the story of us | part 1

It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly
until He has hurt him deeply.

~A.W. Tozer

 

“It’s pretty complicated—you’re pretty, I’m complicated.”

That statement, unrehearsed and uttered to the maddening beat of my speeding heart, opened my confession of love to Daphne almost five years ago. We were meeting over coffee because she wanted some advice about a common friend who was beginning to show interest in her. I could tell she welcomed the possibilities with this guy. After awkwardly telling her I was not the best guy to consult because of my lack of objectivity on the matter, it was inevitable for the proverbial cat to spring out of the bag. And so I ended up disclosing my romantic feelings for her. Daphne put both hands over her mouth—ala beauty pageant contestant—more in disbelief than elation. (It could have been horror, I’m not sure.)

The love triangle I had unwittingly formed was short-lived, promptly disbanded by the power of a woman’s choice. “I think I’m falling in love with him,” she gently declared one December evening. I fought back tears, hoping that the growing lump in my throat would not develop into public embarrassment of epic proportions. After a prayer, a hug, and a final “Goodbye,” we parted ways—she to nurturing a new love, I to nursing a broken heart. Weeks later I got the official text announcement of their relationship.

I couldn’t blame Daphne for her choice. How could I, I was the Johnny-come-lately; the buddy who suddenly dropped the romance bomb on her in the middle of a budding relationship with another friend; the guy without a plan who owned up to nothing but quasi-love. When I ‘fessed up, I was still trying to understand how this amazing girl with the dancing eyes had stolen my well-guarded heart. Somewhere between the endless talks about books, the after-office discussions on life, love, and God, the bantering and goofing around with friends, she with the mysterious mind, crackling laughter, and Godly heart had captivated me. But my nascent affections had been dashed before they could grow into something beautiful, never to see maturity or fulfillment.  Or so I thought.

I had resolved to neither escape nor deny the pain of unrequited love, but instead go through it with as much grace and integrity as I could muster—until God in His time would grant healing. In my grief, I wrote in my journal feverishly, churned out poems in record time, laid claim to all the heartbreak songs ever written, prayed until I ran out of words and relied only on the Spirit’s ministry of interpreting my moans and groans. “The pain is the healing,” I wrote about my heartbreak.

The three of us worked in the same office, and seeing them as a couple was heart-rending for me. Thankfully, the emotions soon became manageable; God had granted us the grace to be able to work together with little discomfort. I made sure I kept a healthy distance, intentionally avoiding any information about how their relationship was doing. It was good enough for me that Daphne was happy. But Daphne was a fierce friend; she made it clear that she did not reject my friendship, only my preludes to romance. Almost one year after they became a couple, I wrote the following in my journal:

After a year, I can say it to myself: I lost you. In foolishness I let you slip away. Fumbling hands didn’t hold you or grasp you enough to feel if you would shake me off or linger in my presence. I was afraid to uncover the truth behind the disarming smiles, the unabashed laughter, and the profound conversations. Was there any hope of romance behind them?

Have I moved on? I don’t know. If I palpate my heart now I’m sure my fingers will brush through the scars you left. But scars are good. Having them means the wounds have closed. No more real pain, only remembered pain. But who is to say that remembered pain is less searing, less affecting?

Thankfully, the pain was not the ending. It was merely the dark backdrop that would provide the contrast for the blinding light of God’s grace to shine.

(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)

topped

It took a few months since moving in before I discovered the rooftop of the  building where I now live. Tonight, after bringing out the trash, I boarded the lift all the way to the topmost floor, went out the fire exit, and took a few flights of stairs to the open-air rooftop.

The cold December wind greeted me. I acknowledged her welcome with a smile. Now thirty-two stories above smoggy EDSA, it seemed safe and sensible to take deep breaths and let the cool air wash over me. The relentless cold wind tousled my hair and dried my lips. I felt my face tingle as it started to grow numb, a good kind of numb.

Looking down, things transformed. Highways and streets became winding veins and arteries traversed by a two-way stream of blood. But instead of red, this blood was golden, created by the yellow headlights. If you squinted just right, the traffic below blurred into a yellow worm that seemed to be going somewhere and nowhere at the same time.

It’s amazing what vertical distance can do. I could shout and not care about being heard. I could sing at the top of my lungs without fear of troubling anyone. I could look up and see stars. I could look within and see myself, away from the cares of life below. I could remind myself that no distance — height, depth, nor breadth — can ever separate me from the One whose love for me knows no space.

Obviously, even at this height, the heavens are still infinitely higher.

Wherever I run, wherever I go,
You will be there, never to let me go.
(No Mount Too High)

stories

While Metro Manila’s streets were being turned into raging, deathly rivers by non-stop torrential rains last Saturday, I was with forty-plus co-workers on board a tourist bus somewhere in Batangas. We were heading back to Manila following an exhilarating and spiritually enriching company retreat at a Batangas resort.

News of the unfolding calamity in Manila reached us in trickles. An officemate got a text (or was it a call?)  from her brother about “rubber boats” on EDSA. I couldn’t believe my ears, and so I clarified: “Did you say ‘rubber boats’ or ‘rubber boots’?”

It didn’t take long before we all began to appreciate the gravity of the situation in the metropolis. One of us gravely reported that the flood had reached their house; a co-worker received a text report that their car had been displaced by the current; flood waters had risen to second-story heights.

We were at a crossroads: to continue our journey home via an alternate route that avoided the express way, or make a U-turn and make good on a co-worker’s offer to house all of us for the night. Some of us were anxious to get home and be with loved ones despite the risks, while some felt that the best course of action was to wait it out away from Metro Manila and then resume the journey when the situation improved.

Before entering the express way our bus driver discovered a problem with our brakes, a setback that proved to be our biggest blessing. After the brakes were fixed (which was nothing short of a miracle!), it became clear to everyone that the wisest decision was to spend the night in Batangas and continue the journey in the morning, hoping that by then the rains have stopped and the floods have been drained out of the major thoroughfares.

Thankfully, everyone in our group was calm, patient, and cooperative. With a few others, I helped lead our pack of marooned travelers—silently pleading for God’s mercy and guidance at every turn, helping to lighten up the mood with a few jokes, updating the group of whatever progress or new setback we were facing…. By God’s grace—and I mean that with all my heart—we were able to make it back to Manila the following morning without any further incident.

Our story is just one of many in the tapestry of stories that last weekend’s calamity has woven all throughout Metro Manila and its neighboring areas. Surely, our story is among the least grave, if at all. The media, the Internet included, tell of harrowing tales of families trapped on rooftops, shivering in the rain for many hours while desperately praying for help that usually came belatedly. Photographs and video clips, both amateur and journalistic, show ghastly images of men, women, and children being subjected to Nature’s stormy wrath. The fatality toll continues to rise, not to mention the cost of damaged properties and displaced lives.

But the stories do not end there. For me and my officemates, the story continued with thanksgiving and praise during the weekly company meeting this morning, followed by an earnest petition on behalf of the calamity victims. In the afternoon, just outside my office room, the conference table was filled with donated clothes, sorted according to their intended wearers. On the floor, next to the steel cabinets, canned goods were neatly arranged, waiting to be packed tomorrow with other relief items. Earlier we were trying to compose a list of more things to buy for inclusion in the relief packs.

The pile of goods doesn’t look a lot. But we pray it will make a difference in the stories of some people in our community.

moving to adulthood

My sister Liza once said that you know you’re already a grown-up when you start spending more time in the home and grocery sections rather than the clothes section of the department store.

That made little sense to me in my twenties. After all, I never really spent a lot of time in the clothes section. Clothes shopping was—and still is—a chore, something I must do because I am not a nudist. I’d rather tarry where the shiny cool gadgets are, drooling over the latest electronic wonders and coveting high-priced technology.

For the life of me, I couldn’t imagine being torn between a microwave and an oven toaster; a pre-packed bag of mixed greens and a naked ball of lettuce; a blanket and a comforter. I had been content being fed by McDo, Jollibee, and Pizza Hut delivery. A homemade salad meant red egg and my housemate’s extra tomatoes. And my greatest sleep luxury was keeping company with two pillows whose cases seldom matched the bed sheet.

That was then.

Last weekend I finally made the great move—from sharing an apartment with housemates to living by myself in a small space just a stone’s throw away from work. Don’t get me wrong; I lived with great housemates, and we got along fine. (We had an unspoken rule about cleaning the house: he who can’t stand it should clean it. And, oh boy, the things we could stand!) But I just felt it was my time to move on. Besides, the overloaded MRT commute and the taxi rides had become a daily assault on my sanity (the former) and on my wallet (the latter). I longed for solitude, and I was getting weary of traversing EDSA.

The rent at the new place is quite challenging. But my Excel worksheet tells me I could pull it off if I cut down on gimik (mostly eating out) and other little luxuries. That means I will have to learn to manipulate edible matter, also know as “cooking.” Gulp.

These days I roam the home and grocery sections more often. And I’m finding it quite an adventure. Being a grown-up isn’t so bad after all.

prelude to the big c

A Christmas tune played on my shuffled iPod just now. And for the first time this year, I didn’t click to the next song. Never mind if the song was Winter Wonderland. Christmas is in the air!

No goth or gore for me this Halloween. Tonight I’ll create a Christmas playlist (complete with the choral renditions of traditional Filipino Christmas tunes) and book my December flight to Davao.

Pasko na!

working out

I decided to work away from the office today, mainly to do some zoom-out, big-picture thinking and planning. I rescheduled one meeting and informed my staff that I would be accessible virtually if they needed me, thanks to email, instant messaging, and the cellphone.

I find that working off-site once in awhile boosts productivity. Being physically away from my desk extricates me from the usual office distractions. Matters that need my attention are automatically filtered if it’s really important, I will get a call on my cellphone. And, when I decide to work some place other than home, the new environment stimulates creativity. I have a very able team, and I suspect that sometimes they also consider me a “distraction.” So maybe they welcome not having me around every now and then.

After going through email at home this morning, I packed Zak (yup, that’s the name of my MacBook – thanks, Ruben) and headed to Gloria Jeans in Araneta Center, Cubao. I like this place because of its many power outlets. Customers can freely plug in their gadgets without having to deal with the service crew’s darting looks. No time limit on power usage too. There used to be just a handful of laptop users in GJ; but since the rise of ultra mobile PCs, more techie telecommuters have swarmed the place. The spots closest to the power outlets are obviously the most coveted. Thankfully, my favorite spot was available.

I’m happy with how my day has panned out. I managed to pin down a backlogged project, flesh out some nascent ideas that would otherwise be ignored during the course of an office day, and start planning the next few months. As a bonus, I also got to put Zak to testto see how well we can tackle work documents together. Before today, Zak and I have only been playingit’s amazing how fun Macs can be! I’ve been a long-time WIndows user who dabbled with Linux for awhile, and so far I’ve found the Mac OS experience a pleasant one. The Mac is very intuitive and elegant, among other things…

But that’s a different story altogether.

week ends

Monday morning comes uninvited. I groan and grunt, wooing arthritic limbs to motion. Long week ahead, my man, I say to the half-awake face in the mirror. I rub my chin to feel if I need or want a shave. My mind shakes off sleep, boots up and generates a list of things that need my attention in the days ahead: work issues to be resolved, laundry to be sorted, meetings to be organized, people to text or call, new toothbrush to be bought, family errands to run… Okay, God. Me need you.

And then it’s Friday afternoon. I feel a nagging ache on my upper back – definitely from spending too much time hunched over a computer. Note to self: Massage tomorrow. I look at my to-do list and feel good about items I’ve ticked off. Not bad, my man. A sip, maybe two, of now-cold coffee is all that’s left in my maroon mug. My desk is strewn with paper, books, pens, folders. There’s still more to be done… and yet the weekend winks invitingly.

One more email, a deep TGIF sigh, and then I’m yours, Friday.

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!”

three-oh

While reviewing my journal, I came across these words that I had written around this time last year, before I turned 29.

In a week’s time I’ll be one year short of thirty.

Three-oh… my goodness! One more year as a twentysomething before I become known as a twentysometimeago. Why, just yesterday I was 24, then suddenly tomorrow I’m 30?! Reality sure does bite—and what sharp teeth it has! I’m still recovering from the shock. Every time I shake my head in denial, it bites me harder. Rabid reality.

I had to laugh at my over-reaction to turning the decade bend. Now that I am actually in my big three-oh, it really isn’t so bad. Not bad, at all. Yesterday, I woke up smiling. Looking at my reflection in the mirror I said, Dude, buckle up! It’s gonna be one adventure-filled decade! Or words to that effect—I self-talk in gibberish sometimes.

* * *

When my mom celebrated her 67th birthday last month, she called it another “promotion” from the Heavenly Big Boss. Yesterday was my turn to get “promoted” to my 30s.

I decided to take the day off to ponder this, my new “promotion” into another decade. I packed an overnight backpack and went away to spend some time in solitude—to pray, talk to myself, reflect, and write in my journal.

Before you get visions of a lone figure glowing in spiritual enlightenment, let me confess that the time I spent actually praying and writing was a grand total of two hours, probably less. I slept through most of the afternoon. Then I binged on Yellow Cab pizza and Coke Zero, sang my heart out, talked to myself and God intermittently. When I finally mustered enough momentum to sit my restless thirty-year-old self down, I turned my Bible, hoping to receive something special from the Author of the Book and of my life.

In his mercy, He did speak to me in an unmistakable and special way. My response was soaked in tears and wordless prayers. I unwrapped His lavish gifts of hope, promises, even rebuke and restoration.

Happy are people of integrity,
who follow the law of the Lord.

Oh, that my actions would constantly reflect your principles!
Then I will not be disgraced
when I compare my life with your commands.

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
and a light for my path.
I’ve promised it once, and I’ll promise it again:
I will obey your righteous regulations.

PSALM 119:1, 5-6, 105-106 (NLT)

* * *

This post concludes my blog marathon. Sorry if I stopped to catch my breath more times than I would have wanted. But thank you for sticking it out and encouraging me with your interaction 🙂 Wherever you are in life’s “promotions,” may you take time to celebrate the faithfulness and love of the Life-Giver!