What I'm Learning

I Don't Have to Do a Thing—and Neither Do You

It’s been a while since I’ve posted—I’ve been enjoying a break from scheduled writing and posting (though I’ve still been doing some of that over at karatmag.com). Today I’m taking a “break from my break” to share a couple things that have been wrecking my life (in the best way), and I hope they encourage you! Here's what I’ve been learning.

When God speaks to us, it isn’t always because He wants us to do something.

At the beginning of the year, I spent time praying about when, where, and if I should travel. I felt the Lord was saying this would be a year that I’d get to share a country I loved (Cambodia) with others.

I was thrilled at the prospect. Sharing Cambodia is one of my favorite things—I wish everyone in the world could visit at least once! Quite quickly, I created a long list of possible travel buddies in my head.

Then life sped up. I agreed to various commitments and shouldered new responsibilities. Days sped by, then weeks and months, and suddenly I was committed to going to Cambodia on a medical mission trip—without having “recruited” a single person. I was disappointed.

Yet a couple weeks later, one person wanted to come—and then another, and another, and another. Suddenly, a group of people I knew (and some I didn’t even know!) were eager to travel to Cambodia.

It was then I remembered the other thing God had spoken to me at the beginning of the year: 

You don’t have to do a thing.

 Photo by  Aki Tolentino  on  Unsplash

Photo by Aki Tolentino on Unsplash

I hadn’t connected these two phrases previously, but I was blown away when I did. I realized the Lord wasn’t kidding around when He said in John 15:15, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

For some reason, I’d started to believe the main reason God spoke to us was because He wanted us to obey Him. When I think of the Bible, I think of instructions and commands—often within the church it’s called the “instruction manual for life.” 

Yet when I really examine the Scriptures, I find much more than instructions. I find stories, poetry, and promises—all pointing to connection. Connection with the One who created us. In fact, the majority of what I read in the Bible guides us to walk with God, not work for God.

For the first time, it dawned on me that perhaps Jesus placed that sense in my heart—the sense that this would be a year when I’d share Cambodia with others—not to instruct me but to give me something to delight in. As a friend shares exciting news with confidante, the Lord had whispered this news to me. Simply because we are friends. Simply to share His joy.

To be a servant of the Lord—this would be enough. Yet He invites us into friendship, too!

As I write, I cannot think of anything sweeter. Sometimes when He speaks, He does call us to action for and with Him. Sometimes, it’s simply for the pleasure of our company in the knowledge of His will.

That is a most beautiful thing.

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4 Ways the Enneagram Is Changing My Life

  Photo from Pexels.com

Photo from Pexels.com

I’ve never been overly interested in personality tests, but this one—this one was different. Occasionally I heard friends discuss the Enneagram, speaking “numbers” and “wings” as fluently as a second language. 

Despite my skepticism toward “personality types,” curiosity finally motivated me to complete the personality assessment.

I like the term “assessment” because unlike a test, there is no way to fail; it simply tells you what’s there and what isn’t. As a nurse, I’m well versed in assessing. We assess lung sounds, pain, safety—even poop! 

As a nurse, an assessment is neither a moral ruling nor a categorization algorithm. It’s an observation: this patient has crackles in their lungs; that patient has C. diff. The body’s current strengths and weaknesses are documented, and a plan is formed to move toward optimal health.

Much like a nursing assessment, the Enneagram leaves room for growth and struggle. It helps me identify healthy and unhealthy tendencies so that I can make a plan to move toward health. I won’t get into the complexities of how the Enneagram works, but there’s a brief description below. You can find more at the Enneagram Institute Website.

The Enneagram involves nine personality types, conveniently labeled 1-9. Each person has a dominant personality type (their “number”) and a secondary type (their “wing”), which is one of the numbers directly beside their dominant type. For example, I am a “6,” so my wings could be “5” or “7.” As it turns out, I’m a 6 wing 5. As I’ve studied sixes and other numbers, here’s what I’ve learned.

 
Enneagram of personality
 

1. I’m learning not to take harsh comments personally.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve always struggled with taking criticism or hurtful comments personally. Conceptually, I knew other people viewed the world differently than I did, but I didn’t understand what those differences were. 

Here, the Golden Rule failed me. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” left me wondering why genuinely well-meaning people would use harsh language when I made a mistake or make insensitive comments.

Studying the other Enneagram types helped me move from just knowing the fact that others think differently to understanding examples of other perspectives and why some people have “thick skin” and some (like me) don’t.

2. I’m learning change is hard for me because relationships are so important to me.

In a podcast about Enneagram sixes, Sarah Thebarge commented, “Relationships are everything to me.”

This is when something clicked in my brain. Historically, moving cities (or countries) has been extremely difficult for me (see my ebook on reentry for the raw details). I’ve always wondered at the people who seemingly flow seamlessly in and out of cultures, countries, and cities.

Finally, it dawned on me why it’s so difficult or me. Relationships are everything to me. Any time relationships change (church, community, friendships, etc.), I feel lost and out of control. I feel like my life has been ripped from me because to me, relationships are the essence of a meaningful life.

This insight helps me in two ways: it helps me understand why I feel the way I feel (like I’ve been hit by a train every time I move), and it helps me embrace truth (my life is not over when I move).

3. I’m learning to identify fear-based habits.

My therapist often mentions something called my “pain cycle” and “peace cycle.” Essentially, a pain cycle alternates between feeling distress and reacting to that distress with unhealthy coping mechanisms. Those unhealthy reactions spark shame and more distress, and the cycle continues.

In contrast, a peace cycle involves experiencing distress and then recalling truth and acting on those truths. This leads to internal peace and healthy behavior.

As a 6, my main motivation is a desire for safety and security. Armed with this knowledge, I’ve been amazed at how many of my decisions in life are based on how I feel insecure or unsafe, whether physically or emotionally.

Remembering these feelings of insecurity are a major trigger for my pain cycle, I’m learning to cling to truth in those moments instead of numbing in unhealthy ways.

4. I’m learning to have grace for others—and for myself.

Recognizing others’ Enneagram numbers has helped me immensely to understand what I previously labeled quirks, incompetence, or even intentionally disruptive behavior.

Instead of instantly concluding people are being manipulative or immature, I’m learning to think about their personalities and try to understand what’s going on beneath the surface.

I’m not mentally “putting myself in their shoes” or trying to think like someone else—because the truth is I will never be able to see or understand the world like someone else does. 

However, I can learn about the ways other people think, appreciate the things that are important to them, and set boundaries when those relationships start to turn toxic.

Overall, the Enneagram is helping me to appreciate weaknesses and strengths, my own and others’. It’s helping me to celebrate how I will never understand the way my friend Lindsay thinks  or the way Kris makes decisions. It’s turning frustration into interest, condemnation into curiosity.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing I’m learning from the Enneagram is this: not only do I need others, but others need me, too.

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Nurses, Spirituality, and Why We Should Pee Our Pants

It happened a thousand times at the hospital. I scurried from one room into another, where a patient lay on the bed and sighed loudly when I walked in.

"Well you're too late now," began the spiel. "I done peed in the bed."

Sometimes it came with an apology, sometimes with embarrassment. Often it came with anger and blame.

Our reply as nurses was consistent. "It's okay, we'll have you cleaned up in no time."

The rebuttal from our patients was also consistent. "If you would just let me get out of bed by myself...but they told me I had to push this call light and now it's too late."

"It's okay," we repeated. "It's no problem to clean you up. We'd rather do this than you fall on your way to the bathroom."

I can still picture my patients' faces, confused and concerned as I cleaned them up and changed the sheets. They probably often thought, "This is the worst thing that could have happened."

 Adobe stock photo

Adobe stock photo

Yet as nurses, we worked hard to prevent bad things from happening to our patients. We had specific, evidence-based practices helping us determine when patients were safe and healthy enough to get up on their own. The worst case scenario in the eyes of a patient (peeing their pants...or rather, their hospital gown) wasn't all that bad to us.

"Bad" was falling and breaking bones, coding and needing resuscitation, or developing complications and needing to be transferred emergently. It was a matter of perspective.

Most of the time, patients couldn't see their condition from the outside—they weren't equipped to assess their physical condition and the potential dangers of trekking to the bathroom alone in a hospital room. (And there are many! The slippery floor, the equipment, the cords, the IV pole and tubing...)

Patients cannot always see these dangers; they simply know their pride is wounded. These patients remind me of someone—someone who cannot always see the larger picture but who complains loudly when pride is wounded.

These patients remind me of myself.

Often, I have lacked the perspective to see potential dangers in the path to reach my goals. Often, I have only been concerned about my pride and my dignity—they seemed so important at the time! Often, I have treated God as though He is purposely neglecting what I deem my greatest needs.

I am the patient who's peed my pants. Over and over and over.

Like the patients who have yelled at their nurses, I have hurled accusations at the One who enters the room to clean up my sense of self-worth when I'm embarrassed and ashamed. Like a hospital patient, I cannot see past my the bed and the calamities He kept me from. I cannot see the tragedies that never happened. I only see the mess in my bed and my messed up pride.

Just as a nurse's heart is not to make patients pee in the bed but to protect them from greater harm, I'm starting to see God's heart is the same. His heart is not to hurt but to mend; His direction is not to limit or humiliate but to protect. He, like nurses, would rather our pride be wounded than our whole selves be broken.

 Stock photo from Pixabay.com

Stock photo from Pixabay.com

When I look back, I can see this. Not getting my dream job brought me to a better opportunity. That difficult summer in Cambodia wounded my pride but led me to the Healer of my soul.

Over and over and over, I've peed my proverbial pants. I've experienced disappointment, prayed unanswered prayers, and lost what I thought was my dignity. Yet the Lord gently reminds me dignity is not determined by how I hold myself or view myself but is upheld when I see myself as I truly am: broken and needy and dependent, yet worthy of love and honor and respect because He has made me and calls me His.

Nursing has taught me many things, and today it teaches me to trust. It teaches me not to be the rebellious patient who thinks she knows best, but to be wise and humbly dignified as I thank God for letting me pee my pants and for always cleaning me up.

If it teaches us more about Christ and brings us closer to Him, I'd rather pee my pants any day, and I'd rather you pee yours too.

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'Daring to Hope' Book Brings Personal Revelation

Breathe, Allison.

In, out. In, out.

I wiped away tears with the back of my cardigan sleeve and held back my sniffles. I glanced over to my right, where the lady in the middle seat of the airplane row peered down at her book, politely pretending she didn't notice the woman in the window seat had become an absolute mess.

I looked down at the pages of the book again, and then up at the seat back in front of me, and then back down at the book. I stared at the page until the words appeared blurry from tears. I read and reread it:

"As humans, each of us just as lacking as the next, I think the most powerful thing we can do for another person is not to try to fix his or her pain or make it go away, but to acknowledge it. I cannot heal. I cannot perform miracles. Even for all my trying I cannot make sure that someone will receive salvation from Jesus. But I can be a witness.

I can look at another's broken, bleeding mess and I can say, 'I see you. I am with you. I will not turn away.'" - Katie MajorsDaring to Hope

  Stock photo from Pexels.com

Stock photo from Pexels.com

These words transported me back to a hospital on the other side of the world, where three summer ago I met Cambodian patients and a searing sense of helplessness as I watched suffering and active dying. I remembered how these experiences had opened my eyes to the Lord's precious, comforting and healing presence.

"I see you. I am with you. I will not turn away."

This is what Jesus had done for me and for the patients, and this was enough. It was enough to fill me to overflowing and to bring tears of relief to my eyes.

But Katie wasn't talking about Jesus in this paragraph. She was talking about humans. She was talking about us. 

Something magical happened in my heart in that window seat on the plane that day. For the first time, I was able to believe that perhaps my presence was a gift, too. Perhaps my presence was a valid contribution; perhaps my presence meant something and made a difference.

Could it be that my presence was enough? For most of my life, I found my identity in being a caretakerA caretaker, I learned, fixes problems and meets needs and gains a sense of identity from it. In contrast, caregivers act from an overflow, with an identity rooted deeply in confidence, humility, and unconditional love for self and others. Caregivers give care without needing anything in return—no recognition or contribution to a sense of identity.

I mulled over these thoughts, and I wondered. In that rural Cambodian hospital, I had believed I had nothing to offer; I had no magician's hat or Mary Poppins purse from which to pull antibiotics or an MRI machine. Yet here, in the pages of Katie Majors' book, I discovered perhaps I had given an offering of the utmost importance to those beloved patients. I had given my presence.

It had nearly killed me on the inside to show up day after day to Kratie Referral Hospital, but show up I did. I could not offer resources or cures. I watched when it pained me, when I wanted to run from the building crying and screaming. I offered up prayers as I passed by beds with children with malaria and mothers, brothers, and sons in a coma. I stood beside an infant in a crib, alone in an empty room. I watched her tiny toes wiggle and adjusted the pulse oximeter and served as a witness to her condition. No more, no less. A witness.

For all these years, I thought I had given nothing. But what if I had given everything? What if my presence was the ultimate gift I could give, and what if this gift made a difference?

In that that airplane window seat, I let the tears stream down my face. I knew I was not having a breakdown but a breakthrough. 

As an introvert, I already know that my presence at a party or event is usually the only gift I can muster. Perhaps though, presence is also the gift of highest value we have to offer, anytime and anywhere. To show up, to engage, to be present and to be a witness. Perhaps this is not only of great value in situations where we have nothing else to offer, but perhaps it is the greatest gift at all times. Perhaps it is more valuable than our entire bank accounts or the most thoughtful gifts or the ability to fix everyone's problems and bring physical healing.

Perhaps the worth of our presence outweighs all these things and more, for we are made in the image of God.

When I first learned I would have the opportunity to be a part of the launch team for Katie Majors' new book, Daring to Hope, I thought I'd be inspired and maybe humbled—and I did find these things in her book, but I also found much more. In an unexpected move, the Holy Spirit showed up in the pages and brought healing and revelation. He brought me to tears and whispered I had not failed in that hospital all those months ago. I had offered all I had, and what I offered was enough. His presence is enough for me, and at times my presence alone is enough for others. He will take care of the rest.

 

Katie's book comes out on October 3, 2017, and I highly recommend it!! You can preorder it here. Katie has a way of weaving vulnerable, honest stories with Scripture in a unique way that opens the door for the Lord to show up and speak to each reader in a personal way. In other words, her writing invites us into His presence, the greatest place to be.
 
Special thanks to Waterbrook & Multnomah and Katie Majors for welcoming me onto their launch team. For full disclosure, I did receive a free copy of Daring to Hope, and the Amazon links to the book are affiliate links, which means I might get a small commission if you purchase using the link (which will probably go to pay for the official copy of Daring to Hope I just preordered!). Let me know if you end up reading the book; I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!
 

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