How one nurse found her calling

How one nurse found her calling

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” – Frederick Buechner

When asked in my job interview at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital why I wanted to be a nurse, I included this quote as my answer.  In that moment I didn’t have time to share the weight and depth of the emotions and stories behind my choice to pursue nursing. Also, I was so nervous in my first “big girl” job interview that I felt like I could hardly string together a sentence of my own words. So, I hoped that the quote by the famous author and poet Frederik Buechner would convey my answer.

I think it’s interesting that Buechner uses the term “deep hunger.”  Most of us think we know what hunger is. I thought I knew deep hunger, but it wasn’t until I was 15 that I really understood.

The summer after my freshman year of high school my church youth group went on a one-week mission trip to Juarez, Mexico. Our goal was to pour the foundation for a small home for a family in need, to host a day camp for the kids in the community, and to provide food to low- or no-income families. This was my first time seeing deep hunger. We saw children whose only meal for the day was the small one we provided, mothers who sacrificed pride to ask for a few more servings to feed their kids that night, and children who hid food in their pockets to take home to satisfy their parents’ growling stomachs. You see, “deep hunger” is not knowing where your next meal is coming from. It’s the kind of hunger that keeps you awake; that impacts your ability to work or make decisions; that squelches dreams and squashes hope.

Seeing the human suffering on that mission trip – the literal physical hunger of the people we encountered – gave me a sense for why Buechner used the term “deep hunger” to describe some of the gnawing, hope-dashing, paralyzing needs of our world. As I got older, I began to recognize that those needs are everywhere, not just in developing nations. We are surrounded by individuals and families with deep emotional hunger and deep psychological hunger. There are those with a deep hunger for simple physical touch or attention, freedom from physical pain, and affirmation or spiritual wholeness.

On our trip we saw love, so much love! We worked all day in the heat and dust, slept on plywood bunks without air conditioner, and got one two-minute shower the entire week. We were exhausted, smelly, and despite our plans of going to give, we ended up receiving so much more in return.

Following this initial encounter, I went on a handful of other trips including to orphanages in Costa Rica and to Louisiana, where I packed disaster resource kits. I’ve tutored at an inner-city school and volunteered as a lifeguard for Special Olympics’ swim practice.  The summer after my junior year of high school I returned to Mexico, this time on the west coast to serve at a shelter for mothers and children who have been impacted by drug violence and to provide food and medical screenings at migrant agricultural worker camps.

Prior to that trip I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, but any lingering questions I had were erased because now I had a calling.  I experienced deep gladness and joy in providing care for the mind, body, and spirit and I witnessed the literal and figurative hunger of people in need being fed. Nursing was, and is, my calling.

More volunteer opportunities arose while I was in college, and after graduating and securing a job at Good Shepherd, I found myself living my calling.  I was working as a nurse and it was invigorating, scary, rewarding, exhausting, and life giving all at once.  The needs of the patients at Good Shepherd were entirely different from  those of the people I met in Mexico, and yet their basic mental, physical, and spiritual needs are exactly the same.

Looking back, I need to acknowledge how blessed I was to be given many of the opportunities I had, but it wasn’t always easy. I can see how it all makes sense now, but while walking that journey, I only had one small portion of the path illuminated in front of me at a time.  I would take one step after another in faith. There was a lot of money given, time sacrificed, miles trekked, tears cried, safety jeopardized, and even relationships put in limbo (don’t worry, we overcame the long distance and now we’re married) but as I reflect what grabs my attention the most is the beautiful story that has been woven through missional risk taking and finding my calling as a nurse. Through this journey, I’ve gained a better understanding of diverse cultures and populations. I’ve learned its okay to cry with people who are suffering. I’ve received hope through witnessing and hearing of miracles. I’ve experienced loving and caring for complete strangers. And I’ve acquired a sense of adventure and resilience. All of these are important skills for nursing in any setting.

Now you know my story. What’s yours? What motivates you? I have a picture on my desk of myself with two of the girls I met on a mission trip. On hard days it reminds me of my calling to be a nurse.

I challenge you to seek out ways to serve and love those around you. I do this because I believe that Jesus loved me first and He has called me to love others. Regardless of your reason, I think we can all agree the world would be better with more love.

Finally, know that you don’t have to have the whole story figured out. Take one step in faith at a time. I know my story isn’t over yet, and as I balance working full time and completing a master’s degree in nursing, I still try to find ways to reconnect and reinvigorate myself by serving. God has called me to this place, where my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. For me, that is nursing.

Rebecca Westrate is a nurse at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital.

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Rebecca Westrate