family, not about patients) to the church, and get interviewed again in Salt Lake every October.  I will be starting an hour and a half earlier each day, so I can still be home with the children in the mornings but also get home in time to sleep. And I get weekends off, except a Saturday rotation every couple six weeks or so.

I will be serving the women’s floors, labor and delivery, nursery, and the NICU.  I will also help cover the ER and carry the on-call pager in the evenings, so I get to help with that work as well to balance things out.

The church told us three years ago this day would come, and it seemed impossible then.  We were already sacrificing so much for the children, and there have been times in the last three years that it seemed everything would fall apart (if I did).  But we endured, and did our best, and are coming through the other side just like we were promised.

Mostly, Nathan is very excited for me to get some sleep once in a while, and the children are very excited for me to be home again on the weekends.  I am excited to finally have Sundays off after these rough years.  I know that’s part of hospital life, having to take your turn on Sundays, but I will be glad to be back at church more.  I have missed it!

We brought the children this week to see my new office in Pastoral Care, and to check out the new chapel.  They are so anxious about any changes at all, and will do better now that they have seen where I will be.  They like to know where I am and that everything is okay.  I know their sweet evening prayers have saved me and comforted me and kept me sane and safe these hard years, and I am so grateful for their sweet love.

So tonight when I leave the hospital, it will be the last time I leave as part of the behavioral team.

When I come back to work on Monday, I will be a chaplain, just like that.

And on my first day there is a potluck right at lunch time when I come to work.

Because you know why?

Because that’s what chaplains do: they break bread.