Welcome to the newest post in a brand new series of guest posts on the subject of our everyday work lives. For the remaining weeks of Ordinary Time, I’ve invited some friends to share a one-day snapshot into their work life that will help us see what they know to be true right now about who they are made to be.
Today’s guest is one of those people who became friend and neighbor in our relatively short, but life-changing season in Austin. She and her husband Mike and daughter Grace lived one street over from us for about two years, and on a few memorable occasions I’d meet her for an invigorating walk to our favorite coffee shop and back home again before most of our neighbors were awake yet. Kim is a fantastic story-teller with a unique skill of communicating both joy and sadness in life-giving ways. I’m pretty sure I laughed and cried every time we spoke, and I’m confident I always understood better what love means. In the short time we were neighbors, Kim and Mike made a life-changing impact on my family (including moving out of their house the weekend of our son’s wedding so my sister’s family could live in it).
Kim’s passion for her work is a force to be reckoned with, and may only be outmatched by her passion for her family and friends. I wish I could meet Kim’s mother, but feel that I probably would recognize her through Kim’s work and friendship. I’m struck by the statement she shares in today’s post about stewarding the pain of our lives. She has done this beautifully, and I hope that reading her work story will encourage each of us to do the same.
I am a daughter of the most High God, I am the spouse of my husband Michael, and mother to our daughter Gracie. My occupation is to serve as a co-teacher to Gracie who attends a classical school. I also work in role that is based on relationships. I serve alongside local hospital systems and national leadership, hospital administrators, directors, managers, my counterparts on my team, physicians, advanced practice providers, nurses, and practice administrators to grow quality oncology programs.
I am always filled with both peace and a song when I am working in my sweet spot!
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
Isaiah 55: 11-13
I wake up with songs on my heart, especially when I am steeped fully in relationship with Christ. Today at 3:00 a.m., my body jolted and I found myself marinating in Dana Dirksen’s version of the song, “Greater Is He That Is In Me, Than He Who Is In the World.” I took that moment to pray that song over my family - that they would know Who is greater, and have an open posture toward the One who is greater and Who is in them.
Later as I packaged up our daughter for professional teacher school day, I played, “Lord, Establish the Work of Our Hands,” and prayed for our hands, feet, our hearts, and our minds to be established in solid foundation. That the Lord would go before us and prepare the hearts of those in our paths this day, and every day.
Today I have a 7:00 a.m. meeting, so I arrive before the sunrise. I recognize the people waiting in the hospitals aren’t there because they want to be there. Many are in the midst of tragedy or on the other extreme with celebration of new life. Regardless, I am always overcome by the sacred moments I capture… and therefore I am not able to photograph. Instead, this is what it looks like for me on most days, dark and empty as I walk ahead. In my heart I give thanks for each person I have the honor of passing.
As I walked to my next meeting, my heart sang Audrey Assad’s “Joy of the Lord is my Strength.” There is a local nonprofit group who focuses on registering marrow donors for patients facing a stem cell transplant. Because of the great need, the nurses and clinical staff invest in the community by volunteering at various events to support the registration of more donors on college campuses, employer groups, and within the area hospitals. I coordinated this meeting in an effort to bring all of the right people in the room to execute on the upcoming marrow donor drives. I make the connection, and then let everyone do their part to make this happen! Because of the partnership with multiple groups, in just three days, they registered nearly 500 people. There are people living today because someone decided to donate their marrow!
I have worked since I was in junior high school. I babysat nieces and nephews, served nachos and popcorn at the concession stand during my younger brother’s baseball games, cleaned my dad’s house, poured yogurt with my siblings at a local frozen yogurt place, worked at a clothing store in the mall, was a telemarketer at a staffing agency; however, after my mom’s cancer diagnosis, I had a shift in the work I wanted to do with my hands. My heart.
Mom had both thyroid and metastatic breast cancer. She had various surgeries, chemotherapies, whole brain radiation, and a stem cell transplant. I have fond memories of her surgeon and her oncologist and even the hospitals in Pasadena and Houston, Texas. My mom worked for a world-renowned computer company and was fired for missing work due to her cancer diagnosis before there were laws to protect patients in that predicament. I found myself in detention at least once a week due to being tardy caused by taking my mom to/from her radiation treatments.
My mom is my motivation to serve cancer patients and their caregivers, as is my daughter who never got to meet her. She went to be with the Lord twenty years ago in September, which means I am forty. Next year I will have been alive longer than I had known her.
I make it my job to have a general understanding of all aspects of oncology and serve as a liaison for physicians who screen, diagnose, and treat cancer and our local and national oncology administrators. I meet with physicians to uncover opportunities for new or enhanced programs for oncology patients and their caregivers, I sit alongside the oncology nurses, nurse navigators and support team who serve our community and always am looking for ways to enhance our community relations. I am the connector, and enjoy being linked to the entire team.
Our system hosts multiple tumor conferences across the city. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, their physician will present patient’s case to a multidisciplinary team to discuss the standard of care treatment for that diagnosis, as well as what clinical trials are available to that patient. I have seen treatment plans change because of these discussions. This is good medicine!
Several times per day, I receive texts asking whether I am available for a quick chat. Sure! The first time, I spend ten minutes talking through an issue one of our physicians had recently, and we develop a plan on how we can bring the right people into the room to address the issue. The next is about an opportunity to meet with a new physician entering our market, another is a PR opportunity, a nurse navigator needing to talk through a hospital question. By gathering various sources of input, we are able to turn a lot of these short ten-minute talks into a best practice for our teams across the nation.
Later on, I sit in a planning meeting with my counterparts to discuss an outreach strategy to promote an oncology program to a rural community our system serves. We recognize that many rural communities do not have oncology specialists, and in the coming weeks we bring our medical director out to three rural communities to meet with hospital leadership, emergency physicians, and the local physicians. We also bring our oncology nurse navigator, who shares her role as an educator and advocate. Later in the month, my colleague and I will follow up with those administrators and physicians to hear how the process is going, and hear feedback how we might better support their community.
While in between meetings, I hear the news that one of my dear friends was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, stage 1 with an aggressive personality. I immediately socialized some of this with my gynecologic oncology nurse navigator, who helped me better understand the cancer and how I might support my friend. Through our conversation, she talked about the miracle that it was found at stage 1, and that is normally unheard of for ovarian cancer. We ended up talking colleges, and uncovered that both my navigator and I graduated at late stages in our lives, at 45 and 30 respectively. It led us to a fruitful discussion on the why behind our roles... She ended our talk by calling my friend "my patient" saying that all Gyn Onc patients are hers, and they are why she advocates for them every day. My daughter is the why behind what I do, and all daughters, so that they might have a mom to stand at their wedding, to watch their granddaughter grow up, to hold hands and talk about the tough times we face.
When I walk among the physicians who dedicate their careers to finding a cure for cancer, or sit with the administrators committed to providing the infrastructure for the need, I am filled with a humble pride that access to advanced treatments are in our community hospitals because of the work these folks do. They give me hope for the future in the world of cancer.
While at Laity Lodge nearly ten years ago, I heard a speaker retell the story of H. E. Butt exclaiming to Frederick Buechner, "You have had a fair amount of pain in your life.... You have been a good steward of it." That has resonated with me since, in that by continuing to work in oncology I have stewarded one of my most painful experiences. And it actually brings me joy to serve in this way.
Every day, my siblings and I chat from sun up to sun down on ways we will care for the needs of our mom’s 104-year-old mom, “Granny.”
Last Thursday a family member of mine was diagnosed with tongue cancer, and we happened to be planning a trip to stay the weekend with them. Our time together was an investment both personally and spiritually, and our daughter brought sweet laughter into the home in which my husband was raised. I spent the weekend listening, pondering God’s redemptive plan for the world, and questioning our part in it. Coincidentally, yesterday while meeting with a local medical oncologist, she shared her passion for head and neck cancers, and her story on where this passion originated.
This fall I became my daughter’s kindergarten co-teacher at a local classical school. For two hours on two days per week, I get to be a part of her education. Being with her in this way, as opposed to previously feeling like I was directing the meals-bath-book-bedtime routine, has somehow managed to multiply the space in my heart, mind, soul, and strength for the Lord, others, and my neighbors.
I don’t have a building or a title, rather the work of my heart and hands is my ministry. I live and breathe and live out each day as though my citizenship is in the kingdom of God. I don’t care for bumper stickers, wearing a company’s brand on, or align with divisors or denominators in the world today. I think the definition of inclusion is asking someone to a dance. And I hope to live a life asking people to dance, inviting them in to participate in relationship, to unplug from the device (our own and technological) and converse with those right in front of us. That is my occupation.
At any given moment in crowds or alone I am praying in spirit, silently asking the Lord for the forgiveness of my sins that morning, and over the course of my life. I also thanking God for the forgiveness of the unspeakable grievances committed against me and also against all of my ancestors all the way up to Adam and Eve. I plead the saving, reconciling, restoring, redeeming blood of Jesus over me and my family. And thank the Lord, that because of what He did before, during, and after the cross, the enemy has no rightful legal claim to me or my family. Randomly I am sometimes called to pray these same prayers over each person if I am in the room with them. Silently and in my heart, sometimes aloud. An interdimensional spiritual shift inevitably will happen in me and around me. Joy and freedom replace fear and bondage. One cannot make this stuff up!
As I step back and observe my paid and non-paid occupations, the common theme I see as my role is to prayerfully offer care to others. I love making connections among people, gathering information and saving it in my brain Rolodex for a rainy day (for a future connection or resource), letting people be themselves while honing in on the beauty they bring into this dusty world, interceding on behalf of them, and as I lay my head on my pillow each night, I marinate in the humble awe at how grateful I am to be able to listen to the peaceful snores of those I love the most. I get to do this!
May the capacity of our hearts be enlarged, especially to serve those whom God places right in front of us, in a sacrificial and sanctifying way without expectation of receiving anything in return. Giving care in ways that they need, caregiving with our time, our talents, our all.
Kim Akel is a daughter of the most High God, a spouse to husband, Michael, and mother to daughter, Gracie. She serves as a co-teacher to Gracie who attends a classical school, and alongside local hospital systems and national leadership, hospital administrators, directors, managers, my counterparts on my team, physicians, advanced practice providers, nurses, and practice administrators to grow quality oncology programs.
What about your calling?
What pain in your life might be God calling you to steward in your vocation?
A song and a prayer for all of us this week
(You can read all of the Work Stories here.)