Definition: A unit or group of complementary parts that contribute to a single effect.

We went to hand bells tonight. I just started playing with the handbell choir in the fall and have really enjoyed playing (and am slowly getting better at it). The fun thing about the bell choir is the chance to play with other people, to build camaraderie with the group. If I just played my two bells by myself, that would be a pretty sad little piece of music. The beauty of the piece emerges from the collective efforts of the group.

What makes a good handbell choir, or a good flute choir, or any good musical ensemble? Watching and listening! We all have to watch the director in order to maintain the same pace. We need to pay attention and count our measures so that we are, literally, on the same page.

It is equally important for us to listen to our director and to each other. Our director always points out the hard passages and suggests different strategies for approaching them. Sometimes he will even count us through sections the first few times.  When we did a jazzy piece, he had us clap the rhythm for him so we could master the off-beats.

Finally, we really need to listen to each other. If we are in a run, and we are not listening to each other, just counting, that run can quickly degenerate into a mess of notes. We need to listen to who has the melody so that person can bring out their notes while we play softly. Most of all, we need to listen to the overall flow and musicality of the piece.

We also need to cooperate. Sometimes we can’t play all those bells in the right order. We have to have our neighbor, who doesn’t play any bells for 29 measures, grab that tricky chime. We have to negotiate who turns the page. 

A lot of these lessons translate directly to the real world. Church committees, nursing units… paying attention to the goal, watching, listening, and cooperating are the keys to good teamwork.

In handbells, that goal is worship. Not creating pretty  music, although that is a nice side effect. No, we have to lay aside any petty feuds, open our hearts and minds, listen, and offer our gifts with the rest of the ensemble to God.


Reminders for Family Members

Yesterday, I floated to a unit where people of all ages are recovering from a variety of problems. Strokes, falls, car crashes, medical issues… this unit helps people get back on their feet. As I sat in the nursing conference room, people were discussing family members that had fallen or been in accidents.  Falling is unfortunately frequent up here this time of year – it is cold and slippery and dangerous to walk outside!

When I got off work I received a call that one of MY family members had an unfortunate accident and had to go to the hospital.  As I learned the details through texts and phone calls, I couldn’t help wishing that I could be right there, at the bedside, supporting, helping, and advocating.

So, as a family member and a nurse, here are my thoughts on that relationship.

1) Family members are a really important part of nursing care especially on a general care floor. The fact is, no matter how good of a nurse you have, he or she can’t be in three rooms at the same time, or watch every little change in the patient’s condition, or know everything about that patient right away. Family members are really important as advocates for the patient. Does your family member look different? Are they in pain? Do they take their pills whole or crushed in applesauce? Families are important partners in the process.

2) However, “advocate” doesn’t mean “be rude.” I understand a little rudeness – you’re stressed! you’re coping! – but please try to be a polite advocate.

3) Asking questions is good. It may annoy some  nurses, but it’s a good chance for education. I find it helpful to be asked questions. And sometimes, that can help nurses catch things that otherwise would slip through the cracks. There are a lot of people working in medicine; people make mistakes; questions help catch mistakes.

4) There are some things where you do have to step back and let nurses do their jobs. For example, and every case is different, getting a patient up to the bathroom. We really don’t want patients to fall, and we don’t want family members breaking their backs. So let us help them get up to the bathroom.

5) Be patient. Healthcare is an enormous affair and lots of different people are involved – doctors, nurses, aides, respiratory therapists, nutritionists, chaplains. We really are trying to put your family member, the patient, first. That means you may have to tell the story a few times to several different people just so we all get on the same page.

6) Lay aside your professional status (doctor, nurse, lawyer) and be a family member. Sure, if you as a professional know that something is wrong, speak up. It shouldn’t be used to intimidate people. Rapport and camraderie are important in the teamwork setting of healthcare.
As for nurses, it’s really important for us to remember that every patient is someone’s loved one. A wise nurse aide once told me, “Treat all the ladies like they’re someone’s grandma and you’ll be fine.” Also, we are meant to be patient’s advocates, and if they don’t have a family member to help advocate, we need to pick up the slack.

Hopefully the nurses taking care of my loved one will treat her like I would treat their loved one; with the utmost care, respect, and patience. Hopefully they will understand if I call the nursing station tonight to check on her and ask a few questions. We do what we do because we care, both as family members and as nurses.

Get well soon!

5 Fun Ways to Make Your Rank List

It’s that time of year for 4th year medical students: rank list submission time. You see, medical students don’t get to pick their residency so much as they get to enter a raffle. They know they are probably going to get a residency, and residencies know that they will get students. Students rank the programs they interview at, programs rank their interviewees, and a computer makes the connections – known as the Match –  in March. The results are announced this year on March 15.

You can imagine how much fun this is for medical students who have pretty much controlled their entire lives with their minds and decisions… suddenly, not so much agency! I would think it was a cruel psychological experiment but it’s been going on for 30+ years and seems to be working.

Often, students know exactly which program is at the top of their rank list and which are at the bottom. But sometimes all the options are good and it’s hard to pick. Sometimes, you just need to figure out the middle order. Here are some ways you could use to make your rank list.

1) The MATSH  Method (like Match, get it?):  If you were ever a seventh grade girl, you probably played MASH. Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House. (The T stands for Tree house in our version). For our 2 rounds of MATSH we used the categories of “Residency,” “Type of Fellowship,” “Where to Live Long-term,” “What kind of dog to get,” “Where to vacation,” and “How many children to have.” Apparently we are going to vacation in Mexico, have 1 child, own a labrador, and Chris will do a C-section fellowship.

In other versions, we’ll have 18 children and own a capybara… I guess we’ll see!

2) Magic 8 Ball Method: I used my iPhone Magic 8-Ball app and we kept shaking it while asking “What about X residency?” However we got bored of this quickly as we came up with a lot of “Ask again later” responses and not enough residencies were getting eliminated. (I think of it as a modern day Urim and Thummim, although apparently not as effective).

3) The Polling Method: We didn’t try this but I kinda wanted to post a poll on facebook and see where people thought we should go. We had informal polls going of course but mostly people seemed to vote for the place farthest from where they lived… interesting… 😉 Just kidding!!!

But I think it is hard to get an unbiased response on “where do you think we should go?” I think it’s hard to say, “I’d like you here and yet… I think you should probably go FAR, FAR AWAY.”

4) The Random Bible Verse Method: I tried this with my Bible application on my iPhone and I got John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Very true but not exactly what I was looking for. But God works in other ways…

5) The Pros/Cons and Prayer Combined Method: This method worked for us. Chris looked through all the program information and we worked on a comprehensive pros/cons list for our top five. Then we prayed for discernment and guidance, and began to feel more and more settled in our decision over the weekend.

Of course just because we have our rank list doesn’t mean that it will happen like we think. But we are feeling a lot of peace about our decision. Thanks to all of our friends and family who have supported us through this whole process. You are the best! The great thing is that all of our choices are good and we are going to be happy wherever we end up.

I for one am excited about the next step. I know residency will be tough but hopefully God will give me the strength and guidance to be a good support for Chris during the rigors of residency and whatever other challenges lie before us.

Church Home

Today, I went to a funeral for someone that I knew, but not very well, an older member of my church and friend of a friend. It was very moving and I cried quite a few times (I’d like to think this is not unusual at funerals?) This person had such  a rich life, was such a loving person to his friends and family and church, and everything in the service bore witness to that.

As I listened to the memories people shared, and as I chatted with other church members at the luncheon after the service, I realized how important that church family is in one’s life. As a way to worship, and through worship, to build community, to develop friendships… a spiritual community is invaluable.

Of course you can’t just show up at church and reap all the benefits. Yes, churches should reach out and be warm, welcoming spaces for strangers. But eventually, you have to move beyond the honeymoon. Being involved in a church is an investment of time and energy that yields great dividends – relationships, solidarity, the chance to worship together. (And, added bonus, today NPR mentioned that religious involvement correlates with contentment.)

With any such commitment comes a price. In the words of our pastor today, to love is to hurt. There will be dissension and feuds and truces and politics. There will be pain and loss.

But it is worth it.

Churches aren’t the only way to find Jesus. Jesus doesn’t need churches to get his message out. But churches need Jesus, and so do we.

God uses churches to create the network that we as humans need. Places to celebrate rituals like marriage and birth and mourn death. People to connect with and build the relationships that carry us through difficult times. Friends to support us. Fellow believers to speak truth to us.

Sometimes the church or people in the church mess up. (In fact that’s what the current book I’m working on is about). But that doesn’t mean we throw church out the window entirely. We still need solid Christian community.

We need it more than we know.

Uncomfortable Choices

We got up early to play handbells this morning. I liked the piece we played although I did have to “slip.” I didn’t know what this was  until a couple weeks ago, but “slipping” means that I have to move handbells from hand to hand. It wasn’t graceful but all the notes came out, more or less in time. (I admit, “slipping” doesn’t sound too good, especially in icy Minnesota in the winter. Perhaps “transferring?”)

The Call to Worship this morning was great. We meditated on Jesus’ journey into the wilderness, into hunger, doubt, and temptation, and responded accordingly. “As we begin our Lenten journey, let us also be led by the Spirit, even into the uncomfortable places… as we seek to follow Jesus, we would be led, even into the uncomfortable choices.”

I hope as this Lenten journey continues, that I will be open to going into those uncomfortable places and choices, to examining the truth of what I’m doing. Very often in music ensembles, and in life, I will follow the music. I will listen and find my entrances and exits through “feeling.” I find my way through the relationships between notes and melodies.

And very often, this does work. For example, after my sophomore year of college, I went to the CityLights urban ministry program in St. Louis because the director sent out an 11th hour recruitment email at a time that I had just been refused from a summer job. I felt like my question had been answered; I felt the call. Things fit together like puzzle pieces: their need, my availability. In music, I can usually figure out where I am supposed to come in just by listening and watching other people’s music without necessarily counting.

But many times, the easy way is not the right way. “Broad is the road that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13). Actually I can’t think directly of a time I took the broad road and suffered for it, more of instances where the broad road was tempting and I was turned away. For example, a couple easier, more natural job opportunities during my “2 years of Lent” after college that I simply didn’t get.  Instead, I was a barista and CNA and grew a lot through those very different, challenging, interesting jobs.

In a similar vein… right now in our little church flute choir, we are doing a challenging piece where I cannot hear my entrance. I have to count, count, count (and math was never my strong suit). I can’t depend on “feeling” it yet to come in at the right time.

I suppose the difference lies in why the choice seems easy to me. Is it easy because that decision is in my comfort zone, before prayer and discernment? Is it easy because everyone else is doing it? Easy because it seems right with my earthly brain?

Or “easy” because God has been guiding me to that choice, by closing doors and windows, by having people whisper particular verses in my ear? Easy because he has surrounded me with teaching and guidance that make that the natural choice, the straight and narrow road that leads to Him?

God, help us face the uncomfortable choices and find the right road!


No, this is not a post about Usher.

An important part of Lent is self-examination, confession and repentance. Necessarily most of this must take place between me and God because nobody really needs to know all that. But I will share 5 of the things I feel the most need to confess, some silly, some (more) serious.

1) This is a confession directly related to blogging. Once upon a time when I was a barista, I wore a cute little green shirt that said “No one cares about your blog!” in pink letters (unfortunately the shirt has gone away and I have been unable to find pictures). I feel guilty about wearing this and laughing knowingly with all the people who remarked on it. I wronged you, fellow bloggers, and now I understand. I do want people to care about my blog. Just a little bit.

2) I eat a lot of sugar. Even the whole not-buying-cookies does not work for me. If I don’t have cheap high-fat forms of sugar in the house, I will make “mug cakes”

3) I occasionally read… unsavory… free kindle ebooks

4) I spend an inordinate amount of time online reading things like CNN and Allnurses. News and Allnurses are great in moderation but I’ve been known to do this for a couple hours at a time. Addicted to the 24 hour media machine…

5) I don’t exercise as much as I should. In fact, I was getting a prompt from the Holy Spirit/ my subconscious this morning. It was something like This isn’t going to work if you don’t exercise more (“this” being my hope to avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder without gorging on chocolate). My excuse right now is that my favorite exercise video is missing and it’s too cold to go outside and there’s not enough snow to ski… Well, at least we did some Pilates with our friends this morning. That counts?!

With that, my confession for now is done, and I hope you will all forgive me. Despite these and other more heinous sins, I know that God still loves me. His grace is all I need.

Of Squash and JP Drains

This evening we made a delicious butternut squash soup that our friend Lisa sent in a box – squash, spices, coconut milk and all. Tasty and fairly easy! The only hard part for me was preparing the squash by getting the seeds out. I hate trying to scoop the stringy gunk and tiny seeds out of the hard squash out with a spoon. It just feels yucky to me, fighting the squash to wrest out the slimy vegetable “entrails.”

I know, I know, it’s a vegetable. How bad can it be? But it IS! I remember my parents doing this to pumpkins in my childhood and I thought it was gross then too! Squash and pumpkin innards have this smell I associate with decay.

Once they’re cooked, I have no problem. Sweet, plush, carmelized squash. Soft as butter. Purees like a dream. But when they are hard with a slimy mess of stringy membranes and seeds… shudder.

You know what I don’t mind? JP drains. Little grenade-shaped shells of plastic connected by tubing to people’s insides, draining all kinds of fluids. Fine, I won’t describe exactly what they drain. But I don’t mind emptying those things. Doesn’t bother me a bit.

Hopefully people who turn pumpkin into pumpkin puree all day feel the same way about that as I feel about JP drains.

And this relates to Lent how, you ask? Well, I’d like to think it has to do wth “vocation” or calling. I am called to be a nurse, to care for people. To empty JP drains. Other people, presumably, are called to be squash de-seeders. (Or perhaps supervise the machines that de-seed squash). Others to be teachers, others to be pastors…

You get my drift. We all do things that other people find inconceivable because they are ours to do.