I Was Supposed to Say Goodbye

Cliche as it sounds, we learn the most valuable lessons in times of difficulty.

The past two years, most specifically the past few months, were the hardest times for me.

Ticking off a few from the checklist of life’s dagok (strikes) are (in no particular order):

  • Heartbreak
  • Finished the rigorous medical school training (sleep-deprived, food-deprived, pressure to excel, some difficult people to deal with)
  • Presented a paper for an international medical schools conference
  • Volunteered for an NGO, got a pretty good case of how it is to be culture-shocked
  • Gave my all for Milk Matters and various service activities (pawis, luha, dugo) (blood, sweat and tears)
  • Contracted a debilitating pulmonary tuberculosis
  • Got me a good scolding from the parents for not taking better care of my health
  • Struggle to support myself financially
  • Letting go of some relationships
  • Pre-residency in UP PGH Pediatrics (repeat pattern of sleep deprivation and skipped meals)

Come to think of it, what I thought were strike outs– heartbreak, rigorous medical milestones for a student becoming a doctor, an infectious disease– were, in reality, God’s blessings. Looking at some of my difficult experiences, I realized that blessings and burdens are actually two sides of the same coin.

I was a bit baffled as I was listing the experiences above ,realizing I cannot set a definite demarcation between blessings and burdens. That I cannot just compartmentalize burdens to just that: a purely negative experience. No, they’re not. Burdens are actually blessings waiting to be learned from.

I can only say this in retrospect. I needed time and the grace to be changed for the better to see and believe.

As an imperfect human being (thank God for this realization), I wish I could say I’ve learned this blessing-in-a-disguise-of-burden as I was undergoing the dark phases of my life. Looking back, if I hadn’t really held on to God, hindi ko alam kung saan ako pupulutin ni Lord. And if I had let go of His Hand, as I was tempted to and did let go several times, He still held me.

What a faithful Being.

I was supposed to say goodbye to some of God’s gifts to me: my sorority sisters, my precious relationships with friends (brothers and sisters), my community…

The severity of the pain was blinding. I was tempted to let go and just leave the people who love me.

But God stayed. God wouldn’t let me go. And that gave me the safe and secure space to hold on to Him as well. I was safe and secure in His love for me.

I was supposed to say goodbye. But God has other plans for me. Better plans for me.

I would hold on to His promises. For I know the plans for you says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

PS. By saying goodbye, I do not mean to end my life. It was a way of staying away from some relationships.

Advertisements

Pulling up by the bootstraps

I am in transition.

There are a lot of changes as I enter this new chapter of my life:

  • A new job (Pediatrics residency)
  • A new set of people to work with
  • A new environment with a familiar culture
  • A new condo unit with new roomies
  • A new district in Ligaya (a Catholic community) *
  • A new set of friendships to discover
  • A new way of lifestyle, particularly in taking care of my health (I have TB, ongoing treatment)

And, most importantly, a stronger and refreshed Gela whose identity in the Lord has been renewed after undergoing a formidable challenge.

In a lot of ways this feels like an early New Year for me. The kind when I look forward to a future brimming with hope and suffused with dreams. And, inevitably, I look back to the recent past that is pockmarked by hurts here and there, and mistakes that, if given another chance, I would best think twice before doing.

Buti nalang may Diyos na mapagpatawad, kahit hirap ako dun. (It’s a good thing the Lord is forgiving, despite my struggle in that area.)

Truth is, as I look back, instead of inwardly punishing myself like before, I am now more hopeful. More hopeful that I change for the better. I am trying to change for the better. And by changing for the better I mean:

  • Learning to receive and live the love that I have come to know in depth because of the Lord
  • Learning to love myself more by being rooted in God’s identity for me
  • Taking good care of the relationships God has given me and will give me (this is one of the most important!)
  • Being a good and kind friend to myself and to others
  • Showing my family how much I love them
  • Accepting my weaknesses and limitations, repent of my sins
  • Accepting the realities of life that sometimes, what we hoped for wouldn’t turn out the way we expected it to be
  • Accepting the reality that good friendships can be lost, and in the hopelessness of trying to reconcile again, just surrender it to God (this is why bullet #3 is important)
  • Forgiving and letting go. That way I am doing myself a big favor by allowing more room for love.
  • New goals for myself! I am very inspired to be accepted in my top (and only) choice for residency training. I am aiming for research, acing exams, honing my communication skills and being a compassionate Pediatrician
  • I am hopeful for my renewed desire to commit to Ligaya and further investigate its way of life
  • To train my eyes to see the good in people and in circumstances (and thank the Lord for them)

Overall, the goal is to continue having a heart being transformed by God into the woman I am made to be in whatever role I currently take on.

One night as I lay in bed, I counted these new changes and felt overwhelmed. I was on the verge of crying. Not tears of joy, but of anxiety. In my mind I saw myself jumping off a cliff’s edge, trusting I would land on solid ground that I did not see. It was scary.

But thanks to the grace of being able to stand in the strength of the Lord. These changes are for my good. They are His best plans. Though I do not yet see the whole map, I am willing to take the first few steps to wherever these changes are leading me. That entails having the Lord as my sole source of stability and strength.

Here’s to pulling myself up by the bootstraps!

I pray for spiritual and emotional maturity. Please pray for me. 🙂

*A good friend told me these changes are not sure yet. But, I am including it just because it is a potential change.

Love is (blind) dating

It felt like eons ago since I last saw my two best friends from high school. Coincidentally, we call each other “Mars” for “Mare”, amiga or close friends, the same way my closest friends in Medicine school call each other.

April, Tere and I have been good friends for 15 years now, through thick and thin, good and bad times. April is an aspiring lawyer and currently works for the government. Tere is a mother of three and belongs to the HR personnel in SM Puerto Princesa City.

It was catch-up time with all the people we knew, yet it never felt like there was ever any gap among the three of us.

We have grown, assuming the new roles we have chosen, trying to manage our priorities, lead our personal lives, achieving our dreams. Though I personally have to allot more time for them, they never really questioned the friendship. We have taken good care of each other for fifteen years and counting. I could never be more grateful for such true friends.

Being two of my closest friends, my lovelife (or its absence thereof) has been one of the hot topics of the dinner conversation.

“Hanapan niyo naman ako ng date,” I quipped.

A few rounds of kilig shrieks after, they rummaged through their facebook accounts, searched for possible and eligible men, called up their good male friends and went on to pile a list of names in their heads as to who would be my dates.

That is what you call supportive friends.

It was such a fun time with them compiling names, racking up their brains suddenly making an inventory of their male friends for a date with me.

Nakakatawa. I am excited how this date for me would turn out. *fingers crossed*

 

Parallel Experiences

I can’t help but think, as I am experiencing my uninspired moments in Christ’s Youth in Action staff, that these moments are going to recur when I proceed to Pediatrics residency.

Contrary to popular perception, staff work is actually toxic. It is so different compared to what the students apparently see. There are a lot of stretching of the self, a lot of dying, a lot of breaking, a lot of pruning, a lot of feedback (for me, because I am stubborn) that happen in the background and away from the prying eyes of the university students. A good shattering of expectations leads me to realize romanticizing staff work is not going to work if I want to stay.

14976578_1621508258154161_7815006274333104689_o
Christ’s Youth in Action Staffers doing a Rurouni Kenshin pose in honor of Flo. Cute namin!

Not that the shattering is a bad thing. It’s part of the process. And in staff, I’m experiencing what it really is like to be a disciple of Christ. And I feel I am not even closer to the woman He has created me to be. The disciplining of the leaders in CYA staff is probably one of the most strict, yet most loving, that I’ve signed up for.

I also cannot help but think, during this seemingly lack of enthusiasm in what I do, that I’ve dealt with similar moments before.

Cases in point: Phi Lambda Delta Sorority and my internship in UP College of Medicine.

Gela with Phi Surgery
I cannot count how many little boys I circumcised. Organizing a tuli mission is one of my main jobs when I was a leader in Phi.

No need to bore you with details, but these two big decisions of my life contained my most uninspiring moments. But look what came out of it: during my term as Phi’s Sister Caritas, Milk Matters was born. Then, I was able to graduate from UP College of Medicine with awards for leadership, service and meritorious performance. I passed the Physician Licensure Exam! Goodness abound.

So as I try to find ways on how to deal with this demoted spirit in staff work, especially since BUSIER days are coming, I have three lenses I can look at that can present me rich strategies I can be creative to use: to look back and be grateful; to look forward and be ready; and to experience the present– find joy in what I do and do the things that bring me joy. (Read Colossians 3:23 Whatever you do, do it for the Lord and not for men.)

18518391_1332430096825706_2059955142295500039_o
CYA Medicine just launched out! Here I am taking a two-hour teaching off my doctor work to cater to my brothers and sister in Medicine schools. (PLM and UP Med) High yield ito ang saya! No regrets doing it kahit sobrang pagod ako after this.

I am just afraid of completely missing out on what the Lord is trying to teach me in these moments of dry inspiration. I need grace for a good sense of detachment. Another strong motivation is I just do not want to go back to the old me. Not anymore. I want to learn Your ways, Lord.

18556613_10209641654622674_757192824228543558_o
Just because I am radiantly beautiful and happy to be here. Where I am right now. Though I know not the road ahead of me, I trust in the Lord that He will carry me through, victoriously!

Grant me faith for the future. Grant me a grateful heart. Open my eyes to see your work in me and in others.

What are You teaching me? Teach me to persevere and find joy in things that I do, even if I don’t see its fruits.

One Seed Grows

MM WDC

This is the photo of my sorority sister, Ja Verceles, as she represents Milk Matters in an annual convention in Washington, DC. Milk Matters has been selected to participate through poster presentation and in the conference for global health.

I am so proud. I cannot help but thank the Lord for the grace to actually see this happen. I am thankful, that as I look at the photo I see two blessed things: 1. To see what Milk Matters has become, that I treasure it like a child borne out of my heart, and though I have become detached from it, my love for it has been stable, steady; 2. To see that my sorority sisters are growing out of themselves and becoming a better version of themselves through service.

Six years of intensely immersing myself in service taught me to focus on the latter blessing. To invest on people. To add value to their growth by helping them maximize their strengths and work on their core passion. That, in fervent hope, as they work tirelessly and relentlessly, a change of heart happens.

That is how I show my love– through service. Amazing how it gels together, when before the Milk Matters team only set our sights on just one milk drive and see how it goes from there. The Lord makes me see His work bloom right in front of my very eyes three years after its conception. I am but His servant.

It is great to see women with such big potentials who dedicate their efforts to help the poor and the sick Filipinos.

*This is the second international conference participated in by Milk Matters. The other one is an international award and representation in China. That is aside from the many accolades it has received in University of the Philippines College of Medicine and at regional and national levels.

Seeds of Service

Featured image above is a photo of one of my baby patients when I was intern. He was my inspiration when I wrote my speech entitled “Ang Bagong EDSA.” He just slept soundly on my chest. Little did he know he was instrumental in rekindling my fire for service, which was the EDSA speech’s spirit.

From my stint in the sorority up until staff work in a Catholic movement called Christ’s Youth in Action, seeds of service has been the prominent battle cry.

I was called for the planting. Look at my photos years before I was called as a staffer/youth missionary volunteer. How eerily prophetic it sounded.

God really moves in mysterious ways. These were my sentiments during my leadership years in Phi Lambda Delta that I can relate to staff work:

17692822_120300002886010957_1251494261_o

“Sometimes, you really cannot sit under the shade of the tree whose seed you just planted. You plant the seed, and trust in God that He will put it under the care of the people whose good hearts become the roots, water and air for this worthy seed to grow and flourish. Mabuti talaga ang Panginoon.”

Prophetic. The worthy seed (at that time I was talking about Milk Matters) reminds me of the mustard seed talking about the kingdom of God. Look at where I am now. Instrument being used to be one of the builders.

17623091_120300002875622529_1652362676_o

Meet the OG. Original gangster of Milk Matters. This was the first meeting of the team, when MM was still an abstract yet inspiring concept.

17693053_120300002882482511_571822425_o

“Ultimately, we serve because God called us to… Nagkamali ako along the way, but I am sure hindi ako nagkulang (sa effort).” I really gave it my best shot as the service arm leader for Phi. #noregrets One of my favorite jobs in the world.

And this is my nephew, cotton ball. Meet my fluffy cotton ball.

17692792_120300002865593729_1729377138_o

“fLORD”

fLORD (flÖrd) v. action word meaning to be utterly amazed and awed as witness to the Lord at work

Exactly my experience this past week.

When Dyan Castillejo (Sports Unlimited TV personality) agreed to share her message to the participants of Christ’s Youth in Action- University of Santo Tomas Rekindle, it was the Lord moving His hand in this anointed Christian Life Series.* Ms. Castillejo and I happened to be on the same floor as she was also a guest for another UST event. She approached me for directions to the restroom. Grabbing this opportunity, I asked her to share her message of encouragement to our CLS participants. And she gave one powerful testimony about God!

The blessings started two days before that. Our large penalty and principal sums in a government institution was waived. From almost two hundred thousand bucks we were now down to pay only less than fifty grand.

Then, we initiated a series of personal leadership training called, “Launch Out!” for graduating students of Industrial Engineering. Every Tuesday from 2-4pm, a sort of meta-coaching sessions will be equipping them on how to be good, compassionate and competent leaders in the workplace.

Rekindle bagged a special place in my heart. To be honest, I only expected around 10-15 participants. Ten was a good and realistic number, I thought. When the icebreaker games started, batches of students came pouring in. Athletes comprise almost a third of the participants (we reached twenty three, more than half were men), so Ms. Castillejo’s powerful testimony was the Lord’s way of shaking us up. All in all the first session of Rekindle was a message for me that this is the Lord’s work. I was a witness on how the Holy Spirit moved among us, and we were caught in its trail of fire as it ignited not just the students but the servers as well. My doubts and worries for Rekindle vanished. With that amazing display of grace, I was floored by the Lord. Nasupalpal. (I love Tagalog words they perfectly capture the strength and potency of the exact thing I was going to say.)

We ended up having a fruitful discussion, and the sisters’ lives opened up to me like sunlight breaking through a sheath of dark thick clouds. I personally felt like staff work has renewed itself once again after a wake of a struggles to the reality of being a volunteer youth missionary.

Lastly, my supposedly free day Friday turned out to be a great day indeed. I joined the PGH NICU staff in a milkletting drive in Pedro Gil area. The experience was amazing.

I assisted mothers who donated their breastmilk for the sick babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I would be carrying their babies or helping them pump the breastmilk into the sanitized containers. Pang-Pedia talaga ako.

Here are the pictures. Enjoy.

Ate Myya taking the groufie with Ms. Dyan Castillejo during Rekindle.

Gela MM5

Arianna and I. She wouldn’t even look at the camera at first.Gela MM1

Gela MM

This one is a bochog baby! She looks like a Trolls figure with her hair. What a happy smiling bebe bochog.

Gela MM2Gela MM3Gela MM4

The last picture is a proof that I am in a health center. May nagluluto ng lunch after seeing patients (so that they the health team can eat together for bonding).

*Christian Life Series (CLS) is a series of talks given by CYA on how to live a good Christian life.

**All photos with children and mommies taken and posted with permission.

Biggest Accomplishment

Grace and blessings! Biggest accomplishment today: I taught a kid how to pray to Papa Jesus.

This Pedia patient was rushed to the ER after being hit by a dos por dos on the head by a caretaker a week ago. He told me he was scared because his watcher was almost always absent.

He was a six year old boy but he acted like he was three. He kept on chewing the lock on his IV line, dislodging the needle out of his vein which prompted us to insert more IV cannulas. He needed a medicine that should be given directly into his vein so his brain wouldn’t swell because of the injury.

“Nasaan na si Ate?” (Where’s my sister?) he asked me worriedly. I told him his sister just went out to buy food for them. I honestly did not know where his sister was. She was gone for two hours already.

I asked him if he knows he has angel. He said yes.

If he knows Papa Jesus? He said yes.

If he knows how to pray? He was silent. He kept on looking at me until he shrugged his shoulders.

“Okay, baby, tuturuan ka ni Ate Gela paano magpray para hindi ka na matakot,” I replied. “Parang nagrarap ka lang, sinasabi mo yung gusto mo iparating kay Papa Jesus.” (Okay, Ate Gela will teach you how to pray so you wouldn’t be scared anymore. It’s just like rap, you tell God what you want Him to hear.)

Angel of God

The patient joins rap contests in his local barangay at a tender age. He is good at it, according to his sister. A “nanay-nanayan” (non-relative motherly adult) spotted him during a contest and offered to take care of him. That “nanay-nanayan” is responsible for hitting him on the head, and other unspeakable acts that prompted the patient to tell his sister, “Ang dami kong problema. Ang daming problema sa mundo.” (I have many problems. There are so many problems in this world.)

After a short prayer thanking God for his life, asking for protection against danger and money for his food, medicine and lab tests in PGH, I asked him if he was still scared. He said no. And I tucked him to bed (that cold metal stretcher bed) with his sarong as makeshift blanket. He proceeded to stare at the ceiling with his wide, beautiful eyes. The innocence of those eyes betrayed and smeared by the (insert unkind word here) adult who allegedly hit him on the head with a dos por dos.

“Kapag natatakot ka, tandaan mo lagi mo kasama si Papa Jesus,” I reassured him. (If you feel scared again, remember that Papa Jesus is always with you.) He nodded and smiled.

At that moment, I could have given the same advice to myself.

This incoming week is one of the biggest, if not the most important, weeks of my 2014. The Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations Area Finals contest, adjustment with duty in Pediatrics (one of the big four departments!), transferring to another apartment, CYA Anniversary… I am tempted to feel scared and overwhelmed and doubtful when I think about it. Plus the fact that I feel like I haven’t allotted much time preparing for it as I would’ve wanted to.

But God is so good. He is so good. He blessed me with
– Phi sorority sisters who are determined and willing to help me out
– not one but TWO scholarships to cover my expenses in Medicine
– Code Red for my NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) duty so I wouldn’t be admitting so many neonates this week
– a Pedia ER neonate patient whose parents I interviewed for the importance of breast milk
– nurses, fellows and consultants who go out of their way to inspire us in Milk Matters
– brothers and sisters in Christ’s Youth in Action whose encouragement and timely prayer meetings always reassure me that God is in control (HHHH!)
– parents who are so supportive in everything I do
– my brother graduated from college

All of these are blessings. Grace. Everything is grace.

So when I taught that kid how to pray, I felt like it was just a small thing to give back to the Lord.

God is so amazing and kind and good, that teaching a child to pray is only a meager way to thank Him as His instrument. I can do more, be more for You, Lord. Bless me with that chance. You know my heart. My prayers. I entrust all to you, Father.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” -Isaiah 43:1-3

PS. I encourage you to pray to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. 🙂 A mass in PGH Chapel will be celebrated for her on Nov. 25-27. My first personal blessed time with Our Lady is during the CYA Sisters’ Summer Household 2014 in Paranaque. The Parish of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal is only a few blocks away from our Household.

*neonate- a baby whose age is 28 days and below

Five Year Love Affair

WP 5 years

Today is my fifth year anniversary of blogwriting. My love affair for words written and/or spoken has always been a source of comfort, catharsis and coherence.

So imagine my surprise when WordPress granted me a virtual trophy for persevering with my occasional writer’s block. Like a milestone for transitioning from being an okay writer to a bit more okay one. One step at a time.

Here’s to a deluge of years of writing, hopefully with passion, depth, meaning, wit and love.

***

A Promise is Always a Promise

Note to self. Remember your promise during Crossroads.

God honors your agreement. God takes you up on your word.

When you find it hard not to look back, always remember to look up.

Look up and shift your gears toward God. He sees everything: your efforts, your failures, your successes, your perseverance, your hardship, your frustrations, your joy, your dreams.

What about your love for Him?

Learn to fully trust in Him.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” -Isaiah 55:8-9

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.” -Jeremiah 29:11a

 

Silence

He does not know his surname.

Robert* is an eight year old boy who has a body of a five year old: short in stature and very thin his bones seem to stick out from the sockets. He is very quiet.

“Ako, Villa ang apelyido ko. Sa’yo, ano?” I urged him on. He wouldn’t even look at me in the eye. The only answer I got was a shrug, telling me he didn’t know.

Interviewing Pediatric patients can be very difficult, especially if the child does not want to talk. Trust for a child is a big issue, and establishing good rapport with Robert is my priority above anything else.

I proceeded with measuring his oxygen saturation and pulse rate through my pulse oximeter in his finger. His interest was piqued when he saw bright green numbers coming to life in the little black monitor of the gadget. When I removed the gadget, he drifted off in his own world again as he looked at me warily from time to time.

Since this was a dermatological mission, I asked Robert if it was okay for him if I lifted his T-shirt to inspect his skin. He nodded. My worst fear was confirmed.

There, spread all over his tummy, were numerous circular scars the size of cigarette butts. Some were even overlapping. His back also harbored a few of these scars. Several of the lesions could be seen on his extremities, the shape of which I couldn’t imagine what the cause was.

I inspected his ears closely, wondering if he couldn’t hear me because he didn’t answer most of my questions. From the outside, solidified ear wax could be easily seen clumped in both his ear canals.

Then a caregiver from the institution went to me and explained Robert’s case. He was found abandoned outside Quiapo Church last year. A concerned citizen brought him to a local hospital because he was so weak he was drifting in and out of consciousness. He couldn’t even stand on his own. He was referred for adoption in the institution where he was now in on the eve of Christ’s birthday, December 24.

The caregiver told me they wanted a specialist to examine Robert’s head. They were afraid his hearing might be affected by a possible head injury.

In one week’s time I have seen two Pediatric patients who suffered from the hands of their own parents. The other one was a nine month old baby hit by a bottle of gin on the face.

It was heartbreaking. I had to take a moment or two to steady myself, prevent the tears from spilling out and take deep breaths before facing Robert again.

As a medical student, I have a lot to learn in this profession. There are many things I still do not know and understand yet, even in the aid of Harrison’s, William’s, Katzung, Nelson’s, Schwartz, etc.

But the kind of human behavior that inflicts violence on innocent children escapes my understanding. Incomprehensible. Unacceptable.

Seeing Robert and the children who have borne the brunt of their parents’ weaknesses makes me realize that there are a lot of them who have no voice. No voice to protest against the violence that threatens their very lives.

*Name changed for protection