Friday, September 07, 2007

A Thanksgiving Testimony

My parents held a thanksgiving dinner tonight to recognize God's faithfulness in my life, especially recently, with the medical board exams. The following testimony/speech was my way of recognizing God's awesome grace and thanking Him for it. It's a bit long but I do hope you see the Lord's hand through the words.

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Good evening.

As some of you may know, I’m not very good with impromptu speaking so I thought it best to write my thoughts on paper.

I would like to thank all of you for taking the time out of your schedules to come and celebrate with my family and I tonight. This is our way of giving the glory back to God for the many blessings He has showered us while at the same time thanking those who, in one way or another, touched our lives through their prayers and other means of support. We are not a rich family and for my parents to commit to such an event as this signifies a leap of faith for us. We want to honor the Lord, firstly, and we also want to thank you. Those are our two major objectives for tonight.

Let me start my testimony by saying that it doesn’t matter from what angle of my life you look at it: I have been extremely blessed. The correct term for it is grace, or unmerited favor. My journey towards this lifelong dream of becoming a doctor started very early. The only other time that I remember having an ambition other than becoming a doctor was sometime in 1986, when I wanted to become President of the Republic of the Philippines. Almost daily, I saw President Aquino’s picture on the front page and I wanted to be on the front page too, hence the ambition. It was too lofty an ambition for too shallow a reason and too young and naive a mind. The next thing I know, I was set on becoming a doctor. I think it just fell naturally into place, like a jigsaw puzzle piece fitting perfectly into the big picture. I don’t know exactly why I wanted to become a doctor. It may have been because of family background, my aunt being a doctor and my mom and godmother being dentists. As I was growing up, the hospital became a familiar place. While most people describe the hospital’s antiseptic smell as a stench, I actually loved it. The old Medical City over at Ortigas Center, in my opinion, smelled better because it smelled like a true hospital. The new one on Ortigas Ave. smells like a hotel. I’m not complaining though.

It had not always been a smooth ride towards the MD. In 1998, the Lord allowed me to enter the University of the Philippines, supposedly the premiere university in the country, but I’m sure my Ateneo friends and my brother would beg to disagree. That particular period of my life was good for me socially speaking. Academically speaking, it was a complete disaster from the first semester. Coming from a high school where I was in the Top 10 of my class with almost no effort on my part, UP’s mathematics and chemistry crucified me. It seemed like every math and chem exam were times of pleading with God and, occasionally, actually crying out to Him. Even then, the Lord showed His faithfulness by allowing me to graduate on time, which in BS-Biochemistry, was somewhat a reason to be proud of.

When the time came for me to choose a Medical School, I had already short-listed 3 schools: UP, UE, and UST, in that order of preference. Being a proud iskolar ng bayan, I somehow believed that my degree from THE University of the Philippines, together with a more than satisfactory NMAT score, would be the magic key that would open the doors to medical school. It didn’t turn out that way. God closed ALL the doors. UST rejected my application initially. My name wasn’t on the UE list as well. A few days after the UE list came out, I was told that I wasn’t accepted at UPCM either. All the doors were closed. The thought of making a career change popped into my head. I could do Masters or work towards a PhD in my field and completely forget about Medicine. But then I thought my grades in UP were terrible and will not get me into any graduate school. In retrospect, the Lord used this time to teach me humility and the need to completely trust in Him for everything. Eventually, a few weeks later, a friend called me to tell me I was on the THIRD waiting list of UST.

So medical school began. It came and it went. It honestly was one of the best periods of my life. I still wasn’t the studious student I should have been, as my roommate could attest, but I loved studying Medicine. I don’t claim to have loved Pharmacology or Neurology or Pediatrics all that much but, generally, I truly loved medicine. My very good friend, Pia, said that it was like putting fish to water, my getting into medical school. In those four years, I felt the hand of God giving me the love for reading about how things work in our bodies and the various things I could do when something went wrong with it. I realized how magnificent His handiwork is, learning about how the arterioles automatically contracted or dilated in response to an even slight change in blood pressure, or how the faintest bit of light can be detected by the cells in our eyes and read by our brains as an image. Mind you, it wasn’t always as rosy as I now describe it. Most days, we were just concerned about how we were going to pass the next test or complete the next project.

The toughest bump in the road in medical school was the Oral Revalida. This was an oral examination where the student will present an actual, non-prepared case to a panel of 3 doctors. It was a requirement for graduation. Looking back, I really think I was more anxious of the revalida than I was of the board exams. Facing real, talking people rather than a test paper, there were just too many unknowns. At this time, the Lord gave me one of the greatest presents I have ever received. The revalida had a 4-tiered grading system. A Fail, Meritus (Passed), Benemeritus (Very Good), and Meritissimus (Excellent). I asked the Lord for a Benemeritus (Very Good) because it was a requirement if I wanted to obtain honors for graduation. Instead, the Lord chose to give me the highest grade possible, a Meritissimus. This enabled me to graduate with honors from medical school, the other extraordinary present from the Lord last year.

Most of 2006 and early 2007 were spent preoccupied with work at the Medical City as an intern. Even then, I saw the Lord’s hand blessing my endeavors as president of our batch. On graduation day, the Lord have me another surprise, when I graduated most outstanding intern of my class.

And then, of course, there was the Physicians Licensure Examination. I’ve read some articles that give out tips on how to study for the boards. Most of the articles prescribed a rigid schedule of study from morning to evening, with breaks only for meals. My schedule was far from rigid, even bordering on the relaxed. But I did my part. I prepared for the exams, read the review books, and even bunked in with my closest friends a week before the exams started. Throughout the whole experience, I felt peace. True, there were bouts of anxiety, especially when other people started talking about how they’ve read Biochemistry 3 times and Physiology 4 times whereas I only read these subjects one and a half times.

One of the greatest truths that I realized in my experience as I took the board exams was that found in Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your heart and your minds in Christ Jesus.” In another version, it says: “If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand.” That verse was totally alive in my life last month. I read through my journal entries during that specific period and I realized God was just giving me tremendous amounts of peace and it truly, truly was more wonderful than the human mind can understand. The peace I had while preparing for the exams and while taking it was not because I was confident of my answers or because I knew enough to pass. It was based on the knowledge that everything I am now and everything I am to be in the future is founded in Christ alone -- in His perfect will for my life. I thought that if God had orchestrated everything else in my life to bring me to this place, surely one single exam could not hinder me from becoming what He intended me to become. In all humility, my passing the exams was not a total surprise for me, the way getting the Meritissimus was, because I knew it would happen. This, Medicine, is my God-given calling. Far be it from me to take away from the Lord’s glory by saying that passing the boards was already a given. On the contrary, it is an affirmation of my belief that God had ordained for me to become a medical doctor and that the exam would be a manifestation of His will.
You may ask me what’s coming next in my big medical adventure. I have some ideas of my own. Ultimately though, since God has brought me this far without any significant help from me, I would have to see what His thoughts are about my tomorrow first. He’s the driver after all.

Let this testimony not be perceived as a list of my academic accomplishments. Rather, may it be seen as a story of how a life surrendered in obedience to God can bear much fruit. I see my story as one about God pouring out tremendous grace, mercy, and love on such an unworthy vessel. A Christian doctor in the US captured it in her blog’s tagline for me: “A kid with a bad heart, standing on grace.”

Now, you may ask why I am reading such a long essay to you tonight? Well, I can think of no other appropriate way to bring back the glory to God than by relaying to you, dear family and friends, how much He has blessed me all these years. You may be close family friends, partners of my dad in His ministry, mom’s friends or associates, my classmates, or my close friends. You are here tonight because at one point or another, my family and I consider you to have played a part in this story. I would especially like to mention that in recent years, the members of my church, Crossroads Fellowship, have been faithful prayer partners, for which I am most grateful. Tonight, I would like to thank all of you present here for your friendship, for your prayers, and for sharing your life with me in different ways. Also, I would like to express my most profound thanks to my family, my parents, brother, aunts and uncles and cousins, who have been and continue to be my support system and for keeping me grounded. I love you.

As I was walking towards the exit of UE Recto, having finished my last exam in Preventive Medicine, my heart was overflowing with praise for the Lord that I could think of no other appropriate song but the Doxology. Since I couldn’t exactly break out in song in the middle of Recto, I sang to God, softly enough so that only God and myself could hear it: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.” That remains the song in my heart tonight and, as God continues to give me life and strength, for the rest of my life.

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