Telling Our Stories / Hope College – September 30, 2014, 7pm – Science Auditorium

I’m looking forward to tomorrow night, September 30, when I will speak once again at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Last time, soon after Caring Lessons came out, I talked about why nurses should tell their stories. This time, I’m taking a viewpoint from my Christian background on why all of us should tell our stories. And, if we want our words to keep on living, we should write them down.

I’ll be suggesting to the audience, if they want to have my details on why nurses should write, they can check this blog post. With that in mind, I’ve copied and pasted the notes from that speech below. Read if interested, pass up if not! But, by all means, do tell your stories, and if you don’t want your words, your wisdom, your values, your beliefs, your passions (see Taylor below) to die when you die, please start writing!

I’m using a few sources this time that are extremely inspiring: Frederick Bueckner’s Telling Secrets: A Memoir (Harper Collins, 2000),  Daniel Taylor’s Creating a Spiritual Legacy: How to Share Your Stories, Values, and Wisdom (Baker/Brazos, 2011), and Nish Weiseth’s Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World (Zondervan, 2014).

If you live in the area, come on over. We’ll also do a few very short writing exercises that you won’t have to share.

Now, I’d better get scooting. I’m going a day ahead to bum with a sister. And I’ll stay overnight after the speech to spend time with senior students the next day that are reading my book for a class in advanced studies in nursing. Plus, I’ll see the beginning of  our fall change of colors along densely forested stretches of  I-94 from Chicago.

All in all, a pleasant journey…probably leading to another  story!


Hope College / April 13, 2011, 7pm / Science Center, Room 1000

Writing a Nurse’s Life – Why?

Thanks, everyone, for coming. Awesome. Overwhelming. Humbling.

First, I want to thank Dr. Susan Dunn, the chairperson of nursing here at Hope. I met her for the first time last September, about a week after Caring Lessons had come out. As I recall, the first thing she said to me was that she loved my book, and the second thing she said was that she wanted to use it as required reading in a course. I’m not sure if she could read my shock, but I was very pleased that then she wanted to set up at a time that I could come and talk. We decided to wait until after winter had finished making ice rinks of the roads between Chicago and Holland. And now that date has finally come.

Keep in mind:
I am not an English prof, a philosopher, or a theologian.
I did not read Shakespeare, Plato, or John Calvin in college.
I am not the typical college prof that writes a book.

As you know, I am a nurse. A nurse who became a writer. And here is how it happened:
I retired from Trinity in 2000.
I wondered: What was I going to do during retirement?
I talked on the phone with my friend Marianna. .
One of us said, Let’s write a book. About our nursing stories.
We knew nothing about writing creative nonfiction.
When we made this decision, Marianna and I did not live in the same city.
But we embarked on teaching ourselves how to write.
We met in person to plan our books,
took classes, formed critique groups, read how-to books,
subscribed to writing magazines,
and read books other than nursing for the first time in years.
We got hooked.
And now I’m here with a finished product. A book of my nursing stories.
I never thought of myself as a published author. In fact, I still see myself as a sandbox mom who got restless with the sandbox crowd and went back to school. And that schooling just happened to lead to advanced degrees and, eventually, to tenured professor. And now to standing here.

So, I titled this talk Writing the Nurse’s Life – Why?

I have to tell you that when I starting writing this memoir of my nursing career, I didn’t have any spiffy reason about WHY I was doing it. A reason I wrote down in my first writing notebook was that I was full of words that had to come out.

I wrote on and off for nine years. With all the critiquing, revisions, and editing, I never thought seriously about what would happen once the book came out. The biggest thing I worried about what where I’d store the 33 boxes of books I’d ordered. I live in a high-rise, so, of course, most of the boxes went in the tub.

But in the last year, I’ve had time to reflect on WHY we as nurses should write our stories. During the last few weeks, I’ve sat at my Borders on State Street in Chicago and read from a variety of sources, taken notes, and scratched out 23 reasons why we should write. Don’t worry! I’ll only talk about a few.

First, last fall, at the 75th anniversary of the SON at SXU in Chicago, I heard a rousing speech by Suzanne Gordon, a journalist and long-time advocate of nursing. Ready for Medicare—I liked her immediately.
She admonished us to stand up for nursing
Call ourselves Nurse Roelofs, not just Lois. Do you hear doctors call themselves Pete or Jim?
She asked repeatedly, what does the public know about us? What do they get from the media?
Get rid of the heart as the symbol of nursing (don’t be the chicken soup story kind of nurse)
Start wearing our minds on our sleeves—we are thinking people, not just heart.
Do you realize nursing is different from most other college majors?
We expect our students to use their heads, hearts, and hands at the same time.
In other words, to use cognitive, affective, and psychomotor methods of learning simultaneously.

READING: A typical experience for a beginning student (23—3 pages-4 minutes) Feeling overwhelmed by Mr. B. (Missy…)

With Mr. B, I had to be ready to tell him whatever he asked about his colostomy. Cognitive learning.
I had to be able to answer his questions knowledgeably, while, at the same time, I had to respond to him with respect, empathy, and genuineness. Affective learning. Which means I couldn’t gag.
And while my head was abuzz with facts and theories and evidence-based nursing practices, and while I was being genuinely attentive to Mr. B’s anxiety, I also had to be able to execute at least ten memorized steps on how to change his dressing. Psychomotor learning.
And that is nursing.
Using head, heart, and hands at the same time.

Second, when I was writing my book proposal to try to get an agent to represent Caring Lessons to a publishing house, I had to document the need for such a book. I wrote such things as:
“In 2008 the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) released fact sheets conveying alarming data for the nursing profession: the registered nurse shortage in the United States could reach a half million by 2025, nursing schools are continuing a trend of turning away qualified applicants, and the primary reason for rejecting qualified applicants is a concurrent nursing faculty shortage.”
Clearly, dear agent, don’t you see why my book is needed to inform the public about one nurse’s journey from nurse’s aide to nursing professor? They didn’t.
I was impressed by the report last fall from the Institute of Medicine, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, titled: The Future on Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. They made recommendations about what nursing has to do to play an important role in health care changes on the horizon. Here’s one thing they said about why nursing input is valuable”
“At more than 3 million in number, nurses make up the single largest segment of the health care work force. They also spend the greatest amount of time in delivering patient care as a profession.”

Another thing they said:
“Transforming the health care system and the practice environment will require a balance of skills and perspectives among physicians, nurse, and other health care professionals.”
What I take from this, is what I used to tell my students. If you don’t speak up on the unit, the nurses won’t know you know anything. If we don’t write what we know, no one will know we know anything and we won’t be able to be a contributor to helping transform the health care system.

Theresa Brown, RN, PhD writes in the current Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing: “The first column I ever wrote for The New York Times , called ‘Perhaps Dead is Proud , More Reason to Savor Life,’ generated a firestorm of attention. Literary agents sent me e-mails, my piece hit The New York Times ‘most e-mailed’ list, and, within three days I had a book contract with a major publisher.

Third, I got fired up for the title of this speech, Writing a Nurse’s Life: Why, from a book one of my writing teachers insisted I read: Lillian Heibrun’s Writing a Woman’s Life, published in 1988. A classic because in it she describes the history of how women have been portrayed in a traditionally male dominated world. How the first female writers even had to write under assumed names to have their writing et recognized. How writing by woman evolved how women finally found the courage to express their own independence from a male dominated culture. As I reread her book for this speech, I felt a rant coming on . A healthy rant. But, since we are still a female dominated profession, all the more reason to write.

So what should you call yourself if you write?

Josephine Ensign, a nursing professor at the University of Washington, blogs at Medical On her March 31 post, “Nurses and Writing: Writers and Nursing, ” she explores whether nurses who write should be called nurse writers? Or, nurses who happen to be writers? She quotes Laurence Long, a non-nurse who heads the writing center at the U of Connecticut School of Nursing. “He titled his December 30th, 2009 blog, Remember the Nurses. He asks why there are so few well-known current nurse authors. And he brings up the point that nursing has been a servile, female, ‘functional doer” sort of profession, and one not conductive to intentional creative writing.” He made the argument that nursing students need a liberal arts education where they “are exposed to good literature and learn to write in complete sentences.”

And here’s an opportunity to write and act and stand up for nursing! Did you know that right now American Nurses Association, ANA, has announced an “I am a Nurse, I am a leader” video contest? A two-minute video with the deadline of May 1. hey invite you to showcase one of the following:

H ow you work to improve health literacy in your community.
How you mentor a fellow nurse.
How you implement a best practice in the workplace.
How you advocate for a healthy environment.

Fourth, in this month’s issue of Poets&Writers, Lauren Grodstein, a non-nurse, writes about how to make characters work in your story. Well, when I read it, I saw myself as the character and this is what I took from her article.

Write about underrepresented jobs in contemporary literature.
That’s about us. There are three million of us, and how many nursing memoirs are floating around?
And, are the few out there being taking seriously?
Ask yourself, is your story a big story hiding in plain sight?
Have there been changes in your profession that are worth documenting?
Write to “show readers the value they might have missed in people they might not have noticed.”

Fifth, in the current issue of the Writer, Jacob Appel, a doctor and a fiction teacher in NYC, gives some good reasons why we as nurses should write:

Write what you know. Well, we know a lot. Think of the particulars of your jobs.
Every profession has its own lingo.
Readers like to learn something new. They like to go places they can’t go to and into other people’s minds. For example: nursing decisions–
Why choose nursing? What’s required? What’s it like?
Why choose role?—practice, teacher, administrator, researcher
Why choose specialty?—adult, maternal/child, community, mental health“Your life provides an excellent souse of material you know well and others do not know at all.”
We can become better at what we do when we write. Writing our experiences helps us work them through. (Morning pages—picking patients).

Sixth, from a Christian perspective, at the Calvin College Faith and Writing Festival last spring, Rhoda Franzen, from this college and author of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress asked,Why is memoir popular today?

There are two themes: captivity and restoration.
When we write memoir, we admit we are our own captive, and we’re telling our reader, “Here I am reader. Once I was captive, but now I’m restored.”
Memoir appeals to all because we all have stories inside of us with a captivity to restoration theme—we all have a longing of the spirit, we all are spiritual seekers.

When I left that conference, I stayed at my sister-in-law’s house in Grand Rapids. Over my breakfast I picked up her current copy of a religious magazine in which Marilyn Robinson, well-known author of Gilead, referred to John Calvin’s assertion on page 1 on The Institutes that the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves are inseparable.

Think of that. Our knowledge of God is inseparable from our knowledge of ourselves.
Until I know my smallness, I can’t recognize how great God is.
And then I thought of the commandment, Love your neighbor as yourself.
We can learn to know ourselves by writing. Then we can love our neighbors more completely.

Finally, I want to leave you with this thought:

We all have a story to tell.
All of us here have a story to tell.
There are no brand new story lines;
what is new, is our take on that story.
My story line? Girl in the 50s becomes nurse. Then a teacher. Unique?
No. In the 50s, girls were expected to become nurses or teachers.
But how I navigated that journey is unique. And how you are living your story line is unique.

So, If you love examining human behavior, especially your own, you’d love writing.
Opening yourself up to critique from others week after week—having your precious words attacked, a wonderful way to explore yourself and see your life with distance and perspective.

And now, that Caring Lessons, has been out about six months, I’ve learned, perhaps naively,
how my words, my journey, can help others. A new teacher bewildered in the classroom, young moms in MOPS groups,
retiree recalling own restless mom period, couples comparing relationships, mental health hidden in families.

And as Suzanne Gordon admonished us to do in her speech I heard last fall, when I’m out talking about my book, I’m trying to STAND UP FOR NURSING.


Donating all proceeds to nursing scholarships at Trinity Christian College and for a fund raiser.

Resources for Writing:

Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones
Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird
Tristine Rainer’s Your Life as Story
More advanced—Charles Baxter’s Burning Down the House (Defamiliarization)
Favorite Authors:

Charles Baxter / Saul and Patsy
Elizabeth Berg / The Day I Ate Everything I Wanted (sampling)
Anne Lamott / Some Thoughts on Faith and Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (fresh, irreverent)

Local Teachers:
Carol LaChapelle, Enid Powell, plus blog developer Helen Gallagher

© Lois Roelofs, 2011

(Please note: if you use any of this material, you must cite this blog post. Also, I would appreciate the courtesy of being informed that you’re using this material.You may inform me at

Aging in Chicago: An Unexpected Anniversary

The other day I discovered I was having an anniversary this month, or maybe I should call it a birthday. I’m not sure, the only thing I’m sure of is that I’ve not celebrated this date ever, and it’s been nineteen years. Nineteen fairly good years. Oh, a few downs, but many more ups. I’ve gotten more grandchildren, retired from nursing, written a book, and moved from suburbia to downtown Chicago. I’ve attended a host more plays and concerts than I ever did in my working life. I’ve read many more books, frivolous books, that is, books that were not about nursing. I’ve also taken more trips, because there’s so much more time. All in all, life’s been good in spite of never having celebrated this date.

So why didn’t I celebrate before?

First off, I didn’t know about it until a few days ago. Reason enough, I guess, to not have celebrated. But even if I’d known, what would I have done? I can’t imagine telling my husband that I have this anniversary to celebrate, that does not involve him, but would he please take me out to dinner? He’d look at me with that “what now” look and leave for coffee.

Secondly, even if I had known about it, I’d say I haven’t celebrated this date because it has had no particular significance for me. You know the dates that have real significance—like the day you were married. Forbid, either one of us ever forgets that. Forgetting is tantamount to rejection and no one wants that at our age. Or like the dates that you had your kids, but then, now you’re celebrating their birthdays, so those don’t really count as personal anniversaries of your delivery room visits.

So, why am I sharing this with you today? Because I want to celebrate. Just once. I won’t bore you with this again. But it’s a worthwhile event to note. Especially since I’ve done something for nineteen years that you maybe did at one time for a few years, but gave up long ago. In fact, some of you have chided me for being outdated and not keeping up with current trends. For making sure, through my correspondence,  that all my friends, business associates, and others know that I’m old.

So, how did I find out? Last week, I spent the week, and I mean forty-plus hours trying to get photos off my iPhone. In some ingenious way, I’d synced the photos from my computer to my phone when I’d intended the opposite. And the photos were taking up so much memory that I was getting hostile messages to increase my memory for lots of dollars. So while I communed with my computer to solve this problem, I spent mucho minutes clicking on every possible icon and exploring where each one led. I deleted cookies. I deleted cache. I deleted files. Eventually, I’m ecstatic to report, I got my photos deleted off my phone and recovered my memory capacity. The hostile messages stopped.

And the fun outcome of all this foraging on my computer was finding out that, after I broke up a lengthy liaison with Juno (we got our first computer in the early 80s), I started my electronic relationship with AOL in September of 1995.

So, there you have it. Happy anniversary to AOL and me.

Eat your heart out Yahoo, Comcast, Gmail, iCloud, and others. I’m not ready to break up. Not yet, anyhow. After all, we old folks like the familiar feel of keyboard keys knowing what they’re doing and where they’re going. We like living without the frustration of having to figure out new ways of composing, sending, saving and downloading. We like the memory of being told, You’ve got mail. We old folks simply like hanging out with friends our age.


The cake is baked, the nineteen candles are burning. Come celebrate with me.

U.S. Health Care: Are you happy with your plan?

Mayo Clinic - A Place of Hope and Healing
Mayo Clinic – A Place of Hope and Healing

Before you answer yes or no, did you know that the foundational moral principle of all developed countries (around 40 out of world’s 200 countries) is to provide health care coverage to all of their citizens, irrespective of age and financial status?

All developed countries, that is, except us.

In the past few years, I’ve heard so many cons, and some pros, about our new Affordable Care Act that I decided to take the OLLI course, U.S. Health Care: Promise Unfulfilled, that I wrote about a few weeks ago, with the hopes of getting facts. So often, I think we spout off without knowing what we’re talking about. So I want to give you a few quick facts that I’ve learned from T.R. Reid, a researcher and health policy expert, in his book, The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care (published in 2010 by Penguin).

1. “…the primary issue for any health care system is a moral one” (p. 3).

Indeed, much of what I’ve heard has been, Do we as Americans owe health care to our people? And, the follow up, Is health care a right or a responsibility?

2. Most of the countries that have guaranteed health care have longer life expectancy, lower infant mortality, and better recovery rates from major diseases, plus spend far less that we do (p. 3).

Scary, huh. What if we could get better outcomes for less money?

3. All of the organized health care systems that guarantee health care to all their citizens are based on or modified from four basic patterns:

a.) Bismarck Model: the health care payers and providers are private (Germany, Japan, Belgium, and Switzerland).

b.) Beveridge Model: the government finances and provides the health care (Great Britain, Italy, Spain, and most of Scandinavia). Great Britain’s plan probably most closely resembles what we in the U.S. view as socialized  medicine.

c.) National Health Insurance: uses elements of both the Bismarck and the Beveridge Models (Canada).

d.) Out of Pocket: the other 160 countries where their citizens either must pay out of pocket with no government or insurance assistance or go without healthcare entirely (Cambodia, rural India).

Now, I found this interesting (p. 20):

a.) For most of us still working and under 65, we’re Germany or Japan.

b.) For Native Americans, military personnel, and veterans, we’re Britain.

c.) For those of us over 65 and on Medicare, we’re Canada.

d.) For the millions of us still uninsured, even after the Affordable Care Act, we’re Cambodia or rural India.

One last thing: how many people do you think declare bankruptcy from health care expenses in countries with organized health care systems that guarantee care? Here’s the answer: zero for Britain. Zero for France. Zero for Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland.

How many bankruptcies are declared in the U.S.? According to a study done by Harvard Law and Medical schools, the annual figure is about 700,000.

So I give you these tidbits of health care information today. Draw your own conclusions. Think again about your plan. Happy or not? If not, what would you rather have, or suggest, for you, for the less fortunate, for our nation as a whole? Who do you think should provide and pay for health care?

I suggest Reid’s book as a starting point to read more about each of these plans, and countries, and when and why employers in the U.S. got stuck with providing health insurance, and more. An enlightening read.

I hope I’ve perked your interest to find out more before your next bragging or complaining session about your health care plan. I won’t be telling you much more here, because, as life goes, other opportunities are crowding my schedule, and I’ve had to drop this course.

Once again, my crave for learning was bigger that my calendar.

Hands – A Grandma’s Story

They’re soft. They’re warm. They’re innocent. They’ve not yet seen work or hardship or disappointment. They are the hands of my preschool granddaughter.

As I sit here this morning at my computer, photos of a recent visit scrolling my iPad, my granddaughter’s hands are bringing forth tears. Why?

Months separate our visits, so I savor them through photos. And, forgive me grandmas that regularly care for your little ones and could readily hide them under the bed (I know that feeling, too), but between visits, I live with lots of photos that yank at only the good side of my heart.

For where is there a more tender moment than the juxtaposition of old versus young?
See the differences? Size. Color. Texture.

If you pinched the skin on the top of her hand, you’d get nothing; if you pinched mine, you’d see tissue-thin skin staying upright a second or two before slowly receding to its previous position. Her bones and ligaments and veins remain hidden under her softness; mine shout hello and say, “Be careful, I’m getting older. I’m getting fragile.”

I wonder how long she’ll want to compare the size of her palm with mine. How long she’ll giggle as we try to line up our fingers, only to find mine are too long. How long she’ll stay quiet about the changes in the appearance of our skin. After all, she’s already observed, “You have a jumpy neck, Grandma!”


I wonder how long she’ll want to read picture books with me, her hand on mine as she says, “This page is pink, Grandma. Everything’s pink. Like my dress.”

Indeed, like her dress. And, my day. Because of the photos, my day is pink with memories.



Little Leaguers Unite City

They spent the weekend at Disney and today they are back in school. But for a magical few weeks in late summer, the Jackie Robinson West Little League team brought joy to this city. People from the far north to the far south to the far west (the east is Lake Michigan) sat glued to their television sets as the boys progressed up the ranks to win the National Championship and proceed honorably and with dignity, that we could all emulate, to the final game of the World Series that they lost, again with dignity, to Seoul, Korea.

Upon returning to Chicago, they were featured in a south side to downtown parade that matched the crowds and enthusiasm of a Blackhawks or White Sox championship team. Complete with horse, trolley car, and black SUV escorts, their bus pulsed happily up Michigan Avenue into the city.


01bf1de1e0a18e47fa0fa7819ffa617e8659f77682Along with thousands of others, I lined up on Michigan Avenue to cheer them on, these unassuming, well-behaved winners from Chicago’s South Side.

01bc2fe537d4821fb937561e2a6bd3be331e930542_00001The parade culminated in Millennium Park to a packed crowd. People streamed up the walkways to be part of the celebration.


The crowd stood hushed as the speakers lauded the players. The activity beamed on a screen above the platform so all of us, those sitting in the front red seats  and those of us standing behind on the lawn, could easily see.


Thank you, Jackie Robinson West, a team of thirteen boys, for a few weeks of love spread throughout our city during this summer of 2014. You will remain a highlight in our hearts.



Going Home to the Farm

I’ve always been a city gal, but I married a guy raised on a farm. And fifty-some years later, the farm lives on in him.  My married life has meant yearly trips back to his hometown of  five hundred people, two hours SW of Minneapolis.

This years’ trip was last week. Imagine riding for hours of quiet serenity past these green  fields.  A perfectly restful ride.


But, after all these years, the only crop I know for sure is corn. I still have to ask, “Are those soybeans?” Or “Are those beets?”


And I still don’t know.


But I do know one happy husband when I see him connected back to the earth he loves and the earth that lives in his heart.


I pray I’ll be able to make this trip for at least a few more years. And that my farm-turned-city guy will continue, patiently, to try to teach me a thing or two.



Aging in Chicago: A New Adventure for Fall 2014

“Listen actively with respect,” said the speaker, adding “Be succinct and to the point.”

Last week, I attended this orientation session to the OLLI program at Northwestern University in Chicago. OLLI stands for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Across the country, 120 such programs exist, all associated with colleges. Having taught group dynamics and observed many over the years, I appreciated this heads up to monopolizers and spoilers of any group gathering.


At Northwestern, between their Evanston and city campuses, nearly 900 students participate in this “cooperative learning community.” In the study groups, members have the opportunity to progress “from avid listener to active contributor to discussion facilitator to coordinator.”

I’ve never attended a formal peer-led educational program. Of course, all my formal education was teacher-led or coordinated. And the Basic Program at the University of Chicago that I completed a year ago was teacher-led. My only experience with anything led by peers was in Bible studies where I bristled at the “blind leading the blind.” As a former teacher, I always want someone in the room to be much more knowledgeable in the subject area than I. In Bible Studies, for example, give me a theologian versed in the Hebrew and Greek origins of Scripture.

But, after hearing friends rave about OLLI, I’m trying this method of learning by taking a course titled U.S Healthcare: Promise Unfulfilled. The course description asks, “Can our health care system work better, cost less and deliver higher quality?” Proposed and moderated by a pediatrician and a consulting executive (sounds like they’ll know more than I!), enrollees are invited to examine “the politics and policy decisions that got us to our current system…from the first health care plan to Otto Bismarck’s Germany to the Affordable Care Act” and more.

When I found this course among the dozens offered, I signed up. As a nurse and proponent of life-long learning, I can think of no better topic to explore at this time in our history, along with peers interested enough in the same thing to enroll and discuss respectfully as members of a group.


In case you’re wondering, I did have to sign up for second and third choices. My second choice was Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years; my third, Exploration of Brain and Mind. They will have to wait.

If you are retired and have some free time, what are you doing this fall to challenge your brain? Simply, but importantly, caring for yourself as health falters? Caring for family or friends? Going to church, plays, symphonies, operas, lectures?  Volunteering? Exercising? Reading? Cooking? Blogging? Help add to this list!