silence

As I sit in the silence of the morning–flooded by light–I think about the silence filling the world.

Silence that sifts through hospital rooms, behind masks and shields, greeting those are ill. The silence that fills the space where family should be, normally would be–now empty space reserved for a time in the future, a time hard to imagine.

Silence creeps into the house, usually filled with laughter, chatter, warmth of bodies. Now empty and alone, silence filling the space. Silence, a new and archaic friend, coming back into a noisy world. We didn’t ask for you but you are here.

Silence fills those places we live, the spaces we love–parks, malls, salons, little shops and little stores–normally full of hustle and bustle but now jam-packed with profound silence that reaches into every corner we used to be. Silence is the store owner’s biggest fear and right now, our closest friend.

So I could feel alone as I sit here in my own silence, contemplating the state of our scared, broken, anxious world.

But in my own silence I can hear the voices of others, feeling the same way I do, across the country, across the world. We sit together today, alone, with our silence so that the silence will leave our hospitals, nursing homes, clinics. We welcome silence, invite it, realizing one thing for sure:

My silence is worth one less hospital bed that goes–finally, unexpectedly, painfully–silent.

 

the hope of healing

As I reflect over the past six months on learning to become a doctor, I think of how my perspective of illness has shifted. As a healthcare worker, you see people at their most vulnerable, when they are in the greatest need. Yet throughout illness, each patient retains their identity as someone who exists outside of the hospital walls—this, to me, has become some of the most important work I do as a medical student. Looking past, reaching out, and seeing people for who they really are and what they really love. Not only seeing those attributes but also allowing people to bring their dignity, identity, and personhood into the hospital room.

I see mothers, fathers, and young people who have faced life-changing illnesses that prevent them from doing what they love in life. I see women in their 50s who have scars from breast cancer or who can’t speak in full sentences because of COPD.

I see a 70-year-old man who had an intracranial hemorrhage that damaged his sense of memory and self; I see his wife transform from a lover into a caretaker, and I hear her yearnings for a husband who once walked 30 miles with her in Europe.

I see a man, struggling with substance use, silently cry out for help behind a composed, stoic face as he searches for a solution to his suffering and pain. I hear him talk about suicide ideation in one breath and his two daughters in another.

I see a girl, near my age, who has been in the hospital for 3 months now, and I see pictures she’s painted posted up around her room with a view that spans the Charles River. It’s a beautiful view, but she wants to see anything else in the world.

I see a mother, with her two toddler sons running around the exam room listening to cartoons on iPhones, as she mourns the loss of her sister to sudden cardiac arrest. She went to sleep and never woke up.

I see a grandmother start crying as she describes the pain she feels after a fall she endured. “You can’t even understand the pain I am in!” Honestly, I can’t. I’ve probably never felt a pain like hers before—physical pain mixed with loneliness, uncertainty, and fear. She’s way stronger than I’ve ever been.

That’s where my fear comes in, the awareness of the fragility of life. I see my mother, sister, brother, boyfriend, niece and nephew, dad, grandparents, best friends, and future children in the faces of all those who suffer openly in front of me. I try to dip into their pain, to feel what they feel if only in that moment—to protect myself—but find myself overwhelmed by the emotion they bring to the conversation. I fear how a single moment can transform everything—the moment a cell becomes cancerous, or a fall becomes a brain injury, or a goodbye becomes the last one.

This confrontation with illness is new to me, and I’m still learning how I will embrace the reality that life is fragile yet somehow malleable. In the context of my own existence, it makes me realize how precious life is right now, at this moment. It encourages me to take walks, read books, call those I love, and, honestly, it sometimes makes me wonder about choosing a career that separates me from my family and hometown. There is no doubt about it: medical training is hard emotionally, socially, and physically at times. There are days of studying unimaginable hours. There are disparities and heartbreaking realities in medicine. There is powerlessness and emotional warfare.

Despite these considerations, being in medicine gives me hope. It gives me an understanding of humanity. Amidst all the suffering, pain, sadness, and illness, people are relying on their providers to give them hope. That is why the woman with breast cancer is sitting in front of me with scars that gave her cure, or the man with the intracranial bleed can walk 2 miles with his wife now instead of being confined to a chair, or that the woman with the toddlers is learning of her genetic cardiomyopathy so that she doesn’t leave her own children behind. They are given hope through the medical system, research, and intervention. More than anything, my patients teach me to have hope. They remind to align my life so that I can do those things that I would being doing if I woke up tomorrow with a life-changing illness—enjoy the sunshine, prayer and community, the arts and humanities. They also encourage me to be a part of the system that provides hope to those who feel hopeless. Yes, I see life as more fragile now than I did six months ago, but I’m also much more appreciative of what it means to be healthy and alive. I hope to continue evolving my understanding of illness, suffering, and death as I meet more people, gain more perspective, and realize the blessing of medical care.

 

thankful

Every year on Thanksgiving I try to write. This morning, I sit in the quiet of my mom’s house and bask in the beauty of silence (no honking cars or beeping in reverse trucks outside window!). I listen for the Lord, and I’m thankful. This Thanksgiving is completely different from last Thanksgiving; instead of comparing the two and justifying which is better or worse, I’ve decided to embrace the change and find joy in the present time. The other day, one of my friends defined “joy” for me: a state of hope that isn’t fleeting or conditional. Always present. I think this is why Jesus Christ reminded us so often to be joyful—in triumph, trials, and everything in between. It isn’t a moment or a person or a situation that gives us joy. It is hope. Hope for a better future, an everlasting life of no pain, fear, or anxiety. Hope that what we are doing is making a difference—whether it be trying hard every day for our children, working every day to make ends meet, praying for a concern that hasn’t yet been answered, or living a thousand miles away from those you love to become a doctor. We do it all with joy for tomorrow, that tomorrow will be better today, and we hold that hope above all else. Joy and hope keep us going.

This time last year, my future was uncertain. I was interviewing at medical schools and finishing up my last year of college, without a real sense of where I would be this time next year. I was confident in God’s plan for me and trusted Him throughout the journey. When I got into Harvard, I was over the moon, but I was also scared. It became a reality that I would be leaving my family, my boyfriend, and my home for at least four years. I worried that I would lose touch with those I love, that my niece and nephew would not remember me, that long-distance would be riddled with problems, and that I would find out I wasn’t really cut out for medicine. But like all things, God has power over tomorrow and will always provide.

This year, I’m thankful for change. It is hard, and it rubs against the grain that we’ve made in life but helps us find new places for joy. I’m thankful that God put me in Boston. I love the city (despite the cars honking and beeps in the morning), and I’ve made the most wonderful friends who are kind, compassionate, and will make important changes in healthcare. Ultimately, I’m thankful for friends who push me to become a better me. I’ve found a Christian community that reminds me to pray often, fellowship with others, and live into the freedom that God gives us. My relationship with Avery has changed as we navigate loving from a distance, and I’m so thankful for his constant support and ability to adapt as life moves around us. I’ve had to be more intentional about calling family and staying connected. I’m thankful for the long calls and FaceTime chats we have about life. I have fallen in love with medicine and thank God for helping me believe in myself. I didn’t realize the beauty of working with patients, being trusted during sometimes the scariest time of a person’s life, and having the power to really make a difference in the lives of others. I love learning about complex medical problems and having hope that new, life-saving discoveries will be made in areas like genetics, cancer, and heart disease. I’m thankful for financial stability, the ability to live in Boston and attend school, and those who so generously help me. I’m thankful that my family is healthy and well. The gift of health is fragile and fleeting, and it really is our responsibility to do what we can for as long as we can.

I’m thankful for home, both the place and the people, because without it none of this would matter. Home is where I’m grounded, renewed, refreshed, and reminded of what’s important. Home helps me remember that change comes unexpectedly at times, but joy and hope persist despite evolving circumstances. That is something to be thankful for.

thankful for the moment

I’m sitting in a hip, jazzy cafe in Palo Alto, California. I’m sipping on some water because I just indulged in a milk tea with boba that was absolutely delicious. I arrived in California this morning around 11:00am, after leaving my apartment at a shockingly early time of 3:30am (shout out of appreciation to my boyfriend, Avery, for waking up and driving me to the airport). All day, I’ve jumped from plane to plane, city to city, to finally land in this spot. This comfortable spot of sitting in a worn-out leather chair in a young and busy coffee shop in a beautiful city.

It is no accident that I’m here; it took years of hard work, focus, dedication, sacrifice, and perseverance to get to this place. It took planning, purchasing a plane ticket, organizing accommodation, and a lot of thought to get here. Yet, I keep thinking to myself, This must be a mistake. What if I show up to the interview and they say, “Sorry, we have no records of you. It must have been a miscommunication.” At least then it would all make sense. I don’t say these things to self-flatter or to self-deprecate, only to give a voice to my darkest fears in this moment. Tomorrow, though, I’m interviewing at Stanford Medical School and that is a reality I never dreamed of coming true. Flying in, over the beautiful city of San Francisco and after coming in from Los Angeles, I thought about my hometown and how drastically different this is from that. I feel like I don’t belong here, like it is all a big mistake and I’m the butt of the joke, but somehow I know this is where I’m supposed to be.

I’m overwhelmed with appreciation at how far I have come and how beautiful this moment is, like finally letting air out of a balloon that has been way too full for way too long. I never expected this moment, but I know I worked hard for it. I never felt entitled to anything but felt indebted to giving this dream everything I’ve got; I reflect on everything I’ve worked diligently for and how I have sacrificed some of the ordinary joys of a 20-something to make it this far. Those moments lost are worth it, because the feeling of accomplishment in this one is so, so sweet. I reflect back, and I feel grateful.

Grateful for the people who helped me get here, financially, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Thankful for the people who have continuously believed in me, even when I was down on myself. I’m thankful for the people who pushed me to keep going when I wanted to give up. I’m thankful for the people who let me cry on their shoulder when I needed to. I’m not in medical school yet, and I’m certainly not a doctor, but I think it is worth celebrating this moment, no matter what happens in the future.

I have no idea what will occur in the next few weeks, but right now, in a warm and inviting cafe in Northern California, I am so happy. Happy for opportunities, for growth, and for truly having the chance to chase my biggest dreams.

the tiny little birds

Saturday, March 10th, 2018. 6:55am – Watching the waves come in and the sun rise into the sky. Perfectly content.


It’s always at the beach where I remember it’s okay to write happy poems.

Writers cling to the melancholy, the alternative, the deeply emotional. Our most treasured writers were inspired by war, famine, slavery, and captivity. I appreciate these writers and their motivations. But it’s okay to write happy poems, to embrace the beautiful things in life. Though I have written my fair share of melodramatic poems and posts, I’m inspired even more by the simple beauty of life than the tragedy of it.

If you’ve ever been to the beach, you’ve probably seen those little tiny birds that roam along the shore. Not pelicans or seagulls (maybe these are the same birds) but the tiny little birds that could fit inside your hand. Those little tiny birds inspire me. As I’ve been sitting along the peaceful coast the past few days, I’ve been mesmerized by those little birds. All they do is run along the beach, chasing the waves, looking for pieces of food. They are so in sync, though. The tide comes up, they run up, the tide goes out, they run out. It’s a pattern of nature that is so simple yet captivating.

What I love most about those little tiny birds is that they are content with their purpose in life. All they do, all day long, is roam the beach to find food and to satisfy their needs. It’s incredibly simple – to me, it teaches me something. Life can become so confusing, tiring, and wearing on our hearts and minds. As a college student, I’m constantly around people who are trying to discern their life, figure out their purpose, fulfill a sometimes convoluted role they feel called to step into. I’m a part of this madness of uncertainty sometimes, questioning myself and my plans. I’ve never questioned by abilities, or what I love to do, but I certainly appropriately question the things I’m going to do. To me, questioning is a natural and important part of growing up and finding a career that you’re happy with for the long term.

But, these birds don’t care about careers or growing up. I’m not saying we are birds – but I am saying we could be more like them. This isn’t the first time that God used birds to teach a lesson. I’ve always felt like birds are strong messengers of Christ and have stories of where birds taught me something about myself.

Our purpose in life is not a lucrative, successful career, though I’m not saying that’s a bad or wrong ambition. I think we do find purpose in our work and in a meaningful vocation. The little tiny birds though, they seem to be perfectly content filling their simple, mundane role in the world. And God cares for them. He cares for them as he will care for us.

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” – Matthew 6:26-27

The little tiny birds aren’t saving the world, and they can’t showcase their trophy collection. They roam the skies – or the beaches – and the Father feeds them. I think God recognizes our need for meaningful vocation and for a purposeful life, whatever that may be to each individual person. I believe some people are called into certain areas of life more so than others and that each person is given a beautiful gift from God to use in this world. Whether or not we fulfill those requests of God – to reap and sow what we have been given – is up to us. But constant worry about those things, the type of endless, incessant worrying that I’ve experienced and observed, is not proclaimed by God. He wants us to achieve heavenly treasures, crowns of gold with the Almighty King. That should be our aim. It might be a lot simpler than we ever imagined, like being more like the little tiny birds who run along the beach and who are protected and valued by the Father. We are treasured, valued, loved. It’s as simple as that.

soaked shoes and cancelled plans

Rain blue flowers

Some see rain and they think about how the rain will soak their shoes

and hair

and clothes

and books

Some see rain and they think about how they wish they were still in bed

with a good book

with a cup of coffee

with a day away from school

Some see rain and they think about the drive to work

the walk to class

the time outdoors

the cancelled plans

Some see rain and they hate it

they despise it

they wish for it to cease

But what happens

when a forest fire

is raging and soaring and singing and thriving

And the sky is painted orange, and the ground is painted black

Could you only imagine

what would happen

if we were out there

and faintly in the distance

slowly approaching

we saw the same rain

that we had grown to dislike?

Perhaps we could see the importance,

finally,

of perspective.

illusions

I am thankful that God gave me the ability to experience beauty.
What is beauty? Where is the idea of beauty derived from? What molds our minds to think something is classified as beautiful? I am not talking about exterior, superficial beauty. I am talking about things that are truly beautiful. Truly extravagant and truly awing. This type of beauty leaves me humbled and thankful. It makes me feel small but important. It leaves me confirmed in my faith and sincerely amazed. Have you ever seen an illusionist or magician perform and leave thinking, wow that was incredible. How did that happen? What was the trick or the hidden performance that caused the illusion?
I feel this way about things that are beautiful.
The biological sciences leave me almost daily in a state of appreciation and utter awe. Every day, every second, every single millisecond, our bodies are performing some incredibly complex and intricate processes. The human body blows my mind. My biology professor, Dr. Laura Stephan, was lecturing this morning about a protein found in the mitochondrial matrix (remember from middle school, the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell!) that is so fundamental to our beings that it is a testament to the enormity and intricacy of our God. This protein, ATP synthase, is the sole proprietor for the functional energy created by our cells. This may sound like mumbo jumbo but let me elucidate – this single, microscopic molecule enables our cells to produce energy, which enables our cells to do amazing things like fight disease and fix problems in the body. I am able to write this post and think these thoughts because of a tiny, seemingly insignificant protein. I am able to laugh and enjoy apple cider and watch endless amounts of Netflix because these minuscule mechanisms within my body are functioning – and not just functioning but functioning in a way that is conducive to living and thriving. I’m sorry, maybe it’s just me, but that is beautiful. The way everything fits together so well, the way everything works at the right time and halts at the right time, the way the body has all these crazy complexities that allow me to live and breathe is absolutely awesome, in the true meaning of the word. Beauty to me is seeing how God enables our lives. He put all of those proteins in the perfect places. When I was being created in my mother’s womb, all of my cells came together in a fashion that enabled me. So much is going on in our bodies at a given time that it is almost incomprehensible. I think God works this way. He silently creates these beautiful pieces of our lives and when we are exposed to them, it takes our breath away and leaves us in awe and wonder. God has shown me the beauty that He is capable of uncovering. It makes me hopeful and excited to know that my God can make things so indefinitely beautiful.
Last night I attended a symphony at the University. I love classical music, but this was my first attendance at a true symphony with an orchestra. It was incredible. Hearing sounds created by instruments that came together in a way that seemingly flowed into a single piece caused my thoughts to navigate towards what was actually going on. Individuals on the stage were performing with their instrument, those sounds were combining with other sounds; the sounds danced around each other, and then that music traveled to my ears and I was enabled to experience the combination of it all. During the symphony I just thought to myself Thank you God for allowing these things to enrich my mind and fill my ears. This is just another form of the beauty you allow me to see. Whenever you let God take you to something beautiful, you know it. Last night was one of those moments.
Beauty is all around us. Maybe you have difficulty seeing beauty; if that’s the case, I encourage you to look for the beauty. He has placed it all around us: in the leaves, in conversation, in our bodies, in the mountains, in His merciful grace, and most prominently in ourselves. God has given you a beauty so unique to you that no one else can replicate it. He has given us the ability to recognize this beauty in others and verbally acknowledge it (I think we should utilize this ability more often). God, thank you for the beauty you have shown me. Thank you for the incomprehensible, transcending, munificent, and amazing beauty you have allowed me to see. I pray that you guys see this same beauty around you and within yourself.
Like the magician, we see only what is exposed to us. But instead of living a life of wonder and incessant pondering of unanswered questions about how the magic tricks are working, God is transparent. He lets us know that He is the illusionist behind all things beautiful and all things wonderful.