japan y'all

Sunday, December 15, 2013
My adorable friend Emily deemed "Japan y'all" the hashtag for our trip as four Georgia bred-if-not-born college friends got to spend 9 days and Thanksgiving together on the mainland.   Richard and I have been close since his freshman year of college.  I was his RA.  Somewhere along the way I introduced him to my friend Ashley and he introduced me to his lovely girlfriend-now-wife Emily.  That's the short version of the friendships.

I consider myself fairly cultured.  I've been to about 13 countries give or take the layovers and have seen most of the US.  Japan was my first exposure to anything Asian.  I realize that Asia is a massive place but when most of us think about Asian culture Japan, China, and likely the Koreas come to mind.  Or at least that's what comes to mind for me.

I've always enjoyed traveling, not only because I simply love learning how big the world is but I'm also baffled by how vastly different it is.  Other than traveling to Europe on four different occasions everywhere else I have been would be classified as a developing country.  This was somewhat of an adjustment for me in Japan as the wealth, classiness, safety, technology, the brillance of the people amazed me.  I guess in all honestly I don't think about Japan. My first desire to travel there arose when my friend Richard got stationed there 6 months ago and I can't say that it was in my top ten list of places I want to visit. (India is still #1 and has been since I was 16).

But how amazing it was. It took me three days to warm up to it.  The people are very quiet, reserved, almost cold.  They don't smile often and don't seem to talk to Americans except on rare occasions. They are always kind and helpful when approached but at first I was a little put off by how formal everything seemed.  Void of color.  Similar to NYC or Paris the people dress very well and almost entirely in black. It seems to blend in to their demeanor.

But then there are the cartoons!  Women dressed to the nines would have Hello Kitty iPhone cases and even teenage boys would have stuffed animals on their book bags. Every sign possible was illustrated in animation and color. It was mind boggling. Beautiful in its own way.

Perhaps I was most impressed by the tidiness.  There is no garbage anywhere...it's almost impossible to find a garbage can. Which.. I realize...makes no sense. Richard has a theory that every woman's purse is stuffed full of garbage. We went to a Japanese soccer game and every person cleans up after their self. They then stand in line to throw their garbage away when the game is over.  They sort it.  Similar to Whole Foods...into at least four different recycle bins.  They waste not. After having briefly lived in a country where it is the norm to eat your lunch out of a styrofoam to-go box and throw the box on the street when you're finished I found this very humorous.  Americans would also never take this kind of time!  Let's be real...I rarely throw my garbage away correctly the four times a year I enter a Whole Foods.

It's doubtful I will ever return to Japan.  I have an ambition to travel to a new country every year. I've been doing it for about six years now. Japan has been checked off of that list.

I am so thankful I went.  I got to spend Thanksgiving in a foreign country for a second time.  It makes one grateful for many things.  For diversity, for color, for new foods, for culture, for America, for creativity, for our wide world, for what makes us different, for what makes us the same and for a God who transcends it all.

2013 is coming to a close and I am more than thankful but my experiences in Japan will rank among its greatest memories.

fighting to be a feminist.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Three years ago I purchased a book at Perimeter Church's bookstore titled Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood by Piper and Grudem. I was in a new promising relationship and I decided that maybe it was time for me to figure out what I was supposed to know.  I read about four pages and put it on my bookshelf. The book is over an inch thick, paperback.

I then progressed to thinking, well, I'm never gonna read that book but some(boy) is going to be super impressed that I have it on my shelf. I'll look cool when he comes over. Through the years my thoughts progressed to realizing that the kind of man that would find that book sitting on my shelf attractive is not one that would work for me. Oddly, the book still sits, receipt shoved in the cover, dog ear four pages in on my living room shelf. Maybe that's why my love life and my sister's (roommate's) seem cursed in 2013.

I'm not even sure what a feminist is but I want to be one. I have been learning lately that I am my own worst enemy in this endeavor. I disgust myself. 

For most of my life my best friends were boys. Especially in college, other than three great girlfriends almost every person who pulled me through was a male. Just to be clear, I did not date in college, these were platonic relationships. I've always been close to my (male) pastors and even my mother would agree that I'm a daddy's girl. It's taken me years to realize that I regard advice from men much more highly than I do from women. If I could choose a teacher, even for my French class, I'd pick a male every time. My best friend from my masters program is a 51 year old male and he is now my advisor on all things medical. If you've ever heard me talk about my future children you've probably heard me say that I'm only having boys. I realize that even genetically I don't get to contribute to that decision, but I'm still only having boys. 

Even as a nurse I have always preferred male patients. They are less complicated, easier to manage, are more fun to joke around with and at least in Georgia, they love the SEC. I'd sign up to care for the grumpy old man over anyone who possessed a vagina, every time.

Just a few months ago I again became disgusted with myself in my endeavor to become a feminist when I realized that the Tanzanian child whose tuition I pay is of course, MALE. I thought back to my experience visiting that school and would guess that about 65-70% of the children, supported by American money, are boys. 

You can see I'm an excellent feminist. What I have been wrestling through is why am I this way? Was it how I was raised in a evangelical christian southern community where I was taught that the best (though not only) model is for the mom to stay home with the kids, the dad to bring home the bacon and the preacher to wear a tie?  

Is it because in Georgia women still wear hose in the summer and too often stand behind their husbands or in the kitchen?  Is it because maybe the Bible really is misogynistic and I just never realized it?  I remember spending prayer meetings in college begging God to show me how to be a Proverbs 31 wife...ahem...woman.  While that passage is still quite valuable, is it all relevant?  Don't get me wrong, I actually know how to sew but I change the oil in my car and mow the grass more often. (Two things my father insisted his girls know how to do before we graduated from high school). 

"Women hold up half of the sky"...that's the proverb Half the Sky gets its name from. It's arguably the most influential thing I've read in the last year. It's where nearly every feminist thought in my head comes from. I learned that most African girls miss a week of school every month because they have no sanitary napkins. Five to seven days a month!?! That means that the small percentage of teenage girls who are in school in many developing countries are missing 25% of their education simply due to female bodily function.  This should cause outrage. 

Because of Half the Sky I follow nearly every facebook page that opposes child brides, supports votes and education for women and preaches against female genital mutilation.  I don't have enough feet for all the soap boxes I'd like to stand on. But is that enough?  What does a "like" on facebook mean anyway? 

An article this week in The Wall Street Journal said that women in 2012 are making 76.5 cents on the male dollar down from 77 in 2011.  My little sister understands this more than anyone as she works in a company where men with the same education and years of experience often outrank women by two or more levels and earn a 33% higher salary. Why are we still working for companies like this? Furthermore, why do they still exist?

I used to honestly believe that bit the church tells young women that men are supposed to be the leaders in companies and families because overall they are more level headed and make less emotional decisions. I used to believe the sermon saying the reason mankind fell was at least in part, because Adam didn't act like a man and Eve did. Since then I've actually dated a few men. I have usually been the less emotional, more level-headed member in the relationship. This is a personality type.  Not a gender description.  

Rachel who I have mentioned many times before stated, when I was a little girl, I knew I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up, except a pastor...the whole thing bothered me a little bit because it made me feel like God had reserved all of the important, spiritual jobs for the boys, like he thought that girls are second best. As I've mentioned before I've never really thought that any job is second best, but I will say that as a girl who wanted to be a missionary from the time she was thirteen...I always thought I'd have to have a husband to be one. 

I am not sure where this frame of mind came from.  Was it my church, my family, my college ministry or my culture?  I don't even care.  All I know is that it exists in myself and I would argue that it also exists in many other women I know, especially Christian women. 

Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending EQUAL political, economic and social rights for women. I am on board with that.  

My future daughters will be too. 

relating to the nakedness.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013
I have 14 students. As a part-time job between finishing my masters and getting a job as an NP I decided to teach.  I take seven first semester nursing students into the hospital for eight hours, two days a week.  For most it's their first experience in a hospital. It's been a little crazy.  It has been full of joy.

I did it for three reasons.  Mainly because I needed the money, but also because I loved precepting students when I worked in the ICU...watching them "get it" for the first time and understand what it's like to be responsible for another living body, a living soul.  It's remarkable.   I also did it because I had a terrible clinical instructor in nursing school.  For some unknown reason she hated me.  She hated me and I wasn't used to it.  I had always been the teachers-pet-my-parents-are-in-education kinda person.   My how that has changed.

Regardless of my reasons I am glad I took the job.  It has not all been easy.  There are the slackers and the strugglers and the know-it-alls but when I look at the whole experience I have been so blessed.  I often forget to write about the joy in my life because I don't need to process it like I do the sorrow and anger. However, I'm learning to take more time to process everything these days.

A few weeks ago a patient allowed me to perform a full head-to-toe assessment on him while my students watched.  He began to tell us his story and I tried not to look at my watch. He told us about his job with the CDC and how he's worked all over the world...I listened a little bit. He told us that healthcare providers are among the most important people on the planet.  He told us that he could not fully express his appreciation for nurses.

I was beginning to feel like I was in a Johnson & Johnson commercial when I noticed that at least three of the seven students in the room were in tears.  They were so moved by his affirmation that they were doing the right thing.

I had forgotten that part.  How terrifying it is to stick someone with a needle for the first time.  To inflict pain upon a body even for a good cause.  To see someone naked....their naked broken body and often their naked soul.  To be the one that is with them for twelve hours while they walk for the first time on a new joint or experience what it's like to function with the tumor gone.  To listen when a patient knows what they want to say but is unable to express it because of the blood sitting in their brain. I had forgotten what it's like to be that person and the whole time wonder if you're supposed to be.  If you're cut out for it.

My students are probably most afraid of waking patients up when they are sleeping and causing pain. These are two things that I don't even think about anymore. Almost never. At first it was adorable and now it's just annoying. But I'm realizing that even eight weeks later my students are still trying to figure out how they are supposed to relate.  As a friend, as a servant, as an enforcer, as helper, as a nurse.  It took me at least two years to get the patient/nurse relationship down.  To be in charge and yet always be the most sympathetic person in the room.  To negotiate the things the patient doesn't want to do and yet allow her to feel as if you are her biggest fan.

I probably tell my students ten times a day that patients are just people.  Just talk to them like they are people!  They aren't animals in a zoo. They are a lot more rationale than you think.  Unless of course they are 85 and demented and think that you're trying to kill them...but they'll learn that communication too.

It's been an incredible job to read my students' journals each week and see them progress from questioning what in the world they were thinking entering nursing to now being confident that they are right where they are supposed to be. Affirmation is such a vital part of moving forward. Their patients, their peers and hopefully their clinical instructor have helped them to see what it's like to work among the nakedness.

I know it's cliche to say that my students have taught me more than I have taught them...it's probably not even true. But they have reminded me what it's like to care in a different way.  To be touched by a patient's....a person's thankfulness and to be moved by their pain.  To take time to listen without looking at your watch. To approach their nakedness with a heart that still feels something.

Nurses need to be reminded of these things often. Maybe we all do. I'm glad my students have reminded me.

the Jesus in Atlanta.

Monday, November 4, 2013

This is what I don’t understand.  Rachel spends an entire chapter talking about how she felt the closest to Jesus in years working with orphans and widows in India.

I get that. I get what it’s like to rock Tanzanian orphans to sleep that rarely feel physical touch. I get what it’s like to take food and medicine to widows in mud huts.  I even get what it’s like to walk with a 17 year old HIV+ girl through the decision to place her son in a Haitian orphanage so that he would receive the treatment he needed.  I get how it feels to hold her while she weeps and watch a white lady take him away.

I can’t really say that Jesus was always on the forefront of my mind as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and my desire to help people eat and fight off disease and live another day was more often my focus.  But I get that part. The part about how Jesus is often seen among the least of these.

What I don’t get is why Rachel makes it sound like I have to be in one of those places to feel close to Jesus.  To feel like I can make a difference. To have a spiritual awakening. 
I think that’s crap.  I hope it is.

I know that the reformed theology which I’ve heard since the age of five, and finally began to grasp around seventeen plays a role.  I know that everything in life is spiritual.  That it’s all sacred.  That I can equally honor God working a 9 to 5 selling popsicles or serving in a developing country.  I’ve never struggled with those questions… probably because I was always the girl that wanted to live in the mud hut…but regardless…I get that part.

What I don’t understand is this feeling.  Why is it that I (or Rachel too in this case) must travel to Haiti or Tanzania or Honduras or India and work with the orphans or the widows or the dying to feel Jesus?

I don’t buy that.  I don’t believe it. But I do feel like it's true. 

In India I was introduced to the kingdom of heaven- not as is exists in some future state but as it exists in the here and now, where the hungry are fed with both physical and spiritual bread, where the sick are saved from both their diseases and their sins, where an illiterate widow taught me more about faith than any theologian ever could, and where children from the slums sing with God. In India, I learned that the gospel is still special.  Jesus still matters and can make a difference in people’s lives.

I don’t want to have to go to India to be reintroduced.  
I want the Jesus in Atlanta to still matter

that monkey book.

Monday, October 28, 2013
I've gotten so far away from writing over the last three years. Sometimes I am not sure who I have become or what happened to that nurse after she came home from working abroad for a few months. I miss her in a lot of ways.

I am learning that she is buried somewhere deep inside.

You may have heard all the rage about Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans. If you haven't heard of it you should just stop reading this post and order the book instead. I am 109 pages in and I could have written nearly every word myself. Other than attending a private Christian college most of what Rachel writes about is my life.

I am learning that keeping it all inside helps no one. Least of all me.

I started reading about Jesus last night. To be honest it isn't something I've really done since I lived on the small island of Hispaniola. Sure, I've read a few "Utmost for His Highest" posts and attend church on the regular. But really feeling like I know the Christ part of the "Christian" I claim? I couldn't even tell you how long it's been.

Rachel and I would be friends. She too thought she knew all the answers and from what I can tell so far she was overwhelmed by an Arab woman being murdered on public television following a gang rape...something about her being disloyal to her husband. Christianity says she is now in hell. Rachel saw the footage and it turned her angry. Angry and full of questions. I get easily angered by stuff like that. I always have. Over the years my unfocused anger has simply turned to apathy. And apathy to complete and utter indifference.

I wish that I knew what my reason was...that I could remember my Arab woman that made everything different. I don't.

Some of it comes from death I've seen. The poverty. Some from the fact that I just like my non-Christian friends a lot better than my Christian ones. Some of it is simply that I don't trust people and I don't trust God. Much of that is rooted in the chaos that left scars on my soul working in a Haitian hospital. Some of it is from watching my hospice patients die and in that moment wondering if their soul actually goes some place. Most of it is that somewhere in all of those messes I forgot about the man. The man that was God that came and loved and died. I know that if I can't believe in him and his mission then none of the rest of it matters anyway.

So I started reading about Jesus last night. Some of it was inspired by Rachel and her questions. Some of it is simply because my soul has been aching for a couple of weeks and I know that there must be something that can make it feel whole. Something more than lots of wine with the greatest girlfriends a gal could ask for.

Rachel says that her most honest answer to the question, "why are you a Christian?" is that she was born in the United States of America. As was I. I was born in the Bible Belt to phenomenal Christian parents who work in ministry, in the perfectly reformed church that knows the answers to all theological wonderings, to the middle class, straight, Caucasian, in 1985. I "won the cosmic lottery" as she calls it.

Unfortunately, that has been my honest answer to that question since October of 2010.

I realize that there is only one person who can possibly change my answer. His name is Jesus.