Why I’ve been absent…

One semester left.

That’s what I keep telling myself.

One semester. 16 weeks. Just keep going.

Part of being absent has been not figuring out how to process my patients’ and my story for blogging. You know, HIPPA and all that. I find there is meaning in their lives, and I want to say more than “wow, I worked in a hospital with patients today” but some people will make you believe THAT is too much.

Anyway, there’s another reason I’ve been more absent. Blogging was a way for me to process, and lately, someone else has gotten my verbal processing.

Someone who took me here, after we attended a family wedding over the weekend:DSCF2370

And did this, next to Bridal Veil Falls:DSCF2372

Although, I was so excited/shocked/”Is this really happening??” that I didn’t even give him time to ask. I just said “Yes!” several times, until I realized that I completely stole his thunder. To which I said, “Um, I assume you were going to ask me to marry you?” Then he showed me the ring, and because everyone asks for a close-up:DSCF2375The only down-side of getting proposed to at Niagara Falls is that you are right on the line between US and Canadian cell service. I had to wait until we were off Goat Island and 5 miles on US soil before I could call my own parents!

 

Dating a Seminarian

I entered a new frontier the past summer – I’m “in a relationship.” But as this requires as much adjustment and introspection as being single, don’t think that my blog has suddenly lost its purpose.

Yep, you heard me, being single – a content single – requires as much introspection and processing as dating someone.

Anyway, my boyfriend is an Orthodox Seminary graduate. With my involvement over at Orthogals, it was suggested that I write an advice feature on dating a seminarian. Since this would involve his life, I ran the idea past him. The conversation:

Me: So, the Orthogals are wondering if I can write a feature on dating a seminarian. What do you think?
Him: Um, I don’t think that’s a good idea.
Me: (seeing his reticence and suddenly being aware of the personal nature of it) On second thought, maybe not.
Him: Actually, let me give you my advice for dating a seminarian – DON’T.
Me: Yeah, if people actually look at the demands life will have on that family, they wouldn’t seek it out.

Later, I was chatting with my priest about life and how mine was shaping up. In hearing that my relationship involved a seminarian, my priest offered his wife as a resource to me. Of note, Preoteasa is the Romanian equivalent to the Arabic Khouria and Russian Matushka – all are terms of respect for the priest’s wife. In my parish, it has been abbreviated to “P’sa.” The conversation as follows:

Me: Your husband volunteered you as a source of advice for me.
P’sa: Oh? For what?
Me: Dating a seminarian.
P’sa: Run. Run FAR away. 

So, ladies, there you have it from both the potential priest and the wife of one – don’t seek out that position and enter with caution if you do get called.

 

When The End Comes

Sorry that I’ve been absent for so long. There has been so much to juggle the past few months, and since I have a few people with whom I can verbally process my life, I guess blogging hasn’t been a top priority. I have plans to fill in some of my thoughts and experiences from the summer, but they will have to wait.

The reason for this entry, however, is that last night I received word from Stewie that The Brain finished his battle/war with ALS.

While I hate that a terrible disease has taken yet another person in such a cruel way, my emotion is not so much based on anger or depression or bitterness. I am actually relieved to know that he fought his battle in the only way he could and was able to let go. I am relieved to know that Stewie will have the opportunity to sleep through the night for the first time in over 2 years. I am relieved to know that The Brain was able to let go of this life and not give up hope.

I’m sure there will be more writings and musings of my grieving. But they will be dampened as I do not feel my life will make as much of an adjustment compared with others.

I have been struck the past few months in how complete the prayers of Orthodoxy are for the human experience. When we let go of our pride that says only extemporaneous or spontaneous prayers are best, we find a vast wealth of wisdom. So, I leave you with several of the prayers available in the Orthodox Prayer Book published by Holy Protection Monastery in Colorado (aka “The Blue Romanian Prayer Book”)

Oh good Lord, remember Your servant(s) _______ and forgive them all in which they have transgressed in their lives, for only You are without sin and can grant rest to the departed. In Your divine wisdom and love for mankind, You bestow all things and provide for all the needs of man. O Creator, rest the souls of Your servants _____ who have placed their hope in You, O Lord, the Fashioner, the Creator and our God. Amont the saints, O Christ, rest the souls of Your servants where there is neither pain nor grief nor sighing, but life everlasting.

In one of my conversations with The Brain before I left for nursing school, he expressed to me his fear of being forgotten after his death. So, I now can pray the words I reassured to him that day: Memory eternal.

 

Complimenting the Choir

I have sung at the chanter’s stand and choir for about 5 years non-stop. In high school and college, my church and campus ministry had a rotation for people in the worship band or praise team, so there was no need for me to make a weekly commitment. Save August 2009, December 2011, and a few random Sundays of illness, I spend services as a choir member…or at some services, I AM the choir.

Yesterday, I got two lovely compliments that encouraged me more than any others combined. It was the Feast of the Dormition of The Mother of God, which is  the last major feast of the church year. Beautiful hymns encourage Christians to prayer. While in line to receive a blessing at the end, a woman approached me. “Your voice is so beautiful. It helped me to pray today. Thank you.

After the pitch-in breakfast, a man approached me as I got up to leave. “Thank you for singing today. It lifted us all up [to heaven].”

I had enjoyed Vigil the night before and Liturgy yesterday morning – the people I was singing with were on pitch and we could trade harmonizing ad lib. As a musician, those are the service moments you love. When you aren’t just singing but making music and able to have a few moments of prayer yourself.

Many a dissertation is written on Orthodox services, and I have a very simple understanding of them. I can say, however, that the reason Orthodox Christians gather is to pray. Liturgy is a prayer. Vespers, Vigil, and all other daily services are for prayer. Everything in an Orthodox church is a call to prayer and to see as best we can with earthly eyes and hearts the Glory of God.

Yet, when you sing in the choir, you give up that freedom to pray. I have experienced so many, Orthodox or not, who view the choir or worship leaders as “untouchables” or that the work of a musician is so much more honorable than they in the crowd. My voice being audible during the service in NO WAY makes me amazing and you liturgical dust.

Complimenting your choir member or director with a “woe is me” or “Gosh, you’re important” tone is flawed. Please stop doing that.

The choir members have given up their freedom to pray because we have to think about other things – like staying in tune. This also goes for the opposite – to “mentally check-out” during a service is disastrous. And because Orthodoxy involves the body, we also give up the freedom to prostrate, bow, or even bless ourselves without whacking our hand or forehead on a music stand.

God has given us a gift. We are to use it, and most of us do with glad hearts! But it does not come without sacrifice. Knowing that you were able to pray makes my sacrifice worth it.

I have had people compliment my voice after it has sung both the sacred and secular. Very few have gone to say how it has moved them to better prayer. That sufficiently humbled me to know they were praying as I was singing yet thinking about whether or not I chose the most comfortable shoes for a 3-hour service.

To The Babies I Held on My Birthday

Obstetrics clinical rotations began this past week. Day 2 was Wednesday, July 17 – my 31st birthday. Here’s what I was thinking that day.

Dear Little Ones,

Welcome to the outside world. The past week was filled with a lot of change for you. You are still dependent on your mother for nutrition and warmth, but you are now breathing on your own. And this time it’s air, not amniotic fluid. Your heart and lungs have gone through intense change and you are still causing your mom hormone and physical changes in this post-partum period. Your dad, while not new to this, is still in awe and thankful that the both of you are safe.

You didn’t know it and probably never will, but I took care of you on my birthday. 31 years ago, I was the new bundle of joy. I’ve seen pictures but time fades colors in the pre-digital photography era. I have to wonder if my face looked like a model for a porcelain doll and if my lips were perfect cherry red as yours are. As I held you, I didn’t mourn that I have yet to push a new human out of my abdomen. I was overwhelmed with a distinct sense of hope for you and wonder.

What delights will you bring your parents? How will you and that big brother I saw earlier get along? Will you color on the walls or play in the mud? Will you break hearts or have your heart broken? What will you be so passionate about that could help your corner of the world?

I hope sincerely that you will not disappoint others, but you are human, therefore you will. Thus, I hope more that you learn to ask for forgiveness and extend it. I hope you are able to see Truth and want it for you and others.

As I hear the news of what the world is throwing us – the suffering isn’t new but you are. May your eyes be opened gently so you don’t see too much at once, yet just enough that you are able to have compassion and help as you can.

It is wonderful to look upon you just being you. Content that your needs are met.

Thank you for that gift of seeing life simply when it is complex. My only regret is that I can’t tell you this for when you’ll remember nor can I leave your parents a note – that would just be creepy.

May the Lord have mercy on you daily.

Your Student Nurse

And in case you, the reader, are wondering, here’s from 31 years ago:

laurababy

Linkage

I’ve been writing some over at Orthogals, which is taking time away from posts here.

As you can tell, something has to give between nursing school, blogging, and cleaning the kitchen and bathroom. For now, it’s blogging. When I can hire a cleaning lady – watch out!!

Anyway, here is my most recent post on dating life.

Blessed All Saints Day, Orthodox folks. And to those on the Old/Julian Calendar, enjoy a shortened Apostles’ Fast since those of us Newbies don’t have one.

Criticism and Failure

The past two months, I’ve had a multitude of opportunities to fail and/or receive criticism in various situations. Work, school, home…and on really good days, I have received it in more than one place!

failureI do wish I actually had some words of wisdom to pass along for those of you who feel down due to your professional or personal shortfalls. Wouldn’t it be lovely if, in the multitude of personality inventories, we were also given hints on how we best receive confrontation and others noticing our flaws.

The word “failure” seems so final. Maybe because it’s associated with tests and information that you’ll never see again. You have no other opportunity to prove yourself capable. Situations are eased if you can call something a flaw, short-coming, fault – but never failure.

Some things, such as burnt cookies, I can look at and say, “It’s fixable. No one got hurt.” But if I make a mistake at work, I might not be told about it in front of a patient, but I do have to make it right and go back in their room to do whatever is needed. Or I need to come back later and fix charting, etc.  And it always seems that all my mistakes happen with one patient or one nurse each shift.

Then there’s school. I have yet to “bomb” a test, but there have been many times that I did not process the material well enough to get the grade I wanted. Or I didn’t do my paperwork well enough. There’s definitely an internal pressure that I have to make nursing work. I should be a good nurse. Good nurses are good students. Well, I haven’t exactly felt like a stellar student this semester. I love the patient interaction. I loathe the books. But I need the books to improve my patient interaction.

And at home, when I’m forgetful of my jobs and duties, I want to make excuses or cower in my room, fearful of others’ disapproval until I can prove that I am responsible. Well, at least until the next time I royally screw up.

With both self-imposed and other-imposed expectations, it’s been rather rough. Then to top it off, my finals week coincided with Holy Week. Great. Now I’m academically and spiritually mediocre.

I needed Pascha. Not just so Lent and the fasting could end. Rather, I needed to reminder that everyone needs to come to Pascha. The point of Pascha is to celebrate our Hope that Christ has Risen, He has defeated Death. No one, not even the strictest of monastics “does Lent well.” Regardless of your short-comings, your faults, your lack of virtue or sense, your failures – you come and receive the light.

I fear how many times I will need this lesson re-taught to me. Yet, thankful that God’s grace and mercy will be a constant presence as I am criticized or as I fail. It won’t be pretty. It will never give me a feeling of “Joyous day that I am told how I let someone down!” But I’ll take what I need to the cross and rest in the Hope of Christ.

What I Miss from My Protestant Days

So, it’s the week before Easter! (I love saying that to make people’s heads turn!) Yes, it’s one of those years that “Greek” Easter is WAY late. Oh well.

As I was experiencing Palm Sunday on April 28, I realized something for the first time since converting: There is only one thing I miss from my Protestant experience. Being a pesky convert to Orthodox Christianity, I have 25+ years of low-church Protestantism to frame my religious education and lay theological training. When I was still in my inquiry and catechism into Orthodoxy, I was answering a lot of questions from concerned Protestants, such as:

  • Now that he’s dumped you, will you still go to the Orthodox church?
  • Do you feel God is less approachable in prayer?
  • Where is ____ in the Bible?
  • Are the Orthodox Calvinists?

I attempted to answer these and many others with as much sense and grace as possible. I don’t miss the debates over Predestination/Calvinism vs. Free Will/Armenian. I don’t miss how some churches try to spice up their church service with new stage lights, decorations, a sermon series or bible study on the most recently published book, etc. I don’t miss the sanctuary being renamed to “Big Church” or “The Auditorium” or “God’s House” etc. I don’t miss the debates over “seeker sensitive” vs. “feeding the sheep.”

I definitely do not miss “P&W time” that is filled with repetitive words and bland music. (This will be its own post in the future).

I miss having a cup of coffee and breakfast before going to church.

02020011

Especially this last Sunday, I was seriously wanting pancakes and coffee with real cream. Between all the times I sang, “Lord, have mercy” or “Grant this, O Lord” and the longer hymns – I kept trying to focus on Christ triumphantly entering Jerusalem, “Hosanna in the Highest” … Coffee. Pancakes with eggs over easy.

For those of you unaware as to why this is a craving: If an Orthodox Christian is to partake of communion, he/she is to fast from bedtime/midnight until partaking of communion during Liturgy. There are other fasting guidelines during Lent, however, it still stays that if you are going to take communion, you should fast the night before and morning of. Some mornings, I feel fine. I make it through everything no complaint. Other mornings, there is a twinge, but I power through. The mornings like this past Sunday – I got to experience the grace of God and know that in my weakness he is strong. Mind you, I wasn’t all happy about this.

I was hungry. My back and knees hurt. (Lord, have mercy) I was sore. (Lord, have mercy) I was tired.  (Oh, thank God! We’re at the Creed.) I wanted nothing more than to cry and whine (When will I ever get to be parishioner that can sit whenever I want). My throat is drying out. (My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.)

Yet, even on these “bad days” where I long for my simple cup of coffee with a crossword before church, I’m reminded that my inner struggle is exactly why I need The Orthodox Church. One of the prayers for the Eucharist (Communion) asks that it be given to each according to his need. As I partake, I’m reminded again that the Eucharist is given “for the remission of sins and everlasting life.”

Some days, my prayer is that Christ continue to refine me. Show me where I need to forgive and love more. Other days, my prayer is that I be reminded that I need Christ more than coffee and comfortable Sunday mornings.

Fortune Cookie Predicts Lent

Today, I attended a Health Literacy in-service. While there are plenty of things I could blog about from my 6.25 contact education hours, I would like to focus on my fortune from lunch.

A WISH WILL BE GRANTED AFTER A LONG DELAY.

I didn’t think that Chinese restaurants and fortune cookie companies knew about Lent. I have been wishing intently for cheese and meat and bacon and… …

6-ish weeks of Lent. Yep, I’d say that’s a long delay.

Still Going, Still Waiting

I woke up Saturday morning thinking about The Brain and Stewie. It has been a while since I wrote an update on his condition and life in their house. Stewie keeps me and a few other close friends posted on their daily activities and The Brain’s downward progress. Until medical research gives the world another picture of disease progression, there’s only one way for a person with ALS to progress  – downhill.

Saturday, shortly after I woke up, I thought of The Brain and all that has changed for him and Stewie since I left them in August. And I finally did something I’ve been needing to for about a month – I cried. The Brain is such a fighter, and if it weren’t for BiPAP machines that help him breathe, I am certain he would not still be alive. The news of this last week is that The Brain is losing more control over the last of his voluntary muscular functions (I’m toning this down for those of you more squeamish). He’s also battling over-production of saliva along with less ability to swallow. The risk of him falling out of equipment to help transfer him in and out of his wheelchair grows everyday. What he can eat without choking is a dwindling list. When he sleeps, his breathing pattern changes.

Someone asked me recently what I thought his timeline was, beings that The Brain has outlived every one of my guesses. I could only respond by saying the disease is a waiting game. Lungs with less than 10% of their usual function that are hardening will eventually stop oxygenating his body. For now, only one day at a time.

I’m heavily distracted tonight. Some of it is Lent (Remember, I’m Orthodox. Easter/Pascha hasn’t happened yet). Some of it is school – Oh, the guilt of my studying doused with heavy distractions never being enough. But I know part of my mind-wandering is The Brain and wondering how he is really doing.

How odd to be in the midst of Lent with The Brain and Stewie always in the back of my mind. This is a time of spiritual refocusing that culminates in the proclamation that “CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD TRAMPLING DOWN DEATH BY DEATH. AND UPON THOSE IN THE TOMBS BESTOWING LIFE!” So, here I am to be celebrating the Risen Christ and the Hope he gives us over death, yet, each day greets The Brain with the reality that he is closer to death. While each of us is closer everyday, how much more sobering to see a person for whom it is a present reality rather than a passing thought.

During the Paschal service, we are reminded of the power of our Hope in Christ. “O Death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory?”

It still doesn’t mean that while The Brain is alive I don’t feel the sting of his or Stewie’s suffering.

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