The Real Star of Our Mayad Beginnings Shoot

IMG_6343.JPGLast weekend, our family had a photoshoot with and for Mayad Beginnings, the photography outfit of the amazing Mayad Studios (who happened to do the videography for my sister’s wedding). Their make-up artist, Rochelle Lacuna, arrived early, probably about 6:30 AM, so I was in that chair getting prepped for the morning’s shoot before breakfast. Mayad Beginning’s team came into our living room and dining room not too long afterwards. It turned out that most of Mayad’s team goes to either our church, CCF, or Victory. But there was one lady whom I chatted with who seemed to be on a search for spiritual answers. I will call her J.P. for anonymity’s sake.

J.P. was the woman who contacted me to set up the shoot via email and it was our first time to meet face to face last Saturday. I began with small talk and eventually got to asking her about her spiritual journey, just to get a pulse for where she was at. Her honesty and openness afforded me an opening to share the gospel.

First, I asked her why she started attending CCF, to which she revealed that she had grown tired of a religion of performance and legalism. What she wanted was to have a relationship with Jesus, to be able to enjoy him and worship him and she seemed to find this in CCF. There couldn’t have been a more perfect time to insert what it really means to have a relationship with Jesus. And since my make-up wasn’t quite ready, we could continue talking.

While mascara and false eyelashes were being meticulously attached to my eyelids, I recounted my own spiritual journey, which began in my childhood. At the young age of nine, I despaired at the thought of my eternal destiny. Having no assurance that I would go to heaven, and fearing that I was most certainly bound for hell, I confessed to my preacher father that I was afraid to die. After a thorough explanation of how Jesus’ death on the cross paid for my sins and with an invitation from my dad to believe in what Jesus did for me, I prayed to receive Him into my life as Lord and Savior. My siblings and parents sat around me as witnesses since my question about eternal life came in the context of our family bible study.

This was the introduction to the Bible passage I shared with J.P.  Since her disenchantment with her previous place of worship had something to do with good works as a basis for acceptance, I showed her Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not of yourselves, not as a result of works so that no one should boast.” I requested that J.P. read the verses and explain to me what each line meant to her.

“What is faith?” I asked her. And using the simple explanation I’ve often heard bible teachers use, I pointed to her chair and commented that she was exercising faith at that moment, as she sat on the chair, absolutely dependent on it to keep her from falling to the ground. In the same way, Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that we are not saved by our own works and good deeds. It is by grace, through faith in what God has done for us.

I proceeded to show her John 3:16 which says, “God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” What has God done for us? He gave us His Son, Jesus, to save us. What is our part? To believe, to have faith.

Still, J.P. said she struggled to give her life completely to the Lord because of past mistakes. She didn’t want to be presumptuous about God’s grace. So I told her the story of the thief on the cross by Jesus’ side, at the crucifixion. He had no opportunity to live a reformed life and yet when he expressed his faith in Jesus by saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)

Death by crucifixion was reserved for the worst of criminals so we know that this thief committed a major crime. Similarly, there may be people out there who feel like they’ve done the unpardonable, the unforgivable. But God’s grace is still bigger. His blood can cover that sin or sins. God’s invitation extends to everyone.

Therefore, the onus is on us to accept his gift, his salvation, or to reject it. There are only two options. Either we embrace what Jesus has done, by faith. Or, we make excuses like, “I’m not ready” or “It’s too simple,” or “It doesn’t make sense, from a logic perspective.”

The reality is, it doesn’t seem to make much sense. How can someone love us this much?  I told J.P. that as a mother, I would never want to give up my children’s lives to save an evil person’s life. Yet God’s Word tells us, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

From the perspective of human logic, it is incomprehensible because we are more familiar with imperfect human love. But God’s love is different. He loved us (loves us) in our total and utter depravity and sinfulness, and chose to take our place so we can be reconciled to Him. And while it may not seem reasonable, we can understand the longing to be accepted this perfectly. Haven’t we all attempted to fill an emptiness in our hearts with relationships, career pursuits, habits, hobbies, accomplishments, acclaim, money and whatever else? Yet these things will never be enough to satisfy or save us, no matter what new forms they assume to make us think they will.

I am married to a wonderful man who loves God, and yet, he cannot fill the hole in my heart completely. He can love me and take care of me to the best of his ability, and I can do the same for him. And we enjoy each other in special and exclusive ways that we do not experience with other people. However, the space inside us is eternally wide and deep. Only the infinite personhood of God can occupy the void so that we cease from our striving to fill it.

One of my favorite passages is found in Colossians 1:16-17, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” 

Because we are made by God, for Him, we will not understand the fullness of joy, peace, love or purpose unless we experience these in the context of a relationship with Him. Why do orphans feel the need to know who their biological parents are? Why do they go through great lengths to seek out their real parents? We want to know where we came from so we can understand who we are supposed to be.  Thomas Aquinas summarized the essence of this by saying, “Our hearts are restless until they can find their rest in You (God).”

I told J.P. that I believed God ordained our time together for the very purpose of letting her know how much He loves her. The photoshoot was the circumstance that God provided so we could meet and have that discussion. I gave J.P. emotional space to digest what we talked about because she struggled with the next step, the closure – surrendering her life completely to the Lord. She was engaged during the entire make-up session, yet I couldn’t force her to receive God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. This is something she will have to do on her own, between her and God.

Shortly after my conversation with J.P., I had to get ready for our first shoot. The morning passed quickly as our family posed for the three concepts that Mayad Beginnings had in mind. We had a lot of fun but the best part of that day was the thirty minutes I had with J.P. while sitting on the make-up chair talking about our spiritual lives.

God has given Edric and I many opportunities to meet people from all walks of life, and I know that these moments are pre-ordained and pre-orchestrated not so much for our benefit (which a photoshoot can feel like because the attention is centered on us). Instead, I believe that he intends for us to use these occasions to deliver the gospel in whatever way or form we can. Whether this means sharing a conversation about God’s love or acting and behaving in ways that reflect Christ-likeness, we must remember that the greater privilege is putting the spotlight on Him and not on ourselves. The greater purpose is to declare the message of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness.

I pray we never forget that the real star of our marriage and our family is JESUS. It’s not us or our kids. He is the reason why there is joy, love, and by His grace, forgiveness in our home. He is the inspiration behind the smiles and the laughter you will see in the highlights of our shoot. Thank you to Mayad Beginnings for capturing us so naturally. But thank you most of all to the Lord for the opportunity to be representatives of His Name.

IMG_6325.JPG IMG_6327.JPG IMG_6328.JPG IMG_6329.JPG IMG_6330.JPG IMG_6331.JPG IMG_6333.JPG IMG_6334.JPG

IMG_6339.JPG IMG_6340.JPG IMG_6218.JPG IMG_6338.JPG
IMG_6222.JPG IMG_6212.JPG IMG_6221.JPG IMG_6341.JPG IMG_6213.JPG IMG_6211.JPG
IMG_6219.JPG IMG_6217.JPG IMG_6216.JPG IMG_6220.JPG IMG_6210.JPG

IMG_6323.JPG IMG_6324.JPG IMG_6342.JPG IMG_6223.JPG

  

When a Walk-in Closet Becomes a Boxing Ring

It was not so coincidental that a marital conflict between Edric and me erupted a few hours before the historic Manny Pacquiao versus Floyd Mayweather fight. This one happened in our walk-in closet, with verbal “punches” in lieu of actual ones.

Mayweather-vs-Pacquiao-poster-620x330

PHOTO CREDIT: HBO

It began like this…a few weeks ago, Edric thought of opening up our home to friends and family who wanted to watch the live version of the fight on pay-per-view. It was a great idea and we were very excited about hosting this event. But, let’s fast forward to yesterday morning, when I was getting ready for worship service. Edric came into our walk-in closet while I was dressing up for church and asked me how many families were coming over. The count was at seven families, but equivalent to 39 persons (including kids).

His next query was, “How did you plan to seat everyone in our family room?” As the bohemian between us, my idea involved big pillows on the carpet for people to chill and lounge on. He labeled this an ill-conceived plan as people may not be comfortable about sitting on the floor. My instincts told me otherwise but I challenged him when he included the comment, “So you didn’t think this through. This is a half-baked plan. You are supposed to be the home manager.”

Whoa! Supposed to the home manager? What was he insinuating?

I am ashamed to admit that my first instinct was to react. So I jumped right into that imaginary boxing ring and put my gloves on.

But first, the thought bubble: I coordinated with the other families who were coming, went to the grocery to buy ingredients for tacos, drinks, baking supplies, made the cookies ahead of time, and instructed our househelp, giving them a detailed list of everything they had to get done to serve our guests. Hmph! Who’s the home manager? I am most definitely home managing! Plus, it was his grand idea to have everyone over in the first place so maybe he should have thought through the seating plan, too. It felt like an Adam-blaming-Eve kind of moment and I didn’t appreciate it at all.

None of the above reasons justified the lashing comments that spewed out of my own mouth defending myself and my perspective. I said to Edric in agitation, “YOU came up with this plan to have people over. So instead of blaming me, maybe you should have helped me.” Edric didn’t appreciate my tone and disrespectful attitude. He firmly replied, “Just admit that you were wrong. You didn’t really think this through.”

Does anyone remember when Mayweather pridefully said, “No, no” to Pacquiao during their boxing match yesterday? Well, that was me, at that moment, deep inside. No, no, I’m not the wrong one, you are the wrong one for making a big deal out of this family room issue. Since Edric didn’t relent, and I had to finish putting on my make-up, I chose to exit the conversation by saying, “Fine, I’m wrong. I’m sorry.” (I wasn’t really sorry at all. I just wanted to end an annoying dialogue.)

A few moments later, Edric requested for me to cut his hair and I didn’t feel like it. Sure, I’ve been his designated barber-ella for the last six months and I did say I would do it the day before, but oh, the timing…

Images of hair butchery swam in my head. But I did give my word so I pulled out the clippers from under the bathroom sink, attempting to contain my rage. Knowing me all too well, he remarked, “You can do this right? You are not going to mess up my hair because you are upset with me?”

“Of course not!” Even if I was tempted to botch up his hair I wouldn’t have resorted to a below the belt move like that! Although, hmmm…it was tempting…

Right before I turned on the clippers, we resumed the discussion again, defending our points of view. Edric knew that I wasn’t really sorry. This time he strongly encouraged me to admit that I was wrong, citing my pride as the cause of my unwillingness to do so. In my exasperation once again and knowing deep inside that he was right about my pride, I declared with tears in my eyes, “Alright, I was wrong, I made a mistake. Will you forgive me?”

God looks at the heart and my heart was not looking very good. I may have mouthed out the apology but there was no sincerity in it. So there I was, with clippers in hand, cutting Edric’s hair but grumbling inside. Bitter. That’s how I felt.

Admittedly this wasn’t one of Edric’s better haircuts. The details showed sloppiness on my part as my internal irritation distracted me from doing my best. I didn’t intentionally attempt to mess up behind his ears (which can be such a tricky part!) but I did. Edric knew it too but he wasn’t in the mood to point it out, trying to quell his own aggravation towards me.

It’s amazing how the Sunday message was aptly entitled, “Fight With God’s Power.” My brother, Paul, was the preacher and he paralleled the battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites to the spiritual battle we all face. Our enemies are sin, worldliness, and the evil one. How could I sit there in my seat and fail to be impacted by God’s Word?! I knew this message was for me.

When Moses held up the staff with his hands, the Israelites had the upper hand. When he dropped his arms the Amalekites started winning. With the assistance of two men, Moses kept his arms and staff up until the Israelites defeated the Amalekites. Moses’ staff symbolized God’s presence and power as the Lord used it to perform miracles in Egypt and in the desert on the way to the Promise Land. Holding his arms up portrayed the Israelites dependence on the Lord for victory. (Summary of Exodus 17:8-12)

At the end of the day, it is God’s presence and power that enables us to overcome the spiritual fight against sin, worldliness and the evil one, this was my brother’s point. In Ephesians 6:10 – 13 it says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

This message was exactly what I needed to hear. I saw Edric as my enemy. I wanted to throw the winning punches. I wanted to come out on top by proving that I was better. Sometimes this is what marriage feels like — a duel! Yet the real battle raging inside me was a fight against pride, against the worldly perspective that I would be the loser if I humbled myself and admitted that I could improve. Ultimately, the source of these temptations was the evil one, who took the opportune moment to attack me and I didn’t recognize him. All I saw was Edric as my nemesis. I got into the boxing ring without God’s presence or power and I was “punching” the wrong person.

How do we overcome the Amalekites in our lives, the sinful struggles we have? My brother, Paul, encouraged the audience to strategize, pray, stay in the word of God, record and remember, and give glory to God.

How should this have played out with Edric and me? I should have realized that this fight was an invitation from the evil one and not Edric. The strategy should have been to look past the attack on my person to the good intent of Edric’s comment. He sought to make sure our guests were comfortable. Second, I should’ve prayed about the hurt I felt when he seemed to insinuate that I wasn’t a good home manager. Then, prayed to calm myself down, to give a Spirit-filled response. Next, I should have obeyed the Holy Spirit’s conviction to apply passages like “humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that he might exalt you at the proper time” (1 Peter 5:6) and “Let a wife see to it that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:33). If I had done these things, I would have experienced victory in the real battle, and given glory to God by my words and actions. I could’ve recorded and remembered what God accomplished when I “fought” in His power.

After worship, we rushed home to welcome our guests. Everyone was fine with the seating arrangements and they didn’t complain at all. They were troopers. Yet this wasn’t what really mattered. Edric and I knew we had to resolve our conflict. This wasn’t about being able to say, “See, I told you I was right.”

IMG_5862

Yesterday afternoon I asked for forgiveness and meant it, explaining to Edric my realization about the spiritual battle we are in. “Will you please forgive me for my disrespect and anger? I was wrong. Even if I was hurt by what you said, I shouldn’t have reacted that way. I was convicted that this was a spiritual attack.” I also explained to him all the preparations I made for the day that he didn’t know about and he apologized for implying that I wasn’t a good home manager.

Afterwards, the issue of the family room discussion was resolved and God gave us the opportunity this morning to converse over breakfast. We had other lingering issues to address. I expressed to Edric that lately, performing my role as a wife has felt burdensome and more like a chore. I don’t want it to be this way, but this has been my struggle in the past few weeks. He confessed that he has been a demanding husband so this could have something to do with it. He also assured me by saying, “We just need to rekindle the romance. I will take care of you.” This evening we will take time to be together when we have our date night.

IMG_4448.JPG

PHOTO COURTESY OF CHESTKNOTS

Even though I’m definitely looking forward to spending time with Edric tonight, I know that the greater problem is not the romance in our marriage or that a wife’s roles can be burdensome and chore-like. It is the enemies of my heart…the pride, self-centeredness, the obsession with self-preservation, wrong thinking, and the lies of the evil one. Therefore, my life-lesson is this: When a walk-in closet becomes a boxing ring I need to remember that Edric is not my real opponent. And, unlike the battle between Pacquiao and Mayweather which had me on edge and stressed out of my mind, it’s comforting to know that when I fight the enemies of my heart in God’s power, the victory is always His!

I love Edric with all my heart. Why do I make him the enemy? We’re in this spiritual fight against sin, worldliness, and the evil one together, as a team, with God…

IMG_0185

PHOTO COURTESY OF CETAPHIL

We’ve Never Gone Hungry

God continues to provide for us through the many seasons of our lives. At the beginning of this year, our reserves were running low because we finished building our home September 2014 and we traveled to the U.S., staying there for a month in December. (There’s no way to make a trip cheap when you have five kids!)

During the first quarter of 2015, we also had some pretty hefty bills to pay and taxes for Edric’s independent speaking contracts to settle. Plus there were some unprecedented doodads that were piled on to the money we had to part with. The stress mounted for Edric, yet God calmed him down with the assurance that He will always take care of us.

When you marry a man who loves God and chooses to live righteously, a great amount of fear is removed from you as a wife. You know that God will provide through your husband. It may not mean you have loads of money all the time, but you can be confident that God will bless the work of his hands and you won’t go hungry. And should you go hungry, God won’t abandon you. He promises this.

I am always encouraged by the passage in Psalm 34:10 which reads, “The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; but they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing.”

Amazingly, when Edric surrendered our finances once again to the Lord, choosing NOT to panic or be worried, God gave us a wonderful bonus to whisper that he is mindful of us. Galderma renewed our contract as Cetaphil ambassadors. Last year we were featured on billboards and in stores, but this year Galderma expanded their marketing efforts to television. It was a pleasant surprise and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect!

Our family thoroughly enjoyed participating in Cetaphil Philippines’ Campaign. Cetaphil is a brand we actually use and need. As a matter of principle, we prefer to take on projects that we can be authentic about. Furthermore, our family has a range of skin care needs – from oily, dry, sunburn-prone, aging to eczema. It’s great to represent a brand that meets these needs effectively.

Cetaphil_Products-500x500-4

For example, we have all benefited from Cetaphil’s Gentle Skin Wash, which never dries out our skin. Even my husband, Edric, who doesn’t like to fuss about his skin is a believer in this cleanser. When we were taping the commercial, one of the lines he gave had to do with Cetaphil’s fragrance free characteristic. It was truthful of him to act out the part where he said, “fragrance free!” with a smile because this is sooo him! His very intelligent nose (he can smell cockroaches) dislikes strong smelling soaps, lotions, or perfumes.

 

The other day while spraying myself with perfume, Edan remarked, “Does Dad know you do that?!” The tone of his questioning insinuated that this wasn’t something Edric would like. (I wasn’t going to see Edric for a good number of hours so the scent would have mellowed by the time we were together!)

My own skin care routine is very simple but thankfully, Cetaphil has a product for every step of my routine. After washing my face at night, I use Cetaphil’s Moisturizing Cream.

Cetaphil_Products-500x500-7

Since my skin reacts to chemicals and products, this moisturizer calms it down at night and the next day it feels renewed. Due to my mom’s Caucasian genetics, my skin is on the “thin” side so this moisturizer makes it suppler. To protect my skin during the day I use Cetaphil’s Daily Facial Moisturizer with SPF 15.

Cetaphil_Products-500x500-6

During days when my skin is oilier than usual, I will wash with Cetaphil’s Dermacontrol Wash and use Dermacontrol Moisturizer, which also has sunblock in it. There are periods when my face is prone to breakouts so the Dermacontrol line rescues it.


009_CET_Foam_Wash_Bottle1 010_CET_OilControlMoisturizer_Bottle1If I’m at the beach, I need stronger protection, so I pile on Cetaphil’s UVA/UVB SPF 50+. It keeps me from getting burnt since I’m very prone to sun damage (due to, well, once again, being half-caucasian.)

As for my children, especially my youngest daughter, Catalina, Restoraderm has been wonderful. She has very dry skin on her legs and stomach. Restoraderm, which is also prescribed by our pediatrician for our kids’ Eczema, keeps the patchy, scaly spots from spreading to the rest of her body. It smoothens out her skin, too. Titus tends to have pretty bad Eczema when his outbreaks happen. So there are occasions when I will have to use a hydrocortisone cream and then Restoraderm on top. Of course, I’m also careful about what my kids eat which is why we avoid food with MSG, preservatives, and artificial ingredients as much as possible.

cetaphil_10_11

Beyond being talents for Cetaphil’s commercial and the fact that their products do work for our family, the greater blessing for me was experiencing God’s provision. As our Heavenly Father, he knows what we need and when we need it. If He deems it for our good to open His storehouse, he will do so. He delights to take care of us. And if he should allow us to be in uncomfortable financial situations so we learn to trust him and work on our character, then we can still hold on to the truth about His person – He will never leave us or forsake us.

I elected to use the title, “We’ve Never Gone Hungry” in order to communicate a spiritual truth. The Cetaphil commercial was an amazing earthly blessing with positive financial implications, however, when we have Jesus, He satisfies something much greater than our physical needs. In John 6:35, he tells us, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me WILL NOT hunger, and he who believes in Me WILL NEVER thirst.”

I pray that the joy people see in our faces as portrayed on television will highlight something beyond a good product or grand. I pray it will reveal the joy that is in our family because of Jesus! Here’s a behind the scenes look at how much fun we had…

 

 

 

 

 

God Can Make the Most Out of Scrambled Eggs

I still have vivid memories of the evening I met Monique over ten years ago. She waltzed into our bible study, on the invitation of her twin sister, Michelle, with her voluminous hair the perfect complement to her charisma and spirited personality. She opened up to me with honesty, unabashedly talking about the condition and nature of her relationship to John, a married man she was living in with, with whom she had a one year old daughter.

At some point in the evening, there arose in me a strong impression to present to Monique the biblical viewpoint on her relationship. Looking back, there may have been a gentler way to put it. But as a young bible study leader, a rookie at dealing with colorful and complicated counseling situations, I showed her a passage in Scripture that exposed her adultery. I also admonished her to stop living in with John. Monique didn’t defend herself. In fact she sincerely pondered upon the exchange we had. I wasn’t sure if I would see her again after I showed her the bible verses and made that statement about adultery.

However, Monique continued to attend our meetings even while she remained in a relationship with John. On the one hand, she sincerely expressed interest in spiritual matters. Yet she found herself bound to John in a manner that was almost too complex to walk away from overnight. Not only did they share a child and a home, they were business partners. Furthermore, she was friends with John’s wife and acted like a mom to his first child.

In her attempt to find convergence, she brought John to one of the bible studies that Edric was leading. John interpreted this move as a big set-up. He locked himself in the bathroom with his laptop for two hours! Back then, we knew John pretty much disdained us for encouraging Monique to stop sleeping with him.

Not too long after, Monique had a second child with John. With tears she confessed to our bible study group that she was pregnant. Yet the most heartbreaking part was Monique’s discovery of John’s betrayal. He had been cheating on her with multiple women.

In pain and completely lost, Monique finally understood that Jesus Christ was the only one who could save her from her brokenness. The love and security she sought in her relationships with men could not be satiated by anyone except Christ. With complete surrender, she gave her life to the Lord.

As difficult as it was, she moved out of John’s home and committed to guard her sexual purity. It wasn’t a perfect journey but her decision to give up John had a profound impact on her spiritual life.

At the same time, the Lord began to move in John’s heart. Tired of his lifestyle and sexual addiction (he professed to have slept with over 50 women), and jolted back to reality when he lost Monique’s trust, John earnestly sought to reform his ways. He told Monique that she shouldn’t be with him because he was a sick person — spiritually and emotionally. Monique’s response to him was you need to seek Jesus.

As Monique took steps to avoid immorality and grow in her faith, she chose to forgive John, which was compelling evidence for her spiritual transformation. Furthermore, she forgave the women whom John cheated on her with. As a result, John chose to give his life to Jesus Christ, surrendering to His grace. He began growing spiritually in a discipleship group with other men under Roli Sabado.

Eventually, John also started coming to our bible studies faithfully. A genuine desire to grow in his faith marked his conversion. There were a lot of periphery issues that both he and Monique had to sort through but God plucked ungodly behaviors, attitudes, and perspectives out of them like straight pins being pulled off a pin cushion. Then he filled the holes with renewed thinking and the pursuit of holiness and wholeness in Christ.

However, the reality of their scrambled egg situation remained. At this point, John and his first wife were annulled and she was in a serious relationship with another man whom she intended to marry. He had two kids with Monique but he wasn’t married to her, and they couldn’t live in together. The most honorable recourse was to marry Monique so they could be a family.

 
We encouraged John and Monique to have a civil marriage first, and shortly after, they had a recommitment ceremony in Boracay. They asked us to be their Ninong and Ninang even if we felt underaged as 31 year olds but it was an honor as they were our “spiritual” children. During this event, Monique invited the women whom John had cheated on! Since she knew them as friends before the affairs happened, she also desired that they come into a relationship with Jesus. I don’t know too many people who would think to do this but Monique didn’t harbor any bitterness towards them. Her greater concern was for their spiritual healing.
 

Serving together in Before and After I Do

Today, John and Monique Ong  actively serve as an integral part of the CCF Family Ministry Team, contributing their expertise as business people in events, photography, and videography. They are homeschooling parents with a brood of five. They also hold weekly community worship services in their company building every Wednesday night. More importantly, their journey to Christ and the broken road that God fixed to get them there is an amazing testimony of His grace.

Some years ago I narrow-mindedly told Monique that there may be limitations to the scope of their ministry. Since John came from an annulled marriage, I thought this would be a contradiction to their desire to help people stay committed to their marriages. However, as I listened to them testify during the Before and After I Do Seminar, I realized my perceptions of their ministry’s reach had put God in a box.

 

The reality is John and Monique represent the truth about all of us. We are lost and scrambled apart from Christ — a mix of wrong choices, worldly thinking and philosophies, weary from the pain, the addictions to sin, the drive for success, money, or fame, burdened by the façades we try to manage and the chasing after the ever-elusive joy and peace that cannot be had apart from Him. John and Monique’s story also tells us that God meets us where we are at, as the messy scrambled eggs that we are, and He wants to make us whole. He CAN make us whole! He has a plan for us that is beyond what we can ever dream or imagine…

“But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (‭1 Peter‬ ‭2‬:‭9-12‬ NASB)

People rarely identify with those who look like perfect eggs which is why John and Monique are especially effective as portraits of God’s love and forgiveness. As John and Monique stood before the crowd with honesty and humility about the mess they used to be, they overflowed with God’s amazing grace. I knew about their faith journey before hearing them talk so openly about it in front of the 800 men and women who attended the seminar. But to recall the people they once were when we met them, and to see the fruit of their lives that day was just WOW! Wow to the God who does the impossible and the inconceivable, who takes a sexual addict and makes him a holy, committed husband…who takes an adulterous woman and makes her honorable, healing her broken heart, and making her more beautiful inside and out!

No life, no scrambled egg is beyond the reach or redeeming power of God’s grace. When we receive His forgiveness and come into a relationship with Him through Jesus, His Son, repenting from our sins and surrendering ourselves to Him, He gives us a new beginning. We receive peace and joy in the present, hope for the future, and a story to tell about our past that brings glory to His name.

 

“Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits; Who pardons all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases; Who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.”(‭Psalms‬ ‭103‬:‭2-4, 10-12‬ NASB)

Tomorrow, John and Monique will share their story at our church, CCF, at the 9am and 12 noon services. If you have friends or family who need hope and encouragement, invite them and come along, too! You will be blessed!

CCF: Frontera Verde, Ortigas avenue corner C5, Pasig City
POST SCRIPT:
Due to the difficult questions that people have asked as a result of this post I am including more details about John and Monique’s situation before they got married.
John filed for annulment as early as 2002 when he didn’t know the Lord. He got denied. He was not a believer then. Yes, there were attempts to restore their marriage. Initially, when they parted ways, John’s wife was in another relationship, so the mother of his wife asked John to help fix the situation. John tried. He even lived in their in laws house to try to make it work. But still the outcome was still the same. John’s wife did not give him any hope of reconciling. She filed for an annulment in 2006. She was pregnant with her present husband’s child. In 2007, John came to the Lord. The court approved his wife’s annulment in March 2008 and she got married in 2009. John and Monique also got married in 2009. 
No matter what is said here, people will still question the decisions made by John and Monique, and even myself for posting this article, and Edric and I for being the couple that mentored them. Re-marriage is such a hotly debated topic and there is no way to avoid reactions to a story like this, and so I understand why I have come under fire for this post.
For those who have thought my words to be ill-chosen and the story to be an example of how divorce and remarriage is okay, that was not my intention. Please forgive me. At the same time, I have seen John and Monique’s lives since the mess they were in. And I know that they have born fruit.
By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” Matthew 7:16 – 20
As I shared, but perhaps not clearly enough, we told them they were in sin from the very beginning. I also expressed that there may be limitations to the scope of their ministry if they get married because of their back ground. However, I can think of so many people in God’s word who didn’t make the best choices even after they already knew the Lord — David? Solomon? Moses? Peter? But we are still blessed by what God has done in their lives. We read about their stories in God’s Word. Do we say to ourselves, let’s copy the bad choices they made and rely on God’s grace after? I hope not!
Did David, Solomon, Moses, and Peter end well despite their bad choices? By God’s grace, yes. Sure, they should have done a lot of things better. John and Monique could’ve done a lot of things better, too. I could have done a lot of things better in my own life as well. And I’m still a work in progress.
This post isn’t about saying copy John and Monique’s wrong choices because they are turning out okay. But to say that John and Monique’s lives should NOT be used as an example of grace just because John was a divorcee and Monique used to live in with him…Shouldn’t the focus be the fruit that they are bearing now despite where they came from? Isn’t that a story that God can use to encourage those who have made their own set of bad choices verses being interpreted as a story that gives us license to make bad choices?
Nevertheless…I will be more careful in the future when I publish posts because this is a very public site and I need to be very discerning about the content I write about. And I praise God that this is a blog where clarifications and apologies can be made, and people can give their honest opinions, too. So thank you to my readers who have called out the inconsistencies and voiced their convictions. It’s very humbling to come under fire like this (and discouraging. sigh.) but I will gladly accept the criticism because writing on this site is a big responsibility and God wants me to be accountable. I shouldn’t take it lightly or ignore opinions when they are very valid. So thank you to the brave ones who commented and corrected me! And I now I’m going to move on to write other posts. You may continue the dialoguing among yourselves of course but I will now excuse myself from the commenting back and forth. :)

More Painful Than A Spanking

Since Elijah and Edan are way past the age when spanking is applicable or effective, namely between the ages of 1 and 6 years old, they are disciplined using withdrawal of privileges or natural logical consequences. Discipline and discipleship continues in our home, taking on different forms as our children grow up.

IMG_0010

For someone like Elijah who has access to an IPad (that he paid for), a painful consequence is getting it confiscated. I had to do this a few days ago because he exhibited a negative attitude about finishing his social studies work. Normally, he is a cheery person who pretty much educates himself. But that morning he was mumbling and grumbling about the writing work he was tasked to complete. After warning him that his attitude was not acceptable and he still kept at it, I informed him that he was banned from using his IPad. With the exeption of writing assignments and until he got his homeschool work done in Social Studies and Bible, he wasn’t allowed to use his IPad for entertainment purposes. He wasn’t happy about my disciplinary action and began to tear but he did say, “Thank you mom for motivating me to push myself. Since I can’t use my IPad, I want to finish my work so I can get it back.” Awww…By God’s grace, he is still such a sweet son!

As a mom, I know when my kids are burdened by their homeschool studies because the content is beyond their capacity and when they are acting up because they don’t want to put in the effort to get a task done. This situation with Elijah was about the latter. When his IPad was confiscated, he told me that getting this privilege withdrawed is more painful than a spanking!

On other occasions we let our kids reap what they sow. For example, one afternoon the kids left their basketball in our church building. I didn’t go back and get it even though I could have. In the meantime, they were short one ball for their class and they felt badly about it. A few days later, they had to ask the guard of the floor they lost it on, and coordinate with him about who saw it last. It took them three days before they recovered their ball. Moving forwrad, I’m pretty sure they will be more responsible about it since they were inconvenienced to retrieve it.

Edric and I are committed to disciplining and discipling our kids, weeding out heart attitudes and perspectives that stand in the way of their emotional and spiritual maturity. But it takes faithfulness and a lot of wisdom — wisdom to discern what works for a particular situation or problem. Therefore we pray to the Lord for his insight and discernment. Our knowledge is limited and our understanding of what’s going on in their hearts isn’t always accurate. So we need the Lord to instruct us. The wisdom to address our children’s character weaknesses comes from him.

I like the reminder that Galatians 6 gives…”Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself…” (Galatians 6:1-3 NASB)

Based on the text above, here are some guidelines for correcting our children:

“You who are spiritual…” If we desire to see spiritual fruit in our kids, we need to be spiritual ourselves! We need to walk intimately with Lord. Often times the best way to apply this is to pray when our children act and behave in ways that are frustrating and upsetting. Instead of reacting right away, we can pray for the words to speak and the wisdom to deal with the problem.

“Restore such a one…The goal is restoration — to restore our children to a rightful disposition before the Lord. When my kids aren’t motivated to homeschool; if they deal with one another unkindly; speak to me disrespectfully or resist submitting to my authority, I try to remember that this isn’t about forcing my children to do what I want them to. This is about recalibrating the compass of their hearts so it’s pointing in the direction of Christ. A helpful question to ask them is, “Do you think what you are doing is pleasing to the Lord?” Or, “I know you love the Lord and don’t want to continue acting this way.” The focus is on their spiritual condition and teaching them to please God.

“In a spirit of gentleness.” Correction must be done in a spirit of gentleness, never in anger or we will cause our children to stumble and push their hearts away from us (and the Lord). This is tough one! It’s challenging to be patient!  “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1) Losing our temper and displaying our irritation with our kids is counterproductive. It doesn’t encourage them to change, it incites their anger and wounds them deeply. We can be gentle when we remember the previous two points – spiritual parents are spirit filled and their goal is to restore their children to a rightful disposition before the Lord.

“…Each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”  We are just as susceptible to wrong choices and bad attitudes. To avoid falling into temptation ourselves, let us instruct our children with the perspective that, “I’m not perfect. I have areas I have to work on in my own life. I need to keep improving too.” Deuteronomy cautions parents by saying, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (Deuteronomy 4:9) Sometimes, we can be guilty of the same things we are trying to correct in our kids, so let’s be careful to mind our own walk before we talk. Let’s examine our own hearts for character weaknesses that we need to change.

“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” We have a spiritual responsibility to help our children grow in Christ-likeness. Our goal is to present them as adults who love and obey Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. Do our children know that this is our goal? Do they know we are committed to helping them pursue this goal, that we are here for them when they fail and mess up…that we will bear their burdens with them?

“For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself…” If we think we are better or spiritually superior to our kids, we are greatly mistaken. God has given us His grace. We need to dispense the same grace to our kids as we instruct, train, and discipline them.

Here’s a comforting promise for all of us parents if we are faithful to do so…“Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.” (Proverbs 29:17)

 

 

As For Me and My House… 

There is no guarantee that being involved in ministry as a family will ensure that our kids turn out okay in the spiritual and moral sense, but Edric and I do believe that immersing them in experiences where they can serve the Lord alongside us is good for their spiritual health.

First, ministry doesn’t take us away from them. As often as possible, they join us when we travel out of town to speak or give seminars on marriage, parenting or homeschooling. It’s a “family thing,” not just a “mom and dad thing.” Second, our children benefit from opportunities to declare God’s goodness in their lives and share their faith journeys. Telling others about what God has done makes them purposeful and productive followers of the Lord, even at a young age. Third, when they serve with us, they have the privilege of witnessing lives changed by the power of the gospel and the Word of God as first-hand observers. Fourth, they recognize that the Christian life isn’t about hogging the blessings of peace and joy for ourselves. It’s about sharing these with others so they too will be attracted to the source of it all — Jesus Christ.

Elijah and Edan are old enough to share their faith insights and experiences. So when it is relevant to, we let them stand in front of audiences to testify to what God is teaching them and doing in their lives. Since our family had a homeschooling roadshow in Baguio City this weekend, Elijah and Edan helped me present educational apps to homeschooling parents.

IMG_4793-0.JPG

During Holy Week, the kids talked about the blessings of obedience and the importance of studying God’s Word for a family retreat that was also held in Baguio. Four of them, Elijah, Edan, Titus and Tiana, recited passages of scripture for the audience to motivate parents to have family devotions with their kids and get them to memorize verses.

IMG_4280.JPG

We don’t want our family to be like a traveling circus, where we put the spotlight on our children and what we are doing as a family. What we do want is for our children to realize that while they are young, they have many opportunities to be fruitful and impact others. They don’t have to wait until they are older and grown up to make a difference for Christ. As followers of Jesus, wherever we go and in whatever we do, we can use our “time, talents, and treasure” (as Edric puts it when he preaches about living for eternity) to point people to Jesus Christ and glorify Him.

Edric reminds our kids that we are on this earth “to be a blessing.” Sometimes this means standing in front of an audience to give a testimony about what God has done in their lives. Other times, this may involve visiting the sick or the needy, sharing the gospel, hosting guests in our home, or using their gifts and talents to perform at an event or occasion.

I asked Edan if he still gets nervous when he speaks in front of people, and he told me, “Yes, but I love speaking. I want to be a blessing.” He just turned nine years old, and he began his public speaking experience when he was seven. If I had asked him this question two years ago, he would have confessed to his terror. It took some practice to get him to the point where he can, by God’s grace, deliver a short speech to a large audience without being as self-conscious as he used to be.

He still struggles with self-consciousness and fear. All of us do. Whenever Edric and I give a talk or seminar we pray for God’s divine help. There’s no way to do a good job unless He enables us. The other important mindset we must have is the why behind serving the Lord together, as a family. Whenever God puts a husband, wife and children in a family, he assembles a team of people to send out as his ambassadors for the gospel and His Kingdom. It’s much more effective when the work is done together, with each person contributing their abilities and strengths.

IMG_4806.JPG

One candle in the dark makes a significant difference, but add two, three, four, five, or more flames and the light will overpower the darkness. Similarly, God’s design for each person in a family is to be a light and testament to who He is — that he is holy, loving, awesome, and desires for every person to have a personal relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. Matthew 5:16 tells us, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Even little children have a light to shine for Jesus! When Tiana was two years old, she used to sing a song that captures the verse above: “I’m a little candle, shining in the dark, it’s the light of Jesus, shining in my heart, I will shine, I will shine…Like a candle in the dark, I will shine!”

Are we providing our children with opportunities to shine for Christ? Do they have the love of God in their hearts so they can channel this to others? How can we do this as a family, as a team?

A Trait All Gentlemen Should Have

photo 1

Having three sons offers Edric and I many opportunities to learn about what boys are like and how they develop into men. One thing is certain, they need guidance and direction when it comes to growing in their concept of manhood. Edric plays a vital role in this aspect of their development, and he has intentionally taken it upon himself to teach them what it means to be gentlemen.

photo 4

photo 2
photo 3

When teaching opportunities present themselves, he will pass on things like, “We need to let ladies go first. We need to hold the door open for them. We need to help ladies carry heavy bags.” Everytime he leaves the home and the boys are left with me, he reminds them, “Protect your mom and your sisters.” It’s quite adorable when my sons take this to heart and insist on accompanying me when I have to run an errand in order to “protect me.”

I recall an instance when Elijah accompanied me to 168 in Divisoria to buy toys for a birthday party. When I had to use the toilet, Elijah said, “I can go with you, mom.” I thought he was afraid. So I said, “Okay, come wait right outside so I know you are safe.” But he replied, “No, I will make sure YOU ARE SAFE.”

These are simple ways that our children are learning to be gentlemen. However, there is a more important trait that all gentlemen should have that we are trying to instill in our sons – how to be buck-stopping leaders.

For the past few days, our family was at a retreat in Baguio, where Edric and I served as speakers. Our kids attended the children’s classes, where they were grouped by various ages. Elijah and Edan shared the same class. When we asked them if they obeyed their teacher, they confessed to their rowdiness – hitting one another’s heads and playfully agitating each other so they became a distraction to others. As a result the teacher separated them. We encouraged them to apologize for their behavior and they were in full agreement of doing so, acknowledging that their actions had been wrong. The next time they saw their teacher, they asked for her forgiveness, which she readily gave.

On the one hand, being a gentleman is about treating people with respect, being considerate of others before one’s self, keeping one’s word and dealing with people honorably and truthfully. On the other hand, it is about accepting accountability and responsibility for one’s choices and mistakes, choosing to do what pleases God, and encouraging others to do the same.

As Edric likes to put it, “the buck stops with us (men).” He shares this often during seminars where he talks about the role of a man, challenging them to imitate U.S. President Harry Truman example, who popularized the statement “The buck stops here” – a sign that sat on his desk in the Oval Office. Prior to this, it was common to use the phrase, “pass the buck” when playing poker whenever the person holding the buck was tired of the responsibility.

In contrast, the “buck stops here” represents the kind of leader men are supposed to be. Edric refers to the passage in Genesis 3, the tragic choice to eat the forbidden fruit and the aftermath of this decision. Adam and Eve attempted to hide themselves, a ridiculous attempt to conceal themselves from an all-knowing and all-present God. In this chapter, God did something very intentional. He called out to the MAN. “Where are you?”

Edric asks men during seminars, “Why didn’t God single out Eve? Eve, who took the first bite and convinced her husband to sin with her?” God sent a message to Adam – as the man, you are accountable, you are responsible, I put you in charge, what happened? This tells us that a man is accountable to God first, and then responsible to take care of those entrusted to his care, to lead them in the way God would have them go. He should not “pass the buck” by pointing fingers and blaming others or circumstances.

Perhaps I can illustrate this point with a story. When I was dating Edric, we struggled in the area of purity. He was a gentleman in the sense that he took care of me and looked out for my needs. He tried his best to treat me with respect. However, our hormones at that season of our lives were difficult to bridle. I’m not excusing what we did. Furthermore, it would not be fair for me to say that it was entirely Edric’s fault. I made my own choices and I did things I’m not proud of. At some point, Edric and I became very convicted about what we were doing. We broke up in order to put God first and seek his will for us.

One of my prayers was that Edric would sit down with my parents and tell them everything we did so we could “come clean.” I was amazed when, a few months later, while we were broken up, he called me and asked to have dinner with my parents on his own initiative. During that dinner he owned up to his responsibility as a man and put the blame on himself. It was the most awkward dinner of our lives. But I learned something remarkable about Edric, which only wanted me to marry him all the more!

A real gentleman says, “the buck stops with me! I am accountable. I am responsible.” I saw this trait in Edric when he apologized to my parents saying that as the man in the relationship, he should not have allowed our relationship to become so physical. He claimed the fault was is even if I insisted that the blame shouldn’t fall entirely upon him. My admiration for him increased 10-fold.

Up to this day, he is this kind of man. Of course he makes mistakes every now and then, but he will own up to them and burden himself with the responsibility of fixing problems that arise in our marriage and family. Furthermore, he will not let issues linger to a destructive point because he knows that God has put him in charge of the kids and me.

Admittedly, sometimes the problem is me! But Edric won’t say, “See, this is all your fault!” In fact, he has never, to my recollection, ever said this to me. More often than not, he actually says, “You know what, I need to make sure that I disciple you better, to help you.” Or, “I’ve got to step up and make sure I’m leading our family spiritually. This is on me.” He will even add, “I’m back, baby! (for my sake) Have no fear, ‘daddy’ is here (for the kids’ sake),” puffing his chest out and thumping it to give the moment some comedy.

When he makes this profession, I am confident not in Edric per se, but on the source of his ability to turn a situation around for the better or repair what needs fixing. Edric is dependent on God. He walks with Him and seeks to follow His principles. Therefore his enabling comes from God. Being a faithful follower of Jesus makes him a capable, buck-stopping leader. The aim of his leadership is to help those around him, especially the kids and me, to follow Jesus, too.

As women, we have a significant role to play to encourage the emergence of the inner, God-designed, buck-stopping leaders that husbands are made to be.

First, our outlook is important. I believe all husbands have the capacity to lead. This isn’t a trait exclusive to those with dominant personality types. Interestingly, our sons show leadership in very different ways from one another. Elijah has a very big personality but he is a leader by example. Edan tends to be less vocal, but organizing people and delegating tasks comes naturally to him. Titus is a man’s man. No matter what their personalities are like, each one of them can learn to copy the kind of leadership that Jesus Christ displayed for us. John Piper describes this as a combination of lion-hearted and lamb-like. Jesus boldly taught us how to live and he died for us to solve the problem of our sins, but at the same time he was among us as a servant.

Matthew 20:25 – 28 “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Second, we can appreciate the instances when our husbands make difficult decisions for the family. Whether these decisions turn out well or not, we can call out the fact that it must be hard to make the choices they have to make. We can tell them that their leadership means a lot to us.

Third, we should avoid criticizing them when they fail, because they will from time to time. Let’s ban comments like, “See, I told you so!” (Oh, I know this is hard! I have to bite my lip not to do this at times!)

Fourth, let them know that we are there to support them and pray for them, communicating that we believe God will help them to solve the problem and be the kind of leader they need to be. (Pray, pray, pray!!!)

I know it’s hard to communicate these messages when we are disappointed in the leadership or lack of leadership our husbands may display. But our positive outlook, belief in their leadership by the power of Christ’s enabling, encouragement, and prayers will do wonders! Men have so much pressure on their shoulders. The last thing they need is to be pressured by us.

For single women, how do you distinguish between someone who is a gentleman only on the outside and one who has the qualities of a buck-stopping leader? Observe the way a man you are interested in handles conflict, stress, problems, mistakes, and issues. Does he recognize and embrace his responsibility and admit accountability, seeking to find solutions that may entail sacrificing his own comfort and needs? More importantly, does he walk intimately with the Lord so that his responses are aligned with God’s principles and honor Him? In the process, does he motivate others to do the same, including you?

 

 

How Can I Forgive?

A few days ago I received an email with just one question on it. “How can I forgive?” It was a great question to be asked and I have written a lengthy response in this post which I hope will benefit those who may struggle with the same challenge — forgiving those who have wounded us.Sun Feb 01 2015 01-31-08 GMT 0800More than any other relationship I have, marriage has been the context for some of my greatest forgiveness “challenges.” I suppose this is because I am most vulnerable to Edric. I love him so much that I hurt worst when he makes choices or speaks in ways that are unloving. He has said the same about me. Both of us are prone to selfishness and pride. Sometimes it isn’t big offenses but the little ones, piled up together over time that are injurious — the ones that need to be forgiven over and over again.

(Early years of marriage. We look like kids!)

Last month was a particularly rough time for us. Edric was very busy and caught up with work and responsibilities. He was easily irritated with me when I didn’t meet his “standards” for wifely duties or running our home. Normally, he is gracious and looks past my inefficiencies, choosing to highlight the positive. But since his spirit was unsettled by concerns over our finances and business decisions, he was easily jostled by things I would say and do that inconvenienced him.

My problem was I put up my own version of selfishness. When he was abrasive towards me, I retaliated with my magic force field, the one that placed a safe, emotional distance between us so I would not get hurt. My methods were things like curt, unaffectionate replies, silence, retreating to my hobbies and the children, and communicating disinterest in physical intimacy.

Edric recognized my methods as feminine forms of hostility and he felt like I wasn’t supportive of him. In fact he expressed this by saying, “It’s like you only love me when I am okay, when I am lovable. But you won’t cut me slack for my reactions when you know that I am struggling with an issue.” I have paraphrased what he said but that was the essence.

His statements were justifiable. Of course, I do love him. But the reality is I intended my responses to manipulate and pressure him. I forced upon him the expectation that he should ALWAYS be a spiritual leader, that he should be better than this, that he should pull himself together. I bailed out on him emotionally when I should have applied extra grace to attend to him, minister to him, and encourage him.

One of the things I appreciate about Edric is he won’t let us spiral downward. He will take action and drop every activity to make sure our marriage is where it ought to be — with Jesus Christ at its center. And that’s exactly what happened. First, he spent time in God’s Word to renew his spirit, and then he approached me, requesting that we discuss the state of our marriage and how to improve it.

Naturally, forgiveness was part of this interchange. I was blessed by Edric’s humility as he asked for my forgiveness. It convicted me to do the same. And then we made proposals on how to avoid falling into the same predicament.

This scene has been repeated many times in our marriage. We often come to a point where we must give forgiveness and receive it. There’s no way to move forward in our marriage if we don’t do so.

In John Piper’s book, This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence, he writes “Before a man and woman can live out the unique roles of headship and submission in a biblical and gracious way, they must experience what it means to build their lives on the vertical experience of God’s forgiveness and justification and promised help, and then bend it out horizontally to their spouse.” (Pg.44)

I like how he puts it. In marriage, we need to vertically experience God’s forgiveness, justification and help before we can bend these out horizontally towards our spouse. This actually makes the shape of a cross!

This past month I was tired of trying to be a “good wife.” I wanted a break. My focus was on myself and my capacities. However I was reminded that looking at myself can never be the answer. Apart from Christ, I am definitely NOT a good wife. “As it is written, ‘THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.'” (Romans 3:10-12 NASB)

Whether in the context of marriage or outside of it, the answer to the question how we can forgive is this: we can forgive because God first forgave us. Forgiveness is not a response to the degree of the offense so much as it is an acknowledgement of God’s forgiveness and mercy to us, then flowing that forgiveness and mercy outward, to others. Until we understand this it’s hard to forgive, especially when the offenses are serious and deeply painful.       (A few years after the rape)

Many of you who have followed this blog already know that I was once upon a time a victim of rape. Unlike a marriage where two people are of the same mind to repair it and right the wrongs suffered in it, there are forgiveness situations in life that do not involve the offending party apologizing for their sins against us. Instead we are left at a junction where we must make the choice to forgive regardless of whether the other person is sorry or not.

I knew that my rapists and abusers would not offer me their repentance. It is the same way for many of us who are betrayed, taken advantage of, deceived, or physically harmed by others. The likelihood of these persons returning to us in order to ask for an apology is slim to nil. To bank on this happening as the prerequisite to extending forgiveness only makes us a slave to a timetable of uncertainty.

Can we hope and pray that they will one day apologize, expressing deep remorse? Sure. But what are we going to do in the meantime? What is within our control?

What helped me make the choice to forgive was recognizing that I too was guilty, not of the same crimes committed against me, but of the same sinful disposition before God. Yet, God sent His Son to die for me. The Bible tells us “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”(Romans 5:8 NIV)

It also says, “In Him (Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us…” (Ephesians 1:7-8 NASB)

If God forgave me by giving his own Son to die for me, who was I not to forgive the hurt done against me? In Ephesians 4:32 it says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Therefore, I could take the same forgiveness bestowed upon me through Christ and turn it into the kindness and compassion needed to bestow the same forgiveness towards my offenders.

It’s hard to explain without sounding like a deranged person but my heart felt a miraculous compassion for my offenders when I realized that I was no better than they were before God. Anything that was righteous in me was due to Jesus Christ. However way I esteemed myself as better than they were wasn’t due to my own goodness. So I couldn’t elevate myself and think I was holier for not being a rapist, a murderer, a thief, an adulterer, etc.

I could understand the darkness that was in their hearts and how it held them captive to do what was wicked and ungodly. So this compassion I am referring to was about wanting them to come to know Jesus Christ. Why? So their lives could be transformed. So they would stop hurting others the way they hurt me. Just like them, I was once lost and dead in my sins until Jesus Christ saved me.

Ephesians 2:3-5 explains this very clearly. “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…”

We can punish people for the bad things they do to us by imposing external consequences like withholding forgiveness as a form of revenge, but this is a superficial fix to the real problem. First, people need Jesus Christ. Second, our unforgiveness is not the best form of justice if that is what we seek.

What do we hope to accomplish by clinging to unforgiveness? Is it to satisfy our sense of fairness? “You hurt me so I am not going to let you off that easily.” Or, “I want you to feel what it is like to be me.” Or, “I want you to pay for your sins before I forgive you.” We can require emotional or physical payment for the offenses done against us. But what if the persons we impose these upon are never reformed and never truly sorry for their crimes and wrong choices? Who is to know what the truthful condition of their hearts is in regards to repentance? The answer is we can’t guarantee either. This falls under the scope of God’s power and omniscience.

We need to consider, “Does UNforgiveness cause an offender to wake up to the reality of his or her wrong?” “Does UNforgiveness inspire them to pursue lasting change?” While our outcry for justice may demand penitence, might I suggest that we consider the ONE who has the power to effect change in the heart of a sinner and the capacity to execute real justice if the same sinner remains unrepentant.

“…Vindicate me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me. O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous; For the righteous God tries the hearts and minds. My shield is with God, Who saves the upright in heart. God is a righteous judge, And a God who has indignation every day. If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword; He has bent His bow and made it ready…” (Psalms 7:8-12 NASB)

When several of my rapists were caught and put in jail, that was a good thing. Criminals need to be jailed to protect others from being victimized. But long before this happened, I chose to forgive them for what they did to me. I did my part to meet with the police and identify the gang members as best as I could, but if they were not caught, I believed God would deal with them. As for me, I didn’t want to remain a victim twice over — first as one who lost her innocence and virginity to cruel men, and second, as one who was defiled by her own bitterness.

Bitterness is so carcinogenic to the soul. “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15 NIV)

I recall attending a woman’s conference where the speaker talked about the characteristics of bitter people. They are like a cup of perpetually hot coffee, filled to the brim. Any circumstance, even the smallest ones cause a spill that hurts! No one likes to be around people like this! I’ve caught myself on several occasions “spilling” over with irritation towards my children when Edric and I have unresolved conflicts. My frustration and anger get channeled towards my kids. So the sooner I address what’s going on inside and arrest the anger, the quicker I can halt the defiling overspill.

When the root is bitterness, imagine what the fruit might be. Woodrow Kroll

I am not trying to make pain simplistic. Some of us have been through major trauma due to people’s betrayal, physical injury, thievery, immorality, etc. But I have also seen two sides of the same coin. I have been around people who refuse to forgive and observed how it aged them, turned them ugly, and paralyzed them from true healing. And I have been around people who have chosen to forgive the most hateful persons, people who deserved no less than total unforgiveness for their crimes and sins. Yet, the forgiveness extended transformed the hurting person into someone more beautiful inside and out. Furthermore, the choice to forgive advanced them towards healing. In the process of surrendering their anger, their hearts were opened up to love others. In certain instances, God allowed this grace-extended to cause repentance and change in the life of the offender, too (although this isn’t always the case).

Bitterness and love cannot be neighbors in our hearts. They cannot co-exist without fighting for occupancy of the entire space. We either let love win or bitterness will take over.  To say we can reserve a spot of anger for certain people or circumstances and still define ourselves as loving persons is to misunderstand the deceptiveness of anger. Sooner or later anger will conquer more ground and ease love out. Forgiveness, however, extracts the bitterness and makes room for love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 gives a definition of love, which includes a part that says, “love does not take into account a wrong suffered.”

What if an offense is repeated over and over again? Whenever Edric and I resolve our disputes, choosing to forgive one another and release the anger, we always hope that the same situations won’t happen again. But we don’t extend forgiveness by coupling it with an ultimatum that says, “You better not repeat the same mistake!”

After all, who can really make this demand without setting themselves up for greater hurt? We can’t control people’s mistakes, past, present, or future. We can’t control how remorseful they should be either. These are demands that make us more vulnerable to disappointment when we put conditions on forgiveness.

On the one hand, forgiveness is a decision “not to count one’s trespasses against us” as 1 Corinthians 13 puts it. It is extended in reference to a known offense. On the other hand, it is a state of being that extends forward, too. I have forgiven you and I will forgive you. It’s not saying I condone your sin or approve of your wrong choices. This isn’t about giving someone the license to keep hurting us either. (If a person is being battered or abused, they need to find a way to physically remove themselves from that situation and go somewhere safe or get help from someone who can effectively intervene.)

However, we can keep on forgiving because God continues to do so for us.

“For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.” (Psalms 86:5 NASB)

In summary…

  1. Forgiveness is possible because of what God has done for us. It is not contingent upon the degree of the offense done towards us or whether the offender asks for our forgiveness.
  1. The kindness and compassion to forgive comes when we recognize that ALL people, including ourselves, are lost in the darkness of sin apart from Jesus Christ.
  1. The option to withhold forgiveness does not accomplish the heart transformation of the offender or the justice we seek. Only God can cause a person to repent wholeheartedly and deal with someone who is unrepentant.
  1. Forgiveness liberates us from the bitterness which defiles us and those around us. We cannot say we are loving if we harbor resentment and anger – there is no room for both in our hearts.
  1. We can keep on forgiving just as God continues to offer his forgiveness to us.

In closing, let me end with a passage of Scripture that puts everything into perspective, and it centers around the personhood of Jesus Christ – what He went through for our sakes, His response to offenses done against him, how He surrendered Himself to God the Father, and what His death and resurrection accomplished for us.

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 2:21-24 NASB)

NOTE: If you are one who needs to ask for forgiveness, consider reading The Five Languages of Apology by authors Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas which explains that apologizing involves five aspects: expressing regret, accepting responsibility, making restitution, genuinely repenting, and requesting forgiveness.

Fathers and Children

Wed Jul 31 2013 03-39-36 GMT 0800

A long while ago I wrote an article called “The Lost Boys,” in reference to men who have grown up without the guidance of their fathers…No one to tell them what it means to be a man. No one to model this path for them. Many times these men navigate through life on a trial-and-error basis or they attempt to fill the void carved out by their father’s absence or lack of affirmation.

lost-boys

There is a female version to the lost boy syndrome…Women who never had their fathers tell them they were treasured, special, beautiful inside and out, or stand as protector to them. Interestingly (and sadly), a study of women whose fathers were absent showed that these women tend to seek after the affections and attentions of men in a negative way.

“During the interviews, participants expressed difficulties forming healthy relationships with men and they associated these difficulties with their experiences of father absence. The interviewees also revealed a strong need for attention and affection from men which was also associated by the participants with the lack of affection received from their fathers. The desire for affection made these females more vulnerable to male attention which put them at higher risk of being exploited by any male who expressed any positive interest in them. Some of their poor relationship decisions were attributed to this vulnerability. One of the participants, when describing her first sexual relationship, stated that the sexual encounter with a friend’s father occurred because of her desire for affection and attention from a father figure.” Source: East, L., Jackson, D., & O’Brien, L. (2007). ‘I don’t want to hate him forever’: Understanding daughter’s experiences of father absence. Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing, 24, 14-18.

Whether boy or girl, a child needs a healthy emotional relationship with their father. While I believe that women and men can, by God’s grace, rise above the effects of their unfavorable childhood experiences, the point is this: what a father says and does bear significant weight when it comes to building up the sense of security and identity of a child.

I am a wife and mother but it still matters to me that my dad thinks about me and expresses concern about my well-being. It matters that he still passes on spiritual truth to me. It matters that I can still hop on over to my parents’ house, run up to my dad’s study room and interrupt whatever he is doing. I know he will set everything aside and give me his undivided attention. He doesn’t have to talk to me for an hour. Just the sight of his big smile and his melodic, “Hey!” as I bounce through the door tell me that I am welcome.

Over and over again, I have witnessed the same dynamic between Edric and our children, too. When he gives our children purposeful attention, they are built up. Their sense of worth and value soars.

A week ago, we were celebrating Elijah’s birthday with family. Everyone around the table shared something they appreciated about Elijah. But it was Edric’s letter that made a big difference. The letter was personal, filled with spiritual encouragement, praise, and positive expectation. Half way through it, Edric started to tear and so did Elijah. By the end, Elijah threw himself into Edric’s arms to hug him — a tender display between father and son. He lingered there and looked oversized as a big, grown boy of twelve years old sitting on his dad’s lap.

 

 

 

Why did Edric’s letter seem to matter more than my litany of words similarly directed towards encouragement, praise, and positive expectation?  It has nothing to do with how much Elijah loves me or his dad. Rather it has everything to do with the fact that a father’s words bear a special kind of weight. When Edric tells our children, “I am proud of you…I am blessed by you…God has given you amazing talents that you can use for His glory…I enjoy spending time with you…” they really latch on to these statements. Of course mothers need to affirm their children, too! But it’s much more powerful when the affirmation comes from dad.

This is especially true for sons. In Robert Lewis’ book, Raising A Modern Day Night, he writes, “Every dad begins fatherhood clothed in garments of praise. It usually happens naturally and effortlessly. He possesses an authority that is both inexplicable and awesome. For this reason, few things are more important to a boy — or a man — than a touch, or a smile, or a word of encouragement from Dad.” (p. 34)

He goes on to use Bo Jackson, the former baseball and football star as an example, quoting Bo’s statements in an issue of Sports Illustrated. “Jackson made this painful admission: My father has never seen me play professional baseball or football…I tried to have a relationship with him, gave him my number, said, “Dad, call me. I’ll fly you in.” Can you imagine? I’m Bo Jackson, one of the so-called premier athletes in the country, and I’m sitting in the locker room and envying every one of my teammates whose dad would come in and talk with them after the game. I never experienced that.” (p. 35)

All of us long to know we are precious to dad even as adults (and mom, of course! But this is a post about dads.) So here are some thoughts I want to end with:

For single ladies, do your future children a favor by marrying someone who has an authentic love for God and desires to lead his family to do the same. If he loves God, he will, at some point, choose to be involved and present in your childrens’ lives. If he loves God and follows his principles, your children will be blessed, too! Proverbs 20:7 tells us, A righteous man who walks in his integrity- How blessed are his sons after him.

For us married women who may nag our husbands to spend more time with the kids, let’s pray for their hearts to be turned towards our children. Only God can do this — restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers… (‭Malachi‬ ‭4‬:‭6‬ NASB)

For the rest of us who may feel like we are lost in some way as a result of our father’s absence, lack of encouragement, attentiveness to our needs, or even the abuse they inflicted upon us, there is hope for us to have the best father of all…a Heavenly Father.

“For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.” (Isaiah 63:16 ESV)

No matter how forgotten or wounded we may feel, no matter what choices we have made that were wrong and miserable because we didn’t know how loved we ARE, God wants to have a personal relationship with you and me, as Father to child. He wants to redeem us for Himself. Think of how amazing it must be when an orphan is hand-picked and chosen by a family who has committed to love them. (According to Roman law of biblical times, orphans could never be disowned.)

God loves us so much, He made it possible for us to become His children through Jesus Christ His son. Although we were once separated from Him because of sin (lost), Christ gave His life to set us free, to give us new lives as His adopted sons and daughters.

“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father.’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:4-7)

Robert H. Stein explains that “Abba was a term not only that small children used to address their fathers; it was also a term that older children and adults used to address their faithers…It is through the finished work of Christ that God invites us to call him ‘Abba, Father.’ It is thorugh Christ that grace and peace have resulted and we have become God’s children.” (Source: The Fatherhood of God from biblestudytools.com)

One of my favorite songs which I play often on my Spotify account was written by Stuart Townend, and may it bless you today! Listen to the modernized version of this song by Nichole Nordeman:How Deep the Father’s Love For Us

Do We Really Need to Be Stressed?

My older sons were de-motivated at the beginning of the morning. When they looked over the homeschool work they had to get done, they sulked and complained about being “stressed.”

I am partially to blame for using this word lightly. When I have a lot going on, I will loosely say, “I’m stressed.” As a result, my kids have adapted it as a descriptor to explain how they feel when they see their books piled up beside them.

My example has not been profitable for them. It has caused them to misunderstand what REAL STRESS really is. So I decided to have an enlightening conversation with them once and for all to stop the misuse of this word in our home.

Stressed, I said emphatically. Do you really know what stress means? The word “stressed out” is more appropriately used by those who don’t have a home, who don’t have food, or clothing, who are deathly sick, and don’t have a family to love them. You and I don’t have stress in our lives, we are privileged…privileged to have food, clothing, shelter, to be sitting on this couch with one another, in the middle of a beautiful family room, where we are reading books we can afford to buy, and enjoying one another’s company. And most of all, we are privileged to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and to know where we are going one day if we die. That’s being privileged, not stressed. I know I have used that word “stressed” and you have copied me, and I have been wrong. (Please forgive me was added later on.) But from now on, we are banned from saying that word. Everyone who says it will loose points. Even me. You can fine me for saying it.

The expressions on my children’s faces changed from frowns to smiles as they realized that God has been good to us. He is good to us. Period. There may be times when our family experiences trials but in comparison to what we have in Christ, to having eternal security, stress doesn’t have to impair us from accomplishing the tasks we have been entrusted with or steal our peace and joy.

…May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled andwill not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;  and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:2-9)

It’s so important to teach our children perspective and to remind ourselves, as parents, that we can choose to look at our circumstances positively or negatively. When we focus on the privileges we have, it encourages our children to do the same. When we bicker and complain about hardships, our children will do the same. However, this isn’t just about our attitude on present circumstances. I shared the passages in 1 Peter 1:2-9 because we are supposed to look beyond this world, to the heavenly future God has in store for us which is certain and secure in Jesus Christ. We may go through very real problems and issues that may warrant the use of the word “stress” but in light of eternity, these remain for just “a little while” as the apostle Peter states. So let us “greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of our faith the salvation of our souls.” That’s what faith is!

Growing up, my parents role-modeled putting on spiritual lenses in the face of challenges and trials. My grandfather had once upon a time been very wealthy. He had an office in the Empire State Building and owned a textile company called Riverside Mills. He was featured in Reader’s Digest’s Who’s Who In Asia. So my dad was raised with, what he called, a platinum spoon. When he graduated from college, he worked for the family business. However, due to a series of bad decisions made by the company (not my father), one of the late Ferdinand Marcos’ cronies kicked my dad out of the family business and took over. It was incredulous. (I have simplified the story.)

My dad witnessed the humiliation of his father and the entire family. At one point, he admitted that he wanted to change his last name because so much ridicule was attached to it. However, he believed God had a purpose for allowing this to happen. Since we were very young children at the time, we didn’t feel the sting too much, but my parents had to figure out how to survive. (We ate fish most of the time, which I grew to love!)

(null)

(null)

(null)
One of the things my parents tried to do was buy a cow to sell its meat after it was butchered. After all the effort, part of the cow had rot in it, and by the time they sold what they could, they only made P500 pesos. But they gave that to the Lord as a first fruits offering. They believed that God was in control and entrusted their future and ours to him. But my dad did his part. He didn’t give up. He even went to the Asian Institute of Management business school and graduated with honors, thinking he might need to become an employee.

Years later, my dad started a real estate company. (This happened after he acted on the conviction to give up a logging business because of the compromises he was pressured to make.) God blessed his real estate company. But the best thing that happened was the Lord worked in his heart and burdened him to start a church. He never wanted to become a pastor. He enjoyed teaching bible studies but pastoring was not his desire. However, he responded to God’s prodding. In the 80’s he began a bible study to minister to his businessman friends and their spouses. Eventually, this group grew and today, Christ Commission Fellowship is a movement of over 50,000 followers of Jesus who are committed to evangelism and discipleship in order to make Christ-committed followers. All honor goes to the Lord who has done this mighty work. Today my dad is still a self-supporting pastor (with my brothers running the family business so he can give his time and attention to ministry.)

I don’t say this to boast but to add emphasis to the point that a person’s spiritual perspective on problems is important. Had my parents, especially my dad, wallowed in suffering and misery, they would have lost sight of God’s hand in their circumstances. Worst of all, they would have forfeited the privilege and blessing of ministering to people all around the world, teaching about Biblical principles on leadership, marriage and family.

(null)
Whenever I think about my parents’ history and their faith journey, I am reminded to be a better example to my children. They need to be encouraged to hope in God and his plan for their lives no matter what they go through. Training them to embrace this perspective begins at home, with the challenges they face as children.

Sometimes, a homeschooling assignment can feel like a big challenge to my kids. Heck, sometimes homeschooling can feel like a big challenge to me! Instead of caving in because it is difficult, the better thing to do is remember that we are children of God, with uncountable privileges to be thankful and grateful for. While stress may be a valid feeling, it can’t be a valid excuse to give up and stop trying. We need to do what we can, within our control, and then entrust the results to God, believing that these are the circumstances that he has elected for us to go through in this season of our lives.

My kids and I are a work in progress. There are some days when I want to stay in bed and avoid facing the day because the responsibilities I must attend to resemble the stack of books my kids don’t like seeing. Yet, I praise God for the daily grace he supplies to keep us all going. His resources are infinite. His strength is supernatural. His joy is incomparable. And his rewards are worth whatever we may count as “stress” in this life. But, hey, do we really need to be stressed when He is our Heavenly Father?

The Last Twelve Months of Boyhood

Wed Dec 10 2014 10-41-07 GMT 0800

Elijah is turning twelve this month. He hasn’t experienced puberty yet but I am anticipating that it will happen soon, which kind of frightens me. When will his testosterone-driven urges emerge? Will he start getting moody? And what about all the physical changes?!

I ran into one of his friends the other day who transformed into a young man in the few months I had not seen him. His voice was husky and low, he looked a head taller, and I spied a shadowy line of hair across his upper lip.

“What happened?” I idiotically asked him. “I went through puberty,” was his matter-of-fact reply, coupled with a grin and chuckle that hinted at, Isn’t it obvious? 

And it was. Obvious, I mean. Of course he went through puberty! I suppose I asked the question to remind myself that at some point I will be staring at my oldest son, wondering the same thing. I imagine that this assault on my reality will be accompanied by crying. (I already feel like crying. Okay, I am crying a little bit.)

A few weeks ago, Edric called me to his study room and pointed to his laptop where he was going through archives of family videos. We were like two addicts, hovering over the screen. I saw several videos of Elijah as a toddler. I had forgotten how high pitched his voice was. In one video he was smiling in every scene, revealing those deep dimples on either side of his face. Edric was coaching him for my surprise music video. They connived to sing their version of Chris Brown’s With You hit for my 30th birthday. There was Elijah, dressed in a hoodie, bobbing his head up and down as he vocalized the chorus, “With you, with you, with you, with you, with you…”

In another clip, he was blowing out birthday candles and shouting out spontaneous reactions as he unwrapped presents. “Yeah!” “Wow!” I remember telling him before this that he should communicate excitement and gratitude for every present he received, and he did so with such obedience, wanting to make sure that everyone knew he appreciated their gifts.

How did he become the big-footed, long-limbed, Google-humanoid who was sitting beside me on the couch, swiping through his Evernote checklist of daily activities while I wrote this post? I looked over at him as he grabbed his Singapore Math book, propped himself back on the couch, and started whistling a classical tune in perfect pitch.

“That’s a beautiful song. What are you whistling?” I asked.

“Gavotte from Mignon. It’s Edan’s song for violin class.”

“Another Gavotte? Why do you guys play so many Gavotte songs for your violin class?”

Elijah looked up from his book, and true to his Google-like capacities, explained, “Gavotte refers to a dance, an Italian dance. So different Gavottes can be composed by different people…” He didn’t mock me for not knowing that, even if he could have.

He may sound like an encyclopedia but he is still a boy, for the next twelve months, at least! But Elijah is aware that his needs are changing.

We had an interesting conversation about this that awakened me to the reality of his passage into manhood. He spontaneously told me very recently, “I need dad, mom. I really need him. I really look up to him.”

I wasn’t trying to steal the spotlight from Edric but I couldn’t help it. So I hazarded to ask, “What about me? Do you also need me?”

“Of course, mom!” He hugged me reassuringly, but then he said with a conviction I couldn’t challenge, “But I need an example, and that is Dad.”

Wed Dec 10 2014 10-14-16 GMT 0800

“Grandchildren are the crown of old men, and the glory of sons is their fathers.” Proverbs 17:6

In an older book called Raising A Modern Day Knight, author Robert Lewis shares this:

Something about a father’s physical and emotional presence gives life to a boy. Masculine life. Just being around dad—watching him shave, hearing him laugh, touching his flesh—invests a son with large doses of male energy. And this emotional capital cannot be gained anywhere other than in the presence of a father. The investment becomes even more substantial when a father imparts not only emotional capital, but moral and spiritual capital as well. In this nurturing environment, a son is weighted down with a masculine anchor. He lashes his soul to masculine moorings. But this also explains why sons drift in the absence of fathers. Instead of being weighted down, they become weightless. (pg.36)

According to Scripture, every son—from an early age—must be schooled in three critical areas…a will to obey (God’s will), a work to do (according to his own unique design), and a woman to love. Lacking these elements, a son will flounder in adulthood; he will wrestle with feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, and restlessness. But armed with them, a son becomes equipped to succeed in his relationship with God, in his community and church, and in his marriage. (pg.67)

Mon Dec 15 2014 13-51-37 GMT 0800

When Elijah declared his need for an example in Edric, I was overjoyed. It made me immeasurably happy to know that their relationship is as it should be as father and son. Over the last couple of years, Edric has intentionally discipled Elijah, and biblically speaking, this is his role.

Father’s do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4 NLT)

However, I also felt a twinge of jealousy…just a tiny smidgen of envy. Elijah is departing from childhood, headed towards the path of manhood. Before the age of six, I was the apple of his eye. He wanted me more than anyone else. He needed me. But today, he knows that becoming the man God wants him to be will require the presence of his father more than anyone else.

In the past couple of days, I have thought about Elijah a lot. I’ve removed myself from the craziness of duty, training, teaching and disciplining to recall parenting days of yesteryears. There’s a wishing that beckons a sorrow, not of pain or regret, but of the sort that any mother would know…it comes like a longing to cradle my grown child as the baby he once was…to press my nose against that incomparably soft cheek that smelled both pure and sweet, scented by mild soap and mother’s milk…to watch the glinted eyes of wonderment when everything was new to exploring hands and feet…to hear once again that first laugh, first word, first “I love you”, and be the recipient of that first kiss…

What I would give to be privy once more to those moments where details have been swallowed up by time! For now they persist in parts, in feelings evoked by photographs, in memories conjured by sights and smells, as treasures in a heart that longs to linger in a season of passing childhood.

Sigh. The emotions we go through as mothers! No wonder why it says, Mary (in the Bible) treasured and pondered…ponder, ponder. I suppose that’s what this is…a post dedicated to treasuring and pondering upon the last twelve months of my son’s boyhood. This is me coming to terms with how my love for him must grow and mature. While I know he loves me deeply still and I love him more than ever, I must also step aside, not step away, but talk less and listen more, instruct less and mentor more, squander less and treasure more, react less and ponder more, hover less and pray more, so that one day Elijah can become the man God has planned for him to be.

But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. Luke 2:19

Sun Feb 01 2015 01-25-03 GMT 0800

Even Though Others May Forget You, God Will Not

This past December, Edric and I went to Disneyland and California Adventure with our children, my sister’s family and my mom and dad. We had a “system” for making sure we got to the best rides.

Both parks have fast passes and switch passes that make it easier for people to bypass the lines so we took advantage of these. The kids got to enjoy all the classics of the good ol’ days and the newer ones like Cars.

I didn’t get to ride on too many attractions because of Catalina but that was fine. She was my priority so I stayed with her and the stroller most of the time. Besides, the only ride that I really cared about was Small World. When I was a little girl this one was one of my favorites.

When it was decided that we would all go on this ride together, I was excited! But we had to park all the strollers first. Between my sister, Candy, my brother-in-law, Jeff, Edric and me, we had three strollers to leave behind. (One of them was a double.)

After parking the strollers we all met again at the line thinking the kids were complete. There should have been eight kids. However, unbeknown to us, Corban was missing. (Corban is my 5 year old nephew, the eldest son of Jeff and Candy.)

In this photo, Corban is the younger child with glasses…

IMG_0876.JPG
Jeff and Candy didn’t realize he wasn’t with them because they assumed he had run off to be with our kids. This happened often during our time in Disneyland and California Adventure. The kids would congregate together so it wasn’t extraordinary to think that Corban was among his cousins.

The Small World line was about fifteen minutes long and the ride itself took fifteen minutes. It wasn’t until we exited that Candy asked, “Where’s Corban?” We surveyed the children and counted all of them. Corban was missing! When we all realized that he never got on the ride with us, Jeff and Candy darted off in a panic. They handed off their baby, Joshua, and three year old, Levi, to me. Attempting to retrace their steps they called out, “Corban! Corban!”

I saw the terror in their faces as they ran everywhere. My parents, Edric and I, and our kids were very worried, too. We prayed and prayed that he was alright, that he would be found. I started up the street with my kids and Candy’s younger kids in tow while everyone else helped with the search.

A few moments later, two ladies approached me and asked, “Are you looking for a boy? We were following him because we were concerned about him. We are so glad to know that he’s going to be okay.” That’s all they said and they walked away. These two young women were strangers. I had no idea who they were. But when they said this I was hoping they were referring to Corban.

A few minutes later I saw Corban in his parents arms, making their way towards us. Corban’s eyes were red and swollen from all the crying but the important thing was he was saved! I can’t even begin to explain the relief that came over all of us as we took in the sight of Corban. Losing Corban felt like a nightmare, one of those parent’s-worst-fears sort of situations!

Jeff and Candy found him in the arms of an elderly man, a security guard. At first, he kind of scolded them for their neglect. He was like, “How could you not know your child was missing for thirty minutes?!” He wasn’t angry, just incredulous.

Later on in the day, I got the chance to ask Corban what happened, after the drama died down. He narrated to me how he had followed his parents to the stroller parking. When they situated the stroller among the multitude of strollers, he lost track of them and got separated. Since he didn’t see them go to the Small World line, he waited at the stroller parking thinking they would reappear at some point. He stayed put but then realized that no family member was in sight or coming back to look for him. At this point he started to panic and cry. He thought perhaps he ought to walk in one direction (which was the opposite of where we were). That’s when the elderly gentleman saw him, escorted him, and held him while he was bawling.

I don’t know how the two ladies who spoke to me came into the picture because Corban didn’t talk about them. This leads me to believe that somehow, God used them to keep an eye on him from a distance. Maybe they were even angels!

What is certain is God protected Corban while we rode the Small World attraction, completely oblivious to how scared and alone he was. In an amusement park that could have had a number of predatorial and ill-intentioned people lurking around, who could have preyed on or taken away a vulnerable five year old, it was God’s merciful dealing with our carelessness that kept Corban safe. When I replay the scene in my mind and mull over how absent-minded and caught up we were in the gaiety of the ride, watching those dancing toys in total ignorance, it makes me so thankful that God is a much better parent than we all are!

While it was an innocent mistake, there was no excuse for forgetting a child that belonged to us. All of us adults felt guilty in some way for the shared neglect and presumptuousness we exhibited.

I praise God for being Corban’s rescuer. He watched over Corban by sending those kind women to tail him and the security guard to hold him until he was found. This was a lesson on vigilance for all of us parents, but it was also an experience of God’s grace and love. God’s grace and love rescued him from our mistake. While we obviously can’t live with the mindset that our mistakes are okay because God can supersede them, it was comforting to know that God looks out for the well-being of our kids. He loves them infinitely more than we ever can or will.

Of course, after this experience, we also learned to count each of our children CONTINUALLY! No other untoward incidences met us the rest of our stay and we all made it back home together and complete! Plus, Corban soon forgot the incident and moved on without post-traumatic stress.

I am so thankful it was a painful lesson with a HAPPY ending because God elected for Corban to be found. We may have forgotten about him but God did not!

IMG_1685.JPG
“Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.” (‭Isaiah‬ ‭49‬:‭15‬ NASB)

IMG_1534.JPG