Making an Impact in Your Environment
What do you do when God’s will is not your will? How do you respond when something you are so heavily invested in doesn’t work out as you had planned? What do you do when God seems silent? These are common questions that many of us wrestle with as did I during portions of my story.
This story represents a 17-year journey – one that was masterfully orchestrated by God. At times along my journey, I found myself asking – “God, Where are you?”, “I’m doing what You’ve called me to do, why aren’t You coming through?”, “Why isn’t this working out as I had planned?”.
I could not have imagined or planned the outcome at the outset of this journey. I pray that a small glimpse into this period of my life will encourage you with two overriding points: 1. God is faithful in spite of our desires not always being met. 2. You can make a Kingdom impact in your environment regardless of the specific environment.
For as long as I can remember I wanted to be just like my dad, a doctor. As a young boy, I would listen to the gore stories with such satisfaction and amazement. After high school, I entered college majoring in pre-medical studies. I spent 4 years diligently working towards achieving the goal of acceptance into medical school. I was blessed to have performed well in my core classes and score high on the medical school entrance exams resulting in acceptance into medical school.
Early in my medical school career, I became fascinated with the anatomy of the face, head, and neck prompting me to pursue a residency in Head and Neck Surgery, Facial Plastics and Reconstruction at the conclusion of medical school. Lucky for me, this was one of the most sought-after and competitive specialties – these spots were not obtained by chance. Medical school proved to be an entirely different animal with dedication requirements far beyond anything I had experienced to that point. Furthermore, chasing after one of the most competitive specialties, I would have to excel in every aspect. Through the 4 years of medical school, I met the challenges with determination, keeping my end goal in mind. When the stress to perform would weigh heavy, I would frequently take the mindset that “I’ll do my part, and God will do His”, after all, I felt confident that He was calling me to be a Head and Neck Surgeon. Consistency and diligence led me to be at the top of my medical school class, scoring high on my board exams. As a result, I was selected to the residency of my choice – all was going to plan!
Residency was filled with long hours and grueling days but I loved it. I had a passion for operating and truly enjoyed the work. Toward the end of my 5-year residency training, I felt led to seek further sub-specialty training specifically focusing on reconstructing defects of the face, head and neck after cancer or trauma. This required one additional year of what is known as “Fellowship” training. I was granted 10 fellowship interviews at some of the biggest universities in the country. My wife, Aimee, and I spent a lot of time praying for God’s guidance and will to be done throughout the process.
After hitting the fellowship interview trail I was utterly baffled that I had been put on reserve lists or outright declined. “What!?” I thought, “No one has better grades than me, or more experience, or more research, or the personality, etc”. I was confused and frustrated. These emotions led to questions – “God, Where are you?”, “I’m doing what You’ve called me to do, why aren’t You coming through?”, “Why isn’t this working out as I had planned?” (notice, lots of “I” and “me” in these questions).
It’s hard to describe the emotions after failing to reach a goal that I had worked for with so much tenacity and fervor. Not to mention, up to this point, the 13-year time investment working toward this goal.
Here’s one of the most beautiful aspects looking back on my story. Through all the emotions, through my misperceptions and misguided direction, God was there – leading, guiding, waiting, working. He was present even when I felt He was absent. He had plans far greater than I could have imagined. A prominent pastor once said, “If God always met your expectations, He would never have the opportunity to exceed them”. This resonates so loudly with me as I reflect on this period of my journey.
With prayer, support, and encouragement I began to turn my frustrations into openness to a different path (mind you, this “right turn” occurred in the 13th year of a 14 year road where I had been dead set on a specific direction). I was discussing my dead ends with a mentor who listened and without sympathy, simply asked, “Have you thought about Cosmetic Surgery?”. To someone who had a deep desire, even a “spiritual calling”, to reconstruct people after traumatic experiences this seemed oddly out of bounds. He gave his argument for why he felt this was a good specialty. While his points were legitimate, I laughed thinking this was beneath me, a waste of time and talent.
I went home that night and mentioned the suggestion to my wife, scoffing as I told her, to which she responded, “Well, have you considered it?” I responded, “No. Not at all”. She asked, “Why?”. I didn’t have a good answer. After a lot of discussion and prayer, I mean a lot, I agreed to at least send in applications to the top 3 cosmetic surgery training programs. To my surprise, I was invited to multiple fellowship interviews. The number one place on my list had sent me an offer just one business day after interviewing.
I wrestled for months with the notion that I was electing to pursue a specialty of surgery that was “superficial”, insignificant, and a joke. I had countless discussions with mentors asking all of them the same question, “Can God really be calling me to do this, I mean Cosmetic Surgery, really?” All of them seemed to have the same answer – a smile followed by a shoulder shrug. Aimee and I had been praying for God to open doors and this felt like an open door. So, in faith, but not without hesitation, I accepted. In the days following, I can’t say I was excited. I was more bewildered. I did my best to maintain an open attitude and still prayed, “Ok God if this is it, let’s do it”, in the back of my mind actually thinking, “What the heck is going on?”.
One day, another physician friend of mine called to congratulate me upon hearing the news of my acceptance into a prestigious fellowship program. There were the normal pleasantries and superficial questions but one question shook me to the core, “How do you reconcile being a Christian and doing cosmetic surgery?”. I was speechless, I had no answer. I even thought to myself, “How DO I reconcile this?”
I went home that night and shared this with Aimee. This was one of those pivotal life moments that changed my perspective forever. She looked at me and without even thinking said firmly, “YOU DON’T!”. I processed this response and looked at her for clarification. She said, “Take out the ‘and’, you aren’t a Christian AND a cosmetic surgeon. You are a CHRISTIAN COSMETIC SURGEON.” Mind blown.
She was right. There’s no compartmentalization. I wasn’t a Christian over here and my profession over there. You can’t un-marry the two. In fact, the one drives how you approach the other. It’s one identity guiding the other. It was then that my perspective changed. We were determined to make a difference in the lives of people that God had put in front of us. We were motivated to jump head first into an industry that needed Jesus just as bad as any other, maybe more. As my perspective changed, so did my excitement – How crazy would it be to be in an environment where people are consistently worried about their outer appearance and have the opportunity to share with them the meaning of true worth and value? How awesome would it be to explain to someone the notion of “inner beauty” and self-respect? How cool would it be to instill lost confidence in someone within the context that they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by a God that loves them as they are – in other words, already beautiful (in fact our mission is to Enhance the ALREADY BEAUTIFUL You!) So our prayers became, “God, use us where you’ve put us.” And He has.
I can say with absolute confidence that our impact for the kingdom has been far greater in our current environment than it would’ve been if I was working where and how I had desired. Consider this, my wife and I own our own private practice which allows us to set the tone, create the culture, and deliver the message. We get to lead, develop, and speak into the lives of an entire group of people that we employ. And finally, I get the opportunity to make a positive and lasting impact on each and every patient I encounter by instilling lost confidence and hope. In fact, we’ve made it a priority to pray with every patient prior to proceeding with surgery on the day of their surgery. Thank you, Jesus, for Your omniscience and working Your plan for Your glory, phew!
So rest in this my brothers and sisters, God is continually working in spite of our hesitation, resistance, questions, faults and failures. He is present even when he seems absent. He knows the end before we get started. Finally, be encouraged that you can ABSOLUTELY make a difference for the Kingdom in the environment He has placed you in regardless of your thoughts on the environment. Amen.