My Dearly Beloved Friends and Family,
It's been another great year. After every birthday, I like writing a very pensive and reflective note to thank everyone in the past year for blessing me beyond measure [that's code for this blog is super long-winded]. I really take time to think about all that's happened in my life since April 12, 2015. I look at my Facebook timeline, reminisce with friends, highlight some significant life moments, and examine my personal growth. It's one of my favorite things to do every year (this year it's coming a little bit late, sorry I've been busy!) I'd love nothing more than to celebrate all that we've done together in the last 365 days. It's been a big year! I got engaged to the most fantastically beautiful human on the planet, I went places and saw things, gained new skills, and learned so much about who I am. Believe me, God has been good to me since turning 27.
Now that I've turned 28, let's shake it up a little bit. I'd hate to think that I'm getting too predictable in my old age. Instead of giving you the play by play of everything I've been up to since my last birthday, I want to tell you about a story that really resonates with me upon adding another year to my life. It's a story about a time in my life that I really hold dear. In so many ways, it's shaped who I am as a person. I love telling this story more than I love telling people the story of my potato tattoo-- and that says a lot. It's a great tattoo. You should ask me about it sometime if you already haven't (just kidding, I'm sure you already have).
When I was a young boy, I lived in Tampa, FL. I didn't live there long, just a few years. But there was one Christmas there that I remember and it was so significant to me. Growing up, we didn't have a lot of money. We were new to America, I barely knew English, and my Dad had just started being a pastor at a local Filipino church. I remember looking at our Christmas tree and seeing no presents under it. I don't know how I knew that there were supposed to be presents under the tree (after all, I was just a toddler). All I remember is that it made me really sad. I even remember having the audacity to go to my Dad about it tearfully asking, "Dad...why don't we have any presents?" If you've ever met my father, you'll know him to be a patient man. But also a man who keeps it real.
"Why do we celebrate Christmas?" he asked. I was star Sunday School student, even at the age of 4. What a softball of a question!
"Because it's Jesus' birthday!" I said confidently.
"Ah, so if it's Jesus' birthday...why should you get presents?" asked my dad, rhetorically.
Dear 4-year old Jack: meet your new friend, cognitive dissonance.
I didn't know what to say to that. I had walked right into that response. I had played right into his hands. All I could do was begin to cry and say, "But everyone else has presents!" I said as I wept.
Let me say this again, my Dad is a patient man. He could have called me out on my materialism or for missing the point of Christmas. But he didn't. He let me cry, validated my experience, and in Tagalog told me something to the effect of, "Christmas isn't about what you get. It's about what you give. Just like life."
Tampa was home to a very prominent military base. This Christmas, my Mom and Dad took the family to meet some of the military men and women (I believe it was on a ship, it's hard to fully remember). We sang them Christmas carols, gave them presents, and thanked them for their service. We told them that God loved them and so did we. We acknowledged the fact that while they couldn't be at home celebrating Christmas with their families, they could for that very moment feel like they were with people who loved them just as much. It was a terrific night.
On Christmas Eve night, we were coming home from church and I mopingly got out of the car expecting to see our tree still vacant underneath. I walked into the living room from the outside and peaked over to be surprised by the exact opposite. There were gifts everywhere. Big ones, small ones. So colorful, so festive. I saw a large box almost as big as my four year-old body. It was heavy. It had my name on it! I couldn't read at the time, but I knew what my name looked like.
As the clock was about to strike midnight, I was bursting with joy and excitement. What was in that box? WHEN COULD I OPEN IT?! The suspense was killing me. Finally, I was given the ok to go for it. I ran to the box, tore off the paper as quickly as I could, and opened it. Do you know what I got? Wait...you don't know what I got?
Yeah. Me neither.
I'm sure it was great. It was probably an awesome toy, or clothes, or something that I had been talking to my parents about all year. I'll bet it made me really happy at the time. But I don't remember what it was.
I'll tell you what I do remember. More accurately, what I'll never forget. I'll never forget those military men and women and how happy they were to see my family and me. I'll never forget how they clapped their hands as we played guitar and sang. I'll never forget the tears in some of their eyes as they received gifts from us. I'll never forget one of them coming up to me and saying, "You're wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt," a shirt that I supremely hated but my mom would make me wear it. "You must be a real tough guy!" he said. I felt so freaking cool in that moment. I couldn't even say thank you, I was so happy that it made me so incredibly shy. I just smiled, turned away, and hugged my mom's leg. There was a collective "Aww.." after that. That made me feel kinda cool too.
My Dad was right. Life (and Christmas) isn't about what you get, it's about what you give. It's how I've measured my life.
This past year, I gave a lot. To my job, my church, my future spouse, my former a cappella group, my friends/family, my music, my students, my therapist, and hopefully to the world. That's what I remember. That's what I look fondly on in this past year. And the beauty of it all is that the more I gave, the more I would receive right back to me. At least two fold, probably even more. Don't get me wrong, I'm not pedaling pure altruism. It felt good to give and maybe even felt better that receiving became a by-product of that (let's be real for a second). Was life still stressful this past year? Sure. Incredibly stressful. Sometimes even flat out unhealthy. But none of that is significant as I look back on my life. What's significant is what I gave to you all. I'm proud of that. I'm sustained by that. And the fact that you all have blessed me even more makes it all so amazing and worth it. I love you so much for what you have done for me and most importantly, what you mean to me. There isn't a blog post in the world that could express that with true justice. I don't remember the money I earned, the gifts I got, or the praise I earned. I just remember you.
Like I said, it was a great year. Hopefully my best. One where I can honestly present myself to you, 28 years young, and say, "I am the most ideal version of myself." And don't get me wrong, that's not me totally bragging about myself. It's me also (and to higher degree) bragging about you. I can't be fully me if I didn't have you (I'm pretty sure I stole that from a really bad pop song). I don't care, it's still true.
Thank you again for an amazing year. Annie and I have some exciting news about all that's to come in 2016-17. Be on the lookout for our next blog #shamelessplug. Most of all, I hope that you know that I'm only ever one phone call away. I long to connect with all of you. Just don't expect me to get a Snapchat account.
I love you,
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Annie & Jack
Love. Marriage. Teamwork. Art. Offsetting the patriarchal footprint. These are some of the things we're thinking about.