Not Bound for the Promised Land

During our trip to the Holy Land, we visited  a place known as Mount Nebo, which is located near Madaba, Jordan, or the land of the Moabites in Biblical times. It’s pretty high that it provides a panoramic view of the surrounding areas around it, including the land known as the Biblical Canaan.


On Mount Nebo’s highest point, the remains of a church and a monastery was discovered in 1933. Today a Christian chapel stands on its site.


As we were enjoying the view beneath an iron cross, the tour guide was giving insights and explaining the significance of this place to our group.


While another group near us was having a devotional and they were singing the hymn “I am bound for the Promised Land.”

You probably know or heard that song:

I am bound for the promised land,
I am bound for the promised land
O who will come and go with me
I am bound for the promised land.

But the irony of this is, historically, here in Mount Nebo was where Moses stood and God showed him Canaan, the Promised Land from afar. But here also in Mount Nebo was where Moses died and was buried, without reaching the Promised Land. Moses was not bound for the Promised Land.

Moses, even though he was chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and to go to the Promised Land, was not allowed to enter it. All his life work – including 40 years of top-notch Egyptian education, including military tactics and operation, and another 40 years as a lowly shepherd just to learn patience in preparation for his mission, and finally 40 mighty years of leading God’s people out of Egypt, and into the wilderness, on their way to the Promised Land – yet he never set foot to that land.

Was Moses a failure then? Not at all!

Sometimes we are assigned something to do, but we may not see the conclusion of that work. We may have started something that we are not able to finish, not because we are a failure, but because it is not planned for us to fully fulfill that. For God has some other plan for us, or He had appointed another one to finish the work we have started.

More importantly, when Moses stood there in Mount Nebo, while looking at the Promised Land from afar, he did not complain to God why he was not allowed to enter the land that is “flowing with milk and honey.” A land that was promised to his ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. A land he probably dreamed of claiming all his life. He humbly submitted to God’s plan for him.

He may have not entered the Promised Land here on earth, yet God had a better plan for him. For he was taken up to the Promised Land in heaven.

So we may not be able to achieve the dreams or goals we set for our lives here on earth. We may never live a life so rich that it is “flowing with milk and honey.” We may not be able to claim the “promised life” we hoped for here on this world. We may not be bound for the earthly promised land.

But may we set a higher goal, the one God had promised for us. To live in heavenly Canaan with Him.

(The sign under the cross reads: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” John 3:14-15)

 

Peace Be Still

A few days ago, while I was in my clinic seeing patients, I received a phone call. It was another doctor who wanted to discuss with me the results of a patient’s laboratory exam.

It is not unusual to have another doctor call me to discuss about a mutual patient. Except this one was not about a mutual patient. On the other line was the Hematologist-Oncologist (Hem-Onc) doctor. The patient he was calling me about, is my wife.

It started with a regular annual doctor’s visit. After having routine test, my wife’s Primary Care physician was alarmed by the results of the complete blood count (CBC). This prompted a referral to the blood and cancer (Heme-Onc) specialist.

After the evaluation by the Hem-Onc doctor and having the exam repeated, that’s when the specialist called me. He said that he was concerned about the elevated count of a blood component, and for some “funky-looking” cells. He recommended a confirmatory test, a bone marrow biopsy.

Bone marrow biopsy is not a very dreadful procedure but its not a walk in the park either. It can be done as an outpatient, usually under “conscious sedation” (meaning, light sleep). It entails drilling a long large bore needle into the hip bone down to the marrow, and aspirating and scraping a “sample” contents inside the bone.

The problem of being a doctor, is that you know “too much.” Too much than needed. So in my mind, I already ran down on the possible differential diagnosis. I started to play the different scenarios, their treatments and outcomes. And even though I know that it can be nothing or something benign, I couldn’t shake off the idea that it can be a myeloproliferative disorder. In layman’s term, leukemia.

My spouse’s family history was not reassuring either. Her father died of cancer in his 60’s. She has two brothers that died prematurely, one was barely 50, and the other one in his 40’s. Then her sister who was a little older than her, was diagnosed with cancer in her 40’s.

I tried to be nonchalant and positive about it when I spoke with my wife, but I think she can sense that it can be something serious. For the succeeding days prior to the scheduled biopsy, both of us were feeling the uneasiness, as if there’s angry storm clouds hanging over our heads ready to discharge their fury.

The fear of the unknown is one of man’s greatest fears. It terrifies us. It consumes us. It kills us even before we die.

Two nights before the biopsy, we both cannot sleep. My wife asked me point blankly, “Am I going to die?”

I don’t know how to answer that question. Or perhaps I don’t want to answer that question.

She told me that she’s really afraid. So in the middle of the night she asked that we kneel down in prayer.

As we prayed, I asked God to be with us as we go through this storm.

Suddenly I was drawn to the story of Jesus and his disciples when they were caught in a great storm* while crossing the Sea of Galilee. I saw myself struggling with the oars and the sail with the disciples. We were trying our best to keep the boat afloat……

The winds are howling. The billows are rolling. The thunders are cracking. The storm is raging. And I am terrified and trembling.

But where is Jesus?

He is asleep! How can he sleep, when we are about to be swallowed by the storm and the sea?

“Master, do You not care that we are perishing?” I cried.

When Jesus arose, he looked at me lovingly, yet he asked me why do I have so little faith.

Then he spoke: “Peace, be still.”

I looked around me. The winds are howling. The billows are rolling. The thunders are cracking. And the storm is even more raging.

But I am still.

image from here

(image from here)

(*Mark 4: 37- 40)

Looking Beyond X-rays

I looked at her chest x-ray, and knew right there and then that she didn’t have a chance. I have seen bad chest x-rays before, but this time, it was different.

I look at chest x-rays and chest CT scans every day. I review 30 or more each day. It is part of what I do for a living. And it is something that I become good at.

Ever since German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen discovered what he dubbed as “x-radiation” in 1895 we have used this technology in analyzing bones, teeth, and other organs in the human body. It also used to detect cracks in metal in the industry. Now we even use them ubiquitously in all airports for luggage inspections. That’s why bag inspectors know you packed in dried fish without opening your luggage.

But do you know that x-rays can also look into the future? It has nothing to do with radiation-emiting crystal balls.

IMG_3418

It was late August of last year when I went back to the Philippines, not for a vacation but for a medical emergency. The attending physician in the hospital, who knew that I am a doctor myself, led me to the radiology department to show me a chest x-ray of the patient.

It was also here in this same hospital, University of the East Ramon Magsaysay (UERM) Hospital, that 27 years ago, where I picked up a CT scan of the brain of another patient. But at that time I just started medical school. In fact I was only in my first month of my first year of medical school then. Yet even in my untrained eye, I knew that the word “tumor” is not good. Especially if it said it is in the brain.

Now I was back in that hospital, looking at a chest x-ray, one morning that August. I have gained more than 20 years of experience now as a physician. And interpreting chest x-rays has become my expertise.

The chest x-ray the doctor showed me revealed a large tumor, the size of a santol (wild mangosteen) fruit. Not just one, but three! A sign that cancer had spread. A sign of impending doom.

Somehow it felt like I was reading the patient’s obituary, way before her death.

The chest x-ray was my mother’s.

And the CT scan of the head that I picked up 27 years ago? That was my father’s. He died 3 months after I peeked on that head scan.

What is this that I was privileged to see the future through an x-ray, as it gave me an insight of what is to come? Is it a blessing, that I could have prepared for it? Or is it a curse, as I started mourning before everybody else did?

When I broke the news to my mother regarding the results of her chest x-ray, she was not surprised. It was as if she knew it already. She was serene and collected.

My mother was diagnosed with colorectal cancer 5 years ago, and underwent surgery for it. We thought we got rid of it. We thought we kick cancer in the butt (no pun intended)!

But we were wrong. It came back. And with a vengeance.

My mother decided to not pursue any further treatment, like chemotherapy or radiation. For there’s no guarantee anyway that it will matter. Somehow she accepted her fate and was at peace with it.

When we took her home from the hospital she even willed herself even though she was weak to accompany me to the airport in Manila when I flew back here to the US. When I embraced her goodbye, I knew it will be our last embrace. Yet she told me, “Anak hindi ako malungkot. Masaya ako dahil nagkita pa uli tayo” (Son, I’m not sad. I’m happy that we saw each other again). She even added that I need not return for her funeral, it was enough that I saw her alive.

A little more than two months after I saw that foretelling chest x-ray, my mother died.

But there are things that the x-ray did not show. It did not show the inner strength and grace that my mother displayed on her last days. It did not show the peace and faith she had even when facing death. It did not show the confidence and hope that she had, that we will see each other again someday, in a glorious place where there’s no more grief and x-rays.

Invictus

You are a formidable foe. That we will admit. For five years we bask in the glory that we have defeated you. That we have eradicated you!

Or so we thought.

But you came back. Even with a vengeance. Now your are in a stance to take what was denied of you for the past five years. You are so ready to take your kill. You are again victorious.

But you are wrong!

You did not defeat us. We did not cower in your presence. We have fought a good fight. We looked at you in the eye and in spite of you always lurking in the shadows, we lived our lives to the fullest.

Our faith grew deeper. Our hope soared higher. Our ties grew stronger. We laughed. We loved. We lived!

And that you cannot take away from us.

So tell your friend, Death, that we are not afraid of him too. “O death where is thy sting, o grave, where is thy victory?”

The body may be broken, but not our spirits. As for you, Cancer, you never conquered us! slide.001 * Invictus is Latin for unconquered. It is also a poem by 19th century English poet William Ernest Henley. He wrote the poem while he laid in a hospital bed battling a life-threatening illness.

** Dedicated to my mother, on her last dance.

In Search for Direction

People are not created equal. There are those that are tone-deaf. Some are color blind. Some have no fashion sense. And some are directionally challenged. I am one of them. Just the last one. (Or maybe the second to the last too.)

I admit I have a very poor sense of direction and navigation. I always get lost. I cannot tell my left from my other left. And I have been late to some important meetings just because I cannot find my way. I even missed a wedding for the same reason. Fortunately, it’s not my wedding, but I was supposed to be a secondary sponsor.

It is believed that the sense of direction is innate. Migratory birds have magnetic-sensing neuron near their beaks that can sense magnetic field. Other birds have light-sensing cells in their eye that allow them to orient to where the north is, and thus help them navigate. Studies show that even in newborn rats, they have an innate sense of spatial orientation even before they begin to explore their surrounding.

Maybe I lack some magnets in my brain. In fact a neurobiologist who claimed that she had poor sense of direction before, was able to improve it by wearing a magnetic north-sensing hat, in other words a compass hat.

Should I wear this on my head? (wind vane in our deck)

Because of my inherent impediment, one of the most appreciated human-invented gadgets that I have is a GPS. Actually it was a gift from my wife. Maybe I will receive a compass hat next time.

Since I got the GPS, I don’t get lost much anymore. Maybe if I follow the GPS “all” the time, I would not get lost ever. You see, sometimes I feel I’m smarter than the GPS.

A couple of years ago, we were coming home from a place in Missouri which was a 4-hour drive from our home. The sun had set and darkness had blanketed the horizon. My GPS was still new at that time. I decided to take a shorter route, so I programmed the GPS to take an “alternate” route instead of the main highways. It made me turn to a small, dark country road. Then the country road became smaller and smaller. And then it turned into a twisting complex of dirt roads.

For almost 2 hours, the GPS led me into turn after turn of small dirt roads. On the right and left of the roads were vast gloomy expanse of cornfields. There was only darkness around us. No lamp posts, no light from houses or buildings, not even lit phone towers. I cannot read the street names, and I am not even sure if the roads are even marked. The only light I could see is my headlights and the faint twinkle of the stars above. Since I am not Columbus and cannot navigate by following the stars’ orientation, I had no choice but to follow my GPS.

To say that I was anxious during that time was an understatement. I was terrified! If our car would stall in that maze of cornfields in the middle of nowhere, I was afraid that it would probably be  days before someone would pass those lonely dirt roads and find us.

After nerve-wracking 2 hours of navigating through darkness, we emerged into a main highway. The GPS guided us home. If I did not trust the GPS before, after that experience, I trust it as if my life depended on it.

The journey through life though is not as easy as following the GPS. The road to our life’s destiny is much more convoluted and uncertain. Many times, even our destination is uncertain. However, I believe that we are not left to navigate life without direction.

Recently, my beliefs are being shaken to the core. I have questions to the views that I have embraced since I was a child. And no, its more than querying if there really is a Santa Claus. Which makes me think, which is worse: to believe with utter conviction something that may not be true? Or be uncertain on what you believe in? Or not believe in anything at all?

As for me, I needed something to believe in.

In my search for direction, I know that even though that there will be times that I cannot see where I am, I have faith that I will be guided home.

“We live by faith, not by sight.” 2 Cor. 5:7

Lessons From My Father (Tribute to My Late Dad): Part 2

(The original article was published a year ago in Sampaloc Times, a newsletter of my beloved home church where I grew up.)

Value for Education

At a very young age, my father already cultivated in us the importance of a good education. I remember us kids doing multiplication exercises with him while we’re riding home from school. I also remember him tutoring me in my difficult subjects, especially when it involves math. He told us that he may not leave us much material inheritance, but if we get a decent education, this will give us enough to have a chance of changing the course of our lives.

My father did not have a master’s degree or a doctorate degree. He came from a family of farmers, and in fact he was the first one in their clan to finish college. His family did not have the means for a higher education, but my father worked his way through college. He had these stories of working odd jobs so just he can finish college.

Many years later, I learned that it was his dream to become a doctor, but because of the circumstances given him, going to medical school is out of his reach. So he took up Accounting instead and eventually became a CPA, an occupation he performed diligently and with integrity. And his dream of being a doctor? He passed it on to me. Sadly he did not live long enough to witness it into fruition.

He value education that he gave the opportunity to get a decent education, not only to his children but to others outside his family. I later learned that he helped a few other people get through college. I am not sure where these people are today, but I am sure they are grateful to him for the opportunity given them.

And for me? I owe my father the education I got and where it led me. If only he can see me now………….I hope I made him proud.

Alma Mater

Unfailing Faith

I think it is safe to say that my father is a man of faith. He preached it and he lived it. I fondly remember him sponsoring several evangelistic efforts. There was one place that even involve a 7-kilometer hike up a mountain, and another place that can only be reached by crossing a river through wading in the waist-deep water, and another in an inner city slums. And the neat part is he brought as along to these efforts. I witnessed it first hand his burning desire to share the truth he had found.

His faith did not falter even to the bleakest of situations. I remember vividly when he was lying in a hospital bed during the last few months of his life. His doctor just told him that he had a tumor in his brain, and unless he be operated on, he had no chance of living; but even with the surgery, it was no guarantee. To this he said that he was not afraid to die, for his trust is in God.

Here was a man who had fearlessly accepted his mortality and placed his utmost trust to the only One who can give us immortality. My father’s unfailing faith let him see beyond the uncertainty of this life; yes, even when facing death. A few months later, he died. But his faith lives…………in me.

passing the flame

As I lovingly embraced this faith that was passed on to me, I am hoping that I may I also passed it on to my children, and my children’s children.

To all the fathers in this world, Happy Father’s Day!