Monday, December 12, 2011


I was probably 8 or 9 years old when I first learned how to ride a bike. Our housekeeper-slash-assistant-slash-helper-slash-my yaya (nanny) taught me how to ride. I don't know if my parents gave her specific instructions not to bring me outside of the house just to teach me to ride or maybe it was just my unfounded paranoia because I remember sneaking out with her in the middle of the day when the sun was out with such fierceness that I see steam rising from the cement roads. We only did this during the weekends right after lunch. I'd wait for her to finish up her duties then tidy up the kitchen before we leave. And we made sure my parents were in the bedroom or the living room having their siesta (afternoon rest or nap).

I think the sneaking out part was more exciting than the actual bike riding lessons. The lessons weren't too bad. I would hop onto the bike and she would hold the back side while I try to balance as I pedal. I learned very quickly but I lacked the confidence. I wanted her to run behind me and hold on my bike while I pedaled. Sometimes I'd see her in my peripheral view to make sure she was still there guiding me, holding the bike. Sometimes I won't see her at all and I would steal a glance backwards just to make sure she's still there and she was always behind me. She taught me and coaxed me while still holding on to the bike until my confidence increased. We did this for a couple more weekends and then she told me I was ready. Ready for what? I asked. For me to go on my own without her holding the bike as I ride. I protested. I asked her not to let go and  I demanded for her to always stay behind me and hold my bike. She said ok. End of conversation.

On the third or fourth weekend, as we planned to sneak out again after lunch, I was still very excited about the whole thing. As usual, I'd hopped on to my bike and I would start to pedal while still making sure my yaya was behind me. I loved to feel the wind in my hair, the sun blazing down on me and the pavement passing by me oh so swiftly. I was riding my bike! Then I heard a loud sound coming from a big horn. A huge truck was coming on towards me from behind! Fast! So fast that I can feel the trembling of its tires on the cemented road. I started feeling scared, my heart was thumping so hard and my balance started to waver. I glanced back to look at the oncoming truck when I suddenly realized I was riding alone! My yaya was far behind and running towards me. I panicked, all of my confidence now gone. I didn't know what to do! My bike started to wobble a little because of my panic and the handle bars was shaking so hard from left to right. I tried to keep it steady and to focus on the road ahead. There's plenty of room for a bike and a truck on one lane, right? Then I felt the rush of wind with such power on my left side as the truck passed me by. I was ok! I was safe! And I was still riding my bike, all by myself!

That was one lesson I will never forget for as long as I live. As my yaya came near me, screaming on how proud she was of my accomplishment, I felt angry at her for a moment. I felt she abandoned me. I thought she betrayed me as she left me alone. But she was so happy with my success and as she explained how she can't catch up with me anymore because I was pedaling so fast that she had to let me go that's when I understood she really didn't want to leave me or to have me harmed in any way. She still wanted to hold on to me but at the same time she also wanted to see me ride on my own. After that day, we didn't sneak out anymore. I told my parents that I already know how to ride my bike and they were happy for me but they told me no more main roads or highways. I must stay only within the neighborhood paths. I complied. 

"Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee." -Deuteronomy 31:6 

"The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" -Psalms 27:1 

"So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me." -Hebrews 13:6

With God, don't we feel like we're riding a bike most of the time like novices? God provides us with all the tools we need in order for us to have His knowledge and wisdom, to learn from the Bible and to mature in our walk with Him but there are times when it feels like we're going to lose our balance and our confidence seems to grow thin amidst discouragements and fears. Then we think we're alone in our sufferings and pain. Those are BIG lies! Blatant lies from the biggest liar of all time -Satan. And on top of those lies, we sometimes feel that we can pedal so fast that we don't need help anymore. We feel that the wind in our hair and the pleasures of the ride will last forever and ever. Until we're faced with danger. And then life happens. This is when we begin to look for God all over again. We scramble not to fall. We're not too great on our own after all, are we?

Most of the time, we do know how to ride our bikes. We've got the balancing thing down and we can pedal with no problems. We've been riding long enough to have that bike almost like a part of ourselves. We don't need to worry when adversities come our way. When we are faced with humongous trucks coming on towards us, we've got it! And this is not because of our skills or talents nor of our intelligence or power, it is from God. He promised never to leave us nor forsake us. Jesus is our light and our salvation, and He is our strength and our helper. Sometimes we might feel that we're riding alone but no, those are the times when God has our bike, our pedals, our path, our confidence, our worries and our life all held together in His loving hands. And surely, He will never ever let go.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Behind The Scenes

I was very much into the performing arts and the theater when I was in college. I considered it as one of my "passions" back then and I thought that I would end up doing something related to the arts for the rest of my life. My father, on the other hand, was not so thrilled about the idea. Aside from the late nights (and sometimes even until the wee hours of the morning) of endless rehearsals and practices for upcoming performances, and then all the traveling on top of actually attending my classes, he wasn't too excited for me in becoming a full time "artist." He told me to enjoy the theater while I can but he made it very clear right then and there that there's no point for me ending up as one of the many "starving" artists out there, he said. I understand now that he was only being practical and was thinking of what he thought was best for me, but at the same time that he was telling me all that, my heart and my mind were already rebelling against his advice. I thought I knew what I wanted and I thought I knew what I'd love to do with my life. But I didn't have a clue.

I was introduced into the world of theater through the courses I had to take in college. But the more appealing introduction came with my membership in a college performing arts group named "An Balangaw" or The Rainbow. It's where my love for theater, song and dance, performance and the arts in general did really take root. I loved the process of creating, writing, deliberating with the performers, the directing, designing, acting, and watching a piece of art on stage evolve right before my eyes. It almost seemed like working with something that is alive because a performance piece continues to change, mold and remold, and it takes on some of the adaptations from audiences' reactions as well as from the actors' contributions to the show.

My experience with theater was not with the classical plays by Shakespeare, Ben Jonson or Tennessee Williams, and neither did we do anything from the classical Greek tragedies or comedies, although studying and learning about them in the classroom was so much fun and educational. The group's forte was the local folklore, the Filipino music and dance, and the indigenous way of life and traditions of the people. The performers traveled around the Leyte-Samar area (in the Visayas or the central Philippines) to research and learn the various songs and poems, traditions and legends, the folk dances and musical compositions of the local people which have been passed down from generations to generations without any proper documentation. The whole experience served as an eye-opener for us "city folks."

I loved to perform back then. I enjoyed entertaining people with the songs, dances and the stories we gathered from our travels and research. This is one of the wonders of theater --what you see on stage is not the actual, whole picture of the total process on putting up a show. Almost 85% of what's in a performance happens behind the scenes. The research staff and the writers are the mind of the theater, the directors and the creative staff are the heart of a performance, and the props, stage design, costume, make-up and lighting people compose the skeleton or backbone of the show. The actors are the soul of the theater and the audience completes the whole package. Theater can never be successful if it's not a collaborative work. Each piece of the act will crumble without one and the other. 

"For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." -1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 25-27

Glory be to God for He designed His church as a collaboration or teamwork as well. As Christians, we are members of one Body. No matter what my role is in His body, my role is important. Without my small part in my local church, the whole piece will not function as effectively. I'm expected to do my work without any grumbling or envy, without any comparison to the roles played by other members of the church, and without any complaint. Unlike when I was younger when I used to "rebel" against my father's wishes for me, now as I mature I ought to listen and take good advice from my pastor and the leaders of my church on how to do things.

Just like in theater, the bulk of the work in a church is not readily visible. There are jobs done by most members that are not "advertised," like cleaning the bathrooms, cleaning and making sure the pews and the auditorium are ready for Sunday service, and maintaining the building structures. These are very important work and often times the people who do these remain unappreciated. As for me, I need to make sure that I do what I need to do and do my part in order for the members of our church to be honored and to rejoice in Christ. This time we are not in the theater. We are not performing. This is the real thing. This is highly important. Christians need to make it right or else answer to God Himself.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sweet, Refreshing Waters from Clay Jars

One of my favorite childhood games was to play house. I miss the feeling of being cozy inside a miniature "house" with all the miniature home appliances, furniture, and the tiny toys we played with. Those miniature appliances and furniture were not the "real" stuff which kids can buy from toy stores these days. We made and built our own. They were made out of scrap wood, twigs, cardboard, newspaper, old plastic containers and tin cans, held together by rubber bands and strings.

I didn't play much with dolls when I was a kid but I do remember playing with my toy pots and pans, kitchen utensils and cooking wares. My favorites were the tiny cooking pots and pans made from terra cotta clay. They were just too cute and so adorable. I still remember how smooth they felt in my hand, how tiny they were yet the details and the similarities to the real thing were so amazing. I can actually cook with them using real fire we made with match sticks, paper and wood. I just had to dice up the "meat and vegetables" really tiny so it would fit into the tiny pots. And what are those "meat and veggies" you may ask? They were only make-believe. They were plants, leaves, flowers, stems, roots, grass, soil and pebbles we took from Mama's garden.

For some reason, clay pots for cooking are not very popular here in the States. When we say clay pots here, it usually means the ones used for gardening, like the flower pots. And if ever this cooking ware is available here, they are too expensive that most people can't afford them anyway. But cooking in clay pots is still one of the most popular choices in many parts of the world including the Philippines. These earthen wares are readily available everywhere in that country and they are not expensive at all. The fact that the good quality ones also last for a long, long time makes it even more a worthwhile purchase.

When I was younger, I used to visit my "Lola" (grandmother) in the province. Me and my brothers stayed with her during the summer months and what a grand vacation it always was! Those were some of the great days of my childhood. We were spoiled rotten by our grandma, grandaunts and cousins. Summertime spent in the countryside are the best. One of my cherished memories from those vacations with Lola is what I call now as the "lesson of the clay pot." Allow me to share with you that lesson:

On those summer vacations although we were spoiled by everyone, my brothers and I were still not exempt from doing a few household chores. One of my chores was to help my grandaunt fill-up the "daba" (palayok) or clay jar for drinking water. Thirty years ago, a faucet with clean, running water was unheard of in most parts of the Philippines. We had water wells and manual pumps from where we fetch our water for daily use. In some places, they have lakes and rivers where they do their laundry and all sorts of washing. In the big cities, there may be the chlorinated, running water from the faucet but I remember it was always a battle to fill-up even just a small pail. And I heard that it's still a battle up to now.

Anyway, I digressed. The clay jar I used to fill-up with water was in my grandaunt's kitchen. I remember asking her why we had to fill it up with water when we can just fill-up all the pitchers we had in the house? She explained that clay pots are the best water storage, ever. It makes water sparklingly cool in the summer when ice or refrigeration were hard to get by. And also it makes the water sweet-tasting, she said. As a child, that was pure magic to me. Cool, sweet, sparkling water without refrigeration? It's a miracle! As God is my witness, all she said is true. Water from clay pots are indeed refreshingly cool and sweet. It's one of the magical things I miss from my childhood.

Another fact I've learned about clay pots was that they leak. Clay is a porous material and so it's just natural for water to seep out in any way it can. That's why most of the clay pots available now in the market are most likely to be coated with some kind of a sealant to prevent the seepage. But I remember Lola telling me that this was "unnatural" and it may not be good for our health. We never know what type of sealant people apply on those pots. So we only used the natural ones regardless of the leak. We just place a basin under it and we continue to refill it everyday with fresh supply of water.

The lesson of the clay pot did not stop there. It continued on as I grew older.

"O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand." -Isaiah 64:8 

"O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?" -Romans 9:20-24

In some of my Bible readings and quiet time with the Lord, He showed me additional "lessons of the clay pot." The Bible says that God is the Potter and we are the clay. He can mold us and use us for His purpose and glory if we only let Him. And just like the clay jars my family used to store water, humans also can't hold much "water" for long periods of time. We leak so bad. That's why we need the Holy Spirit to fill us up with His teachings from the Word everyday. We need to read the Bible to replenish the seepage that happens from our hearts and our souls. Since we are the clay, we need the Potter to mold us into the likeness of His own Son's character little by little each day. And for Him to fill us up with new supply of His tender mercies every morning.

We are just lowly clay pots in the hands of God and we can choose to remain empty and useless for the rest of our lives, just sitting in one corner being pretty like all the decorative ceramic jars available in home furnishings stores. Or, we can choose to be useful and be filled up for "cooking and storage." As we allow God to fill and re-fill us with His wisdom and power through the Holy Spirit, I'm sure we will produce sparkling, refreshing, sweet waters in His perfect time. It is my prayer that as God's "sweetened water" that I will be a blessing to others as He chooses.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Paper Towels

We don't have paper towels in the Philippines. I mean the big rolls, for "kitchen-use" type paper towels. But I'm not too sure about now since I've been away too long. And I say this not to be mean in any way nor to be offensive to my fellow Filipinos, it is just how I remember growing up in a house with 6 children and with extended family who occasionally visits us. We used washable, reusable rags for our everyday cleaning and wiping. I also remember cleaning our house the "old school" way --with soap and water, maybe a splash of chlorine bleach, using rags and brushes, down on our knees scrubbing all the grime and dirt away. It was hard, back-breaking work. And we did this regularly, like 3 to 4 times a week. And I thank my mother for all the training she provided her children while growing up because these kinds of skills do come in handy now that I have my own family to take care of and a home to clean and manage. I salute all the working moms who work full time and yet still maintain a spotlessly clean house. That's never a small feat. It's a miracle by itself.

It's funny how we live a long time without the need for some things yet after we discover that thing, we suddenly can't live without it! That's exactly what happened to me and with those paper towels. I can't live without them now. I have to have them at my house and in the office at all times. I can't do any cleaning without it. Rags are unheard of for me now. I'm so helpless without my paper towels.

Okay, okay I am exaggerating quite a bit. The world continues to turn even without paper towels. There are much more important things in life than having rolls of paper towels at home. But having them ready at hand, just in case of a spill or some sort of soiling, is the best way to go. Ahhh, the pleasures of modern living. We have machines to help us do our everyday chores, we have appliances to assist us with our everyday duties, and we have all types of luxury like having vehicles when our forefathers used to trudge several miles on foot. Now we have electricity and gas to keep us out of the dark and make us warm on cold wintry nights, and we do have those paper towels always ready to wipe off any mess and we just dispose of it after each use. Aren't you glad we are living at this day and age as against to living in the past? So why do we still complain a lot? Why aren't people any happier now as compared to our great-great grandparents? Why are the paper towels not enough to make life any grander than before?

Humans are so near and narrow-sighted that we easily forget the past and we always neglect to focus on the future. Paper towels are immediately available these days that they're almost considered as next to nothing. It's not one of the most valuable goods in the market. People are not lining up to buy them off the shelves. Paper towels are not even part of the stock market on which people can invest their money with the hope of multiplying their profits. It has no inherent value. The value of the paper towels is based only on the user's need, like mine. I can't live without it. It is valuable to me, but the world doesn't seem to think the same way. Gold is what's valuable. Diamonds are priceless. Money is the center of life. Money makes the world go round, they say. What I'm trying to drive at is this: people do what they want to do, people think what they'd like to think, and we value things that we want to value no matter what the reality is and what the truth really is.

God says that earthly wealth and riches are nothing in eternity but people still beat themselves up just to get "an ounce of gold" because for them that's what has real value. God says that storing up treasures here on earth is pointless but people still have vaults and coffers filled with goods that perish at the sound of His voice. We lose focus in a snap. We forget that life is too short to be focusing on things that have nothing to do with our eternal life. I do love my paper towels but I'm also glad that I can let go of them as easily as I want them because I know that I have the best "mess picker-upper" in the whole universe --my God. He forgives me for my big messes all the time and He purifies me from all unrighteousness. And He doesn't need any paper towels to do that.

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." -Matthew 6:19-21

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Really, Really Good News

"And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." -Matthew 24:14

"And the gospel must first be published among all nations." -Mark 13:10

My routine each morning after I wake up is to (groggily) make some coffee, prepare a quick breakfast for my family, quickly bag some lunch for the three of us and then straighten out the kitchen a little before I prepare to leave for work. Usually, I have some spare time so I sit on the couch, sip my coffee in front of the TV and watch some morning news. Bad idea. That's always a bad idea. The last thing I want to do is to bombard my thoughts with a series of bad news coming in from all over the world first thing in the morning. But somehow, someway I always end up turning on that television and then torture myself with doses of depressing stories. And to think that that's only 10 to 15 minutes of my day. How much more if I watch TV all day long? I would be a total wreck!

As you'd probably know already (since I've mentioned it in my previous posts), I used to be a news reporter. Somehow I don't remember feeling so sad or too depressed about the stories we used to gather everyday. It was just normal work with some unusual stories sometimes but nothing too horrible that would make me feel gloomy for the rest of the day. I was happy with my job and it was one of my best experiences. But now it seems like the whole world has run amok! All I hear and see on TV are mostly bad news. Maybe I'm just getting too old for all these negative stuff.

I also think that maybe the digital age has a lot to do to contribute to the reason why it feels like there is just too much bad news everywhere and all the time. The world has really gone smaller. In split seconds, we get to know what's happening on the other side of the world at the same time we learn what's happening in our own neighborhood. In a flash, we can "bombard" ourselves with international breaking news while looking at what's happening at our own backyard. With a click, we get news and information within minutes which our great-grandparents normally would have gotten in days, weeks or even months.

It is so scary for me on how we get to see so much of the bad stuff but we never get to know the victories and the triumphs in people's lives. Surely there must be more than just bad news out there? Surely there must be some funny, heart-warming, great stories somewhere? Why do the news media particularly gobble up on the bad news mostly? Are we, the audience, really that addicted to such depressing and sad news? It seems like good news can never be in the headlines anymore these days.

Whenever I tell people that we don't have cable television in our home, the usual reaction I get is a combination of shock, surprise and disbelief. And I do understand the reaction. Cable is being portrayed and marketed as one of the basic necessity of human life. If you watch the cable companies' commercials, it seems like they are almost threatening people that if we don't get cable we are missing out on all the best things in life! What! No cable? You don't have sports channel every Sunday then! What! No cable? You don't know what's happening with all the reality shows of "real" people! What! No cable? You're so out of touch! Yup maybe so, but no thanks. For almost 7 years now with no cable, our family has survived. We are fine. I thank God we don't miss anything that we haven't seen in the first place. So I'm only guessing when I say that there are probably tons of bad news on cable television as well?

Please don't misunderstand me. I am not propagating the idea of the total eradication of bad news from TV, radio, newspaper or the internet. Not at all. I believe that a balanced news reporting calls for the inclusion of all the bad, the shocking, the horrible and all the real, unpleasant news out there. All I'm saying is and asking for is the "balanced" part. We do need some good, happy, uplifting, funny news as well, don't we? People are already down in the dumps with all the evil and wickedness going on around the world, the economy of almost every nation is at a whack, most families are losing their jobs and their homes, and there are just too many deaths and sicknesses going around, do you think we really need more bad news especially early in the morning?

"And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people." -Matthew 4:23 

"The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the GOSPEL preached to them." -Matthew 11:5 

"For I am not ashamed of the GOSPEL of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." -Romans 1:16

These Bible verses provide only a glimpse of what I call the real and true good news! And that's why it is called the Gospel of Jesus Christ because gospel literally means good news. I thank God for being the bearer of such great news for His people. His love is available to all those who need it at anytime. I thank Him for giving the best news of His salvation and His perfect will for man. There is no other joy that can fill our hearts except the one that can only come from Him and with His hope that makes us look beyond what we see at present. Once we experience the peace of the Holy Spirit that surpasses all understanding, all other substitutes cannot even compare. And praise to the Lord Jesus Christ for His perfect love which is beyond knowledge. And, as if there's even something more that can top all that, yet God truly desires to have a close, meaningdful relationship with me. With "bad news" me! That is what I call good news. No, make it the perfect genuine great news of all time.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." -John 3:16

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Awesome Autumn

And so here it comes..... Autumn!

© Copyright, MMD Images, 2011
© Copyright, MMD Images, 2011

As I've already mentioned before, it is my second favorite season. It's one of the many great things God has allowed me to see and to personally experience. I thought I will only get to see it in pictures and through the movies. I am very thankful I get to live with it (even for short periods of time only) and that I get to see the awesome colors of autumn. 

Fall, as autumn is also "nicknamed," is a very mild season. The only way I can describe it for those who don't have the same opportunity as I do to experience it in person is that there is a certain "briskness" in the air --it's not too cold and not too warm. It's just perfectly right. It's like having an outdoor central air conditioning. With the crisp, cool air comes the changing of the colors of the foliage on trees and some shrubs. The primary colors of the season are of the deep, rich and bright kinds --from the hues of burgundy and reds, subtle golds and energetic yellows, bursting oranges, glowing purples and the deep mahogany and browns. It's so amazingly gorgeous! I can't get enough of it. Sadly, it's also one of the shortest seasons. Maybe this is the reason why it's so glorious and ever more so beautiful because we know that it's fleeting. One day we see the leaves turning red or yellow and then suddenly we see them on the ground just waiting to rot and to be covered by snow, sleet and ice for the next 4 to 5 months. Autumn is one fleeting beauty in its most magnificent. There is no other way I can put it.

© Copyright, MMD Images, 2011
© Copyright, MMD Images, 2011
© Copyright, MMD Images, 2011

With fall also comes a string of holidays and celebrations. To start off, some people in America (and the last time I checked in the news, even people from all over the world) "celebrate" halloween every last day of October. My family don't really consider it to be a part of the holidays since we don't celebrate halloween. For us, the "official" holiday celebrations begin in November for Thanksgiving. This is when there comes a series of small and large gatherings all throughout the holidays. Invitations are coming in from everywhere for people and families to get-together for parties, dinners, luncheons, afternoon teas, and even huge banquets, to celebrate the blessings of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and the New Year.

I'm so happy that my "birthday month" also falls on this wonderful fall season. It's so heart-warming to celebrate my natal day amidst so much splendor and flourish happening all over nature. Fall makes people feel so festive and yet cozy at the same time. Of course I know this is not just for me alone but I'd still like to count it as a part of my personal blessings. This is also the time for apple-picking, farm tours, pumpkin patch and petting zoo for the kids, hay rides and garden strolls for the kids-at-heart. There are also various festivals going on everywhere, all we have to do is to check the calendar of events for every town and city and then make plans to join any time we can.

© Copyright, MMD Images, 2011

On a somber note, we all grow old. There comes a time when we arrive at the "autumn" of our lives. I'd like to consider this period as the more fulfilling, most profound and the blissful time of my life. It should be the time when I'm already deeply rooted in my faith and my foundation in God. It's when there's nothing else I crave in life so bad that I have to lose sleep over it. I'd like to think that my family and I will already be secure in our love and our future, and that my relationships and friendships wouldn't be the shallow, meaningless ones anymore. Fall is rich and deep, intimate and cozy, pretty but with substance. I hope that the "autumn" of my life will resemble even just a tinge of that. 

"And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." -Galatians 6:9

Friday, September 30, 2011

Skeletons In The Closet

"For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops." -Luke 12:2-3

I remember when I was little, I used to sneak into my Mama's walk-in closet. It was like some kind of an adventure for me --to look for "treasures" or play hide-and-seek with my friends and my siblings. To a child, that closet was a whole different, magical world. My Mama have the coolest, nicest and most interesting things. She has all sorts of jewelry in different shapes and sizes, of sparkling colors and intricate designs with stones that I can't even identify. They were the most wonderful and beautiful things I've ever seen in my life back then. There were also some crystal bottles of perfumes in dazzling hues, silk scarves as big as blankets, soft long robes (in pink!), big shoes and huge hats. I'm sure Mama knew what I was doing in there but since I don't take anything out of the closet she'd allow me to play. Well, I won't take the robes nor the jewelry but I would taste the imported chocolates I'd occasionally find in there. I'd take a piece and hope Mama wouldn't notice later.

My most favorite thing in that closet was Mama's make-up set. She had a whole bag of Mary Quant cosmetics. I was only a child but I knew those were real good stuff. I'd put on some rouge on my cheeks and maybe some eye color but what I really, really loved was the bright, deep rich red lipstick. I still remember how it felt and looked on my lips (and some on my hair too!). It was a glossy lipstick which had a subtle scent to it. I cherish those play make-up times of my childhood that's why I try to find some Mary Quant cosmetics for myself now but I'm disappointed they're not available in America. Those kinds of things have a tag of sentimental value in people's hearts and minds because of the memories they leave behind.

As I got older, I began to learn things only grown-ups would (and should) know. I hear a phrase like "skeletons in the closet." As a child I wasn't afraid of the closet or of having any skeletons in there for that matter. It's sad how becoming a grown-up can take away the "magic" and the mystery of childhood and its precious moments. It's so scary how some kids are forced to grow-up and mature beyond their age because of situations that hurt them and their families. I know we live in a fallen, sin-cursed world but despite this knowledge it still pains me to see helpless children being robbed off of their childhood, their innocence and all of the great memories that can only come from being a kid.

There are "new world" teachings and a philosophy of humanism which believe that all humans are inherently good. Most people want to trust the best in people but for some reason, I've been witnessing too much of the opposite to this lately. I won't go much into the details of my experience but it burdens me to see that "the love of many has wax cold" (Matthew 24:12). I also attest that I've personally "looked evil in the eye" at least a couple of times in my life. Those eye-opening realities make me wonder at times, are people capable of diabolic tendencies? Do I have the secrets of abomination lurking inside me? Do I naturally lean towards evil if I don't consciously and willfully fight the primal urge? Very, very tough questions to ask. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" -Jeremiah 17:9

"For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies." -Matthew 15:19

"If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god; Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart." -Psalm 44:20-21

It breaks my heart just to think that everyday somewhere, somehow children are being abused, beaten, hurt beyond words, and their childhood destroyed. Oftentimes these unspeakable and horrendous acts are done to them by heartless, wicked and evil adults who are supposed to take care and protect them in the first place. As a mother and as a human being I can't help to feel seething anger within me and to feel useless at the same time because in reality, there's really not much I can do. I grit my teeth and I cry for those innocent, young, helpless children. Most of all, I pray for them. I may not know their names nor what's really happened to them but as I've said before, I am utterly and completely sure that prayer works. I may not personally witness now on how God works based on the prayers of His saints from all over the world yet I am positive He hears us, always. (And yes, the Bible says that all who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God are His saints --both living and dead.)

"In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel." -Romans 2:16
To our eyes and human logic we may think there's no justice for all the children who have been hurt needlessly by evil people, but by the assurance of the Bible, God says there shall be justice. Justice for all, not just for the children. Justice for those who have been wronged and hurt. God's justice is perfect. In His time and by His perfect will would He judge all man including me. If I don't get to see His judgment while I'm still alive, I'm sure and I'm persuaded that everything will be under His perfect ruling after all of human life as we know it is over. Glory to the perfect, most high and righteous Judge alone! 
"The LORD shall judge the people: judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me. Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins." -Psalm 7:8-9

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Instantly, Quickly, Now!

"LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am. Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah." -Psalm 39:4-5

I love instant coffee. I know this is some kind of a "profanity" for serious coffee lovers especially here in America. I know how you all love your brewed, drip coffee. And I do love it, too. It's just that, most of the time I don't have the energy to prepare the coffeemaker in the morning just to have one cup or two. I have to wash the pot, clean the filters out, wipe, scoop and then wait for the "dripping" to end before I can have my "fix" of caffeine to help me wake up in the first place. I want it now! So, instant is the way to go for me --just boil some water (or microwave, which I won't normally recommend), scoop and stir. And then, enjoy!

Blend 45 3-in-1 Instant Coffee
Nescafe Instant Coffee

I'm only talking about my morning "cup of Joe" and yet this is basically how our "modern" society has now come to ---the instantaneous, instant gratification, hurry up, quick, right now attitude. We prefer everything fast, faster and fastest without sacrificing the quality. I'm not too sure about how the latter part can be maintained but instant is good. When we go the the grocery we find instant noodles, instant rice, instant canned goods, instant bread dough -no rise, no bake, no waiting! We have instant cash from the ATMs, instant shampoo -no water, no rinsing required. We have instant entertainment with just one click anywhere and there's even instant hand wash -all those hand sanitizers! Wow. Isn't it amazing how many instant products are out there now?

I haven't been to Japan yet but I've heard and seen some pretty interesting products they manufacture over there. They have out-of-this-world things that were supposedly invented to help make our lives so much easier. Those who are in Tokyo, Osaka or Yokohama for example, live an ultra fast-paced lives that they can't afford to be left behind or be left-out by waiting for the "coffeemaker to finish brewing." They keep up with the high-tech lifestyle in those progressive cities. Some of the products I've personally seen are: a one-push can opener -no more turning knobs; an instant indoor bonsai garden -just add water; and there's a microwave snack chips-maker -oil free and healthy (supposedly) that comes with various flavoring. I'd like to apologize in advance for even mentioning this on here but it's just too unique and amusing to omit -the Japanese people has also come up with a toilet seat that sprays water, cleans, and blasts warm air (like a hand dryer) so there's no more need for any tissue paper in the restroom! Talk about progress?

We love everything instant whether we admit it or not. We get so annoyed and impatient when things don't go instantly the way we planned it. Let's take a look at an ordinary, routine day for an average person. And let's pretend that person is me. I wake up in the morning and shoot!--my alarm clock didn't work the instant I wanted it to. Now I'll be late for work! I go for a quick shower expecting for the hot water to run instantly the moment I get under the shower head. And I'm thinking to myself, I've no more time for coffee -brewed or instant- so I got to get out of the door now! So I run to the train station, hoping the train would be there the instant I arrive. I spend the next 40-45 minutes commuting and thinking if there is a much faster way to go to work? And actually, there is. Again, the very first one was in Japan. It has only been superseded by China recently. It's the fastest bullet train in the world, soon to open in Shanghai, China by 2012. It runs at its top speed of 220 mph. Oh well, we don't have that one in Chicago.

Then I'm at the office, late. I turn on my computer expecting it to boot instantly, as usual. But not today. Oh boy, I need to call IT support. It's going to be long day indeed. I foresee half of the day spent sitting around doing a little bit of work since I can't really do much since my PC is down. I decided to get my coffee instead (instant) and zap some popcorn for breakfast. (I know some friends who actually do this by the way.) Then when I'm done "wasting" my morning waiting for the not-so-instant tech support,  I plan for lunch. Maybe a can of soup that I can zap in the microwave and maybe an "instant" sandwich from the vendo? Yum.

Ok, stop. I think you get my point. We live in a society where fast, quick and instant are preferred. It may be a hard decision to make especially when there comes a time when we feel like we are being swept away by the wave of such a lifestyle, but I personally would like to think that I will still choose to stop and slow down. I won't allow myself and my family to be gorged up in such speed and haste. I'd like to believe that I'd still appreciate the flowers around me (not the plastic ones nor the electronic photos on my PC), and I'd still like to "brew" a cup of coffee regardless of the waiting. Life is too short to hasten it up. I only have 24 hours everyday, too precious to cut short by trying to cram-in a million tasks that are really inessential. I wish to live every second, of every minute, of every hour in everyday, loving what I do and spending most of it with the ones I love. And more importantly, it is my prayer that God will always give me His grace to remember that I live my life here on earth on a "borrowed" time and that I must live it to the fullest with Him, for Him, and by Him alone. That my focus must always be on what lies ahead, beyond of what's on this instant.

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." -Philippians 4:8

Friday, September 16, 2011

My "Existentialist" Past

I was on the train on my way home one lovely afternoon and yet I felt a little gloomy inside for no apparent reason. I don't know if you can relate with such sadness and gloom that seem to come from nowhere? I've had those "depressive symptoms" since my teenage years. As I was sitting there on that train, my thoughts suddenly was on king Solomon of the Old Testament Bible. God made him the wisest person that ever lived on earth and yet he was also one of the loneliest. He was often said to have had depressive thoughts. Have you ever tried reading the book of Ecclesiastes? Some people would argue that the author of this book was not Solomon but Bible scholars have compelling proofs that in fact it was the wise king who wrote it.

It's somewhat of a depressing book so consequently and understandably enough it's not very popular nor well-read either. It's one of my favorite books in the Bible though. Somehow I can relate to some of king Solomon's "ranting" as recorded in that book. It seemed like he always managed to see the end to everything instead of seeing the hope or to look for the "light at the end of the tunnel." All he saw and what he witnessed in this world was just plain vanity in everything. "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?" -Ecclesiastes 1:2-3

I used to have dark thoughts when I was younger. There was like a perpetual "dark cloud" that hovered in my midst. I didn't know what it was and I never sought help to understand what I was going through. I honestly thought it was the "normal" way to feel. I've never talked about it until I met my husband and after Jesus found me and saved me. I've found out that talking about "hidden" things in your life to people you love and trust is "therapeutic." When we confess and bring "secrets" out from our past we allow God to bring His Light into it and we take away Satan's foothold from that part of our life. That's when God's perfect healing really begins. "Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." -2 Corinthians 4:1-2

Looking back now, I know God's protection covered me all throughout those years. Since the time I was conceived I knew He was with me. He had plans for me and my future. I remember having a "mini breakdown" during my freshman year in college but at that time I didn't understand what it was, I had no name for it. I just remember feeling so gravely sad and I tire easily for no reason. My parents probably thought I was just being a normal teenager. My body was lethargic at times but my mind was reeling and burning with dark, deep, bleak thoughts about human existence, questions about life in general, and the purpose of man. Why was I born? What am I here for? After death, do I float into emptiness with no memory of this life or do I go some place real? My mind was filled with these "loaded" questions of nothingness, void, and the dismal abyss of the unknown. I do understand now that these are not normal thoughts for a 15-year old.

That was the time when I was drawn to the philosophy of existentialism. I began searching for books about it. I devoured writings of Soren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre, names of which I beg your children to stay away, far away. There are endless books about this philosophy which shouldn't be in the hands of a "troubled" teenager in the first place but I found them all right, and I did read them. They made "sense" to my young mind although they never answered my questions and they never took away the angst I felt inside. Those existentialist writings only deepened the hole in my heart and the gap that seemed to divide my physical existence from my own soul.

I know now that I was treading on dangerous territory then. I remember thinking that if I opened up and confide in my family and my friends, I was so sure they would laugh at my "craziness." I do realize now that those fears of rejection and of being misunderstood were totally unfounded but to the mind of a teenager, it's for real. Sometimes imagined fears and assumed outcome are more real to a young mind than what the reality is. That's why a solid foundation on God and His Truth is the most essential "Rock" a child can have as early as possible. It's already a scary world out there and when we leave our children unsupervised even with their own thoughts and in their impressions of life, it can be a very volatile combination. I thank God for protecting and saving me. I loved Him because He first loved me and the Bible confirms this truth. "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us." -1 John 4:18-19

In case you're wondering, existentialism is the philosophy which says that human existence is the beginning and the core to everything that happens in life. It says that after a person is born, he now therefore "exists" and he must make choices in life that will be the essence of who he will be. Even the existence or the non-existence of God is based on that person's decision. This philosophy completely sets aside rational evidence from science, math and other logical studies. In a nutshell, it believes that a person is solely responsible for what happens in his life based on his choices, decisions, experiences and beliefs. I used to believe in these things but what anguish and more dread it brought to my heart! When God showed me His truth from the Scriptures, I look back and just shake my head at my own foolishness. I used to believe in such "existentialist hopelessness" and I thank God everyday for saving me and taking me out of that bottomless mire! Praise the Lord indeed!

Even king Solomon in his dire sorrows saw that there is only one way out of hopelessness and despair - God! "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." -Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3:11, 12:13-14

Friday, September 9, 2011

Teardrop Earrings

One of the gifts my Mama has given me which I cherish and treasure with all my heart is a pair of dark stone, teardrop gold earrings. Until now I still don't know what those stones are. I remember Mama saying that they're probably smoky sapphires. Some of my friends who (I believe) know their stones say that maybe it's garnet or topaz. Whatever it is, I don't really care. All that matters to me is that it's a gorgeous, dainty pair that makes me feel so special whenever I wear them because it's a gift from my mother.

Since the day Mama gave me the gift, any kind of teardrop jewelry has become my all-time favorite. In our culture in the Philippines, anything shaped like teardrops is not particularly popular. This is due to old beliefs and superstitions which say that from its namesake alone and because of the shape itself, all teardrop-shaped jewelry are supposedly "bad luck." It can bring much sadness and tears into one's life. As a child, I've discovered hundreds of these different superstitions that I simply lost track of them. But I do remember the round-shaped, ovals or circular things we used to bring out on New Year's eve to "attract" money. They will (allegedly) allow money to flow in since the shapes resemble coins. And when you're moving into a new house make sure to put some loose coins into the "coffers" and fill up the rice bin so your family will never run out of money or rice in the years to come.

There are also the more common types of superstitions like bad things will happen if a black cat crosses your path or that there will be seven years of bad luck in store for you if you break a mirror. But it's a sign of "good luck" whenever the palm of your hand itches because you'll receive some cash. On the other hand, we also have the not-so-common superstitions like whenever we admire babies and compliment their cuteness and health, we must always say "pwera usog" or "buyag" for each compliment offered. When literally translated, those phrases would mean "to counter a hex or a curse" and "heaven forbid." Another uncommon one is when a child is hit in the head, we have to "counter" that by knocking up his chin several times so the growing process is not stunted. And if it's raining and sunny at the same time? Don't you dare go out and get wet in that rain because it's a sign that either the gnomes or the forest elves are getting married or the devil himself is taking a shower.

These are only a few of the superstitions and beliefs I've personally witnessed throughout the years. Although my family is not very superstitious, there were some practices we tried to follow "just for fun" like the round shapes we bring out as we usher in the new year. But all those years we've been doing that, I've never witnessed any overflowing of money. Unless my parents are just being mum about it? And I think I've broken a couple of mirrors and that's a total of 14 years of my life right there. I hope the duration of bad luck has already expired. And I still wear my favorite teardrop earrings each opportunity I get. So far, so good.

I'm not absolutely sure what the basis of these superstitions are. Maybe it's associated with one's culture and traditions? Maybe it's an intrinsic part of one's family history because they have been handed down from generation to generation so unpracticing them is out of the question? Some "experts" even dismiss superstitions as a "symptom" of ignorance and the lack of education. I don't know about that latter part for I personally know people who are well-educated and whom I consider not to be ignorant but they still believe in superstitions. It's really very hard to explain yet very easy to judge. I'd rather stay away from both. I wouldn't assume and I won't pass any judgement.

You know where I go to find answers to these very difficult questions? I have my Bible to guide me on this matter. I might not like what I read but it's already been settled for me that the Bible has the final say to everything because only God has the infallible answers.

"And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven." -Deutoronomy 4:19 

"And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger." -2 Kings 21:6 

"As the bird by wandering, as the swallow by flying, so the curse causeless shall not come." -Proverbs 26:2 

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." -Colossians 2:8

These are just few verses from the Word of God which show me that any form of tradition, any way of life or type of beliefs that are not rooted on Jesus Christ and His teachings are false. Period. I know this is not easily acceptable even among Christians. Our culture and our family are very important to us including the practices and traditions that have been handed down since the time of our forefathers. I do understand that we hold on to these beliefs for security, for honor and to immortalize the legacy of our family and our people. This is not something new. Even some of the stories in the Bible tell us that God's people often fall away from God and lose His blessings because they chose to follow man's traditions and the unbelievers' way of life. Do you remember how Jesus was condemned by the Pharisees because He wouldn't follow their traditions? 

"Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition." -Mark 7:5-9

It's a very important yet often difficult choice to make: God's way or man's ways?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Vanity and Designer Brands

I know how we all love to go for a shopping spree. Especially when there are great sales, huge discounts and unbelievable markdowns everywhere! Uh wait... that's right, I don't like to shop. I know that I'm absolutely crazy and this is totally unheard of. But the truth is I only hunt for necessities, I don't shop. Whenever I go to the mall (which is very rare) I gravitate mostly towards the food shops and restaurants, bookstores, personal services (spa, hair and nail salons), and the movies. The departments stores, clothing and shoe stores, women accessories, jewelry and perfumery stores? They don't get my attention so much. I know that women are supposed to love shopping but I guess I'm wired differently. Now my husband is the shopper in the family. Just tell him where the discounts and the clearance sales are, then you gotta move out of the way, or else.....

When he comes home from work, I'd find him toting some shopping bags. He would even call for his son to meet him out in the car because he needs help with the bags. Uh-oh, what does that mean? He needs help with the bags? How many are there? And when I ask him why he had to buy what he just brought home, especially since we really don't need them at the present, he says it's because "they're on clearance!" And he says it like it should explain everything and I'm the one who don't get it at all. For him, when something is on clearance or on sale, better grab it so we can save some money. For me, saving money means not spending it at all, on any clearance or not! (Sigh.) I guess he's right, I simply don't get it.

Yet I have to be thankful that my husband is not an extreme shopper. When I say extreme I mean when people only buy the top designer brands. At least my husband goes for anything that's on clearance. And when I say anything, it means anything, as long as it's on sale or it's coming out from the clearance rack. He's a "cheap" shopper. And I don't say this as an insult, I'm actually thankful that he is one. But please don't tell him I said that, he might change his shopping ways!

Don't get me wrong, I am all for great quality and on saving money in the long run. I also like to splurge on nice things sometimes as long as we don't have to give an arm and a leg just to get them. And I do like some top brand names and labels as well. They make it easier to remember the best products from the bad ones. Buy (or ogle) the top brands and stay away from the questionable ones --that's my motto as a buyer. I'm glad that I'm not particularly "brand name or label-conscious" so this way I don't feel restricted on my occasional shopping sprees. What's important is that I know what I like and I buy what I like (or need).

When I was younger I used to design women's clothes and apparel. I had a journal of my designs and drawings. It was more of a hobby than a career path. I know I can't draw very well but I have great ideas in my head. I used to design my own clothes and have a seamstress create them for me. I remember I had to explain myself very clearly so she would understand what the final product should look like. It was difficult at times since I was "sewing illiterate" and as I've said I can't draw well. But with much patience and intent communication, most of my designs came to life with the help of a very skillful lady. Without her, my designs would remain as it was, just a concept or an idea in my mind barely making it onto paper. Although fashion designing was only a hobby, my husband and I later decided to make it as a home-based business. We tried, but because of my shortcomings as a designer, in sewing, and as an entrepreneur, the business didn't prosper. Yet it was still a good try and it was worth the time and the effort. It was a brief yet exciting and a little stressful time in my life.

Having that experience in (amateur) designing, creating (more like scrambling really), and producing a product from scratch, I now have an enormous respect for all the entrepreneurs out there. I'm telling you it's not easy. So when I say that I'm not brand name or label-conscious, it's more of a confession of insufficiency on my part. It's not the products' fault. Some of the owners has given their sweat, tears and blood in order to get to where they are now. So I don't belittle top brand names or designer labels. If I can afford it, I'll buy more of these great products. Brand names are also important because from it we can do research about their creation, inception, the history, and the true "value" of the company.

When I read the Bible, I'm glad to learn that God is not as "brand name or label-conscious" as the rest of us. For Him, no matter who you are, what's your family name, where you've come from or what you've done, He is still your biggest fan (literally) in spite of yourself. He doesn't care if you are the President of the United States or the worst sinner of all-time and a nobody, He is rooting for you and for your success. Yes, He does know your name and your past but it's not to find faults or to list down your inadequacies. It's because He is the one who knew you even before you were born. The Bible says God is not a "respecter" of persons. He doesn't take into account our individual accomplishments so we can brag about it back at Him. He is only interested in our success if His will is in it and when His Name is glorified through us. When we are "earmarked" as God's own, that's the "brand name or label" that will last forever and ever. "...Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." -Acts 10:34(b)-35 

"But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God." -Romans 2:10-11

I can surely boast of my many accomplishments no matter how small they are in other people's eyes. Or, I can brag about my life's experiences and my family's ventures, but what will it do for me? Maybe I'll feel happy and proud for a moment and people will applaud those feats and success but when the moment passes, what now? I'd rather boast in the name of Jesus and strive for success for His glory because that's what's eternal and that's what gives profound joy in my heart. Everything He allows us to do in life all comes from His grace and mercy and all must end for His glory. All else is just vanity. "For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." -1 Corinthians 6:20

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Dawn 'til Dawn"

In college, my classmates and I were assigned to design a product and then advertise it as part of a communications class. We decided to "create" a new perfume. We called it Dusk 'til Dawn. Catchy name, isn't it? We were actually very proud and happy of our great idea. Then it was time to design a commercial for it. We had to do both print and audio advertisements. Thankfully, we didn't have to do a TV commercial. We composed a song for the project and we had to look for a "model" to promote the product.

You have to use your imagination on how we did all these. You have to understand that we lived in a small town, we had a small-town setting, and we didn't have the accessibility to a music studio to record our "jingle" nor did we have the modern-day luxury of having high-tech equipment at our disposal to use for these ads. All we had were our "raw" skills and talents, backed-up by the theories and lessons we got from the advertising class. We also had our creativity and our imaginations tucked under our belts, lots of it. It was so much fun working with friends who had the same interests as I had back then. And when the product creation, song composition, the photo shoot, and the creative deliberations have all been done and put into paper, it was time to unveil the Dusk 'til Dawn commercials. And of course, we nailed it! Those were very exciting times indeed, and lots of great memories. We had a blast.

Why did we call the perfume Dusk 'til Dawn? We wanted to create the impression of a long lasting, all-day-long scent. Just by hearing the name of the perfume alone, we wanted to create the feeling of an enduring and top quality product. This is one factor of advertisement --creating and injecting a need in people and then meeting that need with a product that needed to be advertised so people would know that it exists. Our main target consumer was the female gender, for we know that women like to smell great from morning 'til night, and when you're in a tropical climate, that's always a challenge. But with Dusk 'til Dawn, problem solved! Easy enough, huh? I wish.

We love products that can stand the test of time, live up to the promises they give, and those that meet our expectations. I'd like to believe we now have become very smart consumers. With all the information, data and feedbacks available to us anytime we can now make informed choices of what's the best for us and our family. I hope. Sometimes we try new products after careful research and consideration but still they end up to be a waste of money. There are times that these products can even be harmful to us. But we learn our lesson, we move on and we try to stay away from those particular products and brands.

If only manufacturing industries and consumer companies will make and promote products which are of outstanding quality that meet people's "high standards," they will have loyal buyers for ever! Yet I know it's not as easy as 1-2-3. For one, even with the best-est of our highest standards, humans are inherently flawed. And when matched with some human error, negligence here and imperfections there, we will always be a problem at hand. Defective and contaminated products end up in our cupboards and into our homes all the time. Product recalls are everywhere. Lawsuits are coming in from all sides against giant corporations and even against the "small" farmers and manufacturers. We try our very best but our best isn't good enough, as some song lyrics go somewhat.

Even with the make-believe perfume we created, we couldn't make it flawless. It was just a figment of our imagination but we could only do so much, limited by our minds, hindered by our resources and pressed short by our talents. We can't even come up with a perfect product out of sheer creativity. We could have named it "Dusk 'til Dusk" or "Dawn 'til Dawn," to give the illusion of a 24-hour, forever-lasting, best-quality perfume. Yet even if we tried and did that, no one would've believed us. And there goes our target consumers..... 

"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." -1 Thessalonians 5:21

Thankfully, there exists a real "Dawn 'til Dawn" presence in our lives. Whether we like it or not, there is a 24/7, enduring, omnipresent and perfect Being that exists amidst of us. Like any "smart shoppers," we wouldn't and shouldn't believe nor accept and trust in such an existence just because some people happen to preach it. We must do our own research on this very important subject. We must never believe anything until we are fully persuaded and completely convinced that it's absolutely true. God Himself tells us to ask Him for wisdom so we may understand His Word through the Holy Spirit. He also tells us to "test all spirits" so we may not be deceived. We are also encouraged to study (not just read) the Scriptures so at the end of the day, there's nothing more we can say and we are left with no more excuses on whatever decision we arrive at in regards to His claims of truth and His existence.
"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world." -1 John 4:1-3 

Dawn 'til Dawn. Dusk 'til Dusk. What an all-encompassing, all-inclusive descriptions. We have absolutely no escape. From sunrise to sunrise and sunset to sunset, God's presence is with us. Whether we believe it or not, His existence is real and it doesn't need to be advertised to create a need within us for we were created with that need He alone can fill. We may try to hide or deny Him from our minds but we only end up miserable and hopeless. No matter how much we convince ourselves that we are in control of our lives and everything that happens to us yet the powerful truth is, we can't even control the daily oxygen supply from the air that we breathe. Ultimately, we can not even control our own death. This is His universe, we can try to exclude Him from our lives but we can only do as much. Even all the hard-core atheists are not excluded from His perfect love. Without our permission, God still exists, God still reigns, and God still continues to love us.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A "Boring" Life

"I'm bored!" Kids these days, that's all they say! I'm glad I don't hear it much too often from my teenager. Looking back to my own teenage years, I don't ever remember being bored. Maybe my memory doesn't serve me right anymore but I honestly don't remember boredom. Although I don't remember parties nor "hang-outs" during my younger years either but still I had a pretty busy life as a teenager. Probably because I grew up in a busy household with six children all growing up almost at the same time? Everyone has to go to school so everyone has to wake up at the same time, use the bathroom (or fight for it, is more like it), dress up and have breakfast, prepare some lunch then get a ride to school, all at the same time. Can you imagine how it was in the mornings? Just one word --lively.

School, homeworks, projects, younger siblings to take care of, helping out in the kitchen and cleaning up the house --these are only few of what kept me to not even consider boredom. Nothing kills boredom fast than a roomful of kids trying to "survive" until the next day when we had to do it all over again. It might seem to you reading this that it was so terrible in our household. On the contrary, it was fun! Maybe stressful at times but so much fun! Tiring, yes, but that's what helped me go to bed and sleep soundly through the night. I feel a little sorry for my son now that he will not get to experience the "happy chaos" of having siblings around. Although I guess, whatever he never experienced he will not miss nor long for.

We also didn't have computers nor video games at that time. I later remembered during my freshman year in high school that we had the newest Game&Watch handheld game, but in my memory, no one was fighting to play it. It was just there, lying around in the house. Yes, we had television and radio, but those were the main source of entertainment for the adults. As for the kids, it was mainly the outdoors --street games, tree-climbing, bikes and scooters, roller skates, dancing in the rain, digging up worms and snails, ruffling birds' nests and stealing some of the tiny eggs, and throwing mud at each other. These, my friends, were what made life exciting for kids of my generation, at least in my world. Not a single minute was wasted indoors sitting behind an electronic devise (well, primarily because as I've mentioned, we didn't have any). 

Boredom. Such a dark word and an even much darker thing to experience. It might not be too serious by itself but it can also be a symptom of something deeper happening within a person. As I got older, I started to have glimpses of this "dark monster," and it's not very pretty. I don't know what brought it on but I started to feel listless about some things. I become restless quite easily after just 5 minutes of sitting down and doing nothing. Maybe it's because I wasn't used to being relaxed for long stretches of time? I was trained to be on my toes all the time since I was a kid. I'm the eldest among my siblings and I had to help out a lot in the house. As I think about it, I really didn't get to "relax" or enjoy even my after-college-days because I got married young. At 23, I already had my son. I guess, busy was my motto in life. Until my son is now grown up, and I've already settled down pretty well in my job, all my "extra-curricular" activities are on schedule and are in place, and my life in general is quite manageable. Then boredom started to creep in.

"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." -Psalm 1:1-3
God knows that we become victims of boredom and restlessness so easily. He knows us too well that's why He keeps on telling us from the Scriptures to be at peace with Him no matter what our situation is. He wants us to be like trees planted by the river whose roots go so deep that no amount of currents, winds nor storms can uproot us. Have you seen those kinds of trees along bodies of water? They grow so big and so lush that if they were people, they'd look like they are the most content, happy, healthy, and sturdy people we will ever meet. And these are the kinds of trees that produce fruits that are so big, plump, juicy and oh-so sweet. I hope I can be like one of those trees, planted firmly by the Living Waters itself, basking in the "Son," and producing fruits in the Spirit that will glorify God in all His majesty forever.

Maybe, by the world's standards, my life now may seem boring since I don't do a lot of "fun" stuff. I am what you might call a "party pooper" since I don't drink any alcoholic beverages, I don't smoke, I don't party, as some people will define "partying," and I make an effort to stay away from stuff that I know are not pleasing to my God. This may seem a blow-in-the-head kind of boring and in some ways it may even be viewed as a righteous-than-thou kind of lifestyle, but really, it is not. To love the King and the Creator is never boring. And it has never been my intention to rub anything in anybody's face especially so since my only focus is to glorify God with what I do and I don't even do these things for my own self. I do it all for the One who matters the most. My life may seem boring for the world to see as I try to conduct myself according to God's standards but there's one thing I'm completely sure of --I'll be having the greatest time of my eternal life even after everything in this world has passed away.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Small World

"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart." -Jeremiah 29:11-13

The world has certainly gone smaller in a hurry. In this digital age, the world continues to become smaller with just one click of a button. The wonders of the internet continue to amaze me. New models of cellphones and electronic gadgets are sprouting like mushrooms, too fast for me to catch up. The computer world has certainly become one of the most powerful and even the most dangerous part of human life. This is the "Star Wars" age we've only watched in the movies 30 or 40 years ago, and something which we've only tried to imagine before. I've never thought I'd live to see these times. The robotic age has skyrocketed just in the past 10 to 20 years. That's scary fast!

© Copyright, MMD Images, 2011
© Copyright, MMD Images, 2011
© Copyright, MMD Images, 2011
I still remember the very first time we got hooked-up with a telephone set in our house. That was so exciting! To my child's eyes, it was the most modern, high-tech, and intimidating piece of appliance in the house at that time. Even just to make a simple call to the province to speak with my grandmother was such a daunting task that I ended up making just one call and that was it. I'd rather endure the almost 2-hour commute to visit my grandma than pick-up that strange contraption. And the ringer! Oh, how I still remember the shrill, loud bell ring of that telephone. It was more than enough to make my heart skip a beat. And do you still remember the rotary dial? I loved playing with that thing. Not to make a call but just to fit my little fingers into the holes and to hear the swooshing and rapid clicking sound it made. That was pure fun for a child, I tell you.

Then talk about complicated. It was time to call long-distance. Oh boy. I'm not even sure how we managed but we did make a few long distance calls to family and friends around the world. It seemed like there were sets of codes that we had to know to be able to speak with someone on the other line. It was like deciphering a Morse code or some Egyptian hieroglyphics. We had to dial oh-so carefully with the correct pass codes so the call can go through. Worst of all, the lines were static most of the time. And speaking of lines, have you ever experienced having a "party" line on your telephone? Believe me, it was no party. Some friendships and neighborly relations have been ruined by those shared lines.

And to top all these, I later landed a job as a telephone operator two years after college! Though I didn't last long with the job, I think it was a very exciting work. Manning a switchboard as big as a room, with cables and wires sticking out in every which way, was a small feat to tackle everyday. The job had several "stages" to it. First, I did the easier job of answering calls from people who needed help with directory assistance. When I said "easier," I meant I only needed to focus on the blinking lights on the switchboard (which meant people are calling!) and to memorize hundreds of phone numbers from the directory. Easy enough, huh? The next stage was to handle domestic long-distance calls. What's up with these long-distance calls? It seems like it carries with it a "stigma" which is bordering to traumatic. To process a long distance call back then was very complicated stuff. A lot of cables, switching, and more pass codes were involved. But I survived that stage after hours of practice and patience. Next was to process international long-distance calls. That part I wasn't able to train for because I got another job. I was a little sad though to leave that "bustling" workplace.

How about now? I don't even know if there are still telephone operators around? I guess it's one of those "endangered" jobs? One of the easiest thing to do these days is to make a phone call. No matter if it's local, domestic or an international call, all we have to do is push some buttons and voila! No more complicated codes we've got to memorize. Gone are the days of cables and operators. There's even speed-dial now, and we even have "phonebooks" on our cellphones so there's no need to memorize any numbers anymore. You ask me what my number is? Uh wait, let me call myself or check my "phonebook" so I can tell you what it is. Need to call the Philippines? No problem. Just give me the number and we'll dial it right here, right now.

Isn't all these too easy yet complex at the same time? 

"And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me." -Psalm 50:15 

"Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation." -Psalm 91:14-16
But the irony of having a "smaller" world and a very high-tech environment is the reality of how secluded and lonely people have become. So many have aired their feelings of "aloneness" in this very "connected," online and crowded world. The digital age has come up with new diseases which they call cyber depression and online addiction. These are very real mental and psychological disorders caused by too much time spent on cyberspace, chatting, and building "relationships" with online people of whom you're not even sure how they really look like in person. Too much video games can also be very dangerous. Also, if it's so easy to make a phone call now, why don't we answer much more often? Why do we let the voicemails do most of the "conversing?" And when I want to ask something from a co-worker who is just two cubicles away, I "shoot" her an email instead of taking two steps to go and visit her. What's wrong with this picture?

As with any other wonderful man-made inventions, we need to ask God for His wisdom and guidance to help us not to abuse but to use these things for good. Aren't you glad that the King of the whole universe is not too busy to take your "call?" That we can always rely on His promise that He will deliver us from trouble and all we need to do is call on Him? No cables nor operators required! That's so wonderful for my limited mind to comprehend yet I trust His Word. Cellphones and the internet are great stuff which can help us do wonders in our world today and to make it a little bit easier for all of us but they can also put us in big trouble if we're not too careful. It's great to be computer savvy and to join in the fun of cyberspace communities but please, let's try to be "online" without being out-of-line.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How Is Your Religion?

According to the online dictionary, being religious means of, or relating to, or concerned with religion; a pious, devout, godly person; a member of a religious order or congregation; and one who is in accordance with the principles of a religion.

And what is religion? Religion is any formal or institutionalized expression of a belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny; it is the practice of sacred rituals, rites and ceremonies as observed by the religious institution.

Whoa, brain freeze right? I first needed to pause and ponder on those meanings before I could continue with this post. Those are big words! But ok, I guess my pondering has to stop sooner or later. Now it's time for me to tackle on my very own "religiosity." 

"If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." -James 1:26-27

I was raised in the Catholic religion. Growing up, I was surrounded by very deeply religious people. My grandmothers, aunts, cousins, relatives, teachers, classmates, my neighbors and my playmates' families, they were all religious. I felt so inadequate in my own religiosity as I compared myself to them. It seemed like they were always in church, they were praying day and night, they follow different traditions and rites and they attend every ritual and ceremony required of them. But not me (oops), I was too lazy to be in church all the time, I fall asleep as I recite the prayers given by the church. I just wanted to climb trees and play with my "slingshot team" rather than go to any rituals. It was always too hot to be in any kind of ceremony. Yup, that was me. No wonder I felt so inadequate and undeserving of God's blessings. I was doomed.

Fast forward to when I was almost 21 years old. I worked at a DHL branch in my hometown. I met a lot of people who come in to send their mails and packages to anywhere around the world. Through that receiving counter, I met a young pastor named Mike. One day, just out of the blue, he asked if anybody would like to have a home bible study. I don't remember now but I think I was the only one who raised my hand and I was so excited I said, "Me, me, me!" It was one of the greatest decisions I've made in my life. It was in one of those bible study sessions where I began to read the Bible and learn about God's plan of salvation very clearly and understood it for the first time. That's also where I finally made the greatest decision of my life --trusting in what Jesus has done for me on the cross to save me and to accept Him as my Lord and Savior.

As I've said, I understood God's plan of salvation in one of those studies but I did not totally and completely grasp it yet at that time. God was not done with me. You know how you understand something but then an a-ha! moment comes and it helps you to understand it more deeply and clearly than before? That's how the reality of my salvation came upon me. I knew I had to trust and accept Jesus Christ as my Savior but my sinful nature still has to catch up with my new self and of what I already knew in my soul. I was already a new creation through the cleansing power of Jesus' blood yet at the same time I was still being renewed and being sanctified starting with my mind, my thoughts and then with my heart and my deeds. I'm a work in progress. I should carry a sign with me that says: "BEWARE of falling debris -- STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION!"

As God continues to teach me, mold me, renew me, test me, restore and purify me with His power by His Word and Spirit, the more I understand that my religiosity or the lack of it, has nothing to do with His plan of salvation. There's nothing wrong with being religious but the question is, to what and for whom is our religiosity focused on? God said being religious doesn't give me any merit for His salvation. Just like any government laws, rules and regulations, all persons are required to follow those laws at all times but we know that we can't always follow them and sometimes we just simply don't. But I'm sure that there's someone out there (maybe it's you) who follows all these rules at all the time? Then an accident happens, maybe by human error or negligence and make you break the law. Despite your perfect record or spotless past history with the government, it doesn't excuse you from paying the fine, a ticket or facing the consequences of your actions. There may be some rewards the government might give to mitigate the punishment but it doesn't really erase the fact that you broke the rule.

"But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." -Isaiah 64:6

My point is, being religious doesn't give me any special place with God, especially if I only want to be called "religious" in order to gain points from Him. If we're hoping that by lighting hundreds of candles or by walking on our knees to the altar and by flogging ourselves that it will allow us access in His presence but the truth is it's all pointless according to God. He says in the Scriptures that salvation is only by faith. Faith in Jesus Christ alone. And that His salvation is free and is only given by His grace. Grace is a gift or favor that no one deserves.

Looking back to my childhood, I'm still the same girl. I'm still too lazy to go to church but now I do it anyway because I love God. I still fall asleep when I meditate and pray but not as much as before since my prayer is now a conversation with a Person.. I still don't follow traditions and rites or rituals primarily because I'm still a stubborn sinner but more so because I really don't have to. But there are traditions I love to follow because they're heart-warming, they're lovely and they're not against God's commands. Traditions like celebrating birthdays, some holidays and especially Christmas, having baby dedications and house dedications, and remembering the life of loved ones who have passed away, going on a date on Valentine's day and counting the years on anniversaries. 

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." -Matthew 5:16

It becomes pleasing to God when we do good works and if we become "religious" for Him. When we produce great deeds and when we try hard to be blameless in our speech and actions. These as a result of our salvation. It also becomes easier to do good things not only because we have God's power and guidance but because we do it out of our love for Him. If we're in love with someone we simply can't get enough of that person, right? We want to be with that person all the time and we do beautiful things out of that love. How different should it be when we are in love with God?
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