Unplugged

Last weekend we shed life’s conveniences and spent some time in the wild. We went camping.

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For three nights we slept in a tent. But before you think it was really miserable and uncomfortable, it was not. We have camping cots, so we did not have to sleep on the ground. We also have comfortable sleeping bags, blankets and pillows.

We did not go hungry as well, for we did not have to forage for something to eat in the forest or hunt for some wild game. We have canned goods and packed foods in our coolers. We even have propane powered stove and oven to cook our food. Though we build an open fire to keep us warm and for real “camping-feel.” In addition, we have to roast our marshmallows for the s’mores in the camp fire, of course.

Furthermore, we did not have to dig a latrine, for there was a modern bathroom facility with several toilet and shower stalls. And with heated running water!

You may argue that what we did was not really camping, but “glamping” – glamorous camping.

However, there’s one life’s convenience or some may even consider this a necessity nowadays, that was not available in the campsite. What is it?

There was no cellular phone signal there. It was a dead zone.

For three days, I have no use of my smart phone, except to take photos. No phone calls, no text messages, no e-mails, no Facebook, no news feed, no Google, no ability to check NBA scores, and no access to my blog. Nothing, nada, zilch.

In this current age, we are so wired up that we have connection with people around us and even people in the opposite side of the world. Phone call, texting, Facetime or Skype has been part of our everyday life now. I am finding out that nowadays courting has been reduced to video chat and sending text messages. What happened to the formal home visit, bringing flowers and asking the girl’s parents if they can meet?

I am not saying that this is bad, as it has made our world smaller. This technology has been a lifeline for families that have loved ones working overseas. Skype, Facetime, or any form of video chat is definitely a boon for them.

With the internet available almost anywhere whether thru Wi-Fi or cellular signal, we have access to any information we need. I remember the days we have to go to the library and search for the facts and data we want. Today, we have that instantly at our fingertips that I am not sure our present society will survive without this technology.

But I survive without a phone signal and internet for 3 long days. Proving we can live without it. The only connection I had there was with people around me in the “here and now.” You may say that we were isolated from the outside world, but there was plenty of interaction and connection in those days we were on the camp.

Where we went was a camporee. My wife and I volunteered to join my son’s club as supervising adults. There were 25 other youth clubs, and more than 300 people in that camp. So there’s a great deal of communicating and socializing. Though not by Facebooking or texting.

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some young people leading the worship service

Yet we did have some “long distance” interaction while we were in the camp. We witnessed the mighty sun as it sets by the lakeside and it was gorgeous. We marveled at the distant bright stars above us at night. Moreover, we had quiet communing with the Creator who surrounded us with these beautiful nature, who by the way, is really nearer than we think.

I believe we should be spending more time unplugged.

(*photos taken with an iPhone) 

 

Meeting Place

I have taken photos of deer in our area several times before. I have even documented not too long ago, about my “pet deer” who have hang around in my yard for a whole season (see previous post here).

Now that the winter is over, I have more sightings of them again. They are in my lawn to feed….

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They come here to rest………

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And then one morning, coming back from the gym, I saw that they even use my yard as their meeting place.

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How many deer can you see?

(*all photos taken in a span of a week last month)

Return to Florida

We were in Florida for a few days about a week ago. We accompanied our son who had a team competition held there. That was our official purpose to go to Florida, though there were other reasons.

One reason is to escape the cold, as there was still snow on the ground in Iowa when we flew to Florida. Another excuse perhaps was to see the ocean. Iowa is a land lot, and the nearest ocean is about 1000 miles away, so it’s not everyday that we can view the ocean. But the biggest reason to return to Florida, was to see our many friends there, for we once called that place home. That was before we moved to Iowa.

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beach in Sarasota

We have lots of good memories in Florida. Spending weekends in the theme parks or time in the beach were not even the highlight of our three years of residence there, even though we’ve become good acquaintances of Mickey. First of all, it was in Florida where I started a “real” job, after three years of Medical Residency (New Jersey) and another three years of Subspecialty Fellowship (New York) training.

After finishing my training in 2000, I had to change my visa from a “training” to a “working” visa. That transition took several months to get approved, and I was in limbo with no permit to work and no place to go. I was jobless, broke, and homeless. I cannot provide for myself let alone for my wife and my daughter who was a toddler at that time.

During that dark period of our life, we were fully dependent on the kindness of friends and family. We spent a month living in our friend’s home in New Jersey, then two months in another friend’s apartment in New York, then several months with our relatives in California. We did not starve nor sleep in the streets because there were good people who adopted us and cared for us. They provided everything, from the food we eat to the diapers for my daughter. It was a humbling experience, yet at the same time awe-inspiring on how good people can be.

When my visa got finally approved in 2001, we moved to Florida for my first employment. It was a wonderful feeling to move to an apartment of our own, sleep in our own beds, buy our own groceries, and cook our own food. It was not that the food we ate during the times we were “homeless” taste bad, but it was just good to taste food from the fruits of our own labor. Florida is known as the “Sunshine State,” and for us we really experienced a sunny existence there after going through some cold and dark circumstances in life.

So during our return to Florida last week, besides seeing our friends, we also visited the homes we rented (we moved twice) when we were still residents there. We felt so nostalgic driving through the streets and neighborhoods we used to know. Although it took us some time driving around to find the homes we rented, as there were considerable changes in that area. It was sad to see that the orange groves around our previous residences are now gone and turned into commercial complexes.

We drove by the clinic and the hospital where I used to worked. We also visited the hospital where my son was born only to find that the whole building was demolished and the site was turned into a park. The hospital was relocated to a new site and is a much larger facility now.

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the new relocated hospital

I even teased my son that we’ll return him to the hospital where he was born. The back story to that was after my son was born, our daughter who was 5 years old at that time was jealous at the attention our new baby was getting. So she pleaded, “Let’s return the baby back to the hospital.”

Since technically the hospital where my son was born is gone, he can argue that we cannot return him anymore. I guess we are stuck with him. Hah!

I would be lying if I say that it was all good things that we experienced in Florida. For there were alligators there. They were not just in the lakes and swamps. They wear clothes like you and me. To be fair, they can be anywhere not just in Florida. Yet I still believe that overall, people are good.

While we were living in Florida, we had a friend and his wife who underwent a transition phase where they were in-between jobs, just like what we went through before. They have no place to go, so we adopted them and they stayed with us for a few months. We cannot repay those who adopted us before, but we can do to others what was done to us. We paid it forward.

As expected, this couple made it through their dark times and was able to get back on their own. We were happy for them.

So guess where we stayed when we visited Florida recently? At the Disney Resort? No, done that. At the beachfront hotel? No, done that too. In a tent at a campground?  Not this time. We stayed somewhere much better.

We stayed at the home of our friend whom we adopted before. A home where love abounds trumps even the most posh hotel. Not just we stayed there for free, it also gave us more time to catch up and enjoy each other’s company again. Besides, their place was cozy with a resort-like feel. Consider waking up to this view (photos below).

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We also had a meet-up with other friends who took special efforts to delight us. From a treat to a restaurant, to a home-cooked Pinoy breakfast, from home-baked bread to freshly picked malunggay for our “pabaon.” I’m not sure we deserve all these kindness but we’re thankful to all of them.

We surely had fun visiting Florida again. And we did not even see Mickey.

(*photos taken during our last trip to Florida)

Abangers: Infinity Wait

Ilang araw na lang ay lalabas na ang bagong pelikula ng mga paborito nating superheroes, ang “Avengers: Infinity War.” Ito ay isa sa pinakamalaking production ng Marvel Studios at pagsasama-sama ng pinakamaraming superheroes.  Ang movie genre tungkol sa mga superheroes, ay isa sa mga pelikulang kinagigiliwan ng madla at malakas tumabo sa takilya.

Pero ibang superheroes ang gusto kong talakayin ngayon. Ito ay ang mga Abangers. Mga taong nag-aabang.

Hindi ko tinutukoy ‘yung mga tambay sa kanto. Oo nga’t nag-aabang din sila, pero hindi ko lang alam kung ano nga ba ang inaabangan nila. Siguro, Pasko?

Hindi ko rin tinutukoy ang mga pasaherong tinitiis ang pagod, gutom, init, at pakikipag-siksikan habang nag-aabang ng masasakyan. Tunay naman na umaabot ng siyam-siyam makarating lamang sa paroroonan. Sa ibang pagkakataon ko na lang tatalakayin ‘yon.

Ang aking tinutukoy ay ang mga nag-aabang sa pag-ibig na hindi nila maangkin. Sa simpleng salita, ‘yung mga nagmamahal ng taong may girlfriend o boyfriend na. O mas masaklap pa, nagmamahal ng may asawa na. Sila ay nag-aabang na magkahiwalayan ang sinisinta nila, para sila naman ang makaentra.

Maraming mga kanta akong kinagisnan noon na nagsasaysay ng ganitong sintimyento. Ito ang isa: Hanggang Sa Dulo ng Walang Hanggan.

Ang orihinal na umawit nito ay si Basil Valdez, at ni-remake naman nila Gary Valenciano at Sarah Geronimo.

At kung sadyang s’ya na ang ‘yong mahal,
Asahan mong ako’y di hahadlang,
Habang ikaw ay maligaya ako’y maghihintay,
Maging hanggang sa dulo ng walang hanggan.

Ayan ang tunay na Abanger! “Abanger: Infinity Wait.”

Heto pa ang isa, awit naman ni Martin Nievera, “Ikaw ang Lahat sa Akin.” May cover din nito si Regine Velasquez.

At kung hindi ngayon ang panahon,
Upang ikaw ay mahalin,
Bukas na walang hanggan,
Doo’y maghihintay pa rin.

Meron pang isang kanta, ang awit ni Andy. Andy ba kamo? “Andy ‘to ako, umiibig sa ‘yo.” Huh?

Ah, eh si Ogie Alcasid pala ang kumanta nito. At my version din si Leah Salonga.

Nandito ako umiibig sa iyo,
Kahit na nagdurugo ang puso,
Kung sakaling iwanan ka niya,
Huwag kang mag-alala,
May nagmamahal sa iyo,
Nandito ako.

Ilan lang ‘yan sa mga theme songs ng mga Abangers. Sila ay mga superhero, di ba? Hero, bayani, as in martyr! Pwedeng-pwede na silang barilin sa Luneta.

Maaring iyong tatanungin, masama bang maging Abanger?

Unang-una, mahirap maging Abanger. Lagi ka na lang nagtatago sa dilim, naghihintay sa pagkakataon na lumabas sa liwanag. Laging patago ang iyong diskarte, at baka ka mahuli ng tunay na nagmamay-ari. Sabi nga ng lumang kanta ng Apo Hiking Society:

Mahirap talagang magmahal ng syota ng iba,
Hindi mo mabisita kahit okey sa kanya,
Mahirap oh mahirap talaga,
Maghanap ka na lang kaya ng iba…..

I-dial mo ang number sa telepono,
Huwag mong ibibigay ang tunay na pangalan mo,
Pag nakausap mo siya sasabihin sa’yo,
Tumawag ka mamaya nanditong syota ko.

Pero marahil ikakatwiran natin, kung tunay ang pagmamahal natin, ito’y ipaglalaban natin kahit pa may bakod na. Bahala na kung magkabistuhan pa. At handa tayong maghintay, kahit pa sa dulo ng walang hanggan, ika nga ng kanta.

Pero dahil kaya sa pagiging Abanger ay maaring ipinipinid natin ang ating paningin at sinasarado natin ang pinto sa ibang mga pagkakataon. Sabi nga ng isang quote:

When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us. – Alexander Graham Bell

Minsan hindi pinto, kun’di bintana ang pinagbubuksan. Kaya’t tumalon ka na sa bintana. Jump out and move on.

Marami ang nabubulag at marami rin ang nagbubulag-bulagan dahil sa pag-ibig.

Isa pang dahilan, ilagay natin ang ating sarili sa sapatos ng boyfriend o girlfriend ng ating inaabangan. Hindi ko ibig sabihin na nakawin mo ‘yung sapatos ng boyfriend o girlfriend, pero siguro naiintindihan mo ang ibig kong sabihin. Hindi ba nakakabwisit kung may umaasungot o umaaswang sa iyong syota? Sabi nga ng Gintong Utos: Huwag mong gawin sa iba, ang ayaw mong gawin sa iyo ng iba.

Ang huling dahilan na naiisip ko kung bakit hindi magandang maging Abanger ay ito, hindi mabuti ang “One-Way Street” sa larangan ng pag-ibig. Hindi ito malusog na relasyon. O hindi ito maituturing na tunay na relasyon.

Unrequited love is the infinite curse of a lonely heart. ― Christina Westover

Tulad ng mga naririnig mong payo ng iyong mga kaibigan, ‘Ang mga martyr, binabaril!’ Alam kong may halaga ka, kaya’t pahalagahan mo rin sana at mahalin ang iyong sarili. Natitiyak kong may tao ring magpapahalaga sa iyo.

Masakit man isipin at mas masakit pang aminin, na ako ay naging isang Abanger din noon. Oo, nag-aabang ako sa pagdaan ng magtataho sa aming kalye noon.

Pero seryoso, naging tunay akong Abanger, nanligaw at nag-abang sa babaeng may boyfriend na. Ito ay nang ako’y nasa unibersidad pa. Akala ko nga kami na. Dalawang taon din akong nagpakagago! Pero salamat at naumpog ako at namulat sa katotohanang wala akong mahihitad at hanggang sa pagiging Abanger lang pala ako.

Hindi ako nagkikimkim ng galit. Hindi ako nanghihinayang. Hindi rin ako mapait sa mga pangyayari.

Noong makailang taon lang ang nakalipas, ay dumalo ako sa aming Graduation Silver Anniversary ng aming unibersidad sa Pilipinas. Dito ay muli kong nakita ang aking dating inaabangan. Oo nga’t may kaunting kislot sa dibdib nang akin siyang makita matapos ang dalawampu’t limang taon. Pero akin ding napagtanto na pundi na at wala nang liyab ang aking damdamin para sa kanya.

Hanggang sa ngiti na lang kami at pagbati ng “Kamusta ka.” Dahil para sa akin, natagpuan ko na ang aking “forever.” At hindi lang ako isang Abanger.

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(*Our class section of Medicine batch ’91, who attended the reunion gala night. Photo credit to our official photographer.)

April Snow

Just as I thought the long awaited spring is here to stay, and it’s time to fire up the grill and hang out on my deck, then this happened.

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My expectation was buried, and it buried the sprouting bulb flowers too.

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But no wintry storm can totally quash our spirits, for underneath that snow, I know, hope springs eternal.

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(*photos taken this weekend)

Rolling Stone

(The following is an excerpt of a discourse I gave in a local congregation last month.)

We’ll be discussing rock and roll, and rolling stone, but in a way different subject matter the popular world knows today.

Mark 16: 1-3: When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

It was Sunday morning, and the women, the two Marys and Salome, were on their way to Jesus’ tomb. Their hearts were broken, yet they would like to show their devotion to their fallen leader by anointing his dead body with fragrances.

It was the custom of the Jews to anoint the dead. We may ask, was Jesus’ body not given proper burial rights before being buried? Let’s read:

John 19: 38-40: After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.

One hundred pounds of spices. That’s a lot of spices! Twenty pounds of spices was the usual burial custom in those days. Forty pounds was for the rich. So 100 pounds was really extravagant. I read that it is estimated that the cost of 100 pounds of this mixture of myrrh and aloes would cost about $150,000 in today’s market. Those men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, gave Jesus a burial fit for a king.

Then why did the women have to go? Do they think that Jesus’ body was not anointed properly that they have to do it again? Who can relate here, that what you have done is not enough? The dishes were not done right. The kitchen was not sparkling enough when you cleaned it.

I am not taking a swipe on the women. For I don’t think these women thought that the anointing of Jesus’ body was not done right or not enough, but rather they only wanted to show honor and respect to their fallen Savior, in their own little way. They wanted to show their love too.

The anointing of perfume was not to do mummification, but to put spice and fragrances to cancel the bad smell of decomposition. One of Jesus’ gifts when He was born was myrrh, a spice to anoint a dead body. Do you see the theme here? Jesus was a baby destined to die.

Back to our story. While the women were on their way, they asked: Who will roll away the stone? This implies that they alone cannot roll away this stone.

Archeologist have found many tombs around Palestine that they believe were first century tombs. Most of the time the opening of the tomb was blocked by a stone. It could be a large mill-like stone, though some experts say that it could also be a square rock that can slide. Though to me when the women said “roll” away, original Greek word apokylio, it must be circular that it can roll like a wheel.

The books of Mathew and Mark said that it was “very large.” If we say it should cover 4 to 5 feet of tomb entrance, then a disc stone would have a diameter of at least 6 feet. That rock could weigh 1.5 to 2 tons. That weight alone even though it can roll like a wheel, would be hard to move.

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me and a large stone in the Holy Land

But there’s another factor that was found by archeological diggings: usually the groove where the stone rolls is in an incline or has a deep ditch where it will drop. Meaning, it may be much easier to close it, but a lot harder to open it, as you have to roll it against an incline or lift it out of a deep rut, and put a wedge to keep it open. In a conservative estimate, you need more than 10 strong men at the least, to roll away the stone.

One more factor, according to Matt 27:66, it was closed with a Roman seal and thus cannot be opened without the permission of the Roman authority. Besides, there were Roman soldiers guarding the tomb. A usual Roman guard unit is 4-16 men, most of the time 4 men stay on guard while the rest sleeps, and they change shifts every few hours, to keep them fresh.

Despite all these factors, these women came to the tomb, and expect that they can somehow open the tomb. Do we have the determination and dedication of these women? Their faith may be imperfect as they did not expect that Jesus will be alive as He told them He will. But they were determined to go. They know that there would be barriers to do their mission, but they still continue.

Sometimes we feel unsure with our plans or mission. Should we carry it out anyway and hope that everything will work out fine? Just like those women did.

So they asked, “Who will roll away the stone?”

But when they came to the site, what did they see? The stone was already rolled away! How? Let’s read:

Matthew 28: 2-4: There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

No need for ten strong men, one angel is enough. No need to put a wedge on the stone, for the angel sat on it. No need to contend with the Roman guards for they became like dead men. Only one angel, can be such a powerful force to contend with, how much more if God would send ten thousand of them!

The women seeing that the stone was rolled away, came in to the tomb, and the angel told them that the Jesus they were looking for was not inside the tomb, for He is alive!

Yes my friends, we serve a risen Savior. Our God is alive! The tomb is empty. That stone blocking the entrance of a tomb was rolled away!

I believe that the rock at the entrance of the tomb was not rolled away so Jesus can come out. What? Before you accuse me of teaching heresy, just hear me out first.

Remember when He appeared to the disciples when they were inside a house with closed-door? Let’s read:

John 20:19: On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Doors were locked, yet suddenly Jesus stood among them. He came through the walls! I believe Jesus when He was resurrected, can verily come out of the tomb even with the stone locked in!

But why was the stone rolled away? It was not that Jesus can come out. It was for the women and His disciples to come in inside the grave, and see that the tomb was empty. The stone was not rolled away for Jesus. It was rolled away for us, so we can believe.

Are we still asking the same question right now? Who will roll away the stone? The stone of our failing health and illnesses. The stone of our broken relationships. The stone of our financial difficulties. The stone of our addiction. The stone of our day-to-day struggles in life. The stone of our unbelief.

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If we are asking the question “Who will roll away the stone?” we are asking the wrong question. The answer is already clear.

The question for us, is: “Are we going to allow God to roll away our stone?” A large two-ton stone is nothing to God. It should be nothing for us as well.

For God have told us in Matthew 17:20, Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.

God equipped us to move mountains. We should not be asking anymore, “Who will roll away the stone.”

(*photos taken in the Holy Land)

 

Chasing Phantom Fishball

Yesterday our temperature here in Iowa finally wandered above 50º F. Considering that we had snow last weekend, and even had some flurries the day before with subfreezing temperature, we’re just excited that finally spring has sprung.

I was able to come home early with the sun still way up in the horizon, so I decided to go for a run outside.

I wore my brand new cool running shoes that I bought as a birthday gift for myself. I also planned to wear my new colorful running shorts and nifty running shirt that my wife got me for my birthday, but I found out they were still in the laundry. You see, like a child I need all the enticements to keep me motivated in running.

I’m proud to say that I finished my first outdoor 5-kilometer run for this year. Though I would not deny that I was a little out of condition and I struggled to complete the run.

While I was doing my run and I was on my 4th kilometer navigating through our neighborhood, I suddenly caught a whiff of a very familiar scent. I took a deep breath and inhaled it in to confirm. It was the unmistakably glorious smell of fishballs being fried in a lake of oil on a deep frying pan.

Instantly, I was transported back to my days in Manila, as if I entered a Twilight Zone. I felt I was in Forbes Avenue (now Arsenio Lacson Avenue) in front of the UST Hospital. I could almost hear the jeepneys and buses plying that route. Most afternoons, there was a fishball vendor there with his push-stall near the entrance of the hospital.

It does not matter if health experts say that it may not be “safe” to eat street foods, like fishballs, as you can get hepatitis A and some other illness, especially if you dip the fishballs in those jars of sauces. The reason is that some people do “double dip,” that is after taking a mouthful bite of their fishballs on the stick, they would dip it again in the sauce, and that’s how a disease is spread. Could it be the tincture of slobber that makes it more tasteful?

But my courageous friends and I don’t care what the experts say.

After an exhausting day in the hospital working as medical clerks (4th year medical students), we would trek down outside the hospital in our white uniform and all, and buy those delightful fishballs. While they were still hot and floating in oil, we would make “tusok-tusok” the fishballs with the stick, then dunk them in the different dipping sauces. My favorite one was the black spicy concoction with floating onions and siling labuyo. Sometimes I would also dip in the tangy sweetish brown sauce. Sometimes I would dip in all the three jars of sauce. But I swear, I don’t do double dip.

Interesting enough, during our 25th graduation anniversary meeting and reunion held in our medical school two years ago, they served fishballs on a stick during one of the breaks. They have the authentic taste like the ones peddled on the street. It was definitely a hit!

As I reached the end of the cul-de-sac, I came back to the realization that I was on a street in Iowa, and not in Manila. I looked around to search if there’s a fishball vendor around. But there was none. Just the leafless trees, brown grass, and the empty street that I was in.

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Was I hallucinating? Was it because I was huffing and puffing that my brain was oxygen deprived? Or was it because I was hungry and my blood sugar level was running low? Has my brand new running shoes have anything to do with it? Or maybe I was plainly home-sick again?

Fishball, o fishball, why are you haunting me?

(*photo taken during my run)

Into the Next Frontier

I made it!

With another birthday under my belt, it is official. I have outlived my father.

After a certain age, people don’t like having birthdays anymore. I guess it is when the number of candles in your birthday cake is deemed a fire hazard, that getting older another year can also be deemed as a health hazard. Though a friend of mine send me this text message: “Birthdays are good for your health; studies have shown that people who have more birthdays live longer.” Hah!

But before you all wildly congratulate me on reaching such a significant milestone (at least it is for me), the bar that was set was really low. You see, my father passed away less than a month before his 51st birthday.

My grandfathers, on both mother’s and father’s side, did not walk that long on this earth either. My mother’s dad died when he was in his 30’s, and my dad’s father did not last much beyond his 50’s. That’s why I never had the chance to meet my grandfathers.

Come to think of it, my children did not meet their grandfathers too, as both my father and my wife’s father died way before our kids were born. In fact they died even before my wife and I met. We need to break this chain.

I may consider that I am now walking on uncharted territory. But I am eager and hopeful on what lies ahead on what my father and grandfathers were not able to explore. The frontier of growing old.

It is interesting though that what age we consider old depends on what stage in life were in. In one article I read, they asked different people on when do they consider the start of  old age. Here’s their answer:

5-year-olds: Old age begins at 13.
13-year-olds: Old age begins at 30.
30-year-olds: Old age begins at 50.
50-year-olds: Old age begins at 75.
75-year-olds: Never. And go away.

For me, I still would not consider myself old. Not yet. Not after another 50 years. And if you don’t agree with me, go away!

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I am not ready to slow down just yet. In my mind I believe that there is still enough bounce left in me. Though my joints may tell me otherwise.

It is spring time and getting warmer here. It’s time once again to run outdoors and start preparing for another half marathon. I need new running shoes though. Perhaps I can get a discount through AARP.

(*photo taken few months ago)

Ugly Topiary

(topiary |ˈtōpēˌerē|: the art or practice of clipping shrubs or trees into ornamental shapes.)

It’s officially spring time here, and its time once again to tend the yard and the garden. I have posted before that my wife love topiaries and we have them both inside and outside of our home (see previous post here).

However in our backyard is a line of evergreens that looked like hideously clipped topiaries. Don’t we have the artistic skill to trim them?

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However, we are not the one who trim these disfigured shrubs. We’re not thinking our neighbors are vandalizing our plants either, causing this unusual design. In fact, these evergreens are not even intended to be topiaries at all.

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Who’s responsible for this art work then? A drunk Edward Scissorhands?

No, it’s the pesky deer!

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During winter, when the grass and food is scarce, these evergreen could be a gourmet meal for them. They nibble on what they can reach, leaving the top untouched.

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Good thing we don’t have roaming giraffes!

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

 

 

No Chance Encounter

(The following is an excerpt from a discourse I gave in a local congregation. Thoughts were inspired after standing in a spot pictured below.)

Simon, after an 800-mile long travel, in a dream journey of a lifetime, finally arrived in Jerusalem.

He was warned of the large crowd especially during Passover time. But that day, he saw a different event. Even though the streets were crowded with lots of people they were making way for this unusual procession. There were no wailing sirens or flashing lights to warn people to make way, but there were Roman soldiers shouting with their glistening swords that part the crowd like the Red Sea.

Then Simon saw a man, so bloodied in his face, head, and back, carrying a beam of a cross, being led by the soldiers. Simon realized, he was witnessing a man being led to his death by crucifixion.

Crucifixion was not invented by the Romans, but they perfected it. Crucifixion was a punishment mostly reserved for those sentenced with insurrection or rebellion. Mostly people crucified were people subjugated by the Romans.

The weight of the whole cross was about 300 pounds. But usually the one being crucified carry only the cross beam, which in itself weighs about 100 pounds. They carry this to the place where they will be executed.

But even that weight of the cross beam was too heavy for this man condemned to die, as Simon witnessed. Perhaps he was weakened from all the lashes he received in his back. Perhaps he was already too weak from the blood loss from the wounds in his head and body.

Simon saw that the man carrying the cross fell under the weight and cannot stand anymore. Next thing Simon knew was that he was being ordered to carry that man’s cross.

But why was Simon chosen? Was it really random or by chance that he was picked? Romans will not let a Roman citizen carry the cross. They only let Jews or a foreigner do it. And Simon looked like a foreigner. He stood out of the crowd. He definitely looked like a stranger in Jerusalem. Was it the way he dressed? Or was it something more obvious?

Simon was most probably dark-skinned. In a more blunt way of saying, he was black.

First of all he was from Cyrene, a country in North Africa. We know that these people were descendants of Ham, the third son of Noah, who was believed to be the ancestral father of black people. The name Ham, many scholars believe meant “black.” This is supported by the Hebrew and Arabic evidences, in which the word “chamam” means “to be black.”

Another support is in Acts 13:1, it mentioned a man named Simeon (Simon) who was called the black man, who was one of the teachers in Antioch. Whether this was the same Simon from Cyrene who carried Jesus’ cross is hard to prove. What we know though, is that Acts 11:19-21 mentioned that the first Christians who preached in Antioch were from Cyprus and Cyrene.

In all likelihood, Simon was picked because he looked different. Discrimination is not something that we only have today. Even in those times it already existed.

But Simon was not pick by chance. I believe God has destined him to carry the cross for a special reason. Same thing that God picked those who were being discriminated and ostracized during those times: the Samaritans, the tax-collectors, the Publicans, the lepers, the sinners. God chose those who the world see as unwanted, and use them in a special purpose for his divine plan.

If God does not discriminate, who are we to discriminate people whom we think are different from us?

Back to Simon, when he was picked by the Roman soldiers, he was reluctant. The Bible said in Matt 27:32, he was “forced” or “compelled.” Meaning, he did not volunteer. Most likely he even refused!

But can you refuse the Romans? There was a Roman law called lex angeria stating that if a Roman soldier tells you to carry his pack or a load, you must carry it for 1000 paces (1 pace=2 steps), which is really close to our current mile. After 1 mile, you can bring down the load and you can go on your business.

But Jesus in his teaching in Matthew 5:41, said that if a soldier demands you to carry his pack for 1 mile (pertaining to lex angeria law), carry it for 2 miles instead. That was Jesus said! So if someone ask you a favor, do it beyond what you are being asked. Not out of duty, but do it out of love.

I am not sure Simon heard of this Jesus’ teaching, that he would be willing to carry the cross for more than a mile.

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Station V, Via Dolorosa: spot where Simon carried the cross

But I get it, not just because the cross was heavy, and it was not even his cross to carry, Simon has other reasons to be reluctant. One is that if he carry that bloodied cross, he would contaminate himself with blood and he would be deemed ceremoniously unclean by Jewish law. He then would not be able to participate in the Passover feast, which was the very reason he came to Jerusalem in the first place.

Sometimes we have our own plans, and all of a sudden we are being diverted to do something we don’t want to do. Just like Simon. But God has a plan for us. We just have to trust Him.

The other reason, why I think Simon was reluctant to carry the cross was, can you imagine the humiliation of carrying the cross of somebody you don’t even know? The humiliation of being associated to somebody condemned to die.

Simon’s experience was: from dream to nightmare, from holy to horrific, from going to the place of worship to going to a place of execution.

But as Simon followed Jesus carrying the cross and being led by the Roman soldiers, something happened to him. It changed him.

Simon have looked into the bloodied face of this man and their eyes met. The look that peered through his soul. The look of love and forgiveness, despite him being led to his death. Surely, Simon thought, this Man was different.

As he was following Jesus with the cross, he have heard him speak as recorded in Luke 23:28 “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children.” Surely, Simon thought, this Man was different.

Something changed the heart of Simon. I believe that after they came to Calvary and he was told by the soldiers that he can bring down the cross and was free to go, he stayed in the crowd and watched what would happen to the Man whose cross he carried.

Simon witnessed of how this Man forgave those who were crucifying him, praying “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” He saw this Man die and how He cried “It is finished,” and how he uttered “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” Surely, Simon thought, this Man was different.

From an unwilling cross bearer, Simon became a willing faithful follower.

Simon realized the fact that his hands and his shoulders and his body that were stained by this Man’s blood did not make him unclean, but rather that very blood cleansed him of his sins. Simon can claim that he was literally washed by the blood of the Lamb.

How sure are we that Simon became a follower of Christ?

In Mark 15:21 it mentioned Simon’s sons, Alexander and Rufus. The book of Mark was written about 25-30 years after Jesus died. The fact that Mark mentioned the names of his sons, implied that his sons became known to the early Christian church. That means they became pillars of the church, because their converted father introduced them to the Savior whose cross he carried.

Also in Acts 11:19-21, which mentioned those early Christians from Cyrene, and we may wonder, why were the earliest Christians from a place 800 miles away from Jerusalem? I want to believe that those were converted by Simon when he returned home to Cyrene. Even Paul in Romans 16:13 greeted Rufus, Simon’s son, whom Paul said was ‘picked by God to be his very own son.’

Yes, Simon was not picked by the Romans by chance, but rather God picked Simon. And it was not a chance encounter, but it was a destined encounter.

May the story of Simon, inspire us for our own fateful encounter.

(*photo taken in Jerusalem)