I’m not certain that I actually enjoyed being a nursing home administrator. I had never been so stressed in my life. I slept less, worried more, cried more, relaxed less and felt more inadequate than I had at any other point in my life. I took comfort in the moments of mild aggravation, which were a welcomed respite from the daily melange of anxiety, disappointment and frustration. More often than not my workday began with me spending up to twenty minutes parked in my minivan where I gave myself all sorts of pep talks, simply so I could enter the building. For years I effectively ignored what I hated about my work by focusing on the pleasure I took in trying to create places of peace, comfort and optimal health for sick and disabled elders. Having finally reached my goal of becoming a nursing home administrator, I was thankful. I was excited and proud, clinging to joy where I could find it.
I had always found joy in singing. As a little girl I had no fear of singing (or speaking, dancing or doing any type of performance) in front of a crowd. My mom says I was three years old when I first sang a solo at church. I’m told that the congregation loved it. I didn’t have an amazing voice but it was pretty. I simply sang the right notes clearly and in the correct key, loudly enough to be heard and understood. At three years old I was completely confident. I don’t know when it happened but by the time I was in high school, though I still sang well enough to continue leading songs, my confidence waned. I lead songs when I was asked but I preferred adding my voice to group harmonies. My voice was and still is pretty but it’s soft and sweet – nothing like the beautifully powerful, soaring voices of most of the Baptist church soloists I grew up admiring. Still, I loved singing with youth choir at church, the chorus in middle and high school, and with the short-lived gospel choir in college. After graduating from college I didn’t sing publicly for over a decade.
Shortly after attending a women’s retreat, planned by the church we had recently joined, I began using my voice again. The featured speaker, Holly Armstrong, was an author and singer. As she lead us in song I harmonized with her instead of singing the melody. I always harmonize. It’s one of the aspects of singing that I love most. Our eyes were closed and we all sang in worship of our Lord. Someone there told the worship team leader about me. Within a week I joined the team and I absolutely loved it!
The worship team leader was Diana Hughes, a trained musician and teacher who thoughtfully and prayerfully chose songs that best fit the talents of the musicians and singers. We practiced songs in various keys and arrangements in order to provide the best possible experience during Sunday service. We supported each other as a team and we were genuinely fond of each other. Sometimes I sang through tears of overwhelming joy and peace. When I sang for the last time at that church I cried not for joy, but for sadness. I would soon leave Louisiana to begin for an awesome opportunity in North Carolina. Not only was I leaving a place where I had regained my confidence as a singer and where I felt completely rejuvenated every time we sang the praises of our creator, I was leaving a group of encouraging, kind, respectful people who prayed for and supported each other. I had no way of knowing how much I would end up missing them, especially the worship team leader and the member who kept us all organized.
After I had adjusted to my job, the children had settled in with their schools and activities and my husband had acquired the use of a farm we all moved from our tiny, temporary apartment into a five bedroom house with trees and a lovely pond behind it. Around the same time, we all agreed on a church to join. We had attended the services of at least ten congregations but found ourselves returning to the same one over and over. Like our previous pastor, the leader of our new church actually taught during Sunday sermons, as opposed to simply shouting the same message every week. The children loved the youth program and my husband and I started thinking about which ministries to join.
Work was tough but I was happy about finally having the opportunity to do what I had been wanting to do for years. I poured all of my energy into revitalizing my nursing home leaving little to nothing for my family. Not wanting to continue that way, and knowing that during some of my most difficult days, I gained strength and peace when singing with my old worship team, I decided to join the praise team at my new church. I was certain that cooperating with other believers to lead the congregation in sincere worship and praise would be all I needed to complete my adjustment to North Carolina.
Different leadership styles, personalities, levels of formal musical education, commitment to time management and other factors lead to a completely different experience than what I had at our previous church. After a few weeks I wanted to quit but I was there to praise God whether it felt good or not. I didn’t gain the level of camaraderie, encouragement and spiritual peace that I longed for. Instead I was often perplexed and irritated by the way some people chose to interact with the team. I felt grief for how things were going but it wasn’t a total loss. Praising God is a blessing regardless of what people do and this experience blessed me with greater patience and fortitude. I was reminded that sometimes going with the flow allows a tiny puddle of a problem to become a deluge of dysfunction. I was reminded that no matter what others might think, someone must call out practices that are inconsistent with the purpose of the group. I remembered that God allows his children to be in uncomfortable situations because he expects us to address what others might ignore. Not one to renege on a commitment, especially one involving my faith as a follower of Christ, I remained a member of the praise team and the young adult choir until we returned to Louisiana.
We left North Carolina almost one year ago. I had left my job to try my hand as a consultant and my husband no longer had access to the farm. The entire situation grew stagnant. A vacation with friends from Louisiana lit the spark that ignited fire fueled by all the reasons North Carolina was not meant to be our permanent home. My husband moved back first and started working immediately while the children helped me pack the house. Within a month of deciding to return to Louisiana we were celebrating the job offer I had received. Knowing the nursing home’s dismal reputation, I almost didn’t apply for the Administrator job. A speech therapist I trusted, having worked with her at my very first job at a nursing home, convinced me that the new management company was serious about making legitimate, sustainable improvements that would benefit both the residents and the staff. I was sold!
It was my pleasure and great honor to be at the helm of that facility, even if only for seven months. My impact will remain because I poured my heart, wisdom, creativity, joy, and prayers into everyone who entered the property. In hindsight I can acknowledge that while I loved working with professional caregivers to implement systems and processes that benefit sick and disabled elders, I never loved being a nursing home administrator. The joy of making things better for those under my care never matched the anxiety of trying to please the corporate officials while treating residents and staff will honor and respect. As a nursing home Social Services Director I learned that residents and their loved ones sometimes have unrealistic expectations. As a nursing home Administrator I learned that unfortunately, many corporate officials have unrealistic expectations too. Nonetheless, using my gifts to serve God in the ministry of caring for those who can’t care for themselves should, in general, be a joyful, uplifting experience, right?
Different leadership styles, personalities, and other factors created a completely different experience than I had at my previous job. Having acquired a double-dose of patience and fortitude, and not one to renege on a commitment (especially one involving sick and disabled elders) I remained dedicated to continuing my service at the nursing home. Much like the people associated with the facility I ran in North Carolina, residents, their visitors, people in the neighborhood, staff members, the local ombudsman, volunteers and members of the larger community constantly gave me encouragement, thanks, support and respect for the obvious improvements our team had created. I remained a dedicated leader until the corporate officials chose someone else and that’s fine with me. Being an Administrator was major goal but not the final one. Rather, it was a required step in my journey toward a multifaceted greater vision that includes the following goals:
- Leaving a legacy of love
- Capitalizing on unlimited potential
- Harmony mastered from chaos
- Being an industry innovator
- Using my dreams to create my own opportunities
- Having time off from work
- Leading through team building
- Succeeding in the midst of change
- Fueling senior living success stories
- Completing my Master’s degree in Gerontology
- Maintaining a heart to serve
I was there to lay the foundation and I pray that my successor uses it to build something wonderful! Have you had the opportunity to use lessons learned from an unpleasant, unusual or unexpected experience? Tell me about it.