There is nothing our human hands can do

There is nothing our human hands can do to deserve a world so beautifully and intricately crafted. Nothing. Not even our minds, powerfully designed as they are. 

But if we lead with our hearts, our mighty, broken, open hearts, we might just have a chance at growing the love that this world was created with.

Baler, Philippines. January 2017.
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The day after Christmas and the urgent gift we must offer our world

My books from my childhood and adolescence now boast the smell I love so much — the toasty, musty scent of old books. On Christmas day, standing in the bedroom I grew up in, I scanned my shelf looking for a good book to re-read as a Christmas treat. I pulled out Lois Lowry’s The Giver, which I hadn’t opened in over ten years.

Even as a young reader, I already knew this book was one I would have to revisit as an adult. When the movie came out not too long ago, I purposefully missed it, remembering the promise I had made when my copy of the book still smelled clean and bookstore-fresh.

So on this Christmas Day, to satisfy the hope of my younger self, I opened up the pages, already browning and spotted with a bit of age. This hope was that as I grew up and grew older, I would continue to open my heart to precious stories like these; that I would revisit their chapters and let their wisdom reveal something new with each reading.

The incredible thing is that the moment I finished the book this time, soon after waking this morning, I ached to read it over. It is a perfectly-timed read, as I continue to wrestle with the polarizing impressions of the daily news — safety and violence, injustice and the eager Christmas spirit.

In The Giver, Lois Lowry brings us to a version of our world that lives in Sameness. It is a safer, more organized world where people feel no pain, where everyone has their duty and place in society at any given time. Those that do not, due to weakness at birth or old age, or because of disobedience of the rules, were released from the community.

It was a secure society, where people shared their feelings, offered and accepted verbal apologies when wrong was committed, and never found themselves wanting.

While all of that made for a peaceful “life,” these people could not see colors, had never heard music, and more painfully to consider, had never known love. Could we still call this living? They had no knowledge of sunshine, of snow, of flowers or of birds. They had unknowingly traded the splendor of these simple, lovely things, for the absence of any discomfort, ache or inadequacy.

Only one member of their community held all memory and history — really he was the only one that knew of and lived with the beauty, pleasure, sorrow and pain that ever existed. That person was the Receiver of Memory. Jonas, our twelve-year old protagonist, was selected to be the new Receiver, by the former one, now known as the Giver.

And right in the pages of this book sits a beautiful memory of Christmas:

“Jonas felt the joy of it as soon as the memory began. Sometimes it took a while for him to get his bearings, to find his place. But this time he fit right in and felt the happiness that pervaded the memory.

He was in a room filled with people, and it was warm, with firelight glowing on a hearth. He could see through a window that outside it was night, and snowing. There were colored lights: red and green and yellow, twinkling from a tree which was, oddly, inside the room. On a table, lighted candles stood in a polished golden holder and cast a soft, flickering glow. He could smell things cooking, and he heard soft laughter. A golden-haired dog lay sleeping on the floor.

On the floor there were packages wrapped in brightly colored paper and tied with gleaming ribbons. As Jonas watched, a small child began to pick up the packages and pass them around the room…. While Jonas watched, the people began one by one to untie the ribbons on the packages, to unwrap the bright papers, open the boxes and reveal toys and clothing and books. There were cries of delight. They hugged one another….

Jonas opened his eyes and lay contentedly on the bed, still luxuriating in the warm and comforting memory. It had all been there, all the things he had learned to treasure.

“What did you perceive,” The Giver asked.

“Warmth,” Jonas replied, “and happiness. And — let me think. Family.”*

Christmas Tree 2016.jpg

On this stormy day after Christmas, I think of all those around the world who are not surrounded by the ideal Christmas or holiday. There are many among us who sit in evacuation centers, crowd in refugee camps, cower in the fear or aftermath of violence, run breathless in search for peace, shrink in hunger, or face their grief alone. Even as many of us have joyfully celebrated in the company of loved ones this Christmas, safe by a glowing fire, bathed in sweet sunlight, or in the embrace of joy, there are too many in the world that live the exact opposite of this story.

Though we raise our banners of generosity and cheer this holiday season, there is no denying the hatred, suffering, and overwhelming grief that runs in the bloodstream of humanity. It seems our love is not enough to heal the wounds, to ease the torment, or to undo the wrongs that have been committed in our generation alone. I fear our own hypocrisy.

And yet, I find myself still clinging to hope, even with the deafening noise and discouragement of reality. I cling to the true Gift of this season — the Love that heals, the Love that saves. The Hope in Whom Christmas began.

Because we are human, we will continue to carry the weight of anguish and heartache, but with it, the lightness of love and compassion. In a time when justice can feel like a sad, mocking idea to the suffering multitudes around the world, I insist that there is still a fighting army of us who can love, forgive and heal. Help me prove that this is true. These are the days when we must courageously show up in defense, in solidarity, out of love for others.

“… Jonas, the community will be left with no one to help them. They’ll be thrown into chaos. They’ll destroy themselves. I can’t go.

“Giver,” Jonas suggested, “you and I don’t need to care about the rest of them.”

The Giver looked at him with a questioning smile. Jonas hung his head. Of course they needed to care. It was the meaning of everything.”*

As I closed the pages of The Giver, I held on to these words. It is simple, but far from easy place to begin.

We start by caring. Truly caring for one another. We may not live in the Sameness of Jonas’ community, but the need for us to care is even greater today. It is so important that we reflect on how we are tangibly called to do this today and that we act on it with purpose and urgency.

May we never let our colors mute to gray, our music unravel into silence, our dancing slow down to stillness, our love disfigure into hatred, or our sense of justice crumble into indifference.

Merry Christmas!

[*Quotes in italics are from the novel, The Giver, by Lois Lowry, published in 1993, by Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers in New York.]

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.

daan
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.

bm
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

The Buhay Makulay Children’s Fair is going on the road!

A few weeks ago my mom had an idea.

“We’re celebrating the eighth year of the Buhay Makulay Children’s Fair this 2014…  We should have eight children’s fairs this year!

IMG_0756 At that moment I could think of many reasons why this was maybe not the best of ideas: Not enough time to prepare. Not enough money. It’d be too much work. Not enough volunteers. I wanted to focus on something else for the NGO. Not enough time this year. That sounds like too many kids. We’ve never organized so many big events in one year. Etc. etc. 

But from the moment my Mom spoke the idea out loud, I knew it was no longer just an idea. All my “reasons,” they were just excuses and lies. Those things never stopped us before. Those challenges have always existed, and we’ve said yes to the ideas anyway!

Eight children’s fairs in 2014. YES!

It instantly became one of our missions for the year.

The idea came on the tail of the practically-impromptu children’s fair we held in January  just outside Roxas City, Capiz Island. Mom and I initially planned the trip in order to hand deliver the money we had raised for our friends and typhoon victims (through our Christmas pilot sale by Thread & Vine). But before we knew it, we were hosting a fair for 130 children! We can’t seem to turn away from the opportunity to bring children together to play, learn, and just be kids!

IMG_8284

So we are going on the road! Roxas City was just the beginning.

This April we are going to Cebu island for 100 children. In May, to Leyte for 500 children. In June, potentially Iloilo. In all these places are little children who survived one heck of a crazy storm.

Even in January, I felt that God was preparing my heart for something new and uncomfortable. Especially in the wake of the typhoon’s devastation, I feel called to go into the broken places. Let’s see where this takes me! Another dream come true!

Stay tuned for ways to help support the Buhay Makulay Children’s Project Inc. this year, we’re gonna need all the help we can get!

 

Speak soon,

T

How many decades could you bear to wait, before seeing your brother again?

I’ve been following this story: the rare family reunions that some Koreans have waited over six decades for! Since the Korean War over sixty years ago, the border between North Korea and South Korea  became more than just a line drawn in the earth. It became an impenetrable boundary, dividing families, casting a shadow on generations. Some 72,000 South Koreans remain on the waiting list, hoping for a reunion with a brother, sister, cousin or child living in North Korea. About half are over the age of 80.

In a society where we are bombarded with the double-edged power/curse of instant connectivity, it is both refreshing and heartbreaking to see the force of a human bond that transcends any technology invented for communication. The human bond to another, can endure 64 birthdays worth of separation with zero communication. No exchange of sight, touch, sound, or even written message.

In fact, it can endure much longer. But I can hardly bear the thought of putting that to the test!

South Korean Lee Young-sil (right), 87, cries after meeting her North Korean sister Lee Jung-sil, 84, during their family reunion at the resort in North Korea. [From the Daily Mail]
The reunions are a rare occasion.  The actual reunion between families lasts only hours! Only about a hundred relatives have been able to take part at a time. There is a lottery system  in South Korea to determine who is invited, while in the North, people say that politics are involved. The most recent round of reunions concluded just yesterday, and they do not happen often enough. In the past, reunions were cancelled or heavily threatened months prior, when North Korea would disapprove of something going in the South. People must also undergo medical check-ups before being cleared to see their relatives.

Brothers, sisters and families –  separated as young children – now come to meet each other with cane in hand, sitting in a wheelchair, or transported via ambulance.

Here’s a quote from a man meeting his brother after 64 birthdays. He was twelve when he last saw his older brother:

“It’s hard for people to understand what it’s like when you’ve been separated so long, but it’s a true miracle; I’m so elated. All that was missing in my life was my brother, and now that I can see him again, I’d have no regrets whatsoever if I were to die tomorrow.” -Lee Du-young, South Korean

A 100-year old woman, for a reunion a few years ago, prepared to see her daughter after over half a century of separation! Her daughter was sixteen when she last saw her, and she had thought of her every day since.

After the war (1950-1953), Korean family members were separated by the division of the peninsula. There was no peace treaty, just a ceasefire. Who knew that the separation would be a constant in their lives? They wait not just years, but full lifetimes. They continue to wait today. 

This file photo taken on 31 October 2010 shows an elderly South Korean man wiping his tears as a North Korean relative (in the bus) waves to say good-bye after a luncheon during a separated family reunion meeting
South Korean Namgung Bong-ja (right) and her North Korean father Namgung Ryul, 87,
cry as they say goodbye to each other. [From the Daily Mail.]
Tearful: South Koreans hold hands with their North Korean family members (pictured inside bus)
before they are separated again. [From the Daily Mail]

 

What joy to be back together with a loved one, for even a moment. But how deep, too, the grief over the lifetime spent without, and the continued separation of the years to follow. Reunited families separate knowing they may never see each other again. 

How often we take for granted and abuse the capacity to reach a loved one at the touch of a device. With technology today, it takes a split second for a message, call or video feed to reach someone you care about on the other side of the planet. We hardly realize this continuous exchange of communication and what a privilege it actually is. 

But do not rely on only that, not only on the connectivity infrastructure that society has built. Break it down a bit. Though we may never be subject to such harsh and extreme separation against our will, we have every reason to treasure each touch, word and moment with relative and friend.

Elderly South Koreans travelled through falling snow with their families to North Korea’s Diamond Mountain to reunite with relatives they had not seen since the Korean War. Pictured is South Korean Park Yang-gon, left, and his North Korean brother Park Yang Soo. [From the Daily Mail.]
A South Korean man selected to attend joint North and South family reunions sits in the lobby of a hotel as he prepares to depart for the North Korean border, in the eastern port city of Sokcho. [From the Daily Mail]
Read about this story on the news: here, here or here. 

Based on reports and photographs as published by BBC News and the Daily Mail.