I like waking to sunlight streaming through my window. I like to think of it as Heaven's way of saying good morning to me. But there are times when the mornings aren't good, and the rest of the day doesn't really improve, and the evenings, sometimes they are like capstones on a grave.
But to live is to wakeup everyday, and to wakeup is to wakeup to reality - the parts we enjoy and the parts we don't.
The past few months, since I moved out, I have gotten into this habit of just lying on my bed and staring at the metallic form of a fire sprinkler on my ceiling. Every evening before I sleep and every morning, I take some time to stay this way, staring up, lost in my thoughts - and there's a forest of thoughts to get lost in.
Maybe that's why my hair grows out in all directions, like extensions of my dendrites. Anyway...
One of the thoughts I've been thinking about is the idea of "the end". Not necessarily death, but the conclusion of something.
Everything ends. Everything has an expiry date. Everything has a limit.
But let me share a simple thought I had when visiting my friend Mark's mother on her last days at Medical City. I'm hoping it will help you as much as it has helped me.
Early one morning, I got a call from Mark asking me if I could ask my dad to pray for his mom. She had been fighting cancer for many years, praying, getting healed, improving, relapsing, and suffering again, but always in faith, and always with that peace beyond all understanding. My dad couldn't go so I went instead. Mark is a friend, and his mom, Tita Charrie, is an amazing woman. I had visited her before when she could still talk, and she was always very engaging and hopeful. But that morning, when I walked into her room I knew something was very different. Her family was not there during the short period that I visited, they had to do a few things but were on their way back, so it was just Tita Charrie, the nurse, and I. My heart sank leaving a hollow feeling on my chest. And through that pit drained the little faith I had left.
I thought to myself, "God, how could you let this happen? Where is the reward of faith? Where are the answers to prayers?"
I couldn't bring myself to pray, it just didn't seem like any of my petitions would be answered anyway. So I sat down on the bench beside her bed, and leaned my head on the wall while I gathered myself. As I turned my head, to my right, sitting on the window ledge, I saw a tiny light violet clock. On its face was its brand: SAKURA.
Sakura. I recognized that word. I had encountered it many times on my trips to Japan. Sakura is what the Japanese call Cherry Blossoms, and every year thousands of people go out to see the Sakura in a tradition that is locally known as Hanami or "flower viewing".
They celebrate because the Sakura, the Cherry Blossoms, represent spring. New life.
"Open your eyes, David. New life."
I like how God can get His word through to even the most stubbornly deaf of people - people like me. He knows exactly what to say and He knows exactly how to get your attention.
So I leaned forward, put my hand on her leg, and prayed a simple prayer, because the complex ones seem to be beyond me, "Father, bring new life to this situation." I can't forget how she turned her head to look at me, smiling through the tube in her mouth, she lifted her arm slightly and waved. Looking back, she was probably saying goodbye, saying it the way we do to friends we know we're going to see again.
I left that morning reminded of what Tita Charrie always knew, that even as the seasons change and bring many things to an end, because life and all it contains is fleeting, there is a Spring that ushers in new life, an amazing life without end.
There is a chasm uncrossable in the depths of my heart, a pit so wide and deep. On one side is a love I cannot have, may never have. On the other is a calling, a mission to achieve. I stand at the edge of responsibility, knowing my place, laying my life down. But I stare across the chasm uncrossable, at her ghostly form, now untouchable, irreplaceable, lost to me.
Once in a while, we find the past making an appearance in our present. Like a movie flashback we find ourselves reliving a memory long dormant and forgotten.
That's exactly how I felt standing in front of one of the halls in Teachers Camp, Baguio. As I looked through the dusty windows of the empty room, I remembered very vividly a scene from many year back as a young nervous boy:
It was the night of the camp ball, I had been selected Mr. Campference, and as is the tradition, I was to have the first dance with the year's Ms. Campference - a much taller girl. Growing up, I was always the smallest in my class. I was tiny come to think of it. I can't begin to describe how scared I was to walk out there and dance with a giant of a female in front of everyone. To me, back then, that was the scariest moment of my life.
I still feel that way, like a schoolboy dancing with responsibilities much too big for him. Sometimes as the music plays, the weight of supporting her through the dizzying turns and steps can get very tiring.
People ask, "Why take on responsibility in the first place? Why bear the burden for others? Why complicate your life?" I don't really have an answer for them. I see responsibility differently.
To me, to be responsible is to respond. Respond to what? To the needs of people around us and also to the opportunities presented. It's like that yema boy I wrote about, who, without saying a word, asked me, "David. David. Your response please?" Or when I was asked to join Habitat for Humanity or Real LIFE, "David. David. Your response please?" How do you know that you're the one to respond? You'll know if you're listening, because need and opportunity call you by name. But you have to be listening because everyday there are calls coming out for help, for food, for a chance, for forgiveness, for leadership, for strength, for hope, for love. There's so many calls that you're bound to hear one calling you specifically and you can't miss it, because it's saying your name over and over and it's asking, "your response please."
So for those of you responding I'd like to encourage you with what I shared in Baguio, in that same room that once scared me. Here are 5 short points on HOW to respond.
1. Make love our motivation - While we respond to need and opportunity, let it be our love for people or our passion for a concern or cause that drives us. There are so many needs and so much opportunity, a good way to know which one is for us is to check our heart and ask ourselves, "Do I love this?"
2. Make vision our guide - To respond to a need or opportunity usually means to enter a situation that's not ideal - probably far from ideal - and that's why there's a need or opportunity in the first place. There's something missing, something we can bring to the picture. That's why we have to see the big and greater picture, a picture we remind ourselves when things get challenging - and they always will because nothing worth doing is without challenge.
3. Make discipline our practice - Our passion and our vision should lead to consistent action. This is one area I need a lot of improvement in. It's nice and fun to be involved in something we like. It's nice and fun to dream big. But it's the daily steps and ceaseless plodding that takes us closer and closer to these targets. Unless love and vision are applied in action, they will never produce the masterpieces they were intended to create.
4. Make joy your strength - There is a different energy that comes over us when we're enjoying what we're doing. Our work becomes fun, and what's fun we can sustain longer. Responsibilities don't always have to be tiring and tedious. We can enjoy the growth, the learning, the discovery, and relationships.
5. Make faith your hope - No matter how motivated we are, no matter how grand our precise our vision, no matter how disciplined we are, and no matter how much satisfaction we derive, we will all face a challenge that's much much much bigger than us. This is why we need faith in God, that we know we can place our hope in Him and trust that what is too big for us will never be too big for Him, not our responsibilities, not our limitations, not our sins, not our failures, nothing.
As we traveled back to Manila after just 6 hours in Baguio, I was filled with a gratefulness to God for even including me in this amazing thing He has designed called life. I know I don't deserve a spot on the team. I would never make the cut. When I'm very honest with myself I'm reminded, that if I were to take them, I'd fail the leadership test, the integrity test, the faith test, and the excellence test. But that's the amazing thing. Despite all my shortcomings, there's a call with my name on it, and it's not asking if I'm ready. It's asking for a response.
They say the light of the fireflies are powered by memories, the memories of everyone alive and gone. And every night they fly back to this tree, to relive the closed eyes, and hands clasped, the kisses, and the moments long over.
Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. I am forced to restore what I did not steal. You know my folly, O God; my guilt is not hidden from you. May those who hope in you not be disgraced because of me, O Lord, the LORD Almighty; may those who seek you not be put to shame because of me, O God of Israel. For I endure scorn for your sake, and shame covers my face. I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother's sons; for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me. When I weep and fast, I must endure scorn; when I put on sackcloth, people make sport of me. Those who sit at the gate mock me, and I am the song of the drunkards. But I pray to you, O LORD, in the time of your favor; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink; deliver me from those who hate me, from the deep waters. Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up or the pit close its mouth over me. Answer me, O LORD, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble. Come near and rescue me; redeem me because of my foes. You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; all my enemies are before you. Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst. May the table set before them become a snare; may it become retribution and [i] a trap. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever. Pour out your wrath on them; let your fierce anger overtake them. May their place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in their tents. For they persecute those you wound and talk about the pain of those you hurt. Charge them with crime upon crime; do not let them share in your salvation. May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous. I am in pain and distress; may your salvation, O God, protect me. I will praise God's name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the LORD more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hoofs. The poor will see and be glad— you who seek God, may your hearts live! The LORD hears the needy and does not despise his captive people. Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and all that move in them, for God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah. Then people will settle there and possess it; the children of his servants will inherit it, and those who love his name will dwell there.