write/right

write

He writes in characters too grand
For our short sight to understand;
We catch but broken strokes, and try
To fathom all the mystery

Of withered hopes, of death, of life,
The endless war, the useless strife—
But there, with larger, clearer sight,
We shall see this—His way was right.

John Oxenham

I first came across this poem as a 17-year-old preparing to leave home in Davao to go to university in Manila. Now, with 20 years in the rear view mirror since I committed this poem to memory, I can see and I can say, “His way was right”.

The Wise Writer is far from finished though; He continues to wield His Providential Pen on the paper of my life. Many times with furrowed brows, I wrestle with His strokes, trying to decipher the curves and swirls, the dots and blots.

In my life I have seen countless  exclamation marks of blessings.  I’ve also seen Him place a definitive period to a sentence that, to me, does not yet need to end.  At times I am tempted to superimpose a question mark on what He has thus far written. (And lovingly, He lets me.)  Ellipses are the hardest— I am impatient: I  stare at the three cliffhanger dots, pestering God to keep writing so I can see what’s next…

Through it all, He remains patient and purposeful. He whispers, “I will complete the good work I have begun in you.” By His grace, I believe I am learning more and more to be less squirmy, more still—trusting the Hand and the Heart behind the pen.

Oh for grace to trust Him more.

In a few weeks, God will have begun a beautiful new chapter in my life—fatherhood. I am excited and anxious. I pray for grace to trust Him in this new chapter and in all the others He is yet to write. I also pray for faith to say with all my heart, even before I get the benefits of hindsight, “His way is right.”

the day your name was born

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Dear Little One,

Let me tell you how your name was born.

(But first, our gymnast-in-gestation, promise you’ll go easy with the kicks, jabs, and turns? Mommy has been losing sleep because of your spirited acrobatics at very odd hours.)

You’ve probably heard us call you Tiny Tan. We started using that as an endearing monicker (and convenient hashtag) when we didn’t yet know if you were a boy or a girl. But, obviously, we can’t use that as your real name. It’s cute and catchy, but Tiny Tan is surely too generic and, yes, lazy. Not to mention ridiculously shortsighted—we have no intentions of keeping you tiny forever or sentencing you to a life of being bullied. Besides, judging from my genes, you’ll probably be a tall fella. So, Tall Tan then? Nah.

When you were still a few weeks in the tummy, your mommy and I embarked on the wonderful journey of picking a name for you, the unspeakably precious gift that ended our twosome. Not an easy task, by any measure. It’s our first time too. So we took our own sweet time. We tossed around boy names and girl names. Somehow, even before we knew we were carrying a boy—the sonologist placed the odds at 95% certainty, and I saw the “turtle”—we would often end up making more progress with boy names.

After many a wondering, a trying, and—yes—a googling, one glorious day in Parañaque, while I was driving from a meeting and texting your mommy at the same time (not good, I know), we finally pinned down a name for you. Two names, in fact. In conjugal harmony, we decided that you, our firstborn, shall properly, irreversibly—and even birth certificate typos shall not prevail—be known as Xander Amadeus Guerra Tan. (Good luck on your first few days of school, son.)

Or, fondly, Adi.

(I smiled as I typed those three little letters, pretty much the same way I smiled when I saw your tiny thingies, blankies, onesies hanging out to dry the other day after mommy had washed them for the hospital bag. We have your Lola Lils to thank for that nickname which we love. And one of your mommy’s uncles had the same nickname!)

Your first name Xander is derived from my given name, Alexander. My parents, your grannies in Davao, named me after a legendary Macedonian king and warrior, Alexander the Great. I like my name. But I am grateful they decided to do away with “the Great”. Otherwise I would have lived my whole life feeling hopelessly inadequate.

Adi-buddy, do not believe the rumors that we got your first name from the name of a certain teleserye character who may or may not possess the dashing good looks of your father. It is a complete coincidence. Before that fumbling teen actor was Xander, I already was and still am Alexander. Besides, your parents hardly watch TV—not by choice, but by circumstance. (Long story.)

You are Xander because you are the spawn of Alexander. I think I now understand a father’s desire to perpetuate himself in the name of his son. Your mother was amused, and she enjoyed teasing me about it, when I insisted on an Alexander derivative to find its way to your name. It’s a father thing, I suppose. Don’t worry, I was never tempted to make you my junior.

Xander, I can’t explain it now. But I want you to always carry a part of my name, my presence, with you. I hope this will remind you as you go through life that I am proud that God chose me to be your father. And you will bear that beaming pride in your name (and quite possibly in your lack of dancing skills too—sorry). But more than that, I want you, Xander Amadeus, to be the man God has intended for you to be.

Now, Amadeus. This is the good part, son. Friends to whom we’ve shared your second name immediately think of Mozart, the great composer. We don’t mind.  (Interestingly, Mozart’s actual second name was Theophilus, which is rendered Amadeus in Latin, a change that he effected as his popularity rose.) Some of our friends assume that we have grand musical dreams for you. The truth is, you weren’t named Amadeus because we want you to be a famous composer, like your Austrian namesake. (But by all means, be one, if that is your gifting and calling! We’ll be the loudest “BRAVO!” in the audience.)

Now back to that day in Parañaque. I was driving and texting (and this you mustn’t do, okay?). For months, your mom and I had been trying out all sorts of names to go with Xander. (Some very silly ones too, from which we will spare you!) But nothing really stuck. That day on the road, I realized I had not really prayed to ask God for your second name! Shame on daddy. And so, on that dusty Parañaque road, while negotiating a series of humps, I prayed.

“Father, would you bring to mind a name for our little one? One that is meaningful and that would remind him of his identity. I know there is no guarantee that life will be easy for him. In fact, I’m sure there’ll be bumps, twists and turns, ups and downs, on his life journey.  I would like a name that will tether Him to You. A name that You could perhaps use to remind him of who You are and who he is, especially when he would seem to be losing his way.”

Then the name Amadeus came to mind. I knew it was Mozart’s second name, and I remembered reading about it in Philip Yancey’s book, What’s so Amazing about Grace? I got excited. “Rock me, Amadeus” played in my head. I may have head-banged a little. Xander Amadeus, Xander Amadeus, I repeated to myself. I loved the sound of it. Eager, I reached for my phone.

“Siri, search for meaning of Amadeus.”

“Okay, I found this on the web for meaning of Amadeus…” came the iPhone’s assistant’s emotionless reply.

(You’ll meet Siri one day, Adi. And you can ask her all sorts of goofy questions. I predict Siri and I will be better acquainted in the next few months as your mommy and I learn how to take care of you. “Siri, search for adoption centers?” Kidding.)

Amadeus means, literally, “love of God”. It is—thanks, Siri, for pulling the info from the web—derived from the Latin amare (“to love”) and Deus (“God”).

I was sold! It felt right. It felt… you! More importantly, your mommy was sold, too, after she learned of your name’s meaning. I could have rammed into a tree and not cared. Now the growing joy in my wife’s belly had a name!

From that day on, we would whisper your name to you. I would place both hands on your mommy’s watermelon belly and spread them as wide as I could, amazed at how fast you’ve been growing. With mouth close to mommy’s navel, I’d whisper, “Xander Amadeus? I love you.” Sometimes you would move, and I could feel joy swell within me and my eyes would mist. In the middle of the night, I would hear your mommy talking to you by name, calming you down when you are restless.

We cannot wait to hold you and get to know you, Adi! (We suspect you like spaghetti.) Your name has been born, and it awaits your birth.

My son, you are Xander Amadeus Guerra Tan. And you are loved.

Yours,
Daddy

P.S. Despite the clear and multiple “turtle” sightings on ultrasound, there is a 5% chance that, come delivery day, you’ll turn out to be a lovely girl. I want you to know that that is perfectly fine. We’ll be ready, sweetie. I guess. (“Siri, what’s the female version of…”)

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.