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Sunday, July 24, 2011

God And Veterinary Medicine

Ready for a very long post?  Buckle in, because we're going places I haven't gone since I started this blog.

Anyone who has followed my blog over the years or has perused my profile or some of my older entries will likely know that I am a Christian.  I deliberately do not make a big deal about it as that is not the main point of this blog (for something more along those lines check out my other blog, The Christian Ninjate, which isn't updated anywhere nearly as frequent as this one).  However, I've also never hidden my faith and do believe in being openly Christian.  Today I want to talk more about my Christianity in regards to my workplace, all because of an email I received from Rachel...

I'm been interested in becoming a veterinarian since I was very little and always had a deep passion for pets.
Now that I am about to become a senior in high school and have prayed much about it, God seems to have confirmed to me that I should pursue a career path in veterinary medicine.
I came across your blog and the stories that you mention are so interesting and always make me smile :)
Plus, the fact that you are a growing Christian while having the life of a veterinarian shocked me SO much!
All of the veterinarians/pre-vet/vet tech/etcetc. seem to be so avid about animals that they push God away- many speaking against "religion" (especially those who are staunch about animal rights!)
Many people who choose to make animals a critical part of their life even treasure them above people!
I get very discouraged about this, and sometimes think that I'm not "passionate enough" about animals if I value humans and my beliefs higher.
So my questions are...

-How do you glorify God through your job?
-What pushed/motivated you through the hardship of schooling?

In answer to Rachel, let me give a little more of my background, as it's pertinent to the topic. I was raised Lutheran and in what would be considered a pretty typical suburban background.  We went to church, I went through Confirmation, but it never really meant a lot to me.  It was something that we did, not something I really felt.  By the time I was through high school and into college I had started questioning things and became a full-blown agnostic.  At one point I even looked into other religions, including Islam (which was presented in one of my college texts as a religion of peace and inclusion).  While in college I spent part of a semester in London and had an experience there that suddenly made me strongly believe that God was real.  I had no doubts at all.  However, I didn't read or really believe in the Bible, and didn't take its lessons to heart.  I went through graduate school and veterinary school living my life selfishly and in a way that God wouldn't be proud or accepting of.  I treated people horribly and did many bad things.

That turned around in 1998, when I reached the lowest point in my life.  I don't want to get into all of the particulars, but some things happened to me and I felt my life falling apart, or at least going down a track that I didn't want to see.  One evening in my apartment I felt utterly hopeless, and suddenly remembered a few things that my mother had said about being able to turn to God.  So right there I got down on my knees and asked God's forgiveness.  The next day I started looking for a church, finding one close by.  I started studying the Bible, looking at it and life in ways that I never had previously.  About a month after that I met the woman who would become my wife, who was a Christian and someone I never would have considered prior to giving my heart and life to Jesus Christ. Since then I've tried to turn myself around, have changed my attitudes, and don't think that I'm the same person I was back in the '80s and '90s.  I've also tried to listen to God's guidance and have looked for ways to serve Him.  I have been involved in helping to grow churches, have spoken in front of churches, and have become a leader in a "Christian geek" ministry, Fans For Christ, where I organize and lead church services at sci-fi/fantasy/comic/anime conventions.

So that's the short version (believe it or not) of my story as a Christian.  Now to Rachel's points and questions.

I have also seen a decidedly anti-Christian bias among many scientists, who often put science over faith.  I am a very educated person who was trained as a scientist and have published in the scientific field.  I have also taught Biology and other science-related courses, so I have a firm grasp of these fields, evolution, and so on.  I have seen too many people feel that science and religion are mutually exclusive.  I have also seen people hold onto their faith and believe in science as or even more strongly that some people hold onto their faith in God.  And I have lived on both sides of that fence, as I used to be one who valued science over religion.  I have a unique understanding of both viewpoints.

Rachel, I completely understand what you are saying about some people putting animals and humans on equal footing. I also have seen it happen, as well as people viewing their lives and profession without any religious thoughts at all.  I believe in what God teaches through the Bible, that humans are a special creation given rights and responsibilities over the plants and animals of the world.  While animals should be cherished, humans should always win out over them when a choice has to be made.  I love my pets and treat my patients with the best care I can, but I always feel that the needs of the humans in the family take priority. Don't feel like you aren't "passionate enough" if you're not like these people.  Your passion is in a different area, but that doesn't mean that you can't be a great veterinarian.  In fact, you'll probably be more compassionate and caring by following the words of Jesus.

How do I glorify God? Like on this blog I don't beat people over the head with my Bible, but also don't make a secret of it.  I've learned to believe in the old saying that I may be the only Bible that people will read.  So as I go through my day I try to conduct myself in a way that God wants to see.  I don't use curse words, I don't tell off-color jokes, I try to give my co-workers, staff, and clients respect, and I make it well-known that I'm involved in church and so won't work Sundays regularly (my clinic is open seven days a week).  If a client brings up something about God or prayer I use it as an opening to share my own faith and have even prayed with them.  Mostly I try to live by example, showing a Christ-like servant-leadership as best as I can.  Some days it's harder than others, and I'm certainly not perfect (only Jesus ever was).  I want people to see that I'm not hypocritical (most of the time) in my Christian beliefs versus my life.  I also want them to see something in me (the light in Christ that the Bible talks about) that makes them want something similar.  I pray for strength and guidance in difficult cases, and often quietly ask for God's hands to help me through tough times, surgeries, and clients.

The hardship of schooling....I wish I could say that it was my faith, but I didn't have it when I was going through college and veterinary school.  For me it was sheer stubbornness and determination, nothing more or less.  I actually think it would be easier for me now, as I have God to turn to and rely on, something I didn't have back then.  He has helped me through some equally tough times since then, and I am so glad to have Him support and love me.

Rachel, hang onto God with both hands.  Don't let others discourage you.  And believe it or not there are others out there like you.  There is an organization I've been involved with called Christian Veterinary Mission.  They have veterinarians who do mission work in various parts of the world, using their veterinary skills as a way to get involved in a community, looking for ways to share Christ with others.  They also work with veterinary students and would be a good way to fellowship with others going through the same things (look at the "Students" section on the web page linked above).  I'll pray for your success as you follow the dream that God has given you.  Always listen to Him!