Returning to work at the children's hospital has been a conflicting storm of memories and new experiences. My last three years there were spent in the hallways and trauma rooms of the emergency department - my dream job, the one I fought for and interviewed for fearlessly. I was determined to work there eventually, from the moment I turned to the recruiter in the elevator and told him I'd take any job they offered me - days or nights, inpatient or anywhere else. I just wanted my foot in the door.
Working in the ER was exhilarating and terrifying and wild and infuriating and hilarious - sometimes all in the span of caring for the same kid. I grew up out of my gangly, awkward new nurse stage and became confident in my skills and abilities. Sadly, towards the end of my time there, I also became burnt out - short-fused and unable to cope with the high-level stress I encountered on a daily basis. At just the right time, I stepped away from it all, to the other side of the world, to deal with a whole new set of challenges.
I loved it. I loved the sense of doing work that was intense and challenging and life saving. I loved the days when the most complicated issue I dealt with was sucking snot out of a kid's nose or teaching a teenager to walk on crutches. I thrived on the adrenaline rush of standing in the room with the other staff, tensely waiting for the ambulance to arrive. I never knew what the day would hold. I only knew that the families walking in through the doors could be facing life-shattering situations, and I had the chance to help them through it.
But when we moved back to Kansas City, I knew I wouldn't go back - at least not yet. And that has been so hard for me. Because sometimes the healthiest place for you to work isn't where you expected to end up.
Moving back from Cambodia with a baby in tow and three years' worth of baggage and memories to process kept me in survival mode for months. I prayed and asked God a job that would be what I needed at this moment in my life - challenging but not exhausting; varied but not stressful; part-time but still enough to support our needs.
And God has given me the perfect job for this season of life - working with teenagers and helping run an outreach clinic at an emergency youth shelter. I get three half-days a week off; it's still in the children's hospital system; and it's in a work environment so life-giving and nurturing, I already claim the other nurses as part of my family. My days are filled with giving vaccines, managing appointments, and educating teens about all sorts of health issues. I love it. But I still miss my old life.
This week I went to the main campus to join the employee service recognition awards - a cumulative five years' of work at the hospital for me. Every time I pull into the front drive of the towering brick building and start the long, circular descent into the parking garage, I have flashbacks to my nights in the ER. I followed the path I had taken hundreds of times towards twelve hours of unknown joys and sorrows. I tried to swallow down the lump in my throat and ignore the twinge in my stomach that pulled me to my old stomping grounds. I didn't belong there right now.
Sometimes when life expands and pushes our boundaries, we have to cut down on something else to let it grow. And no one ever explained to me that working as a mother involves a lot of gray areas. It's not just the question of "if" you work. It also matters where you work, and what kind of work you give yourself to.
I don't have the margin - emotionally, physically, or time-wise - to devote to being an ER nurse, like I did before Cambodia. When I come home, there is a little boy and an amazing husband who want to have something left of me to enjoy. And I want to be able to give that time and attention and energy to them. Moving back to America left me with no margin at all. And God saw that and gave me what was good.
I'm sharing this small part of my story because maybe you're struggling with deciding how to work as a mom and still have time to be a mom. It matters deeply the kind of work you choose. You might have to set aside your pursuit of a dream career if it drains you til you have nothing left to give to the people most sacred in your life.
A "no" right now doesn't mean "no" forever. Life is constantly shifting and changing and as we move with it, our passions may also shift. And sometimes, we circle back around to the thing we loved and left, and realize it's time to step back into it.
So take heart. God sees what you're letting go of, in order to love your family well. It's not a waste. It's not an empty choice. It will be worth it in the end.