Friday, December 12, 2008

The Cedars of Lebanon

Last year, a good friend of mine invited me to his church's 14th birthday celebrations. They hired the UQ centre, and it was like one big party (the praise and worship had break dancers etc), followed by a sermon. At the end, my friend asked me whether I wanted to stay back and meet some of his friends. I wasn't extremely keen, because he wasn't the greatest person when it comes to introductions, and because I was starting to feel hot and tired... but once I saw the gigantic creamy chocolate cake they had on offer, my decision became simple.

Introducing myself to people proved rather difficult, because it was crowded and noisy, and because I'd forget people I met only seconds after I meet them, producing the rather embarrassing situation of introducing yourself to them twice. My friend stood by looking around and not being particularly helpful. (Or at least that's how I remembered it... hehe) But anyway, I digress.

"Hi, my name is Sida" I say to one guy.
"Zita, nice to meet you" he says
"No, it's Si-da"
"Sita! I'm sorry..."
"No no, SI-DA... like the Cedars of Lebanon"

At this point, my friend next to me started chuckling and looked at me sideways, but wouldn't tell me what he was laughing at. I decided not to press him, partly because it wouldn't work, and partly because if he told me I probably wouldn't have liked it anyway. What's wrong with the cedars of Lebanon? Big, tall, fragrant tree mentioned in the bible for its majestic loftiness, used to build temples and palaces. After I got home I decided to look it up in the bible to make sure.

I found that, while the bible exhalts the cedar tree in some places, there are much more passages humbling it. The latter made me feel uncomfortable and I decided not to introduce myself to Christians as the cedars of Lebanon again. All this was tucked away in my mind, until yesterday, when I realised that this tree teaches me an important lesson in this stage of my life. I guess that's the long-winded introduction to what I'm about to write about.

The Cedars of Lebanon

The cedars of Lebanon is a type of pine tree, and its many endearing qualities make it an important tree historically, culturally, and in Judaism and Islam. Light in colour, fragrant in scent, strong, hard, and resistent to insects... the Lebanese people are so proud of their tree, it's their national emblem, and occupies the central position in their national flag.

In the bible, the cedar was used by Solomon to build the temple, as well as his palace. (In fact, the bible records that he called his palace the Forest of Lebanon.) Additionally, there are many verses that praise the cedar tree for its strength and majesty, and if something was to be described as very grand and beautiful, it was described (frequently in the Song of Songs and the Psalms) as being like the cedars of Lebanon.

On the other hand, there are also many verses that describe God humbling the cedar, and showing His power and righteousness. Psalm 29:5 says: "The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon". In the books of Isaiah and Ezekiel, the prophets compare proud nations to cedars, arrogant, cruel, and standing tall above other trees, but eventually coming to a crashing burning end under divine judgement. The myriad of verses that show the cedar in this manner made me never want to say "Sida like the cedar of Lebanon" again.

Now I think about it, it does show two aspects of my life and of my psyche. On the one hand, some of my qualities have been able to be used by God in His church, and though I am nothing like the cedars, I do believe that God has shown His grace and glory through what I do. But, of late, slowly and subtly, these same qualities have made me proud, and of course, with pride comes insecurity - the constant niggling feeling that you're actually not as good as you think you are, and the fear that others may find out. I know that this pride could eventually lead me far away from God, focussing not on Him but on myself and what others think of me. My ministry would eventually become meaningless, leading to one thing - crash.

Deuteronomy 9:17-18 tells us that the good things we are gifted with or have acquired, are not just because of our ability, because even if it were, the mere ability comes from God. I may be blessed in some respects, but I should never fool myself into thinking that these are my own work... I'm on God's journey, my abilities were given to me from Him, in order to serve Him. There is no appropriate attitude to take except for complete humility and servitude to Him and to others.

I'm amazed at how much I wrote... actually on this topic right now I could go on and on and on... but it is nearly midnight, I have a stomach ache, it's so hot I can hardly breathe, and so sleep seems like a very good idea right now.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Looking at stars

Looking at stars with you this summer night
We lie facing the heavens, the dry, warm ground on our skin
The insect repellent incense fills the air with smoke and magic
"What's that star there?" you ask

I take you to a world of nebulas, clusters, black holes and supernovas,
A world so far away in space and in time, your mind cannot grasp,
And your eyes open wide with childish wonder
Somehow, you think I can name every star in the sky.

I take you to ancient Greece, where the minotaur roams,
Orion boasts with his club, and the Big Dog guards the night sky
I bring out my telescope, and show you
Pleides, and Jupiter's companions: Io, Europa, and Ganymede
And the dark side of the moon, swallowing the light

One day you will grow up, and the moon's pock-marked face will no longer allure you,
You will no longer be interested in the twinkle of the Pleides,
Or wonder what Orion is dreaming of tonight
But until that day comes, you have reminded me
Just how simple, how beautiful, and yet, how mysterious God's creation is
Do you see His glory? Can you hear His song?

Sleep now, little brother, sleep and dream
Dream of the light dancing across the infinite spaces
Of the serene nebulae and the laughing galaxies
Dream of Jason and his argonauts, of Orion and his sword,
Dream the dreams of innocence and childhood
Before the world awakens you.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Cool med words

Some cool words I have come across thus far. I like the sound of them, or the imagery they bring up when you imagine the word. A disclaimer: the meaning of some of these words are conditions or treatments that are not very cool at all, particularly if you have them.

In no particular order:

  • Radiation ablation therapy
  • Caput medusa (literally, the Head of Medusa)
  • Plethora
  • Blastocystis hominis... and all other words that have "blast" in it, like blastoma, blastocyst
  • Klebsiella (sounds like a nice name for a girl. Moraxella is not as cool-sounding, but reminds me of mozzarella cheese.)
  • All words that start with oo: oocyte, oophorectomy, oophorohysterectomy... and the most awesome of all: oosome. Oosome is just so awesome.
  • Succusian splash
  • Murphy's Kidney Punch (the name of a diagnostic physical examination technique... for some reason makes me think of some Irish pub brawl.)
  • Praecordial thump
  • Thyroid storm
  • Toxic megacolon

There were more on my mind when I was revising for my exams, but which has now left me.

Finally, I think the formidable Robbin's Textbook of Pathology deserves a special mention for its short but effective definition of dysentery: "Painful, explosive diarrhoea." The use of the word "explosive" cracks me up every time. Medicine is a production line of intellectuals with sarcastic (perhaps even cynical) dry wit, and this strange sense of humour often shows through in certain textbooks. One day I may create a small collection of some examples.

It's funny, I went shopping with some med friends the other day... and driving on the way to her house, I saw a big sign: Parkinson Learning Centre. Immediately I thought: "Parkinsonism..." At the shops, we were making comments like: "I really don't like this colour, reminds me of stearrhoea."

I guess you can take the person out of medicine but not medicine out of the person.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

So you got into medicine...

Today, a good friend of mine told me he just received great news - he got into medicine! This kid, at the tender age of 17, already knows what he wants to do with his life. Since my exam finished last week, I've been reflecting on the Year that Was, and on my experiences in medicine thus far. Having received the news from my friend, I now have an excuse to blog about it.

At the end of last year, I looked back in reflection with rose-tinted glasses and thought it wasn't that bad. This year, I reflect on the year it's been... and there is no rose-tinting. How do I begin to describe the second year of the UQ MBBS degree? It has been a labour of love, but a labour nonetheless. I could compare it to one of the tasks of Hercules - or one of those fairytales where the hero has to pass through obstacles and behead many monsters. (It was like: it can't get any worse than this, right? And then it gets worse. Repeat repeatedly through two years.) The psychological torture that is the end of the year would make any Nazi (or horror movie film maker) proud. The end of year exam was a cruel gruel of irony, cooked up in the river Styx itself, a final insult to what sanity you may have left. You enter, armed with your notes from first year, and you come out the other side, battered and bruised and bleeding, encumbered with enough notes to endanger a rare rainforest, and having lost all memory of all that passed in between (except for the pain... oh the pain!)...

In spite of all that I said about the year that was, on reflection, I still find it hard to believe how blessed I am that I am here at all. What profession is there like medicine? Few other professions offer the same rewards, but require the same sacrifices. You may have to walk through mud and slime to get there, but it is a journey I wouldn't exchange for anything else short of rock stardom. (I mean, what other profession is like medicine? It is intellectually challenging, mentally fulfilling, financially rewarding, and socially exulted. You can find those things elsewhere, but not usually all of them in one job.) So, to the young adventuring soul braving the harsh extremes that is medicine, you made a good choice. Really.

Oh yeah, by the way, it's my 22nd birthday today.

Monday, November 03, 2008

What I am going to do soon

Today is Monday. 2nd year med exams finish next Wednesday. There is... about... 9 days left before I have total freedom (unless of course I fail the exam, but I'm not even regarding that right now). I've already thought of some of the things I will do when the holidays come around...

  • Sleep and sleep and sleep
  • Spend an entire day seated in front of the piano. I've wanted to do that for such a long time, but I can only last about 2 hours before guilt sets in and I go to study.
  • Fix up the spelling mistakes in the powerpoint slides with the lyrics of hymns for church. There are quite a few typos, and it's been bugging me for ages.
  • Buy a new pair of sunglasses. Go shopping and contribute to the betterment of our economy by burning some plastic.
  • Exercise the leftover caffeine out of my system. (Well... I don't really like exercise so that's probably not going to happen. But it's a nice thought.)
  • Watch the entire series of 三国演义 (Romance of the Three Kingdoms) again for possibly the 10th time. Cry like I always do when 子龙 crosses the enemy lines with the baby. Stop watching when 诸葛亮 dies cos after that it's just not worth watching anymore.
  • Get my hair cut.
  • Go check out Woop-woop, where I have been allocated to next year.
  • Work and try to save some money for Woop-woop. I'll probably spend most of my time doing this actually... sigh...
  • Blog.

Coming soon to this blog:

  • Some humorous (or just cool) words in medicine
  • Some thoughts on worship
  • Our School Of Medicine's spectacular mess of a clinical-schools-allocation-scheme... the result of which is that I've been sent to Woop-woop next year. More on this later.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Job and his friends

"I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all!" says Job to his friends. [Job 16:2 (NIV)]

Boy, I sure can imagine what Job felt when he said those words. To cut a long story short, I recently felt broken-hearted and disillusioned at something, and tried to speak to a friend about it, only to have it turned (somehow) into a theological argument. Of course it wasn't entirely his fault (and, for the most part, he was in the right), but Job 16:2-4 described my feelings entirely... my friend was not able to give me much comfort, but thinking of Job did. Reading the book of Job this morning brought me back to faith; and reminded me what it's all about. I remembered that I had wanted to write a blog about Job since the start of this year, but med got in the way... so here it is now.

Who is Job, and why does he puzzle us the way he does? Job is one of the oldest books of the bible, and describes a man who went from a life of prosperity and comfort, to an existence of excruciating physical, mental, and spiritual suffering. God's hand in his suffering, Job's responses, and the responses of his friends, make Job a very confronting and challenging book. Job is indeed intriguing, but unnerving, and not all Christians like the book. The book of Job offers no answers to our pain and sufferings, and so there is no way I can fully understand or explain Job... but I will make an attempt to explain what I get out of it and why it has comforted me today.

Job begins unlike other books of the bible - we are given a "behind-the-scenes" look at Job and what is about to happen, before we meet Job himself. God and Satan (literally, The Accuser) meet, and God says: have you seen my man Job? There is no one like him, he is blameless and upright." Satan's response? "Only because you have blessed him with so much! Take all his possessions away from him, and he will curse you to your face!"... God then allows Satan to "test" Job by taking away first his possessions, then his family and his health. [Job 1-2]

Philip Yancey mentioned in several of his books, that from the outset it is apparent that Job is on trial here, being tested. What is at stake? The glory of God... Satan effectively accused God of being loved only for the material comforts He provides, and not for God himself. It is like saying to a boy: your girl only loves you because you buy her nice things. Stop buying her nice things, and she will curse you to your face.

We are then taken to the scene where Job is sitting, alone, and covered in painful sores. Three of his friends come along, and instead of giving words of mercy, they give words of "wisdom" -- Job must have sinned for these bad things to happen, so therefore Job should confess to God and appeal for forgiveness. Either Job sinned, or God is not just. The former must be true (the friends imply), since the latter is undeniably false.

They found themselves faced an unrelenting Job, confronting them with pain and suffering that they were not able (and perhaps not willing) to understand. Job insisted he was innocent, and yearned for a "hearing" with God, although, Job admits, he can not make God answer, and besides, God is perfect, and how do you have a hearing with a perfect being? C. S. Lewis said that we have a tendency to put God on the dock, on trial, for an explanation for our suffering... and I guess this is an example.

In some ways I can relate to Job, even though our situations are vastly different. I am capable of being very stubborn in my decisions, my reasoning, and my arguments... and often I'm even stubborn in being inconsolably hurt. Like Job, I have high expectations of my friends... and like Job, I also sometimes lament that having this relationship with God is unlike any other relationship. With a friend, I'd put their strange actions down to various idiosyncrasies - it is much easier to forgive someone who is not perfect. With God, what is there to forgive?

I'm going to skip a large chunk of the book and skip straight on to the ending. A storm brews, and God speaks out of the storm. God does not tell Job his reasons (does God need to explain himself to a mortal?), but only merely reminded Job of His majesty and perfection. Were you there when the universe was formed? Does the waves and the mountains come at your call? Who are you, then, to want a hearing with God? Job did not need to hear any explanations, this reminder of God's omnipotence was enough. Job repented, his friends were rebuked by God, and Job's health, family, and wealth were restored to him. We are reminded that this journey was never about proving God's faithfulness, it was about Job's. Even though Job's life and fortunes were restored, I get the feeling that he'd never see things in the same light again.

I guess, for me, this is the crux of the story. I could wallow in my self-pity obstinately (and I am quite adept at that sort of thing), wonder why God doesn't answer back, or what the logic and reason is for the way things happen (I am also quite adept at trying to use logic on things that I shouldn't)... but I won't get an answer, and there isn't much point in scrutinising God to look for clues. Like Job, I need to realise that God is not the one on trial, God is not the one tested. I am.

As an interesting aside, Job verbalises our need for Christ. Job wishes that there were an intercessor between God and himself, to plead his case for him (Job 9:32-33, Job 16:20-21). We see many cases of Christ being our arbiter - the classic example being: Forgive them, they know not what they do. (Luke 22:34). Job also wonders if God knows how he feels. "Do You have eyes of flesh? Do you see as a mortal sees?" (Job 10:4).

The answer to which, is yes. Christ came in the flesh, and suffered greater suffering than we ever did.

(Yay, it's out of my system now. 00:34 am. Time for my beauty sleep, I think.)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Hannah's prayer

In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD... As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk, and said to her, "How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine." 

"Not so, my lord," Hannah replied, "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief."

Eli answered, "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him."

She said, "May your servant find favour in your eyes." Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.

I've always wondered what exactly Hannah said to God on that day, what exactly passed in between them. Perhaps not much, since the answer to her prayers came only after she left the temple. But either way, something in that temple comforted her. She entered that place, grieved in heart, not even able to eat... and left the place no longer downcast. What happened in between?

I imagine, actually, that many Christians have had this experience. Left with no where else to turn, we come to God with bitterness and tears. We cry, we complain to God, we appeal to God for mercy, strength, or perhaps a miracle. We cry until we are too worn out to continue. At the end of this, God still has not given us a substantial reply. Perhaps God is even silent through our wailing... but somehow, we are comforted, and we see hope.

Hmm, I don't actually know where I am going with this. I guess this is a testimonial of sorts. I have been very bitter lately... well, not bitter as such, but... upset might be a better word. I have reached the stage where medicine is no longer interesting, where motivation is at an all-time low, but there is so much to memorise (so much!) but no will to do it. Not just studying, but even other things connected with med, like tutoring, and going to any of the classes.

Even though I complain about med so much here in my blog, this is pretty much the only avenue into which I pour my complaints. Apart from other medical students, no one really knows what it is like, and find most people it hard to sympathise anyway. I try not to complain too much to other students, because then that would just start a cycle and we will stress each other out. So I guess, all this has been bottling up a bit, and one night, at about midnight, it came out, trickling at first, then a gush.

I didn't pray for as long as Hannah did; I think exhaustion took over shortly after I switched the light off to pray. I sat on my bed hugging my knees as the stresses, demands, and hormones (because that is also such an important factor in females) all came to the surface... and then, I was able to sleep, reminded that there is One who is capable of everything I'm not.

The following morning, when I was reading the bible, the tears nearly came back as I read in passage after passage of God's promises for me. I guess, like Hannah, God hasn't given me an immediate and direct reply. But God has given me a bit more strength to wait a while longer for His right time.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Some updates

I realised I have not blogged for a long time, over a month in fact... there was no specific reason, I've just been busy... so busy that I have not had a chance to stop and realise how much I've got to complain about.

Our beloved School of Medicine (note sarcasm) has let the 2nd year medical students have a week off this week. I guess if they didn't do that they would be accused of unethical conduct. It certainly wouldn't reflect well upon UQ if someone wrote a scathing letter to the editor of some newspaper... or indeed if some acopic medical student jumped off a tall building.

This week off isn't a holiday as such, it just means that we are not forced to attend any lackluster classes, which means all the more time to catch up on study. Having given some thought to the list of things I have got to do this week, I am now feeling pressured enough to blog.

Alright that's enough complaining about med... in life, things like med happens, and you've just got to deal with it, one day at a time if necessary. (Such wise words from someone who is wasting her time blogging...)

Apart from med I guess my life is going along as per normal... in other words, at a halt. It's rather pathetic the way med takes such a large chunk of my life. I have not seen my friends in weeks (those friends outside church that is), I have to turn my brother down when he says "can you read with me", and romance is a mythical concept that happens to other people. Well actually the lack of romance I can't entirely blame med, there is also my caustic sarcasm and lack of conformity to the attractive stereotype of gentle femininity. Hmm, perhaps I can blame those things on med too...

Good grief, I'm complaining again. I'd like to say that I have so many things on my mind, but in reality I have very little, and a great chunk of it is med. Med assessments, to be precise. Med is great fun, if only there were no assessments.

I was the interpreter again this Sunday, my second time. I wouldn't say it went well, but I guess it was not a complete disaster. People seem to think that my stumbling block is my nerves, when in fact my stumbling block is a defective brain. (A friend in med once said that others think that he is a genius simply because he is in med, and he wonders what will happen when people find out that he's no different to others of his age. As for me, the sooner they find out the better. But for some reason many people are still unconvinced... I don't really understand why they must be so stubborn about it.) I suck at it, but even then I have not made any funny memorable mistakes (which is rather sad). My mentor, who has been doing this for years, once said while up on the podium that a colostomy links the intestines to the bladder. Unfortunately only he and I got the joke.

Speaking of my mentor, I was really quite annoyed with him yesterday. When other people are just starting to be an interpreter, he sits in the front and prompts them if there are words they don't know how to translate, or to simply smile encouragingly and supportively. Not so while I was up there. Each time I looked at him, he was looking elsewhere, and it became apparent that he was avoiding my eyes. (I mean, no one stares at the ceiling like that, unless they are taking a Bachelor degree in Ceiling Studies.) When I came across difficult words, I have to guess. According to him, he sees me being nervous, and that makes him nervous, and so he looks away. This reasoning is defective for two reasons - firstly, no one cares if he is nervous, and secondly, if he doesn't help me it will make me even worse. I decided to not argue with him, but in the true female spirit, I remained annoyed. (Even though I like to think that, unlike the stereotypical female, I had logic and reason on my side.)

In the end I decided that it matters very little, because I was supposed to be relying on the grace of God, not the grace of The Mentor. He can take his Bachelor of Ceiling Studies with Honours in Looking Around Nonchalantly, and it won't make any difference... I have God on my side, and if there are words I can't translate I'll just flash my oh-so-charming smile. Ha! Take that!

Hmm, it appears I have ran out of things to complain about. Except to say, I have a craving for calamari. I really don't know where I get these cravings from...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

On service, interpreting, and chocolate

"Be dressed for service, and keep your lamps burning." - Luke 12:35. It's funny, because when I read this, I immediately thought Jesus meant to dress in your best. Lately there has been some emphasis in our church about wearing our best clothes to church (with some ambiguity as to what exactly that means... apparently, my most prized pair of jeans doesn't count), especially if you are going to serve in any ministry. I was wondering at the time whether I needed to wear a suit for translation... the pastors and the other translators wore suits, but they are all men. So I read on, hoping Jesus would tell me whether to wear my suit or a normal jacket.

There was some confusion before I realised Jesus meant to dress like a servant. It does not solve my immediate problem of to-suit-or-not-to-suit, but it did remind me that, in reality, it is trivial. I needed to put aside my proud notions of looking good or seeming intelligent before everyone, and instead take on the heart of a servant. The attitude of servitude, so to speak. Pride is such an easy trap to fall into. (By the way, I didn't wear the suit, but I wore a denim blazer that looked like a suit anyway.)

Today was the big day, where I stood up at the podium with the pastor, and interpreted his words into English. The sermon lasted about an hour, but for me it seemed like at least 2 hours. If I were to evaluate my performance, I would have to say I sucked. I didn't know what St Augustine was in Chinese (I guessed, but by the time I realised it was too late), and interpreted some parts in a really strange way. My Chinese simply isn't good enough, I think. On the other hand, after the service nearly everyone in the church approached me to tell me I did well. Being a self-critical type of person, I take these praises with a grain of salt, but I also refuse to let me put me down. The experience had my sympathetic nervous system firing on all cylinders, and I had the tremors toward the end of the service. I've now come down from my high, and am confronted with a massive headache and an unquenchable thirst. Kids, don't try this at home.

Now that I've had some time to think about it, it really is a blessed thing to be interpreting at church. If God's message is spoken through the pastor, then the interpreter also is an outlet of God's word, a channel through which God's word flows. It is the next best thing to being the pastor himself - the privilege of being an outlet for the word of God, without the toil of seminary training.

As for the chocolate... it is the other thing I'm craving, aside from water and sleep. I don't think there is any proper chocolate in the house, and I can't be bothered going out to get some. I'm sure that if I look hard enough, I will find a chocolate biscuit. It's out there, somewhere, I know it.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A conversation with my brother

"Hey, are you going to have babies when you're older?" he asks

"I don't know. I guess if I get married I might." I reply

"Oh, right. Hey! I've never thought about this, but how do married people make babies?" He asks, "You can get married, but where does the baby come from?"

I stared at him, and couldn't hold back my laughter. He is 10 years old, and obviously his innocent mind is still untainted by modern media. How does one answer this question?

"E-bay." I said.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Barry Marshall to visit UQ

I received an e-mail today that would have given me a heart attack, were I not so meticulous about my diet and exercise (ha!). Barry Marshall is coming to visit UQ later this month to give a public lecture. Barry Marshall is coming to my campus.

For those who don't know, Barry Marshall is a Nobel Prize laureate for his contributions to medicine - specifically, for his role in the discovery of the Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which lead to the effective treatment of peptic ulcer disease - a painful and potentially dangerous disease which has plagued mankind ever since Man were given stomachs.

Last year, in March, I wrote a blog article entitled "If I Ever Meet Dr Barry Marshall" ... about his discovery and how crazy he must have been. I think I also wrote something about what I'd do if I ever meet him. I think I said something about giggling. <cringe>... This particular article caught the eye of Professor Marshall himself, and he got his staff to contact me to send me some memorabilia. This is all very good, but now he is coming to UQ!

I wonder if he remembers my blog. Probably not, but then, what if he does? If I were in his position, it would give me unspeakable joy to see what this girl would really do. It feeds my strange sarcastic sense of humour. I can only hope that he is not like me and has forgotten all about it, although, how much normality can you expect from a man who drank bacteria in a self-experiment? I better stop right here before I get myself into more trouble. The self-experiment did save lives, and it wasn't that crazy a decision given the gravity of the situation.

I think I will go and listen to this public lecture, but I'm don't think I will approach him afterwards, and if anything happens, I'm going to deny everything. The thought does occur that having contacts or knowing people (or pretending to know people) like Professor Marshall may be beneficial in some way. I could do what Sharon Stone did, and say things like "... my good friend Professor Marshall..." (Sharon Stone did it to the Dalai Lama) ... but it seems kind of like cheating, and besides, people would ask me how I know him, and that must be avoided at all costs.

Let this be a lesson to us all. It is embarrassing to write about Nobel Prize laureates and other famous people who are still alive. Save it for people like Einstein, Marie Curie, Mendel, Plato, and the like. Jesus is alive, but at least Jesus isn't going to come and deliver a public lecture at your campus.

Or will he? *shift eyes suspiciously*

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Some updates

I've passed my mid-year exam. Not brilliantly, but I don't really mind. A pass is sufficiently brilliant, in my mind. I'm really thankful that my other commitments haven't gotten in the way of my grades or my career. I trusted God, and He didn't let me down.

I have taken on an extra ministry at church. Our church is a "bilingual" one - the preacher speaks in Chinese, and there is an interpreter who then translates the sermon into English. I will be taking on this role (as the interpreter, that is, not the preacher). I'm very nervous about it... I'm still not sure if my Chinese is good enough (I suspect not), or indeed if my knowledge of the Bible is good enough (I strongly suspect not). My first time is 13th of July, in about 2 weeks time. I've only been rostered twice between now and September, and each time I will be interpreting for the easiest pastor in the church (he speaks slowly and clearly and somewhat even repetitively). But in spite of all these things, I strongly suspect that I will be making a huge fool of myself.

But that's ok, I will be a fool for Christ.

I'm really feeling quite happy lately. Something which has bothered and hurt me on and off for a long time (well over a year, probably a year and a half or more) finally no longer has an effect on me. I'm not going to elaborate on the details here (that would be too painful, I think)... but suffice to say, I feel like a weight has been lifted. In fact I feel like an episode of my life is drawing to a close. Praise to God, who gives me liberation.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

He Wishes For The Cloths of Heaven

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

HAD I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

-William Butler Yeats (1865 - 1939)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mid year exam

Mid year exam is over. It was a very strange exam, almost eerie. As if the devil himself searched my brain, made a list of all the things I didn't focus on or hadn't memorised, and wrote an exam on it.

In general I think I would have passed, although I doubt I did very well. Strangely, I don't really care that much. I'm feeling rather numb about the whole thing. They were right, 2nd year med is the hardest year. They say it scars you for life. I guess I might have underestimated the whole thing.

Oh well. No point in guessing until the results come out. Time to get on with my one-week break.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Pentecost

This Sunday is the Sunday of the Pentecost... (as well as Mother's day, that is). Pentecost is a date in the Christian calendar, and marks what is regarded as the birth of the Christian church.

Let me tell you a little about the background, first. Jesus was crucified during the Passover time, and rose from the dead 3 days later. He stayed with the disciples for 40 days, teaching them, and charging them with spreading the news of the salvation. He commanded his disciples to stay in Jerusalem, and wait for the rather mysterious and elusive gift of the Holy Spirit... and with this Holy Spirit, they will be his witnesses in Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. Having communicated this, Jesus was taken up to the heavens before their very eyes. I'll use the bible's own words to describe what happened next...

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

This phenomenon, of course, was not to go unnoticed. Jerusalem at the time was filled with devoutly Jewish pilgrims from "every nation under heaven" (Pentecost is the Jewish feast of Shavuot, which marks the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people). Parthians, Medes, Romans, Arabs, and people from many other nations (Acts 2:9 lists them all) could hear the disciples speaking in their own languages. In wonder, they asked one another: "What does this mean?" In boldness, Peter arose and explained to the crowd the purpose for the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. In that single day, 3000 people believed and were baptised... and this is the birth of the movement that continues to this day, some 2000 years later.

The changes in the believers are stark. The disciples and the few other believers were a strange mix of fishermen, tax collectors, ex-prostitutes, and even one lady who was the wife of an aristocrat.  At the sentencing and crucifixion of their master, fear struck their hearts, and all were scattered away... Peter even denied Christ three times. (How interesting it is that only the ladies remained!) When Christ was resurrected, not all of them believed it at first, and some of them didn't even recognise him when they saw him. I wonder what they must have felt, meeting together, not knowing exactly what to expect.

The bible describes the Holy Spirit as "tongues of fire"... what ever it was, it certainly lit them up like fire. Fearlessly, and on the spot, they proclaimed their faith knowing full well that they are proclaiming it to the very people who crucified their master. Not only that, their confidence was so strong that they were willing to be subjected to martyrdom for their faith. Previously slow in understanding Jesus' teachings and parables, they were able to preach it all around the world (well, the Roman world anyway). A small, haphazard mix of believers were suddenly empowered both in numbers as well as in spirit... able to reach all walks of life. (Not to mention the miraculous deeds they were able to do.)

The story marks the birth of the Church, a church that Jesus said not even the gates of hell can overcome. In a way, Pentecost is a symbol of what happens to each believer too, albeit in a more subtle way. A life is transformed by the gift of the Holy Spirit, the fire of heaven sets us alight, and we are never the same again. It changes us, such that, even though we are still imperfect, we have part of God inside of us... leading us, comforting us, empowering us.

As an interesting aside, the story of Pentecost contains one of my favourite verses of the bible. When the disciples were struck by the Holy Spirit, some people laughed at them and said "they have had too much wine.". In reply, Peter said: "These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning!" (Acts 2:14).

I'll leave you to figure out why that amuses me so much.

By the way, if you are interested, the story of Pentecost is described in Acts, chapters 1-2.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Please, do not smoke.

The following poem was inspired by the people I've seen outside the Princess Alexandra Hospital, and composed on the bus on the way home.

Please, do not smoke. It is simply vile.
Don't tell me you don't know what it does do your body;
Even my 10 year old brother knows.
You go to the gym, go on a diet, buy health foods, and complain about the city smog...
Don't do this to yourself. Please, just don't smoke.

You walk out of the hospital, and you want to light up.
Look behind you... nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, radiation therapists
Radiographers, sonographers, dieticians, counsellors,
Cardiologists, pulmonologists, hepatologists, oncologists, gastroenterologists, surgeons...
They all work long hours, on weekends, on call...

All to deal with the complications of your choices.
Have some respect for their work... please, don't smoke outside the hospital.

You are pregnant, a new life living inside of you
You are the picture of feminity, of hope, and of beauty, and you know it...
For your baby you take folate, vitamins, iron, iodine, calcium, magnesium, potassium
... Fish oil, raspberry leaf, and some Chinese herbal thing you don't recall the name of.
You daydream about your little bundle of joy... you wouldn't want anything to go wrong

So, please, don't smoke if you're pregnant.

You are a parent, and you finally understand your own parents
You make sure they are vaccinated against everything...
Diphtheria, Varicella, measles, mumps, rubella, polio...
Meningococcal C, Pneumococcus, Tetanus, Hep B, and H. influenzae B...
You drive them to soccer practice, to piano lessons,
You make sure they eat their veges, don't watch too much TV...
You wouldn't poison your children. So, please, don't smoke around the little ones.

Yes, I know it's hard to quit. But some things are harder to deal with
Like cancer, peptic ulcers, stroke, and rotten teeth...
... and living with only one leg.

Yes, I know Sharon Stone and Leonardo Di Caprio looked sexy in those movies with a cigarette
But, let's face it. They look sexy anyway.
As for you, my dear, you are not Sharon Stone, nor are you Leonardo Di Caprio,
And I will be quite frank, a cigarette... will not help that much, in your case.
So please, just don't smoke.

Don't smoke.
Don't smoke if you are just outside the hospital.
Don't smoke if you are pregnant.
Don't smoke if you have children.
And, if you are outside the hospital, and pregnant, with a young child...
... just don't do it.

QUITLINE: 131848

Inspired by a lady I saw outside the hospital, brandishing her baby bump with pride, holding the hand of a little girl, and a cigarette in the other hand.

I havn't written a poem since school. I hope this didn't bore you too much. At least it was fun to write, hehe

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Coming soon...

I haven't blogged for well over a month, which I think is probably a new record for me.

I've been well, generally speaking. Just busy, very busy.

Next Sunday is the Pentecost, look for a post about the Pentecost (to complete the series... in this series (which came about more or less by accident) are... Christmas, Lent, and Easter. What is next in the Christian calendar? I'll figure it out.)

Also coming soon (as soon as I can gather my thoughts and put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, so to speak) is a short (or maybe long?) treatise on Job, who fascinates and puzzles Christians and non-Christians alike.

Will post again soon(-ish)


Friday, March 21, 2008

The glory of a King

"This is Jesus... In His glory... King of heaven, dying for me" - Tim Hughes, in the song See His Love

I recall, not so long ago, watching a Chinese TV drama based on the life of the first emperor of the Han dynasty, Liu Bang (Chinese 刘邦). Like most TV drama series based on historical personalities, it greatly dramatised and elaborated on actual events and legends. Anyway, there was one episode that showed the great emperor in one of his most spectacular defeats early on in his military career. All his 500,000 soldiers had been killed in battle, and he himself had been pursued. His wife and two children had fled (or been captured, I can't remember which), and the only man with him was one of his personal body guards, a young man of about 20.

In the story, the young bodyguard protected the king through enemy lines, and fled with him until they were on a mountain, until he could not go any further. He revealed that he had 2 or 3 arrows in his back, and now that he was dying, his only regret was that he could protect the king no longer.

The king held the dying young man in his arms, and looked down the mountain at the landscape strewn with the bloodied bodies of his 500,000 men.

"Their blood is on my hands," the king cried, "your blood is on my hands. What kind of king am I? All who follow me are dead, how will I ever face the world again?"

"No. Your majesty, you are not a failure." the young man said with his last breath. "Look around - all these 500,000 died for you, for your glory. Look around, this is your glory."

I remembered this scene today when I was at our Easter service today. This is the story of a king, whose glory is shown in the 500,000 men who were willing to die for him... the complete opposite of the story of Easter, where the glory of the king is that he was willing to die for his subjects.

The glory, the power, and the kingdom, for ever. Does a king ever die for his subjects? Does the death of a king ever get termed glorious? What kind of king dies for his subjects? A king who loves his subjects more than his pride or glory. And God knows we don't deserve it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Crucifying Christ

Imagine... imagine that it is AD33, the week preceding Passover.

You are a devout Jewish pilgrim, celebrating the feast in Jerusalem. The city is crowded at this time of the year - not only with people, but with animals and carts. By the side of the streets there are merchants and peddlers, advertising their goods above the noise of the crowd, trying to take advantage of this busy season. Looming somewhere in the background are Roman soldiers, on their guard against disturbances and possible revolts. Their presence remind you that the holy city is under occupation, and the survival of your race is an act of lenience from Caesar.

Down the street you hear a hubbub - people of all shapes and sizes were singing and shouting and waving palm branches. It was a procession of some sort, and in the middle of the crowd was a man seated on a donkey. This was the famous teacher from Nazareth, charismatic and gentle, and yet with the authority to rebuke demons and raise the dead. There was even talk that he was the Messiah... You'd heard about this man, and along with everyone else on the street, you rush forward and crane your neck for a closer look. The procession and the crowd had the Roman guards looking at each other with anxious faces, but they needn't have worried - for as you craned your neck, you notice the strange man was weeping. You don't catch everything he muttered, but you hear the words "they will dash you to the ground." With these bleak words, you wonder how he could be the messiah.

Over the next few days, you take care to come and listen to this teacher, this radical - and his teachings left you feeling disillusioned. First he went to the temple and overturned tables and benches, then he kept talking in parables, some of which did not make logical sense. How could a king ever invite beggars to a wedding banquet? How could two small copper coins offered into the temple treasury (by some widow) ever be "more" than the vast riches donated by others? He condensed all the laws and prophets into two sentences, insulted the Pharisees and teachers of the law, and referred to the Almighty God of Abraham as Daddy. Most alarming of all was this allegation to be the Messiah. This fleshly man, impoverished, ever under the watchful eyes of the Roman officers, preaching his messages of sacrifice and meekness - how could he save your nation? Where was his army? Where is his power? He said the Kingdom of Heaven was near - but all you could see around him were his disciples (an unlikely team of fishermen and tax collectors) and the outcasts of society (the lepers, the disabled, and the "sinners"). This is not the messiah you and your people have imagined and hoped for, this meek earthly creature could not be the Son of God or indeed the Son of Man. You refuse to believe it, and anyone who stated otherwise was blasphemous, insulting both your traditions and your God.

This blog post is getting long and wordy, so I'll end my narrative there. I think everyone knows what happened next - the teacher from Nazareth was betrayed by one of his disciples, imprisoned, denied by another disciple, and crucified. He was blameless, but he died for our sins, he died because of our sins.

I'd always thought that if I were there, I'd be different. Why did they crucify him? Why did Judas betray him? How could Peter deny him? How could the crowd turn their back on him so fast? And how could Pilate wash his hands of the whole matter with a clean conscience? I always thought the story was strange, for I would have never done those things, and neither would most of my friends.

But now that I think of it - who was I to be judgemental of the Pharisees, or Judas, or Peter? If I were in their positions, would I have been more righteous, more faithful, more wise? If I had been in their shoes, if I was in Jerusalem in AD33, I might well have thought what they thought, felt what they felt, and done what they did. I might have been one of those who threw stones at him, who sneered at him, who dared him to come off the cross. If I were there, I might well have crucified Christ.

What happened that day, when Jesus was crucified, was not one man's destruction and betrayal brought about by a few men who sinned. No, because that man was not any man, and because we all have the capacity in us, the nature in us, to do what those sinners did. And thus, the Son of God was pinned to our torture device, and we pinned our sins on to him.

Today, we can not gloat at those sinners of AD33 - because their sins live on, in each one of us. People continue to proudly refuse to recognise Christ, like the Pharisees of old. People see but do not accept, like Judas, and like Peter, people lose sight, lose faith, and lose courage. In fact, Hebrews 6:4-6 gives us the frightening scenario of us crucifying Christ all over again.

In spite of the timelessness and universality of our sins, we find hope in the Lamb that we crucified. With his last breaths he prayed for our forgiveness, and even more wondrously and mercifully, he came back to us (no post-traumatic stress disorder there!). He came back to his disciples to reinstate them, with outstretched arms he forgave all wrongs and cleansed all stains. He knows what we did, how much we hurt him. Yet his hand reaches down, offering to us more than we could ever deserve or imagine.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


Damn, my mentor was right. Giving up MSN was certainly not a very practical idea. I've just been trying to arrange a meeting time with my first years, and it is so much more difficult to do it via email. Not only that, giving up MSN means that I have no contact with my friends... so that when I do see them, I have verbal diarrhoea, and can't stop talking... ("my first years ask all these hard questions... tropical diseases are so interesting... I nearly cried when I looked up google images of marasmus...")

Of course, the stubborn part of me says: but it's only been one week, there is not that long left to go, are you going to stop now, you quitter? .... But of course, that's just me being stubborn for the sake of being stubborn, the original high and lofty ideas of Lent are gone out the window... in the process of seeking, the goal is lost.

So he was right. Why is he always right? Of course, mentors are supposed to be always right, but not when I disagree with them... lol

Sunday, March 02, 2008


I was driving to church today when I heard on the radio a woman briefly mention Lent in her message. She said that she was giving up bread during the period of Lent, and each time she reaches for bread she thinks about Jesus. I guess it succeeds in reminding her to keep God on her mind throughout the day, but my scientific mind couldn't help but tick over and wonder about her carbohydrate and fibre intake during these 40 days.

I didn't actually know anything about Lent before I heard this radio message, except once I read in a novel a character pondered whether it was appropriate to enjoy chocolate during Lent. I looked it up once I got home from church - basically it is supposed to emanate the forty days Jesus spent in the desert. Christians thus attempt to put themselves into a sort of "wilderness", where time is spent in reflection, soul-searching, fasting, and prayer. It is supposed to be a time when you rededicate yourself, and, I suppose, clear your life of worldly clutter.

While seated in church, I wondered what I give up during Lent, mainly as an experiment. Perhaps caffeine? No, no way. I thought of a few other things (sugar, chocolate, rice) but finally I came up with the answer - MSN instant messenger. MSN has become part of my daily life - I log on when I switch on my computer (and I switch it on as soon as I get home or more or less when I get up), and I leave it running while I study. There are times when I would come home from bible-study, exhausted but with every intention to do squeeze another hour or so of productive study into the evening, only to spend it procrastinating on MSN. The thing about MSN is that if you leave it running in the background, you check periodically to see who is online and chatting to your friends always seem more interesting than haematopoietic proliferative disorders. If I give up MSN - imagine! My study will be so much more efficient - more time for my family, my friends, and my God!

I was actually quite proud of my idea, which I announced to my mentor while lining up to receive communion. I was expecting some delight and congratulations; I was quite miffed to find that he seemed to think the idea ridiculous.

"Can't you do something practical?" he said, somewhat icily. "Give up chocolate or something. You will be isolated, you'll loose touch with everyone, and everyone will forget about you." With that, he turned his back to me. I didn't pursue the issue further: you weren't supposed to talk when receiving communion and his parents (his father is one of our pastors) were right behind us.

Now that I think about it, I can sort of see his point. It seems like a frivolous gesture, without practical application (he doesn't know how much it interferes with my work I guess) -- self-punishment for the sake of it. He is very much against self-punishment and Christians denying themselves of joy for no good reason. Why give up bread, when it is the staple of the Western diet? How else are you going to get the carbohydrate and fibre - eat cereal at every meal? Jesus may have experienced forty days in the wilderness, but the gospels of Matthew and Luke describes him being lead by the Spirit into the desert. In our lives we often enough go through trials and temptation - there seems little need to walk into it ourselves.

While I do not think that giving up a staple food is necessarily a good idea, the general concept, I find, is commendable - because isn't discipline also one of the Christian values? If I can not resist the temptation to log on to MSN (and see if my mentor is online, and debate with him about this issue), then how will I face the much greater temptations? If I can discipline myself to do the trivial, surely the meaningful will also come easier. Naturally, it would be ideal if I prayed and reflected and meditated without needing to discipline myself to do it. But the fact is that I am flesh, and if I do as I wished, it would most likely not be the right thing.

Of course, the topic has now moved away from Lent, to discipline and self-denial. Lent, we are told, is much more than the giving up of your favourite food. It is a sort of isolation away from the distractions of this world so that you can reflect and look toward God and the joy and peace that comes from looking toward God. That sounds even better - although of course how well it works is another matter. Like the character in the novel, one can easily turn to think of Lent as something to endure rather than enjoy - a time when chocolate seems inappropriate and one is supposed to live in solemn austerity. As much as God delights in us spending personal time with him, I'm sure we are supposed to do it because we like it, not because it's Lent and that's what one is expected to do during Lent.

While I'm not sure how good I will be at praying and reflecting, I will try my best to avoid MSN until Easter (I was quite embarrassed to find, after I looked it up when I got home, that Lent has already started, on the 8th of February). I'm not sure how well it will work - the temptation is very great right now, and perhaps sometime mid-week I'll come up with some excuse to log in. Perhaps, with all the time that I will now save, I can read more bible and reflect more.

Unless, of course, I spend the time blogging, like I am doing now. Sigh.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

My testimony - epilogue

I just got home from church - I gave my testimony today.

It was horrible. I don't think I make a very good public speaker at all. I umm'd and ahh'd and went too fast and skipped over bits that I probably shouldn't have. I think I was in too much of a hurry to leave the stage.

Some others, at the end of their testimony, had a "closing message", like the moral of the story or something. I didn't really - I just told my story and said "that's all" and squirmed.

But I guess that's all I needed, to tell my story. The bible tells a story of a man born blind, who was healed by Jesus. Some told him that he couldn't have been healed by a sinner, but the man said: "Whether he is a sinner or not, I do not know. One thing I do know - I was blind but now I see!" - the most powerful tool he had was not carefully planned arguments or theories but the plain truth of his experiences.

Maybe I should have got up there, and said: "I was blind, but now I see!"... then sit down again. Would probably have been better than the waffle of incoherent crap that came out of my mouth, haha.

O well. Maybe it will mean they won't make me do it again.

Friday, February 29, 2008

My testimony

I have been asked to give my testimony tomorrow at the youth group gathering at our church. I didn't particularly want to do it (does anyone want to do this sort of thing?), but I take it the very fact that I was asked indicates that the youth leaders were running out of fresh blood.

This of course gets me thinking about what exactly I should say at my testimony, and indeed what actually lead me to become a Christian all those 1.5 years ago. I don't quite understand how others seem to be able to give a concise, almost structured testimony. Some seem to be able to give it as though it were a narrative. But for me, my conversion was not a step-by-step process. Rather, it was a number of factors that contributed. My conversion was multi-factorial, like cardiovascular disease or osteoporosis.

The short version of how I became a Christian, is that one day I picked up a bible, and read it. Then I went to church, and then I decided to get baptised. Of course, there were a number of reasons I picked up the bible, a number of ways the bible touched me and lead me to start going to church, and a number of reasons I made the final commitment.

I left China with my parents when I was 9, and we lived in New Zealand for 5 years. Almost as soon as we arrived in New Zealand, various friends would take my parents (and me) to churches, and it was there that I first became acquainted with Christianity. I was too young to understand what it was all about, but I knew there was supposed to be a powerful God who supposedly loved me.

For as long as I can remember, my parents have had an unstable relationship. I guess their characters are just too different, they are almost complete opposites of each other. They are better now that they are getting older, but in those days they used to fight and threaten to divorce each other once every 2 or 3 months. During the nights when I used to hear my parents shout hurtful abuse at each other, I used to pray to God: "God, make them stop. Make them stop fighting, and I will be a Christian. I will be a good girl, I will never lie, and I will read the bible." I was about 10 at the time. Of course, eventually my parents will wear each other out and go to sleep, but never immediately after I made my prayer. In any case, I could never keep my end of the bargain, always committing the petty crimes (like lying to your mother about your marks) that children commit. I grew up thinking that God didn't exist - and even if God does exist, I'm stuffed anyway. Surely God is not pleased with children who can't keep their promise to be perfect.

Skip forward to when I was about 17 - at university, I became good friends with some Christians, in whom I was able to see and admire Christian life in action. Although they did not convince me to go to church at that time, I witnessed their sincerity, humility, passion and confidence.

In my final year of my undergraduate degree, my mum started going to church. Her religiosity caused much friction between her and my father, so she stopped going after a short time. But before she stopped going to church, she gave me an English bible (all the other bibles in the house were Chinese).  I remember thinking - Christianity has had such an influence on Western thought, culture, and language. I really ought to read this thing and see what the big deal is, what my friends are so worked up about. Besides, there were many questions I had about Christianity that I was too embarrassed to ask my friends. I figured if I ask them then their answers will come from the bible, so I might as well go straight to the source. At that time, I was in my final year, and was spending about 1.5hours a day on public transport. I started to read the bible on the train, starting from Genesis, skipping through some of the boring stuff along the way.

I can't pinpoint what in the bible touched me. One thing that I remember striking me was the character of Jesus. Jesus was a mystery - the supposed Alpha and Omega, the Creator, but meek as a lamb. He would yell abuse at the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, but say nothing when on trial for crucifixion. He said that to look upon someone with lust equated with adultery, and compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a mustard seed. I guess the most attractive thing was the shepherd-lamb analogy - he was the shepherd, and I found myself compelled to follow. And as for my questions previously... I don't recall any specific answers to them, but somehow they melted away, as if no longer relevant. I don't even remember what they were.

But I did not follow, even though I knew I should have... after all, I was in my final year, uni was hectic, and Sunday mornings were precious. I told myself that I would go to church when uni finished, but that didn't happen. When uni was over, I started to prepare for the Gamsat (the medical school entrance exam). I was working Monday to Friday, and studying on the Sunday. I still didn't go to church, even though I knew the Gamsat was merely an excuse.

I looked for a church as soon as the Gamsat was finished, and I started attending my current church a week or so after that. After I started going to church, I had two questions. One was - why is it that others raised their hands in church, and sang as if they felt something, when I could feel nothing? What did I lack? The other was the question of grace. What is grace? It's mentioned in Romans so many times. Grace as in graceful?

God showed me what grace was, when the Gamsat results came out. I was not expecting a good mark - after all, I studied when I should have gone to church, how could God reward me for my selfishness? Besides, I had sat the exam before, and last time I didn't have to work full time during my preparation period. The previous year, I got a mark of 60, on the 66th percentile of all candidates. I was expecting a similar result, if not slightly decreased. I nearly cried when I found out... I got 71, on the 96th percentile. This meant that my mark was higher than or equal to 96% of all those who sat the exam. I knew this was a miracle, because there was no way I could have reached that result by any other means. That day I realised what grace is - a gift, from God, that is given to us even though we deserve the opposite. Not grace as in graceful, but grace as in gracious.

The other question was answered in a strange way. I was praying about this very question - "God, give me what they have!", when God spoke into my heart. I am careful in saying this, as I do not want to use His name in vain, but this is the only time that I can say without doubt or reluctance that God spoke into my heart. God asked me: "Do you believe?" - the answer was yes. "For the rest of your life?" - again, yes. "Then why don't you get baptised?"

So the next morning, which happened to be Sunday, I searched out one of the elders, who pointed me to the youth leader, who pointed me to the pastor, who pointed me back to the youth leader.... and I was put down for baptism.

Far out, I think this testimony is too long. It is 11:30pm at the moment and I'm so tired I'm seeing double. I'm not sure if I can go through all this in 5-15minutes.

Oh well, we'll see what happens. I will blog about this later, about the outcomes. Watch this space.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Finding courage

What has happened to me?

I still recall last year in October – a mere two weeks before the end-of-year finals. What a state I was in! Free of fear or burden, resistant to the stressed out people around me – going along at a steady pace, heart and mind at rest, with a calm, unperturbed confidence.

In fact, I even remember arguing with my parents about our new church service at Indooroopilly. The exams being only days away, I wanted to spend the entire Sunday running from one church service to the next, out of the house from about 8am to 6pm.

The exam came, and went – and now the new year is well under way. And I feel – I have been feeling this for a while now – I feel as if I am drowning, with no way to get air back into my lungs, and with no motivation to get out.

What has happened to me? Where is the fearless confidence that I had? The firm refusal to submit into stress, and the capacity to carry it out…

Sure, this year is different to last year, in many ways. But that’s no excuse for my cowardice, nor is it the true reason. The main thing that has changed is not the workload, nor my expectations – it is my attitude. I guess I have been letting my thinking fall back into cynicism and pessimism. Looking only at my difficulties, I lost perspective.

When did I forget that none of it matters, in the end? When did I forget that, no matter what burdens I carry, the fight has already been won? When did I forget that no matter how limited I am, no matter what I go through, no matter whether I do right or do wrong, it doesn’t matter – I already have victory in Christ?

When did I allow the world to get to me so much, to take my eyes away from that which has already been promised to me - a glorious, sweet victory? Even if I fail medicine, even if my parents disown me – all that matters very little, in the grand scheme of things. One day I will meet my Lord and Master, experience eternity, and I will really see that my life here is but a mist.

Looking at it from that perspective, if I am already victorious, what am I afraid of? So what if uni is a mess this year? So what if I am tutoring medical students who are older and smarter than me (Oh LORD, help me with this!!!)? Nothing matters. I have my God, and my God gave me his cross, his covenant.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Hanging On

I'm wondering for the first time whether I pushed myself too far. I've been in denial up until now.

This year, aside from uni, I'm also working, volunteer tutoring, and trying to keep up a small amount of involvement in church. That doesn't sound much, listed like that. I'm sure if I were in undergrad there would be no problems. The problem is that I'm in med, and the people I'm tutoring are also in med. I'm wondering whether tutoring was a bad idea, it is taking a lot more time and effort that I thought it would. I feel like I'm learning this year's contents, and re-learning half of last year.

Needless to say I feel a bit pressured at the moment, mainly because I brought this all on to myself, and I have no one to blame but myself.

My parents want me to cut back on church. For the first time I can see where they are coming from... no parent wants to see their daughter working late into the night, and only see her when she comes out for meals (and even then, to see her glassy-eyed and pale). That reminds me, I really, really ought to spend more time with my family.

The problem is that I enjoy things too much. There is no way I am going to cut back on church any more than I already have. I also enjoy helping the first-years... and so as long as I can manage it, and as long as they want me, I will keep tutoring. I hate work, but I enjoy the money (and independence) that comes out of it.

I'm feeling a bit pressured at the moment (I hesitate to use the word stressed, I'm going to put that off for as long as I can), but I know that somehow I will get through. No, let me rephrase that. Somehow God will carry me through. On the one hand, I feel tired and overworked. On the other, I feel great, because I am doing things that I love. I know that at the end of the year, I will be able to say with confidence that God has not failed me. I can't wait for that time. (In other words, I can't wait for this year to be over with!)

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Psalm 13

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts

and everyday have sorrow in my heart?

How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.

Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;

my enemy will day, "I have overcome him," and my foes will rejoice when I fall

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.

I don't really know what I have been going through in the past few days. All I recall is the darkness in my room when I try to tap into God the great source of light. You can probably see, from the things I have been writing about... all this talk about wrestling (with whom, exactly, was I wrestling?) and about turning away etc. Then I decided to see what David wrote during his dark times, and I found Psalm 13.

Psalm 13 fits into my past few days like the missing puzzle piece. Yes, I called to the Lord, and He did not come down in a great flood of light, nor like blazing fire from the heavens. I wrestled with my thoughts, God knows I wrestle with them all day long. And who is my enemy? It is the one who accuses me and mocks me daily. I don't know if it is my own thoughts, or if it is the one mentioned in the bible as The Accuser, Satan.

And yet, David has the solution. Trust in His unfailing love, rejoice in His salvation. Sing. No matter what I go through, Jesus has already saved me. Jesus has already given the greatest gift of all; His love will never fail. All I need to do is to keep my eyes on the Cross, steadfastly fixed on what has already been given to me - the victory in Jesus Christ.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." - 2 Corinthians 12:9 - That was one of my favourite verses; how did I manage to forget it this time round? (Actually, I didn't forget, it just didn't provide comfort, for some reason. Maybe it is being used too much, like a cliche.) Jesus already gave us the greatest gift, the greatest blessing - Himself, in the Holy Spirit. Doesn't this prove that no matter what trials I go through, His grace and blessings will always exceed what I put up with?

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Turning away

"When the going gets tough, that's when the real choice is being made - to trust God? Or to turn away?"

The above was from my mentor.

What choice? What choice do I have? What if I turn away? What do I turn away to? To whom do I turn? When he first said it, it sounded good. But now I have no idea what he is talking about.

When the going gets tough - what else can I rely on? What can I rely on, when I am let down by myself and those around me? If I wanted to turn away - what then? He is my glimmer of hope, a promise that every tear will be wiped away. If I let go - how deep will I fall... what will break my fall?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Wrestling with God

Here, I'm referring to the biblical account of Jacob's wrestle with God - it is to be found in the book of Genesis, Chapter 32. To save you reading it all yourself (but I do suggest you read it yourself), I will do a quick synopsis on it for you.

Jacob is the second son of Isaac, and through deceit received the blessings that were meant for the oldest son, Esau. To flee from his brother's wrath, he ran away to Paddam Aram, where he (to cut a long story short), got married and had kids and became prosperous. The time came for him to return to his homeland, and to face his estranged brother. One night, on the road back, he sent his wives and all that he owned across a stream, he himself spending the night alone.

What follows is so bizarre I must describe it using the bible's own words: "So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said: 'let me go, for it is day-break'. But Jacob replied: 'I will not let you go unless you bless me.'" (Genesis 32:24-26, TNIV)

I do not want to launch into an interpretation of this wrestling - I am not a sufficiently avid theologian to even contemplate it. However, I do have some personal experiences that may relate to this paradoxical wrestling.

It happened a few days ago, I won't say what happened exactly, but it upset me quite a lot. It is interesting - I've read enough books and enough of the bible to know why we face trials like these, and to know that God is always with me and will be victorious in the end. But... faced with something that upset me, none of these lofty ideas were good enough to provide much comfort. Instead, I wanted no less than an assurance from God Himself that everything will be alright.

And so it was that I locked myself in my room, with the lights out, tears streaming down my face, rocking to and fro in the foetal position, wrestling with God. I did not blame God for the things that happen, nor want an explanation. I just wanted God to assure me that He is here with me and that everything will be ok. So I pleaded like a child, and even childishly said: "Bless me! I am not sleeping tonight until you bless me!"  I felt a little like a young child, grabbing the coat-tails of an adult and yelling: "No! Don't go! I'm not letting go!" Unlike Jacob, I could not last the night, and eventually, somehow, during my pleading and tantrums, I fell asleep.

I can't help but wonder if Jacob's wrestle is similar to my own. Like my own, it was a time of distress, and like me, Jacob merely wanted God's presence and blessing. Jacob's struggle was a physical as well as a spiritual one - he came away changed in character, but also with a dislocated hip. While I can not boast of a limp, I also did not come away unchanged.

I guess you're wondering, as I did, why God could not overpower Jacob. I think perhaps the answer lies in that God is our father - a parent. Few parents want to really hurt their children, and when the children are as wayward as ourselves (we who rarely come home and spend time with our father), our Father may well enjoy our presence whether we are worshipping or complaining. Philip Yancey said, in one of his books, that God did not leave Jacob until day-break, just to remain with His child and be held by His child's faith.

The other thing you're wondering about is whether God really did bless me that night when I clung on to His coat-tails. To be honest, I think I was too tired and in no state to receive any assurances from God. But the answer came a day later, when the whole issue was more or less resolved. Praise God...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Christian friendship

"A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty. But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams..." - Job 6:14-15 

Then Job replied: "I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all!" - Job 16:2

Those who know me would know that I'm not always an adept communicator, particularly when it is most needed. But training as a health care professional has equipped me (somewhat) with some knowledge as to what to say and what not to say. Specifically, I'm talking about how to communicate with people when they are going through tough times, when they are sharing their feelings with you.

It is somewhat different when faced with friends, in particular Christian friends. As my friendship with my church friends grow deeper I'm finding that people are confiding in me more and I'm always at a loss as to what to say.

"God will carry you through," I want to say. "Really you shouldn't worry, Jesus said His yoke is easy. These trials are like a character-building exercise, the bible tells us to be thankful for these experiences, because through these we become strengthened and matured. I've had trials before, and I don't think they go forever."

Of course, I can never bring myself to say all this. These words sound so condescending, patronising, particularly if spoken to someone who is a more mature Christian than me. To someone going through all sorts of trials, how do I tell them to be thankful? How do I communicate these meanings without sounding arrogant and holier-than-thou? Furthermore, how can I tell my friends not to worry, to be thankful, when these are the very issues that I myself wrestle with every day?

Job lamented, among other things, that his friends were not able to empathise with him - instead they were patronising and condescending. But how easy it is to fall into that trap! How I wish I could say something, or do something to ease their minds...

But I guess it's not my place to do this - nor do I have the power. God is the God of healing, and God will heal them, not me. Who am I to imagine that I can provide comfort that only God can provide? Could Job's friends ever relieve his suffering? I can only turn my helplessness into prayer, a prayer of intercession for my friends. May God heal us all, amen.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Back to School

Today was orientation for the second year of my MBBS degree. I feel thankful, amazed, and somewhat reluctant - thankful to be here, amazed I'm here already, and somewhat reluctant to let go of my holidays.

I've been assigned to the Mater Misericordiae Hospitals, which I can't complain about since it was my first choice. It is smaller than the other teaching hospitals and therefore I thought I might benefit from the smaller groups and easier administration.

The Mater Misericordiae Hospitals (or at least, the parts I saw today, which wasn't much) is very interesting indeed. The student sections were not impressive - one PBL room was an "annexe" that was connected to a larger common room (which had occasional seminars and was not open 24 hours), the other was a larger room with temperamental air-conditioning, also shared with "some 3rd years sometimes". The rooms did not have wireless Internet access (and indeed required some special procedure to access the ports). The lockers were of two varieties - one was abundant in numbers but becomes so overheated it is capable of melting laptops, the other is more secure but limited in number. I was disappointed with the studying conditions set up - it is as if the rooms were haphazardly chosen and prepared.

The hospitals are administered by the Sisters of Mercy and in almost every room that I have been to, there has been a small and unobtrusive crucifix on the wall. In a hallway I saw a large statue of Christ, and various other monuments of the Virgin Mary and what I assumed was various saints. Hanging in a PBL room was a large print of the Last Supper painting. Although I can't say much for the studying environment, I will be certain to study carefully the paintings and statues.

The topics for the next few weeks have already been given - and the first module is immunology, which some of you may know, is one of those subjects that I wished didn't exist. Even though classes have not yet started, I already have a list of learning topics and stuff fore review.


Saturday, January 05, 2008

Deborah and Esther

I used to have a really biased view of Christian women. Well, maybe not of Christian women as they are today, but what it takes to be the optimal Christian woman. My view was largely influenced by the biblical Queen Esther, who had a whole book of the Bible devoted to her tale. Her story was told in children's books and Sunday schools (and yes, I had accessed both of these to varying degrees when young), and she dominated one's imagination like Cinderella or Snow White.

If you don't know the story of Esther you really should read it, if not in the Bible then you should at least wiki it. The story is a worthy read, if only for its entertainment value. Of course, being a Christian young woman, I study Esther somewhat more than for its entertainment value. The story of Deborah (described in the book of Judges, chapters 4 and 5) is also worthy of interest, the reasons for which I will expound upon later.

Queen Esther generally gives the impression of being someone very meek and indeed very feminine. Of course meek does not mean weak - Esther had incredible resolve and strength of character, and, perhaps, a shrewd wisdom. The bible describes her obeying Mordecai's commands, winning the favour of all who saw her, and winning the heart of a mighty and (perhaps somewhat ruthless) king. God used her greatly, using her to save the Jewish people from genocide (a feat for which few others could single-handedly claim credit). Perhaps that is her character - obliging, like water, yet resolved like ice.

I once heard a talk where the speaker (a woman) said: "Esther is God's gift to women - so we may see how we are to be like. Esther bent the king to her will - how? She dressed herself in her finery, prepared a feast, and pleaded through tears." Perhaps that is how you win a man over - dress up, feed him, then cry. But that left me feeling extremely dissatisfied. For a long time I held her up as the single role model to women provided by God, and greatly admired all the soft-spoken, gentle, acquiescent Christian women in the world. I strove to fit myself to what I imagine Esther to be - but I am too different, and was left feeling confused and extremely frustrated.

Then along came mighty Deborah. Though she did not have a whole book of the bible devoted to her, she nevertheless saved Israel from harsh oppression from Canaanites. Deborah is a stark contrast from Esther. She was a prophetess, a judge, and a ruler. She did not shy away from the bloodiness of the battlefield, nor did the prospect of Canaanite chariots hinder her. Like Esther, she had a resolve like steel and a humility that causes the beholder to pause and reflect upon his own pride. But God used her in a way totally unlike Esther. Could Esther have saved Israel by her royal finery and tears? I can only imagine what would have happened if Deborah was in Esther's place. The bible makes no mention of Deborah's beauty, nor her winning favours with everyone she meets (does a ruler need to win favours?). Indeed, I can imagine Deborah having a lengthy debate with the king (after all, she is a judge and ruler). Praise God that we can all be used in different ways! And... praise God... we are allowed to be different to Esther (or the gentle-soft-cliche) and still be able to be used by God!

I have not reached Esther or Deborah in my Women of the Bible devotional yet, but I can't wait til I do. These two are undoubtedly my favourite two women in the bible, but I've come to recognise that the bible contains many intriguing female characters waiting to be found.