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. 😦

plant

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.

                                                                      ♣♣♣

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.

PS. Please be kind when commenting. I have no wish to start a debate; I am merely sharing my thoughts.

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

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.”

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. That emboldened me to go further and reach out online to someone whose FB post had peeved me so a year ago it pushed me to publish a letter. 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 to earth to pay a price for the Father to forgive us. Shouldn’t we also do the same?

Note: Even though the above passage applies to unbelievers, I think it’s also applicable to fellow Christians and people who just rub us the wrong way.

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

Un/Faithful” target=”_blank”>Daily Post Prompt December 26, 2015 : Un/Faithful

So this is love (after 20 years) …

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. 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.