Ebenezer

One of my favorite hymns, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” has these lines:

“Here I raise my Ebenezer,
Here by Thy great help I’ve come.”

The song was playing during breakfast today, and Daphne asked me what “Ebenezer” stood for. Being Mr Know-It-All, I mumbled something vague before I realized that, hey, I couldn’t remember (or, more truthfully, I didn’t actually know). So I did what every modern husband knows to do when stumped: I reached for the iPhone and googled.

“Ebenezer” was mentioned in 1 Samuel 7. Following Israel’s God-won victory over the Philistines, the prophet Samuel picked up a stone and called it Ebenezer, which means, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.” Wow.

Yesterday we marked 15 weeks of pregnancy. We pause to “raise our Ebenezer.” By the help of Jehovah, we’ve come to this point. By faith, we move forward, eager to raise more stones of Ebenezer.

showdown

A reflection on 1 Kings 18:20-46

Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” (v. 21)

You’re there on Mount Carmel. Do you see the 450 priests of Baal? Opposite them is Elijah, that “trouble maker” who had caused this drought. The prophet, whom King Ahab has been hunting down, is vastly outnumbered. But look who’s taunting who!

“Shout louder! Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”

Baal’s priests look exhausted (and more than a little embarrassed). After hours of calling on Baal, even wounding themselves, not a flicker of fire has been conjured. Could it be that the god we have been sacrificing to is deaf? Or, worse, dead?

Elijah’s words earlier ring in your ear: “How long will you waver between two options?” It sounds like a dare addressed to you. Have I really thought long and hard about my beliefs?

You stare at Elijah’s water-drenched altar glistening in the sunlight. Your eyebrows furrow. This man is crazy! Surely no fire could burn this altar. Then Elijah’s prayer silences the murmuring throng. Suddenly fire streaks the sky and hits the altar. The altar sizzles and crackles so violently you feel heat on your face. There is a collective gasp from the crowd, followed by chanting that rises in a crescendo: “Yahweh! He is God!”

Be sure, be very sure you follow the All-Consuming Fire and not some counterfeit, impotent god.

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!
(Henry J. van Dyke)

the day we knew

With two purple bands,
The stick has spoken:
We’ve a little Tan
Baking in the oven!

Dear Little Tan in the Oven,

I have yet to meet you. Your existence was heralded to us by two purple bands on a stick. And that sight made me, your Daddy (or Papa, or Tatay—I haven’t decided yet what I’d like you to call me) produce sounds that I’ve never heard myself make before.

Your mommy—yes, your mother’s decided that’s what you’ll call her—she beamed! That meant my silly reaction was not so bad after all. Just silly. You’ll need to get used to my silliness. (If it’s genetic, you might have inherited it. Congratulations!) After Googling like a mad man—sample keywords: “pregnancy weeks”, “human fertilization”, “pregnancy what to expect”—I learned that we, the three of us, are possibly in Week 5 of a 40-week journey.

I’m writing this letter to you while away from you and your mommy. I’m in Davao, where I was born. (Just typing that last word made me realize that, yes, I began my life pretty much like you are beginning yours now. And I’d like to think that your grannies, my parents, were happy to have me. I will confirm that tomorrow when I break the news of your coming to them.)

Tiny One, you have brought me so much joy just by being. I know right now you’re not more than a few millimeters in size and look more like a tadpole than a baby, but I feel you’ve already come to us. You’ve broken our twosome, and we don’t mind one bit! You see, we’ve been waiting for you. We’ve been trying, enjoying, and praying to make your coming possible. But now that you’re here, more and more we realize that you are not our creation in the truest sense. The truth is, you are the creation of a loving God in Whom all things find their being. And your mommy and I, well, we are happy accomplices.

Can I tell you a secret, Millimeter-Me? I’m anxious. Your father is a little worried because he knows a lot of things could go wrong from today until your scheduled launch date (which your Tita Maella, who’s a mommy doctor, pegs at July 15, quite close to your Tita Liza’s birthday). I want to take your mommy to the doctor right away so we can “see” you on the ultrasound screen and perhaps hear your heart beat. That will put me at ease, I think.

On the flight coming to Davao, I read my Bible. My reading plan brought me to Deuteronomy where Moses instructed the Israelites to teach God’s deeds and faithfulness to their children. I felt something wonderful reading that, as though God was telling me that when you’re old enough to ask about God, I should be able to tell you how mighty He is—how He has saved people like your mommy and me from the slavery of sin and brought us into His kingdom. I should talk to you about God often, when we walk, when we sit around the dinner table. And I should make sure that there are things—symbols—around the house to remind us of God’s faithfulness. (In the future, I believe I can make a case to your mommy for your crayon vandalism using this passage of Scripture. We shall see.)

I also read a passage at the end of the Bible where people offered their crowns to Jesus who was seated on a throne. They ascribed to Him glory, honor, and power for creating all things. They declared that by His will all things were created and have their being. I’ve read that passage many times before, but this time, I read it with you in mind.

Your coming to us, your very being, is not merely a by-product of natural systems and circumstances, as a well-designed machine would churn out stuff. The amazing truth is that your coming to us was willed by a loving Father in Whom you will have—wait, you already have—your being! That thought is all at once mind-blowing and heartwarming for me, my Precious One.

As I write this letter, I feel a bit uncomfortable and awkward. Maybe all this is premature? Perhaps you won’t be able to read this after all, for whatever horrible reason. I dread that thought. My eyes begin to water at that prospect. (Now you know your father is a pessimist, albeit a recovering one.) This feeling can only mean one thing. Little One, I love you already. Every bit of your forming and growing being. And I know your mommy feels the same way too, perhaps even more profoundly because it is in her body where the miracle of you is taking place.

As I said, you’re stilll in your fifth week in mommy’s womb. It is impossible for you to read this or even hear anything I have to say. So I will ask our Heavenly Father to relay this message to you. The barriers that are now keeping us from communicating do not exist for the Father. When He whispers these words to you, dear One, in whatever way His Spirit deems is best, please know that you are wanted and loved, even now.

Be strong and brave. Grow! Don’t give your mommy a hard time. You are loved with so much love I feel my heart would burst. I look forward to meeting you in the flesh after 35 weeks.

Love,

Papa/Daddy/Tatay

chicago

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After wrapping up the last meeting for this work trip, I spent the rest of the day walking around downtown Chicago. Until now, I don’t think I have ever seen architecture I wanted to taste. And I don’t think I have ever enjoyed parks more than I have today. Almost got to the lake had the heat not dissuaded me.

Now I’m seated comfortably at the cafe of a Barnes & Noble. This place has a library vibe to it—the tables and chairs, the people with their books and laptops. And the relative silence. I like this place.

I think I like Chicago more than the Big Apple. There are fewer people. It’s urban but with more soul. I was admiring the flowers at the park earlier and thought, “Somebody upped the filter!” The flowers were beautiful, even in their imperfection. They stood there in the foreground, swaying with the wind, in stark contrast to the mighty, unmoving skyscrapers.

The train ride into the city was painless. Turns out my hotel is conveniently linked to the train station. Onboard the Blue Line, I listened to my Spotify playlist. Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” made me smile. Today is where your book begins; the rest is still unwritten. It was an apt soundtrack for this short exploration of new things.

Then John Lennon’s “Imagine” followed, and that too was apt as the train carried people from many ethnicities. The black woman in front of me with one earbud dangling. The white man in the orange shirt who had movie-star hair and who misted his aviators with his breath. The two middle-aged men in animated conversation and who were almost mirror images of each other—plaid shirt and khakis. I looked around searching for an Asian person to complete the international picture in my head. Then I realized that I was the Asian representation in this car!

Imagine all the people.

I took Daphne on a FaceTime date at the Millennium Park. We admired the Cloud (which should really be called the Bean). I am looking forward to when we can travel overseas together. My hand ached for her hand. Several times I caught myself wanting to turn to my side to make a comment about a flower, a sculpture, or how blue the sky is….

I picked a leaf which I would press in a book to bring home to her.

I’m not really good at being a tourist, I get tired easily. I vacillate between spontaneity and anxious scheduling. I want to try new things but find myself worrying about awkward situations, getting lost, or looking out of place. Each time I speak to people, I rehearse the lines in my mind, hoping to sound as local as possible. 

Earlier, while I was walking, I listened to the soundtrack of “Chicago” the musicale. I smiled. It was fun experiencing you —”and all that jazz”— again, Chicago.

Excerpted from a sparse travel journal written during a recent trip to the US. Every time I leave for an overseas trip, I resolve to journal religiously. And then I come home only to chide myself for not having journaled more; sometimes not at all. Given the chance, I hope to do much better in succeeding trips.

repent

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” -Martin Luther (first of 95 theses)

To true followers of Christ, repentance must be a constant, daily thing; an activity of life as natural and necessary as breathing.

It ought not to be a cumbersome and occasional aside that we engage in when we realize, perhaps after hearing a powerful sermon or reading a good book, that we’ve slipped from “acceptable Christian lifestyle”. Repentance is not a tedious and ceremonial proof-reading and light editing of an otherwise perfect text.

Martin Luther’s recorded last words before his death were: “We are beggars! This is true.” A life of repentance makes of us beggars — who, by the miracle of Christ’s sacrifice and victory, are recipients of immeasurable mercy.

Repentance is a life-giving privilege bought by the cross and the empty tomb. It is the open, needy hands of a beggar before a compassionate and rich King who gives, gives, and gives.

joy

So this is how it feels.

I thought to myself while I looked up at my brother as he spoke into the microphone. He held his open Bible in one hand, a handkerchief close by in case tears came. In that moment, Kuya Arnel wasn’t the sibling who teased me by making slurping sounds with his hot drink because he knows it irritates me inexplicably. No—that June afternoon by the lake, he was Rev. Arnel C. Tan, a Minister of the Gospel in the middle of performing holy matrimonial rites.

And I was the groom.

Beside me, mesmerizingly radiant and basking in sunset hues, was my bride, Daphne. We held hands underneath her veil, our backs to a small gathering of dear friends and family. Unless they laughed at my brother’s jokes, sighed audibly at something touching, or howled like sports fans, I would not think there were people behind us. It felt like we were alone, just the three of us—myself, my bride, and my minister-brother—in the presence of the Divine. For months, we planned this event, ticking off item after item from a long list. But in truth all we did was create space for something sacred to happen. All that our many hours of work achieved was to prepare the physical vessel to contain something spiritual.

That day, “in the presence of God and witnesses,” Daphne and I stood face to face to declare our vows of love and faithfulness to each other. The wind carried our worded promises, spoken with voices overcome by deep emotion, to the ears and heart of the Heavenly Father. He took two very different hearts and bound them into one heart with Agape’s cord, one twined by His very hands and which only death could sever. Daphne and I prayed, laughed, and cried. So did many of our guests.

Joy had come to us that day without needing an invitation.

I have been graced by moments of deep joy in my life. But the joy of my wedding day—ten months ago to this day—holds a special place in my heart. Joy showed up, beautifully dressed in the smiles of our dear guests. She embraced us with every word of blessing spoken to us. Joy served us through the hands and feet of friends and family who came together to manage the countless details of a wedding.

I was humbled and honored that such gifts would be lavished on us that Sunday afternoon. As waves of joy came upon us, I remember feeling the urge to do something, anything. Freeze the moments, bottle the tears, turn the laughters into song, make coats out of the warm hugs—I’m not sure what exactly, but surely I must not just stand there and take it all in, right?

But, why shouldn’t I just take it all in?

Joy is grace. Ergo, it does not demand; it gives. We desire and pursue it and yet when we finally hold it in our hands, we realize we do not know what to do with it. Instinctively, we want to make it last forever, manage it, and even manufacture it. Joy resists these maneuvers because it is meant to be received as a gift from a loving Father. Oftentimes, like the morning dew after the sun has risen high enough, joy is soon gone.

This need not be a sad thing. Joy’s fleeting visitations in this life ought to remind us to look forward to another life, another wedding day, where Christ is the bridegroom and we, along with Christ’s redeemed, are His bride. That day, joy will not be a mere guest; she will live with us for eternity.

Oh to know how that feels.

Photo by Sheila Catilo
Photo by Sheila Catilo

emcee

I am feeling under the weather and, per wife’s orders, being quarantined today. To pass time and take my mind away from a wonky body, I revisited past journal entries. Found this list of 7 things I learned from emceeing a national conference of a government agency a few years ago. I had to chuckle as I recalled that fun experience.

  1. Study your spiels and practice saying potentially problematic words backstage. Otherwise, you’ll end up saying “thinthesith” when you ought to say “synthesis”.
  2. Remember that large-venue events now oftentimes employ video walls. That means your face is magnified a thousandfold on a video screen behind you. And when you make a face after mispronouncing (see No. 1), it becomes an even bigger blooper. (Also, you must convince yourself that the audience won’t really mind that zit on your face because they’ll think it’s a dead pixel on the video wall. Just don’t move your head too much.)
  3. Bring your own tumbler for coffee, one that can be sealed tight. Because you want the caffeine, but you don’t want to be spilling coffee on your shirt and/or pants.
  4. Make friends with your stage manager because he or she has the power to make your life a breeze or a tropical depression. Also, excessive ad-libbing makes your production crew sweat.
  5. Whether you like it or not, you should refer to government officials as “Honorable” when you call them to the podium to deliver monotonous speeches.
  6. Speaking of monotonous speeches, consider it your duty as master of ceremony to redeem your audience from these tragedies. You must use your time backstage to plot the rescue of your audience from the clutches of boredom after they had survived these lullabies disguised as speeches.
  7. When your director/producer/stage manager tells you to do a voice-over with more energy, you have to do it even if you fear sounding like a campy variety show host.

I miss emceeing. In another life, I make a living doing stand-up comedy, hosting a game show, or touring with a circus. I almost included “being a preacher” in that list, but remembered what a seasoned pastor friend told me after hearing my emceeing jokes at a ministers’ event: “Oh, Aleks, you’re too funny to be a pastor!”

Amen. I guess.