Dear Senator

 

July 14, 2017

Dear Senator,

Last year, I gave birth to my first child. In the same year, the maternal mortality rate in TN was 26 deaths per 100,000 births. My own husband told me, “That doesn’t seem too high.” But when you consider that TN has one of the highest rates in the nation, a nation whose maternal mortality rate is higher than any other developed nation, it suddenly seems absurd. I didn’t know when I got pregnant or went into labor how dangerous it still is just to have a baby in the United States. I assumed, like we all do, that pregnancy related deaths were rare. If you’ve been reading the news lately, especially here in Nashville, you might have noticed maternal deaths are not as rare as we thought. I am hoping to have more children, but when I think about the fact that I am 3 to 6 times more likely to die here than I would be in comparable western countries, I can’t help but pause and seriously consider the risks to being a child-bearing woman in the US.

With my employer provided insurance, I had the advantage of being able to receive adequate pre-natal and post-partum care without having to choose between that or putting food on the table or buying clothes for my rapidly growing daughter. If I had a concern or question during pregnancy or those early infant months, I didn’t have to wait in fear for my life or my child’s life because I couldn’t afford to go see the OB or pediatrician. I just went, and had peace of mind. So even though I still paid hundreds in medical bills after my daughter’s birth, even with insurance, here I am now, relatively financially stable. Having a baby didn’t tank us financially. However, my normal, healthy pregnancy and delivery costs of nearly $10,000 would not have been affordable without insurance.

How sad it is for so many other mothers that such a joyful celebration of life can also be the cause of financial collapse. That is why I’m speaking out today. For thousands of child-bearing women in TN alone to lose their coverage because of the Senate’s healthcare legislation is unconscionable. These are not numbers to be sacrificed on the altar of a balanced budget. These are children of God who at this point in time in this great country cannot afford their healthcare costs without insurance. As a United Methodist pastor and Nashville faith leader, I have a duty to my congregation, my community, and my city, to condemn any action that would cause women just like me to be overrun by medical debt when they are already risking their very lives just to birth a child.

When I hear people argue that those who want insurance should find jobs that provide it, I think of my many hard-working family members that do not have employer provided insurance plans. My husband, father, father-in-law, brother, brother-in-law, and sister all rely on spouses or the marketplace for their plans. They are all hard-working individuals in fields they love and feel called to. I also think about the many individuals I see walk through my church needing assistance with basic necessities like gas and groceries, beloved children of God with diabetes, kidney failure, chronic back pain, and other illnesses who rely on Medicaid to be able to get the help they need. These are not lazy people. In my experience, they often work 2 to 3 jobs, just to pay rent and keep the lights on.

Regardless of one’s employment or economic status, the United Methodist Social Principles state that healthcare is a basic human right, not a privilege for those who can afford it, no matter if they’re in the career of their dreams, or in a job just to make the rent payment this month, or even sacrificing a job all together because they can’t afford childcare. It is a responsibility for all of us to ensure that our neighbors, the ones we have been charged by our Lord Jesus Christ to love as ourselves, have access to adequate and affordable healthcare. Period. No qualifiers.

Ezekiel 34 deals harshly with those leaders who do not care for their poor: “You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.” Senator, do not be a harsh ruler, but shepherd your flock with great care and concern for their health and wellness. I pray to the Lord that it will be so.

Sincerely,

Rev. Shelby Lucas Slowey

 

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I’ve Got The Joy… Somewhere by Steve Parris

Check out the Hipster Ginger’s guest blogger today. Steve writes about searching for joy and it certainly brought some joy into my own mundane day today.

THE HIPSTER GINGER

THIS IS NOT A DRILL MY DAD WROTE A BLOG POST.

This might be my favorite thing that has ever happened. Guys. My dad is seriously incredible and I am so incredibly honored/blessed/lucky to have him as my dad, mentor, and constant source of love and support. I am so excited to share his wisdom with you.

A few notes to keep in mind when talking to or reading Steve Parris. First, “Jiminy Cricket” is his way of swearing around small children, which is hilarious to me because using a character that tells you to let your conscious be your guide as a substitute for a bad word seems counter intuitive but it is actually brilliant. Second, he wrote the word asshole, I did not! Third, my dad is, well, like me in that he’s a bit verbose. But please please please read the whole thing. This guy is incredible…

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Meeting the Pioneer Woman

I came across The Pioneer Woman while I was in college. A few of my sorority sisters were obsessed with her, and I quickly learned why. “An accidental country girl,” the famous blogger was charming, humorously self-deprecating, humble, and honest in her writing, recipes, and photography. When she got her own Food Network show in 2011, I quickly became a regular watcher. She once spoke to my soul while making a pie crust on the show; it came out less than perfect and she said, “It’s not ugly. It’s just rustic. That’s what I always say if something’s not perfect. Now it’s rustic!” Oh Ree, this rustic girl sure needed to hear that!

I bought her book, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime a few years ago. I admit rather shamefully I’ve never really used it. It sits in a place of privilege on my piano because it’s just so pretty.

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Last week, her new children’s book, Little Ree, came out. Of course I wanted a copy for my daughter. I was at Parnassus Books with Scarlett a few weeks ago for Saturday story time, and I learned The Pioneer Woman herself, Ree Drummond, would be coming for a book signing! I was so thrilled because as anyone who watches Ree on Food Network or reads any of her stuff will know, she seems like the best friend you don’t have yet. She is my imaginary best friend. I just knew she would meet me and quickly invite me and Scarlett to the ranch to come and play with the cows, chow down on some cowboy grub, and then bring a potluck dish to church Sunday morning.

Anyway, fantasies aside, the evening of the book signing came, and my little heart just pitter-pattered all day. When Scarlett and I arrived a full hour early, the place wasn’t yet overly crowded. But as women and children began trickling in, all hoping for a photo with the star, it soon became somewhat suffocating. But your favorite introvert toughed it out. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to have dreams meet reality for a split second just because of an anxiety-inducing crowd. Be proud of me.

When I finally got to the front of the line, and the beautiful divine creature stood before me, I suddenly became so nervous. She’s so much taller than I thought she’d be! And we’re wearing almost the same shirt! And Scarlett is pitching a fit! And oh my gosh, where’s my camera, is it ready? I was fan-girling so hard. And here are the results.

 

Have you ever seen such a cheesy grin? I want so share our 15 seconds of conversation so it will be forever printed in my memory.

Me: Hi Ree! (desperately trying to contain squeals.)
PW: Hello, let’s get a picture real quick.
Parnassus staffer: Um, Ree, over here.
PW: Oh, sorry, I was busy looking at the baby!
Me: She has that effect. This is Scarlett.
PW: Oh, beautiful, like Gone with the Wind?
Me: Smiling and nodding like a moron.
PW: So is that why you named her that? From the movie?
Me: Oh. No, I don’t really know. I was so drugged up when she came out, my husband just said, “She looks like a Scarlett,” and I said, “Okay.”
PW: Oh my! Well that could have gone in a totally different direction!
Me: (as I’m getting shuffled off the platform out of the way for the next folks) Uh-huh, haha, garble blah blah words.

I was shaking for a good 10 minutes after this encounter. It was glorious.

And that’s the story of how Ree and I met. The story of how we go on to become best friends is yet to come.

Processing Grief

My consciousness streams and I cannot dam it any longer.

It’s too much sometimes. The shock. The surreal effect on my interpretation of my immediate surroundings. The heaviness of a broken heart. The despair of more and more and more and more death. When will it end?

How long, O God? How long must we endure this pain?

In the last week alone:
Istanbul – more than 40 killed
Bangladesh -25 killed
Baghdad – more than 150 killed
3 cities in Saudi Arabia – at least 4 killed

Add to that the 49 lives lost in Orlando. Add to that Paris. Add to that Charleston. Add to that Newtown. And suddenly I can’t bear it another second. The numbers tick past like a gas meter, and I can’t afford this tank.

What can be done? What can be said? How do I process this without losing myself in the hurricane of rage and grief and incomprehension?

Yesterday was July 4th. Such a strange holiday to celebrate. Never before has it felt so complicated. Never before have I questioned my choice to wear red, white, and blue. To me it’s always meant scouting real estate next to the hot pavement on an early morning, the air sticky with humidity and anticipation, as we await the parade. It means grilling hot dogs and eating watermelon and spending time outside with family in the Texas heat. It means driving to a hilltop with a downtown view, and tuning the radio to find the station playing the patriotic music to accompany the fireworks. It means the acrid smell of gunpowder following the show. It means celebrating all the great things about this country where I’ve lived and worked and loved and grown into who I am.

But in recent years I’ve learned it also means death. It also means slavery. It means white privilege and American exceptionalism and imperialism and colonialism and the decimation of an entire race of people and the continued oppression of countless others. For many, red, white and blue and the star spangled banner are symbols of tragedy and conflict. Never before have I been so aware of that fact.

And yet yesterday I still dressed  my 5 month old in her spangled onesie, complete with sparkly ruby red slippers and a patriotic headband. She was adorable. I also wore my red, white, and blue, because I believe in celebrating the good things about the culture I come from, while at the same time that culture has hurt so many! The tension in my heart is so palpable, like I could take it out and hold a piece in each hand.

Who am I in the world? What am I saying? Who am I saying it to? What will my daughter see and learn and interpret from my actions? Can I raise her to see both sides? Can I instill in her the ability to hold hope and despair together when I struggle to do so?

The grief manifests as a summer cold. I sit and type with a sore throat, an aching back, a feeling of dizziness and head congestion. And yet I have a home to go to to rest. I can afford medications to ease my suffering. I have health insurance if I need to go to the doctor. My soul carries all those who do not have those privileges as their brothers and fathers and sisters and mothers are shot and exploded to death.

How do I grieve and come out on the other side when I know there’s more to come? How can I heal and give hope to others when I know more waves are gathering, preparing to pound upon the shore?

Oh Lord, I need you, how I need you! Every moment I need you. Lift me up. Use me to make known your purposes on earth. Send me to be your mouth, your hands, your feet. It is not my life, but yours. That’s all I have to hold on to today.

So I’ll get myself some hot soup. And tonight I’ll hold my baby close and make a cup of tea. And I’ll give thanks for my husband and my cuddly pets. And I’ll probably cry some more, though it feels like I have no tears left. And maybe, just maybe, tomorrow will look a little brighter.

 

Paris, Solidarity, and the Shame Game: A Defense of Mourning and a Commentary on Selective Grief

We, as a nation, have undoubtedly risen to stand in solidarity with Paris. Thousands of profile pictures have been overlain with the French flag. People are posting their personal photos of the Eiffel Tower. News articles and videos are being shared hundreds of times. The terrorist attacks continue to be on every major news outlet, every radio station, every heart and mind.

This has necessarily led to somewhat of a movement on the part of those that are questioning why it is we Americans are so quick to show our care and compassion for France when there are comparable, even at times more horrific, tragedies happening in other countries the world over. These free-thinkers ask of us, “Where are those countries’ flag overlays? Where are the safety check-in features for them? Where are the prayers, the memes, the heartfelt outrage for people of color who have lost entire families due to this same type of violence and terror?”

Good questions.

Not so good follow up.

My frustration is not with the many thoughtful advocates in this world who rightfully seek to open the eyes and hearts of a privileged culture that is undeniably biased towards the tragedies of countries and people “like us.”

My frustration is with the tactics they’ve been using over the past three days.

I can’t count the number of people on my own feed who have recently posted about the massacre in Kenya. 147 killed. No one will deny it was terrible, just as terrible as the events in Paris.

It happened back in April.

No, the passage of time shouldn’t dim our compassion. And no, it didn’t receive the same amount of media attention that Paris has, and that’s wrong. We need to admit that that’s wrong.

But do we really need to repost an eight month old tragedy to prove we are somehow more enlightened, more globally conscious, more capable of proclaiming tragedy on our Facebook feed than the hundreds of people changing their profile pictures to the French flag overlay? No. No, we don’t. I remember that day in April vividly. I remember reading about it, hearing about it, talking about it. I remember praying about it. It’s not like it passed unnoticed, although that’s what some have claimed with misdirected indignation. The fact is, Kenya has had new and different tragedies happen since then, and they don’t need your arrogance coming 8 months after the fact just so you can stroke your ego and feel superior to the masses: “Look, I’m posting about this non-white event, call me aware and unbiased!”

I remember Kenya. I prayed fervently for Kenya, just as I prayed fervently for Nepal not long after, and Syria, and the many other countries where violence and tragedy seem to dwell and linger. As did my church. And my community. These events were talked about and shared. But Facebook didn’t have the profile picture overlays for them. (Actually, I don’t think they introduced the overlays until after SCOTUS passed marriage equality into law, but that may be beside the point.) Regardless, I’m willing to admit the biased emotional response that Paris elicited over and against Beirut and Baghdad implies a larger systemic problem. It’s a problem that we need to face as a country together.

But using shame to make a point is not the way forward. It’s not the way to open hearts or minds. It is a darn quick way to close them.

Yes, please let’s talk about Western privilege! We need to talk about why we are more concerned with predominantly white European countries than countries inhabited by people of color. We need to question why the deaths of Christians elicit more heartache and willingness to stand “in solidarity” than the deaths of non-Christians. We need to talk about internalized racism, and band-wagon mentality, and colonialism. We need to hold France accountable to their own racist and colonialist history and present just as we should hold our own government accountable to their problematic and dehumanizing policies and actions. All of this needs to be talked about on the global stage.

But the anger and condemnation expressed towards those who truly do find themselves effected by the events in Paris on Friday is unnecessary and unhelpful to that cause.

I have seen posts such as, “Don’t pray for Paris,” and “Don’t change your profile picture because France is the fourth worst colonizer in the world.” I’ve read sarcastic statuses about how those who stand in solidarity with Paris remain mute on the pain of the rest of the world, and fail to show solidarity to anyone else. “Look at all these idiot sympathizers,” some of these writings seem to say. “How misguided can you get?” Like a flag overlay somehow makes you incapable of feeling any other pain.

This is blatantly untrue.

The friends and family I know and love with red, white, and blue profile pictures are incredibly thoughtful, generous human beings who are determined to educate themselves on world matters. I understand there is a lot that could be said with the symbol of the French flag, just as there is a lot that can be said of our own. Symbols are hugely loaded with whatever is projected onto them. France has done some pretty terrible things, as have we, and our flags carry that history. Does that mean we simply get rid of them? What about the countless countries that are being terrorized, not just by jihadists and extremists, but by our own governments? Those flags have similar histories of violence on their own people. Do we toss them out as well? (I’m falling into a dangerous argument here, I can feel it. Because I am definitely anti-confederate flag. I need to think on this more deeply. Please comment if you can help me out of this web.)

I’ve digressed. The problem is not the individual, but the culture and the availability and visibility of media.

The message from the attacking side has somehow become less about culture change, and more about individual shaming. If you change your profile picture to represent France, it must be because you have no care or compassion or sympathy for the rest of the world, or you are pro-colonization and pro-oppression. If you openly talk about mourning for Paris, there’s must be no room in your heart for the rest of the world, and therefore you are a racist and an elitist. I don’t believe this is the intended message (maybe it is), but it’s certainly felt internally when I read these scathing critiques of the sharing choices of the social media masses. It’s the Shame Game.

Wanna know how to open the conversation well, without the implied shame and guilt? Here’s how:

“We can be in solidarity, but we should also be critical of our blind spots and motivations for such solidarity. Just because this particular type of violence now seems “real” or “close to home” doesn’t mean it isn’t happening to people and communities all over. The places from which thousands of refugees are fleeing have been seeing bombings and shoot-outs for weeks, months, and years. Where is our compassion for them? The legacies of racism and colonialism aren’t absent from our “solidarity” no matter how hard we try. Let’s not fall asleep on that fact.” – (A really smart and kind friend of mine)

The appropriate reaction is, yes, let’s mourn Paris. And then let’s also state that we need to evaluate our reactions to those who suffer, and what the criteria is for our solidarity. And then we need to actually work towards making that better, and not just shout each other down.

Don’t make Paris a bullhorn for your own agenda. Don’t condemn those who hurt. Do open up the conversation to include larger structures of violence and oppression. Do allow yourself to feel the pain of the world. Don’t make it into a competition to see who can post about the most grief in the shortest amount of time. That’s not solidarity either.

The reality is that I do need to work harder to be in solidarity with all those who suffer, not just on social media, but real, feet-on-the-ground solidarity. Not just with a flag overlay, but with companionship and accompaniment. Not just for France but for my own neighbors in Nashville who are being squeezed out by gentrification and homelessness, for refugees who are fleeing their homes, for the sick, and imprisoned, and for all those my faith teaches me I’m supposed to know and love. And I thank all those who have made that point clear to me with love and mercy. Thank you.

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One final unrelated point, and this is more to start a discussion than a defense. For me personally, Paris is more than just some distant white European country. It has a piece of my heart. I’ve always loved Paris, since I was tiny. I had the privilege to visit in 2008, when I spent the summer in France (and yes, I see and feel the innate privilege that statement carries).

But we sometimes forget the importance of place and geography in our identity narratives. I was changed by that country in ways I can’t explain. I grew up there in the sense it was the first time I truly felt like a capable adult.

My guess is that many Americans have similar feelings and experiences of that beloved city, especially those privileged enough to have traveled and lived there. On the other hand, it is an unfortunate but influencing truth that many of us have not had (or perhaps not taken is better phrasing) the opportunity to travel to non-western countries like Syria, Iraq, Kenya, and others where violence and death seem to play a daily role. So the position of place in our collective consciousness is perhaps more powerfully felt when the tragedy occurs on soil we’ve placed our feet upon, not because it is “close to home,” but because it is in a sense a literal part of our home.

And doesn’t that make sense? Is it not okay for me to feel a deep sense of loss over Paris that I might not be capable of feeling in the same way over a place I’ve never been? Don’t misread me, please. I’m not saying the deaths or the depths of the tragedy is any different, but that the memory and felt reality of the place is forever altered for me. Like when a tornado happens in Texas, I’m necessarily more engaged in thew news of it than I would be if a tornado were to happen in Kansas. The destruction might be the same, but Texas is my home, and I owe my personhood to it. Not that I can’t be touched by loss in Kansas, but it’s not the same. Does anyone get this or understand it at all? Can you help me nuance it?

Many thanks to Michael Kozoile, who wrote this article and said,

“Grief is not a competition to be the most even-handed, the most objective, the least corrupted. Grieving is personal, subjective, uncontrollable. If you feel the need to pray or cry for the people of Paris – because you’ve walked their streets, befriended their people, lived their lifestyle – then you should do so, freely and without the judgment of others.”

He has a lot more to say about challenging yourself to go deeper, but he says it better than I could, so please read it.

Bathroom Revelation

Here’s my piece on HerStory! Please follow this new blog, it’s going to be amazing!

I don’t remember how old I was. Eight or nine possibly. Some details didn’t stick in this guilty memory. But I remember the restaurant. It was a cheap pizza chain. I remember the smell of heat-lamp pizza and wilted pink salad with ranch. I remember the pleasure of seeing greasy wadded up paper napkins on empty beige plates next to half-drunk red plastic cups. Empty plates meant full tummies. And of course I remember distinctly the stained industrial carpet under the tables and chairs where I crouched and hid in mortification.

Blue collar establishments like this were our regular dinner destinations when I was a kid. They had cheap food and arcade games, and the dirty looks from paying customers aimed at parents of loud and messy children were limited because everyone here had loud and messy children. It was a community of worn out parents at the end of…

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Texas Homecoming

If you had asked me that morning, I don’t think I could have told you what Possum Kingdom State Park looked like. I knew from family lore that I had been there, that we all had, on several occasions. I have so many memories of camping with my family throughout my childhood, so I didn’t doubt the validity of the claim. But I just couldn’t conjure the place in my memory. It was so long ago.

“If this is supposed to be Possum Kingdom, where are all the possums?” Dad asks, laughing at himself. We groan. We’ve heard that one before. “They’re nocturnal,” my sister says matter-of-factly. “That’s why you never see them.”

As we drive through the gates to the park, the memories begin to creep in. I recognize that camp store, and the playground out front. I’ve swung in those swings. I’ve walked on these paths. Driving past the cabins, I remember so vividly that early morning when a deer came down out of the hills, came right up to me as I stood so still in the fog, holding out a handful of Fritos. I thought I’d never forget the moment that deer ate out of my hand. But I haven’t thought about that in years.

“You fed a deer Fritos?” My brother the nature expert exclaims in condemning disbelief when I recall the memory. “Why would you do that?” Like an eight year old city-slicker should know better.

As we come upon the swimming beach at the lakefront, I’m flooded with the memories of swimming in that opaque brown Texas water with my siblings and cousins. So many times we swam in that lake, camping with the family for the weekend or even just on a day trip. The park is only a 45 minute drive from town, after all, the town where my mother grew up, the town we’re visiting again this weekend for my cousin’s wedding.

It’s only 90 degrees today. Warm, but not unpleasant in my shorts and t-shirt. I stand by the shore as I watch and listen to the children laughing in the lake, squealing as they push each other under. Familiar sounds. Mom lays out the blanket she got from the trunk, and we place our things on top, marking the spot as ours. Then we wade out into the lake. We didn’t bring swimsuits, or a picnic, or even anything to drink. We just came on a whim. So now we’re standing here in our bare feet among the muck and the reeds, letting the water cool our toes. We’re all together. Mom, Dad, Zach, Katy, and me, the firstborn. We stand there at the mouth of the lake together quietly remembering the times we’ve shared in that same spot many years ago.

People say places change. But nothing looks different. Everything feels the same as it did the day my bathing suit snapped in the back and I just covered up with a t-shirt and kept on swimming. We haven’t been here since Katy was probably eight or nine. Twelve years at least. Her own memories are vague, but she knows where she is. We all do. Our bodies know and recognize this place.

We make our way to the blanket where we lay down on our backs at odd angles, heads together, staring up at the bright blue sky and the hot sun. We tell stories. We laugh. We remember and smile. It’s so nice out here we could all doze off I’m sure. But the afternoon is waning and Lindsey will be getting married at the church in a few hours. We should leave. We need to shower and get ready. But I wish we could stay here forever.

People say people change. But we feel the same to me. We’re five adults now, but in my mind we’ll always be Mom, Dad, and the three kids. It’s a bittersweet feeling, laying on that blanket and listening to the sounds of my family’s breathing and laughing. These are my people, the ones I am so connected to by blood and DNA and personality traits and history and memories. I live far away now. I forget what it’s like to come home. We are inextricable from each other.  It’s a rare thing for us all five to be together, without spouses, or partners, or extended family, or friends. Just us. Us as we’ve been together a thousand times in restaurants, at home, camping, road tripping. Just us as we are right now in this moment. And it can’t last forever. It makes me sad. And yet I’m also so very happy.

A Day in the Life

I watch them from the fourth floor window overlooking the courtyard. The sunlight shifts and dances as the trees blow in the soft breeze. It’s warm down there I think.

Sitting under the umbrella at the table below me is a woman knitting with multi-colored yarn in purple, pink and blue hues. What she’s knitting I can’t tell. A hat maybe. Or perhaps some sort a bag. Or maybe nothing at all, just a way to pass the time. The umbrella obscures her face, but I watch her fingers direct the needles, and I imagine the clickety-clack they must be making.

Across the way at another covered patio table are two boys playing cards. They can’t be older than twelve. They have the look of wild abandon and confidence and mirth of twelve year old boys as they laugh at each other and throw down their hands.

In the far corner on a bench sits a middle-aged woman. Her pristine auburn hair flows gently about her face. She is sharply dressed, her Coach bag resting next to her as she stares down at her phone, texting, or scrolling for news, but most likely perusing her social media accounts.

In the walkway stands a doctor in a white lab coat, her dark hair glistening in the sunlight. I can only see the top of her head as she stares down at the phone in her hands, but if I could only zoom in with my eyes I swear I could read the screen she looks at as she stands there.

On another bench further down the way sits what might be a graying father and his son. The father has his hand on the son’s back as the son leans forward and rests his face on his hands. He might be sobbing.

In the corner across from my perch I see a woman, a salty-haired woman, standing with her face to the corner, her back to the rest of the world as she talks to someone on her phone. She barely moves. She seems distant and isolated. What news is she delivering? What news is she hearing?

Finally, on a bench almost beyond my vision, there sits a red stuffed bear. It sits by itself, away from the people, but it sits properly, like a tiny well-behaved child. No one seems to have it claimed. No one seems to know it’s there. But it sits there, silently, watching the scene unfolding before it, just I watch the scene unfolding below me.

We are all in our own world, some of us more aware of our difference presences than others. But we are all together for a brief time. And I think to myself, what a day in the life of a hospital chaplain.

Grapefruit Musings

Today I sit pondering the juicy sweet flesh of a grapefruit.

The juice dribbles down my chin and in between my fingers, leaving a sticky sweet film of golden nectar.

I eat the fruit determinedly, if not quite ravenously. I concentrate on each pocket of flesh, methodically carving out spoonfuls. Every bite is pure pleasure.

Again. And again.

Nearing the end of the first half, I feel the first stab of regret. It will be gone soon, and I’ll be left with a fading memory. A poor substitute at best, but better than never having experienced the joy at all.

Grapefruit is not so unlike pistachios, I reflect. It’s the effort you put into eating them that make them so heavenly.

Have you ever eaten a handful of shelled pistachios? They are bland and dull and wholly unworthy of the chewing. Much like pre-prepared grapefruit.

The act of someone else removing the barriers subsequently removes the thrill of personal victory when each morsel finally succumbs to your valiant efforts and you taste the divine flavor of a well-earned treat.

Burn Out

I am burned out. It’s a common phrase, and we all pretty much know what it means. But today I feel it. I actually feel like a still-hot smoking wick at the bottom of a candle that has been completely sucked dry by the surrounding air.

I have nothing left to give today.

And why do I feel guilty about this? Bear with me: I need to do some self-examination for a moment.

Today is the sixth day in a row I have gotten up out of my bed to come and spend 8 hours in the hospital. Over the past 6 days, I have led and preached a memorial service, written a prayer for publication in honor of Nurses Week, led a devotional for transplant nurses in honor of their special day, planned and organized our department’s spring retreat, attended staff meetings, palliative care team meetings and a CPE graduation, completed mandatory education on online phishing and preventative practices for hospital acquired illnesses, provided mandatory staff devotionals on my units, attended codes to wait and pray with family members, been at the bedside of three dying patients who literally passed as I prayed, spent 4 hours being shadowed by a volunteer teaching and answering questions, and somehow kept up with my metrics and all the tracking we are required to report. All of this is, of course, in addition to continuing to provide pastoral and emotional care to my everyday patients and families.

So it does not surprise me that I’m burned out. What surprises me is that here I am, sitting in my office, and all I want to do is pack up and run away to the beach, but instead I’m feeling guilty about taking time out to write this post. To breathe. To focus on my own needs.

Because here are the emails I need to catch up on, and the passive aggressive insinuations that my numbers aren’t where they need to be, and I’m not increasing my visits by enough percentages, and I can’t take off a full day for PTO after all, so I’ll have to come in for 5 hours on the day I’m supposed to be off and work another 6 days in a row (even though I’m technically to blame because I asked for this, but who wants to waste a precious PTO day on mandatory events when we already have so few?)

I read a quote today by Thomas Szas that reads, “Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, that nothing is.” This strikes a chord with me. Right now I want to feel serene, but I feel bored. Even though I’m busy, I feel like I’m wasting my time. And who wants to feel that way? I want to melt into nothingness and enjoy the present moment, even if it means I’ve only seen 2 patients and it’s already 12:00. Who cares? I work hard. Yesterday was incredibly demanding on me physically and emotionally, and today I need a break. So I’m spending this time rationalizing away my guilt and demanding me-time. If nothing else, it should be okay for me to get paid for me-time when my pay barely covers my rent, right?

I do not like feeling cynical. It’s not really my style. But sometimes I guess I just have to indulge my Negative Nancy and let her point out some obvious problems. I need to re-evaluate my boundaries. I need to take time for myself. I need to shake it off like Swifty.

That’s why I’m going to Chattanooga this weekend. I am going to do what I want to do, and I’m going to eat what I want to eat, and I’m going to read my book, and play outside, and see some fish at the aquarium and enjoy myself.

And I guess that’s about all I have to say about that.