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