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When He Leads You to the Desert

The Ask…

About 2 years ago, things in my life seemed pretty stable — I had no idea that 6 months later, my whole world would be turned upside down. That God would very clearly ask me to leave all my comforts, all the known places and people, and head back to a place that held very few happy memories for me. 

It’s no secret if you’ve read some of my posts or had a conversation with me, that even though I was born and raised in Indiana, I’ve never felt like I’ve belonged here. It’s been more of a black sheep feeling whenever I’ve been in Indiana. The way I think, live my life, and the life paths I’ve taken don’t quite fit in with the viewpoints or life plans of most Hoosiers. Some of these have been my choice, others have been chosen for me. 

I’m a Christian, but tend to lean to the more progressive side. I’m most comfortable in a room full of diverse cultures. Instead of getting married and starting a family in my 20s, I lived in 4 different states and obtained 3 degrees while establishing and progressing my career. I’m 32 and have never owned a home, never been married, have no kids, and am obsessed with my dog.

Desert, When God calls

The place…

So when God made it clear He was calling me from Chicagoland, the place I had settled into as an adult — MY home and my comfort place. The place I didn’t feel like a black sheep. The place where it was ok I wasn’t married or didn’t have kids or didn’t own a home. The place where I felt I belonged. The place I had a church. The place I had a job with people who felt like family and the population I loved to work with. The place where it was normal to go grocery shopping and hear multiple different languages and I was constantly exposed to new cultures. He asked me to leave MY PLACE — and follow Him to the place He was asking. The place I never felt like I belonged. 

I wouldn’t say I went willingly, but I followed. I followed, because He asked and I trusted.

The Desert

When I got here I was full of hope. Full of ideas. Full of the thoughts and dreams that maybe, just maybe I wouldn’t feel the same as I did the first 22 years of my life.

Maybe, just maybe, I would find my place. 

A year and a half in, I haven’t found my place. I miss my friends. I miss my job and the family of co-workers (side note, I love my team, they truly are what keep me going in a high stress job). I miss hearing the different languages while shopping. I miss the people who loved me for me, not what I could give or do for them. I miss the church I was excited to go to. I miss the normal restaurants I would eat at.

I miss the feeling of home.

In the desert, God led me to a boy. And when we  met, we were both transitioning through a lot of change. The change looked different, but the heartache and processing were similar. The challenge to trust, despite the pain and quietness was familiar to both of us. 

I’m still here…

And a year and a half later, I’m still in the desert. Wandering, finding water wells just when I think I can’t go anymore. They come in all shapes and sizes and forms. Sometimes in the quiet whisper that reminds me God’s got this. Sometimes in the loud reminder of a song. Sometimes in the gentle nudge of the sunrise reminding me His mercies are new every morning. In the gentle cuddles of my sweet dog. In an encouraging text from a faithful friend.

And though I haven’t found the overflowing lake to fill up my dry reservoir, I’m trusting in the One who knows the way to that lake and will follow one step at a time.

Because when He asks I follow. And never, ever has He let me down before. It often takes time (ugh, time) to see what He is doing, but it always has been worth it. So I remind myself of His faithfulness in the past. In the aspects of not only my life, but others that have been completely changed because I followed when He called. I’m reminded of the amazing people I’ve collected along the way because of going where He’s called. I’m reminded of the incredible career path and how He’s taken me from being told I was too dumb to be a nurse, to being a nurse leader.

And when He brought me to the desert… I found Mercy and Healing

Have you ever listened to a song for months and then one day, the lyrics hit you? My word of the year has been mercy. Normally with my word of the year, I’m sick of the lessons God has been teaching me 6 months into the year. But in October I realized I was just beginning to grasp what God had been teaching me about mercy. It was like the small trickles of water He has been giving me throughout the year. And the other night with just a few days left in 2018, He hit me square in the face with the lyrics that have been on repeat, but I never truly heard.

My past embraced
My sin forgiven
I’m blameless in your sight
My history rewritten

Amanda Cook “Mercy”

And to be honest, I could keep writing, because of the sweet, sweet message I have been given, but that would make for one lengthy post. So until next time, remember, His mercies are truly new every morning, even when it doesn’t feel like it…

A note to oncology care providers….

A few months ago my staff and I experienced multiple losses in a short period of time of patients we were very close with. This is a note I wrote to them to remind them that while our job is not easy, it is so worth it. To all oncology care providers out there, remember you are making a difference.

It was a tough week last week… which got me to thinking…

Recently I sat down at my new church to learn more about the church and in return, they wanted to learn about me. Quickly into my career as an oncology nurse I learned to just say “I’m a nurse” leaving out the oncology/cancer/hospice part. The reason for this is because once you say the word “oncology” or “cancer” and especially “hospice”, people’s faces tend to fall and the next question is often “how do you do it?”. In this particular case I did say just nurse first, but they proceeded to ask the question of what type of nurse, so I answered. Then I heard countless stories of how other people in the field of oncology had touched them and their family through cancer battles.

Each of you are a part of this team who makes a difference day in and day out in the lives of these patients and their loved ones. You hold their hands when they are scared, you clean up their puke, empty out their urinals, help them to the bathroom when they are too weak to make it on their own, but they want the dignity of going in a real toilet, you educate them on safety and why you need to be there, and the list goes on.

Each of us got on this career path for different reasons and each of us will be here a different amount of time. For some, it is a brief stop in their career journey. For others it will be their life’s work. Others it is somewhere in the middle. Some people landed here because you yourself or a loved one was personally touched by the care other healthcare providers in the oncology field provided. There are those that just landed in this because it was the open position. And others have a heart for oncology just because. No matter the time frame or reason, you matter.

So as I reflect back on the losses that we all felt deeply this week. As I think of the countless times I’ve felt the grief of losing an incredible patient to the horrible disease that is cancer, I want to encourage each of you. I want to let you know that you aren’t alone. I want to let you know that there is room to grieve. Most importantly though, I want you to know that you matter. That the work you are doing day in and day out is changing the lives of people, many of who have a ticking clock over their heads on how long they have left on this earth.

Oncology nursing has been my career plan since I was 16, but nursing leadership/management was not in that plan, that is more something that transpired as my career has progressed. As a leader on this unit, I am honored to work alongside each of you. You all and the patients are the reason I am here. And every time I hear “exceptional plus” or “satisfactory plus” in response to the care you are providing, my heart swells with joy and pride. Thank you for being a team that listens and truly cares. Thank you for caring, even when the pain runs deep. Please know my door is always open for a place to debrief and I’m walking alongside each of you. Thank you for making this unit exceptional plus.

Grace Makes Me Brave

Grace. That’s my word for this year, this season. Grace. It’s a word that I thought I knew the meaning of, but only knew the surface of before this season. Grace, I’ve found, gives me strength. Grace, I’ve found, provides joy. Grace, I’ve found, makes me brave. Grace is a firm foundation I can stand on.

This season has been one of rocky, wavy, stormy waters. It has been one of trial after trial after trial. And it has been one where multiple times I’ve had no idea how I could continue on. I’ve shed more tears than I have in a long time. I’ve wondered if I could handle anything else, right as another storm was blowing in. And I feel like my day to day life has been a dream because so much has been going on.

As I sit here in the room that I’ve called mine for over 3 years for my last Sunday morning in it, I’m feeling a lot of different emotions. Thursday I opened my e-mail to find the copy of the announcement of the person’s who’s place I’m taking’s departure and my arrival with a bio about me. And it hit me. This is really happening and this is a really big job (and a job that I was wanted for). In some ways, this move has been a pipe dream for many years. In other ways, this has been something I thought may never happen, because the door had been shut so many times.

But as I sat in the HR office on Friday and kept hearing “the team is so, so excited to have you!” And as I walked around the apartment that I would be calling home in less than 1 week – I realized, this is really happening.

Grace and faith in those moments – I grabbed and clung onto them.

And I sat there and reflected on and I clung to the moments a few days prior where I looked at my little brother and gripped onto truth that he is a walking miracle right now. You see, a few weeks ago as I hopped in my car to head to the interviews that would potentially bring me closer to family,  I was teetering, because leaving the place I’ve called home for 5 years wasn’t going to be an easy decision. I had heard that morning that there was an increase in 20-30 year old having strokes. I’m medical, so this caught my attention, but little did I think that night my family would become part of that statistic that very night.

As I was driving down the highway to these interviews and heard my brother couldn’t move and was having severe dizziness and was in the E.D. with a new diagnosis of something I had never heard of, but knew it didn’t sound good. I started to cry. Full on sobbing as I’m driving down the highway screaming at God “I get it, I’m supposed to move, just let him be ok.”

You see, I learned, that sometimes my life has to fall apart from all directions for God to catch my attention. Sometimes I get so comfortable, that He has to allow things to get uncomfortable to get me where He is leading me. I’ve learned just how He can use things of pain and hurt for His glory. Because without those many hurts and deep deep pains, I wouldn’t be headed where I am right now. And as my stubborn bull headed self got in the way throughout this process, He gave me grace upon grace upon grace. When I slammed a door shut, He gently re-opened it and whispered “I’m opening this, don’t close it”. I learned the freedom in true forgiveness. I learned who will be there for me in the storms and who won’t. I learned once again, just how important family is, no matter how much they drive you nuts.

I’ve learned that I will cling to the grace from above to make me brave in the toughest moments of life. And here I am, diving head first into facing the immensity. I’m headed towards dreams that were not developed by me, but by the life God has dreamt up for me. And those are the sweetest dreams of all.

Ready or not, here this goes.

The Year of 30 – Fear Facing

This morning I was sitting at my desk going through the stacks of cards I received for my birthday.

I hate my birthday, bad things happen, and this year was no different. As I reflected on this stack of cards, but more importantly who they came from and the words inside, I’m thankful. Often, when things are imploding around us, we tend to forget that we matter to people.

I had a really, really hard time turning 30. It felt like I was no longer “young”. I felt like I had accomplished so much between 20-25 and not so much between 26-30. I mean when you graduate 3 times in a 3 year span, it is kind of hard to beat such accomplishments again. 

So as I was turning 30, I reflected on the goals/aspirations I had that had not yet been obtained. My dream of being a nurse practitioner (yes, more school), has not yet been obtained. My dream of being a wife and mother has not yet come to fruition. I hadn’t traveled as much as I had planned. In many ways I still felt unsettled, a lack of stability. I also reflected on what the last half of my 20’s was, and what it was surprised me. It was a lot of healing from damaging relationship of all kinds in my early 20’s. It was also a lot of making a career for myself, which included surviving the night shift and the endless hours of anxiety a new nurse goes through. They were years of self discovery and self reflection. They were years that have brought me to where I am today, and for that I am thankful.

So last week as I faced turning 31 and parts of my life were in shambles around me, I actually didn’t struggle. Because if I’m honest, my 30’s have been off to a great start with loads of adventure. Also, I trust that my dreams will come to be when the time is ready, and with the right people and the right school programs. I have a peace about trusting in the timing to be right, and less of a need to get everything accomplished NOW.

Over the past year I went to Costa Rica and faced my fear of heights by jumping of the side of mountains to go zip-lining  and I would do it again in a heart beat.

I dated guys that are completely out of my normal and learned a great deal and have great memories as a result.

“Leadership isn’t a skill you have, it is a skill you learn”

After a great deal of wrestling over the decision and praying, I took on a management position at work. It hasn’t been easy, actually far from it, but as my wise little brother told me “Leadership isn’t a skill you have, it is a skill you learn”. And everyday, I am learning this more and more. But, I have to say, when someone says “my boss” in reference toe me, my immediate response is “that’s not me!”… and then I realize, actually technically, yes it is.

I faced a lot of fears this past year both personally and professionally. I feel like my word(s) for the year of 30 was fear facing and as I enter 31, grace is what resonates. Grace for others. Grace for myself. Grace for where I’ve been and where I’m going. But most importantly sitting in the beauty of the grace from my Heavenly Father – knowing that I will never be enough but through His grace, He is enough for me. There is a freedom in knowing I can’t reach the state of perfection I’ve longed to reach for so long, but in Him I am fulfilled. My job is simply to walk in His grace and be the best me I can be. So 31, let’s do this.

 

 

From grouch to grateful – a nurse’s attitude adjustment

I woke up this morning feel defeated. The last few weeks things have been a bit rough. On top of that, I woke up at 4:30 for no reason and couldn’t fall back asleep. I got up eventually, got ready for work, and went there frustrated and grouchy. If I was being completely honest, I wanted to crawl into a hole and not talk to people. We all know those days, right?

Grateful Heart

Before I even got to work it was clear that things were not going as planned for the day.  Commence tiny violins playing in my head and the desire to crawl into a hole growing even bigger. Throughout the day I’m holding back sassy and sarcastic comments and trying to adjust my attitude.

In the middle of the day I was doing a dressing change on one of my young adult patients. This patient is younger than me and has had an extremely rough year. We’re talking about a lot of different things and out of no where she dives into a short spiel that went something like this…. “Erica just in case you’re wondering you make a difference in people’s lives every day, don’t every doubt that. You’re one of my angels.”

With tears in my eyes I told her thank you and that some days I do wonder. Some days I wonder if everything I’m doing really does matter. And some days, even though I know and witness plenty of people who have it far worse than me, I wonder why some things happen to me. And one of those some days was today.

So as I reflect on this Thanksgiving week, I’m reminded of one main thing, patients may claim I’m their angel, but in so many cases, these patients (and their loved ones) are my angels. Thanksgiving this year just got a whole lost sweeter.

 

How Do You Do it?

How do you do it? It’s a question I get asked all the time about my job. Some days, on days like today, where I mourn the loss of a patient who was near and dear to my heart, I wonder. I wonder how do I continue to do this? But here’s the thing, even when my heart is laced in grief my response is this – how could I not do it? You see, the deeper I dig into the question, the longer I’m an oncology nurse, the older I get – the more aware I become of how things in life aren’t necessarily meant to be easy. Especially the best things in life.

Oncology Nurse

I still remember when I was 17 walking into a hospital and my thought was “this feels like home”. Sounds crazy, right? But there was something that drew me in, and continues to draw me in. The more I thought about and experienced the oncology field, the more I was hooked. I can’t explain it, and I’m not sure that any one of us can. This is what I do know though – you ask any of us who feel called to the oncology field and we can simply answer “I was made to do this”.

So instead of looking for ways for it to be easier, I’m looking for ways to walk through it well.

So as I have thought through and continue to think through the question “how do you do it?” I still keep coming back to, how could I not? I mean, I could not. I could walk away and enter another field of nursing and some day I might. But as for now, this is my calling, and I know this with my whole heart. So instead of looking for ways for it to be easier, I’m looking for ways to walk through it well.

I’m making a conscious decision to every day develop who I am and my coping mechanisms. I’m choosing to surround myself with community that will walk through life with me. I’m digging into who I am, how I was created, and working on making myself the healthiest I can possibly be.

Most importantly though, I’m choosing to focus on the things that make me love my job. I mean, for a science nerd, to be in one of the fastest advancing medical fields is incredible. The amount of new drugs coming out is breathtakingly awesome. Not to mention I work with some of the best doctors, nurses. CNAs, midlevels, and other office staff around. They are like family to me.

I wish that just for a moment you could get a glimpse into the incredible people’s souls who entrust me to walk with them through the hell they are living in.

The best part though? The patients and their loved ones. The fact that because of my job, I have met some of the most amazing people is enough, but it doesn’t stop there. I wish that just for a moment you could get a glimpse into the incredible people’s souls who entrust me to walk with them through the hell they are living in. I have witnessed what true love looks like in all sorts of relationships. It’s in the husband who still finds his wife beautiful, even when all her worldly beauty is gone. It’s in the son who makes his work schedule around when his mom has chemo treatments. It’s in the friend who cancels her plans on spare of the moment to take their very sick friend to treatment. It’s in the adult kids who take care of their dying father in his final days so he can be at home.

So instead of asking me “how do you do it?” Ask me “how can I help you do this?”

These people, the patients and their loved ones, challenge me to be a better person. To love deeper. To live well. To embrace all emotions – both the good and the bad.  To be the best me I can be.

So instead of asking me “how do you do it?” Ask me “how can I help you do this?” Because that is what we need. Any of us in fields that are as emotionally tough as the oncology field need the cheerleaders on our side. Walking with us, crying with us, listening to us. This is the best thing you can do for us, so that we can continue to do what we were made to do, and do it well.

 

 

The Gut of a Nurse

The patient walked into the clinic for fluids. It had been a few months since I had that feeling in my gut. Any nurse can tell you about that feeling. It is this awful feeling in the pit of your stomach. It comes even when there is nothing clearly telling you why it is there. You just know you need to keep a close eye on that patient. So you do. You keep watching for something to indicate why your gut alarm has gone off.

The nurse -gut feeling- can't be taught,

One of my nursing professors told me that the gut feeling can’t be taught. That you can’t create a nurse, but you can shape one. I agree with her. Long before I was an official nurse I had a gut feeling. But the more educated you get, the more experience you have, the more fine tuned that gut gets especially within your specialty.

Continue reading “The Gut of a Nurse”



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