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I love life that is real, without pretense. I want to hear things the way they are, gory details and all. I love that life, as we see it, is not the end of the story. There is an ultra-reality unwinding as we drive to work in the morning and punch out at the day's end. There is a God whom we call Lord, even though we have never seen him. This is glorious. There is something greater than what we know.

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Figure. Larissa Funk... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Larissa Funk, RN

The moments where God and life interface fascinate me. This is where the gritty meets the glorious: Jesus Christ-the transcendent. I know transcendence exists; I read it in the Bible and have known it in my life, but where exactly to look for it remains mysterious.


My search took me to an inner-city Chicago clinic. The clinic streamed with people. It felt like we were always behind schedule. There was a lot of paperwork, and people seemed stressed past their limits. It seemed impossible that anything meaningful could transpire while patients were rushed here and there, and providers battled to get everything done. In a larger sense, I knew the clinic was meeting a major need, but it seemed distant from the everyday workings.


In hindsight, I see that these disappointments were due to a critical heart and preoccupation with self. Once my white self became more comfortable in my new African American/Hispanic community, and the Holy Spirit convicted my critical heart, I began to touch and see the transcendent everywhere.


I lived with a physician and his family, also white, in the neighborhood where the clinic was located. One of the first places I found transcendence was in the neighborhood. I soon learned important skills to help me take part in my new culture. I caught on to the significant social skill of laughing and joking with the ladies at work. I learned how to sympathize with some of the trials and tribulations of African American hair and could soon tell the difference between weaves, wigs and real hair. Because the clinic also serves a Hispanic population, my Spanish skills came in handy. During this immersion into a unique cultural setting, my comfort levels were stretched. I heard God say, Isn't my creativity beautiful? Part of me is inside this culture and in the ways I have revealed myself to them.


In addition, God began to instill in me a personal identity with the people at the clinic. My first response to the chasm that lay between my background and that of my patients and coworkers had been to ignore it. I did not know what their lives were like, but I assumed they were hard and messy. I had known privilege, and since I didn't know what to do with this disparity, I tried to ignore it. I didn't fool anyone by keeping my background secret, and instead I withheld insight from people who were genuinely interested. Jesus began to break down walls that I had constructed for fear of offending. When I stopped concentrating on our differences, I began to see individuals.


One afternoon a father came in with a sick child and immediately shoved the child into my arms, paying little attention to him and giving me little information regarding symptoms. My first response was to make a judgment about his parenting. Then I began to think about the small things that I shove into others' hands because I do not want to deal with them. Some days I would look out into the waiting room and see this web of human entanglement. It was in these moments that God was attuning my heart to see people and not faceless patients. God was showing me that all of humanity is created in his image, and that he can give us enough love and compassion to look humanity in the face.


My role at the clinic was medical assistant, and although people told me my job was important, I knew I was at the bottom of the totem pole. Instead of being in the forefront, I was in the background, enabling other people to do their jobs. There I was convicted of my need for status and privilege, and I felt the discomfort of relinquishing these needs. At first the days seemed endless and mundane, and I looked forward to returning to nursing school. But, soon I began to see the unique opportunity before me. Without the need to focus on performance or the pressure of making proper diagnoses, I was freed to see the health care system as a whole. I saw what was required for other departments to do their jobs, and I felt the inconvenience when someone thought their agenda was more important than the whole. I spent many hours working, laughing and enjoying members of the health care team that I may not have known had I immediately become a provider.


During my hours of routine work, I began to hear God whisper, A meaningful life is not dependent on what you do or the responsibilities you hold. Efficiency is not the greatest measure of good health care. The world offers power and prestige to certain people, but I am truly powerful and see all people as important.


Daily situations at the clinic reminded me of God's superseding power in my heart and life. There were hundreds of moments when I wanted to lash out at a rude patient or defend myself against a mistake that wasn't mine. Through watching others, I began to see the beauty of letting go of small injustices. I watched while a doctor or nurse extinguished a fiery situation, using calm words and firm directives.


God began to rewire my heart. I have often felt sheepish telling people that I am going into nursing, rather than pursuing an MD. I felt the need to prove that I was smart and capable. The truth is, I want to be a nurse and a midwife. During the months I spent at the clinic, I had several encouraging conversations with women physicians and nurse practitioners who were supportive of my decision to pursue nursing as a career. This support gave me confidence to follow my heart.


Another way God superseded my personal desires pertained to where I wanted to live and practice. I have counted the days until I could skip the country and move to a tiny mountain village, where Spanish is spoken and I could deliver babies. I imagined there wouldn't be too many people doing this, so God should be okay with my going. I said weak prayers about my willingness to go wherever he led me, but I still expected to leave the country. I thought I needed cultural diversity and mountains, and medicine practiced away from the nightmare of liability insurance.


Through some subtle, and not-so-subtle, ways, God released my grip on where I will live and work. I loved the diverse climate at the inner-city clinic and actually enjoyed living and working in the city. Through this, God said, Trust me. You will be fine wherever you are.


This summer experience was good for my soul. I found what I was looking for, both gritty and glorious, in places I never would have looked on my own. Knowing that God hangs out in clinics and hospitals, I plan to spend time in some pretty holy places.