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
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