Ever since I was a child, I enjoyed reading and writing. Perhaps it was because my parents were great storytellers and voracious readers. As soon as I learned to write (yes I did it in cursive like everybody else did then!) I started a diary. When I was nine years old I sent a letter to my Dad who was an overseas contract worker in Guam. I wrote it in a form of a comic book and illustrated it myself. As a student at the Central Philippine University Elementary School, I was the Filipino literary editor of our school paper, the Mini Echo. To this day I was baffled by that because I was not that good in Filipino! In highs school I served as literary editor in the Central High Herald. I began to write poems and short stories that unfortunately I don't have any copies saved because we didn't have computers and flash drives then. II joined a short story writing contest sponsored by Central echo, CPU's college paper some time in the 1980's. I joined because I needed money to buy a new pair of sandals. My short story was titled, "Leaves," and it won first place! The chief judge was Prof. Alfredo Q. Gonzales, author of the classic essay, "The Will of a River," one of my favorite reads of Filipino literature in English. I did a lot of writing in college/seminary and graduate school but the most fun I had was when I was writing poems and short stories. Fast forward to the 21st century, I now write sermons every week and articles for our monthly news letter. Currently I serve as Senior Pastor of Central Baptist Church of Woodbury in Woodbury, New Jersey, U.S.A. This is my twelfth year at CBC, where my husband and I served as co-interim pastors from 2010 through 2012. We have a 19-year old son who is a college freshman, and my technical adviser in all things digital. In this continuing writing adventure I am thankful to God for giving me the inspiration to write and the joy that goes with it. I hope that my poems, prayers and prose inspire joy in my readers.
9.5.2022: A Reflection on the Journey of Grief and Healing
Today I choose joy and gratitude for the deep and wonderful love that God has given my husband, David and I, since we met in 1999 in the campus of Central Philippine University. I hope and pray that by God’s grace, even with the grief that persists to keep me company, I will make it my intention every day to also welcome joy in this journey, for the rest of my life.
I thank my sister, Esther Rose, for sharing with me a photo (the one on the right) from her “FB archives,” taken when we were already married and were in the Philippines for a visit. If I recall correctly, this may have been taken there on one of our short term mission trips, where Dave and I did some team teaching on Conflict Transformation Across Cultures at the College of Theogy.
It was a joy to teach with Dave because he was always eager to learn as much as to teach. He taught me to be patient, humble and gracious even when one disagrees with another person’s views. He used to tease me that I always wanted to have the last word in an argument or debate. Many times he did let me have the last word, with a smile. He always believed, “Happy wife, happy life.” 🥰❤️
The other pictures were taken at Dave’s cousin Bill’s mansion in Hanover, PA (now a museum). This was during the early years of our marriage and we were there to celebrate his cousin’s birthday. I believe it was at summer time and my late sister-in-law, Sue, took these pictures. The one with my back towards the camera was probably when we were preparing to leave but the band started to play and Dave took my hands to dance. His eyes were beaming with joy. Though you can’t see my face, I am sure that my eyes were looking into his with great joy.
In the other picture, we are smiling with so much joy, it’s as if time has stopped and we were in Kairos time, where there is no past, present or future, only the eternal NOW. The photographer had captured in this moment our unique, distinctive personalities: Dave’s quiet, tender self and me, with (using Dave’s own words) my “wacky wonderfulness,” blended into one passionate, exuberant love that couldn’t help but be “surprised by joy!” (Borrowing C.S. Lewis’ words) You may also notice that both of my hands and arms are wrapped around Dave’s left arm and we are leaning on each other, in a comfortable, loving closeness.
Throughout the years of our marriage we continually leaned on each other with happiness and delight like in this photo, but also in tough times especially when Dave’s health started to decline. By God’s grace we tried our best to choose joy and gratitude in the midst of the aches and pains. It was not easy but in the end, the great Love from God carried us through the dark days of suffering, giving us always a reason to smile, even laugh! It was a labor of love that was worth all the effort and tears.
Now that Dave is no longer with me in his warm and solid human form, each day is a struggle to choose joy and gratitude. But I have a choice: I can choose joy and gratitude or not. With the courage given to me by God, in his love and mercy, I choose joy and gratitude.
And, with the many happy memories and the gifts of faith, hope and love that Dave and I share and had been growing through the years, with our son, Isaac, as the most beautiful fruit of our union — there is a vast reservoir of joy that I can receive and give.
Living in a divided and polarized society, I recently raised this question and shared it with my friends in social media: How do we show love and respect and still uphold the truth and resist evil? Here are my reflections in response to this question, using the story of Jesus and Peter in John 21:1-19.
Active and empathetic listening out of love and compassion that Jesus offered to Simon Peter led to a meaningful and healing conversation that did not distort the truth, gloss over it or ignore it but confronted it with the purpose of forgiveness and reconciliation based on an openness to be forgiven and restored by Jesus (cf John 21:1-19).
How to listen and have a transformative conversation is a lifelong lesson that will be learned, tested and applied in the classroom of daily life. For me, to listen (with one’s ears and eyes if reading a post on social media) means being aware of my own biases, flaws and incomplete knowledge and understanding of the situation, with humility and grace. However it doesn’t mean ignoring the truth that I know and information that is already available to all who have the mind to think, discern and decide. It also calls for me to keep doing research, fact check, and use reputable sources. That means not to be lazy to do my own personal work. So, yes, listening with love and the motive to understand and find common ground is hard and exhausting work. But, if we are to follow Jesus’s way, it is important work and worth it.
If I disagree with a person I love, I try hard to listen, not to reply and give a counter argument (immediately 🥰) but to understand. This does not come easy to me (or any human being, I think). I want to win the debate. I want to have the last word. Just ask my husband! BUT… I realize and am learning that to really listen with empathy and love is to rise above my desires and preferences and to “put on the mind of Christ.” (Philippians 2) Not that I give up my own views, but in order to see where the one I am listening to is coming from and to find out what we share in common, to find a halfway point that in our disagreement we can agree to disagree without losing sight of our shared faith and love and together to search the truth “that will set us free” to become Jesus’s witnesses in the world. (A sense of humor is necessary at times. Sarcasm is not so helpful but wit can be winsome when spoken with grace.)
Timing, effort and caring is so important though. Jesus, in John 21:1-19, first helped his disciples to catch fish (did not criticize them for going back to their old life), cooked them breakfast (extended hospitality and provided them food for their body) and then after the meal, took Simon (Peter) aside (possibly in private that John overheard 😊) and engaged him in an intimate, loving conversation. The “kairos” (God-appointed) time takes patience, discernment and preparation. So it’s important not to rush into it. Doing our own personal interior work and sensitivity towards those we want to listen to with love and respect begins in solitude and prayer and listening to Jesus.
For Peter, it was painful to listen to Jesus asking, “Do you love me more than these?” Bible scholars explain that Jesus’s question asked three times corresponded with Peter’s denial of Jesus three times. This was Jesus not forgetting recent history of betrayal, but the way he guided Peter to move on was by asking and listening in order for Peter to remember the wrong he had done against Jesus, renew his love for Jesus, and then to be forgiven and restored in a loving relationship with his beloved Lord, Jesus.
How this kind of listening is applied and practiced is a lifelong learning adventure that calls for prayerful humility and receptivity to the Holy Spirit’s work in us. For Peter and the rest of the disciples it also meant going back to fishing for people and doing God’s mission of making disciples as Jesus taught and showed them to do.
Jesus last words to Peter and the disciples in John’s story was, “Follow me.” (John 21:19). Follow Jesus. Not Herod, the Pharisees, Pilate or Caesar.
I pause my keys for now.
Till next time, shalom and may the God who listens to us and hears our cries as well as our laughter, bind us in love and send us forth in peace. Amen.