A Wall and a Window

Growing up into an adult, I noticed a peculiar aspect of my personality: I was the kind of person who observed people, even strangers, and try to think about their lives, their homes, their work. I study their countenance, the furrows on the brows, the longing in the eyes, the faraway look, the slumped shoulders, the crinkles at the corners of the eyes when they smile, and I would try to look beyond what my eyes could see. I would look at a woman sitting on a bench, for example, and I would begin to think, “What is she feeling? Does she have a problem at home that weighs down on her heart? How are her home and family look like?” Or maybe an aging man, and these things would run through my mind, “Does he have happy grandchildren that love him to pieces? Or is he longing for the days of old, when life was far different that it is now? Is he estranged from his daughter. Does he long for her?”

WINDOW. My watercolor painting on 9" x 12" wc paper. (Reference photo for this painting by Sonja Aric via Instagram).

WINDOW. My watercolor painting on 9″ x 12″ wc paper. (Reference photo for this painting by Sonja Aric via Instagram).

One time, I told my older sister about this peculiarity in me and asked her if she did the same. She said no, she never did that and asked why would I do that?

One day many years ago, I stopped at a busy intersection at a plush village where the wealthy Filipino-Chinese reside. A young boy about 7 years old played on the bars of a gasoline station at the corner. His sampaguita garlands hung at the end of the bar while he played. I watched and drew up this story in my mind: he was a happy boy. Though he was poor, he had a loving mother who fed him, washed his clothes (his t-shirt was shabby but tidy), and sent him to the public school. Tears pooled at the corner of my eyes and I sniffed.

Do you observe people that way, even ones you do not know? Do you look beyond what you see on their facade?

If you do, then you might love to talk with people face to face, too. You want to listen while studying their expressions: the purple spider web veins peeking through translucent skin, how their eyes light up, or show coldness in their depths.

What delights you? People and conversations, words spoken, the resonance and cadence of voices, funny stories and the bursts of laughter punctuating them? Stories that stir up the soul and make you want to reach out to the person and squeeze their hands? To look at the tears that stream down from their eyes and make you want to whisper words, words that, if possible, were drawn from the heart of heaven itself, to soothe that sorrowing soul and stop the flow of tears?

But technology is changing all that. Do people, especially the younger generation, still observe people? Are they learning to study people and learning to empathize in the process? Do we still visit with one another and make delectable conversations without the intrusion of gadgets? 

When the husband comes home from work, does he lounge in his favorite chair, put up his tired feet on a stool and start conversation with you? You have probably been waiting for him and are eager to hear about his day, or he about your day. There are stories to be told, things to be discussed, anecdotes to be shared.

But he opens up his cellphone and launches on a date with the Internet. Or Facebook. He is (more) eager to  browse and read of other people’s stories than his and yours. You get hurt and dismayed.

A virtual wall, as high as the Berlin wall and as wide as the Great Wall of China, is built.

If communication between spouses or the parents and their teens are already strained, the wall the gadgets build could prove to be indestructible. Communication, which is vital in our relationships, would suffer greatly. If people don’t intentionally foster healthy communication within their marriages and families, there is no real growth, both in the individuals and the relationship as a whole. People would not flourish as they should but may get lonely and depressed, or worse, indifferent.

The smartphone, the iPad, or any other gadget that makes one captive, is a sturdy wall that divides us from our spouses and/or families and it is not easily broken down. No, not even with a battering ram.

Do people still talk face to face? In waiting lines and lounges, in the parking lot, in the public market, in the park. Or have we discarded that and bury only our faces in our gadgets? I have seen weird pictures where people in a public place are lost in their gadgets and no one was talking to any one.

Do we want to behold our screens more that the faces of the people in our lives?

In our home, I fight tooth and nail against the invasion of gadgets and do my best to not let the wall rise up to such extent that it’s impossible to scale it. I fight to break down the walls these gadgets are creating and sadly, there has been a lot of tears shed on my part. But I m not buckling down and giving up an inch. If my family had its way, the gadgets would not be put down. But I fight for the old ways. I want to treasure those things that gadgets cannot replace: story-telling and rings of laughter around the table after dinners, heart-to-heart talks between a parent and a child, or between the husband and the wife. No walls. No barricades. No screens.

But even though social media has been abused that we have let it divide us from people, it is also a window to the world in forging new friendships.

There is no clearer example of that than in my life. I haven’t been able to go out these many years. My world revolves around our bedroom and the adjoining patio which leads to a small garden. I have not been receiving visitors except for family members composed of my mother, siblings, and niece. (The excitement of visiting exhausts me). I haven’t relished friendships in the longest time, the way I had before I fell ill. Two of my closest friends now live in Canada. In my whole ailing life, I had considered myself friendless.

That is, until I met a new friend through Instagram. She is a watercolorist like me, except that she is strong and healthy and has a career. We are both moms, about the same age, and most of all, we both love the Lord Jesus Christ. Soon, she was sharing her professional fine watercolors to me, which she has in piles, at cost prices. We began the habit of chatting on Viber and encourage each other regarding our art. She insisted that we meet and paint together. I would have loved that, for she has a storeroom of fine watercolor paints and brushes collected from around the world 😀 . Except that, I can’t travel farther than our living room.

So, we started to paint at the same time but in our own homes using the same model as reference. This arrangement has excited us, pushed us to persevere when the painting gets tough 😀 , and challenged us to do our very best and reach our maximum potential.

Even Felix my husband is happy that I had found a friend, if only through social media.

 Social media can either be a wall or a window. Choose now how it will serve us.

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Trading Conversations with Gadgets

If there’s one thing I want to throw away, that is my husband’s iPad. When my husband comes home for lunch, he opens his iPad and closes it only when he’s ready to go back to the office. When he arrives in the afternoon and snacks while resting, his iPad is in front of him. Before dinner, he is glued to his iPad. After dinner, even before I’m finished eating (because I’m always the last one to finish), his iPad stands on the table between us. I so want to throw his iPad. I’m sure you get the picture? Is it the same scene in your homes, too?

(image source)

This is the painful part: since I can’t go out because of my illness, our bedroom is my world. That’s the truth (but please don’t pity me ~ :) ). Since our bedroom is in front of the house (beside the living room), I hear all sounds from the street and the neighbors’ movements across it. But I only see the street and the people and cars passing – from my window. From the bed (which is my writing and reading place, etc.), I can also gaze at the patio and garden through the french doors and watch the bunnies dart and nibble on my poor, undernourished plants. I hear the birds’ excited warbling amongst the branches of the narra tree but I can’t see them flitting and fluttering their wings.

Those are the sights and sounds of my day, everyday, from morning ’til dusk. That is, until the husband and kids arrive from the office and school in the afternoon. Only then my world becomes alive with human interactions.

But most of the day, my world is silent. Only my mind is full of conversations and words and chatter, which come out through writing novels and blogging (I just completed my first novel The Homecoming).

So, you understand that I crave for conversations. I’ve always loved conversations. All kinds – playful bantering with a Kindergarten kid, serious exchange with an elderly neighbor, frenzied chatter with a good friend, animated discussion with a spouse or better yet, a romantic conversation, heart-to-heart talk with a teenage child. I could go on and mention a wonderful exchange with a stranger (not the dangerous kind, mind you), the giddy exchange with a new acquaintance, and so on.

But I don’t think that world still exists today: when people talk to each other, eye to eye, noticing the nuances and inflections of the voice and language; how the corners of the eyes crinkle at a warm statement, or the lips twitch trying to stifle a smile, when a solitary tear trickles down the side of a face because a word has touched a person? Do couples, families, the world, still talk to each other? Really talk to each other, as in they are all there?

This is not a rare scene at home: husband is glued to his iPad, daughter to her smart phone, son to a borrowed cellphone or laptop (usually checking origami-making videos), and me, to my Macbook. The room is quiet. No one is talking to another. Where have spoken words gone? I once saw a picture of a small restaurant (more of a carinderia) with the sign: NO WIFI, TALK TO EACH OTHER! Exactly!

While my husband is gone, I plan the things I want to tell him when he comes home – some serious, some funny, some sweet. When I hear him at the door, I shut my laptop (after I’ve saved whatever I was writing) and eagerly anticipate a good conversation with him. But he gets hold of his iPad and I’m forgotten. At the dining table, I looove to talk (that’s the best place to talk, I think). When the kids leave the table, I’m excited to talk with my husband, but his eyes flit from the iPad to me, usually giving me a blank stare. It’s frustrating to say the least!

But one day, I put my foot down and told him this must stop. Thankfully, my hundred spoken words or so had their effect on my husband and he changed his ways.

We need real conversations, people!

I love how the King James version of the Bible puts it:

Thus were they defiled with their own works,
and went a whoring with their own inventions. (Ps. 106:39)

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Christian Discipline: When We Make Our Possessions Our Gods

No, this is not a heavy-handed sermon on idolatry (although I know that there a lot of people out there who have shifted their affections from the living God to things that give them pleasure). The Bible says that when we obsessively covet something, that is idolatry.

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col. 3:5, emphasis mine)

This is about my daughter Hannah. And I’m not writing this to put her down or embarrass her. I’m sharing this so we can all learn the lesson.

Before Hannah learned to use a cellphone, she had a beautiful, exciting life. When she was 5 or 6, she loved art. She still does today but she rarely has time. When I went to the hospital to give birth to Tim, she shoved a shoebox and a big brown envelop towards me filled with her arts and crafts she especially prepared for my stay in the hospital. “To remember me by, Mom” were her parting words.

She used to love to play, swinging in the park high up in the air or biking around the neighborhood, her long hair flying with the wind. She had an appreciation of nature – examining bugs and insects and flowers even the tiniest ones. And she never missed to bring me flowers from her forays around our village. If she didn’t see fresh ones from the stalks, she picked up fallen frangipanis from the ground. But she grew up and learned other things, things that are not necessarily beneficial.

She has a natural computer acumen, almost instinctive. Are children of this age born with it? Hannah coaches me in photo editing and in designing my upcoming book! Needless to say, she knows a lot that I didn’t know about. But her academic performance took a downturn when she wrapped her life around her gadgets. Being strictly disciplined by us in using the laptop (only school work), she maximized the use of her Android cellphone. I gave it to her last Christmas so she could call us when she was away.

But as I’ve said, she wrapped her whole life around it, neglecting other things. I believe this is the reason why she didn’t receive a medal in academic excellence this year, only gold and silver certificates. This summer, her obsession of her cellphone got worse. Of course, she still does the chores she’s assigned, but her consciousness is with her gadgets. She received a big case of art materials from her aunt and uncle from the states but she has not opened it yet. She has many unread  books in the library but they remain unread. After her successful piano recital 2 weeks ago, she has not sat down in front of the piano to play some tunes. I told her to research some praise music pieces to learn so we can give glory to God with them, but she chooses to hole up in the guest room tinkering with her cellphone.

My patience maxed out yesterday morning. I called her in the room and gave her a dressing down. I explained to her what was happening with her life because of her obsession with gadgets. Her cellphone was the first thing she reached for in the morning and the last thing she laid aside at night. I reminded her that she has been neglecting to pray and praise before bedtime. I told her how she has traded life with her cellphone which is impotent. Yes, I told her how she has made her cell phone her god. It hurt I know, but Proverbs 27:5 says, “A spoken reprimand is better than approval that’s never expressed” (MSG).

Everything that takes us away from the worship of the living God and steals our love for Him is from the devil. That is his main goal: to create gods out of our possessions.

I opened my Bible and brought her to Revelation 2:2-4:

“I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Emphasis mine).

I reminded her that the Lord Jesus Christ is our first love, our joy, our life! That He died on the cross to give us life, for we were dead in our sins. But He came to give us life and that life is abundant! Abundant in love and joy and excitement with our fellowship with Him, with the people in our lives and the gifts He gave us, like music, art, play, talents, etc.

With tears in my eyes and the hairs of my arms standing up, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as I implored her to renew her love for the Lord and enjoy the life He has given.

There’s more. When I told her gently but firmly that I needed to take back the cellphone , she was displeased. I told her that it was the enemy who has taken a foothold on her that was resisting. If it was the Holy Spirit, she should have humbled down and willingly surrendered her cellphone. I explained to her that. In the end, I knew my words found their way to her heart, by the grace of God.

 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)

We must redeem our children from the gods of this world.

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I might be linking up with these lovely blogs.

Journey with Jesus,