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.

Bullied: Part 1

Do you remember the first time you saw yourself in the mirror and finally had a shred of hope that you just might be physically attractive and desirable? That you were not the despicable and horrible human that others kept saying you were for so long?

It was the summer I turned 15; my family had moved back to Kansas the previous year after 6 ½ in South Dakota. While I had a minor disappointment with a boy the past year, I had been getting some attention from others and had successes in extra-curricular activities about my confidence. I was uncertain on what to do with compliments. If I said “Thank you,” I feared I would look like a snob, but if I ignored them, it would be rude. I think I usually stammered or tried to shrug things off.

It was a day I had very little planned. I was still in my PJs at the breakfast table when my brother came from the basement. He thought I was wearing a casual sundress for the day and is a pretty cool guy when it comes to his sisters. He asked, “Where did you get that dress?” in the way that men from my family say with uncertainty on how to word a compliment, yet in a way that the women know the men noticed.

“Um, Jeff, these are my PJs.”

Him: “Oh.”

After that comment and finishing breakfast, I walked back to my room to change into my real clothes for the day. At the end of the short, narrow hallway was an oval mirror. I caught a glimpse I had never considered before. It wasn’t an imaginary catwalk to my room, or a trial run of how I would saunter through The Mall. Just enough of a second glance to where I could say, “Maybe I’m not fat and ugly.” My self-esteem and self-perception were still hovering above empty, but there was something about those 10 feet down the hall that gave me hope. Not everyone was out to be better than me. My obvious features of height and hips were not necessarily a negative. And maybe my acne-prone face and shoulders weren’t as horrible as others made it seem.

I still had plenty of emotional breakdowns between that moment and now. I still considered shopping a war and personal assault. The number on the size was all-important as to how I felt about myself for the next month or so.  Some hurts have scabbed over, yet I’m reminded of their scars at the most random times. Just when I think that I’ve answered all the questions and satiated the emotional holes left from my middle school years, the emptiness slinks in the cracks on bad days.

The mid-90s seemed more concerned with sexual harassment and whether or not kids knew about HIV transmission. The line between “kids being kids” and bullying had not gotten the attention of the past 10 years. Sometimes I wonder how I would feel if I could have stood up for myself in the schoolyard. What if one day I would have just punched someone in the face? What if I could sue for the therapy bills not covered by insurance? What if I had taken a few more sick days or convinced my parents to get me out of that school?

What happened cannot be changed. But I have hope. Not because I saw myself as pretty one summer day, half my life ago.

Because I’m learning to forgive people that I will never see again and who will never know how deeply their words cut to my heart. Because I can look at the world around and know that God created things that are good. Because I am to look and myself and say that I am the chief of sinners and forgive others’ trespasses, debts, and sins.

It is not easy, nor should anyone be demanded to produce these results overnight. Be filled with Truth to combat the lies. That is the first step. The other steps will follow, but always seek Truth.

On the Lighter Side

There has been a lot for me to think about lately in regards to myself and how I need basic reminders of character development, etc. Summer classes began two weeks ago at 8:30 AM – about 96 hours after my last final of the spring semester.

However, on to lighter topics for a bit. Believe me, there will be plenty more deep thoughts in the weeks to come.

So, let me introduce you to my coping mechanism:

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In my defense, I can make a box of Girls Scout cookies last 2-3 months. These packages lasted about 3 or 4. I was in the store picking up a few things to fill-out my week for groceries when I saw the display: Double Stuff. Golden. I was drawn to it like a fly to honey. Of course, seeing both options I couldn’t resist.

During this summer, I hope to change my coping mechanism to biking or outdoor activity or swimming. Then again, cookies and cream, in moderation of course, is rather therapeutic.

It still happens in your 30s…

I’m in my early 30s and still “open to a relationship.”

This past weekend, I had my first Skype conversation with a man I’d been introduced to online (via friends – you don’t always have to go through a site to be online dating, I guess.) This means that we enjoyed each other’s written words and recent pictures enough that the conversation warranted the next step: the video chat. Anyway, we had been emailing back and forth for a few weeks, and our respective schedules had finally cleared up to where we set the time.

The day of said Skype date, you want to know what happened? No, massive storms and internet outages didn’t occur. No catastrophes.

I developed a painful pimple on my chin.

When I felt it brewing the night before, I just had to chuckle. Seriously? The stuff that plagues you as a teenager the day before Prom still happens before a first date in your 30s???

Thankfully, Skype doesn’t always have the best of pictures, so a little make-up went a long way. But you want to know the other funny thing about having your first coffee date over the interwebs (other than it being Dutch treat?)… you only have to look good from waist up! Thank you bare feet and cooperative hair!

It was a good conversation. Enough that there are to be more in the future. In the mean time, I guess I’m going to dig out my benzol peroxide and keep looking for the ultimate face wash.

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.

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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.

Tricks of the Trade

I have multiple updates working right now, but while fresh in my mind, I thought I should share an experience from this past week.

Before I moved to Indy, I decided that the transition plus the stress of school warranted that I look into a counselor/therapist for at least the first few semesters. Remembering my past bouts with depression, the last thing I wanted was a significant slump during my time in school.

I chose to utilize the student center here on campus – convenient and inexpensive – but not unprofessional:

I didn’t intend to make it anything more than a “check-in” or neutral party that could look out for me; I just knew that I was susceptible to depressive symptoms and wanted to have a support network in place so spiraling emotions could be “nipped in the bud” before becoming a problem. It is never enthralling to hear someone say that there are emotions you can work through more, and oh, how about we meet once a week!

Gulp. Pride never goes down easily. I felt a little like this:

I will say that with this and my past counselor, going into the intake appointment with the attitude of, “I’m going to tell them everything possible” rather than guarding myself and anyone in my past has helped more than I realized. My first counselor had to work really hard for me to open up about why I was there. Then again, some things in the heart are so guarded that one is blinded and blocked from seeing themselves let alone others.

Anyway, this past week in an appointment, I was talking about a few experiences in my Psych clinicals. One of which, I already wrote about. I also mentioned how my experiences around patients in the psych ward were bringing to mind my own treatment of depression for myself.

Counselor: “Tell me more about that.”

Me: “BAHAHAHAHA!! Good use of your ‘therapeutic techniques’!”

I actually feel sorry for my counselor. He now has to sit through a session with someone who not only has previous experiences in counseling, but also is learning and practicing therapeutic techniques and knows the medical side of mental illness. He chuckled at my “compliment”, and yes, I did tell him more.

As a beginning medical practitioner, I’m still not sure which camp of knowledge I like belonging to. Did I prefer my previous state of ignorance, merely knowing the basic processes of the body and more common ailments? Am I reluctant to enter my new knowledge base? Or will I now attempt to intellectualize and medicate my way out of every physiologic snafu?

As with most of my life questions, I feel as though the answer is to continue on the journey. Pray. Cry. Seek first the Kingdom of God. Be honest with myself. Emote. Accept what is.

In essence: Be human.

Neuro-Psych Nursing

I’ve finished my first few days of clinicals in “the looney bin”, which is exactly how a patient described his/her surroundings.

As I have mentioned in previous postings, patient privacy is of utmost importance. It’s not only due to the lovely laws collectively called “HIPPA” by all healthcare employees (including housekeeping and maintenance workers) that I stray from specifics, but also because behavioral and mental health diagnoses are sensitive topics.

One thing I do want to get out of your mind is that being a psych nurse is nothing like what you would see on the movie A Beautiful Mind or other show where barbaric treatments are implemented. So far, I haven’t seen or heard from other nursing students that syringes of sedatives are jammed into patients nor disengagement of staff from patients. I have yet to see a room on the unit as stark as in the movie Girl, Interrupted. There aren’t heavy decorations of any kind, but neither is there a sterility to the environment either.

My first day on a Psych unit was actually last week. My fellow students and I got to see various units in the entire department – the one I observed was subdued as it was lunch. We were just supposed to see how the environment (milieu) was set-up. What rules and regulations were in the unit for safety of the patients and staff? What activities were offered to the patients for their day? What was the goal for the patients in that unit?

The past two days, I was actually on the unit as a student nurse. With no instructor always present, I was not allowed to pass meds (not like there were really that many anyway.) Mostly, I observed the patients, attempted to talk with one, and observed the staff in their work and interactions. What I didn’t expect was my lovely vasovagal respons to kick in – again – for the silliest reason.

My particular patient was considering ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) for treatment. Before engaging in a conversation with my patient in regards to his/her thoughts about consenting for treatment, I decided to watch the video about ECT that the unit provides as information.

I found the video helpful and a great resource. My adrenal glands did not.

I don’t know if it was seeing an actual patient rather than an actor portraying a patient that set me off. Or maybe seeing an outpatient procedure with IV lines and knowing that regardless of the muscle relaxants and anesthetic, the purpose of the shock was to trigger a seizure. Whatever it was, I felt “the first wave.”

Crap. Seriously, I’m sitting down! I’m not in the room with the person! There’s no blood! GAH!

I’m fascinated by the video, but my adrenaline refuses to calm down. A second wave. Dangit! I know I’m a little tired, but I had breakfast and coffee. I start moving my feet, then bouncing my legs. I get down on the floor and start moving my legs. This helps a bit, but then I decide to sit back in my chair right as my instructor comes into the room. I attempt to tough it out and tell her what I’ve learned so far from the video.

Then, I cave.

Sorry I’m moving my foot around so much. I have a highly developed vasovagal response, and I don’t know what’s bothering me about this right now, but it is kicking in.

We talk through it some, then I request permission to lay on the floor and move my legs around. “Do your thing, you’re fine!” My instructor is a pretty cool chic; I hope that I can be as knowledgeable and passionate about my future nursing specialty as she is. I don’t give a detailed history of my vagal responses, just that it first happened when I was 14 and that I was “that nursing student” who passed out and spent her first clinical day in the ER.

And since my instructor is a practicing Psych nurse herself, she was encouraging me to do whatever I needed to bring my anxiety down. I shared with her that I was working with a counselor on campus as a prophylaxis for depression and that we had been working on self-care. Thankfully, since I was able to lay on the floor this time and pump my legs, I returned to “normal” in about 5 minutes.

I think once I feel the first few waves, there is a secondary anxiety of NOT wanting to experience an “episode” again. Yay – anxiety about anxiety. So, while frustrating, at least I didn’t end up in the ER again and have the unit wonder what the heck was wrong with the student nurse.

After that, I could get on with trying to converse with patients who had mood disorders and seeing the staff de-escalate threatening patients. I can’t wait until I get some time on the more intense wards or crisis units.

Awkward!

Foot in mouth!

Until I am eligible for a student nurse position (2 more weeks!), I work at a restaurant. Tonight, a table was pre-set in my section with two menus and a single rose.

An engagement? Anniversary? What special occasion did I have?

The couple came and chatted away. I greeted them and asked what the occasion was. “Just being sweet” was the answer. I smiled at the gentleman. “Well, as I like to quote Flannery O’Connor ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’!” I left them to their conversation.

It seemed they were enjoying a leisurely dinner, and the plates were cleared. Dessert?? No. Are you sure? I could easily turn this into an anniversary or birthday discount?

“It’s a first date.”

Red faced, all I can get out is, “Been there!” and I leave.

I don’t know how the date went from his or her angle, but either way, I got a $22 tip out of the deal.

The Fall Out from my Fall Down

I described my bang-up job on clinicals in the previous post. But like Paul Harvey, here is the rest of the story.

I made my way home from the ER, disappointed in myself and the day. Looming in the back of my mind was the question of how hefty the ER bill would be for 3-4 hours of observation, 1 ECG, 1 litre of saline and 2 staples. Finally free from the recesses of the ED, I called my friends and gave them a full explaination of what happened, at which point they offered to drive an hour to Indianapolis right then if I needed. I welled up with tears, again.

The temptation for me right now is to continue in merely relaying the events of the day in play-by-play and let you, the reader, glean from that the results. However, it seems all parties would benefit from me confessing the deeper levels rather than how I spent every minute of the next few days.

I spent my first day of nursing clinicals as a patient, rather than a student nurse. And since I had never had an ER or hospital experience as a patient, it was probably a good perspective to have. Thinking I could handle any situation was probably prideful of me but I failed to consider that the “situation” might be myself. The emotional sways came throughout the day: relief that I could rest and utter embarrassment that I fainted over nothing. I was simultaneously bored and angry while waiting in the ER for what seemed to be no good reason. Knowing exactly what the doctors and nurses were assessing me for with their questions and “follow my finger” or “can you do this?” directions was more jarring than the nurse digging for my vein. Rather than, “Oh, good! They are seeing if I’m okay!” my mind was thinking, “Crap! If I don’t perceive depth or have enough strength, I’m screwed.”

Nurses care for other people and are generally not comfortable with the caring attention turned towards them. I can handle attention in a church or performance stage setting – I want people to know I’ve practiced and have them enjoy the prayer or entertainment. It was difficult to accept the medical attention on me, and sadly, this is true for a lot of people in nursing and medical professions. Nurses continually put our needs aside to serve those who need our help. We neglect ourselves because we think we’ll be strong enough to make it through, not because we are unaware of what is going on.

While an overused meme earlier this year, it is true:

I discussed this concept with several people post-incident; one commented that in his experience, people in the medical profession are terrible at taking care of themselves. I was both relieved and humbled by that knowledge. The Frau and I chatted about the pride involved in not admitting you need help. People outside of nursing and other service professions do not realized the humility it takes to admit that you, the nurse, are not strong enough. Being proactive about your own health and sanity is incredibly difficult in our age of prideful independence. And while it is easy to tell others, “Take care of yourself. There is no weakness in needing rest,” how often do we give side glances or feel the extra burden on our shoulders when someone isn’t able to help out and he/she looks capable.

Another result of my experience highlights the plight of singles and having to make your family where you are. When in Bloomington, I felt comfortable putting my Godmother, my roommate, or some close friends as emergency contacts. Indianapolis hasn’t allowed me to think about that yet. We are also in the era of cell phones where you know your number but only possess others’ numbers in your cell phone contacts list. No phone, no list, no number. So while my parents in Iowa are beneficiaries for my finances, they are not useful people to list if I break a bone or lose consciousness.

See, it’s those little things that some married folk forget about when whining about their situation. (And before you derail, I said “some” not “all”).

“Oh, but you’re free to do whatever you want and you don’t have a man to clean up after!”

“Oh, but you don’t have to think about who to call in an emergency nor do everything yourself!”

Thus, singles who live away from blood-relatives have to be intentional with their lives. The Church is their family. Their Priest is a father-figure, and if he is married, the Matushka/Khouria/Presbytera is a mother-figure. Sometimes, being intentional feels isolating and lonely. I have to ask, rather than assume or know, that someone can be there for me. Yet, in allowing that other layer of pride to melt, it is suddenly clear how rich life can be. While separated from my blood-relatives, I have been gifted a rich network of friends who care about me and love me. And I guess I needed that lesson reinforced just in time for Thanksgiving.

 

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