Catching Hope

Looking for the grace of God that surrounds us

breathe.

Dear Suffering Saint:

You didn’t expect your circumstances to make it hard to breathe.  I know, because I didn’t expect it either.

I know that sometimes you are caught off guard with That thought.  You know, that one thing that brings the pain back to your mind and heart in a rush, like a sudden gust of wind.  And as it comes, the air your lungs catches quickly and hovers, in one brief inhaling gasp.

….

but breathe.

just take a breath.

and another one.

And then it gets easier. I promise, it does.

It again becomes natural, normal, a simple reflex induced by oxygen and carbon dioxide osmosis gradients in the tiny alveoli of the lungs.

…………………………….

Maybe you knew It would be difficult.  Maybe you were totally caught off guard by it.

Either way, it hurts.  I know. It comes in rushes. Like the rise and fall of an ocean wave…like a breath.

In….out.

Up….down.

Pain….grace.

……………………………….

“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'” (I Cor. 12:9-10)

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Speaking of hope….

my patients need it.  Or maybe I need it for them.  Can you hope for someone else?  I think so.

My first little boy looked up at me with cracked, dry lips and angry, sad, pain-filled eyes.  His mommy kept stepping out of the room to cry, then come back in to offer what support she had for him.  “It’s so hard,” she said.  “First the refugee camp…we didn’t have food every day.  And the attacks.  Then we come here, and he–”

I administered the injection meant to boost his dwindling white cells, gave him pain medication for the long bone pain that inevitably comes with the cancer, wanly smiled at their pastor that had come to visit and was oh, so glad he was there to offer the kind of support that I just didn’t have the time to offer.  Or just couldn’t figure out the right way to offer it, no matter how hard I tried and wanted to.

My second child, five months old, sat on one side of the floor in her carseat, bottle propped next to her, in a dirty used-to-be-white onsie stained with spit-up and bottle drool.  She was set aside, just about forgotten.  I picked up her seven pound, 12 ounce body and held her close, because no one else would.  Child Protection will come soon….but is there any more hope for her than that?

I forced a tiny tube down the nose of my third patient today.  A little six-month-old, who escaped death by a hair’s breadth multiple times in his short life, and now needs a tube threaded down in to his stomach because somewhere along the lines of fighting the pneumonia, the infections and the IV tubes he never had the time or the energy to learn how to eat.  Alarms beeping, baby crying, mom trying to comfort….and my hands shaking as I hook the monitors back up and spend the rest of the night worrying about how he is.

I try to fight for my patients, try to have hope for them.  But in the utterly terrifying sadness of cancer, the despair of neglect and the gnawing worry of wondering if I made the right clinical decisions and if I really made the gravity of the situation clear enough to the doctor, sometimes I don’t know how.

I don’t know if the heaviness in my heart is sadness, pain, anger, anxiety…or just the love that causes and encompasses it all.  I pray for the love of Jesus to fill my heart for my patients like these, so that I can fight for them practically as well as through prayer.  But sometimes, some nights like these, it seems impossible….

“Speaking of hope,” Jesus says, “I have it.  It is found in me.  I love you, I love them, and my love is NOT despairing or heavy or angry or sad….it is just love.  My yoke is easy and my burden is light….ask me and I will help you to carry them.  And I, the Great Shepherd, will carry you.” (Romans 8:38-39, 15:13, Isaiah 46:3-4, Matthew 11:28-30, Ezekiel 34:11-16, John 10:11, 14, 13:1).

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The End

I was reading in my Pathophysiology textbook recently and came across a picture…a picture I had to cover up because I could no longer look at it.

At first, it was in some morbid way, fascinating…the gaping wound, the structures beneath the skin that should never have been visible, the hesitation marks on the skin where he couldn’t quite get the courage to do it.

And then I looked harder, for a moment.

He had dark hair–I could tell even though the picture was only of a portion of his neck, because of the remaining stubble there.  I wonder why he didn’t shave before he did it.  If he even thought about it.  Maybe life was so out of control that even something as simple as shaving felt like too much.

From the little that could be seen, he looked young…time had not yet etched itself in to his skin.  I wondered what his face looked like…if there would have been clues on his face or in the depth of his eyes that would have told someone of his pain.

Instead, the horrible truth of what he thought of his life and how it should end stared at me through the page in wet shades of red.

I wonder why he did it.

I wonder if he had people that loved him.  Or if he just didn’t know that they loved him.

I wonder if he asked God why his life was the way it was.  Why it was so hard…why it felt so hopeless…

I covered the picture with a bright pink post-it note.  It didn’t really help the deep, painful, heavy sadness in my heart, because I know what is under it’s florescent opaqueness.  Just as the brightness of the post-it note is now highlighted on the page, his story–and what I don’t know if it–is highlighted in my head.  What is truly etched into the page, under the post-it note, is etched into my heart.  I can try to cover it up, along with the rest of the suffering of the world…

Or I can face the suffering.  Look it in the face, hate the sin that caused it, and pray for grace for this fallen world.

Pray for love in my heart for those around me–love that I say out loud so that those I know are certain that someone cares for them.

Pray for the people who have no hope, that Jesus would shine rays of joy into their hearts.

And pray for Jesus to come soon.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

-Revelation 21:6

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Tears of My Own

I often find myself catching other people’s tears.

I catch the tears of mommies and daddies, as they cry for their children.  They cry for the pain that they carry every day as they battle….whether it is a temporary, transient illness–or something that is slowly killing their babies.  I try to walk with them, to hold them, to ease them through…whether it’s through their newborn’s sleepless first night at home or through their teenage daughter’s leukemia.  And as much as I can, I catch and hold their tears for them.

I hold the tears of their babies…sometimes while I fight to force a tiny needle into their tiny leg muscles.  Sometimes I pass a tissue to catch the tears as they adjust to the pain of a chronic illness.   Sometimes I don’t see their tears, but I can feel them in the air, heavy and unspoken.

I catch their tears.  Sometimes literally in my hand.  Other times in my heart. It is a gift, a very precious and unique gift, to be able to do this.

But sometimes, just sometimes, as I bottle up everyone else’s tears and tuck them away in my heart for safekeeping, I find (as the country song goes), that I’ve got some tears of my own.

And then I find an even greater gift–when Jesus takes my tears and tucks them away in to His heart.  He is the perfect tear-keeper.

“You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in a bottle.  Are they not in Your book?” (Psalm 56:8)

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To grieve

I’ve lost three of my kids in the past three weeks…and one more is very sick and in the hospital.  (Prepare for a few, completely scattered, thoughts.)

Sometimes it’s easier not to process things, then to look them in the face and allow yourself to feel.

I have always been one to ignore things I probably ought to process.  Repression, I think they call it in the psychological world.  (You know, one of those startling moments in your abnormal psych class in college where you sit there and think, “I DO that!  I thought I was normal!!”)

Quite honestly, though, seeing the hurt that surrounds us (for me, in my job; what we all are seeing from Haiti, the loss and grief that occur with just going through life), how does one get through a day without restraining at least some of what most people would consider “normal” emotions?

Not sure how healthy it is though.  Sometimes I feel rather heartless. like a stone statue in a cold and snowy graveyard.  Casually mentioning an item of interest from the day–you know, “I slept late and almost missed work…I ate tuna fish on rye for lunch…oh yeah and so-and-so died.”  Something is not right about that.   But when I say it, I hope that whoever is listening understands.

Understands that deep inside, there are feelings.  It is not always best to process the full extent of our own feelings within a given situation.  It is often too overwhelming to try to process it later.  But it is there, somewhere.  And will most likely come out in some way later.  And it, in no way, is meant to diminish the pain of those who are suffering.

Grief is never easy.  But we as believers in Jesus do not grieve as those who have no hope.

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Things Nurses Say, part 3

What on earth does a nurse say to a family who just took their baby home to die?

Words fail. And no matter what you say, it never feels like the right thing. You are reminded once again of your need for grace, as you try not to let anyone see that your hands are trembling.

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I Hope You Dance

When people ask me what I do, I usually reply that I do pediatric home care and hospice.  And then I wait for the comment, “That must be really hard….”

Its probably because death is hard.  And awkward.  And in some ways completely incomprehensible to alive people.

I don’t understand alot about death myself.  What I do understand, though, is that walking with people through death and dying is a gift.  Not the kind you open on Christmas morning and can’t wait to show everyone.  Instead, it is a process of grief, loss, acceptance–and for me, an ongoing lesson in how to trust in a sovereign Savior and God.  Let me try to explain–

Sometimes death is gentle, calm and peaceful.  Sometime’s it’s not.

But no matter what the circumstances surrounding it are, death is not pretty.  It’s not supposed to be.  It’s supposed to remind us of the effect of sin on creation and on our bodies.  It is intended to remind us that life is temporary–and eternity is forever.  I truly believe this with all that is in me.

And yet, the Lord in His common goodness and grace blesses humanity with moments of peace and transparency even in the grief and loss and horrifying reality of the situations in and surrounding death.

And, in the goodness of the Lord, these are gifts to be found–even in those moments.

I feel so blessed to be able to have been there with one family, to share the pure and transparent moment of grief as we knelt on the hallway floor and cried.  I am so grateful that I am able to rejoice with parents for each day they share with their terminally ill children, then be able to at least try to offer some kind of comfort when they lose their child.  And I would never, ever trade the moments I shared with one young patient as we sang along to Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” and Nat King Cole’s “What a Wonderful World” while I arranged her pillows, gave her nutrition through an IV, and pushed endless medications into her body.  Nor (oddly enough) would I trade the moments, weeks later, when I watched and prayed for her as her heart rate flickered on the screen and finally was still–such a sobering reminder of the sovereignty of God, who knew exactly at what moment her heart would stop.

Death looks us all in the face, whether that’s in the context of a career, as it is for me, or in the context of being the one to lose a family member or friend.  And yet, the paradox is that there are gifts even in these horrible moments–when are we ever so transparent as we are in the moment of grief?  When are we reminded better of the fragility of life?  When is there a better time to pray for peace and salvation for those in mourning?

But the greatest gift to be found amid death is Christ.  Because of Him, we have the gift of hope.  In the face of the death that surrounds us all, we can rejoice in each breath that God grants to us, eagerly await the day when death will have no sting…and dance.

May He grant us grace to find the gift in the grief, the calm in the confusion, and the courage to give hope to the hopeless.

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The Family is Grieving Appropriately….

“The family is grieving appropriately…”, said one of the hospice MDs at a recent meeting, in reference to the death of a patient.

How does one grieve appropriately?  I suppose that outside of Christ it means appropriate expressions of grief and emotion, tears, acknowledgement of a sense of loss, increasingly close family ties, as well as a picture-perfect walk through the Stages of Grief.

However, what I can’t get out of my head are the words of the Lord…

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep…For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

-I Thess. 4:13-18

This is the only way to “grieve appropriately”.  Although the world may see textbook stages of grief and loss, without Christ there is no hope–and therefore no true comfort.  May the Lord grant grace for us to “encourage each other with these words”–and the courage for us to offer true hope and healing to a hurting world.

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