restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations


Chapter 6:

Stewardship Lived Out (Careers)

Becky Lynn Black  

The next two decades of my life could be labeled “The American Dream, Christian Style.”  This label, of course, is looking back with a bit more wisdom and understanding than I had at the time.

One afternoon three years into our marriage, Dave told me of his desire to study for the doctorate in Europe. I thought That’ll never happen!  I just couldn’t imagine my little Hawaiian boy among the cathedrals of Europe. I had been to Europe many times; it held no special charm for me; but Dave had never been, and it fascinated him. As a “good” wife, I believed it my duty to do whatever was needed to facilitate his dream. So I worked full time and overtime in nursing to gather the funds necessary to support us for three years in Switzerland. Meanwhile Dave continued teaching Greek as adjunct professor at Biola, while completing his M.Div at Talbot Theological Seminary.

I enjoyed nursing. I was a hard worker and diligent to the ’nth degree. I quickly discovered the ICU. Not only was it much more stimulating, it was also the only place in a hospital that was non-smoking! At this time in our history, smokers ruled the world, and non-smokers had no rights. If I walked into a patient room and the patient (or family) was smoking away, I felt my lungs burn and go into spasm. But in the ICU, it was smoke-free because of the oxygen in use. Leaving the Unit for break or meals was taking my life in my hands again. The Cafeteria had a “non-smoking section,” but no one thought to remind the smoke to stay in its section. In 1979 I asked the Director of Nursing at Whittier Hospital Medical Center in Whittier, CA, to designate just one small cubby hole as a break room for non-smoking nurses; my request was denied. I then got a signature drive going; we got hundreds of signatures of nurses who also wanted a non-smoking break room. Our request was again denied. As a result, many times I would fore-go breaks and just continue working. Today, of course, not only are whole hospitals designated “non-smoking,” but also the grounds around those hospitals are forbidden for smoking. How times have changed!

I loved intensive care nursing. Many new things were breaking on the medical scene. I worked in many hospitals in southern California. In some of these hospitals I was on permanent staff, but in many others I worked for a Registry. There was a very severe shortage of nurses in the mid-1980s, even though our country was bringing nurses in by the plane-full from the Philippines, Canada, and Europe. In one hospital, there were so many Filipino nurses working, a huge sign was posted in the Unit: Speak English! I clearly remember overhearing a nurse from Thailand discussing a patient with a doctor from India. It was clear that they did not understand each other; in fact, the nurse was talking about one body system and the doctor was talking about another! I realized that if I didn’t intervene, this patient could suffer great harm, through no one’s fault except language barrier. In American English I acted as translator for the Filipino nurse and the Indian doctor. 

I loved watching the various cultures displayed in nursing practice. In one hospital the nursing staff was roughly 1/3rd Caucasian, 1/3rd African-American, and 1/3rd Filipino.  What a study in cultures as I watched work ethic, doctor relations, problem solving, etc. I loved the cultural variety in southern California! The only time I got in trouble was when my southern-ness came out. “Yes, Sir” and “No, Ma’am” was often met with an angry expression. “I’m not in the Army now! Drop the ‘sir’!”  Of course, I was only being polite, and frankly it was so automatic I really couldn’t help it. But for every person who exploded in anger there was a person who said, “Thank you for being so polite.” Culture is an amazing thing.

I’ll never forget the dawning of HIV/AIDS. Of course, it didn’t have a name then. The only thing we knew was that suddenly large numbers of men in San Francisco were dying, cause unknown. Los Angeles was not too far from San Francisco. Everyone in the medical community was heads up. And because we didn’t know what was causing this tragedy, there was a general panic. Was it the water?  Was it air pollution? Was it a side effect of some common medicine? Was it an unknown source of radiation? Everyone was asking “Why?” And until there was an adequate answer to that question, nurses were taking every precaution. Until that time, nurses wore gloves only when doing messy work. We were taught how to give patient care in such a way that our hands rarely got dirty. I know it sounds horrible now but, really, we rarely wore gloves for routine care.  But as news of this terrible disease spread, nurses began wearing gloves for every patient contact. We had no proof of its effectiveness, but it was the only thing we knew that might protect us. (I remember hospital administrators sending memos and having special meetings to tell us nurses that there is no proof that gloves stop the spread of this disease, and we should not act with such paranoia.) Of course, the glove-making industry was not prepared for this sudden demand for their product, and the hospitals were not excited about this increased operating expense. So a shortage of gloves prevailed. Nurses would use sterile gloves for mundane care, would horde boxes of hospital gloves in their lockers, and would buy their own private supply of gloves at the community medical supply store.

For myself, I had pity upon these nurses that I worked with. It was easy to see that they were afraid of dying. Although they were basically good people, very few of them were true believers in the Lord Jesus. So I voluntarily gave them all the gloves that were available. I figured that if the disease got me, I would go to Heaven. But if the disease got them, they would go to Hell. To me that was a no-brainer decision.

These were also the years of pioneering cardiac surgery. I worked in hospitals on the cutting edge of cardiac bypass procedures. There was a stellar cardiac surgeon named Dr. Kwon; I think he was Korean. I never met him, although I took care of many of his patients. Dr. Kwon would do the surgery, but his associates always did the follow-up. I remember the day when the team of surgeons decided that it was not good for their patients to be left intubated and attached to a breathing machine for a long time post-op.  We were to extubate the patient a mere 12 hours after surgery; no more waiting 3 or 4 days for extubation. What courage it took to pull that tube!  The first patient under this new plan was not my assigned patient, but let me tell you, the whole unit was alive with tension during those hours! Today most bypass patients are extubated within a few short hours of surgery.

I remember being struck one shift with the foolishness of Man's wisdom in solving the deep problems affecting mankind. In the community of the hospital a man had shot each person in his large family, execution style, with a bullet through the head. Only one survived this onslaught -- a 10-year-old boy who was brought to our intensive care unit.  He was holding his baby sister when she was shot by their father. He witnessed the whole horror of that murderous rampage, and watched as his father turned the gun upon himself.  He lay on the floor of their home as the Los Angeles SWAT team was called. For four hours he lay in the blood, listening to the police call out to his dead father. Finally, the police threw tear gas into the house and stormed the doors. He was brought to our hospital and immediately taken to surgery.

Amazingly, he suffered absolutely no residual physical damage from that bullet in his brain. He had no paralysis, no speech difficulty, no imbalance, and no memory loss. They called in a child psychologist, and we nurses were instructed that under absolutely no circumstance were we to discuss, or allow the boy to discuss, the happenings of that horrible day.

When I was assigned to his care, I tried every way possible to comply with that order.  But no matter what topic I broached, this young boy found a way of getting it back quickly to the trauma of his young life. How my heart ached for him! How my prayers lifted him up to the only One who could soothe his spirit. His two aunts came from the Midwest and eventually took him back with them. I don't know what happened to him, but he has often crossed my mind and been in my prayers.

People often think that because someone is at Death's door in the intensive care unit, they are more open to the truth of spiritual things. But I have found that people will largely continue to stubbornly hold to whatever system of faith they clung to before they entered the intensive care unit. And also, many times, they are simply too sick to seriously consider the love and authority of the Lord Jesus.

But I remember well a case in which a man was dependent upon a ventilator. Of course, he could not talk and writing was difficult, but his eyes were bright and he easily understood what was said to him. For many, many weeks we had tried to get him off the ventilator, but his lungs were too far gone. Decades of smoking had done their damage, and no respiratory care could cure that. Finally, the wife had to make the decision to withdraw the ventilator. What a horrible time that was! Here was a person who was alive, alert, totally in control of himself. But he couldn't breathe without a machine. And no insurance company was going to pay for a lifelong attachment to a machine. The really bad thing was that the patient was not allowed to know of the decision of the doctor and wife.

The evening before the ventilator was to be disconnected, I was assigned this patient. I really prayed about my role in all of this, and felt that I must present the Gospel to this patient. In those days, nurses gave "PM care." This was a back rub, sheet change, mouth wash, etc., in preparation for a good sleep. After my care, I sat by his bed and explained that with everything on earth, there comes a time when life stops. No one knows for sure when that time will be, but after that point, there is no return. It is very important that we have made correct preparations for the life after death. As we "talked" it was clear to me that his spirit was open, that he was comfortable with what I was saying and that I should continue. And in the end, he communicated clearly to me that he was embracing the salvation offered by the Lord Jesus, and was going to rest completely upon His provision. 

I cannot tell you the change that came over that man. Absolutely nothing had changed in his physical condition, but the whole room radiated with peace and pure joy! He smiled, and drifted off to sleep with such a peaceful expression on his face.

The next day when I came to work, this patient was gone. I don't think he had survived longer than 1/2 hour off the ventilator. But I know that I will see him in Heaven, and together we'll praise the One who made the Way of Peace possible.

My favorite shift was 3pm-11pm. This shift allowed me to get a full day’s work done at home, and most of the hospital bigwigs were out of the unit by the time I arrived, so the Unit relaxed a bit. Upon graduation with my bachelor’s degree my starting pay was $5.60/hour. This was in 1976. After a year of working on a general medical-surgical floor I was promoted to Director of an 8-bed pediatric unit, and my pay was increased to $5.80/hr. In this position I wrote a pediatric Policy and Procedure book and really enjoyed creating a unit that was both medically progressive and family friendly.  However, my rheumatoid arthritis flared, and I was afraid that one day I would drop a baby. So I moved from this active nursing job to a 4-jobs-in-one desk job. It was a salaried position (which averaged out to about $6.20/hour), and after only a few months I’d logged so much overtime, it was clear to me that the hospital was taking me for a ride.   For the whole hospital, I was the Infectious Disease Nurse, the Discharge Planner, the Utilization Review Coordinator, and Social Services Coordinator.

Utilization Review was a brand new concept. The federal government had given a grant to the states for the purpose of reviewing utilization of medical services.  It was targeted to Medicare and Medicaid recipients, but was to be expanded to private insurance companies as well. PSRO (Professional Standard Review Organization) was the operative body. My job was to review each hospital admission within 24 hours; I had to confirm that the physician orders for tests and treatments were appropriate for the diagnosis. Three days later, I had to review the medical chart again, to see if continued hospitalization was still needed, and if the physician orders for tests and treatments matched the diagnosis. And for the first time in history the UR nurse had the authority to say to a doctor “this patient does not qualify for hospital payment.”  Of course, I could not expel a patient from the hospital, but I had to go to the patient and alert the patient that the expense of their hospitalization would not be covered by federal monies. Doctors became extremely hostile towards me; they were still the prima donnas in the medical community. Teamwork among the medical disciplines was still in the future. If doctors did not cooperate with my decision as the UR nurse, then the hospital was at risk of losing money. So I got pressure from both sides! Needless to say, it was not one of my favorite jobs.

Today, of course, we have DRGs (Diagnosis Related Grants) that are standard and accepted, not only for federal assistance but also for private insurances. The work I did with PSRO was the groundwork for the DRGs of today. Today the various aspects of the medical community cooperate and respect each other. But it took a lot of adjusting attitudes on the part of doctors to reach that point. And a lot of us nurses had to endure some rough waters until the doctors learned to become progressive.

In those early years, we nurses were still wearing white dresses, starched caps, white nylons and white shoes. What a change from today! Long ago most nurses gave up wearing white and now wear (sometimes outlandish) printed tops and slacks. Dresses are almost unheard of, though in my last years of nursing I returned to wearing white dresses (without the cap), and I cannot tell you how many patients commented that they had more confidence in me because of the way I was dressed! Dress does make a difference, and sadly the nursing profession dresses little better than if in their den at home.

After the 4-in-1 job, I did advanced studies in intensive care nursing at Long Beach City College, and moved into that branch of medical service for the next 10 years. My pay topped out at $22.00/hour. Then I became completely bored. Nothing in nursing interested me…teaching, administration, another branch. I turned down the offer of a teaching position at Biola, and completely changed careers.

I turned my attention to the financial services sector. Selling insurance, being a stock broker, selling real estate or doing credit counseling didn’t interest me as much as being a general financial planner and doing all those things according to the client’s need. So I took courses, passed a 3-day exam (which was more rigorous than the CPA exam), and became a Certified Financial Planner with Waddell and Reed Financial Services, a national company based in Kansas City, MO. From the first client to the last, I loved this work. It allowed me to really help people in an area of their personal lives that greatly impacted other areas. From 1988 to 1998 I worked with my own clientele, and some of those years I was District Manager overseeing other financial planners. God gave me a fantastic boss. Most of my clients were Christians who really wanted to be wise stewards of their resources, but no one had taught them how. In these years Larry Burkett came out with his book The Coming Economic Earthquake, and many Christians were seriously considering their financial future. I had many opportunities to teach financial seminars and I loved teaching. 

In essence, I applied what was known as “the nursing process” to the world of finances. I gathered financial and personal information, formulated a plan for solid finances that embraced the client's goals, and then helped the client implement the plan; lastly, we evaluated our actions and adjusted things to better meet the client’s goals. I loved the work; it came naturally to me. At age eleven I had purchased my first stock, and mutual funds were a regular part of our life. Although I greatly disliked insurance, I saw the need of protection. My father and grandfather were both heavily involved in real estate, so it was a natural for me. And making a budget fit a family was the kind of practical work I enjoyed.

My income in this work was commission- and bonus-generated. Knowing the temptation to make recommendations based upon the commissions, I covenanted with the Lord never to calculate my benefit prior to receiving my check. God blessed me abundantly, giving me good relationships of trust and communication with my clients. At one time I had a secretary working for me, but most of the time I did my own paperwork. Every year I was in the top 1% of the company representatives, gaining an all-expenses-paid trip to the annual convention in some great location in the West. Often we took the whole family to these events.

Not until we moved to North Carolina did I become a "full-time homemaker." I dislike that term, because in reality I had 2 full-time jobs: Homemaker and Nurse/Financial Planner. I took seriously the admonition of Scripture that a woman is to care for her home. So I did my own family laundry, cooked almost all the meals, did all the dishes, mopped floors, did the gardening (canning, jamming, etc.), and worked my nursing shift or client appointments around the demands of home. When the boys were small, I worked night shift in nursing, and let me tell you, I was exhausted during that time period. Even if I only worked 2 shifts a week, they were 12-hour shifts, often requiring non-stop working and long commutes! I would prepare supper for Dave and the boys before I left for work at 5:30 p.m., then would return home at 8:15 a.m., forcing myself to stay awake to care for the boys while Dave went to campus to teach his classes. There were many prayers for strength in those years. I remember one time driving home from working all night, and I felt the car begin to shake. I groaned at the thought of car trouble, but then noticed that the overhanging lights of a nearby gas station were really jiggling. We were in the midst of an earthquake!  Lord, I'm too tired for an earthquake! was my immediate response. Thankfully, it was just a small one, and after a little pause I continued down the road without a shaking car.

Why did I choose to work almost the entire time I was raising my boys? Two reasons: Stewardship and Need. God had given me the education and gift in nursing and financial planning. I was good at both, and I had a responsibility to use these gifts for the benefit of others. Throughout both careers I was constantly seeking to honor Him with my work ethic, to speak for Him, and to minister kindness and help to those in need. And in the process of that, God was meeting our financial need.  People often do not realize that professors, even those with doctorates, are not high on the pay scale. Working for a Christian institution required sacrifice. We were happy to make that sacrifice, but we also (through God's grace) were allowed to supplement Dave's income with my work. At the time we bought our home in La Mirada in 1982 the mortgage rate was 16.50%! Inflation was rampant; credit was tight. If it were not for my work, we would never have been able to afford the purchase of a home. The Scriptures do not exclude wives/mothers/women from working. Look at Dorcas, Priscilla, and all the wealthy women who attended Jesus in his ministry. Look at the description of that woman who is described as a priceless, virtuous woman in Proverbs 31. The challenge is to prioritize the home while working outside the home. A husband and children should never feel that they are playing second fiddle. Dave and I were always in agreement with regards to my work, and as long as I was able to keep my home adequately, then I was free in my conscience to work outside the home.

As mentioned, when we moved to North Carolina in 1998, I closed my work as a financial planner and rested from work outside the home. We had several teenagers come to live with us in our home, and my hands were full at home. Not until these were gone and my boys relatively independent did I return to work as a nurse. Our heart was set upon having a farm, so that we could set up a long-desired retreat ministry, and my work was needed to facilitate the cash flow of such a move. We purchased the farm in Virginia just 3 weeks before the infamous 9-11 attack. The real estate market crashed, and it took 3 years before our home in North Carolina sold. By God's grace and my hard work, we were able to move forward with building the farm for this ministry. After the sale of the home in North Carolina, God brought us into the work in Ethiopia; so I continued to work in nursing to provide funds for that ministry. Only when the Ethiopia work demanded so much of my time and energy did I retire officially from working outside the home. Now my full-time work was the Ethiopia ministry.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:28 that as followers of Jesus we are to work with our hands for the purpose of gaining something that can help those who are in need. I have always felt that I had a stewardship responsibility before God to use the gifts and abilities given to me for the purpose of ministering to husband, my children, other children, missionaries, retreat guests, Ethiopia, those in hard times.  Although I have had rheumatoid arthritis since I was 21 years old, God has blessed me with good strength and intellect, and I have offered those gifts to Him in service to others. 

To Him goes all the praise.

September 23, 2013

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