From Here to There…

Our life here in the northeastern part of British Columbia in Canada has just about come full circle. Summer is just around the corner and people are scrambling to get their toys out to play and take full advantage of the warm weather. When summer finally sets in, we would have experienced all four seasons of this beautiful country.

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Aerial View of Fort St. John

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Peace River at Sunset

We arrived here last summer and one year doesn’t seem that long. We haven’t settled down just yet, that’s for sure but, one year through our lives in this great country feels like just moments ago. Perhaps, we simply lost track of time trying to settle down. Or, maybe the divided seasons gives the passing of time the illusion of being too fast. Winter seems too long and summer seems too short. Spring and autumn seems to just pass by almost without notice.

People might ask, how does it feel to be so far away from home? This is not an easy question to answer mainly because this may not be the right question to ask considering my situation. Due to my experience at being away from home for so long, I have lost track of what a home feels like, much less what it looks like. At the few times that I have managed to “come home” to my hometown, it sadly made me realize that the place I once called “home” have ceased to be one for me. My hometown is never the same after a few years of being away. The house is gone; the friends are gone or have moved out, perhaps never to meet again. Even close relatives have become more like strangers than anything else. The familiar faces and places are now replaced with strangers and unfamiliar streets and edifices. The uncanny feeling of being a stranger in your own hometown inevitably sets in. The feeling of “home” is gone.

The number of years that one stays in one place is not always the defining factor that makes it a place to call home. This will be true only if one doesn’t move away. I’ve spent 25-plus years in my hometown, about half of my present age, and yet, I feel more “at home” in my most recent place before moving to Canada wherein I’ve stayed for only 6-plus years. That’s not even half the time I’ve stayed in my hometown. I believe that one of the defining factors for a place in becoming a home is the amount and the quality of the meaningful relationships that have been built and nurtured in that place. Once these relationships cease to exist, the definition of home for that place ultimately disappears.

So, how does it feel like trying to find a home? As I ponder upon this question, the answer seems as elusive as finding that proverbial needle in that proverbial haystack. Perhaps, I have been without a home for too long that I feel more at home with the idea than anything else. When I speak of home in this context, it means having a permanent place to really settle down and take root, if you may. And if building and nurturing meaningful relationships are the building blocks of home, then we are definitely still a long way off, especially out here in this place that we have just moved in.

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View From Our Balcony at Early Evening

This whole idea of “homelessness” was chosen out of necessity. I chose to accept the situation because it was a necessary step, at that time, to get on with my life. Choosing this path was the best way to move forward. It is a bothersome idea being too comfortable at being without a home. It disturbed me to think that my children might grow up not having a true identity of who they are. Of course, they knew that they are Filipinos, and that they are of the masculine gender, and that they are called by certain unique names and that they cannot escape that fact that they have a certain surname that they acquired from their father. But, the bigger scheme of things such as, in which society they will take root or what place do they hold in this society, is something that needed to be established. I remember my eldest son’s longing to go back to Abu Dhabi, not so much for the awesome malls and the scorching weather but rather because he has left a lot of his friends there. I know that my younger son felt the same way. Again, the element of the built, nurtured and meaningful relationships takes center stage here. Even if I had to read between the lines in the many ways they expressed those desires, it really pains me to think that they really miss their friends. Now that moving to a place where the opportunities to acquire new friends have narrowed down considerably, this has definitely affected their psyche and social life. I may never know the real effects on them as a person, whether for good or for bad.

Perhaps I need to mention also that these adjustments do not affect our children alone. My wife and I terribly miss the warm fellowship and the satisfying worship experience we had with our church family in Abu Dhabi. We miss the provocative conversations and the pleasurable experiences we shared with our friends. Unfortunately, the fellowship experience here is as unenthusiastic as eating a bowl of cold soup in a cold winter night. The fact that we are new in this place could be the reason for this experience. Hopefully, this will change as we start to settle down just a little bit and get to know the people. It will take considerable time and effort to find that “homey” place and feeling again. Although this may not be our last stop before heaven, our family is earnest in our effort to find a home somewhere out here on this vast and magnificent country.

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For the past seven years, I have lived a “semi-nomadic” life, moving from here to there depending on the kind of circumstance or opportunity that would present itself. Several times, I am tempted to envy those who have the privilege to really settle down in their “homes.” Living a “semi-nomadic” life is not always a bad thing. This kind of life has actually taught me to be open and always ready for change. It teaches one to be less emotionally attached to material things that will eventually be left behind, be given or thrown away.

The emotional attachment that comes from worthwhile personal relationships that were built over time is completely another matter of course. This type of attachment does take time to get detached from. Although, one can get used to this after going through it a few times, there is real danger that lies beneath the surface. One can get so used to it that it may seem alright to just build superficial relationships or even worse, cease to build at all? To avoid getting emotionally attached and thus risk getting hurt, one will finally end the desire to build true and meaningful relationships. This is definitely not the way to live. This is not the way God designed life to be. Life is about meaningful, refreshing and wonderful relationships if it is to be worth living at all. But it does begin with having the right relationship with God. Eventually, this will lead towards the right relationships with our neighbors.

The human heart or, shall I say, the human mind is a resilient organ. It can remember if prompted to or it can forget if deemed necessary.  But, I do find myself struggling many times to forget the fond memories and the pleasurable conversations among true friends. Good memories of good friends are hard to forget even with a resilient mind. Perhaps, it’s not even a good idea to try to forget those memories in the first place.

The “semi-nomadic” life does not allow much room for meaningful relationships to germinate, take root and eventually grow. Relationships take time to develop. It would require one to actually stay in one place for considerable amount of time in order for any relationship to have a chance to grow. I’m sure that it requires so much more, but without these prerequisites, it is doomed before it even begins.  And if meaningful relationships are the building blocks of home, then it goes without saying that to build a home we need to build meaningful relationships.

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One year on, I still have to find my place in the bigger scheme of life here in Canada. It is safe to say, too, that I am still very much trying to find my place in the bigger scheme of life itself. True friends are really hard to find and it is truer as one gets older. That’s a mild understatement. The job is good but the language barrier is something that still needs to be overcome. Not to mention overcoming the culture gap and the generation gap as well. It is not so much as the English language as the way it is spoken out here and how ideas are expressed compounded by the lingo of the Canadian culture that makes it a challenge to get across the language barrier. One year on, and I have yet to find a crack on that barrier. Anyway, I’ll continue chipping on that wall and perhaps, one of these days it will fall down like the walls of Jericho. Fortunately, my sons are having better success at this than me or my wife. This is a good sign. The youth are definitely resilient.  Adults are more flexible though, brought about by experience and maturity, although maturity is beginning to sound more like old age.

I am not in a rush but, admittedly, I expected too much for yet so little time. I guess the middle age crisis alarm signals are starting to sound off just a little bit. The sounds are ever so subtle but audible nonetheless.

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I would like to end this writing on a positive note or in hopeful note for that matter. It is springtime now here in Fort St. John. Spring always bring with it the opportunity for new life and hope. Every once in a while, there is a slight rain but overall the weather is great. Summer is just around the corner and the children are really excited about riding their new bicycles. There is nothing like the seemingly boundless energy and the enthusiasm of the youth to remind us that life is great. There is a certain kind of urgency in them that pushes them to really try to enjoy life and I wish that I could still see life through their eyes. Middle age crisis shall have its day, but not for now.

Life is hard, but God is good. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Life can only have real meaning if one has a real meaningful relationship with God. Only then will this translate to meaningful relations with our neighbors. Amidst all of life’s challenges, it would be wise to invest in building that relationship with our Creator God. As one wise person once said, the knowledge of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

In the meantime, there is life to be lived to the fullest. There is a home to be built. There are friends to be found, old friends to re-connect, and relationships to be built or re-built. Life goes on…from here to there.

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To Our Seventh-Day Adventist Church Family in Abu Dhabi

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The place of growth has always been where adversity resides. This is true for my spiritual growth as well as my personal growth. I have always been pleasantly surprised about your acceptance of me as me. I have been away from the “normal” church life for four long years, and yet, when I finally found the courage to come back, you have welcomed me with arms wide open. I felt as if I have never been away at all. This gives me a glimpse of the profound reality of God’s unchanging love.

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I faced tremendous challenge in my work there in Abu Dhabi. There were times when I wanted to just give up and walk away from it all. It was always too easy to give up. But then, there was the church family. I found sustaining strength, from the small group that I and my wife attended. I know you, the people who were there. I shall not mention any names but, I shall never forget you all. You were there at the lowest point in my life. And when I found victory or triumph in my spiritual as well as in my everyday life battles you were there to share it with. I know that you faced the same kind of battles that I did and
yet you always found time to encourage a downtrodden brother such as me. You never had to say anything. Just the fact that you accepted me just as I am was enough. The very thought that I knew that I belonged and was accepted was extremely comforting. This was all that I needed. And if you come to think of it, this is exactly what all of us need: to know that we are loved, no matter what or who we are. Jesus accepts us just as we are and He knows that it is what we need most. The small group has been God’s instrument in fulfilling this into reality.

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We had faced many a spiritual battle in our church life together. It made me realize that war is never over until Jesus comes. There is never a time that we can leave our guards down…never. We’ve lost some battles and won some. But, the most difficult ones are those that shattered the relationships among the brethren. Those are the battles that nobody wins or ever will. We must remember that the church is primarily relationship centred and relationship driven. The Word of God is explicit about this; love God above all, and love your neighbour as yourself. That is why if we have fractured our relationships among our brethren, then we have lost our mandate as a church.

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When my family and I left for “greener (or colder) pasture,” we felt like we were leaving behind our family, and rightly so, because, after all we are one big family of God. I was surprised at the thought that people came out of their way to give us a very pleasant farewell. I was even more surprised with the testimonies of some people that showed how much they appreciated the presence of our family. You may never know how much it meant to me. Especially considering that I always thought of myself as a “difficult person” to be friends with. Some of you never said anything much. You never had to. We understand that there are still no words that were invented to verbalize some of our deepest feelings. I find comfort in knowing that when we left, some of the broken relationships have started to find wholeness once again. It is never ever easy to mend broken relationships but it is never impossible. Healing comes only through God’s grace. With God, all things are possible.

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If I have to mention some regrets, it would be that I may have lost some good friends along the way. I am glad for those friends that I have hurt but found time to ask for forgiveness. Your forgiveness meant so much to me. For those that I forgot to ask forgiveness for, I humbly ask them now. I am sorry for those I may have hurt along the way for one reason or another. There is no reason or an excuse to hurt anybody. This is especially true among brethren.

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If there is anything that I am thankful for, it would be that I am truly grateful for spending a slice of my life with you all. I’ve grown much in spirit and in facing life as a whole because of my experience in the church life over there. I left a part of me right there. I may be someone who is never truly misses (or pretends to be), but I know that in the deep recesses of my heart a part of my life is missing because I left it there with you. Being away from each other is not something that we must fret about. This is not much of a tragic situation anymore. There is always the internet and, of course, FB. We may never meet again in person and may never smell each other’s bad breath ever again. But the greatest tragedy of this all is that if we do not see each other in heaven. We must continue to hold on to that blessed hope and hopefully find time to pray for each other’s well-being. My family and I are forever grateful for the prayers offered to God to accompany us in our new life in a strange land. My family and I love you. God will bless us all.

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