Thursday, July 17, 2014

We Think You Are Rich

"Miss Katrina, we think you are rich," the little girl said, following me into my tiled kitchen.  "Are you?"

"No," I said instinctively. 

But confusion fogged my mind as I walked back out to the art room with her, where she and her sisters were painting and coloring on the floor.
The carpet was spread with pages of my old Wall Street Journals to catch stray globs. 
They asked me how I had a whole house to myself.
I made a reply about my church owning it first, which sort of meant nothing.

How easy it is to forget that rich is a subjective term! 

When I'm at the hospital, and I tell people I live on Brady Street, I don't feel rich.
When I'm on Brady Street, and tell people I work at the hospital, I do feel rich. 

Rich is a conundrum, like safe or cold or big.  
You can only make sense of these adjectives if there is an accepted standard of normal.
So who decides what is normal?
Brady Street?
Beverly Hills?
In my world, the accepted standard of normal changes with a 1/2 mile drive to work, or a 1/2 hour drive to church.
Then I come home, and I'm rich again. 

Which world is right? 
Who wrote these rules?  

And then I remember the words I read this morning. 

"Whoever would save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

That's what it means to be rich: to understand this impossible truth. 
You are rich if you tell God you will trust him when your life makes no sense.
You are rich if you do something you know is right, when you long to do something easier.
You are rich if you can sit on your porch in a torn chair and look up at the moon and be at peace.
You are rich if your heart spills over with joy that doesn't evaporate.
You are rich if you know you are right where God wants you to be.
You are rich if you have the strength to keep praying when you know God hasn't answered you yet.
You are rich when you realize that every possession, talent, or hour in your life is owned by God and could be reclaimed at any moment. 
You are rich if God gives you chances to share those hours, possessions, and talents.

This is the only rule that matters.
Those who can learn it can live it, I think, in any world.

"Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!" Romans 11:33

God, flood us!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ever Just the Same...Ever a Surprise!

"Ever just the same!
Ever a surprise!
Ever as before!
Ever just as sure as the sun will rise!

Tale as old as Time.....
Tune as old as song....
Bittersweet and strange!
Finding you can change!
Learning you were wrong!

It's just an old love song, from Walt Disney's Beauty and the Beast.  Why are love songs so popular?  I don't think they would be popular in a world where people actually experienced love constantly and completely.  Generally, I think people enjoy love songs because that is what they long for, rather than because that is what they experience.

As I fell in love with this song, I began to realize that there is only one relationship that meets the expectations of these lyrics: our relationship with God. 

Ever just the same!
Did you see notice that the sun rose again this morning?

Ever a surprise!  
Did you really look at the sunrise? I promise you the morning sun I saw on the St. Joseph's River has never been before, and never will be again!

Ever as before! Ever just as sure as the sun will rise!
In this wildly unstable world of economies and insurance and disappearing jets, we crave something...Someone....who will not change!

Tale as old as time...Tune as old as song!
He is not just as old as but older than both time and song!

Bittersweet and strange, finding you can change, learning you were wrong! 
And as we reach out and just touch the hem of his garment....just take one step toward him and toward a relationship with him...we find we can change....we learn we were wrong...we learn it was Satan that told us we were hopeless, and God--who is ever just the same--who tells us we can change.

To have a relationship with Someone who is always the same, yet always a surprise! Always consistent and stable, but always interesting and creative!

As we walk with him...we become like him!
More and more our lives become orderly and consistent (ever just the same!).
We become more interesting (ever a surprise!).
We laugh more, we love more!  We inspire the people around us (finding we can change!) learn
that when Satan told them that they could never change, He was wrong (learning we were wrong!).

All because we know the one who is....ever just the same....ever a surprise!

The human race has such a gift for doing things backwards. We think, Oh, our relationship with God should be like a good marriage, rather than thinking, Wouldn't it be awesome to have a human relationship that is similar to the relationship I have with God!

Is there any reason why this should not be possible?  Is there any rule that says that our relationship with God can't be the most motivating force in our lives, stronger than any other affection, interest, or love? Who made the rule that faith in a Person you cannot see is not enough to sustain us?

Just because it is the exception to the rule does not mean it is impossible... Just because people live for things and relationships that are less than God does not mean that it is out of the questions for God to be the most exciting reality in your life.  This kind of living is not well represented in our world today.

But I refuse to believe it is impossible.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Those Chariot Wheels of Fear

God didn't use 10 plagues to get me to start my new job. As I mentioned in my last blog, God has always made the final call about where I should work, and he's done so with drama...the failed polygraph, the 30 minutes-too-late phone call, etc.  This time, he used the giant fiberglass painted heart, my love of French toast, my friend Barb, the heart surgeon's assistant Christine, and my mom to make his point. I have no doubt--NOT ONE--that God wants me in this new position. 

They called me the day after I posted my last blog to offer me the job. I'm glad God reminded me to give thanks for his guidance in the past, before I got my new answer. 

Sometime I hope to tell you the whole French toast and heart surgeon and mom story, but that's not what's up today.  What's up today is that I'm standing on the edge of the Red Sea, and the Egyptian army is chasing me. I have three more nights left of my old job, and despite the excitement of the journey...despite that I know it's right and that it's a dream job come true and that I love to learn... I keep hearing the chariot wheels of fear.

I used to think I was brave. I took the train alone from Brooklyn to Manhattan without a fear.  I planned our trip to England.  I interviewed random people in tornado-ridden towns I had never visited before.  But I've come to realize that fears of other kinds have been my taskmaster for many years. 

I fear conflict.  I'd rather smooth everything over. 
I fear noise and chaos.  I'd rather be reading a book wrapped in a fuzzy blanket. Drinking tea.
I fear the unknown.  I'd rather stick with the old familiar paths.
I fear disappointing people. I'd rather not attempt than fail. 
I fear conversations.  I'd rather be blogging, where there's plenty of time to think things over.
I fear switching from night shift to day shift, because I always get feel sub-par for a week or two.
I fear day shift. I like the calm and peace of the night.
I fear introductions.  I have a dreadful time remembering people's names.

My new job involves everyone of those things.  

I wonder how Moses kept from panicking when he heard the wheels.

Moses said to the people: 
"The Egyptians [those fears!] whom you see today, 
you shall never see again. 
The Lord will fight for you, 
and you have only to be silent." 

How did Moses know?

A few days ago, I asked Christine, one of the people I will be working with: "Can you give me some calming words [about starting the new job]?" 

She looked thoughtful for a moment.

"No," she said. "You just have to start."

Exodus 14, God told Moses the same thing. "Why do you cry to me? Tell the people to go forward."

God had a great point.  The people had just seen all the wonderful miracles, and they were scared again.  I would never be like that.  Haha. 

Oh, God, help me to just keep walking down the seashore. I will think of the French toast. I will give thanks for the other miracles that brought me to this moment. I will remember the other times I faced conflict, and noise, and chaos (co-worker screaming in linen closet? co-worker crying about other co-worker? mentally ill patients?) and by the power you gave me, I faced those fears.  I will praise you out loud if need be to block out the sound of the wheels. God, I suspect you want to forever free me from those old fears that enslaved me and kept me from complete efficiency.

Perhaps this is the last time I will hear those wheels.

Katrina, how about a little reminder (God asked me) since you have such a hard time remembering to give thanks, even after I blanketed your life with blessings? Why don't we make your last night of work be Thanksgiving night?

I love God. He's awesome. He always thinks of the most ironic and interesting things. (Who but God would think of throwing French toast into a career decision?) So I'll be giving thanks this week, all the way up to Thanksgiving night, when I walk off of the shore, and step into the Red Sea.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mental Nicotine

Repainted many times. Not finished yet.

One night I muscled my 10-lb medical textbook out of my book case and turned to the heart section.  I read that if a smoker quits smoking, they can reverse the damage of 10 years of smoking in 1 year. 

Most people think that smoking effects your lungs, and it does, but it is also devastating to the heart.
I always knew that it would be good for smokers to quit smoking, but would it really help?  After all those years of damage, what's the use of stopping now? 

Like a smoker, many people have wasted hours, days, and years on mental cigarettes of fear, covetousness, pride, or anger. I think I tended to fear sometimes that following God would be boring and drab.  Certainly if God had given me what I deserved, he would have abandoned me long ago.  But somehow whenever I drop my cigarette of fear (or pride....or anger), there's God, ready to start the restoring process.  Sometimes I can almost physically feel his restoration pouring through my soul.

 If 40 years of smoking damage can be reversed in just 4 years, just because of the healing properties of the human heart, then I'm sure God's ability to restore our damaged immortal hearts must be even greater.

All we have to do is stop smoking.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The H-Word

"I had three sons," she said. 

I'm nosier than I used to be, because life is too short to not hear wisdom from wise people, especially old wise people.

It was the word had that made me pry. Had: the three-letter summary of enormous and chilling stories. The word had is used for times and people that are gone but cannot be forgotten.  It is used for important things.  If you have six eggs and you drop one, it's probably not important to you that you had six.  You only care that you now have five.  That one egg wasn't special to you.

Not so with enormous and chilling stories. The H-word is important in those. She could have said, "I have two sons," but no: she had three.

She pulled the white blanket around her thin body, over the IV and the small heart monitor box that she said was heavy.  Behind her the IV pump hummed out a rhythm. In front of her she saw memories.  She looked past me, where I had taken a seat on the window ledge for story time. She looked down the six floors to the river, and past Elkhart, all the way to the West Coast. 

He was an ambitious water and power man in California. He worked overtime and had become a supervisor. He was hoping to retire early. 

He was 54 when he walked into a building to inspect a newly installed "thing". She couldn’t remember what it was called, but the installation was faulty.  It exploded.  Her son had just enough time to throw his arm across his face before one side of his body burned to a crisp. 

He didn't die for three weeks. In fact when the doctor's discussed skin grafting, he suggested they make some changes to his nose while they were at it.  Then his wounds became infected. 

"That must have been a hard time for you," I said. 

"Well, even now…." she paused. She was crying.  "It's still hard." 

And I, the statue on the window ledge, was crying too.  I always stare in stunned silence at these noble strangers who share the most difficult moments of their lives in five minutes. 

I've learned two things from these wise people.  They always pick out the good things to focus on. And they don't try to say tacky things about why bad things happen. They don't have pat answers.

"Well, it's the way it happened," she said.  "And I still have two sons."

Help! How do you paint fabric folds?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Quiet Bullet Scars

Progress continues (somewhat feverishly) on the giant heart. 

My patient remembered that he woke up in Japan twice. Both time the bullets had been removed. He supposed by surgery, but he didn't know where or by whom. 

I had been the patient-- I'll call Marine-- if he had any surgeries in the past. His history was drab--the normal bouquet of joint replacements and ectomies of unnecessary parts and a few heart explorations or repairs.

Then Marine said, "I had two bullets taken out of me too." He smiled when my eyes jumped off the computer screen and over to him. He shrugged, like removing bullets was as common as taking off his socks.

He received one in Vietnam and one in Korea.

So I guess everyone with bullet scars talks about them like this, I decided. Marine was the second nonchalant bullet-scarred person I had met on the heart floor. The other was not a patient. He was sitting at the foot of his mother's bed at midnight, just being there for her.  I logged onto my computer and began to chart his mother's condition and information. 

"Do you wear oxygen at home usually?" I asked her. 

"No," Son said.  Mom was a bit hard of hearing.  "I'm the one who should be wearing oxygen," he chuckled.  "Doc told me to wear it 24 hours a day."

"Oh, why's that?" I asked, hitting tab on my keyboard to move through the fields on my screen.

"Lung disease." 

Painting names of local towns.
Smoker, I thought, hitting tab again.  I backed out of the conversation, not wanting to make him confess his smoking problem.

"They took out a piece of my lung," he went on.

"Oh…..cancer?" I asked, striking tab again.  I didn't have time to offer sympathy to a non-patient.

"No, a bullet."

I quit hitting the tab key and turned to face him. 

"Was….the bullet...intentional?" I stammered stupidly.

"Oh yes.  All four of them."

It was over 30 years ago in a 7-11 close to the Mexican border. Son was the lone third shift clerk.  Young people did not carry cell phones back then.  

In this region of the Southwest, the style among gangs was to work their way through town, holding up one gas station after the other.  Even small gains added up by the end of the night. 

The gangster burst in, demanding money from the safe.  He marched Son to the safe at gunpoint.  Son did not know the combination.  He fumbled with the lock. He could feel the barrel nosing his neck.  With a burst of inspiration, he leaped to his feet, twisting away from the gun, which of course went off. Twice. In the scuffle, the gun clattered to the floor, and Son leaped across the room behind the thick walls of the walk-in cooler.  Gangster ran out the door.

The blood was trickling. Son opened the cooler door.  Gangster, angry at the turn of events, ran back in.  Son retreated through the door, but he was weak and slow. 

"Elkhart" is the focal point of town names to symbolize the hospital.
He woke up on the floor outside the cooler door, with four bullet wounds: one in his knee, one through his arm, one in his upper back and one in his lower back. 

In that era, Elkhart county housewives didn't commonly fly cross-country on short notice.  But Son's mother leaped on the nearest jet and came to sit at the end of his hospital bed. The doctor told Son that he was lucky the bullet was in his right upper chest.  There is no heart in the right upper chest, only a lung, which is somewhat more disposable than a heart.

The gunman was never found.  

Lesson #2: If you have bullet scars, refer to them in an off-hand manner.  :)

I wonder who else in my life is hiding bullet wounds... 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Fiberglass and Flesh: The Story of Hearts

Preface:  New job at the hospital on the heart floor. New project painting a large heart for a hospital fundraiser. Learning lessons from both. My own heart colored by my patients on the heart floor as I color the heart statue.

LESSON ONE: any situation can be made fun.
Being in the hospital with heart problems is no one's idea of fun. No one belongs there. 

There are many different kinds of patients on the heart floor. The ones who belong the least are those who were out playing golf, attending a class, washing dishes, or just getting out of bed, when this thing called "chest pain" hit. 

"Chest pain" is a fuzzy term.  If someone's chest hurts, it doesn't mean they are having a heart attack. They might not even be having a heart problem.  It could be that they pulled a muscle or ate something too spicy.

But here's the problem. It could be a heart attack. How do you know?

By the time a patient arrives on our floor, they've been sitting and waiting in the emergency, hoping they can go home. Instead of going home they get told they'll be spending the night in the hospital on the sixth floor and they will have further testing in the morning.  By the time I (the "night nurse") arrive on the floor, it's 11 o'clock at night and family members have gone home to bed. The patients, who were living their normal lives 12 hours before, are alone on the 6th floor of the hospital.  

Maybe they have heart problems.  Maybe they don't. They won't know until morning. 

They are wearing a ridiculous gown.  They have six foamy stickers stuck to their chest, wired to a little monitor box that sits in a special pocket in the front of their breezy gown.  They're told to call the nurse before they get out of bed. They're told to pee in a container and let the nurse flush it.  

All of this is bad enough in a private room.  But if the heart floor is busy, which is almost always, the patient may have a roommate.  There is potential for loud snoring, constant TV shows, or bright lights across the curtain.  Some people refuse to have a roommate and create a scene in the hall until someone finds them a private room.

 The 5-foot tall heart made of fiberglass and steel was delivered by two tall well-cologned men in dress pants who probably aren't delivery men in their normal lives.

After nearly trapping their box truck in the alley they returned to the door I didn't want them to use and unloaded the cardboard-swaddled heart. It was raining. I stood in the rain out of loyalty to the cause although I was basically useless from a practical standpoint.   

They told me the hearts were made in Chicago with a special mold. The special mold had been developed by San Francisco General hospital for their heart fundraiser.  I guess they didn't mind sharing the mold and the idea with a small mid-western town. 

One night one of our patients was an elderly gentleman I'll call Jack.

I saw him sitting there at the foot of his roommate's bed when I first arrived. He wasn't my patient. Jack looked like a family member, but I knew he wasn't because he was wearing a gown under his windbreaker, and carting around an IV pole.  I heard that he had developed chest pain during his morning tennis workout.

It was almost midnight but they were just shooting the breeze. Twenty-four hours before, neither one was expecting to be there. Both were scheduled for frightening procedures in the morning. Both were peeing in plastic containers and wearing ridiculous gowns and carrying heart monitors in their gown pockets. They talked for a long time, about their hearts and what they were facing in the morning, about their jobs, about their lives.

I saw Jack out making laps a few hours later, striding up the hall beside his IV pole.

"So you're the tennis player?"

"I've been called a lot of things, but never a tennis player," he chuckled. "I play tennis.  There's a subtle difference."  

I laughed, and he went back to his room.  His roommate was awake. The next thing I saw, there they were again, chatting like it was guys' night out fishing, waiting for a bite. 

I'll probably never see Jack again.  But I learned from Jack that it's possible to go from player on the tennis court to patient on the heart floor-- in a double room-- without losing your chuckle. 

Lesson One: Anything can be made fun. 

After the heart was unwrapped and toweled dry and the box truck and cologne scent had eased away, I corralled my aunt for a trip to Lowe's. Lowe's is a place I definitely don't belong.  (How do I know if I want satin or flat?)  So it's best for me to not go there alone. With the help of my aunt, I managed to buy a gallon of paint, a foam roller, and a 9 foot by 12 foot plastic drop cloth. 

Fiberglass and Flesh..... the story of hearts, to be continued, with updates on the progress of the fiberglass heart and more wisdom from the heart floor.