Practice Resurrection with Jennifer Willhoite (California)

Welcome to the fifth guest post in a new-and-improved version of the the Practice Resurrection series!

I’ve invited several friends and acquaintances to share a snapshot of their lives during the weeks of Eastertide (between now and Pentecost Sunday, June 9th). As in other series of guest posts, I pray about who to invite and for this series I was contemplating the ways these women and men consistently invite us through their social media presence to regularly consider restoration, beauty, and goodness even, and maybe especially, in the face of difficulty. I’ve asked each guest to share snapshots of their present daily life inspired by Wendell Berry’s  poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”.

I was first introduced to today’s guest through her utterly delightful presence on Instagram. Jen’s daily stories, conversations, and posts remind me to pay attention to the beauty of even the tiniest moments of my day while not taking myself too seriously. Since then I’ve wisely responded to every invitation Jen’s offered through her blog and newsletter, offering spiritual stories and tools for folks who are more donkey than saint. (I still giggle every time I read this invitation!) I’ve also bookmarked several of the handmade tools for prayer and contemplation in her Etsy shop, Cobbleworks.

May your perspective of resurrection be enlarged as you read Jennifer Willhoite’s humble and piercing insight in today’s post.

First, take a moment to listen to Jen read the poem.


(don’t) Want more of everything ready-made

I only know my dad’s dad through stories. He died years ago on another continent when my dad was yet a man. I’ve heard enough about the way he darned socks on a train not caring about the questioning stares and about his quiet and tenacious demeanor towards social justice to feel like I know some of him. So I talk to him in my prayers and in my everyday routines asking him where I might look for hope in my life’s holes and disrepair. I know he was brave. I know things charged at him and he held his ground. I know he got knocked down and got back up out of love, not out of spite so he knew about resilience and resurrection, but I need first his spirit of repair when I feel torn. He mended clothes, homes, relationships, fishing lines and more. I show him my missing pieces while picking up a needle and scrap yarn and I ask, “Do you think the biggest holes in me, the ones stretching themselves into life-sized questions will ever be patched? Will I ever have answers to how I can deal with regret or missed opportunity or wasted time?” And although I have no memory of his real voice, I can hear something in my heart and I think it’s him and he says this: “Patch the small ones, mend and repair with gratitude for new life. And as for the big ones, the big gaps of misunderstanding and confusion, just let them become as large as the ocean. Don’t worry about walking on the water, just let the current carry you while you float on your back.” So I fix the small almost every day and surrender to the larger current as I can for I cannot undo all of my mistakes nor can I fix all of my tears, but I can put myself in the place of transformation: flat on my back, staring at the sun and being carried by a Love greater than me.

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I’d rather the old thing that shows all of the ways it’s been touched and gouged and repaired and gotten a face-lift and rejected it than the new thing I do not yet know and has no history. I can be too cautious. For someone who’s terrified of ghosts, I have a lot of things that must harbor them, but when I see these things, I’m never scared, I’m always curious. Whose hands opened these drawers first? Who crafted them? Who decided they weren’t needed anymore and who reclaimed them? And have they always held items that someone was going to definitely use very soon if they could only find the time or am I the only one? And did everyone else who had these on their shelves at work or at home walk by them and think, “Simple wooden drawers, you may well outlive me. Will a part of me be stuck within you when I’m gone?” Maybe when my body is underground and my soul is running off with God there will be some ghost of me lingering with these old things in someone else’s house and my legacy will be to invite them to ask questions and hold onto dreams they want to make time for. 


Say that the leaves are harvested

when they have rotted into the mold.

Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

These books should have been mailed to my dad a week ago. I’ll get to them  and to the letter I need to write to accompany them. These flowers were trimmed when I first brought them in. The crystal vase was filled with water and each stem was artistically arranged. People came into the house and said it smelled fresh and said,  “My! Isn’t that a beautiful bouquet! Your home feels so welcoming” and I felt calm, centered and proud because everything had it’s place and it was a mutually agreed upon place. But now, just a few days later, the bouquet has been disassembled and trimmed again to squeeze a little more life out of each flower. The browning blooms have been put in common jars and I leave the dead ones on the table. The to-do’s like mailing packages and writing the letters pile around the make shift vases. People walk in and wonder what the weird smell of rotting stems and dust is and I feel embarrassed and frustrated: “Why can’t I just maintain a nice routine that ensures everything stays neat and tidy? Why do I have to be so lazy and careless?” I try to remember that every time I say, “I’ll get to that really soon” what I’m really saying is, “I’m running from something” or “I’m throwing myself into something”. Either way, the flowers will have to rot because there is no polite routine that makes space for fears and joys that big. People will have to endure the smell I’m afraid.

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Put your faith in the two inches of humus

that will build under the trees

every thousand years.

Humility is apparently rooted in the earth, in humus and in remembering that from dust we all come and to dust we all return and that in between we are free and encouraged, to be nourished by this beautiful creation of soil, water and air. I’m often on the verge of a bigger sickness, but these earthy teas and the fruit and vegetables of the garden keep me vibrant. I’m ashamed to admit that when I know better, I don’t always do better. I turn away from this humble medicine. I want to insist that I can do whatever my shallow appetites demand without any consequence. When I do, I get sick and hurt and mad at myself for not being obedient and good, for running off like a selfish prodigal. But God has a compassion greater than my rulebook for clean living. God says that even the seeds of the plants that make up this tea are part prodigal. God says even the strawberry is scattered and runs off with wild types like birds and cold winds. God says, “It’s not how many times you run away, but how many times you hear me calling you home that matters most” and so that becomes my real medicine: homecoming.

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Swear allegiance

to what is nighest your thoughts.

More mending as I can’t stop thinking about scarcity and not having enough, not being enough. And yet I’m also too big and too much and must get smaller and de-clutter, not just myself, but my belongings and my thoughts as well. My mind cannot out-think this. It has run out of ideas. And my heart and soul are tired. They have felt these feelings for so long that they need a rest from them. What is left are my hands so I will take this stained sweater and cover the marks with a big patch of first aid and lots of little crosses, little pluses. The routine of stitching them is convincing me there is an abundance in the Holy I can trust if only I could put my hands on it and feel it for myself. Hand held resurrection and hope is what should have been printed on the spool of thread and the box of needles. I plan on ordering a dozen of each.

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Expect the end of the world. Laugh.

Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful

though you have considered all the facts.

Not weirdly for me, I started carving a block about my craving and wanting with questions on how to tame it or make peace with it and not weirdly, what came from this was a silly strawberry monster, something childlike and honest. It made me laugh out loud when everyone else in the class was quietly thinking and working. I don’t care about this kind of embarrassment anymore. I am so grateful that I can play with the Holy—that it hears my deep aches and sometimes cracks a joke—not at my expense, but right next to me. I’m grateful Love can nudge me in the middle of a serious life lecture, lean over to me and whisper, “Hey look at this” and then start chuckling heartily. I don’t need to go to my mind’s “guidance counselor’s office” every day  and hear about how I need to take things more seriously or get my head out of the clouds or that I also think too much and need to de-stress. I just need a sacred friend who can say, “let’s go” and then runs ahead, leaving its hand out for me to grab while we leap and plunge into the river of life together. I need that Sacred Rebel. Am I fool? Probably. Will I be successful? Who knows. Is time running out to jump into the deep end? Maybe. Yeah. So I’m leaping. God says the water’s warm.

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Practice resurrection.


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Jennifer Willhoite is an author, illustrator and spiritual teacher who helps folks forge and heal their relationships to themselves and the Sacred through illustrated stories and tools.  She teaches on the Ignatian Examen which helps her celebrate the sacred in the ordinary and saved her from a life of functional despair. She is illustrating and writing her first book. She studied theology at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA for two years and completed coursework in contemplation at Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA and Ignatius House in Atlanta, GA. You can find her illustrated stories and tools on Instagram @cobbleworks and join her monthly newsletter by emailing her at, jencobbleworks@gmail.com


(You can see all the Practice Resurrection 2019 guest posts here.)

Epiphany +4: Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down

A weekly Epiphany devotional post for these 8 weeks of witness. Join us!

You can read here for a brief description of the liturgical season of Epiphany, and see previous Epiphany daybook 2019 posts here. Blessed Epiphany, friends!

Note: If you're reading this in email, the formatting usually looks much better at the website. Just click the post title to get there.


Look: There Will Be No Miracles Here, 2007, Nathan Coley

( source )

Listen: “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down”, from Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 2, Blind Joe Taggart

Spotify | YouTube

Listen to my entire playlist on Spotify: Epiphany - Break Every Chain. Add it to your account by clicking ‘Follow.’


Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord.”

*

”Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.
For you, O Lord, are my hope,
my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from before my birth;
you are he who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.”

*

”If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

*

”And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.
— Jeremiah 1:6-8 * Psalm 71:4-6 * 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 * Luke 4:21-30 (ESV)

Sunday Scripture readings are taken from the Revised Common Lectionary (Year C). Daily Scripture readings are taken from the Book of Common Prayer (Year 1), using the Psalm selections for Morning Prayer.


Pray:

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
— Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

Do:

Pray blessing throughout your house and neighborhood

If you haven’t yet, this is a great week to chalk the doors and pray blessing and protection over each room in your house.

Watch here and here for explanations from a couple of Protestant pastors and here for a video demonstration from a Catholic mom. You can find prayers here or print out a larger prayer service adapted from various sources that leads you to pray through each room of your home: Feast of the Epiphany.

You can find other activities for Epiphany at this post: 12+ Ways To Keep Celebrating With the Rest of the World (loads of links)


(See all Epiphany Daybook posts from 2018 here.)

Advent Daybook, 20: O Oriens (Radiant Dawn)

Advent Daybook, 20: O Oriens (Radiant Dawn)

An Advent daybook for these 24 days of prayerful expectation. Join me, won't you?

For an introduction read this post: Advent Daybook explained. You can see previous Advent daybook 2018 posts here.

Look: Grace Vessel — With Healing in His Wings, Grace Carol Bomer (source)

Listen: “There’s A Light” from Light of the Stable, Emmylou Harris

Read: Psalm 139:11-12, Hebrews 1:1-3, Malachi 4:1-3, Isaiah 9:1, 58:8-10, 60:1-3, 19, Revelation 22:16, Luke 1:78-79

Pray: “O come, O Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by your drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death's dark shadow put to flight.”

Do: Turn off electric lights and technology for the evening.

Read More

Work Stories: Walter Wittwer's learning-from-the-least calling

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, Walter, and his wife, Karen, have become dear to Brian and me since our move to Connecticut just over two years ago. Walter's love for God and for people makes me glad to be a Christian. I’m not sure I’ve met anyone more open to giving and receiving mercy than Walter. It’s a characteristic he demonstrates in every setting. Until this post, I didn’t know much about his daily work, and as I read, it makes perfect sense. Of course, our mercy-giving Father would lead Walter into this work. And may our good Father sustain him through all of the challenges of serving the least of these and those who care for them that each day brings.

Caring for the least of these is not limited to those in social work. We’re all called (and I love how Walter reminds us that we’re also all on the spectrum of need). May we look around our places of work and be encouraged through Walter’s story for God’s mercy to flow through us.

p.s., You can read more about Walter’s journey as a chaplain, prison minister, reader of good books, and writer of poetry at his blog ChainsGone.com

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After more than 40 years, there still is no typical day. Anybody whose work focus is people knows that they are unpredictable and make each day unpredictable. I think to give a full flavor of this work I need to address this from three different levels. The individuals served, the people providing direct service, and my role.

I stumbled into this work in 1976. You would think that having a degree in Psychology would not make this a stumble but a natural path. But from 1968-1972, every psych class I took dealt exclusively with mental illness, not mental retardation as it used to be called.

People with Developmental Disabilities are often misunderstood by the general public, usually grouped with people with psychiatric issues. Although there can certainly be overlap, one does not mean the other.

Sample of apartment home

Sample of apartment home

I have moved from trainee, beginning level status to Executive Director of a small agency and now back “down.” I have worked in vocational, at home and residential settings and worked every shift.

Presently I provide oversight for five addresses, ranging from a one-person, almost independent setting to a seven person 24-hour setting including people needing total care physically and/or intellectually. My days are filled with shifting gears between stopping in to say “hi” and checking the accuracy of paperwork for submission for Medicaid payment, playing air guitar with an older gentleman who always tells me of a song from the 40’s or 50’s, who did it, whether it was Side A or B, so I find it on youtube and we have a few minutes of laughs before I go unclog a toilet, help someone who struggles with hoarding move some containers so there’s greater access to them and then talk to someone about making arrangements for Rosh Hashanah.

The reason I love the work is because I love the people. The honesty, the simplicity of their love, and even their anger has taught me much about what’s important and how best to help people move through problems. As I traveled “up the ladder” the lessons I learned were very useful in doing the same for staff.

I’ve always worked in the private sector which cannot pay as well as public agencies. Most direct service professionals work two jobs and are frequently tired and/or stressed. Turnover is high in this field (50%) and we are always short-staffed. As the economy improves, our vacancies go up. You can get far easier work for the same pay, or better. But 40% down in staffing makes everyone’s job tenser than it needs to be. This has not changed much in forty years. It is worse in counties like Westchester compared to Ulster because the salaries vary less than the cost of living. I’ve worked in both and then some and in two states. The great majority of my years were and are in New York state.

Laundry Day at one of the residences.

Laundry Day at one of the residences.

I have learned that what I like best, what I do best and what is most needed are the same thing: ministering to these staff who have a huge and difficult responsibility caring for “the least of these.” They provide care for adults, ranging from changing diapers and showering the individual to helping someone balance a checkbook. Sometimes that requires they learn the skill first themselves.

We all have an IQ and depending where you are on that scale and how well you’ve learned to cope with what that “number” usually represents in terms of skill acquisition and when your developmental delays manifested and how much they impacted your learning, will depend how much care and what kind of care you need. We are complicated organisms and no two of us are alike.

Same goes for those on the autism spectrum, some may be very self-centered, so much so that they are totally turned inward and some not so much; some have great social skills, some not so much. We’re all on the same spectrum. There is not a disabled spectrum and an abled spectrum. There is one spectrum, some are on one end and some on the other and most are toward the center, where it becomes more difficult deciding who needs assistance and who provides assistance.

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I guess I haven’t talked much about day-to-day. This past week I’ve done paperwork (billing documents, petty cash approvals, payroll, plans of protective oversight, goals, etc.), trained staff in required trainings, corrected staff doing for someone who is able to do for himself, prayed with a staff whose son was in an accident, poked at an avid Yankee fan, joked with staff, talked with staff about home ownership, observed dinner procedures and gave corrective instruction, talked to a police sergeant about an individual who was briefly missing, developed new staffing patterns to deal with unexpected behaviors, attended life plan review meetings, talked with someone with autism who struggles with hoarding about how we can help him clean his room so he does not get evicted, and more.

Humans have human problems and sometimes, or maybe most times, need humans to help them solve the problems and celebrate the solutions. Ultimately we’re all the same but our abilities vary. Abilities vary for a billion different reasons, some physical, some mental, some emotional, some developmental, some opportunal (I made this word up but you know what I mean), some ambitional (once I start making up words I can’t stop), and so forth. All by God’s will, though I can’t explain that.

I think we learn the most from people who we think can teach us the least. There is no lesson plan that can teach you as much as someone telling you how they feel, especially if you were involved in facilitating that feeling. I listen, I talk, I love. Those are good. I also get irritated, frustrated and bored. Those aren’t as good.

Preparing a healthy snack

Preparing a healthy snack

Recently I spoke with God a lot about my going into ministry or mission of some sort. He made it clear that I’m to do ministry where I am and that where I am is the mission field. That’s true for everyone, of course. I just needed eyes to see.

Walter Witter is a first-time grandfather, married to lovely Karen, Clinical Team Leader at an agency in Westchester County, NY, responsible to 22 adults in 5 homes, active in Kairos prison ministry, and moving toward vocational diaconate within the Anglican Church through Church of the Apostles in Fairfield, CT. The best way to heal your own wounds is to help others heal theirs


What about your calling?

In what ways are you called to both give and receive mercy?

A song and a prayer for all of us this week

 
God, Father of the poor,
your Son Jesus was born among us
poor, humble and dependent.
Open our eyes and our hearts and our hands
to honor him now as our Lord and King
by welcoming him in those who are hungry and thirsty,
in all who are abandoned and lonely,
in refugees, in the poor and the sick.
Let our love become free and spontaneous,
like the tenderness you have shown us in your Son.
Welcome us in the everlasting Kingdom
prepared for us through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
— from Liturgies Alive, Models of Celebration

(You can read all of the Work Stories here.)

Work Stories: Kim Akel's care-connecting calling

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.

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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.

My Mom

My Mom

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.

My mom’s mother, me, and my daughter, Grace

My mom’s mother, me, and my daughter, Grace


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.

Kim Akel.Kim Grace.jpg

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

O THOU WHO compasseth the whole earth with Thy most merciful favour and willest not that any of thy children should perish, I would call down Thy blessing to-day upon all who are striving towards the making of a better world.

I pray, O God especially —
for all who are valiant for truth
for all who are working for purer and juster laws:
for all who are working for peace between nations:
for all who are engaged in healing disease:
for all who are engaged in the relief of poverty:
for all who are engaged in the rescue of the fallen:
for all who are working towards the restoration of the broken unity of Thy Holy Church:
for all who preach the gospel:
for all who bear witness to Christ in foreign lands:
for all who suffer for righteousness’ sake.

Cast down, O Lord, all the forces of cruelty and wrong. Defeat all selfish and worldly-minded schemes, and prosper all that is conceived among us in the spirit of Christ and carried out to the honour of His blessed name.

Amen.
— John Baillie, "Prayer For the Making Of A Better World"
 

(You can read all of the Work Stories here.)