Finding Clarke in All Places

When I went to Clarke University to teach nursing I felt I found my soul. I was able to let go and be the person I imagined I was born to be and not the one forged by 20 years of federal rules and regulations. As I taught nursing I learned how to be a better nurse. When I left the spiritual safety of a Catholic university I feared I would regress or in some way have my faith diminished by not being constantly in the presence of those dedicated to freedom, education, charity, and justice. What I didn’t know is that everywhere I go they are present.

Today I went to the Catholic Worker House to help prepare food. It wasn’t the organized preparation we had in St. Louis for the St. Patrick’s meals, but rather the Zen method of taking whatever has been donated and turning it into a tasty and nutritious meal to take downtown to distribute in the park.

One of my tasks was to find the scissors and in the process found Sr. Mary Dennis. She quickly introduced herself and told me she was from Iowa. As soon as I said I had taught at Clarke she beamed and announced she was a Clarke graduate and a Presentation Sister from Dubuque. We talked about our love for the place and what it means to us and promised to talk more over coffee.

I came home to Knoxville, but Clarke and especially the Sisters that helped me with the transition to higher education continue to touch my life and faith. In every city I’ve lived in since I left Clarke I have run into a Clarke graduate and without exception, the one thing they have in common is their love for the place and the life-changing impact.

catholic-worker-logo-1I feel blessed that God sent a Clarkie to Knoxville to live in the Catholic Worker house, care for those that live there, and provide hope to those that are homeless in Knoxville.
Sr. Mary Dennis and the people of the Catholic Worker reminded me that it is my job to carry with me everything I learned from the BVMs. There will always be reminders along the way that we are a community of love and part of sharing that love is recognizing the dignity of every human being. It is the education we have and share with others that helps us develop our gifts and share them. I learned to be free. I will always be free.

Some Advice for the Journey – Teachers Care

When I was studying to be a nurse I sometimes thought that teachers either did not care or did not understand. It was not until I was out of college for a few years that I realized they all cared. They cared so deeply that they were willing to come back semester after semester knowing that the new group of students would have similar complaints to the last group. The complaints are frequently about not being able to find the exact answer in the textbook, having to read too much, having too much work, or not finding the presentations exciting though I’m quite unsure how any of us ever thought a professor was going to make the Kreb’s Cycle exciting.

Looking back, I’m fairly certain that there were times when I was ready to give up that the person that cared most about my success was my teacher.  Some care because they see in you what you cannot see in yourself. Others care because they know if they can only get you over this hump you will be fine. Then there are those that care because if you fail they consider it their failure. Whatever the reason, looking back I never had a teacher that did not care about my success.

Caring does not mean that a professor will turn a blind eye to cheating, or pass you when you fail or stop pushing you just because you cry. As faculty members, we are not always good at letting a student know how much we care about them as individuals and as future nurses. As teachers and students, we can do more to understand each other.

HINT: Crying doesn’t work on other women. We all know what the tears mean. You are mad as hell and can’t say out loud what you are thinking so those words stream down your face.

Teaching feels like a gift from heaven. I cherish the opportunity to share my life and knowledge with others and am forever grateful when they share theirs with me. Each day I have wonderful opportunities to interact with future nurses and seasoned professionals. Sometimes I remember the rules I set for myself and other times I fail. Most days it is a mix of success and failure, but there is never a day I do not care.

Here are a few of my ground rules. I hope one day to master them.

1. Take the time to listen with your heart wide open.

Sometimes we are in a hurry and do not feel we have the time to sit and listen to the same story we have heard every semester. We too easily forget that the story is not new to us, but it is new to this impressionable young person that desperately wants to be a nurse. When a student asks to talk to us we should make the time and we should always encourage students to ask. Will it be the end of the world if we are late to a faculty meeting or another curriculum revision workgroup?

2. It is not necessary to offer advice

When I ask you to listen to me
and you start giving me advice,
you have not done what I asked.

When I ask you to listen to me
and you begin to tell me why
I shouldn’t feel that way,
you are trampling on my feelings.

When I ask you to listen to me
and you feel you have to do something
to solve my problem,
you have failed me,
strange as that may seem.

Listen! All I ask is that you listen.
Don’t talk or do – just hear me.

Advice is cheap; 20 cents will get
you both Dear Abby and Billy Graham
in the same newspaper.
And I can do for myself; I am not helpless.
Maybe discouraged and faltering,
but not helpless.

When you do something for me that I can
and need to do for myself,
you contribute to my fear and

But when you accept as a simple fact
that I feel what I feel,
no matter how irrational,
then I can stop trying to convince
you and get about this business
of understanding what’s behind
this irrational feeling.

And when that’s clear, the answers are
obvious and I don’t need advice.
Irrational feelings make sense when
we understand what’s behind them.

Perhaps that’s why prayer works, sometimes,
for some people – because God is mute,
and he doesn’t give advice or try
to fix things.
God just listens and lets you work
it out for yourself.

So please listen, and just hear me.
And if you want to talk, wait a minute
for your turn – and I will listen to you.

–Author Unknown

3. It is never necessary to criticize another person to help the one in front of you

Anyone that has taught for any period of time has heard a student tell a horror story of a bad lecture, unclear assignment, or poor classroom management. It should never be the case that one teacher says something bad about another teacher to a student. It is much better to try and get the student to speak directly to the teacher. If that does not work then it is better to go yourself. You will build trust and respect. You might even help avoid a bigger issue down the road.

4. Teaching well must be a priority.

The purpose of the university is primarily creating prepared minds. Our research and service help enhance the education, but teaching is is why most universities exist. Just as strong teaching can enhance one’s research abilities, research provides fresh ideas for the classroom. All faculty must learn to balance the priorities, but students should never be shortchanged because of one’s research or service. Students must remain the center of the university.

5. Southern hospitality helps create a positive environment.

Teachers and students are both human beings. When they are upset or stressed they need to feel welcome in your office. That is often as easy as a cup of coffee, a cookie, or a candy jar. Keep your door open and keep the coffee, cookies, and candy flowing.

Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. (1 Thes 5:11)



Standing on Holy Ground: Nurses, Suffering, and Values

Teaching students is always a pleasure and a privilege. Yet, sometimes the stories that have been the most powerful for me seem to have no impact on them. Today I read them an excerpt from Mary Elizabeth O’Brien’s book, Spirituality in Nursing. Sr. Macrina advised,

“if you should ever hear God speaking to you from a burning bush, and it happens more often than most of us realize, take off your shoes for the ground on which you stand is holy”. How appropriate, it seems to envision practicing nurses, who must come together with their patients in caring and compassion, as standing on holy ground. God frequently speaks to us from a burning bush, in the fretful whimper of a feverish child, in the anxious questions of a preoperative surgical patient, and in the frail moans of a fragile elder. If we take off our shoes, we will be able to realize that the place where we stand is holy ground; we will respond to our patients as we would wish to respond to God in the burning bush.”

Book_of_Exodus_Chapter_4-5_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media) (1)I believe we should all take off our shoes and experience what is holy in our professions and our human relationships. What are we called to do and what is preventing us from doing it? We should take off our shoes of bias, our shoes of fear, and our shoes of judgment and help alleviate unnecessary suffering. Only then will we be able to feel what is holy and just. Only then can we answer the questions that examine our values:
Who am I? Who am I to become? How do I get there?

Adult Health: Nursing Ethical and Legal Issues

Art by: “Book of Exodus Chapter 4-5 (Bible Illustrations by Sweet Media)” by Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing