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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Heart for a Contrite Heart

Tim and I sat down to enjoy the Bon Chon takeout that his Dad brought over lunch. Hannah was resting in her room because she was on her second week of two-meal prayer and fasting. I asked Tim to warm my rice and beef topping in the microwave and told him not to transfer it to a bowl anymore. He said that he can’t microwave the cardboard tub. I insisted he could.

Me and my favorite boy in the whole planet, Tim.

Me and my favorite boy in the whole planet, Tim.

He came back looking distressed and carrying a bowl with my food in it, now looking like it was dumped upside down. He said he dropped the tub on the floor because it had become soft from microwaving and he scooped what he could into the bowl. I told him to pick up all the beef. Before he left for the second time, he told me in all sadness that I could have his food instead. When he returned, tears were racing down his cheeks. He was miserably sorry that he dropped my food and he wouldn’t eat. He just sobbed in his chair.

Now, my 8-year old Tim is a painfully sweet boy. And he’s very responsible and industrious, too. Unlike most boys his age who only want to play all day, he can assist me to the bathroom and give me everything I need. He is smart and efficient and follows instructions to the letter. On Friday nights when hubby and Hannah go to church to attend the overnight prayer meeting, he stays with me in the room and assists me in whatever I need help with: hot water, snacks (we eat together), toothbrush prep, face washing prep, drawing the curtains, blanket, night light, etc.

But he is a kid and he is bound to make blunders (even adults do!).

I couldn’t bear to see him so miserable even when I said that I wasn’t angry and it’s okay, that I was still eating my own food because I already blessed and gave thanks for it. So, I pulled him to me and hugged him tightly and wiped away his tears.

He whispered that he was also worried that his Ate Hannah might see the mess on the kitchen floor and scold him. So, I instructed him to sweep it off into the dust pan then mop it clean. So, he did just that. It was only after this that he sat at the table and ate. (I waited for him the whole time, so when I finally put food into my mouth, it was already cold. So much for microwaving it! We had come full circle 😀 ).

Days before this, I had a similar incident involving Hannah. We were prepping to make matcha bars using fresh coconut milk. The milk had been squeezed out of the grated coconut flesh by hubby using the exact measurement of water I gave. I sent Hannah to the kitchen to get it (we bake in our bedroom extension since I can’t walk, so we have a mobile kitchen :) ). When she came back carrying the bowl of coconut milk, she was sobbing, fat tears trickling down her cheeks.

“What happened?” I asked curiously.

“Mom, I spilled much of the coconut milk. I didn’t know the bowl was slippery and it turned over. This is the only thing I was able to save,” she sobbed.

My 15-year old Hannah knows her way in the kitchen. She can cook on her own, closely following recipes, and when she presents her creations to us with a flourish, we are grateful and pleased. Together with Tim, she assists me in baking. When I’m too exhausted, I can leave her to continue what we have started.

She put down the bowl of coconut milk on the table. The sorrow on her face told me that she thought all our preparations were ruined. But I looked at the quantity of coconut milk in the bowl and was certain that we had enough and some to spare (that’s because hubby was able to produce more than what was needed, compensating for the quantity that spilled).

Calmly, I told my daughter that it’s okay and we’re proceeding with our recipe. I worked cheerfully with her, wanting to appease her sorrow from her blunder. I wanted her to feel that she was appreciated (especially her contrite heart) and precious to me, mistakes and all.

That is the natural tendency of a mother to her child who has erred and is completely humble to feel sorrow for it. We just want to embrace and soothe their sorrow and wipe away their tears. Of course, there is always a proper time for correction and reprimand, sometimes gentle, sometimes sharp. But those moments of deep remorse with tears – we just want to draw them closer and give mercy and love in copious amount.

More than the fear of being scolded, I have seen that there is an underlying, deeper reason why Hannah and Tim felt sorrowful for their mistakes and were even tearful about them: they are developing a deep sense of responsibility in their hearts. They are not kids who are growing up irresponsibly. In their heart of hearts, they want to do things right, according to our teachings to them. They want to show proofs of their learning, growing, and maturing process.

And… I love that. My heart is filled with joy to see our children walking and growing before the Lord as what we fervently and incessantly pray for.

If we delight in our children’s contrite spirits, how much more God who put that love and mercy in our hearts? God has a thing for the contrite in heart.

For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones. (Is. 57:15)

The companion of contrite is confessing. Are we a confessing Christian? Do we come before the Lord, humbling down ourselves and confessing and acknowledging our shortcomings, mistakes, failures, and sins? Are we humble enough to acknowledge them and be remorseful of them? Are we courageous enough to own up to them and actually confess (mention) each one though they may seem or sound really ugly? That they are ugly and no amount of cosmetics – excuses – can prettify them? Like maybe the things that we harbor in our hearts that we are really ashamed of.

Or maybe internal struggles against the temptation to stumble because we are seriously offended.

The Lord Jesus mentioned that offenses must come.

Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! (Mat. 18:7)

The offender is not what I want to emphasize here, but the heart of the offended that wants to grow cold and give in to disillusionment (for want of a better word).

I’m sorry that I cannot give the details of the real struggle I had to go through recently. It is a sensitive matter. But I confessed everything to the Lord: the feelings of great dismay and discouragement I had to really fight. The resentment, too, and weariness of the spirit. I emptied my heart before Him. And until now, I still pray fervently regarding this thing that has so affected me. I’m thankful that my heart, our hearts, whatever they are going through, are known by God and are accepted by Him.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise. (Ps. 51:17)

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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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Pulling Down Strongholds

After morning prayer, I laid my back against the pillow and closed my eyes to rest awhile. I thought, “I don’t think I can resume today my Bible Study with the kids in the early evenings. I still don’t have enough strength to discuss and stress the lessons.” An inner voice answered me, “It’s important that you resume and that’s beginning today. Just open the Bible and the strength will be supplied.” I still didn’t know. And I didn’t have any clue what lay ahead of the rest of the day.

At sundown, I heard scuffling and screaming from upstairs. I knew the kids were in disagreement and were fighting again. I couldn’t walk, couldn’t run, couldn’t climb up the stairs, although in these instances, I always want so much to be able to do all those things. I sent  a maid to tell them to come down. There would be explanations, and in the end, always a showing of humility from both sides (with my urging and insistence), apologies, and reconciliation. The little one came without hesitation, face sullen.

I had to ask a maid twice to fetch the older. I was beginning to feel irked and frustrated. The older, she’s developing an independent disposition that is not always honoring as she’s entering puberty. Sadly, there had been many instances of her showing a rebellious heart which had caused me grief and drove me to more gruelling prayers. There are not so many things that puzzle me about life, but motherhood remains to be one of them. And I’m feeling it’s getting harder as my daughter and I are entering into her adolescence.

She came and I tackled first the problem at hand: Why couldn’t she come down at once? Why always the resistance? The exchange became more difficult and frustrating when I learned that the things she needed to do and had been daily reminded of for days remained unaccomplished. But that same afternoon, before the uproar, when she came to me for something she needed at the bookstore, I listened at once and did what she requested, as always.

There is no willing obedience without having learned honor first. As a mother, I do my best to model humility and honor. I sincerely ask for forgiveness from my children when I am wrong and have hurt their feelings. I tell them that I listen to their needs and act on them because I honor and care for them. We teach them to honor us, their parents, and one another, and in so doing, they are honoring God in their lives.

At dinnertime, when the daddy arrived from mid-week service, I hoped to unite the family around the table and, yes, resume our evening devotion reading the Bible. No, she wouldn’t come and didn’t want to eat. How much longer and more painful this “rebellion” would be! Rebellion dishonors the rest of the family and, ultimately, God. Rebellion must be rooted out. 

And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. (Eph. 6:4)

More furor. How can you turn ugly into beauty? I wept, I begged, I expressed my love. This love of a mother, I realized, is as durable as a diamond though the heart is many times broken. More efforts, yes. Parenting is like Jacob wrestling with God until you have obtained victory. My ailing and weak body was begging for rest, but when all had quieted and settled down, we found ourselves around our table, the daddy opening our NKJV Greatest Stories of the Bible to chapter 2 which is Genesis 3, after his opening prayer. We listened to him reading how Adam and Eve challenged God by rebelling and disobeying Him. And how they lacked humility by not acknowledging and repenting of their sin, but instead, blamed another.

What Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden could still be occurring in our homes over and over:

Rebellion

Disobedience

Lack of humility (repentance)

Dishonor

With hearts pried open by aches, love, and the words of the Lord, these lessons were talked about, instilled, and hopefully digested to the inmost being. I saw bowed heads, faint nods. I saw a cold heart thawing. We prayed in closing. Around our dinner table, I saw the beauty of the Lord once again shining.

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. (2 Cor. 10:4-6)

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