January 25, 1967 was one of the milder days in the Philippines. It was also my fifth birthday. Fragmented memories of neighbors who came to celebrate over some food and ice cream still dance in my mind; but one vivid image always comes into focus: my father with a plate of equally-divided slices of red apples – a treat for the most-privileged!
Until just recently, growing apples in the Philippines has been considered impossible mainly due to the fact that the three seasons (hot, hotter, and hottest) could not provide the proper climate for one of the most-coveted fruits. Imported apples were rare treats even for families who could afford them. I remember being discovered by one of my older sisters for sneaking a whole apple to myself. She tied me to one of our banana trees for my thievery. I felt avenged when my parents scolded her fiercely for mistreating the baby girl in the family, but the “apple lesson at the banana tree” has kept me from taking anything without permission from that day forward.
In my young mind, my father’s serving apple slices on my fifth birthday could not be outperformed, but the second and the third celebrations the following two days became like apples of gold in pictures of silver (Prov.25:11). Three days after my birthday, the greatest father in the entire world died in a hospital bed where he had been confined a week prior (a fact I would find out years later). It’s still unclear if he was ever given permission to leave the hospital on three separate occasions to attend an extended birthday party.
As I got older, my siblings and relatives made sure I knew what has always been evidently clear: my father was referring to me whenever he said, “the apple of my eye.” Perhaps it was because I was conceived in my parents’ older years, or because I was a sickly child who spent more days with a personal nanny than with another child. Intrigued by the appellation, I studied what the Psalmist meant when he prayed, “Keep me as the apple of the eye. Hide me under the shadow of thy wings” (Ps.17:8). What a privilege, indeed, to be the object of our Heavenly Father’s love; yea, even to be the favored object of our Savior’s gracious and merciful gaze!
What a privilege, indeed, to be the object of our Heavenly Father’s love; yea, even to be the favored object of our Savior’s gracious and merciful gaze!
My father was my very first hero. Although he died when I was only five, I still see him taking the whole family to a concert at the park. Once in a while he would bring his own violin, and would join the orchestra right there and then. He was an accomplished musician – a gift from God, really. His parents were wise to grant their only boy’s wish for his fourth birthday – a violin he spotted in a store window. I believe he never stopped playing ever since.
My father remains to be my favorite model teacher. He inspired love for both learning and teaching. I can still hear him warning us against a heedless mind as we watch a poor moth’s demise for hovering too close to our study table’s gas lamp. My father could have chosen to pursue a more lucrative career in music, but he was first a teacher. Our trips to the province and the seaside were not merely for our weak respiratory systems but also for much learning about nature, people, and all the poems that can be written from watching God’s creation do His bidding.
Saturday afternoons in our home were as predictable as my father’s obsession with cleanliness and orderliness. He would line us up from oldest to youngest for final inspection before the Lord’s Day the following morning. Hair and nails that needed trimming were met with intention and precision. Dirty ears did not go unnoticed. Our Sunday clothes and shoes were all laid out to avoid delays the next day, reminding us that Sundays may never be taken lightly. I loved the routine and the seriousness of the moment, and I still think back on those days with fondness.
I am convinced that each one of his children was the apple of my father’s eye. I believe my father’s jealous gaze over my siblings and me served its intended purpose during his forty-seven short years on earth. I learned early on that, “The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous” (Ps.34:15); and I have held on to the promise that, “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye” (Zech.2:8). To this day, I slice up an apple slowly and thoughtfully. Seemingly ceremonial and irrational, the act has become a memorial to my earthly father’s extravagant love for his family and to Jesus Christ’s perfect love to a fallen humanity. Though my mind now wanders back to the Garden of Eden and its forbidden fruit, the images quickly take me to the Cross where a better Adam offered full atonement for my sin. Here I am brought into the presence of the Great I Am, the One who has kept me as the apple of His eye. I remain in childlike wonder: “How can it be?”
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Bro. Jake Taube’s analogy of help stations for marathon runners to those “stations” God has provided along life’s race steered my thoughts back to an adventure in which my husband and I took part on August 19, 2000. Donned in layers of light clothing and a pair of hiking boots, I excitedly joined our church group as we started our trip to Mt. Fuji in the Shizuoka prefecture, about an hour-and-a-half drive from Yokota Air Base, Japan. As our car pulled out of sight, I could still hear my teenage son pleading with tears: “Mom, please don’t do this. You won’t make it! It is not a hike at the park. It’s so hard! Please, Dad, don’t let Mom go!” He was speaking from experience. He, along with a few of our young people from church, climbed the massive height the previous summer. Determined and defiant, my sense of conquest for the sake of teaching from first-hand account left my poor boy defeated.
Our group’s trek started from one of the four ascending trails near the 5th station, approximately 7,545 feet above sea level. My personal cargo included a CamelBak, a small canister of portable oxygen, a few Tylenol, and an assortment of protein snacks. I was ready to conquer Fuji-san – a monstrous wonder that the Japanese people have held sacred through generations! My passion for learning would soon be tested, but not on a piece of paper.
Similar to the beginning of my Christian walk, the climb to the 6th station was a journey filled with abundant conversations and fellowship. Topics varied yet fluid, meaningful, and full of praise to God whose foundation is in the holy mountains (Ps.87:1). I was with brothers and sisters in Christ, heading toward the same summit – the 10th station. In the meantime, I had talked my husband into buying me a walking stick that would boast etched markings from each station in this supreme climb. Proud of my accomplishment thus far, I continued to trudge higher.
Then the test changed categories.
As the climb progressed, the familiar faces grew smaller and thinner. The general pace seemed to have increased while the atmosphere thickened. Our church group started to scatter according to individual strides. I was ready for my umpteenth break, and my husband and I hadn’t even seen the 7th station. I wanted to cry, but my pride held back the tears when I realized that a number of elderly Japanese men and women were passing us by on their way up. Added to the wound was the sight of very young children climbing ever so gracefully – like a walk in the park that my son mentioned earlier. Yet there I was, struggling to keep up. I wanted to quit!
Resolved not to make a quitter out of me and lose my credibility among my students for violating my own counsel, my husband found another rare flat-surfaced rock where I could sit and rest. He started to point out an obvious descending trail that any climber could follow if he chooses to turn around and go back. To my great surprise, it was not teeming with more quitters as I had expected. Then looking up, he drew my attention to our goal – the tip of Mount Fuji’s height, which, from the 7th station, was still quite a blur. With a pep talk that only a military leader could effect on my now-exhausted frame, my husband managed to walk me (most of the time carry me) all the way to the summit. Our friends had been waiting up there for the past four hours. By now they had already had their fill of soba soup or ramen of their choice, plus a good amount of rest for the pending descent.
Atop this mountain peak at 12,395 feet, a parade of clouds patted my head and caressed my face. With hardly any effort at all, I offered my hands to catch the wispy clouds while I mused on the truth of Hebrews 12:1 – “Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses…” All the climbers that day were witnesses: some to completion, others to resignation; but all of us to the undeniable fact that there is indeed a Creator, a Grand Designer and Sustainer of the entire universe. Here, the grueling eight-hour climb became the answer, not the test. The stations along the trail offered relief to those who would stop and avail themselves of help. To me, it was a reminder of my frailty and a test in humility. The mountain, the climb, the stations, the witnesses: all punctuated the laying aside of every weight and sin and the running with patience the race that is set before us. “To what end?” I mused. Ah, to see the face of my Savior, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith”! (Heb.12:2a). In His presence, even Fuji-san bows down.
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