‘Dada’

 

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“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.

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.

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

the story of us | part 3

(Read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.)

Hast thou not seen
How thy desires e’er have been

Granted in what He ordaineth?
~Praise to the Lord the Almighty

I arrived five minutes earlier than the agreed five o’clock. It was Sunday, and the Makati restaurant famed for its shrimp dishes was populated mostly by Caucasians craving a taste of home (the restaurant is American themed and inspired by an American movie). I settled for the booth by the aisle, farthest from the entrance and nearest the rest room, a choice that would later prove inspired. From where I sat, I would be able to see her walk in. That would give me enough time to take a deep breath and prepare to give her the roses I had bought earlier.

And then Daphne arrived, extra-lovely in a black-and-white outfit.

“She’s wearing a skirt—that’s a good sign,” I thought to myself. “But black isn’t such a happy color… Uh oh.” For a strange moment the gloom of a funeral clouded my mind. But Daphne’s sunbeam smile instantly dispelled all my irrationally morbid thoughts. She eased into the booth with nonchalant grace. My heart began its pounding, and I wished that the ambulance my friends said they had prepared for me was really on standby.

“Happy birthday!” she greeted cheerily. I gave her the roses and hoped she didn’t notice the trembling hand. “I love flowers,” she beamed, and then mumbled something about a gift in her car and a cute complaint about why she’s getting roses when it wasn’t her birthday but mine. I said something in reply which I can’t now remember but I am quite sure was lame.

Daphne and I knew that that night was more than a birthday dinner celebrating my 32nd year. It was an evening of possibilities, when two stories, two journeys, two “broken roads” could intersect.

Continue reading “the story of us | part 3”

the story of us | part 2

(Read Part 1 here.)

About two years later, the wedding was set. Daphne would be tying the knot one Saturday in October—and not with me. An invitation card landed on my office desk, but I didn’t bother checking my calendar or noting the details. I knew I wasn’t going—I just couldn’t. It helped that a very important work meeting was set on the same day.

I didn’t feel pain anymore. Instead I felt a quiet sadness, nothing dark or depressing, but sadness nonetheless. And resignation—there was no ignoring the impending finality of a loss. The time had come for closing a chapter, for the final letting go, for re-imagining life without any hope of spending it with her.

“Dude, this is it—the end of the road. She is getting married. Deal with it,” I self-talked. My heart had already been stitched up and had healed quite well. The days of heartbroken melodrama were past. This was one last hurdle, and then I would be a free man.

Whatever “free” meant.

But then, in a twist that seemed to belong only in TV or movie scripts, the wedding did not happen. Barely a week before the date, all the guests, entourage, and suppliers received a text from the coordinator saying Daphne was calling off the event. I got the text while I was in Cebu staging a weekend surprise for my mother in cahoots with my sister. Like everyone else who cared for Daphne, I was shocked.

Daphne would call the season that ensued “the Great Sadness,” borrowing from William Young’s bestseller The Shack, which I had recommended to her. It was a time of deep pain drenched in torrents of tears that did little to bring relief to a heart shattered in pieces. Along with all who cared for her, I grieved with Daphne. I felt rage, frustration, helplessness, and confusion—but certainly nowhere as heavy as the burden that Daphne had to bear. Through it all, Daphne would be first to testify that God never abandoned her. Friends, church, and family formed a cushion of grace, giving her space to grieve and buoying her up with prayer and love. The body of Christ was at work, being Christ’s arms to embrace her, His eyes to shed tears with her, His ears to listen when she needed to vent, His heart to share her pain, and His voice to gently speak truth to her when powerful emotions clouded her mind and heart.

“Did you feel ecstatic when her wedding did not push through?” It was a curious (and slightly insensitive) question posed by some “by-standers” who were obviously detached from the story, like one watching a TV drama while munching on chicharon. How could I celebrate when someone dear to me was suffering? The prospects of rekindling an old flame were set aside in favor of being a friend and brother in Christ. Daphne did not need further complications, and I needed time to discern and seek God’s heart.

In His time the Great Physician brought healing and hope to Daphne. As for me, for over a year since the Great Sadness, not a day passed when I did not think, analyze, pray, agonize, deliberate about the next step. Wise friends counseled that if I should “make a move,” I ought to wait it out a bit. (Male friends suggested three months; they were immediately overruled by female friends—some of who were wives of the male friends—urging me to take one year to wait.) The “waiting” was a journey of discerning God’s leading; being honest with myself about the situation and its challenges; sorting my feelings and how they had evolved; challenging myself and my perceptions about relationships and marriage; submitting my heart and mind to the scrutiny and correction of Scriptures. While going through this process, I kept in regular contact with Daphne, but not without some help from mutual friends, who, I would later learn, had been rooting for us.

I was getting to know Daphne again, and she was also getting reacquainted with me. Interestingly, the years we spent apart because of her previous relationship did not seem that wide a gap to bridge. In no time, we were laughing again, talking about books again, goofing around with friends again, sharing about God and how He was working in our lives again.

Everything was at once familiar and new. Many things had changed, no doubt.  And yet some things had remained the same. It was up to me to figure out which was which and what I needed to do about the whole thing. The end of my self-imposed year of waiting was looming. From where I was standing, Daphne seemed to have recovered quite gracefully from the Great Sadness: her walk with the Lord vibrant, her friendships and relationships blossoming, her heart mended and hopeful again…

I had a decision to make.

I read somewhere that whenever you are torn between two options, you should simply toss a coin. It is effective not because it banishes your quandary, but because in that brief moment when the coin is in the air, everything is suddenly much clearer and you know what you are hoping for.

To pursue Daphne with the intention of marriage. Or to simply remain friends with her and continue with the single life. Heads or tails?

In my mind I tossed a coin.

(To be continued.)

first 2010 post

I am forcing myself to blog today.

I sense a full heart that is dying to write its contents down, but is held back by a sluggish mind and rusty writing skills. It is frustrating to not be able to match heart stuff with the right words. The trip from heart to typing fingers is bumpy today.

But still I force myself to let it out. Even if in incoherent trickles.

* * *

I’m thinking about the first few days of 2010 and how the 2009 year-end holidays already feel like an eternity ago. I spent my holidays in Davao with my family. And what a roller-coaster ride it was — with its ups and downs and all the extreme emotions in between that just made me realize all the more how much I love my family. Speaking of home,  this morning I was going through my journal entries from last year (they’re scattered all over my computer, tucked away in all sorts of folders and applications) and came across the following entry written sometime in July when I was in Davao for a few days.

While I was getting dressed one morning in the big room that is now Kuya Bong’s room, I asked myself, “When did this house stop being home?” Not that I no longer have fond memories of this place; or that I have stopped longing to come to it every now and then; but, for some reason, this familiar place of my childhood has ceased being home. Should I feel ashamed? If this isn’t home anymore, then where is home now?

Where, indeed, is my home now? Maybe for now it is not a physical place. Or maybe, in its truest sense, home is never really just a physical place. “Home is where the heart is,” says the cliche. So I guess the deepr question is, Where is my heart now?

* * *

During the holidays, God dealt with me in a tender and yet powerful way. As I think about it now, there is a lump in my throat and my eyes mist. I am overwhelmed by the Heavenly Father’s relentless love in stark contrast with my unfaithfulness. There are no words to explain it — the feeling is a mixture of both the familiar (“God loves me.”) and the mysterious (“How could God love me?!”).

“This year I die,” I wrote on FaceBook. Death to self is  life in Christ. Quoting a line from the song Seasons of Love, I posted on FaceBook on New Year’s Eve: “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes. How do you measure a year?” A missionary friend answered in one word: Obedience. Wow. I looked back at 2009 and found to my shame that I have lived more for self than for Christ. “My only hope is full surrender, so with each borrowed breath, I inhale the Spirit’s will for me to die a deeper death.” I thank God for whoever penned the words to that Steve Green song. God has used this song to convict me many times.

But even death to self is not the ultimate pursuit. Yesterday I met with two men whom I love dearly and trust deeply, and I shared with them in halting sentences what God is doing in my heart; that His invitation to me is not to strive harder, or be more disciplined, or do more for Him and His kingdom. The invitation, extended ever so lovingly and tenderly, is to know Him. Now I sense an inexplicable desire to know this Person whom I call Lord and Savior. And I pray that this desire will burn and consume me so that every day I wake up like a child on Christmas morning wondering what gifts of knowing my gracious Father await me.

The year is long, and—the Lord willing—this life longer still. I am aware that this fiery desire can and will be tested. I write this on my blog so that when those days come, I can return to these words and remind myself of that tender invitation and the blazing fire it has set in my heart.

Oh to know the pow’r of Your risen life;
And to know You in your suffering;
To become like You in Your death, my Lord,
So with You to live and never die.

Knowing You (All I Once Held Dear)

for her

It felt like The Amazing Race. Only there were no cameras, and the two men in a hurry did not have six-pack abs like Mark and Rovilson. My brother Bong and I slammed the car doors and brisk-walked (we’re both too out of shape for running) across Davao’s Ilustre Street toward Gaisano South Mall. We needed to complete our mission before 6:30PM, and according to my watch we had less than half-an-hour.

“I think it’s not there anymore,” Kuya Bong said, catching his breath. He’s asthmatic, and he was right: the shop we had hoped would be at the mall had been replaced by a bank! “Wait, I think there’s one at Davao Doctors’ Hospital!” I offered. We scurried a block to the hospital and found the shop there all right—unlit and closed! It was a Sunday after all.

Time was running out.

“Why don’t we get something else?” came the bro’s suggestion. I wasn’t ready for Plan B just yet, so I grabbed my phone to call Irene, high school friend and a walking Google for all things Davao.

“Hey, Irene! Where else can we find a flower shop in Davao at this hour?” Without a moment’s pause, she gave us the next best spot to try. We hurried back to the car with renewed hope.

I held my breath as we descended the escalator to the place where the flower shop was supposed to be. And there it was! They had on display and ready to be picked up two bouquets, both beautifully arranged. We chose the bigger and more expensive arrangement–an assortment of red roses, mums, some orchid-looking pink flower. Only the best for the best lady.

We got to church in time for the last few songs before the sermon. Before delivering the message, the pastor, who is my brother Arnel, asked all the mothers to line up in front to be honored and receive a token from the church. Moms of all ages, shapes, and sizes went forward. Taking our cue from the associate pastors who saw us with the bouquet of flowers, Kuya Bong and I marched to the front with the bouquet. My sister Liza looked relieved to see us (her assignment was to make sure Mama didn’t suspect we were out to surprise her.)

Seeing her children approaching with a bouquet, Mama started crying and stomping her feet, her hands over her mouth. In jest I whispered to my brother, “Assuming naman si Mama… malay n’ya sa iba natin ‘to ibigay! Hehe.” But she was right to assume. She sobbed as we gave her the bouquet and hugged her tight. My sister followed suit with the token from the church. “Happy Mothers’ Day, Inay.”

Mama looked radiant in her pink blouse and her bouquet of flowers. After the service we drove to Jack’s Ridge to have dinner overlooking the city lights. Holding her bouquet like a beauty queen, Mama quipped, “Feeling ko naman si Ruffa Gutierrez ako sa The Buzz!” To which Kuya Arnel retorted, “Hindi ah. Ikaw si Annabelle Rama!”