A friend of mine died just over a week ago. It's crazy, because as I work and I'm so in the moment with daily life, it just doesn't sink in. But now as I sit down to reflect his life, it finally hits me.
And I cry.
Thoughts of him make me smile. I can remember the first time that I met him. I taught Sunday School with my friend Ann, and she said to me that she was going to bring in a guest speaker. So here comes Johnathan - this little older, short, balding, fat Vietnamese man - who spoke about how he was rich and so into money, dating beautiful, tall, white girls and driving fancy cars, but he gave it all up because of an encounter that he had with this loving, alive God that gave him so much peace and joy. It was not hard to believe in this peace because every time you would see him, he would have this big shitty grin on his face. (Sorry for the PG-13 language, children.)
It amazed me how many people he blessed and how little credit he took for it all. He would volunteer at our confirmation retreats. At that time, we had so many broken teens from broken situations and families that just really needed to know the love of God. When it came time to work with these teens, he volunteered to be with the most wayward - the most difficult to get along with - and, without fail, these at-first obstinate teens would love him by the end of the retreat. No doubt that God worked through him to let those teens know how much God loved them. They would thank Jonathan for all his care, but Jonathan always gave the credit back to God.
And, it's through Johnathan's life, that the gospel comes alive for me today. In the Gospel, here was this guy (St. Joseph), who finds out in a dream, that the love of his life, that his bride-to-be, the one that he has been waiting all his life to be married to, finds out that she is pregnant. And the baby sure ain't his! God then asks him to take care of Mary and her child. Because Joseph is righteous, he doesn't call her out (which would have been the thing to do back in the day, when a woman was found to have sex outside of marriage - which you would assume in Mary's case since she is pregnant), but he takes her in still to be his bride and takes in the baby that belongs to another.
Joseph's life amazes me. His decision to love Mary (which I bet he made many, many more decisions to love her) amazes me. Just like Jonathan's life amazes me.
I remember, back when I was in my early days at medical school, I met a friend - a fellow med student - that seemed to have it all so together. He did well in school, was well-liked, balanced school with everyday life. I asked him, 'Toshi, how do you do it, man? I mean, how do you have it so all together?' And he said to me, 'Eddie, I didn't always have it all together.'
And that little brief exchange gave me so much hope. That these amazing people weren't always so great, but they were on their way to becoming great, through little small decisions and actions in life to become who they were. Maybe Joseph was the same way. We don't see the picture of him before that decision, but maybe Joseph wasn't always the "JOSEPH" we know in the bible. And maybe Jonathan was always the "JONATHAN" we knew. Just like Toshi wasn't always THE "TOSHI." (I can totally imagine me using finger quotes).
Maybe that's what Lent is about. To do things like give alms, pray, and fast, so as to let God show us things that allow us to know more deeply of this loving, alive God. To let Him know that He is working in us, that we are still works in progress to realize that we are great, just like our Maker. To learn lessons that allow us to be more fully alive and loving, just like our Creator. To maybe fall in love with God all over again so that we can be amazed by His life, just like the Joseph's, Jonathan's, and Toshi's in our lives.
Toshi died unexpectedly early, just like Jonathan, and when I attended Toshi's funeral, there was a quote displayed:
"I hope that my achievements in life shall be these -- that I will have fought for what was right and fair, that I will have risked for that which mattered, and that I will have given help to those who were in need that I will have left the earth a better place for what I've done and who I've been."
I used to read it as if I were the one saying this quote, to inspire me to do great things. But, maybe a new and interesting revelation is possible. What if God were to say that to us? That he had hope all the things in His life was to fight for what is right and fair? That He left the earth a better place for us? That all that He had done (and is doing) and that He was (and Is) is for us to live more freely, with more love, and more abundantly? How would that change us?
reflected by Eddie Ngo