Social distancing and the salamander

With social distancing strategies in place, I think about the lonely salamander out there under the sun on a hot dry day.

A salamander is a reptile that thrives best in a cool, dark wet place in swampy areas. If it steps out into an unfamiliar place, it scampers back to its place of comfort and stays there.

With social distancing and self-isolation guidelines strategy,   I feel like the salamander. Out under the sun, I am anxious about the heat and unfamiliar territory and I am being forced to adapt.  I am being told not to go back to my natural habitat of comfort and safety, or risk my safety and that of others.

When this concept of social distancing first entered my lexicon, my instant reaction was:  are you kidding me?   You see, I am a very tactile person, given to touching others to express affection.  Can I share a little secret here?  There are still those occasional nights when I would sneak into my grown-up daughters’ beds to give them bodily hugs, a practice that others may consider err…uncivilized or invasive. I love to hug friends and families and hold hands with them.  I also love to hang out with friends in coffee shops or in homes, talking about everything and nothing.

So imagine how I struggled with the idea of having to rewire something that has been so deeply lodged in my brain and to force me to think differently than what I was used to.   Someone I know who is also very tactile, said he would rather die than stop hugging.  I couldn’t relate more with that.

But as I began to appreciate the magnitude of the danger of Covid-19 virus and how it has claimed the lives of thousands of people all over the world, I felt the pressure to conform much stronger than the pressure to defy. We could literally die if we don’t stay away from others! It was no longer an option but a necessity. And what I was being asked to give up is so little compared to the huge burden being placed on our doctors, nurses, paramedics and other front liners going out on a limb to save someone like me and the most vulnerable among us.  By staying home and by doing nothing, I am actually doing something.

Those who naturally gravitate towards others can relate with me when I say that this new normal isn’t normal at all.  My daughter’s patience is wearing thin (and understandably so) especially when there seems to be no end in sight. Life seems shallower, more like survival than living.  I miss having face to face conversations with friends, when I am out shopping, having small group meetings or having coffee dates or simply striking in-person conversations with friends and strangers alike.  These are what enrich my social identity and now, all of these things have to be set aside. 

And how I still struggle to this day.  And I know you do too. Why?  Because we are social beings.  Because we are created for relationships.  Because we are not meant to be alone.  Social isolation is an onslaught to our DNA.  This need for connection is literally built into our biology. As the salamander seeks its natural habitat, we human beings seek human connections as our source of comfort and safety.

It scares me to realize that this invisible, untouchable, inaccessible virus can wreak so much havoc not just in taking away precious lives, shutting down our societies and the world economic systems but also in reshaping out relationships as human beings. In the history humankind, our social connections have served us well, but right now, for our own physical protection, we need to disconnect and pull away.

Thankfully, we are not powerless.  This virus doesn’t have to defeat us.  There may be things outside of our control, but there are definitely things that are still within our control.  This virus should not limit our capacity to reach out to others and maintain  connection.

So for a couple of times now, I have been holding virtual meetings with my friends and small groups, thanks to the great power of technology. Don’t we all appreciate how technology and the social media are such strong enablers of social connection?  I’m not a very techie person, but overnight, I was able to master different kinds of platforms, such as duo, google meet, zoom, house party and what not.  Our meetings have been great so far and were as engaging as in-person meetings.  We have been able to help each other navigate thorough the challenges of these confusing times, encourage each other and point each other to God, our greatest source of hope. Our church may have cancelled our events and Sunday worship services, but we have not stopped being The Church as we continue to care for one another.

And equally important:  we have been able to maintain connection with each other.  Of course, nothing replaces face-to-face in person interaction and some of us are a little uncomfortable with this new normal, but then again, virtual connection is better than no connection at all.

Truth be told:  I think this is the only way to maintain our sanity and social well-being.

All of us are now living into new daily rhythms, which maybe disorienting but are also proving that we can still stay connected even when we are being asked to isolate ourselves. True enough, social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation.

We remember the words of Paul in Colossians 2:5:  For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am one with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.  

 This virus maybe shaping the way we live, but it should never prevail over our capacities to seek deep connections and to continue to nurture those important relationships in our lives.

We can be little heroes

COVID-19_1400With COVID-19 virus on the prowl, my regular routine has changed significantly.

I’ve become germphobic overnight and obsessed about washing my hands when I can. I’ve learned to do online grocery shopping, cancelled non-essential in-person group meetings, avoided public places and ventured outside only out of necessity. Social distancing as a new concept has just been added into my vocabulary. These have become my regimen over the last few days.

Staying at home sequestered, I’ve learned to use my time creatively such as resuming my long overdue blogging activities and doing spring clean-up.  My daughters have resorted to facetime to keep social connections while hubby has been doing carpentry works.

As a family, we all look forward to the summer wedding of Bianca and Ben in Kelowna. Families from the Philippines and other parts of the globe are scheduled to attend this wedding. With the COVID-19 situation continually evolving, everything is up in the air at this point.

It’s disruptive and annoying for sure. For those of us who are not used to isolation and gravitate towards others for connection, this is a moment of grief. But as we think of our own disruption and grief, it helps to remember that others right now are in much deeper pain:

  • while we enjoy the comforts and luxury of our homes, others are trying to endure the loneliness of isolation in treatment facilities away from their loved ones.
  • while we feel bored at home, health care providers out there are under constant pressure to care for others despite their tired bodies and weary spirits.
  • while we feel safe in our tiny cubicles, front-line service providers such as bus drivers and pilots live in constant fear of possible exposure, but still choose to serve as part of their duty anyway.
  • while we worry about not having enough toilet papers, families out there worry about  not being there to hold their loved ones as they take their last breath.
  • while we feel anxious about tomorrow,  someone out there is grieving the loss of a parent who just succumbed to the virus.

Despite living in fear and anxiety, we really just need to remember that we are still blessed and still have so many reasons to be grateful for.

This sense of gratitude should propel us into doing our part in helping contain the spread of virus. The strategy of the government is to slow down the spread to prevent high peaks and protect the most vulnerable in our midst by ensuring that they receive proper care not possible with a weakened health care system.

Those of us who are well have a moral obligation to cooperate with government guidelines and to ensure that the efforts of those putting their lives on the line to save others are not in vain.  We can be little heroes in our own way by being selfless for the sake of others. We can help stop the spread of virus and protect those who are most fragile by simply staying at home and putting up with our own disruptions. Which is a little thing to do by the way, compared to the sacrifices of our doctors, nurses, paramedics etc who are out there risking their limbs for the safety of others.  Continue reading “We can be little heroes”

She said YES!

Against the backdrop of Esplanade Riel bridge shimmering under the glorious sunny Provencher skies, Bianca and Ben got engaged last Friday.  We are having a wedding sometime next year.

We’ve always known they would come to this point. Ben asked for my permission January this year and had a man-to-man talk with Bianca’s dad thereafter.  He had the engagement ring ready in February. He originally planned to ask her in Mt Fuji Japan by “unexpectedly” showing up during our forthcoming trip there. But as he was to begin his month-long training as a commercial pilot with a new airline, the proposal had to be done earlier.

It was a very special moment for just them (and the videographer hiding behind bushes and structures). Much as we wanted to witness the actual proposal, we were cool with hanging on the sidelines, recognizing that such moment was meant for him and Bianca alone. We joined them soon after Bianca said yes, and had dinner together in beautiful Sky lounge by Prairie 360 overlooking the city.

Friends were asking how I feel and congratulating me.  Am I the one who got engaged? Shouldn’t they be congratulating the newly engaged?  I guess I know why: a mother always desires the best spouse for her kid. That is every mother’s fulfillment and source of joy.

And how did I feel about this whole thing?  A roller coaster of emotions, with my heart melting one moment, and then beaming with joy the next. When the confetti settled in, I had some, er, interesting after-engagement feelings again. So this is how my mother must have felt during my time.  A daughter marrying is always a big deal, even if the proposal is expected, or even if the future son-in-law was gracious enough to involve you from the very start.  A mom feels all the feelings, and it has everything to do with being a mother. Can moms with married or soon-to-be married daughters out there relate?

Oops…I forgot, this blog isn’t about me.  It’s about them.  So let’s redirect.

I’ve known Ben for some time before he dated my daughter.  A man of faith and character, raised well by missionary Filipino-Canadian parents in the ways of God and manhood.  Of course, he will fumble along the way (as you and I who have been in this marriage gig for a long time now did and continue to do so) but I believe he has the character to be a good husband and father to their future children.

In the overall scheme of things, character matters.

But isn’t a mother always a mother?  A part of me says my relationship with my daughter is changing, and yet another part says it is getting stronger. And am I not also gaining a son? But I couldn’t help but recall our moments together:  her birth, her lullabies, her school performances, her ballet recitals, her pretend games, her barbies and bratz, her fight with me and her sisters, her piano and guitar lessons, her high school years, her PROM, her struggles as a young adult.  Raising her was a greatest source of joy. And now she’s not so little anymore, ready to take life by the horns. And now she does! Isn’t this the goal?  Haven’t we prepared her for this?  

Here I go again. I keep forgetting this story isn’t about me.  So back to them again.

There are so many things about them that I am so proud of: their vow of sexual purity till wedding night, their devotion to each other, their resoluteness to grow and mature together, their intentional involvement of both their families even when they can easily live life in their own terms, and most of all their desire to glorify God in their relationship.  Indeed, what more could a mother ask for?

Just 11 months of dating and you think he’s the one?   This is how my daughter narrated her classmate’s reaction upon learning about their engagement. Of course, there is wisdom in knowing your partner more deeply before engagement.  But long-term relationships do not always guarantee lasting marriage. Research indicates that divorce rate is higher in couples who have lived together before getting married.  So many supposedly solid marriages crumble after many many years of the couple being together.  Character, not compatibility, sustains a marriage. God-centered relationship as opposed to spouse-centered relationship  makes a marriage flourish and able to withstand trials and the test of time.

20190331_1133088891556132483361320.jpgFriday began the countdown to the big wedding day for Bianca and Ben.  But Friday also began the preparations for something much more important than that one-time event: their marriage, their lifetime together, that they will live out after that day.  The wedding is just the formality, the final act of consummating the covenant relationship. Thankfully, Bianca and Ben are fully aware of this.

So here we go, a huge chapter in my daughter’s life and another one in mine, towards another chapter.  I keep reminding myself this is not my story but now I realized that this is also my story.  My daughter and I – we are in this great cycle called life, soon we are coming into full circle.

So now let’s get down to the business at hand:  When is the pre-marriage counselling taking place?  When do I teach my daughter to cook (she said in the summer of 2020, wink..wink)? What lessons do I and her dad continue to pass on to her to prepare her for marriage?  Who other older couples can they pair with to prepare them for marriage? 

And on the side…When is the final date of the big day? Is it destination or local wedding? What’s the color palette going to be?  What do they like for the menu?  How are travelling families going to be hosted? Should they set up their registry yet?  Do I host an engagement party? What is my role?

Oops…the stage mother strikes again. I keep forgetting, this isn’t my story (wink, wink…Image result for wink emoji gif.

When the illusion is shattered….

I can’t believe I’ve been married for 26 years now! In a time when divorce rate is staggering, and many marriages (though still intact) are suffering in silence, I am truly one grateful soul!

We all know the truth. Getting married is easy. Staying married within the context of a strong and thriving relationship is another story. The latter requires hard work, and choosing to say Ì do` over and over again.

Within marriage, the illusion of perfection is shattered as time goes by. That beautiful bride turns out to be a real woman, with flaws that weren’t previously apparent. That handsome groom turns out to be a real man, with weaknesses that can be downright annoying and irritating.

As the famous saying goes – familiarity breeds contempt. In the 24/7, “up close and personal” daily life of husband and wife, disappointment is very real. Husband and wife bring tons of baggage into the relationship due to sin, weaknesses, insecurities and selfishness. And when frustrations after frustrations pile up, the reality of separation looms high. As familiarity increases with time, the wonder disappears and contempt replaces love, leading to marital death.

People who know me and my husband can attest to our huge personality differences. Truth be told, our differences have caused many stresses, offenses and frustrations on both sides. Did we mess up our relationship? Many many times. Did we cause grief on each other? Over and over again. Did we try to sort out our messes? Always. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve tried, and failed and then tried again. Did we contemplate divorce? Never!

There you go.

Inspite our differences, our flaws and weaknesses, we’ve never ever contemplated living life without each other. I have long realized the futility of changing my husband to conform to my way of doing things and so had he. So we just accepted each other for who we are and used our differences to complement each other rather than to set us apart. We’ve resolved to stick together, knowing each of us is the best partner that God could have given each other. In sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse, till death do us part.

We’ve always known and believed that marriage isn’t just about our compatibility or our own happiness. All marriages exist for a bigger purpose: to help us grow and mature into the image and likeness of Christ, to raise and guide our children into the ways of God, to build a family as a strong pillar of love and service to others, and to shine light in dark places. We have a vision for our marriage and family, and this has been our steady anchor over the years.

After 26 years in this relationship, I can tell you with authority that selfishness is the death sentence of any marriage. When you make marriage as about you and for you, expect your marriage to head towards destruction. It’s only a matter of time.

As I reflect on our marriage for the last 26 years and realizing how flawed we both are, I am awed by the realization that my husband and I have come a long way together. I look forward to many many more years of life with him.

The ultimate secret of our strong marriage? We always seek to give rather than to get. My husband most especially – he just keeps on giving and giving and giving. This inspires me to also give back as a natural response to his love and kindness.

Thankfully, we have a model for this kind of love. God showed us that he first loved us even though we are the most unlovable creature, and we then respond to this love out of gratitude.

Uhmmm….new year’s resolutions?

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Just like that, 2018 is gone…welcome 2019!

And if you’re like me, you’ve probably set some new year’s resolutions or goals:  lose weight, eat healthy, spend wisely, learn new things, travel more, create new friends, do well in the job and the list goes on.

You and I  are a work in progress, and although there’s really no mystical difference between December 31st and January 1st,  the dawn of the new year inspires us to start fresh.  So we typically take stock of areas to improve on, aiming to do better this year compared to the previous one.

And if you’re also like me, you probably felt conflicted as you set your new year’s resolutions. Would I be able to really change my negative habits?  Would I be able to sustain my goal?  Would I be able to do better this year than in 2018?

We all know the truth:  it’s easy to make new promises, it’s another thing to keep them. We may succeed at first but as the novelty wears off, we are certain to be back to old patterns, old habits, old behaviours and mindsets.  And before long,  we would come face to face with the sobering realization of being back to where we actually started at the beginning of the year.  Trust me, I’ve been there.

New year’s resolutions are powerless by themselves.

And here’s why I think most of us fail:  we change our habits and behaviours (the externals) without changing our hearts (the internal). It’s like trying to nourish a plant’s leaves to the neglect of the roots.  In time,  the leaves will wilt and the plant will die if the roots aren’t cared for.  Everything we do flows from the heart (Proverbs 4:23). Changing our habits leads to short-term success. Changing our heart (from which all motives flow) leads to permanent, long-term success.

Here’s a much more important reason behind our resolutions’ fiasco:  we leave God out of the equation and rely on our will power, self-discipline and lame efforts. He –  the greatest transformation agent, utmost catalyst for change – is factored out.   I am going to do this and that…I will rely on my own efforts and abilities.  Before long, we find ourselves running empty, and with not enough strength to sustain our goals.

For 2019, I aim to be kinder, more compassionate, more patient, more forgiving, more selfless, more generous,  more prayerful, more dedicated.   Such tall order I know.  But I’m not relying on myself.  Left to myself, my feeble attempts at transforming myself can only do so much.  In all these things, I just want to hand everything to God and allow him to mold me into the kind of person He wants me to be. My confidence is in Christ who resides in  me and causes me to do good works.   Phlippians 4:13 says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.

And when everything is said and done,  I just want to give glory to God, the lover of my soul.

So carry on with your new year’s resolutions if you must.   By themselves though, remember they have no power.

 

Letting go

My first daughter just turned 22 and that’s huge!

Should we start charging her home rental, or let her share with the bills? After all, she’s now a full adult by society’s standards. But she’s still one year shy of completing her degree and doesn’t have a job…so I guess today isn’t ripe for that yet.

Which by the way, brings such a bittersweet relief for this time-warped mom. I mean, the feeling (or illusion) that your grown-up daughter still needs you is something to be cherished at this stage in my life.

Couple of years from now, she is going to leave home to build her own. She is going to say goodbye to parental authority to pursue her own path. And isn’t she expected to do that? After all, that’s why we’ve cared for her, nurtured, taught and guided her for the last 22 years. God loaned her to us and gave instructions on how to prepare her for the time when she’s ready to leave our home.

I know, I know. Thats why I’m bidding my time while she’s still with us. Making the most of this moment when she still needs us, while it lasts (sigh…sigh…)

Truth be told, I am so proud of the woman that she has become. She’s given us so much joy just by being the kind-hearted and God-fearing daughter that she is. And while I would definitely tear up when she finally says “mom, this is the day”, I think I am ready to fully embrace that moment. I will remember that as a special rite of passage marking the transition of my role from being a teaching and guiding mother into a trusted source of wisdom watching her take life by the horns from a distance.

How did I come into this place of acceptance? Let me tell you a story that happened in the not so distant past.

In January this year, she said goodbye to pursue a six-month co-op program in rural PineFalls. After a week of her leaving home, my husband and I visited her for the first time in her hotel suite.

I will never forget how terrible I felt that day.

“Do you like my private place, mom? Look, I have my own kitchen where I can cook for myself”, she said as she welcomed us into her new place.

Bewildered, I surveyed the entire suite that was going to be her home for the next six months. How in the world did we come to this moment in time so quickly? And what’s next? Her leaving us for good?

I told myself I wasn’t ready for this ….and I was pretty certain she wasn’t either.

But…her place was net and tidy. Every dish was in its proper place. The bed was well-kept. Her clothes were neatly arranged in the closet. The washroom was clean, free of fallen hairs or toothpaste residue.

And her face…it was glowing! And her voice sounded so excited!

For a brief moment, I was down memory lane, bent over a head of soft straight hair that I was braiding with cute little hair clips, while she played with her barbie doll and read her favourite Dr Seuss’ book. It was a moment remembered for its pleasure, a concoction of bittersweet joy.

Where has my little daughter gone? Why did she grow so fast?

“I’m a bit nervous about my new job. Do you think they would like me? Do you think I would do good on the job?” she asked.

“Of course . . . and I’m sure you’ll be fine. Knowing your work ethic and capabilities, your supervisor and co-workers will love you,” I soothed. But I knew there were deeper, unspoken questions within her. What would her new job be like? Could she really make it? What happens when she drives to rural locations in the middle of winter? Could she accomplish all that would be expected of her? Had she made the right career choice? Is she really in the right place right now? Is this what God really wants her to pursue?

Meanwhile, I wrestled with my own doubts. How secure was the hotel? Does she have enough food to eat? How is she going to manage with her day to day needs? What if something happens and no one is there for her? What if her team doesn’t take care of her? Had engineering truly been her choice, or was it really mine?

When we left the hotel that night, Bianca hugged me and whispered: “Thanks for allowing me to do this. I love you mom”.

I faked a smile and turned towards the car, feeling terribly sad. My girl is now a true adult, seeking true independence. As we navigated the road back to Winnipeg for about an hour and a half, I felt in my heart the growing distance between us – a distance measured not only by the physical location, but by the many aspects of my daughter’s life that I would no longer share.

Lord, I whispered, how will we feel like a family without her? The question sent tears spilling down my cheeks. All throughout our drive back to Winnipeg, my husband and I were both very quiet, trying to make sense of the new reality that has dawned on us.

Suddenly, a new memory intruded. It was about me when I was 18. I left my parents in the province to pursue education in the city. So this was how my mother must have felt when I left. Looking back now, I’ve so much gratitude for my parents for letting go of me then, even if they must have been very scared to death for my safety. It was by being away from them that I found the destiny that God has for me, including the most treasured gift of family that I now have.

To hold on to their children, parents must learn to let go. This is a timeless, universal lesson for every family.

Amidst the memory came the quiet revelation: the confidence and faith I exhibited then came from my parents’ trust in my ability to survive and ovecome. As well, my mother was very prayerful, and I knew that my stubbornness had forced her to depend on the Lord for my safety and protection. And the Lord had proven himself faithful to my mother and to me far more than I could ever imagine.

I saw that same quiet faith and confidence in Bianca, as a young woman, eager to taste life and what it has in store for her.

As we reached home, my phone suddenly rang. It was Bianca, saying goodnight and that she misses me.

I smiled, the heaviness in my heart suddenly gone. I knew Bianca would be fine. After all, she is her mother’s daughter, just as I am my mother’s daughter. Resilient. Independent. Courageous. Overcomer.

She turned 22 three days ago, and the reality that she is going to leave us again, for good the next time around, is inching closer and closer. It really is just a matter of time.

And that would be a time to watch and pray . . . and wait for new blessings He would bring forth. The blessings would unfold not only in Bianca’s life, but in our family life, too. In time, we would find a sense of completeness. We would become content, not as a smaller family, but as bigger family consisting of two separate and distinct families sharing and doing life together. Although we would no longer share the same residence, we would remain tied together by shared love and values as well as the sharing of new adventures, dreams and aspirations.

But can I be honest here? Though my mind says I have started the process of letting go, I think I’m still going to shed buckets and buckets of tears on that day.

Just because…

Taking it all in

My second born turned 19 the other day. And this time-warped mum doesn’t know whether to be happy or sad. The idea that she is now officially an adult still refuses to sink in.

Part of me is truly happy she is becoming more mature and serious. Consider some of our interactions:

“I think it’s better to look at things this way” (she trying to convince me there’s always an alternative).

“You have every right to feel that way. I’m sorry I’ve been insensitive” (she trying to build emotional connection).

“You should exercise regularly so you don’t get Alzheimers when you get old” (she being concerned about our old age).

“I want to succeed in my career choice. Do you think I’m on the right path?” (she trying to make an informed choice).

I don’t hear a little squeaky voice anymore. Instead, I hear an adult voice of reason asking serious questions and seeking wisdom.

Time does fly fast.

Gone are the big black eyes imploring me over chubby little cheeks to do her bidding. Gone are the little fingers that intertwined with mine and the girlish smiles that seemed to say I mean the whole world to her.

She isn’t little anymore.

Not that I haven’t seen this coming.

The significant adults in my life have warned me then – cherish the moments while they last, for there is no rewinding and no replaying.

One phase got inched out by another. The restless toddler fascinated by dinosaurs became a wide-eyed girl who would squeak at the sight of disney princesses. The bubbly teeny bopper who fell in love with the High School Musical show and Hannah Montana became a basketball- playing highschooler who would squirm at the prospect of mom kissing her in front of her friends. The quirky and incurably inquisitive university neophyte became a beautiful and friendly woman who loves God and life and is willing to take it by the horns.

All these happened in the blink of an eye.

And now, as I ask myself where have all the phases gone by, I realize that as she grew over the years, I too have grown.

I’m no longer the scared mom I was when I first had her and her sister. By the grace of God, the enormous responsibility of motherhood no longer hits me as overwhelming. Over the years, I grew along with my kids, evolving into a different version of myself, confident and self-assured despite my parental guffaws.

I can’t help but be both teary-eyed and excited as I brace myself for my daughter’s next stages in life. Seeking full independence in making life choices. Establishing a career. Strengthening her ministry. Finding the love of her life. Building a family of her own.

And of course, becoming a mother like me. Doing things just like me. Sounding just like me. Acting out just like me.

And smiling as she realizes she is just like her mother (ahh…that could be the sweetest vindication I could ever have as a mom…wink…wink!)

My daughter’s 19 now. We’ve arrived in this spot, somewhere between being a young adult and being an old grownup. Some days, she hugs me without any special reason and pinches my cheeks. Other days, she’d rather close her door and be alone. Some days, she tells me stories and insights from what she just read. Other days, she’d rather spend time with her closest friends. She likes to wear my clothes and plays around with my jewelry. She loves my instagram posts and sometimes squirms at my cheesy captions.

This is just another temporary phase but not an unchartered territory. So I’m going to make sure to make the most of all of it. I’m going to take it all in.

“Mom, can I borrow this book from your collection?”

Now that makes me very excited again.

My kid is now an adult and I am one darn lucky mom!

And I’m loving every bit and piece of this moment.

I do, till death do us part…

I love going to weddings. There’s something about weddings that opens my heart and uplifts my spirit. When two people commit to love and cherish each other for life, it is truly a magnificent God-breathed moment.

One beautiful afternoon five Saturdays ago, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the wedding of Ruth and Zachary. It was special because I consider Ruth my own.

The day was bright and beautiful as the sun cast brilliant gold and silver rays over the sprawling greenery and picturesque trees. Resplendent in her wedding dress and looking radiantly beautiful, Ruth walked down the aisle with a big smile on her face, her eyes fixed solely on her groom as if they were the only one who existed in that beautiful space and moment in time. Zach looked every inch like a handsome prince in his suit, his eyes welling in tears as he gazed intently at Ruth’s face.

Ruth’s dad (who is also our pastor) officiated the wedding vows which made it even more special. The foot washing ceremony was a fitting symbolism of servant hood, humility and submission to one another. Ruth and Zach wrote their vows and the congregation held its breath as Zach, with his eyes wet in tears, kissed Ruth in front of the audience and promised to love and treasure her as a gift from the Lord.

There were so many wonderful moments that day. But my favourite was simply seeing the way the groom and the bride looked at each other as if saying “he/she is the love of my life, and we belong to each other now”. Witnessing the love and pure joy and happiness emanating from their hearts literally made me go “ahww.”

Love is amazing, and seeing it in Zach and Ruth is just magnificent, especially since I know the beautiful story behind such union.

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As I marveled at that magical moment between Ruth and Zach, I remembered the day I got married. Did I even comprehend what it meant to say “I do” back then? Did I fully understand what it meant to stay together “in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, through good times and bad times, till death do us part”?

Not even close.

Not that my groom and I didn’t love each other then. Naive and young as we were, we meant every single word of our vows then. We weren’t goofing around when we married each other.

Several years into my marriage and having gone through both the bumpy and smooth roads together, I realized that wedding vows are really nothing until they’re put to the test. Good times don’t test vows. Bad times do. And unfortunately, bad times are usually not part of marriage plans.

It’s easy to keep the vows when things are going well. In fact, one doesn’t even have to try. But after having been married for 25 years now, I realized that keeping the vows is a deliberate, intentional and conscious choice that one makes every day, especially when it’s far easier to just give up. “I do” isn’t meant to be said on wedding day alone, but every single day for the rest of married life.

And here’s a little secret that I’m sure all married couples know: many many times, we all feel we have fallen short of the bride or groom who boldly promised to love, cherish, honour and respect our partner every day of our life. With all our selfishness, pride, arrogance and self-absorption, we have not exactly been the best spouse who made all those lofty vows more than two decades ago.

And that’s the point.

We both felt we have fallen short. And yet, here we are, deciding to stick it out even when we’re confronted with each other’s flaws and weaknesses. Here we are, deciding to hold hands regardless of the circumstances, reaffirming our promise to one another especially when times are hard, when sickness and disappointments and all sorts of trials test our resolve.

Why?

Because that’s exactly what it meant to say for “better or for worse”. You keep the vow no matter the circumstances because that’s the right thing to do. You keep the vow because that’s who you are and God is your witness to the vow.

Keeping the vow doesn’t mean you tolerate unkindness. It doesn’t mean you don’t work on issues. It doesn’t mean you close your eyes to your spouse’s indiscretions. It does mean pressing on and sticking it out even when the temptation to give up is so strong, choosing to forgive and start anew over and over again, deciding to accept your partner – warts, flaws, weaknesses and all – realizing that you too have your own weaknesses.

Marriage is indeed hard work. It takes persistence, commitment and the conscious and deliberate desire to love and respect the other person. Feelings of love wane and ebb and may disappear. But a truly committed couple stay enough till the feelings come back, and they do come back when the heart is right. There’s no such thing as the perfect partner or the perfect marriage. Each marriage has its own flaws and dysfunctions, mine included. The daily decision to keep loving your partner, even when it hurts, is what makes a lasting marriage.

Because the vow matters.

Because the institution of marriage is one of God’s ways to make us grow in the image and likeness of Christ together over ten, twenty or fifty years – which is God’s ultimate will for all of us. Choosing to keep our vows when circumstances are difficult, to keep loving when you don’t feel like it, is the most difficult choice of all, but by far the most important.

As I joined the others in cheering on the newly-weds and marveled at the God-breathed love story behind the union of Ruth and Zach, I know I was witnessing the beginning of a beautiful love story. They are so in love with each other and more importantly, with God. Truth to tell, all married couples need God to help them keep their wows.

The couple are off to a very good start. They are on their way, raring to do better than all of us. And they will.

(By this post, I don’t mean to condone any abusive relationship at all. There is a time when you have to say no, and when enough is enough. That requires courage and could be part of your growth. Your marriage may never be the thing that you dreamed it would be. Perhaps you need to let go of that dream and say, God, I need you to get me through, day by day. And that is a choice that ought to be respected”)

A snooper and a stalker…

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I am skilled at snooping around and stalking. Now before I scare you away, let me explain myself.

You see, I was an investigator in my previous life and in that job, I had to resolve all sorts of issues like employees not being paid their proper wages or complaints of wrongful termination. I also had to do proactive investigations to protect the rights of nannies, caregivers and farm workers.

I would never forget that investigation project where I had to work with the police on human trafficking charges and violation of foreign worker recruitment law. I was fascinated to the bone as I listened intently while they hatched their entrapment operations and anticipated various “what if” scenarios.

And boy, how I enjoyed that job! I am inquisitive by nature and insatiably curious, with great thirst for knowledge. Thus, I thoroughly enjoy doing research or investigation to get down to the bottom of things.

And I didn’t mind peering through large volumes of payroll records, looking at social media account profiles, screen-grabbing profile photos, interviewing people of all types and visiting strange places covered in spiderwebs. It was fun even if nobody was ever at home, the addresses weren’t always accurate, the door buzzers didn’t always work and not everyone was willing to talk. And have I mentioned dogs? Yes, while visiting a residence, I actually got chased by a dog which sent me scampering back to my car for safety!

What makes investigation fun is that you’re solving a puzzle. You’re watching someone else’s story, of which you are also a part of, unfold before your eyes. You decide which route to take and how the story is going to end. You’re in it but not of it.

Investigation is all about the search for truth which can be elusive. You gather the missing pieces together to see the whole picture. Each piece provides the clue, but you can’t base your conclusion on one piece alone. You don’t take all evidence at face value – you consider its totality and decide the weight you would place on each piece of evidence by examining and challenging it, looking for inconsistencies, identifying patterns or applying simple common sense. You grapple with questions such as: what about that one inconsistency, or this flaw, or that weak link, or that red herring that may turn out to be relevant after all?

A true investigator doesn’t stop until they are satisfied with the information at hand. Sometimes they need to follow their gut even when the evidence clearly points to another direction. Sometimes they go down a different route, opening a can of worms and realizing that with all the information they’ve already collected, they’ve barely scratched the surface.

I think about my journey of faith. I came to Christianity through research and investigation. I was attracted to Jesus but I was faced with intellectual barriers standing squarely in my path. My investigation plan started with the toughest questions about God, the afterlife, the presence of good and evil, pain and suffering, science versus miracles, and heaven and hell. After obtaining information about my big questions, I then narrowed my research down to the infallibility of the Bible, judgement and hell, the claims of Jesus Christ, his death, suffering and resurrection, and his gift of salvation.

Like a true investigator, I never stopped until I became satisfied with the evidence of my faith. My journey spanned a course of 5 years. I devoured all literatures available in defense of or against Christianity, trying to understand their arguments while allowing for the possibility that they could be wrong. I challenged and poked holes on every major religious claim. I read books on the theory of evolution, the origin of species, reincarnation, new age, relativism, the big bang theory, quantum physics, spirituality and the after-life. I trolled through the works of apologists and geniuses like C.S. Lewis, Rick Warren, Ravi Zacharias, Normal Geisler and Richard Howe and former atheists Lee Estrobel and J Warner Wallace. I listened to and interviewed people that I thought were mature in their faith.

And then I read the Bible. As I did so, I realized the importance of familiarizing myself with the writings of non-Christians and Jewish authors of the first century to provide corroborating information for (or against) Christianity. They included Thallus, Phlegon, Josephus and others.

In the end, I came out as a true believer. All of my research pointed me toward the conclusion, beyond evidence, that God exists and Jesus Christ is really his own son. All of my investigation assured me that I can trust the Bible not only for its spiritual truths but also for how it is a book of history that includes real events and geographic locations many of which still exist today or have been located by archeologists.

I admit though that I haven’t found the conclusive proof to all of my soul-searching questions. But that’s okay. After all, we don’t demand that level of absolute certainty in all areas of life. For example, I don’t need to completely understand how I switch through a gamut of emotions – from anger to love to compassion to bitterness to forgiveness. But I do know these emotions are what make me truly human. I don’t need to know how something could come from nothing. But I do know there is a divine intelligence in all of creation.

Why did I have to make my faith journey such an arduous process when the easier option would have been to simply embrace Christianity and believe?

Obviously, the second option was not for me. God wired me to be inquisitive. Embracing something I don’t understand or I can’t defend is a violation of my own conscience and goes against the very nature of who I am. I would be suffering from internal dissonance and inner conflict for the rest of my life if I didn’t heed this journey of seeking answers to my soul-searching and life-altering questions.

I guess I didn’t want to take my faith lightly nor live an unexamined life. For me, the highest form of personal integrity is being true to myself and living out the values and ideals I strongly believe in. This is not to claim that I am holier or more righteous than anyone else. But the last thing I want is a naive faith built on such flimsy foundation, ready to crumble anytime at the slightest scrutiny.

You may argue that’s what faith is all about. You don’t need to have evidence for it. For me though, faith and reason are not contradictory. If I wanted to take my faith seriously, I needed to understand it. It is possible to be a christian and a thinker at the same time. This didn’t mean there was no room for faith. It did mean choosing between leaping in the dark or stepping out in faith. As Christian author W. Bingham Hunter said: “Faith is a rational response to the evidence of God’s self-revelation in nature, human history, scriptures and his resurrected son, Jesus Christ”.

In the end, I did find evidence about God and Jesus Christ and this evidence was enough for me to proceed in the direction of faith. And I think that’s what truly matters. Faith is about a choice, a decision to want to know Christ personally and make him a part of my life.

But perhaps, the greatest evidence for me, more than the information that I gathered, was the huge process of internal transformation that I experienced in my faith journey. When I responded to the evidence and accepted Christ as my Lord and Saviour and opened my life wider and wider to him and his ways, I found that the core of who I am was transformed from the inside out.

I found my conscience getting stronger and stronger. I suddenly lost taste for the things that I used to love. I no longer wanted to do things that I used to do before. My values, priorities, aspirations, joys, hopes, attitudes have been changed so much so that I want to live the way God has designed me to live, pursuing his purposes for my life, tapping into his power for my daily living and communing with him in this life and for eternity in the next.

I was never the same person again.

What is your faith journey?

Poise in the face of turmoil

20180318_143508206311612.jpgHow does a woman hold her dignity in the midst of pain and betrayal involving a husband’s possible marital infidelity?  How does a woman stay calm on the outside with so much turmoil going on the inside?

I’ve been pondering about these questions lately.  Now before anyone jump to conclusions, I am not describing  the state of my marriage.  I am happily married (that is, I am happy and my husband is married  – wink, wink).

Rather, I am referring to first lady Melania Trump and how she is handling herself  in the face of controversy involving the president and porn star/adult film actress Stormy Daniels.  If Stormy is to be believed,  she had an “intimate relationship” with Trump in 2006 which continued well in 2007, just a year after Trump married Melania who was very pregnant at that time.

Whoa!  Just a year after marriage?  And while you are pregnant?

If I were Melania, I would have probably flown to the NeverLand and hide myself there with  Peter Pan, Tinker Bell and join the lost boys forever.

I have my own opinion about Trump, but I would rather keep that to myself. I also believe that the media can be nasty and when you’re a high-profile person, it becomes sort of a trial by publicity.  In this particular situation though, I am inclined to believe  the relationship did happen.  Why would Stormy sign a non-disclosure agreement with Trump’s attorney in exchange for a huge sum of money banning her from going public with the details of her alleged sexual relationship in the weeks leading up to the election?

This post is not a jab on Trump’s presidency nor an invasion into the privacy of the first couple (though I believe that as a public personality, your personal life is always open to public scrutiny).  Rather, this post is about my perception on how well Melania is weathering this marital storm.

I thought about previous presidential wives and how they handled the scandal. In the Philippines, two former presidents were both known for having a second, a third or even a fourth wife and their real wives both stood by them.  Hillary Clinton fiercely defended Bill Clinton in the wake of news of his sexual dalliance with white house intern Monica Lewinski and blamed the charges on vast right wing conspiracy.  Elizabeth Eduards initially defended John Edwards when she discovered his child out of wedlock but  then later separated from him.

Melania  is very quiet on this issue and not opening  any window as to show she feels about the whole situation.  Which makes me wonder…. uhmmm…. does she love and believe her husband enough to be willing to suffer this indignity?  Or is she scared of him?  Or does she even care?

Regardless of how Melania feels, I am amazed by how she projects herself before the public, standing tall and  not crumbling under the weight of controversy hounding her marriage.  I should give her credit for being able to hold herself intact even when she may be feeling very much like the wronged wife.

And I think that’s the point.  Grace and dignity come from building up the kind of self-possession that allows you to act well even when you’re boiling inside, to stay calm and confident even when you want to lash out.

Melania’s handling of this indignity to her womanhood reminds me that, although we may be at the mercy of uncertain circumstances, we can at least be in control of ourselves.  We don’t need to allow our feelings to dictate our actions.  We don’t need to “lose” it, especially before the glaring and merciless eyes of the public.

If your husband slept with another woman,  you certainly deserve sympathy.  And I’m not saying you have to hide your emotions or assume a stiff-upper-lip stance or be a doormat.  You don’t have to apologize for your feelings.  However, if you can behave in a way that is kind and dignified even if you feel like the victim, other people will respect you, and you will respect yourself.

Stormy looks like she may have the upperhand in this situation, what with all the media attention she’s getting.  But Melania is looking to be more like the winner here. And only because she is choosing not to indulge the inner child who wants to throw a tantrum.

Proverbs 31:25 says “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come”.  Maybe Melania is taking this on board as her stance in life, wearing the beautiful cloak of strength and dignity in the midst of pressure and controversy.

What do you think?

 

Snowstorm blast

I woke up yesterday morning feeling irritated at the sight of the humongous snow that covered our backyard like a thick white blanket. After all, we are already into the spring season and hey, aren’t we supposed to be enjoying warmer and snow-less weather by this time? Aren’t we supposed to be done and over with layering our clothes, digging out our cars and driving through slippery roads?

Such was my state of mind that morning and no amount of positive self-talk could assuage my little bratty self. But after taking mugs of warm coffee, the better part of me soon realized that complaining about the weather doesn’t work. There’s really no stopping mother nature. So, with a “suck it up, buttercup” attitude, I decided I was going to spend that morning feeling happy despite the crappy weather.

No sooner had I put my winter coat and heavy boots on when the bratty side of me started rearing its ugly head again, thinking how insane it is that the Colorado Low should slam us at this time of the year. I headed for the door bemoaning the disruption in my routine and anticipating with dread the chaos that was soon to befall me.

Stepping out of the house, I was instantly greeted by the snowy morning breeze and thick pile of snow in our frontyard. I suddenly froze on my track as my eyes started to feast on the sight before me. It was one of the most stunning sights I have ever seen in my life!

As it was, our front yard was magically transformed into a mini winter wonder land scene with no evidence of human debris, damage, and destruction in sight. Everything around me was just covered by pure white. Some snow delicately dusted on the branches of the trees around me while others hang themselves onto the bushes, creating a surreal sight. The landscape looked so fresh and so pure, reminiscent of the fantasy world of Narnia.

As I marvelled at the sublime beauty around me, I felt something within me suddenly changed. All my complaints and worries vanished into thin air. The snow muffled and quieted everything in my heart that if I closed my eyes, I swear I could have easily fallen asleep right there. I felt unspeakable joy and peace welling from within me.

At that moment, all I wanted to do was to bask in the glorious beauty around me and capture that moment forever. I felt I was in an enchanted land in a single moment in time and I simply couldn’t take my eyes off the landscape before me. I took notice of every little detail, from the finest snow on the ground to the marvelous snowflakes that covered our pathway to the shape of the branches of trees heavy with snow.

It was just pure bliss!

With that beautiful scene playing in my mind, I drove my way to work amazed at how my feelings of bitterness were transformed into ones of pure, unadulterated joy in an instant. The snow did not just wipe the slate of my world clean, but it also rejuvenated my personal perspective and refreshed my jaded mind as I literally saw the world in a different way.

How was that even possible? Where did all of these feelings of peace and joy and ecstasy come from?

A few moments later, as I was checking my social media feed, I saw multiple postings of the winter wonder land experience that my friends also had that morning. They were as smitten as I was by the beauty of God’s creation. I smiled knowing that we were all kindred spirits that morning, connected to each other at some level of consciousness and inspired by a profound sense of wonder that leaves a sweet aftertaste in the soul.

John 1: 3 “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made”.

Jeremiah 10:12-13: “It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens. When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth. He makes lightning for the rain, and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses”.

Genesis 8:22 “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

My valentine story…

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I used to scoff at Valentine’s Day, until the day I started dating my husband. Before that, I regarded this day as the “capitalist holiday” while laughing at how lovers go crazy over long-stemmed flowers, heart-shaped chocolates and fancy dinners.

My attitude towards valentine’s day changed the moment I received my first bouquet of roses from my boyfriend (now husband) on valentine’s day twenty six years ago. I did not expect him to do this then. He was such a practical dude who won’t waste money on some red roses which would only wilt and die. But tadah – on our first valentine as a couple, he actually brought me flowers. I still remember him saying the flowers weren’t pointless as they make me smile. He had since then ensured I would always have a bouquet of flowers on valentine’s day.

Some of you probably think I’m shallow. Well, first off, it takes very little to make me happy. Nothing affirms my femininity more than fresh, neatly arranged flowers. I know there are a million other ways to do that but I’m sticking with flowers versus expensive perfume or jewelry. So if receiving flowers on valentine’s day is shallow, I shamelessly admit I am shallow.

Something happened on valentine’s day eight years ago.

That year was a rough period for us, perhaps the most challenging period in our marriage as we were dealt one problem after another. We were still adjusting to this country as new immigrants when my husband got laid-off from work. A couple of months later, he got diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. As if that was not enough, his mother got seriously ill and passed away a few months after that. Due to his serious medical condition, my husband wasn’t able to pay her his last respect. On the side, we also had to deal with dwindling finances. In other words, the stable and comfortable world that we have long been accustomed to was being shattered, with our faith being stretched to the fullest.

Since he was undergoing intense treatment, he just stayed home the whole time that year. His stocky body which was ravaged by endless sessions of chemotherapy and radiation therapy was reduced into skin and bones. His features were hollow and emaciated, and he was in so much pain. We didn’t have any plans of celebrating valentine’s day because of his condition.

However, when I got home from the office, I found red roses waiting for me on the kitchen table.

He later told me that he mustered all his strength to drive to the store just to buy me flowers. I sat there, looking at those flowers, speechless and teary-eyed. This man is a true warrior. I kept asking myself what I had done to deserve such undying affection. Even in his pain, he wanted to make me smile on valentine’s day! Even in his suffering, he was thinking of me!

From then on, valentine’s day has taken on a whole different meaning for me. The flowers have become a symbol of his dedication and commitment to our marriage. Now, we make it a point to celebrate every year. We strive to keep it simple. Nothing fancy at all, only a bouquet of roses for me and a quiet dinner at home. I will never forget those two very special valentine days of our lives. The first was when we decided to join in with the rest of the cheesy lovebirds, our cheesy hearts circling our heads. The second was when we found strength in our love and commitment to each other while our world was falling apart.

The trials that we’ve gone through made us understand the importance of celebrating our love every single day of the year. You may be single, divorced or have lost your loved one and certainly have your own story to tell. Regardless, we don’t need to wait for valentine’s day to express our love. The gifts we give and receive on valentine’s day are not necessarily a reflection of true romance but there is nothing wrong with honoring and celebrating our love on valentine’s day. And in my case, it always comes with pretty flowers!

Valentine’s day reminds me never to take my loved ones for granted. If you’re a normal being in a normal relationship with another normal being and you’ve been together for a while, everyday isn’t always an outpouring of love. You fight, argue, disagree, are unkind to each other, yell at and hurt each other. And I am just being honest about that. The truth of the matter is that it is so easy to take my husband for granted. Valentine’s day nudges me to remember how much he really means to me.

Love is always worth celebrating, everyday and on valentine’s day!

Rolling with the punches

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I was watching the last few critical minutes of an NBA basketball game on television the other week, and with the way the game was rolling, I was pretty confident the other team was going to win. With a five-point difference in score and only about 10 seconds remaining, the outcome seemed clear.

I was deeply engrossed with the game anticipating victory for the other team when the unthinkable happened. During the last few critical seconds, the “winning” team suddenly lost their handle on the game. While their player was dribbling the ball, an opposing player suddenly snatched it then made a quick shoot. The other team got the ball back, only to be stolen again, followed by another successful shoot.

Everything happened so quickly, and before I knew it, the supposedly “losing” team won the game. At the very last minute. Just like that.

I was super disappointed! And it wasn’t even because the team that lost was my favorite. I didn’t even know their players. It was actually more of a feeling of dejection arising from dashed expectation. They made me believe they were going to win so I had the right to take it personally!

I’m a believer of second chances. It’s different though in this case. To lose the ball once is understandable. But to lose it twice? That’s unpardonable offense for me.

While nursing my disappointment over what could have been, my husband’s voice suddenly echoed in the air….”In life as well as in basketball, always expect the unexpected. The game isn’t over until it is over.”

Yeah, yeah…basketball is the game of the unexpected. With a good strategy, a right pass and a good shooter, scoring can be reversed in the blink of an eye. The losing team can snatch the victory in an instant. I knew that for a fact, hubby. But hey, I have the right to be disappointed, haven’t I?

Suddenly, something dawned on me.

If I was THIS disappointed – and I wasn’t even a player, and I didn’t even have any strong attachment to the losing team – then I am sure the team must have been doubly disappointed with themselves! The two players who lost their grip must have been berating and beating themselves up no end for being such lousy players and for letting the team down. It must have been so awful for the whole team!

All of sudden, I began to empathize with the two players and the whole team. I found myself wishing that they wouldn’t take this so hard on themselves and that the coach would still continue to trust the two players with future games.

This incident made me think about life in general. My husband had a point. In life and in basketball, things do not always turn out the way we expect. And it could feel like a bad joke.

You pursue a degree until you realize on your last year this isn’t what you wanted. You work hard for that promotion only to be snatched by a less qualified colleague. You practice hard for that marathon and is close to finish line when another runner outpaces you. A relationship did not have the happy ending you hoped for. As in the game of basketball, conditions in life can change in the blink of an eye.

So what do you do?

You do what all normal human beings do.

You roll with the punches. You move forward, bruises and limp and all, instead of flipping out. You jump into the water even if it’s cold, even when faced with the prospect of a shrinkage. You change your game plan quickly as called for by circumstances. As a boxer learns to lessen the blows of their opponent’s move, you learn to lessen the blows that life gives you.

Because that’s the only way to win. You face life’s lemons head on. Even if it means being hit again, or losing equilibrium especially when change is foisted upon you, rather than something you choose.

Just like any game, be it basketball or boxing or baseball, every one is going to get hit in real life. And here’s what I’ve learned in my 50 years of existence: most people recover even from the most difficult and painful experience. And character is tested and developed in the midst of adversity.

Here’s another thing that I learned: Victory is sweetest and most treasured when it is achieved after a series of failures.

Ecclesiastes 9:11 I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.

Hebrews 6:11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.

The case of the decapitated baby Jesus (a post-Christmas reflection)

Like many Christian families, we always have a nativity scene in our home at Christmas. Mine is a substantial display of elegant figures, the centerpiece being a manger for the baby Jesus.

I have so many lavished home decorations at Christmas. I can lose all my other decorations but not this treasured set which reminds me of the true meaning of Christmas. The set consists of the three kings, some shepherds and an angel, camels and sheep,  Mary and Joseph and of course baby Jesus in a manger.

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Couple of days before Christmas, baby Jesus was conspicuously missing from my set. And it wasn’t because someone stole it. It was lying in the manger when I put up the scene. However, we had to take it away and tuck it safe somewhere because something unfortunate happened to the baby.

Its body got decapitated.

Yes, it’s body got mangled, with the head and the 2 arms cut off from the rest of the body. And rather than create more confusion for my home guests once they see the broken pieces, we figured it was better to temporarily take it away while waiting to have them pieced together.

I know you’re curious how the baby got into this state. While hosting a Christmas party, little playful hands innocently toyed around with my set and decided to throw the baby up into the air, breaking the head and both arms in the process as soon as it landed on the floor. Even today, I can’t help but laugh as I recall the super scared look on the face of the toddler’s mom as she explained what happened, and her relief upon being assured that I understand that her toddler was just being a toddler and the broken pieces can easily be glued together.

After the guests left, this resident drama queen mom all of a sudden began to imagine how it would have been had, during the time of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the wicked King Herod succeeded in kidnapping the baby Jesus and then decapitating his body. The bible says the wise men had told Herod that Jesus would be king and since Herod wanted to be the only king, he ordered his soldiers to kill all babies in Bethlehem and nearby places.

I actually gasped at the thought of the baby Jesus being killed by Herod! I imagined the aghast look on the faces of the wise men, the grief and despair in Mary’s eyes and the panic on Joseph’s face as they would have tried to stop Herod’s soldiers from taking the baby. Had the soldiers succeeded in killing the baby, we would not have been celebrating Christmas today.

Of course, I knew that it wouldn’t have happened because the birth and growth of Jesus into manhood was part of God’s plan to fulfill God’s design of redemption for all mankind.

This incident actually reminded me once again of the true essence of Christmas.

The nativity set is an important piece for me – no doubt about that, and if one piece gets broken, there was no way I could replace that without buying the whole set. And a manger scene is not a manger scene without baby Jesus, is it?

But just when that thought struck me, another thought came to mind: that figurine is just a THING! While the scene does remind me of the humble beginnings of our Saviour, the true meaning of Christmas is not found in the carved image in that nativity set. It is not found in the shimmer and the trimmings, the glitter and the frenzy of the holiday season.

Our home may have been well-decorated by the fanciest decors. Our Christmas tree may have been shimmering and shining with various hues and colors. Our Christmas gifts may have all been lined up under the tree. Our Christmas cards may have been well-written. Our stockings may have been hanging by the fireplace.

But if we hoped to find the meaning of Christmas through these trappings and trimmings, then we would have been missing the point.

Because the true meaning of Christmas lies in our hearts, where Christ lives.

It is a heart filled with so much gratitude brought about by the good news of the birth of the Saviour, causing it to well up with joy towards others. It is a heart assured by the great love of the Father, causing it to share that love towards others. It is a heart that recognizes that the true meaning of Christmas is the incredible act of love by the Father, the wonderful story of God becoming a human being in the person of Jesus Christ because He loves us so much!

John 3:16-17 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” The true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of this incredible act of love.

The wonder of Christmas is not within that nativity set. It’s within us.

Postcript:

A few days later, the broken pieces of the baby were fixed and the baby was placed back where it rightfully belongs.

My girl has turned into a lady

My girl turned 21 today, fully blossoming into a full-grown lady in her own right.

In our family, 21 is considered the age of “reason”, marking that full transition of kids into adulthood (beginning from age 18) as they take full responsibility for their decisions and lead their lives. This is the same stage when mom and dad start to hover less and empower more; direct less and guide more; and restrain less and trust more.

And I could not have been more thrilled and excited as she is about this new phase in her life and mine. I fully embrace this moment anticipating with great wonder and amazement the wonderful things in store for us as we continually evolve and mature in our mother-daughter relationship together.

And why not? She’s lived in this world for approximately 7,665 days and there’s not one moment when she’s acted so irresponsibly (except for overeating here and there, slacking off, procrastinating, oversleeping etc). But when it came to bigger things in life, she’s demonstrated unflinching courage to be true to her convictions and to abide in her faith, showing extraordinary wisdom and maturity beyond her age. As far as I know (and I maybe biased in this because I’m her mom), she’s one of the more solid, secure, responsible and firmly-grounded girls around.

When she was just a little girl, my husband and I gazed into her eyes wondering, in the midst of our parental guffaws, what she would become. The flawed parents that we are, we prayed with all our might that she would turn out to be just a fine kid. We molded her in the best way we knew as parents, often adopting a hit and miss approach, learning and relearning our lessons, calibrating our styles and humbling ourselves as necessary.

And as always…. always making sure that she isn’t just a fruit of our love, but that she would be so deeply rooted in the nurture of that love.

And today, we are staring into the eyes of a no-nonsense lady who knows who she is and how much she is loved not just by us but by her Father in heaven. She is walking her way through life’s joys and struggles secure in the knowledge of that identity and love. Yes, she is the fruit of both our parental mistakes and unconditional love. Yes, she has escaped the mold that we tried to place her to, eventually becoming her own person. And what a beautiful person she has become – surpassing all of our expectations and exceeding our imagination.

And I am the proudest mother.

On her 21st birthday today, we’re giving her a gift, that is, officially loosening our grip and reign of control over her life so she can spread her wings. I am fully confident she will not squander that priceless ocean of opportunity to become the best version of who God wants her to be, while remaining solid and grounded on who she really is.

And it’s okay to let go. After all, I’m not losing her.

I’ll just get a better version of who she is.

My girl

Couple of  days from today, my eldest is celebrating her birthday! While reflecting on the amazing lady that she has become,  I retrieved my old blog about her when she was just 12 and I thought it is worth reposting.  Watch out for my blog about who she is now coming up very shortly….

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My girl turns 12 today, and I couldn’t help but feel a little bit mushy. Time flies, and how fast indeed!

Twelve years ago, she was just a tiny fragile infant that I carefully held in the palm of my hands. The first time I held her was so overwhelmingly joyful that I actually wept.

She was such a well-behaved baby – not making a fuss even with wet diapers or hunger bouts and always cooing and laughing when no one was around, as if talking to invisible angels. She’d only given me very few sleepless nights which were nothing really compared to the joy of her sheepish smile while she snuggled close to my breast to be fed and nurtured.  There were several times when I  would wake up in the middle of the night to her endless cooing and squeaking.

At two, she had an immense vocabulary by speaking straight Tagalog and English, recognizing the letters of the alphabet, memorizing numbers 1 to 50 and mimicking the sounds of animals.  She was fascinated by Dr Seuss’ books and never got tired of listening to her dad reading the stories to her. One time,  the dad was a bit sleepy and tried to skip some pages but lo and behold, this girl cannot be fooled!  She went back to the skipped pages and forced her dad to read it to her, or both of them weren’t going to sleep.  She was also such a fan of Disney movies and the  “The Land Before Time” video series that she has memorized practically all songs in the collection.

Coming home one day, I was greeted by the sight of an awesome three-year- old walking around the house in oversized- high-heeled shoes belonging to her mom, with kitchen spoon in one hand and my office bag in another. At that young age, she was fast showing signs of fierce independence, allowing no one to feed her, nor to bathe her or even to dress her up. She wanted to do all things by herself. I kidded myself – she is indeed her mother’s girl!

When her little sister came into the scene, the anticipated bouts of jealousy or selfishness never surfaced. Instead, she surprised us with genuine concern and caring for her sister. When the little baby cried,  she raced with her dad to find out what the fuss was all about. She sent her sister to sleep with a wonderful rendition of the songs from the “Land Before Time”, culminating in the infamous “If we hold on” that had become the family’s unofficial theme song to this day. I didn’t have to teach her to take care of her sister. It came naturally to her. Even today, she is her sister’s best friend.

I could go on and on recalling the wonderful surprises, the endless joys and the precious bonding moments she had delighted us with. Today, as I look at her and marvel at how she has perpendicularly grown over the years, I am awed at the realization that my baby has now become a little lady.  In a few years, I know that my girl will soon transform into her own person. Already, I could spot the signs of its coming.

As a pre-teener, she has been pretty consistent in her ways: non-fussy, self-initiated, caring and responsible.  Although I have raised her in a certain “mold”, she is slowly escaping that mold,  asserting her independence in everything she does. It is fascinating to see her unspoken determination to be her own person – free from the dictates and pressures of others, even from her mom who used to be the center of her world. It’s not her style to wear the fad just because it’s the “in” thing or everybody else is doing it if she thinks it looks silly. She has very different interests compared to girls of her age. While others talk about Hannah Montana and acne and crushes, she would rather read books about astronomy and science.  I thought I was raising a nerd in the making!

But she still continues to sing. And how she loves to sing. She’s also into a lot of musical instruments – piano, clarinet, guitar, violin. On her birthday, she requested an electric guitar to replace her acoustic guitar. She’s currently saving her weekly allowance so she can buy drums this summer. She’s a member of her school band and music choir and is the guitarist in our local church. Music is her greatest passion, if not her life. Why – she wants to become a music director or music teacher as an adult. She also excels academically, being on top of her class and a candidate for the dean’s honour by the end of the term.

What all these means to me is that I am raising a girl with extra-ordinary potentials and passion. A girl who at a young age already knows what she wants in life.

I have read somewhere that raising a kid is like flying a kite. At the initial stage of flying, the kite owner must maintain a tight grip as the kite struggles up high. Once a momentum is established, the owner must help the kite maintain its balance. And as  the kite becomes stable, the owner must learn to let go, albeit gradually, and be content to watch the kite in its full flying splendor from afar, but vigilant to come to the rescue in case of brewing storm.

At this stage of my girl’s life, I know that I have to correspondingly evolve from the overprotective and imposing mother that I used to be into a supportive, nurturing, and empowering mom that is exactly what she needs as she spreads up her wings. This, to me, is the greatest gift I could ever give her.

Back to the basics

Snow has arrived and all of Winnipeg is now covered in a thick blanket of snow. Although the sight is breathtaking, I’m not really impressed. I’m not yet in the mood for snow plowing nor for winter driving and my winter tires aren’t due for installation until after next week.

But I had to get to a meeting yesterday so although a little nervous about the commute, I drove anyway. I’ve lived in this snow-laden city for almost 10 years now, and have been driving in snow for over 8 years now.

I need to make a confession though. Winter driving, especially after the first snowfall, always makes me uneasy. When I place my hands on that steering wheel and my foot on that gas, I always feel like a novice driver, learning to drive for the first time. And why wouldn’t I?  Based on statistics, most road accidents happen in the winter. I don’t want to be part of the list of lousy winter drivers out there who didn’t steer clear of common errors while winter driving.

So yesterday,  I was essentially back to the basics of driving, unlearning my dry pavement driving techniques and replacing them with snowy and icy road driving skills. As speed is the enemy in a snowbound weather,  I accelerated and decelerated slowly, poking along at 30 kph in a 50 kph zone.  I increased my normal following distance to ensure  enough margin of safety when I needed to stop. And of course, I had to familiarize myself with threshold braking through firm, steady pressure on the pedal and slowing down enough to keep the car rolling until a traffic light changes.

As expected, I was late to the meeting.  But almost everyone else was. But who cared? At least I showed up – alive, in good condition and with complete body parts and as an added bonus, confident in my relearned winter driving skills!

The good thing about winter driving is that it forces all motorists to go back to the basics, the safety fundamentals often taken for granted when road pavement is dry.  It doesn’t matter whether one is a long-time skilled driver or a novice driver.   Everyone is forced, regardless of the level of driving skills, to master the basics of winter driving to ensure safety.

It can be pretty annoying at first to make that shift, but since safety is really paramount, one really has no other choice but to conform by going back to the basics.

I think about how in life, we are all guilty of ignoring the basic fundamentals so crucial to our well-being.  These are basic principles of living that are based on the natural law of action and consequence. When things are going well, we tend to take these essentials for granted. It is only when crisis sets in that we scamper to our feet to do damage control.  Couple of examples:

  • we continue to eat unhealthy food, postpone going to the gym, sleep very little until our body turns haywire and a trip to the doctor becomes necessary
  • we put off, and put off and put off that important work till the last minute and when we are in a state of panic
  • we don’t put a reign on our spending maxing our credit line until we are painfully reminded of the truth that our ability to purchase has outstripped our ongoing ability to produce
  • we continue to engage in that unhealthy relationship and ignore the red flags until it’s too late to get out
  • we neglect the most important people in our lives until it’s too late to heal the wound and mend the broken relationship
  • we focus so much on career goals and the pursuit of money until it costs us our personal and family life

And the list goes on.  In a sense, we are all acting like the busy driver who just keeps cruising and cruising along, forgetting to gas up until the car just stops in the middle of a desert where no help is on sight.

But perhaps, the most important thing we take for granted is our relationship with our heavenly Father.  We continue to persist in our pride and unbelief, basking in our false sense of self-sufficiency and independence, resisting any notion that God exists. It is only when a crisis sets in, when we are down on our knees and have hit rock bottom that we finally call on to God for help.

We are so good at ignoring the fundamentals. And I think it is basic human nature to do so.  It is difficult to be proactive when things are going on so well.

But the good news is that it’s never too late to relearn the fundamentals.  And we don’t need to wait for the winter weather to do just that. There is no need to wait for that storm to hit us before connecting to that anchor point of our life.

I have existed for nearly half a decade and have made many mistakes in my life.  But I’ve validated over and over again in my life the importance of sticking to the fundamentals:  when I burned the candles at both ends to get more golden eggs and winded up sick and exhausted; when I pressed to get my own way with someone and somehow felt an emptiness in the relationship; when I chose to take shortcuts in order to press ahead and felt an empty victory.

The fundamendals of life are the very essence of effectiveness.   As in winter driving, ignoring safety rules can be very dangerous.  We can work with or against them, but it’s always there, governing all arena of life.   They are a lighthouse.

 

For my hubby on his 53rd birthday

Okay, my husband of approximately 25 years  is turning 53 today.  Yes, 53!  Omigosh – seven years closer to being 60!!! Isn’t that incredible?  I’m married to someone who will soon be joining the seniors club!

Well, thankfully, I’m holding up okay.  And may I share a secret? Couple of days from now, I’d be celebrating my birthday.  And since I’m only a few years behind him, I will also be joining the seniors club pretty soon!    And I’m actually excited to grow old with this cool dude  who knows me through and through – wrinkles, freckles, jiggly arms, bulges, flaws and all – and still loves me just the same.

But this post isn’t about me.  This is about this amazing man I fondly call “tart”.  And since today is his birthday, I thought I would take on this opportunity to openly gush. I’m actually thrilled to honour him for who he is in my life.  When people ask me how I am able to juggle through the many roles and hats I wear, my answer is simple: I am married to a very secure and supportive husband.

Perhaps supportive is an understatement. Selfless is probably the better term. Throughout the years that we’ve been together,  he’s made so many sacrifices for me and my children.   He has always  put my interests and welfare and that of our daughters before his very own. This has become almost second nature to him.  With a wife as cranky and selfish as I am, I often wonder how he could so effortlessly do this!

Truth to tell, he and I have very different personalities.  Big time!  I am very organized and methodical while he seems to thrive in an unstructured environment and would rather just “wing” things.  He is hard working and persevering, but he also has an uncanny knack for being very go-with-the-flow about certain things, characterized by a very laid-back and mellow demeanor. I don’t know how a person lives both traits simultaneously – being so hard working and tenacious, yet being laid-back at the same time.

I take time in processing my emotions while he just easily snaps out of negative feelings and doesn’t  let himself weighed down by the kind of crap that bothers me.  I have a weird sense of humor and don’t know how to make people laugh while he effortlessly makes others laugh through his (publishable) classic jokes and funny antics. He’s not wired the same way as most people I know, which is really cool. He doesn’t expect a lot from others (even from me) so he wastes very little time being disappointed. How I wish I could master this!

He does lose his cool, but let me assure you, it’s not as often as I do or after  having displayed more of it than I’ll possess in my lifetime! This man puts up with a wife who is moody, annoying and emotional…a lot of times!  And add to the equation two daughters who can sometimes be as cranky and unpredictable as their mom!  Surrounded by three women, I’m sure there were those times when he get overwhelmed by all the female hormones floating around our home. How he rolled well with that is a testimony to how big his patience is. When I am in angst, I need to let my feelings out and he has  this never-ending reservoir of patience. I don’t know how he does it but  he just gets that stuff out in some other way. In turn, while dealing with his own stuff, he patiently listens to me during the times I need to discuss the same issue over and over again.

Despite our personality differences, I think that God knew exactly what He was doing when He paired us off together for life. We are very different and yet similar in that we would both stop at nothing to protect and preserve the things that are important to both of us – our commitment to our faith, our service to the Lord, our love for our family.  God knew that he was going to be a good husband and fantastic father of two girls.

And speaking of children, did I say what a doting and nurturing dad he is?  He sang lullabies to my daughters when they were babies, read them their favourite books, tutored them in their subjects, taught them how to play ball and ride bike, braided their hair, never missed an important occasion in their lives, nursed them when they were sick, guarded them from boys who would make them cry, and showed up for them when they need him. The way that he would make time for his family then and now is something that I really cherish. While I’ve heard many women complain about their spouse not being around enough, I always feel such a sense of pride and relief, knowing that he was and is always there for us.

Today, our children are somehow grown-up and have become independent.  But my husband continues to be there for them when they need him.  I honestly believe that one of the reasons why my girls do not struggle believing in a loving God as their heavenly father is  due to the fact that they have experienced what it is to be so cared for, nurtured, celebrated and loved by a loving earthly father in the person of my husband.

They say that life begins at 50. I have heard many horrific stories of men in their 50s cutting loose from their own lives and forsaking what used to give meaning to their lives to pursue other passions.  I could heartily say I am blessed to be growing old with a wonderful man whose feet are firmly planted on solid ground.

He is just really just a good man, very responsible and God-fearing.  Hands down.

Last but not least:

HE IS SO BLESSED TO BE MARRIED TO SOMEONE LIKE ME.

Hey, before you react, I didn’t say I am better than him. I just said “someone like me” (wink, wink).

And by the way, didn’t I say this post isn’t about me?

 

 

 

Why fall makes me beautifully sad

I love fall. It’s my favourite season of the year.

I can spend a full day just marvelling at the colorful, vibrant and fiery hues of pink, red, orange, brown and gold leaves. I love to see dry leaves falling off trees into the grassy grounds where small animals can bury themselves. I am awestruck at the sight of migratory birds flying in cadence within that triangular shape towards their new destination.

The other Saturday, I drove across the scenic River Road in Lockport and was not disappointed with the amazingly beautiful sights that awaited me. As expected, the lush green trees that line up the beach have turned into an incredibly beautiful combination of various colors, putting their spring birth to shame. I spent a few minutes by the lake just just allowing the crisp cool feel of the autumn wind to kiss my cheeks and brush my hair away.

There is no word to describe the beauty of fall – it’s as if the whole earth is being reborn, opening up a whole new level of sensory experience. It almost feels like magic.

But despite its beauty, there is something about fall that tugs a deep chord within my heart.

It’s that poignant feeling of happiness and sadness combined, similar to an obscure and painful longing for something that makes you want to embrace and push away at the same time. It’s as if something is pulling, tugging, ebbing and flowing as light slowly drains away and darkness begins to linger. There is a sense that something is being taken away from you, similar to that ominous feeling of dread when a loved one leaves you to a far far away place.

I guess that’s where this awkward ambivalence springs from: an acute sense of awareness of the temporal beauty of everything. This beauty that I see is just on the surface. Underneath is a massive corrosion and collapsing and rottening that ultimately leads to the inevitable: death and decay.

With all its beauty, fall forces me to confront, up close and very personal, the inescapable truth about my own mortality. It reinforces the reality about how fleeting everything in this life really is, and in the end, I am, and everyone else, is left with no choice but to transition from here to there.

In the new sensations brought about by fall, it’s almost as if my own life is parading before my eyes. I see everything: what I have done in the spring and summer seasons of my life and how grateful I am indeed to still be given the time to continue on with what I have started. I reflect upon the season of fall, grateful at the thought that I am exactly in the place where God wants me to be, doing the work that this season requires of me. Amazing indeed that the fading of the sunglare provides a more focused illumination that lets me see both the form and the shadow of everything. It’s a different realm that brings me to a whole new dimension of fresher perspectives and insightful revelations.

Winter follows fall, and spring follows winter. Spring marks the resurrection of things that are dead, and when spring comes, life springs forth and the whole world becomes a living dynamo of energy – pulsating, bursting, beating – and opening up another level of sensory experience. This I have seen many times.

But confident as I am of the spring that follows winter, I am even more confident of life that follows death. This is my unspeakable hope in Christ, assured by the immutable promise of the Almighty God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ himself from the dead. (I Peter 1:3,4; Acts 17:30-31).