JACKSON, Tenn. – Aug. 22, 2012 – An April morning in 2011 began like any other for Kent Stoneking, the new chairman of pharmacy practice in Union University’s School of Pharmacy.
He hopped on his motorcycle and headed to work along Interstate 40 outside Memphis when he encountered a traffic accident. He swerved onto the shoulder. He hit grass wet with dew. He tumbled over. The bike crushed his leg.
“Through that process, God reclaimed the left leg that he gave me at birth, and he gave me this one instead,” Stoneking said Aug. 22, lifting up his left pant leg to reveal a prosthetic limb. “I live with an amputation now. Not something I would have wanted. It wasn’t on my Christmas list. God gave it to me, and in the process, I watched his healing hand on my life in incredible ways.”
Stoneking delivered the charge to new Union University pharmacy students in the G.M. Savage Memorial Chapel as part of the School of Pharmacy’s fifth annual white coat ceremony. The ceremony is a ritual for medical schools and pharmacy schools in which students are given the white coats they will wear throughout their years as students and in their profession.
In his address to students, Stoneking emphasized the gifts that all of them had been given, even beyond their ability to understand, assimilate and use scientific information. Some students may be gifted in research. Others may be gifted in business and finance, or music and the arts, or athletics.
But whatever the gifts, Stoneking reminded students where those gifts came from.
“Let us not ever say we are naturally gifted,” he said. “Nature doesn’t bestow gifts. God does.”
As the first-year pharmacy students begin their four-year program at Union, Stoneking said they had been given a gift to study with one of the finest faculties anywhere. But with that gift comes the responsibility to develop their God-given gifts, to hone them so they can be effective in treating patients wherever God may call them when their training is complete.
Stoneking encouraged students to persist in their studies, acknowledging that pharmacy school is difficult work. He told them not to forget that everything they receive is a gift from God, even those things they may not have wanted.
For example, Stoneking pointed to the diabetes with which he was diagnosed as a child. He has been dependent upon insulin injections for 33 years.
“The gift of diabetes has given me the privilege of coming alongside countless patients and teaching them how to care for themselves, to maintain their health, with diabetes,” he said.
He also told about the accident that claimed his left leg. After the wreck, Stoneking underwent six operations in 11 days. He said the ordeal revealed to him God’s healing hand in tremendous ways and gave him an opportunity to see God’s people at work.
“We saw the body of Christ do what the body of Christ does best,” Stoneking said. “People surrounded us with encouragement, prayers, cards, food, lawn care. Needs we didn’t even know we had, people were there to meet them.”
Throughout the recovery process, Stoneking thought about what he would do with a prosthetic leg. He ultimately decided that since God gave it to him, he would give it back to God.
“From the time I started walking again last summer, I’ve had the privilege of being in the hospital room with people who have been through traumatic accidents and lost a limb,” Stoneking said. “And I’ve been able to share with them, ‘There’s hope. Life isn’t over. It’s a little different, but that’s OK.’”
He has also shared with patients God’s promises from the Bible, such as Jeremiah 29:11, which Stoneking quoted: “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope.” He also referenced Philippians 1:6: “He who has begun a good work in you – the Lord Jesus Christ – will be faithful to complete it,” Stoneking said. “He’s not going to leave us hanging.”
When students receive things in life that they didn’t want or expect, Stoneking challenged them to “give them back to God. Let him use them, however he wants to, to accomplish his purposes.”
As students prepared to receive their white coats, Stoneking asked them to remember God’s gifts to them.
“As you put it on, thank God for the gifts that he’s given you, and then employ those gifts diligently, humbly, faithfully, to serve your patients, to serve your colleagues, to serve the world around you, for his glory,” he said.