The Gift of Crosses
by Maria Carmelita Z. Kasuya
Crosses are gifts wrapped differently. Big or small, heavy or light, a cross is a symbol of love. Crosses are good teachers and the pain included in the package enriches the learning experience. How we accept the crosses determines how we respond to the giver and the invitation to love. “If you truly love me, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”
I wanted to be a nun to love the Lord with all my heart, my mind and my strength. I thought the religious life was the best way to love God and to make Him loved. Pinag-iisipan ko noon kung ako ay papasok sa Carmelite Monastery at maging isang mongha, o kaya ay sa Daughters of St Paul. Pero iba ang plano ng Panginoon. Pinadala niya ako dito sa Japan para mag-aral. He sent me to the land of the rising sun where there are only a few Christians.
Having been raised in a Christ-centered family, loving and serving the Lord were instilled in me early in life. My father was a lay minister, my mother was the prioress of the Third Order of Mt Carmel for several years and my three brothers served the church in different capacities. The physical separation from the family I love so dearly has made me realize that if I truly love the Lord, I should deny myself and follow Him wherever He leads me. Masakit man sa kalooban ko sa umpisa, nagtiwala ako na ang plano ng Diyos ang pinakamabuti. Kailangan kong tuklasin kung ano ang mission ko sa bansang ito. When I accepted Japan as my second home, the Lord honored my decision and His grace poured in. I was given a scholarship grant in 1991 for my graduate research at Waseda University. Dito ko rin nakilala ang gwapo at super bait na husband ko, si Hiroaki.
After the wedding, I moved to Tokyo Institute of Technology where I obtained a doctor of biomolecular engineering degree through a Monbusho scholarship grant. After my post doctoral fellowship, I acquired an academic post at the prestigious The University of Tokyo that opened opportunities to present my research in international scientific conferences annually, all expenses paid. Despite occasional bouts of loneliness and the challenges of living in a foreign land, I was always filled with gratitude because the grace of the Lord was always sufficient. Masayang masaya talaga ako sa takbo ng career at personal life kaya minsan iniisip ko kung ano kaya ang plano ng Diyos dahil sobra-sobra ang biyaya niya.
Take Up Your Cross
In 1996, I joined the Handmaids of the Lord of the Couples for Christ. Dito nag-umpisa ang pagiging involved ko sa maraming activities sa iba’t-ibang simbahan. While research and academe occupied my weekdays, pastoral work and evangelization filled my weekends. At home, I fulfilled my duties to Hiroaki, hoping that he would be evangelized by my steadfast faith, dedication to service and love for him. Having found my purpose, I was happy and fulfilled. Kahit super dami ng mga activities, parang hindi naman ako napapagod. Enjoy ako sa trabaho pero mas enjoy ako sa mga volunteer work sa parish at sa Filipino community. Nakakawala ng stress at kalungkutan ang pagse-serve sa simbahan at pagtulong sa mga kababayan.
In 2000, the Lord surprised me with a CROSS so that I could pause, reflect and focus. I was diagnosed with cancer of the uterus. The impending realities such as giving up career, accumulating medical bills, not bearing children and coping with cancer left me with no other choice but to live one day at a time relying on God’s providence. I was only 36 years old then. Ang dami ko pang plano sa buhay. Pero nung ipina-ubaya ko sa Panginoon ang buhay ko, nakadama ako ng kapayapaan at lakas para harapin ang bukas.
Marami akong natutunan sa karanasan na ito. Truly, the Father in heaven knows best. Cancer was a blessing in disguise. It was God’s precious “gift of cross” – a gift of faith. Cancer was a “good teacher” that taught me the virtues of obedience, patience and perseverance. Pina-alala rin sa akin na maikli ang buhay. Kaya anuman ang kabutihan na pwedeng gawin, huwag ko ng ipabukas. Na-realize ko rin kung gaano kahalaga ang isang masayang pamilya na nagmamahalan.
Picking the cross was a humbling experience that anchored me on sure foundation. By His grace, I remained joyful and peaceful amidst trials and difficulties. He did not only journey with me, He carried me. The Lord was faithful to His promises. Hindi Niya ako iniwan. He healed me completely. So after recuperating from surgery, I found myself pursuing the work of the Lord with even greater passion in gratitude for a new lease on life. Surely, we have crosses to bear, but these should not impede growing in holiness. Kahit na may mga krus tayong pinapasan, hindi ito dapat maging sagabal para tayo mabuhay na may pag-asa. May kabuluhan lamang ang buhay kung ito ay iaalay para sa kapwa at sa bayan. My hospital stay was a breather to introspect, to recognize my inadequacies, and to rise above my weaknesses by relying on His power. A wounded soldier I may have been but the cross transformed me and prepared me for even greater challenges ahead.
Picking up a cross was easy. Embracing many crosses was difficult. It required surrender and submission. In 2004, I was again diagnosed with malignant tumor – not metastasis of the previous one but a new cancer – cancer of the kidney. I never asked the Lord why. I believed everything happened for a purpose. To understand the ways of the Lord was not my job. To accept His will wholeheartedly and remain faithful to His commandments should concern me. This new gift of cross drew a response with conviction. “I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to His word.”
Kahit pangalawang cancer na ito, hindi ako nawalan ng pag-asa dahil may awa ang Diyos. Hindi ako susuko. Lalo pa akong magiging matapang at determinado na mabuhay para bigyan ng pag-asa ang mga nasa katulad kong sitwasyon. There is a higher purpose that I have to fulfill. Embracing the cross and entrusting my whole life to God ushered in peace and strength beyond human understanding that allowed me to be an even more effective witness. By God’s grace, healing came the second time after a good fight of faith and a successful surgery. Truly, all things work for good for those who love the Lord. With the Lord in control of my life, I need not fear nor worry. I have what it takes to be victorious. God is enough.
In one of my prayer times, I sensed the Lord asking, “Mel, do you really love me?” I replied, “Lord, you are my God and my all. I will give my life to you. I love you and I will gladly offer everything for the glory of Your Kingdom.” I love the Lord, and I always will.
After giving a talk about healing for the Singles Weekend Retreat in 2006, a phone call informed me that my husband was rushed to the hospital by an ambulance because he suffered severe brain haemorrhage - aneurysm of a major artery. What an irony! I was giving a talk on healing when my husband, my closest neighbor, needed my healing presence. Pagdating ko sa Intensive Care Unit (ICU) ng ospital, wala na siyang malay and slowly, he slipped into comatose. Pinaliwanag sa akin ng doctor kung gaano kadelikado ang kalagayan niya. Kung maka-survive man, malaki ang posibilidad na maging gulay (vegetable state) na siya habang buhay.
Surgery was carried out as a last ditch option but prognosis was very poor due to multiple organ failure. A month later, he suffered a second haemorrhage - a usually fatal one and only a miracle will allow him to survive the next 24 hours. I stormed heaven with prayers. I took a leap of faith believing that with God everything was possible. I kept my hope alive considering the immense possibilities borne with faith. I asked for a priest to administer the sacrament of the sick. But I was told that the sacrament could be given only to Catholics. So, right there and then, Hiroaki was baptized John Paul Kasuya in honor of the late pontiff whose intercession I had been imploring. Although unconscious, a tear rolled down from his eye affirming that the Holy Spirit has descended to breathe in new life in Christ. Answered prayer para sa akin ang binyag niya kasi matagal ko ng ipinapana-langin na sana ay maging Kristiyano din siya.
His stay in the hospital spanned for almost 2 years marked by uncertainty. Kaya nung naging stable na ang condition at ligtas na ang buhay niya, laking pasasalamat ko. When he regained consciouness, I was overjoyed. But, the painful reality that the right side of his body was paralyzed and that he was suffering from amnesia almost ripped my heart into pieces. Hindi niya ako nakilala!! Wala siyang naaalala sa nakaraan. Hindi nga niya alam kung sino siya at kung ano ang nangyari sa kanya. Super sakit pero at least, gising na siya at buhay.
I survived cancer twice because Hiroaki took care of me. It was my turn to take care of him while keeping a full time job in the university that also demanded much of my time and energy. With this latest gift of cross, I realized that I myself may have been wounded, but I can be a healer – a wounded healer. These were really trying times but I remained steadfast. I derived joy by serving the community. I drew strength by staying connected to the Source of all grace and mercy through prayer and scripture reading.
We have an awesome God – a God of perfect timing and always full of surprises. The Lord could have healed Hiroaki at once so my joy would have been made complete. Instead, he manifested His healing power through little miracles that happened daily. Slowly, Hiroaki regained his memory and through therapy, he could now speak, read, eat and write with his left hand after 5 years. He could even sing to me “Dahil sa iyo” again. And in God’s time, I believe Hiroaki will be able to stand and walk again.
Last year, the Lord prepared the way and I explained to Hiroaki the sacrament he received. Ipinaliwanag ko na siya ay isa ng Kristiyano. Nagulat ako nung sabihin niya sa akin na dalhin ko siya sa simbahan para magsimba!! On July 25, 2010 (Sunday), Hiroaki’s 46th birthday, we went to Meguro church for the 12 noon mass. It was his first mass as a Catholic and our first mass together after more than a decade. God is so good. May He be glorified!
Mabait talaga ang Diyos. Hindi niya tayo pinababayaan. Kahit na gaano kabigat ang mga krus na dumarating sa buhay natin, tinutulungan niya tayo na buhatin ito. Laging sapat ang grasya na ibinibigay niya. And because he loves us, we can always remain peaceful and happy. We just have to be aware of his loving presence, count the blessings and share them.
The gift of crosses made me realize that nothing can truly separate us from the love of God. He knows what we are going through because He embraced the fullness of our humanity. When alone and helpless because of life’s daily struggles, I recall His passion and death on the cross and the times He helped me carry my own crosses. Whenever I gaze on His cross, I feel His great love for me, and my own crosses become my humble offering of love. Lord, thank you for the gift of crosses.