I recently heard a story from a beautiful, African American woman who wore a stylish black cardigan and dark red lipstick. Her dark, silky hair was perfectly curled, and her smile illuminated our faces like a flashlight exposing the darkness. As she began to speak, her deep, rhythmic voice reverberated off our concrete classroom walls; her voice and its warmness filled the room like blowing breath into a balloon. I was touched by her presence even though we were separated a considerable distance. She held a sweet sense of humility, a knowingness and experience, in her voice. She told us a story.
This kind and gentle woman had been incarcerated for 14 years. Her story starts as a child, when she experienced domestic sexual trauma that continued into her teenage and adult life. She got wrapped up in some bad relationships which propelled themselves into criminal activity. Her story is not unlike many others; when trauma starts this early on, it isn’t a choice. It is a lifestyle given without any permission or consent. Among her triumphant stories was a small detail about how she began to tell herself lies and believe them. Her identity was built on false narratives, destructive words that shaped her, and a lifetime of untruths. She said eventually, she didn’t even know her real birthday.
Although I am very different from this woman, I share many of her same vulnerabilities. We all do. We are all capable of telling ourselves lies that become truth and this truth becomes our reality and this reality becomes our life. We can tell ourselves that we are worthless, purposeless, hopeless, that we have no friends, no choice in our life trajectory, and no control, or that we’re unattractive, disliked, stupid, or meaningless. We can say these things, and they will become true. I spent a lot of time in high school convincing myself that I needed to change; that I needed blonde hair and tan skin before I could be loved. Or that I needed bigger muscles and a smaller waist before I could be attractive. Or that if I spoke and acted a certain way, I would fit in. I began to believe myself. These lies became my reality and that reality became very grim and oppressing as I tried to fit into all the images that society tells us are important. My saving grace came when I began to tell myself something else: I am smart, I have importance that goes beyond physical appearances. I am loved exactly how I am. Then I began to tell myself something even more radical: Maybe I could even change the world. These things I told myself changed my life perspective. Our self-talk matters.
You may truly think you are worthless or unloved or a failure. I am not condemning your feelings or telling you that you are wrong. The thoughts you have about yourself are valid. That is really how you feel and that must be recognized. What I am saying, however, is that you should start telling yourself a new narrative. Every day wake up and tell yourself the truth that you want your reality to become. Roll out of bed and tell yourself, “I am loved. I am important. My work is meaningful. My life is valuable. I am kind, lovable, and gentle. I am free from addiction. I am free from sadness/anxiety/depression. I am in control. I am loved by something much larger than me. I was created with purpose. I was created with passion. I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Or maybe just tell yourself one of those things or maybe all of them if you need it. Some days I do.
This week my mantra has been “I am strong, I am capable, I am confident” because each of those words touches on an insecurity I’ve felt this week. On Monday, I told myself this phrase as I walked to class, practiced a speech, worked my job, went about life. On Friday, my mantra became my reality: I endured the week with strength, competence, and self-assurance. My positive self-talk came true.
As you read this I ask you a simple question: What do you need to hear?
And I implore you to take on a simple task: start telling yourself that. Today, right now, this week. It may save your life.
As I’m enjoying my morning coffee, with sunshine flooding into my small but comfy shoe-box of a bedroom, I google “how to show Christ’s love as a doctor”. It may be obvious how doctors have a platform for showing compassion, love, equality, and integrity towards their patients, but I’m a practical kind of gal so I wanted some real-life tips. One thing that stood out to me in an article that I read is the call to honor God with our lives – a seemingly simple task – but to avoid making medicine/success/accomplishment/money/etc. an idol before God. I started reflecting on my own life and realized how important and hard this is.
Avoiding idols is a slippery, hard-to-detect fine-line that I’ve even experienced as someone who is not a doctor yet. I find a sense of belonging and contentment in feeling like I’m making a difference, even if small, in someone’s life at this stage in my journey. I take pride in my accomplishments that I work so hard for, and I celebrate the opportunities that come to me throughout this journey. When I studied for the MCAT, I felt like that exam was truly determining my future, and I had to step back (or have others around me) to remind myself that God is in control of my destiny. There have been times where this career has become an idol in my life that I worshiped and thought about constantly, and it takes daily, continual action to break down that idol. My support system at my church reminds of the temporary nature of this life and how everything we do should be good but is truly only transient. When we break down those idols, liberation from anxiety, worry, and defeat ensues.
Idols don’t always look like golden calves. Sometimes they look like the pursuit of money so you can live a little more comfortably, a cute boy who you devote all your time to, the success and accomplishment of your children, perfection towards a hobby or skill, or the more deleterious but real-life idols like addiction, mental and physical illnesses, and sexual immorality. The hardest thing about breaking down idols is remembering to wake up every single day and chip away at that thing you think gives you worth in life. Whether or not we like it at all, those things will fail us and we will leave them behind us when we enter the kingdom of Heaven. I try to remember that although I want to be a physician more than anything, my life is worth so much more than that. My God has given me, and all of us, specific ways and tools to impact and gather his Kingdom. That may not be as immediately flattering or boast-worthy, but it is way more important. Every day, in a small but consistent way, start chipping away at the idol you’ve built in your life. You probably already know what it is. The effects are liberating in so, so many ways.
“You shall have no other gods before me.” – Exodus 20:3
Today at work I got emotional.
I work in a cardio-oncology lab, and I spend most of my days writing and reading about cancer therapies, cancers, and heart disease. Sometimes, I write and read so much that I dream I actually have breast cancer, and I wake up gripping for reality and feel overwhelmingly thankful that I do not. I read about it so much that sometimes I forget that actual people get cancer, not just numbers and statistics published in journals, and I’m humbly reminded of this when I see patients in the clinic who cling to an unwavering hope. I don’t typically get emotional at work, because when I’m not sitting at my computer planning things or shadowing in the clinic, I’m working with mice that I’m treating with immunotherapy. While I do get attached to my mice and I’m thankful for the role they play in scientific discovery, they don’t typically make me emotional. Sometimes, they even bite me and claw at me and elicit a response very opposite of thankful. Today, though, I had a conference call with the physician I work with and a group of our collaborators from MD Anderson Cancer Center. We all got together to talk because we are interested in understanding why and how the immune system can fight off cancer. We as a cardio-oncology group are interested in the heart, and why some patients develop fatal heart disease when they receive immune-checkpoint inhibitors (a cancer treatment). This is what all of my research projects are focused on, and I’m very passionate about this topic. I think one day I may become a cancer doctor, or a cardio-oncologist, or continue asking questions like these, but that’s too far away for me to speculate. The other group, hailing from one of the most prominent cancer centers in the world, discovered immunotherapy and specifically how the immune system can attack cancer cells in the body. While I was a bit star-struck to be talking to people who have literally saved hundreds of thousands of lives, something every doctor or scientist dreams of doing, I was even more touched by their sincerity and care for patients. I think a lot of times people think humanity is heading in the wrong direction, but moments like these tell me differently. I’m reminded that biomedical research is truly a selfless act of love for humanity. If you have cancer, or if anyone you love has cancer, please know that there are scientists, physicians, pharmacists, students, and every part of the biomedical research industry who are out there working for you. Day and night, there are people thinking of how to combat the disease that maliciously steals our children, parents, friends, and neighbors. I’ve heard people jadedly and suspiciously tell me they believe that there is a cure for cancer that the government is holding it from us. This is incredibly discouraging to me, because I see the hearts of scientists and doctors who are diligently searching for cures and treatments. I see them behind masculine, poised faces, behind white coats and dress pants, behind strong words and distant demeanors; I see people who care for humanity and spend their lives working to cure someone they will never even meet. While most days I just let these encounters go unnoticed, today I appreciated that there is something incredibly powerful and moving in that reality.
“For what it’s worth… it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start over again.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
I thought about dwelling on 2017, on the hardships I experienced, the heartache and desolation that was felt sometimes, the brokenness that occurred early in the year. There was more than that though. I thought about writing about my successes in research, getting published, changing my major, finding my purpose (or trying to). I thought to write about the relationships I formed, the ones that came with me from 2016 and blossomed even more, the new ones that helped me love myself and others more, and the romantic one that I could have never predicted but am so thankful for. I thought about writing of my personal journey, the one where I felt empowered, then small, loved, then lonely, invincible, then broken, and the roller coaster that it was. I thought about writing about how I’ve changed (a lot) in good and bad ways, because it is arrogant and mistaken to say that we always only change in good ways (though I hope the good greatly outweighs the bad). I thought about the memories, the rich and vibrant memories of places I went (England! Ireland! Boston! Atlanta! The Gulf Coast! How blessed I am to see the world). My eyes took in some impeccable places with some amazing people.
I thought about it all, about 2017. It was painful. It was momentous. It was beautiful. Every day something happened, sometimes I wrote it down, but I mostly tried to store it away up top with failure more than I wished (we always overestimate the ability of our memory). I did write some though, mostly prayers in pen tucked away in a book filled with empty pages and my deepest hopes and dreams and concerns and questions. I thought a lot, about what love actually is, and whether it can actually last, and what I believe and who I am and where I belong and what I will do for the rest of my life. I worried a bit too, about the latter questions and if I will find happiness in what I am pursuing and the life I am building. I thought about my future. I thought about the present, whether I was making the right decisions. I thought about my friends, how truly blessed and favored I am, how God always takes care of me. I thought about faith, my journey, my flaws, my strengths. I thought about my blessings. I tried to think of them more than my problems, insecurities, and heartaches. They were abundantly more in the past year than those anyways. There were nights I cried, full of questioning, and nights where my heart wanted to leap out of my chest for happiness and overwhelming peace. I can’t explain 2017, but it was a mysterious thing with some of the hardest and best times of my life. A year of true lows and glorious highs. To write of it would take a novel, to think of it would take a journey, but to appreciate it takes very little. I appreciate who I was this time last year and who my experiences over the last year have made me. I am indebted to those who have prayed for me, offered me their love, and walked with me through the past year. I am incredibly thankful to those who I’ve met who have accepted me and cherished me. Finally, I look to God for all He has done for me. I’ve experienced lovely, magnificent things because of Him, and my perspective on a difficult life change was crafted in His hands. What a year it has been. Here is to 2018 – another year of magical, unpredictable, eventful, and beautiful memories with those I love.
You’ve got people in your corner. You may not know who they are yet, or maybe you do, but they are there. There are people out there that want to see you succeed as bad as you do. They support you, encourage you, market you to other professionals, love you in your flaws. They see your worth, even if you don’t. They recognize your talent, even when you don’t. Something about you inspires them, and you feed off their success and hunger for life. You have people that are your cheerleader. They rejoice with you when you do great things and they fall hard with you when you don’t. They are acutely aware of your life goals and dreams, and they can see what lights your eyes up and sets your heart ablaze mid-conversation. They tell you that they know what you were made for. They are happy for you. They are there for you. They are rooting for you. It may be your mom, teacher, co-worker, best friend, mentor, stranger, boss, dad, roommate, or just a passing face – but somehow they know you and believe in you. People are rooting for you. They don’t wish to see you fail, wish to see you find trouble, but are instead genuinely happy for you! These are true friends. Real friends that you find strength in. Friends that you reciprocate this feeling of pride, excitement, and overwhelming love for. Forget yourself and remember the people that are rooting for you. Those people will be the first people you hug whenever you cross the finish line.
-Me, to myself, when self doubt infiltrates my thoughts on the beautiful things God has given me.
It’s a Sunday, and I am currently making French press coffee. I have at least 20 things I need to be doing (many of them including coursework and cleaning), but I ardently miss writing so I decided to stop in the midst of my endless to-do list and do something that I truly love. I decided to write.
One of my great ambitions in this life is to show people that they can be who they are without trying to gain acceptance of the world. Through interactions, words, and actions, I hope I can be a testament to the freeing, empowering, and abundant mercy that God can shed upon a life. I was once in desperate need of worldly acceptance and affection. I deeply desired the pursuit of a boy and shaped my values, ideas, and philosophy on how to attract the people that would accept me. My entire set of values were, at one point, conformed to the eyes of the sinful world we live in. I had very little self value and self respect. I wore things that were disrespectful to my body and to my Father, I said things that didn’t reflect the values that had been instilled in me by my parents, and I was a person that had been molded by the world. I cared very little of the qualities that are valuable to life. I desired not to be seen as a woman of character and depth, but I valued the superficial and artificial acceptance of others. I settled for the promises of society and once I achieved those things, I found them empty and I found myself unhappy. I didn’t value my mind or the gifts that God had given me. I valued the way I looked and presented myself. I didn’t see importance in generosity, altruism, equality, or love-fueled sacrifices. I was blind to the truly beautiful qualities in this world. I lived a life that was shallow. I say these personal things about myself because I think I can I relate to many, many other girls right now.
It is an unfortunate circumstance that our lives are consumed by social media. I know personally that Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat subject my own thoughts to comparison of others. We see the hand-painted, perfectly edited, and flawless versions of the lives that we “follow”, and we become vaguely self-aware of our own lives. In my opinion, this type of self-awareness is extraordinarily detrimental. We see perfectly slender bodies, flawlessly applied makeup, and seemingly unshakable relationships. We see the lives we desire and our own become a shade less exciting and important. We observe achievements and success in the lives of others and our own successes become less honorary. We are captivated by comparison and begin living a watered-down version of the beautiful, unique, and meaningful life that God has given us.
I connect these two anecdotal points by this: I see many girls that I feel are where I was many years ago. Trapped by beauty and aesthetic pleasure. In the constant need of affection and love from a boy. I see women with talent and intelligence and creativity abandon it all for superficial external satisfaction. I know that social media contributes to this (because I am a victim as well!), and I just hope and pray that these beautiful, strong women are saved like I was. It is a tiring life, trying to be everything that the girl beside you is. It is hurtful. It is full of disappointments. But I’m here to tell you it truly doesn’t have to be that way. I am a living example of this!
He restores. He gives purpose. He fills you with self-love. With a love deeper, wider, and more genuine than any love you have experienced before. He replaces your yearning for acceptance with a desire to make others feel accepted and loved. He restores self-worth, self-respect, and self-values. He has given you a spiritual gift. He has given you a calling in this life. Only in restoration will you see your value to the world. I once desired worldly acceptance.
I am now restored from these empty desires. After many years of being loved the way I was supposed to be and giving the love I was called to give, I have peace. I have purpose. I have talent. I lead a meaningful life because God has shown me what matters. Not only has He given me a unique talent, but He has paved the way for so many opportunities for me. He replaced my loneliness with abundant friends. He replaced my yearning with a satisfaction. He made me valuable, and I know He has done the same for so many others. You can be beautifully complex, incredibly valuable, and perpetually loved all by being the natural, authentic you. Someone much more important than me has made that promise.