Friday, February 17, 2017

Leaving the Church to Find God Again



I recently left my church. It was a church that my family had not only attended for years, but a church that we were very involved in. I was a church that was, for many years, our second family.

It was painful to leave, absolutely painful. I felt the fissure with all of my being. It left a hole in my life in so many ways.

I left because our pastor made it clear that he discriminates against and does not welcome the LGBTQ community. I left because I own my priviledge. As a heterosexual white woman, I own that I could continue to go there. I easily could. My privilege means that I could attend nearly any church in my country and be welcomed. I know that not every person has this same privilege, that many would not feel comfortable or welcomed sitting in the pew that my family sat in every sunday.

However, doing what is easy is not what I have learned from the teachings of Jesus. Standing up for the oppressed is what I have learned from those teaching, teachings that I fear my recently former church has forgotten.

If I continued to attend, I feel strongly that my silence and continued attendance would make me a party to the discrimination and hate. Likely, no one will notice my empty seat at that church. I will, however. And, I will continue to use my Sunday mornings to grow my mind and use my dollars to assist organizations that help the oppressed instead of funneling them into a church that discriminates. I know that Jesus would approve. He, after all, is who first taught me all about standing up for and helping the oppressed

I should have left that church many years ago when, after I made a Facebook post condemning the direction of our youth programs, I was called and chastised by the pastor and told that I have no right to condemn "his church". He then called my husband into a meeting without me and told him to "get his wife under control" as if I was a subservient 1940's housewife.  I should have left when my refugee clients who live down the street from the church told me that they were rudely turned away when they asked for help. I should have left when others that spoke against the actions of our pastor were told to leave. There were many times that I should have owned that this church wasn't the place for me.

Nothing is black and white, however. That church is full of so many truly good people, people who have been very good friends to my family. That church does do good in the community(selectively). It is where my children attended preschool and sunday school, where they were baptized and given their first bibles. It is a church full of memories for me.

However, being a Christian isn't about making the easy decisions. Many others were horrified about much that has happened and they made the easy decision to stay. I chose to make the harder decision and leave a church that I loved in order to stand up to what I believe is directly against the teachings of Jesus Christ, who stood up for the oppressed and asked that we join Him in doing so, who asked that we not throw stones and love them instead.

Now months later, I can tell you that I still mourn being able to attend that church on sundays. I mourn the days when I believed that the members of that church, my second family, would stand against wrongs against humanity. It may seem trite to mourn a church, but I do.



However, I can tell you without a doubt that it was the right decision. My faith has grown by leaps and bounds. I feel closer to God then ever before. 

I left my church and, in leaving, found the strong faith that had been shrouded underneath the rote motions of attending a church and hearing the same sermons over and over again. I was reminded that my faith has called me to action, not passivity. 

Sometimes I wonder who now sits in that pew now, the pew that held my family most Sunday mornings for years. The pew two rows from the back. The pew where I sang with my family, tried to keep my children quiet so that they didn't disrupt the service(a futile process, as any parent knows), the pew from which we interacted with people that we weren't related to by blood, but considered family.

Today we teach our children about Jesus from our own pew- our living room couch. We remind them that true Chistianity isn't about showing up to church on Sunday, although that can be a valuable tool for many. True Christianity is about the good we do in the world everyday, about loving those around us and standing up against oppression of our brothers and sisters. I admit that there were times in my past when I believed that putting my body in a pew each week was enough. It never was. I know better now. When we know better, we do better.

I left my church and have found God again. 



Sunday, February 5, 2017

Cold Hands, Warm Heart



My entire life I have been plagued with having cold hands and feet. Most of the women in my family seem to have the same trouble. As a child, it was something that I gave little thought to. However, after becoming a nurse-- a very hands-on profession, to say the least-- it became something that I thought about and worried about daily. After all, I care for my patients in times of distress and touching their bare skin with my ice cold hands didn't seem soothing at all.

I've learned some tricks since those early days, just out of nursing school. I take Niacin at my doctor's recommendation and this seems to boost my circulation and ease my Raynaud's Syndrome(a condition that causes my hands and feet to become blanched and painfully cold). I have hand warmers that I heat in the microwave and keep in my scrub pockets when my hand are painfully cold. I also have learned to rub my hands together before touching a patient(except in an emergency situation, of course). Still, even with the tricks to keep my hands warmer, it's not uncommon for my patient's to occasionally wince when I first touch them. It makes me feel terrible.

When I was a hospice nurse years ago, I found that the older generation seemed to love me more for my chilly hands. There is an old adage, "cold hands, warm heart", and many seemed to think my cold hands signaled a compassionate heart. There were several older women that even went as far to tell me that they don't trust nurses with warm hands. Now, I'm not one to shrug off anyone's beliefs(especially when they benefit me- ha!) but I don't truly believe that someone's poor circulation likely is connected to their compassion. However, I've learned over my nursing career not to disregard anyone's beliefs. Nursing is a calling that leads us into a world where we live with one foot in this world and the other foot in the next world. I've seen so many things that could never be explained by science. Nursing has opened my mind to so many things that my pre-nurse self would have shrugged off. I learned during those years as a hospice nurse to accept that sometimes, something like having cold hands, can turn out to be a strange blessing.

 Yes, I said that it is a blessing(although I admit to moaning and groaning in the midst of the cold, Iowa winter when my fingertips turn a nearly permanent white). It forces me to be conscious of how my touch can impact others, both good and bad. At the beginning of each of my patient visits, I take a moment to warm my hands and my stethoscope with speaking with my patient. It forces me to slow down and remember my patient is a person, not simply a body to be assessed. These extra moments of humanity have been such a gift, to both my patients and I. My patients are my heroes and hearing their life stories have been one of the greatest blessings of my career. Those moments of simply listening, not always allowed with today's overwhelming nurse/patient ratios, are crucial to our patient's health.

These chilly hands have also been a reminder to me that human touch can be a burden or a blessing. Now, as a sexual assault survivor myself, this should be ingrained in me. However, many of my jobs in my career have been in positions with unsafe nurse/patient ratios with shifts that were a blur of nursing assessments and treatments. There have been many times in my career that time was a gift that we were never given. The patients were a haze, the memory of one blending into the next, and there were few, if any, deep connections made. I often wonder if my rushed assessments, as necessary as they were, were toxic to the patients who could have used an ear to listen, some human touch not contingent on care  and care from a nurse who wasn't breathlessly ticking down an impossible to-do list for the shift and praying for no crisis as she simply didn't have the time. 

These wintry digits have also been a reminder to me that, in nursing and life, there will be many things that I will have no control over. I was born with these perpetually blanched hands and they will likely be chilly until my death(and, I suppose, after my death. Too morbid?). It's a small thing, really, these hands and there temperature. It may seem like a silly thing to spend so much of my time thinking about. But, these hands- they touch so many in my day and I want that touch to be therapeutic. So, I take that which I have little control over and do what I can to ensure that my touch, which comes out of a deep desire to heal others, reflects the warmth of my heart.

I've always tried to do the very best for my patients. I truly have. There have been many times that it did not feel like enough. Too many times.  I keep learning and growing and allowing my heart to continue to expand. The lessons of nursing are many and can be found most anywhere- even in the blessing of these perpetually cold hands. 

~Nurse Mandi

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Thank You Letter to VP Biden From a Rape Survivor



Dear Vice President Biden,

You don't know me, sir.  I am a wife, mother, nurse and writer from rural Iowa who has never had the pleasure of meeting you. I also happen to be a rape survivor and this is why I am writing you this letter tonight, as my children play in the other room and I sit at my computer crying silent tears as to not alarm them.

I've meant to sit down and write these words for many months but the words have seemed to stick in my throat. Talking about one's rape, after all, is not something that often comes easily and I've dreaded the flash of memories that would come with my words.  Tonight, however, I told myself that I would push past the tears and write you the thank you letter that you deserve so very much.

My story is not so different from the millions of other stories that are told, often to deaf ears. Twenty one years ago, one day after my seventeenth birthday, I was brutally raped. I have carried the horror of that night in relative silence for twenty years, shrouded in shame. I would like to tell you that the nurses, doctors and police officers that I turned to at that time supported me, but that would be a lie. I was, instead, badgered about the fact that I had been drinking as an underage minor, asked over and over again about what I had been wearing and discouraged from filing charges simply because of the two beers that I had consumed illegally. My underage drinking, it seemed, was a far bigger sin than the violent rape that had followed the consumption of those two cheap, tepid beers.  I was shamed tremendously by those who should've supported me in the aftermath of the worst night of my life(The silver lining is that this was what inspired me to become a nurse, a calling that I love desperately).

In the months after my rape, I struggled with PTSD, anxiety and severe depression. I would try to take my own life seven times and was nearly successful. I thank God every morning that I am still here. I could not have known then that the rape would make me a stronger person and would lead me on the path that my life was meant to take.  The events of that bitterly cold Iowa night changed who I was and it would take me years to find my footing and begin to move forward again. Rape has a way of doing that, after all.  The violence and the sickening intimacy of sexual assault seems to change our very DNA and suddenly we are thrust into a club that we never wished entry to-- the circle, sickeningly large and diverse, of those that have been sexually assaulted. For many years, that club was my only support. I wish that I could tell you that friends and family offered their support, but that would also be a lie. Sexual assault has a funny way of chasing people away, as all such things with such stigmas will.

My senior picture, taken a few months after the rape. I looked normal from the outside, but inside was still suffering every minute of the day. 


You may wonder why I am telling you these things, Mr. Biden, although I am sure that you are no stranger to these stories thanks to the work that you have done. I feel compelled to tell you these things because your work to prevent further rapes has been one of the most healing events of my life. 

I have watched in awe as you talked passionately about consent. I wept as I read your beautifully compassionate letter to the Stanford rape victim. I stood in my living room and clapped and wooped at the screen as I watched you make strides to prevent sexual assault on college campuses.

I felt validated and healed by your work. It made me feel emboldened and for the first time, I decided to come out publicly as a survivor. In April of 2016, I wrote a post for the Huffington Post entitled A Thank You Letter to My Rapist.  In response to that piece, I received hundreds of letters, messages and e-mails-- many from people talking about their own sexual assault for the first time in their lives. I realized then how much more there is to be done, how many more survivors there are out there than any of us can imagine. The dozens upon dozens of sexual assault survivors that I have worked with as a nurse suddenly felt small in this ocean of survivors that I was now thrust into. I felt overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people that, like me, had been silent for so many years. Unfortunately, it also meant that I was bombard by messages of men sending me pictures of their genatalia, of men telling me that I was "too ugly to have every been raped" or that I should've "relaxed and enjoyed it." I was so overwhelmed that I crawled back into bed for a day to hide from the world, which seemed again like a terrifying place for a woman to exist.

The next day, however, I crawled back out. Why? Because, after scrolling through my Facebook feed from the safety of my bed-- I saw you,Vice President Biden, passionately fighting the fight for all of us. It made me remember myself, as a seventeen year-old girl, scared and with no one to fight for her. I was determined to fight along side you, for that girl and all of the survivors that came before and after her. I am still determined, Sir, and that is in no small part thanks to you.

I want to thank you from the deepest part of my being, Mr. Biden. I know that I am not alone in my gratitude. You have championed our cause and have given us a voice that many of us haven't had before. You have helped me to strip away my shame and helped me to remember that I have nothing to be ashamed of, regardless of the societal stigma of rape and sexual assault. You have helped to prevent future sexual assaults, although statistics will never be able to show how many. You have started a verbiage around consent-- something that we've never seen before in my lifetime or in my mother's or grandmother's lifetimes. You've made the world safer for myself, and more importantly-- for my son and my daughters. Parents who sent their children off to college can now sleep a bit sounder in the knowledge that your work has reduced sexual assault on college campuses(although our work there may never be done). There are so many reasons that I, and many others, are thankful, Mr. Biden.

I watched tearfully as President Obama gave you the Presidential Medal of Freedom recently. I cried as I watched and then rewinded it to watch again with my children, thrilled as they cheered beside me in the safety of our living room. I cried because I wished that I had something so extraordinary to gift you with. I have no medal for you, Mr. Biden. What I do have is my fervent thanks and a promise that my own work to prevent sexual assault and help the survivors in the aftermath will never be done. 

I thank you,Vice President Biden, from the very bottom of my grateful soul. I promise to carry the torch in the best way that I can. May you be blessed for the rest of your life and may I get the great honor of meeting you someday in order to thank you in person.

All my love to you and yours,

Mandi




Friday, January 20, 2017

Let it Be

This post may contain affiliate links, you can find out more information here

When I was seventeen, I was raped. In the months and years that followed, I was enveloped in a blackness that cannot be described to anyone who has not suffered in the same way. Lost in the symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety, I was so desperate that I attempted to take my own life. I am so grateful that I survived and lived on. 

In the months following my suicide attempt, I found many ways to heal and keep my mind focused on the good of life, instead of falling back down the black spiral. One of those ways was by finding music that fed my soul and I found The Beatles during that time. Their song, 'Let it Be' has been a touchstone of mine for many years and is, in fact, my current ringtone on my phone. 


Battling with mental illness and the impact of trauma takes much more than just listening to upbeat music, of course. It has taken years of therapy, medication and many other means of healing. However, when I find myself feeling anxious, scared and unsure of the world at large and can feel myself slipping slowly into the darkness again, I take heart in the words- 

Let it be.
Let it be. 
Yeah, there will be an answer. 
Let it be. 

I am here more than twenty years following my rape and suicide attempts to tell you that there is no place so dark that you cannot find the light again. 

Seek help. 
Seek hope. 
There will be an answer. 
Let it be. 

You can get your own inspirational t-shirt at Cents of Style here
Be sure to use the code INSPIRE17 to get 50% off and get free shipping. (January 20th through January 22nd, 2017 only)

And, please remember-- if you are suffering, seek out help. There are people available 24 hours per day that would love to talk to you if you are struggling. There is no shame in needing help.  I will link up some helpful sites below. The world needs YOU. I am here to tell you that there is joy and love on the other side of your pain. All of my love to you. 

Mandi

RAINN's National Sexual Assault hotline- available for chat online or phone calls 24 hours per day. Go here

The Suicide Prevention Hotline- available for chat online or phone calls 24 hours per day. 
Go here.

Both of the above sites are completely confidential. Someone out there is sitting by their phone or computer just waiting to get the honor of talking to you today if you need help. If you are struggling, I send you so much love.  



Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Life, Death & Compassion



They talk about nurses eating their young(older nurses giving new nurses a baptism by fire of sorts and making their early nursing careers hell) and I experienced a bit of that but much more so have experienced having nurses that want to teach me absolutely everything they know. 

In nursing school during my intensive care rotation I was assigned to what was then called the CT-SICU- the Cardiac Trauma Surgical Intensive Care Unit at a hospital in Des Moines, IA. It opened my eyes forever. As a rural Iowa girl, I had never seen a gunshot wound close-up and here I was caring for multiple victims. I felt like I was inside a television drama, it was so surreal. 

The nurses took me under their wing when they realized that I wanted to learn everything I could and I found myself called into rooms here and there to experience all kinds of amazing things like the bandage change with a wound nurse where I gently placed my hand inside a patient's back to change his dressings and could feel his lungs inflate against my hands. I was in awe of the human body and spirit at the same time that I was horrified by the terror that we humans cause other humans. 

The nurses on this unit were often jaded and weary and tired. They seemed oddly buoyed by my naïveté and would listen kindly as I asked fervent questions. 

I often would stay after the other students in my class had left. The other nurses wanted me to follow the wound care nurse and see a unique case...so many reasons that they wanted me to stay. My instructor didn't want me to stay after she left, but I just wanted to learn and I would stay and follow one particular nurse, with chronically smeared glasses and a big heart, around. I am ashamed to say that I cannot remember her name.

One evening we were holding vigil at the side of a young man that was dying from gunshot wounds. They had not yet found his family or friends and he was going to die whether alone or with them. We were not his blood or kin nor had we ever met him before, but this nurse said that we would hold vigil. 

He was on full life support and had been unconscious when someone drove to the ER entrance and dumped his body out of the car and onto the sidewalk and had never opened his eyes since. We didn't know his identity. He looked like a young teenage boy, maybe 15. 

We huddled around his bed, doing all of the things required to keep him alive-- managing the machines that kept him breathing, his fluids, his BP- while also talking to him and singing to him and reassuring this young man/boy whose identity we knew that we may not find while he was living. I became tearful many times and scooted quietly out of the room to calm myself. The doctor had told us that he had mere hours left to live and our actions were as much to soothe his soul as to care for his body. 

While in the hallway, I heard many of the other staff. They were making fun of the nurse and I that were taking care of this young man. I heard snippets from the doctors and nurses talking about how this young man was surely a gang-banger and didn't deserve this compassion. I was horrified. In my naiveté, I had imagined healthcare workers to have had boundless compassion. I was witnesses for the first time, the other side of healthcare, the jaded and exhausted side. 

But, that nurse, the lovely nurse who had taken me under her wing and was consoling a child who may never really hear her, told me a truth that I have carried with me for always. She told me that all humans have compassion. Some more and some less. We all carry the compassion that we are comfortable with and if we were to judge those in the hallway damning our actions, we were also judging them without compassion. 

And, so- we forgot those men in the hallway and we sang and calmed and loved on the boy we'd never met who in lay in the hospital bed before us until he took his final breath. 

I will never forget that moment, as long as I live. I was honored to hold that young man, a complete stranger, in his final moments. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year, Same Old Me



So many people make resolutions on New Year's Day. I have in the past but always crashed and burned when reality set in(often in the cold, dark days of February) and my failed resolution never failed to make me feel like absolute shit.

This year, there will be no resolutions for me. This year, I'm committing to be more of myself, not committing to change every damn thing that isn't perfect. Resolutions don't serve me, they simply make me feel worse and that isn't the spirit of a fresh start to me.

I am, however choosing a feeling to guide myself. I use Danielle LaPorte's Desire Map to refine my core desired feelings and then chose one of those guide all my decisions in the coming months. I chose the word ascension.

Why ascension? When I think of that word, the feeling of ascension, I think of my soul rising in joy, in creativity, in love. Of becoming the higher being that I've been striving towards my entire life. I feel free and unencumbered when the word crosses my lips.

So, this new year I am determined to ascend, to rise into myself. There will be no "new me" this year because, dammit, I don't need to aspire to fit more into the box that society tries to fit me into. This year I will be more ME, which likely means I'll fit less into that box than ever before.

Many will resolve to become smaller this year. I resolve to ascend to higher heights than ever before.

Here's to 2017, Loves. May you ascend alongside me. Give me a wave as you float on past.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Love is the Bridge Between Us

 

As a public health nurse, I often work with refugees, dragging my nursing bag into their humble low-income housing. Years ago, I had a final visit with a family that I had worked with for many months and that experience was one that I will never forget. 

I remember shaking the snow off of my nursing clogs as I entered the very warm apartment. This family had come from a very warm country and had not yet acclimated to cold Iowa winters and they kept their apartment as a warm oasis from the winter’s cold bite. I felt the tension the moment that I walked in the door and noticed the sadness in the eyes of each of the family members who greeted the interpreter(there to bridge the communication divide) and I at the door. Emotions were high on this final visit, as the family had become very attached to me (and I to them). There is a bitter sweetness to final visits and we were all feeling that-- the joy of the family no longer needing a nurse and the sadness that our journey together had come to an end. We went through the familiar motions of our visit; weighing the baby and scheduling doctors’ visits and talking through any needed education so that the family can live their best life. And, too soon, the visit was over and our time together had come to an end.

As I stood to leave, the mother motioned for me to be silent. She said, through the interpreter, that she would like me to not say goodbye this time-- it was far too emotional for her and she would like to think that we would meet again. In fact, she was certain that we would be together again in the after life.

She motioned for me to come over and stand by her and then motioned for her children to encircle us. I could tell by the children’s immediate move into position and the confident smiles on their faces that this had been practiced before my visit. The children were so excited that they were teeming with energy, bounding on the balls of their feet as their mother chided them with a smile, asking them to stand still.

She took my hand in hers, her dark skin contrasting completely with my blindingly white skin, and told me that we were sisters now. She said that, in her former country, when someone helps your child that you are bonded to that person for life, that life could never separate you. At this point, she began to cry and, even though I was willing myself not to cry, I could feel the wetness on my cheeks that let me know that I was failing. She stepped away from me for a moment, attempting to wipe her cheeks surreptitiously, and came back with an intricate incense burner, which was reminiscent of the one that had been used in my childhood church.

Her children began to sing a song together-- the words in a language unknown to me, but somehow known to my heart. She smiled her gratitude to her children and brought her focus back to me. She began to swing the incense around me, enveloping me in a cloud of pungent sweetness. She began speaking quickly over me, the interpreter struggling to keep up with her words.

May you live a life of peace.
May your children and your children’s children live a life of peace.

May you live a healthy life.
May your children and your children’s children live a life of health.

May you live a life of abundance.
May your children and your children’s children live a life of abundance.

The words were spoken over and over again. Incense rising. Children’s voices singing sweetly. My client, the interpreter and I were wiping our leaking tears and smiling through them. I could feel the invisible strings that connected us all together in that precious moment. 



I felt the intention of each word spoken over me and felt the words fall around me, as heavy and comforting as a thick blanket on a cold night. I believed with every atom of my being that she wished so very much for these blessings to be true that they would be.  She had no way of making sure that these intentions which she spoke over me would come to fruition and, yet, the words were bursting with the power of dynamic, heartfelt yearning.

When she was done, I looked around the tiny, shabby apartment filled to the brim with children. It was so full of love that I wondered how it could be contained by these cracked walls. I knew in my heart that I had done many things for this family in the past year, much more than was in my job description. I knew solidly that they were in a much better place than when I met them. I also knew that they had taught me much more than I could have ever reciprocated.

I gathered my nursing bag and headed for the door, quietly putting my shoes on while continuing to wipe away tears. I would not say goodbye. I was certain that she was right and our paths would cross again, even if it was just in the memories passing through are minds. Goodbye was not a word that would suffice the end of the visit.

Instead I gathered every bit of intention within me and I said, as I was crossing the doorway echoed by the interpreter behind me-

May you live a life of peace.
May your children and your children’s children live a life of peace.

May you live a healthy life.
May your children and your children’s children live a life of health.

May you live a life of abundance.

May your children and your children’s children live a life of abundance.