Birthdays are special in any country but particularly in the Philippines. One’s birthday is celebrated with a “BLOW-OUT” where the birthday celebrant gives a party for others! All effort and expense is given to make the birthday a happy one for one’s friends and family!
On February 24, 2007, our friends’ son, Bam Bam, celebrated his first birthday with the children in our Center. We had just finished the roof in our garden and it was a perfect afternoon for a party! All of our kids were given McDonald’s happy meals complete with balloons and ice cream.
The children sat wide eyed with wonder and amazement. Many of them had never seen such a party.
The little boy, in whose honor all the fun was, wandered around and babbled at all the children.
It was an unexpected treat and we were all blessed for our kids to have such a fun afternoon.
The pictures say it all!
Happy 1st Birthday, Bam Bam!
The fluorescent light hangs from make-shift wires in the ceiling and casts shadows on the coffin. The lone candle burns slowly, flickering as the air moves every once in a while. The crowd is very small but the noise of the children that seem oblivious and certainly unaffected by this scene, is never ending. There are a few tears and a some hold my hand longer than what is comfortable… there are many onlookers. As it was when he was alive, few loved him and few knew him. No one really cared for him. He was always the underdog and scapegoat, the last 15 years of his life spent behind bars.
I stand before the too-white-clean coffin and turn to look at the faces that are staring at me. They move in closer, all of them, even those from the side… they want me to say something and I don’t know what to say.
It was late aleady when he arrived at Gentle Hands feeling weak and dizzy. Pale and exhausted, I tucked him into the ICU. He seemed okay but truthfully, showed signs of heart failure. His heart was unsteady, pounding, then strangely quiet. I was honestly concerned but I knew he had had this condition for a very long time… the constant spitting and coughing… his lungs were full of water from untreated pneumonia. What medical help could we really get? I stayed a long time with him, visiting and talking about the past, about the future. Then before I shut the lights out, I called our little pastor to pray with him. He did and Francing really asked God to give him strength and to forgive him for all he had done and to help him be a better man. He had been released from his second term in prison just 3 weeks before. He was tired, weak, hungry, alone, and scared. He turned on his side and I propped him up with pillows. Sleep finally came. The next morning, we thought we’d do a check up at the heart center and within just a few hours, Francing breathed his last. We were all taken by surprise.
I square my shoulders and stare into the shadows where the people are standing. I speak slowly and carefully of the last few hours of Francing’s life and his prayers for forgiveness and reconciliation with his Heavenly Father. I talk about peace, hope, and change. About what we can learn, about grief, about choices…
Many of the men nod their heads and there are a few tears. It is only the first night of a week long wake… there will be more talking, more crying tomorrow. We sit around in huddles near the coffin until the candles have burned away and need to be changed. I hug the family members and take a last look at the face that looks so unfamiliar. The funeral parlor put too much make-up, too much cotton… Heavy sigh.
As I drive away, I think about Francing’s youngest child who is tucked safe in bed in my home. I made a promise to Francing many years ago to take care of that little one. Just 6, little Franz shrugged his shoulders when I told him his daddy was in heaven. “That’s okay,” he said, and bounded off to play.
There is so much detail to tell about this story, about this man and my journey along side him as he paid for crimes he committed, and crimes he did not. But I am so thankful that he is safe now, Jesus’ loving arms enveloping him. The pain and suffering and loneliness that stalked Francing are finally gone. For once, he will know what it is to be loved, to be safe… to be truly free
I would not profess to understand even a little of how God works or moves. Most of the time, I blindly move forward, trusting and believing. We have rescued so many babies, seen God do so many miracles, that usually, my faith carries me.
But as I write this, I am embarrassed and very aware that I am grossly human.
I have been angry at God for two weeks while John Rey has been in the hospital. He was having difficulty breathing, turning blue. No one thought he would live. We were all relieved, actually… his suffering would finally be over.
Today, he is not better, though the chronic pneumonia has subsided. The doctors poke and prod… like a circus act of some sort. They refuse to discharge him as though waiting for him to suddenly become “normal looking” because of the strong antibiotics. They don’t hear even though I am screaming, “This is it! This is all he is! He doesn’t get any better!” So every day, my bill at the hospital gets higher and higher. John Rey lays in the stupid plastic crib losing weight… but still fighting to live.
I have held so many who should have lived. I do not see the purpose of John Rey’s life. How long can he possibly live anyhow, with the severe brain damage he has? We all thought how lovely if he could just be with Jesus, where he could run and play. But he fights to live even though the doctors won’t feed him. He might choke, they say. And so the bills continue to mount and I feel frustrated with each new prescription… a needle here, a bag of IV fluids, tape for the IV… it just doesn’t end.
And I am somehow horrified with myself. How can I have come to this- where my decisions are not of life or death but of the cost of life or death.
Somewhere deep, very deep in my soul, I know that God’s ways are perfect. I know that as I sit weeping for my own stupidity and selfishness, that God understands and forgives me. He loves me… though I am imperfect and arrogant.
I see him, He whispers. I see him, too. He is in My hands… not yours.
So I helplessly let the tears fall and I ask you to pray for my caregivers here at Gentle Hands and to pray for little John Rey.