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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Redeeming the Time

In Ephesians 5:15-17, the apostle Paul tells us to redeem the time:

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 

My watercolor painting of Fall Foliage (reference photo from Instagram). I hope you like it.

My watercolor painting of Fall Foliage (reference photo from Instagram). I hope you like it.

We were given the reason why we must redeem the time – the days are evil – and how we go about it: walk circumspectly and wisely and understanding the will of God. When we think of “redeeming the time”, we usually think of the bigger picture: our service to God. Well, for me anyway. That is, until something happened at home that brought me to this.

What exactly is “redeem”? I like what Google gave when I searched for its definition.

redeem: compensate for the faults or bad aspects of (something); do something that compensates for poor past performance or behavior.

As I’ve mentioned above, up to this time, I saw “redeeming the time” as more of the task of a Christ laborer, especially those who preach the Gospel and win souls everywhere. To not waste time in spreading the Gospel of salvation as it is the only way to fight these evil days, pushing back the darkness and its works. But when we see it only this way, we tend to think that we, as housewives and stay-at-home moms or full-time career or business people, are not really called to this.

But I received an epiphany today that practicing “redeeming the time” in our marriages, families, and homes is a beautiful moment-by-moment, day-to-day undertaking. It is living a life that is full of grace.

I, with my ailing self, derive strength from the love, peace, and joy that our home and family bring, but most of all, of course, from my faith in God. Each day, however hard it is for me physically, I am renewed, strengthened, and inspired to pursue and live life to the Christ-fullest. That desire alone keeps me awake at night pondering and keeps me on my toes throughout the day. I have that deep desire to truly live out the Lord Jesus’ words and not only a lip service or going through the motions. It is my way of loving Him wholly and honoring Him in my life. A continuous, daily worship.

At the bottom of all this is my belief that being pleasing and right with God is what gives me life and continuance.

…the joy of the Lord is [my] strength. ( Part of Neh. 8:10)

But my heart’s desires and my attempts at living them are affected by my circumstances and the people I do life with. Mistakes, blunders, failures are bound to happen. The aim to walk the higher ground and foster a better relationship with someone for instance, could shatter in a moment’s weakness. Disagreements arise, even a word war or silent war or cold war! In a moment’s time, we could say the wrong word, words that stir up anger or hurt. But this is the good part: we need not stay there! After the words are spoken, the tears are shed, or maybe the door has been shut, or the back has been turned – it is not really the end. It must not be the end.

That is the beauty of grace. We can partake of it as often and as much as we want to. That is the inconsumable grace of Lamentations 3: 22-23:

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

We are given new mercies every morning. Every morning we are renewed, reinstated, and reaffirmed. And if our gracious and merciful Father does it to us every morning, can’t we do the same to each other? Can’t we renew, reinstate, and reaffirm one another in each other’s love, joy, and peace?

Can’t we redeem what we have foolishly squandered?

Are we better at squandering or redeeming?

Do we squander the new day and the new mercies given to us because we are hard-hearted like that? Do we squander them by giving in to our unprofitable emotions: anger, resentment, bitterness, coldness?

No. We redeem each and every moment and every day with new mercies as the Lord supplies us! We redeem the ugliness, the mistakes, the failures with fresh grace.

… Freely [we] have received, freely give. (Part of Mat. 10:8)

We redeem the squandered moments with fresh dose of forgiveness and love and we gather again peace and joy unto our bosom and rejoice together in the Lord. A life of grace is where we thrive, like fish to water, plants to rich soil.

To redeem is to gather again and not to scatter.

Because we walk after the Holy Spirit and live by its fruit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – tarrying in that place outside of its borders will not be good for us and our health. It’s like fish out of water.

I have a fragile health and I can’t afford to squander my days. I don’t have the luxury of endless days. On earth, at least. That is true for all of us. A stanza of the song You Are My World is a great reminder:

And all my days are gifts from You
I pray I’d use them as You want me to
Use them for You.

Our beloved pastor advises to live each day as if it were the day the Lord Jesus comes. Watching. Praying. Loving. Giving grace and mercy. Rejoicing. Living in peace and joy. Wasting nothing.

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Journey with Jesus,

Love Your Love Story {A Marriage Tale Part 2}

I want to have a body scrub,” she said quietly, when her husband came into the room to carry her to the bathtub for her evening bath.

“What body scrub?” He asked. He wasn’t frowning, but he wasn’t smiling either.

“Strawberry body scrub. You bring down the box of The Body Shop from the rack. It’s there. I want to try it.” She stripped off her clothes as her husband locked the door.

marriage tale2

She sat on a towel spread out on the bed. He squirted the thick scrub and began to rub it on her body. The sweet strawberry scent covered them both. “This is like a pure strawberry jam,” he commented while concentrating on spreading the red “jam” peppered with little black seeds, the fruity scrub and his strokes smoothing out and soothing her skin and flesh.

“I think these little black beads are the strawberries’ seeds,” she said with contentment in her voice. Then they were quiet for a while as her man did his job. She is learning not to talk too much when they are together like this. Or complain. She knows the consequences to her comments and complaints. He doesn’t like them.

“Are we done yet?” He finally asked.

“Yes. I’m ready for the bath,” she answered as she ran her hands on her smoothened skin. “This scrub makes the skin soft and silky, especially the backside. I want that when you touch me in that part, it doesn’t feel rough,” she said, smiling. They have been married 16 years, but oh, it wouldn’t hurt if she flirted with her husband from time to time, would it?

“Well, when I touch you there, I don’t notice the roughness. My mind focuses on the task at hand,” he answered, poker face. But she knew better. This was his game. He loved bantering with her about intimate things. And yes, she believed him when he said he didn’t notice her external imperfections. Having been ill these many years, there were long seasons when all she could manage was a sponge bath or none at all. But he came to bed and lay beside her night after night (except for those times when they fought and wanted to give her space), not minding at all how she smelled. No, he’s never finicky.

There was a time when her unwashed hair had tangled up so badly it had formed a thick, heavy nest on her head. But he didn’t comment then, only to offer to untangle it. And during the times that she could shampoo her hair, she intentionally snuggled in his chest to let him know her hair smelled good, for a change. The way he gathered her in his arms and buried his head on her hair and kissed it was exactly the same way when she was unwashed. He still kissed the top of her head even when she had a nest of a tangle.

When she looked (and felt) so sick and unsightly, he never showed any traces of distaste. That’s the no. 1 thing she likes in him. She doesn’t have to feel ashamed with him. She can be herself around him and never worry that he will be turned off or his love wane. Still, there were times years ago that she had felt insecure (but that’s another story).

Done with the body scrub, he braced himself to carry her to the bathroom. “Oh, I’d be very slippery!” She said, chortling a little. There was one time when he lifted her out of the bathtub, wet and bare, she almost slipped out of his arms. Since then, he would cover her with her robe first.

And she was slippery and wiggly! Weak from hardly-suppressed laughing, he almost dropped her. But he didn’t. He never ever dropped her. Not even once, these past 20+ years that they had known each other.

She can trust him that much. She can trust his love that much.

But in her heart and mind, the unpleasant spats almost always surface. She easily sees his defects and faults like a laser. And not too long ago, her heart had screamed silently, “I don’t like him!” No, she didn’t hate him and she knew she would always love him, on a foundational level, but liking a person, or a man, is a different thing, right? Or maybe she got that idea from a blog… Or a movie? Was it her favorite North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell? Margaret dismissed John Thornton’s profession of love and marriage proposal with “I don’t love you. I don’t even like you.” Ouch!

But yes, she does believe that a woman has to like a man for their marriage to even prosper and succeed. She has to like his manners, his attitudes, his integrity, his character, his principles. To sum it all up: She has to admire him. And if she is really honest, her man has those qualities (and annoying ones, too!).

Maybe she had focused too much on his imperfections (like his inability to communicate and articulate with words and express himself from the heart) and not on his works. But oh, how she would love for him to talk, and talk from the heart the words that she had been longing to hear from him all their life together. But he had told her clearly twice (when he was pressed to answer) that he was not a man who talked like that. She was stunned and dejected those two times.

The third time, there was a slight twist. He told her not to expect him to talk like that but just to see his works.

One time, she accused him of not admiring her watercolor paintings. “Why do you say so?” He asked.

“Because you never say so,” she answered pointedly.

“When I drive to Greenbelt to buy your very costly Winsor & Newton paints, that means I admire and support your work,” he said evenly.

“Yes! Yes, of course!” And she laughed, satisfied. If she could dance, she would have. She wanted to try Winsor & Newton paints but didn’t know they were that expensive (~$18 per tube), but he bought them anyway, not informing her beforehand.

But she forgets. If she is honest enough to admit, she has the habit of comparing their marriage to others. When would she ever learn that that would never work? Comparing just brings her deeper into feelings of dismay, disappointment, and dissatisfaction.

She knows her husband never does that thing – comparing. He is so uncomplicated like that.

But what possesses her heart is the sadness that she can’t seem to brag about their marriage, their love story, like other wives do. She often sees only the ugly and imperfect parts, rarely the grace-filled beauty.

Maybe that’s the product of a perfectionist mind – it focuses on and magnifies the flaws, the good parts covered by dusts of high expectations and disappointments.

She knows so well that her husband is a perfectly imperfect human being, as she and all others are. That’s why people need a Savior. The Lord Jesus is the author and perfecter of their faith and all the other things attached to it: Christian attitudes and character, love, spiritual maturity. He is the author, perfecter, and transformer of their lives.

The Lord has taught her that only by His grace poured out into their hearts, and them pouring out this same grace to each other, can their marriage become beautiful. Grace received and grace given. In the deepest sense and practice of the phrase.

She will learn to love their love story. Because in the end, it’s really God’s story.

(Photo from Pinterest).

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Journey with Jesus,

Spiritual Soil (Things to Ponder)

Everyday, I wonder and worry if the “soil” of our family and home is cultivated and watered enough for every member to grow and bear fruit. I often find myself asking, “Are my husband and I doing the best we can to nourish the soil of our family? Are we being shining lights to each other and to our children and are we setting good example for them to follow?” I believe that if we say we follow Jesus, it should be manifested in our words and actions, in our relationships and the very lives we live.

spiritual soil

During those moments of deep pondering and self-examination, I know that we’re not intentional and punctilious enough in nurturing our soil and this brings sighing and heaviness to my heart. Such problems usually come up when the spouses have varying magnitudes of faith and differing principles, attitudes, and practices. But then again, many times in the Bible, we are admonished to be of one mind.

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.  (Phil. 2:1-2, emphasis mine)

Fruitfulness in the Spirit is what the Lord desires for all of His followers.

“Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” (John 15:8)

So, we go to church every Sunday (for most of our Church, it’s even three times a week), the children sing in the choir, the family doesn’t watch trashy TV shows or movies or listen to secular music. But how about the moments and hours that make up the day? What does our family and home life look like?

There were times that I have broken down in tears because of the children’s gross misbehaviors and my failure to tackle them as the Bible’s teachings would have me do. We have this great desire to be nurturing parents, endeavoring to train our children in the love and admonition of the Lord, but when we see them disrespectful, disobedient, ungrateful, and lazy in all things except to waste hours on gadgets, we feel the weight of failure on our shoulders and it’s heartbreaking. We ask ourselves, “What more should be done?”

We bathe our family with prayers so that in one accord, we will all be obedient and pleasing in God’s sight, fervently following Him and His will, so that we will be living out Apostle Peter’s teaching:

“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous.” (1 Pet. 3:8)

But sometimes, even our prayers seem not enough and we can’t seem to see much fruit.

People in our church, especially the choir leaders, praise our children’s quiet behavior in Sunday school and choir practices. I thank God for working on them to behave properly outside our home. They are not rowdy as other children. No, ma’am. They are shy, especially Hannah, to a fault.

But I see in our children things that the world does not see. And what I see breaks my heart. I know that families and homes differ from one another. But even Christian homes have their problems. I can see the huge difference between our life in the old days and our children’s life now. I grew up in a small, slumbrous town in a faraway province where life was as simple as you could get. Frivolity was out, for life, generally, bordered on poverty.

In that uncomplicated way of life, people were industrious. Young girls could help around the house: clean, cook, wash dirty dishes and laundry, and care for baby siblings, or around the farm (for those who lived in the barrios). Young people were respectful, obedient, responsible. They looked up and listened to older people. And they had a deep sense of gratitude.

I lament that this generation of young people displays an entirely different attitude. It’s kind of bratty, selfish, self-indulgent, insolent, indolent, ungrateful, prideful. We see them on TV and the Internet. And when we see traces of these on our children, oh, how it rips our hearts!

I’m not saying that our children, Hannah and Tim, are completely all that. No, they are fairly good kids who generally bring us joy. Hannah, by God’s grace, is now “under observation” for the Youth Choir and she’s assigned church chores like maintaining cleanliness in the toilets during services, etc. As for Tim, he sings in the Children’s Choir, attends Sunday School diligently and I can see that he is developing an awareness of the Bible’s teachings.

But it is evident that they still lack in the more important things: love and kindness toward one another, humility, gratefulness, respect, and also industriousness. It only takes a small act of unkindness or indifference to see what is utterly wrong, like seeing a child pick up her own used glass to bring to the sink and intentionally leave the other beside it just because it’s her brother’s. Or when they are often rude to one another, speaking biting or cold remarks. What does that mean?!

If we’re sensitive parents who see beneath such subtle acts, we would not dismiss and consider them as not worthy of our attention. We would discern at once that there’s an underlying reason to them. The children could be cold and uncaring and those are serious things that need to be addressed.

When I see our children displaying a lack in any of the things mentioned above, I feel really sad and frustrated and this compels me to strive harder: to be a more effective “life coach” to them who leads by example. And I pray the more, pleadingly and unrelentingly.

I always try to examine myself when failures happen. I strive to be better: a better wife, mom, person,  leader, friend. A better role model. More Christlike. That’s the heart of my prayers lately.

I’ve been asking myself, “Do our marriage, family, and home provide rich soil for spiritual growth for each and everyone of us? Does our relationship (my husband’s and mine) set a good example about relationships, honor, respect, love, and kindness? Do we intentionally live a life that exemplifies the Bible’s teachings which our children can observe and learn?”

Do we seek to cultivate the ground, the soil in which their minds, hearts, and souls will develop, grow, flourish, and bear much fruit?

Is each one of us a rich soil in which others could grow well and thrive?

Do we build up others or bring them down? Do we heal or do we inflict wound? Do we speak words that minister grace to others or do we speak to incite contentions, discouragements, strifes, resentments, or bitterness? Do we intentionally bring hope and encouragement for a soul to grow and thrive or do we unmindfully bring out the worst in others? Do we strive to coax out goodness and beauty in others or do we live indifferently, minding only our own welfare and growth?

Well, is there real growth when we think and work only for ourselves? Isn’t growth happens when we live outside of ourselves and reach out to others also? There is no growth when there is no expansion.

But not everyone thinks and desires the same things as we do. Others may not want to be in and if it is a spouse, that would be difficult. If the parents are not of one mind and desire or of varying degree of commitment in leading the family into rich, verdant pastures of spiritual growth, that can be a problem. It will be too taxing to be hauling the burden on your own or on unequal or opposing forces. The ship cannot sail smoothly if the winds are contrary.

(Photo from Pinterest).

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Journey with Jesus,

10 Ways to Find Beauty for Ashes

As true worshipers of God, we have this fervent desire to perfect our walk before Him, to be pleasing to Him in everything we do – every thought, every intent, every word, every endeavor, every work, every interaction. We want that the entirety of our life honors God, an offering and a sacrifice to Him for a sweet-smelling aroma. A life that is in itself a worship. Even David had this deep desire in him:

I will behave wisely in a perfect way…
I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. (Ps. 101:2)

beauty_for_ashes

It is what is at the heart of our daily prayers: to bring God joy, to delight Him with our everyday lives, not only to gain His overflowing favor, but because it is what the Holy Spirit has planted in our heart of hearts. It is the very reason we exist – our lives giving glory to God.

But doing daily life has its own challenges. It’s never really smooth sailing. Stumbling stones will suddenly appear on our paths, often at times when we least expect them. A child might have disrespected us, bringing us pain and great disappointment. Another child might be being difficult and before we know it, we had come to the end of our patience, we had shouted, or spoken harshly, and we had hurt the child’s feelings and brought him/her to tears.

Or maybe a spouse’s gross insensitivity has deeply wounded us and we just want to curl up in misery and drown in our own tears. We are utterly frustrated and we don’t even know how to begin to overcome our grief. Or maybe we desperately want it to work out so we try to talk, at first calmly explaining, even pleading with tears for an open mind and heart, for understanding and a reconciliation at the end. But maybe the spouse is really being difficult, impossible even! And before you know it, you’re fighting back word for word, hurt for hurt. Your morning prayer for a perfect heart and walk before God has been ruthlessly trampled. The atmosphere of love, joy, and peace in the home that you so greatly desire has turned into a nightmare, one that you so want to banish from your memory (especially if you’re still recovering from another similar episode) and be healed of it.

What do you do when you desire beauty in your life but ugliness comes to invade instead? When peace and praise and joy are what you want ringing in your home, but instead, strifes and harsh words and weeping echo off the walls?

The following will save the day during those plowing through stormy, turbulent seas of this thing called life:

1. Pray

Do not let the ugly encounter end there: ugly. After the angry spouse or child has stormed out and slammed the door behind them, fall on your knees. Often, you don’t know what to say, where to start. You are filled with confusion, hurt, disappointment, and all other emotions whirling inside you like a hurricane. Just call out to God and tell it as it is. He has all the time in the world to listen. Tell Him all about it. Your. need. for. His. help. Unload the heavy weight that threatens to rip your chest apart. You may be discouraged about everything but NEVER BE DISCOURAGED IN PRAYING! Don’t give up on God; He will never give up on you! Pour out your heart. Confess, repent, beg.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7).

2. Praise

Go up a few rungs higher. If you thought praise is only for those who feel like rejoicing, think again! With your heavy, grieving heart and unsettled mind, enter the Lord’s presence with solemn, soulful songs of praise. Sing even amid sobs, letting the tears flow freely. Let the lyrics be a prayer drawn from the depths of your soul. Sing until you feel the Savior’s embrace with His soothing words of acceptance and unfailing love. Sing until the clouds of ugliness is lifted off your heart and home. Sing until beauty blooms in every corner of your heart and spreads to every member of your family.

3. Intentionally Create a Reason for Thanksgiving

There was a long season in our life when my husband and I couldn’t seem to strike up harmony within our marriage. This was after we had reconciled (after more than two years of estrangement), had received the Lord’s salvation, and I was already very ill I had to stop working. It was apparent that the fruit of the Holy Spirit in either of us (though in varying magnitude) was a long time coming. We stood on different ends of the sensitivity scale. I am the kind of person who wants to talk heart-to-heart, to sort things out with hearts and minds wide open, and resolve them with words that bridge and heal. He was the kind who didn’t want to open up his heart and express himself, and when he’s prodded, the words came out wounding.

What I often did after having prayed and/or praised, I would cook a very special dish, set up the table and gather the kids around. I would lift up a prayer of thanksgiving for just… everything, then we would eat and celebrate despite the ugliness that had just occurred. Gathering around the table to partake of food especially cooked in love and celebrating with the Lord who makes it all possible will draw beauty into our lives and homes.

Banish the ugliness by intentionally creating beauty with God’s grace.

4. Witness

No, you don’t like to curl up in a corner and sulk and wallow in self-pity and misery. You are an overcomer, more than a conqueror. You will not speak anything that will dishonor God. You will not ambush a family member or a friend (or even your housekeeper or caregiver!) to catch all your bitter complaints. But this is what you will do: you will testify of the goodness, mercy, and faithfulness of God. You will talk about what He has done and continues to do in your life. You will highlight His works, not somebody’s faults and failings. Remembering God’s wondrous deeds and talking about them will take back the victory the devil has stolen.

5. Rest

Whether you were embroiled in a fight or you’re sick and waiting for healing, rest will do you a world of good. Rest will bring a lull to a stressful situation, a time to cool and calm down and steady your heart. Rest is a whisper to your spirit, “I care for you.” You may rest in different ways: sit and just be still, nap, read a psalm and meditate on it, have a tea for one, write on your journal (express your feelings on the pages or write a prayer), etc. However you choose to rest, it should bring you peace. It should push away ugly thoughts from your mind and bring in warmth and serenity to your soul like a flannel blanket in a stormy night. Rest refreshes the mind and body and enables you to think clearly.

6. Talk Heart-to-Heart

There should be a resolution to the conflict and a time for reconciliation. Communication is the key. Communicate, not to further play the blame game, but to build a bridge. “Communication translates the Greek word logos, which means to speak intelligently, to articulate a message…”*. You may invite the child involved into your room and talk heart-to-heart. If you’ve hurt their feelings, be humble enough to own up to your mistake and sincerely say sorry. Set a good example on how to humble down and honor others. With all love and gentleness, encourage them to open up their heart and talk.

If talking heart-to-heart is not a good idea (there are men who hate it, I think), write the involved party a letter. Your words should show no more of the accusations but a humbling down, an offering of peace and forgiveness or a plea for one.

7. Do Some Home Beautifying

Dwell not in the ugly thoughts and emotions. Do some “house-warming” to blow away those cobwebs from your mind. Arrange fresh flowers in a vase; light a scented candle; play praise music; plump up the throw pillows, change their cases; fix fresh fruits in a tray. Whatever you do to enliven your home, it should speak of your love to all those who live in it.

8. Do Some Gardening

This activity will surely cool your head and calm your heart. Cultivate the earth around the plants;  sprinkle fertilizer; deadhead, prune, trim; water the plants. Gardening will help you gather back joy into your life. Find refreshment and inspiration for your spirit while you’re out there: the cool breeze caressing your face, the sun’s rays seeping through the trees, the birds flitting from branch to branch, the sun-dappled grass, the spread of dandelions. All these God gives for your enjoyment. Whisper a “Thank You” toward heaven for His gifts.

9. Create Something

Dabble with watercolor, paint, draw, do origami. With your whole attention focused on your work to create something beautiful, you will not have time endlessly thinking and analyzing the ugly and hurtful events. You have prayed and placed everything in God’s hands. Now, stop fretting. You may do these activities with your kids. Craft together, laugh together. Create art, create fun, create love.

10. Take a Walk

Thank God for your strong two feet! Walking is a very rewarding activity but do it to draw closer to God. Use this quiet time to talk with Him, every step a praise, a remembrance of His loving-kindness.

Don’t fret about the troubles and trials that come, but let them bring us ever closer to our God.

*From A Word for the Day by J. D Watson, p. 76.

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The Grass Cutter and the Porcelain Tea Set (A Marriage Tale)

My husband told me how my sister-in-love in Florida had mentioned to him the challenge she encountered in packing our purchases. We shopped online from stores in the USA and had them delivered to her address. She then packed the items in a big courier box to be shipped to us. It will be cheaper that way than have the stores ship directly to us. She told her Kuya Felix how she had puzzled in arranging his grass cutter in such a way that my pretty and fragile porcelain tea set would not be crushed to smithereens.

Later on as I lay in bed facing my framed Gracelaced arts on the wall, the thought was still on my mind and I smiled to myself. Grass cutter and porcelain tea set. I marvelled both at the beauty and paradox of that. Iron and porcelain. Exact opposites – strength and fragile beauty  – yet exhibiting fierce attraction to each other, like positive and negative poles. In chemistry, like cation and anion reacting powerfully. A man and a woman. A husband and wife, exactly as God has destined it to be. Adam and Eve.

It has always been that way from the beginning. In the garden of Eden. God’s perfect design. And God saw that it was good.

Call me an incurable, hopeless romantic but that’s how I’ve always seen the differences between a man and a woman. There are distinct differences and they are wonderful. They stir up powerful emotions in both man and woman as God has purposed. Although women now inhabit the men’s world, pursuing careers that previously labeled as men’s and doing things that were previously exclusive to the “stronger vessel”, in the realm of love and marriage, the differences that God had put in place in the beginning are still intact. And no one can change that.

I’ve always seen my husband as the stronger one physically. And yes, even emotionally. Although I exhibited (still do!) a very strong personality, ruthlessly pursuing a career in chemical engineering and putting up my own chemicals company, his were the sturdy shoulders I cried on when I failed, was hurt or frustrated. His were the arms which held and carried me when I was too sick and weak to bring myself to the hospital. I always loved that with my husband: him capably carrying me in his arms, his masculine strength a contrast to my feminine frame.

The extreme feminists out there may strongly disagree, but I cannot and will not climb our roof to check leaks, or walk precariously in our dingy ceiling to check faulty electrical wirings, nor can I see myself climbing up a ladder, setting up CCTV around the house. In our home, my husband will always be the handyman, and me, the queen who enjoys her porcelain tea set.

One time many years ago when we were still dating and I was a hardworking career woman whose only rest was when I fell sick, he rushed to my apartment, flung open my closet to get my bathrobe, and scooped me up in his arms even before I could tie the robe around my pajama-clad, very sick self. He brought me to the hospital and took care of me everyday until I was well. He took a leave from work just to do that. This happened every other year, as was the pattern of my workaholic life then. I knew then that he was a man who would take care of me through thick and thin. That and the fact that he made me laugh were what made him precious to me.

But our relationship wasn’t always that beautiful and pat. Far from it, actually. The years that we dated each other were peppered with ugliness: shameful fights and bad choices. When we finally got married, on the outside, my dream wedding was fulfilled: a beautiful silk wedding gown created by a famous couturier, a wedding singer who performed in theaters, and a wedding reception at The Garden Ballroom of The Shangri-La. The gold-lined invitations were expensive and classy. But looking back now with the heart and mind of a born-again Christian, I can only shake my head in regret. Though our wedding was almost perfect according to the world’s standards, the events behind it, the real love story, weren’t that pure, let alone perfect.

I cannot count the times that I wished I could rewrite our history: our dating years, engagement, wedding, and the early years of marriage. We weren’t born-again Christians then. We walked in step with the world. We practiced what the world practiced. Many times I daydreamed of recreating our honeymoon, the very first night we became husband and wife. How beautiful it would have been had we been walking with the Lord then!

But we cannot rewrite our love story, how it unfolded, then crumbled hopelessly (just a year into marriage, it was an epic fail), and how I would have liked it told differently. We cannot brag about it as if it was taken from the pages of a beautiful romance novel, for it is far from that. What we can boast of instead is the grace of God that was poured out upon it unsparingly: how our marriage, marred by sins as dark as a moonless night and as crimson as fresh blood, was mercifully salvaged from the ash heap by the loving hands of the Savior and restored into His love and light.

The memories, replete with shame and sin, still make me shake my head when they sneak into my mind. The claws of the past still reach me sometimes. But, oh, how I give thanks to God for His beautiful gift: He makes all things new! In that one, short sentence is all the weight of my regrets and repentance carried and borne away as far away from me as the West will never meet the East. In it is the summation of my peace, my joy, my hope. God makes all things new in Christ. He blots out all past sins and remembers them no more.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Cor. 5:17)

I will never stop marvelling at God’s indescribable gift: the gift of a new life. Redemption. Restoration. Renewal. My life – past, present, and future – is poured out in this: the Lord Jesus Christ has become my sanctification, my holiness, my salvation! I just had to look it up again, that it’s really there, written on the pages of the ancient Book – the truth that set me free!

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:9-12, emphasis mine)

This year, we celebrate 15 years of marriage. We would have loved to renew our vows on a hill in the country, under a wedding dais decorated with a curtain of white orchids, a brightly-lit, cascading, crystal chandelier hanging at the center, and surrounded by loved ones, friends, and Church family. But I cannot walk. So, we embrace what is there to be had. Each other. And our two precious offsprings. And the sacrificial love that is a testimony to our tried and tested life.

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What Makes for a Beautiful Marriage

I’ve read quite a few stories of Christian weddings where the bride and groom kissed for the first time or were together as man and wife for the first time on their first night. My tears flowed at one time after reading one of those stories shared on Christian blogs. For isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? Coming together for the very first time on your wedding night? That was also my fervent dream growing up. But somewhere between my young girl dream and marriage at 33, that idealism was lost completely. For the ways of the world never collide with the ways of holiness.

And so, looking back, even if the bride that I was was garbed in a designer wedding gown, rode on a stretched limousine, and me and my groom received guests at the grand ballroom of a 5-star hotel — I regretted the path we took to reach the altar. Crying one night, I told my husband how I wished we could remake that one single day and night in our lives and experience how it was to be a pure, blushing bride.

Then came the 2-year chasm in the marriage where the sin of adultery reigned. How can one redeem the beauty of a ruined marriage?

My answer is this: It starts with the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other who can turn the ashes into beauty. He it is who makes a marriage sacred. In the flurry of our glitzy Catholic wedding, we had completely forgotten to invite Him into our lives. Thus, there was no blessing in the real sense of the word. But one solemn afternoon in our living room, me, dressed in a simple white suit and my husband in his barong tagalog, a preacher from our Church blessed us as husband and wife. It was our Christian wedding. And it was beautiful. Why? Because of the grace of the Lord which washed us from our sins and made us white as snow. Grace is beautiful. Forgiveness is its crown.

To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. (Is. 61:3)

I have not seen a perfect marriage in my world from my childhood to adulthood. Everywhere I look (that is, the ones that I can look into),  I see flaws, some kind of ugliness, and some measure of pain. Our marriage is one of those. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t carry its own beauty. With the love and grace of the Lord, beauty can never be absent.

I see beauty whenever my husband assists to wash me. From the top of my head to the tip of my toes, he lovingly and efficiently bathes me while we talk. Sometimes we break down laughing and I will spray him with the shower head. Those are the times I’m strong. Sometimes, we’re quiet as I endure the whole process, sitting still in my wheelchair. Those are the times I’m weak and not feeling well.

I love to read and tell stories. My husband reads only the Holy Bible and the news. We’re completely opposing poles, like a cation and an anion (excuse the terminology, I’m a ChE anyway :) ). But he loves to listen to the stories I tell about the books I read. When I can’t sleep at night (and that’s often because of my discomforts), he either massages my legs or listens to my stories. There are nights I burst out laughing because of something I remembered while he stifles his huge yawns. Later on, he’ll be chuckling with me.

What makes for a beautiful marriage? It’s the Lord Jesus Christ who holds it together and showers it with His daily grace. It’s the love you share, at times sacrificial, at other times covering. However it looks like, it all emanates from His love.

At night when my husband is already snoring at my side, I marvel at the beauty of a man and a woman sleeping side by side in their marriage bed. Don’t you? (That’s for my married readers).

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Jesus and the Brokenhearted

When I finally got to talk to her, she stood in front of me bravely and without a hint of pain lining her face. Bravely I say because what would a 46-year old mother say to a 13-year old teen who’s not even her daughter? But she’s Hannah’s dear friend and I really care for her. When Hannah told me about her friend’s family breaking up, my heart went out to her and her Mom. I was touched deeply when Hannah said that her friend told her it’s okay to tell me.

I remember the first time I met her. She was barely 8 years old, the same age as Hannah. Hannah presented her to me, her newfound friend, as I sat at our doorstep. I squeezed her chubby arms then, letting her know I wanted her and Hannah to be real friends. Beginning that day, the two spent sunny summer days biking around the neighborhood. One morning, as I was settling in my usual spot at our doorstep fronting the garage, I saw a piece of paper wedged in our gate. Hannah took it and read. It was a note from her friend. It simply said, You’re my best friend forever. This, even before the word BFF became so overused and commonplace. But there was nothing commonplace in their friendship. One, if I’m honest to admit, that I actually envy. (Ever since my closest friend emigrated to Canada, I had not found someone whom I can call “BFF”).

So, Hannah’s friend stood in front of me, Hannah right beside her, much like that very first day I met her. I asked how she was, and her Mom, too. Many times, I had to blink back tears as we talked. But she carried herself remarkably well, not once breaking down. In the end, I told her I’d pray for her and her Mom.

Marriages implode, families are torn apart, hearts shatter and bleed. We can only do as much – love, care, pray. As Christ-followers, we share in their pain and burden, but it’s only really the Lord Jesus Christ who can heal, redeem, and restore what was broken. I can’t even begin to imagine the raw pain, the anguish, brought about by a crumbled home and being pinned down underneath the hopeless, ugly heap.

Our family had once walked down that road, although it wasn’t as final and hopeless. Because of our testimony, because of what the Lord has done in our lives, I can believe that there is hope for every smashed-up heart. If not healing and restoration, it can be healing and a new life. A new beginning. These are all possible in Christ.

A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. (John 10:10 MSG)

This is my hope and prayer for Hannah’s friend and her family, and for all the others out there whose peace and joy have been stolen and lives have been destroyed. All our hope is in Jesus who gave His life so we can find ours in Him.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit:
a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Ps. 51:17)

(Photo courtesy of my cousin Bill Raras).

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A Tale of a Marriage

The bride wore a Larry Espinosa gown with the designer’s signature bodice made of a curve-flattering corset sprinkled with tiny Swarovski crystals. The skirt was luxurious satin, full and gloriously flowing with scattered Swarovski. It was elegant in its simplicity. Her hair and make-up was done by Leony Diaz. There was no excuse the bride wouldn’t look radiant. And she did! The Garden Ballroom of Edsa Shangri-la Manila was just perfect for the wedding reception. When bride and groom ascended the winding, grand staircase of the ballroom, one could imagine a girl’s fantasy coming true.

Four years passed and the same bride – now older, maybe wiser, but certainly ailing and weak – sat beside her groom (yes, same one) before a preacher as they received the Lord’s blessings as husband and wife. The bride now wore a simple white suit and a chiffon baby pink inner blouse. The whole ensemble was sewed by an elder dressmaker from their church. There was no glitter (she even forgot to pin a brooch!) and no rose bouquet. The couple’s daughter, now three years old, sat squeezed between them in the Queen Anne settee. The family’s living room was no match for the Garden Ballroom of Edsa Shangri-la, but the solemn occasion was graced with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. This was their Christian wedding.

There are marriages that are made in heaven (at least that’s what they claim!). Some are not as fortunate and they implode, leaving the shreds of their dream and hearts scattered about with no hope of being mended. And then there’s the marriage found in-between these two extremes: shattered but made whole again by God. Just like ours.

Between our fabulous Catholic wedding and our simple, Spirit-filled Christian one is 4 years of pain, heartbreaking problems, and eventual separation followed by wanton living. But at the end of it was God’s open arms and His offer of unconditional love, amazing grace for complete forgiveness and salvation, and a new life in Him.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Cor. 5:17)

If you’ve ever doubted God’s love, even His existence, I’m here to tell you that He’s alive and knows everything about you! If you’ve been living in the in-between, waiting for a breakthrough in your life and problems, hanging in uncertainty and despondency, know that God has not forgotten you. For all you know, He  wants to use our story to call you to His embrace.

On Monday, April 28th, we’re celebrating 14 years of marriage. Others may claim years of wedded bliss with their best friends. Well, my husband and I can’t claim the same. But that doesn’t mean ours is not true and entire or that we should be ashamed of our past. On the contrary, we tell our story to give God the glory, that there’s nothing too hard for Him. Nothing is impossible with Him. He is in the business of fixing and mending and healing and you can count on it. We are celebrating because it is the Lord who makes our lives beautiful replete with sacrificial love and devotion, precious lessons, authenticity, and humble walk with Him.

My husband and I learned that a marriage cannot survive outside of the close guidance of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecc. 4:12 NIV)

A cord of three strands: you, your spouse, and the Lord. Make Him the center of your marriage.

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A Friend in Jesus

Sorrow and suffering bring you to a place where you can know the deep things in life. Deeper faith, deeper understanding, deeper sensitivity. These are the gifts that come along with them. Sometimes, they drive you to a deep need to reach out and open up, or, shut up the world from your life and just settle in your shell to avoid being hurt. I have been in and out of both, but reaching out to share has always had the upper hand.

(Image from Google)

After a usual day alone with my writing interspersed with suffering, my husband finally came home in the afternoon. Often, we just have snacks together and talk about trivial things (sometimes I just prefer to clam up and not tell how hard my day has been). But this time, I had the overwhelming urge to tell him about the book I’ve started to write. I told him that he’s the only soul I’ve shared what the book is all about, then proceeded to show eagerly the first few chapters. He was nodding but distracted. Before I was finished, he stopped me (not rudely) and said, “Can we just cut it short because I want to take a nap.” I have known this forever. That he’s someone who is rarely interested with books, or reading, or writing, or analyzing (he only reads news and sometimes the Bible). Why I keep forgetting this fact in our life is entirely my fault. Although I know all this, I still get hurt and I still long to have someone to talk to about the things that interest me.

But I have to quietly accept the fact that husbands can’t be everything. Mine does sacrificial love every single day: massages my atrophied legs late at night when I can’t sleep; assists me in bathing and washing my hair; runs errands – the things I want him to check out or buy in stores, etc. etc. But he can’t be all I want him to be. That wouldn’t be fair. Husbands are not all-in-one.  That’s why there are women friends. And I’m in want of one.

I had a friend once who knew all my flaws but still didn’t think of deserting me. She was the one who would volunteer to walk with me the whole length of Mega Mall for the nth time because I finally decided to buy the blouse, or the dress, or the pair of shoes. She would do her best to keep her drooping eyes open while I talked into the night. But I made sacrifices for her, too. I would endure a migraine attack that was killing me while we ate a Thai dinner which was her favorite. She was the one who would go to such lengths just to buy me roasted chestnuts when out of season (but Chinatown had it and she intuitively knew) because it was what I was pining for while I was pregnant with Hannah. But before I gave birth, she had left for Canada, a better opportunity for her. We haven’t seen each other for 8 years now.

But though I’m hungering for a friend I can touch and laugh and cry with, I know I have one who is always there and ready to listen. He can be as close as the next heartbeat. He eases my pains; soothes my sorrows; and makes me soar in the inspiration He brings. My friend is Lord and King and He loves me forever. I’m glad I found a friend in Jesus.

Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

From the song What a Friend We Have in Jesus

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