Why am I writing this blog?
In 1787 AD, Catherine II, Empress of Russia, took a boating tour of Crimea, accompanied by foreign dignitaries. As the story goes, Grigory Potemkin, a Russian official, set up fake temporary villages along the shore of the river in order to impress the group with how industrious and prosperous the region was. When the boat tour moved beyond sight, the temporary village would be packed up, transported down river, and set up again. There are good reasons to believe that this story didn’t happen according to the traditional narrative, but the term “Potemkin village” somehow made it into common usage, especially in political writing, to describe elaborate efforts to make something look more successful, prosperous, and busy than it really is.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: every blog is something of a Potemkin village. Bloggers engage in a sort of artificial busyness, trying to convince their readers that they are worth paying attention to. The more official they look, and the more authoritative they sound, the better. But when a blogger disengages from social media and stops following their stats, it is easy for them to start asking why on earth they are putting so much effort and work into their site.
A story of gratitude for an answered prayer
Moving 1,000 miles away from home to attend medical school was an exciting experience for me and my little family. As I wrote in a previous post, I had worked dilligently over several years to achieve that goal, and I felt so thankful to have achieved it. I was grateful to the school officials who had considered and ultimately accepted my application, grateful to the many teachers who had seen my potential and had taught and prepared me, and grateful to be on this journey with my wonderful wife who had helped immeasurably to keep my motivation and spirits up. But most of all, I was grateful to God, who had made it all possible. Before me I could see the path ahead, and it led to an honorable, prosperous, and stable vocation providing a necessary service in society.
There was just one problem: all of this was in my future, far in my future, and many years of toil and sacrifice separated me from the ultimate goal of being a medical doctor. At that time I didn’t worry so much about the toil and sacrifice, mainly because I didn’t really know how much I had signed up for, but I was keenly aware of my lack of prosperity. As I was to learn, prosperity was a promise not to be delivered until the entirety of the next 9 years of my training were complete.
At that time we had no financial reserves, no rainy day fund, no real assets or savings. I had a credit card, but it was already maxed out by our recent move. A single large expense would have ruined us.
Last week my lovely wife and I traveled to Columbus, Ohio, for the Internal Medicine residency graduation and awards ceremony at The Ohio State University, where the first ever John McNaugher Stang Award for Inspiring Internal Medicine Resident Teacher was awarded to Devin Haddad, MD and Mena Botros, MD of the graduation class of 2019. The award was announced by Raminder Gill, MD, who was another student of Dr. Stang’s and an early contributor to the scholarship fund. We were also joined by Janice Stang. Unfortunately Meredith Broderick, MD, who was the person who really made this happen, could not be there that night.
(L-R) Alan and Marisa Sanderson, Janice Stang, Raminder Gill
The trials we suffer in righteousness make us more empathetic to others.
I once had a girlfriend who drove an old Volkswagen Fox. Before I started spending so much time with her I had never really paid attention to this kind of car, but after that I started to notice them. In fact there were several Foxes driving around our town, but I had been blind to them until I had a reason to notice them. This relatively sudden change in awareness of a reasonably common thing, caused by a new personal experience, I refer to as the “Volkswagen Fox effect,” and it is likely that you have experienced something like it in your life.
So here is the rest of the story: My last memory of this particular car is from just after I broke up with the girl. She squealed the tires on the road as she sped away from my house.
. . . and it was on Valentine’s Day.
I promise that I didn’t premeditate the timing of this breakup to schedule it on the worst day possible! It was a decision I had been stumbling towards for a few weeks, and that was just the day when I decided to follow through on it. Really it was a spur-of-the-moment decision.
Why would you try to run through life without it?
A few weeks ago I wrote about the untimely death of my daughter Evelyn, and how my faith in God’s plan gave me a sense of peace and assurance despite the loss. I want to expand a bit on this theme.
Faith is not a crutch; it is a shoe. Just as using a shoe helps you travel farther and faster over rougher terrain, faith helps you move through life. It smooths over the rough parts and propels you forward, protecting you from injury and pain.
When faced with uncertainty, be firm in what you know is right.
A teenage boy sat outside on the campus of Bakersfield High School. He was a freshman, almost 15 years old, and was sitting alone on a sidewalk next to a field with scattered trees. It was winter in California: cold, but not that cold. Under-dressed for the weather, but not dangerously so, he tried to suppress a shiver while eating a sandwich that his mother made for his lunch. While he ate, his thoughts wandered through life’s deep questions.
“Is God really up there?” he wondered. This question occupied him a lot, because he could sense how fundamental it was. All of the moral code he had learned from his childhood seemed to depend on the answer to that question. “If there were no God,” he reasoned, “then what would be the point of keeping the commandments?”
Many of life’s important decisions won’t wait for you to feel entirely settled about them. This young man was faced with choices that could forever change the course of his life. Across the street he could see the punk crowd loitering at their hangout, and one or two of them were discreetly smoking. Some of the punk kids were his friends, and he was tempted to join them. But was he going to obey the Word of Wisdom? He also knew about boys and girls his age getting pretty serious with physical intimacy. Was he going to follow the law of chastity? Could he make a decision on these matters without really knowing God for himself?
The year was 1993, and that young teenager was me.