June 22, 2004

Out of step with God

During one graduation ceremony, one mother remarked while watching the processional of graduates marching with the cadets of the school's military training program, "those cadets are incompetent, they can't even march in step with my son." Of course, the mother could have been correct--that the cadets (all of them) were so incompetent that they could not even march in step with her son; but then, the mother could be also have been way, way off the mark--that it was her son who could not keep in step with the cadets.

Its often that way in our walk with God.

We are often out of step with God but we often fail to see this even as we insist that God has left us, deserted us, failed to keep in step with us. When we have our own plans, our own dreams, our own aspirations, our own hopes and our own missions, its difficult to walk in step with someone whom we know has the power and the authority to simply change all of these. We refuse to be in step with our God because, at the back of our mind and deep in our heart, we know that walking in step with God may cause these plans, aspirations, hopes and dreams to change--and we are often unprepared or unwilling to accept this.

Worst, we sometimes deliberately refuse to keep in step with God during our happiest moments. At the times of our greatest triumphs, God becomes an afterthought--a punctuation mark at the end of a primal scream of victory over adversity, rather than a chant of praise. When we are at our highest peak, we rush ahead of God--forgetting all that He has planned for us, forgetting His words, forgetting His works, forgetting Him who has allowed us to scale the peak and claim our victories.

So, we would rather say that God fails to keep in step with us; that He has deserted us whenever we are at our lowest; that He fails to answer our prayers when frustration overtakes us; that He is absent or sleeping when nothing in our life seems to work. And at the times of our greatest triumphs, we would rather go ahead of God, because everything in our life seems to fall in place at that moment and God becomes a millstone around our necks that weighs us down in our pursuit of our hopes, dreams, and aspirations. And then we fall. . . and then we go back to God failing to keep step with us, deserting us, leaving us and being absent in our lives.

Yet, the truth remains true that at no point is God closer to us, more intimate to us, more real to us, more one with us than when we are at the extremes of our lives--the lowest valleys and the highest peaks.

When fear, frustration, depression and despair walk us to the edge of hopelessness, there we find that God has been with us all this time; that He has even gone before us; that He is already there waiting to rein us in, hold us back from taking that irrevocable step towards hopelessness and keep us with Him in His love.

When giddiness, excitement, passion overwhelm our capacity to comprehend and submit to God's plan for us, we discover that God is with us all this time; that He continues to keep in step with us with gentle--and sometimes not so gentle--reminders to keep us in check and to keep us real. All because of His great love for us.

The paths to God's heart lie not in the straight roads but in the many crooked paths that lead ultimately to Him. And it is because of these many crooked paths that we are often petrified, hesitant, unwilling and even resistant to keep in step with Him. Yet, ultimately, fear and doubt must wither and fade in our hearts in the face of His constant reminder and exhortation, "It is I, do not fear. Come." His great love for us has been tested and shown to be true and is constantly being tested and being shown to be true in our every day lives. The faithfulness of our God is beyond question and His love beyond measure. Why then do we still hesitate, refuse, or simply not keep in step with our God in our walk to Heaven?

June 06, 2004

Overheating cars and a mechanic named Angel

Yesterday, my car overheated (is there such a word?) twice in a span of two hours. Considering its a 2001 model and its pretty well-maintained (meaning, all the regular check-ups and maintenance procedures recommended are followed), it came as a surprise to me. What made the situation particularly stressful, however, was that the first time it happened, I was on my way to Makati and I was on EDSA and the traffic was horrible; I felt so hopeless seeing the temperature gauge rise slowly to "H" and even go beyond it. All the while I was praying (and asking other brothers and sisters to intercede) that I would get to a gas station so I could put some water into the radiator.

When I finally got to a gas station somewhere in Wilson Street, it took almost forty minutes of continuous hosing down to cool the radiator down but there were no leaks (which was the first thing I checked). After finally ensuring that everything was ok, I proceeded to Makati with the temperature gauge acting "normally."

On the way back to QC from Makati, while along White plains road, I noticed that the temperature gauge was slowly again reaching H; I was praying hard that I would reach the nearest gas station which was in Santolan corner Boni Serrano before the car totally quit on us. Reaching the caltex gas station at Santolan, I thought it would be the same thing as at Wilson, just put water and go.

But when the gas attendant opened the hood, I noticed one thing that wasn't there the first time--at Wilson--the hose was leaking and steam was spewing from a hole in the side of the hose. I knew that the car was not going to make it to the FFM venue on time because the hose had to be replaced and since it was close to 6:30, some of the hardware stores nearby might be closed. Also because my car is a Honda, parts are difficult to get from just anywhere.

Two men approached us while the Caltex attendant was hosing down the radiator; the younger man told me that there was an auto supply shop along 15th street and that he could accompany me there on a trike. I didn't know what to think considering that I didn't know this man from Adam. Something in me, however, kept nagging me to trust them although I had no reason to, really since I didn't know them. Despite my best instincts, I did.

I took out P500 from my wallet (because I didn't know how much it would cost, though he told me it was about P250) and gave it to the younger man; I even remember asking him, "can I trust you? (on hindsight, that was such a stupid question; its like the 3 little pigs asking the big bad wolf, "do you want to eat us?") and his answer was, "yes, I'm from around here" (hindsight again, that was also such a noncomittal response--what can I say, I was listening to the inner voice that was telling me, "trust them."). So, off he went and I waited at the gas station with the older man.

With nothing better to do (and since I was resigned to being late for the FFM anyway), I prayed about my situation and was reading scripture in the car when the older man approached me and asked what I was doing; I told him, "nagbabasa po ng biblia." To which he replied, "maganda po yan" and typical of older persons, he started to launch into an insight-filled discussion (more a monologue) about a host of topics--the elections, religion, the INC, and my car and its problems (he had a really great analysis of why the car overheated; something I had not heard before--ever); I listened intently simply because I didn't have anything better to do. At the back of my mind, however, I was worrying about the other man--the one to whom I gave P500 to ("where is he?" "did he go directly to the sari sari store to buy his favorite poison?" bad of me, I know, but still the skeptic in me too over).

Finally, after about 15 minutes, the other man turned up in a trike. He had a brand new radiator hose which looked very similar to my busted hose; he told me that since my car is a Honda, parts are quite difficult to get but that the one he had would do. He then gave me the change and a receipt (it cost P200) and then whispered that he didn't have change for a trike, so he walked there and just got a trike back but that he didn't have money to pay the trike; of course, I forked over the P20 the trike driver asked.

The older man then took the hose and in less than 5 mins had it installed in my car--all the while explaining to me what he was doing, like a surgeon teaching an apprentice. The younger man was handing over tools to him, very much like an apprenctice. Very soon, my car was running and the temperature gauge was acting normally. I glanced at my watch and saw that it was just about 700 and that I could still make it in time.

Still I had unfinished business-- I took out some money from my wallet and handed it over to the older man; he looked at me strangely and, for a while, I thought that the amount was too small (P200). Then he told me, "hindi na po kailangan yan." I insisted, even as he repeated that it was not necessary. But I was determined to give it to them; finally, he accepted it with one last piece of advise: "pacheck mo yung thermostat mo; patanggal mo na lang yan, dahil wala naman tayong winter dito. Yan ang dahilan kung bakit nag-overheat ang kotse mo dahil hindi makaikot ang tubig sa radiator, nakukulong kung kaya't umiinit."

Not really paying any attention to his novel theory on overheating, I thanked him and was about to speed off when I thought of asking him what his name was. His reply was, "Angel po (pronounced the filipino way--"Anghel")."

I didn't know what to say to that.

Speeding off to the University Hotel for the Mass and prayer meeting, I was so profoundly shaken by God's goodness to me that I was playing "Shout to the Lord" at full blast and just praising the Lord. Not only did He rescue me from two desperate situations where my human powers were insufficient, He overcame my skeptical and human nature, and provided me with a concrete manifestation of His power, compassion and love--in the form of an old mechanic named Anghel. He showed me that, indeed, He is in control and that He will do everything for us--all we really need to do is just put our trust and hope in Him.

One day, I hope to catch Mang Anghel at that Caltex station at the corner of Santolan and Boni Serrano and perhaps indulge him in his novel theories about thermostat gauges, Honda cars, the lack of a winter in the Philippines or just simply thank Him for being God's angel to me in my time of need. In the meantime, as for me, I will praise the Lord.