"Both of you girls have the most beautiful voices. I love to hear you sing."
I intentionally uttered these words to my dear 10 year old daughter and her best friend who were riding in the backseat on the way home from gymnastics practice last week. This after hearing a soft little bird-like voice ever so timidly singing the words to the song playing on the radio. Their synchronous response really didn't surprise me, as it was so familiar, "Well, not really, there are so many singers better than us!"
I didn't change the volume of the music that was on and just listened to what unfolded. First one little song bird got a little louder, a little braver with her voice and then the other joined. With each mile we drove, their sweet little angelic voices became more confident, more assured until they were just belting out in sweet melody (and sometimes even harmony!) with accompanying smiles and giggles.
The power of affirmation.
It sure has been a while since my fingers have graced the keyboard in this way. It has been an outlet I have left many times in my life and again this past year. I lost my voice. And my writing voice even more so. Other writers will understand this, but my writing voice is even more tender, more vulnerable than my speaking voice. My soul becomes exposed through my writing, my deepest parts exposed for all to see, experience and pass judgment if they like. And just like those two little girls, I have had a hard time believing my voice has distinction among the many more accomplished and polished writers.
I have looked at my website, my BLOG left idle, many times. I have yearned for the outlet of expression and healing that writing brings to me. But I have not had the courage to step out in faith. "It's not up to date, it's not properly edited, it's got some inner workings that need attention. It's not as pretty as others' sites, not as well advertised, not really a writing BLOG." Sounds a lot like my sweet little back seat travelers, huh?
I had a dear friend look me in the eye last week and say, "I want to see you getting back on your BLOG and writing." It hit differently when he said it. I've heard it a lot the past year, I just have not believed it. It accompanied a treasured gift I received this week that is pictured as my featured picture for this post. A surgeon I have known for my entire career from bedside nurse to pediatric nurse practitioner gifted me this painting. He painted it as an expression of his heart and how I believe he genuinely sees nurses. He gifted it to others as well, a token of appreciation, but I am certain he had no idea how much it touched the deepest parts of me. As I took in the image, the artistry, the care with which the painter took to create, I felt seen. I felt affirmed for all of the love I have poured into my calling as a pediatric nurse practitioner.
This past year broke me. My desire to even practice as a nurse practitioner left me. Words spoken to me, about me and behind me pierced the very core of my nurse heart. It was not worth it to me anymore to exist in an environment so devoid of goodness and instead riddled with constant critique and even slander. I wrestled and pleaded with God to remove me from this career, take this calling from my heart. I wanted nothing to do with the career if it meant continuing in this prison of defeat.
The days and months between then and now drew me to the story of Joseph. For those of you not familiar with it, this story can be found in Genesis 37-50 in the bible. Clift's notes version is that Joseph was highly favored in his family of origin which caused his older ten brothers to become jealous. After a pretty bold interpretation of a dream he had had of his brothers all bowing before him, he became a target to his brothers, who ended up selling him into slavery. They then told their father that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal, even showing his goat blood soaked cloak as evidence.
Joseph was soon placed in prison for a crime he didn't commit and spent a total of thirteen years in a dark cell as a result, only called to light when Pharoah needed his skill set of dream interpretation. The bible chronicles his time in prison as that of taking every opportunity to trust God with one small task, one small day at a time. He had a positive humble attitude and gained favor with the prison warden who called upon him to be in charge of some prisoners, who ultimately were those who had the connection to Pharoah.
As Joseph was called upon to use his gifting, he made sure to give glory to God, not himself. "Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it." "I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer He desires.” Genesis 41: 15-16. As a result of this interpretation, Joseph ended up as the ruler of Egypt and saved she and her people from famine, including his 10 older brothers whom had sold him into slavery.
His story is one of perseverance through the darkest of trials and seeming hopelessness when evaluated on earthly scales. He is an example of a man who deeply trusted God and put his own ego aside to submit to the will of his Heavenly Father. He is remembered for his integrity, spiritual sensitivity and embodiment of forgiveness to his brothers who "meant evil against him, but God meant it for good" (Genesis 50:20). He took the thirteen years of darkness as opportunity to share God's goodness with all of those he encountered, giving God alone the glory for every favor he was granted - which is a sobering thought considering all of them were in the prison venue.
I had the blessed experience of going to the Cove with a group of women from my church to hear Lisa Harper speak. She asked the question, in her ever so authentically "gutterly" connected to God way, "Who are you? No, not what do you do? Who are you? Are you what your profession is? Or would you describe yourself as first, a child of God?"
Um. Hello. Sobering.
I realized that I have long been defining myself by my role as a pediatric nurse practitioner. And it gets more complex as my career, unique to vocations at large, is also a ministry, a calling from the Lord. Separating that out has been a challenge as I have wrestled with the pull of academia and its neon lights while my heart of hearts has found Holy Spirit peace in the quiet unseen corners of my tiny patients' rooms. These corners are those ordained by the Lord, but mocked by *some* men, as I recall the bitter condescension, "It does not matter what you do as a nurse practitioner in the quiet corners of your patients’ rooms only what you do with “smoke and mirrors”."
Yes, I have written about this before and maybe others skin would have been thick enough to brush that off and fight harder. The reality is that by trying to move on without acknowledging the deep hurt this has caused in my life would not be fair to those of you who can relate. Those of you who are deeply compassionate and have an extra sensitivity to empathetic caregiving and understanding. My speaking into this harsh truth has meaning, connection and value. I have spent way too long feeling as though it was me who needed to abide by my inner critic and succumb to the pull of a life lived valued and recognized by men, and in my case medical academia.
Circling back to Lisa Harper's question has helped me to find my own voice. Who am I? What is the first thing I want to be defined by? My constant striving for recognition in this highly competitive and critical career has been a lot like Joseph's time in prison. And I believe we both entered our unfair dark and lonely stents with confidence in our gifts and not in the one who gave those gifts to us. Joseph - a talented interpreter of dreams, me - a compassionate creative pediatric nurse practitioner...both who learned the hard way that those descriptors as primary are worth nothing. It is only when our identity and "who I am" begins with being a child of the living loving Lord when our gifts reach their full measure and only as we allow God to use them for glory in His kingdom.
It is a flipping on its head the way of this world. Constantly fighting upstream, earnestly seeking those river rocks sturdy enough to bolster our footing for the next leg. It is a recognition of those affirming voices that God places in our paths to remind us that we are not alone, that we not only have a song to sing, but it needs to be sung boldly and unto Him. It is a dying every day to self, to earthly striving to allow the quiet corners of ministry to speak for themselves. May you find your own voice today, believe the affirmation that it is a beautiful voice that the Lord loves to hear and belt it out above the radios of the world. I know I want to hear it.