Bahala na si Batman: Revisited

(I’m reposting an article I wrote 9 years ago. The message still rings true today. Happy New Year everyone!)

Kumakaway-kaway ang bagong nakalambiting pahinang papel sa dingding, nagpapahiwatig na pumasok na naman tayo sa isang panibagong yugto.

Bagong kalendaryo. Bagong taon. Lumang pananaw?

Tunay na ang panahon na ginagalawan natin ngayon ay walang katiyakan. Kasing linaw ng tubig-kanal ang ating kinabukasan. Halos gumapang na parang pagong ang ekonomiya, kahit anumang bansa ang pag-usapan, kahit na sa Amerika. Naghihirap na parang daga ang maraming mamayan sa iba’t-ibang lupalop ng mundo. Walang gobyerno ang ligtas sa gulo at eskandalo. Walang sinisinong pamilya ang mga problema at kahirapan, kahit pa Dimaano o Dimagiba ang apelyido nila. Walang tao sa kasalukuyan, ang hindi apektado ng walang-kasiguraduhang bukas.

Sa kabila ng lahat ng ito, sino nga ba ang nakakaalam kung ano ang ihahatid ng bukas? Kahit pa mga manghuhula sa Quiapo, ay hindi nakatitiyak. At mayroon nga ba tayong magagawa tungkol dito? Mabuti pa kayang maghalukipkip na lamang at magpawalang bahala, at tanggapin na lamang ang anumang barahang iaabot sa atin ng tadhana. Kaya?

Bahala na.

Iyan ang katagang kinamulatan nating mga Pilipino. Ito rin ang pilosopiyang nakaukit na sa ating kulturang kinagisnan. Bahala na. Bahala na si Batman!

Pero kung susuriin, ang katagang “bahala na” ay nagmula  sa “Bathala na,” kung saan ang isang tao ay ipinauubaya na sa Maykapal ang kaniyang kapalaran. Maaring maganda naman ang saloobing ito, dahil ito’y nagpapakita ng pagtitiwala sa nakatataas na kapangyarihan. Ngunit ang masama, ay maraming mga tao ang ipinauubaya na ang lahat lahat, at hindi na nagsusumikap na ibangon o ibahin ang “kapalaran” na hatid sa kanila ng pagkakataon. Suwerte kung suwerte, malas kung malas, parang Sweepstakes.

Ika nga ng sinalumang kanta ni Rico J. Puno: “Kapalaran kung hanapin, ‘di matagpuan, at kung minsa’y lumalapit ng ‘di mo alam.” Kaya ba walang nang saysay ang habulin ang ating kapalaran dahil hindi mo rin naman ito maabutan? Sadya bang ang lahat ay nakasalalay sa “Gulong ng Palad” na parang lumang tele-serye?

Hindi ba nga’t si Juan Tamad, isa sa mga kinagigiliwang kwentong Pilipino, ay humilata na lang sa ilalim ng puno at nakangangang naghihintay na malaglag ang bayabas? Naghihintay na ang biyaya o suwerte, na mahulog na lang sa ating kandungan. Ito nga ba ang kagawiang Pinoy? Maging sa ating kanta, tele-nobela, o tradisyonal na salaysayin – bahala na.

Bahala na lang ba talaga?

Mawalang galang na lamang po, ngunit hindi ako sang-ayon sa pananaw na ito. Hindi rin ako naniniwala na wala tayong magagawa para sa ating kinabukasan, o kaya’y ibahin ang barahang tangan natin sa ating palad. Oo nga’t may mga bagay na lagpas sa ating mga kamay, at si Bathala (hindi si Batman) lamang ang may kontrol nito. Sang-ayon ako na mahalaga ang pagtitiwala sa nakatataas na kapangyarihan. Ngunit maraming mga bagay ay nasasa-ating palad, at ang magiging kahihinatnan nito’y bunga ng ating pagsisikap, at hindi lamang sanhi sa guhit ng kapalaran.

Kaya sa bagong taong ito, sana ay mayroon din tayong bagong pananaw sa buhay. Bagong pakikipagbaka. Bagong pagsisikap. Bagong pag-asa.

Bangon na aking kaibigan, ang bukas ay naghihintay sa iyo. Ang “suwerte” ay nasa pawis mo.

(*photo taken at Musée d’Orsay)

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Added feature: Bahala Na Si Batman by SOLABROS.com

Help My Unbelief

(I was asked to lead a devotional in a group of Christian doctors. Here is what I shared.)

One man was telling his friend about his doctor. He said, “my doctor guaranteed that I will be walking in just a week after my big surgery.”

The friend remarked, “Wow, that’s impressive.”

The man added, “Yes. I have to walk now because I have to sell my car to pay my doctor’s bill.”

Most of the times, we doctors guarantee healing. But our story today is about a failed healing.

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Our story for our devotional today is found in Mark 9: 17 -27

17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech.18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.”27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

The background of the story is that Jesus just came down from the mountain where he had his transfiguration. Though it is really uncertain what mountain, traditionally it is believe to be the Mount Tabor. With him were Peter, James and John. When they got down from the mountain he was met with the rest of his disciples and was told that they failed to heal a boy from his illness.

I want us to view this story from a doctor’s or a healthcare provider’s perspective.

Let’s first examine the boy, the patient, in our story. How old was he? I don’t know, but most likely he is in the pediatric age. Since I am an adult medicine doctor, he will be somebody that will not be brought to me.

What is his illness. If we look at the description of what his illness is, we would say that it is epilepsy with the classic tonic-clonic grand-mal convulsions. The seizures seems to be uncontrolled and frequent that it can come any time, as he would fall in the fire or in the water. Being unable to speak, maybe he also has cerebral palsy with speech impediment.

How long has he been sick? According to his father since his childhood. So for a long time this boy has been suffering. One reason why I did not choose to be a pediatrician, besides I hate placing an IV on a baby is that I cannot stand the sight of suffering children. Especially those sick kids that had poor outcome.

Are there any pediatricians here? I admire you, caring for the most vulnerable among us. May God continue to bless your profession and your ministry.

So if this sick boy was brought to you, what will you give him? Keppra? Carbamazepine? Phenytoin? Or perhaps you will request for CT head, EEG and lumbar puncture first.

But something tells us that this is more than physical illness. Rather, it is an spiritual illness, or more specifically demon-possession. As it was told in the story that Jesus drove the deaf and mute spirit out and ordered it not to come back.

I have witnessed demon-possession when I was still in the Philippines. It happened on an evening prayer meeting and this young lady jumped out of her seat and attacked the speaker. Her voice changed and it took several men in the church to hold her down. It required some intense prayers of the church before the demon was driven out.

Let us examine now the father, the other patient. One thing for sure is this father was desperate. If your child is sick for a long time you will be desperate too. He has been disappointed before, perhaps by other healers that he brought his son to and they tried to heal him, including Jesus’ disciples, but all were unsuccessful. Because this father was let down in the past, he was having trust issues. He has become a skeptic. He told Jesus, “IF you can do something,” (emphasis on the IF), but honestly admitted his doubts by telling Jesus, “I believe. Help my unbelief.”

This father is also suffering. It’s not just the boy, but the father as well. Maybe not much physically, but more on emotionally and mentally. Note on verse 22, he did not say “have compassion on my son,” rather he said to Jesus: “have compassion on us and help us.”

He is undergoing mental agony. Perhaps anxiety and depression. Would you give him Prozac? Or maybe a psychotherapy session? But most likely he just needed his son to be healed and he will be healed as well.

Let’s apply the story to our day to day experiences.

First, have you experienced that you were unable to help your patients, even how hard you try, like the disciples did? You probably tried all the medications and procedures known to you, but still your patient was not getting better. I know I have experienced that, all the time. Being a Critical Care doctor, I have lost many patients, which is part of the specialty I chose, especially in this time of COVID pandemic. How frustrating that has been for us. We felt incompetent. Is our training not enough? Is our knowledge and skills not enough? We felt helpless.

But in our story, Jesus said (verse 19), “Bring the boy to me.” Yes my fellow doctors, we can bring our patients to Jesus. We can bring our frustrations, our incompetence and our helplessness to Him. We can bring our problems to the Lord, not just in our patients, but our own personal failures to Him.

Many times though we are also like the child’s father, we suffer with unbelief. As trained scientists and professional clinicians, we believe more in our medications, or in our surgical skills, in our medical science and technology than in God. Have you felt that way sometimes? I know I felt that way, many times!

When I was sick with a flu last year and I felt so awful, I prayed that God will heal me quickly. But I felt I have more faith in the Tylenol that I took to make me feel better than in God who can really take my illness away.

In this story, when the father told Jesus “If you can do something” Jesus used that same words back to him and said “If you can” believe “everything is possible.” May we also pray that father’s prayer, “Lord, help, my unbelief.”

Lastly when the child was taken to Jesus, it appears that he even got worse. The boy had more violent seizures when the evil-spirit saw Jesus. The original text used a term that meant worse than before. The boy went into a grand-mal status epilepticus, worse than he ever had. After the seizure, the people thought that the child was dead (verse 26)! Did Jesus made the situation worse?

Have we experienced something similar? We prayed to God already, and we call on Him to heal our patients, but they seem to be getting worse, not better. Was God not hearing our prayers? Was He not listening to our pleas?

Then when people thought that the boy was dead, (in verse 27) Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him on his feet and he arose. The healing came in God’s way. The healing came in God’s time.

For us today, when we are struggling in our practice, when we are getting discouraged in the outcome of the patients that were placed under our care, we just have to trust in God’s ways, and we have to trust in God’s timing.

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I would like to tell a story that happened to me last year.

It was the height of flu season last year, and this was before COVID, which made this year’s flu season worse. I was working that weekend, and I was in the hospital for 36 hours straight. We had several patients in the hospital that had complications from the flu. There were five on ventilators due to respiratory failure from Influenza A in our ICU. Two of them were on ECMO. 

ECMO is short for extracorporeal membrane oxygen, an extracorporeal life support. It is an intervention to provide adequate amount of gas exchange or perfusion in patients whose heart and lungs have failed to sustain life. It is done by placing a large bore catheter in the patient’s central vein or artery, where the blood was sucked out from the body, then ran through a machine to bathe it with oxygen, then flow it back to the body. We also have used this intervention now for the very severe COVID patients.

Saturday morning, I got a call from another hospital for a woman in her 40’s who had Influenza A and who was rapidly deteriorating. She went into respiratory failure and was placed on ventilator. They want to transfer her to our hospital for possible ECMO.

We rarely have two ECMO patients at the same time in our ICU. Even one patient on ECMO makes us busy, so two was really demanding. But a third one at the same time? That never happened in our hospital before. 

I made some phone calls to verify if we have a machine for a third patient and if we have enough resources and staff to handle a third ECMO. After confirming, I was given the green light to accept the patient.

Additional ICU and ECMO staff were called to come in. I called the interventional cardiologist-on-duty who would assist us to put the Avalon catheter, a dual-lumen catheter half as big as a garden hose that goes from the jugular vein and through the heart. The cardiologist in turn called the cath lab to prepare for the arrival of this patient.

The patient was flown in via helicopter to our hospital and went straight to the cath lab where me, my ICU and ECMO team, as well as the cardiologist and his cath lab team were waiting.

We were ready for the challenge and eager to make it happen. 

While we were doing all this, our patient’s oxygen saturation was only in the 70-80% despite maximum ventilator support, so we knew we needed to work fast.

However problem struck. Working for more than an hour, we had difficulty placing the Avalon catheter in good position. We tried different approaches with different instruments, but cannot get the ECMO flow going.

After deliberation, we decided that we cannot sustain this patient on ECMO. Perhaps it was her vascular anatomy, or perhaps there was a big clot in her vein. Whatever the reason, we could not proceed.

I went out to the cath lab’s waiting room, and gave the sad news to the patient’s family that we couldn’t do the ECMO. All I could say was that we tried and gave our best, but it was unsuccessful.

I felt that we betrayed this patient and her family. After I thought I moved heaven and earth to get this patient to our hospital, only to end up like this was really deflating.

The worse part was, I knew that without ECMO, this patient had little to no chance of surviving and possibly could be dead in a few hours.

We transferred the patient to the ICU, but we left the big neck catheter in place even though it was not hooked to the machine. We have to wait for the heparin we gave when we attempted to start the ECMO, to wear off before we can pull the catheter out.

After about half an hour in the ICU, I was informed that the blood test showed that the heparin had worn off and I can remove the catheter with less risk of bleeding.

When I pulled the Avalon catheter out, I applied direct pressure in the patient’s neck to control the bleeding. I did this for 30 minutes. I was alone in the room with the patient most of that time, with the nurse intermittently coming in and out of the room to adjust the IV pumps or to check on the patient.

All along while I was holding pressure, I was watching the monitor which showed that the patient’s oxygen saturation was staying in the high 70’s to low 80%. I thought death was imminent.

During the time when I was alone with the patient, I felt helpless and defeated. I failed her. We failed her. 

Then a thought came to me: I don’t save lives. It was not up to me. Only a higher power determines who will live or die. That’s when I reached out for the Higher Power.

As a doctor, many times, I put more faith to the medical intervention than God’s healing.

With my hands on the patient’s jugular holding pressure, I turned my thoughts to heaven: “God I am nothing, but an instrument of Your healing hand. I failed. But You never fail. I don’t know this patient personally, but I am personally praying for her. Please heal her in my behalf, and let me witness Your awesome power. Amen.”

After 30 minutes of holding pressure the bleeding stopped. I left the room and went to see other patients, especially the new ICU admission, a young man in his 20’s who had a bad asthma attack, so bad we had to place him on a ventilator.

As I was busy attending to other patients, I was just waiting to be called back to that particular patient if she goes to cardiac arrest or expires.

More than an hour later, I went back to the room of our failed ECMO patient. I looked at the monitor and her oxygen saturation was 100%. I was amazed! The respiratory therapist told me that she even titrated down the oxygen level on the ventilator to almost half as the patient was really doing good.

What happened? I had no other explanation but one: God heard my prayer.

I went down to my call room to be alone. With tears welling in my eyes, I uttered a prayer of thanks. Never would I doubt the power of God again. 

My friends, God healed my unbelief.

May God heal us all with our unbelief, this is my prayer.

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.)

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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)

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)

Mountains of Challenges

(I was asked by my aunt in California to give an inspirational message for their virtual church. Here is what I shared.)

It is October. In only a couple of months, this year will end. And what a difficult time it has been this year 2020 to many of us, if not to all of us. I know many of us would rather forget this year and just want it to go away. The funny thing is, this year could not even claim the notoriety it will be known for, as COVID is named COVID-19 and not COVID-20.

The past several months was a constant struggle. It was a like an unending mountain climb. It was one challenge after another. However, these mountains of challenges can strengthen us and can fortify our commitment.

In 1923 when a reporter from New York Times ask George Mallory, an English mountaineer, why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, his answer was simple. He said, “Because it’s there.” What he’s saying is, it was there waiting to be conquered.

Mount Everest

Mallory’s first 2 attempts to climb Mount Everest end up in failures. But he did not give up. On his 3rd expedition to climb Everest, he never came back. He and his companion was last spotted in an upper ridge about 250 meters below the summit. Did he finally make it to the summit? We don’t know, for he did not survive to tell us the story. One thing for sure, he is committed to his cause.

There are some stories in the Bible of people who went up the mountains. One of them is David. But David did not climb the mountain for mountaineering nor for physical recreation. He ran to the mountain to escape and to save his life. This was during the time when he was running away from King Saul who wants to kill him. We can say that David was going through a difficult time in his life. One of the places he stayed is the wilderness of Ein Gedi, where there are rugged hills and stony cliffs.

Ein Gedi

During that time that he was running from one mountain to another, and was hiding from one cave to another cave, that he was inspired to write this:

I look up toward the mountains.
    Where can I find help?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the maker of heaven and earth. Psalms 121:1-2

For us Christians we should view these mountains of challenges in a different perspective. These difficult trials provides us the chance to realize that God never leaves us and it gives us the opportunity to witness how powerful our God is.

When I was growing up in Sampaloc Manila, I have posters on the walls of my tiny room. I could have a poster of my favorite basketball player Robert Jaworski. I don’t know if any of you even knew him. Or I could have a picture of a famous movie star. My favorite during my high school days was Phoebe Cates, but I didn’t have a poster of her either. Instead, my posters are photos of beautiful landscapes with inspirational message in them.

The poster beside my bed was a photo of a huge rock mountain. It is actually a butte that towers over a plain. I did not know at that time what mountain it was and where it was until I came to the US a decade and a half later. I found out that the rock mountain on my poster was aptly named the Devils Tower, and it is located in Crook County, Wyoming. On my poster, underneath the photo of this rock mountain are this words: Faith moves mountains.

Yes, my brothers and sisters, there are no mountains high enough that the devil can throw in front of us that our God cannot move.

Devils Tower

Matthew 17:20 – “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.”

Few years ago, we were blessed to visit Israel. During one of our trips our bus was traveling to Bethlehem, and I saw that Bethlehem was a hilly region. I could only imagine that in one of those hills are where the shepherds were when the angels appeared to them. But 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.

It 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.

Herodium

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 yet very powerful regime. It was a common knowledge of that time how Herod moved a mountain.

So when Jesus told his disciples that if they have faith as small as a mustard seed, they can tell a mountain to move and it will move, He was telling them that they don’t need an army of laborers to move a mountain like what King Herod did. That if they have faith they can be greater than King Herod the Great. With faith they can be more powerful than the most powerful king of their land. With faith they can be mightier than the mightiest ruler of their time.

Yes, our God is powerful and He can move mountains. And if we have faith in Him there should not be any mountain of challenges that we cannot conquer.

May God bless us all.

(*photos from the web)

Amazing Grace

When I was asked to give a message to my home church in the Philippines via Zoom last month, they also asked if my daughter can give a special music for their virtual church service. We recorded her playing the piano and send them the video. Friends from New York and New Jersey also asked for this video and played it in their virtual worship services.

I’m sharing it here too. Blessings to you.

(Music piece is “Amazing Grace,” piano arrangement by Joel Raney.)

A Room with a View

Our planned trip to Canada this summer went kaput. Because of this COVID-19 pandemic, the northern border is still not open for tourists. Instead of giving back the vacation days that I already took, we scrambled to look for an alternate local getaway.

As we were booking for a hotel or a lodge, we were looking to have a room with a view. I for one is really particular of having a view. Even if I spend the whole day doing nothing, as long as I enjoy looking outside the window, that’s more than enough for me. Thus on many of our trips we hunt for a room with a view. And if we checked in to the hotel and we’re given a room that was different than what we imagined, we would request to be moved and not settle until we get the room that we wanted.

Who wouldn’t like a room with a view?

I don’t know if this can be applied when being hospitalized. First of all you cannot really pick your hospital room. Second, most hospitals don’t have a view. And lastly, if you do have a beautiful hospital window view then you may not want to leave at all, which is counterproductive.

I am not saying that hospitals should not have a good view if they can provide it. After all I believe a serene setting or view could be in itself therapeutic to patients. In our hospital we have a central garden with pretty flowers and some rooms overlook this garden. While a few of the rooms have a view of our city’s skyline. While many rooms in our hospital have brick walls for their view.

Recently, one patient of ours told me that he was surely glad that he was referred to our hospital. He was transferred from a small regional hospital to our tertiary medical center for further management of worsening respiratory status from COVID-19. He told me that besides the advance medical care we can provide in our facility, the view from his window at the regional hospital where he came from was not “reassuring.” In fact he said it was downright depressing.

A couple of years back, we started going to that regional hospital once a month, which is an hour and 45 minutes drive from our main office, as part of our outreach clinic, so I fully understand the comments of that patient. Across the street of the regional hospital is a very “serene” park, though it is probably not what you want to see when you are sick. The said hospital, believe it or not, is overlooking the town’s cemetery. That could be depressing. Though it could be an incentive to get better too, or else you end up across the street.

I remember a story* I read years ago about two hospitalized men who were sharing a hospital room. Both of them were suffering from serious illnesses. One patient was by the window and the other one was across the room. The one far from the window was unable to get out of bed, so everyday he would ask his room mate what he sees in the window. Every time the patient who was lying by the window would tell the other one the beautiful view outside. Like how the sun was shining in the sky, or the children playing at the park, or the pretty flowers blooming in the garden, or the ducks swimming at the pond. This lifted the spirit of the other patient and gave him encouragement to get well so he could go outside and see for himself the beautiful view.

Then one day the patient who was by the window died. The one across the room felt very sad for his room mate, yet he felt good at the prospect that he could transfer to the bed by the window.

When he finally got transferred to the bed by the window, he was terribly disappointed. Why? The window of their hospital room was facing a brick wall. No view of a park, nor of a beautiful garden, nor a pond.

He realized that his former room mate made it all up to inspire him and to keep his hopes alive. That hope that sustained him through his illness and pain.

The next day, there came a new patient who was laid in the bed far from the window. This new room mate ask him what he sees outside their window. To this he replied, “Oh, there were children merrily picking flowers……”

**********

(*Original short story is by Harry Buschman, “The Man by the Window.” I added the last twist.)

A Beautiful Night

I did two overnight in-hospital ICU call in a span of three days lately. This has obviously derailed my circadian rhythm. Normally in our group of intensivists, a doctor only do 24-hour duty once a week or less. But this is not normal times.

So on the day I was off after my back to back calls, I woke up in the middle of the night and cannot sleep anymore. My body was fatigued yet my mind was awake. Instead of tossing and turning in bed, I got up and went to another room so not to disturb my wife who was fast asleep.

I pulled up a chair and sat by the side of the window and stared outside. The night was still and the moon was halfway through the horizon in the sky. The warm glow of the moonlight bathes the whole surrounding and it was quite enchanting. It was after all the super pink moon – the biggest and brightest full moon of this year 2020.

Ah, year 2020. Who could have predicted that this year would be this challenging? At my work we have more than 30 ICU beds, but with the predicted patients surge from COVID-19, our hospital has a contingency plan that we could convert other parts of the hospital into temporary ICUs and that we could potentially take care of 90 critically-ill patients on ventilators. The good thing is we have not seen that kind of surge like what is happening in New York City and New Orleans. At least not yet. I hope we never will.

We do have several confirmed COVID-19 patients on ventilators though, and they are pretty sick. But they are getting better, and the truth is many of them are getting off ventilators after a few days. Even our first ever confirmed COVID-19 patient that ended up on mechanical ventilator improved and got off of it after almost three weeks.

There were deaths though from this virus, even in our ICU and we cannot deny that. In fact the other night that I was on call, there was one patient that was a COVID-19 suspect and I placed him on a ventilator that night. Of course I had my full protective gear when I intubated him. Yet despite of our best efforts he died. But testing came back later that it was not the novel corona virus, but he had positive blood culture for a bacteria and he died from an overwhelming sepsis. People die from other causes as well, not just COVID-19.

As I gazed outside the window, I uttered a prayer for strength and protection not just for me, but for all the healthcare workers that continue to fight this battle. I also prayed for my family and all the families of frontliners who are at continued risk of contracting this disease from us when we come home. More importantly I prayed for the patients and their families that are going through such a woeful and difficult time.

The saddest part of this pandemic is that patients in hospitals are going through their ordeal alone, as family and friends are not allowed to visit them. And for those people who succumbed from this COVID-19, they die alone with nobody to hold their hands even in their last dying breath. It is really heartbreaking.

I looked at the radiant full moon and it was glorious. I observed that the light of the moon cast long shadows on the lawn from the trees. I was unaware on how the trees around us had gone so big and tall now. The evergreens that stayed lush and strong through the cold months and had survived many bitter winters. The deciduous trees that were currently barren but the leaf buds were beginning to appear for it is spring time after all, reminding us that life begins again. I also noticed that there were faint stars in the sky, though their light were subdued by the bright moon, yet they were twinkling whether we see them or not.

All in all, it was a beautiful night.

Photo by David Besh on Pexels.com

Then a thought came to me as if God was answering me. Even if we are going through the night, if we don’t dwell on the shadows and focus on the light, there is still beauty around us. Many times darkness heightens our senses to appreciate the light and other lovely things that we may have taken for granted. Yet the most reassuring thought is that even how dark the night is, morning is surely coming and a new day will emerge.

Yes, we may have lost many in the night and we should remember them, but for most of us, we are going to be alright. Have a blessed and meaningful Easter everyone.

A Warm Lunch

I have been back to work this week after a brief break when I went to California to visit my aunt.

(photo taken when we drove to the airport to fly back home)

I have been seeing patients all day in the hospital for the past few days and it has been hectic. We have already seen the first case of the flu admitted in our hospital this season and we are bracing for a more brutal time ahead as the wintry air have started to blow.

I don’t like to bash hospital food, but if I have a chance to eat somewhere else besides the hospital cafeteria, I would do so. I wish there is something like the Manila Sunset Grille (see previous post) in the hospital grounds for that would be bliss.

But I have a busy schedule, and going out of the hospital to get lunch is much of a hassle plus I don’t have much time to spare. So regularly I just go to the hospital cafeteria to grab something to eat just to avoid hypoglycemia. I don’t care if it tastes like cardboard as long as the food is edible. Usually I would inhale my food and then continue my hospital rounds.

Yesterday I was in the hospital cafeteria to get lunch. It was still not that bad as I still had time for lunch for there were rare times that I don’t. The lines were long when I went there. As I head down to the cashier, I was getting impatient as the line was not moving as fast as I wanted. In front of me was an old frail lady who moves gingerly slow. She was taking a longer time as she dug deeply into her purse. It was like watching the character of the sloth who moves in slow-motion in the Disney movie Zootopia.

After the old lady handed her money to the cashier which felt like an eternity to me, she took a look at me. I was wearing my white doctor’s lab coat with my to-go box on one hand and a bottle of water on the other. Then the old lady softly told the cashier that she wanted to pay for my food, as she appreciates people who works in the hospital.

I felt like ice-cold water was poured on the fiery coals on my head. I was having unpleasant mood and yet this lady showed me goodness. Shame on me!

Since I knew the cashier as I am a regular in the cafeteria, I told her not to let the lady pay for my meal. I thanked the lady though but politely declined her offer. I told her that I should be the one paying for her meal, and that I really appreciate her gesture.

Yes, there is still goodness in this world. This old lady made me believe again in human kindness.

I still quickly gulped down my food. But I leisurely savor the warm affection I was served.

Fallen Nest

Few days ago, we experienced a strong summer thunderstorm. After the storm, our yard was littered with fallen leaves and broken tree branches. Then we saw this on the ground under our front yard tree:

It is a bird’s nest. We picked it up and placed it at our front porch. We did not find any eggs around it nor birds that might had inhabit this nest. The strong winds must have knocked it off from the tree branch.

Looking at the intricacies of the nest, I felt bad for the birds that owned it. They may have woven it for a long time. They may have occupied it and was their home for a while. I hope they are safe and unharmed. They must have flown away and maybe are busy building another nest somewhere.

Maybe we also have worked for something for a long time. Maybe we have invested precious time and efforts to accomplish something special. But some strong storms in life knocked off our nest and it came crashing to the ground.

But you know what? It’s just a nest. We still have our lives. We can still rebuild. We can rise again. We again will fly.

“Only in the shattering can the rebuilding occur.” Barbara Marciniak