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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Oh, Cana-DO!

An entire nation is overflowing with ‘cana- do-ness’ … flush with gold, silver, and bronze … reeling from a sense of patriotism that is intoxicating. Only in Canada, in the midst of such a flurry of emotion, would you hear a recurring theme in media interviews of marveling at this national pride, analyzing how this uncharacteristic display occurred, and almost apologizing for Canada’s exuberance. I love this mix of pride and humility, don’t you?
Is it possible to create a climate of jubilation that inspires athletic action, positive behavior, wall-breaking emotion? If you were able to take a walk in downtown Vancouver during the last two weeks, I think you might be convinced of the power of positive thinking. Like the picture my sister drew for me of her experience walking down Granville street: a celebrating joyful, polite crowd all around her, suddenly pausing in near silence, parting, making way for a quiet line of Vancouver City police on horseback, then, a spontaneous outbreak of, “Oh, Canada, our home and native land … “ The national anthem sung raw and real on the downtown city streets.
 I believe ...
Of course, most of us who are jumping around with bright red mittens waving, celebrating the achievements of our athletes, were not present to see the hours, days, weeks, years of practice, pain, and sacrifice that each athlete underwent prior to those few minutes on our TV screens. Still, I don’t think we can completely write off the push that positive thinking and a strong emotional support system can contribute to an athlete tuned to give the performance of his/her life.
Don’t you wish we could bottle up that ‘Cana-do’ spirit and ingest a bit now and again when we need to perform on-the-job? Or how about being able to prescribe it to our patients who are struggling in their efforts to make healthy living choices? How about infusing an Olympic spirit in the many diabetic patients who are wrestling with A1Cs that go up instead of down … or the ‘husky’ kids who wrestle with the Demon Coke, Ronald MacDonald, and that red-headed little terror, Wendy.
(The crazy thing is, that two of the three above noted fiends are strapping endorsers of the Vancouver Olympics. Can’t you just reach out and touch the irony of that? Off of our collective poor healthy choices, the athletes of the world perform so magnificently … )
It truly is a strange world we have forged for ourselves. Do you know that you can buy an alarm clock that wakes you to applause? Not sure how that can help, beyond a novelty grin lasting a few minutes over a couple of days. But, what if the nation summoned a roar of cheers every time a mom bought apples instead of cookies, or a kid walked home from school, past the local fast food trap, without spending his allowance? What if people on the street erupted into applause when a jogger panted on by? Or a dad spent time with his kids playing outside in the back yard? We need support to live well, to make good choices, to turn from the unhealthy patterns we’ve fallen into over the years.
If you are like me, you have recognized in yourself and in your patients that it does not work to simply stop a bad habit; what is more sustainable is to replace it with a positive behavior. It may seem like double the effort, but a vacuum just cries out to be filled. So many times an addiction is ‘cured’ with another addiction! I remember when chocolate was a ‘bad’ choice because it was high in fat and jelly beans were ‘good’ … then, for awhile, when both were ‘bad,’ as was any dessert-like food, I launched into bigger portions and second helpings of ‘good’ food (namely primavera pasta, heavy on the pasta and parmesan). Replacing an addiction with another addiction is not the same thing as a replacing a bad habit with a positive action.
We need support to make good spiritual and devotional choices, too. There are unhealthy devotional  patterns that many of us have we’ve fallen into over the years, too. How do we encourage strong spiritual growth without sacrificing a spirit of humility, or encouraging a feeble shadow of the spirit, rather than a robust authentic life-changing devotion?
Today is the second Sunday of Lent. Already, the ashes on my forehead have become a faint memory, a now-distant reminder of my mortality. As I move through these forty days of Lent, I am seeking , not a passive sacrifice of denial, but a positive sacrifice of action. Just a nudge of a perspective-shift, but one that adds a spiritual discipline, rather than takes away a habit. Giving things up for Lent is all very well, but most of us need to give those things that we annually give up a rest anyway. How about instead choosing to give of time, effort, to forge a positive habit, a spiritual action, or discipline? Jesus spent his 40 days in the desert not only giving up dessert, but meeting, head on, the enemy of his bride-to-be. Sacrifice can be denial, it also can be action.
I’ve already blown it a number of times, but, perhaps that failure in itself is a touch stone, a recollection to reality that I am not after forging an addiction, but prayerfully offering a sacrifice of authentic action.
And, you know, just for a minute, the other day, I thought I heard a small cheer from the heavenly hosts …. now that’s jubilation that heals!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all ye creatures here below
Praise Him above all ye heavenly hosts
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost


Sunday, February 14, 2010

of Shakespeare, love, and trees ...

“The course of true love never did run smooth.”
Shakespeare certainly hit the nail on the head with that one. Love may be a wonderful feeling, a sacrificial act, a soul-deep decision, or all of the above, but it could never, ever be described as ‘smooth.’ Today is the feast day of Saint Valentine, the martyr. According to legend, this priest defied the edict of Claudius II who had outlawed engagements and courting to keep soldiers from leaving the war. Saint Valentine transported love notes and gifts between lovers and married couples in secret. It is said that after he tried to convert Claudius and was condemned to death, he wrote a farewell note, signing it “from your Valentine.”  Legend or not, the story of St Valentine resonates with truth: love, sacred, romantic, or platonic is firmly planted in some serious soil. Dying brings out the best demonstration of love we’ll ever know.
First Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter in the scriptures gives another description of love that is also not for the faint of heart. All I can say after reading it, “’the course of true love never did run smooth.’” It’s much easier to send a Valentine; that is, it WAS much easier to send a Valentine. Now that I know Saint Valentine’s story, each Valentine I send is somehow tinged with the sacred sacrifice of his martyrdom … not, I’m sure, what Hallmark had in mind!
Today, in church, the homily was a collage of New Years (Gung Hay Fat Choy!), the day’s readings, and, of course, Valentine’s Day. A homage to love, beginnings, and to the prophet Jeremiah: 
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: it fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.”
The image of that tree, green, straight, feeling-no-fear …  this is, I think, a valuable metaphor of love tough and strong and oh-so-dependent on the water of life at its roots. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy, talks about the shattering of virtues as well as of vices that occurred at the fall of humankind. Love is to the left of us, to the right of us, all around us. Red hearts, cinnamon candies, chocolates and roses … cell phones ringing, texts flying, messages bouncing back and forth across the internet, across the globe … all in the name of love, all with a tiny disconnected piece of that shattered virtue, nonetheless gleaming.
Love that is connected to the water of life, like Jeremiah’s tree planted by the stream, is love that can live in the reflection of first Corinthian’s. This love can smile gently at Cupid’s arrows, for it sees a tiny fragment of itself there; it can nod knowingly to the cheering patriots lining the Olympics venues, for it sees a part of itself reflected there, too. The kids sharing cookie hearts, the teen crushes giggling over Facebook messages, the single man and woman gamely filling in their e-Harmony profiles with hope in their hearts … all grasp fragments of the virtue of all virtues: love.
In our time, the ultimate and most necessary love, it is said, is self-love. Psychosocial and wellness experts claim that self-love is essential to healthy personal and social development. How does ‘self-love’ fit within the paradigm of first Corinthians and of Jeremiah’s tree? Today, our priest, almost in passing said about self-love:

“We must have self-love to survive and give love to others; but we must have self-love that is not selfish.”
Rhetoric? I don’t think so. This little phrase rings true! Self-love that is not selfish, I think, is love that places the self in the same order that Christ places our selves; no higher and no lower. To see ourselves as Christ sees us—in the same terrible truth-light; and, paradoxically, in the same blinding love-light. It is to be rooted like Jeremiah’s tree: beautiful, straight, quenched, no fear … to be connected to the stream is to be connected to Christ and to all others, all of which must drink at these waters of life. Love truly is all around us—we live with fragments flying through our universe, but our roots can drink deeply at the Source, of Love Integrated and complete.
There is only one thing left to say:
Happy Valentine’s Day!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Believing in yourself

Complete self confidence is not merely a sin; complete self confidence is a weakness. Believing utterly in one’s self is a hysterical and superstitious belief … GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy.
If you doubt the above statement, I would guess that you have never seen an episode of American Idol. I am perpetually amazed at the would-be contenders who have an unshakable faith in themselves as the next musical sensation. Some are struck dumb with shock when they are rejected by the judges; others explode in a tirade of protests and promises. I can imagine Chesterton chuckling away in Heaven watching these stormy manifestations of unwavering self-confidence.
On the other end of the scale we all know of capable people who are somehow frozen in moving forward in their chosen life’s work because they lack confidence in themselves …  students and nurses who second guess their practice and management decisions to the detriment of care … practitioners and other folks who long to do something of importance in the world but perpetually believe they lack preparation or ability  … so remain forever stalled in meeting their life’s mission.
Too much or too little self-confidence? Is that the issue? Through a casual use of such terms as self-confidence, self-actualization, centeredness, inner locus of control, I think that we are perhaps sending the wrong message to our students, the young in our profession, and to each other. The net outcome seems to be that we are preparing nurses and students who are set up either for a lifetime of hiding insecurities, growing a rhino-thick skin of self-illusion, or simply ceasing to care about the whole thing. None of us knows the solution for every patient situation—the fact is sometimes there are no solutions. The truth is, it is not all about us: our knowledge, our solutions. However, that is not what we feel we can portray to patients, to our peers, to ourselves. Our socialization in this world of ours informs us to our core that, to reach maturity and success in life, we must believe in ourselves.
Add on to this the pressure of being not just a nurse, but a Christian nurse. Wow. Now, not only do we have to have complete self-confidence in ourselves as nurses, but also in ourselves as disciples of Christ. It’s like wearing a Fish bumper sticker on your uniform—you don’t dare step to the right or left without your indicator on, travel over the speed limit in the hall, or flip off that jerk who cuts in front of you or fails to hold the elevator button. The Christian nurse has to not only exhibit self-confidence as a nurse, but also portray self-confidence in the ability of her/his faith to handle all the messy ethical issues and borderline personalities on the unit.
Can you say, ‘Burn out?’ Do we continue to wonder why we are hemorrhaging nurses from the health care systems on both sides of the border? Do we wonder why authenticity has become synonymous with inner doubt and depression, rather than with an invigorating humility grounded in external Faith? We seem to be cultivating an inner locus of control based on inquiry of self-as-primary assessor, rather than an inner locus of control based on an inquiry of self-as-assessed externally.

How frightening, it turns out, to be both inquisitor and standard-setter of your soul!  One would think that we long for such freedom—“you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Such freedom becomes our own personal hell. We are forever second-guessing if we are good enough at our jobs, relationships, families, lives: I never have to look far to find some nurse, some professor, who appears to have it more together than me.
People either shatter or become paralyzed to any action when, overloaded with self-doubt, they can no longer sustain an outward illusion of self confidence. They may disappear (quit nursing or teaching),  isolate (avoid peer/professional activities), or become incredibly hungry for continual external validation of the purple dinosaur variety:
“I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family …”
“I’m a nurse, you’re a nurse, we’re the ones who really care … “
Chesterton, in his essay, the maniac (in Orthodoxy), states: “Materialists and the madmen have no doubts.”   This is comforting to me ;-) … for I have many doubts. The list is long: it begins with myself and it goes all the way to Heaven.

The materialist immediately has a much shorter list: there is no heaven, and nothing to doubt that cannot be seen, touched, measured, and experienced. Once things are seen, touched, measured, and experienced, nothing can be doubted—except, perhaps, for doubt itself.

The madman is horrifyingly certain of his reality. Any psych nurse knows that that therapy is so difficult because the practitioner is striving against that certainty: if even a glimmer of doubt can be shed about his world of paranoia, voices, and illusion; there is a movement toward wellness.

Christians, on the other hand, are free to doubt in good health :-) ... to wonder, imagine, to embrace Mystery. Christians live in the paradox of the cross: this crux where time and eternity meet. We are free, then, not to believe in ourselves. To cultivate an inner locus of control based on an inquiry of self-as-assessed externally. We are valued by God, and upheld by his standard of care made explicable in his Word. There is, thus, an external touchstone when caught up in the whirling vortex of self-doubt.
Last week, my nephew reminded me of a quote by Madeleine L’Engle.  In her book, Walking on Water, Madeleine states: “The wider the light, the bigger the circumference of darkness.”  What a metaphor full of meaning. As our circle of light becomes wider, the thin edge of darkness, the circumference, becomes proportionally bigger.

We live caught in time, but captured by the eternal. Our God is big. Our viewfinder is limited by finite boundaries. As we grow into greater vision of God, these boundaries grow with us. We live in complexity: the muck and murk of earthly reality in learning, teaching, nursing, community living is framed by the finiteness of the boundaries of our viewfinders. Healthy doubt is catching sight of the periphery in stark contrast to the light. Glimpsing that thin edge at light's border—a necessary happening in this finite world. Perhaps, in this way, doubt itself acts as a marker of the size of our God. Perhaps as well, this doubt saves us from the madman’s illusions: it is not all about me, my feelings, my thoughts, or that matter, my actions … as the Bard scribed, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
 Believe in yourself. I write this with a grin on my face, knowing, that what I believe about myself in any given time may change depending on how much sleep I have gotten the night before, what I have eaten (or not eaten), whether or not I made it to my treadmill that morning, and who has smiled at me recently.  Doubt.  I grin again, knowing that I will never see it the same way again: not seeking to be either a materialist or a madman, I find myself catching the edge of my viewfinder rather regularly.
Perhaps this is one reason why we are asked to die with Christ in baptism. At the crux of the cross, perhaps only from that terrible perspective, do we see the junction of time and eternity caught at the right angles of two pieces of wood fused together in perpetuity  by the blood of Jesus.  A wide, wide beam of light set against the darkest of evil. Utter truth that is not dependent on my current view of myself, or me at all. An external touchstone for time and eternity.

I will doubt. I should doubt myself. Not to do so implies that I am either not in time, or not in eternity. I am meant to be in both until I am called into the presence of God.