Black Saturday. Reflections on sorrow and joy, gratitude and grief.

On this Black Saturday, allow me to share an excerpt from one of my favorite lent reflections, one that has since my first reading of it last year, transformed my experience of this season and the Cross.

The excerpt is followed by a personal prayer that I began to write earlier today as I experienced the Prayer Labyrinth at my church for the first time. This prayer was also inspired by yesterday’s Good Friday Service of Darkness, featuring the Seven Last Words of Christ by Theodore Dubois, and reflections by members of our congregation.

“The difference between shallow happiness and a deep, sustaining joy is sorrow. Happiness lives where sorrow is not. When sorrow arrives, happiness dies. It can’t stand pain. Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief. Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguration of suffering into endurance, and of endurance into character, and of character into hope – and the hope that has become our joy does not (as happiness must for those who depend upon it) disappoint us.

… For the moment, lay yourselves aside. Become one of the first disciples. And in that skin, consider: what makes the appearance of the resurrected Lord such a transport of joy for you? Consider this in every fiber of your created being … What causes joy? What transfigures you, you flaming disciple, you burning witness, with such a fusion of joy in the encounter? 

This: not just that the Lord was dead, but that you grieved his death. That, for three days, you yourself did suffer his absence, and then the whole world was for you a hollow horror. That, despite his promises, this last Sabbath lasted forever and was, to your sorrowing heart, the last of the world after all. You experienced, you actually believed, that the end of Jesus was the end of everything.

Death reigned everywhere. 

Death alone. 

But in the economy of God, what seems the end is but a preparation. For it is, now, to that attitude and into that experience that the dear Lord Jesus Christ appears – not only an astonishment, gladness and affirmation, but joy indeed! 

It is the experience of genuine grief that prepares for joy. 

You see? The disciples approached the Resurrection from their bereavement. For them the death was first, and the death was all. Easter, then, was an explosion of Newness, a marvelous splitting of heaven indeed. But for us, who return backward into the past, the Resurrection comes first, and through it we view a death which is, therefore, less consuming, less horrible, even less real. We miss the disciples’ terrible, wonderful preparation. 

Unless, as now, we attend to the suffering first, to the cross with sincerest pity and vigilant love, to the dying with most faithful care – and thus prepare for joy.” 

-from Walter Wangerin Jr.’s book, Reliving the Passion, Meditations on the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark.

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The Prayer Labyrinth experience at Union Church of Manila

 

A prayer of thanksgiving and of grieving:

Dear Jesus,

Thank You for the Cross. Thank You for the death You conquered and the agony of separation that You endured. Thank You for Your gift – of Breath, of Presence, of Love, of Life eternal in Shalom.

Thank You for Your love that You continue to lavish on me – for the Light that you continuously pour into my life; light that I now feel overflowing, not only reflecting, but pouring out of me. This Light is You. This is Your heart, Your grace, Your embrace – always more than enough, always perfect, always with me.

Thank You for who You are, what You’ve done. Thank You for how You love – truly unconditionally, having proven it generously and courageously on the Cross, even before I lived out my own sin in time or accepted any faith in You in life. With full knowledge of my future and recurring betrayal, You carried my sin, my shame, my guilt, my stubbornness, my resistance, and my darkness with You to the Cross.

Thank You – for even before I could understand the significance, Love was made whole in Your surrender. In Your sacrifice I am saved. All death was conquered and all evil overthrown. You finished it with love, absolutely and completely. But first, the Cross.

On this Black Saturday, I grieve Your death, Your separation from the Father, the weight that I put on Your shoulders, the wounds that I tore open with my sin, the brokenness of my life that broke Your heart. I grieve this death. And for a day, I try to sit in the posture of Your first followers. Is it anguish, desperation, loss, fear, or deep deep sadness that I try to carry and somehow treasure?  I grieve and yearn like the apostles did for You, for Your presence, so tragically and quickly stripped away. You are not with us in these moments, but suffering and bearing all our darkness on our behalf. You are bearing us.

I grieve Your death. I long for Your presence, for the heavy veil to be lifted off this darkness – opaque and consuming. Today, I can only imagine this agonizing weight, this loss of Light and Leader. I consider what it might have been like to meet this day of grief without the knowledge of Easter morning, without the full understanding of the completion of Your sacrifice, not having yet experienced the rise of joy and the truth of resurrection.

Tonight we sit in longing.

Thank You for what You have done, an act that You so graciously have never regretted, a gift you have never taken back and never withheld from the least of us – dirty and filthy as we are.

Grace and grace and grace so sweet, covers this grief; grief from a heart to whom your renewal is yet be revealed in the dawn, but a heart that clings dearly to all that You have said. For having known Your presence, as Your first and faithful followers had, how could one, how could I, sit in a sorrow that does not hope for You? Here again, another advent season.

Thank You for this moment, for this suffering, for this sacrifice born in absolute, unparalleled love.

Tonight we grieve and wait for morning, and oh what an unexpected morning we long for it to be.

In Your Courageous Name,

Amen.

Mid-Year Moment of Gratitude

Happy July 1st! Where did the first half of the year go?

Here are a few things I am thankful for today, the midpoint of 2014.

1. Work.

Whenever I am tired and feeling overworked, I try to remember how difficult it is for too many others to find a livelihood. I am blessed to have two jobs that are stable, safe, challenging, and engaging. I continue to love what I do.

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2. Ideas.

I feel the love of God when He plants a seed of an idea in my mind, and allows me to discover it. These are ideas for things to do – whether personal, professional or in between – Buhay Makulay activities, independent projects, creative initiatives, process improvement, troubleshooting, an interesting perspective, ways to mentor my staff, new ways to approach the classes I teach, or new adventures to go on. These are all gifts from above.

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3. Hope after the storm.

In the wake of devastating SuperTyphoon in November last year, and in celebration of the 8th year of the annual Fairs – we’ve taken our Buhay Makulay Children’s Fair on the road. The children and their communities continue to teach me about hope.

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4. Travel

Because of the #3, I’ve been able to travel the Philippines a bit more this year than most years. We’ve played with children from Capiz, Cebu and Leyte. Hopefully Iloilo and Negros in the coming months too. And I finally made my return to Singapore to visit my older sister – a plan six years in the making.

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5. Art

#3 has allowed me to do some community art. But in the past few months, I’ve been craving personal art-making time. I cannot always fit it into my schedule, but since reading a beautiful novel about Claude Monet, going on a painting afternoon, purchasing a sturdy & easy-to-carry sketchbook while in Singapore – I’ve picked up my drawing pen again and vowed to restore art to its rightful place in my life. I also want to start dancing again – and by dancing I mean, not Zumba..

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My pen portrait from a couple Sundays ago.

 

 

Speak soon,

T

 

By the Shore in San Vicente, Daanbantayan

Last Saturday at this time, we were just arriving at the venue of our Children’s Fair in Daanbantayan. After close to five hours on the road (some traffic + pistops for food and supplies included), we set foot in a coastal community of fisherfolk. The helpful Vice-Mayor, our direct contact to the community,  led us to the venue, waving directions to us on foot, as our van manoeuvred the small path to the community. It was a simple place, very basic. Houses surrounded the area. Off to the side, we had a view of the water. Fishing boats parked along the shore. The sun beat down. A lot of people – kids and adults – were sitting, standing or walking around, many of them curious about our arrival. We were in San Vicente Poblacion.

In a paved clearing among the houses was where we were to gather the children for the afternoon. It seemed to be their community basketball court, on which stood one tent, a stretched out tarp for extra shade, and an unfinished stage. Next to the court was a small chapel, basically a room with a couple of tables inside. In addition to the area, 100 chairs and a sound system, all we had for the big event were sacks and boxes of supplies in our van, our eagerly supportive driver for the day, Ariel, and the hope of three travellers – my Mom, Milan and me.

This was going to be a challenge. And I instantly fell in love with where we stood. I thanked God with a big smile. All this was more than enough! And I knew He was right there with us.

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A wave of excitement rushed over me. We had never brought the Children’s Fair thisclose to the homes of the children we played with. Most of the times the children would have to travel, a bit – by jeep or on foot, to come to our activities. We were never so deep into their community, except during the times we worked at government shelters. But still, this was different. This was their home base, their turf. These kids grow up here, play in these corners, celebrate their town fiesta. This was going to be special. We’ve brought the party to their very homes!

Someone began to pull out plastic chairs. Mom, Milan and I sat with the Vice-Mayor and a local mother. We surveyed the space. In just a few hours, we’d have one hundred children running around, experiencing their first Children’s Fair.

And though we had hours to the start of the activity, our special guests – the children of this community hit hard by the storm last year – were already starting to arrive. It was going to be a beautiful day!


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More on the Children’s Fair in Daanbantayan soon!

 

Next stop: Daanbantayan!

It was the type of wind and rain that thrashed and screeched; completely dismantling the landscape. The typhoon pounded the town for five hours straight, after it hit land in the morning, reports say. Their houses, sources of livelihood, the ageing trees, power lines, communication lines – all yielded to the typhoon. The people were no strangers to heavy storms, but Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda cleaved a whole new kind of wound.

That was the 8th November 2013 in Daanbantayan.

This may have been the hardest hit region of Cebu, off to the north of the island and right on the coast.

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Photo from www.rappler.com

Five months later, we’re off to visit their children. We’re headed to Daanbantayan,  Cebu Island next weekend! And by we, I mean the Buhay Makulay Children’s Project Inc! I’m incredibly grateful for another opportunity to visit a community hit by Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan, and to bring my beloved Children’s Fair to a new island shore.

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Buhay Makulay Children’s Fair in 2012

We’re preparing for 100 children join us for an afternoon of creative play, music and learning! But as it is in these communities, there are not just one hundred, but hundreds of children we wish we could invite and share time with. Arrangements are finally taking shape, and for the first time, we may be working directly with a local government unit to bring our activities to the children. Every day we get more and more excited!

I’m mulling over an idea for a mural the kids can work on, with the same approach as we did in Roxas City in January. If you’ve got any ideas make sure to pass them on!

Where once was thrashing and screeching, we hope to hear laughter and see dancing.

Speak soon,

T

 

P.S.  DONATE? If you’d like to share with these children in Cebu, or the hundreds of children we will play with as we go on the road this year, please consider making a donation in cash or kind. Sponsor one child at Php800/20USD/18euro. 

Deposits can be made directly to the following account: Buhay Makulay Children’s Project Inc., acct number 0041-0339-24, BPI.

 Donations in cash or kind may be dropped of at the Union Church of Manila, c/o Len Aritao. Corner Rada and Legazpi Sts. Legazpi Village, Makati.

Find the Buhay Makulay Children’s Project Inc. on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to stay posted.

 

Data on typhoon sourced from: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/524437/5-hours-of-yolanda-pounding-daanbantayan-town

Haiyan/Yolanda 004: Hope from a Ukelele & 130 Voices of Children Singing

I had my doubts about teaching 130 children a whole song in just a short bit of time.

We’d have just a few hours with the kids and the music was supposed to inspire a celebration, not a language lesson. Our message was hope, and we didn’t want it lost in translation.

The song was written in English, save for one key line written in their home language, Ilonggo. We were quite certain that the kids, all natives of Lawaan, Capiz, were fluent in Ilonggo and could more or less understand Tagalog. We were clueless about their understanding of English.

I speak Tagalog, with a meager understanding or Ilonggo. Milan, who wrote the song and would be leading the music, spoke neither Tagalog nor Ilonggo.

How exactly was this going to go?

It went spectacularly. Milan wrote the song especially for the children of Roxas, who had just two and a half months earlier, survived one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded in history. They lost their roof, their homes, their parent’s livelihood, a stable source of food or supplies.

What a privilege it was for us to spend an afternoon with this children. We were optimistic that they hadn’t lost their hope. If you watch this video, you’ll see that’s true.

See them clap their hands, stomp their feet, and sing out loud! Hope is not lost in this generation!