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Giving When Our Hearts Feel Empty

Heavy in my arms the three small bodies I carry into the chapel, nestling one against my elbow while gingerly holding another, still warm, in my hands. I place them alongside each other and cover them with a funeral pall. 

Heavy in my arms the now-healthy two-year-old boy who squirms to run and play, chasing after me and laughing, his face and belly filled out after months of extra nutrition. He is a radical contrast to the fragile, frightened child who rejected affection just a few short months ago.

Heavy in my mind the few short seconds of trembling earth, which jolt us to attention as we dash outside, and the subsequent nervous laughter audible from the hospital corridors as phone calls are frantically made.

Heavy in my heart the knowledge that though my precious little ones slept through the tremor, their bodies and minds still recognized it and caused them to dream vividly about the trauma they survived two short years ago.

Heavy in my arms the boxes of medical supplies, so generously donated, which will allow our newly diagnosed diabetic continued comfort as she adapts to a new routine and set of requirements, and which will provide safe and clean access to care for the children within the walls of the NPFS facilities.

Heavy in my arms the dozens of toys showered upon me by friends stateside, which will add to the Easter festivities for 200 kindergarteners. Heavy in my ears the shrieks of excitement from the director as she opens each bag and marvels at its contents.

Heavy on my lap the sturdy compact person that is Jerry, a newcomer. He sits asking me endless questions and reciting observant facts about his new brothers and sisters, his hands grasping my arms and begging me to tickle him. “I won’t laugh,” he says, hardly able to contain his giggles.

Heavy in my eyes and ears the voices and faces of the desperate who reach out to me on the street, begging for assistance, money, food, employment, to be heard.  As I continue to walk and listen, looking into eyes and holding hands for brief moments, I pray that hope keeps them standing.

Heavy on my roof the sounds of the bittersweet rains, which provide brief respite from the dust and heat, watering the vegetation while drenching the tent cities and flooding the streets with refuse. Heavy on the roads the following morning the trucks, loaded with food and supplies, which travel into the slums to assist those who suffer.

Heavy in the night the thoughts which wrestle with my desire to sleep, the wonderment and the weight of each moment not lost on the endless surfaces of my mind. They mix with the wails of the laboring women, the embodiment of this struggle to give birth to change, the cry of new life protesting the naysayers who claim there is no hope.

Heavy against the darkness the joyful dancing steps of the children, who embrace even the newest stranger with accepting arms too small to contain their excitement. The Light which will not be overcome has been set ablaze and presented to them, and they chase after it and stand in its warmth. Its radiance is infectious, softening my heart and opening my hands as little fingers intertwine around mine, pulling me forward.

I wrote these words a decade ago, while in the midst of my service in Haiti. I have returned to them from time to time, when memories flood my head or when circumstances here feel weighted. 

I just read an article online today about how many collective traumas we have been experiencing in our world these last few years, and how the persistency and graphic, palpable pain impacts our ability to work, relax, play, move and even just be in the world. This particular article related to how much individuals carry into the work environment, and how the professional is altered by the emotional, physical, spiritual and mental heft of our daily lives. 

How do we give when our hearts are empty? How do we emulate Christ when we feel we have nothing of Him to offer to others, or to ourselves? How do we respond to the demands of the world when we see so little of the good within it?

Moving to a new city as an older single woman is a challenge. There is an added effort and difficulty to establishing new relationships, as women my age are often married with families, or heavily involved in their professional pursuits. I looked forward to deepening new friendships and potentially meeting colleagues outside of work as I learned my way around my new unit and city. The pandemic threw a big wrench into that, altering my professional environment and limiting the chances to meet people outside of the work setting. I still consider it a blessing that I work in a profession that required me to “go to the office” and allowed me to still be social, see colleagues, interact with patients and be outside the house. 

As an ICU nurse, I have continued to adhere to masking, social distancing, and limiting social gatherings to protect my patients, myself, and others, so after two years, I experience significant loneliness. I am fed through patient care and through the genuine interactions I have with peers and colleagues. My time away from work is spent with my dogs or out-of-doors (as long as the Austin heat allows, normally in short intensive increments). I give myself completely when at work and relish the time at home to recharge. 

Through years of personal healing which I have elaborated on in previous blogs, I have learned what capacity I have to give to others. It used to be that giving was required constantly, that I needed to exhaust myself in service to the point of physical illness, and always say “yes” when asked to help. When I reached the precipice of complete physical and emotional shutdown, I was forced to stop doing and simply be. My heart, body, mind and soul were empty, and I had literally nothing else to give. I had spent my energy fighting what God wanted to heal within me, and I experienced an involuntary rest. For an entire year, I learned what genuine giving was, how “doing” masked the “being” I was resisting, and what I truly wanted from the remainder of my life. 

When my heart was completely emptied, it could be filled with truth and confidence and mercy and comfort in knowing who I was in God when everything else, even my ability to physically complete menial tasks, was stripped away.

bridget holtz

Lately, as I have been working with a new therapist, I have been revisiting that period of time in my life and have found myself yearning for the peace I experienced. When my heart was completely emptied, it could be filled with truth and confidence and mercy and comfort in knowing who I was in God when everything else, even my ability to physically complete menial tasks, was stripped away. 

The news, even this past week, has been full of conflict, anger, division and judgment. Isolation continues to be a theme in our lives as society encourages us to act in conflict with others, remove ourselves from the hard situations, and separate from those with views different from our own. 

But this is how we can influence our circles. I have hung onto a quote from Saint Mother Teresa for years, when I look at the wars on the other side of the world, or even here in our own country, as the temporary seems endless. How can anything I say or do make a difference when I don’t even know if my words will come out right or my actions will be received well? When the “save the world,” or “Martha,” complex kicks in and I hold myself to the standard of impossible perfection in order to fix? When I am exhausted and see the pain evident in the desperation of our time?

If you cannot feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

St. Mother Teresa

This is how we can give when our hearts feel empty. When we are no longer giving from our own capacity and with our own agenda or motives, we can give what God wants the other to receive, and He can fulfill our needs as we do so. When we have detached from our imperfection, we can give as ministers of His will. This is how the world changes. 

About Author

Bridget is a deep-thinking compassionate caregiver with a love for color, culture, travel, kindness and the encouraging word. Called to seek out and serve the lost, vulnerable, broken and oppressed. A pediatric nurse, she has worked in numerous inpatient and outpatient settings, and with the underserved domestically and internationally. She carries a particular call to stand with the impoverished, whether they be affected materially, emotionally, physically or spiritually. She currently lives in Austin, TX with her dog Nigel.

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