wilderness

wilderness

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I love the month of June in the Pacific Northwest. It crests the horizon of summer with all the lushness and beauty of spring still in force. The vegetation encircles me, thick with growth, filling every gap in the soil, extending an invitation to linger and behold its glory.

Our maple tree blots out the sky, creating a natural umbrella over our sidewalk and pathway winding toward the front steps. The butterfly bush gently curves towards the brick archway over our porch.

Oh, and my blueberry bushes are loaded with berries from shades of the palest green to light lavender. As branches bend earthward every indigo hued orb beckons me to pluck and eat. 

Carl and I have a pretend tug-of-war between his wish to shore up drooping stems and clip away wandering branches whereas  I want every inch of growth, a billowing canopy of foliage. Our home feels sheltered by the natural world around it.

I love it. 

I welcome it. 

Maybe I feel passionate about the glory of June because I know July and August are around the corner. Rain showers will be less plentiful leading to crunchy, scorched lawns. My shoulders start to ache simply thinking about hauling a hose around to douse weary blooms.

There’s another plot of land I witnessed this week, different than my yard at home.  It’s a  corner lot that has remained empty after the leveling of a business. This dusty, dry barren land is enclosed by a chain-link fence. I’ve grown accustomed to this familiar sight, it’s become a fixture I often don’t notice. During a rare car ride this past week, while at a stoplight, I glanced across the intersection expecting the usual view but instead the fence was lined with colorful signs declaring Black Lives Matter, Justice for George, No Justice, No Peace, and other slogans. There were flowers and balloons woven and tied through the fence gaps. I sucked in my breath as my eyes hadn’t expected to land on this makeshift monument. 

As I brace myself for the conditions and requirements of my summer garden in the weeks to come, I feel the twinge of concern about this cultural moment, will it be a sustained movement.

We long for racial injustices to be ripped from its soil like the weed it is and be replaced by the lushness of equality and compassion.

 But in reality, we are still standing on ground which hasn’t been allowed to flourish circled by the beginning seeds of hope. I feel this hope beginning to take root in my soul but I remain cautious.

Don’t we all want our world to resemble the first garden described? A place which provides shade from harsh conditions and beauty to the eye, yielding an abundance of nourishment for all.

 So many people have newly immersed themselves in black history and terminology over the last few weeks. It’s natural to desire branches heavy laden with fruit, anticipating change, and a new harvest.  But it would be a mistake to believe a long-lasting harvest is possible after simply tilling the soil and scattering seeds. Slow, sustained work in every season is essential, especially during the harshest climates.

It might be discouraging to realize our world may resemble the second plot more than the first.

But I would suggest we are a people who are in the midst of the wilderness, one which may be defined differently than imagined.

wilderness: 

a part of a garden devoted to wild growth

an area where nature is left to find its own path

We are a people with a plethora of different opinions and viewpoints. I believe the wilderness expresses what this particular time in history represents. 

There are many people who have had their eyes opened during life slowing down during the pandemic and further by seeing the shocking reality of racial injustices. Four hundred years of history is being illuminated in such a way it can no longer be denied. This revelation for some is creating huge growth opportunities. For others, it is poking at them in a way that feels too uncomfortable to acknowledge or to slow down long enough to personally reflect. 

Envision America as circled by the fence of those who want to secure the current laws of the land and definitely do not wish to see or embrace the wild abandoned growth of others.  The ones who are stretching and processing are trying to tether their message onto the fence dwellers. They are crying, “work with us, be united with us.”

What remains to be seen is who will gain possession of all the remaining land still up for grabs.

Who will remain to keep fighting for justice and equality?

Who will keep speaking up even when words are rejected by friends, neighbors, co-workers, or family members?

Who desires to fully inhabit this time in history and not simply pass by?

I am hopeful. I also may have to admit Carl’s desire to shore up the drooping and trim away the excess might not be such a bad idea. 

Support one another in this fight. 

Continue to cut away old ideas and stereotypes and biases.

Allow time to digest new truths you encounter and learn.

Keep listening and asking yourself what is something only you can do to fight racism.

Everyone has a part and will look different from person to person. This is a good thing.

How I endeavor to fight racism will look different than someone else’s. A collective movement has many different facets, which enhances its beauty and value.

*****

May we be people of hope.

May we never tire of doing the good work of peace.

May we walk alongside one another in solidarity.

May we continue to offer a hand to those who simply want to stay on their own path.

May we walk in humility.

May growth create change for others rather than puff ourselves up.

May we long for the day when all the land is flourishing and yielding a mighty harvest.

May there always be enough blueberries for everyone. Forever. Amen.

 

 

our bodies are truth tellers

our bodies are truth tellers

 

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I quit my job last year.

The word “quit” has always weighed me down by the negative connotations attached to it. It’s another four-letter word to add to the list of ones to be careful not to utter too often.  It brings back echoes from school playgrounds when someone exits a high stakes game of kickball in many shades of upset as a chorus of “quitter” begins to be murmured. 

I don’t want to be a quitter. 

In fact, I have taught my children to not quit even when it’s hard.

I quit drinking coffee for over 5 years and now whenever the aroma becomes too intoxicating, I will savor a cup but not frequently. 

I partially quit drinking coffee.

I stopped eating sugar until I forgot to decline the offer of dessert. You could say I am a pro at quitting, quitting sugar.

I have definitely quit diet and exercise plans.

The majority of things I have quit have been mostly related to me.  I somehow find it easier to break my word to myself than when others are involved.

I have quit more substantial things than coffee or sweets. The job I quit was because I had quit wanting to practice physical therapy.  

Prior to last November, I had never left a job except for reasons of an impending baby or a move across the country.

When I handed in my letter of resignation two weeks before Thanksgiving, it was one of the toughest and easiest actions I ever completed.

For a long time, I pushed aside the strain my workload had on me physically and emotionally.  The repetitive nature of my daily tasks exacerbated an already degenerating neck. I spent weekends recovering enough to return to work. Sometimes it meant resting or sleeping more. Often it looked like bedtime in a recliner under a hazy combination of muscle relaxers and pain killers.

I should have quit two years earlier but I didn’t. For reasons I am still trying to unravel, despite my body breaking down, I couldn’t bear quitting a job because I felt an undeniable need to be helpful and believe I was indispensable. 

There were other factors that developed during the last six months of employment which necessitated making a decision crucial. But I wanted a plane skywriting above me with the answer to my questions about staying or leaving. Instead, my body decided to send me an engraved message.

During my last month on the job, I could barely turn my neck to the left or right. My constant golf ball-sized knot between my neck and shoulder morphed to resemble a baseball. One morning, I woke up and my right arm was numb with tingling fingertips. I unscrewed a lot of amber-colored bottles to continue to work each day.

I kept on working with the mindset of eventually leaving my position, but in the best shape possible despite physically falling apart. Whenever anyone asked me about my work situation my hand touched my temple and then my heart. My body language revealed knowledge I was too disconnected to absorb. Even in the months since leaving, I catch myself reciting a laundry list of reasons for my decision and physical pain usually is one of the last bullet points mentioned. 

I mistakenly believed hard work might entail pain. 

Pain is not normal. Although it is an unavoidable reality for many.

Pain is a warning sign.

I lived as if constant pain was my status quo. 

My physical pain began to diminish the day I gave notice. Today, my pain level is back to the baseline of 5 years ago. 

In the last several months, I will admit there have been days when I have felt foolish.

Foolish for waiting so long and quitting without a game plan. My willingness to allow a part of my body to be severed from nerve input for the sake of not giving up. I will be ruminating over this scenario until I find its core motivation.

I have always viewed quitting as bad and maybe even wrong.

How do you view quitting?

Maybe it’s time to give the word a little makeover.

I found the following chart when I was curious about the origins of the word quit.

I wondered if it would enlighten me about why the word often gets a bad rap.

I didn’t find what I expected.

In fact, what I found might make me quit more often.

 

 

 

The next time you are wrestling with a decision, practice the following steps.

Seek quiet.

Be still.

Quit (if it is the right course of action). No judgment.

You might be set free.

 

***I realized after writing this post it’s close proximity to Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. It is a common practice to fast, cease or quit something until Easter. One of the reasons for the fasting during Lent is by emptying a previously occupied space, it allows room to focus on Jesus and His sacrifice. Many people groan when considering giving something up for 40 days and I have as well. This might help, Lent contains times to fast and feast days which land on Sundays. What a wonderful gift of balance. Perhaps think of fasting as quieting something in your life.

Quiet (quit) complaining and instead rehearse your blessings.

Quiet (quit) worrying and instead shout what you are grateful for.

Quiet (quit) criticizing and instead find one person to encourage each day.

Quiet (quit) screen time and instead take a walk outdoors.

Quiet (quit) scrolling and instead read a book or memorize a verse or poem.

Quiet (quit) having the last word and instead be the first to listen.

Quiet (quit) being homogeneous and instead, look for opportunities to meet someone who doesn’t look or think or believe like you.

 

 

Image

welcoming back words

For years, I had buried words deeply into the earth

and I feared they were beyond hope of emerging.

If you picture an avalanche, the initial sliding snow

is relatively small, like frozen skidding pebbles, seemingly innocent.

As the speed increases, more snow becomes entangled with force

and anything in the path of an avalanche is obliterated.

I felt an unparalleled ambush of words, illustrations and images.

Notebooks were scattered all over the house for

quick retrieval to scribble down ideas.

I am sure I possessed a glazed expression as I

tried to upload the words coursing through my mind.

I am also sure it wasn’t always a joy to live with me.

After taking a few writing courses,

I started to gather scraps of courage

to share my writing beyond my journals.

What was I to do about physical therapy?

How does one who entered the field to help people

announce the need to exit?

It felt so counter and harsh to admit this reality.

However I could barely care for my family

much less physically shoulder the needs of patients.

I feared I would disappoint the people in my life by saying

I was abandoning the profession.

Undoubtedly I had put a lot of effort into becoming a P.T. but

others had been a tremendous help and support.

Was I going to let them down in the process of following my heart?

I recently heard author Sue Monk Kidd  explain her decision to no longer

be a nurse. She knew nursing was one of the noblest of professions

and she had chosen it because it was traditional and safe.

She recalls that she was a pretty good nurse, she cared,

did her best but she never felt as if it were her true

place of belonging.

She felt homesick for home.

When she began to write, it was a homecoming.

She believes it takes courage to find out what lies

at the bottom of our hearts.

I could have expressed the same sentiments.

I was a pretty good physical therapist.

I worked hard, I cared deeply about my patients but I

never felt exhilaration in the way I did holding a pen.

I did not work outside the home in any capacity until Caleb was 8 years old.

I decided to give physical therapy another try.

Perhaps after this long absence, the old feelings wouldn’t resurface.

My first day of holding a list of patients to treat, I felt nervous and rusty.

As I was working with my second patient, her two sons anxiously hovered

as I positioned a walker before her wheelchair.

She had emphatically told me she was not going to walk today.

Perhaps this is why I loved working with children, it doesn’t

occur to them to answer no to your requests.

I gently told this sweet lady, I was there to help and

all she needed to do was make an attempt.

She amazed herself and her sons by raising to stand and taking

some slow shuffled steps.

I placed just the right amount of contact on her back to keep her

moving forward, out of the corner of my eye,

I saw one of the sons writing something and putting a piece of

paper on my clipboard.

At the end of the session, I gave my final instructions and issued

a good-bye to this precious family.

As I walked back to the office to tackle the computer

charting system, I glanced down at my clipboard and

saw this note:

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I set my clipboard down and I touched the words written by one of the

equally concerned sons.

I had extended simple kindness and expertise and considered it the natural

course of my work day.

To this dear son, it was everything.

I worked another 6 months and it became apparent

a shift in my heart had not occurred as well as aspects

of the practice had flown past me in my absence.

I also needed physical therapy myself for a neck injury.

At this juncture, I don’t know if I will work again in this field.

On the first day back in the trenches, what others

saw in me, despite feeling awkward and out of

practice was Christ in me, the hope of glory.

This was the visible reality of what others had

always seen leaning against each hospital bedside and kneeling

before wheelchairs.

There is no other way I can describe how

God worked through me repeatedly in spite of my weakness.

Two letters following my name allowed me to present an offering

to each patient on the hallowed ground of need.

Physical therapy had been a vehicle for His glory.

Writing was just a different make and model purchased

by the same God.

**********

To be continued…

The last post (I promise) tomorrow.
This post is from a series called A Work of Heart History.
Feel free to read the other posts here, here and here.

 

 

knocking on the door of a work of heart

knocking on the door of a work of heart

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The final day of April dumped 12 inches of snow leading up to

graduation from physical therapy school.

The end of July found us scurrying for cover against golf ball-sized

hailstones.

Carl and I were not sad to leave behind the rigors of graduate school

or extreme weather seasons, but we dreaded saying goodbye

to two of my classmates who had met and married during our 2 years

in Rochester.

Brennan and Ellen, had become “our” couple and it seemed

implausible that we would ever find this type of connection again.

Carl gently pressed the accelerator and I found it impossible to

end my backward gaze and face the road before us.

Shards of my heart would always inhabit the land of 10,000 Lakes.

We inked a star on our paper map and headed to Portland, Oregon

as neither of us could find work in our original destination of Seattle.

I began work at a center for medically fragile children and Carl searched

for a job in medical technology.

Pediatrics comprised the first 5 years of my practice

and was my sweet spot.

Over the next 15 years, two daughters were born and hundreds

of patients were treated.

As varied as the settings and schedule I worked, my caseload

was just as diverse.

I worked in orthopedics, oncology, burn units, spinal cord

and brain injury rehabilitation.

I felt the fragility and intensity of life working Level 1 trauma

and the pulsing joy of cardiac patients with patched up tickers.

Sometime around year 10, I began to struggle getting patients out of bed,

not physically but emotionally.

I couldn’t bear being the one who would make them hurt to hasten their healing.

I wanted to lean in close and chat with the bed ridden.

I wanted to comfort the families and perhaps drop off a casserole.

I never possessed the hard-core personality of most physical therapists

and I couldn’t fake it any longer.

Even though I wanted to hand in my gait belt,

I knew there was a reason I became a physical therapist.

God had given me the necessary aptitude, it wasn’t a fluke.

During bouts of discouragement, I would reflect on the

days prior to graduate school.

I witnessed unimaginable mercy and favor

by the hands of the Mayo board.

I had failed the second term of college physics

(a graduate school requirement), hoped to

never let Mayo be the wiser by

attempting to “fix-it” during the

summer but I belly-flopped again.

I thought about how often God whispered the same sentiment

as the generous people at Mayo said,

“We know who we picked.
We picked you and we still want you.”

Weighty words of grace reached into the depths of my failure

and chose me.

2003 opened with the revelation of adding another child to our family.

Oh he was a feisty one and it was a challenging pregnancy.

Barely through the first trimester, I developed painful sciatica and could not

lift more than ten pounds.

The sciatic nerve originates in the lower back and runs the

full extent of the leg.

When it is irritated or compressed, it becomes angry.

The nerve fires back by signalling pain, numbness and even

disruption of movement.

Sciatica is the painful loss of control.

My manager was polar opposite to those before her or my Mayo

angels, she informed me over the phone that I “was of no use to her

if I couldn’t lift patients.”

The response stung in the moment  but faded to relief.

I allowed my wee boy full range of my body until he arrived

with great joy in late September.

The next 5-6 years were a compressed period of losses and heartache.

This would be the second stripping away period in my life related less to my

identity but exposed the  faulty substance of my faith.

I had sciatica of the heart.

I felt mismatched in my career and had no tangible

control over the unending and crushing

circumstances of my life.

I frequently tidy our home when I am stressed.

If I can’t order my world, I can at least bring peace

to my surroundings.

On such a day, I uncovered old work files and casually

shuffled  through a decade worth of performance evaluations.

Without exception whether comments from colleagues or bosses,

the highest marks were not in my abilities as a clinician but

as a writer.

I could no longer ignore the words.

It was time to pay attention.

I had dropped my bookmark  and perhaps it had landed

safe and securely anchored in a life boat of words.

**********

To be continued…

This is the third post in a series titled A Work of Heart History.

You can read the other posts here and here.