Time to Pursue Interests

Homeschooling gives the kids plenty of time to pursue their interests. Edan, my second son, enjoys art. So he often asks if we can do art together. Elijah also likes painting so he joins in, too. Today, we didn’t do any book work. We just did painting and some projects for social studies. Titus and Tiana had their own easel where they made a big mess with paint. I am pretty laid back so mess looks like fun to me (as long as it is cleaned up afterwards).

Well, art is messy but it has many benefits. It teaches my kids to pay attention to detail. They learn proportion, balance, depth of field, perspective. Their fine motor and problem solving skills are developed as well. And one of the more important benefits is character growth. Persevering until the end, humility when corrected and while learning, appreciating the talents of others, and challenging oneself to keep improving are all part of the art experience.

I also like how art allows my kids to slow down and relax. It is amazing how painting for extended periods of time makes them calm down. Children need that. They don’t need to be harried everyday, stressing out over academics. When Edric and I were traveling in Europe, we noticed how celebrated the arts are — performing and visual arts. In Asia, hardly anyone wants their children to grow up to be artists. We tend to perceive it as a sure-fire route to starvation and poverty. So we encourage them to pursue business or finance. But what a beautiful world has come from the great artists of the past. And I would like my children to be able to appreciate this world, too. So we make room for painting, drawing, creating, building, inventing, and free play in our day as much as possible. I have noticed that when my kids are given plenty of time to pursue their interests, they are more motivated to study and learn.

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There, Gone, and Who-Knows-When-House

Last May, we began a house building project that was going great until we encountered problems with the foundation. Because it was a major issue, everything came to a halt. We had to re-visit and re-work plans — a process that has now taken close to six months.

The lot was given to us as a gift some years ago. It’s got a beautiful view of the city but it is a sloping lot. Structurally speaking, it is not simple to build on it. And besides that, we discovered there’s a fault line very near the property. Since we stopped construction, we have been looking to find solutions to remedy and salvage the existing structure.

Until recently, I wasn’t stressed out about it. Edric, too, was pretty cool about the delay. But when it seemed like nothing was happening for a long while, I began to feel anxious, disappointed and frustrated. It especially hurt when our children would express their longing for a bigger place to live. They wouldn’t complain but in their prayers, Edric and I would hear them say, “Lord please help us to be able to build our house…please help us to have a bigger home.”

We have actually lived like happy sardines in our condo for the last 7 years. It has been a wonderful blessing. However, with our growing family, the big personalities of our children, and the amount of space they need to play and run around, the next stage has been to build a house. Right now, the kids all sleep in one room…four of them. Their beds fit together like puzzle pieces and they love it. We reserve the third bedroom for homeschooling and playing.

Truthfully, we have enjoyed our urban lifestyle. We have been going in and out of elevators for like, forever. We appreciate the ease with which we can get around. There’s our favorite gelato ice cream place just a few blocks away. There are an endless number of restaurants to try (We’ve tried almost all within a 500 meter radius). We like being able to leave our place for days without worrying about break-ins. And we have adjusted to the constraints we have by taking trips, spending time outdoors, and giving stuff away periodically to clear out more storage. So the condo has not, for the most part, felt like a cage. God has been so generous towards us and we are grateful.

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However, I know the kids dream about having a house. During a couple’s retreat that was held in Baguio last September, we were staying in a cottage and the kids were absolutely thrilled. They ran into it on the first day, started exploring, and said, “Wow, a home!” Edric and I both heard them and our hearts sank. At that particular point in time, we were supposed to have been in the finishing stages of our house…picking out tiles, paint color, fixtures…all the fun stuff.

Last night, Edric and I had a discussion about the house after watching Breaking Dawn Part 2. (I’m ashamed to admit that I wanted to watch this movie. And I’m more ashamed to admit that I read the books after I gave birth to Tiana. My sister in law had them and I was so bored while breastfeeding, I read all of her books. As cheesy as they were, I couldn’t put them down. I absolutely wanted to know how the whole saga ended.) Okay, back on topic…Edric and I started talking about our house plans after the movie. I found out that there was another issue that was brought to the table that would postpone building plans again. What?! It is uncharacteristic of me to vent unless invited to, but I went on and on in the car.

“I don’t understand why it’s taking this long. Why does there seem to be a block every time we are about to re-start the project? Is there something we are doing wrong? I feel like blaming someone! Who should we blame?! I’m so tired of hoping and then being disappointed. We are planning to get pregnant again. How can we possibly fit in our condo? I’m so annoyed that every time we are about to proceed, another issue is brought to the table. Why can’t everything be settled once and for all so that we can move forward?! I feel so angry! Let’s just forget the whole thing and not build this house!”

I was not upset with Edric. After all, he wasn’t the enemy in all of this. I was upset at the circumstances. Usually, I escape to solitude to process my feelings. But, I was so fed up with the situation that I really started expressing myself aloud. But when I started to unload like that, it tipped him over. It was 11:30 PM. Nothing was going to get done at that time. And since he didn’t have an immediate solution and he was too exhausted himself to respond to my litany of useless questions, he finally said, “Okay, I’ve hit a saturation point.” He didn’t want to hear what I had to say anymore. This upset me further because I felt like he was rejecting my feelings.

The last few minutes in the car were quiet. When we got home, I went to our bedroom and Edric watched basketball. Inside of me, I was kicking and jumping up and down in irritation. I didn’t want to be around anyone. I wanted to throw something. Of course I didn’t. I just said, “Lord! I’m so angry right now. I don’t understand why this house project has been delayed for so long. I feel troubled. I really need to hear from you. Please speak to me. Do you not want us to build this house? Just take it away if it’s not from you. Just put an obvious, clear stop to it. I don’t want it to be like a carrot dangling in front of us, stimulating false hope.”

I opened up my Bible to Luke 12:22-32, the last chapter I had read for my quiet time.

And He said to His disciples, “For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith! And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.

Weeping as I read verse 32, God made me see. Joy, I have not withheld my kingdom from you. How can you doubt, worry, or be so agitated over a HOUSE? Did you not say, in faith, that I would build this house? Do you not trust me? Do you forget that I know your concerns, your needs, your desires? His words came to me gently and I felt ashamed.

God could easily make this house project happen. But he has allowed unprecedented obstacles and trials to develop my character. (Edric and I resolved our discussion before bedtime, and I apologized for my negativity. He also spent a good hour laying on his back listening to me express myself, which was a sweet gesture because I knew he wanted to sleep.)

God had a follow up message for me. This morning, I turned on Christian music for Tiana and Titus. I set out kitchen pans for them to bang on to practice their rhythm skills. The first song that played over the computer made me bow down in awe of how God speaks. The kingdom of heaven has been given to you. So do not be afraid. Do not run away. Do not be afraid, little child. Your father is pleased to give.

Over and over again these words were sung as the music played. It was the voice of a young child singing, but it was God’s special comfort to me, a remembrance of what I had read last night. Again, I began to cry in gratitude for the mindfulness of God. Here I was stressing out over the house building because it wasn’t happening according to my time-table. My ranting was emblematic of a spirit that was not at rest and not surrendered, but worried, fearful, troubled. God knew that all I needed was to be reminded of his character – that he is in control, that he is good and delights to give what is good to his children. He didn’t say, “The house building will be resumed tomorrow.” I have no idea when it will resume. But I know who God is. No maneuvering, manipulating, complaining, ranting, fighting, and finger-pointing will get this house built the way it should be unless God builds it.

During the ground breaking 6 months ago, we had a family ceremony with our architect and contractor. Edric asked me to make a placard that we could stick into the ground as part of the ceremony. The kids also wrote thank you letters to the Lord and we prayed as a family, with the building team. On the placard, it read THIS IS THE HOME THE LORD WILL BUILD. The verse I put on it was this…Psalm 127:1 Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it…How quickly I dismissed this truth and conviction in the face of mounting uncertainty and recurring disappointment.I had to come before the Lord and ask for forgiveness for my doubt and my attitude. How little was my faith! Six months of waiting and I was buckling?

As I fixed my eyes on the Lord my perspective was re-aligned with what is true.. My comfort is that God doesn’t change. Circumstances, people, and dreams may. And longings may or may not be fulfilled. While this reality troubles me, I rest in the greater reality that God is always the dependable constant. He is who he says he is. Therefore, I need not panic, fret, loose my cool, or get angry when things don’t turn out the way I want them to. Instead, I need to learn to wait and be at peace in my inner most being that all is moving according to plan…his plan, not mine.

The Song of Our Children’s Lives

I thought I might actually cry as I watched the San Marco Chamber Orchestra perform Virtuosi di Venezia, a tribute to Antonio Vivaldi. Never in my life have I been so impressed by a live classical music performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

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The experience was heightened by the fact that Edric and I were in Venice. But, my goodness! It was not just the place, it was the musicians. They were absolutely incredible!

What is it about classical music that is so healing to the soul? According to Andrew Pudua, the highest forms of music and art are those which capture the attributes of God.

Being in the hall elevated my appreciation for classical music and made me ask myself, why have I neglected letting my kids listen to it more often?! I mean, I felt like a better and more intelligent person as I was taken on this musical journey from joy to sorrow to fear to triumph. No wonder why they say that classical music boosts IQ!

The Bible tells us, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8 NASB)

What kinds of entertainment do we allow into our homes? Does it cause our children to love what is true, honorable, righteous, pure, lovely, reputable, excellent, and praise worthy?

Edric and I try to filter what our children are exposed to. We are discriminating about tv programs, music, and movies and we limit their use of the Internet. It is amazing how much time they have to create, invent, play, and build when tv and Internet are not given as options. I have also noticed that they don’t get bored very often when they aren’t dependent on entertainment and gadgets to stimulate their minds.

The other night, the kids played hide and seek with Edric for nearly 2 hours. On another evening, they wrote a script and performed it for us using their toys and various objects. Last week, we gave the kids white masks we bought in Venice and they put them on and danced in the living room to classical music while wearing different “costumes.”

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These are the evenings I enjoy the most, seeing my children’s delight in the simple things, being together as a family and engaging one another.

Over lunch a few days ago, Elijah said, “I don’t want to grow older. I want to stay a kid.” Edric and I asked him why and he got kind of choked up as he explained, “I don’t want to grow older because it means you will grow older.” It was precious to hear because I knew he wants us all to stay the way we are now. Edric assured him that no matter what, we would be in heaven together, forever.

I suppose I feel the same way Elijah does about the passing of time. Each year, I am thankful that the kids are growing and maturing, but there is also a sorrow about leaving each season of their childhood. And sometimes, I want to permanently stay in a moment because it feels like perfection. I think to myself, could there be anything more wonderful than right now as I watch my children laughing, playing, reveling in our togetherness? Is this what God feels like when we enjoy the blessing of his presence? Does it make him smile like it does me to see my children so at rest and at peace?

Initially, I wrote this entry because I was inspired by the concerto Edric and I watched of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. But somehow it has evolved into a reflection on parenting. Come to think of it, parenting is somehow like the journey Vivaldi’s music took me on. I didn’t want certain parts to end as I sat in that hall. Yet it was the continuity, the heights and depths, the interplay of instruments, the layers and the passing of one feeling to another that made it a masterpiece. When it was over, I had two thoughts…WOW, Lord, that was amazing! and Sigh, that went by so much quicker than I thought it would.

Similarly, there are so many instances when I wish I could freeze-frame my children’s lives. But, I am reminded to be grateful for every part and every stage because that is what makes the experience whole. Someday, I want to be able to say that I was there for all of it, not preferring one part over another or being present at one point and absent at the next. I know I am going to have those two same thoughts when my children are grown up…WOW, Lord, that was amazing! and Sigh, that went by so much quicker than I thought it would.

We never really know how long we will have to love our children. How long is the song of their lives? Who can really know but God, the composer?

Last year, I was very sobered when a friend of mine lost her twin boys shortly after their birth. She had prayed so hard to have children following the birth of her eldest. After a long while she was able to conceive twins, but just six months later, they were born prematurely and survived no more than 17 days. When the first twin died, I called her but didn’t know what to say. I just blurted out, “I’m so sorry.” In response, she said in a gentle, almost unnaturally peaceful way, “Well, God ended his suffering and he is in a better place.”

She went on to explain the series of events surrounding his final moments and the image that most struck me was when she said, “When we knew he was going to go, the doctors gave him to me so I got to hold him before he died in my arms.” I could hardly contain my emotions. Just thirty minutes prior to calling her, Tiana (who was still an infant) had woken up and I had held her in my arms, kissed her, fed her, then put her back down to sleep peacefully. The pain grew in my heart as I thought about how, in almost parallel moments, we had both been holding our babies. I almost felt guilty that I could hold Tiana again, but she would not get to hold her son.

After my friend and I said goodbye over the phone, I sat on the sofa for a while and cried. Even though I reminded myself that God has a purpose for everything, I felt a lot of hurt for my friend. The next day, her other twin died, too.

This tragedy deeply affected me. I was especially convicted to think of all the times when I get impatient with my kids or when I don’t enjoy them enough because I am rushed or harried or busy. And so I wrote this poem as a reminder to appreciate each day that I get to be with them, each day that I get to love them.

I MAY NOT ALWAYS HAVE TODAY

I may not always have today,
To hold you in my arms
To hear your laughter as you play,
Or catch the smiles you pass my way.

I may not always have today,
To linger for a while,
To paint, or read a book or two,
Or pass the time to be with you.

I may not always have today,
To take your little hands,
To teach you how to fly a kite,
Or point to stars on walks at night.

I may not always have today,
But while I have you still,
I’ll thank the Lord for all you are,
Enjoy each moment and each hour. You are God’s gift from up above,
My privilege today, to love.
My privilege TODAY, to love…

May we parent through each season of our children’s lives fully present and aware of the great privilege we have been given by God to love them.

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Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:17 NASB)

After Saying I Do, Go Build A Hedge!

Twice a year, Edric and I speak at the Before I Do Seminar organized by ImagineNation. It is a one-day marriage preparation event for engaged couples. One of the talks that Edric gives is “God’s Design for Marriage” and he asks me to share a portion about what it means to leave and cleave to your spouse.

Neither of us are marriage experts, but we have applied the principle of leaving and cleaving in our own marriage and it has really helped us to grow in intimacy and oneness of flesh. Leaving is to physically depart from your parents by establishing your own home and identity as a couple. Cleaving is to transfer your loyalties to your spouse, forsaking competing relationships or activities that have the potential to damage your relationship. The Bible explains in Genesis that when this happens “the two shall become one flesh.” One flesh is the ultimate picture of intimacy. As one flesh, you feel the security, sanctity, unity, joy and strength that God intended married couples to experience. But, leaving and cleaving is not automatic. There must be an intentional effort to pursue oneness of flesh and to safeguard it.

Early on in our marriage Edric and I learned an important principle that was a real eye-opener — Building Hedges. Author, Jerry Jenkins, introduced it in his book, HEDGES: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It.

One of the tips that stood out to us was this: avoid spending time alone with the opposite sex when you are married.This seems so obvious, but the corporate or professional world, ministry, and friendships make it challenging to practice this. And it is sobering to consider the dangers of becoming emotionally attached to the opposite sex.

For example, one evening you have a fight with your husband. The next day, at work, a male colleague notices that you are feeling down and asks, “How are you?” because he is friendly and shows genuine concern for people. You may never have otherwise considered opening up to this person but the timing of the question made it easy to do so. At first, it may be a quick chat between two acquaintances. But, as the days and weeks go by, your interactions become more frequent as you become more friendly with one another. Work may even require you to do projects together. Initially, you may have not been physically attracted to the person, but then you begin to notice other traits about him that are likable. Instead of business meetings, you begin to have coffee breaks, just the two of you and you look forward to these moments in your day. At home, your relationship with your husband is beginning to change. While you love him, you find yourself really connecting with your friend at work. Emotionally, you begin to pull away from your husband. Your need for attention, a listening ear, someone who understands and gets you is being met by someone else. These conditions place you in a very vulnerable state, possibly a precursor to falling for this person.

No one is impervious to an affair. In fact, speaker and author, Francis Kong says that if you want to protect yourself, “avoid the ambush of overconfidence.” Thoughts like…This will never happen to me. I have such a great marriage. I really love my spouse. I would never do that to them!

I used to judge people who cheated on their spouses. What?! How could you?! What a scum… However, I better understood how it might possibly happen when you spend time with colleagues or clients. I used to be in the corporate world and I had to travel to different places because of the nature of my work. While I wasn’t attracted to any of my colleagues or clients, I would sometimes be in predicaments where I was alone with them because of a meeting or a trip to an activity or event. And it got me thinking about how professional relationships can very easily and naturally move into the friendship realm (and even beyond that for others) when you have a lot of time to talk and connect with the people you work with…especially if you are with the same person(s) frequently. I decided to be very careful about how I would interact with men at work. Eventually, I transferred jobs so I wouldn’t have to be in situations where I was likely to spend too much time with someone I worked with who was of the opposite sex.

You don’t have to be paranoid and run away from every single meeting with the opposite sex. But don’t let meeting with one particular person become a habit if you are married. And, let people you work with know that you have boundaries. If you are a woman, don’t share your marital or personal problems with a guy who is not your husband.

I really appreciate that Edric avoids private one-on-one meetings with women, too. The walls of his office are also glass so if he meets with someone, it is in full view of everyone. And he keeps a professional distance from the persons he works with. While he makes sure they know he is concerned about their well-being, he does not get too friendly. For those who do not understand where he is coming from, his manner of relating to them can be misinterpreted as cold or stand-offish. However, it is a matter of principle for him to err on being extra careful.

We both have the same mindset towards Facebook and other forms of social media and digital communication. As much as possible we don’t carry on casual chats or have frequent friendly exchanges with the opposite sex. It sounds almost ridiculous to be so strict. Yet we have both experienced how these avenues can lead to more than platonic interactions. For example, you begin to look forward to hearing from a certain person, or you wonder what they think about you, or a curiosity begins to blossom, etc.

One time there was a person on Facebook who kept trying to get Edric’s attention. She would send him random messages to strike up a conversation or dialogue. And he completely ignored her. She even accused him of being a snob. He chose not to respond to her provocations and when she persisted, he finally “unfriended” her so she would get the picture.

There is a difference between being friendly and being too personal with the opposite sex. It is possible to reach out with kindness and concern towards others while keeping your hedges up. For example, I don’t counsel men and Edric doesn’t counsel women. If ever we do, it is as a team.

Being vigilant about keeping hedges not only protects yourself and your own marriage, it also protects other persons from developing an unhealthy attraction to you. Furthermore, it silences speculations and suspicions that can be hurtful to your spouse.

By God’s grace Edric and I have a great marriage, but we are aware that it isn’t an invincible one. So we have to do our part. We have to build those hedges to protect it. Francis Kong gave a great talk called Affair-Proofing Your Marriage two months ago during a couples retreat. To illustrate how easily people can fall into an affair, he outlines 12 Guaranteed Steps to Enter Adultery which I think are helpful to know. Sometimes, we can unknowingly be in anyone of these steps and not realize the potential dangers that may ensue. An affair doesn’t happen overnight. There is a process.

1. Readiness – Anytime something new happens your guards tend to go down. A new job, a promotion, a victory or win, etc.
2. Alertness – There is someone who gets your eye and attention.
3. Innocent Meetings – You have legitimate business meetings but the one who has gotten your attention also happens to be in those meetings.
4. Intentional Meetings – The meetings are planned so you can be with the person who has caught your attention.
5. Public Lingering – Others begin to notice that the two of you are together often.
6. Private Lingering – You begin to talk about personal things, to open up and connect about interests, ideas, experiences, etc.
7. Intentional Isolation – Your spouse notices your decreasing interest and you seem detached at home. There is a growing secrecy as well.
8. Pleasurable Isolation – Spending time together becomes something you really look forward to. There is youthful euphoria and you are more conscious about the way you dress, the way you look and appear to this person.
9. Affectionate Touches – For example…a hand on the shoulder or on the arm, playful poking or tickling…(sounds so ew and silly right?)
10. Passionate Embracing – Physical contact becomes more frequent. There is greater arousal. When alcohol is involved the embracing escalates.
11. Capitulation – Finally, you actually have sex.
12. Acceptance – There is mutual acknowledgement of the relationship. It is an emotional peak for the affair but an emotional low for the marriage.

After listening to this talk, Edric and I were encouraged to be even more cautious and aware of how we respond to and relate with the opposite sex. We don’t isolate ourselves from the entire world and live on an island. We remain friendly and outgoing, but we set clear boundaries to safeguard our relationship. We check for “cracks in the wall” or “red flags” by communicating openly and asking each other hard questions when needed so nothing remains hidden that can possibly grow into something more.

The devil is an opportunist and will continually seek to divide and destroy that oneness between a husband and wife. Struggles and temptations dont go away in marriage, but with good communication, they can be uncovered and dealt with. Sometimes it may hurt to hear your spouse say, “Please pray for me because I am feeling an attraction towards this person and I want to be honest with you so you can hold me accountable.”

This is when you have to put on your best friend hat so you can receive the truth without going ballistic. And then you work through it as a couple, as a team. You pray together, you unearth the root issues or causes and solve what you can. You recognize that you are not each other’s enemy. And you build those hedges again, together, with the Lord.

There have been instances when Edric or I have opened up to each other about private struggles. When this happens, it’s like a “spell” is broken. Whatever was hidden in the darkness when brought into the light loses it’s power.

Maybe this will help to illustrate what I mean…A few months ago, we had mold in our house. I couldn’t believe it. It was the most disgusting thing. A window was left open while we were away for three weeks. Because it rained really hard for a few days, some moisture got into our place and mold began to grow. It wasn’t arrested at the beginning stages, so it spread like crazy. I wanted to burn our home down when I saw it because I was so upset!

After a few days, we finally got it all cleaned out. We let the sun in. We sprayed vinegar. We used baking soda. We found ways to kill it. Some things we actually had to throw away. Had we caught it earlier, we would have saved ourselves a whole lot of trouble.

What’s the point? Dark secrets in marriage can be like mold. Given the right conditions, they can grow, spread, and overcome. As much as possible these secrets need to be exposed and uncovered sooner than later. But no one wants to open up to a spouse who will judge, belittle, reject, or fight them for being honest, for opening up about their struggles, embarrassing insecurities, fears, offenses and sins. Therefore, as challenging and humbling as it may often be, be a haven of rest for your spouse — be the one person he or she can be completely real, honest, and vulnerable with. The blessings are open communication and trust.

I have to add that part of building hedges is also putting effort into staying fit and attractive for your spouse. Look the best you can at whatever stage you are in. For women, whether it be pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, post-pregnancy, or post-post-pregnancy, do not get complacent. Personally, a good reality check is to remind myself that I am my husband’s only option for sex, so I better make it worth his while! I don’t want him to feel like he ended up with a down-graded version of the original! So, I choose to exercise, be healthy, and not walk around the house in “dusters”! I used to wear ratty shirts and shorts because I really enjoyed being in comfortable cotton all day. But I learned from my neighbor, Kat, who is also in my Bible study group. She is put together all the time. So I wear yucky clothes when Edric is not home and when he gets home, I change if necessary. I’m sure the last thing he would like to see after a long and tiring day is a disheveled looking wifey wearing shirts with holes greeting him at the door!

There are many other ways to cleave to your spouse, like date nights, praying together, affirming one another or sharing a sport or hobby. However, I personally feel that the concept of building hedges has made one of the biggest differences in my own marriage. This has enabled Edric and I to experience true intimacy and oneness of flesh and kept us faithful to one another. At the end of the day, it is not by our own efforts that this is possible. We keep God at the center of our relationship and that is the real motivation behind choosing to build hedges in the first place…

Moderating Disputes

Moderating disputes between my two older sons is getting to be more challenging. I don’t have to do it very often but today, I noticed that there was real anger in their tone as they bickered about a toy top. It was surprising actually. Elijah and Edan don’t usually get this upset with one another. So I sat them both down on the couch in the living room and we talked.

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First, I let them explain what was troubling them. Both of them broke down. Elijah was upset because Edan had screamed at him a couple of times.

“Edan has been angry with me for a while, the whole time you were gone,” said Elijah. Apparently, Elijah had been very hurt by Edan’s outbursts which had happened when we were in Europe. This was uncharacteristic of Edan to shout and lose his temper this way. Meanwhile, Edan told me that he was angry because Elijah had not been sharing with him. And another instance, Elijah provoked him and this greatly frustrated him. But Elijah went on to say that Edan’s problem was he didn’t know how to listen.

Clearly, they both had their perspectives and personality differences. But instead of focusing on whose behavior was justified, I asked them a simple question. “Do you think that the way you have been treating one another has been pleasing to God?” Their combative facial expressions softened as they admitted that their actions had been wrong.

I asked Edan, “Do you see mommy and daddy yelling at each other? Do we shout at you?”

He answered, “No.”

“Do you know why? Because shouting at someone is hurtful. It wounds people. And we don’t want to do that to each other or to you.”

At the same time, I had to correct Elijah by telling him, “You are the eldest. Your example is very important.” He humbly acknowledged that he had not been a good role model as of late.

Afterwards, we reviewed what it means to love one another. And I told them, “Boys, as you grow up you are going to have to learn how to resolve your conflicts. You must remember that it is important to do this not for yourselves or for each other or even mommy and daddy, but for the Lord. Love each other because God wants you to. I know you both love Him and want to please Him. If you want God’s blessing in your lives, then you need to please him and also learn to forgive and ask for forgiveness from one another.” I went on to warn them not to harbor bitterness and anger because these sins give the Devil an opening to influence and corrupt them.

As we ended our discussion, God laid it on my heart to ask them to identify what they did wrong and how they can improve. Elijah readily recognized what he needed to change. Edan was resistant at first and this concerned me. So I asked him again to really think through the areas that he needed to confess to God. To help him, I shared that I also have things I need to work on in my relationship to Edric, like learning to be more respectful and humble when I am corrected. And then Edan said, “I need to stop screaming when I am angry and to listen when I am being corrected.” It was important for him to identify this because I wanted him to get to the point of repentance. The Bible tells us, Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed… (James 5:16 NASB)

To close our discussion, we all prayed together. I started out by confessing to the Lord my own shortcomings and asking for forgiveness. And I prayed that God would help me to become a better wife. Elijah and Edan both had beautiful prayers as I listened to them confess their own sins and humble themselves before the Lord. There was a brokenness of spirit and a desire to repent and change. When our prayer time ended, the relational atmosphere between the two of them was completely different. There was cheerfulness and genuine forgiveness. Thank you, Lord.

During our family devotion this evening, Edric had the kids memorize Psalm 37:4. “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” This was a good follow up to the boys’ dispute.

When Edric and I correct our kids, our aim is not to change their behavior, it is to address the issues of their heart and teach them how to be right with God. We are not after their external compliance for the sake of peace or a happy home. First and foremost, we want our kids to understand that the most important thing is that they love God and delight themselves in Him. If they do so, true peace and happiness will follow.

It is becoming more and more necessary to have conversations with our kids to unearth sins or character weaknesses that make them spiritually vulnerable or set them on the wrong path, away from God. As parents, we have to be extra sensitive and attentive to what is going on beneath the surface and behind the behavior. The real challenge of parenting is not merely raising children to become adults, it is discipling children to love and desire God, the wonderful fruit of which is spiritual maturity — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

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“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” (Matthew 7:16-21 NASB)

A Beautiful Time

Hello, Asia! Edric and I are back in Manila. Home sweet home…

As much as I enjoyed gluttonously soaking in the sights and experiences of our Europe trip, I am happy to be back. I missed the kids terribly. Getting away was a whole lot of fun, but Manila is still my residence of choice.

Some things I will NOT MISS about Europe. Like bread. I could not take bread for much longer. If I had to eat another dry loaf of bread or croissant, I would have preferred to go on a hunger strike. I dreamed of my rice meals, stinky fried fish, Paksiew, Adobo, and all those wonderfully saucy dishes. The day we left Paris, I ordered chicken at a restaurant and they served it with French fries. Sigh. I was tired of potatoes, too.

The other thing I didn’t appreciate about Europe was their potable water situation and toilets. We had to pay 2 Euros or more for a small bottle of water. And I had to hunt for a W.C. and get charged 1.50 Euros to pee. Why?! Waaahhh. (I hardly drank water to avoid having to use the toilet.)

And then the cold…The day we arrived in Paris was crazy cold. It had been raining. The sky was gray. There was no sun. We were on the Champs Elysee and my jaw was cramping. So, we looked for the nearest store. “Spare no expense,” said my Knightly husband. “Get whatever you need to keep warm.”

Really, sweetheart? I am about to walk into H&M. Do you know what this means? You won’t be able to find me for the next two hours. Okay, I was reasonable. I didn’t want to be carrying around shopping bags. So, I made it out of there with a hat, scarf, leg warmers, a big sweater, and just a few other things. Then I snuck into the Mc Donald’s toilet and put it all on, on top of my existing three layers of insulation. Ten pounds of clothing later, I was back on the Champs Elysee, braving the chilly wind and walking towards the Arch de Triomphe. I was a cozy puffalump. (As a side note…European women are skinny ladies. Under layers of clothing, they still look statuesque and trim.)

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There are things that I WILL MISS. One of the highlights of the trip for me was seeing each city on foot. Edric and I took long walks everywhere we could. Sometimes we had no idea where we were going, but I never felt quite lost as long as I was beside Edric. He was an incredible navigator. In fact, I was very impressed with his ability to get us from point A to point B, to C, to D and so on. Very attractive…

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This was my third time to Europe, but my first time to experience it with Edric. Seeing it again with Edric, the love of my life, was like a sweet dream. Every bridge, tree-lined street, the avenues, squares and gardens, the churches, monuments, palaces, facades, the splendid colors of fall, and even the lampposts were an invitation to beauty and joy, to moments of ponder and quiet reflection.

I learned (or re-learned) three valuable lessons about marriage during this trip. The first was, enjoy the journey, the highs and lows. Sometimes, you won’t know what you are doing or where you are going as a couple, but that’s okay. Stay together, stay one. Don’t blame each other. Don’t separate. It is better to be lost together than to get lost alone. Just keep referring to your map (the Bible, for us) to get back on track. I stuck to Edric like glue. The last thing I wanted was to be separated from my navigator extraordinaire. If he made a wrong turn, I made a wrong turn with him and we would laugh our way back to where we came from or we would pray to find the landmark we needed to get to.

The second lesson…trust your husband’s leadership. I trusted Edric’s leadership even if he wasn’t correct all the time.There were instances when I felt like he had the map upside down or his internal compass was skewed. But challenging him didn’t help. So I had to keep silent and let him figure it out. It worked better that way. Instead, I would try to say, “You are so good at this. I trust you.” And I really meant it. Edric appreciated my confidence in his leadership. At the end of the day, he got us to where we had to go. God guided him, too.

God has hardwired men to take charge. Sure, women can be great bosses and lead organizations with exceptional ability, but in a marriage, God designed a man to be the head. We can fight that reality as women or encourage our husbands to be the leaders God has chosen them to be.

During this trip, God reminded me once again that my role is to respond positively to my husband’s leadership, even when I may question his style or method of leading. For example, we had an issue with our Eurail pass that stressed Edric out a lot. He found out that we had to re-book one of our tickets and would have to pay a sum that was not part of his planned expenses. At first, he wasn’t acting very cool under pressure. As a result, I started to correct his attitude. My timing was terrible, but I felt compelled to be a “helpmate” by letting him see the spiritual perspective. “We need to trust God, hon. He let this happen for a reason.” This was my appeal. I also started to make lots of suggestions about what he could do. Wrong timing again. He was highly emotional and affected.

Instead of appreciating my input, he motioned for me to keep silent by putting his finger to his lips. What the?! I felt annoyed and dismissed. So I was tempted to keep at it. But God reminded me to be still, be quiet and gentle. I just prayed for him. About an hour later, he apologized to me and we prayed together. The Holy Spirit worked in his heart. Eventually, there was a fix to the problem.

The third lesson: Ssshh!. Sometimes I talk too much as a woman. I start to panic when it seems like Edric “doesn’t have it together” and I butt in to try and fix him or the issue. But he usually just needs space to think through his actions, decisions, or brainstorm a solution to a problem. More importantly, he needs to be able to hear the prodding of the Holy Spirit. (Oh, and Edric is more inclined to ask me for my perspective or opinion when I am not such a nag!) Worst case, a husband learns from his mistakes. When this has happened with Edric, he humbly asks for forgiveness from me, the kids, and the Lord. But he needs that leeway to make mistakes and become a better leader through them. When he feels the burden of his responsibility to lead and my dependence and confidence in him to do so, he steps up to the position he was made to occupy with great resolve and determination to make wise and prayerful decisions for the good of the family. I praise God that he has given me a wonderful leader in Edric. I feel incredibly blessed.

However, the reality is, it takes faith to entrust ourselves to the leadership of our husbands. Every once in a while, they will make big mistakes that make us feel insecure, worried, or tempted to take the reigns. But, ultimately, we have to remember that they are accountable to God as the head of the marriage and family, and we are accountable to God for the way we respond to their headship. Because God designed husbands to lead, he is also committed to equipping them and directing them. I have seen this happen so often in my marriage and in the marriage of others. Our role, however, is critical. We need to build up our husbands, pray for them, and respond positively to their leadership.

These marriage lessons became very apparent to me during this trip. Removed from home and in a completely new environment, the struggles did not change. The same things I struggle with as a wife in Manila — submission and respect — were transported to Europe. God used these past two weeks to deeply minister to my heart and expose areas I need to keep improving on.

It’s really not the continent you are on that matters, but the presence of God wherever you are. As amazing as Europe was to me, it was God’s presence at work in my relationship with Edric that made the time most beautiful.

Psalm 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.

Better Than Our Good

At the heart of me is a romantic who loves the sight of old architecture – buildings, bridges, archways, pathways…Europe is a visual feast for such things. We left Lucerne, Switzerland three mornings ago. Being there was like walking through a postcard.

We only had a day to spend in Lucerne but a day was just enough time to see the Dying Lion Monument, Old Town, Chapel Bridge, and Mt. Pilatus. How did we do all that is a wonder. But Edric and I are incredibly mobile without the kids. It’s like experiencing anti-gravity when you’ve been pulled down to the surface of the earth for so long. You realize you do all sorts of things without the weight. Don’t get me wrong. I love our kids and I miss them. But we can get done in five minutes what might take us thirty minutes when the kids are with us.

About a week ago, I looked up the weather in Lucerne for the day we would be there and it said, “cloudy.” Edric was so eager to go up Mt. Pilatus and so it was discouraging to discover that the weather would not be favorable to view the city and the lake below it. However, we knew God would do something. We have experienced the hand of God in the smallest details during this trip. Whether it be sitting beside people on a train who become our instant friends, or meeting people who go out of their way to help us get around, or making it to a train with five minutes to get to the platform, or being graciously allowed to check in to our room before check-in time, we have been so blessed to experience his presence as he goes before us to make Europe amazing.

The morning we arrived in Lucerne it was a bright and cloudless day. The sky was bluer than blue and the sun made it perfect for walking around. I was astounded. We had one day in Lucerne and God cleared the sky. We went crazy with the photos, taking pictures of the landscape, the buildings, the lake, the bridges, the sidewalks, the streets, the swans, the birds, etc.

With such promising weather, we decided to travel up to Mt. Pilatus. We were thrilled. The cable car ride was under repair but we didn’t care. Riding the cogwheel train was a unique experience. It was tilted at nearly 45 degrees up the slope of the mountain.

As we got closer to the tip, the sky changed from clear to cloudy. Oh dear. “Lord, can you please give us a blue sky again? I know you can do it. Thank you in advance.”

Well, the sky did not change. The sun shone through parts of it but God gave us something better. It began to snow! How could this be?! We had come from sunny and then three-fourths of the way up the mountain, we saw snow falling. It was like a dream.

The last time I had been in snow was on top of Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, Canada more than twenty years ago. I had never seen it fall from the sky. Edric didn’t remember because he was such a young child when he was living in the U.S. At the top of the mountain, we were in awe.

Our idea of good was to have a clear sky. God’s idea of good was to let us experience something beyond our expectations.

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At one point, Edric and I were the only people on the view deck of Mt. Pilatus beholding one of the most amazing sights we had ever seen. I couldn’t help but think that God had arranged a visual showcase of his glory just for us…to remind us that his good is always better than ours. Such is the good of God.

1 Timothy 4:4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude;

Psalm 84:11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.

From Lucerne to Venice with Love

This Europe trip is beginning to feel like a two and half week long couples retreat for Edric and I. It’s amazing how the length of time away from the kids, and getting outside our circles of comfort and familiarity have been good for us. There is a predictability about our Manila life that needs to be tampered with every now and then to stimulate growth and better communication in our marriage.

For the most part, I would say that Edric and I have a great marriage. But it’s easy to say that when we are back home, efficiently juggling our responsibilities and commitments while doing our best to stay connected as a couple. Having gotten to that point of comfortably accepting and working around our differences, there is harmony. We get along. We laugh. We play. We love. We are relationally content.

Traveling allows for new challenges and experiences that stretch and enrich our relationship. Sometimes it is very hard to see the areas that are wrong and need fixing or appreciate the unique traits that attract you to one another. To illustrate what I mean, I will talk about the weather.

In these colder regions of the world (anything non-equatorial seems colder to us “tropicanos”). I have noticed that you simply cannot survive with a complacent attitude towards the way you dress. You have to plan, you have to pay attention to the changes in the weather or you will die, literally speaking. In the Philippines, you can put on a t-shirt, shorts and sandals and wear the same kind of outfit everyday, for the entire year…rain or shine. Okay, some people wear scarves and boots in Manila. It is a fashion mystery. For the most part, however, the Philippines is a T-shirt, shorts and sandals kind of country. And it’s nice that way. Apart from updating your wardrobe just for the fun of it, the climate keeps it easy.

After eleven years of marriage, I have found myself wanting things to stay easy. I have been content with the T-shirt, shorts and sandals approach to marriage. If I don’t have to change, that’s great. Heck, I don’t want to put on three layers of clothing and a coat. I like your T-shirt and you like mine. You understand me and I understand you. Everything is a-okay.

But there is something degenerative about this perspective. The reality is relationships take work. And the longer you are married, the more effort you should be putting into your relationship. There is no cruise control.

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It has taken me 9 days into this trip to recognize this. The epiphany happened as the train we were on from Switzerland crossed over into Italy. From lush green hills, we cut through mountains and it started to snow. Edric and I were engaged in a discussion about the cons and pros of communicating with the kids on Skype. His theory was it was more painful to stay in touch with them daily so we should spread it out. And my theory was staying in touch with them as often as we could would make them feel more secure. We didn’t agree. He had his own logic and I had my own. A debate ensued.

As I listened to him articulate the logic of his theory, I felt a rising annoyance. He said, “the kids know we love them. I had closure with the boys when we left. It doesn’t make sense to keep calling them and resurrecting the wound of our absence. ” My reply was, “I don’t agree. I think it is better that we let them know that we are thinking of them and missing them even if it does ‘hurt’. We should call them daily if we can.” This was the launching point of a discussion that went on for about an hour and a half. Edric felt like I wasn’t understanding or agreeing with his logic and I was unwilling to concede to his perspective. It was no longer an issue of whether we should call the kids but if there was soundness to his logic. And I didn’t want to say there was because I was consumed by my pride. In the end, I sort of agreed but only to avoid further conflict…to return to the state of “easy.” It was an avoidance tactic.

Edric closed his eyes and decided to sleep.This is what I call, “playing possum in marriage.” I knew he wasn’t happy with the way we ended the conversation. At first, I did not care. Yeah! I can write, I thought to myself. I got a few lines into an entry when the Holy Spirit started to convict me.

What are you doing? Do you really think that you can get away with this type of behavior for very long? Why are you being proud? At what point are you really going to really TALK to your husband and be honest?

These were the questions I was being asked as I stared at the IPad screen.

I poked Edric in the knee. He opened his eyes. “Are you mad at me?” I asked him quietly. It was a rhetorical question…my silly attempt at reconnecting with him. I didn’t let him answer because I went right into, “I am sorry. I was wrong. Will you forgive me? I was being proud.” It may seem strange but I started to cry. In a very gentle way, Edric gave me his full attention. “Why are you sorry?”

For the first time in a long while, I started to really pour out my heart. It was embarrassing, it was liberating, it was necessary. I couldn’t stop crying. For someone who can pretty much flip a switch to turn one emotion off and another on, this was difficult. But I explained to Edric that when I feel emotionally threatened by him, I will fortify myself against all vulnerability. I do not like to be unmasked or cracked open to reveal what I am really thinking or feeling if I do not absolutely believe it is “safe” to do so. And in a state of conflict between the two of us, my default mode is to respond with hardness or to shut down.

Since the age of about 12 I have written down my feelings and thoughts. Writing has been a kind of refuge, my self-prescribing form of therapy to deal with pain, anger, confusion, fear. When I dealt with personal crisis, writing was a good listener. Sure, I read my Bible and prayed, but I needed a way to sort through the emotions. Writing and even painting became those things. But it has begun to feel wrong to relate to Edric this way. If there is any person whom I should feel emotionally secure with, it should be him. I don’t need to wall myself in. I don’t need to escape.

Towards the end of my monologue and as the weather changed over the countryside from snowy to sunny, Edric assured me, “Joy, I want you to know that I will love you no matter what. There is nothing you can do that will make me love you less. Don’t be afraid to be wounded in marriage. When you experience hurt, let God heal it. As for you and I, we also have to learn to heal one another’s wounds and grow more intimate because of them.”

It wasn’t the response I expected, but it was the response I needed. All the walls came down. I felt free.

Sometimes a date night is enough to unearth and repair hurt in a marriage. But sometimes, it takes a trip out of a country, away from the ease of familiarity to really recognize what needs fixing. Before this sounds like an encouragement to go buy tickets to Europe, I am merely saying that it helps to get away once in a while to rediscover one another and to find that love can grow sweeter still.

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Photo of Lake Lucerne

Why Home Education Works

Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a foremost child developmental and clinical psychologist from Canada, made this statement during a talk he gave on Why Home Education Works

“It’s not ever home educators that have to justify what they do, it is those who send their children to school that have to justify what they do.”

The theory he put forth was really quite amazing as he articulated the reasons why home education makes sense. He isn’t even an advocate of homeschooling. He is an advocate of child development. However, he very clearly stated that homeschooling provides the optimum environment for a child to mature in to a healthy and whole person who can achieve his fullest potential. Years of research and study show that a child was designed to be raised and educated at home because the most important element in a child’s development towards maturity is his attachment to those who are responsible for him (aka parents).

A study was done on 19,000 adolescents in the United States and the single most important factor in keeping them emotionally healthy was a strong attachment to a pairing adult.

He says, “The great advantage of home education is not that children are being educated at home but rather that they are at home with those who are educating them and that their attachments to their parents are more likely to be fully developed and safeguarded, enabling the child-parent relationship to serve as a shield against wounding and as a womb of true maturation.”

If a child’s attachment to his parents is developed and safeguarded, then the fruit of his development will be maturity. The fruit of maturation looks something like this:

A viable being who emerges as one who is 

–       Separate in his identity

–       Full of vitality (not easily bored)

–       Has a sense of agency and responsibility

–       Is full of interests and curiosity

–       Has a venturing forth energy

–       Has a relationship with self

–       Has a strong quest for independence

A resilient being, adaptive to stress and able to respond to it positively by

–       Being resilient and resourceful

–       Recovering from trauma

–       Benefitting from adversity

–       Learning from consequences

A social being, able to do ‘togetherness’ without losing his integrity or sense of self, able to integrate by

–       Being well tempered

–       Being considerate and civilized

–       Being balanced

–       Appreciating context

–       Seeing perspective

–       Having egalitarian values

He explains that at home, there are certain conditions present that foster maturation. At home, children have continuity of contact with their parents, preserving a deep attachment to them. In schools, children are not able to develop the same level of attachment to their teacher. They move from one teacher to another each year or have different teachers for each subject. There is no continuity of contact. Furthermore, schools separate children from parents and foster competing attachments with peers. Children will attach themselves to someone. If it isn’t the parents, the next best option for them is peers.

At home, parents take on the responsibility of pursuing their child relationally. This gives a child rest from the work of attachment. He doesn’t have to strive for the attention or affections of his parent. Only in a state of rest can there be growth. Neufeld explains that “our responsibility is to do the work of attachment, so our children can rest. All growth eminates from a place of rest. Emotional growth happens from the resting state. Unless an adult provides more than what a child is looking for, a child cannot grow. When we make children work for love or affection, they do not grow or mature.” Unfortunately, in school, children cannot rest. Their insecurities are exploited. Grades become more important than relationships. A child develops an addictive attachment to marks, grades and rewards.

Play is also a key condition for maturation. It is the home that provides the room and space for true play. Children can engage in self-initiated activity without the pressure of outcomes. In contrast, most endeavors to encourage play in school are still outcome-based and therefore, it isn’t true play.

When at home, a child faces less separation and experiences less wounding (ideally) so his heart stays soft and pliable. In school, there is much wounding that occurs, especially among peers. And when a child is continually separated from his parents, it triggers a flight from vulnerability and child develops a hardness of heart.

Unlike school, there is support for the maturity processes at home. Parents are better able and equipped to handle the stages a child goes through, the questions, and the struggles.

Neufeld uses the analogy of a plant to explain the importance of the attachment that children have to their parents. “What we don’t see is the most important part of the plant. It’s just like humans. It’s not what we see. It’s what we don’t see – the roots of attachment, the bonds, the connections.” If we did see these roots we could understand that children naturally seek those whom they are attached to. They want to be like those they are attached to. They want to be a part of and take the side of those they are attached to. They want to feel important and special to those they are attached to. They will give their heart to those they are attached to. And they want to be known by and reveal their secrets to the ones they are attached to. These roots are the womb of maturation.

I was moved when Neufeld asked the question, “When did your child fall in love with you? When did your child give you his heart? We were never meant to deal with children whose hearts we did not have. If you do not have the heart of a child, you will not have the context in which to bring them to their full potential. If you don’t have their hearts, you will not have their minds.”

The problem with school is that it can sabotage the conditions required for maturation by increasing the separation a child faces and fostering peer orientation. Since attachment is the most important thing for a child, nothing should break that continuity. We have to assure our children often, “Nothing will separate you from my love…not your attitude, not your behavior. I love you no matter what.”

If a child faces separation the dangers are Pursuit (fixes and fixations, clinging and clutching, hoarding and collecting) –> Alarm (anxiety problems, agitation and attention problems, adrenaline-seeking behaviors) –> Frustration (aggression, violence, and suicide problems) –> Defense-reattaching (peer orientation, routines and rituals, belongings and possessions, fantasy attachments) –> Defense Dominance (alpha problems, counter-will problems, bullying) –> Flight from vulnerability (emotional numbness, defensive blindness, defensive detachment)

How do we reduce these problems? We must reduce the separation between parents and children. Homeschooling is the antidote.

PLEASE NOTE: These are not my ideas. All credit goes to Dr. Gordon Neufeld for this information. 

But now, my own thoughts…

I would like to write a quick reflection that takes off from Neufeld’s conclusion that the most important determinant of maturity in human beings is their ATTACHMENT to the adults responsible for them. I do believe that parents are key to a child’s healthy development. However, I would like to add that we are also spiritual beings. Therefore, we must not only foster an attachment between ourselves and our children, but attach our children to the Lord. We cannot let our children remain dependent on us, as parents. While the attachment may begin with us, at home, the attachment must transfer to the Lord. Otherwise, our children cannot realize their fullest potential. After all, their fullest potential must be considered in light of the Creator and his purposes.

I’m not disagreeing with Dr. Neufeld. His science is sound. But we are talking of something more than emotional and physical maturity. There is such a thing as spiritual maturity. And spiritual maturity comes from our attachment, our relationship to God.

Thoughts on Unschooling

I woke up at 2:00 AM, then 3:00 AM, then 4:00 AM, and finally settled with 5:30 AM. It was idiotic to go to bed at 6 PM last night but I was too exhausted to be logical.

This morning, I was compelled to consider the discussion we had at the third session of the pre-conference meetings –– the Unschooling experience of Andre Stern. It is one method of homeschooling that allows the child to learn naturally, organically, in an interest-driven, self-directed way. There is no interference by an adult to dictate the pace at which the child learns or the content and timing of introducing lessons.  There is no “fixed” curriculum. The curriculum is dependent upon what the child wants to do. Unschooling has its origins in educator, John Holt’s theories and observations about children. He claimed, for instance, that they are “learning all the time.”

“We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions — if they have any — and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.” John Holt

I have used this principle when teaching my children by allowing them to pursue their interests, but I am not an unschooler type of homeschool parent. I suppose it is because I don’t “trust” children the same way that John Holt said we must. He was primarily referring to the internal compass children have for learning.  Though I do not disagree with him in this respect, I also believe that children are born with sin natures, making it difficult for them to self-direct their morality.  Left alone, with no guidance, direction, and discipline, children will not automatically seek God. Sure, God’s grace can rescue them as adults, yet much of their values and principles are set before they hit the teenage years.

Having said this, I do concur with Holt’s theories and find them sensible in the aspect of not surppressing children’s natural curiosities and wonder about the world around them in so far as they are not harmful or sinful. We are so much infected by the idea that the school system is correct…that children must learn subject matter and content in a particular order. If not, we fear that our children will be ill-prepared to survive in the world. Yet it was Holt’s conclusion that when we pressure children to learn in an institutionalized manner, they are conditioned to fear failure. And it is this fear that inhibits their natural desire to learn and explore.

As open-minded as I am about education since I am a homeschooling mom, I do, on many occasions, impose time-tables and subject matter on my children. I want to teach them how to read, write, spell, compute, process, and articulate their thoughts and ideas well. Holt, on the other hand, challenges parents and teachers to be a learner along-side their child rather than the the one holding a flashlight to light the way. It’s not like this… “Here child, look at this cocoon. Isn’t this interesting? This is how caterpillars become butterflies. We can read about it in a book I have at home for your Science.” Rather it is more like this…

“Mom, what is this?” asks the child.

“Oh, that is a cocoon!” replies the mother.

“What’s inside?” asks the child.

“That’s for you to find out, but I can tell you this much, it was once a caterpillar. Do you know what a caterpillar is?” says the mother.

“Yes, I think so. It’s like a worm. But what is it doing inside?”

“What do you think it is doing?”

“Is it sleeping?”

“It could be.”

“How can I know, mom?”

“Well, you could read about it. We could research online together. Or you could wait around and see what happens to this cocoon. It’s up to you.”

I am not the foremost authority on unschooling but this seems to be the kind of conversation a child and parent would have in an unschooling context. Is this kind of thing okay? There are aspects of unschooling that I love, but I wouldn’t embrace it entirely because my goals for homeschooling are different. And all parents need to consider their goals of instruction before buying into any methodology of homeschooling. It can get confusing to hear so many great ideas about how children should learn. So we must always begin with a goal.

For Edric and I, we believe that homeschooling is about raising up our children to love, know, serve, obey, and follow God. That is our goal. I’ve repeated this many times in this blog. Therefore, we direct our children’s education towards this end. We allow them to freely explore their interests, but we step in when these interests are harmful to them physical, spiritually, emotionally. For example, Titus was interested in electrical outlets when he was younger. I could’ve let him experience getting electrocuted, in the spirit of letting him learn from his mistakes, but I taught him to obey and not to touch outlets. Okay, that is an exaggerated example. I would never let him get electrocuted!

The point is, however, that unschooling mindset for someone like myself has to be regulated by what God says about children and how they are to be raised and trained. God designated us as the authority figures in the lives of our children for a purpose and good reason. It is our responsibility to teach them to obey and respect that authority.We are called to train them and to direct them towards God. We must consider the spiritual aspect of their development. I do not agree with psychologists who say that children can determine their own morality. There must be a reference point to say that one is moral. In relation to what? Of course my perspective is biased toward a biblical worldview that tells me that parents must provide that reference point by teaching their children who God is, who we are in relation to him, and how he has called us to live.

And this must be taught because the world we exist in is not just a physical world with physical laws, but a spiritual one with spiritual laws. We can consider children as merely human and say, yes, they must be allowed to discover themselves and realize their humanity. Let them be unschooled and let their learning be unbridled. But we must consider the aspect of their fallen nature. There are spiritual forces at work in the lives of our children. So we must teach them certain truths earlier than later so they can be set free to realize their full potential in Christ.

All the way from Berlin

I can’t believe I am in Berlin, Germany, with Edric attending the Global Home Education Conference! It’s amazing to be here and be part of this historic event. This is also why you have not heard a peep from me in the last few days. Edric and I have been in transit.

The transit part has not been easy. We arrived in Paris and then took a train to Berlin. Our total travel time was like 36 hours. I was carrying my honking suitcase up and down stairways at train stations. Not pleasant! And for a tropical girl like me, 2 degrees Celsius weather is unbearably cold. I wanted to put on all the clothes I brought when I stepped out of the Berlin train station last night. My bones froze. I spent a loooong time under burning hot water to unfreeze myself. Early in the morning, I woke up disoriented and mistakenly woke Edric up at 4:30 am thinking it was 9 am.

 
Minus all of the above, the trip has been worth it so far. I am excited to be here with Edric. It is like another honeymoon. And we are meeting amazing people. God has watched over us and granted us favor many times. For example, we had an airplane row all to ourselves on both our flight to Hong Kong and to Paris. At the airport, we were always ushered to entrances or counters without any lines. People were incredibly helpful when we had train issues and language barriers. I am so thankful to the Lord that his presence goes with us no matter where we are.
 
The reason why Edric and I are here is to support the first ever global conference that aims to protect and promote the freedom of parents to homeschool. Unlike the Philippines, it is illegal to homeschool in many parts of the world. Governments mandate that children attend schools and many families suffer for their choice to homeschool. They must go into hiding, social services takes their children away, they live in exile, or they are imprisoned.
 
It certainly makes me grateful to experience the liberties we do in Manila as a homeschooling family. I don’t know if it will always be this way but at present, the government is open to homeschooling because the law states that parents have the right to educate their children. It’s in our constitution. Furthermore, the Department of Education recognizes that homeschooling affords a solution to the issue of not enough classrooms and teachers.
We are connecting with people from all over the world and hearing many different perspectives, liberal and conservative, about home education. I just listened to Andre Stern, who authored two books in German about his unschooling experience. He is brilliant and he never set foot in a classroom. While I may not agree with all that is being shared and discussed in the sessions, I do share the same conviction that all these attendees and speakers do — the belief that parents should have the freedom to decide how their children will learn, what they will learn, and when they will learn it.
But right now, it’s the end of the day…well, it is almost 5 pm, and I can’t think of anything more pleasant than to take a short nap before dinner. So I am going to do that…
 
Insights from the conference will follow soon!