Super Adi

Today Daphne and I discovered a fun way to help our little big ball practice rolling, er, crawling. On the bed, a parent buries his or her face under a pillow and then dramatically calls out, “Help, Adi! Please save Mommy/Daddy!”

That’s all it takes to activate our almost 9-month-old superhero.

A baby with a mission, Super Adi gets on all fours and then frantically moves his limbs in all sorts of ways—he is coaxing them to take him toward the direction of the adult in (feigned) distress. Sometimes his uncoordinated movements take him backward or to the wrong side, and he furrows his eyebrows in a look of both frustration and determination. He doesn’t give up. Soon enough, Super Adi reaches his target. He throws himself onto the evil pillow (here, the adult underneath may give out a muffled “Aray!”) and wrestles with it until his parent is free.

When he finally sees the face of Mommy or Daddy, our little crawler flashes the cutest smile—one of relief, pride, and joy. We reward him with hugs and kisses (we’re still working on fist bumps).

Daphne and I are teaching Adi to crawl. With the joy we’re getting out of it, Adi is teaching our hearts to fly.

Not a bad deal.

God in three verses

 Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 2.57.00 PM
These verses, tucked away in a well-visited chapter of Psalms, joined forces one morning and blew me away. Individually, these three verses are familiar to me. But taken together, they are spectacular! In this triumvirate of verses, the psalmist declares a grand truth about the nature of God. A truth so dizzying and unimaginable it is comforting.

[3] He heals the brokenhearted
and bandages their wounds.
[4] He counts the stars
and calls them all by name.
[5] How great is our Lord! His power is absolute!
His understanding is beyond comprehension!
(Psalm 147:3-5)

The God who is so personal that He heals our broken heart and bandages our wounds (v. 3) is the same God who keeps an accounting of the heavenly bodies far above us and has established stellar nomenclature (v. 4). And then, in verse 5, a succinct and apt summary: How great is our Lord!

In my mind I try to travel that distance—from the broken heart to the farthest star. And then back.  I cannot grasp that greatness. The God to whom I address my repetitive prayers for a smooth delivery for my wife and a healthy firstborn, my request for a parking space in a packed hospital, my wish for encouragement to come my way on a particularly dreary work day—He is the same God who choreographs the dance of the galaxies, sustains life on a small ball of a planet called Earth, powers and directs all the forces of nature and beyond…

Words fail me, as they should.

What ought to be my response? The psalmist helps me with this by declaring that God is great—He has absolute power and incomprehensible understanding. The psalmist worships.

Worship, I submit, is an exercise in measurement. In worship, we employ all that we have—our senses, our encounter with Scriptures, our experiences, our voices, our creative powers, our words, our thoughts, our feelings, our mind, our body—as measuring tape. We attempt to wrap this “tape” around God, only to realize that He cannot be fully measured! Not even close. Interestingly, this does not frustrate us. It comforts us. It reminds us that God is big enough to handle anything we throw at Him. That nothing we can build or break can threaten or disorient Him. That we, notwithstanding our many attempts at being large, are truly—thankfully—small. And in that smallness is a miracle unparalleled: we are loved.

Worship sobers us up. God is big and therefore terrifying. Lucy, the little girl in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, got it right when she said that the lion Aslan, the God personification in the story, is good but not safe.

Surely the God who wields the absolute power that runs the universe in which I am a minuscule, pulsating dot is terrifying. Surely the God who knows my pain and administers healing to me is tender. Surely He deserves my worship.

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

image

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)