‘Dada’

 

IMG_6125.JPG

“Be a father. It lives up to the hype.”
—Charlie to Will in The Newsroom

It’s a quarter past nine in the evening as I write this. Exactly one year ago at this hour, I was in the labor room with Daphne, helping her with the breathing and relaxation techniques we had picked up from birth class. In about five and a half hours, at 2:40AM, our first child would be born—3.9 kg, 52.5 cm, and really angry. (I’m sure there is a medical term for all that wonderful screaming.) He, Xander Amadeus Guerra Tan or, fondly, Adi, would in turn birth the mother and the father in Daphne and me, new roles that we have been learning to embrace this past year with much joy and trembling, lots of prayers, and never enough sleep.

Since becoming a father, I have been asked by friends to describe how I felt that moment in the delivery room when I first saw Adi. For sure, it wasn’t what I had imagined or seen in the movies. I didn’t feel all chest-thumping fatherly. Or weepy. Or light-headed (thankfully). I felt relieved, grateful to God for answering prayers, mine and other people’s, for the safety of my wife and baby. And then I felt overwhelmed. Then tired and hungry at the same time. I looked at my brave wife on the delivery table—her lips pale and her eyes droopy—and I felt a little worried, but I also felt very proud. I raised my iPhone to take a video of my son—my son!—and I felt panicky, afraid my capture wouldn’t do the moment justice. Somewhere in all that was joy. Oh, joy!—she was merrily skipping around the other feelings as though reminding them of a choreography she had long rehearsed with them.

What they say is true: nothing fully prepares a man for fatherhood.

I remember walking down the hospital after my wife and our newborn son had been wheeled into the recovery room. A lullaby was playing. Later I would learn that it was the  hospital’s ritual to play a lullaby in the delivery wing each time a baby was born. (Nice touch, St Luke’s.) At some point I did think that I was just imagining the lullaby. After all, I was sleepless and hungry—physical realities that my consciousness was just then starting to register as the adrenaline rush began to subside.

Through these past twelve months of getting to know and caring for Adi, Daphne and I have grown so much. Our hearts have swollen to near-bursting. Adi has quickened a part of us that we didn’t know was there. He draws from us a kind of love that surprises even us, one we didn’t realize we could give. More and more, as we love him, our son in turn reveals to us the father-heart of God. And we learn to love and trust Him more, also to love other people more. We pray that Adi will love and trust Jesus too.

In wisdom and grace, Abba has chosen me to be Adi’s Dada. That is one mystery I will spend a lifetime embracing. Tomorrow, we start counting years.

Happy first birthday, Adi-buddy.

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.

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

this

“Lovest thou Me more than this?”

The question, originally posed by the Resurrected Lord to Peter over their breakfast of smoked fish, visits me while I digest my Wednesday lunch.

“What ‘this’, Lord?” I stall, taking a sip of orange juice and wiping my mouth with napkin.

“This,” the Spirit points out.

“Oh, You mean this?

“Yes, that.

I ponder for a moment, my mind refusing to wrap itself around the boundaries of this

Could it be that it—this—has grown too big inside of me to be easily surveyed? Or, perhaps, it has become too precious, and therefore painful, that I revolt at even the slightest contact of a measuring tape.

My head drops. Even though I am unable (or unwilling?) to take this and place it squarely side-by-side with my affections for the Lord, I know the answer to the Master’s piercing question.

“No,” I whisper. “I’m afraid I do not love You more than… this.

Shame gathers above my heart like thick, dark clouds that totally eclipse the sun.

“But I want to, Lord. Oh, I want to.,” comes the last, faint ray of light.

The Master smiles.

“Good. Now we begin.”

lots

Reflections on Acts 1:15-26

Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:24-26)

When I first encountered this passage as a kid in Sunday School, my first thought was, “So it’s okay to cast lots to know God’s will.” Many years later, after meeting many of life’s crossroads that have allowed me to experience the Spirit’s guidance in discerning “God’s will” for my life, my focus has shifted—from “they cast lots” in verse 26, to “they prayed” in verse 24 and “it is written” in verse 20.

The early believers, led by Peter, discerned God’s will by:

  1. Drawing from Scripture;
  2. Praying with humility; and then
  3. Acting in faith.

Without a vibrant relationship with God, our attention would be naturally focused on the most obvious (or “pro-active”?) part of the process—the casting of lots to settle a dilemma or ascertain God’s will. With increasing intimacy with Christ, we begin to pay more attention to the first two parts—Scripture and prayer—which serve to guide us toward the ultimate action or decision.

Instead of debating over the efficacy or spirituality of casting of lots, shouldn’t we strive towards submitting to Scripture lots and praying lots?

Are you now at a crossroads, faced with a crucial life decision? How are you discerning God’s direction in this issue? Soak yourself in God’s living word, spend time with Him in humble prayer, and then step forward in obedience.

singing a prayer

We’re blind but pray for eyes to see
Where we’re bound, Lord, make us free
Stained, we plead for purity

I believe it is to present-day evangelicalism’s impoverishment that reciting from a prayer book or uttering prayers written by other believers (usually in formal, difficult language) is somehow deemed less spiritual compared to saying spontaneous, self-composed prayers. The latter is considered more sincere and potent owing to its being more personal; the former reeks of tradition and is therefore frowned upon by many today for being “scripted”. And yet, it is interesting how the “personal” prayers are oftentimes filled with overused christianese—“cover us with Your precious blood”, “for the nourishment of our bodies”, “expansion of Your kingdom”—thereby robbing the prayers of, ironically, personality and freshness. Modern evangelicals who discover old prayer books, hymns, and recorded prayers are surprised to stumble upon a fresh pathway to the heart of the Almighty.

Personally, when I feel too overwhelmed to shape a prayer with my own words, I have found it refreshing to borrow another Christian’s words and let those rise to the God who hears, whose heart is inclined not to my words but to my very heart.

Of late I have been praying this prayer-in-song by Steve Green, which in turn was inspired by reformer Martin Luther’s first of 95 theses: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” I first heard this song at a prayer meeting at Davao Chinese Baptist Church.

Here, have a listen. And, yes, pray.

“Penitent, we breathe Your name.” Amen.

feet

Sharing from my journal.

(27 June 2011)

It’s all about feet this morning.

Before I dive into work, which is mainly with spreadsheets today, I want to write something about the odd things I’ve encountered about feet this morning. I say “odd” only because they have not yet made sense to me.

Dirty feet. This morning I read about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Peter was hesitant to have his feet washed by Jesus, but Jesus rebuked him by saying that he will not belong to Him unless He washed his feet.

Clay feet. In an article on The Gospel Coalition that I was reading, the term “clay-footed” caught my attention. It was used twice in the article. I thought it was an apt and interesting way to describe human frailty. A reference, perhaps, to King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream which Daniel interpreted?

Bare feet. I decided to walk to work today. Not because I wanted some exercise (well, that was an afterthought), but because my car was so dirty I did not feel comfortable parking it at the office for everyone else to see. (The sun casts a very unflattering light on Graham where he’s parked at the office.) While walking I saw a little girl, no older than 9 by my estimate, walking barefooted. She did not seem uncomfortable, confidently brisk-walking the busy pavement traversed by office-attired workers trying to make it to work on time. At first I thought she was alone, but when we both stepped on the MRT station’s escalator, she reached for the hand of a man in front of her. He was now holding the plastic bag I had seen her toting just a few moments ago. He must be her father.

What’s this about feet, Lord?

And, oh, I’ve been singing Keith Green’s song of late: “Grace By Which I Stand”.

***

(6 July 2011)

I am on the verge of tears now. I just read again what I had written above, and now it seems to make sense to me after the past days’ prideful rebellion. I got my feet dirty–very filthy. It seems the Spirit knows I would be in this situation. So He sent help ahead of time… Wow. Unspeakable grace.

I am Peter. Resisting Jesus’ feet washing seems to me at times the “spiritual” thing to do. “It’s my mess, I’ll fix it. Leave the Master out of this,” I tell myself. And so I struggle, trying on my own to keep from sullying my feet with sin. And when I do get my feet soiled and shamefully dirty, I run away, hiding from the very Person who can wash me clean. Until I learn to let Jesus serve me by washing my feet, I will never have a part in Him. I must realize more and more that my dirty feet–my filthy sins!–are my Master’s business, and He wants to wash me clean of them all. But I must let Him. Oh for grace to let Jesus wash my dirty, dirty feet!

I am clay-footed. The times I stand on grace I feel powerful and indestructible. And sometimes I deceive myself into thinking that this strength is mine. Truth is, my feet are made of clay–unsteady, brittle, unable to carry my weight for me. Let me run on clay feet and eventually I fall! But let these clay feet stand on grace–and never lose sight of this truth–then I can “run and not grow weary, walk and not faint.”

I am the barefooted little girl. I might appear helpless, alone, in a crowd of strangers and towering challenges, but the truth is, my Father is close at hand. I need to be like that little girl who, even with her dirty feet and small stature, walks the city street confidently and hopefully, not because she thinks she is big, but because she knows her father is nearby and she is safe. He will carry her load. He will carry her.

***

But nothing lasts, except the grace of God, by which I stand, in Jesus.
I know that I would surely fall away, except for grace, by which I’m saved.
-Keith Green, “Grace By Which I Stand”