Wednesday, November 11, 2009

October in the Philippines

This may come as a suprise to most of you, but my parents took the kids and I to the Philippines for 21 days in October. Yes, we went all the way over to the Philippines!

My first trip ever to the Philippines was after I graduated from UCLA in 2002. I lived in the city of Bacolod for six months as part of the staff of Campus Bible Fellowship (CBF), a college ministry. My second trip there was a year later on my honeymoon travels with Andrew. Every trip I take to the Philippines, this having been my third, is life-changing and amazing.

After I arrived in the Philippines this time around, I discovered I had forgotten my journal, something I have never forgotten on a trip before. When I searched around for something to use instead, I found at the bottom of my backpack something unexpected.

It was a brown journal that I had used in 2003-2004. It began at mine and Andrew's engagement and ended in the Philippines during our honeymoon.

During our honeymoon, Andrew and I had traveled from January to April 2004. After a week in Kauai, we spent nine days in Hong Kong and nearly three weeks traveling throughout the Philippines, which included Manila, the capital, Borocay, a white sand beach that was the closest place to heaven on earth, and the city of Bacolod, where Campus Bible Fellowship and my friends and relatives were.

Since Andrew died, it has been strange returning to so many of the things that identified me before he and I were married and settled down in one place, like ballet or trekking through the Philippines. It is like my five years married to him were a mere hiccup, always meant to be temporary, like high school or college. As if I was "Grace" all my life, then I thought I would be "GraceAndrew" for the rest of my life, but instead I'm back to "justGrace."

This makes me feel sad, incredibly disappointed, and foolish reading journal entries from our engagement about how I had finally found the one I would spend the rest of my life with.

Borocay, Philippines. 2004.

I thought I would share with you some of my thoughts from our earliest days of marriage. On February 19, 2004 during our honeymoon excursion in the Philippines, I wrote:

"Fellowshipping with the Campus Bible Fellowship staff was incredibly refreshing, invigorating, and sharpening.

"My closest friend, Shubie (Anne Juliet) asked me what marriage was like. I said sometimes it's so wonderful, you think you must have exceeded the human capacity for happiness. And sometimes, it's challenging and difficult as you work through sin together.

"Sometimes Andrew and I are so happy together, I just don't know what to do with myself. I didn't know it was possible to love someone so much that being near him, nothing, feels like enough. You imagine the only suitable thing would be to crawl inside his lung cavity and sit there, if it were possible. Missing him, especially last year while I was waiting to return to him from the Philippines was like missing my left lung. It was difficult to breathe. Difficult to remember to breathe.

Above, Andrew is eating balut, a nearly developed duck embryo that is
boiled and eaten in its shell that CBF uses to welcome - or rather challenge -
all their international guests. You can feel the fur and wings when you bite
into it.

"Sometimes I don't know what to do with all the happiness. Praises to my lover. Kisses, hugs. Tell everyone I can about my love for him. And yet with marriage, it seems propriety must reduce, must restrain our words. So then you write about it. And then that way not only can you tell all you feel, you don't have to confine it to only the people you know, but to strangers and to any you have known but haven't seen in ages."

The engagement/honeymoon journal ended in the middle of the book, so that half of it was blank. So I used it for my journal while I was in the Philippines this past October 2009.

And so, the brown journal ended in the Philippines at the beginning of our marriage in February 2004 and picked up again in the Philippines October 2009 after our marriage had ended.

Five years after the last entry above, after all the loss, my first day in the Philippines in 2009, I wrote in the same journal:

Gargato, Philippines.
"Apprehensive, as usual this year about a trip, knowing I didn't have any idea what to expect. Getting onto the airplane Friday night seeing the expansive interior of the airplane, I was struck that this was the first time on that type of international plane since I traveled with Andrew for several months after we were married.

"Everything had seemed so new and unreal back then, like a dream. I was always afraid that I was going to wake up. I mean, who gets to marry their obsession? Now, it is as if it really were a dream, ephemeral, the bubble popped, and he is gone. He is only a dream to me. Our past together is only a dream now.

"Struck again when I arrived at an internet cafe to check my email after several days of being cut off from the rest of the world. Struck that the last time I was at an internet cafe was with Andrew on our honeymoon. And the time before that was when I was writing to him while he was in Los Angeles and I was in the Philippines. And I would tell him everything about this third world country that was so new and different, it felt like being born all over again and America had only been conjured up as a fantasy based off a Coca-cola billboard. And he would tell me about his lone Saturday early mornings on his motorcycle, singing worship songs as he rode into the mountains. He said when he saw God's creation, no one could ever tell him that God was not good. I fell in love with that man.

"When I am feeling fine about Andrew, it is like I have a black screen inserted, like one of the screens they use in a bee farm, and it as if I put that screen down in my life to block off all the past. That if I look back, all there is is a black screen, so I can move on and feel okay.

"This is really funny because I have lived all my life with a backward glance. The past was always so significant to me. I think that's why I loved history so much, because it was my extended past, whether Western history, or the history of Southeast Asia or the history of the Philippines. Or it was simply the history of people, and I am related to all people, and their cultures, and their history have always been so poignant, rich, and significant to me.

"So much about what Andrew and I would write each other in our 6 page single-spaced emails was about the 21 and 22 years previous to meeting each other. Somehow, all our childhood and past experiences meant so much to us. We were giving our pasts to each other.

"When Andrew died, as little by little I put his things away, I found myself putting away all my old clothes with his. It hurt to look at them. The pink blouse I wore to his graduation, the long denim skirt with black lace stretched over the front denim in a big triangle that I had bought during a missions trip to Thailand in the midst of my 6 months in the Philippines that he liked, my old jeans. The person who wore those clothes belonged to Andrew and she died with him. I wanted to give my whole self to Andrew, to abandon my heart, my past, my devotion, everything to him. And I did. And I'm thankful. And he took it with him and it was buried with his body.

"So maybe there is some relief that my past went with him. Because I don't need it anymore. The stories no longer pursue me. They belong to him. And I'm grateful the Lord ever gave me someone to give it to."

Friday, October 30, 2009
China Airlines. On flight from Taipei to Anchorage.

I had originally gone to the Philippines, because my parents take a trip there every year, and before Andrew was diagnosed the second time in March of 2008, my parents had offered to take us with them to the Philippines. So I thought even though Andrew was gone, maybe the kids and I could go. I thought it would be a nice time to relax as well as visit with old friends and relatives.

Old friends from Campus Bible Fellowship during their college
retreat. Many old CBFers have started their own CBF's throughout the
Philippines, and the retreat ended up being a reunion for those old

It turned out to be way better than that! While originally my friend, Shubie, had asked me to share mine and Andrew's story at Campus Bible Fellowship's annual retreat, after we arrived in the Philippines, one of my aunts also asked me to share our story at her church and another aunt asked me to share our story at a luncheon at her resort she had thrown for many of our relatives and friends of the family. Finally, my friend Ryan, a fellow 2003 Campus Bible Fellowship staff member, asked me to share mine and Andrew's story at his Bible study.

"Every trip I take to the Philippines is life-changing and amazing. Asolutely loved getting to share mine and Andrew's stories a total of four times. Awesome ministering alongside Shubie and Manong Errol, like a tag-team."

This may sound strange to some of you that the highlight of my trip was speaking to audiences of cancer and losing my beloved. But it wasn't just that. It was about Andrew - and I love talking about Andrew - and it was about Jesus and His faithfulness, and His forgiveness, and His kindness, and His mercy, and that in the end, this will have all made sense. The Bible promises that our suffering, that everything that happens to those who love Jesus, is for our good and for His glory. We will see that when we see Jesus face to face. But for now, so much of that is just believed by faith. And so it is so gracious of the Lord that He would provide opportunities for me to see with my own eyes even in this lifetime that Andrew's life and suffering and death was not meaningless but is impacting people for Jesus even now.

I am so grateful to my many relatives, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, my parents, who came to hear me speak at those events, sometimes multiple events.

"And while Shubie (Anne Juliet) was my best friend before, and I enjoyed our friendship, it has been even more enjoyable after a five-year interval of being apart, yet experiencing God's faithfulness in our lives through massive trials for the both of us to burn away the dross. Absolutely fascinating to me to see the notion that as we get holier, good relationships get even better due to the sanctification that God brings about through the very means of trials. Holier people means holier relationships means happier, more enjoyable relationships."

Amazing that God would provide a glimpse of the reality of James 1:2-4: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

Amazing that Jesus graciously provided a glimpse of the reality rather than merely having to walk only by faith all the time. It makes me really want to actually consider my trials "pure joy." To actually rejoice in them as He commands.

Because trials, through all the pain, make you more like Jesus, and thus make life more enjoyable, even in the midst of all the hurt and pain and suffering and misery of living in a fallen world.

How the Philippines Impacts Me Here in Minnesota

Yesterday was a really hard day, full of failures and sin, frustration, and impatience with my children. Rather than cry out to Jesus, I just cried, hard-hearted and wanting to be left alone by my kids and God, because I was tired of difficulty. I was tired of God having His way, because His way only proved hard and impossible.

But when I see suffering Christians more joyful than anyone else, because they're not surprised by suffering and they don't resist their suffering but embrace it, this gives me hope. It encourages me that I don't have to be frustrated and that I can have their joy too. Because I already have their Christ.

Shubie says, "Why not embrace suffering, because to embrace our suffering is to embrace Christ."

I'd have to say that the over-arching emotion that still pervades our home may be disappointment. But after the Philippines, I am encouraged to press on. And that through Christ, it actually may be possible to rejoice and pursue joy even in the midst of my suffering and broken-heartedness.

I mean, who actually thinks it is possible to rejoice after the loss of their love or rejoice when left unexpectedly to be a single mom? To rejoice when the life she had built for her husband - her home and her children - when the very one for whom it was a gift, is gone?

Yet through Christ, all things must be possible. In Philippians 4:13 Paul says, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." He is referring to being content in all circumstances, and exhorting the Philippians to rejoice always.

I want to be like Jesus. To be sorrowful, yet still rejoicing. I want Him to glorify Himself through my life. That is why I became a Christian. Because there is no other life to live than one spent for Him. There is no other life to live than one in which Jesus is conforming me more into His image. And the more that He makes me like Himself, the happier I will be. And so if I want to be like Jesus, and if Jesus promises that suffering makes us more mature and complete, then I can count it a privilege that God would be so faithful so as to hurt me to make me more like Him so that I can be happier in Him.

Our American culture may say, "Pursue comfort. Pursue ease, otherwise you're just gonna waste this life. Pursue comfort, because you'll never be happy otherwise." These lies pursue me every day, and when I give into them, I only end up frustrated, because I am living in a broken world with a broken heart.

But Jesus offers me hope. I may never have what America worships, comfort and ease, but Jesus offers me something way better - Himself. I'm so thankful that Jesus forgives me every day, though I fail constantly, and go after other things to satisfy me rather than Him. That just as His death has paid the price for my sin, His resurrection offers me hope of change. That while I struggle to rejoice in my difficulties, He can grow, even such a wretched sinner as me, to more and more be able to rejoice in my sufferings.

For more pictures and details about our trip to the beautiful Philippines, go to: Check it out!