Challenged by Muslims

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Yesterday I was part of a school activity for our class on cultural perspectives.  We visited the Islamic Community Center of Lancaster and interacted with a few Muslim women who talked to us about being Muslim in our community and also explained some of the basic tenets of their faith.  I went there with the thought of being educated on what it’s like to be a Muslim but I did not go expecting to be challenged by them in my own walk of faith.

One of the Pakistani ladies who spoke to us was so vibrant regarding her faith.  The excitement of worshiping her Allah radiated off her face and permeated her words.  She was so excited that there was an app on her phone to show her which way was facing east no matter where she is currently.  No matter what she is doing, she is very punctual with her prayers five times a day.  And to her it’s not a burdensome requirement, it’s a personal privilege to be able to do that.  She repeatedly said that faith practices are about a personal journey and choices; it should never be about requirements and have-to’s.

In listening to her, I realized that for most of my life I’ve been approaching my faith journey as 50% have-to’s and about 50% of personal want-to’s.  And I began to envy her enthusiasm for her faith and her dedication to the worship of her Allah out of a heart of pure desire untainted by drudgery.  If I’m honest with myself I have to admit I’ve never had that level of dedication to my God.  But I want that kind of pure desire of worshiping my God.  In fact, I crave that joy of faith.

Another lady who was there was an American who was raised in a Christian home. I was curious as to her story and personal journey of faith.  And so I asked her what drew her to the Islamic faith.  Her response was intriguing.  She said what drew her was the fact that the Muslims incorporated their faith into every area of their life.  It’s not just about Sunday morning rituals and church rules.  It’s about every day living out the tenets of their faith, practical applications of the five pillars of Islam.  It saddened me that Christianity didn’t have the same connotation for her.  What stood out to me is that she embraced what was calling her even though it meant strained family relationships and the breakdown of her marriage.  Her eyes looked at peace and happy and eyes don’t lie.  She said two years ago she finally came to terms that life is short and finally you have to take that step and come into the space of being on the outside who you’ve known all along you are on the inside no matter the cost.  I asked her if she wears her hijab all the time or just for worship like some of the ladies said they do.  She said with the recent tensions and biases toward the Muslims since the election, she decided she wants to visibly identify herself as Muslim.  Because she said she realized that she was taking the chicken way out since who would guess a blond American woman as being Muslim so now she wears her hijab all the time.  thBN12HE0M

The way she was all in with her faith really challenged me and convicted me.  I currently am struggling with my faith journey and feel at odds within myself and the outward expressions of my faith.  I realized that I too need to take that step and say, “this is who I am and this is where I am currently”.  Pretending to be someone that I’m not and believe something that I don’t only heightens the tension within and is not conducive to really living out my faith before God.  The fact that when I look at my eyes, I don’t see the peace and joy radiating like I saw in her, jolted me to face reality.  Is this space going to be easy to step into?  Absolutely not!  But the question that I’m now wrestling with is this – do I have the kind of strong desire to enhance my relationship with Jesus that I’ll take that hard leap and follow the beckoning of my God?  No matter the cost, no matter what others say.  Regardless if others feel they know better how God is calling me.  Regardless if others try to make me doubt the calling of God.

Is this process/journey going to take time?  Yes, because no genuine journey is easy and streamlined.  Seeking the true God and following his calling is at first a wilderness experience.  And there’s difficult, dry times of feeling lost and alone.  Times when you question the direction you’re headed; times when you lose the sound of the voice of God.

But I firmly believe there’s also times of reaching an oasis just when needed to be able to keep on.  Wells of refreshment where Jesus is sitting and waiting to talk with me.  And so I keep taking one step at a time and I cling desperately to the hope that the wilderness ends, the journey becomes vibrant.  And one day, I too will have confident peace and vibrant joy that invites others to enter into the challenges of their faith journey.

 

 

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Kept Taut by Hope

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I was reading from Colossians 1 in the Message yesterday when these words gripped me:  “The lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack, tightly tied as they are to your future in heaven, kept taut by hope.”

Am I alone in feeling like sometimes those lines of purpose in my life are so taut I’m holding my breath waiting for them to snap, the ends zinging past my ear?

Am I alone in feeling like sometimes they are taut and yet I feel like I’m walking a tightrope that’s about to go slack preceding the inevitable fatal plunge?

What does it mean to believe that the lines of purpose never go slack, but they stay just the right amount of taut measured by hope?  I don’t know about you but I have to go back a step further.

To look at the words “lines of purpose in your lives”.  When I think of lines, I think of order, of boundaries, of clear linear definitions.  When I think of taut ropes, I think of the thick ropes tying a boat fast to the dock, the cable pulled taut when the anchor reaches the bottom, or the belay rope as a tight safety mechanism for the mountain climber.

But what do I do with the dichotomy in my life?  To be told I have lines of purpose in my life that don’t grow slack and yet to feel tangled and chaotic.  To feel as though the rope slipped off the dock tie, leaving me unmoored at sea.  To feel as though the anchor never reached bottom.  To feel as though my belay buddy has left go of my safety rope as a I climb my way up this cliff called life.

How do you follow the boundaries of lines guiding you when all you see is the chaotic tangle of doubts?  How do you follow the clear definitions of purpose when you’re wandering in the darkness of doubts?

How do you believe in the safety of heaven’s belay rope when you don’t feel the tightly tied future?  How do you moor yourself with the anchor of hope when you don’t see the cable you tossed out grow taut?

How do I abandon my fears to walk the tightrope of Purpose kept taut by the Hope of my future in heaven?

Silence Louder than Chaos

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There’s a quote that hangs in my sunroom:

“Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God”.

But what of those times when you are silent and yet there is no whisper of God to be heard? What of the sense of betrayal your heart feels?  What of the desperation and despair your heart is left to sink into?  What of the awful inner voices unleashed in the presence of the silence?  What of the turmoil that knocks you off your feet while you’re standing on holy ground?  What of the heaviness of your sins that weighs you down, pressing your knees even further into the floor as you gaze up at the figure of Jesus hanging there on the cross in the pain that you inflicted on him?  What of the silence that cuts your heart open more than the chaos of daily living?

I attended a silent retreat last weekend.  I went with great anticipation of a peaceful rejuvenating experience.  But as I left, peace eluded me and yet gratefulness for the experience washed over my soul.

I entered the hushed halls of the spiritual retreat and my soul breathed a sigh of relief on that Friday night.  Peace was there to be found but not an ocean of peace like I had expected.  Instead peace came in fragments, just enough to keep me searching, keep me present in the silence.

I pleaded with God for just a breath of His presence to enfold me if even for a brief moment.  When my heart woke me at 0400 each morning, was it my inner restlessness or was it the invitation of the Spirit moving over me in my room?  When leaves danced in front of me as I walked in silence, might it have been the passing of the breath of God?  When the wind sighed through the pines, was it God moving through nature telling me he was here?  When the sun shone bright on my face, was it the presence of God inviting my soul into his warmth?

As the turmoil increased in the wake of the silence I entered into, my instinct response was anger with God.  How dare he be silent when I had intentionally put aside time wherein to seek his face?  Where was he now that I was sitting in silence asking him to reveal himself to me?  Was he not interested in me and the desires of my heart?  Didn’t his heart ache for me and the pain I was feeling ever increasingly while in the silence?  If he couldn’t honor my silence, would he react to my anger that dared him to reveal himself to me?  Where was his promise to remember me as a mother remembers her child?

The question was asked, “what is it that you are so afraid of?”.  And in that moment I heard a voice say, “Come”.  “Come sit with Me.  Come and learn of my grace.  Come and be, just be in My presence.”

I recoiled in fear. “I can’t come and sit in Your presence, Jesus.  I am too unworthy.  I am too unlovable.  I have rejected You too often; You can’t possibly want to get to know me!”

At the close of the weekend, I sat in silence and listened to the prayer of Psalm 46 be read over me in blessing, in Lectio Divina.  And once again, the word “Come” gripped me and something within my reluctant heart broke in response to the gentle, relentless invitation.

Again another question was asked of me, “If you were in a season of being able to pray and converse with God, what is that you most desire of him; what is it that you would ask of him?”  My answer from the heart was instant – “Peace even amid this turmoil, this season of pain I am in presently”.  The peace that comes of knowing that he is patient with me. He won’t disown me in this time of my anger at him, my reluctance to draw near to him in intimacy.  The kind of peace that invades the questions and doubts ripping my soul wide open.  Peace that flows through me like a river in this desert time of wandering.  Peace that enfolds me tenderly in the struggle.

The silence of the weekend seemed to unleash the turmoil of the soul typically kept at bay through the chaos of daily living.  And in the shouts of that silence, I felt betrayed by the One whose face I seek.  But yet in gratitude I look upon that time of silence as a way of awakening within me a need to practice the spiritual discipline of expectant silence in the Presence of God.  For the Intimate One of my soul cannot break his promise of being found by those who are sincere in seeking his Presence.

The Space

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The noise around me, scary and loud

No escape, no respite

Or so it would have me believe.

And yet my soul whispers a different tune

Soft and confident, the whisper tells me there’s more.

More to this life than noise and chaos,

More to this life than drive and performance,

More to this life than success and desire,

More to this life than money and greed.

 

Alarm clock rings and off I go to yet another round,

Watching the clock tick, I ready myself for yet another rat race.

Rush out the door, beat the clock to my destination,

Urge the traffic on, tap my steering wheel in frustration

Hurry into work, punch the clock,

Go, go, go all day long.

Slave to the clock, mistress of time and accomplishment.

 

Hour after hour, day after day my soul breathes less.

My heart beats slower and life passes me by:

The dance of my dog when I walk in the door,

The whinny of my horse when I enter the barn,

The smell of hay and shavings, the velvet kiss of a horse

The call of birds, the rustle of leaves

The blue of the sky and the howl of the wind,

The sunrise pink and the purple of sunset

The wafting scent of coffee and the comfort of a bowl of soup

The melt of chocolate in my mouth, the cool of ice cream rich on my tongue

The soft warmth of blankets as I sleep,

The lyrics and beat of the music,

All these little things, day by day, I barely sense.

I rush and run and stress until my senses dull and my life is a mess.

 

But then…

I dare to stop.

I dare to be.

And I dare to listen.

 

I come to The Space

Where mercy and love breathe gently on me

And I remember.

My soul remembers who it is created to be

And there with my Creator, my Lover, I am the me I’m meant to be.

Not the me who keeps up with society

But the me who comes and sits with the Trinity.

 

Me, the image of God,

Who breathes in the miracle of living, playful and peaceful,

Who feels freedom and is set free:

Free from the demands, the rules

Free from expectations, from religion

Free from performance and approval, decorum and tradition.

In this Space I’m free to just be.

No judgment, no threat of rejection.

Here, where Jesus sits and welcomes me home.

This Space, home to my soul and refuge for my heart.

 

This Space…

My people,

My journey,

My hope and vulnerability,

Mercy and grace gifted to my soul,

Honesty, brutal and raw, messy and real,

Forgiveness for failures and Love extended to all,

Found here.

Here in this Space.

 

Let Your Loved One Go

Dear Family of a Stroke Victim,

To you it may seem that the medical personnel taking care of your loved one are giving up fighting for the man you see lying there in the hospital bed.  When we hold gentle meetings with you telling you with great tact and empathy that for the sake of your loved one, we recommend that you change his status from Full Code (no holds barred if his heart stops and he stops breathing) to DNR (do not resuscitate).  Please for his sake, let him go when his body says its time to go.  Just because that purple DNR band is on his wrist, trust me when I say this does not color our care of him.  My promise to you, as his loved ones, is this: I will still treat him with utmost care.  I will give him the gentle touch and the dignity that I give to all my patients.  He won’t suffer, that’s my pact to you.

I know it frustrates you that we see the broken shell of the man you know as a being full of vitality. I know reality is hard to face and hope is much easier to cling to than to face grieving permanent loss.  I know every second you are with him, you search his every move, you watch his eyes willing him with every fiber of your being to morph back into the man you know he once was.  This ogre called a stroke – it’s infuriating.  I want to beat it to a pulp right along with you.  Every stroke victim breaks my heart.  Every time I see another family’s loved one claimed by a stroke, inside I cry.  I carry on strong because of you searching my face, listening to the tone of voice I use when I talk to you about your loved one lying there, critiquing my body language, my touch when I’m taking care of your loved one.  I carry on strong because you deserve my full attention and you deserve my gentle honesty at the present time.   I carry on strong because I honor your hope that you cling to but my duty to you for your sake is to gently lead you to the place where you begin to face reality so you can be prepared when the inevitable happens.  I carry on strong because I remember the nurses that carried on strong for me and my family.

But dear family of my stroke victim patient,  what I don’t tell you is this: I’ve been there.  I’ve been beside the bed of my loved one, looking at a broken shell of a man who was my superhero. Even though I was a grown woman, I still believed my dad was invincible.  I too thought that we were giving up on him too soon.  I didn’t want to face reality; I wanted to hang on to hope that just maybe that silent shell lying in front of me would somehow morph into who I knew my dad to be if only I just willed him to with every fiber of my being.  Did I mention each stroke victim patient I have breaks my heart?  That’s because my heart is still broken and a fragile kind of healed from my loss.  And looking at it from the other side, I am so grateful for the medical personnel who gently led us to the place of letting go.

What you hear me say is, “Please consider what your loved one would want.”  And we tell you what the outlook is for a victim of this major of a stroke.  It’s a long haul that most likely will never lead to quality of life for your loved one.  I tell you to consider your loved one’s wishes because if you do what you want in the emotional moment, perhaps later you will wonder just what you’ve done to your loved one.  That’s what you hear me say to you.  But I want to tell you that yes, it tears you apart to agree to let him go when he’s ready but in the big picture it’s what is merciful to him.  Yes, it hurts to the bone to have him gone, but at the same time you let him go – you didn’t force him to stay on just for your sake even though life is not even a mere fraction of what he enjoyed before the stroke put it’s claws around him.

We know your emotions are shouting the loudest right now.  That’s why we are here by your side.  That’s why we give you our professional recommendation.  No we aren’t heartless.  It pains us to have these conversations.  You don’t see us crying in our cars on our way home after our shift.  You don’t see us lie awake when sleep won’t come, thinking about your loved ones CT scans, brain MRIs, diagnoses and prognosis.  We hurt for you, dear family.  So again I plead with you, let your loved one go.  Let us give him his dignity in leaving this world.  Please don’t make us break his ribs to brutally bring him back when his body says it’s done.  Please, I beg of you, let us care for him gently in his last days of life.  Let us give him the respect and the loving care that he deserves.  But please don’t make us bring back this shell of a man.  It breaks our hearts to bring back a shell of a person when we know there is no quality of life.  But alas, our duty is to respect the family’s wishes so when you call us at midnight to request that we return his status to a full code, we will do so.  But it breaks our hearts in a way that is hard for you to understand.  

To you we may appear heartless, but truth is our hearts are so bruised from the pain we absorb for all our patients and their families.  The heaviness in our hearts goes with us when we walk out the door at the end of  a long shift.  Please don’t write us off as not caring – our duty to you is to carry on strong even when it breaks us to pieces.

At the end of the day, with tears threatening to spill, I beg of you let your loved one go.

–Your Loved One’s Nurse

To Know and Be Known

“Know me and you’ll know the Father,” Jesus said.

“Know the truth and the truth will set you free”

“My sheep know My voice and they follow Me.”

What does it mean to know in my heart, not just in my head???

Like the woman at the well, all my sins and secrets Jesus can tell.

Like the woman dragged to Him, Jesus says my soul He doesn’t condemn.

My jaded heart, it says I dare not trust. “Keep your guard up,” it insists.

I don’t know how to just be;

I think I need to do, do, do but it’s never enough for my Father to love me.

He’s so holy and perfect and just,

I can never be enough.

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“Come to Me and I will give you rest,” Jesus says.

But I don’t know how to lean on Him and rest.

On high alert I’m always ready to run

“Protect yourself,” my head demands.

But my heart way down deep yearns

To stay and rest.  Learn to love and be loved.

To talk to my Father, not in stilted fear

But freely speak as best of friends.

Like a Lover, my God pursues.

His Mercy, His Love, they never run out.

My name is engraved on the palm of His hands.

With compassionate arms open wide He stands

Ready to delight in me, to sing His love song over me.

PEACE – that’s what it means to KNOW in my HEART, not just in my head.

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A Modern Day Psalm of Lament

I’m down on my knees

Trying to believe God sees

Past the clenched fists to the sobbing heart

Past the clenched jaw to the words that tear me apart

Words that won’t let go.

They dig their claws into the sides of my throat

Stacking up on each other till I’m sure I’m going to blow.

Feelings all locked up with unspoken words on guard

Making the softening heart turn hard.

The mocking voices hissing in my head

Telling me to give it up.

God doesn’t want to hear me so just STOP –

Stop trying to get close to God.

He’s never going to want me too near.

He’s not interested in my tears.

Silent sobs drowning out the words

Words that finally come but sound so empty.

God, why do You look away from me?

Where are You, God?

I’m sinking fast don’t You see?

I’m lost and all alone

Screams trapped inside me

Satan’s minions circling

Teeth bared, eyes gleaming

Ready to tie me up and carry me off

Off to a hell of my own making

Off to a place so dark I’ll never see the light of day

Off to a place so far from You I fear I’ll never find my voice.

God I need You now more than ever, can’t You tell?

My soul’s weary of being Satan’s easy sell.

God, please stoop down and make Yourself known.

Reach Your hand into mine and tell me You’ve heard my heart all along.

When an Arc of Vomit Is God’s Miracle

In the belly of a fish…

How much lower can I sink?

Acid swirling round; the fish or my soul – which has the most stink?

Gastric contents churning, burning my flesh, stinging my eyes.

Anger, pride, fear, hopelessness  mock me amidst all my whys.

Hours creep by, there is no rescue in sight.

No distress call to humans possible, no hope for respite.

Agonizing minutes tick slowly by

As I look my inevitable death in the eye.

But then God…

God whispers to me amidst the gurgling sounds of death by slow digestion.

He comes to me with gentle question.

“Why, Jonah, why did you run from Me?

I love you and I have dreams for you, don’t you see?

I never meant for you to be in agony of disobedience, in the throes of indigestion.

My plans for you are commands not mere suggestion.

Cry out to me, bend your knees and repent.

My rescue and mercy I’ve already sent.”

I looked around and all I could see is entrapment.

Trapped in my choices, my pride, my resentment.

But at last I bent my knees and I prayed.

Prayed for God to do whatever it takes to get me out.

And suddenly I’m arcing through the air, dripping with fishy stomach contents.

Stinky, smelly, soaked in juices I didn’t even want to think about.

But there I lay on dry land, redeemed.

Granted a second chance I didn’t deserve.

Three long days drowning in the acid of hell

And finally I understood God’s love in a way I could truly tell.

 

When Nurses Cry

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It was a night of death.  My supervisor said if the patient’s allowed to die then there’s no reason I can’t take an admission, putting my patient census up to seven under my care. She said people die, we don’t save them all – we can’t.  She said this patient’s in a better place dying than to lie there suffering.  She said “she’s 96, she’s lived a full life.”

But I said, “I’m a nurse, if I can’t save them then I should be able to show them the respect they deserve at the end of their life.”  I may not bring healing solution but I should be able to give my comforting presence during their last moments on earth.  I said, “I’m not that nurse that isn’t affected by my patient’s death even if I’ve only met them a short time ago.”

And if my emotions are due to me being a new nurse, like the supervisor said, then I don’t want to leave the bracket of “new nurse”.  I said my emotions, though not hindering my duties, are valid because this patient – she’s somebody’s companion of 50 years, somebody’s mother, sweet grandmother and great-grandmother.  She’s not some shell of a body lying on a bed struggling to breath and losing touch with reality – she’s somebody’s loved one – she’s each of us or our loved ones at some point in time.

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The supervisor seemed to think I should just take this death in stride and carry on with adding patients to my care.  But I was already short changing my other patients and I hadn’t even had time to collect my thoughts after my first patient to die under my care had drawn his last breath a few hours ago.  A voice inside me taunted, trying to make me believe that I’m too sensitive and I should be able to do my job unaffected by death.

But I want to be that nurse that is hurting with the patient, with the family.  I want to be that nurse that’s not afraid to stand with the family and shed tears in silence acknowledging the hurt, the loss, the grief.  I want to care enough to hug the family and tell them I’m so sorry.  I want to be able to hold the hand of the dying when they have no one who cares enough to be there with them in their last moments.  I don’t want my patient on comfort care and a morphine drip whose breathing is getting increasingly worse to have to die feeling all alone because I had to abandon them in their last moments because I’ve been given too many patients to be able to be provide full compassionate care.

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When nurses cry, they cry because they are human.  They are not some kind of superhero incapable of feeling emotional fatigue.  They have loved ones too and most likely they have seen their loved ones reach the end of their life here on earth.  When nurses cry, they cry because each patient is a personal investment claiming a piece of their nurse’s emotions, thoughts, and heart.  When nurses cry, they shed tears for many more patients and families than the current one.  When nurses cry, they cry for humankind; they cry for the brokenness they see every hour of every shift; they cry for the sadness they carry home at the end of each shift because there’s so many hurting people they come in contact with.  When nurses cry, they don’t become less of a professional.  When nurses cry, they loom larger than life and become the heart of nursing worldwide.

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Peripheral Neuropathy & Necrosis

Yes I know this is not the most appealing of titles so kudos to you for even moving beyond the title!  These are medical conditions I run across quite frequently in the patient population of which I am involved in the care.  Peripheral neuropathy is the loss of nerve endings or gradual nerve damage that begins in the toes and fingers, most often affecting the toes and legs first.  It is especially prevalent in those who have a history of diabetes and especially uncontrolled diabetes meaning that they were non-compliant with treatment options.  Necrosis is a much more serious condition in which there no longer is blood flow to the body parts and they eventually die.  Necrotic toes are one of the more disturbing things I’ve stumbled across in my career to date.

The other week I had a patient who was very non-compliant with his diabetes regimen and had uncontrolled blood sugar.  He came to the ER with a blood sugar in the 500 to 600 range.  An ideal blood sugar is 70 to 100, but can get as high as 180 before we start administering insulin.  His daughter persuaded him to come in because she came to spend the holidays with him and noticed a toe was missing and that others were turning black.  The story was he noticed his toe beginning to fall off because it had become completely necrotic so he cut it off the rest of the way.  The surrounding tissue was infected and he had  a major diabetic ulcer on the top of his foot and two other toes were completely black with the tissue continuing to die off continuing up the foot.  The smell of rotting flesh was overpowering and one had to be very careful when changing the dressing of the infected area that in unwrapping the gauze, you wouldn’t inadvertently cause the dying toes to fall off.  Because of his peripheral neuropathy and dying tissue, he mercifully had no pain with any of it.  But still you would think that there would be a psychological aspect to the act of cutting off one’s body part even if there was no pain involved.

This patient’s condition stuck with me and kept niggling in my brain how there is a lesson in all of that for me.  I’m still not sure if I can piece it all together.  The questions that kept coming back to me is the question of how non-compliant am I with the condition of my heart?  Do I have peripheral neuropathy going on in my spiritual life?  Worse still, is there parts of my soul that are completely necrotic?  Am I guilty of cutting off sections of me that I fear are turning black?  Where am I losing feeling and not even caring enough to go for intervention of my own volition?  Do I recognize the blackness creeping in and name it for what it is?  Is the smell of rotting flesh in the air around me?  Do others attempt to help me redress the wounds that I have but fear the falling off of parts of me that are dead?

Spiritual neuropathy to me looks like a numbness to God’s Word.  A loss of nerves sensitive to God’s voice and leading in my life.  A heart that is damaged by my non-compliance to daily maintenance of my sin-sick condition with which I was born.  To actively look for necrotic areas in my heart is a fearful proposition for me.  To do vasculature repair and return blood flow to the areas allowed to become necrotic is a painful solution.  But without oxygenated blood, those areas of my heart will only turn blacker and die a little more each moment.  To allow Jesus to breathe life into those areas that I’ve tried my hardest to cut off from me so they no longer hurt, it seems too big of a risk.  Necrosis of dreams squashed because I was scared of failure, love held back because I feared rejection, joy tamped down because I was afraid of sorrow.  Neuropathy creeping in because the harsh realities of life numbed my sensitive heart, the heart that I shrank from taking care of because sensitivity equaled weakness in my dictionary.

Which will I choose: neuropathy numbing me into necrosis or life lived with abandon breathing love and delight into every part of me?