Me

It's humiliating, really,
       to realize the perfect person
       who lives in my head
       is not the one
       that my friends and coworkers
       meet every day

They have never met
       this perfect me
       who has never done anything wrong
       and always has beautiful intentions

My friends have met a me
       who is pretty fun
       and likes to dance
       yet who is critical when they
       do not live as she does
       who does not extend grace
       and who forgets she could be wrong

My coworkers have met a me
       who goes the extra mile
       even when her feet ache
       yet who reacts rather than responds
       who micromanages her orientees
       and who forgets to be patient

It's humiliating, really,
       this real me
       that other people meet
       whom I have, for so long,
       neglected to know

Triangles

There is a mountain stream that runs behind the Brookforest Inn in Evergreen, Colorado. My extended family spent a week there this summer and I came to love that stream. Most mornings I would bring my Bible and journal out to the little dock and sit on a worn outdoor chaise. The babble of the stream drowned out other noises and created the perfect background for prayer and reflection.

Afternoons, you could find me there, as well, with my novel beside me. Reading and napping next to a happy mountain stream is one of my highest ideals of earthly bliss. One afternoon I was joined by my mom and Auntie Karen. At one point, Auntie left her perch on the stairs and sat next to me. She asked if I’d ever heard of the “drama triangle.” Now this particular Auntie often comes up with intense topics out of left field and I love it. When she got out a pen and paper and drew a triangle, I settled in for the ride. As she described the drama triangle, I kept expecting her to bring in her personal story. I was waiting for “the point,” the moment that she would explain why she randomly came over and started talking to me about this. When that explanation didn’t come, I began to consider if I had had any experience with the drama triangle. Unfortunately, I quickly saw that the answer was yes.

The drama triangle, according to Auntie and also a psychiatrist named Stephen Karpman, is an unhealthy cycle of conflict between people. There are three roles: rescuer, persecutor, and victim. As Auntie described each role, I could clearly see how I had played each of them in the recent past. When I saw loved ones making choices that seemed foolish to me, I became both rescuer and persecutor. Either I was trying to get them out of their predicament or I was judgmentally telling them what they should do. When neither of those things worked, I would fall into a victim mindset because of how their behavior was making my life worse.

The more Auntie talked about the drama triangle, the more painfully I could see that I had taken part in it. As I reflected on this, Auntie told me that another man, this one named David Emerald, had believed that there was a way to escape. He came up with a healthy triangle whose roles are the converse of those of the drama triangle. Auntie drew a second triangle on her notepad and in the original “victim” spot, she wrote a single word: creator.

When I read that word, I felt the truth of it in my bones. The opposite of a victim is a creator. I didn’t need Auntie to explain it to me because I have already seen it in my life. Until that moment, I did not have words for it, but I knew it all the same.

I started ballroom dancing again this summer, much more intentionally than I have before, and I can feel that creative outlet strengthening me. After coming home from a dance class, I feel like I have an invisible shield around me.¬† Things that would have felt harmful before hurt less. Part of it is the confidence that comes with learning deeply about something that I am naturally gifted in. Yet there is another aspect to it–the beauty of creating movement and shape in response to rhythm and beat. The wonder of communicating with another person without words or even sight, but through muscle tension and momentum.

The kitchen is another haven of creation. Just a few days ago, I was feeling lonely and weepy. I gave myself time to feel those things, but eventually I had to make myself some food for the upcoming week. There was such relief in measuring ingredients, chopping fragrant fresh herbs, and seeing disparate ingredients assemble themselves into something delicious. Order from chaos.

Creating brings a shift in perspective. It moves you from looking at the world from your pit of victimhood to actively taking part. It reminds you that you can contribute something beautiful to this world. This also doesn’t mean that you have to have a tangible finished product to be a “creator.” Sometimes the creation is a new discipline or relational boundary. That is creation all the same.

Sitting on that worn chaise, I began to share with Auntie how I could see myself in both of those triangles, how I have been both victim and creator. A look of relief crossed her face and she said, “I don’t know why but I felt like God was telling me to come talk to you about this. I wasn’t even reading about it, I just felt like I needed to share it with you.” I am so glad she was obedient and listened to that nudge, even if it seemed quite random at first.

There is a time and season for everything, right? A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. So if you need to go into the pit and cry, then do that. Just please don’t let victimhood keep you down there longer than is necessary. I will leave you with a C.S. Lewis quote. He says everything I’ve been writing in two sentences, so maybe I should have just posted the quote and left it at that.

Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.

C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

Once the tears dry, may your next act be a defiant and beautiful act of creation.

Paris





You tell me stories of exploring Paris
	A young man with a young wife
You tell me tales of finding rest
	Of sleeping in the Louvre,
		Warm and surrounded by beauty
	Of napping on a boat floating down the Seine
		Lulled to sleep by the sun
Your wife never shook you awake,
	Not once
She let you sleep, surrounded by glory
	Because she saw your need for repose
		Even when found in unlikely places
	Because maybe the glory of those places did not lay in their art or architecture
		But in the fact that they gave you a safe place to sleep
			And that was enough.
I want to be like her.

Home Grown

There is a street in Ypsilanti, Michigan, called Normal. There is a house on that street whose deed now bears my name. I am sure there are lots of lessons and silliness to be discovered with a deep dive into why I live on Normal Street. I very much enjoy being different, distinguished from those around me. Living in a place called normal is anathema to me.

Street names aside, owning a home has been a learning process. Whenever I feel established, I tend to believe that I have conquered insecurity once and for all. Then along comes a change and I start to feel insecure about whatever new thing has entered my life and I have to address insecurity all over again.

In owning a house, insecurity shows up as the belief that my house should have been put together and looking perfect yesterday. The fact that I have lived there for months and still have not hung up a single photo on my bedroom walls feels like sacrilege to my Pinterest saturated brain. The good thing is that I have not let this insecurity keep me from having people over. Yes, there is mismatched furniture in the living room with two lamps that provide cozy, if inadequate, lighting. Yes, the bathroom under the stairs (already affectionately nicknamed “The BUTS”) is frigid and not big enough to turn around in. Yes, there is one room whose purpose is, as of yet, unclear and has a far too small rug sitting in the middle of it. Yes, there are sheets hanging in the windows instead of curtains because I still don’t know if I’m going to invest in blinds or not. Yes, in winter it feels colder than the 68 degrees Fahrenheit that the thermostat reads, probably because it was built in 1892 and the insulation leaves something to be desired.

But you know what? I can offer people blankets when it feels too cold. I can boil water for coffee or tea. We do have a table and a stove (that malfunctions if you try to use the oven and the stovetop at the same time, but hey…), so I can feed people meals and provide them a place to sit while they partake. And that empty room? It’s already seen a couple dance parties.

A house becoming a home takes time. I feel the pressure to go out and spend money for chintzy decorations to put on the walls just because. I don’t want to do that, though. I once saw a quote (maybe on Pinterest), that said, “Do not have anything in your home that you do not know to be useful or find to be beautiful.” That quote has become something like a breath prayer to me these days.

This has also been a beautiful season of accepting others’ generosity. It is humbling to let other people inconvenience themselves when they want to help you. That may sound weird, but try it. It is hard and vulnerable to let others help you or give you things and actually trust that they are doing it out of the goodness of their hearts and not expecting anything in return from you.

Here’s to the houses with mismatched rugs and empty walls. Here’s to the bedrooms that take months, maybe years to put together. Here’s to the joy that comes from putting up a single shelf in the laundry room, even if it takes hours and requires a run to ACE Hardware. I love beautiful things, but the decor is not what makes a house a home. It is the laughter, the meals shared around a table, the hard conversations that are full of tears and apologies and confessions, and the times of laying on the couch staring out the window onto your street. Normal Street is gradually becoming home to me, not because of any Joanna Gaines-inspired decoration, but because of the memories that already fill the rooms.

Waves (Unfurl)

the first day after I left home
I was tightly wound
a watch that refused
to part with its rhythm
my eyes took in newness
while my thoughts circled what I had left behind

three days after I left home
my thoughts became more languid
I could notice what was in front of me
the ticking was slowing
my edges were softening
parts that had been bound were unfolding

it is the sixth day
and I am sitting on the shore watching the waves
and I must go home to all the messed up people
who also need the chance to unfurl
the chance to be like these waves
to break and crash and quietly find rest on the shore
over and over again

Thank You, 2021

I learned a few things in 2021. Perhaps you did, too. The following are the three most impactful lessons I learned from last year:

  1. God wants to see me flourish even when his means of getting me there are painful.
  2. It’s ok to let people hear your voice.
  3. Perseverance.

// ONE //

This summer, God told me to pull back from a relationship in my life. When I say “God told me,” I mean that he made it clear through scripture, through the wisdom that he has given me, and through the general healthy pattern for relationship that he lays out for his people in the Bible. Essentially, I don’t have some special telepathic connection with God where he tells me audibly what I need to do. All the evidence, however, was pointing to the need for boundaries. I was quite reluctant to do so, but eventually I did. Pulling back from that relationship was painful. I second guessed that God had truly told me to do it because of how awful it felt. There were a critical few days where my mind was an intense battlefield, waffling back and forth about my actions. Thankfully, God sent many indicators that I was on the right path. I won’t bore you by listing all of them here, but I will tell you my favorite one. On my way into work one morning, after having cried myself to sleep the night before, I noticed a sign in front of a storage unit that had never come to my attention before. The sign said, “Discipline equals freedom.” (My youngest brother informed me later that this is the title of a book by an ex-Navy SEAL commander, but it felt specifically tailored for me that morning.) It was a literal sign from God that even though what he was asking me to do was painful, it was for my ultimate good. The discipline that he was asking of me was intended to set me free. Not free to do whatever I wanted, but free from an unhealthy attachment to another human being who could never stand under the weight of my expectations.

Yahweh is good and trustworthy and loves me. He loves you, too. If he has presently asked us to do something that is painful, know that it is not to cause us arbitrary suffering. There is freedom and health on the other side.

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace¬†for those who have been trained by it.” –Hebrews 12:11

// TWO //

I have never been someone that you would classify as a “loud person.” My family may disagree, but there is a difference between talking a lot and being loud. I talk a lot with my family but, in general, the actual volume of my voice is fairly average. During my first nursing job, working nights for three years on a cardiothoracic surgical step down unit, my voice got even quieter. Looking back, I think it was a combination of not wanting to wake my patients up if they were sleeping, not feeling known and secure in my relationships with my coworkers, and intimidation of doctors when they were around.

I left that job in the fall of 2019 to go serve in Cote d’Ivoire for a year. Fast forward to February 2021. I applied for and was offered a job working in the OR back at my first hospital. Instead of taking care of patients before and after surgery, I now facilitate the surgeries themselves. There are two roles that a nurse can play in the OR: circulating nurse or scrub nurse. Communication is vital between the two. The circulator keeps an eye on the scrub and makes sure they have all they need; the scrub keeps the circulator up to date on how the surgery is going and anticipates and asks for what the surgeon might need next. This requires a good deal of talking back and forth. The first role I learned was scrub nurse. It is still my favorite thing to do, especially for complicated cases.

One thing that I struggled with, however, was having the confidence to raise my voice and ask my circulator for something in the middle of the case. Some of it was the residue of intimidation from my days of working on an inpatient unit. During morning rounds, the surgeons would come through like a force of nature with their personal tornado of residents surrounding them. Even though I would wait outside my patients’ doors for them with the hopes of hearing the plan for the day, they would often breeze past me without a single glance in my direction. I had to intentionally stop the whirlwind of young doctors to ask what new orders they were placing. Even then, a tossed comment over the shoulder was all I would get. That is quite enough to make a person feel small, and if you experience it on a regular basis over the course of three years, an unhealthy thought pattern develops. For me, the thought pattern was that surgeons’ voices are more important than my own, that I have nothing creative to contribute to their conversation, and they are always right.

So that was one reason that raising my voice during surgery to ask for something was difficult. Another was that, as a new scrub, I did not always know what we would need next. If I saw that I was running low on a certain kind of suture, I didn’t necessarily want to ask for more, because what if we didn’t actually need any more of that kind of suture and the surgeon heard me and my inadequacy and inexperience would be revealed? Now it is easier for me to predict how much of what suture we will need, but if I’m not sure, I just ask. Simple as that. In the beginning, though, it felt very vulnerable to raise my voice and ask for something, because I was risking being wrong in front of the room.

Finally, I was raised to be quiet. I am glad for that. I am glad that I can listen quietly and that I don’t have the compulsion to fill the air with empty words. With four Humphrey kids, I’m not sure how my mom would have survived if she hadn’t at least tried to get us to be quiet sometimes. Yet this has created the idea in my brain that being quiet is good and being loud is bad. Sometimes that is true, but sometimes the reverse is true. There is room for both.

I am still learning that it is ok for people to hear my voice and thoughts. It still feels foreign to me to speak at a volume that the whole room can hear when I really only need my circulator to hear me. Yet I know that they appreciate it and they need me to make my voice heard. I am also learning that I do have important things to contribute to surgeons’ conversations, whether it is actually about the patient and the surgery that we are performing, or whatever topic we happen to be discussing while operating (Greek mythology, the original writers of famous 70s songs, Wes Anderson films, etc.).

// THREE //

I tend to give up on things more easily if other people are watching. This may sound odd, but I have noticed it’s true. My reasoning is that if other people are around and I am failing at something, then there must be someone there who could do it better than me. This applies whether I am figuring out how to work a piece of equipment in the OR, or opening a jar of minced garlic (I don’t eat pickles), or hammering a nail. When I am by myself, it is up to me, so I struggle through until it gets done. If other people are there, someone must be more qualified, so I give up.

Watching multiple surgeries a day, five days a week, has had quite an impact on me. There are usually at least four people in the OR (surgeon, CRNA, scrub nurse, circulator), but there are often many more. This means many eyes are on the surgeon. If something isn’t working, they don’t get to just throw in the towel and walk away. No matter what time it is, no matter how tired they are, they have to keep going. There is one surgeon in particular that I work with regularly who amazes me with his perseverance. He simply does not give up. He comes up with creative solutions when what normally works goes awry. And he does it all in front of an audience. To me, that is incredibly brave and vulnerable. I have seen him completely redo a the main portion of a surgery because it wasn’t quite perfect and he could have done better for the patient. It slowed down his day a little, but hopefully gave the patient a much better outcome.

Simply observing someone persevere in that way on a regular basis has had an impact on me. It has made me less likely to cut corners and take the easy way out. Now, if there is someone around who is more experienced than I am at something, I actually ask if they can watch me do whatever the thing is. It takes more patience on both our parts, but it helps me to develop a skill and the humility of learning something in front of other people. I can feel a “stick-to-it-iveness” developing in me that is quite satisfying.

// YOU //

What lessons did 2021 bring to bear on your life?

A Knock

There was a knock on the front door. Someone had the audacity to knock on the front door when, down the hall on the floor of my bedroom, I was sobbing my guts out. “Ah, screw it, I’ll see who it is,” I thought, and got up. I stood before my front door, tears actively streaming down my cheeks, eyes red, and snot running from my nose. Why I thought that anyone would be ok seeing me in that state, I have no idea. Even so, I reached out my hand and opened the door.

Standing on the front porch was my sweet friend and old housemate, Julia. She would stop by every once in a while to pick up the mail that still got sent to our house, even though she had moved out six months prior. I smiled weakly and went to get her mail. Taking in my state, she glanced through the stack of envelopes briefly and then asked, “Can I…can I just be with you for a little?” I nodded, hardly able to reply, and stepped aside. She came in and stood just inside the door. I choked out a few words, unable to explain all that was going on, just that she had happened to stumble into my world in a moment of acute heartbreak. Her eyes welled with tears, mirroring my own, and she softly told me the story of her own heartbreak. It was years ago and it was devastating. “But now,” she told me, “there are flowers growing in the place of those old wounds.”

She didn’t try to fix me or my situation. She simply walked in, cried with me, and shared her own story of hurt and redemption. She told me what God had done for her.

As she was leaving, she said, “You just made my day, because God is so near to the brokenhearted, and if that’s where he is then that’s where I want to be, too.”

I will never forget those words. If that’s where he is, then that’s where I want to be, too. Julia did not shy away from my grief, ugly and raw as it was. She entered into it with a recognition of the sacredness of the moment.

If heartbreak is the criteria for being near God, then 2021 fulfilled that criteria smashingly. I went through good old-fashioned heartbreak, but that’s not all. My heart was broken over the state of my church, over realizing that I could not provide the best home for my dog and thus had to give him up, over broken friendships, over change. It left me exhausted and desperate for hope.

I am grateful that I feel like I’m starting to come out of the woods of 2021. I have had to make tough decisions that hurt like hell in the moment, but the reward of freedom is making itself known. So yay, great, I’m not in the thick of it anymore. Perhaps that is why I feel I can write about it now.

But when you are in the thick of it. When you are on your knees in your bedroom or screaming in your car or stewing on your couch–you need a Julia. You need someone who will enter in and share your pain. Or you need an Anna–someone who will let you grieve and process things for the better part of an hour without saying all that much. Unfortunately, you can’t arrange your life to guarantee you will always have a person like that with you in moments of pain. The only thing you can do is make sure you are a Julia or an Anna to someone else.

You can keep your eyes open for people who walk with slumped shoulders, whose eyes are puffy and red-rimmed. And you can ask to just be with them, because you know that in finding them you are actually finding the Lord, who makes himself so close to the brokenhearted, even when they can’t see it.

Thousands

Is it really so bad to be with a fool?
That's what they say he is.
That's what I know him to be.

Is it really so bad? [Yes.]
Are you sure, though?  [Yes.]

But what about when he pours out sweet attentions that come as a delightful surprise?
[It's still not worth it, love.]

What about feeling understood and seen?  [There are others who see you.]
Other young men?  [Well, no.]
So you see?  It feels good.  [Yes, it does.]

...

[Love?]  What?
[How long do your feelings stick around?]  Not long.
[Will the warm feelings he excites in you now be enough when he's flirting with other women later?]
No.

...

But my heart feels fit to break.  [I know.]
This is very much like death.  [It is.]
[It is a thousand little deaths every day.
But that is also how I give you life.
It is in thousands of small moments--little apertures in your day where light breaks in.
You are dying to him, dying to this fool who gives you morsels of what your heart hungers for but withholds the feast, yet you are coming alive to other things.
You're treasuring giggling with your colleagues, a clean kitchen floor, roasted sweet potatoes, and a peaceful trail on a Sunday morning.
Keep dying to the fool a thousand times a day, and I will keep giving you life.
I will pour it in through a thousand different cracks until you are overwhelmed by the flood.]

Shut Down

I have seen things shut down in her
	and known the world was emptier for it.
I have witnessed the death of belief in her words
	that they matter
	that they can be spoken without fear.
I have watched her suffocate her own hopes
	afraid of being swept away
	afraid of being laid bare
I stand testament to the beauty that has been crushed.
The world would mourn its loss if it knew.
I lament the things that have been shut down
	and hope
		and pray
			for their resurrection.

Instruments of Peace

In 1912 a beautiful prayer for peace was published in La Clochette, a French Catholic magazine. In the years since, it has become beloved by Christians around the world. Perhaps you’re familiar with it. Some call it the peace prayer, others the prayer of St. Francis, though based on my thorough Wikipedia research, that was most likely a false attribution. No matter who wrote the prayer, it is deeply moving and I decided to memorize it recently. The first line of the prayer specifically captured my attention: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”


I started working in the main OR at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital (affectionately known as St. Joe’s) in February. There are two roles that a nurse can play in the OR–scrub nurse or circulator. Scrubbing was the first role that I learned. A scrub is responsible for setting up and handling all the sterile instruments required for the surgery. The scrub, surgeon, and resident all “stay sterile” by wearing a sterile gown and gloves for the whole of the surgery. Once the case gets started, the scrub’s main responsibility is passing instruments to the surgeon, receiving specimens, maintaining an organized back table, and not losing any instruments or sponges inside the patient. Lord willing.

While scrubbing, my ears are always attentive to the surgeon’s voice to hear what instrument they’ll want next. If I’m feeling really bold I’ll hold out an instrument they will need before they even ask for it. If I’m right, I look really cool. If I’m wrong, I feel a little sheepish, but hey, I tried. My inner dialogue goes something like this: “They’ll be finished with those addisons soon, so let’s get some debakeys up. What kind of retraction will they want? Perhaps a brewster then a rich? For dissection I’ll have a right angle available or maybe just a good old-fashioned hemostat.”

Yes, those weird words are all instruments. There are many, many instruments and they all have fairly ridiculous names. At first I was baffled by the variety and lack of logic when it came to instrument names. The only one I have found to make any sense are “s retractors” which are, you guessed it, retractors shaped like an ‘s’. Other than that, the instrument names have no rhyme or reason.


“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

What interesting word choice: instrument. I have never used that word as much as I have since starting in the OR. Perhaps God brought this prayer to my attention at this time because he knew that that word would capture me. It has created interesting imagery in my brain for every case I take part in. There are the surgical instruments–scalpels for cutting, electrocautery for cautery, suture for sewing, retractors for retracting, etc. And then there is me–the instrument that the Lord is using to bring his peace into the room.

When I first started in the OR, I realized that if the atmosphere of a room is unpleasant, the root cause is usually fear. If a surgeon starts yelling or has the reputation of being a jerk, fear can be found at the base of his or her actions. They fear a poor outcome for their patient or being stuck in the OR for longer than expected. Fortunately, I have God’s Holy Spirit living inside of me, pouring his perfect love into my heart. And perfect love casts out fear. Thus, I decided that the fear stops with me. I will be used by God as an instrument to bring peace into the OR.


The lesson did not limit itself to the four walls of the OR, however. The idea of being an instrument of peace has spread into other areas of my life, as well. There are seasons that feel akin to surgery on the body of Christ. There is a slicing open and exploration of things hidden. When the body that I am a part of, i.e. my church and community, is going through surgery, I can ask God to use me as an instrument of peace. Note: that does not mean being an instrument of niceness. We are called to make peace, not keep it and certainly not be the nice person who allows the status quo to continue. Sometimes an instrument of peace must do some digging. It must bring up things that have been hidden or tucked away–festering wounds and old hurts that need to be exposed to experience healing. And that can be painful.

The Bible tells us to “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14). What that says to me is that peace is elusive at times and must be sought out intentionally. I know this to be true in my own life, especially during the recent past. My heart has been put through the wringer this summer and peace has felt far from me. And so I seek it out. I have the hard conversations, I go for long bike rides, I choose to spend time writing. It’s a process, and a painful one at that, but I am learning what it means to be made an instrument of the Lord’s peace in the OR and in the rest of my life. I’m learning that an instrument like that can take on a variety of purposes: cutting open, digging deep, patching up, soaking up nastiness and ridding the body of it. It is hard and exhausting work. But hey, if the prayer that started with Catholics in France a hundred years ago has lasted this long, I figure there is probably some wisdom to it. May we all have the courage to ask to be made instruments of the Lord’s peace.