Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My Brother: The Boy Who Overcame It All

Brian James Thompson. Born February 22, 1993.

     What is there to say about Brian? Everything and nothing. Everything because there is so much to his story. Nothing because it's near impossible to formulate words that accurately express all there is to his existence.

     Throughout his entire life, we've always been told what he couldn't do, the things he'd never be able to accomplish. As a kid, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), among other things. Doomed, as the experts would say, to a life of struggling through school, not understanding social situations, being unable to see outside his "own world" (a characteristic of ASD) and relate to other people, not expected to graduate from high school, not expected to succeed. As a family, none of this was easy to swallow. No family wants to hear the levels of supposed ineptitude their child possesses. Nobody ever really bothered to tell us his strengths, how he may be able to overcome any of these deficits. Sure, inevitably people would tell us things we already knew like "he's a sweet kid", "you're lucky to have him", etc. But that never really lessened the sting of the negativity that comes along with the labels they put on him.


     Brian's an interesting person. Always has been. Growing up, he kindled an intense interest in Star Wars, Star Trek (yes, he subscribes to both fandoms, don't ask me how), the Titanic, Pompeii, and anything sci-fi related. He'd always take it upon himself to "research" these things on his own time, checking out books from the library, watching documentaries, asking people questions, etc. Pretty soon he became quite knowledgeable in these fields of interest, and could easily hold informative conversations with people about these things. In the early stages, it was easy for him to tell you things, but reciprocal conversations were a struggle for him. The fact that he was so apt to learning about these topics of interest to him was an initial indicator that maybe he wasn't so cognitively impaired as the experts would have us believe. That wasn't supposed to happen.

     As he aged, his interests remained the same, although he did become quite an avid video gamer. He took to gaming like a fish to swimming. Interesting, because playing video games involves a fair amount of fine motor skills, an area that he was always supposed to struggle in; that wasn't supposed to happen. As he got older his conversational skills also improved; he became less and less shy, and began to understand turn-taking within conversation, allowing the other person to take part rather than just being an informational monologue. Improvement in relational/conversational skills? That wasn't supposed to happen.

     In high school is when he really started to come out of his shell. He was flourishing in his classroom at school, both socially and academically. He was now actually initiating conversations, and conversations regarding the other person rather than himself or his own interests. He was asking people how THEIR day was going, what THEY thought of whatever movie they saw on the weekend, etc. Strange, because the experts always thought that it was an insurmountable barrier, for Brian, a kid with ASD to think outside of himself and be able to express his care for others so explicitly as this. It wasn't supposed to happen.


     One day, Brian was sitting in a chair on a football field. The football field at Chatsworth High School. He wore a burgundy cap and gown, and sat in the back row with two other classmates. The announcer calls his name, and Brian walks up and receives his high school diploma. According to the experts, that was never supposed to happen. The year is 2012. The day is approximately a little over a month after he received a heart transplant.


     Oh yeah, that's another thing about Brian. In April of 2012, Brian had viral myocarditis, a rare disease that basically destroys your heart. He was hospitalized; his kidneys and liver stopped functioning; his heart was enlarged to 3 times the size it was meant to be, and was functioning at just 15%. After a stay in the ER, a geriatric floor and a psych ward (the only rooms they had available for him), and ICU, he was transferred to USC Keck Hospital. The outlook was bad. With a heart functioning at just 15%, and other organs shutting down, there was nothing the doctors could do for him. I got a call one night; they'd put him on the list to receive a heart transplant. The doctors said he had maybe a few weeks to live, if things didn't get worse. My world came crashing down upon me. The wait time typical for a donor heart to come through was 6months to a year. He had weeks, if that. Basically, he wasn't supposed to survive.

     3 days after I got that call, a donor heart came through for Brian. That night, they did surgery. They transplanted an entire human heart into him, removing his old dead one. They gave him a second chance at life. The surgery went well, there weren't many complications. He made it, he survived. That wasn't supposed to happen.

     He stayed in the hospital for about 15 days or so. Many times throughout the entire ordeal, I spent the night there at the hospital with him, sleeping in a chair next to his bed. In his critical conditions, nurses would come in at all hours of the night, hourly, in fact, to check his vitals and draw blood. I'll never forget it; when the nurse would come in to take his blood or check his vitals, he'd look at them and smile, and ask them how their shift was going. This kid was dying, he wasn't supposed to be smiling. This kid had ASD, he wasn't supposed to be initiating conversations about how someone else's day was going. The nurses would always be taken aback by that; they'd tell him how their shift was going, and tell him it was sweet of him to ask. He'd just smile and nod, typical Brian style.

     When the nurses would come in during the middle of the night, they'd ask him a series of questions. If Brian thought they were being too loud and might wake me up (he thought I was sleeping, although clearly I was not), he'd put a finger to his lips and make a quiet "shhhhhhh" noise, then point to where I was sleeping. He'd tell them in a whisper, "Don't wake her up. That's my sister. She's studying to become a special ed teacher; that's a really tough job, but she can handle it." The nurses would look somewhat perplexed at this unnecessary information, but tell him that he must be so proud of me, to which he'd grin smugly and say "Yeah, she's a great sister, she's so smart.". To have pride in me, to talk about MY life to someone who was currently inflicting the pain of a blood-draw rather than focusing on himself and his current circumstance; that wasn't supposed to be possible. In any circumstance for any person, it certainly isn't normal.


     One day, Brian was in a wheelchair. I stood next to him, outside of Keck Hospital, along with his nurse. Holding a huge bouquet of red heart balloons, both of us donning USC sweatshirts, we were there at the curb, waiting for the car to pull up. Our mom brought the car around eventually, the passenger door was opened, and we helped him into the car for the first time since we drove him to West Hills hospital over a month prior. Brian was going home from that hospital. That wasn't supposed to happen.


     The thing with Brian? He's always been the most sweet-hearted, kind, loving, and interesting kid. That never changed, that never "developed". What changed was the ways he was able to overcome the things holding him back from expressing those feelings and actions. The more he was aware of what was holding him back, the more he was able to come up with strategies to overcome those obstacles and learn to relate to others, to express interest and emotion in relevant ways. Once he overcame those obstacles, he became an unstoppable force of absolute humility, kindness, and love towards others.

     His ability to overcome the limitations set upon him by others has inspired many. Ask anyone that has worked with him in any setting; they all have nothing but good things to say about him, and they'll tell you, too, that his story is one of inspiration and uplifting motivation. He's an encouragement to many, including parents of children with ASD. The things he's overcome shed light on the fact that not everything about ASD is concrete, and obstacles previously believed to be impossible to overcome can, indeed, be overcome. This hope, this precious light and insight to this issue is invaluable to parents of, and even individuals themselves with ASD. Brian's story is a story of hope and inspiration.

     For me, as his older sister, I've had the absolute privilege of watching him grow up, watching him overcome these labels and diagnoses firsthand. I was there with him when he was dying in the hospital, I was there the night they put the new heart in. I was there the day we took him home. I was there the day that he graduated high school. I've been there and seen everything that wasn't supposed to happen, happen. And through it all, I've been inspired.


     Brian is my inspiration, my driving force for the career I'm pursuing. I'm pursuing a bachelor's degree and teaching credential in special education. I want to teach special education at the high school level. Why? Because I've seen what someone who's been labeled and restricted by things that aren't "able to happen" for a kid with a diagnosis in special education overcome all of those things. I've seen my brother overcome it all, I know that he's not the only kid with special needs that can accomplish this. I'm in this for the success of the students; I've gotten a small taste of what it looks like to see someone succeed in this situation. I'm starving for more. I strive to see these kids freed from their labels, accomplishing what they're able to accomplish, regardless of any diagnoses or restrictions in ability imposed on them by "experts". Seeing my brother shirk the labels, disregard the diagnoses, ignore the implications of his inabilities; that has inspired me to do what I'm doing.

     I've never met anyone like Brian. He is the kindest, most loving, most loyal brother to me. And not just to me; he's an absolute saint, the way he treats others and even goes out of his way to ask how they're doing. He asks me to take him shopping for gifts for people on holidays, completely his idea, with no prompting from me. When deciding what to eat for dinner, sometimes he'll ask "well what do YOU feel like?" He goes out of his way to give homeless people a dollar and change. On Thanksgiving, he asked me if we could buy a homeless man a hamburger from McDonalds, because "nobody should go hungry on Thanksgiving". Brian is a kind and charitable human being, and a person that the world can learn so much from. Brian thinks beyond himself, and concerns himself with the well-being of others. That's not supposed to happen.


     In a few days here, Brian's going to be 21 years old. The doctors never thought he'd see this day; heck, for a while there, WE never thought he'd see this day. Currently, Brian is in his second year at West Valley Occupational Center (community college) in a vocational studies program. He has a job, working for an auto-insurance company. He takes the bus to school and work, and lives a happy life, doing things for himself that nobody ever thought possible. Brian is a success. Brian is an inspiration. Brian is a testament to the ability of God to work through anyone, any situation, any time, and just do insane things that by all rime or reason, aren't supposed to happen. Brian realizes this, and will even refer to himself as "the miracle child". He knows that where he's at is not where anyone ever expected him to be able to be at. He knows that he broke the mold when it came to his diagnoses and labels, and he knows that he definitely shocked and defied medical science when that donor heart showed up just in the knick of time. He knows it's all a God thing. And he's proud to share his success stories with anyone who wants to hear more.

     As his sister, I couldn't possibly be more proud of Brian. The things he's overcome, the insanity he's survived, the person he's become; I can scarce believe it to be true. My brother is absolutely amazing. And throughout it all, he remains so humble about everything. Just talking to him, you'd never know the kinds of things he was told he'd never be able to do when he was younger. You'd never know the horrors this kid endured as his heart failed and then got transplanted with a new one. You'd never know that this kid had the odds stacked against him. But if you did, you'd know that this is one kid that overcame all the odds. This is one kid that can accomplish anything. And you'd know that there's hope, for anyone in any situation. If this kid can do all that, so many things are possible.

     The experts never told us that Brian would be the kindest, funniest, sweetest kid in our lives. They never told us that he'd be my best friend, the one that I'll defend with my life. They never told us that he'd be an inspiration, that he'd by MY inspiration. They never told us that he'd go to college and have a job and independent transportation. They never told us that he'd be a success. None of that was supposed to happen. But it did. And thank God that it did.


Brian James Thompson. Born February 22, 1993. The boy who overcame it all.


Friday, December 6, 2013


     So at the beginning of the fall semester (2013), I was taking a probability and statistics class, as well as 6 other classes at the time. I would show up to class, sit in the back, quietly complete my work on my own, turn it in and leave. Nobody really said anything about that, nobody really noticed or cared about my existence, just the way I like a class to be.
     Things changed mid-semester, when my grandfather died. I was very close to him, and helped to provide care for him over the past few years as he dealt with Alzheimer's and dementia. His death hit me hard; I just couldn't stop crying and grieving. The heartache from losing him was almost tangible; I was an emotional wreck.
     So in the middle of the fall semester (2013), I was still taking that probability and statistics class. I would show up to class, usually in tears, or face all red and swollen from crying so much, and I'd sit in the back, quietly crying to myself while completing my work on my own. Once finished, I'd wipe the tears off my face, walk to the front of the class, hand my paper in and then leave the classroom like some kind of melancholy zombie.
     Things changed. People noticed that. People will notice you if you consistently cry in the back of class. They may never ask a reason, they may never ask if you're alright, but they'll notice it.
     Suddenly, I'd hear the row of 3 girls at the front speaking in Spanish and laughing. At first it was just an annoyance to me (I was in the anger stage of grief, probably), but then I realized what they were laughing about, and it cut me like a dagger. They were talking about me, "La Chica Llorando", or "The Crying Girl". They were making fun, saying maybe my boyfriend dumped me, or maybe I got a bad grade on my lab report, etc., trying to find reasons why I would be crying, and laughing about it. They did all this in Spanish; a language they (incorrectly) assumed I couldn't understand because I look white.
     At first, I was enraged. Not only do I have this stress and emotions already, but now they mock me for my grief? How could they! Why would they even think to do this; why wouldn't they just ask me what's wrong! How cowardly, to hide behind a "secret language" that I wouldn't understand to talk smack about me! How much lower can one go than this?!
     Eventually, I grew accustomed to it. They'd talk about me, make fun of me, etc. I grew to accept that. As the semester progressed, I grew stronger as a human being, I overcame my grief and stress, and began to thrive in school again. No longer did I cry in class, no longer was I heartlessly angry at these girls for what they had said about me. And as long as I wasn't crying, nothing was said about me, other than simple musings about how the "chica llorando" got the highest grade in the class while they failed that assignment.
None of them ever knew I speak Spanish; none of them knew that I understood every mean-spirited word that came out of their mouths.
     I contemplated speaking to them in Spanish; confronting them wasn't on the forefront of my mind, but just make a passing comment to them in Spanish, just so they'd know, and maybe feel ashamed. I thought better of it; I didn't want to stoop to their level. Instead, my heart softened towards these girls. I wanted to care about them, and just shower them with love and kindness, which would inevitably evoke feelings of guilt for what they had done. Ultimately, though, whether they felt guilt or not, I wanted them to experience the great love of the Saviour that I personally have. When the Lord  loves you so much, it sort of overflows from your heart into the lives of others. That's what was happening here; this was of no goodness of my own heart.
      My opportunity came one day. I overheard one girl, freaking out because her father was having a partial heart transplant in a week. I thought to myself "This is it. Go tell her it's gonna be ok; tell her about Brian." And so I did. I sat down next to her, and said "I couldn't help overhearing, your father is getting a heart transplant?" "Yes" she said, with absolute sadness and fear in her voice. "You know, my little brother had a full heart transplant a year ago. Everything went incredibly well; the technology in the medical field is amazing these days. The success rates for these types of surgeries have skyrocketed! I have no doubts that your dad will be well taken care of; the doctors know what they're doing, trust me. But I also know how scary it is, and how difficult it is to wait around for the transplant to occur. I just want you to know that I'll be keeping you and your father in my prayers. Here's my number in case you have any questions or just want somebody to talk to. I'll be praying for this all.". Her face was shocked; she could hardly speak. She managed to utter a stunned "thank you" as a tear rolled down her cheek. My heart was at ease, for the time being. I knew I had done my part. I had shown her, previously unlovable to me, the love of Christ, and I had attempted to encourage her. Clearly that was so out of the norm for her, to have a stranger say all that, especially a stranger that she had been "secretly" making fun of and saying hateful things about all semester.
     Time passed. It was the last day of probability and statistics class, my only class with her. I sat in the back, working alone as always. I wanted to ask about her dad, how the surgery went; tell her I've been praying for her and her dad and the whole situation, just like I said I would. The entire class, I just sat back there and thought about how to approach all that with her. I was planning out what to say, how to say it. For maybe 5 minutes, I bent my head down, focusing on my work. When I looked up, she had left. This was the last day of class. My last chance to find out about her dad, to let her know that I have been and will continue to be praying for her dad and her family during the recovery process. The last chance I had was gone. I felt a strange sense of regret; "Why didn't you just go up there and ask, idiot?! Why did you wait for a perfect time?! Why did you waste time planning that?! Now she's gone and you'll never see her again.". Needless to say, my heart was greatly burdened, and I was quite vexed with myself. I missed a great opportunity to share the love of Christ with this girl, who had been previously so blown away that any person would show interest and compassion to her. A marvelous opportunity: gone. My heart was heavy.

     I received an email from the professor of that class, saying she had lost one of my labs, and I needed to come in during office hours and redo it. So after the last class, when I missed my opportunity, I went to the office hours and redid my lab. Again, head bent over my work, focusing on getting my work done, I heard the door open. Somebody walked in, put their stuff at the front desk, and started working on something. It was office hours; anybody from any of the probability and stats labs could come in or out at any time. I looked up, eventually, not thinking much.

It was her.

     A second chance! That God would allow this second chance at closure with this girl, whom I had previously harboured hatred in my heart for, who had previously made fun of me, talked smack about me, and shown nothing but hostility to; this girl was in the classroom again, and not by chance.
     I wasn't gonna mess up this time. No planning. Nothing of the sort. "Just get up and ask her, Chibz. God will give you the right words." I pushed my chair back, which startled everyone else in the room, and I marched up to the front, and crouched down in front of her desk so I was at eye level. I asked softly, "Hey, I never got the chance to ask you, how did your dad's surgery go? I've been praying about it, and for your family for weeks now, but never got the chance to ask you how it went." Again, she looked shocked, but pleasantly so. She told me that he's recovering quite well, and that it looks like he may be home for Christmas. I said "Oh, praise God! What an answer to prayer! Well, I just want you to know that I'll continue to pray for a speedy recovery for him, and strength for your family during this holiday season; I know how hard it is in the holidays with a loved one in the hospital. I've got to go now, but please take care and have a wonderful Christmas! Hopefully your dad will be home to join you!" And I smiled at her genuinely, hoping that the words I had spoken encouraged her.
     A tear formed in her eye again. She just said "Thank you so much, it means a lot. Thank you so much... Merry Christmas and God bless you!" And then she smiled, too.

     Second chances like that are rarely afforded, especially when it comes to talking to strangers or people we don't know. My mind is blown that I had that opportunity to hopefully bless her and encourage her and just show her the love of Christ. 

     The Chica Llorando may be strange, and easy to make fun of, but the crying girl wants more than anything to share the love of Christ that she's found with everyone now, even the people that laugh at her. God is so good and faithful to provide, even rare second chances like this one. My interactions with this girl are complete. My heart is at ease, no longer burdened for things unsaid to her. I have obtained closure. God is good.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Mysterious Encounter

     So today, I was at school, walking towards the bookstore in a mass of students. It was lunch time, so everyone was either leaving class and going towards the food court or leaving the food court to go back to class. As I was walking towards the store, someone called out through the crowd. I looked to the left, where the voice had come from. There, sitting on a bench, was an old man, who looked quite similar to the man on the boxes of Uncle Ben's rice. He had nothing with him; he wasn't reading the paper, or on a phone, he was just sitting there, apparently watching everyone coming and going. I looked at him, on the off chance that he was addressing me. He nodded and motioned for me to come nearer. I thought maybe he'd ask for money (there's another old african-american man on campus who looks like the Zataran's guy who usually asks for money), or maybe tell me that my backpack was open, or something like that.
     I walk over to him, dodging students to get there. When I was standing in front of him, he said "There's something kinda tragic about you..." I sort of looked down, muttered an apology, for some reason, then said "I guess there's something kind of tragic about the world..." He shrugged his shoulders and nodded his head, saying "True, true..." For a while I stood there in front of him, in silence, neither of us looking at the other. As I was about to take my leave and go get my food, he stopped me and asked "How do you smile?" Not understanding the question, I said "I'm sorry?" "How do you smile... What it look like when you smile?" Not feeling like smiling, I just sort of half-smiled embarrassedly at him. "No no no, SMILE ... Your face won't break, I can promise you that!" His accent made me genuinely laugh, and I smiled for real that time. I made eye contact with him; I realized for the first time that one of his eyes was completely glazed over... Or at least it was made of glass or something, but it definitely wasn't functional. His reaction is something I'll never forget...
     His good eye lit up, his hands flew to his face, and he exclaimed "OH sweet Lawd in Heav'n! It's as though the Heavens' themselves've opened up and all the wondrous light within's come shinin' and radiatin' from your face!" I had no idea how to reply to this unprecedented reaction, so I turned my face to the ground, cheeks reddening from the attention this was drawing from surrounding students. After he had recovered from his shock, he said "Child, it's no wonder you hide that smile. The world ain't ready for that kind of brilliance! What is your name?" I told him my name. "It's a pleasure to meet you. My name is Terrance. I want you to keep on bein' how you are: beautiful, tragic, and sometimes showing the world the radiance you possess from within." I thanked him kindly, and proceeded to go inside and get my food. As I was walking in, I turned back to get one last look at Terrance, but he had vanished. I went inside, pondering the incident and what it all meant.
     This day had been particularly rough, emotionally, due to current circumstance and events this past week. The bizarre encouragement this man, Terrance, had offered me warmed my heart and boggled my mind as to why someone would take time out of their day to have an odd conversation like that with a random girl. At any rate, his kind words and his mysterious understanding of the brilliance of heaven both warmed my heart and boggled my mind. It was perfect timing, though, because I was feeling pretty low, but that cheered my heart greatly. Maybe Terrance knows about Heaven and the wonderful things there; I hope he does, and I hope he knows how to get there to experience that brilliance for eternity, although that brilliance far surpasses any tragic brilliance that I myself may possess. God is good to bring people like that into my life at the most perfect time, even when it seems most random.
     Terrance, if ever I see you again, I want to talk to you and find out more about your story. You're an enigma. Maybe it'll always be that way. You have a beautiful soul to be encouraging random people like that. I want you to keep on being how you are: kind, encouraging, and understanding.
Best Regards,

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Another Year of Life

     So today is my birthday. When I was a kid, roughly age 0-16, I would always get excited about my birthday because of two things: gifts and attention. Not to say that I was neglected by any means, but my birthday was about ME, and all the attention was directed at ME. And gifts. What kid doesn't love gifts? And ice cream. Never cared much for the cake, truly, but ice cream. Oh goodness. And cheesecake. I was an odd duck; since I hated cake I would always ask my mom to get a cheesecake instead. My birthdays were always days of indulgence. My parents would throw me the nicest parties, buy me the nicest gifts, invite my friends and family over to celebrate ME.

     That's pretty typical for children to view their birthdays as such. Age 17-21 were just sort of blurry and odd years. I was still thankful for gifts, and I didn't mind the attention, but I was too old for parties, and I had no interest in toys, and it's practically impossible to buy me clothes that I'd like or would fit, so I wasn't too thrilled about the gift aspect. Honestly, it felt a little bit burdening; why should all these people go out of their way for me? I know it's my birthday, but I don't want to cause anyone to spend a ton of money on me, or, heaven forbid, spend TIME with me, because that's just a terrible punishment that nobody should be made to endure. Why would people bother to celebrate me? What was I contributing to life that was worth celebrating? I don't want that kind of attention anymore, garish and OBVIOUSLY forced attention from people... Why couldn't I just sort of hide away on this day? I didn't get it. It was an annoyance; I wasn't worth the time or money. I felt bad for burdening the people around me.

     What about 22? Well, what about it? It was my golden birthday. I turned 22 on August 22nd. A lucky golden birthday! Wow! This time around I didn't care at all about gifts (although I received many thoughtfully-chosen golden ones), but something changed: I viewed the attention aspect of it all differently. Did I crave the attention like I did when I was a child? Did I dread and abhor the presumably burdensome attention as I did when I was older? No. This day of attention could be used for good. Instead of it all being about ME, I could use this time to celebrate with my friends and family, and share the attention. Right? Yeah, I think so. My 22nd birthday was really quite lovely, by all means. My favorite one so far.

     So how about 23, then? How am I feeling towards this day? Well, I was thinking about it tonight. What is a birthday? It's a celebration of life. The day someone was born. Looking back, when I was in the stage of age 0-16, I thought as a child; I was egocentric and materialistic. At that point in my life, I wanted THINGS and I wanted life to be about ME. Age 17-21, I had no self confidence and didn't think I deserved to even be on the planet. At that stage, my life was troubled with depression and self-hatred; I didn't want anyone to give me gifts or attention, because I felt I didn't DESERVE it, that I wasn't WORTH it. By age 22, my life had begun to settle down; I'd matured a lot, and I knew that I was worth something, and that something was worth celebrating.

     Well how about this year? I can tell you this: I'm excited to celebrate my life this year. Not excited to celebrate ME, mind you, but my life.
     The people in my life. I'm so excited to celebrate with the people that I love, and who love me back. Love is such a wondrous thing, truly. Once you realize that you are capable of being loved and loving others, life changes. It's a more beautiful and tolerable thing; to live, to be alive, to love. I love people. Many different people. Different types, different walks of life; I love people. And for the ones that love me too, I'm grateful for that love. I accept that love now, I know it's not a burden to love someone, nor is it a burden (hopefully most of the time) for others to love me. This year, I'd really like to celebrate that love that others have shown me in my life, and I'd love to be able to shower you all with my own love for you.
     The stories in my life. My life has been a rollercoaster. A crazy, beautiful, blessed rollercoaster. Oh have I got stories. Stories not glorifying to myself, but testifying to God's neverending goodness, love, and mercy. Stories of what God's done in my life. Stories of what God's done in the lives of my family. Many many stories. Some sad, some joyful, some hilarious, some heart-wrenching. All, though, ultimately glorifying God, and growing me for service in His kingdom. I had opportunity to share some of those stories tonight at midnight with two of my friends, right when the clock turned and it became August 22nd 2013. How blessed an opportunity to share what the Lord has done in my life recently, and is continuing. I want to celebrate and share the stories in my life.
     The circumstances in my life. My goodness, how things turn out. Everything that happens just seems to effortlessly weave together in some sort of mysterious dance; threads of life that have seemingly nothing to do with each other combine unexpectedly to make the brightest and most beguiling of colours, flowing together like two rivers meeting at a forked point. Everything does truly work out for good, no matter how awful it seems at the time. Life is so lovely, there are so many unknown aspects to it. I've become very grateful for that. Have you ever been perplexed by some puzzle, then finally figured it out? There's a moment of relief and triumph, but it's fleeting; you move on to the next puzzle after that. What if life was like that? What if there was a way to figure it all out? What then, after one figures it out? There's no next puzzle to figure out after you figure out life (unless the afterlife, which requires death). How dull would our existence be, going along in something we completely understand. Where would the mystery be, the intrigue? Why continue life when there's nothing left to pursue? God is the same way, except infinitely more-so. He is infinitely multifaceted. There is no such thing as having God "all figured out" in this life. If there was, why then pursue Him once we had discovered all of His wonderful aspects? How boring it would be! God is so good to leave us some mystery in this world and life to keep us on our toes, to keep us pursuing answers.
     The life I've come to live, love, and embrace. It's taken me years to come to the place I am now. Able to love and accept myself, able to accept the love of others, able to embrace adverse circumstances with joy and hope in the Lord, and most importantly, to accept the love of the Saviour. My heart has been radically changed over the past few years, and I pray that it keeps changing to become more and more like Christ. My capacity to love has increased so much, and my tendency to hate has diminished even more. My life is not my own. My life is God's; to love Him, to serve Him, to serve His people, and to reach out and love those who do not yet know Him. This is what my life is now. This is who I am. This is what I celebrate this year. I love you all so very much. My wish and prayer is that you know and tangibly feel that God loves you infinitely more than even I do, and that He loves you enough to forgive anything you've done and accept you into His loving arms for the rest of eternity. You, too, can have a life worth celebrating.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

What Happened To Me At Hume

     This past week I volunteered to work as a cook at my church's high school summer camp at Hume Lake. I had a very difficult time convincing my overprotective loving parents to allow me to go, as I would be the only girl on the cooking team, and I would be driving alone, and I would be sleeping in a tent alone, and I would have to do everything for myself and by myself, and I have a 4mm bulged disc in my lower spine and shouldn't be working hard, and I'm terrified of lakes because of PTSD from an incident in a lake when I was 15, and the list goes on and on and on. But I earnestly prayed about it, whether I should stick to my guns and insist that my parents allow me to go, or humbly accept their parental advice and stay home. I prayed that the Lord's will would be abundantly evident, and any bias, rebellion, and selfish desires be removed from my heart in order to make the right decision. Obviously, by the title of this entry, I DID in fact end up going to Hume. My heart was greatly burdened to go and serve, so I respectfully told my parents that I would be going, and by God's grace they allowed me to go.

     I had a few specific goals in mind for going up to Hume. First and foremost, obviously I wanted to serve God and His church through cooking (and any other applicable way that He would use me). Second, I wanted to get away from everything and everyone for a while and just spend time alone with God, talking with Him, getting right with Him, praising Him, thanking Him, etc. I did miss people while I was up there, and my desire to leave home wasn't one of escaping or getting away from people that were frustrating me (read: I didn't want to get out of my house and away from my family because I hated them or any such thing), but I honestly just needed time away from distractions and technology to become totally focused on what I needed to be focusing on. The third and least of my goals was to push myself out of my comfort zone. My parents were right to worry about me and how I would handle working hard all week with a bad back; I can hardly do dishes here at home or work without having tremendous pain afterwards. They were right to worry about how I would handle being at a lake with specific lake-related PTSD; for the past 8 years of my life I haven't been able to look at a lake, even on TV, without spiraling into flashbacks and anxiety and suffering nightmares for some length of time. I really wanted to push myself, though; I could feel something (the Holy Spirit) prompting me to go and confront my fears and disabilities. I had to go; there was no getting around it.

     I will address how these goals were met in the most logical way that I can, which is not in chronological order. First, my third and least goal was met in a big way immediately. I went up there expecting to deal with back pain, anxiety, and nightmares all week. I didn't really care; I trusted that God would get me through it, even if it was the most difficult week of my life, I knew I had to try. On the drive up, when we arrived at Hume Lake, and I first caught sight of the lake itself, something strange happened in the core of my being. Usually I would have plunged into an anxiety attack and start having disturbingly vivid flashbacks upon just looking at a lake, let alone being on a road right next to one. Instead, my consciousness was flooded with a peace that cannot be explained but by the Holy Spirit. I looked on that lake, and I had no fear. No flashbacks. No anxiety. Only peace, and absolute shock at what I wasn't feeling. I was sure that I'd be suffering later; surely I would have nightmares. Throughout the entire week, I didn't have a single nightmare. Not a single flashback, not a single anxiety attack. Even when I saw the lake for a second, third, and fourth time, nothing. Nothing but peace and absolute gratitude to God for what I was not experiencing. As far as my back is concerned, I worked hard all week long. Things weren't necessarily difficult, just tedious at times. Cutting fruits and vegetables, washing dishes, putting food away and taking it out, etc. Even that sort of thing at home kills my back; at Thanksgiving I tried to peel potatoes at the sink and ended up laying down on the couch because I was in crippling pain. I worked all week, I slept on an air mattress all week, I drove all the way up there and all the way back home, and my back was fine the entire time. I had some minor pains while washing dishes, but nothing paralyzing. When I would go to sleep at night, I would always think that I would probably wake up the next morning in pain, but it never happened. The whole time I was there, I felt fine. God is so good to have allowed me to not only push myself so much, but be rewarded in such a big way by not suffering the usual trials that come along with the tasks and circumstances I was attempting.

     The second and first goals go more hand in hand, so at this point I'll just start talking about the long story that most of you reading this blog have heard about/asked about/already heard how it goes. On Wednesday, the third day of the trip, I told the lady supervising us cooks that I was going to go look for a shower (our campground had none, not even sinks) 25 minutes away from the camp, and if I couldn't find one I was going to Three Rivers (a place in King's Canyon) for the day to just sort of relax. My supervisor said that was fine, but she was a little distracted with something going on with her kids at the moment, so she only heard that I was going to take a shower 25 minutes away. I go looking for a shower, I go into different campgrounds looking to park and sneak in and grab a shower. Nothing. No luck anywhere. I decide "Ok, well I'll just have to man up and deal and try to be as clean as possible since I'm cooking and serving food." and I left for Three Rivers. I drove past the gate to the National Park, handed the ranger my pass. He asked what time I would be returning. I told him around 5pm-7pm I would return and pick up the pass again. He wrote a note down regarding my return time, taped it to the pass, and told me to have a nice time. I made my way down the mountain, which takes about an hour or so and headed toward Fresno. I pulled into the Valero petrol station at the bottom of the mountain. This is where my day started going downhill (apart from the time that I literally began descending from the mountain).
      As I pulled into the station, making a right-hand turn, another guy was driving out, coming straight at my car. We both swerved sharply away from each other; I scraped the right side of my car against the protective poles next to the petrol pump, he drove off out of the driveway and went on his merry way. I turned off my car, slightly shaken but not all that disturbed. A guy that was at the pump across the way came over and knocked on my window. "Hey miss, you ok?" Startled, I looked up, rolled down the window and told him that I was fine. He asked if I was sure, I replied in the affirmative. He walked away. In less than a minute he came back to the window (I was still in the car, fiddling with my wallet to retrieve my debit card) and says "The entire right side of your paneling came off! The pieces of it are back there next to the poles! Are you sure you're alright?" Not entirely surprised, but instantly aware of the fact that my dad would most likely be very upset with me for this, I told the guy "Yes, I'm sure that I'm okay. Apparently my car is not so much okay... Thank you for your help, though! Have a good one!" He doffed his cap and went back to his truck. I got out of my car after finally locating my debit card, and went to the right side of it with a bad feeling deep in the pit of my stomach, worried at what I would find. Like the guy had said, the entire right side of paneling had fallen off and was lying on the pavement next to the poles. I walked over and picked up the pieces; they were intact, but scraped with the hideous blue-green paint of the trademark Valero colored poles. The poles were likewise scraped with the beige pain of my paneling. I picked up the pieces of the paneling successfully, but the pieces of my broken heart were not so easily located. As silly as my car is, as simple and humble a vehicle as that Kia Sorento is, I love it very much. I'm grateful to have a nice car, and I usually try and keep it decent looking (on the outside at least). Now my lovely blue SUV was ghettofied, and I was saddened and wondering how I'd explain this to my parents. Deciding not to deal with it at that time, I put the pieces in the back of the car, and proceeded with the filling of the tank. At this point, I had cellular service again, so I looked up directions to Three Rivers on the Maps app on my phone. Knowing that I'd lose service when I got into the mountains again, I screencapped the directions and saved to my pictures file for reference when Siri would inevitably stop directing me. I followed the directions, and got to Three Rivers in one piece (the car, not so much). It was beautiful, as always, although the rivers were mostly dried up. I breathed a sigh of relaxation, and drove through town, listening to my music and just unwinding. I took the road to follow the Northern fork of the river, which I had forgotten leads up a mountain onto a one-lane dirt road on the side of a steeply plunging cliff. Not entirely deterred, and knowing that if I continued on that road that I'd get back to the National Forest from whence I came, I kept on driving. The winding nature of the road didn't bother me; I drive Box Canyon here at home all the time, and my car is quite adept at handling sharp turns in the road. The road was in awful condition. Like I said, it was a dirt road, on the side of a mountain, in the middle of nowhere. There were ranches with cattle (and one with bison) up there, but not a human soul for miles to be seen. At the highest point of the mountain, there was a little sign, saying "End of County Maintained Road". "End of County Maintained Road"? The county sure wasn't doing a very effective job of maintaining that road, let me tell you. I could only imagine how much worse the road ahead would be. I decided to turn around and return to camp the way I had come. No big deal, I turned the car around and proceeded back down the road. I knew that once I got back down the mountain I could go into town and have cellular service again, so I could use the Maps app to find my way back to camp. I was driving back down the one-lane, poorly-maintained road, when all of a sudden, my parents' worst nightmare came true. There was a horrid smell of burnt rubber. The car pitched to the right side. Obviously something had gone terribly awry, so I pulled over as far away from the cliff as I could. I got out of the car and walked towards the burning smell on the passenger side. What my eyes saw next sent my heart up into my throat. The rear passenger tire was completely shredded. I was alone, on a mountain road, in the middle of nowhere, with nobody around for miles, next to a cliff, and the sun was going to set in a few hours. I just stared at the destroyed tire in disbelief at my poor luck for a good minute or two before snapping a few pics of it, just in case I survived to brag about this later.
Shredded Tire

Lucky for me, I do know how to change a tire out, so I began getting the necessary tools from the back of the car. I got it jacked up, and started loosening the bolts on the wheel. I was under the car, messing with the spare, which was a bit stuck and reluctant to come down from the undercarriage, when the thing my parents fear most in life occurred. A white truck pulled up behind me and parked. I heard the door open, two boots crunched the leaves and needles on the ground and started walking towards me. I looked out from under the car to see who was coming near. A tall white guy with dreadlocks and wearing a dirty white t-shirt with a picture of two naked ladies and a marijuana leaf was approaching. First thought that ran through my mind: "This is the part where I get raped, chopped up into little pieces, and stored in this guy's freezer." Second thought: "Hahaha my parents were right all these years about getting a flat in the middle of nowhere and getting raped, chopped up, and stored in some guy's freezer". Third thought: "This is really ironic. I'm actually laughing nervously on the inside because of the morbid irony of all this." Fourth thought: "God if this is the way you want me to go out, so be it. I deserve it for being an idiot and ignoring the advice of my parents." By the time all these thoughts had run through my mind, the man asked "Hey, you okay?" I replied with the standard greeting of the day: "I'm fine, the car? Not so much." He walked around to the side while I got out from under the car. His hands flew to cradle his dreadlocked head. "OH MY GOSH what a gnarly blowout! You sure you okay?" "Yeah man, I'm fine. Just trying to get this tire fixed." He looked at me in disbelief and said "Poor kid, you must be shaken up!" He obviously wasn't understanding that it wasn't the dead tire that was tripping me out at this point. "Nah, I'm okay, honestly. I know how to change a tire, I'm just having a bit of trouble with the spare..." Immediately he got down on the ground and under the car, looking at the troubling spare. "Ahhh yeah, it's stuck! We gotta pry it loose!" I was thinking "Okay, well at least the raping and chopping me up and storing me in a freezer isn't going to take place until AFTER this guy fixes the tire..." so I handed him a crowbar and he started to pry it loose. In the meantime, I thought maybe I should talk to him, make friends with him and maybe I won't end up like my parents always imagined. Maybe it was just Stockholm syndrome setting in early. Either way, I told the guy "Yeah, I'm actually from Los Angeles. I'm up here working at a Christian camp as a cook." From underneath the car I heard a muffled "Oh man! You up at Hume?" "Yes! Exactly." "That's so righteous! It's beautiful up there. How'd you manage to get all the way here, though?" "I had some free time today so I decided to come back to Three Rivers. I vacationed here often as a child. Nostalgia and all that, y'know." A loud clanging sound was being emitted now from under the car. "Awesome sauce." "Yup. It's been really great to get away from the city and technology and just sort of reflect on stuff. Pray, meditate, get closer to God..." "Oh totally! It's the best to be up in the mountains, finding yourself and everything." "Well I seem to be getting more lost than found at the moment..." Raucous laughter and a loud thud from under the car. "Got it! You're pretty funny!" He took the now free spare from under the car and rolled it out. I told him "Today's not really my day, I guess. See the lack of paneling here? This just happened today, too. Accident at the petrol station." "Oh man! What a bummer! We all have bad days, don't sweat it, kid. There's always tomorrow to make it better." "True story. I just wish it was tomorrow already; I've had enough of these shenanigans for one day haha." By this time the shredded tire was off, and the spare was being put on. He held it while I screwed in the bolts. "So that's pretty cool of you to drive all the way out here to work at Hume for a week. What made you do it?" "Well, I just really love serving, it's my spiritual gift, and I just felt like God was calling me up here for some reason. It's been an awesome opportunity to serve God and the church up here." "That is so cool. Hey we gotta screw these in in a pattern, otherwise it'll go on all wonky." "Oh right. What about you? You live up here?" "Yeah man, just right up the road! I'm an 'active retiree' haha. I have horses and a ton of dogs, and a nice little garden to take care of. It's a really small community, we all know each other. I was actually on my way to my mom's house when I noticed you here." "Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry, you don't need to stay I can get this fixed by myself, no worries! I'm so sorry to make you late..." "OH NO NOT EVEN! This is way more important! Mom can wait. If anything she'll be proud that I helped out a damsel in distress hahahaha!" "Are you sure? You can totally leave and I'll be fine." "No way. This tire is low in air, let's see how much we got here. Hand me the gauge, please. Dang! Only 20lbs. That's dangerous, especially on these roads. Tell you what, I'm gonna follow you into town. There's a Chevron station. Matt works there. Tell him that you need to fill your tire up and you should be good to go." "Oh no, you don't have to follow me! I don't want to make you any later than you are already! I can find the station by myself, it's fine..." "Nope, not happening. I don't want you getting another flat on the way down with no spare. Besides, my mom's place is at the end of the road anyways. We're cool. My name is Ken, by the way." "My name is Kris. It's a pleasure to meet you, thank you so much for everything you've done here. I was definitely blessed to have someone come by and help me; it would have taken me a lot longer to get this done without you! Please, it's not much but it's all I've got in my wallet... Please take this as repayment, I owe you a lot." I try and hand him $40, but he throws his hands in the air as if I've just pointed a gun at him. "Nonononono! No money! Knowing that I helped you out on a bad day and made you smile is more than enough repayment for me!" "Are you sure? It's not a big deal..." "I'm sure. But thanks, that's way generous!" "You're welcome. Well Ken, if you won't take my money, I just want you to know one thing today: Jesus loves you, no matter what..." He just nodded his head slowly for a few seconds and then a single tear rolled down his dirty cheek, leaving a trail. "I know, sis. I know." At this point we hugged it out and then got in our cars and went down the mountain. I now smelled like weed, but I didn't care. I was safe and not raped or chopped up or stored in a freezer, plus I had been able to talk about God to this random guy. I thanked God so much for sending him, and in such a timely manner at that. I made it to the chevron station, went inside and talked to Matt, an all-American looking guy about my own age standing behind the counter. "How's it going?" "Ok. Hey do you have an air compressor?" He just sort of stared at me for a while, not saying anything. "ummmm do you have an air pump or something that I can fill my tire with?" He still stared, but said "Oh, yeah, it's on the left side over there... Where are you from? You have an accent..." "Huh? Oh I'm from Los Angeles." "Doesn't sound like it..." "Umm how much do I owe you?" "Oh the air is free." "But the sign says 40 cents..." "Nah, 's free." "Oh, okay... If you're sure." "Yeah. Here you go, take the gauge." "Thank you." I filled the tire, returned the gauge to the bewildered Matt, and got back in the car to get directions from the Maps app again.
     I did so, but after all that had transpired, I was absent-minded and forgot to screenshot the directions this time for when the service would be out of range. I followed the directions, but the service cut out without me noticing. I continued on a long dirt road for many miles before realizing that Siri wasn't going to give me any directions because the phone had no service. I pulled over, desperately trying to refresh the Map app, asking Siri for directions, calling my parents, texting anyone, but nothing worked. "Maps is not available". "Siri is not available right now". "Error: No Service". Etc. I was in the middle of nowhere again, surrounded by farmland with no recognizable landmarks. I kept driving around for a while, desperately trying to find a highway or anything familiar, but to no avail. After about 30 minutes of this, I just start praying. Not praying to be saved from this predicament, not praying for directions, but just talking to God. Thanking Him again for sending Ken at the perfect time. Thanking Him for keeping me safe and giving me opportunity to talk to Ken about God. Talking to God about what my struggles in life are, what I want to change in my life, etc. 20 minutes later, a voice: "In 4 miles, make a left on Millwood Drive." What? Siri? But there's no service... Must have been a fluke, maybe a farmhouse nearby had cellular service or something. In 4 miles I made the suggested turn. I kept praying the whole time, just pouring my heart out to God as I drove. After I made the turn, again, the robotic voice came forth from my phone, telling me to stay on that road for 10 miles and then make a left. Well okay then... But how? There's no service, and it's not running on satellite because I'm using a non-satellite directional system that runs on 4G only... Oh well. I follow the directions and keep on praying. 3 hours later, all of which I continually talked with God and Siri gave me directions, I pulled into my parking space at camp. The entire time, the phone gave me directions, even though it wasn't possible. I have no GPS,  no satellite apps on my phone. There was no service at all, I couldn't call or text or even ask Siri anything or type anything into the Map app. Everything just told me it "wasn't available" or "error: no service". I put the car in park, turned off the ignition, and thanked God again for everything that had just transpired. Especially for the opportunity to just talk to Him freely and with no distractions. My mind and soul were at total peace after talking with God; my spirit was renewed. It was exactly the opportunity I had hoped for before coming up to Hume.
     I got out of the car and started walking back to camp. I'd been gone for about 7 hours, but I had been hoping and praying that nobody would notice, that I'd conveniently slip their minds and not be a burden or a worry to them. Nope. One of the counselors walked up to me, wide-eyed and said "Oh my gosh you're back... We've sent out 3 search teams looking for you..." I just broke down crying. The entire time through the ordeal I didn't cry, I wasn't worried (except initially with Ken) I wasn't anxious or scared. But now, I cried, because my heart was overwhelmed with the love these people had for me. Someone in the camp saw me approaching and yelled my name. Immediately a stir began in the camp, I heard things like "she's back?!" "where is she!" "Oh my gosh I'm so happy!" etc. I went to my tent before going down to see everyone; I was a coward, I didn't want them to see me cry, and I was so scared and embarrassed to tell my supervisors what had happened. I had missed dinner that night, I felt so bad for missing work, even though I know they could (and obviously did) manage without me. I didn't want to look irresponsible. After 10 minutes or so of tears streaming down my face, I decided that it was pride that was holding me back, so I prayed for courage and humility and went down to camp, where I was greeted with tearful hugs from my supervisor and friends. I started crying again, for the same reason. Absolutely floored and overwhelmed by the love these people had for me. And I realized how very much I loved them, too.
     The third search party returned later that night. I felt so bad and ashamed that I had caused so much trouble to these kind people... One of the three men in the search party was my supervisor, one was the youth pastor, and another was a guy that works in the youth ministries. They walked down the hill to me. All of them hugged me, I tried choking out apologies but I don't think I can ever convey how sorry I am, or how grateful to them that I am for everything. I told them my story, everything that I've written above. I think they were very happy and overwhelmed that I was safe, and nobody had to make the call to my parents telling them I was dead or lost or anything. That whole situation was so crazy and so hard on everyone (except me, really, which is ironic), but so much good came of it for me personally, and as I would learn later, for others as well.

     After the worship set and sermon that night, the youth pastor got up and made the announcement that I was back safe, and told everyone that I had an amazing story, and suggested to them that they talk to me about it. I was humbled and happy that he would say that, but didn't really expect any highschoolers or anyone to talk to me about it. Who cares what happened to me? I'm just the girl in the weird hats that serves the food. After it was all over, we were all walking back to camp in the dark. Two girls stopped me and asked what happened. I told them "Well, it's a long story... You okay with that?" They replied enthusiastically "TOTALLY!" Shocked by their enthusiasm, I started telling my story. A few more congregated over as I was talking. Then more, and more, and more students and people were surrounding me. I found myself talking to a small crowd, telling my story and what God had done for me. After I got done with that, I asked them if they wanted to hear another story about how God had done incredible things in my life. Everyone eagerly asked me to, so, in shock, I told them the story of my brother and his miraculous heart transplant. Then after that, I told them how God had worked with my PTSD on this trip. I told them everything about me, even deeply personal struggles I have, I told them, so they could be encouraged and maybe would be able to come talk to me if they wanted or needed to. I asked them if I could pray over them when I was done talking. Nobody objected, so I prayed earnestly over them, thanking God for everything He'd done, praying for the hearts of the students, asking God to bless the time of fellowship and create a unity within the group to become the church that He intended, etc. I talked and prayed for what seemed to me like hours, but at the same time felt like only minutes. Thankfully it wasn't truly my words, but the words of the Holy Spirit overflowing from me to the crowd. Otherwise, if it had been just me talking, I would have messed everything up and been a complete idiot instead of a semi-idiot with the perfect Holy Spirit within me. Afterwards, I had a few kids tell me that night how what I had said impacted them, and I was able to pray individually with them. Over the next few days, I'd be asked "Are you the lost girl?!" And when I'd say "Yes", they'd usually say "OH MY GOSH TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED!" And I'd launch into the whole thing over and over and over again, each time doing the best I could to glorify God and praying that they would see through me and see Christ through me instead of the fallen human being that I am. I was able to talk with and encourage/be encouraged so much with so many people this past week because of my misadventure. I'm still so blown away that God would choose to use me in such a way; it's truly such a blessing and extremely humbling to be used in such a way. A story about me being an idiot and getting lost to be used for God's glory, for the encouragement of others, for mending my relationship with God and others; how good is God's grace. How big are His plans. How much He loves us if even a small and insignificant person such as myself can be used to impact so many for His glory. God is so good.

[Note: I write this not to glorify myself or to sound spiritual or as though I have life all figured out and have it "all together", but rather because I feel like such a story as this is meant to be shared, not for MY glory but for the God who got me through it all. I'm overwhelmed by the love everyone has shown me this week, and I'm overwhelmed by God and all His aspects. I pray that this entry will evoke only happiness and joy, perhaps a little amusement, and immense awe at the mercy and goodness of our God. I apologize if I come off as being "holier than thou" or self-righteous or pious, because it is not my intent at all. Much love, and I commend you if you've actually read the whole thing down to this point :) ]

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Morbid Opportunity

     So most of the incidents I write about typically involve awkward or awful interactions with past customers. People throwing marzipan at my face, people telling me about voices in their head instructing them to punch me in the face, etc. But not all customers were bad, or even neutral. Some customers were regulars, and they were super friendly and nice. This entry is about one such customer.

     This guy used to come in about once or twice a week. He was about late 30s early 40s. He had an accent, but I understood him alright. He'd typically buy snack foods, like Boy Bawang and Muncher Peas, that type of thing. One time, he came in wearing a shirt with the flag of the Philippines embroidered on it. I politely asked him about it. "Oh, the Filipino flag! Are you from there?" "Wow! You recognize it?! Yes, I'm from there!" I smiled and said "Oh, what part?" He told me he was from Manila, but he presented the information as though I wouldn't be familiar with it. I told him "Ahh, I have many friends from there! They work in the building across the street!" He shot me an astonished look and said "Really?! How rare!" I laughed and asked if he spoke Tagalog, to which he applied in the affirmative. I asked "kamusta ka?" Again, totally shocked, he replied "Wow! That's amazing! Mabuti! Ikaw?" To which i replied "Mabuti". After much amused laughter and discussion of other languages we spoke, (for me, Spanish, for him, Spanish, French, and Tagalog) I finished the transaction and handed him the receipt, making sure to thank him in Tagalog. "Salamat, po!" "Ahahahaha! Salamat din ko!" And he left.

     Each interaction with him from that day forward began with greetings in tagalog, and then chit-chat conversation about life. How was my day at work, how was his, etc. He was a very kind man, very fatherly toward me. He noticed my back brace one time and asked about it. He mistook it for a girdle, and said "Why do you wear that thing? You trying to lose weight?" I informed him of my injury, to which he became very concerned. He asked me many questions, he asked me if I had hurt it at work. I told him I had to move furniture sometimes, and that's how it became injured. His typical carefree countenance changed to one of determination. "Where is your manager?" he asked, firmly, but not with anger towards me. "Bakit, po? What's the matter?" "I need to give them a piece of my mind for making a tiny girl do such work!" I told him it was okay, that the issue was being resolved. He calmed down a little bit, and told me "You should find another job. This is not suitable working conditions for you. I worry for your health." I told him that I was on work restrictions, and was not being made to work very hard like before. He told me "If I find a job, I will let you know." I thanked him, touched by his fatherly protective care for me.

     The next time I saw him, he was his usual cheery self. Greeting in Tagalog, then proceed with transaction and chit-chat, just like normal. He sighed audibly. I asked "Tough day at work?" He laughed unconvincingly, and told me "You could say that." "Busy?" "No, not 'busy', just no 'customers'". "Oh, you prefer busy days?"
He became very awkward at that, and said "I don't really prefer any days. Days come, days go. It's just my job." Deciding not to press the issue any further, I just said "I see." There was a long pause as I rang up his dried mangoes. "Chibi..." he started out (he knew my nickname and referred to me as such) "Yes, Paul?"
"Remember how I told you if I find job opening, I'd let you know?" I laughed and said "Yes, I remember. Why?" More awkward silence. "I could hire you at my job. I would pay you double what they're paying here, and you wouldn't get hurt... You would be a greeter, if you wanted, or a secretary, handling phone calls..." "I don't think I can leave here... Where do you work?" Here he laughed very oddly, a laugh I had never heard him laugh before. "Aiiiiiii... I work at the mortuary." I replied incredulously "Whaaaaaaa? Chismis?!" And he said "No, really, the mortuary on such-and-such street. You wouldn't be touching the dead bodies, Chibi; I wouldn't make you do that. But I could hire you as secretary, or as greeter to console the mourning families... You have such a kind heart, you would be perfect. I know it's a creepy job, but it's safer than here, and I would pay double whatever they're paying you here. I just really don't want you to work here, it's not safe conditions..." His eyes were tearing up at this point... I didn't know what to say. "Wow... Thank you so much for the offer, I don't know what to say... I'm being as safe as I can here, I don't think my back is getting any worse..." here he interjected "Chibi it breaks my heart to see you in that thing ::indicates back brace:: you are so young, you should be happy and carefree, not binded and being overworked..." a tear rolled down his cheek. I opened the drawer under the register and handed him a tissue so he could clean his tears. "Thank you, Chibi. You are so thoughtful..." I told him "I really appreciate the offer, but I don't think that I can legally quit working here right now, Paul... It's a very complex situation... Thank you so much, though, it means the world to me. Wow, the mortuary, huh? No wonder you have rough days... That must be very difficult, to work with dead bodies and bereaved families." Then he said something interesting, but he said it in Spanish. "The saddest part about my job is not the dead bodies, it's not the sad families, it's the people that have no understanding of the afterlife... They think everyone goes to heaven, or maybe that dead people go nowhere but the dirt. Worm food. They don't know how to be saved from eternal death. That's the sad part of my job." Curious, I asked (also in Spanish) "And how do you think one can be saved from eternal death?" He replied with all confidence: "Only through forgiveness of Jesus for our sins. Do you know that, Chibi?" I asked "Paul, you are a Christian?" "Yes, are you?" "Yes. What church do you go to?" He told me the name of a pinoy congregation that met in some other church facility. He asked me the same question, I told him the church I was attending at that time. Again, his eyes filled with tears, "Oh, Ate Chibi, my heart is overcome with joy to know that you know Jesus! He is the ultimate Healer, I know He can help your back!" "Ahhhh, Kuya Paul! No more tears, be happy! God is good, He will work all this for His glory. God is so good to bring me a Christian customer! It's a good change from mean people." At this point the transaction finished. I handed him the receipt, which he wrote his phone number on in case I changed my mind about taking a job at the mortuary and handed it back to me. I said "Salamat, kuya Paul!" and he said "Salamat din ako, ate Chibi!" and then he said something he'd never said before. "Mahal kita, Chibi. Jesus gusto ka din." I smiled as a tear rolled down my cheek and said "Mahal din kita, kuya, at mahal ko si Jesus, din."

     I don't remember if I saw Paul much after that. God was good to provide me transactions with him when the store was dead, so we could talk freely. When we conversed in Spanish it was when the boss or a coworker was around, because speaking about religious things with customers was greatly frowned upon, and Paul knew it too. It still boggles my mind that such a cheerful, happy-go-lucky guy like Paul works/worked at a mortuary. Such a dark and morbid job. I think the only way he could handle it was by the grace of our God.

     Kuya Paul, if you're out there somewhere, I hope you are doing well, my friend. I wish you to know that I am happier than ever and in good health; my back pain is stabilized. Thank you, kuya, for everything you did for me. For your kindness and fatherly love you showed to me. For working a difficult job but not letting it bring you down. Thank you for your encouragement. Mahal kita, kuya. At si Jesus gusto ka din. :)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Terrifying Class of Terror

      I think most of us have had those teachers/professors that just simply enjoy pushing the envelope. They have, what some call, a "power trip"; they enjoy lording their power over their helpless pupils, inciting fear and disdain amongst the class. And for what reason? Who knows. Maybe they thrive off fear. Maybe they're just mean people by nature and have no motives. Again, who knows; in the end it doesn't really matter, because any way you slice it, it's still an awful situation to be subject to that kind of authority.

     A year or two ago, I had one of those professors. At the beginning of the very first class, before even reading the syllabus, he promised that he would personally offend each and every one of us by the time the semester ended. As the semester progressed, his promise began to come true. Slowly but surely, he'd cuss some student out, disregard someone's idea as being "complete rubbish" and even insult people based on appearances. Every single class I would walk in basically paralyzed with fear; "Would this be the day he takes ME down?". Class after class, nothing happened. The fear grew... Even as I gripped the doorknob leading into that classroom the fear gripped my heart twice as strong. It was on one such day that my fated encounter with the professor occurred...

     I was late to class. He always ribbed on the kids that were late to class. He'd make a spectacle of them, make an example of them. Knowing that to be my fate, I looked through the window in the door into the classroom. Good; he was writing on the board; if I could just manage to get in quietly enough he wouldn't notice me... This was gonna take skill.

     I turned the knob expertly, avoiding the inevitable "creak" it produced if turned too quickly. Slowly, I pushed the heavy wooden door open, so as not to catch his peripheral vision. The whole time, he was focused on what he was writing on the board, while talking to the class. He didn't notice me! I'd done it! I had just silently shut the door and finished sneaking to my seat, I was just about to sit down, when, without turning from the board, I hear him.

Uh oh... Fear pierced my heart like a fiery arrow. My stomach churned. I knew I was gonna get it. My time was up. So long, pride. Time to brace for humiliation...
I pivoted around on my heel slowly to face the direction the voice had come from. "Y-yes, Doctor?" I managed to squeak out in my sheer terror of the situation. I was dying. The whole class was staring at me, mouths agape half from horror and half from the sadistic expectation of the scene about to unfold. I was beginning to wish I had played truant that day.

     "Thompson. Did you get a haircut?"
Oh no. Here it comes. He's gonna make fun of me now... The eyes of my classmates were as big as saucers, they were practically drooling over the whole thing (classmates are sadistic and will take all manner of pleasure from the misfortune of one of their own, you see). "Yes sir... Yes, I did." Surprisingly I managed to say that with a mite of confidence.

     Everyone was on the edge of their seats, waiting to see how horribly he would insult me, how he would destroy every last bit of self esteem that I had.

     Not once during this whole charade did the professor avert his eyes from his task at the blackboard. Not once did he turn his head to see me enter the room, it was impossible that he had been able to see me and realize that I had gotten my hair cut.

     A few moments of silence as he continued to write on the board. The tension in the air was so thick, and oh was he loving it. The power he had over me, over the whole class, as he simply stood up there writing on the board... He was loving every second of it. Sadist.

   "Thompson, you got a haircut?"
 " Y-y-yes... Doctor... Yes I did..."
"Looks good. Suits you well. Sit down and open up to Don Juan."
".....Yes, Doctor..."

     I slowly turned around and took my seat. I looked around at my classmates; not very surprisingly, they all had looks of intense disappointment on their faces. They had wanted a yelling match. A scene. They didn't want to see the Doctor compliment me and then continue about his business. Heck, even I didn't really want that. But that's what we got. I got out my book, turned to Don Juan, and sighed the biggest sigh of relief I possibly could. Life went on.

      I only had one close call with him after that. I was turning in a late paper. I had to go up to his desk, in front of the whole class, and turn it in. I was expecting him to yell at me for it, since he technically didn't accept late papers.
     I walked up to his desk. His nose was buried in a stack of lesson plans, he seemed really quite vexed and flustered. I thought it might be best if I return another time, perhaps after class, when all of a sudden I hear a sharp "What?" I looked down at his face, now fully out of the papers and glaring at me. I made sure to make eye contact and try to appear confident. "Hello, Doctor, I've got an assignment I'd like to turn in... I know it's late, but I emailed you about it and...." It was at this point that I noticed him staring at my face.
     Oh no. Here it comes... His eyes were locked with mine, his mouth agape with what I took to be disbelief at the audacity of my turning the paper in late. I stared back into his confused gaze. We looked into each others' eyes for a really uncomfortable amount of time, before I asked meekly "ummmm... Doctor, are you okay?" As if snapping out of a trance, he shut his previously agape mouth, kind of shook his head a little, and averted his eyes from mine. He sort of muttered "I'm sorry, it's just... your eyes..." Confused, I said "umm.. I'm sorry..." He looked back into my eyes, and almost fell back into that trance-like state, and said "your eyes... they're grey... intense... beautiful..." At this, my cheeks instantly reddened and I felt the need to get away from that desk. I could hear my classmates snickering behind me. I awkwardly apologized again and put the paper on his desk and returned to my seat. The Doctor still seemed a little out of it, distracted. He sat at his desk in silence for a while. My classmates gazed from him to me and back to him again. Nobody could figure out what had just transpired. I just sort of slumped down in my seat, hoping nobody would notice me for the rest of the class. Eventually the Doctor regained his composure and began class. I was worried that the girl sitting next to me could hear my heart beating out of its chest with terror. She asked me what he said to me. I just told her "he got freaked out by my eyes." She turned around and we all opened our books to Ozymandius.

     He never did humiliate me. Confuse me, yes; humiliate me, no. He broke his original promise, and I'm thankful for that. But every class, I lived in terror, waiting for the day that wouldn't come.