Snowy Smoky Mountains

We recently traveled to the Great Smoky Mountains, a mountain range rising along the Tennessee-North Carolina border. The Smoky Mountains got its name as the native Cherokee people traditionally called the mountain range Shaconage, which translates to “place of the blue smoke.”

If you want a nerdy explanation, here it is – the “smoke” is actually an optical result of a natural photochemical process. The trees, shrubs, and other plants of the dense and diverse southern Appalachian forests emit natural hydrocarbons which then react with the ozone particles. When moisture condenses on these aerosols, this scatter the light in the blue-violet spectrum producing the signature haziness.

However, when we visited the Smokies it was not smoky at all. Instead, it was snowy. Here are sample photos of the snowy Smoky Mountains.

From the Smokies,

Pinoytransplant

**********

(*photos taken somewhere in Tennessee)

Four Deer and a Fence

Few days ago while I was out for a run, I saw four deer jumping over a fence. They cleared that more than 3-foot fence so easily. Experts say that deer can jump even an 8-foot fence.

The next time that I cannot sleep, I’ll picture this in my mind and I’ll count deer instead of sheep.

Maybe next time around I’ll see a cow jumping over the moon.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Open Our Eyes

(I was recently asked by my church to give a message to our local congregation. This is what I shared, a message for the current times.)

**********

A man was walking in the woods. It was very foggy and it was getting dark so visibility was poor. Because he cannot see, he walked straight off into a cliff. Luckily as he was falling he was able to grab a bush that was growing at the side of the cliff. He then looked up and he cannot see where he fell off. He looked down, and he cannot see the bottom of the cliff for it was dark and foggy. So there he was clinging on a bush, hanging for dear life.

He then started shouting for help. “Help! Is there anybody out there, help!”

Unbeknownst to him, the bottom of the cliff was less than 6 feet from where he was hanging and it was a sandy floor. But he cannot see that. So he continued hanging and shouting for help.

Then a voice came to him, “I can help you.” He was startled but relieved. He asked, “Who are you?” The voice answered back, “I am God.” Then he pleads, “Please God help me!” The voice told him, “Let go of the bush.” The man heard it, but he again pleads, “Lord help me!” Then the voice came again, this time more firmly, “Let go of the bush.”

The man thought intently for a few seconds, then shouted back, “Is there anybody else out there?”

Many times we only listen to what we wanted to hear. I pray that as we receive God’s message to us this morning, that we listen, even if it’s not what we wanted to hear.

Troubled Times

We are living in an alarming and troubled times. So we will study for today a story that happened during an alarming and troubled times as well.

The story we have for this morning is found in 2 Kings 6: 8-23

Now the king of Syria was making war against Israel; and he consulted with his servants, saying, “My camp will be in such and such a place.” And the man of God sent to the king of Israel, saying, “Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Syrians are coming down there.” 10 Then the king of Israel sent someone to the place of which the man of God had told him. Thus he warned him, and he was watchful there, not just once or twice.

The king of Syria, Ben-Hadad II, was at war with the king of Israel, Jehoram, son of Ahab and Jezebel. It was not an all out war, but more of guerrilla tactics. He wanted to ambush the King of Israel. But every time he would make a plan or move his army to one place, the king of Israel would learn about it and would avoid to go to that place and the plan of the king of Syria was foiled. This happened several times. How did Israel get their intel? Israel had a secret weapon. Elisha the prophet, who was like a radar, would give warning to the king of Israel.

11 Therefore the heart of the king of Syria was greatly troubled by this thing; and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you not show me which of us is for the king of Israel?” 12 And one of his servants said, “None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.”

So the king of Syria was frustrated. He thought there was a mole in his court. Then somebody told him that there was a prophet in Israel that can know whatever he says or plans even in his bedroom. The walls have ears! It’s like having the phone wire-tapped or the rooms having secret surveillance video cameras.

You now what? That’s the same way for us. God knows what’s going on in our day to day living. Whatever actions and thoughts we have, whether good or bad, God knows.

13 So he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and get him.” And it was told him, saying, “Surely he is in Dothan.”

So the king of Syria wanted to capture the prophet. Was that a foolish move? If Elisha knows what he’s planning against the king of Israel, surely he would also know what is being planned against him?

So he sent spies to know where Elisha was, and he got a report that Elisha was in a small town, named Dothan.

Dothan is a small shepherd town. It is not a fortified city. One other time this place was mentioned in the Bible was when Joseph, son of Jacob, was looking for his brothers who were tending the sheep, and he found them in Dothan, meaning “two wells,” which is a famous pasture land. This is the place where Joseph was thrown into a well, and his colorful coat was torn, and where he was sold to merchants going to Egypt. So this is the place where Joseph’s misery began. But what was meant to do him evil, after several years turned into a blessing, as we all know his story. For that’s the God we serve, He can turn curses into blessings.

14 Therefore he sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city.

The the king of Syria sent an army of horses and chariots (tanks and Black Hawk helicopters), and under the cloak of darkness, in stealth mode, they surrounded the town of Dothan, and blocked every gates and passageways. For the residents inside the town there was no way out.

15 And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”

Picture this, the young servant of Elisha was just waking up. Perhaps he wanted to start the day early. He probably went to the well to get water, then he noticed that there was a different glimmer around the town. As the rays of the rising sun was hitting the pasture land he saw something shining around the town. He squinted and he saw that it was the shiny metal armors of a big army. There were soldiers, war horses, and chariots. He squinted some more and he noticed that that was not the army of Israel, but that was the army of Syria! He looked not just in one direction, but all around him, and realized that the whole town was fully surrounded. This is bad!

So he woke up Elisha and blurted, “Alas my master! What shall we do?”

Let’s pause for a moment here. We know the end of the story but let’s dwell for minute in this particular stage of the story of “Alas my master, what shall we do?”

Have we experienced something similar? Maybe not as dire as this, or maybe it was more dire than this. Maybe you were a soldier and you were in a foxhole and bullets were flying all around you. Maybe it was not that dramatic, you were sitting in a doctor’s office, and the doctor told you, “Sorry, it is cancer and it is advanced.” Or you were at work, and your employer told you, “Sorry, but we are letting you go.” Or you were in an attorney’s office signing the final paper work of your divorce. Or other more situations that the problem was overwhelming you, and you blurted out, “Alas my master, what shall we do?”

Chariots of Fire

But Elisha was not afraid. Why? Let’s read.

16 So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 

With God on our side we always have the advantage. Even if it’s just you against the world if God is with you, you are already the majority.

1 John 4:4The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

Yet perhaps the young servant was not convinced with Elisha’s words of reassurance. Perhaps he was still shaking in his sandals. He cannot come to grips of the sight of the large Syrian army surrounding them. So Elisha prayed to God, a prayer not for himself, for he already knew of his deliverance, but he offered a prayer for this young servant.

17 And Elisha prayed, and said, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 

God lifted the veil between the earthly realm and the spiritual realm and allowed this young man to see that the mountains around Dothan was full of army of angels riding fiery chariots. Suddenly the Syrian army became insignificant. Suddenly the enemy’s army looked so puny compared to the heavenly army.

Are we like the servant of Elisha? Do we lack the eyes of faith? I pray that God will open our eyes that we may see that there is a host of angels around us, even right now as I speak. May God open our eyes to realize that He never leaves us. May God open our eyes to remember that He is always in control no matter what the circumstances may be. Yes, there’s social and political unrest. Yes, there’s financial crunch. Yes, there’s a raging pandemic. But God is still in control.

Procession of the Blind

Then when the Syrian army tried to advance, Elisha prayed once more, he asked to release the horses and chariots of fire and scorch the Syrian army! No? That’s not what your Bible version says?

18 So when the Syrians came down to him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, and said, “Strike this people, I pray, with blindness.” And He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha.

Elisha did not pray to kill the Syrian army, for God has a better plan. He prayed that the Syrians be blinded. In one prayer he asked for his young servant to have his eyes open, and in one prayer he asked for the soldiers to have their eyes be blinded. God can open eyes and He can shut the eyes.

In the Bible, there were other people that were blinded by God. Remember Saul who became Paul? When he became blind, he was able to listen more to what God was calling him to do. He was blinded so he can see. What a contradiction. Do we need to be blinded so we could be free of the world’s distractions? Do we need to be blinded so we can listen more intently to what God was calling us for? Do we need to be blinded for us to realize that we are really helpless so that we rely solely in God?

The term used in this verse that was translated as blindness is not the same term used for the illness of being blind that is the lack of sight, but rather the term used meant to dazzle or confuse. Maybe like a deer in the headlights.

19 Now Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, nor is this the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” But he led them to Samaria.

Elisha then told the army that they are in the wrong place and their GPS was set wrong and they are looking for the wrong person. So he led them to Samaria, the capital of Northern Israel, which is a fortified city.

Dothan is 12 miles away from Samaria. That’s almost a half-marathon away. I have run several half-marathons before, and it took me more than 2 hours to finish that course. I am sure this Syrian army was not running and was traveling more slowly as they were blind and being led. So I surmise that most likely it took them 4 hours or more to cover that distance. If you’re blind and you are being led to cross an unfamiliar street, that maybe hard. But being led and walking for more than 4 hours not knowing where you are going, must be like an eternity.

Imagine this, Elisha was guiding the lead horse and the rest of the horses, chariots and the army were following – like a parade. When they approached Samaria the watchmen at the wall probably saw them from afar. They gave the signal “Enemy approaching!” And they prepared for battle. But as they came closer, Israel’s army noted – wait a minute, this Syrian army was not ready for combat, they were just having a procession, and they were being led by Elisha of all people!

Elisha called out to open the gates. Then he led the army of Syria inside the city walls and then the gates were closed. Elisha prayed again.

20 So it was, when they had come to Samaria, that Elisha said, “Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” And the Lord opened their eyes, and they saw; and there they were, inside Samaria!

Again a prayer to open the eyes. And what did the Syrian soldiers see when they came into their senses? They were in the middle of Israel’s territory. They looked around and saw that Israelites soldiers up on the the walls have their arrows and spears aimed at them. The Israelite army was surrounding them with their swords drawn out ready to strike them. What a surprising sight for the Syrian army.

The circumstance had changed! Before they were the hunter surrounding the prey. Or so they thought. But now they were the prey and they were cornered. God can turn around our circumstances. He will fight our battle. We only need to trust in Him.

If Your Enemy Is Hungry

21 Now when the king of Israel saw them, he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?22 But he answered, “You shall not kill them. Would you kill those whom you have taken captive with your sword and your bow? Set food and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” 

The king of Israel was excited like a child inside a candy store. Shall I kill them all? Shall I give the command “open fire!” But Elisha said, no! These are really not captives, these are my guests. Don’t kill them, give them food and drink. After all they were tired from walking 12 long miles.

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat;
And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
For so you will heap coals of fire on his head,
And the Lord will reward you.
(Proverbs 25:21-22)

There is something more of this giving food and drink. In the Eastern cultures there is a custom that if you eat together or share a meal together, that is like a covenant that you are at peace with each other and are now united as one.

23 Then he prepared a great feast for them; and after they ate and drank, he sent them away and they went to their master. So the bands of Syrian raiders came no more into the land of Israel.

This story gave us a lesson of how to deal with our enemies – Kill them with kindness. It should not always be an “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” kind-of-justice. Mahatma Gandhi said “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

I believe that there are more eyes being opened here that was not directly mentioned in the story. Yes there was the young servant’s eyes opened to see the chariots of fire, and the eyes of the Syrian army that were blinded and then opened to see that they were inside the walls of Samaria. I believe that Elisha was also trying to open the eyes of the king of Israel and the Israelites to the truth that we should repay good for evil. Just like what Jesus says:

Matthew 5:43- 48 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

For us today, I pray that our eyes be opened to see that this world is already full of hate. That people don’t like each other. People don’t trust each other. Not just in the opposite sides of the political fence, or opposite sides of any social movement, or whatever race, creed, religion or beliefs we belong to – there is already so much hate and anger in this world. May God open our eyes that what this world needs is that we love those who hates us, pray for those who curse us, and that we do good to those who do us evil. That the world may know that we are His children and He is our God.

Amazing Grace

I would like to end with a story from the post-apartheid era in South Africa. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was meeting and was gathered to reach a verdict on a particularly brutal case involving an elderly woman. A group of white police officers, led by a Mr. van de Broek, admitted their personal responsibility in the death of the woman’s eighteen-year old son. They acknowledged shooting him, setting his body on fire, and partying around the fire until the body was reduced to ashes. Eight years later, the same officers took the woman’s husband into captivity. The woman was forced to watch while the officers doused her husband with gasoline and then ignited him in fire. The last words her husband spoke to her, in the midst of the blaze were ‘Forgive them.’

Now the time had come for justice to be served. Those involved had confessed their guilt, and the Commission turned to the woman for a final statement regarding her desire for an appropriate punishment.

“I want three things”, the woman said calmly. “I want Mr. van de Broek to take me to the place where they burned my husband’s body. I would like to gather up the dust and give him a decent burial.

“Second, Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can be a mother to him.

“Third, I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him, too. And, I would like someone to come and lead me by the hand to where Mr. van de Broek is, so that I can embrace him and he can know my forgiveness is real.”

As the elderly woman made her way across the silent courtroom, van de Broek reportedly fainted, overcome by emotion. And then the silence was broken when someone began singing, ‘Amazing Grace.’ Soon others joined in singing the familiar hymn, that the entire courtroom was filled with singing.

Lord, open our eyes that we may do good rather than evil, that we may sow love instead of hate, that we might sought forgiveness rather than revenge. This is my prayer.

(*photo from israelmyglory.org)

On This Together

I was again on-call this last weekend, and to say that it was busy is an understatement. We have not seen this many COVID patients in the hospital right now, ever since this pandemic started early this year. The health-care system is really stretched out thin.

There are members of the medical staff that had contracted the virus, and I know some of our hospitalists had come down with the illness, most likely getting it from the very patients that we care for. There was even a colleague that got so sick and he became our patient in the ICU. Scary times indeed.

But I have a few days off since my last weekend call. I have sufficient time to unwind and recover. We need to take care of ourselves first so we can take care of others, right?

This morning, as I was out for my 3-mile run around our neighborhood, taking advantage of the out-of-season relatively warm weather, I happened to see this (photo below):

I don’t know who Parker is, nor what illness he has. But it put a smile in my face to know that even in these times that we cannot be physically there for somebody due to this pandemic and the mandate of social distancing, yet we can still show in one way or another that we care. We are all in this together.

Stay safe everyone!

Turkeys on the Run

Thanksgiving is around the corner and we will again stuff ourselves with turkeys. According to the National Turkey Federation, they estimate that 45 to 46 million turkeys are killed each year for the Thanksgiving feast.

During our recent long drive, we spotted some turkeys on the move. They are even causing traffic to stop.

These birds are leaving town. They are on the run (or walk) as they don’t want to end up on your dinner plate this coming holiday. I suggest they move faster or else the carving knife and fork will overtake them.

**********

Question: Why did the turkeys cross the road?

Answer: To prove that they weren’t chicken.

**********

(*photos of roaming wild turkeys taken at a small town somewhere in Wyoming)

Halloween Full Moon

Even though I am off this Monday I came to the clinic to do some light work. No, I’m not workaholic. It’s just that I procrastinated to read last week’s sleep studies and now they have piled up on my to-do list. It is my day off as I worked this past weekend.

As I entered and sat on my desk, one partner of mine who was sitting at the other end of the room greeted me and said, “Bad weekend call, huh?”

Yes it was a horribly busy weekend. I rounded on more than 50 patients in the hospital, almost half of them are COVID cases. I am not superstitious but I cannot help but think that it was due to the Halloween combined with a full moon. In fact, October 31st was a Blue Moon too. A Blue Moon is when it is the second full moon in one calendar month. According to information from NASA Earth and the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the last time a full moon fell on Halloween was in 1944.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It did not help too that it was Daylight Savings time change, so we fell back one hour. That meant an additional one hour of work for me. And boy, that night was really long, both figuratively and literally. The non-stop activities in the ER and in the ICU put me on skates. Needless to say, I barely slept that night.

After staying 34+1 (Daylight Savings Fall back) hours in the hospital, I came home last evening really exhausted. Right after eating dinner, I went to bed and slept for more than 10 hours. Home-cooked meals and comfortable home bed are life’s luxury. When I woke up this morning I felt refreshed and recuperated. I even felt good enough that I went out for a 3-mile morning run.

So back to the comment of my partner about my bad weekend call. How did she know? I did not tell her about my weekend. Was I still haggard-looking? Did I look ghoulish from the Halloween?

Then she told me that she have noticed that our secretary printed some forms and placed it on top of my desk for me to sign. Based on those, she figured out that I had a rough weekend. What were the forms waiting on my desk?

Eight death certificates. All of them from this weekend.

Throwback Movie

As the Beatles song goes, “There are places I’ll remember, all my life….”

For nostalgia, here’s a video I made 10 years ago about places where we used to live before and hospitals where I did my training, more than 20 years ago.

(*photos were taken during our visit to New York/New Jersey area in October 2010)

Imposing Landmark

For about 10 years of my life I was looking at this imposing mountain everyday as a source of motivation. Except that this landmark was on a poster, plastered with a clear tape at the cement wall of my room in Sampaloc, Manila. But that was many many years ago. Today, I am staring at it from its bottom, and it is surreal.

When I was in high school and was still living in the Philippines, I placed posters in my room, not much for decoration but more for inspiration. They are not pictures of famous movie stars or sports personalities. Instead, my posters are photos of beautiful nature landscapes with motivational messages in them.

One poster is a photo of a hang glider sailing in the vastness of the Grand Canyon. In that poster are these words: “You are only limited by the boundaries of your mind.” I had the chance to visit the Grand Canyon a few years ago, which in itself was a fulfillment of a dream (see previous post/link here).

Now, I am standing underneath another monumental landmark that was also in one of my posters. It took me all these years to finally visit it close and personal. What I am referring to is the Devils Tower.

This elevation is a butte, composed of igneous rock, that towers over the plain in Crook County Wyoming. It rises 1267 feet above the surrounding grassland. One of its most striking feature is that it has columnar striations, as if a giant bear clawed on it. This site is considered sacred to some tribes of Native Americans.

The name Devil’s Tower originated in 1875 during an expedition led by Colonel Richard Irving Dodge, when his interpreter reportedly misinterpreted a native name to mean “Bad God’s Tower.” When registering the name, the apostrophe was dropped from the “Devil’s,” so it became officially known as the “Devils Tower.”

On my poster, written underneath this rock mountain are these words: “Faith moves mountains.”

During the times of my life when my dreams seems to be getting out of my reach, this landmark with it’s message kept my hope and faith alive. For faith really moves mountains.

I was only entering medical school when my father died. He was barely 50 years old. He was the sole bread winner of our family and I thought I had to stop my studies for there was no way we could afford it then. Not too long after that our family experienced another big blow. We lost whatever little we have, including our good name. The problem was too sensitive, that I am not going to divulge it here. Yet, I kept my sight on my ambitions and clung to my faith in God, for there is no mountain big enough that the devil can throw in our path that our God cannot move.

The rest is now history, and I have gone farther than what I could even dream of.

Today is cold and blustery. The gusting winds are strong enough to blow away my thoughts. Perhaps not a perfect day to tour this national natural landmark. But still a perfect time, which is about 30 years in the making to finally see this geologic wonder. It was actually my wife who urged us to take a long drive to visit it after she heard my inspirational message that I recently gave to my aunt’s virtual church service in California (see previous post/link here). As I have not been to this place in real life, so the time has come to see it.

And as the wind is blowing wildly, I’m waiting here for this mountain to move.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Canyon Drive

I had a few days off. So just to have a breather from dealing with this daily hysteria from COVID-19 at the hospital, my wife and I went for a long drive. Our plans were hastily devised, as we only decided where to go a couple of days before the trip, and we booked our accommodations just a day before we ventured out. Of course with some places having travel restrictions and with somes states requiring mandatory quarantines when you arrive there, so that limit the places we can visit.

The trip was a butt-hurting 10-hour drive. But it was well worth it, and we were pleasantly surprised at the place we stayed in. Actually we were going to visit a national natural landmark (I’ll write a separate post on this) and we just searched for a housing that may be close to it.

The lodge is nestled inside a canyon, deep in the heart of the Black Hills National Forest. Near the lodge is a flowing stream, and if you follow it upstream and hike for about a mile, you would end up on this waterfall (photos below).

Inside the lodge was warm and cozy. If you look closely at the photos below, that was snow falling outside the window, for it rained and it snowed during our brief stay there, making our visit more interesting.

But the best part of this place was the drive going to this lodge. As there is a saying that goes – it’s the journey, not the destination.

Below is a short clip of our drive on this scenic canyon road.

(*photos and video taken with an iPhone at Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota)