Illusion

Two years ago I was mildly attracted to Micah.

Scratch that. I wasn’t mildly attracted to him. I really liked him.

As it often happens with me, I had no chance with him. But no one ever says you can’t continue to admire someone, or cherish deep within your solitary heart a sweet and gentle dream of what could have been just because it’s hopeless.

My heart, I reasoned, was my own; and besides, I couldn’t get into more trouble than I already was: a secret one-sided love made even more painful when Micah decisively dropped out of my life. I figured time would take care of that business and everything would be alright.

How wrong I was.

The first time I saw Rafael my heart skipped a beat.

Rafael reminded me a lot of Micah—whom I had not seen in months now. His confidence (as I read it in his swagger), his looks, the way he attracted people, even his haircut reminded me of Micah. Not his eyes, though, because I had yet to catch in Rafael’s eyes the intelligent spark that I had seen in Micah’s expressive dark eyes. But who cared? Rafael had enough qualities of what I had been looking for.

But settling for a copy never works. Ever. There came a day that I saw Rafael for who he really was—and that was on the day that Micah came back into my life.

The contrast was so painful that the illusion was broken.

What had I been thinking!?

Make no mistake, Raf was still a nice guy who was fun to be around with, but… how could I have mistaken his recklessness for confidence? How did I ever come to think that his features resembled Micah’s? Not his looks or his haircut matched the real thing. Yes, Raf was a people person, but not in the way Micah was. Micah was a leader who knew that caring about people and gaining their trust was the best way to make friends. He inspired others; Raf rallied people but he did not inspire them. In fact, he never really managed to make meaningful friendships.

Whatever had been going on with me and Rafael ended soon after, because the truth was that Micah was The One. I was no longer dreaming of Micah in a romantic sense, but he remained The One. The One that raised the bar and challenged me to grow, The One I still admired and I hoped to one day be like (female version), and The One that to this day I measure every guy up against.

* * *

Now think about this:

The world is full of people, faces, flashing lights, and blaring sounds. If you happen to lose sight of what’s real then there’s much out there that will confuse you into accepting an illusion for reality, trying to pass as the real thing that can give you happiness and satisfy you. But nothing will give you the peace, joy, and happiness that Jesus can give. Look at Jesus. He is The One. In the light of his spotless character and holiness all illusions will disappear, and your eyes will be opened to see the enemy’s deceptions for the inadequate copies that they are. If you turn to him, you will see that all you want, all you need, and all that you long for is in him.

And me? I plan on looking you full in the face.
When I get up, I’ll see your full stature and live heaven on earth. (Psalm 17:15, MSG)

Love’s a Joke

In a way I’m writing this (telling you about Terry and all) as a way to apologize to him.

I hurt Terry a lot, and I’ve always regretted it. He was a very good friend—timid to the point of being made fun of, but affectionate. Sweet, loyal, and hopelessly optimistic. Furthermore, he was the first guy in my life that ever really liked me, which means a lot, because this was back when I was “morbidly obese”, and I had nothing much going for me except, perhaps, my GPA.

Someone once said that in order for a person to love someone they first have to learn how to love themselves.

So then what was I to do? I who did not fit in the school desks and who waddled comically when I was supposed to be “running” the mile? I who was hopelessly trapped in a torrid vortex of self-destruction?

The end conclusion is that Terry picked the worst possible timing to tell me all about his feelings for me. Or he simply picked the wrong girl. He was shortsighted, you know. Or maybe some buddy of his dared him to it as a cruel joke.

But who am I kidding?

The real conclusion to this is that I did not and I could not believe there was anything attractive about me. The fact that anyone thought I was beautiful when I was an absolute mess, and that somebody wanted to cherish me when I only wanted to hurt myself, was too much to believe.
Nothing good came out of this affair, except a new low point in my life—and a broken friendship.

That is how some people come to think of love as only a mean joke.

 

part 4 of If You Only Knew

– – –

If You Only Knew, Part 4
Word Count, ~300 Words

Locker Room

This Side of Eternity

I believed in hell.

That is part of why I never did it it–because I was too much of a coward to die and go straight there. It’s not because I didn’t know how to do it; anyone who wants to know something will find it out by a few discreet, hypothetical questions. Or by eavesdropping–if you really can’t bring yourself to ask the ones that know.

One day when I was changing in the girl’s locker rooms after a mile run, I heard Monique and Serena talking. I was surprised because I thought I was the last one there–I always made sure I had the locker room all to myself. I hastened to put my clothes back on, lest I be seen.

“Cold water never works, dummy. It has to be hot. Scalding hot. It will numb you after a while”
“That makes no sense. Shouldn’t it be ice-cold?”
“Nope”

Sometimes I overheard the guys

“…His neck didn’t break. He’s too light. Must have been choking there for a long time.”
“What if he’d used a longer rope, and jumped off a chair or something?”
“I dunno, would have had to drop a good ten feet. I heard of someone they did it like that and their head was ripped off”
“Sick, man!”
“Yeah. What a way to go”

I know.

But it wasn’t entirely hell and cowardice that kept me from actually doing it. Yes, I was afraid of the blood that would spurt from my slit wrists, or the horrible ways that my hanging could go wrong (as if hanging wasn’t already bad enough). But far more than my cowardice–which was great–was the one thought that if I did it I would lose them forever.

I couldn’t imagine being parted for all eternity from the people I most loved–those who’d gone already, and those living.

So in a way, it was love that kept me this side of eternity.

Love!

Why didn’t I see it sooner? I suppose it was because I was convinced that love was nothing but a joke when it came to me.

 

part 2 of If You Only Knew

– – –

If You Only Knew, Part 2
Word Count ~ 300

Long-Distance Relationship

I still remember the boy I loved. How can anyone ever forget the first requited love of their life?

It’s been years since then, and I’ve turned into a wry spinster of sorts. But still, I can’t forget random small memories of him. Like how, for example, he once caught me in a hallway as I passed, pulled me inside an empty classroom, and laughingly whispered a few bits of nonsense in my ear before letting me go on my way, with my face burning, because he’d just kissed me.

Ours was a tender relationship, with the blessing of our respective parents to boot. Who knows, maybe it would have fledged into something serious. Alas, it was not to be, because the inevitable happened—my first boyfriend moved away, ending the small gestures of affection that characterize puppy love, and leaving behind a little girl crying out for her first love.

* * *

I am the first to tell my friends that a long-distance relationship cannot work. Lovers’ promises of undying affection and devotion cannot survive the great divide of time and space. Or can they?

* * *

“…and be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NLT)

When I read the last chapter of Matthew a few months ago, I was incredibly perturbed. I felt a great and extreme sadness. How could anyone that loved Jesus, that walked with him, that enjoyed close friendship and communion with the Son of God not be overcome by the sorrow? Sure I knew about the logistics of the master plan—the Holy Spirit coming to earth as the comforter, etc. That wasn’t the point.

You see, I knew the singular pain that comes with the realization that things are not the same, and that the hope of eventually meeting up again is not enough to keep a relationship going.

* * *

“…I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself” (Jeremiah 31:3 NLT)

If it were up to us humans to keep the relationship going (if it were based on our love and faithfulness), then surely whatever relationship we could have with Jesus would end soon after it sparks into being. But God’s love is as everlasting as God himself is.

I take hope in the knowledge that God himself is the guarantee of this relationship working out even when we can’t enjoy physical proximity. I believe that the ties of love that bind you and me to heaven are stronger—infinitely stronger than any human-forged ties. There is no beginning of His love, nor an end of it. It is boundless and ever present.

Physical separation is not enough to break such ties, and neither is our betrayal or our sin or our forgetfulness powerful enough a reason to break the love of God.

* * *

I bask in the knowledge that there is one who loves me greatly and tenderly. I read his love letters every day, and talk to him continually.

I’m 27 years old, my love life is a total wasteland. To most people I appear to be the one that disdains romance, who is proud of being the opposite of a man-magnet. A cynic. But truly, that’s all just a flimsy front.

My Heavenly Prince is the one that makes and keeps me hopelessly and incurably romantic.

One-Sided Love

The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee (Jer 31:3)

* * *

It’s him!!!!

Every cell in my body thrilled. I became short of breath as a million tiny pink butterflies suddenly burst into existence inside my stomach and began cavorting inside in a wild and chaotic manner. Crazy, bothersome things. I bet they were to blame for my racing pulse, for I could hear my heartbeat drumming—nay, thundering—in my ears. Deaf and blind to everything around me, I was only conscious of a strange, delicious, weakness. And yet, my fingertips tingled as if charged by electricity.

In my hands I held my cellphone. And in it I read the first text message he ever sent me.

He asked me how I was!!!

He hoped my week was going well!!!

It was poetry! And the best part was at the end when He asked if it was ok to call me!!!!

I laughed. I could not believe my eyes. YES!!! Yes of course you can!

And so began a steady correspondence with Mark. Every text he sent me triggered the rebirth of the crazy butterflies, and caused me to drop whatever I was doing just so I could read it, dwell in every single word—and, of course, to reply to it.

* * *

And yet . . . I knew that Mark did not mean anything romantic by it. I just knew it by what I read in his eyes whenever we would look at each other. If our eyes met he smiled as he would to a good friend. I, however, melted under his gaze.

I was, of course, very conscious of the fact that I was the only one who felt excited over the frequent texting and calling. I was also very conscious of the fact that my love was one-sided, and that the nature of this relationship could very well mean that just as he had capriciously began this habit of calling/texting me because of the big project we were working on together, to tell me what he thought of this or that or to ask me what I thought about something or other, he could very well choose to end it at any point.

And that was my greatest fear. What if that happened? What if after the end of this semester there would be no excuse for that constant conversation—what would my life look like during the winter break if I did not have that to look forward to?

* * *

I have made so many promises about praying more to God to know him better, and seek him and his will….but….I think I am at times capricious about it. Even more than Mark was. I am the one who breaks it off, and despite having some idea of this great wonderful love that is mine for the taking, I break his heart by not realizing its full value.

We all tend to be that way. That is why I don’t think it’s necessary for me to explain it further.

Only let me tell you this: Remember that, above all, God is a Lover.

Holiness to the Lord

For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building (1 Corinthians 3:9)

We are to remember that God has the ownership of all, and that our pursuits are invested with a sacredness that they did not possess before we enlisted in the army of the Lord. Every action is to be a consecrated action, for it occupies God’s entrusted talent of time.

Holiness unto the Lord is inscribed on all our actions, because our whole being is brought under subjection to God.

–E. G. White (Manuscript 49, 1898)

My first job after graduating from university was at a law firm. It was an experience I’ll never forget, particularly because the nature of the work required that I grow up. I had to step outside of my comfort zone and do things that I had never done before. Serve unlawful detainers? Check. Serve subpoenas and deal with uncooperative receptionists and door men to get it done? Check. Receive all manner of people in the office and call all manner of agencies to get the information I needed (a real challenge for someone as introverted and timid as I was then)? Check.

The legal environment was something I had never experienced before. It’s a fast-paced and demanding line of work. You also encounter in each case so much drama, tragedies, suffering and loss that it seemed to me that one got used to it–nothing was shocking anymore. Maybe only stupid. Oh, they laughed a lot at the stupidity of some of the people who came to us. I think that is why it seemed that the people I worked with seemed to me to be rather cynical.

It was not just that. I’d been a “good” girl all the time, so the environment was rather a shock to me. People swore liberally in their conversations, and as to their–ahem–morals, they didn’t really let them get in the way of doing things that are better not shared here. It was odd to them when I did not laugh at a witty joke full of innuendo, too. In time, however, my boss refrained from saying some types of jokes in my presence because my ears were “virgin” (as he called it), and some coworkers apologized to me whenever the swearing got really bad.

Where did that come from? I wondered. I never preached to them, saying–what you are doing is bad. What you are saying should fill you with shame. Nope. I just did my job–and I did it well, too. And it wasn’t that I was so unapproachable or timid and was living in a silent and isolated little bubble of my own. Nope. After getting the hang of the job I was energetic and friendly with everybody in the office.

* * *

I think that if we are Christians, we must live up to our namesake. Not just in church, or during church activities. Not just among our Christian friends and brethren, but among the people we work and live with. We are instruments, and once committed to God, we are to do God’s work even as we do our everyday labor.

People are not reached by the bullhorn guy who is preaching fire and damnation. People are reached by the Christian friend or the Christian coworker. People like you, and people like me, who live up to their Savior’s name.

The Ruling Principle

What is the ruling principle of God’s Universe?

Love.

Love in action. Service.

From the smallest atom to the flaming sun, stars, and the angels in the heavenly court, the main principle of God’s creation is service. Nothing lives or exists for itself only. Everything has a purpose and a place. Think of plants–even the lowly wildflowers in the mountains have a function, if only to gladden the heart. We are the only ones that may choose to follow this principle or not, and often we don’t. We live for ourselves and ignore others. That is why we are wretched, drifting listelessly in search for purpose, seeking to be on the receiving end of things when we are made to be givers–just like anything else in creation.

Worse, humankind has invented a warped way of looking at the universe. It is based on a wholly selfish principle, in which the survival of each creature depends on it seizing the most advantage possible in order to come out better than others.

In this view, there is no further purpose to the things around us except as things to be consumed or used. This appies to the animals and plants, and how we look at each other too. God’s image imprinted in our fellow brothers and sisters is forgotten. There is no service in this warped view. There is no purpose.

If this were the true principle that defines/rules our world and universe, then we should all live in chaos. Worse. We could not even exist for one second on this earth. It would all implode.

No, the universe would be a black hole.

Girlfriend Material

Some time ago my ego took a beating when he looked at me, laughed, and said–as a joke–something equivalent to me not being “girlfriend” material.

I’d always identified myself as the type too independent and busy to care about coming across as attractive to the opposite sex. But I guess I wasn’t, because what he said hurt me, even if he said it in joke. And I didn’t even really know him–much less like him!!

It took some weeks for me to be able to laugh about it, and when I was finally able to shrug it off it was only after I had gone to a beauty salon and cut my hair, spent precious money (that I could have used to buy more books or some new gear) on make-up, beauty stuff, and even more hair products among sundry other instruments of torture. I went through the painful rituals of femininity including having my eyebrows threaded.

* * *

My sister doesn’t even know this: Last week I had a bit of a bad hair day. I looked pretty much like the “old” me. I had been at home, hard at work on a comissioned design, and had emerged after three days of being indoors. I definitely needed to do something about my eyebrows, and I hadn’t put on anything on my face besides mosturizing lotion. I was thus minding my own business at school, when I had the opportunity to help someone find the administration building. We chatted while we walked thither, and after he had submitted some papers we sat together and had a very interesting conversation centered on music (I was carrying around my violin for class)until just before my class began. Just as I was about to leave, this guy (his name was Tony) looked into my eyes, smiled, and asked for my number.

WHAT? Why?

* * *

Sometimes, I feel like that when it comes to Christ. And I can’t get over it still.

One day, I was just walking around idly without anything to do, and I bumped into a stranger. He was kind, irradiated love, and appreciated the little that I could offer. And even though I was so out of his league, He said “I want to see you again. Let’s meet and have a meal together.” I wondered why someone so holy, pure, and powerful, should want to have a relationship with me. But though I was surprised, and humbled, I accepted. I slowly got to know him, and I began to like seeking him out, not just waiting for Him to make the first move. Then one day He said, “Let’s do this again–every single day from here to eternity.”

One of my main goals in life is to be better “girlfriend” material–that I may feel proud to be with God, and not let my shortcomings get in between our happiness. Christ is looking at what is deep inside us–and sees the potential of what we could be. I am humbled that he sees me as I am and he still wants to win my heart.

How does my story end? Well, one day I woke up, looked in the mirror and saw that the girl staring back at me was pretty and charming enough without makeup or the hot-ironed hair. Just Paula–with a good, even complexion, soft and long dark hair, and a ready smile. I found the balance between caring too much about being attractive and just looking nice and feeling confident.

. . . Oh, yes. I also forgave the one who had mortified me.

* * *

She is energetic and strong, a hard worker…her lap burns late into the night. She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy. She is clothed with strength and dignity, and her words are wise…Charm is desceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. (Proverbs 31:30)

The Perfectionist Christian

The past week was busy. And on Saturday I had one of those moments….

About a week and a half ago, my sister and I got a last minute request to sing at church. For the first song we were requested to sing was an absolutely unknown (to us) song. McCloud’s “Lord I Would Follow Thee.” For the second song, they requested it be something beautiful; not only a duet, but to include my sister’s flute playing into it somehow.

Heh.

We worked hard, practiced late into the night, eschewed going out at nights with friends for the sake of practice. To do a good job, worthy of who we were singing it for.

Then. . .

Saturday morning comes. Our turn to sing. We stand up in front of hundreds of people and wait for the beautiful music track to play (A track I am rather proud of, as it is one of my finest efforts for a song that I didn’t compose). We wait for five seconds, ten, thirty. The people are stirring uncomfortably, there is an audible murmur of discontent. People are throwing dirty looks up at the balcony where the sound booth is at. Our job is to smile serenely without losing our confident stance as we direct our gaze to the guy at the sound system who is panicking and shrugging his shoulders at us….

Lizzy whispered to me to just start acapella. I refused, hoping that the technical issue would soon resolve itself. During sound check the song had played just fine! But Liz, knowing that this waiting is more uncomfortable for the audience than it is for us seasoned performers (not to brag, but we are pros), began when the wait got painfully protracted.

She began singing with her clear, lovely voice. I have to follow. We split into harmony. I do melody, she does upper harmony, the notes are angelical, the message is heavenly. Hey, it does not sound half bad! We will be able to pull this off!

Then the music track begins playing! I have to rely on my knowledge of the music track which I myself made to know what verse of the song it is now playing at so we can just jump on in at the next verse.

We finish the song. People clap. I walk off, upset, I have to run upstairs to give someone a piece of my mind….

But before I can exit the sanctuary, the morning prayer time begins. I can’t exit the nave, and feel like I am forcefully subjected to prayer and contemplation of my tempestuous feelings. I am glad for that prayer time. I didn’t exactly pray, but those short minutes calmed me down–ten seconds would not have been enough, you know.

* * *

I take pride in what I do. If I am expected to do something, I will make sure that it is right and beautiful, and excellent, and hopefully better than anyone else’s. Yes. And I’m also a perfectionist.

God knows that I carry this mentality into what I do for Him as well. So as I thought about this today, all I can say is that the lesson God wanted me to learn was patience. As a leader, or just as someone who has to be a team player, I have to be excellent in what I do, but also be mindful of others and their feelings. I could have stormed upstairs, thrown a fit, or I don’t know what, and then felt bad about it. After the prayer one of the sound tech guys approached me and told me that the guy at the booth had gotten confused and had pushed up the wrong slider (or fader, whatever you call it to bring up volume) on the sound board, so while the CD was playing fine, the volume was turned low.

When I went upstairs (to make sure the track for my sister’s song would be played properly and the thing wouldn’t happen again) the guy apologized profusely. What did I do? I smiled and told him it was alright and that “all’s well that ends well” or some such other nonsense. By the time my sister’s song came, he was like a tiger, absolutely prepared, focused, and all went good.

After the service many people approached us and congratulated us on the beautiful music–but most particularly on how we handled  the first song. It was brave, our pitch was very good, our harmonies sublime. We did not wither but rose to the challenge, etc.

It’s sad that people missed out on the message of the first song, though… And that as I sang the song in that stage with thunder and wrath in my heart, missed out on it as well…

Saviour may I learn to love thee, walk the path that thou hast shown
Pause to help and lift another, Finding strength beyond my own
Saviour may I learn to love thee, Lord, I would follow thee
 
Who am I to judge another when I walk imperfectly
In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see
who am I to judge another, Lord, I would follow thee
 
. . . Saviour may I love my brother as I know thou lovest me
Find in thee my strength my beacon, For thy servant I would be
Saviour may I love my brother, Lord, I would follow thee
(Susan McCloud, “Lord, I would follow thee” V 1,2,4)
 

In our pursuit of spreading the gospel–and doing so with excellence–may we not forget the heart of the message we preach. Let’s love God. Let’s love our brothers. Doing so even when it is difficult shows that we are, indeed, Christians.

 

Why It Matters

It’s not like he didn’t know the date.

She had been reminding him about their Big Day for almost a month:

“Honey, remember that our Big Day is in exactly four weeks.” She had said over breakfast one morning.

“My dear, I’d like to have dinner at Azul on our Big Day. Could you please make the reservation?” She had said over dinner two weeks later. And then—“Don’t tell Jo to come over next week! Remember it’s going to be our Big Day!”

She was a forbearing woman. Being married to her husband had taught her that much. And it’s not like he didn’t love her, but he always just did things his way without sparing much of a thought to the significance of what some things meant. So it was with a sad shake of the head that she saw their Big Day come and go without him making so much as an allusion to their anniversary.

At night she tossed restlessly in bed—so much so that she inadvertently woke him up.

“What’s wrong, babe?” He said sitting up.

“No—nothing is wrong. I’m just—I don’t know. I just can’t sleep.”

“Is something the matter?”

“No. Not really. I’m sorry I woke you up—Why are you looking at me like that? Don’t look at me that way! Nothing is wrong!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes… No. Well. Okay, fine.” She sat up, determined to get it out. Maybe by getting it out of her system she might find some rest. “It’s about today. Do you remember what day it is today?”

He recited the date.

“Yes, I know the day, month, year.” She broke in impatiently, “Honey: It was our anniversary! I just can’t believe you forgot. I mean—even yesterday I asked you about the reservations and you said you’d made them!”

“Oh, but Honey, I did!”

“Well what happened?”

He had the grace to look a little sheepish, “Well, today was a bit inconvenient, and since you know how hard I work and how tight my schedule is, I knew—hoped, really—you wouldn’t mind if we celebrated it some other day? I was thinking next week?”

“What!?”

“Yeah, it will be the weekend after Valentines! It will be great—like killing two birds with one stone! From now on, we could celebrate both our anniversary and Valentine’s on February 15th or on the 16th! I mean, I don’t see how a simple change like this could matter…”

Her eyes have glazed over. She doesn’t even hear past the part where he says that they can take advantage of the reduced prices on flowers and candy if they do it on the new date he has picked. With a sigh, she plops back in her pillow, wishing that he could see just why it matters, and wishing she loved him just a little bit less so that guilt wouldn’t keep her from sending to the couch.

 

***

 

Friends, God is a lover, too. And he also wants you to remember something special.

Remember what?

Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. Exodus 20:8-9

You must remember the true Sabbath. The Sabbath observed on the seventh day of the week: on Saturday. The Sabbath was instituted at the time of man’s innocence: at the Garden of Eden. It is special in every respect and better than anything God had given man up until then. Yes, it was better than the sun, moon and stars; better than the Garden of Eden; better than marriage and–yes–sex. Unsurpassable, it is the ultimate symbol of communion with God and commitment to do his will, and like marriage, it should still be considered as sacred and holy just as God initially intended it to be and on the day of his choosing (rather than on the day that is most convenient or the one that most people go along with).

In Exodus 20, God had to remind Israel of the Sabbath. You see, the seventh day Sabbath  was nothing new. Most people think that it was at Sinai that the Sabbath was given to Moses, like a brand new pair of shoes that only fit on Jewish feet. No. It is a gift for all humanity for all time.

And it matters which day is your and God’s Big Day, so get it right.

God loves it when his children gather together to worship his name. It is true that he takes pleasure when you come to him any day of the week. But Saturday is your and his Big Day, and no one can get, or should get, in between a God and his child.

Anyone who teaches otherwise, or institutes another day, is entirely out of line.