Dedicated to three people:
My superwoman, Yasmin. Thank you for our son.
My Papa Joey and Mama Marie. Thank you for all that you have done for me. I cannot thank you enough.
I didn’t realize it until one of the nurses asked me to stand to cut the umbilical cord, that I was already passing out. Sitting in that operating room, watching them operate a cesarean on my wife, had hijacked my system. I felt like fainting, throwing up, and taking a crap all at the same time. As I grabbed the scissor-like instrument, I was so worried I would lose control and drop it into my wife’s open belly. Somehow I was able to muster what little control I had left to cut our child’s cord, complete with a photo of me looking like I didn’t know where to look – and that’s because I didn’t know where the camera was. As soon as I cut it, I excused myself from the room, and sat on a stretcher outside. A nurse who saw me very concernedly told me to take deep breaths and gave me a cup of water. It was around then that I realized I was soaking with sweat, as if I had run half a kilometer. It was not my most Instagrammable moment.
But it was one of the best moments of my life, probably the single best moment of my life.
“I’m a father.” I thought to myself. Followed by a “I want to see my son.” and “I’m sure glad I’m not a woman.” in that order.
I walked-back in, held our son, and went to my wife, “You did well, Yasmin. Look at Elijah.” “He’s perfect.” she said. Of course he’s not “perfect”, no one really is, but he is to us.
After 15 months of having given up my much beloved bachelorhood, I have learned three priceless lessons:
1. Marriage taught me the beauty of true love, that the more I chose the satisfaction of another, the more that other satisfied me.
2. Having a son taught me there exists a pure love that has nothing to do with my son’s achievements and everything to do with him being mine.
3. And we (the community of Christ’s followers) are both Christ’s bride and God the Father’s children, and we have access to the satisfaction of choosing to satisfy Christ and the pure love of knowing we are loved, not because of our accomplishments, of which we have nothing to be proud of, but simply because we are His.
In this social-media soaked society, where so much effort is placed on projecting a “likable” life, we must remain sensitive to the important lessons from the simple and mundane, difficult and painful, and unposed and embarrassing.
In my very close fainting-vommiting-crapping-combo moment, I fell in love with my wife in a special way, appreciated my parents in a greater way, and worshipped my God in a deeper way. In my emotional and physical, weakness, when my normally very calm and clear mind just wanted to shut down, His power to communicate His love to me was perfect. There was nothing to capture, no lights, no takes, no slow-motion, no OOTD, no brand to hashtag. Just a very sweaty, anxious, light-headed man needing a puke bag and a diaper, overjoyed at having a son and being a son.
Then my mind drifted for a moment, “Are there nine people operating? Am I paying for all of them?? How am I paying for all of them???” How quickly the cares of the world steal our joy.
Then I heard my wife’s voice ask worriedly about the sutures, and our baby’s soft cry as they observed him, and out went the worry, replaced with just simple unadulterated care. How quickly loving others brings our joy back.
The next day, I walked to the billing center of the hospital. St. Luke’s has been an incredible hospital. The facilities are amazing, the nurses were very helpful, and we’re extremely grateful for our OB Gynecologist Dr. Sapaula and Pediatrician Dr. Saulog, as well as our anesthesiologists Dr. Gary and Dr. Inciong, who was very reassuring towards Yasmin during the operation. Seeing what my wife went through made me appreciate my mother so much. Seeing the bill made me appreciate my father! ”Woah!” I thought. “And it’s only Day 2!!! Another 18 years of this! Another…” my negative thoughts were arrested. “Another collection of moments with my son.” For a second I felt I could afford anything. The idea only lasted for exactly one second. But it is what it is.
As parents know, pregnanacy and having children can be expensive. It is a range of more expensive and less expensive, depending on one’s means, but always expensive. When my wife was pregnant, she purchased just one pair of maternity jeans (which she washed every day!) partly because she couldn’t find ones that fit her height, and mostly because I had given her a very tight budget. But our budget is what it is. The available choices are what they are, and there’s nothing wrong with that. She was happy, we were happy, and 38 weeks later, we have a healthy son. With faith in God and grateful hearts, it is well.
We were asked if we wanted to store the umbilical cord for future stem cells, and we said it’s out of our budget, it’s not something I prepared for, and not a priority. We have some friends who did it, we have some friends who did not, and there are also those who know nothing of stem cells, and there’s no right or wrong here. What one can afford at the moment is what one can afford. What one knows is what one knows. It is what it is. With faith in God and grateful hearts, it is well.
After just about 3 days, my wife has started to see some success with her breastfeeding. It wasn’t easy. We tried many times, had so many nurses help us, and amazedly watched YouTube videos of babies finding boobs on their own. Some mothers take days, some take weeks, some are instant milk farms, and some are never able to produce. I’ve learned that there’s a whole range of nipples, and not all lend well to breastfeeding. Some have access to breastmilk banks, some can afford nipple shields, some can’t afford these supplements, and some don’t need them. Whatever the case, it is what it is. With faith in God and grateful hearts, it is well.
While my wife was recuperating, we read an article of kids being kidnapped in refugee areas and being found killed, and were told of some serious medical conditions that have happened to other babies. The next day, my wife told me, “I cannot stop thinking of those babies. Why does God allow that?” I answered her simply, “The truth is, I don’t know. Some of life is because we or others use our freedom in ways that lead to bad consequences. But there’s also so much we don’t know. There’s so much I don’t know about what is already known, of what has already been discovered, and there’s still so much more to discover. Who can say they fully understand life?” I thought about this more through the evening, and I never found any answers. I did remember that God asks us, the living, to be grateful in all circumstances, to love by serving others (especially those who have less than us), and to have faith in God’s goodness. And while this may seem like the simple-minded belief of those too weak to handle life’s painful truth, I’ve come to realize that whether one believes this is truth or superstition in this situation is irrelevant. Being grateful in all circumstances will bullet-proof your soul and make you more able to face life. From an evolutionary perspective, developing gratefulness is good for you. Continuing to love despite our own personal doubts, personal suffering, and personal loss is good for the world in general. It flicks the finger at the cycle of violence and hurt caused, when people use their own hurt, their own doubt, their own suffering, and their own loss to justify unkind or even inhumane actions. From a social perspective, it’s beneficial to be like a human desalinization plant, taking our salty doubts, suffering, and loss, and releasing a purified love. Finally, believing that there is divine goodness, makes people hope, and hope is a balm for the soul. With faith in God and grateful hearts, we face what is as it is, and know that it is well.
And it is well not simply because we have everything figured out, or can afford everything we want or need, or because everything is wonderful, colorful, and great. It is well not simply because we’re laughing, content, and succeeding in our goals. It is well not simply because pain, doubt, and suffering are absent. Neither is it because we experience something relatively better than what someone else is suffering. (I hate it when people try to comfort you by pointing out how someone has it worse.) Just like I learned that I could love my son not because of any perfection but simply because he is mine, you need to love your own gift of life simply because it is yours. Don’t compare it to someone else’s, as any parent would be a fool to compare their own with someone else’s. But realize that it is special because it is yours. Without getting political or controversial, this is why I am so against any thought process that makes killing a solution. Life, your life, every life, is special in itself, not comparatively or relatively special, but special and amazing, a true miracle. A life that travels the world and one that stays put are equally special. A life celebrated by the world on social media and tbe one no one knew existed are equally special as well. We need to move away from valuing our lives and the lives of others comparatively, based on man-made metrics that are really mostly focused on utility: how useful this person is in satisfying society’s needs and wants. We value good looking people and celebrities because they fill our need for beauty. We value rich people or successful people to fill our aspirations. We value powerful people because we look for security and order. We value the intelligent child because he will discover things and get a good job. We value ourselves and people by how good we are at meeting society’s needs and wants. This is why we think it is smart, advanced, even humane to abort children and kill crooks. Why maintain a life that does not fulfill society’s needs and wants? Why maintain a life that drains society from meeting its needs and wants? The answer is because it is a life. Even if one doesn’t believe in God, each life is owned by a corresponding person. Is it not more sophisticated to be able to go beyond utilitarianism into the metaphysical understanding that this life is the private property of someone, and to snuff it out means breaking that person’s rights, and showing we value utility over honoring individual lives? And if utility is the best score for a person’s right to live, never expect a peaceful world. Expect a highly competitive world, expect a divided world, expect a highly insecure world, and expect a highly unequal world as we all prioritize that which maximizes our own individual utility. This is a world I know I can thrive in given my personality, skills, and relational advantages.
But it is not the world I want to live in nor want to raise our son in.
Instead, we decide to live by the simplicity and elegance of remembering that every life is God’s, and it is only for Him to decide on whether it lives or dies, and our role is to love; to care; to cultivate; to improve, to take our 1, 2, or 5 “talents” and multiply them, not compare them, but expand them; and to hope for the day that we share in our Father’s happiness. Walking with faith in God and gratefulness in our hearts, knowing that no matter what happens, it is well. #db
When we were kids, my parents told us a story of an eagle egg that got mixed up with the eggs in a chicken coop. When the eggs hatched, the mother hen simply raised them all like chickens. Of course as time passed the eagle grew bigger and stronger, but because it thought like a chicken, it did the things chickens do and don’t do. It clucked, it strut, but despite its large wings it never flew, because chickens don’t fly. He never even tried.
One day while playing with his chicken brothers and sisters, an eagle flew over their farm. All the chickens watched the eagle soar, none was more stirred than the young eagle on the ground. “What’s that?” He asked. “That’s an eagle.” The mother hen told him. “Wow he said. How’d he get so high?” He followed. “He’s flying, son.” She explained. “I want to fly too.” The eagle said without thinking, and this caused his chicken family to laugh, “You can’t fly. You’re a chicken like us. Chickens can’t fly like eagles. Come on, let’s go back to playing.” The young eagle took one last look at the soaring bird in the sky, turned around and went back to play with the chickens, never realizing that not only could he fly, that he was meant to fly, simply because he listened to the chickens.
I remember what my parents would remind us, “You boys are meant to be great. You’re Eagles. But if you think like chickens, if you hang around chickens, if you do the things chickens do, you’ll end up a chicken. And just like the young eagle, you’ll watch the other eagles soaring, and know somewhere deep inside that you should be flying, because you know you’re not a chicken, but an eagle, and that you were meant to soar.”
I don’t know if this was an original story of theirs. It probably wasn’t. But its lesson stuck with me. Actually, it haunts me.
Whenever I find myself thinking or acting like a chicken, whenever I’m spending too much time with chickens, I can hear my parents voice and the same images in my head that I had as a child imagi ing their story, “If you think like a chicken, even if you’re really an eagle, you’ll act like a chicken. If you surround yourself with chickens. You’ll think like them.”
So I make adjustments.
They’re right. When you’re an eagle, and I believe we’re all meant to soar, watching someone else fly high tugs at us. We feel both admiration and sense of envy. That admiration, if unchecked, will lead to idolatry. That envy, if unchecked, will lead to covetousness. Either one, or both, if unchecked, will turn us into chickens, people watching others soar, clucking to ourselves with opinions, criticisms, and admiration, yet never realizing that we were meant to be that person touching the sky.
Here’s today’s reminder: There be eagles. They’re rare but you’ll find them. They’re not doing what chickens are doing. They’re not buying into chicken-thinking. They’re soaring at heights very few reach. They’re doing things chickens can only watch and wish for. Yes, there are eagles in this world. My hope is that you’ll realize, before it’s too late, that eagle is you.
let(From my Series She Listened With Her Eyes. This is fiction.)
I had come to Simon’s house to ask for advice. I had been thinking about my relationship with Yasmin and about the big decisions we would need to make as things progressed, and boy were things progressing. I wanted to talk to him about the practicalities of being in a relationship, of starting a family, of the money issues basically. I wanted to ask, “How in the world do you afford everything???”
I was standing in the living room of his apartment, looking at a row of frames featuring photos of his family. Mat his eldest son, a future scientist; Josh, the most magnetic little boy you’ve ever met; Diane, the sweet princess; and William. I nearly forgot about William. Born next to Mat, William was the second born, though it seemed like he was the youngest, his autism stunting much of his natural processes. I fixed on a photo of Simon cradling William, both their faces beaming with unadulterated happiness.
“Hey David. Sorry to keep you waiting. I had to get the kids to bed.” Simon called to me as he walked into the room, carrying a sleeping William in his arms, covering nearly his whole torso. I had forgotten that he was no longer a toddler but a growing boy.
“Hi Simon.” I shook his hand. “Thanks for making time for me.”
“Of course, David. Did you bring drinks?”
“Right here.” I said, holding up a bottle of Soylent.
“What the heck is that?” he said, with a suspicious look.
“It’s a meal replacement.”
“Get a wife, David. You’re becoming even more abnormal. Do us both a favor and grab two beers from the fridge. The kitchen is at the door to your right.”
I grabbed two bottles. “Where’s your bottle opener?” I called out.
“It’s somewhere there.” he answered, not being very helpful. I found it anyway after opening a third drawer.
I went back to the living room, put our beers on the coffee table, using old magazines as makeshift coasters. He told me to take the master’s seat while he sat on a long sofa. “I prefer sitting here. Lets me lay William down beside me and still have space. He’s gotten quite heavy now. Carrying an 8 year old is a whole lot heavier than a baby.” he explained without insecurity or the self-righteousness common to people aware of their sacrifices.
Carefully laying William down with his head on his lap, he caressed his son’s hair, smiled, looked at me, and said, “So what’s up? What brings the hermit to my home?”
“I’m not that bad.”
“You’re worse. How can I help you?”
“Can I ask you something? Is it hard to have a special child?”
“All children are special, David.” He replied dryly
“You know what I mean.”
“No I don’t know what you mean.” He said, not making it easy for me.
“I mean a child with a condition.”
“You mean an autistic child?” he said.
“If you put it that way…”
“It’s not how I put it. It is what it is. Don’t worry. I’m not offended. We’ve been friends long enough to know you’re good with words when you have the luxury of drafts, but terrible on the spot.”
“It’s true. And that’s what’s important right?”
“What are you talking about?” I asked him a bit confused.
“You asked me a question. You asked me what it’s like to have William. I’m answering you. To have William is a challenge. It’s true. It is what it is. I was featured in our community newsletter once. They interviewed Susan and I about what it’s like to raise a child with autism. For a few months after, we were overwhelmed with support and encouragement. Letters came in, people even sent gifts and money. That was a few years ago. These days, there’s not much encouragement, no letters about on how much we’ve inspired others, no ‘praise Gods’ or ‘God bless yous’. What we do have is an early morning every day, 4:00am to be exact, when William wakes up crying. We wake up to piss on sheets, and piss on me as I carry him to calm him. What we do have are never ending medical bills with no end in sight. What we do have is a responsibility to make daily sacrifices of time, money, energy for him.” He said the last sentence looking down at his son, he smiled, and looked back at me. “But after 8 years, here’s what I’ve learned, more than the things I just mentioned, what we have now, what we’ve always had, is William. We don’t have a special case or lifetime of sacrifice. We have our son. And that’s as beautiful as it gets.”
“I can’t say I completely understand.” I admitted.
“I don’t blame you. You single guys can be efficiently selfish. But you will someday. You’ll understand when you truly fall in love. When the joy of holding someone overwhelms the weight the of the responsibility.
“We have to be realistic Simon. There are responsibilities in the real world.” I cut him.
“I never said there weren’t any. Why do you think I work so hard? There are bills to pay! A lot of bills!” he said with a laugh. “And it’s tough” he said in contrastingly subdued voice. “It can get really hard. Especially during bad days. There’s quite a few of them to be honest. But I like how my wife put it in a prayer once, during a particularly trying period, she said, ‘Father, give us beautiful eyes that we may always see Your beauty even though we face dark times.’ It’s when we lose sight of God’s beauty that things get really dark. It’s not the circumstance. It’s our perspective. It’s not William that makes my load heavy. It’s my selfish heart that forgets that to change his sheets is to love him, and to love him daily, to love others daily, is to truly live. Because of William I truly live. It’s not our lack of money that causes me to worry. It’s because I have been conditioned to trust in money too much. It’s not the medical bills that makes me feel deprived. It’s my lack of contentment. We always think a change in circumstances will make all the difference, that a beautiful life is made up of beautiful circumstances. I’ve learned that a beautiful life is a life lived with beautiful eyes.”
As he was speaking, I remembered my conversation with Yasmin just a few hours earlier, “David, promise me that you won’t do bad things to others.” she started. “Even if it will give us more stuff. I’d rather we sleep in sleeping bags than we do anything bad to others. I’d be happier, and I know God will be happier too.”
“It’s not our circumstances that make life beautiful” I caught Simon saying again, clicking back to our conversation, “It’s how we see our circumstances that determine the beauty we recognize. Too many of us are praying for beautiful circumstances when we really should be praying for beautiful eyes.”
I thought about Yasmin’s eyes. She has beautiful eyes. The most beautiful I’ve ever seen. They’re dark sharp, they’re dark brown, and they look like kindness, with no malice through to her soul.
“David.” I heard Simon’s voice call me.
“Sorry. I was thinking about what you were saying.”
“I’m sorry for rambling. You asked.”
“No, don’t be. I liked what you said.”
“So, you still haven’t told me why we’re here. I’m sure it wasn’t to hear me talk about William.”
“How do you afford everything? I know where you work. I have a pretty good idea of how much you make. Yet you never seem stressed.”
“Haha!” He laughed. “Seem is the key word. I definitely get stressed. But that’s why I’m so grateful, despite not being able to afford much, I have Susan, Matt, William, Josh, Diane. I know I’ll never truly be able to afford them, but the good news is this: I don’t have to. They’re gifts. You never have to afford gifts. They’re given to you. To have them, you simply need to receive them.” he winked at me with that last sentence.
I thought about what he said.
“Is there anything else you want to talk about?” he asked, still brushing the sleeping William’s hair.
“No. This was good. Thanks. This was good.”
He smiled. “Come by anytime. Thanks for the beer.”
“The beer was yours.” I reminded him.
“Thanks for giving me a great reason to have one.”
I looked at my friend. How did a foolish guy like me end up with such a wise friend?
“Thanks Simon.” I said as I walked out the door of his place. “I’ll remember what you told me. Beautiful eyes.”
“Beautiful eyes my friend.” he said nodding, carrying William once more. “Oh crap.” He said, as a darker shade of his blue shirt spread across his chest and stomach. “William just peed. Have to go change him.” he offered his hand and I shook it, feeling something warm and wet.
“Is that pee?” I asked more than a little grossed out.
“Haha!” Simon laughed. “Don’t be such a wuss. Welcome to my world. Come back in, wash your hands. It’s not the end of the world.”