December 7. Pearl Harbor Day.

 

 

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On this day, 77 years ago, the day that would live infamy, bombs stormed over Pearl Harbor.

Several hours later, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

My Father was a Philippine Scout being trained under the command of the United States Army at Fort Stotsenberg the day that Japanese fighters appeared in the sky, firing over troops that had only few hours earlier received word about the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“The bombing and raiding of Fort Stotsenburg and Clark Field within hours of the raid on Pearl Harbor went virtually unnoticed by the average person in the United States. The attack occured at little after noon, while all our planes—the bombers and P-40s—were lined up in a row on Clark Field.  Finally after what seemed like hours of bombing and strafing, everything became quiet, except for the cries and screams of the wounded lying intermingled with the dead all over the field.  The history books associate Pearl Harbor withe “the day of infamy,” but for those of us in the Philippines it was our day of infamy also.”              Lester I. Tenney, My Hitch in Hell, pg 21

I visited Pearl Harbor last month, gaining a greater appreciation why, growing up, my father would announce on this day, “Today is December 7. Pearl Harbor Day.”

Scratching the surface these past months of my father’s written records of the military service he never verbalized, I understand now why he was quiet.  Why he was silent. What visages must have remained in his dreams and memories that haunted him.

How much in meant, in December 1946, one year after World War II was over, that my father was granted citizenship to the United States of America for his service during the war and for surviving and escaping the brutalities of the Bataan Death March.

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It is because of his sacrifice that his name lives on, BERMUDEZ, here in the United States of America, even through three grandnephews who carry on his service today as officers in the United States Army and the United States Air Force.  To you, Julian Bermudez, Michael Ishida, and Chris Ishida, I commend you for carrying the service that my father began.  He would be so proud to see you commissioned as officers in the United States Armed Forces.

It is because of his sacrifice that our family and extended family live here today, educated in major universities, bearing the college degree that he never received but always dreamed of for ourselves and our children.

Yesterday his youngest grandson stood along the train tracks in College Station, Texas, to witness the train of the 41st President of the United States, George H. W. Bush, roll past, carrying his casket on its way to his final resting place at the George Bush Library on the campus of Texas A&M.

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President Bush’s service as a naval pilot in the Pacific, and my father’s service as an artillery man on the front lines of Bataan made them both part of the Greatest generation.

Next week my father’s youngest grandson will graduate from Texas A&M University, awaiting admittance into medical school. 

After his graduation ceremony our family will pay tribute on the library grounds to the 41st President of the United States.

But my son’s graduation from college will be a tribute to the sacrifice and dreams of his grandfather.

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SGT Jesus C. Bermudez received the Gold Congressional Medal of Honor for his service during World War II on April 15, 2018

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Missing Autumn

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returned to the Northwest this season, observing fall for the first time in thirty years.

I watched the trees behind my cottage transform from greens to yellow to gold.

The morning sun hits the bank just so, highlighting shades of crimson and sienna and umber against the verdant backdrop along the ridge.

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I walk the beach where gold and yellow tumble with stones and sand.

I climb the hill lined with limbs still holding on to gilded gifts.

One releases, and flutters side to side, descending lightly to the ground to rest.

 

It is right I am here this autumn,

this season of transforming, maturing

grasping, holding on to gifts–

my children, all grown, branching into careers, marriages.

the youngest two in college, one soon to graduate.

my mother, just out of hospice, quieter now

still sees me, translucent, and smiles.

We spend time browsing through sheaves of photographs

Some in her season, her prime.

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I see myself reflected in her smile

those years when she was young

surrounded by friends

and family

when she was a young mother

holding on to us

then letting go

her season follows traveling with Dad

places they dreamed of Rome, Israel,

now alone, in her autumn.

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autumn

uphill journey rises

crests at forest’s peak, descends 

as crimson leaves fall

 

autumn: n.

a time of full maturity, especially the late stages of full maturity or, sometimes, the early stages of decline

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In this autumn 

I will watch leaves drift unto the path

gathering with others that have done the same.

I will hold in wonder their change

the beauty of ripening, then release.

I will stand still 

to catch my breath, not listening to former urges

to press forward.

 

Instead I will gather leaves

that descend upon my way

Press them into my book

to remember.

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Messy Edges….Lola’s story in print available today!

 

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Lola, as my mom is lovingly known (Lola means “grandmother” in Tagalog), celebrated her 94th birthday last weekend.  The greatest tribute I could give my mother is to write a story about her beautiful heart.  On her birthday I had the honor of presenting for the first time an essay entitled “Messy Edges” at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  This story briefly encapsulates the beauty and the heartbreak of caring for my mother in my home for eight years, and the release I found during that time through the gift of watercolor painting.  The essay is published in an anthology entitled, The Wonder Years, 40 Women over 40 on Faith, Aging, Beauty and Strength, edited by my dear mentor and friend Leslie Leyland Fields.

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(excerpt from “Messy Edges)

My mother is still with me as I write this. Today, I stop when she notices a red geranium, just like the ones she used to have outside her home.

 “What flower is that, Mom?” I ask her. 

She looks at it and smiles. “Geranium,” she whispers. 

She smiles and time stands still. She pushes me to see beauty and wonder in every small thing, as if for the first time. My mother, even in her illness, gives me this gift, this gift of seeing. When I paint, these are the moments I try to capture. A field of sunflowers, a field of lavender. I try to keep the colors pure and vibrant on the paper, not muddied.   I try to use brushstrokes that remain fresh and lively, not overworked. For previously I was holding on, too tightly, to the brush, to mom’s health, to life, afraid to loosen the grip, to lose control of the things I could not control.  Now I understand  that beauty unfolds in the letting go, in allowing the messy edges to bleed. 

My story is one of many, glimpses into the lives of 40 women and the firsts, lasts, and always moments they have experienced during this season of life.  I am honored to have Lola’s story tucked between authors I admire such as Ann Voskamp, Elisabeth Eliot, Madeline L’Engle, Luci Shaw, Brene Brown, Lauren Winner and Jill Kandel. Each story is beautifully crafted, leaving the reader with a takeaway that could make you laugh out loud, cry, or sigh in relief knowing someone else shares your voice.

The greatest joy of this story is the hope and strength I have received in being able now to transform a difficult time in my life and my family’s life into a place of encouragement  to others along the same journey.

Please pick up your copy of The Wonder Years today on Amazon.  If you need more convincing, please check out Lola’s promotional video below!  I had the privilege of reading it out loud to her, and she wholeheartedly approves.

 

“What more important, Lola?  Faith, Beauty or Strength?”

“All of them,” she says with a smile.

Anthem….…..a tribute to our Filipino fathers who received the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor

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My father survived the World War II Battaan Death March in the Philippines.

He never spoke of it while he was alive.  I suppose there were no words.

In the community where I grew up in the 1970’s there were other men like him. Filipino soldiers now US citizens living in a neighborhood a stone’s throw from the Army base from where they retired, working as veterans in the community, living their version of the American dream: build a house, build a family, drive an American made car.

Most of them are gone now, but their families continue on, and yesterday our fathers were honored at the Filipino World War II Veterans Congressional Gold Medal of Honor Awards Ceremony, Region 8, in Renton, Washington.

I knew this was the highest honor a civilian could receive. I knew that it was 75 years too late. I knew that many had been fighting for years for our fathers’ recognition for the sacrifice they endured during that pivotal time in history.

What I didn’t expect is to see the faces of my father’s compatriots in this gathering of their sons and daughters.

Cabellon. Crisostimo. Culanag. Felizardo. Irigon. Mocorro. Pancho. Sibonga. Solidarios.

Bermudez. My father’s name emblazoned on the Army jacket his first grandson proudly wears today.

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In this company a rekindling of Pinoy heritage and pride resurfaces, recalling what It meant to grow up in a community born of fathers who had sacrificed their lives to have a better life in America, holding more tightly the truth that our lives and the lives of our children are born out of the suffering and atrocities they endured.

One by one these names are called out and a family member steps forward to receive the medal from US Army Brigadier General Oscar Hillman, a medal that would have been presented years ago had President Truman not rescinded the benefits that should have been awarded to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. As POW’s captured by the Japanese, these men were forced to march 100 miles from Bataan to Manila. Seventy six years after those tragic steps taken on Philippine soil, then a US colony, they were finally acknowledged for their pivotal role in preventing the further expansion of Japanese forces deeper into the Pacific by Congress and President Barack Obama in 2016.

Only one contemporary from my father’s group remains to receive the honor for his brother.

Felix Pancho, in a turtleneck and sport jacket and a movie star smile, is just as I remember him during our Filipino gatherings growing up.

His stride still strong and confident he receives the medal in his brother’s name. He turns around with a smile, waving. I greet him afterwards. He shows me his brother’s photographs from 1950 with his former troop in Manila and his proud stance in the US in 1960 in front of his prized car, a Falcon.  My father has a similar photo in front of his 1958 Buick Special.

My father’s widow is pushed forward in her wheelchair by my sister. She has no recollection of what is happening, but senses this is something solemn. When she asked all the way to the event, where are we going? where are we going? I told her, we are going to a ceremony to honor Daddy.  Her mind grasped the thought. Daddy? She asked. Yes Daddy. She processes the thought for a moment, then acknowledges with a nod.

They announce his name, Jesus Bermudez. She smiles as she receives the bronze copy of the Congressional Gold Medal into her hands by the general. 

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She is resplendent in red, one of the colors of the Philippine flag, the flag that was honored during the color guard ceremony, when the Philippine National anthem was sung out proudly by a Filipino soldier dressed as Philippine Scout. My mother, silent the entire morning, mouths the Tagalog words as he sang.

Buhay ay langit sa piling mo;

Aming ligaya na pag may mangaap

Ang mamatay ng dahil sa iyi

Beautiful land of love

O land of Light

In thine embrace tis rapture to lie

But it is glory ever, when thou art wronged

For us thy sons, to suffer and die

The faces of these sons who suffered years ago, now gone, are mapped in the faces of my compadres, my living brothers gathered around me, whose smile and gesture they bear.

We gather now for a photo, those who are left holding the medals our fathers would have proudly borne, those who are left: sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters.

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Widows.

My father’s widow sees another widow left behind, her best friend she has not seen for 10 years. She does not recall her name.  But she recalls her. Their tearful exchange reveals this truth. They reunite silently, exchanging embraces, tears, and smiles. They hold hands quietly. For many years they held each other’s pain. Now they hold each other in silence.  For there are no words.

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A House, a Home…after devastation from a flood.

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She wandered over to us from behind the chainlink fence, past the upturned lawn chairs, scattered gas cans and the chained pit bull. From her yard she watched us descend upon her neighbor’s home with a Uhaul truck, pulling out buckets of tools and equipment and large garbage bags, cleaning up debris in the yard and while the supervisor went inside to assess the damage there. It had been eight weeks since Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. The rains and waters had receded but the people in this neighborhood did not know where to begin to get help. When our team from Samaritan’s Purse came into the neighborhood donning orange shirts and work gloves, curiosity spilled out into the littered streets, wondering who had come to help.

 
There had to be thirty of us on the grounds that morning. We had gathered from all corners of the country, two teams of men from Seattle and Michigan, a group of students from Pennsylvania, and me from Florida, that morning to receive instructions on the needs for that day. Previously we had pulled moldy drywall and insulation and rusted nails from homes in a flooded industrial area.

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After receiving our safety reminders, our supervisor Steve reminded us, “We are here to meet the needs of the families we serve. If that includes sitting the driveway and talking to the homeowner while the rest of us work inside, then be ready to do that.”

 

We piled into our cars and mapped our way to destinations outside our comfortable borders, to this neighborhood where chain link fences separate houses one from another but did not separate the need after the storm.

 
The woman, disheveled hair, purple sweater, hand covering her darkened teeth (“I haven’t brushed my teeth yet this morning,” she confessed) walked up to me from behind the fence of the house next door to the one we were working on, asking, “Are all of you here to help? How can I get help? I’ve been waiting for help for a very long time for someone to help me.”

 

I waved for Steve to come over to talk her, and after a brief introduction, he followed her with clipboard in hand behind the chainlink fence into the dark cavern of her home.
After a few minutes he emerged. He motioned for me to come over to her, shaking his head. “There is a lot to do here. We have to get a permit first, but in the meantime lets begin by cleaning out her yard. Will you sit with her for a while?”

 

And as members of our team wandered over to rake her yard and pile up debris onto the curb, she sat next to me, eyes pleading for understanding as she began to unload the broken pieces of her own life.

 

Her story recounts those similar to many others. A woman, only a few years younger than I, trapped. The flood, the storm, only a metaphor for a life she experienced since childhood. Torrents of abuse, verbal and physical. Floods of pain, physical and emotional. And when she was drowning, gasping for air, the only thing rescue available was smoked or shot up.

 

Now, after the mud and dark waters had receded, she only wanted relief. Help. Assistance.

 

She wanted to be heard.

She wanted someone to listen.

 

And we sit on upturned boxes behind the chainlink fence
, shoulder to shoulder
, my arm around hers. 
I listen as her raspy voice spills out her pain.

 

What can I say that can take her pain away. 
What can I do after I sweep away the debris in her yard. 
I grasp the wrinkled hand that grips tightly onto mine.
 She tells me it is hard for her to talk, that is makes her anxious to talk to others.

 

Her home, her yard, her debris mask the security every woman desires:

A home. 
A place of safety.
 A place of refuge.
 A place to rebuild after devastation.

 

Her slumped shoulders touch mine, weary from carrying burdens every mother bears:

The burden of childbirth pain decades after they are born.
 The burden of traps in which her own children have been caught,
 similar to the ones that trapped her even as a young child.

 

Decades of pain and worry are etched into her forehead, deep behind the eyes that gaze into mine, pleading for relief.

I have none to give her.

Her home and many others had been sitting in standing water for days, and even once the waters receded, mold and dampness destroyed the walls, rendering the home unsafe.
Working as a team, strangers descended into these homes, tearing out the places mold and dampness had destroyed.

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I stood in one corner with a broom in hand, sweeping out the darkest corners of a nearby home, reaching with gloved hand into the dankest darkest corner, and with a shudder, uncovered the filth, brought it out into the open, exposed, to dispose into a garbage bag.

 

I learned to use a nail puller that week. 
It took me a while, and a lot of wasted minutes, to learn to hold the nail puller just so. 
To grab the head of the nail and yank just at the right angle that which was buried so deeply into the wood.

 

The nails were discarded on the floor and swept up with the old drywall and grime before some one would come in and spray for mold. The home would be swept clean before the next crew came in to rebuild.

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I rose up from our boxes behind the chain link fence.

I gathered nails from the debris. 
I gathered sticks from the yard.
 I fashioned a cross from the nails and sticks and put it into her hand.

I opened her palm and gently pressed one nail into it.
 I told her there was one who had nails placed into His hands. 
And carried the hardest parts of her life for her so she would not have to carry them alone.

That one is the baby Jesus that we celebrate during Christmas, the one who left the beauty of his Heavenly home to live among us. Who came into this upturned, devastated world flooded with grief and pain to walk alongside us. Who later would reach into the darkest corner of our lives, uncover and bear the burden of life’s pain on a cross.

He did not have a home.

He was placed in a dark, damp manger when He entered this world. But the moment He entered, He was surrounded by light, light that shattered the darkness.

She listened intently as if these words were spoken for the very first time. I wrote the words, “God is Love” with a sharpie in the palm of her hand.

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Her previously furrowed eyebrows relaxed for just a moment. She turned her face up towards me, her eyes bright, her mouth in a wide smile.

 

Her smile haunts me now as I prepare my home for the holidays.

 

I think of her desires to create a safe place for her children and loved ones.

I remember how much it meant last Thanksgiving weekend to have my children home, nestled within these walls where they grew up.

Where boxes of clutter from their childhood still fill their closets.

Where year by year I say I will let go, but cannot.

I wonder if these walls were swept clean of clutter and debris, if their darkest corners were uncovered and exposed

Would I be able to hold on to the promise, “God is Love.”

Would it be enough?

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For more information on how you can continue to help others devastated by the floods, please go https://www.samaritanspurse.org

Grace


She stood at the foot of the cross, a few steps back, this mother, Mary, watching, observing the pain her son endured, her heart breaking in agony as he carried the pain of sin’s curse that consumed her son’s body, until the final moment when He, and all humanity, were set free from death’s grip, her sorrow replaced by the joy of knowing her Son was in the presence of His father in heaven, in glory.

She stood before her daughters casket, this mother, Martha, who had for the past few months observed the pain her daughter endured, her heart breaking in agony as she observed the pain of cancer’s curse, a glioblastoma, deteriorate and consume her daughter’s body, the body she had lovingly cared and tended to for months alongside her daughter’s husband, until the final moment when she was set free from death’s grip, her sorrow replaced by the joy of knowing her daughter Cathy was in the presence of her father in heaven, in glory.

And as the hundreds in the crowd that had gathered for her memorial sang this song, Martha lifted her hands in worship, to the One who gave her daughter life and took it back to Himself.

Take courage, my heart

Stay steadfast, my soul

He’s in the waiting, He’s in the waiting

Hold on to your hope

Let your triumph unfold

He’s never failing, He’s never failing


Eyes closed, this mother knew with all her broken heart, her Savior we remember on this Good Friday, was waiting for her daughter in heaven.

Eyes closed in worship, this mother gave her daughter to the Lord.

Eyes closed in worship, she knew her daughter’s triumph over death belonged to the Lord

Can we do that on this Good Friday, give back to Him the pain we endure these moments on earth?

Can we see the glory he is rendering beneath the heartache?

Can we believe the curse of pain and and the most heartbreaking sorrow is broken beneath the cross?

Can we lift our hands to him, a gesture of release, of letting go? In return, grace replaces sorrow, grace replaces grief, grace allows the most wretched pain to bring us even closer to Him….


Open hands, open heart

Broken and shattered

Refilled by joy

And the witness of His glory.
All because 

Of the power of the cross.


In memory of Cathryn Elizabeth Bryant, who went home to the Lord on April 5, 2017, and in honor of the generations of women who surround her, her mother, Martha, her daughters Kristen and Michelle, and her granddaughter-in -waiting, Aubrey.


Song Lyrics, “Take Courage” by Kristene DiMarco, Jeremy Riddle, Joel Taylor, CCLI#7074837