Three Wishes for the New Year

I know January is almost half-way, but I hope this New Year’s wishes are not too late. My wishes for you, yes you who are reading this, are:

1. To remain in good health.

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Being healthy though is not an accident. It is a constant choice of having healthy habits and lifestyle. It is well-known that the top new year’s resolution is about getting healthier. We also know that membership to local gyms spikes in January. Unfortunately, some of the people who were so eager to “live healthy” at the beginning of the year fall off the wagon, so to speak, in a few months or even weeks after their resolution.

Joining a local health club might help motivate you, but it is not really needed to stay healthy, as there are a thousand other ways to do it. The key is sticking to whatever resolution you made.

2. To experience warmth and love in your family.

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In today’s society, in our pursuit of our dreams, sometimes we forget the more important things in this life. What does it mean to have a job promotion, or a better pay, or a bigger house, or a more luxurious ride, if our relationships with our spouse, or our children, or with our family in general are wanting?

Invest more time with your family, for that’s what really matters. Nobody in their deathbed wishes that they should have spent more time in the office or that they could have had a bigger TV. It’s the failed relationships that they are regretful of.

3. To live a life with a purpose.

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To have a meaningful existence, we should have a purpose in this life. Whether that be to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, or to save the Galapagos penguins, or to be the best shoe repairman in the world, or be the best dad to your children are all good ambitions.

That purpose in life cannot be decided by somebody else. You have to determine that for yourself.

Actually the above wishes and aspirations are for myself. But I’m glad to share them with you. May we all have a prosperous new year.

 

(*all photos taken with an iPhone)

Looking at the Horizon: A New Year’s Message 2018

(This message was delivered during a local church’s gathering on New Year’s Eve.)

In a few hours, we will be saying goodbye to this year and we’ll be embarking on a new year. Happy New Year!

The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and of endings, and transitions. He is usually depicted as having two faces, facing back to back, one looking at the past and the other one looking at the future.

At this particular crossroad of time – the end of the old year, and the beginning of the new year – perhaps that’s what we ought to do: to look and evaluate the past, but also look and plan for the future.

Earlier this year, we were blessed with a trip to the Holy Land. We visited a place called Mount Nebo, which is located near Madaba, Jordan, or in Biblical times it is known as the land of the Moabites. The mountain is pretty high that it provides a panoramic view of the surrounding areas around it, including the land known as the Biblical Canaan.

As we were enjoying the view, 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.”

Where we were, is the place where Moses stood. And while Moses was looking at this same horizon that we were viewing, perhaps he was looking back at his life. But God also let him see the future and showed him the entire Promised Land, and the specific areas where certain tribes of Israel would settle. Since he was able to see details (recorded in Deuteronomy 34) that can only be seen with powerful binoculars, I believe God miraculously let him see Canaan with an assisted vision.

Yet the irony of this is, Moses never set foot in that land, for he died and was buried there in Mount Nebo.

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Moses, the chosen liberator of Israel, who led his people out of Egypt, and who dedicated his life leading the Israelites to enter Canaan, was not allowed to enter it. So unlike the song, Moses was not bound for the Promised Land.

Was Moses a failure then? Not at all!

Sometimes when we look at our past, we may feel that we are a failure, for we were not able to accomplish what we were supposed to accomplish. We may feel that we are losers for we are not where we wanted to be. Sometimes we feel like a disappointment for we started something but was not able to complete it.

Perhaps you’re thinking that you should have graduated from college by now, but instead you still have a couple of semesters to go since you shifted course. Or perhaps you’re thinking that you should have that high-paying dream job that you always wanted, but instead you’re stuck in a job you don’t really want. We may have started to work on a project, and now, it is still a project!

Friends, what we fail to understand, is that God may have some other plans for us. That God has a different destination for us, and we have just not realized it yet. Or God could have appointed you to begin that task, and He appointed somebody else to finish it. Just like in the case of Moses, where Joshua took over for him.

More importantly, when Moses stood there in Mount Nebo, while looking at the Promised Land from afar, he did not complain on why he was not allowed to enter the land that is promised to his ancestors, a land that was described as “flowing with milk and honey,” a destination I’m sure Moses wanted to be a part of. Instead, he humbly accepted God’s plan for him.

Moses may have not entered the Promised Land here on earth, yet God took him to a far better place, which is in heaven.

Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)

As we stand here in the Mount Nebo of the year 2017, and as we look at the horizon to the year 2018, I pray that it will be prosperous for each one of us. I hope that it will be flowing with milk and honey. And for the lactose-intolerant, flowing with soy milk and honey.

As we set our goals for the coming year, may we not forget that all our plans here on earth are just temporary, for our ultimate destination is the Promised Land, the heavenly Canaan.

God bless us all, and again Happy New Year!

Bethlehem Hills and Herod’s Mountain: A Christmas Reflection

It is mid-December, and in a few days it will be Christmas. It’s a season for celebration, yet it is well-known that the holiday season can be a cause of stress and depression for some people. Perhaps we should let go of that long Christmas shopping list of ours.

Even if the whole world celebrate Christmas in December, it is likely that Jesus was not born in the winter. Based on Biblical narrative, shepherds were watching their flocks in the fields at night during that time, and December nights in Judaea can be too cold for the shepherds to sleep outside in the fields.

Many scholars believe that it was probably spring time when Jesus was born, so December 25th is unlikely to be the exact date of Jesus’ birth. What I am saying is that the date may be off, yet I am not saying that we should not remember or celebrate Jesus’ birth. That’s another subject of discussion and debate.

Earlier this year, we were blessed with a visit to the Holy Land, including a trip to the city of Bethlehem.

IMG_4282.jpgBethlehem is about 10 kilometers away from Jerusalem. Today it is a Palestinian territory. So our guide who was an Israeli national and who was touring us in Jerusalem, boarded off our charted bus just before we entered Bethlehem, and another tour guide whom I assumed was a Palestinian, hopped in our bus after we entered the city and cleared the checkpoint. They must have some specific rules and arrangement.

We went to visit the Church of Nativity, the site believed where Jesus was born. This Byzantine basilica was built on top of a cave. So at the cellar of this church was a grotto (photo below), marked as the traditional site of Jesus’ birth.

img_4306Though the exact location is hard to prove accurately with archeological support, for me, it is enough that the city of Bethlehem exists to believe that Jesus was born. It does not matter where the exact spot is, as long as it was recorded that it was in Bethlehem, the city of David.

“For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”(Luke 2:11). What a reassuring thought, that our Lord and Savior came to this earth, and that should not be a cause of stress and depression, but instead of joy and hope.

While on the bus, I observed that the terrain around Bethlehem was hilly. In fact, Bethlehem sits on top of a hill rising about 3,500 feet above the desert valley. It must have been difficult for Mary who was fully pregnant and about to give birth to climb those hills.

IMG_4290We passed through some hills that were full of houses and buildings today (photo above). It was probably in one of those hills, two thousand years ago, where shepherds were watching their sheep when suddenly they saw a bright light and then the angels appeared to them announcing the birth of the Messiah. It must have been a marvelous experience to be on those hills that glorious night.

The tour guide asked us to look beyond Bethlehem hills and direct our sight to a strange-looking mountain in the distance. It was truncated and cone-shaped. I enlarged the section of the photo above to feature the mountain. (Sorry I was not able to get a better picture.)

IMG_4290It was a strange-looking mountain because it was man-made. The mountain was named Herodium, a fortress that Herod the Great constructed, about 5 kilometers southeast of Bethlehem. This was the same King Herod that tried to kill Jesus by slaughtering all the male infants in the region.

As history recorded it, when Herod the Great, was searching for a place to build his home and fortress, there was not a mountain high enough for him to build this structure. Instead there were two hills near each other at the site where he wanted it.

So what did Herod do? He cut down one hill and with an army of laborers he placed the pared hill on top of the other hill to make it higher, one bucket of dirt and rocks at a time. He literally moved a mountain.

When Jesus and his disciples were having discussion about faith, they were probably looking at this Herod’s mountain, which was hard to miss in the Judaean desert. Its dominating presence was a constant reminder of an oppressive regime. It was a common knowledge of that time how Herod moved a mountain.

However, what Jesus was telling his disciples is that faith, is much more powerful than what Herod can do. With faith they can be mightier than the mightiest ruler of their time.

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

Yes, we can move mountains. Though not by our own power but by the mighty power of God.

What mountains are we facing? What giant challenges are gripping our hearts with fear? Let’s put our faith in the King of Bethlehem hills, and He will move our mountains.

May we all have a meaningful Christmas.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Of Hawks and Turkeys

Last Saturday was gray, damp and cold. It was windy too with strong wind gusts all day. It was a dreary day. I hope Thanksgiving would be a better day as it may be hard to be in a thankful spirit when you’re freezing, fighting fierce winds and just trying to hold on to your hat.

As we were going out, I noticed a large bird hovering high above a field. It could be an eagle as we have eagles in Iowa, though rare. But I believe it was a hawk, as they are so many here in our area. Hawks and strong gusts of wind are what we have in abundance here in Iowa, so no wonder our two big State Universities’ sport teams are called Hawkeyes and Cyclones.

I know hawks or even eagles may not be the right bird to talk about during this occasion. We should be discussing turkeys, right? By the way, wild turkeys abound in our area as well. You can spot them just hanging out in the empty corn fields. Perhaps we can skip the grocery and just capture one of them and make it our dinner for the Thanksgiving.

Enough of the turkey, and back to the flying hawk that I saw. Maybe flying was not the right term, for it was barely flapping its wings. It had its wings open, and like a big kite, it was effortlessly gliding in the sky. It did not seem to mind the strong gusts of wind, and may even be thankful for it. For the stronger the wind, the higher it soared.

Sometimes the strong winds in our lives, those gusts that we think will shred our plans, and those storms that can blast our dreams away, may just be helping us soar to higher heights.

Last week, the lady in the gym’s reception desk, the one who greets me cheerily every time I come in, gave me a book. The book was entitled “Praise God for Tattered Dreams.”

I have observed this lady as always upbeat and has a sunny disposition in life, day in and day out. I am impressed on how she remembers all the names of the gym goers, as she greets everyone by name. And I mean everyone.

Few months ago this lady, after greeting me for years since I have been coming to this particular gym, learned that I am an ICU doctor. She then told me that she was a patient many years ago, in the hospital where I work, and even stayed in the ICU. But that was a couple of years before I came to Iowa.

Since then whenever she sees me, she would always try to convince me to write a journal about my experiences as an ICU physician. She said that it may be interesting to share those stories, and I may even make some money from it.

Last week, after coaxing me to write a journal every time we meet, I finally told her, that I was indeed already writing a journal. Well, sort of. I told her about ‘this’ blog. I rarely tell people I know, that I blog. Why? So I could write about them!

After learning that I write, she went to the back, retrieved a book from a drawer and handed it to me. She told me that she wrote and published this book, and it’s about her trying experience. She added that I can borrow and read it, but if I spill coffee on it, then I have to buy it.

She narrated in the book that she was a vibrant mother with two young boys, and with a promising career, when out of the blue, she suffered a near-fatal stroke. It was a large bleed in the head. She was only 33 years old at that time.

She was close to death when she was brought to the hospital. The doctors, including the neurosurgeon, gave her only 10% chance to live.

But she lived!

She was comatose for several days and spent 3 weeks in the ICU, and a total of 3 long months in the hospital. This does not include several more months of rehabilitation after being discharged from the hospital.

She described that half of her body was paralyzed and was unable to speak for a while. In that dark moment of her life, she found God and discovered a new purpose in life. When she felt that her dreams have ended, God showed her that she was only beginning to live a more meaningful life, for which she was very thankful for.

Now she is speaking and walking with almost unnoticeable residual of her stroke. She is happily working in the gym and encouraging people to be healthy and happy. She definitely has a story to tell. From tattered dreams to an inspirational life.

As we gather around our dinner table this Thanksgiving, with our roasted holiday bird, (the turkey, not the hawk), let’s thank God for everything. Including our trials and disappointments. For storms and strong winds can make us soar higher.

Happy Thanksgiving!

IMG_5638(*photo taken with an iPhone)

 

Slow Run

It’s summer here in our place. Well, not quite officially, as the summer solstice is not until June 21 which marks the official start of summer in the northern hemisphere. Yet the mercury is rising, as our high temperature for the past few days and the coming week will be in the 90’s to even reaching 100 º F.

But this morning, it was a comfortable 74 º F, so I went out for a run. It is also about this time of year that I should start preparing for the half marathon, if I should decide to join again this coming fall.

As I was approaching the small pond in my running route, I have to stop and let the family of geese get off the road before I could pass. The mother goose was already hissing at me as I was approaching them. They can be very territorial you know. But that’s fine, I can share the road with them, and I have no plans on swimming in their pond.


When I came to the wooded areas, I also saw a deer. But it bounded quickly away before I could take out my phone out of my pocket to take a photo. It might be sneering at me that I am too slow.

Same thing happened when I came to an area where a couple of wild rabbits were on the side of the road foraging for food. They also scurried away at the sound of my slow feet, before I can get near them. They may also laughing at me for being slow.

I admit, I am getting slower. Maybe my age is catching up on me. I have no match for the swiftness of the deer and the hare. They seem to dash so effortlessly and yet so gracefully. While me, I push for every step of my way to get to a pace that runners would even consider “running.”

Maybe all of us can relate in one way or another, and in different endeavors, that we feel we are no match to the “competition” we are going against. Whether it be in sports, or in school, or in our work, and in life in general.

Then as I was fighting my way uphill, I saw this guy.


Yes, that is a snapping turtle. And I was “quick” enough to take a photo of him.

They are called snapping turtles not because they snap their fingers as they go, rather they have the ability to snap, as in bite an attacker. That’s why I kept my distance.

The pond, or any body of water that I know in this area, was hundreds of meters away. I don’t know how long it would take him to get there, if that was where he was heading. But I’m sure his slow pace does not stop him from continuing, for that’s who he is.

It gave me a good insight for the day.  Life they say could be like a race. But it is not always for the swift, but to those who kept on running.

 

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)

 

Harvest Time

This morning I went for a long run, in preparation for the half-marathon that I would be participating in. The event would be in 2 weeks.

My long runs have been getting longer, and sometimes it can be tedious and boring. Maybe I should play Pokemon Go while I run to make it more exciting, and capture those fleeting critters.

I did not capture a Pokemon, but I captured these photos while I was running:

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Yes, it is harvest time in this part of the world I’m living in. The fields are golden brown, the days are getting shorter, and the wind is getting colder.

In this particular field, they were harvesting corn.

Why are they harvesting corn? Because they sow corn! Shouldn’t it be that way, we harvest what we sow?

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Maybe some cynics out there may disagree with me, for I know we are living in a world where so much injustice abound. People seems to reap what they did not sow, or have been harvesting in fields that are not theirs.

In my home country, we even have a proverb for that: Ako ang nagtanim, ako ang nagbayo, ako ang nagsaing, pero iba ang kumain.

Loosely translated, it says, I was the one who planted, I pounded, and I cooked, but somebody else ate it.

Yet I still believe in justice.

Lady Justice may seems to be blindfolded (I don’t know why it is portrayed that way) to the unjustness and repression happening all around us. And I’m not blind to that. But I know it as a fact that in the end, justice will be served.

That day of reckoning will come to all of us, when we will harvest what we sow.

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(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Serendipity

Serendipity: the occurrence or development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

Several days ago when my family and I were driving to Glacier National Park in Montana, while we were in a middle of nowhere in a lonely highway, we came to a site that was unexpected, at least for us. We had to stop and enjoy the view, for just a little longer.

Of course we were expecting great views in Glacier National Park, a wilderness in Montana’s Rocky Mountains, known to be one of the most picturesque landscapes in North America (I’ll make a separate post about Glacier National Park later, I promise).

However, while we were still hours away to our destination, we serendipitously saw this field full of bright yellow flowers with the snow-capped mountains seen from the distance. It was  just us and some bees on that field.

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a field somewhere in Montana

Later on we learned that they are canola plants, the source of canola oil, and are commonly farmed in this part of the US. We were just not familiar with them. But still, I think you’d agree that it was such a beautiful sight, right?

Sometimes in life, there are things or events that we are not expecting, but happen as a pleasant surprise. Of course the opposite is true as well, when we have such high expectations and then we become extremely disappointed by the turn of events. We even have a law for that – the Murphy’s law: “If anything can go wrong, it will.”

Well, back to the positive side of things, there are also “mistakes” that turned out to be just right. The discovery of Penicillin and the development of Post-it are prime examples.

Are there really fortunate happenstance?

When I was applying for Internal Medicine residency training program after I graduated from medical school in the Philippines, I sent out more than 50 application letters to different universities and hospitals in the United States.

A classmate of mine who was also applying, gave me a list of US hospitals and universities that would likely accept foreign medical graduates like us. I am not sure where he got this list, but that was an era before the heyday of the internet, whereas now you can “google”just about anything.

The list that he gave me was scribbled in a hospital’s pad paper with a letterhead. So I sent applications to all those on the list. And for good measure, I also sent one to the hospital on the letterhead, even though it was not on the list. How did my friend got the stationery? I have no clue.

Out of more than 50 applications I sent, I received only 8 or 9 invitations for interview. I needed all those invitation letters to apply for a visa to enter the United States.

You know that traveling from Manila to USA cost a fortune, not to mention traveling to different States where those hospitals were located, and so with limited resources, I was forced to choose only 3 hospitals to go for an interview – all were in New Jersey and New York, and all within a train or a bus ride away from each other.

After all the interviews, each applicant would rank their preferred hospital or training program, while every hospital would also rank their chosen applicants out of the hundreds they interviewed. Then the National Resident Matching Program matches all applicants to training programs by using a mathematical algorithm. There’s always a chance that an applicant won’t be accepted nor matched.

Where did I end up matching and doing my training?

I matched at a hospital in New Jersey that was an affiliate of Columbia University. Though this hospital was not on the list that I was given. It is the one on the letterhead of the stationery with the list!

Serendipity? Maybe it is destiny.

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(*Photo taken with an iPhone)