Pride and Prejudice

What makes you happy? What pleases you most? Does being praised make you feel good? Ask any person receiving an award, being applauded if he is happy. Of course he is. And nothing wrong about that either. It is just human nature to feel good when the ego is gratified. American psychologist, Abraham Maslow formulated the human hierarchy of needs and near the top of the pyramid is esteem.

Esteem needs are ego or status needs. It has to do with getting recognition and respect from others. We need respect namely self-esteem and self-respect. It is typical human desire to be accepted and valued by others. People with low self-esteem often need respect from others; they may feel the need to seek fame or glory. (Here’s more on What Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is about.)

People are happy when they are accepted. Especially so when they are valued and esteemed by those who matter, isn’t it? So here is the story of Haman. He was the leader of all Persian princes during the rule of King Ahasuerus. The king promoted him to such position that “all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman; for so the king had commanded concerning him.” (Esther 3:2)

Haman typically models the phenomenon of esteem fulfilled and esteem failed – on the pendulum swinging from ecstasy to anger. Why? Because one Jew named Mordecai did not bow down to him. A foreigner! A captive from a lesser country – a lower subject… How dared he? So Haman was consumed with anger that he planned to kill off the entire Jewish race. (3:5-6)

And the story continues…

Then Haman went out that day glad and pleased of heart; but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate and that he did not stand up or tremble before him, Haman was filled with anger against Mordecai.  (Esther 5:9)

So why was Haman glad and pleased of heart that day? He just spent an evening having dinner with the king and queen as their one and only “esteemed” guest! And after leaving the place, he came out and saw his mortal enemy, Mordecai who ignored him as usual. Haman was so mad he had to assuage his self-esteem by narrating to his friends and his wife all “the glory of his riches, and the number of his sons, and every instance where the king had magnified him and how he had promoted him above the princes and servants of the king. Haman also said, “Even Esther the queen let no one but me come with the king to the banquet which she had prepared; and tomorrow also I am invited by her with the king.” (5:11-12)

13 Yet all of this does not satisfy me every time I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.” 14 Then Zeresh his wife and all his friends said to him, “Have a gallows fifty cubits high made and in the morning ask the king to have Mordecai hanged on it; then go joyfully with the king to the banquet.” And the advice pleased Haman, so he had the gallows made.”

The ‘rivalry’ between Haman and Mordecai gets more interesting as the story continues.  One night, the king could not sleep and he got up to read records of events in his reign. He found that Mordecai once saved him from an assassination attempt. When the king learned that Mordecai was not recognised and rewarded for his effort, he asked Haman who happened to be visiting, what should be done for the man the king wished to honour? (6:6)

It is funny that Haman went to see the king to propose a plan to kill Mordecai and here is the king who wanted to honour Mordecai. Haman as usual with his big egoistic tendency thought Whom would the king desire to honour more than me?

Then Haman said to the king, “For the man whom the king desires to honour, let them bring a royal robe which the king has worn, and the horse on which the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown has been placed; and let the robe and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble princes and let them array the man whom the king desires to honour and lead him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him, ‘Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honour.’

Then the king said to Haman, “Take quickly the robes and the horse as you have said, and do so for Mordecai the Jew, who is sitting at the king’s gate; do not fall short in anything of all that you have said.” 11 So Haman took the robe and the horse, and arrayed Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the city square, and proclaimed before him, “Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honor.” 12 Then Mordecai returned to the king’s gate. But Haman hurried home, mourning, with his head covered. 13 Haman recounted to Zeresh his wife and all his friends everything that had happened to him. 

This is hilarious, isn’t it? Do you see a pattern here? Swinging from pride to humiliation! To make the long story short, Haman was hanged on the same gallows that he intended for his enemy. Why? Because the queen was a Jew. Queen Esther pleaded for her people and for herself. Esther was the cousin of Mordecai who told her to keep her Jewish identity a secret when she was chosen queen in a beauty contest in the king’s search for a queen. The former queen was dethroned when she disobeyed the king’s order to appear in a party to show off her beauty to all the people.

Haman did not know that the race he sought to exterminate is that of his queen. His need for self-esteem was so great – his pride was his downfall.

The story of Haman, Mordecai and Esther teaches us so many lessons: about humility and pride; about provision and protection of the providential God; about paradoxes of strength in weakness and esteem in humility.

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Self-esteem and self-respect: these are the two forms of esteem needs. Self-respect is the higher form. It is something internal – it stems from a sense of self-awareness – knowing the value of oneself in the value of God. It does not seek the affirmation of other people. It is enough to know that God loves me for who I am.

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God often chooses the lowly to elevate them for his purpose. Esther was a Jew – a captive from Israel under the rule of the Persian empire. She was so far away from home. She was chosen to be queen out of anonymity – put in a position of power to save her people. As Mordecai wisely said to her:

“Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews.  For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (4:13-14)

So Queen Esther asked the king to help save her people. The king issued an order that all the Jews “who were in each and every city the right to assemble and to defend their lives, to destroy, to kill and to annihilate the entire army of any people or province which might attack them, including children and women, and to plunder their spoil,” (8:11)

Mordecai was nobody but Esther’s guardian. He was from the tribe of Benjamin – the smallest of the 12 tribes of Israel. He too was a Jew captive. He was tasked to take care of his orphaned cousin, Esther. He just happened to be at the gate and he heard of a plot to kill the king. He did not seek for reward or recognition. He was not afraid to stand for his belief. He did not bow to Haman. Mordecai was lifted to a high position and esteemed among the land. (Esther 8:1, 15)

Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white, with a large crown of gold and a garment of fine linen and purple; and the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. 16 For the Jews there was light and gladness and joy and honor. 17 In each and every province and in each and every city, wherever the king’s commandment and his decree arrived, there was gladness and joy for the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many among the peoples of the land became Jews, for the dread of the Jews had fallen on them. (8:15-17)

And so all is well that ends well? No. When everything seems to fall apart, it is when God works to put everything back together again.

Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

 

 

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Joy of a different kind

Question… what makes a joyful church? What do churches of today celebrate about? Anniversaries mostly. They are happy when they have built bigger and grander places for worship and assembly. They pride themselves for being mega churches with thousands of membership and being globally known all over the world. They raise their hands in praise to the sound of grand accompaniments, with worship leaders in big air-conditioned and beautiful sanctuaries – in much comfort and ecstatic feeling of being together with so many people – so festive and elating. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being big in resources whether human or material.

Yet a blessed church is more than just about the external and the quantifiable – the tangible ‘blessings.’ In the early church recorded in the book of Acts, it was a different kind of joy that believers celebrate. I previously wrote about their joy of sharing their resources – there was no needy person among them because they had one ownership of everything they had. Everything they had they gave to benefit the whole church.

Another kind of sharing that brought them joy is the joy of sharing in the suffering for Jesus’ name.

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Acts 5
41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

So what happened here? After Jesus ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and they were empowered to speak the good news of Jesus. Peter preached and thousands believed in Jesus. The early church led by the apostles of Jesus was growing in numbers. Miracles were happening – the sick healed, the needy provided for, thousands were added to the church (Acts 5:12-16) in spite of deep and severe persecutions from those who opposed Jesus. The apostles were imprisoned, threatened and flogged. (5:18, 40) Even after all these, Peter still preached and condemned them for putting Jesus on the cross. The temple leaders were so enraged they wanted to kill the apostles. They were released only because Gamaliel, a Pharisee, a respected leader stood up to give this advice:”stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” (38-39)

So how was it to be ‘rejoicing’ after being imprisoned, threatened, flogged and shamed? For what? These believers had a different kind of motivation – they pride themselves for being ‘considered worthy’ – that they were good enough to suffer for the cause of making Jesus known.

Today, many of us believers are too comfortable living our faith – we only hear of persecutions in other places – of lives being taken, of imprisonments, of the horrors of suffering for being Christian. Yet it is often those suffering Christians who are more joyful than those who are living freely and comfortably. How sad…

So how do I apply this lesson? I need to be more grateful for the things I take for granted – freedom to worship, freedom to share God’s Word, freedom to make my life count – to further the cause of the gospel. I need to beware of taking life too easy – complacent in my comfort zone. I must learn to choose joy when things are not to my liking or expectations. Suffering or problems in life are relative – there is always the issue of comparison – with what or with whom are we comparing our issues and challenges?

To reflect… how do I rejoice when life is not easy? What do I consider to be worthy to be joyful for? What causes me to celebrate? What is the purpose of my existence? Motivation and purpose of living – this directs our perspective and influence us in the way of joyful living. Is it for the cause of Jesus?

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When my child is better than I am…

I went with my youngest to attend a family conference at a school. She was asked several questions on competence and on conscience. As I listened to her answers, I went through a few emotional discoveries.

It pleasantly surprised me that her motivation for learning and studying diligently is not grades but thirst for knowledge. It humbles me to know that my child is a better student than I was. She is more industrious than I was. She is less grade-conscious than I am. 😀 I must admit whenever she gives me test papers to sign, I often just looked at her grades. As I think about her responses, I thank God for His grace – this gift of a diligent child – who seeks to learn and grow in knowledge.

What for you is right? She paused for a few seconds and answered. Right is when someone is helped or gets benefited.

On cheating, have you encountered or witnessed anyone cheating? What did u do? Yes, i asked him why did you cheat. He didn’t study. What else did you do? ‘I saw you.’ It in a way gave him a nudge that somebody saw him.

On bullying, have you encountered any bullying incident? What did you do? Yes, I did. Name calling.. a classmate was being called different names. I was new in school. No one would listen to me. I just did not participate. I jokingly told them to stop and said ‘You’re so mean.’

The interviewer asked me if i have anything to add to these two issues: cheating and bullying

When she was younger, she told the teacher to correct her score in the test paper for a wrong answer which was marked right.

As a new student in grade 2, she was bullied. She came home crying one day because a classmate told some friends not to be friends with her. I comforted her and encouraged her to just find other friends. Today that classmate is one of her closest friends.

I am reminded that children are heritage from the Lord. Parenting is by grace in grace. I treasured the heritage of my mom – training me in the way that I should go so that even when old I will not depart from it. I pray that God grant me wisdom and discernment and diligence to do the same. I confess my shortcomings and often taking for granted His gift – precious heritage of giving me children to have and to hold, to rear and nurture.

Musings of a mom in the dental clinic…

When she was small, I was anxious when she had fever. I was amused when she dozed off on her dad’s lap watching our taped series of Tv commercials. She amazed me when she learned to point out long difficult words even before she could speak them. I was proud to see her graduate with honours, and elated to pin a Latin honour medal on her.

I often feel like walking on a balance beam. When I was in college, I had to do that as one of the lessons of my gymnastics class. I remember my shaky knees. As a mom, I still do this act, perhaps not with shaky knees but with a cautious heart. I need to balance between being too nosy, wondering what’s happening in her life and being too distant, as if I don’t care at all. I need to be her friend, her teacher, her guide, her confidante.. How to do that? With lots of help from my Friend, my Teacher, my Counsellor, my Confidante, who listens, guides, loves, understands and judges not. I learn to listen without speaking first. I learn to understand without judging first. I learn to hold her hand while letting go for her to make her own journey.

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As I sat by her side listening to the sound of dental apparatus grinding and sawing off her wisdom tooth, I asked my friends to pray for her. I am just here, silently waiting and being with her. I know she’s anxious. I understand her but it doesn’t help to tell her not to be afraid. How to help then? Walk my talk, model calmness and trust. I am a phlegmatic person, practical and not prone to pessimism. That is how God made me. Many times, I am thankful God made me that way. Even this nature to be optimistic is God’s grace. Yet even though physical traits are passed on in the genes, personality is not. Faith is not. This is where nurture comes in. People often ask, nature or nurture? I believe it is both.

Being a mom is an honour and a privilege. The bible says children are heritage from the Lord. Being a mom is also a life long journey, from the cradle to the grave, a road of constant learning, struggling, trusting, hoping, loving and being… Being human, being created in the image of God and being obedient to the call to reflect God’s nature, to fulfil God’s call and purpose to honour and glorify Him in this journey called life.

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The grinding sound has stopped, the sound of sucking and draining liquid continues.. just my journey as a mom, continues. Cheers to all the brave mothers out there! With God’s help, we can do this: be the best mom that we can be so that our children will call us blessed.

Emmanuel!

A Mom’s Musings on Graduation Day

Yesterday was the graduation day of my daughter, Abigail.

What a day… finally… 22 years from a preschooler to kinder grad to post grad… a long journey looking back and a gratefully hopeful one looking forward… all by God’s grace and mercy.

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I would not have thought that the little girl who watched E.R. with me in quiet attentive fascination would someday be a doctor. When she was young, she was hospitalized 3x – not because she was sickly but because of her stubborn refusal to take meds. It often took her mom, dad and granny to hold her hands, feet and head down to give her meds.

In her first year at preschool, we had to take the photo for her school ID in a studio because she did not want to take it at school. During a sports fest in kinder school, I was surprisingly and sadly disappointed to see her seated by herself on the bench. When asked, the teacher replied my inquiry that it was because she did not want to participate.
It would seem that my 2nd child had characteristics of the so-called 2nd child syndrome… the hard-to-handle-difficult one… one that challenged this phlegmatic mom to get out of her comfort zone to do something more than it was in her nature to do. Yet what a transformation for both of us by God’s grace and mercy!

Out of her seemingly stubbornness stems a determination to persist and hold on to her dreams. I remember one time I dropped something behind our bed and could not retrieve it. Abi got a cloth hanger and did not stop until she got me what I dropped. When her siobe (Hokkien for younger sis) Mimi asked: Dichi (2nd elder sis), what’s your backup plan if you do not become a doctor? She said: No backup plan. Only one plan – to be a doctor.

More important than sheer determined persistence and perseverance is her heart to help and heal. When she was still young in early grade school, she saw me crying on our bed in the dark – in the corner of the room. She did not say or ask me anything. She just went to get me a tissue and sat by my side. She is the favorite caring granddaughter of her grandparents (all 4 of them). They all knew how she loved them with her kindness, patience and love in word and deed.

She did not graduate with honors – no medal, no special awards. Did she have any failing marks? Sure, she had. Was she sometimes lazy? Yes, she was. Did she ever rather sleep than do her homework? Many times. In the last year that she had her clerkship, she’d rather sleep than eat. A med student friend wisely told her – when you’re a clerk, you need to choose only 1: whether to sleep, eat or shower. Was she ever sick? Yes, she was. She was so sick – she had pneumonia and still had to report for duty in the hospital. Why? Because she had to make up for the lost hours if she were to be absent. For 9 days of absences, she had to make up for more than 100 hours in holiday and Sunday duty – missing much family time, worship at church and all other things we take for granted.

So what’s the point these seemingly weaknesses and failures? Again, it is all by God’s grace and mercy that graduation day becomes a reality.

On the other hand, God helps those who help themselves. We all need to do our part – Abi needs to do her best to persevere, to run the long haul. Here in the Philippines, the academic journey to become a doctor is at least 12 long years – 4 years of pre-med/undergrad college course, 6 years of medicine course (including 2 years of clerkship and internship), preparing for the board exams and at least 3 years of residency. During times when she did not do well, she had to comfort and encourage herself. She moved on – she did not linger in the failures. She studied and went on to the next tasks. She did not let the blames and dirty works of clerkship put her down. Medical education is not about pure grades; it’s the mindset to learn and keep learning. It’s the positive attitude to make a difference to the sick. There are no quantifiable marks for these internal abstract factors of a med student.

Looking back, I can only attest to the transforming power of God’s grace and mercy, the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit – that my little girl is who she is today… Dr. Abigail Lim Go… the journey has just begun. The road is still long.. another year of post-grad internship, then the board exams before residency in the specialization of her choice.

My dear Abi,
May God use you for his glory to fulfil his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Remember to love God with all your heart, soul and mind. Let His love motivate and help you to love others as yourself till Jesus returns. Amen.

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May God’s loving kindness, justice and righteousness follow you all the days of your life – to make you a loving, kind, good and righteous doctor – healing those who are sick, body, mind and soul!

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A Church of One Heart

A church of one heart and soul…
 
What does it mean to have a church of on heart and soul? Is it about having a common goal? Is it about cooperation towards that common goal? What is that common goal?
 
In the early church after Jesus was raised up to heaven, after the Holy Spirit came upon the believers at pentecost, after Peter preached and thousands of believers were added to the church, it was said that they were of one heart and soul. (Acts 4:32)
 
What kind of church was it?
1) One ownership – What is mine is yours… what’s yours is mine. All believers shared what they had – communal property. To what extent? To the point that there was not a needy person among them. (v.34a) How? Those who were rich, those who owned houses and lot would sell what they had and bring the money to give to those in need. (34b-36)
 
2) One power and one grace – The apostles were passionately sharing the gospel of Jesus’ resurrection. How was this endeavour described? With great power and with abundant grace (v.33)
 
Application:
How different the family of God would be if believers were less selfish and more generous! How does one truly love his neighbour? Is it not to think and care for the concern of others? Is it not to give what we have to benefit another? Is it not about thinking of ourselves less and of others more? Is it not to share blessings because all good things come from the same heavenly father that we worship?
 
It touches me to see love in action when my classmates generously and voluntarily give to help another in need. It is not just about money. It is the motivation and encouragement to love. Love begets love. Generosity encourages generosity. Grace upon grace. Those of us who have been shown grace practice grace when we share with those in need. After all, the church of God – the children of God are one family in grace.
 
We have one owner – all we have come from God. We are just stewards of His grace and mercy. We have one power – power of the Holy Spirit to be salt and light in the world. We are called to be witnesses of Jesus – followers of Jesus – who calls us to love God and love our neighbours as ourselves.
 
We can never out give our God of grace. He pours abundant grace upon us so that we can share his grace to the people around us.
 
A church of one heart and soul – one great God of grace – grace upon grace – mine and yours in Jesus Christ.
 
Acts 4
32 And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.
 
36 Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), 37 and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
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Musings on Father’s Day

Sights and sounds of papa…

One of my early visions of papa is of him carrying my school bag to put beside my seat when I was in elementary. I believe he’s the only father doing that until middle grades. I’m a girl so I didn’t get teased being a papa’s girl.

He often took us for regular dental visits as the dentist was his good friend. I attribute my love for teeth-brushing (I have a set of toothbrush and toothpaste in every bag I have.) to his influence – seeing to it that my teeth were well-maintained. He also had the habit of brushing after every meal. Even when we ate at restaurants, he’d go gargle and decline offers to eat more saying he’s already cleaned his teeth. He also had a dentist for a god daughter. He’d refer her to his friends to be their dentist. I will never forget how anxious he was when I had my impacted wisdom tooth extraction. It took more than 3 hours and she had to saw the tooth into small pieces in those days when dental equipments were not that advanced.

In my early school years, he drove us (my mom, sis and me) to and from school in his beetle. We’d go to Luneta and seaside along Roxas Boulevard – in the Chinese embassy across Manila Bay to take in the sea breeze and see the sunset. Then in high school, we moved to live near the school so we’d just walk to school. First day of college, he accompanied me to Rizal Ave to teach me to commute to De La Salle University. One time there was big rain and the streets were flooded along Rizal Avenue, he hailed a calesa and waited for me at the jeepney stop so I would not have to wade the flood to go home.

When I got married and went home to visit, he would open the door for me like a true gentleman. When my kids went to school, he often picked them up from school for me – Hannah and Abigail were blessed to have guakong take them from school. He would bring Hannah to look at the rabbit in the neighbour’s place when she was small.

When he was in his 80’s and no longer as active, he never failed to thank me for going to visit him. ‘Toh sia di lai’ (Hokkien for Thank you for visiting me.) His appreciation for the food I bring never failed to touch me. (_______ yah hoh chia. – _______ is delicious.)

He often inquired about Andrew and my in-laws: Andrew, tah-queh, tah kwah, ho seh o? (Andrew, your mom-in-law, dad-in-law, how are they?) His favourite question to ask: Kui tiam? What time is it? He’s nearly blind so he cannot see the red digital clock placed in front of his bed. He’d often remind me to eat – not to let myself go hungry.

One time I went to visit and I was sad and pouring out my problems to him. He said: Kang papa kong. Papa tue dih ki toh. (Tell it all to papa. Papa will pray for you.) Papa, I miss u so much.

All these stories about my father… remind me of our paradoxical heavenly Father.

My dad loved to talk – and tell stories. He’s a friendly chatty person. So here’s a talkative guy married a hard-of-hearing wife. My mom was hard of hearing. She had hearing aids. Yet that did not stop them from communicating. Even as he was talkative in younger days, he was quiet and reflective in old age. One time I asked him – pa, what are you thinking? He said many things. He was contented to lie quietly in his bed. He did not get old and senile. He was mentally active and lucid each time I talk with him. His mind as sharp to remember many details of friends of long ago. His mental health, happy contented disposition are all God’s grace and mercy.

When he was sick, he was not afraid to show me his fears. I remember his shaky hands as we climbed 5 floors of stairs after his prostate surgery in his 70’s. When he was 92, his whole body shook when he remembered his fall going to the bathroom, he refused to get up from the bed. After praying, he said he’s no longer afraid.

Bravery is not the absence of fear. It is learned through overcoming fear – in the hard circumstances of life.
Falling so many times, blind and near totally blind, walking through with maids (small and seemingly not strong) leading him; each step… I learned what true courage and resilience is all about. It made me sad to see him weak and frail yet it touched me no end to see him strong and brave.

Another paradox:
Grieving, loving, hurting, suffering = the more you love, the more hurtful/painful, yet love compels…
Papa’s resilience, contentment = no complaint, easy to please, allowing mom to go on trips. Sleeping alone.. he’s alright with it coz he knew mom always returns. Even though they did not talk that much anymore, the presence counts a lot. After mom passed, papa knew she’s no longer beside him or sitting in her chair in the living room.. grieving yet not saying it out.. how hard it must be for him. So hard to pray and be joyful in his presence, when inside, my heart is sad and burdened – how to care for him, how to comfort him, how to pray and say mama is happy and healthy in heaven when here he is on earth, alone, and weak and frail, cannot see, cannot move freely.. how?

Regrets, what-ifs, if-only (sana/dapat)
What if we didn’t install the peg? What if we just let him starve, will that be easier on him?
If only we know it will come to pneumonia n kidney failure, if only we didn’t install the peg, if only…
What is the fine line between holding on and letting go? Between loving, not wanting him to suffer, and doing our best to help him, yet in some ways – prolonging his sufferings..

Lessons I learned:
1) To love is to endure pain
2) Life is a journey of sufferings
3) No use in regret, and remember the good times, the memories of our conversation when he was still healthy
4) How to pray: Lord have mercy, Your will be done. We lament, we submit. We plead for mercy. We trust and obey.
5) How to be content, to be grateful (thank u to small things, for caregiver), to be positive (good morning, fine), to say/remember good things about people, to be brave.

All these memories and lessons from my father – the only one I have and I thank you, Lord for papa..

Till we meet again, pa I love u and miss you always.

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