When Times Are Tough

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Last week, I shared this story when Edric preached in Cebu. His message was, “When Times Get Tough, Grab Onto God.” The passage he focused on was Exodus 5:22 to Exodus 7:2, where Moses asked Pharaoh to let the Israelites go and he refused. Not only did he deny Moses’ request, he became unreasonably demanding about their work output. Moses could have given up, and yet he turned to God, acknowledging his absolute dependence on Him and inadequacy to solve the problem of the Israelites.

I believe that God often uses trials and difficulties to get us to this same point of acknowledgement, where we recognize we are nothing apart from Him. His intention is not to make us feel awful and remain discouraged about our incapacities or problems, but to let us experience the fullness of his power and love in a way that being full of ourselves prevents us from ever doing.

When I was pregnant with my fifth child, I was active and busy in ministry, serving the Lord, meeting faithfully with our discipleship group, counseling couples and speaking in retreats and events on marriage, parenting, and homeschooling. Having a sickly child when Edric and I were so involved in ministry was the last thing I expected.

My pregnancy was pretty easy by God’s grace. I didn’t have any complications except that I had Group B Strep a few weeks before I gave birth. This requires me to be on antibiotics the day I gave birth to prevent the bacteria from being passed on to my daughter, Catalina.

She was born on August 11, 2013. Like all my other kids, I gave birth Lamaze and God got me through it. I expected to be home in three days, celebrating with our fourth other children. However, the day after I gave birth, the nurses came to collect Catalina in an incubator.

Edric and I were informed that she had unusually elevated white blood cells. The protocol was to confine her in the Intermediate Care Unit of St. Luke’s Global City. After a second blood test, the results showed an even higher WBC count. If the norm is 0 to 20,000 for babies, hers went up to an alarming 48,000. Our pediatrician required that she be given a round of antibiotics shortly after to avoid sepsis, meningitis or pneumonia.

When I started packing her things in the hospital, I cried. How could Catalina be this sick? What was so wrong? Was it serious?

One of the most difficult aspects of this ordeal was hearing about Catalina’s veins collapsing every other day. The nurses had to keep changing the IV and antibiotics line. It was traumatizing to hear her wail in pain each time they inserted a needle or failed to find a vein.

We asked for prayers and committed this trial to the Lord, choosing to rest in him but it was spiritually, emotionally and physically challenging for me. I didn’t want to question God’s purposes but what an ordeal it was to be in this predicament! Because Edric and I were faithfully serving the Lord, I thought we might have been exempted from situations such as this one. Of course this wasn’t a theologically accurate perspective. Just because a person follows God doesn’t mean their life will be free from pain. We still live in a fallen, imperfect world. The difference is when followers of Christ go through hardship, they can take refuge in Him.

Three days stretched to ten days. Not only was it trying to get through those days, it was expensive. But I praise God that he answered our prayers, provided for us financially, and we were able to go home on day eleven.

We thought that was the worst of it. The next few weeks were wonderful. Everytime I held Catalina in my arms, I was grateful to know she was alive and well. But a month later, she developed a bad cough and didn’t recover from it. After three days, her appetite disappeared and she looked very weak. One night I was feeding her with my milk in a dropper and she was hardly able to swallow it.

I kept praying and pleading with God. In fact I asked him if he was mad at me, if I was doing anything wrong that he wanted me to change. Edric saw me crying in my distress. It wasn’t that I was angry with God, but I felt desperate and helpless.

The next day, I noticed that Catalina’s lips were bluish so Edric and I brought her to the ER. When our pediatrician checked Catalina, it was confirmed that she had pneumonia. She needed to be confined yet again.

I broke down. This too was a first for us — a baby with pneumonia
and hospitalized. I knew this would entail an IV again and antibiotics. Her veins would be pricked once more.

The night after her confinement, I was having a conversation with God as I struggled with my emotions and attitude. Depression was a real temptation at this point. Even though I didn’t feel God’s presence I prayed out loud in faith, “Lord I know you are here. I will choose to believe that you are present right now in this room with me and you are in control.”

After I said this I had a different kind of peace – the peace of knowing that God was sovereign, that he wouldn’t allow us to go through something we couldn’t bear.

Seven days passed and we were able to take Catalina home. I praise God that we got through that second hospital stay. He healed Catalina and we experienced many miracles that I enumerated in a post I wrote during that time. Since then she has been infected with respiratory issues almost every month, but God has faithfully delivered her from each one. In fact, Catalina is a very determined and spirited one year old. It’s hard to imagine that she was once so fragile and frail.

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Perspective is always a choice. We can focus on the problems in our lives — health and financial issues, stolen joy, broken dreams or unmet longings and allow ourselves to become bitter. Or, we can give our problems to God and hang on to who he is. We can anchor our faith in the truth of His person. He is good, holy, loving, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present. The difficulties he allows aren’t arbitrary or meaningless.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”. (‭James‬ ‭1‬:‭2-4‬ NASB)

He doesn’t always remove our problems right away and this can make us doubt if he is at work or present. Yet, he gives us something far better…the opportunity to grow in Christlikeness and experience his supernatural strength and joy. Instead of becoming bitter, he helps us become better, for our eternal good. Furthermore, he can use our trials to bless others and minister to them.

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Having a baby like Catalina humbled me. I used to tell moms, “Have more kids! It gets easier!” They would look at me like, what are you talking about?! as they struggled to take care of one child. Finally, I understood that it was only by God’s grace that motherhood, up until that point, had felt easy and uncomplicated. All my uneventful pregnancies and births were made possible by Him. All the years of enjoyable parenting and homeschooling were not due to my abilities or special gifts, they were due to His enabling. I thought I was a veteran mom who could look upon pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, mothering, and homeschooling as trophies to serve my vain purposes. But I was very wrong. Everything I was, everything that I am is a tribute to the amazing God that I love, worship, serve, and obey.

Indeed it is as the book of Jeremiah says, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the LORD.”(‭Jeremiah‬ ‭9‬:‭23-24‬ NASB)

At the end of Edric’s message he shared a quote by Dwight L. Moody which I want to conclude this entry with…

“Moses spent forty years in the palace thinking he was a somebody; forty years in the dessert thinking he was a nobody; and forty years realizing what God can do through a somebody who found out he was a nobody.”

When Kids See Mom and Dad Kissing

“Unless it’s mad, passionate, extraordinary love, it’s a waste of your time. There are too many mediocre things in life. Love shouldn’t be one of them.” – Dreams for an Insomniac

IMG_3756-0.JPGElijah caught sight of Edric and me, while we were dancing in our hallway. Edric had picked me up and spun me around and we were both laughing childishly, lost in a moment of sweet abandon. Unbeknownst to us, Elijah was in the living room, interpreting our playful exchange.

He commented, “I like it when you guys are like that.”

“Like what?” I probed after Edric had put me down.

He explained that he likes seeing us have fun together, like we really enjoy one another and love one another. Citing another example, he added, “Like when you are excited to go with dad on a date, I like that.”

Interesting, I thought. I have always assumed that our children know that Edric and I love one another. We say it all the time. But apparently, there’s added credibility to our professions when they witness the tenderness between us. They appreciate seeing “evidence” of our devotion to one another. When we kiss and hug in front of them (PG version, of course!), they smile and giggle at our cheesiness. But Elijah says it makes him feel “happy.”

The reality is our children are responders. They observe the dynamic of our marriage all the time. When peace and joy characterize our relationship, our kids feel at rest and secure. When our relational atmosphere is turbulent, their spirits are agitated.

IMG_3760-0.JPGSometimes we can forget how great our responsibility is, to mirror what love ought to be to our children. On the one hand, they understand love by the sacrifices we make for them and our commitment to their well-being. But marriage, unlike a parent and child relationship, represents a union that is vastly different in purpose and nature. I can love five children and even more, if God should add to that number, but I can love only one Edric, one husband. I am one with him in a manner that excludes all others, physically and emotionally.

If he and I treat each other disrespectfully, persist with unresolved conflicts, harbor bitterness and resentment, and hurt one another with our actions, then our children will adapt a distorted understanding of love. They may even have reservations about marriage. “Why get married? I don’t want to end up like my parents.”

The worst part of it all is when our children become collateral damage (in the spiritual sense) because of our choices. For example, if a husband leaves his wife, what impact will that make on a child’s concept of God’s love, which marriage is supposed to represent? If a woman cheats on her husband, how will a child grasp the permanence of a vow? How will they ever believe in bible verses like, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (‭Romans‬ ‭8‬:‭35, 38-39‬ NIV)

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When Elijah made the remark he did as spectator to our dance, I wrestled with two thoughts. On the one hand, I was grateful to be in a marriage where I do enjoy the love I believe God intended for a husband and wife to experience. But on the other hand, I know that Edric and I leak out our imperfections to one another and we do not always exemplify to our children what divine love (God’s love) ought to be like.

To what extent have we confused the ideal? I do not know. I can’t count the number of times I have snapped back in pride when Edric is correcting me, or allowed irritation to color my countenance, or disobeyed a request of Edric when it was inconvenient to submit to him.

However, what comforts me is that despite our shortcomings, grace prevails. When Edric and I restore our relationship and we come before our children and apologize for our words and untoward behaviors, they readily forgive us.

I recall instances when I have made public apologies for my disrespectful responses towards Edric, and Edric has similarly asked for forgiveness for being harsh with me. Seated around the dinner table, with our children’s faces turned towards us, they watch our interplay — two persons who want to be accurate representations of God’s unconditional love to them, yet cognizant of how short we fall in comparison to Christ’s perfect love. And to witness the mercy that flows, the grace that extends to every person seated there as we acknowledge that apart from Jesus nothing good sits in us to boast of…well, it’s humbling and beautiful at the same time. It’s the Lord who pieces us back together and gives us the courage to try again, to move forward with hope that the future can be better despite ourselves, because of Him.

As we move past our mistakes, Edric and I try our best to be loving towards one another with the ever watchful eyes of our children upon us. We don’t do it for them, but we do consider the impact that our relationship has on their image of love. More importantly, we want to reflect how wonderful it is when two people have Jesus at the center of their marriage. There is joy, unconditional love and forgiveness, mutual respect and consideration, and hey, even tenderness and romance! At the end of the day, we want our children to be attracted to Christ and not the idea of marriage itself.

Here are some questions to reflect on…Besides saying “I love you”, do our children…

Hear us laughing together, reveling in the joys of being married?
See us being affectionate? (Holding hands, embracing, and even kissing – PG version once again)
Watch us converse like we are truly interested in dialoguing with one another?
Compliment and affirm each other?
Speak highly of each other in public and at home?
Respect one another with our words and actions? 
Humbly forgive and ask for forgiveness with all sincerity? 
Honor our God-given roles? 

“Love like there’s no tomorrow, and if tomorrow comes, love again.” – Max Lucado

‘Being in love’ — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. – C.S. Lewis

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.

Love Beyond Us

It is always a privilege when Edric and I are invited to speak at retreats, give seminars, counsel couples, and lead discipleship groups as a team. Of course it isn’t always easy because we have young children to attend to. But, when God gives us a green light to accept a ministry assignment and we follow through with it, we come away from the experience more in love with Him, and with one another.

Why? Because ministry commits us to a common purpose, one that enriches our marriage and causes us to look outside of it. The ceiling for love feels limitless as we receive God’s love and channel it others.

In contrast, when our attentions and energies are directed MERELY towards our relationship, marriage can start to feel like an ingrown-toenail. Sounds pretty ugly, huh?

There’s no other person I would rather be with than Edric and I know he would say the same about me. Yet we also learned, years ago, that God brought us together for something much more abundant and more fulfilling than the mere enjoyment of one another.

When God brings a man and a woman together, happily ever after is not his main goal. While this is a part of it when we follow his principles, it’s not the chief end. The greater aspect is forming an alliance of personalities, strengths and weaknesses, experiences, and capabilities to serve him and display the glories of his love through a covenant relationship.

In Genesis 1 we read: God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (‭Genesis‬ ‭1‬:‭27-28‬ NASB)

Adam and Eve were given the privilege of bearing God’s image. They were to be His image bearers in fruitfulness and multiplication, as they filled the earth and subdued it, and as they exercised dominion over it. Through Adam and Eve, the world was to reflect the glory of God and be the blessed recipient of it.

Yet we know from Genesis 3 that Adam and Eve did not cooperate with God’s plan. As a result we are all born with the same fallen nature. While we bear the likeness of God in the sense that we can feel, reason, imagine, and create in ways that animals cannot, our spiritual genetics carry the imperfection of man’s first sinful choice. We became a corrupted form of God’s original design, separated from delightful fellowship with Him because of sin.

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Romans‬ ‭8‬:‭18-21

In His great love for us, God offered himself through His Son as a solution to our sinful orientation. He gave us the opportunity to become His children once again.

But as many as received Him (Christ), to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (‭John‬ ‭1‬:‭12-13‬ NASB)

In order to fulfill God’s purpose to be  fruitful, multiply, subdue and rule over the earth as image bearers of His love and glory, a man and a woman must begin their marriage reconciled to God first, as His children. This is the designated starting point, the genesis of purpose.

Years ago, I made an independent decision to repent of my sins and accept God’s gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. I asked Him to be my Lord and Savior, and I committed to live for Him. Edric did the same.

As a result, we had unity of spirit before unity of flesh. We agreed upon God’s principles for marriage, parenting, and ministry. And then we agreed to pursue these principles together, in a covenant relationship, as husband and wife.

This didn’t meant we were exempt from problems. In fact, our first year of marriage was difficult because of personality clashes. However we were committed to working it out because we knew that God brought us together in marriage. We knew he could fix our relational issues.We knew he had a plan and purpose for us to fulfill.

The Bible tells us that God “reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5‬:‭18-20‬ NASB)

When I look back on the journey that our marriage has been, our highest highs and greatest joys have been shared in the context of serving the Lord’s purposes as a team. What a privilege to reconcile people to God through Jesus Christ; to invite them to be His children so they can bear His image and display His love to the world.

On the way home from one Saturday marriage seminar we spoke at, Edric turned to me in the car and reiterated how much he loves me, how much he enjoys serving the Lord together. The afternoon was coming to a close and we were headed to see our children. He asked me, “Is it possible to love you more?” Although he meant it as a rhetorical question, I will answer it here…

God multiplied whatever love we thought we had for each other when we stood at the altar on the day of our wedding. He multiplies it still. It’s not a love that surfaces or extends from our exhaustible and finite selves. It’s one that comes from Him, a love beyond us, so we can love beyond us.

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Three Times A Charm in Bataan

It was our third visit to Bataan but this one was especially fun for the family. First, we got to serve together. The older kids joined Edric on the morning talk he gave to government workers and their families. 





Then Edric and I spoke on marriage and relationships afterwards.

We were also privileged to spend time with Mayor Joet Garcia and his wife, Isabel. It was a pleasure getting to know them and witnessing the work they are doing for the city. They are public servants who truly care about bettering life for the people of Balanga. It’s always refreshing to see good governance in action by people who are God-fearing.(null)

It was our first time to stay in The Plaza Hotel, a beautiful new hotel in the city center, overlooking the square. (null)

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Early morning on Valentine’s Day we joined the Love Run to practice for our 21K run the next weekend. Running past open fields was a wonderful first for me. Incidentally, they awarded us Mr. and Ms. Love Run. I think there were more deserving others but we didn’t mind celebrating with a kiss. 





The highlight for the kids was our time in Montemar Beach Club, courtesy of our church friends, Henry and Riza Morales. Our children love sand and water! It was a relaxing way to spend our Valentine’s Weekend. 



This trip was intented to be for ministry, to serve the people in Balanga, alongside our church, Christ’s Commission Fellowship. However, we were the ones who came away blessed and spoiled by the generosity and company of Mayor Joet and Isabel, and the CCF community! (Not to mention 5 pounds heavier from all the food we feasted on!)(null)

  

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A Good Run With My Good “Pusher”

Edric got me to run in a 21K “fun” run yesterday. I know there may be readers out there who have done real marathons and triathlons who think 21K is peanuts, but it was a pretty big deal for me. 

The event was Run For Financial Fitness and Edric was dead set on us entering the 21K category. Of course, as the more calculated risk taker between the two of us, I had my apprehensions.

“But you and I are athletes,” was his argument. “We can even walk part of the way if it comes down to that.” (WE WERE ATHLETES. We may be athletic. But, that’s vastly different than being in peak condition. Plus, if you really think we are athletes, would it be acceptable to walk?!) 

 Here was my thought bubble. Edric’s body hasn’t gone through five pregnancies and the multitudinous changes that I have experienced as a mom. He has pretty much maintained the same perimeter measurements since we were first married. As for me, my ligaments, muscles, joints and organs have been stretched, moved around, and re-organized inside of me. And I’m still a breastfeeding mother! Give me a year to get back into fighting form so I can do this well. Please don’t ask me now. 

I was very cognizant of my paltry physical fitness level. In my book, short distance running in our village, a mere fraction of what 21K is, didn’t count as training for a run this long. Plus, my running philosophy is do it to stay healthy, to have meaningful prayer time. I’m not the sort of person who likes joining races to get outpaced by a hundred younger and older people bouncing past me like gazelles. 

However, my ever-optimistic husband preyed on the competitive person in me. He knew there was a hopeful bone in my body that would concede to the idea, for the challenge of it. While I vacillated between chickening out and entertaining the possibility, I finally said, “Okay, I will do it. Whichever way it turns out, we will learn something about marriage. If we make it without physically injuring ourselves then it will be a good reminder on how God blesses a wife’s desire to honor her husband’s wishes. But if it turns out badly, then it will be a lesson for you, as a husband…to think through the decisions you make, because you are responsible for me as your wife.” 

 Edric smiled and retorted, “Are you threatening me?” I didn’t mean for it to come across that way but I suppose, deep down inside, I was (in a playful way). 

 We did a test run in Balanga, Bataan the previous weekend. The mayor of Balanga City, Joet Garcia, and his wife, Isabel, were gracious enough to give us two slots in the Love Run that was scheduled on Valentine’s Day. It was just a 10K run but it gave us a good diagnostic. Of course 10 is less than half of 21, but at least we were able to work on a pace that we could use during the 21K.
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On Sunday morning, we woke up at 3:15 AM to get ready for our run. We zipped over to Bonifacio Global City where we parked our vehicle in our old condominium and made our way to the starting line. The gun went off at 4:30 AM. 

 The first 15 kilometers were fine. I was starting to feel pain in some parts of my legs, but it was bearable. At least we were running in the dark, when the weather was pleasantly cool, and cars weren’t smoking up the streets. 

Personally, the best part of it all was pacing side by side with Edric. Even though I was vehemently against the run when he first broached the idea to me, the endorphins that flooded my brain as we ran kilometer after kilometer made me grateful to have a husband that pushes me to be a better version of myself. 

 Somehow, it was even kind of romantic. We were going slow enough to dialogue and pray which meant we were probably at the bottom third of all the runners due to our turtle-like pace. But this didn’t matter. There we were, inching forward together, as a team. He looked pretty handsome in his orange Adidas shirt and gray shorts. Just a week before, we outfitted ourselves. It’s like a friend used to say, “If you can’t play, then display. If you have no form, then get a cool uniform!” If all else failed, we thought, at least we can look like runners! Edric carried our water rations on an elastic waistband and offered them to me as we started back up the Buendia flyover to Bonifacio Global City.

I was expecting that we would continue like this. 

However, during the last six kilometers, Edric began to feel a great amount of pain. He had to stop and stretch a couple of times, so we slowed down even more. Honestly, his condition surprised me. I pictured the last part to end differently, with Edric telling me, “You can do it, honey. Just a little further.” Instead, it was me who was smiling while Edric’s facial expression looked like a cross between Don’t talk to me right now because I’m suffering and I can’t believe you are so chirpy. I was pretty chirpy, trying to engage him in conversation to pass the remaining moments of our run. 

 During the last 3 kilometers, Edric had to walk for part of the way, and I found myself circling back to him so I wouldn’t have to stop my jog. During the final kilometer, I asked him if it was alright if I ran ahead. He was completely fine with this so I picked up the pace and entered the finish line alone. 

 Sigh. That was the only part that I didn’t like about our run. I had this fantasy of running through the finish line together, as a team, but I couldn’t slow down to a walking pace in order to remain beside Edric. There were a couple of times when trying to do so only heightened the pain in my joints and muscles. I was better off going with the inertia of a steady jog. So I came in before he did. To put it into perspective, I beat him

 Edric ended his run a few minutes later. On the way home, he jokingly asked me not to rub it in too much that I was ahead. We laughed because of the irony. I was the reluctant one. I wasn’t as conditioned. I had never run a 21K and he had. 

 The outcome of our run demonstrated a couple of invaluable lessons to Edric and me: 

 First, I really believe God honored me for supporting Edric’s crazy idea to do this run. It was God’s special grace that allowed me to finish (even ahead of Edric). I experienced the blessings of submission. 

Second, Edric humbly admitted that he should have been more prepared…that he should have considered how difficult a run this would be, especially as the leader in our marriage. Wow! This was exactly what I hoped he would glean from all of this. 

Third, running closely epitomizes the human life. I’ve always believed this. But it’s easy to say this until you actually experience every inch of your legs and feet hurting like heck! You want to know there is an end to look forward to — a rest to redeem all the effort. For a follower of Jesus Christ, that rest is eternity with Him, a.k.a. heaven. 

Fourth, everyone crosses life’s finish line alone. I couldn’t step over the line for Edric and he couldn’t do it for me. As much as possible we remained side by side, but as the challenge escalated, we both had to make the choice to keep going until the end. 

When the Bible says, “run in such a way that you win,” I don’t think this necessarily implies that we need to finish first. But each one of us needs to finish well, which means faithfully pressing on, no matter what. 

Fifth, and this is for all the mothers out there…God made us strong in a different way from men. I’m not knocking Edric for walking or slowing down during the last few kilometers. Had he been better prepared for this race, I would have been panting after him. However, as a woman, giving birth was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, physically speaking. Since I opted for no anesthesia for all five of my births, I felt the intense pain of every contraction. Having said that, if a woman can endure labor pains, she can run 21K even when her legs feel like they are going to fall off! By God’s grace, we’ve been design to stomach a whole lot of pain. Running 21K hurts but childbirth hurts waaaay more. 

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Edric and I made it to Sunday service by 9 AM but by the afternoon, I could barely walk. So we concluded the evening with a two-hour massage. I usually don’t like full body massages but this one was necessary!

Looking back, I’m glad we did this. It wasn’t something I would have elected to do myself, but thanks to my husband, “the good pusher”, I survived a challenge that benefited me physically, spiritually, and even emotionally!

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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!)

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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.

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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

Cozy Cabin Honesty

It’s a miracle when twenty-three people can live in a cabin together for four days and not go crazy. Soon after Christmas day, my parents along with four of us siblings and our families traveled to Tahoe Donner.

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We rented a beautiful, huge cabin that had five large rooms to house all of our families. It came with a Jacuzzi, too!

The weather was perfect – super cold so the kids could experience a “real” winter, and it snowed the day before we left.

I went sledding for the first time and threw a couple of snowballs. I didn’t realize how much a snowball could hurt! One of my nephews got a bloody lip (not by my doing!)

The highlight for me was sitting around the dinner table with my siblings and parents, and our spouses as we shared about our marriages. My parents try to do this with us periodically in Manila but we are all pretty busy so it’s not a consistent activity. This vacation we were stuck in the house together so the opportunity presented itself when the kitchen was cleaned up and the kids were busy entertaining one another.

Each one of us gave insight into our relationships. I shared that Edric and I don’t have any major issues except that I react to his impatience and irritation when these traits are manifest. It’s not often that he will get upset but I noticed that he was edgier during this trip. This was the first time he had to do chores and help me take care of all of our kids. I know he learned a lot about sacrifice and service. He would say this vacation made him a better man and I wholeheartedly agree. However, there were a few incidences when he lost his cool.

Thankfully, we resolved whatever issues we had between us, and we were able to come before my parents and siblings to openheartedly hear their perspectives on our marital issues. As the more intense person between us, Edric is more prone to irritation when he has to deal with inefficiencies and inconveniences. But my mistake is challenging his responses and correcting him when he is upset which snowballs the situation into an unnecessary argument or unhealthy discussion.

For example, Edric was stern with Elijah for playing with his baby cousin, Joshua, near the garage door. When Edric walked through the door, he accidentally knocked Joshua on the head and blamed Elijah for sitting in the way. This time I pounced back by throwing the Tupperware I was putting away into the cupboard. Edric noticed this and challenge me by asking, “What?!” To which I replied while stooped behind the kitchen island and away from Elijah’s vista, “Don’t talk to him (Elijah) like that.” He mistakenly heard, “Don’t talk to me.” So he countered, “No, you don’t talk to me,” which doubly irked me. However, I stopped inciting Edric because neither of us was in the right frame of mind to resolve our altercation at that moment.

That evening Edric and I had a date night with my sister, Candy, and her husband, Jeff. They were holding hands while strolling through the streets of Old Sacramento, unaware that Edric and I had a tiff with one another earlier that day. Edric and I were walking about two feet apart behind Jeff and Candy. I leaned over to Edric and asked, “Do you have something to say to me?” insinuating that I had received no apology for his earlier behavior. He replied, “Nope. Do you have something to say to me?”

Seriously?! I thought. He was the prime instigator of our conflict earlier! I kept silent wishing he would put his arm around me and apologize because we were walking in 7 degree Celsius weather that night. Plus, I wanted to maximize this date night since we hired babysitters who weren’t cheap!

Still, Edric didn’t budge, so I proudly held my own position, shivering inside. After a few minutes, he wandered off to buy a mistletoe from a street vendor who was raising money to help his sister travel to Washington D.C. (Edric is drawn to random attractions that other people don’t always notice.) I don’t know if Edric was planning to hold that mistletoe over my head in the hopes for a kiss but that was the last thing I wanted to do.

In the meantime, Jeff, Candy, and I were seated in the restaurant talking about our marriages. I volunteered to confess that Edric and I were kind of fighting. (Usually I won’t do this until I work it out with Edric first.) Candy’s advice was exactly what I didn’t want to hear but needed to. She suggested I apologize to Edric for reacting to his outburst. Even if he was not right for getting unnecessarily upset, she told me to humble myself because that’s what God would want me to do.

When Edric came into the restaurant (without the mistletoe because he didn’t have small change to buy it with), I immediately volunteered, “I’m sorry, hon, for earlier. Please forgive me.” He wasn’t expecting to have been the topic of conversation and looked perturbed. “So what were you guys talking about?” He asked with suspicion.

That dinner turned out to be an interesting one for all of us as Edric and I addressed the day’s dramatics right there and then, with Jeff and Candy looking on. And all was well again as we apologized to one another. For the rest of our evening, we dialogued about how our marriages were doing and I appreciated the time to be able to be honest with one another.

When we were in Tahoe we did the same thing with my other siblings and their spouses. Each one gave their own spiritual insights and solutions, which was great because Edric and I don’t get to sit down with counselors or mentors that often. Our ministry targets young families and couples so we need to grow in our own marriage, and that means receiving feedback and guidance from those who know us best.

Edric was advised that he needs to think through the pattern of behavior that leads to unwanted outbursts. I was advised that I ought to stay quiet instead of reacting to his negativity. Although I already knew this, it was a good reminder to apply being gentle and quiet when I am tempted to fight back. During moments when I’m not the first to commit the “crime” I can be like the whiplash that adds trauma to injury. The reality is, spirit-filled silence has always worked better but sometimes I intentionally forget this when I’m dealing with my own version of anger.

After Edric and I shared, each family member did the same – identifying areas of improvement in their own persons and marriages, and what aspects they appreciated about one another. It was a blessed discussion that left us all a little wiser and closer to our spouses and one another as a family.

It’s not always easy to bear our weaknesses with others or to listen attentively to the suggestions that are offered to help us better our relationships. But no marriage is an island. Sometimes we may feel like we don’t have problems or it is nobody’s business to know what our marital issues are, but every marriage can improve to become sweeter, more loving, and more Christ-like.

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I’m blessed to have family members (on my side and Edric’s side) who are committed to strengthening our marriage in Christ. We all share the same mind when it comes to biblical principles and their applications in husband and wife relationships. But the secret is each one of us has a relationship with Jesus Christ first. Therefore we can commune about our marriages openly, and digest each other’s advice without becoming embittered. I’m not saying it’s easy to do this but the context is, Hey, it’s okay to have these struggles in your marriage. All of us do. What counts is that we all want to please God in our relationships. We share the desire to change and improve because we love God, our spouses, and one another.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as also you are doing.”

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Bike, Scooter, Rollerblades

During our vacation Titus learned to bike, use the scooter, and rollerblade. “Hey, mom! Look at me!” He would say as he whirred past on a bike, or scooter and eventually, rollerblades.

A few years ago, he tried all three but his body wasn’t ready. Plus, he needed someone to keep him steady. This time he took off very naturally.

He usually surprises me with his capacity to learn skills and pick up concepts without much instruction from Edric or me. A lot of it has to do with his willingness to try and experiment. Fear is not his first impulse. To attempt is, and persistence one of his shining characteristics. Eventually, he receives the reward of his laboriousness and relishes in the sweet victory of effort.

I have always been fascinated by Titus. Although my heart is inclined to all five of my children in the same way and I have no favorites, each of their peculiarities intrigues me in a different way. Titus’ penchant for exploration and discovery is more pronounced than his siblings’. He is rarely restrained by the kind of self-consciousness that often keeps people like myself from enjoying a moment without suffering the burden of a thousand thoughts.

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His approach is “see then figure out by doing.” I have asked him many times, “how did you learn to do that?” in reference to a new ability or conquest he has acquired or undertaken and he will nonchalantly reply, “I just saw it and then I did it, or I just thought about it and then I did it.”

This type of response often elicits laughter from me as he responds to the world around him with a delectable spontaneity that I sometimes wish belonged to me. He has little regard for the risks involved which means that he also learns through bruises and falls. On the other spectrum is someone like myself, who quietly calculates the effort, plausibility, appropriateness, and consequences of committing to any sort of task or adventure.

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When we were living in a cabin in Tahoe for a few days, Titus was intrigued by the light switches. He could not resist pressing each one to see which lights they corresponded to. We were in the middle of dinner on one occasion, when he turned the lights on and off. For a second, 24 people sat in darkness as he got his fidget-fix. All was well as he ably switched them back on when family members exclaimed in unison, “Who is doing that? Stop it!” They were gentle enough, especially when they realized it was none other than our curious Titus pouncing upon a cause-and-effect opportunity.

Thankfully, he is learning to control his inclinations towards taking things apart or touching things he isn’t supposed to. It took several years of repetitive intervention on my part and Edric’s to encourage him to filter through his choices. As any parent ought to know, parenting requires adjusting to each child’s uniqueness with grace and patience. Only God can supply the grace to successfully teach and train our children the way he wants us to.

In our family, we share the same goal for each of our kids, but we have to customize the instruction and discipline aspects. No two children get the same plan, and all five require careful observation and study.

This extended vacation provided many opportunities to get to know our children better. Edric, in particular, probably benefitted the most from 24/7 contact. It was a rare 30+ days of investment in time with our children. Even though he was intentional about discipling them before, I am pretty sure he can profile them more accurately now.

It’s been a joy to be more informed about how Titus thinks and responds to situations, and to celebrate his successes. He teaches me to “chill” as a mom, to relax and avoid the type of over-concern that infects my children with fear and self-doubt. Yes, he may fall and injure himself as he boldly attempts to balance, climb, catapult, cross over, lean, crawl, bounce, jump, etc, but that’s the way a Titus-person learns best. For as along as he isn’t injuring others or taking fatal risks, I am now able to sit back and applaud his courage, curiosity, and relentlessness for what they are — unique gifts from the Lord that can be channeled positively for His greater purposes.

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Forty Years From Now

I watched them embrace one another, old friends…people my dad referred to as “antique” friends, which could have been interpreted as politically incorrect. However, both parties understood what he meant. There are some friendships that stand the test of time. In their case, over forty years.

Over forty years ago, my mom was a singer for a group called Crossroads. They traveled the world bringing Christian music and the gospel of Jesus Christ to people. Chuck and Sandy were part of this group and knew my mother as a single woman – a blond-haired, blue-eyed belle that hailed from Florida.

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Burdened to give her life to serve the Lord, my mom left the comforts of America and her boyfriend to minister to people all over Southeast Asia. Naturally, at one point, this landed her on the shores of the Philippines. At a bible study, she met my father, a Chinese businessman who loved God and had a passion for the gospel. It was an unlikely but God-ordained romance that blossomed in the context of a shared desire to reach the world with the message of Christ’s love.

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Chuck and Sandy were part of my parents’ history. They were witnesses to God’s orchestration, privy to the process of discernment that my mom went through. When she received confirmation to marry my dad, she asked Sandy to hold her accountable. “God has told me to say yes to Peter and I want you to be a witness that I am supposed to.” These were my mom’s words to Sandy.

While marriage is always a life-altering decision, my mom’s choice to say yes to my dad came with other considerations. This would be a cross-cultural marriage (very uncommon back then). He was a businessman (she was a missionary), and she would have to leave her home for good. Ironically, she told herself she would NEVER marry a businessman. God has a sense of humor.

I’ve always marveled at my mother’s faith. When she married my dad, she looked to the biblical example of Ruth who declared to her mother-in-law, “Where you go, I will go. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God.” Similarly, my mom was willing to follow my dad wherever he would lead her.
)

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They have been married for nearly 42 years, and by God’s grace, their love grows stronger and more beautiful still. In a world where marriages have shorter and shorter expiry dates, they might be considered a miracle. So it is always refreshing and encouraging to encounter couples who are just like them, who have chosen to keep Christ as the anchor of their relationship.

I had heard Chuck and Sandy’s names names mentioned in stories and seen the sepia and black and white pictures slipped into browned sleeves of old photo albums. But meeting them in person helped me to better understand who my parents are. After all these years, Chuck and Sandy were like a piece of a puzzle that I never knew was missing.

My parents don’t dwell on the past too much. They were never really the type to sit down and narrate every detail of their life histories, so any chance I get to see or hear more about the people they once were is really interesting and entertaining to me. As my parents enter into the winter season of their lives, I want to make sure I know everything I possibly can about them.

They hadn’t seen Chuck and Sandy in over forty years so this was a pretty historic get-together. My parents sat in their living room, which was decorated with wood carvings from the Philippines and other Asian-inspired pieces that looked comfortingly familiar. For an instant I had the same feeling I used to have when I stepped into my grandparents’ home in Pensacola, Florida. The carpeted flooring, the overstuffed sofas and lazy boys in the family room with toys set aside for the grandkids. It was reminiscent of the coziness I always loved when we visited my grandparents during the summer.

We spent a couple of hours in Chuck and Sandy’s home since my parents had decades to catch up on. All four of them have aged significantly since they last saw one another but it was like the old days as they engaged one another in conversation, trading jokes, updates, and exchanging ministry ideas.

When we left I had this sense to write about our time together because I was reminded of the friendships Edric and I share with the people in our discipleship group. Of all people in this world, we walk shoulder to shoulder with them as brothers and sisters in Christ. Forty years from now, what will we be like? What will define the decades that we live?

I pray we will all finish well — that no matter where God leads us we will cross life’s finish line still passionate about loving and serving God, with our marriages unbroken, and our children following Jesus.

Our discipleship group in the Philippines…our bigger family in Christ!

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Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭9‬:‭24-27‬ NASB)

Birthday Blessings

I turn 38 this week. Hoowee. That sounds old. It’s hard to believe I am almost 40!

Edric asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I told him I already have everything my heart desires. By God’s grace, that’s the truth. Sure, there are things I WANT — Catalina NOT to have asthma, a baby grand piano, six pack abs, zero cellulite, anti-gravity solutions for my body, an unlimited house-decorating budget, more homeschooling resources… But 2014 was an incredible year and I am grateful.

On the one hand, it was one of the hardest seasons of my life in terms of parenting, homeschooling and ministry. But on the other hand, God blessed me with so many opportunities to enjoy my family, experience his provision, and serve Him. Here are my top 10 highlights…

1. Catalina turned 1 year old and we dedicated her to the Lord, celebrating her life with family and friends.

2. God gave me multiple occasions to share my testimony about tragedy and His healing. (It was televised on Tanikala during Holy Week; I got to speak to abused women at C.R.I.B.S.; I shared it for the first time in another country — at a conference in Brazil; and it was featured in Good Housekeeping in October.)

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3. We finished our home and moved in! This was a miracle! God provided the funds and the suppliers to complete this project when we came to him with our “five loaves and two fish.”

4. I started a playgroup with other homeschooling moms in our bible study which has multiplied to accommodate over 30 kids. It’s still growing!

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5. We opened up our home to a weekly bible study group with couples who are our neighbors. )

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6. Throughout the year, Edric and I spoke on marriage and parenting (topics our hearts really beat for) at events like Before I Do, UECP Family Retreat, TMA Homeschool Roadshows, ACCF Family Retreat, Executive Couples Retreat, Counterflow Parenting Conference, Jubilee Couples Retreat, Saturdates, CCF outreach churches, etc.)

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7. Almost every month we got to go on out of town trips as a family to places like Cebu, Palawan, Montemar, Boracay, Tagaytay, Baguio, Pico de Loro, etc.

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8. I got to continue writing for my site and counseling online as much as possible despite a hectic year.

9. The kids and I finished our homeschool year! We hobbled through the end line but praise God we were done by September. Tiana is now starting Pre-school, Titus transitioned to Grade 1, Edan to Grade 3, Elijah to Grade 6, and, well, Catalina still disrupts us whenever she can.

10. I am still happily married to Edric and privileges to be mom to our five children.

IMG_1089.JPGAnd at this very moment I am enjoying an extended vacation with them in the U.S.

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This year was very challenging for me emotionally, spiritually, and physically, but God was faithful. Even though I stumbled through a lot of 2014, I am amazed at all God did for me and my family. All glory goes to Him as He is the reason I am turning 38 with a smile on my face!

As I end this entry, I want to thank all of you readers for the joy you bring with your emails, messages, and words of encouragement. In many of my low moments this past year I have opened my gmail, Facebook messages or visited comments on my blog and been refreshed by your insights and positivity. Please forgive me if I am not able to respond immediately to all your questions but I want you to know that God has blessed me through your friendship from afar. May He be the light of your heart and home, and the hope that keeps you pressing on. Most of all, may you experience His everlasting love for you!

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. Give thanks to the God of gods,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. To Him who alone does great wonders,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting; To Him who made the heavens with skill,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting; To Him who spread out the earth above the waters,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting; To Him who made the great lights, For His lovingkindness is everlasting: The sun to rule by day,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting, The moon and stars to rule by night, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
(‭Psalms‬ ‭136‬:‭1-9‬ NASB)