Frau Maria, this is for you: THE KINDNESS of STRANGERS

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.
               Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire

Several months ago, I had no idea that there was a sisterhood of mothers with grown and flown children. When I learned about the group, my immediate thought was “Nah, my eldest still has one more year to go before leaving home.” And then. Our eldest bared his plans after high school graduation. It meant leaving for another continent during the summer before twelfth grade to pursue a B2 language certification. It’s a prerequisite when one is applying to a public university in Europe.

Two months. Away from me. Away from us, the family.

My heart went beep, beep. There were late-night discussions with the hubby on doing what’s best for our child’s future. There were number-crunching dialogues on how we will send four children to university.  There were questions as to whether this was an answer to prayer. Was this a way out of sending our boy(s) to the Philippines where teenage boys are being killed with impunity? The boy and his father went over his goals and options repeatedly, an activity that they had begun maybe two or three years ago.

In the end, we both agreed that, whether he’d be accepted into a German university or not in the future, this child needed to further his language studies. After all, he had exhibited incredible self-discipline (he deleted his FB account to focus on his language studies which was conducted entirely at home) to attain A1 and A2 mastery and be eligible for a B1 class in the language school where he was enrolling.

And. We all agreed that the optimal plan was to send him away. The only other option was to enroll him in a language school in the city where he would have to pay rent but not get the immersion experience that he needed. Both options required the same financial investment but the latter offered the lesser return.

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When your child is flying alone for the first time, what do you do? We guessed that most flights were delayed due to the outward-bound flights of G20 leaders that day. 

Why does supporting kids in their pursuits and plans almost always tear the heart? I don’t mean this in a negative way but when I consider my children’s abilities (one son can play the drum, guitar and piano – and we never paid for music lessons for him!) I am always heartbreakingly blown away at the feats they have accomplished at such a young age. They surpass me, these seeds that grew in my womb.

Back to our eldest. This is the child who did not care for the German language classes that he was forced to endure in ninth grade. The child who had resisted purchasing a language program because “Duolingo is free.” And now here he was, begging permission and money. We had no choice but to acquiesce. But our German friends whom we’d visited last year were moving to the US three weeks after my son would arrive. It was uncertain where he would stay afterwards. Nevertheless, he flew and we prayed for the best.

Indeed, his experience was more than we could have hoped for: he stayed with a family where he was forced to think and speak German all the time.

So. Now, here he is again and I’m awash in tears. Not by his presence. But by the letter that he handed to me within minutes of our arrival at home. There’s a line that opened the floodgates (or it could be hormones at this period in my life) amidst praise for my son’s language ability and a reminder to trust in God.

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Reading it, I’m awestruck at the thought that the woman who became his surrogate mother, a working mom with small children still at home,  spared time to pen a letter to me, his birth mother. It’s handwritten. Who writes handwritten letters nowadays? Members of my generation, mothers with grown and flown children who understand each other’s concerns though we’re geographically and culturally worlds apart.

Indeed, I’m staggered at how she opened her home to my son despite being so busy with her own family and work. It’s not something I would have thought to do, being so tired of taking care of myself and my own brood. Beyond that, she affirmed our parenting and sought to quiet a mother’s heart. For being there and holding my child’s heart, Frau Maria, thank you.

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I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV)

Wonder Woman I am not

It seems all I ever do is catch up. Yeah. Take this post, for instance. It was slated to be posted on Mother’s Day. Now it’s the first week of June and I’m still on the first paragraph.

So yeah, my life consists of catching up with –

…. the news.
…. what’s been happening in my friends’ lives.
…. my family.
…. my extended family (meaning: the long-lost relatives who found me on social media)
…. my kids (wow, I nearly forgot to mention them!)
…. my reading (see the photo below of some of the books on my TBR list)
…. my age (a friend recently remarked “Only our body ages, we’re still teenagers!“)
…. my gardening (see photo taken today of my drooping peace lily)
…. my household cleaning (having a maid ranks on top of my wish list till my dying day)

Then again, there’s the laundry. Who has ever caught up with the laundry IRL? Conquering the pile of dirty clothes, bedsheets, towels, etc … would not require Wonder Woman powers so much if, if only the missing sock syndrome didn’t plague our household.

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Okay, so the lonely socks syndrome only affects mommies. Of which I, obviously, am one. That it was not a problem in our household during our blissful BC (before children) days has been lost on the hubby. He fumes whenever it takes him more than 30 seconds to find matching socks I, of course, have the wisdom not to mention that I am not a maid nor a slave to make his life easy.

Here is one solution that I have yet to try because I don’t know what I’ll do if I ever keep the first bag of unmatched socks out of sight and later on forget where it is stored. I am notorious for having a poor memory. There was a time when, while on vacation in the Philippines, the hubby asked, “Where’s our money?

Struck with fear, I asked, “What money?

He calmly replied, as if explaining the alphabet again to a first grader, “You know – our cash for this holiday.

Oh! Are you sure you gave them to me?

Of course, they’re not with me.”

Couldn’t you have stored it away somewhere?

Heck no, I entrusted them to you, remember? I even told you that it was all our spending money.

I kid not, with the specter of losing two months’ worth of holiday currency looming large on the horizon – not to mention the possibility of a word war that I was sure to lose – I turned our entire bedroom upside down. In a matter of minutes, I sweated more than I ever I think I will ever do with a Jillian Michaels workout. Think that you need physical exercise to perspire? Believe not! I’ve never been able to replicate that feat of perspiring a bucket in less than ten minutes in all my dancing since then. Yup – never!

You’d think that by now I’d know every nook and cranny in our bedroom. After all, that was not the first time I’d treasure hunted to find something I’d hidden (usually, my jewelry). But no. On that same vacation, my eldest son found Dh1,700 in the pocket of a pair of shorts in our closet. Which I’d hidden nearly three years before. 😦

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So let’s get back to the problem of missing socks. I’m no Wonder Woman. In fact, I don’t even aspire to reaching Wonder Woman status. Watching Gal Gadot’s achievements actually prompted a question in my mind: how many maids does she have? Does that sound mean? Well, so be it. I’ve no bones to pick with former beauty queens who maintain their looks while having children but every mother knows that one can’t balance work, family responsibilities, workouts, Me time, and stave off the ravages of time without paid help.

Two nights ago, I asked a friend who’s now doing Emily Skye’s workouts, “How was the movie?

She replied, “Her body looks good. From all angles.”

Hearing that somehow depressed me. Yeah, I know, it’s escapist fiction. I have yet to watch the film so I really can’t comment about its storyline but if my friend’s overall impression of the movie was Gadot’s physique and prowess, well … maybe it’s a good idea to pass up on the latest superhero(ine) franchise.

I do watch escapist fiction under duress. And I usually can’t remember the plot the next day. Thus, I prefer my choices to have some semblance of justice for middle-aged matrons with plenty of white hairs and wrinkles. What that means is a plot that has heart, a story that everyone young and old can relate to. Like Kevin Sullivan’s Anne of Green Gables.

Enthusiasm and melancholy, perseverance and grief, romance and regret — in short, a dollop of everything that contributes to the human experience. Still a resonant cornerstone of our national cultural identity, Anne of Green Gables pays affectingly nostalgic tribute to the slower pace and simpler times of an earlier era, while its heroine embodies such “truly Canadian” values as moral conviction, intelligence, and perhaps most importantly, empathy and understanding towards other people.

                                David Davidson in Anne of Green Gables

Maybe it’s nostalgia. Or perhaps it’s because I can recall a time when life was simpler and less grim.  And films did not distort nor deviate from an author’s mood, like Netflix’s dark Anne with an E. Either way, age has a way of distorting one’s views. Even though what continues to be a problem must be addressed and solved, wisdom acquired via experience makes one let go of daily botherations. Especially if it concerns laundry and disappearing socks.  Lonely socks? Let them go to sock heaven!

In the meantime, La La Land beckons so I’ll be off to catch up on some sleep …

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Maybe I should have a bin just for socks? 

Both Sides Now

At our age, we don’t mull. We move!
                               advice from a friend 

Ugh! I hate being reminded of my age. One has only to stand in front of the mirror to see that time has wrought changes that do not reflect the Me I am inside. Then again. With age comes a certain point in time at which one looks back. When Gail Sheehy did so, she chose the favorite song of my childhood. In a testament to the enduring appeal of the song, Sheehy wrote an article on how Joni Mitchell’s iconic folk song Both Sides Now carried her through the different stages of her life.

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View of Taal Volcano (I think)

Listening to it again after a lapse of several years, likewise, I, too, could relate to the “many sides of Both Sides Now” that Sheehy explored (none of which I care to discuss publicly). Because. Despite growing old, I really don’t know clouds … at all … or love, or life – for that matter.

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere,
I’ve looked at clouds that way.

But now they only block the sun,
They rain and they snow on everyone
So many things I would have done,
But clouds got in my way.

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels,
The dizzy dancing way that you feel
As every fairy tale comes real,
I’ve looked at love that way.

But now it’s just another show,
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know,
Don’t give yourself away.

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud,
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds,
I’ve looked at life that way.

Oh but now old friends they’re acting strange,
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day.

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life
I really don’t know life at all

Note: This post was originally written on November 8, 2014.

January Thoughts: Deconstructing My Feminist Self

An artist must, after all, speak of his own experience.”
                                     Li Tianbing, Chinese painter

‘Twas nearly a month ago when it happened. I was waiting at our gathering spot at the mall after we’d watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens and mulling over the film’s convoluted plot (which today I can’t recall) when I witnessed a practice that is common to Arabs in the Gulf Region: two men leaned forward until their noses joined, then swung their head from side to side in the traditional greeting between members of the male sex. They were one meter away from me.  The act was repeated again between friends A and C (the first was between A and B who was with C) before the men held each other’s hands in an exuberance telling of the warm friendship that existed between them.

Witnessing the nose kiss so up close and personal had me wondering at the vagaries of a society with strict codes for dress and conduct for both men and women. I’ve seen the hubby warmly embraced by a kandura-wearing friend whom he had not seen in a year. So. Men are able to freely express their friendship without arousing suspicions that they are gay. But women? Well, I’ve seen many, many women flaunt their figures underneath the abaya, their shopping bags breezily dangling from their arms as they cheerfully chatter away. I’ve also seen women publicly dance with other women because there were no men present to be their partners. But never have I seen women greet each other the way men embrace each other in public.

If men can engage in PDA’s of the intimate sort in the public sphere, what about the women? That got me thinking. And wondering. Then thinking again. About the engineer who was called home by her father so she would not be corrupted by the West. About how social change is inevitable in a country used to satellite television. About the thirty-something woman I met who spends her days watching television. About how Emirati women are fortunate to have a government that cares, truly cares, about them (local women are encouraged to get a university degree and are offered technical/financial help if they want to set up a business). About how the road to lasting social change is paved with potholes and craters literally and figuratively. Lastly, about my journey to and from feminism.

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I first became enamored with the feminist movement’s ideals after reading Collette Dowling’s The Cinderella Complex at the age of thirteen.  That it happened just when Cyndi Lauper was singing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” in a society where female university graduates were being encouraged via tax incentives to procreate with fellow graduates may have been a contributing factor. That I was a rebellious daughter may have been another contributing factor. I don’t know. All I can now say is …

I’ve done it. I’ve attended university classes where I was one of three girls in a class of 33 without wearing a bra. I’ve worn clothes that would not be considered revealing today but which, given the time and place, caused my classmates to joke “Athena, your dressmaker must have been short of fabric once again!” I’ve smoked but quit just to get my best friend off my back. It was easier to quit than tolerate her constant nagging that it was bad for my health. You might even say that the course I managed to finish at university – electrical engineering – arose from a desire not to constrain myself to a female profession.

Eventually,  I realized that these were shallow displays, the external trappings of a feminism not deep enough to flout society’s norms. (Why must feminists break through boundaries and flout cultural conventions to be lauded for their achievements?)

Becoming a Christian a year before graduating from university was responsible for the latter, of course. Who knows what I might have done had I not found Christ? Years and years later, reading the Bible enabled me to view the secular writings in magazines from the perspective of one who had found freedom in Christ. That only Christ’s truth – not the church, not religion – liberates was truly liberating in a way that is hard to explain.

I also realized that men have used religion (or lack of it as in the case with China) to perpetuate gender inequality in all forms throughout history long before Jimmy Carter famously declared his withdrawal from the Southern Baptist Convention (notice he did not say he abandoned his faith). As an aside, did you know that women in East Germany had a better life under the old Communist regime?

My idea of a true feminist is a woman who feels free enough to do whatever she wants.”                                                                           Lana del Rey

And so here I am: a housewife with plenty of fat and white hair to spare who’s now able to proudly proclaim “Hey, I’ve been a feminist all this time!” without shame. Except, except …. I’m not. Not really. Because I think. You see, real feminists just do. They don’t sit around, intellectualizing the debate over bridging the gap in the salaries of men and women. They don’t give speeches lamenting their lower pay or bragging that they’re successful because they did not get pregnant/got an abortion. They’re not the women who carefully plot a course to upset the male status quo. Because. Real feminists can’t afford to think. At least those who do not live in the developed Western world can’t. So. They simply act. Just to survive.

I learned feminism disproportionately from black women.
Gloria Steinem

To me, right now, the true feminists are not the women who are accustomed to privilege and want to have more. The face of a feminist is that of the child bride who refuses the marriage arranged between her and a man three times her age. She is the Indian widow who defies society’s expectation that she die with her husband by choosing to exist, struggling to maintain dignity while living a beggar’s life. She is the Chinese mother who, after giving birth to a girl, hides her and gives her up for adoption to give her child a better life. She is the rape victim who has boldly shown her face to the world. She is the student who bravely utters words that she knows could get her a bullet in her body.  She may be the lawyer who gives up a lucrative job to join an NGO and defend girls in court. She could be the mother figure in a village livelihood project. Heck, she may even be the whore in a brothel struggling to maintain some semblance of self-respect while looking for a way to get out of her pimp’s protection.

In all cases, they are either trying to or have bucked cultural conventions and hierarchical patterns set down by external authorities. Their life shows no signs of the external trappings of feminism that is associated with the movement in the West. Perhaps I think like this because I come from the Far East, no? I don’t know. Anyway ….

In the 1990s, Dustin Hoffman starred in Accidental Hero with Geena Davis and Andy Garcia. It’s a nondescript gem of a movie. Still, it stayed with me through the years for questioning American culture’s fixation with heroes and the general definition of a hero. Perhaps we should do the same when it comes to feminists? I’m not saying that those who vigorously campaigned for equal pay, workplace childcare, access to contraceptives, and other issues did not advance the movement. They did. But. There’s a Me-ness to their activism that is lacking in the examples I mentioned above.

Today, I am largely disillusioned at the Western framework for female liberation or what exactly constitutes a feminist. I look at Gloria Steinem and Camille Paglia and their ilk and wonder whether the achievements for which they are lauded actually did us any good in the long run. Don’t get me wrong. I deeply admire Steinem for walking her talk. But sometimes I do wonder if the women’s movement would have progressed without their activism and rhetoric, pushed along by the waves of fresh female graduates and women seeking employment after a divorce. Or if, in seeking parity with men, women traded something better for something that is simply good. Because. The reality is we can’t have it all. (I could expand what I mean by this statement but this post is already very long) If we could, then why do women today face so many problems that our parents and grandparents never had?

In the end, what ultimately nailed the coffin on my regard for the feminist movement was Mallory Millett’s Marxist Feminism’s Ruined Lives: The Horror I Witnessed Inside the Women’s “Liberation” Movement. Millett is the sister of Kate Millett, a feminist icon. In it, she reveals the man-hating family-destroying agenda of the feminist movement. Reading it brought up many questions …

Why must women act like sluts to gain freedom from men? Where is the self-respect in that? Can’t one have a liberal mind without flouting societal norms? Another thing. Men do not work their butts to trade places with us. Have you heard of a guy expressing a wish to get pregnant and give birth?

We were uniquely made to carry a life and childbirth. Why then, do we aspire to jobs traditionally held by men? (Again, I’m not saying it’s wrong – just that if you’re not called and uniquely suited for it, it’s a travesty to do so just to advance a movement). Why do we reject the physical limitations placed on our bodies? Menstruation is a pain, yes, but there’s no point in wishing that men experience it. They can’t and that should be the end of it.

So what, exactly, does a feminist mean to me right now? It’s hard to explain. The feminist movement has embraced all sorts of causes (gay rights, racial equality) that the average person would have a hard time grasping its tail, especially since identifying with it is now so fraught with emotion. Celebrities declaring that they’re not feminists have not helped the cause, either.

So. Let me revise my opinion once again. The real feminists, the way I see it, are not necessarily those who proclaim their feminism in their writings or actions. They are the women who, in forging an identity true to their nature, have paved the way to something better for the rest of womankind. They may not be wildly successful in their fields. But. In extending the boundaries for what women are capable of – and I’m not talking about the glass ceiling only here – they have made the world a better place for their daughters and daughters-in-law. This definition is not limited to powerful women like Hilary Clinton whose ability to concurrently inspire disgust and admiration leaves me in awe. It embraces females of all color and creed and may even include – gasp! – your mother.

In the end, the true feminist may be the mother who educates her sons and daughters about the value of human life, showing that gender equality, when marked by a recognition and celebration of the distinct differences between male and female, is biblically compatible. Because. Come to think of it, if all men grew up thinking that women deserve equal pay as men … if all boys became men believing that women’s differences do not make them inferior but in fact superior to men, we wouldn’t be waging a war in the workplace and judiciary, would we?

As for me, well, don’t label me a feminist. Or wife. Or mother. Just one word will do: woman. After all, it’s what I was created to be. And. It’s the only word that captures the essence of Me.

A few film suggestions beyond Sufragette:
Not Without My Daughter
Girl Rising
I am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced
Water 

Letter to a sister in Christ

My dear, your long response took me by surprise! It was the longest reply to a Christmas greeting that I ever got. So much so that I couldn’t help but gather my thoughts into a post. And no, I don’t think your feelings are invalid; your predicament is not uncommon to people who grew up inside a church.

You know, my initial reaction to your missive was “Why listen to them? You don’t have to! They’re thousands of miles away.” In a sense, aren’t you thankful that you’ve been blessed to be given that much distance between you and family?

But then, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that your mother-in-law has a point. Oh not that part about holding on to the standards that you were raised with. I’ll say more about that later on. Ultimately – in the long run as others might say – one can’t divorce the external from the internal. Our appearance, our behavior, our words only reflect the convictions of our heart. How we project ourselves to others may depend on what we’re feeling at the moment, yes, but ultimately, our image is shaped by what is in our heart. That applies to an homemaker (and I know many homemakers who are very fashionable despite being saddled with little children – how they do it remains a mystery to me) as well as an abaya-wearing maiden or a sari-clad Indian lady.

Yes, you’re right. To focus only on the external is wrong even though that’s how we are primarily judged. That is why Jesus again and again targeted the heart. It’s just like parenting: if we don’t get ahold of our children’s heart, they will obey externally while rebelling internally. That is why many children wander away from their parents’ faith after leaving the nest. Nobody can truly legislate morality beyond the home – not the school, not the church, not the government – though God knows many continue to try.

In the epistles, Paul speaks of legalism in the context of circumcision and talks about being free in Christ. We talk so much about freedom in Christ yet we’re still chained in our way of thinking. We shouldn’t be. We’ve been set free.

The trouble, I feel, arises when men (some would say “the church”) impose their standards (some would say “their interpretation of Scripture”) on the flock of which they are shepherds. But consider. Isn’t it telling that Jesus never said anything about outward appearances or how to clothe ourselves or how we ought to look? Correct me if I’m wrong but the only verses I can find are Matthew 6:28-30 and they concern the provision, not the use, of clothing. As an aside, isn’t it also telling that the verses we Christians hold on to as biblical standards for dressing were written by men? Why do you think God did not use women writers to record his message?

You know, I wrote about my standards for dressing two posts ago for a secular audience. That piece came about after much reflection on the evolution of my fashion sense through the years and how it reflected my Christian walk. So. Please believe me when I say I totally get your frustration. Your problem is: How do you get the message across that they should not worry so much about the external trappings of religion (in this case Christianity) because you’ve finally found joy in being liberated from oppressive standards that smack of legalism?

The tension between finding freedom in Christ and breaking free from what you’ve been trained to be and do while growing up is real. Believe me. I’ve been through it. Where I come from (and may I just say that I do miss the way you preface every explanation with that phrase), legalism did not come from church – it came from the convent school where I finished high school. Where one had to button up to the neck and you could be penalized for wearing hair down your shoulders (it took a long time but when I did, I wore my hair down all the time without feeling any guilt).

But we’re not talking about me. So let’s get back to your problem. My dear, there’s only one solution: with love. The particulars of which He will instruct you.

You’d love our devotional group. I’ve never found a group permeated with so much honesty. A few weeks ago, I told the girls “There’s a benefit to growing old: one attains the wisdom one lacked in youth. One also dispenses with others’ standards and finally gets comfortable with being accountable to only Him above.” 

You’ll get there, my friend. You’ll get there, eventually,  though the path will require you to make some hard decisions. Finding freedom in Christ, you’ll also find the confidence to be YOU, the unique you God created you to be without feeling apologetic to anyone. And when you do, you’ll be free to decide whether to make a statement or conform to society’s norms. IMHO, it’s more convenient to take into account the cultural context of one’s environment but what do I know? I live in a desert town deep in Arabia where men outnumber women ten to one.

I have to stop here. The sun has now come up and I have to smell my roses.

Lots of love,
Athena

The Cross and Christmas

Note: For some reason unknown to me, this is the most-read post of my 6-year-old blog. Considering that this blog had only one entry this year until a few days ago and has so few subscribers, it is puzzling as to how this post garnered 61 reads in 2020. And so, I was inspired to add a few photos as updates. Hopefully, they did not detract from whatever it was that attracted people to it in the first place. (December 2020)

“I don’t feel the Christmas spirit,” my daughter declared then proceeded to make gingerbread cookies.

And if people are being honest, everybody is struggling with something — and if you are not, you are dead.”
Rosaria Butterfield, former lesbian and gay activist

It’s Christmas time once more and even though we live in a land that is predominantly Muslim, Christmas decorations are everywhere to remind everyone that it’s time for merrymaking and gift-giving. But. I am in no mood to decorate our house this season unlike in years past. Maybe it’s because I’m getting on in age and thoughts of lying in a coffin have flitted through my mind on and off these past few months.

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Studying the different names of Jesus

Or maybe it’s because living in a land where you’ve got to exert more effort to celebrate Christmas has rendered the event more poignant, enabling one to see the pointlessness of indulging in the endless round of eating and drinking and what-not.

Whatever. Christmas this year has been toned down in our house. No Christmas carols. No Christmas tree. What we’ve been doing, my homeschooled kids and I, is a daily study of the different names of Jesus and an Advent calendar of thanksgiving. The Christ, after all, is the reason why we’re awash in red and green colors this time of year – what’s the point of celebrating if He is not at the center of your merrymaking?

To that end, yours truly has been undergoing some heavy introspection. Looking at the Cross, which is where Christmas culminates, I have been confronted with the ugly side of me.  “You’re no better, kid, your Christianity is a sham” was all I could tell myself after deciding that life would be simpler if only I wasn’t onion-skinned and reflecting on our family life that’s constantly full of strife nowadays. All the while thinking why are the most genuine Christians I know outside the church?

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Instead of an Advent Calendar of fun activities, we made an Advent Calendar of Thanksgiving to remind us of the many blessings we received during December 2015

Without elaborating, this year holding grudges over hurts real, imagined, intentional, and otherwise drove me to withdraw from people and focus only on those friendships that continue to be rewarding. As much as possible, I excused ourselves from parties. Heck, I’ve even been absent from our Ladies Fellowship for two years (except for one event in January) despite the repeated encouragement of friends to attend.

“Why do they bother you? Why can’t you let go?” a close friend asked.

I replied, “I find it hard to fake friendship especially when someone has lied to me.”

Self-righteousness, however, has never served anyone. Jesus actually condemned the habit when He was alive. And a Christianity that costs nothing is worth nothing in Heaven’s eyes. If Jesus, who died for me on Calvary, could do it proactively – why couldn’t I forgive? I decided I could. But then had to decide over and over again before I could make a move. There was one thing that held me back, also: distance. I thought back to my aunt who had defrauded me of more than $2,000 and how I was ready to banter with her after a year of not seeing her. And cried out for more distance.

When I finally learned that forgiveness doesn’t make the other person right, it makes you free, I found great breakthrough in that area.
              Stormie Omartian, The Power of a Praying Parent

Me, I’d be happy to go to the grave without forgiving anyone. But. Jesus is my master. He has commanded us to forgive more than seventy times seven. And as I saw my children exhibit more instances of unforgiveness this year, I began to wonder whether my attitude had something to do with it. The Holy Spirit cannot work when it is hindered by such trivial things as pride, bitterness, etc…

If I live under grace, surely, then I would be more like Rosaria Butterfield whose consistency in her Christian walk with believers and dissenters is encapsulated in W.H. Auden’s lines “If equal affection cannot be, Let the more loving one be me.”

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Looking at the Christmas story through angel eyes, one wonders whether a tree, jingle bells, reindeer, snowflakes, chestnuts, mistletoe, candy cane, ribbons and other traditional Western emblems of the Yuletide season truly help us commemorate an event that occurred two thousand years ago in a Middle Eastern land. Said event enraged a despotic Idumean ruler after mysterious visitors from the East left him in the lurch. Thirty plus years later, Rome crucified the baby born that night, thinking it had done away with a troublemaker from Judea. Isn’t it astonishing that today billions celebrate the baby’s birth? Above: excerpt of J.B. Philips’ The Visited Planet short story taken from Philip Yancey’s book The Jesus I Never Knew. 

The truth is I live under grace. A grace that pulls me back to the Cross again and again however far away I run from it. Isaiah 11:3 actually says  “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears,” – something which I am all too guilty of.

And God is so good! It has been quite a lonely walk going against the grain in a town where ladies who brunch send their three-year-olds to an eight-hour kindergarten. So much so that, being the only homeschooler in town, I felt defensive about keeping my children at home. A year ago, however, God sent other HSers. Today, I belong to a devotional group of committed Christians where we drop our masks as we explore Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life. Also, my husband’s forgiving nature is a bright example that continues to encourage me.

If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
                                                                          Romans 12:18

So. Two days ago, I initiated a conversation with someone whom I had not spoken to in months, maybe a year. Previously, it infuriated me to see this person on a regular basis (even the hubby said the problem was with me) so much so that I took to ignoring her presence. It got so that I started to distance myself even from the people that she mingled with.

Anyway, back to what happened to two days ago: since I’d paid a compliment, her reaction was priceless. Indeed, the more I gaze at the Cross, trivial things like grudges seem petty in the light of eternity.

As long as we don’t compromise the scriptural limitations on our relationships with unbelievers, God wants us to be willing to bend over backwards to build peaceful bridges to any persons who hate us and persecute us. That means we cannot hold a grudge or harbor bitterness toward them. We must instead extend genuine, heartfelt forgiveness. Then we can honestly begin the process of seeking reconciliation, the results of which are in God’s hands.
                          John MacArthur, The Power of Integrity

Will this struggle with self-worth and pride never end? I doubt it. Some will say “Get to know your position in Christ!” But. I do know it. A child of the King, part of a royal priesthood … and yet, and yet … until one stands naked before the Cross, stripped of an identity defined by the self, can the things of earth … grow strangely dim.

Still, I keep faith and plan to build more bridges instead of walls even though it has often seemed that being a Christian is easy. It’s being consistently authentic that’s so darn hard.

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If you’ve seen the movie, do yourselves a favor: read the book. Angelina Jolie’s film tells only half the story. Zamperini’s triumph over bitterness and his road to forgiveness is detailed in the book.

Ultimately, forgiveness is at the heart of Christmas. Unfortunately, it is obscured by the glitter and gift-giving that surrounds the occasion.  And if you’re a Christian, I’ve learned (though it’s shameful that it took me this long to internalize it) that you have no business celebrating the event if you cannot forgive. So. Amidst the merrymaking that we can’t get ourselves out of, let’s remind ourselves of the essence of Christmas: the Son came down to earth (or, as Albert Camus the well-known atheist existentialist wrote below, abandoned its traditional privilege) to pay a price for the Father to forgive us. Shouldn’t we also do the same?

Update, January 2016 : Believe it or not, my prayer was answered: the person I was praying to leave did go away for the exact period of time that I’d asked for — six months. 

 

“(Christ) the god-man suffers too, with patience. Evil and death can no longer be imputed to him since he suffers and dies. The night on Golgotha is so important in the history of man only because, in its shadows, the divinity ostensibly abandoned its traditional privilege, and lived through to the end, despair included, the agony of death.” Albert Camus

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, p 31.
Source: Essais (Gallimard, 1965), p.444. Translated and quoted by Bruce Ward in ‘Prometheus or Cain? Albert Camus’s Account of the Western Quest for Justice’, Faith and Philosophy (April 1991); 213

So this is love …

It never ceases to amaze me … this thing called love. Because. I’ve known of and know men who … cheat on their wives, remain faithful despite long separations, shoulder on through widowhood for more than 20 years, become silent partners to their domineering wives, are proud of their trophy wives, etc …

A friend, for example, yesterday recounted to me a man who told her while she was attending to his wife (her patient), “You’re very fortunate, you don’t live with your husband . It is very difficult to come home to a wife everyday!” The guy’s wife, btw, was pregnant with his ninth child when he uttered those words.

It being our 20th wedding anniversary two days ago, I am sharing here a post that was originally published on Sept. 29, 2014, in another blog. Please pardon my long-winded reflections on the nature of love …

Never think she loves him wholly
Never believe her love is blind
All his faults are locked securely
In a closet of her mind;
All his indecisions folded
Like old flags that time has faded,
Limp and streaked with rain,
And his cautiousness like garments
Frayed and thin, with many a stain–
Let them be, oh let them be,
There is treasure to outweigh them,
His proud will that sharply stirred,
Climbs as surely as the tide.
Senses strained too taut to sleep,
Gentleness to beast and bird,
Humor flickering hushed and wide,
As the moon on moving water,
And a tenderness too deep
To be gathered in a word.

                     Sara Teasdale, Appraisal

It hits me at the most unexpected moments. That the guy I married remains true and faithful, even after spending nearly 20 years with selfish me. And I wonder: Why? How? One of those times was last July, right after Typhoon Glenda had wiped out electricity and water supply in our village. Knowing that I had not wanted to return home to the Philippines for a vacation, the hubby said nothing while I used the lack of water and electricity to feed only bread to the family and immersed myself in a poetry anthology to prevent myself from complaining.
 

When dusk fell, he quietly gathered up our two youngest children (why did they have to dirty themselves more than usual when there was no water?) and cleaned them up using only a tabo of water. I came upon the children being wiped clean in our upstairs veranda and quickly turned to our bedroom so nobody could see me choking up. We don’t have a maid so scenes like that – they overwhelm and make me cry. To me, that act of love was better than an SMS saying “I love you.” Without an exchange of words, what my heart heard was “This service is not a sacrifice on my part because it was done to make life easier for you.” It also spoke volumes about the kind of man I married: quiet, unassuming, and a servant-leader willing to do dirty jobs. Then again, it’s not  surprising because the hubby is a farmer’s son. And proud of it, too.

This month, Christianity Today published an article entitled “I Didn’t Marry My Best Friend.” I could write an article, too, entitled “I Didn’t Marry My Husband” or something like “I Didn’t Marry the Man I Thought I Was Going to Marry.” Because. I didn’t really know the man I got hitched to. How could I? We didn’t grow up together, we were never playmates or classmates (we were schoolmates) and besides, how does one truly get to know another person whose interests are a far cry from yours except by the grace of God? Believe me, I can so relate to the poem below …

She reads the paper while he turns on the TV,
she likes the mountains, he craves the sea.
He’d rather drive, she’ll take the plane.
He waits for sunshine, she walks in the rain.
He gulps down cold drinks, She sips at hot.
he asks, “Why go?” She asks, “Why not?”
In just about everything they disagree
but they love one another and they both love me.
                                             Eve Merriam, Two People

         All I knew back then was that this guy is – just like me – a sinner saved by the grace of God and that, out of debt to the Cross, I’d have to forgive him for whatever future hurts he’d bestow upon me. So it’s been quite a dance through the years… this learning that love is a verb, not a noun (a feeling) as so many of us have been led to believe.
So yes, he still springs surprises on me. Like the time he signed up for scuba diving lessons. Or the times he splurged on a Nikon digital single-lens reflex camera and expensive lenses. I wondered whether these had to do with life happening after 40 but later realized they only reflected his spirit of self-sacrifice – he’d waited until our financial position was somewhat stable before pursuing his passion. Or dreams. Or whatever men call the gadgets they buy. I’ve heard they’re toys for the big boys.
Perhaps the greatest quality that I appreciate about my husband is his being a follower of Christ. It’s almost sacrilegious to admit this and I’m guessing not many will understand but I do mean it when I state that listening to one’s hubby preach or deliver a sermon can be a huge turn-on. Couple that with a self-confidence that gives him strength to go against the world’s grain and boy, have you got an attractive combination.   

Next is his inability to be attracted only by physical beauty (or so I’d like to believe, ha, ha). I can’t count the number of times when I’ve expressed admiration for a woman’s beauty only to be told something negative about her character that he noticed but which I had not seen. Besides, as one’s looks go by the wayside, one cannot help but feel greater appreciation for a man who does not see you as a trophy wife but has valued you as an intellectual equal since the start of your marriage. 

 Oh, and have I said anything about his sense of humor? I had not expected any laughter in our marriage, never having observed my parents laugh at themselves. But God in His infinite wisdom sent me a man whose dry wit and wacky sense of humor continues to make life entertaining. Who else can kid with me in a serious tone of voice?
Me:        Hey, it’s our 20th anniversary next year. Want to renew our
               vows?
Him:      Ah … I don’t think so.
Me:        Why not? We didn’t have any money when we got married.
                This time we could have a grand party.
Him:      That’s just it.
Me:         What is IT ???
Him:       Honestly? Well, after nearly 20 years, I don’t think I can
                declare “I do” again in front of so many people.
Me:         You’re joking, right?

So maybe I can’t get the guy to walk down the aisle again. Heck, I can’t even get him to hold my hand while taking a moonlit stroll in a scene straight out from the movies: waves lapping, yachts berthed by the quay, lights twinkling across the river, etc …. Sigh… Moonlit strolls at forty-five are so, so vastly different from nighttime walks at twenty-five.

Btw, I’m older than forty-five, it just sounds better than forty-six or forty-seven or forty-eight. Whereas my hand would have been grasped tightly twenty years ago, today I know my place. Had I tripped (little chance of that really since he convinced me to abandon my heels in favor of flats but still, it was dark), a dent to my pride would have been nothing compared to the dent to his pocket that a damaged Nikon D7100 camera would give. Reality blues, er, bites ….

The reality is altogether different after 20 years. Whereas hardly a disagreement characterized our pre-marriage period, today – well, Depeche Mode got it right when it penned

Though my views may be wrong
They may even be perverted
She will hear me out
And won’t easily be converted
To my way of thinking
In fact she’ll often disagree …

In fact, when I think about how I steered clear of sports and other athletic activities throughout my school life, I can’t believe how their lyrics sum up what I feel:

All the things I detest
I will almost like

So yes, the honeymoon phase of our marriage has been over for quite some time. I suspect it’s been over far longer for him than for me, though, he being the breadwinner and all. Recently, he threw a book off the bed and asked in an irritated voice “Can I have a rest day tomorrow, please?” Good thing his glance did not fall on the book’s title: Confessions of a Slacker Wife by Muffy Mead-Ferro.

Meanwhile, the children are growing up and our hairs are turning gray. By the grace of God, however, and despite having dissimilarity of pursuits,  our life together continues to be a

romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality. This good-fellowship — camaraderie — usually occurring through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately seldom superadded to love between the sexes, because men and women associate, not in their labours, but in their pleasures merely. Where, however, happy circumstance permits its development, the compounded feeling proves itself to be the only love which is strong as death—that love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown, beside which the passion usually called by the name is evanescent as steam.                                                                                                                                                                  Thomas Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd

Listful thanking (and how I had the most embarassing experience of my life on Mother’s Day)

There are days when I ponder the tediousness of life. Days when I sigh and think “How dreary my mornings are! Nothing to look forward to but the same routine everyday.” Cooking. Cleaning. Washing. Ironing. On days like these, I really struggle to read my Bible because then I feel “I should do (insert an activity here) or finish (insert another activity here).

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Happiness is … buying books, books and more books!

         When the hubby is home, it’s worse. He gets up much too early to cook, leaving me feeling guilty in bed. Of course nobody can stay in bed when one feels guilty. So I get up and sigh again … Right now, we’re supposed to be homeschooling. But I can’t wrap my mind around Math or English or History let alone Science. I’m feeling kinda heavy, probably some kind of jetlag related to returning home after a vacation and getting back into the groove of homeschooling little ones.

Art books bought for a total of Dh125!
Art books bought for a total of Dh125!

Also, I’m trying hard not to complain over the gazillion chores that need to be completed today to feed and clothe all family members on time (the hubby’s cycling clothes, for example, need to be washed for his daily ride). So. Today, I went over the events that have occurred since Thursday last week (when we went to Dubai for our annual staycation) and last night (when we went to a birthday party). While watching/reading the news always prompts me to be thankful for what I have, making a list reminds me how blessed we are right now as a family. Mind you, I was so stressed out the day before we left that I almost wished aloud we had no need to travel far to get three free days from household work.

 So. Believe it or not, since May 7, 2015, I

1  Had a conversation with a staff of Medecin Sans Frontier who gave me a copy of their most recent  (2013) International Activity report. (Today, I told the hubby “I didn’t know that MSF aka Doctors Without Borders was so big! He quickly replied “Honey, remember – they’ve got no borders!”)

2  Swam in a swimming pool for the first time in 12 years. And also. Squeezed my bod into a bathing suit for the first time in my life (I used to wear leotards).

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There’s the pool where yours truly swam … sorry, posting pics of myself by the pool is a no-no for me

3  Bonded over ice-cream with the hubby’s relatives living in Dubai (They’re visiting us several days from now!)

4  Laughed out loud over the married men chasing a still-sexy, divorced ex-classmate of the hubby.

5  Had a l-o-n-g conversation on the phone with a relative/ex-neighbor whose son bonded with my eldest last summer vacation

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View of the iconic Burj Al Arab from our hotel room

6  Attended another church (What a refreshing experience! Lord, I heard your message – I’m on the way to forgiving)

7  Collected free reading material from the hotel where we stayed and from the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair which we visited the day after we returned from Dubai (Yup, we covered more than 1,300 km in 4 days!)

8  Ate at Friday’s again where we enjoyed a rib eye steak.

9  Ordered room service for the children’s dinner so we didn’t have to drive out for dinner (Our feet were so-o-o tired; I can write a post about how I hate shopping in Dubai malls)

10  Met a veteran HSing mom for the second time and had a lovely dialogue with her

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The rose that came with the dinner for the kids

11 Was interviewed by someone from a radio station (someday I may post a photo but since I’m technically challenged when it comes to anything manufactured by Apple, you’ll just have to take my word for it)

12  Was unable to buy any clothes despite going to the dressing room five times in two hours at the Mall of the Emirates  … sigh … the hubby was in a buying mood because it was Mother’s Day yesterday!

Just in case you think I live an enviable life – think again! My eighth grader was suspended for two days for bringing a pocket knife to school. He claims he did it in self-defense after being bullied. (His younger brother, who is still being homeschooled, complained “I don’t see how that can be a punishment … he is at home doing nothing!“)

The reason it did not make it to the list is because the suspension occurred on Wednesday. Oh and have I said anything about my sanitary pad’s inadequate service while we were at a party last night? I’ll spare you the details (except to say that I’d recently changed) and just declare that it was the most embarassing experience in my 46 years of existence ….

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This photo was actually taken in March. The hubby bought the roses on the way home from the airport. The UAE celebrates Mother’s Day twice, I suppose, because retailers wish to take advantage of the UK’s and the US’ observance of the day.

Friday morning musings: He is enough

Yesterday, a friend and I got to conversing about reading. Being busy mothers with not much time to read, we admitted to having our own preferences when it comes to writing styles and confessed to not liking what the rest of the world embraces. We both asked what the other was reading and I had the guts to declare that it’s only now, 20 years after marriage, that I am buying (lots of) books again for my own reading pleasure even though I’ve read book reviews for the longest time (that, incidentally, is one of my fave Billy Joel song).

So. Yes. I have a l-o-n-g bucket list of books. Some are even on my bookshelf. I look at them and wonder when I’ll find the time to truly get lost in them. You know, as in inhabit their world and get under a character’s skin. The last time I was able to do that was months ago – believe it or not, it occurred while I was waiting for a dental appointment in the city. At home, all I can do is sigh …

Either I think of the meal I should be cooking … or … I am writing (like now) … or I hear the hubby complaining “Why don’t you sleep early? That way you won’t be so irritable in the morning!” … when I am reading.

That this season of my life is such a busy one sometimes gets me down. Then I think of how I could have done better in past seasons of my life. That sinks me further down because it seems like everything I’ve done were mistakes which I’m having a hard time unraveling today. I look at my younger friends who look like they’ve got it all together – faith, family, friends and even fun. And wonder while stifling feelings of envy over knowing now what I wish I knew back then.

Then I think of how God, in his infinite tenderness, always gives everybody a second chance and I get lifted up. Wait a minute – how can we all have second chances when time is marching on? I sure don’t know.

Let me tell you, though, that He is able. Because. Each time I’ve come to the cross, crying out in frustration over my situation these past few months, seemingly incongruous events have been stitched together to show me that I am loved by Someone above. As Vaneetha Rendall puts it in her April 22, 2015 post on John Piper’s blog, God doesn’t grant my every request even when I pray faithfully. But he does promise to satisfy me with his unfailing love as he walks through every trial with me.

God is enough. How many of us have come to that realization while walking on this earth? I sure have not. But. I am learning. Day by day. So. Some days, I build enough courage to reach out from my corner of the world to people who – I try to remember – are also imperfect like me. Some days, life rolls over like a harrowing wind, threatening to engulf my mind with thoughts of suicide and regrets. Most days, though, He is enough.

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Abu Dhabi as seen from the hotel where the hubby and I had a recent getaway

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace. Helen H. Lemmel

For Mei

Note: A shorter version of this article was published here.

 It’s embarassingly plain how inadequate language is …. Some griefs can never be put right.                                                              Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

I come from a country which, in 2009, shoved aside Iraq to be the worst place on earth for a journalist to practice his or her profession. That year, 34 media people were massacred in a single event  that – five years, four months and four weeks on – remain unaccounted for. Not a single suspect has been prosecuted though everyone knows the culprits and the mastermind(s). Witnesses have either disappeared or gone into hiding.

In such a climate of fear and retribution, it is no wonder that truth becomes so precious a commodity that exposing it to the cold light of day draws enemies of the killing kind. Like a miner excavating for diamonds, journalists who mine for news that endanger dynasties – political, financial or otherwise – often risk their lives when their investigations congeal into print. Honest reporting brings its own recompense: they are either harassed, bought off or silenced.

My father was a journalist, too, but he was pragmatic in his outlook. With six children to feed, he sold insurance then went abroad and gave us a taste of other worlds beyond our own to strive for when we grew up. Thus, we never experienced the horrors of having family members disappearing, being tortured or dismembered.

Still, an episode occurred that until now remains a mystery to my siblings and I. In the early 1980s we returned home for a Christmas vacation and my father went missing for three days upon our arrival at the airport (which was still new at that time). My mother’s relatives, of course, had an explanation: Your husband is a journalist. What do you expect?

When he reappeared at my grandfather’s house, we all rejoiced and my mother accepted his explanation that he’d been lost and spent the time holed up in a hotel. If anyone had doubts, we children never heard of it. The adults kept quiet for we never heard the episode mentioned again. My siblings and I, however, cannot help  but conjecture over what really happened. We’d returned in 1985. Had my father a querida and a second family, we reasoned, they surely would have popped out during his funeral.

I narrate this piece of personal history to explain why something within me is disturbed each time a newsperson is murdered for simply doing his/her job honestly in my country. I know how it feels to have someone close to you disappear. Why does geography determine our fate?

A week ago, I learned that a journalist friend of the family had been gunned down while walking in my parents’ hometown by a man riding a motorcycle. It was news that we had been waiting for quite some time.

                                                                         ♥♥♥

Long before she had a byline in a national daily, our friend used to come to our old house and as we got to know her through the years, we marveled at her courage and ability to get witnesses to talk. She had a joie de vivre that transcends time so that even though it’s been years since I last saw her, her vivacious personality and enthusiasm for life remain inked in my mind. In fact, when I met her husband at the parking lot of a mall six years back, I remember thinking what kind of man was he to have gotten her to settle down. Alas, time moves on and friends drift off … as she climbed up in her career we watched from afar knowing that the enemies she made could be her downfall.

                                                                         ♥♥♥

Knowing our friend’s crusade as a journalist against the political bigwigs in our province, I was not surprised at her murder. Yet. I still could not help it. I wept. For her. For people of her ilk. And for my parents’ hometown where people are too afraid to speak about what they know. Believe it or not, my mother still says “Hush!” whenever our mealtime talks veer towards the political situation in town even though the house where we chat is situated in a gated community. And to think that our dictator left nearly 30 years ago!

Unlike other provincial journalists, our friend’s murder was covered by national media because she was the first victim of a national daily for which she had been a correspondent.  It even drew condemnation from the presidential office and rewards for information on the assassin.

The latter, however, worries me. Because. In my parents’ hometown, everything – and I mean everything – is controlled by the family that has occupied city hall’s highest seat for the past 29 years. From the police to the shipping companies operating the international port to drug pushing – you name it, they’ve got it covered by one or two or more of their extended family. Years ago, in fact, they even had the power to bring about a power failure at the exact hour a national news program broadcast its investigation into the mysterious disappearance of young maidens in the city.

Which is why rewards for information only defeat their purpose. Because. It will exert pressure on the police and the national investigators to resolve the crime quickly. In so doing, they may – as in the past they did – pinpoint people who were far from the scene of the crime. Last time I heard, they were looking into the angle of our friend’s separation from her husband. Now I know the true story. And I don’t think her estranged husband has reasons to wish for his wife’s death.

Meanwhile, I think of other provincial journalists who continue to work for the love of reporting. They do not get the recognition or the bylines of reporters working for national media. I know their kind. They used to come to our house when my father was still living. In the small world of provincial journalists, everyone knows who is a paid hack and which newspapers are mere mouthpieces of individuals aspiring or holding on to public office. It is my hope and prayer that these folks continue to be brave and honest voices in the community, come what may.

For Mei

For now, we shudder
As their bullets
Sail through the midnight
Sludge and ash blanketing
The big-time potluck city
Masquerading as your hometown.

Rest in peace, my friend.
You were a candle
Snuffed out early in spring.
We will shout, we will march
Till their empires crumble and
They shudder while they drown.

To learn more about the Ampatuan Massacre and the politics surrounding it, please visit the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

On LKY, F&F7, Easter and relaxation

Note: all flowers pictured below grew in my garden during winter 2014.

Well, lots of events have happened since the hubby returned on March 14. For one thing, the kids and I have finished the second quarter of our schoolyear (we need to finish one schoolyear within one academic year otherwise my children will be dropped).

Theoretically, completing an academic year within one calendar year is not an impossibility. However, the requirements of having to show five tests per subject per child per quarter truly drives me to depression. And procastination. Maybe. Because. I’m not a professional teacher. Heck, I avoided the teaching profession when I was at university. I would see the education majors walking across the campus and I would pity them, thinking about how they’d need to check assignments and plan lessons at home.

So it’s ironic that here I am, a homeschooling mother who plans lessons while cooking and who checks assignments in between putting dirty laundry into the washer and dreaming of taking a vacation in Italy.

My favorite flower: the pink rose.
My favorite flower: the pink rose. This one grew from a stem cutting last winter.

Anyway, homeschooling is not why I am blogging today. On weekends, I take a break and, being an out-of-sight and out-of-mind person, completely forget about HSing. Which leads me to panic come Sunday* morning because I can’t remember what I taught the fifth grader for Science or the first grader for English Phonics the previous week. Today it’s Easter Sunday so I’m saved from the tyranny of rushing through the morning because the hubby took the family to the beach and I had a relaxing time chatting to another couple from our hometown.

Rushing and relaxing are the key words right now in my mind. Because. As Singapore mourns the death of Lee Kuan Yew, I was reminded that nation building (or character building for that matter) takes time. Lots and lots of it, in fact. I got wind of LKY’s health in early February when an elderly Chinese mentioned that he’d been admitted to hospital. So. When his death ushered in a look at Singapore’s past, I read the flattering news reports of how he’d led Singapore to become the progressive city-state it now is.

Sadly, spring is when flowers die in the Levant.
Sadly, spring is when flowers die in the Levant.

What most don’t know – even though it has been widely reported in the past – is that Singapore’s strongman had help from a Dutch economist, Albert Winsemius. We lived in Singapore during the 1980s when it celebrated its 25th independence as a nation (did you know that Malaysia forced out Singapore from its federation in August 1965? that LKY never wanted Singapore to exist independent of Malaysia? that LKY cried on national TV over the event?) and believe it or not, the country feted Winsemius like no other. After all, they owed the guy. Here is LKY’s tribute to Winsemius after his death in 1996.

Well, now. Let’s go back to the theme of relaxing. Because. I truly feel my age. Time was. Relaxing meant activities to soothe tired nerves. Today, relaxing has taken on several new dimensions – none of which I recognize. Hmmm. Me, I’m an arts and culture kind of gal. However, being married to an action type of guy has meant giving concessions during times of relaxation, which invariably means indulging in entertainment of the celluloid kind.

My pots of dianthus are slowly dying due to the heat ...
My pots of dianthus are slowly dying due to the heat …

So. We were in theaters yesterday to watch Fast and Furious 7. I didn’t want to go but Abu Dhabi features in the franchise and I was curious as to how Paul Walker’s death would affect the storyline and how the emirate where we’re now was depicted in the film. Plus, our discounted tickets (Dh20 for a ticket with a tub of popcorn and soda!) had finally arrived.

Also, I’m left out whenever mealtime conversations veer towards action movies. I mean, even my eight-year-old daughter can summarize all three Bourne movies as “the story of a guy who forgot his past.” While I stare blankly as the three boys and the hubby discuss scenes from American Sniper, Lone Survivor, Captain Philips, Black Hawk Down, etc … Sigh … the travails of having three sons … with only one daughter, I always lose whenever there’s a vote over what film to view.

Just like last year’s Captain America, the film bored me with its weak plot and threaded-together action scenes although it was evident that it was a well-crafted production. The hubby was disappointed over how Abu Dhabi was depicted (I reminded him “That’s why they made the prince a Jordanian!”) because he felt it was not respectful towards the country’s Muslim culture. Speaking of culture, the scenes set in Abu Dhabi featured the Emirates Palace Hotel, a seven-star hotel, and Etihad Towers, one of the if not the toniest address(es) in town. Just in case you’re wondering if females do parade in two-pieces by the poolside here, well … we were at Dubai’s Atlantis Hotel last June and I assure you, I felt overdressed with all the ladies in bikinis by the pool.

Meanwhile, I noticed Michele Rodriguez’s lack of jewelry with her red dress. In Abu Dhabi, where bling-bling of the real kind reaches pop-your-eyes proportion, no female would dare to go to such a party without jewelry. If you’re wondering whether the party scene in Abu Dhabi reflects the city’s culture realistically, read Jo Tatchell’s Diamond in the Desert (you might even want to read the telling comments!)

Euphorbia mili aka crown of thorns
Euphorbia mili aka crown of thorns

All in all, F&F7 was not a vehicle for relaxation for me. Still, it had a touching tribute to Paul Walker towards the end. Today, my eight-grader and I argued over its merits as a suspense film. Basically, he pointed to the back-to-back action scenes that literally felt like one climax after another and left few moments for the suspense to build up to back up his claim that it was not an action movie. Hearing his defense, I rested my case.

Meanwhile, it’s Easter. And spring. A time for rebirth. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that after months of feeling down over a situation over which I have no control, I have finally let go and let God. Not because I want to – my feelings dictate otherwise. But because I know Him and He knows me. Which is all that matters in the end – knowing God. And that, my friends, is true relaxation – letting go and letting God. Happy Easter!

Crimson double-crested hibiscus
Crimson double-crested hibiscus stand guard beside our gate

PS. I need to say it was a truly relaxing weekend because the hubby kindly ordered takeout two times, we ate out once and so I had minimal kitchen duty! If only all weekends were like this ….

Two Rows by the Sea

When I signed up for Writing 201: Poetry course, I had every intention of writing a poem everyday according to the daily prompt. I figured it would be a crash course on creative writing, something I’ve been wanting lately to explore. But. Life happens. At the moment, I’ve lost all drive to compose, much less string words into verses.

No, it’s not because the hubby has been gone for more than a week and the load on my shoulders has doubled. Rather, I read a poem that made me realize my aspirations for poetry have been centered on me, me and only me. Yes, even though the last one I published was to highlight the pain that women go through years after having an abortion (believe it or not, I cried each time I sat down to write it)

Nothing inherently wrong there, really. Don’t we all want to be the best of what we dream to be? But reading the poem below confronted me with the shallowness of my Christianity.

Two rows of men walked the shore of the sea
On a day when the world’s tears would run free,
One a row of assassins, who thought they did right,
The other of innocents, true sons of the light,
One holding knives in hands held high,
The other with hands empty, defenseless and tied,
One row of slits to conceal glaring-dead eyes,
The other with living eyes raised to the skies,
One row stood steady, pall-bearers of death,
The other knelt ready, welcoming heaven’s breath,
One row spewed wretched, contemptible threats,
The other spread God-given peace and rest.
A Question…
Who fears the other?
The row in orange, watching paradise open?
Or the row in black, with minds evil and broken?
                                                      Two Rows by the Sea

Doubtless you will have read about the Egyptian Christians who were martyred for their faith and the Syrian Christians who have been kidnapped. Maybe you’re thinking “Oh, that would never happen in my corner of the world.” Well, guess what – they’re near my corner of the world. The Egyptian Coptics were laborers who came to Libya to earn more money. I see workers just like them each time I walk around town. I even employ one as a part-time gardener even though he doesn’t speak much English. And just thinking about their families and how their children will never see them again breaks my heart. To the point that I’ve lost all desire to write poems. At the moment.

So I am re-printing here the newsletter sent out by Ramez Atallah who is general director of the Bible Society of Egypt in response to the mass slaying of his Christian brothers.

“They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated, the world was not worthy of them.” (Hebrews 11:37- 38)

Dear friends,

This is a very sad time in Egypt where we are in seven days of official mourning for the 21 young Christian men who were brutally slaughtered by ISIS in Libya on Sunday. The gruesome, professionally-produced video of that execution shocked the country and has united Christians and Muslims as never before. As soon as the video was broadcast on Sunday evening, the President delivered a speech declaring 7 days of mourning for the nation. Shortly afterwards the Egyptian Air Force bombed ISIS targets in Libya.

As I arrived at the Bible Society office in the morning, feeling sad and depressed, I met a young coworker who told me that she was “very encouraged.” I could not imagine what on earth could encourage her!

“I am encouraged” she said, “because now I know that what we have been taught in history books about Egyptian Christians being martyred for their faith is not just history but that there are Christians today who are brave enough to face death rather than deny their Lord! When I saw these young men praying as they were being prepared for execution and then many of them shouting “O Lord Jesus” as their throats were being slit, I realized that the Gospel message can still help us to hold on to the promises of God even when facing death!”

This same sentiment is being reflected in different ways by people who watched that gruesome video!

I don’t think I will ever read Chapter 11 of the Epistle to the Hebrews again without seeing in my mind the images of these men dressed in orange jump suits with black-clad, masked executors behind each one of them!

As many of you know, these men were simple, Egyptian laborers who had gone to Libya to make a living. They were captured and executed by ISIS for being – as the video caption charges – “People of the Cross”. Egyptians have been shocked by this news and it is the most talked about event in our country at this time.

The purpose of the video was to foment sectarian strife in Egypt between Christians and Muslims. Those Islamic extremists clearly intended to provoke the 10 million Christians in Egypt to rise up violently against their Muslim neighbors.

But the loving and caring response of Muslims all over the nation softened the blow which many Christians felt. Up till now the Christians of Egypt have responded with restraint, sorrowfully calling out to God.

The President and dozens of political leaders personally gave their condolences to the Coptic Pope. The Prime Minister travelled to the small village where most of these men come from, sitting on the floor with their poor relatives to express his concern. All this sends a clear message that Christians are considered an integral part of the fabric of Egyptian society.

Prayer Requests
1. Pray for comfort for the families of the victims who are in a terrible emotional state.
2. Pray for the effective mass distribution of a Scripture tract we have just produced (above left), that God’s Word will comfort and challenge the many who will receive it.
3. As I write, there is news of more Egyptians being kidnapped in Libya. Lord have mercy!

Please pray for Egypt as we pass through this painful period.

With much thanks,

Ramez Atallah
General Director
The Bible Society of Egypt

*Two Rows by the Sea is a booklet published by the Bible Society of Egypt in response to the mass murder of the 21 Egyptian Christian workers in Libya.

Some of the hard things I do

I’ve been reading quite a few lists. There’s even one blog that I’ve followed just because the name appealed to me: Listful Thinking. For a list lover (that’s moi, who else?) the act of listing things down provides one with the impetus to charge on and move. Except that. I feel tired all the time. So. I thought of making up a list. Of all the hard things that I do. Day in and day out. Here goes:

1  Forgive (If God can do it, so can I … but, but, why does it take me a long time to –

2  Forget … past grievances)

3  Smile (this doesn’t come naturally to me, despite my smiling FB photos)

4  Plan

5  Act on my plan(s)

6  Resist from temptation (to eat more, read more online, nag the hubby and kids more, etc … hopefully, you get the picture!)

7  Be thankful (for what I have)

8  Not envy (it’s not the material things I envy other women, it’s the homeschooling mom with four maids who can write and write about everything that’s on her mind – I have about 50 draft posts on two blogs)

9  Do the important instead of the urgent (do I need to explain this?!!)

10 Start the day by having a conversation with Him (this one’s the hardest because I’m a Martha, not a Mary and there’s always a million things to attend to each morning.

There! Now I need to get up and attend to my kids if I wish to live in the moment …

Rumblings of the heart

And so it goes ….

That last line from my last post seems appropriate as an opening to this next post because millenia has not changed the basic nature of things. People are born. Then die. And in between go through a million motions and emotions that transcend time. Today, I read Peter Chin’s conclusion that “disappointment serves a vital purpose because it is a sharp reminder of a truth that we too often forget: that it is God alone who can fill the enormous empty spaces in our lives” in his post  When Disappointment Is The Best Thing For Us and immediately recognized Augustine’s voice thundering through the ages in his Confessions:  Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”   

IMG_1401.JPG (2)

That Chin’s article so resonated with me is not surprising.  Currently,  the books atop my bedside drawer are Larry Crabb’s Finding God and John Ortberg’s The Me I Want To Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You.  And.  I’ve disclosed to the hubby “I feel like I’m losing control of my life” even as everything falls into place (for example, I now have homeschooling pals in our desert town whereas before there were none). But. Since our house has been perpetually messy ever since the children arrived, he believes it’s just a matter of not having paid help to relieve me of my domestic duties to make more time for homeschooling two kids. I don’t disabuse him of this thought. After all, it would be unfair to expect a male to comprehend a female’s heart and mind 100% of the time.

Larry Crabb, who writes from personal experience, declares:

… sound theology leads us through our pain to a fuller experience of Christ, and therefore of hope and love … If we numb our souls to the ongoing struggles with sin and disappointment that fallen people living in a fallen world experience, then our time in the Bible will yield puffy knowledge rather than liberating truth.

I don’t know. Perhaps not going outside to garden is a factor. Perhaps my youngest becoming more independent in thoughts and action is another. Maybe having more time to ponder our situation (the price of oil rose from last night’s $45 to $48 this morning) is another factor. Whatever. Finding joy in the present is a struggle.

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Sunflowers outside the wall in front of the house

That is why I am so thankful for tender mercies like roses outside my front door, sunflowers that reach the sky, and friends old and new. Plus. A youngest son who asks (while you’re drinking coffee to clear your head which is still fogged up from lack of sleep) “Mom, why don’t you have any wrinkles?” and a daughter who replies “Only grandmothers have wrinkles!

This morning I hung up ironed trousers in our bedroom while thinking “This is what comes from having a wish fulfilled.” Fact is, the trousers I wear at present would have fallen from my waist when I started working life. Then, I wondered “What would it be like to live in airconditioned comfort 24/7? It must be wonderful not to sweat!” Now I know. And with it comes another depressing perception “I’ll never be thin again” which, really, should not be depressing at all because for the first half of my life I yearned for a wider waistline. Indeed, remaining slender seems like a ridiculous goal in light of this reddit thread asking “What do insanely poor people buy that ordinary people know nothing about?

That reddit thread may just be the answer. Because. I’ve truly been pondering on what a rainbow life it would be if I weren’t such a complicated thinking and feeling machine. By all accounts, I should not even come close to feeling disappointment. A loving (and faithful!) husband. Four healthy children. A garden. What else can I ask for? Yet. Finding joy in the present remains a struggle.

Both Crabb and Chin point towards finding God as the answer to feelings of disappointment (and whatever else one might feel). According to Crabb, it’s a long and difficult though ultimately fulfilling journey. Which. I suspect. I’ve only just begun.

Yesterday, the analogies between Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard and the exchange between Guinevere and King Arthur in Camelot swirled around my head. Could the simple life unlock the key to resolve these feelings of angst?

What else do the simple folk do?
They must have a system or two
They obviously outshine us at turning tears to mirth
Have tricks a royal highness is minus from birth

What, then, I wonder, do they
To chase all the goblins away?
They have some tribal sorcery you haven’t mentioned yet
Oh, what do simple folk do to forget?

                                 lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe

According to King Arthur, his subjects either whistled, sang or danced. Thomas Gray’s poem, on the other hand, comes closer to describing a situation the hubby and I aspire to in our retirement years as it ruminates over the plain comforts, quiet felicity and gladness of heart of rural folk.

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne’er unroll;
Chill Penury repressed their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.      
                                                                                          
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learned to stray;
Along the cool sequestered vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

So. When Chin reflected on his feelings of disappointment after he became a published author, I immediately grasped the point he was making. Half a lifetime ago, I had to drag myself from bed to attend the graduation ceremony for our department. Only the thought that it was my parents’ proudest day (their eldest was graduating from college – hurray!) pushed me to get dressed and travel to my alma mater. I remember feeling surprised to find all my electrical engineering classmates chattering excitedly while dressed in black togas. To them, it was a gateway to another world. For me, it was the end of a period and the beginning of another of which there was no certainty.

Today, disappointment still rears its ugly head in the minutiae of everyday life. A few days ago, the hubby demanded “So many people have less than you do! Why must you hanker after the impossible?” For a while I struggled to maintain silence. Fridays are always stressful for us. On that afternoon, he had a sermon to preach. I had a celebratory get-together to attend. And a house to prepare for worship service. But. I could not help it. Though I’ve learned after nearly 20 years of marriage that it is best to lose a fight to win the battle, I blurted back “They’re not impossible dreams!

crop

Do dreams ever die?

Why making New Year’s resolutions sucks

        Sigh. Some people get rewarded for quickly implementing and sticking to New Year’s resolutions. Me? I get told off for jumping to wrong conclusions. That it happened at all arose from a noble desire to spend less time on FB (which I cannot delete from my life because it enables me to communicate instantly with IRL and online friends at a time when I am still building up the phone book in my new smart phone) and focus more on homeschooling (which I ignored during the Christmas holidays). Then again, it may also be attributed to my ignorance, stupidity, curiosity and propensity for putting a foot in my mouth.

      Indeed,  I’m not exactly new to being caught with a foot in my mouth. Years ago, while I was a new student in a new school in a new country, I had the arrogance to declare what I perceived to be the weaknesses of my science teacher to our badminton captain. Imagine my shame when I later found out (through others, of course!) that our badminton captain was the daughter of my science teacher. It still amazes me to this day that I later grew close to said science teacher before leaving that school.

      Nobility in purpose is one thing. Being stupid is another. And that is something that I increasingly seem to have an aptitude for. Maybe the three dental anesthesia I got for three consecutive weeks last December has something to do with it. I don’t know. But I sure thought that deciding to ignore my newsfeed when opening FB would make a fine New Year’s resolution. I mean, Christmas was over and there wasn’t any need to send and respond to greetings except those received via private messaging. After all, I got by alright for 44 years without FB, what harm would there be in not getting updated with what my FB friends are doing?

       Then. An ex-office mate accepted my friend request. Now I’ve lately been picky about online protocol, maybe because I’ve begun to feel more and more that politely navigating the murky waters of friendship via the Internet/Facebook has become increasingly difficult.  Also, this was one of three friends I’d last broken bread with before leaving the office. So I sent off a “Thank you for accepting my friend request” missive and wondered whether I would get a reply.

      I did and we had a lovely chat that was only ruined by my mistaken assumption regarding his current marital status.

      By lovely, I mean that he was also in the mood to reminisce. We exchanged the names of several colleagues and updated each other on whom we’d maintained contact with. I’d quickly looked at his FB wall prior to our chat and ascertained that he had a new cover pic with a winsome young woman grinning beside him. “Hmmm. Must be his new wife,” I thought, not bothering to read the comments.

     Now, my father was a journalist and I inherited his journalistic sense of curiousity. I always ask old male friends where they met their wives, where their wives come from, etc … Since I distinctly remember being requested by this person (20 years ago) not to mention anything relating to his failed marriage, I knew I had to be tactful if I was to satisfy my curiosity.

     So I tried to be discreet. I typed “Your wife looks lovely.”

     Back came the message: Huh? What wife?

     Now I was puzzled. “Isn’t the girl in your cover photo your wife?

     “She’s my daughter! Oh my —! How could you assume?

     How could I explain that I’d seen the pictures of other ex-office mates’ and had been stupefied to find that guys I’d considered to be, er, “not husband material” had managed to snag pretty young things as wives? Typing that would have led to more misunderstanding: he might assume that I was insinuating he’s not husband material (which was far from the truth).

     I typed “Oh! How could I know? It’s not unusual … ” knowing he knew full well what I meant.

     “Ah yes, I was a victim also ...” Then “My daughter thinks it’s all too tawdry! She’s right here having a good laugh –

      A few days ago, I read the comments below his photos. And. Felt my face redden. Had I taken even a minute to read, it would have been immediately evident to me that the pretty young thing beside my friend is his daughter. Stupid, stupid me! Just as well our reunion was cancelled … Moral of the story: Read comments below photos posted on FB!

    So. Have I reverted to reading my newsfeed? Nah! Not doing so saves me time badly needed for planning my two HSed kids’ schoolwork, fixing breakfast, etc … Besides, I figure: there ain’t anymore male ex-work colleagues I’m likely to chat with.

     Meanwhile, I have firmly resolved never to craft New Year’s resolutions out of altruistic ambitions….