Surrendering in Faith 

Yesterday I had a front row seat to a beautiful story of surrender. 

I spent the several hours in the home of good friends who were about to move out of the house they had lived in for the last 25 years. The house belonged to the man’s mother, the same one he had lived in all his life. He shared with me how in this major transition that he and his family were now going through there had been so many valuable lessons he learned about surrender and just letting God work in every aspect of their lives. 
While he was sharing his stories, my gaze fell on a beautiful painting by the foyer of his family home. It was a lovely and valuable work of art by one of the country’s masters. My friend then went on to tell me about another lesson on surrender which centered around the painting. 

“In the mid 1980s, my sister had just graduated from high school and my mom wanted to gift her with a trip to the US but unfortunately mom couldn’t afford it. So, in order to raise the funds, she pawned the painting to her older brother for 25,000 pesos which was much less than the value of the painting itself. But mom didn’t mind giving up the precious painting, so long as my sister could go on the trip she had promised her.” 

And so my friend’s sister got to go on the trip and he said that his mom gave up the idea of ever getting her painting back. And it was all right because that’s the kind of woman she was — unattached to material things, loving, trusting, and generous. Always placing the needs and dreams of her children abover her own. 

Twenty-one years later, the older brother fell very ill, and one day, shortly before he died, he instructed one of his daughters to give the painting back to his younger sister. “Ibalik ninyo iyan kay M. It belongs to her.” And so the painting was returned to its rightful owner who once upon a time had unselfishly given it up in order to fulfill a daughter’s dream. 

In a few months, the painting will move into her son’s new home, and hang in a place of honor to serve as a reminder of how God always favors the unselfish heart, and that everything, when it is meant, always comes into fruition in His perfect time. 

Senator Shahani: A Life Well-lived 

I recall watching this interview a few months back and admiring the way in which Senator Shahani had chosen to live out the last few years of her life. “To go back to where you began is really a wonderful experience,” she says at the start of this interview. Former Senator Shahani’s work in the women’s movement paved the way for women empowerment. She created The Shahani Law which addresses gender discrimination at work as well as the Anti-rape Law of 1997. She was a member of the Philippine Senate from 1987 to 1998. 
 It is admirable how to the end of her days she kept busy and productive with the work she was doing with the Philippine Carabao Center. Hopefully someone will continue her work even after she is gone.
Diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer in 2014, her beautiful home in Pangasinan became her sanctuary where each day would find her at her favorite spot on the property, watching sunset over her beloved West Philippine sea. “The way you live your life is your legacy to the world.” Thank you, Senator Shahani for all that you have done for Filipino women and for the country. You will live on in everything beautiful that you have left behind.  
Catch the full interview here — CNN Philippines profiles Senator Leticia Ramos Shahani

Raising strong children

Yet sometimes there are things that happen in a child’s life that go unprocessed or are denied. And this is where the problems in adulthood manifest. 

I always think of this quote whenever I encounter an obnoxious adult with a know it all attitude or someone with serious anger issues. I visualize that person on the other line throwing a tantrum, or spewing venom at me, or the inconsiderate, insensitive person standing across me, as a helpless little boy or girl who was deeply hurt in childhood by an adult or a life event which he or she had no power over. In doing so, whatever anger I have towards that person dissipates. In my heart, I tell myself that I’ve done my best. Doing so makes it easier to walk away and not retaliate. 

This is always a good reminder for all of us — as parents, and as human beings living in a hurting world.

From a long bereaved mother to a newly bereaved one 

Yesterday you asked me, “What’s it like 19 years down the road?” I paused and thought to myself, how does one encapsulate what feels like a lifetime in just a few sentences? 

You can’t. 

So instead I’ll attempt here to answer all your fears in the hope of quieting your fears about the long journey that lies ahead. 

You said that you fear that you won’t be allowed to grieve after 3 years… 10 yrs, or like me, 18 years. 

Let me put this out here now — the grief never really goes away, and whether you are 35, 45 or 55, even 75, the loss will forever be a part of you.   You will still think of your child everyday, some days will be more difficult than others, some years, especially the significant ones, will be more of a challenge. Like the year he should’ve graduated from high school, or from university. The times when you come across someone his age and learn about their milestones — an engagement, marriage, the birth of a child… You will always stop and wonder, what he or she probably looks like in heaven. It’s just the way it is my dear. 

But in those interim years,  you will find that grief, when you embrace it fully, when you run towards your pain, and not away from it, will bring you many gifts. You’ll discover strengths that you never thought you had, and insights that will make you a deeper, more compassionate human being.  After a long period in the cocoon of your mourning, you will emerge a different person — a much better, hopefully more loving one who knows what truly matters in this life. 

You say that “see you soon” is way too far, and that see you soon needs death. And how you are scared that after 10 yrs of grieving you will be be told that you are “maarte” would have to keep it to yourself. 

Grief has no timetable, always remember that.  For as long as you are not harming yourself, or the people dependent on you, then you’ll be all right. If five or ten years down the road there will be moments that you feel like mourning (and I’m telling you that there will be) then go right ahead and do what you feel is right. 

Someday will come when Jesus calls us home and when that day comes we will finally be able to share forever with our loved ones. Until then, we strive as much as we can to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord, and one that gives honor to those who have gone ahead of us. Each of us will eventually find a deeper meaning to the loss that comes into our lives. The deep pain we have gone through when we are stronger, becomes our superpower — it will inspire us to fulfill dreams and goals that we probably never could have done if we had not gone through the refining fire of pain. 

You mentioned that you are scared that people won’t care anymore and that they will forget your child. 

My dear from experience I can tell you that those who matter, and those who count, never do. To this day, I have friends and family who mention my son’s name often in conversation. When I post a memory or a story on social media, I have received nothing but love and affirmation. This is one of the gifts that grief brings — it expands your circle, and brings into your lives so much love, so many like-hearted individuals who may or may have not walked the same journey. 

But yes, there will be those who are quick to judge or perhaps not too sensitive. Just let them be and protect yourself from them. Negative energy is the last thing that the bereaved heart needs. When that happens, learn to roll with it and just walk away. 

You say that you feel incomplete as a parent, but my dear, know that you are more than enough. That within you lies more love now than you could ever imagine. You are all that your children need. And as you carve out time through the years to mourn your loss, never lose sight too of the other children. For sometimes in our grief we focus too much on the dead and forget the living. Please always be conscious of that. Draw strength and inspiration from what remains. Seek the Lord’s grace each and every day so that you never lose sight of things. 

Let this loss transform you. C.S. Lewis said, “No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.” It’s natural to have all these questions and fears, we all go through them at some point in our journey. But as we live out the years, we live our way into the answers too. Look at where CS Lewis’ sadness and grief has taken him. 

And though we may not aspire to his brilliance, each bereaved person or parent can shine his or her light on others in many different ways. In your greatest pain, lies your life’s purpose. That my dear, is the greatest gift that grief brings. 

Hugs and prayers as you journey on. 

Letters from Dad

Tomorrow he would have been 85. 

He’s been gone for 36 years now and today, as part of my ritual of remembering, I took out the letters he wrote me almost 50 years ago. In 1978 he was away from his family — my mom, my brother and I — for three months. The longest, and only time ever that he was away from us. 

Re-reading them today was a joy. It’s like he was sitting across me, and regaling me with his stories. He was such a good writer with a great sense of humor. 

“Don’t call your group the lonely hearts club. You sound like defeatists. Why don’t you call it instead Strategic Planners club…” Strategic Management was a new thing back in 1978, and it was one of the courses he was taking in an executive management course at Columbia. 

Of the long days and rushed hours while in school, he said, “There’s hardly even anytime to poop properly in the morning. Sakrificio talaga!” 

These letters were written three years before he passed away in 1981. He was enamored with San Francisco, but wasn’t too crazy about New York. Quoting O’Henry in one of his postcards, “Far below and around the city like a ragged purple dream, the wonderful, cruel, enchanting, bewildering, fatal great city.” But of San Francisco he said, “The evidence of God is found in its beauty everywhere.” 
Each of his letters were laced with much affection, and always ended with some admonition and reminder to be good, to study well, and to look after my mom and brother. I’m grateful to have these letters and I cannot help but wonder how he would’ve been or looked like at 85. If you have someone in your life — grandfather, father, brother — can you kindly share your photos and stories with me?  I’d love to see how 85 looks like, and hear your stories. And please give your 85 year old man a hug today. You’re so blessed to still have them around after all. 

Happy Birthday, daddy! Watch over us from up there ok?