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The Struggle to be Still

In less than 24 hours, a tropical storm warning will be raised all over the country again, the alert level depending on where you are. I am in southern Metro Manila, hundreds of kilometers away from where Super Typhoon Maysak is expected to make landfall. BUT where I need to be in three days is exactly where that typhoon will make its second landfall in the Philippines. We had arranged a shoot in the Ifugao rice terraces and an interview for a book project that’s due later this month. The plans had been laid out weeks ago–and then this, a super typhoon. Once again, I am faced with things beyond my control. It’s a familiar feeling.

I had similar thoughts last month, when a viral infection kept me house-bound–bedridden half the time–when I had a gazillion things in my to-do list. There was that first out-of-town shoot for the same book, a whole-day workshop to conduct, final papers to submit in graduate school and several stories for editing. Just when the deadlines are looming, you find yourself practically dead. What do you do?

In bed, on March 4, I quickly jotted this down on my notebook:

I’ve been staring at the ceiling for 39 minutes now. I’m sure there are cracks and moisture patterns there but I can’t see them because I’m not wearing glasses. My eyesight is that bad. Which is why I’ve been staring at the ceiling in the first place.

My eyes have been getting teary for no apparent reason. It happens sporadically but yesterday and today were worse, so much so that I could not sit in front of my computer to work. My husband suggested I enjoy a “sound trip” and engage my other senses instead. I thought, why not. And so there I was, listening to Favorite Coffeehouse album on Spotify, my eyes glued to the ceiling. Thoughts run amuck in my head: “This is weird. How do you NOT use your eyes? I can’t possibly sleep the whole day. I can’t just stare at something, too. How did Adele feel when she was told by doctors not to use her voice, even to speak, for two months? That must’ve been tough. What if I couldn’t use my eyes for two months? That’s crazy–how would I function?  No, I can’t function. So if I can’t function, what can I do?”

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That same night, wide awake in bed, I wrote some more:

I’ve been sick for over a week now. When I say sick, I mean I had to go see a doctor, get blood tests, do an X-ray and spend a good amount on medicines that I’d rather have spent on a Kate Spade wallet. But that’s fine; I can take that. What got to me was the order — by my doctor and my mother — to rest, or to be precise, to STAY IN and rest. Just when I had an out-of-town shoot to direct, three training manuals to finish, a workshop to conduct, a major PR campaign for graduate school to concoct and a 3,000-word essay to write–I was ordered to REST. How, pray, tell, do you rest in the middle of this ocean of tasks?

My body can be easily convinced–it had no choice anyway as it’s too weak to even sit at my desk for an hour. But my mind–my mind was fighting rest with all its might, which is why I’m still awake now. In the end, it had to surrender. 

I prayed.

A stranger-friend on Facebook quoted this Bible verse to me: Psalm 46:10, which says, “Be still and know that I am God.” I’ve known that Scripture by heart since college but I realize it’s been a while since I was compelled to heed it. I sought God’s help; I needed to have this peace that comes from trusting Him. I needed to hand over the reins of my life with faith. I had to acknowledge this oft-forgotten truth that I’m no longer in control–that I never really was, no matter how convinced I am of my power to direct the course of my life.

I had to lay down my arms. 

Earlier today, I contacted my team to say that I had to skip the trip to Vigan, the first leg of the first book of our start-up custom publishing company. I gave pegs and instructions to strangers whose ability to carry them out were doubtful (according to me, but who am I to judge). I explained my condition to fellow trainers, who were all understanding of my need to opt out of the workshop facilitation (I would still provide training content, of course). I looked up writer-friends who could take over the other chapters of the book, and I found good, willing takers. All these I did in between cups of lemon-ginger-honey tea and shots of antibiotics. There were things I could not pass on but I’m optimistic they could be accomplished with whatever energy I could summon this week. 

And you know what? I feel good about this–about not having to do it all, about not having to be there, about not being responsible for everything. It felt good not just to trust God but to trust people. It was sobering to be reminded that I am not indispensable, and I can rest.

Lying in bed now, a thought occurred to me: God is teaching me business/life management by brining me back to the neglected truths of His Word:

  1. He is God, even if more often, we act like we are.
  2. He will never put us in a place that will harm us (even if occasionally, we might get hit by a viral infection).
  3. He will speak to us if we listen.
  4. We are nothing. We are not the source of anything, we are not the director of everything, we are not the beginning and the end–He is.
  5. Knowing all this is the only reason we can be still.

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This week, with my carefully laid plans and investments being threatened by a super typhoon, I had to go back to these notes that are scribbled on paper. I wish to write them in my heart. For strength and wisdom.

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