Ó dìgbóse bàbá mi

My very Dad Fémi Ilésanmí left us suddenly on May 16, 2017 at the age of 78 in Ilorin, Nigeria.

Words fail me to describe the loss we all feel right now. How can words tell how much you loved, cared for, contributed to and served your family, your community, your neighbors, strangers, your surveying profession, your adopted town Ilorin, your nation and the world till the very end?

Daddy, you regularly reminded others that your name is “Olúwaférànmi” which means “God loves me”. You were conscious of your belovedness. Indiscriminately, you loved and contributed to everyone who came across your path.

Daddy, true to the Psalms you read while praying with Mummy (as was your custom for 45 years) on the morning of May 16, 2017 before you went home, you live on in our hearts and in our lives as an eternal excellency and the joy of many generations.

In hope, we mourn your departure because it is a loss far greater than words can express. With joy, we celebrate the life you lived because you loved all and lived every waking moment to the full. You left behind a name and a legacy we are proud to associate with and are privileged to carry forward.

You went home a victor. You fought a good fight, you fulfilled your calling and you kept the faith. The world is better because you lived.

You made a difference at home and abroad. You were loved without and within. You embodied your name, Ilésanmí, which means my home is a good place. You made your home a great place through discipline and many great memories. You attended and actively participated in every school event, including the parents race. You taught me how to ride a bicycle and knot a tie. You taught me to wake up a great while before dawn to pray and meditate and read and write and listen to Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and other classical music.

You woke us up every morning to bath for us. You woke us up in the middle of the night to talk to us – we did not like it then but we treasure it now. You played soccer with us and made swings for us to play on. You ensured there were lots of fruit trees in our yard to snack from and climb and you ensured there was grass on the field to play in. My sisters became great athletes by running in the yard with your encouragement. You took us to work on the farm when we didn’t have to. You joyfully called our attention again and again to a variety of bird songs and you helped me to love nature. You taught me to love my language ensuring that our morning devotions were in Yoruba.

Daddy, you taught me to leave a person, a place, a community not the same, not worse, but better than you met them. People came to you sad and left happy. I learnt responsibility by watching you pick up trash and clean up our yard and neighborhood although you could get others to do the dirty work for you.

I cannot count how many times you told me, “Tolu, I believe in you” when I struggled to believe in myself. Because of you, now believe I can fly, and I will soar. And thousands more are soaring because of you.

How can I not miss you? How can I be composed when I realize my Daddy who taught me how to live is no longer here? And as I allow myself to grieve in hope and shed tears at the departure of the best Father, teacher, mentor and role model, I am proud to be an Ilésanmí because of you and ready to live in a way that leaves the world better like you showed me.

On behalf of my Mom and my sisters and brothers, I say thank you Daddy for the gift you were. Thank you God for giving the world such a gift.

Ó dìgbòse bàbá mi. See you again Daddy.

Learning to face reality

In times of trial and difficulty, we often hear, “all will be well” or “it will work out for good” when people want to provide comfort. I used to wonder, “on what basis will all be well when everything screams the opposite?” We also hear, “face reality”, when it seems someone is not acknowledging the facts of an undesirable situation. If reality is essentially undesirable, then we are in hell.

But reality though unfathomable, is deeper, more reliable, more beautiful than my thoughts about this passing show. One reason to believe that all will be well is because wholeness is the true nature of reality. When anything gets broken in creation, the natural tendency and flow in relation to that brokenness is towards wholeness, restoration, redemption, healing, even without human intervention.

Consider your own body, “uncreated” by you. When broken, even down to the cellular level, it immediately begins to heal, often without your knowledge. In reality, all you need to do is to create conducive conditions for healing to take place. Healing was programmed into creation before you came on the scene.

According to scripture, the process of restoration, healing and redemption was immediately activated when the human family got compromised in Eden. Why? Wholeness predates the universe and has its roots in Love. We did not invent Love and it is not a religious idea, it is God’s nature. And no, God is not a religious figure, even if religion pretends to “own” it. He is Creator and “fills every thing every where with himself,” when unblocked. But we have the God-given prerogative of being able to block God.

Just like the human body strives to subdue any foreign body that enters it, the universe overwhelms brokenness with the nature of God and that has been going on before Christ was manifested in time. Many living systems in the universe fight brokenness by overwhelmingly healing it. This, I believe, is closer to the original meaning of “subdue the earth.”

Jesus brought about the immediate surrender of Saul the terrorist by overwhelming him with these words overflowing with compassion, not judgement and not a drone-delivered explosion – ”Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Jesus, I believe, is the perfect imprint and the truest expression of God’s nature. He said, “I was born to bear witness to the truth.” That is not just a cute statement. He was born to reveal the nature of reality, to reveal the nature of God. He referred to himself as the truth, the embodiment of ultimate reality.

What is that nature?

He healed all the oppressed, diseased and broken people that came to him. And while on the cross, having done nothing remotely worthy of crucifixion, the embodiment of truth prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Why? Because that is the nature of reality, the nature of God. That nature is Love that is infinitely giving, restorative, redemptive and healing.

Matthew Henry said, “the plaster is wider than the wound and more healing than the wound is killing.” That is God’s nature incarnated in Christ and displayed at the cross. Imagine, the sacrificial lamb for human brokenness is none but God incarnate. That is overwhelming redemption and that, is reality. I wholly embrace this not just because I see it in scripture but also because I find it consistent with every other witness outside scripture, including the witness within me. After all, God communicates the same message through all the means by which God communicates. But to truly hear God, kindly take off your religious or “tribal” lens and approach it every time with radical amazement, as though you are coming to it for the very first time.

Now, I remind myself to face reality when I notice my thoughts begin to drift from peace. I am realizing that any deviation within me from peace is ultimately untruth because redemptive love, wholeness, abundance is the nature of reality and when there is brokenness, restoration is not only possible, everything in the universe is designed to facilitate it.

It is going to be well because it is well. Because wholeness, beauty is the nature of reality and all you need to activate it is to accept the truth, which though simple is difficult because we have become used to a broken world. Jesus suffered, bled, died and rose again to heal that brokenness and restore humanity back to reality. A mystery I find unfathomable.

Facing reality is seeing beyond this transient event and my transient thoughts into that which is true, which was true before time began, true before the situation and my thoughts about it arose, is true after the situation and my thoughts change and will remain true when time is no more. In reality, is peace. In reality, is Love. In reality, is no fear.

To face reality is to see that the context in which we live, move and have our being is love and peace and good beyond our wildest dreams. Cleaning is an apt metaphor for this. In cleaning we remove transient dirtiness leaving behind reality, a reality untouched by dirt.

If these sound too good, remember that Christ did not come here to proclaim hell on earth but news so good it is hard to believe. That is reality and that is what we need to face, not events that come and go like clouds. Reality is the same yesterday, today and forever.

God is all-vulnerable (a staggering, paradigm-shifting phrase I am borrowing from Richard Rohr) that he pours himself out to restore us back to reality. I believe, the vulnerability of God is bigger than his power. We are strongest when we are weakest. Mercy, grace and compassion break our defences and move us to tears. Evil was overcome by a slain lamb and not a roaring lion. The vulnerability of God is reality. If God was only mighty and not vulnerable, there could be no redemption, no healing, no restoration.

Learning to face reality is learning to imitate God, who lives in us and in whom we all exist including those we consider enemies. It is learning to weep for the same reasons for which God weeps. But if I am worried by what God is not worried about then I am losing touch with reality. If reality is Love and I am not, I need to face reality. Those who are in touch with reality are moved by unpleasant events that deviate from reality. Just before raising Lazarus, Jesus wept. The compassion that moved him to tears raised Lazarus.

When you are in touch with reality, compassion moves you and transformation back to wholeness is inevitable.