Whom Do You Love More?

For all my young readers out there, this post is for you. I shared it during this morning’s church service and I hope it will bless and encourage you! 


Ever since I was a child I cared about what people thought about me. I was a self-conscious person and a people-pleaser. This character weakness was tested especially in college, when I was no longer homeschooled or in a Christian school.

After graduating from an American school for missionaries called Faith Academy, most of my friends left for the US or Europe after high school, and I had to make friends from scratch. I didn’t know people in college like most students did. 

Eventually, however, I had a group of friends I started hanging out with who kind of took me “under their wing.” They were a great bunch of friends – intelligent, beautiful, kind-hearted, and fun to be with. However, they also belonged to a crowd who enjoyed going out to bars and clubs on Wednesday nights and the weekends.

When I first started frequenting bars with my college friends I thought I would never drink alcohol. It didn’t appeal to me. I didn’t grow up in a home where alcohol or cigarettes were common. And the high school I went to didn’t allow students to have either. So I would sit around and watch everybody with some sort of booze in their one hand, most often beer, while they checked each other out and chatted each other up. A lot of it was flirting between guys and girls, or sitting around with your group of friends while some guy treated you all to drinks.

At the beginning, I thought, What am I doing here?! This is a slow way to die, inhaling all this second hand smoke! It was almost intolerable, but I would go anyway, to be with my girl friends. Almost always, I would feel out of place, uncomfortable about connecting with people in an environment that seemed to be the worst place to engage in genuine conversation.

Nevertheless, I wanted to fit in somehow. So I thought, Why not try just a little alcohol? It’s not like the Bible says that drinking is sinful. To be honest I didn’t like the taste at all at first, but participating in the same things my friends did made me feel closer to them, more accepted, and this mattered to me.

The tipping point for me was going on an out of town trip for a football match. Our team went to a bar afterwards to celebrate, and getting a buzz from my cocktails gave me an exhilarating sense of freedom. I felt more confident, more gregarious. I do recall receiving surprised and concerned looks from people who knew me to be the conservative Christian. But I rationalized, “Hey, I can do this. I am still in control and I’m not doing anything stupid.”

I would rarely drink to the point of tipsiness, but there were a few times that I got carried away and did some ridiculous things.  One time I kissed a friend in public (someone I would never ever have kissed) while wearing my angel outfit and halo at a halloween party. The irony. My girl friends rushed over to pry me away, scolding our friend when it wasn’t even his fault. Another time, I got drunk and threw up out of a window of a moving vehicle. Yet another time, I danced like an idiot on the ledge of a club that had a lot of lecherous looking old men in it. In Europe, on a month-long trip with my friends (which was a blast), we would be out every night we could dancing with strangers and going out with people we hardly knew.

Thankfully, this season of my life was short-lived. After a while, I thought to myself, Why am I doing these things? Do I really want to be this person? I don’t even like alcohol! Furthermore, I recognized that my root problem was not the actual drinking or nights out, but the desire to have people’s approval.

Amazingly, when I told my parents about my night time adventures and the places I went go to they were NOT reactive. They didn’t scold me or condemn my friends. They didn’t pressure me to live up to the expectations of a pastor’s kid (which would have probably incited me to rebellion). Instead, their style was to spend time with me and ask me questions like, “So why do you like to drink?” They tried to understand my motivations so they could better disciple me. After all, it wasn’t my behavior that was the issue to them. It was my heart. So they prayed faithfully for me. They prayed a lot! And they reminded me that I was accountable to God.

Since they weren’t the kind of parents who were suffocatingly strict and unreasonable, or the kind of parents who micromanaged every choice their kids made, I appreciated and respected their input. More importantly, their talk-less, listen-and-dialogue-more method of mentoring me gave the Holy Spirit the space to speak to me and convict me.

I began to be deeply disturbed about the trajectory I was headed in. I knew I was a follower of Jesus. Yet my motivations revealed that I valued what people thought about me more than God’s opinion of me. Did I really love Jesus with all my heart?

Furthermore if I really loved Jesus then I would live to please him above all else. My goal would be to glorify Him, and to pursue Christ likeness and righteousness. But at that point I couldn’t confidently say that my life inspired others to follow Christ. Living with this dichotomy — professing to love God yet having little fruit to show as evidence, troubled me. I didn’t have peace.

So I went back to the convictions that my parents passed on to me when I was younger — truths that hooked me back into the will of God before I wandered too far off course. I made the decision to honour God and glorify Him. If I truly loved Him, this would be a priority to me.  It wouldn’t even be about whether drinking was okay or not. (Sometimes we can be so legalistic and judgmental as followers of Christ, equating spirituality with this image of someone who doesn’t drink, smoke, dance, go to clubs or maybe even movie theaters! Nevertheless, I do believe that everyone who likes to do things like drink or smoke should assess why they do. And if their reasons signal red flags like addiction, dependence, peer acceptance, or remedies for stress, etc…then it may very well benefit them to ask the same questions I had to.)

For me the more important questions were, “How do I live in such a way that people will be attracted to Jesus Christ in me? What does God see when He looks into my heart?” In response, I changed my Wednesday and weekend habits. I stopped going to bars and clubs in order to “fit in.” 

This didn’t mean that I lost all my friends either. I loved these girls. I still do. And when we can, we get together for meals or coffee, occasions when we can really connect and talk.

Another, more serious test came when I had my second boyfriend, the same boyfriend who eventually became my husband whom you know as my one and only, Edric Mendoza. We struggled in the area of physical purity. We didn’t have sex but we pushed things to the absolute limit. I knew that I was making compromises that were not pleasing to God, but a part of me also wanted to hold on to Edric’s affections for me. There were moments when I would deceivingly think, this isn’t so bad. It’s not like we are having sex. But I had lowered my standards for holiness and purity by comparing my actions to what “other people are doing.”

Once again, I had to ask myself the same question, Do I really love Jesus more than I love Edric? 

Because the struggle with purity continued no matter what tricks we tried to avoid temptation, we were compelled to consider breaking up. Edric also loved God and wanted to do what was right. So we broke off the relationship without any timetable for getting back together. It was one of the most difficult things I had to do and Edric would say the same thing, but it was also one of the best decisions we ever made.

Edric was an idol in my life whom I had to surrender to God. When I did so, my passion for the Lord was rekindled. Prior to this, my struggle with purity had put a wedge and cap on my ability to grow spiritually. Edric also grew deeper in His faith.

Eventually, God allowed us to get married with the approval and blessing of our parents, and after full disclosure to them. By this time our hearts were prepared to love each other the way God called us to. We understood that in any relationship, Christ must be the center. A husband and wife must love Jesus first to love each other the way they should.

Not all love stories may end this same way, but I do believe that when we love God with all that we are He gives us His best in return, which is first and foremost Himself. Everything else is a bonus!

Mendoza_119Today I am happily married to Edric. We have five children. And we are serving the Lord as a team and teaching our children to love Him. The stories that I shared are almost twenty years old, but they remain significant because they were turning points in my life, when I made a conscious choice to love God and obey Him over something else or someone else that was important to me.

John 14:21 says, He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.”

We may have to sacrifice and experience challenges as we love God with all that we are, but He promises fullness of joy!

“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” ‭‭John‬ ‭15:9-11‬ ‭NASB‬‬

By God’s grace, the best and sweetest years of my life so far have been those that I have given wholeheartedly to loving, following, obeying, and serving God. When I am tempted to replace this love for God with something else (because struggles still exist), I tell myself, Nothing is better than Christ. And nothing will ever satisfy me more than to seek Him and obey His will! 

It’s About Surrendering to God, Not Your Spouse

  My struggle with pride is so often tested in the context of marriage. It is most apparent when I have to apologize to Edric, too. Why? Because I tend to think that I am right and he is wrong (which doesn’t make me right!) I also think that offering an apology means to raise the white flag of surrender — to give up a strategic advantage in a verbal conflict. (Also wrong.)

    Let me illustrate this problem of mine in a story. On Monday I felt weak, like I was coming down with the flu. My body was heavy, my brain was foggy, and I had little appetite. Being overwhelmed by the kids’ homeschool portfolios heightened my feelings of malaise, too. If I could have laid down to sleep off the fatigue I would have but the kids needed me and I had responsibilities to get done.

    Since it was date night and Edric and I were set to enjoy a buffet dinner together, my mid-afternoon phone call about changing the plans came as a disappointment to him. But in my state I wouldn’t have been much fun and the thought of eating a huge meal when I couldn’t appreciate it was unconscionable. So I requested to do date night at home, with a movie on the couch. Not too exciting. Edric agreed but he wasn’t thrilled.

    When he got home, I didn’t greet him immediately, either, which was a mistake. He hollered for a bit while awaiting my appearance at the bottom of the stairs to run into his arms. However, I stayed upstairs on my bed, half resting, half hovering over papers, trying to grade Elijah’s physical science tests. When Edric saw me, he commented, “Oh so this is why you wanted to stay home, because you had to get homeschool work done.” 

    “No, I really am not feeling well,” I replied. 

    Perceiving me as preoccupied, he took the kids to the garden to throw the ball around. 

    When evening settled in and dinner was done, Edric and I asked the kids to give us some time alone in the family room. We talked about Edric’s day — the highlights and lowlights. He opened up about a major problem at work which disheartened him so we spent some moments in prayer together, lifting up the issue to the Lord. I thought that this exchange qualified as a good substitute for a conversation we might have had over if we had gone out that night. Afterwards, we watched the film, Unbroken. (A great film!)

    Interested in the true life story of the character being portrayed, Louie Zamparini, I googled the guy and read an online biography about him. When the movie ended I was still on my phone reading so Edric interjected, “So you’re still busy.” 

    “Nope. I was just reading about Zamparini.” Shortly after I put my phone down, too.

    When we retired to bed, he didn’t attempt to cap off the night with a conversation. Instead, he turned over to his side and said flatly, “Goodnight. I love you.”

    After nearly fifteen years of marriage and almost twenty years of knowing one another, I am very sensitive to Edric’s mannerisms and tone of voice. I most certainly know when he is upset. So I asked, “What’s wrong? Are you upset?” 

    No answer came. I waited for a few moments. Absolute silence. Then, in my irritation I said, “I really feel hurt when you don’t answer me.”

    He didn’t like this comment at all. It roused him from his pretend slumber and he turned around to face me. Then he proceeded to enumerate the different ways I disappointed him that afternoon and evening. His primary sentiment was, I didn’t give him the time and attention he expected to receive. I was too busy for him. Plus, he hoped to end the evening with intimacy, but he felt like I was not interested because I was sick.

    Since the evening didn’t play out the way he imagined it would he decided to go to bed. And my question and comment to him about not answering me felt like an insult that he explained as, “turning the tables around and projecting him as the bad guy.” With indignation he asked, “What do you want from me?” 

    I responded in a feeling-holier-than-thou sort of way, “I want you to be spirit filled when you respond to me.” 

    He took this as a verbal jab. Okay…it was. I didn’t like his aggressive tone and I felt like he was only looking at things from his perspective. Wasn’t I the sick one here? I had a long day, too. And didn’t we have a wonderful moment on the couch to talk and pray together? 

    I even added at one point, “So are you faulting me for being sick?” 

    He responded with, “Are you about to get your period?” 

    “No and this has nothing to do with getting my period.” (Why do husbands always think this is a reason?!)

    There was silence again. His corner and my corner.

    As I wrestled in the quiet with my feelings, more specifically, my pride, I prayed that God would help Edric to see that HE WAS THE WRONG ONE, that he was the one over-reacting. Then I waited for Edric to be convicted. 

    It didn’t happen. 

    Instead, I heard God address me and my attitude. He told me, very clearly, YOU HUMBLE YOURSELF. Initiate saying sorry. You said you wanted to improve in this area, so humble yourself. You be the one to ask for forgiveness first…for your tone, your irritation and not prioritizing him.

    I wanted to ignore the prodding but it was incessant. Furthermore, Edric remained unmoved. Finally I remembered reading about loving God during a recent morning quiet time: TO LOVE GOD IS TO OBEY GOD. 
    “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” John‬ ‭14:21‬

    Would I dare to defy and resist God himself?! No way. Not when it came down to that. This wasn’t a fight between Edric and me, this was an occasion that revealed the real war raging beneath the surface — me vs. obeying God by choosing humility over pride. 

    So I yielded. With gentleness (which could have only come for the Lord) and with quietness of spirit (which also came from Him), I asked Edric to forgive me for my disrespect — for not prioritizing him, for being angry, and for saying the things I did during our conversation. 

    I found out later on that Edric was shocked by this uncharacteristic behavior of mine. I am ashamed to admit that he usually apologizes first.

    But I am also happy to say that after surrendering my rights and feelings, and entrusting them to the Lord, my vindictiveness dissipated. I cried for a little bit to myself, which felt like being cleansed somehow…like ugliness was draining out of me. I was honest with God, “Sometimes it’s so hard to follow you. It’s so HUMBLING!” But He comforted me with his sweet presence as I lay there, in the dark, with my head pressed against my pillow. What followed was relief and liberty, like I had made I through a spiritual test. 

    Then came something unprecedented. God asked me to initiate intimacy with Edric. “Tell him you will also have sex with him.” 

    “What?! Lord! That’s too much! That’s giving in too much!” 

    But I knew why God was asking me to do this. (Let’s not get uncomfortable about sex, okay? This is what you are supposed to do in marriage!) Offering to have sex to Edric, in the context of an argument or at the conclusion of one, was to abandon my tower of pride and to break down my walls of self-preservation. Inviting him to intimacy was to tell him, “I still love you. I still forgive you.” It was an offering of grace.

    Edric also revealed to me later on that he didn’t know what to say because I don’t EVER tell him this when we have come from an argument! He was too shocked to say yes! How awkward was this?! But I was thinking…Yey, he didn’t say yes! But Lord, please see that I obeyed by asking, okay?

    Two days after Edric and I had a great conversation to repair and heal our relationship. Edric also owned up to the areas where he should have been kinder and sweeter to me.

    What’s my point in sharing this very personal story? Humility in marriage doesn’t make me the loser like I wrongfully think it does. It’s being prideful that does. When I always want to win an argument, discussion, or maintain my fighting position, the effect is more pain and anger for Edric and me. In contrast, when I aim to please God and obey Him when he tells me to say sorry, admit my shortcomings, and move towards Edric with a sincere desire to reconcile and restore our marriage, this act of emptying myself of ME invites Christ to fill the space that pride has vacated. What pride refuses to do, Christ enables me to — to wholeheartedly love and forgive Edric, and to enjoy him again. It’s always a gain to choose God’s ways over mine. And always a win when God is glorified. 

    I don’t know what kind of marriage you are in or what kind of struggles you have as a spouse. But all of us ought to love the way Christ loves us. And a lot of times this may mean denying our prideful-ness and replacing it with the grace He gives to apologize, forgive, accept, hope, and remain committed to the one we vowed to love. So whenever you say sorry first, admitting to the hurt you have caused in your marriage, think of it as surrendering to God, not your spouse. 

    My father said that “grace is more than unmerited favor, it is the ability to accomplish God’s will.”  As Titus 2:11-12 explains, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.”

    Let me leave you with an insight from author, speaker, and apologist, Ravi Zacharias. “Love is a commitment that will be tested in the most vulnerable areas of spirituality, a commitment that will force you to make some very difficult choices. It is a commitment that demands that you deal with your lust, your greed, your pride, your power, your desire to control, your temper, your patience, and every area of temptation that the Bible clearly talks about. It demands the quality of commitment that Jesus demonstrates in His relationship to us.”   

     

    The Inspiration Behind the Book

    There are pivotal moments in all our lives, circumstances that compel us to reevaluate our beliefs and convictions. We cannot move past these monumental interruptions in the timeline of our existence without answering questions about God, the world, or ourselves.

    Many years ago I found myself at this juncture, as a victim of rape at the age of 15. I came face to face with the reality of evil in this world, something that my cornucopia childhood had shielded me from. Confronted with the pain of being violated, I had to find an interpretation for tragedy. Why does tragedy happen? What causes others to commit crimes against other people? What makes me the same or different from criminals or those who intentionally hurt or destroy? Will I continue to believe in God or deny Him for allowing this to happen to me?

      The choices I made post-rape, repositioned the compass of my life. By God’s grace, I was able to move towards healing rather than away from it. In the process of thinking through what happened to me, these were the conclusions that helped me to move forward:

     We cannot control what happens to us, but we can choose how we will respond. We can choose to become better or bitter.

    When tragedy happens, it reminds us that we live in a fallen world marred by sin. At the same time, tragedy enables us to identify with the sufferings of others when we process it positively. It enlarges our capacity to empathize and minister to others.

    Real healing happens when spiritual issues such as faith and forgiveness are dealt with. And forgiveness is a major step towards healing. However, to forgive those who have hurt us, we need to understand that we too are sinful and need God’s forgiveness. With the forgiveness that we receive from God through His Son, Jesus, we can choose to forgive those who have wounded us. Furthermore, forgiveness liberates us from being destroyed by bitterness and anger.

    When bad things happen in our lives, it doesn’t alter God’s character. He remains sovereign, good, and loving no matter what we go through.

      A sovereign, good, and loving God restores, resurrects, and renews. He purposes to use the tragedies in our lives and turn them into beautiful stories of His amazing grace.

    I elaborated more on these points in my book, which I hope and pray will also encourage those who have gone through difficulty in their lives. Although I wrote this book as someone who was a rape victim, I intended it to minister to all people who have suffered from tragic experiences in their lives, especially those who are questioning God’s goodness and plan for them.

    Recently, I was asked why I wrote this book at this point in time, years after the incident occurred. God’s timing is always perfect. Today, I am happily married to a wonderful man who loves God – a hard-working provider, a spiritual leader, and a loving husband and father to our five children. My husband, Edric, and I have the privilege of doing ministry together as speakers for seminars and conferences on marriage and parenting. I also have a blog called teachwithjoy.com where I write about the joys and honest challenges and struggles of marriage, parenting, and homeschooling. The incidence of rape is no longer the main focal point in the story of my life. It is the goodness of God.

      This is a story about who God is and how He redeems what is broken in all of us. As people read it, may they be encouraged to cling to the hope that He promises – that He causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. (Romans 8:28) To Him be all the glory! 

      When A Good God Allow Rape is avaialable at OMF Lit and Passages Bookshops and select National Bookstores for P100. 

    You can also buy the ebook through Amazon, Buqo, Flipreads, Google Play Store, iBooks (international stores only), and Kobo. 

    Written for OMF Lit blog.

    Keep Praying for Your Kids

    Spending time with my kids is always a highlight of my day, especially when I have one on one time with them. Today I focused on Elijah. It’s fun to engage him in dialogue because he is expressive and enjoys talking. Plus, he is my eldest so we can discuss things like “adults.”

      After homeschool coop this morning, I took him to the American Eye Center in Shangrila Mall to see a pediatric ophthalmologist. (Thank you to everyone who gave me recommendations on Facebook!)

       

     We chatted on the way, and he shared with me how his fasting week went. Last week, our church had a week-long prayer and fasting event which our family and kids participated in. Elijah chose to fast from gadgets, sweets, and snacking. According to him, avoiding gadgets liberated him from a secret addiction he was beginning to have.

    He confessed that using computers and iPads to educate himself on how to program and do coding pulled him into a world that cut him off from reality. In his own words he said, “I knew it was becoming unhealthy for me to be on my devices but I made two excuses. The first was ‘dad is busy working so I don’t have anything fun to do.’ Second, ‘it’s not bad because I don’t play games.'”

    He explained that participating in the fast allowed him to use his time in different ways — reading books again, playing with his siblings, praying for others, and having quality bible reading time. The first few days were challenging but as the week progressed, he felt like a bondage was broken. And to think that his experience with gadgets was more educational in nature!

    Yet, he admitted to me that there’s something about computers that entices him so much he can think of little else when his usage of them increases. As an older child, I check on him once in a while but I also know he has to come to his own conclusions about computers. Thankfully, the fast afforded him perspective. He was able to think objectively about being on gadgets. He even said, “My brain was releasing serotonin every time I got on a device!”

    I laughed when he said this but I can believe it. Our brain naturally does this whenever we derive pleasure and joy from any experience. For my son, Elijah, it happens to be his interest in technology. He is deeply fascinated by the world of computers which can be a good thing. But I praise God for speaking to him about its potential dangers, too. He is not interested in gaming or Internet surfing or social media but he knows that the issue is about the time he dedicates to experimenting on computers. He likes learning about how computers work, how to jailbreak devices, build websites and apps…that sort of thing.

    His proposal, therefore, is to avoid being on a computer or gadget as much as possible during the week. Originally, this was our house rule. But last year, during the latter months, I was more relaxed. The kids would use devices for educational purposes only. However, Elijah was susceptible and more vulnerable to gadget-addiction than my younger kids were. So this hidden struggle developed in his heart.

    Thankfully, a big change has been Edric’s availability. Since he stopped his morning show on ANC, he has dedicated more quality moments to share with our sons — playing games, doing puzzles, and getting them outdoors. Elijah told me this made a significant difference in subduing his desire to fiddle with gadgets. (The presence of a father does wonders!)

      Elijah will be 13 next month and I have been praying that He will develop positive habits and use his time wisely. I do believe that fasting week made Elijah more concerned and aware of his spiritual struggles. But his revelation also affirmed the need to keep praying for my kids.
    Our greatest work, as parents, is on our knees, interceding for our kids. Someone once told me that parenting must be done on our knees. It’s so true! The battle for our children’s hearts is a spiritual one.

    I spend a lot of my time with my kids because they are homeschooled. Edric and I are intentional about disciplining, training, and teaching our kids. Yet all these efforts will fall short if we do not beseech God for his enabling and wisdom, if we do not pray for our children’s protection and for God’s love to grow in their hearts so that it transforms them from within. Therefore the encouragement I received from my afternoon with Elijah was to pray for him and all my children. Only God can effectively bring to light the concealed parts of their hearts and convict them to choose attitudes, behaviors, perspectives, friends, habits, and activities that are good and pleasing to Him.

    Here’s an example of how I pray for my kids (not including the specifics for each of them.) Feel free to personalize it and improve on it for your own kids:

    “Lord, I pray for each of my kids to love you with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. Help them to seek after you and desire to know you. Put in them a passion for your Word. Open their eyes to understand spiritual truth and shield them from the lies of the evil one. Let them develop God-honoring convictions about the friends they should choose, habits they should form, and the use of their time. Prepare their future spouses to be God-fearing and committed Christ-followers. Safeguard their innocence and purity. Keep them from unhealthy addictions. Instill in them Christ-like character and teach them to be spirit-filled. Make them bold and courageous for what is true and right. Give them a compassion for the lost. Let them love one another and look out for each other. Help them to love and respect us and to submit to authority. Let them know they are equally loved and special to us. Allow them to develop their gifts and talents for your glory. Equip them to be influencers and leaders who will make a difference for you in this world. Let their hearts be teachable and humble. Give them a love for learning. May our daughters be beautiful inside and out, and our sons handsome and masculine — men and women of stature. Bless them with musical and artistic talent, and let your favor be upon them. Make them mighty in spirit and wise. Protect them from Satan, his demons and evil spirits, malicious people, robbers, kidnappers, abusers, natural calamities, accidents, sicknesses, and sin. Do not let them fall away from you. Let them be faithful to you till the end of their days. May they live for you and glorify you with all that they are. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

    I want to keep praying for my kids this way and even more intentionally as they grow older. Each one of them, like Elijah, has their weaknesses, and these become more apparent as they mature. Sometimes it’s such a temptation to be anxious. However, when I start to feel worried, it is prayer that allays my fears. I remember WHO I am entrusting my children to. Let me end this with an amazing description of who God is. We can replace each “you” and “your” with the names of our kids:

    “He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and forever.”
    ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭121:3-8‬ ‭

    The Problem With My Tongue

    If there is one SPECIFIC thing I need to improve on this year, it is to guard my tongue. As a person who takes pleasure in the use of language as a means of expression, I have come to realize what a sacred responsibility it is. This gift of communication is from the Lord but when infected with selfishness, it can be used to curse and hurt others.

    For example, over the holidays I took the kids to buy presents for one another. The kids earned their own money to buy gifts and they were thoroughly excited to pick out Christmas presents for each others and their cousins. But since their budgets were small, they couldn’t purchase very expensive toys for each person. Instead they had to be thoughtful and creative. However, since four out of my five were in the store with me, in the end, l paid the cashier a significant amount of money on their behalf. 

      I took the kids’ presents to the wrapping counter and asked if the attendants could wrap each of their gifts. One of my sons bought three cars for their cousin, the total amount of which was 300+ pesos. But the lady at the counter said, “I am sorry but we can’t wrap items that are less than P300.” And I appealed, “But I am combining the items so they are equal to at least P300.” The lady’s non-sense reply was, “Sorry, ma’am but that’s our policy.” 

    I retorted with irritation, “It doesn’t make any sense. You mean to tell me that even if I spent seven thousand pesos in your store, you will not wrap items that I bought that are less than 300 pesos?” 

    “Yes, ma’am. The minimum for wrapping everything is 10k.” 

    By this time I was thoroughly annoyed and visibly so. There was no real logic to what she was saying. One of my sons was beside me, peering over the table, innocently hoping that he could have all his gifts for his siblings and cousins wrapped. The site of his anticipation heightened my aggravation for the attendant.

    Maybe the attendant saw all the small items in his shopping bag and thought about how she didn’t want to have to wrap every single small item in it. I don’t know what exactly was going through her head but she seemed to be unaccommodating and inflexible. This was a classic case of rote thinking at the expense of the customer’s convenience. 

    My pride kicked in when she offered to wrap some of the items with a higher price tag on them. Instead of cheerfully receiving this proposal, I said, “Forget it. Never mind. We will just do everything ourselves.” My tone was curt and cutting. 

    I didn’t want to have to sort through all the kids’ gifts for each other — 20 something items to check each of their price tags before giving them to the attendant to wrap for us. So I walked off. My son saw that I was upset. 

    My heart wasn’t right and I wasn’t a good example. This was one of those moments when I wished I could have restrained my emotions and chosen to be humble and compliant. I let bad customer service determine the way I verbally responded. 

    This is where I often err. I had to apologize to my kids and ask for their forgiveness. Looking back, I should have returned to the salesperson and also asked for her forgiveness, but I was too proud. I didn’t redeem the situation or honor God’s name. 

    Therefore, it’s no surprise that during this fasting week and time of prayer, God revealed to me that I need to improve in this area. I came across this passage…

    “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, To practice deeds of wickedness with men who do iniquity; And do not let me eat of their delicacies.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭141:3-4

    Even though I gave an example of speaking unkindly to a sales attendant, most of the time it isn’t with strangers that I let my tongue loose. Rather it is with my husband, Edric, who has also told me on numerous occasions that I have to be careful with my words and tone. When I don’t like a decision he has made or the way he treats me, my tendency is to lash out with statements that provoke him to debate and argue with me. 

     During a seminar I attended last year, the speaker said, “When you are about to say something to your spouse think about whether it will really benefit them to hear you say what you want to say or if it is merely to benefit yourself.” 

    I thought this was a great principle to keep in mind as I guard my mouth. God made our tongues to bless and not to curse, to give life and build up, not to tear down. Furthermore, we are to use our mouths to exalt God and declare His goodness. During the same day I read about guarding my tongue Psalm 145 said, “All Your works shall give thanks to You, O LORD, And Your godly ones shall bless You. They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom And talk of Your power; To make known to the sons of men Your mighty acts And the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom. My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, And all flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever.” ‭Psalms‬ ‭145:10-12, 21‬ ‭

    Please pray that I will be more thoughtful about the words I speak. What comes out is a good clue to what’s inside my heart. I have tried to find a remedy for this disease of the tongue that I am susceptible to. And so far the best fix is what Psalm 119:11 says: “Your word have I treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against you.” 

    Highlights of 2015

     

    Before January gets really busy, I would like to thank the Lord for the year that was and thank you, my readers, for taking the time to visit this blog. Your comments, messages, and prayers have been a blessing to me, and a motivation to keep writing whenever I get lazy or tired. Many of you have come up to me in person, too, to take hold of my arm and whisper that this site has been a part of your life, and you can’t imagine how your words have brought me joy.

    I slowed down a little bit this year with writing, primarily because it felt like our family lived two years in one this 2015. This was probably the most hectic year I’ve ever survived. Writing kind of took a backseat at times to give way to motherhood and wife duties, homeschooling, ministry, work, speaking, traveling, or much needed rest. But this site is still important to me and I haven’t lost the desire or drive to keep using this site as a means to reach out to people and talk about what God is doing in my life, marriage and parenting. This is what keeps me pressing on.

    Indeed, He did much in 2015. I would even call it the best year I have ever lived. God is amazing in this way. Every year that I walk with Him, every year that I give to Him turns into the best year. This doesn’t mean that my family and I are free from problems or crises, but it does mean that His grace and faithfulness abound.

    These were my personal highlights of 2015 and I hope that going through these will remind you that God is a loving Father who knows the needs of his children, the desires of their hearts, the purposes He has called them to, the mistakes they make, and the correcting that is painful but necessary along the way.

    Our family capped off 2014 and welcomed 2015 with a trip to the U.S., where we survived a month without household help, the cold, and learned to serve each other through sleepless nights and endless chores. We came back to Manila in the second week of January recharged and ready to jump into 2015.

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    One of my first challenges was running in a 21K, which I thought was going to be a killer but Edric and I got through it by God’s grace! (I actually finished ahead of him which was another surprise but I couldn’t have run it without him so he helped me “beat” him.)

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    Soon after we had our family commercial for Cetaphil which was an unexpected blessing. Catalina acted up a couple of times which is why she wasn’t in the final video edit but they included her in the print materials. Edan actually had a fever that started the day of the shoot (look at the photo below and his eyes), but he was a real trooper and the team behind the production was very easy to work with. It’s been a privilege to be brand ambassadors for a product line we really believe in and use as a family.

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    Shortly after, Meg Magazine featured my testimony. They asked me to talk about how God brought healing to my life.

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    Our homeschooling had its highlights, too. Edan discovered an interest in botany. He grew his carnivorous plants for a season. Unfortunately they eventually died which was a lowlight but he continues to be interested in animals and plants. Looks like we will be buying more carnivorous plants again this year!

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    Elijah graduated from elementary and moved on to high school! This opened a new chapter in our homeschooling, especially for me! More grace, strength, and wisdom needed from the Lord!

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    Titus took his first achievement test and did well! He also excellent at math this year which I didn’t even know was a strong point for him. But praise God. He knows that I’m not the best math teacher. I also discovered that Titus has a God-given musical talent. He started harmonising at the age of 6 and taught himself to do this!

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    My fourth child, Tiana, started to read which was a big milestone!

     

     Catalina, my youngest, became a real a chatterbug. She grew in her ability to express herself and comprehend, and has showed an inclination to learn and be part of our homeschooling. She got exiled many times because she was disruptive but I hope to include her as often as possible this year.

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    One of the kids’ homeschool field trips was to Costales where they learned about organic farming. God saved Ethan (my nephew on the right) from drowning, too! He got sucked down a drain and it’s a miracle that he popped out the other end and my brother was able to pull him out!

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    Over the summer the boys attended Coach Siot’s basketball camp, which they will be joining again at the end of this month. They learned to push themselves physically.

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    They also enrolled in Ninja Academy’s Parkour course, which has been incredibly fun for them. What boy doesn’t want to learn to scale walls, jump over bars, free fall off a ledge, and swing from ropes?

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    Tiana finally made it through her ballet classes without crying through them. She turned out to be quite a graceful dancer (most probably from Edric’s side of the family).

    The boys improved immensely in their violin playing.

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    We also got to fix our homeschool room which made a big difference in our kids’ daily learning.

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    God opened up opportunities to be featured on television to talk about homeschooling. The first was on CNN’s Mommy Hacks.

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    I was also interviewed about homeschooling for Mommy Mundo’s new show which should be airing soon!

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    Throughout the year, the kids spoke with us during retreats, business speaking engagements, and other ministry activities. This was a great way for them to use their communication skills to bless people.

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    Our homeschool Coop gave our kids the opportunity to develop some great friendships. I also enjoyed connecting with other homeschool moms and team teaching with them. By the end of the year, when we celebrated our Christmas party, we were nearly 100 people! We had to cater the party!

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    Our coop covered culinary arts, art history and theory, speech, ethics, apologetics, science, social studies, history, and it culminated with a Kid’s Praise musical thanks to the talented moms who contributed their expertise for directing, teaching dance, singing, and designing the set. The kids performed for an audience of underprivileged children at Revelation Church in Sta. Mesa.

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    TMA Homeschool did some much needed expanding this year. We did several roadshows to connect with homeschoolers around the Philippines…

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    TMA Homeschool also moved into its new office to help serve parents better, and Learning Plus, our homeschool bookstore, opened to provide curriculum and homeschool-related materials to parents. Our guests from the U.S., Mike Donnelly of Homeschool Legal Defense Association, and Davis and Rachel Carman of Apologia Press graced the ribbon cutting.

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    The portal, Homeschooling Solutions, became available for families who can’t come to the Learning Plus Bookstore because they live farther away or out of the country. Materials are delivered within 48 hours. A lot of non-TMA Homeschool families used this site for their homeschooling needs.

    We had two big homeschool conferences this year. Set Them Up for Success and Ready for the World, where we partnered with Manila Workshops ,  The Learning Basket and HAPI. These events brought the homeschool community together.

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    On the Family Ministry front, God provided an amazing team to mount three very special events —  The Before and After I D seminar for engaged and newly married couples, Family and Finance, and Counterflow. We intend to make these events a yearly thing for young couples and families who want to know more about biblical marriage, finance, and parenting.

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    Here’s a super big one which was made possible only by God’s amazing grace! My book, When A Good God Allows Rape, got published and was launched at the Manila International Book Fair by OMF Lit Publishing. It’s now available in bookstores around the country like National Bookstore, Pages, OMF Lit, and as a online ebook via Amazon, buqo, and others.

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    Writing the book opened doors for me to talk more about the Lord. On CNN Philippines’ Real Talk the hosts devoted the entire 45 minutes to asking me questions about my book and my faith in Christ! I was thrilled! My dream for this book is that it will inspire people to follow Jesus. May He get all the glory!

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    We had some favourite family photoshoots over the year. The first was done by Mayad Studios, who ventured into lifestyle photography with their Mayad Beginnings. They captured our family so naturally. 

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    Another one was done by Alex Adiaz, which we also appreciated very much. He shot this one in our backyard.

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    Another super highlight was Elijah getting baptized. 

     Yet another personal favourite of 2015 was how God worked in our Thursday couples’ group. We grew closer to the Lord and to one another, and most of us got to attend The Executive Couple’s Retreat in Baguio Country Club, where we learned and re-learned marriage principles. Some of us also served by facilitating other couples’ groups.

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    As a group, we put together a surprise wedding for the Avelinos. This really knit our hearts together in a special way.

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    Our bigger discipleship group family grew, too! Unfortunately we didn’t get to see everyone as often as we wanted to because we moved far from the area where we used to meet every week. But, we got together for “trimester” fellowships. These people are our extended spiritual family for life and we love them dearly!

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    The year had some sad turns. Steve, who was like family, died tragically a day before he turned 30. My grandfather, angkong to us, passed away at 96. Both knew the Lord so we shall see them again, but it was difficult to lose both of them.

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    We didn’t do too well in the pet department. We lost three of our Siamese cats – one committed suicide off the top of our roof, and two got run over by crazy drivers. Our Myna bird fell over in its cage and expired, and several of our fish were found floating lifeless in their tank. We also had to give away two dogs to more deserving and caring owners. (They are still alive and much happier now.) We hope to have less tragedies with our animals in 2016.

      
    Our family also lost a very loyal and hard working household help who went to work abroad. We gave her our full blessing and support but she continues to be missed.

    A definite high was celebrating the wedding of Edric’s sister, Danie to Vince Valdepenas. 

    (null)(null)I started sewing dresses this year. I sewed the dress I wore for the wedding and made 6 yards of mistakes in the process! Experience is the best teacher! Thankfully, the material was only P80/yard. Ssh.

    Another endorsement fell into our laps when we were asked to do an online commercial for Vernel Fabric Softener as a family. We love these family endorsements! We are so thankful! It’s an undeserved bonus from God whenever we are asked to do these things.

     (null)The year ended with a number of parties and engagements (my last count was about 20) but my favourite part was being with family (Edric’s side and my side). The Mendozas were almost complete for Christmas this year. The Tan-Chis most definitely were which was extra special for all of us.

    We left a spot for Edric’s sister, Nicky, who was terribly missed.

    My sister, Carolyn and her husband, Joel, were MIA in this photo because she gave birth over the holidays. But we were together for opening presents on December 26th.

     

     

    I am a pretty simple gal. Edric and I always have a lot going on, but my best memories of the year were the quiet ones… being at home, enjoying our house (we finally completed a year in it), exploring the outdoors as a family, getting to know our kids better and growing closer to one another, playing board games, curling up on the couch for some me-time, watching movies, going on dates with Edric, eating around our kitchen table…These are the moments that made up the best of 2015 for me.

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     When I take stock of this year, I am thoroughly amazed at God’s hand in everything. There’s no success mentioned here that can be attributed to Edric or myself. Everything that happened that was good was due to God’s grace. Everything that happened that was unfortunate was part of his grand plan. 

    I’m posting this in the middle of our fasting week as a church, while I am praying for God’s direction and leading for 2016. A few days ago I began by asking Him, “Lord what is your will for me this year?” I expected answers like, “Say yes to this speaking engagement or say no to this one,” or, “Pursue this venture,” or, “Write another book,” or, “Do this for your homeschooling,” etc. Instead, this was the answer I received:

    “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me, and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” John 14:21

    “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done fore. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” John 15:7-11

    We all want to experience a life of joy. I certainly do. And sometimes I mistakenly think that what I do with my abilities will determine how great a year I will have. But God simplified it for me when he said, “Love Me. Abide in My Love. Obey My commandments.” This is the path to a life of joy, a year of joy!

    So my new year’s resolution is not a long list of things I would like to do or avoid. Instead it is dedicating 2016 to loving God, and abiding in His love by obeying His commands. How does God want you to live your 2016?

     

     

     

    Number Our Days

    Edric spoke on numbering our days during the Sunday Service two days ago. It was an inspiring message that challenged the audience to consider how we use the time we have.

    Psalm 90:12 says, So teach us to number our days that we may present to You (God) a heart of wisdom.

    Life is short. Our friend, Steve Reed, passed away at 30. Another friend of the family, Jay Lucas, died of cancer shortly after it relapsed. And my grandfather (Angkong) departed at 96. None of us know the length of our days on this earth. It can be a few years or many, but in the end, it’s merely a dash between the year we are born and the year we die. 

    Therefore, Edric challenged us to adopt the perspective of Kerry and Chris Shook in their book, “One Month to Live.” Edric read this back in 2008, but it tied in perfectly with his New Year’s challenge for us. 

    If each of us had only one month to live, what would we do differently? Why aren’t we doing these things now? 

    He pulled out three points from their book: Live passionately, love completely, and learn humbly. 

    Live passionately for the Lord. This is about building God’s kingdom and not our own. Do we look to meet the spiritual needs of those around us and minister to them? Or, are we too busy pursuing the temporal things — money, fame, power?

    Personally, I need to improve on sharing the gospel with people in a one-on-one context. I talk about Jesus on my site, the gospel story is in my book, and I insert the gospel message when I speak in front of audiences, but sometimes, I am too preoccupied to strike up a conversation with a sales lady, clerk, beautician, massage therapist, etc, and I forget that these are missed opportunities to tell them that they are infinitely loved by God, that He wants to have a personal relationship with them. Instead, I am thinking about whether they are serving me the way they ought to, or if I am getting my goals accomplished. People become a means to an end. But God wants me to consider their end. My mom, who talks about Jesus as often as she can, says, “When we don’t share the gospel, it’s like telling people to go to hell.” 

    Very recently, I read Ezekiel again, and I highlighted the passage that speaks about how we are accountable to tell people the truth. Whether they receive it isn’t our problem, but if we don’t declare God’s Word He will hold us responsible as His “watchmen.”

    “”Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.” Ezekiel‬ ‭3:17-18‬ ‭

    Living passionately for the Lord is also about being contagious Christians. Do we do our best at work, home, ministry? Do we use our talents, gifts and abilities to glorify God? If people were to examine our lives closely, would they be able to conclude with absolute certainty that we are followers of Christ? Would they be attracted to the joy, peace and love they see, and desire the same for themselves? 

    “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.” Matthew‬ ‭5:16‬ ‭

    Love completely is about forgiving and unconditionally accepting the people in our lives. If we were to number our days, knowing that life is too short to squander on anger and bitterness, would we choose to end our days with unresolved conflicts or issues in our marriages, with our children, siblings or others? 
    “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.‭‭” Colossians‬ ‭3:12-14‬ ‭

    Learn humbly involves the willingness to change, to listen and receive correction and criticism, or to seek to grow and mature in areas of weakness. 

      God gave Edric and me the perfect opportunity to apply all three aspects of numbering our days. We traveled to the beach with the kids without yayas. Catalina is two so I am trying to help her become more independent. But it’s never simple to travel with five kids. It’s a lot of fun but it requires Edric and me to be hands-on at all times. Thankfully, our older sons are a big blessing. They give us breaks and take over when they can. Yet like I said, family vacations can be a good test of living passionately, loving completely and learning humbly. 

      Just today, on the way home from the beach, we nearly lost Catalina who walked off to go exploring in the hotel. Edric panicked and raised his voice at Elijah, whom he assumed was tasked to babysit her because she was last seen with him. Elijah darted off in tears, looking for Catalina, feeling terrible. The other kids said, “Why did dad shout?”

    I glared at Edric for losing his cool in front of the children and went hunting for Catalina. She wasn’t lost at all. I found her playing with her cousin in the dining area, unaware of the distress her momentary disappearance had caused everyone. 

    In the car, there was an icy silence as Edric and I anticipated who would apologize first. He began by identifying who was to blame and commanded me to say sorry to everyone for being the main person responsible for Catalina. After I did, I retorted, “You need to apologize, too, for shouting at Elijah. Shouting doesn’t help anyone solve a problem. You simply agitated everyone with your response. It wasn’t right.” 

    I usually keep quiet and let the Holy Spirit convict him, but I was so annoyed that I let the words roll off my tongue without restraint. He didn’t appreciate this at all, but he did ask for our forgiveness to be a good example. Neither of us were satisfied with each other’s apology. We sense the lingering frustration and anger between us. (It’s only by God’s grace that we are able to recover from these situations.)
    When both ended up re-doing our apologies with sincerity and we also chose to forgive one another and let go of the resentment. We applied the principle of “numbering our days.”

    First, we were un-Christlike examples to our kids. And living passionately for the Lord must be evident to our most sensitive audience first — our children. Edric spoke to Elijah and really humbled himself before all of us. I also asked for forgiveness for being disrespectful towards Edric. 

    Second, loving completely means I needed to forgive Edric as he needed to forgive me. We didn’t feel like it. AT ALL. We were thoroughly aggravated with one another for the mistakes we made. But God asks us to forgive, just as He has forgiven us. After we did so, the anger dissipated. 

    Third, we learned humbly by acknowledging our wrongs to one another. When Edric was correcting me and criticizing me for neglecting Catalina, I wanted to defend myself and list down the many ways I took care of her during the trip. I felt like he took that one moment and gave me a rating of “F” for my mother skills. But I apologized because it only takes one accident or careless instance to lose a child and I did mess up. I did not keep a diligent eye on her and assumed that Elijah was entertaining her with an educational game. Furthermore, I made Edric look badly in front of the kids with my tone and words when I could have spoke to him in private about raising his voice. This was wrong. 

    I praise God that by the end of our journey all was resolved and our relationships were restored.
    We all need to number our days, to consider how we want to spend the time God has gifted us with. Are we living passionately for Him, loving others completely (especially our spouse and children), and learning humbly by choosing to become more like Christ? 

    God will hold us accountable for the manner in which we invest each moment, each hour, each day, each year, and each lifetime. May He find us faithful and wise, people who understand the brevity of life and make choices that please Him! 

      
    ““The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together! ’” Matthew‬ ‭25:21‬ ‭

    What Does My Heart Look Like This Christmas?

    Edan, my second son, is the kind of child whose expressions and actions have to be observed closely because he isn’t a talker. When I ask him what he’s thinking or feeling, he needs time to reflect before churning out an answer.

    His two brothers are very different. Elijah likes to dialogue about his thoughts and feelings. Titus will simply say, “I’m not thinking anything.” (He’s a very uncomplicated fellow.) Edan, on the other hand, needs to be pried open cautiously. He doesn’t respond to confrontation, nor does he appreciate being badgered into giving an answer to people’s queries about himself. So I’ve learned to be patient as a mother and wait for him to unfold in his own way.

    Every once in a while, however, I will catch him doing something that speaks loudly about the kind of person he is. And I latch on to these occasions and treasure them because they reveal what’s going on inside his heart.

    Today, at church, a friend of mine whom I hadn’t seen in a while handed each of my kids money for Christmas. (She is ninang to my daughter, Tiana, but she generously gave my other kids money, too.) All of them were thrilled. Naturally, I expected them to think of buying something for themselves.

    As the service went on, I noticed that Edan pulled out a tithing envelope. He carefully tucked his bills inside them. He held on to the envelope for a while and then turned around to whisper to me, “Mom, can you put this in the tithing box for me?

    Surprised, I asked him why he wanted to tithe the money he just received. True to his nature, he didn’t give me an immediate answer. But shortly after, he managed to explain, “I want to give my money to Jesus.” When I prodded him further, he added, “I can’t explain it, I just like giving to Jesus.”

    At first I thought, Whose kid is this?! Is this my 9 year old, Edan?!

    Edan is better known in our family as a keeper of money rather than a giver of it. When we play board games, he likes to hoard the cash and pile it up. That’s his default strategy to beat everyone. It doesn’t always work but he, of all our kids, seems to have this bent towards business-mindedness. I suppose this is why it surprised me to see how willingly he parted with his money. His actions appeared incongruent with his personality and he got my attention. God used Edan’s example of a giving heart to teach me three important Christmas lessons.

    First, Edric and I have come to recognize that anytime our children make the right choices it isn’t because we are such great parents or because our children are extra special. We can only go so far and do so much as parents to influence our kids towards Christ-centeredness. We are fallen persons, a mix of flaws that must be surrendered to the Lord daily. Furthermore, each of our kids is unique and fragile in their own way, with weaknesses and character issues that need supernatural fixing. So the miraculous transformation that we witness in them is a testament to the way God makes something beautiful out of our mess-ups, mistakes, and missed opportunities. While I would like to take credit and say, “Yep, that’s my kid,” I am more convicted to say, “He’s your child, Lord. That’s your handprint in his heart and life. That’s Christ in him. Please complete the work you have begun in him and make him into the man you want him to grow up to be, not for me, not for Edric, but for you and your glory.”

    Second, everything we have been given is grace. Edan wasn’t an “official godchild” of my friend. Yet she handed him some money anyway, because she loves him as she does all my other kids. Similarly, God loves you and He loves me. He bestows upon us certain gifts, talents and abilities that speak more of who he is as a loving heavenly Father rather than how deserving we are. All of my kids had the opportunity to do something with their monetary presents, but they didn’t make the same choice Edan did. In the same way, all of us have the liberty to spend our gifts, talents and abilities as we choose. Will we keep these for ourselves or will we say, as Edan did, “Lord I give what I have to you?”

    Third, the ability and desire to give what we have to God comes when we realize what He has given to us. Beyond the gifts, talents, and abilities, God sent us His Son, Jesus. Years ago, as a younger boy, Edan received Jesus into his life by faith. He understood that he was sinful and needed a Savior, and he believed in what Jesus did on the cross for him. Shortly after, it felt like Edric and I had a new child. Edan was vastly different from the previous version of himself, whom we knew to be grumpy, uncooperative, and temperamental. He became kind and tender-hearted and he developed a genuine love for the Lord.

    At about the same time five years ago, Edan sang the song “Mary, did you know” before he went to bed one evening, with my younger sister, Carolyn, as his witness. They shared a room during our Christmas vacation because we were a growing family and couldn’t fit in one room with all our kids. Carolyn told me the song came to Edan spontaneously, as she turned off the lights so he could go to sleep. As she tucked him in, he said, “You know, Aunty Carolyn, I really love Jesus. He is my best friend.”

     I remembered this story as I thought about Edan holding on to the tithing envelope with his little hands. When he said he wanted to give everything that he had to Jesus it came from a deep gratitude he could not articulate, one which overflowed from experiencing the gift that is Jesus Christ.

    This Christmas I pray we will spend time pondering upon God’s generosity to us. May the gift of His Son compel us to present to Him the gift of a giving heart – a heart transformed by Jesus that delights to offer everything to Him in return for who He is and what He has done.

     

     

    Peanuts and an Apology

      
    My husband, Edric, and I invite our children to correct us and tell us how to improve. We don’t always recognize character areas where we are weak so it helps to have our children identify these areas. They watch our examples closely and they have tender consciences, too. So we benefit from their input. It isn’t always easy to receive their correction but when we do they appreciate our humility, and it teaches them to do the same. 
      
    Two days ago, Edric and I hosted a yayas and drivers party in our home. We were running late for it because we came from another engagement. Strangely, when we entered our village, the guard stopped us. He didn’t let us through because he failed to see our sticker. Edric rolled down his window, annoyed, and said, “We have a sticker!” (Translated from Tagalog.) 

    His tone conveyed irritation and he pointed his finger at the sticker like, yo dude, do you know who I am?! Of course he didn’t say that, but the kids latched on to his tone. The guard embarrassingly lifted the barricade.

    The car atmosphere turned quiet for a bit and then our two oldest sons, Elijah blurted out, “Dad, you sounded entitled when you said that,” followed by Edan, “Yah, it wasn’t very nice.”

    I could see the tension in Edric’s face. On the one hand, he wanted to acknowledge what the kids were saying but on the other hand, he didn’t appreciate the inconvenience the guard caused him when he was rushing to our place. But I praise God that he let the Holy Spirit convict his heart and he replied, “Oh really? It really sounded like that? I am sorry, kids.” The kids forgave him and we proceeded home.

    Unbeknownst to them, Edric returned to the guard later on and apologized to him. He also brought him peanuts to make up for his haughtiness. I didn’t find out till the evening when he told me, while the kids found out the next day.

    He explained how he drove to the guard house to ask for forgiveness and how the guard politely accepted his apology and gladly took the peanuts! The kids’ eyes lit up with relief. It mattered to them that he humbled himself. In Elijah’s words, “I knew dad was wrong so when I found out he said sorry to the guard I felt better. It was the right thing to do.”

    Edric and I have our failings and our kids are well aware of our imperfections. But I praise God for softening Edric’s heart so he could show the kids and me an example of love and humility.

    Our children hunger to see an authentic faith. They are allergic to hypocrisy. Although they don’t expect us to be without fault, they do hope that what we do is consistent with the things we teach them. So if Edric and I talk about loving God, we need to demonstrate this with our actions. If we fail to, we need to right our wrongs as best as we can so we don’t harden our children’s hearts towards following Christ.

    A lot of times it is the manner in which we treat people who serve us, such as waiters, salespersons, janitors, guards, drivers, yayas and the like that tell our children what being a follower of Jesus is all about. Do we respect them? Do we regard them with dignity? Do we show them love? Or, do we act entitled, demanding, unappreciative, and basically like the world revolves around us?

    Let’s model to our children what it means to love people the way God does. There are no degrees of importance to him when it comes to people. The same should be true for us so it can be true for our children.

    “For though the LORD is exalted, Yet He regards the lowly, But the haughty He knows from afar.” Psalms‬ ‭138:6‬ ‭

    Forever Spring


      We buried my angkong today. It was a tearful goodbye but the joy of knowing he entered into eternity with the Lord superseded the sorrow of his parting.

    “He is in heaven with Jesus,” Catalina said after I explained to her that it was merely his body that we were looking at inside the casket. He also lived to be 96 years old and passed rather peacefully, dying of old age rather than sickness. What more could we have asked for? God was gracious to him.


       Furthermore, he spent the last six years living with my parents after the calamitous flooding of Typhoon Ondoy struck, which gave our side of the family special time with him. My parents diligently cared for him. They also interacted with him daily, took him traveling, brought him to worship services, family gatherings, and events.

    Dad believed in honoring his father this way. I remember my dad quoting angkong, who told his children, “Be kind and do good to us (your parents) while we are alive, and don’t do things like build a mausoleum for us when we are dead, when it won’t matter.” My dad took this to heart. He didn’t want to live with regret. More importantly, he respected his parents very much.

    When I found out that angkong died last Sunday, I grieved his departure. Although he deteriorated significantly in the last year and I knew he would probably go soon, his death still saddened me. It’s never easy to lose a family member. And I know it was sobering for my parents. Seeing them cry wasn’t easy.

    To honor angkong, I decided to write a memoir that can be passed on to my children. I want them to remember the man he was and the legacy he left behind. Piecing together information from my aunt who flew in from Canada (the oldest sibling), my dad, and eulogies given by relatives during the wake services, I highlighted the salient details of his life.

    Angkong, formally known to others as Ernesto Tan-Chi Sr., was born in the year 1919, in Fujian province in China. He grew up in a town, YongChun, which means “Forever Spring.”


    Forever spring. What a fitting phrase to describe my angkong — a man who exuded life and positivity. Angkong radiated confidence and he captivated people, strangers included, with his charm and friendliness.

    In the early 1940s he met my grandmather, Luisa, whose family was from Fujian as well. Ama, as we called her, studied at a prestigious university in Shanghai but grew up in Manila. She was born into a traditional Chinese family. I discovered that her mother (my great grandmother) had incredibly tiny feet because they were bound when she was younger. According to my aunt, the smaller the feet the more desirable. Apparently, rich families practiced feet binding. (Thank God that painful practice stopped with my great grandmother!)

    Angkong and ama found each other in the Philippines. Angkong migrated to the Philippines and first worked as a caragador. Then he got a break as a salesman in Divisoria, selling fabric. His beginnings were humble, but he was intelligent, hard working, and gifted with business acumen. Some years later, he began his own trading company, where he was exposed to importing cotton. This opened the door to a bigger venture, a textile corporation that he named Riverside Mills.

    Riverside Mills controlled the importation of cotton sourced from Egypt and California. Angkong built the first fully integrated textile company with factories spanning an area so large you couldn’t walk around it in a single day. The facilities operated machines that separated seeds from cotton, combed it, stretched it into thread, wove it, and turned it into fabric, plain or printed. Afterwards, the mills could also manufacture clothing and other goods. It was an end-to-end operation. Eventually, Riverside Mills also opened a polyester plant.

    At the height of his business success, angkong was a tycoon, playing golf with high ranking public officials, traveling the world, holding office in the 34th floor of the Empire State building in New York City, and cultivating friendships with world famous people like the Rockefellers. An article in Reader’s Digest in the 1960’s included him in the list of Who’s Who In Asia.

    When I was a young girl, my earliest memories of Riverside Mills included Judo lessons. My brothers and I went there weekly, wearing our white gis. I never cared too much for the sport but it was certainly a fun adventure entering the sprawling facility that housed the mills.

    Some years into the government administration during the 1970s, the business underwent a hostile take-over. Furthermore, a series of bad decisions led to its demise, coupled by smuggling issues that gave competitors an unfair advantage.

    In the end, angkong’s textile empire collapsed and my dad, who ran operations for the polyster company was fired by a man connected with one of the former presidents of the Philippines, a man who used to be his comrade and golfing buddy. Looking back, my dad saw this as God’s divinely appointed way of removing him from a world that would’ve corrupted him spiritually. Although my dad came to know Jesus as a young man, it was the humbling experience of losing his family’s wealth and power that changed the trajectory of his life for the better.

    From the pinnacle of worldly success, angkong and his children found themselves trying to salvage whatever remained of his investments and smaller companies. The Tan-Chi name was defamed and mocked for the heights from which it had fallen. And yet there’s more to be told of the story, the more glorious part that speaks of an enduring heritage, of success beyond money, power, and prestige.

    If there is anything I hope my children will remember, it is the man who was a father, husband, grandfather, and great grandfather. Beyond the history of his success to the eventual end of his textile business, angkong’s greater heritage was his character.

    Live simply. Even though angkong was incredibly wealthy, he didn’t buy luxury goods. Although my ama had an eye for jewelry, she and angkong were sensible spenders. For angkong, paying a ridiculous amount of money for branded products was like assigning false value to items that were made to project an image. His background as a hard working salesman, exposure to trading, and his ownership of a textile company gave him an eye for the true value of goods. So he bought what he was willing to pay for, what he needed. He preferred to invest in land, stocks, travel, and business opportunities. Therefore, when he lost so much of his wealth, it wasn’t difficult to adjust to less. He didn’t develop an appetite for over-priced material things. Thankfully, his children inherited the same mindset. Till this day, my dad doesn’t wear branded clothing, watches, or shoes. He and my mom never raised us to desire those things either.

    Love people. Angkong made friends everywhere he went. He was genuinely interested in people. He cared for their well-being. According to my dad, he always tried to help his relatives out financially. But even more important was his concern for others on a deeply personal level.

    During one of the trips that my brother, Paul, took with angkong to his hometown in China, angkong kept asking Paul to share the gospel with people. Whether it was people angkong and Paul met for the first time or family and old friends, angkong would tell them, “My grandson has something good to share with you.” And Paul would look at them, unable to fully articulate himself in Mandarin, and proceed to share whatever he could of the good news of Jesus’ salvation because angkong would insist.

    Some years prior, angkong had also given his life to Jesus. Although he believed in the teachings of Confucius in the past, and proudly called him “older than Jesus Christ,” he prayed to accept Jesus as His Lord and Savior after a conversation with Dr. Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ.

    Be disciplined. Every morning, angkong would wake up early and encourage his own children to do the same. Some of them appreciated it and other did not, but today, my dad and his siblings are wired the same way. They all go to bed early and wake up early. They have routines and schedules.

    Angkong also lived by the mantra, “everything in moderation,” so he never overate. In fact, he measured fullness by percentages. “Angkong, do you want some more food?” He would reply, “I’m okay. I’m 80% or 90% full.” He also exercised daily, whether it was golf or walking around outdoors, angkong found ways to stay fit and healthy.

    Relax, don’t worry. Angkong never hurried or rushed through an activity. He liked to take his time, to revel in the moment. When my dad traveled with him, he would get anxious about making it to the boarding gate of a flight they had to catch. But angkong would tell him to relax and not worry. He was such an easy-going guy, never harried or stressed out. He enjoyed hanging out, observing people, and taking in the sites of places he visited. Maybe this is also why he lived to a ripe, old age without many health complications! He didn’t sweat the small stuff and he knew how to enjoy himself.

    Don’t criticize and don’t harbor anger. When angkong lost Riverside Mills, he never blamed it on others. He didn’t hold a grudge against people who betrayed him or turned against him, nor did he speak ill of them. He thought the best of people and circumstances, too. His positivity was remarkable. My dad said he never heard his father slander others or belittle them.

    Be faithful to your spouse. For eighteen years of her life my ama (grandmother) was debilitated. For the last years of her life she was practically a vegetable. She suffered complications from multiple strokes and type 2 diabetes. But angkong didn’t womanize. He took care of her and honored her. That was God’s grace! His example demonstrated to us what commitment to one’s spouse ought to be like.

    Angkong has passed from this earth, but his legacy lives on. Someday, I hope my children will realize how privileged they were to have a great grandfather who modeled noble character. More precious than the money he could have left behind or the businesses he could have bequeathed to his sons and daughters, he gave our clan a good example to follow. His Christ-likeness was his great inheritance to us. So thank you, angkong, for the choices you made – the attitudes, perspectives, and deeds that defined you as amazing to me. You will be missed but I thank God that this isn’t the end. I will see you again where it is eternally and forever spring…

    Despedida de Soltera

    The despedida de soltera is a beautiful tradition. It seems to have evolved into our version of a rehearsal dinner, although I personally feel that it is much more meaningful. Beyond the symbolism of a woman’s farewell to the single life, it is an act to show that the parents of the bride approve of the groom — that the couple have their blessing. 

    Having grown up in a family where my parents counseled many couples before and after their marriages, I knew firsthand the importance of receiving the blessing of your parents before getting married. Most of the relationships who ended up in bad shape were those who didn’t seek the approval of their parents for their marriage. This shouldn’t surprise us because the Bible says, “HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise), SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH.” Ephesians‬ ‭6:2-3‬ ‭

    The decision to get married involves aspects beyond saying yes to the person you love most in this life. It’s a union that fuses families, cultures, traditions, and beliefs. Every soon-to-be or want-to-be-married person needs to consider the gravity of this choice. After the high of a wedding ceremony and the interlude of the honeymoon stage, reality is the ever after. Two worlds collided. Two histories. Two people with values, character traits, and perspectives that were predominantly shaped by the homes they came from. Will they complement or frustrate each other? 

    When Edric and I were dating, I spent a lot of meaningful time with his family and he did the same with mine. We learned about each other’s backgrounds and sought to honor each other’s parents. Thankfully, we grew up in similar contexts, too. We had the same answers to questions such as, What is the foundation of marriage, What roles should a husband and wife fulfill, How will we raise our children, What will our spending habits be like, and so on. This minimized the conflicts we had as a couple. 

    The majority of our issues at the beginning of our marriage revolved around personality differences and selfishness, but I thank God they were not fundamental problems, namely spiritual incompatibilities. We both came from families who loved and honored God, and sought to obey him. The added bonus is that today, we enjoy the company of each other’s families. I praise God that our families continue to represent and encourage the values and important traditions that we treasure ourselves. It’s all by God’s grace that this is so.

    As I witnessed my sister-in-law’s Despedida de Soltera two weeks ago, the intimate affair reminded me that the family you marry into can be a blessing or a curse. There was an atmosphere of joy and harmony during the gathering between two families that night. I especially liked what Vince’s parents said about my sister-in-law, Danie…that they already loved her and treated her like a daughter. How affirming it must be for a future daughter in law to hear that. And now she belongs to a family that has wholeheartedly embraced her for who she is. What a blessing!

    Photos of the Despedida de Soltera, styled by my creative friend, Maja, of Passion Cooks Catering (photos courtesy of Starfish Media):

       

      

      

      

      

      

      

      

      

      

            
     

    For those of us who are already married and failed to start off our marriages by honoring our parents or in-laws, let us not  lose heart. God is a redeemer. He is an expert at fixing our mistakes. He is also a restorer. He can heal what is broken in our relationships with our parents or in-laws. The key is humility — humility before Him and others — prayer for reconciliation, and seeking after Him.

    May these passages minister to you:

    “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”1 Peter‬ ‭5:5-7‬ ‭

    “FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE TOWARD THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER, BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL.” ‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭3:12‬ ‭

    Stop. Look and Listen.

     

    I don’t have enough quiet in my life, enough silence for meditation and drinking deep from the living water that is Christ.  I get so caught up in the busy-ness of being a wife, mother, homeschooler, speaker, writer, daughter, discipler, endorser, etc and etc, so that I lose the desire to pursue intimacy with the Lord. There are seasons when my life feels very public and yet I grow hollow inside because the busyness drains me spiritually. Without intentional moments set aside for reflection, I operate on autopilot, in an almost robotic way. The doings, which are good things, replace the best things, namely the appetite to seek after God.

      This morning, God ordained circumstances so that a meeting I thought I would have did not push through. And since I left the children at home with their “assignments,” I was alone, in Edric’s office when everyone (including Edric) was out. For someone who is used to children of different ages clamoring for her attention or moving about all around me, the stillness was wonderful!

    Amidst all the Christmas hullabaloo that makes this favorite season one of the most stressful and crazy, I needed a pause like this one. I picked up Christopher Klicka’s book, “The Heart of Homeschooling,” and read the section his wife, Tracy, wrote on The Homeschooling Mother. She said, “I was and still am quite ordinary. I have no special talents that equip me to be a good mom, much less a supermom. All I have is God. But that is enough.”

    All I have is God. All I need is God. This spoke to me loud and clear.

    Being a wife and mother can be so complicated sometimes. When the checklist of things to do lengthens, I start peddling through each responsibility on my own power. And then I reach a point when I’m exhausted and physically sick. I need to remember that being a woman isn’t about what I can do and get done. The list of things to do will never end. And I will never reach that point of rested-ness if I keep chasing after that list…

    On any given day, here are some of the thoughts assaulting me…

    Have I prepared good, healthy meals for my husband and kids today? Did I make sure bills were paid and home repairs were completed? Did I manage the household well and check on their dynamic with one another? Did I get through at least 3 or 4 homeschooling books for each of my children? Did I spend time with my toddler and make sure she got enough attention from me? Did I write that blog entry I have been meaning to? Have I stocked the refrigerator and kitchen pantry? Did I read my Bible? Are my notes and presentation materials prepared for the speaking engagements I have this week? When am I going to Instagram that endorsement I’ve been asked to make? Did I exercise this morning? Do I have outfits for the multiple events I have to attend? When can I clean out my email account or archive photos? Whom do I need to meet with this week to counsel or minister to? Have I had one-on-one talk time with each of my kids? Who among them needs special attention this week? Am I giving Edric enough time? Have I completed the tasks he assigned to me?

    These questions are maddening and they flood my head with all kinds of anxious thoughts. Very often, peace evades me until I can check off each of these items. (So this means my peace is very short-lived!) Realistically speaking, there is no REAL rest for a wife or a mom in terms of our duties. There are seasons when our duties pile up really high and other times when they are only inches deep. But they remain nonetheless.

    1 Corinthians 7:34 puts it so well when it says, “The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.”

    So to my single readers…give the best years of your singlehood to the Lord. Marriage becomes a game-changer. The liberties you experience now are something you will never quite have again when you settled down and have kids. I’m not regretting being a married woman and mother, but my ministry has been elected for me – to serve my husband and my kids. There isn’t a day when I can say I resign. My decisions must always be filtered through the priorities of wife and mother.

    To my married readers, might I encourage you to stop, look and listen. Set aside that anxiety, turn off the burners, and take a few moments right now to come to the feet of our loving, heavenly Father.

    Today, I was reminded once again that there is nothing that should define me more than my relationship with God. He must be the reason I follow the Bible’s principles on marriage and parenting. He must be the reason why I homeschool and keep homeschooling my kids. He must be the reason why I speak, write, and minister to other women. He must be the source, the sustainer, and the end of everything I do.

    Sometimes I mistakenly assume that to do more is to be more important, more special, more deserving of praise and attention. But Jesus corrected this perspective (which I am to prone to have as a woman) when He told Martha in Luke 10:41-42, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

    Mary was seated at the feet of the Lord, the God of this Universe, her Creator, listening intently to Him speak. As I fulfil my responsibilities may I never forget that what I really need is God’s presence and to receive what can never be taken away – the peace, the joy, the grace, and the rest that He gives to all who come to His feet.