Happiness is a little boy sleeping in the garden

I don’t exactly know why, but it’s easier to write about pain. When the depression hits, it’s when writing helps the most, and it’s when I reach for the pen or the keyboard. Sometimes it gets posted; most times it remains private. But it does get written.

Joy is more elusive, both in life and in writing. There are precious few words that can capture laughter, or the feeling you get when the wind is blowing in your hair and you feel like you can fly.

But today, I had a good day. There isn’t anything world-changing about that, and in the light of the recent disasters in the news, it actually sounds frivolous and self-indulgent. But sometimes when tragedy dominates the horizon, redemption can be found in the little moments. And I had one of those moments today.

For the past week, I’ve been home with my family in the town where I grew up. I left Dumaguete for the summer, both to lick my wounds from a recent episode of depression and to gather strength and figure out my next step. It’s not something I usually do, wanting to prove that I can make it on my own. But this time, I knew I was right to come.

My mother loves to garden, and this summer the yard is in a riot of colors. So this afternoon, I took my 3-year-old cousin out to play in the sunshine. There was an unbelievable number of butterflies, and we walked around peering under leaves to look for caterpillars and cocoons. It was windy, and the breeze made a cotillion out of the bobbing pink and yellow flowers, with the flitting butterflies as their graceful partners. A fat orange kitten ran around excitedly chasing them.

And I was content. I refused to think about how fleeting the moment was, and how nothing in my future was figured out, and tried to go back to my childhood when a lifetime’s worth of daydreams could fit in a single afternoon. For now, all that mattered was the curious, happy, deeply beloved boy playing in the sun, the vivid loveliness of the day, and nothing else. We set up a folding bed in the shade, and with his precious, little-boy weight pressing against me, I allowed the hypnotic movement of the butterflies and the cheerful chatter of the birds in the siresas tree to lull us both to sleep.

When I woke up, the sight of the sleeping child beside me, smelling of sunshine and chocolate, felt like something indescribably profound…and healing. I thought, I want to remember this. So I tiptoed inside to get the digital camera, and took a few photos. Sometimes happiness comes with fireworks and fanfare, but at other times it’s as quiet as an afternoon nap in the garden with someone you love. Either way, it deserves to be celebrated.


Home for Christmas

Christmas, to me, means coming home. My life has lead me away from the place where I truly belong, but every Christmas, I find my way back. I’m welcomed by warm smiles and eager arms, by hearts that have loved me from afar and will now love me as I nestle close enough to hear the beats. I will bask in that love and let it erase the months of distance, the months of missing, the months of longing, and simply rest. There’s no way I’m staying away.

On a deeper level, Christmas means I can always come home from wherever I’ve been spiritually. My mistakes may lead me away from the place where my soul truly belongs, but because a Child was born that first Christmas, there is always a way back. I will never be turned away, I will be welcomed by a Father’s joy and a Father’s arms, by a Father whose heart never gave up on me. The past would cease to matter the moment I walk through that open door, and after all the regrets, after all the guilt, after all the tears, I can simply rest. I don’t have to stay away.

I’ll be home this Christmas, and because of Christmas, not only in my dreams.

Day 4 — Your Siblings

To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time.

~Clara Ortega

Dearest Ditse,

Hey. How are you downstairs, just a few meters away from me? 🙂

Do you know how much I love being this close to you? Back home we always ended up in different schools and with different crowds. Different, that’s kind of the word for us, isn’t it? Even as children it was obvious. You’d be with other little girls, acting out pretend beauty pageants or playing with our mom’s make up and heels, while I’d be outdoors, looking for wildflowers by myself or catching tadpoles with the boy next door. When it came to gifts, you’d always receive dolls or a kitchen play set, while I’d be delightedly opening the covers of a brand-new book. Our interests were so dissimilar it meant that we rarely competed, but also that we seldom found ourselves moving in the same circles.

Now, sharing an apartment with you in a different city, I  get to enjoy being with you as much as I want. As I do, I find that the ways in which you are different from me are some of the things I love most about you. You are so brave, so fearless when it comes to letting people into your soul. You wear your heart on your sleeve, and I am always afraid that you’re going to get hurt. While I tread cautiously, you jump right in, throwing yourself fully and gloriously into trusting someone. That is your gift, and perhaps the one thing  you have that I truly envy.

Keep that sweetness alive inside you. It is the loveliest of so many beautiful things that make you who you are. You are, truly, ma belle Evangeline.

I will always, always be here for you.

Loving you so much,


P.S. Thanks for always being there for me during “the crazy times.” I love you!

Dearest Joshua,

You, little brother, are one reason I love surprises. When you unexpectedly came into our lives, it was like God smiled at us from heaven and said, “Here. Have a huge helping of joy. It’s on me.” And just like that, our lives suddenly changed. With your impish sense of humor, your insatiable curiosity, and your clumsy tenderness, you completed our family and bound us even closer to each other. Watching you grow up has been an incredible joy.

But it is also more than a little bittersweet. You’re about to become a teenager, and pretty soon you won’t fit on my lap, and you’d be too cool to hold hands with your sisters in public. Even now, you’re starting  to tower over us when we walk together. I want to roll back the years just a little, make your childhood last longer, so that we could stay in the times when you were so small I could put you to sleep on  my shoulder, or just old enough  to know how to turn on the charm for “just one more story” before bedtime. When nothing worse than a flat tire on your bike can go wrong and a hug is enough to make everything better. But I can’t, bunso, and that knowledge gives me a little pang in the heart even as I smile when I see how big you’ve grown.

Yet, I smile for a reason, because the person you are becoming is someone I’d love to get to know. You are kind to others, even those weaker than you. You’ve never bullied anyone, and have tried to protect those that other kids were bossing around. There is no prejudice in you; you can get along with your rich classmates as well as your playmates at the outreach. You make the whole family laugh, and are quick to give us a hug when we’re upset over something. In my darkest moments, you have literally saved my life by giving me a reason to hold on.  You’re a wonderful person, Josh, and it makes my heart burst with pride to have you as my brother. Never doubt how deeply I am proud of you.

I wish I could be with you now, to help you find your bearings in high school, watch you deal with a crush, or just see if I can still get you to climb a tree in the rain with me. But your Ate, too, has her own growing up to do. Just know that wherever I am, my prayers are with you. And oh, I left a million kisses on your cheek while you slept. That’s for whenever you miss me.

I love so, so much, for always.

Missing you,



Day 3 — Your Parents

You are God’s way of saying I love you to me.

Dearest Mama and Papa,

Of all the questions a child has to face while growing up, there is one for which I have always known the answer: Am I loved? I get confused about a lot of things that I once thought I knew for sure — but this is one solid truth that can never be taken away from me. You love me. There has never been a time in my life when you didn’t, and there will never be a time when you won’t. I have a long, long way to go to where I want to be, but you have given me the assurance that my worth doesn’t depend on whatever happens on the journey. I am me, and I am loved. That knowledge is a constant spark of hope on the path when everything else is dark.

I remember early mornings when I’d wake up to the smell of coffee and the murmur of your voices in the kitchen, quietly laughing about something, or sharing your worries and finding comfort in facing them side by side.  Even now, whenever I wake up after a night of tears, I take myself back to the warmth of those early hours, when your love for each other was a solid place I could rest my heart on, a place where everything, eventually, will be all right. You have shown me that love is possible — that two very different people can reach out between the spaces that separate them and find a place of togetherness. Having known that, I know I can never settle for anything less than what the two of you have — a strong, steady love that transforms individuals into a family.

Papa, you have taught me about strength and wisdom and laughter. Mama, you are a living example of tenderness and compassion and warmth.  I owe everything that is good and right about me to both of you, and all the wrong and dark things will be changed with the help of your love, in God’s perfect time.

These three words are deeply inadequate, but I mean them with all my heart:

I love you.

Your First-born,



Happy Father’s Day

He’s the first man to tell me he loves me and the one who means it the most.  He always thinks I’m beautiful and doesn’t care about weight or pimples or bad hair days. He makes me laugh and makes me brave and makes me strong. He’s never broken a promise or failed to be there when I needed him. Others have broken my heart, but he never has and never will. He’s the man every guy I meet will be measured up against because by loving me, he has taught me that I deserve the love of a good and honorable man. He is my father, my friend, and my hero — and the name he has given me, Abigail, means that I am his joy.  Because of him, I can believe in God as a kind, forgiving, and generous Father who delights in me. He isn’t perfect or larger than life, but he is the best I can imagine and more than I deserve. And I love him. I am his daughter, and I couldn’t ask for anyone better.

Happy Father’s Day, Papa. I love you!


A typical conversation in our apartment

My sister and I, talking about a surprise a friend was planning:

ME: I know what you know.

HER: What do I know?

ME: You know…
That I know you know.
Now I know it, too.

HER: What? Can you please just tell me?

ME: No wants. Isn’t this fun?

HER: Noooo. It’s really not.

ME: Yes! It is!
I know what you know and now you know that I know what you know.
And don’t I know it.

HER: Oooookay. I’m outta here.

See what I have to deal with? Total lack of respect. I was just trying to share. 😦


On Adoption – A Reply to NikkiAngeli

There’s this new article in peyups which talks about adoption and the stigma that adopted children often face in society. The writer, NikkiAngeli, raised these questions: “Ano ba ang meron sa dugo? Kung sinipsip ng bampira ang lahat ng dugo mo sa katawan, hindi mo na ba tatawaging ina ang iyong ina, ama ang iyong ama at kapatid ang iyong kapatid?

I, for one, found my answer right at home. My little brother Joshua is adopted, and he knows it, but he also knows that it doesn’t take away from how special, how loved he is. If anything, it actually makes him feel more important because we tell him often that with biological children, parental love is expected, some would even say required. But with him, it was a deliberate, conscious commitment. He was specially chosen to belong to us, just as we belong to him. There is absolutely no doubt in his mind about his place in our family. Genes are not – and will never be – an issue.Being an “ate” to Joshua is an everyday rollercoaster experience. He asks the toughest questions (“Ate, how can you tell a male tahong from a female tahong?”), interrupts my reading to convince me to play “teks” with him, and demands explanations for everything (baths, for example. He’s convinced he could get by with one every other day). But just when I’m close to complete exasperation, he smiles and makes me laugh by telling me how pretty my eyebrows are (coming from a nine-year-old boy, I took that as a compliment). In return for all these, I get to boss him around and hug him as much as I want, plus I have someone to help me drive our sister crazy, and someone to remove spiders from the bathroom so that I can take a bath. In other words, he is my brother, our “bunso”, in every way except in one that doesn’t really matter.

The time will come when we can no longer protect Josh from being hurt, or from the reality that people can sometimes be insensitive or narrow-minded. All we can do is to try to build in him a sense of belonging that can never be shaken, no matter what happens, no matter what people say. We want him to have the freedom to soar and the courage to explore his horizons, as long as he knows that he will always have a place to call home. Roots and wings. We want to give him roots and wings.

People often remark on how fortunate Joshua is to belong to our family, but I think that we have received the greater blessing. When I watch him sleep, I often wonder if he can ever really comprehend just how precious he is, just how much we love him. I wonder what our family would be like if he had never come to us, if he had never brought the joy and the adventure that only he can bring. We would have missed so much. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel honored and thankful for the special gift of being able to share in his life. Joshua is, and will always be, God’s way of saying I love you to us.