03 November 2015

an (infuriating) experience in anti-intellectualism

over the weekend, henry and i spent time with his family in atlanta to celebrate his mom's birthday. we were very lucky to be able to join them -- we spent some time wandering around a botanical garden, admiring the fall foliage, dining, and catching up.

sunday came. we fully expected to attend church with henry's parents at their church across town -- an independent-type protestant christian church with a largely ethnically chinese congregation. however, when sunday morning arrived, henry's mom declared that time was short and we would go down the street to one of the 'popular' local megachurches. i was immediately hesitant, knowing what that meant in an affluent atlanta suburb. what could i say? we had already been accused of being 'far from god' given we haven't found a church of our own in philadelphia yet. we obediently loaded into the car and were off.

as we pulled into the parking lot full of expensive luxury cars and well-dressed older adults shuffling into the giant brick edifice, i shifted uncomfortably. 'why am i here?' i internally lamented. i tried to reassure myself: maybe the music will be good? maybe i'll see someone i know? maybe they'll surprise me with their slant on social justice or acceptance of all? (so much wishful thinking). i tried to remain open, but mostly i just guarded my mind and soul against the brand of 'christianity' that has come to induce nausea in me. 

the service started innocuously if not a bit impersonally: announcements had been pre-recorded and were broadcast on a large screen with dramatic music. 'we are SO GLAD you're here!' the face chirped... although it wasn't actually here but only on a recorded message. next, the music began. a large, robed choir composed entirely of old white faces launched into a hymn. my examination of the church program revealed that we were attending the 'majestic'-style service (as opposed to the other 2 services that morning, 'traditional' and 'modern')... maybe the choir made it majestic?

i am guilty of a bit of eye-rolling throughout this introductory phase, however overall i hadn't yet experienced the stomach-burning, head-exploding anger that i had braced myself for. but don't worry, that was coming. truly, it was a two-fold infliction, with the slow-burn of the pastor's 'message' doing most of the damage.

part one.
next up on the large screen, a pre-recorded video about a mission trip to romania taken by the church's choir (the majestic one i described above).

to save a full-on rant, i will mention a few points here (full-disclosure, i know very little about romania and what i provide here is from the church):
1. romania, as they describe in their video, is self-described as 93% christian. the video suggested that maybe they weren't 'real, practicing christians' which they say justified the mission there - to help them become 'better christians'.
2. romania is full of people of similar racial and socioeconomic backgrounds as this church.
3. romania is far away and requires a lot of money and resources to travel to.

anger stems from: very well-off people going to a generally well-off place ministering to people who share their beliefs and wasting tons of money for travel AND CALLING IT A MISSION TRIP THAT DEMANDS MY RESPECT while playing soft music, dramatic videos of sunrises, smiling faces they are manipulating me to believe have to do with their interventions.

here's a suggestion, EVERY SUBURBAN CHURCH: stop spending all the gobs of money on going to other parts in the world and trying to justify these trips to your congregation. or keep doing it, but don't try to bill it as a 'christian endeavor' or garner my respect or approval. i got this sense while watching this video that it is a very 'comfortable' way to do missions -- that this church had found the perfect loophole in how to combine 'missions' with 'comfort.' 

what would be much more uncomfortable, but much closer to what Jesus did (and may even change your life) is to spend time with meeting the needs of people within your own city. i'm not talking about the rich white people in your congregation who are sick. please, by all means, take care of them. but when you talk about 'missions'... when you talk about 'helping others'... when you talk about being a 'good steward of resources'... help out those in your city that don't live in your perfectly-manicured walled-off subdivision. go to inner-city atlanta and address the issues of prior decades of racial segregation and the animosity that remains. begin the process of helping right the institutionalized wrongs done to african-americans in this country. get angry about unfairly-priced insurance and housing and everything! feed the hungry. clothe the poor. shelter the homeless. make friends with those suffering through substance addiction. make friends with people different from yourself. go to prisons! god, go to prisons. start to understand the issues surrounding mass incarceration IN THIS COUNTRY, and have ministry in your own city of atlanta. promote acceptance of all people, by the grace of god's love, rather than hate or exclusion. 

ok, i'll stop. but ohhhhh, the anger. this is not christianity. this is a club of convenience.

part two, ohhh, part two. (insert red-faced angry emoticon)
the sermon. ::deep breaths:: i actually got a bit upset here, visibly shaken. i wasn't sure what to do, as i was afraid i would tempt my mother-in-law to further confirm my heathen status. so, i grabbed some paper and a pen and started taking 'notes'. 

as an aside: i have to say, truly, sitting through something that angers you to your core is a very inspiring experience. i couldn't stop writing, jotting, having thoughts. although it was probably HORRIBLE for my blood pressure and general stress levels, it was amazing for my creativity. (something to keep in mind in case you personally ever need writing inspiration!)

theology aside, the sermon was pretty bad as a talk. it was disorganized. it didn't flow well. the only consistency in it was the pastor's gross tone of voice, which, if you've ever been to a southern baptist church, is the tone they all must have been taught in their respective seminaries -- flat but somehow still loud, occasionally banging podium, relaying zero care or concern for actual people. [literally wrote the following on my sheet of notes: "i guess if you say enough stuff in the same tone of voice, people don't realize you're not actually saying anything?"] 

but then, the pastor tried to bring in current events and politics. i'm not a fan of this from behind a pulpit, unless it's to highlight things in the world that we can pray for, or help out with, or otherwise not judge but show grace and love and mercy to. in this case, not so. the topic was 'abraham's calling' -- and he compared it to the syrian refugees, but declared abraham's journey superior to theirs because he was wealthy and affluent and went anyways -- while the refugees were motivated by desperation alone (what. the. eff?) ... and then, went on to compare 'abraham's calling' to the newly elected republican house speaker. pathetic. disgusting. so infuriating. all of this said from a pulpit as if it's 'gospel truth' (no pun intended. or maybe it is).

in order to try to spare you the extent of cleverly masked blasphemy endured, i'll highlight just a few salient points from my 'notes' from the rest of the sermon:
-it's astoundingly clear to me how a pastor's race, social class, experiences heavily influence what they say; it's pretty gross in this case to be acutely aware of his cushy, self-serving existence
-biblical concepts are talked about in an exceedingly vague manner - and personal opinion on their interpretation in detail and touted as truth
-tries to dramatically appeal to emotion by casually mentioning pain, death - asks people to think of their late spouse, children, parents - with no connection to rest of sermon
-talks about how awful it must be to feel like an 'alien' in a foreign land when you have lots of money and status back home... but fails to address those who actually live as 'aliens' all the time; those living in poverty here in the US, refugees, immigrants...
-tells congregation that the most important job they have as christians is to come to corporate worship and practice for heaven; criticizes that they "have it so good, they forget to think about heaven!" ... well, yes, they have it 'so good', i don't disagree; but that IS NOT the most important job we have as christians. not even close.

blah, blah, blah, blah, vomit.

i think one of the last thoughts i had, that i was struck by on my page of 'notes'... 
"if you held captive the attention of this population (by which i mean affluent white suburban christians) for an hour, what would you say?"
what would you say? i would describe the person of jesus. i would describe the unconditional acceptance of all those who he encountered -- except those who demanded legalistic obedience and shunned grace. i would describe the feeding of the hungry, the wandering in the desert, the chilling with prostitutes and drug dealers. and i'd make the RADICAL suggestion that the congregation follow that lead -- maybe i'd even describe for them how they could do that in their own cities. 
i would not, and i really think this is important here -- i would NOT tell them what they want to hear and make them feel comfortable. i would try to be very aware of my own biases, and theirs, and attempt to address these head on.

when we left the service, my anger subsided slowly. my overwhelming feeling was that of relief being on the other side of this experience that i dreaded. then anger gave way to purpose -- i felt very strongly about how important it was for me to find a church in philadelphia in line with these things that i felt were missing here. and i intend to do this. (i doubt this was my mother-in-law's sneaky intention in having me attend this church, but, alas.)

and not only that. i think this experience offers a reminder to all to look closely at what your church purports, what biases are there based on ethnicity/homogeneity/social class/etc, and how what you are told to do aligns with what jesus actually did.

on the top of my page of notes, i had written the word 'anti-intellectual', bolded it, and circled it. this was my overwhelming thought of what was wrong with this service and serves as an example of what is wrong with many 'christian' churches. (and this reaches widely, beyond churches as well). what does it mean to be intellectual? according to webster's, intellectual: "of, or relating to, the ability to think in a logical way. involving serious study and thought." not accepting everything that is spoon-fed to you, but hearing it, working it around in your mind, comparing it to what you know to be true. being critical. THINKING FOR YOURSELF. thinking forwardly, deeply, in a goal-directed way. being intentional about your life and your relationship with your spirituality and religion, not about what sometime tells you to do with it.

so, after all is said, am i glad i sat through that church service? hells no. i am glad to be able to articulate what i truly believe and encourage others in thinking for themselves -- and to use this as a horrifying example as to why this is important. but please, for the love, no more visits to large southern megachurches or i might have a stroke.

18 February 2014

2013: a pictorial review (with highlights!)

happy 2014, e'rybody! 

i didn't do so hot with blogging in 2013, but what a year it was. in a word? exhausting. okay, another word? FUN. travels and work predominated. although i wasn't very good with the blog, i did consistently keep track of things by documenting with snapshots on instagram. although it gets a lot of criticism, i really find it to be a fun, easy, quick way to remember moments and journal adventures. what follows is a mini year-in-review of sorts, illustrated with my favorite instagram shots!

january: we kicked the year off with a weekend trip to Philadelphia (foreshadowing?) and some time closer to home at the Met with a membership my parents got us for Christmas.

february: snowstorm! this year's snow has already put last year's to shame, but snow in the city is always more fun than snow elsewhere given you don't have to drive. biggest february highlight: little sister got married! HEAVON as we like to call them (heather + devon) tied the knot on groundhog day! pictured below with our great uncle jim stealing a dance.

march-april: the trip of a lifetime! we started in barcelona, spain and cruised to madeira and the canary islands. the complete and total joy of the mediterranean in the spring is hard to encapsulate in any medium.

may: discovered the new york botanical gardens in the bronx in full bloom! also attracted fun visitors: DETHBREW (beth + drew) came to visit around my birthday!

june: weekend trip to the bay area for henry's cousin kathy's wedding! we spent time with family and stayed with friends in mountain view. you guys, california is BEAUTIFUL.

july: believe it or not, henry and i celebrated our FIFTH wedding anniversary last year. we spent a long, relaxing weekend in the poconos mountains in northeastern PA, berry-picking and enjoying the outdoors! bluuuuueberries. lots and lots of blueberries.

august: another trip to philadelphia and time spent with mom + dad and grandmoms. so lovely to be so close to family -- and soon even closer!

september: snuck in a quick trip tagging along with henry for work to west palm beach, florida in between my infectious disease fellowship interviews. a brief moment of sun and sand before the cold new york winter.

october: more interviews and autumn in NYC. will never get over autumn in NYC -- central park is a continuous treat of color and activity.

november: thanksgiving off from work! a MIRACLE! this past year was my first time seeing all of our closest family during my residency-- whirlwind trip through the southeast! brothers, sisters, doggies... what a joy.

december: fellowship match! a great time celebrating the successes of dear residency friends. learned that we're moving to philadelphia for the next chapter of our lives starting in july 2014.

overall, the year had a flavor of family -- which fits perfectly with our move this year to philadelphia where we'll be (finally!) in the same town with most of my extended family. on top of that, can't say enough about how much travel continues to shape our views of the world. 

other 2013 highlights:

*CROCHET! with encouragement from my grandmom pierce, i picked up crocheting and am almost done with my first big project: a colorful zigzag blanket! look for an upcoming post with more details and pictures. 

*BOOKS! maintained my voracious appetite for the written word. read a slew of great books this year. some of the most recent (and non-infectious-disease-related): junot diaz's the brief wondrous life of oscar wao and mary karr's lit

*VEGGIES! after several years of moving towards vegetarianism, henry and i finally took the plunge last year in april. we've been meat free (with an ever-so-occasional piece of fish) for the past year and really enjoying it. our cooking has hugely benefited: our creativity has soared! look for upcoming food posts and ideas.

*HEALTHY! last highlight, but certinaly not least, i finally took charge of persistent bad eating habits in september and joined weightwatchers. i've managed to lose 20 lb (TWENTY!) to date. when i say it like that, it sounds amazing, but truly it's been slow and steady. what it comes down to: i'm learning to eat well. still have a little ways to go in chiseling off college, med school, marriage, and residency weight (!), but getting there healthily and loving the way clothes fit and my step bounces. 

here's to a great 2014 ahead!

14 December 2013


happy christmas, you guys! it's been awhile. 

i learn something new about myself & how to do better everyday. do you? this fact has always astounded me -- the fact that you spend every waking (and sleeping) moment with yourself, year in and year out, and yet still have personal epiphanies daily. if you're in the habit of being introspective, even little things can prompt such discoveries; for example, i give you: fortune cookies!

okay, okay. i know what you're thinking. fortune cookies are pretty cliche and usually not worth the paper they're haphazardly typed on (is that too harsh?). even so, this one from our favorite local sichuan place (see: legend. OMG, go there.) the week before thanksgiving gave me a pause. was it because it was the week before thanksgiving? or because i was then wandering the hospital wards on a semi-elective neurology rotation with lots of time on my hands to observe other doctors in action and be pimped-on-the-daily about obscure neurologic diseases? the answer to both of these could be yes. regardless, it elucidated why despite inadequacies in my memory, intelligence, and other measurements of medical prowess, my patients still seem to think i'm an okay doctor; because i truly take so much joy in taking care of people.

i read a lot. it's one of the things i've loved about living in NYC (did i mention we're moving to philadelphia in july for my infectious diseases fellowship at UPenn?!? ecstatic!) -- being able to read on my commute. this year i read a plethora of medical and non-medical and marginally-related-to-medical books. one of my favorites: abraham verghese's autobiography my own country. it's a raw, honest, introspective piece of hard-to-put-down writing. it chronicles his early career living in rural tennessee, as an indian physician, taking care of HIV patients at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. heavy and light all at the same time. one of my favorite things about the book is the clarity with which you're introduced to his genuine care for his patients. he doesn't say it. but you see and feel it (and so much echoes the experiences i've had going through residency): "i have lived for five years in a culture of disease, a small island in a sea of fear. i have seen many things there. i have seen how life speeds up and heightens in climates of extreme pain and emotion. it is hard to live in these circumstances, despite the acts of tenderness that can lighten everything. but it is hard to pull away from the extreme life lived far from mundane conversation. never before have i felt so close to love and pain, so connected to people."

aren't people and the care of them what this life is about? despite my intermittent and moody introversion, that's my realization looking at this silly fortune: cure is sometimes out of your control, but caring never is. care for people. 

21 June 2013


henry and i have been trying out different online music services recently. and when i say "henry and i," i mean that henry has been trying them out, and i just started an account with spotify yesterday. :)

in my (straw man) defense, i have had a pandora account for a few years which has mesmerized me in its ability to read my mind and play things i like. i've found some of my recent favorite bands in this way. what's more -- some of these newer programs are now even allowing you to listen to whole albums. (!) revolutionary, people.

unfortunately for henry, this means that i have all the more access to my oft-criticized obsessive genre of music: strong-rhythm'ed, complex-lyric'ed, male british crooners (did i get that right, babe?). and yesterday, i discovered ben howard. needless to say, i've listened to 'every kingdom' about 3 times through already and love every piece of it. 

do yourself a favor: pour yourself a glass of wine, snuggle into the couch, and turn on this album. you might fall asleep (i concede this, henry), but you also might soothe your soul.

how would you know?
when everything around you's changing like the weather,

a big black storm.
and who would you turn to?
or hide a ghost, a shadow at the most, would you let me know?
cause i don't want to,
to trouble your mind with the childish design of how it all should go.
but i love you so,
but it all comes clear, when the wind is settled, i'll be here, you know.

.gracious. ben howard

19 May 2013


so i've been sort of down lately.

i think a lot of my sadness is a result of recent events. busy schedule leading to loneliness. scheduling situations at work leaving me feeling left out. inability to follow through with research tasks. failing to get to the gym and plan healthy meals ahead of time. spending precious little time on the phone connecting with long-distance family and friends.

in case you don't know me well, it's abundantly true to most that i have really high expectations. these pertain to both myself (leading to guilt when i don't meet them) and others (leading to frustration when they're not met). sometimes these have been helpful in my life (like, y'know, when they help me get through med school), but most of the time just cause a lot of emotional strife. i think that being intermittently sad and disappointed recently probably stems from this; every once in a while my expectations are actually met which creates all the more angst when the norm is that they are far far far from met.

i had a realization at church tonight: i am ALWAYS going to be sad and disappointed if i continue to allow myself to respond with guilt and frustration to the shortcomings of myself and others. we are all imperfect, and i'm setting myself up for defeat. it seems like a pretty simple statement, but i just sort of got it in a more real way while singing at church tonight:

"and Lord, i know that you are for me
i know that you are for me
i know that you will never forsake me in my weakness
and i know that you have come down

even if to write upon my heart
to remind me who you are"
.kari jobe.

such joy and sense of rest i have in this: you are for me! you are for me! i will never be forsaken, especially not in my weakness. and yes, having this reminder being written on my heart should be a daily thing for me.

07 May 2013


i can't count the number of patients i've taken care of during my last two years of residency who i've had to declare. i could probably contact the department of health and ask how many of my signatures litter the bottoms of death certificates, but this wouldn't get at what i'm trying to express. the fact is, although i secretly cry every time i place my stethoscope on a chest and hear no heartbeat, i don't always have the time to really process what has happened. there's an aching, empty feeling in my soul that insists that i mourn, but often a louder, tangible, set of duties i have to fulfill that keep me from responding. the tears often come later, at home, under my covers as i drift off to sleep after a grueling 16- or 27-hour shift. this was especially true recently when my overnight admission (on a night i was covering) died unexpectedly prior to morning rounds. she made a profond impression on me and i offer this that follows as a celebration of her life and for my own mourning.

of all your glorious 95 years on this planet, we only knew each other for the last 9 hours. it seemed like longer than 9 hours, didn't it? 

we first met in the bustling, chaotic cave known as the emergency department. it was 11:30pm. you had been there all day; several doctors had seen you and given you various treatments and diagnoses. i spotted you from afar: you were sitting on the edge of your stretcher, beaming from ear-to-ear, jabbering on with your son at your side. you took my introduction as your cue for a big, welcoming hug punctuated with a sloppy kiss on my forehead. i was instantly infected with your enthusiasm.

how did you feel, i asked. "like a bullet!" you told me in spanish, "better than ever" and "wanting to go home."

you had so many medical problems; only a few months prior you had been ill and admitted in this hospital. although you're weren't in eminent danger of dying then, the overall prognosis was abysmal. you had been discharged to an inpatient hospice with round-the-clock care. as a testament to what i was already experiencing as your insatiable appetite for life, you did so well in the hospice you were discharged home into the care of your 3 generations of offspring.

but here you were, with the vague and initimidating Shortness of Breath and exponentially complicating Chest Pain. you had abnormal labs and evidence of an ongoing mild heart attack. your kidneys weren't working very well. the plan for these problems several months prior had been "keep her comfortable." and i could see why: often doing invasive tests and procedures in a 90+ year-old can lead to worse complications and suffering. in fact, you had already decided to be "DNR/DNI" which meant that if your heart stopped or you stopped breathing we wouldn't do chest compressions or put in a breathing tube, a really thoughtful and appropriate decision.

i admitted you to the ward. i spent time at your bedside, re-examining you, trying to help treat your pain. i repeated your bloodwork: it hadn't much changed. i talked to the covering cardiologist. i dosed medications. what did you want during this time? "cafe con leche, doctora." your nurse, a wizard in her own right, found the last cup of de-caffeinated coffee in the hospital and we plyed you with it -- only after, did you finally opt to sleep.

i checked in on you several times thereafter and you were sleeping peacefully. at 8:30am, i stopped by to let you know i would be handing off care to the day doctors. you gave me a giant hug and thanked me profusely; i sat down at the foot of your bed and listened to a story about your oldest son who would be coming in later to visit. would i call him for you, you asked? would i tell the day team you could go home today? i assured you i would heartily suggest it.

waiting to present to the team, i lounged on the couch in our resident lair. my waist buzzed at an incoming text page: "patient expired. please come." i rubbed my eyes. wait, what? i thought. did i read it correctly? did patient's ORDERS expire? my movements came quicker than my thoughts -- i ran down the hall to your room. i found a frantic site: a rolling blood pressure machine hooked up, an NP, a resident, several nurses and my patient's nurse all standing around her bed. "what's going on?" someone belted across the room. "who's this person's doctor?" another near her chimed in: "i think she's DNR?" 

i sprung into emotionless action as i've been trained to do and took over the situation.  i shooed people away; yes, she was DNR/DNI i answered. yes, i could handle it from here. i moved towards your lifeless body, eyes closed, skin cold. i placed my stethoscope on your chest: no heart beat. no breathing. the silence contrasted sharply against the barage of thoughts parading through my mind at that moment. my overwhelming sense of inadequacy was embarrassingly at the forefront: what could i have done to prevent this? nothing, i realized. it was your time. your body finally gave out and i'm glad it wasn't before one last cafe con leche. 

rest in peace, mi amor. you are greatly loved by generations, including this young doctor-in-training who could not resist your enthusiasm for life. you truly got your wish after all: you went home that day. 

09 April 2013

same love

in light of the recent national discussions on same sex marriage, i've been thinking a lot about love.

to preface, i had my eye on this pillow for a few months in the fall because it sums up exactly what i feel about love and know to be true about life. i was lucky enough to receive it as a gift from henry for christmas, and it has become a daily reminder to me about how superfluous and thing-filled my life is.

another daily reminder: 1 corinthians 13:4-8 hanging in our living room. ok, so it's beautifully written in chinese caligraphy, but i know it by heart (in the new living translation):
love is patient and kind.
love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
it does not demand its own way. 
it is not irritable and it keeps no record of being wronged.
it does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless.
but love will last forever. 

to start a complicated and potentially controversial (to some) post, i need to mention that i have been incredibly lucky in my life to be the recipient of unconditional love from family, friends, and my now husband. i've experienced love poured out to friends, neighbors, and especially those less fortunate than me. i've watched in awe as henry offers patience and kindness not only to me, but to most everyone he meets. i've watched my sisters rejoice when truth wins out and endure with me through every circumstance. the point of this exercise is not to paint my friends and family as saints -- of course they mess up! we are not perfect and the love we're able to provide to others as human beings is not perfect. 

...but love prevails, don't you see? love is how we survive. love is always hopeful.

in light of this, i've had a hard time listening to the discussions on same sex marriage, as an enthusiastic supporter of love, and listen to anyone put a limit or boundary on true love as it's described above. i don't believe that love exists in a vacuum. i don't believe that love should only exist between two people with anatomically different parts and genetically different 46th chromosomes. LOVE IS HUGE AND IMMEASURABLE; it is found during periods of deep sorrow and jubilant celebration. who are we to lasso love? who are we, as imperfect lovers, to set the limits on the glorious, omnipresent, enduring force which will last forever? i beseech you, behold love where it is, between whomever it is, whenever you can and cling to it with your entire soul that you can become a better lover than you are now. 

"no law's gonna change us
we have to change us
whatever god you believe in
we come from the same one
strip away the fear
underneath it's all the same love"   
.macklemore & ryan lewis. 

to quote the beatles, and my pillow, and Jesus (difficult to argue with these three):