By Krystal Mattox | June 11, 2018
When I was in school, a teacher encouraged us to identify a life verse—a passage of Scripture we could stand on no matter what peaks or valleys we experienced in life. I don’t recall my exact age at that time, but I chose Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths” (NKJV). This has been my anchor verse and I have had to put it into practice several times over this last year in both my personal and academic life.
In my personal life, I have been dating a wonderful man of God since April 2016. We went to high school together and were good friends. Around our one-year anniversary, we were challenged by our pastor to analyze our relationship and determine if we thought we were heading toward marriage or not. We did, and we both felt strongly that we were ready for marriage. However, given our family dynamics and some desires we had, we prayed Matthew would get accepted into a physical therapy program prior to our wedding day. He had already been disappointed twice during previous application cycles. Yet, he felt strongly that being a PT was something the Lord had called him to. Wanting to honor the Lord with our relationship and to remain pure, we determined the earliest date we could get married was my graduation weekend from dental school on May 20, 2018. That would be a great transition for us, and it would allow all my family from different countries to be in Maryland to witness these two milestones in my life. Thus, we made our request known to the Lord and proclaimed, “Not our will, Lord, but yours be done.”
As it pertains to my academic life, I thought third year of dental school was the most challenging until I made it to fourth year. As with most type A individuals, I had mapped out how I was going to complete my requirements prior to graduation in addition to my mandatory externship rotations, which included seven weeks away from clinic. I was determined to complete these requirements no later than spring break of 2018, right before my two-week continuing education conference in Greece where I would serve as the Academic Assistant. Not to mention the several other trips I had planned for my participation as the CMDA Student Trustee, studying for my National Board of Dental Examination (NBDE) part II and preparing for my clinical CDCA boards for licensure eligibility. So imagine actually wanting to throw wedding planning in the midst of all of that!
My fourth year of dental school did not go anything like I imagined. I had more failures in that one year than I had experienced previously. I struggled over the summer of 2017 as my classmates started applying to residencies and jobs and I was unsure how to proceed as I waited on Matthew to hear back from PT school. In addition, I took the NBDE part II board exam in August 2017, which is a 12-hour exam over two days. I studied diligently for the exam. Yet, in September of 2017 I was met with both overwhelmingly great news and deep disappointment. I learnt that I did not pass my NBDE II exam by one point. That broke me significantly, and I was called to reflect on that anchor Scripture. On the contrary, Matthew learned he was accepted to the PT program at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). That meant one of our major prayers were answered and we needed to discuss with family our intentions for getting married. That was not an easy feat as we were met with many questions, concerns and opposition.
Nevertheless, we stayed true to what we felt God calling us to do in getting married and trusted that the Lord would bring our parents’ hearts around. Academically, I went back to the drawing board and started studying again for NBDE part II which I retook December 29-30, 2017. Matthew proposed to me on December 16, 2017—even though I knew it was coming, he still was able to surprise me! Being so busy with school, the wedding planning did not start until the middle of January 2018. That gave us four months to plan a wedding for 200+ guests while simultaneously finishing my requirements in dental school. It would have been fine if things progressed the way I envisioned, but as is often the case in dental school, we are at the mercy of our patients to meet these requirements.
What do you do when things are out of your control? PRAY! With my personality, it was so difficult to relinquish that control. Yet, there was an overwhelming sense of peace when I realized I could not control whether or not patients came to their appointments or needed the specific dental experiences I was lacking; only God could orchestrate that. I walked into March needing to deliver five non-implant clinical crowns prior to graduation. Yet, I only had eight weeks of clinic remaining, of which I would be absent for three weeks due to the trips I previously mentioned. That was minimal time when the cases had to be sent to the lab to be poured, sent back to the student to trim the die and then sent back to the lab for final fabrication. In addition, I had no prospective patients lined up! The week prior to graduation I still had five clinical crowns I needed to deliver. Thankfully, I had seven cases in process. However, being a student dentist, I knew better than to rely on any case until it was cemented because there are usually some problems with the prep, the die trimming or the lab that prevents the successful delivery of the crown with closed margins and proper contact. Thus, I was slightly overwhelmed going into that week, praying everything went well. I got to a point where I was so burdened with wedding details and successfully completing requirements that I had to rely on the encouragement of others and the reminder of God’s faithfulness to carry me through. Thankfully, all six of the crowns fit! I exceeded my requirements and was able to transfer the extra case to another student who was still working on finishing her fixed requirements. I also successfully passed all board exams I had to retake.
My family joined me the weekend of May 18th at graduation to celebrate God’s faithfulness in getting me through dental school and attaining my desire of becoming a dentist, one that was birthed 16 years prior. Not many individuals knew Matthew and I had already set our wedding date before we were even engaged, and we prayed the Lord would bring it to fruition. When May 20, 2018 came, we were so overcome with the goodness of Christ as He allowed our desires to come to pass. We used our wedding as a platform for the gospel and were privileged to be used by Christ as we saw individuals come to the saving knowledge of Jesus as our pastor discussed the parallels between our marriage and the marriage of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:22-33).
I wish I could say I understood all the difficulties Matthew and I have experienced with him having to apply three times prior to being accepted into PT school, me failing significant national licensure exams and completing my requirements literally right before graduation. Yet, this is why God says not to lean on our own understanding. I know our characters were refined as we went through the fire of trusting in Jesus and exercising our faith to bring to pass the things He has called us to do (1 Peter 1:6-7). Additionally, we are able to sympathize with others who face similar disappointments. There is a culture in professional schools were most people do not discuss grades. Yet, when you become vulnerable, especially with failure, people are more likely to open up to you. It’s unfortunate that other members of my class also did not pass portions of our board exams, yet we were all able to support each other just by me being the first to be vulnerable.
Despite it all, one thing never changed for Matthew and me, and that was our assurance that Jesus is Lord and He is in charge. He definitely directed our path in allowing all things to fall into place. There is a song that states, “He is an on time God, yes He is! He may not come when you want Him, but He’ll be there right on time. He is an on time God, yes He is!”
I pray as you look into this snippet of my life, you see that, although it is challenging to trust God, it is extremely worth it. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (NKJV). If you believe in Jesus, you are called according to His purpose! Do I wish some of the things I discussed never happened and it was smooth sailing? Yes, BUT I have a greater appreciation for the outcome based on the journey and challenges it took to get where we are today. Please do not use my story to think you’ll always get what you want. Sometimes what we want is not in accordance with God’s perfect will for us. I have experienced that, but it will work out even if it was not the way we intended it to go. My constant prayer to Jesus was simply, “This is what we desire, Lord, but do what’s best for advancing your kingdom.” May the Lord give you strength and grace to trust Him in every area of your life.