relationships

“The Faith That Lives In You Also.” (A Family Testimony)

But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.

Exodus 20:6

My paternal grandmother passed away in 2014, but she remained a constant presence in my life, even after her death. More specifically, it was the unforgiveness I had for her that haunted me.

To say that my grandmother–Amah–and I had a difficult relationship is an understatement. Though I was her first grandchild, and long-awaited granddaughter, I often felt that she was disappointed in me. After all, my father was the black sheep of the family, and with my hot temper, emotional nature, and tendency to talk back, I reminded her a lot of her son. As I grew older, I would notice this more and more. Playful scolding little by little turned into disapproving lectures on whatever facet of my behavior she was displeased with that day. I grew to expect, and resent, the constant sermons, which would often escalate into arguments as I would try to defend myself from her claim that I was becoming more and more like my dad. At one point, my Amah even told my mother to be careful not to love me too much, because I might hurt her the way my father had hurt my grandmother.

Looking back, I can clearly see that these were the actions of a hurting heart, and that Amah was simply doing her best to help me and my mother. However, at the time, all I felt was rejection. My relationship with my father was also quite bad, and I was terrified of ending up like him, so it hurt every time my grandmother brought up that possibility. Her certainty felt like a vote of no confidence, and I clearly saw the distance between mother and son being mirrored in her actions towards me.

Things got a little better when I became a Christian at the age of thirteen. My grandmother was a devout follower of Christ, and had served as a missionary in refugee camps when she was younger. She had such a heart for the poor and the lost that she bought land to build into a farm, church community, and Christian retreat house called The Lord’s Garden, growing fruit and flowers there that she sold to fund the ministry. Until the end of her life, she was praying fervently for the salvation of her friends and relatives, admonishing them on her deathbed to come to Christ. Amah was passionate about the Lord, and it was her long-cherished wish that at least one of her grandchildren would carry on her legacy of faith. I remember many conversations she had with my mother where she talked giddily of her belief that one of my cousins had received the calling to serve God. Her joy at that prospect stood in stark contrast to the fear and reluctance she often seemed to have when talking about me. I have no doubt that she prayed for me often, and admit that she had good reason to–the years immediately before and after I became a Christian were turbulent ones, as God was working to tame my rebel heart. She seemed comforted somewhat by the fact that I was now actively going to church and being discipled, but then again my father himself had been a preacher in the mountains before he’d backslid.

Once I got into college, landing a scholarship to a good university and racking up academic awards–contrast from my messy high school years–Amah seemed to become less cautious when it came to her treatment of me. Around that time as well, having undergone my church’s “Victory Weekend” and constant discipleship from my spiritual family, I was also trying to make an effort to understand her better and act more loving and forgiving towards her, hoping that my emotions might follow my actions. The result of this was that we managed to make a sort-of peace before her death, even having long conversations where I spoke to her about my faith journey. She seemed satisfied that my walk with God was rooted in more than just appearances, and in the year before she passed away, she seemed almost proud of me, while I also thought that I had forgiven her.

Little did I know, I was still nurturing the hurt and bitterness in me from those years of being held at a distance, and when she died–a few months after my father, her son, had suffered a massive stroke that he struggled to recover from–all that hurt came pouring out. From a bubbly, if emotionally erratic, people-person, I suddenly found myself becoming withdrawn and depressed, prone to fits of anger, fear, panic, and sadness that seemed to come out of nowhere. It felt like my grandmother’s old predictions were coming true, as this shift in personality started to take its toll on my professional and personal life, such that I was nearly fired from my first job–where I had been and still was a star performer–because my officemates found me, emotionally, too difficult to work with. Finally, I was diagnosed in April of 2017 as having dysthymia, also known as “persistent depressive disorder.”

Living with dysthymia has been humbling, and has taught me a lot about grace. As someone who used to pride herself on being self-reliant and getting things done, I have now become someone who openly gets by due to the patience and support of a lot of people. It has also, in its own way, been eye-opening, as I’ve become more aware of the negative thoughts, feelings, fears, and mindsets that form the undercurrent of my depressive episodes. Chief among this is the fear that my worth is based entirely on “making it” and “making good,” and that failing to do so renders me unworthy of receiving love. Because of it, I have tended to push people away the moment I sense their displeasure, even going so far as to outright scream at my mother that I knew she would leave me in the end, just as Amah had left my dad. 

Just as Amah had left me.

It became very obvious, then, that I still had issues about my grandmother.

Let me be clear: I believe my grandmother loved my dad as best she could. Their relationship was also very difficult, and it is not my place to expound on that, nor is it my place to speculate or judge. What I can say is that I had clearly not forgiven my grandmother for those years when she had withdrawn from me out of fear of what I might have become. That unforgiveness fueled my insecurities, which then affected the way I related to other people and lived my life. My bitterness was causing me to self-destruct.

Thankfully, God is merciful. Even in my brokenness, he still allowed me the opportunity to minister to others, and, in late 2018, in the midst of a long season of pruning, I received what I believed was my own ministry calling. While I am not yet 100% certain what that path will look like, I can say that God has already clearly started moving, such that during this year’s prayer and fasting, I had several people actively praying for and encouraging me regarding a confirmation of my calling.

Just last Christmas, I had a long talk with my mother about how I still found it difficult to forgive my grandmother, even after so much time had passed and even after understanding where she was coming from. I explained to her that I still heard Amah’s words in my head, could still feel her disapproval every time I failed or proved unstable. I admitted that on some level, I still felt condemned as her embarrassment, and wanted some form of justification to prove that was not the case. I knew these were stupid requests: my grandmother was dead, and could not be expected to apologize from beyond the grave. I was the only one left with the baggage, and so it would ultimately be my choice to let go. Still, feeling unable to do so, I decided I’d leave that up to God, asking him to help me forgive.

I did not expect the form that help would take.

On the last day of prayer and fasting, as we were praying for personal breakthrough and spiritual direction, I sensed God telling me something rather surprising: “You are your grandmother’s reward.” I had not thought about my grandmother at all throughout prayer and fasting, being focused on praying for great faith and the breakthrough that was my season of pruning. In fact, I had pretty much forgotten about asking God for help to forgive her, and yet here God was with the strangest answer: “You are your grandmother’s reward.”

The Bible is full of examples of faith as a legacy, of generations reaping the rewards of one person’s faith. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…the list goes on. These were not perfect people, not by any means–Abraham often acted out of fear, Isaac played favorites, and Jacob was an outright deceiver–but when the time came, they responded to God in faith, and God rewarded them with the blessing of their descendants. It didn’t register at first, but soon the clarity sunk in: for all of my grandmother’s flaws, she had been a woman of great faith, and great love for God, and God was calling me her reward, designating me the fruit of her faithfulness.

Instead of being offended that “my” calling was a result of the faith of a woman who had rejected me, I was awed by God’s wisdom and moved by his grace. In giving my grandmother her reward, he honored her faith despite her mistakes. In naming me the reward, he undid the distance our fractured relationship had created, reconciling us through the bond of a shared faith. My Amah’s fondest wish had been for at least one of her grandchildren to want to take up her fight for the lost. Now, I was that grandchild, the source of her joy, my faith seen as the fruit of hers. I could feel only gratitude and wonder at how God had managed to redeem the damage done, perfectly balancing justice, mercy, and grace.

I’m sure that my battle with bitterness isn’t 100% over. Forgiveness, I know, is a daily choice, and one I honestly should have made long ago. Still, I won’t lie: this makes that choice so much easier for me. I am in awe of God’s mercy, that instead of condemning me for being bitter, he would choose to comfort me with a term such as reward, while reminding me at the same time that my grandmother really did love me as best she could, and that my faith is as much the fruit of hers, as it is a product of God’s all-consuming grace.

More than anything else, this breakthrough reflects that God really is faithful, even when we make mistakes. My grandmother was fearful. I was resentful. Yet we both held fast to the same God, and in the end that God made all things right.

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

2 Timothy 1:5 (NIV)

Written as a testimony for #ENFast2019. 

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Me and My Lists: An Interlude from Age 25

Previously published as a Facebook post.

Last night, I attended a friend’s wedding reception, then afterwards headed to my mum’s highschool reunion. The extreme amount of social contact is probably why I’m so exhausted right now (Sunday morning) that I can barely keep my eyes open.

The wedding was absolutely lovely, and also super chill. I didn’t get picked for the garter toss games (my friend Marisol, the bride, knows I don’t like those sorts of things), got to eat a lot of delicious food (Marisol, your caterer was AMAZING), and, as you can see from the photo above, had a great time at the photobooth. I didn’t really get to mix and mingle, but that was totally fine, since I didn’t really know anyone there.

In contrast, my mum’s HS reunion is full of people who have watched me grow up. The “Batch ’81” aunties and uncles have seen me napping in my elementary school PE uniform while waiting for Mama, and very nearly saw me napping in my gown last night while trying to stay up long enough to fetch her home from their wild partying.

(This is how pathetic I am: my mum parties harder than me.)

Of course, since I know this batch people, I had to mingle a bit more than at the wedding. Generally, it was just to say hi and that I was sleepy. A few asked after my Conservatory of Music studies. But one exchange in particular struck me as both funny and odd.

Near the end of the night, I found myself cornered by an auntie who also happened to be the mother of one of my highschool classmates. I was prepared with my stock “Hello! Yes, I ate already. I’m so sleepy, Auntie!” spiel, but found myself having to respond to another line of questioning. For almost the entirety of what was probably a ten minute “conversation,” this Auntie kept repeating “You’re so beautiful! Why don’t you have a boyfriend?”

She sounded almost panicked, and wouldn’t take “God’s perfect timing!” for an answer (which is an anomaly in my Christian circle).

I kept explaining that I was busy and anyway had a lot of cool things currently going on in my life, but this auntie would. Not. Stop. By the end, I was too exhausted to give further coherent answers, so my mum–God bless her–swooped in to save me.

But now, having had a little more sleep, I think I have one.

Honestly? It’s just haven’t met the right person yet. And it’s not from lack of “effort,” per se: I’ve been “set up,” and I’ve also met people I might like, but considering that I’m really holding out for a Christian who’s actively being discipled (my faith is very important to me; I’m sure you understand)…it’s not an easy ask, I guess.

Do I get lonely, sometimes? Yeah, sure. I just said as much to a friend in FB Messenger, and I often have to ask my friends and mentors to pray for me when the longing gets intense. But I have meaningful friendships, and shared life, and things that God has placed in my heart that I’m excited to see bear fruit. My life, essentially, is full, even if there are days when I don’t feel that way.

Am I perfectly content in my singlehood? Nah. I’m twenty-five and hot blooded, and as any of my poor crushes can tell you I can be EXTREMELY affectionate and demonstrative when I like someone. I’ve got a lot of love to give, and I do want to share it, but, well, that person hasn’t showed up yet, and that’s okay. I have other things to enjoy, because life is, I’ve learned–and someone tell my boy-crazy sixteen year old self this–about more than just falling in love. And while I haven’t made peace with the idea that they might NEVER show up, I’m comfortable with the idea of we’ll cross the bridge when we get there.

Anyway, I still have happy crushes and what else are KPop idols for?

(I swear, being a fan of Kim Seokjin has done wonders for my looks. JINNIE, I LOVE YOU!)

At any rate, that was an interlude. Thanks for listening, friends.

-aRT

P.S.
Auntie kept saying that it was important I get a boyfriend already because my mother wants to have grandchildren already. My mum said I should have told her that I my mum already has a grandchild: my cat.

P.P.S.
Incidentally, she and some other Uncle kept calling me beautiful/pretty (I was fully made up, what do you expect?!), so at some point I stopped saying just “Thank you!” and started replying with, “Thank you, I know.”

LET ME TELL YOU: that “I know.” freaked them out enough to start a whole new line of questioning: “HOW DO YOU KNOW? HOW CAN YOU SAY YOU KNOW?!”

(The uncle in particular sounded almost offended.)

Sir, Ma’am, I work for a makeup company. I’ve had a threadlift done. I take at least one selfie a day. I am both very vain and someone who was not considered pretty growing up: the combination of the two meant that I learned how to put myself together and use the tools at my disposal to “clean up.” After all that, I definitely know when I look especially good, and when I don’t, because when I do…there will be LOTS of photographic evidence.

Also, let’s be honest: genetics. My mum was HOT when she was younger. So thanks, Ma.

When silence is like starving.

I was thinking about Juana the Mad today.

Or, rather, I was thinking about a friend of mine. The last time we’d spoken, she’d called me out on something but–unbeknownst to her–I was in a bad mood, so it wasn’t the best time, and we’d ended up having an entirely unnecessary word war on, that bane of my existence, Facebook Messenger.

I sent an apology note via chat, but she hasn’t replied yet, and honestly I’m not surprised? I overreacted. Usually, I would bombard her with more messages, verbally bullying her into reassurances of forgiveness, but whether it’s because of pride or exhaustion or simply shame, I can’t bring myself to reach out, and so here we are. Not talking. It hasn’t been a long time (we fought just last Tuesday), and we’ve not talked for longer stretches, but there’s this pervading sense of wrongness to this silence that makes it physically hurt and keeps her on my mind.

So I ended up thinking of Juana the Mad today.

When my friend and I were talking, I would send her photos of her KPop idol crushes, and she would reply with things like:

*aggressively licks screen*

*swallows phone*

I would laugh, each time, but now that I miss her, I’m inclined to pick apart the bits and pieces of our interactions, especially when they were light-hearted and good. I saw this photo today…

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Kim Seokjin (my favorite BTS member) performing Fake Love at BTS’s Love Yourself World Tour in Los Angeles. Photo by @jinkissletsgo.

…and immediately my mind cycled back to those reactions, which made me wonder at how the language of desire–from the “innocent” and playful fangirl crush to the dark and dangerous territory of lust–so often borrows words from hunger.

Which brings me back to the poem at the beginning of this post. The historical Juana was a Castillan queen, older sister to another famous royal, Katherine of Aragon. Like her sister, Juana’s marriage ended in tragedy, with the death of the husband–Philip I, also known as Philip The Handsome–whom she she supposedly loved to the point of obsession: “…when you marry a man more beautiful than you, they say you pretty much lose control of the situation.”

That the historical Juana was actually mad is a subject of historical debate–her reputation might have been a product of a smear campaign–but true or no, the legend lives on that Juana loved her husband so much she refused to bury him, eventually–in Gamalinda’s retelling, at least–eating bits and pieces of his corpse so he could be with her forever.

I remember shuddering when I first read that poem, unnerved by the graphic description of cannibalism. But nowadays, even if those verses still make me feel a little queasy, I can understand the sentiment better, because so much of how we talk about  longing and lust (especially on social media, with #ThirstyThursday and “a whole snack” and all that) involves lips and tongues and teeth.

What I’m about to say next is going to sound super creepy, and maybe get me banned from the VIP section at BTS’s Manila concert (which, fingers crossed, happens next year), but when that photo of Jin popped up on my Facebook feed, my reactions were quick and overwhelmingly physical: widened eyes and sudden intake of breath and a desire to shriek curtailed only by the fact that I was at a shoot for work and the cameras were rolling.

In that moment, I understood all of my friend’s exclamations of wanting to swallow her phone whole; if I had no makeup and less self-control, I might have(?) smashed my face into my laptop screen, eyes-first, until the image was burned into my corneas.

(I warned y’all this would be creepy. BigHit, if your secret internet agents ever see this, please don’t take me seriously. I only want to watch EAT Jin; I don’t actually want to eat him.

Instead of doing that, though, I Googled Eric Gamalinda’s poem about Juana the Mad.

My friend John and I have been talking about beauty, on and off, for the past few days, because we’re both writers and apparently this is the stuff writers talk about casually sometimes (I realize how pretentious that sounds.). Right as I was looking up Philip The Handsome, Juana’s ill-fated husband, John messaged me, asking how I was. I messaged him the poem in reply, followed by an incoherent stream-of-consciousness reflection on why beautiful things–like a beloved husband, or a KPop bias, or maybe even a friendship between two stubborn people who love each other, even if one of them isn’t always the best at showing it–elicit a physical hunger. Why is the language of longing also the language of starvation?

I don’t know what constituted the Catholic royal wedding vows of Juana’s time, but the vows I know include the words “to have and to hold.” If you’re holding on to something long enough, it will leave a mark, will change you in ways you can see and ways you can’t. Maybe when we hunger for something or someone, it’s because we’re longing for that change, the way the food we ingest filters into our bodies, turns into flesh or fat or fuel, becomes a part of us.

(Because you can’t lose that which is a part of you. Because it is always there, right next to your heartbeat, or in your heartbeat, in your bones and blood and flesh forever and ever and ever, Amen.)

There’s good kinds of hunger, and bad kinds of hunger. Anyone who’s ever tried to eat clean knows this. Your body can crave junk in the same way as it craves things that are good for it, and it’s up to you to know the difference. When I messaged John about how I thought the language of love is hunger, he told me he didn’t agree: that hunger and thirst are so base, that to consume is animal, and that love was so much more. And I think he’s right: hunger is not all that love is. I don’t love Jin, not really.

(But…)

My friend and I have not spoken for longer stretches of time, but this time, for some reason (or, well, maybe I know the reason), it hurts, like acid burning in my chest and up my throat. My thoughts are fuzzy. I am unable to focus, tired, sluggish. There’s a dull throb of emptiness in my gut that I can ignore, but can’t quite get used to, because it feels wrong.

There are good kinds of hunger and bad kinds of hunger. I want to believe my body knows the difference, knows which one you’re supposed to feed. I saw a photo of my favorite KPop idol today, and my first reaction was to want to send it to her, to tell her I was licking my screen or swallowing my phone in our shared language of exaggerated cravings. Then I realized that I couldn’t, that I’d decided to hold my tongue instead of swallowing my pride and it hit me why, instead of the self-satisfaction of “standing up for myself” that I’d expected to experience, the silence I’ve chosen feels so very wrong. It feels a little like a body deprived of what’s good for it.

It feels a little like starving.