2017 has been an incredibly tiring year. But it’s been a good year. Usually, at the coming of a New Year, I take a theme from the year that was and write about it. This year, the theme was the Bride and the Child. And what a wonderful theme it is.
Early in our still-short marriage, Yasmin and I went through a period of almost constant fighting. My pride and her pride butted heads over and over. We called it principles, we called it facts, we called it feelings, we called it sensitivity, we called it responsibilities, we called it a lack of love language expression, a lack of understanding of the opposite gender, and a bunch of other things, but really it was pride, plain and simple pride.
One evening, after another intense argument (and argument is an understatement), I called one of my best friends and mentor, Butch Bautista, and said, “Tito Butch, Yasmin and I are arguing again. It’s like I can’t do anything right!” I went on a long monologue and capped it off with, “I used to be so effective, so efficient. I used to be so disciplined, so productive. Now, all I ever am is wrong! I feel like a part of me is dying!” Tito Butch, who had been patiently listening all this time, finally spoke up, “Yes. A part of you is dying. It’s called your ego. It’s about time.”
What a zinger that was. My initial reaction was, “Who is this guy? He’s supposed to be on my side. Didn’t he hear a thing I said??!” I felt anger and offense at his comment. Then he continued, “David, when you got married, you said you would love her right?” I replied, “But I didn’t know she would be so…” He cut me off this time, “I didn’t ask you what you knew. You committed to love her. And you did that because you do love her. So love her.”
I forgot the rest of the conversation.
I do remember hearing those words, being more angry than before I called, and quickly getting out of the phone call. “No one understands me.” I told myself, and slept on the couch, which is a very comfortable couch I must say.
The next morning, even if I didn’t feel like it, simply out of discipline, I began the day with prayer. As I prayed, I was very quickly moved to repentance. Why was I so proud, so harsh, so impatient, so unforgiving, when it is I who has been dealt with so kindly, so graciously, and so generously? Why was I so good at rationalizing my anger when I had been shown so much forgiveness? This is why having a disciplined prayer life is important. In my experience, I have been led to so much needed correction during times I did not want the truth most.
I walked to our bedroom, where Yasmin, who was obviously not able to sleep after the previous night’s fight, was pretending to close her eyes. I sat down beside her on the side of the bed, and said, “Yasmin, I’m sorry for being proud and fighting you last night. I am sorry for being impatient and for saying <–blank–>.” She just nodded her head. I felt terrible. I had acted terribly. And why? Tito Butch was right. My ego was dying, and instead of letting it, I was fighting it. I was still the most important part of my universe. I was not being loving.
To love someone is to die to yourself for the one you love. I wasn’t dying. I was providing. I was explaining. I was guiding. I was serving. But I wasn’t dying. And with every non-dying act, I collected more “points”, which I now realize were more like bricks on a wall of pride separating us more and more. Without saying it, I was thinking, “I’m doing all this for you.” I guess this is why the Bible says, “Without love, I am nothing”, because all the best works without love will build a wall of entitlement. But love does not do that. Why? Because love dies.
I can’t say Yasmin and I are an incredibly couple. What we are is in love. Having said that, I guess we can say we are an incredible couple because we enjoy incredibly powerful magic. Love is magical. Love is life-bringing death.
If two people love each other than two people die. And if two people are loved than two people are brought to life. If to love is to die, to be loved is to be resurrected. This brings a whole new wonderful meaning to the crucifixion. We are Christ’s bride… Think about that. We are loved by Jesus. The cross is His message of love, “I am dying for you.” and His love is our resurrection. Sometimes, we think resurrection only means that after our physical funeral we somehow float up. I don’t know where that came from. I don’t know where it says that in the Bible. I do know that it does say that “we are alive in Christ”. Why? Because we are His bride, the ones He has chosen to love. Resurrection, like many of the other ideas of the Bible are timeless because they do are time-bound but love-bound.
This year I learned, even as ultra-flawed me could love Yasmin so deeply and enjoy slightly-flawed Yasmin’s love so immensely, I can enjoy God’s perfect love more so, and that a perfectly-loving God somehow enjoys my love for Him. It took for me to have the experience of how a groom loves his bride to understand in a much deeper way how Jesus loves me.
Months into our marriage, I had to become the groom I wasn’t at the start of our marriage, a man ready and willing to die. So I told myself, on one night, while walking home, “Time to die. Only the dead are resurrected.”
Marriage taught me the beauty of true love, that the more I chose the satisfaction of another, the more that other satisfied me.
I’ve written about my experience during the birthing. You can read them about them in past posts. My son is now 4 months old and huge. He is over 10 kg and already excited to walk. Being his father is an absolute joy. While it’s been very tiring (any parent will know this), the happiness one feels when watching their child is indescribable. Holding Elijah, listening to his coos, and, strangely, even things like changing his diapers and trying to soothe him, feel satisfying. Serving my son, loving him, despite any lack of achievement, has introduced me to a new kind of love: the love of possession.
I wrote this on another post to describe the feeling of a newborn:
“Why do I feel so much love for someone who has not done one thing to deserve such attention, such excitement, such affection? No wonder Christ the King came as a baby, to remind the world with every child born every single day that there exists an unlimited love, an all-embracing transformative love, that need not be earned but is bestowed completely from the moment one becomes a son. No wonder Christ the King came as a baby, not to display strength that we may learn to love power, but instead a child, that we may learn the power of love.”
Walking Into the New Year
I stepped out of our hotel in Robertson Quay to take Elijah out for some sun. I said a simple prayer, “Father, please walk with Elijah and me. I know you watch over us all the time. But this time, please be here with us.” I realized in the busyness of my life, a busyness I have allowed to erode any margin that remained, my relationship with God has become mostly a cerebral exercise. I was missing the deep emotional experience I used to enjoy when I would pray for rescue or thank Him for beauty. My heart was like the rocky soil that choked God’s seeds with the cares of life.
“Bring me back to that place, Father.” I prayed some more.
I looked at Elijah in his stroller excitedly wiggling his arms and legs. He loves being on the move. It’s as if he cannot wait to run around on his own. I remembered how my own dad took me on many walks as well. My almost automatic way of waking up early while traveling to get a lay of the land before the others woke up was picked up from my dad. There was one walk in Hong Kong, where, after he walked with me and pointed-out the landmarks, allowed me to walk home alone – at 10 years old. “Just look for those signs. You won’t get lost.” And off he went. I looked for the signs and found my way back to the hotel where my dad was waiting. Where he found that kind of confidence to let me do that, I have no idea. I’m pretty sure he didn’t run that by my mom.
Then there was the walk through one of the many squatter areas of Metro Manila. I’ve told this story many times on my blog. I was a whiny and grumbling five year old kid. My frustrated father, took me to the shanties to show me what having it bad really looked like. He pointed out two things that day that never really bore fruit until over a decade later: “These people have nothing but find ways to be happy by being grateful for what they do have” and “You’re alive to help people like these”. That walk would set me on a path to be involved with the Real LIFE Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, and our upcoming initiative at Victory Fort to rescue 100 sex slaves.
There were also difficult walks. They were the ones that required the discussing of things I had to correct, of relationships that were poisonous, and of financial messes to fix, among many others. But on hindsight, these walks were beneficial as well.
I am thirty-three years old now, and I still enjoy walking with my dad. We scheduled one to talk about what he is doing with the church in Singapore, particularly the SQ series, which I think is an extremely exciting innovation of ministry. I’m looking forward to it.
I’m also looking forward to my future walks with Elijah. Many times during our strolls, I find myself explaining things to my son who won’t remember these things yet, much less comprehend. But to see him smile and laugh at my facial movements is satisfying enough.
“I love you more than you’ll ever know.” I told him on that quay-side walk. “No one will love you the way your papa and mama love you.” And it’s true. My dad and mom used to tell my brothers and I, “We love you more than you’ll ever know.” and we would just say, “Thanks!” or “Sure!” When we were older, when I started going out with girls, my dad would remind me, “They don’t really love you David. Trust me. I love you more.” I would always say, “You don’t know what you’re saying Pop. You don’t understand. We really like each other.” He would just say, “You think you like each other. Wait until you start sharing toilets. You haven’t smelled her poop.” My dad had a way of sending the point home. Now that I’m a dad, now that I’ve not only “smelled my son’s poop” but held it, wiped it, washed it, and even tasted it when one surprise projectile hit me, I understand what my dad was saying. He did love me more. He and my mom) also smelled and handled my poop. Yet they loved me. All of my dates and exes were over even before we got that gross. I looked at my son, unable to accomplish anything, unable to comprehend much, and unable to help himself, and I love him so much.
That’s when I unmistakably felt a thought planted: “David, I am your father.” Not in some ominous Darth Vader-like voice, but in a very simple, matter of fact, “That’s who I am. I am your Father.” For the first time in my life I realized, “So this is how you love me… Maybe this expanded to infinity. Maybe this…” I couldn’t process it. Just as I continue to fail to find satisfactory words to describe how much I love Elijah, I could not fathom how much an infinite Father loved me. The idea of “God is my Father” staggers me even now when I think of it.
Then just like Paul on his way to Damascus, I felt a bright light shine on my soul, “David, David, why are you forgetting Me? Your soul is full of goals, full of targets, full of dreams, and mostly full of worries, but you’ve forgotten that the Christian life is about the Bride and the Child.” I knew what that meant. I had been working on this post about it. I had gotten too caught up with the world. I had prioritized the temporary over timeless, the temporal over the eternal. I was burning-out on things of lesser value. Even my prayers reflected an urgency for worldly achievements that needed to be done and not enough rejoicing in my position as Christ’s bride and God’s son. To love my family so much, and to be reminded of how much I am loved by God has refined me the past few weeks, changing my priorities to things that matter eternally.
Tomorrow is a new year, complete with a lot of concerns and work to be done. But tomorrow, like today, like every day, is to be lived differently for me, reminding myself of the joyful knowledge that I am Christ’s bride and God’s son.
26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – John 6:26-34