I've told myself that the next time I write a post, it will be lighthearted and fun, that it would evoke laughter and reflect my personality.
But, alas, there's a huge part of me that's deeply reflective and it affects the way I write. So, here it is, the entry I have thought about writing hundreds of times, rehearsing the lines in my head, wrestling with the right time to do it, the right way to do it...to share it with my readers as an objective event in my life without coming across...preachy. Because that isn't my intent at all. I just want to share with you something that made me look at everything in my life in a different light, an event in my family's life that my husband and I reflect about almost on a daily basis.
I grew up in a deeply religious home. The fear of God was placed in me as far back as I can remember. There were rules and regulations that were glaringly from the Bible, sound and true: Do not lie, do not cheat, honor your parents, believe in one God, etc., Then there were rules that were not so categorically Biblical and needed interpretation and explanation and pulling in of other scriptures that likewise needed some explanation in order to make the case of such rules viable: Do not own a television, do not wear jewelry of any kind (wedding rings permitted in some circles), Do not go to the movies, A woman must not cut her hair (not even to trim it) or put on make-up, She cannot wear pants, etc.,
Because I am a cynic by nature, those closest to me knew what I thought about such rules. Some made sense, others did not. I followed all, not because I was convinced God made every single one, but I was convinced that obedience and a humble spirit pleased God above all else. And there was and is that simple fact in my life that remains unshakeable today: I love God deeply and I want to please Him.
Out of all the beliefs that could be questioned, there was one I did not, and I believed it without waiver: We are the chosen ones, the redeemed ones. Our lives are a true definition of Christianity. Everyone else is lost.
And then my daughter, Alanna, became gravely ill and I never would have thought in a million years that not only her life would be on the line, but so would my view of Christianity and the definition of what it meant to be a child of God.
Those weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds, were the most horrific of my life. I had never felt so vulnerable, so desperate, so void of hope, and so full of agony. I had watched Alanna deteriorate so quickly that I was inevitably in a state of constant panic, expecting the worst at every turn. In her fifth day at the hospital, when both her lungs blew while connected to life support, I buckled down on my knees to the floor and yelled out her name and I was sure, so sure, that my little girl was gone.
She was transferred to Columbia Presbyterian that Friday, at noon time, amidst an expected snow storm, and we would stay at the precious, miraculous hospital for the next thirty days.
You cannot go through a difficult moment in your life without an army of support. My brother, the pastor, and my church family were of course there, praying, interceding, fasting. My oldest sister drove every week from New Jersey and seized the heavens for a miracle. My retired mother-in-law flew in from Florida the very next day, and stayed with my son, and cooked, and cleaned our house. She visited Alanna everyday, many times taking the subway. My sister from California emptied her savings and flew in within two days and used up all her sick, vacation, and personal days and was an integral part of my sanity those first two weeks. My closest friends provided time, money, and most importantly, strength. Alanna's godmother, a doctor, drove straight from the operating room of her hospital at Maryland, stayed by Nana's bedside for a couple of days, and drove straight back to the hospital, without a moment of sleep. One special brother from the church, Omari, who had no car, took the bus, took the boat, took the train from Staten Island more than once...to stand awkwardly, not knowing the right words to say. He was just there. A sister of a friend drove hours from Washington DC, in the snow. She had heard about Alanna's ordeal and she wanted to just give me a hug and a cup of coffee.
There were phone calls everyday and family and friends from all over the world prayed. The support was overwhelming.
But there was one support, one consistent, unexpected support that took the journey with us from the beginning to the very end.
My cousin, Charles.
Because of complex family function worthy of day time TV, unlike all my other cousins, I did not have a relationship with Charles. We did not grow up spending Summers or vacations or holidays together. In fact, Charles did not know about us until he was almost finished with high school, but of course, I had always known about him and his siblings. My cousins from the Philippines stayed in New York for a short while and it was in that equally short time that I was able to get acquainted with him.
Years later, married and with two kids, I would come across Charles at a neighborhood CVS near my home. We were elated to see each other and I introduced my husband to him for the first time. My husband would later on comment that Charles was perhaps the nicest of my family he had ever met. We would run into each other a few more times that eventually led to casual birthday party invites for the kids (although, I was the only one inviting at that time!) I was reacquainted with his wife (she was a girlfriend years back) and I would meet his two children at last in one of those accidental run-ins around Staten Island.
I wanted to stay connected to Charles because eventually, I wanted to save him. He was the only family who did not grow up like the rest of us. He was nice but he needed redemption.
And then, Alanna got sick...
I remember Charles coming straight from work in that ICU room, dressed in a suit. He was a director of a department in a hospital in Queens. He had had a long day and a long commute and he stayed with me until close to ten o'clock. My husband was home sick with H1N1, the same virus that ravaged Alanna's body.
Charles came back the next day, and then the next.
The day Alanna was placed on a ventilator, Charles and my best friend sent me home. They stayed by Alanna's side. The next day, we almost lost Alanna and she was transferred to Manhattan.
Charles took off work. He was there, a grave face, standing with his wife.
Alanna's journey of miracle took many sharp turns, uphill climbs, down falls, and large bumps on the road. My unsaved cousin called in sick, took vacation time, and personal days from work. And every Saturday, without fail, his whole family, his wife and kids, would spend the day with us at Presbyterian hospital. Because Charles is a natural comedian, he brought laughter. Because he was always so full of energy, he brought joy to the room. Because he was simply there...he brought great comfort.
And there were many moments when Charles spoke to me about prayer, and hope, and faith, and holding on, and trusting in God.
I remember being alone by the lobby of the ICU, looking out through the large windows, speaking to God. What was going on here? Where were the religious people? Where were the preachers and the pastors and the ministers who knew about our agony and our desperate moment? Was Manhattan too far of a trek for the righteous and the redeemed?
Except for a handful of people, those who had sacrificed their time and given of themselves, were people we considered lost! The woman who drove hours to give me a cup of coffee and a hug, my Catholic mother-in-law who came instantly, my sister who cut her hair and wore pants--they were not following the exact rules and regulations from the same, exact rule book---and now, here, Charles, the only unsaved relative, was showing the most consistent, deepest display of compassion and support!
God, what is going on here?
I will never forget God's answer: Charles is your neighbor.
I must admit that I stopped for a moment. Then I knew what God meant. He was talking about the Samaritan. The Samaritan who helped the half dying, beaten man in the Bible. The most righteous of men walked the other way, but the Samaritan tended that fallen man back to health.
I was the fallen man. Charles was the Samaritan. My cousin, my unsaved cousin, was saving me.
God taught me the true meaning of Christianity. It wasn't in the rules and in the regulations. It wasn't in the holy clothing and in the Sunday services. There were preachers and ministers I knew who were aware of our desperate moment. They were no further of a drive than Charles. And yet not once, not once, did they come.
I no longer follow the same rules and regulations. That event in my life had made me less religious but hopefully, more Christ-like.
My relationship with Charles today is quite different. He does more of the inviting than I do. We do not miss each other's events and we are at each other's homes for dinner whenever possible. I call him, I spend time with him, for no other reason than I love his company.
I know he has started going to church and I'm really happy about it but even if he had not, Charles to me would still be the greatest Christian I have ever met. I live my life now hoping that I could be the same.