Alone and not lonely

When I was young, I was a shy introvert. It was uncomfortable for me to be alone in a crowd whether at school or at church. I was safer and more at ease with a companion or friend by my side. It did not matter that I was the shadow or side-kick as long as I could tag along to where my friend would be. When visitors came to our home, I would hide inside our bedroom. My mom used to explain to people that I was shy. Adolescence was an awkward period in my life. I was known at school to be snobbish because I did not know how to greet people with a smile. It was awkward for me to smile at schoolmates who were less than acquaintances for me.

I was most at ease among my ‘barkada.’ (Tagalog term for gang – group of friends that hang out together regularly) Music and singing brought us close together. During the last year in high school, we had a concert. The time we spent at rehearsals brought us even closer to each other. After graduation, we each went our separate ways and one by one, my close high school friends went abroad. I was left with my older church friends. I found myself tagging along these friends – making them my barkada even though they were ‘barkada’ on their own.

Then I got married. My in-laws used to complain about my non-responsive ways. I was quiet when they asked me questions coz I did not know what to answer or how to answer them.

I guess my mom named me ‘静’ (quiet) 薇 (small) because of my introvert personality. Marriage made me grow up. I was forced to speak up even when I did not feel like it. My in-laws expected me to reply when I was asked a question or respond even when I was being criticised.

I learned to be independent and to be brave when I became a mother. In the Filipino-Chinese culture in Manila, it was usual for middle-class to upper-class couples to have ‘yaya’ (nanny) take care of their children. Hubby and I belonged to middle-class family. While many of my contemporaries had house help (maids) and yayas, when we first got married, we lived with my in-laws with no house help at all. It was something new for me because I grew up having maids at home to help my mom do housework. I remember bringing my first-born to see the paediatrician for her regular vaccination. I had to carry my child, along with her baby things in a bag, walked from our place to the hospital (it was very near) alone to have her check-up. While waiting at the clinic, I would enviously notice how other mothers had their yaya and hubby or even mother beside them. Looking back, it was ok. I did not really feel that bad. I had no choice. God put me where I was to make me grow – from a scared dependent child to a brave independent adult by His grace and mercy.

When I was young, I was most contented and secure to be the follower. My strongly dominant friends set the trend and I followed where they led. But these friends eventually moved away. Then I got married. I need to follow my husband. Being a wife and a mother made me grow up. I learned to make decisions and stand by them. God is gracious as he listened to my mom’s prayers for me everyday. By the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, I slowly took on roles to be a leader as I followed the examples of more mature Christian friends who went before me. I guess I became the reluctant leader – the transformed follower-leader.

Over the years I realised that I could be alone and not lonely. My self-confidence grew when I noticed friends following my lead. Perhaps I was unaware of my inherent gifts – God-given traits which God intended to be used for His purpose. And I am learning to tread carefully between the thin line of being alone and not lonely – to stand for what I believe is right even when the majority is not for it. And more importantly, I need to be careful and beware of pride – the state of being too comfortably alone and ending up lonely.

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This is a paradox – to be alone and not lonely. Solitude and loneliness – what are they? When I attended a ‘Soul Care’ class at the seminary, the professor asked us to explore our own shadows – the experiences in our life where we are most uncomfortable. She encouraged us to reflect on these dark places – to face them instead of turning away from them. So here are my thoughts on “The place of Loneliness and Solitude.”

To be lonely is to be isolated. To be in solitude is to be embraced.

The place of loneliness is a place of darkness. The place of solitude is a place of light.

To feel lonely is sad. There is joy in solitude.

To be alone is scary. To be in solitude is to be safe.

Paradox of Loneliness and Solitude

I can be lonely in a crowd. I can also be alone but not lonely.

While there is loneliness in a crowd, there is also solitude in a crowd.

Loneliness and Solitude are both places of the heart.

Jesus come into my heart.

 

 

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Choosing Joy

This morning I reviewed my journal of March 8, 2016. It was entitled To walk away in joy from frustration. Here is the account.

If there’s a will, there’s a way. If I decide not to be pulled down in irritation and frustration, I will find a way and make a choice not to be. How?

First, I need to be aware of the source of my frustration. Why am I upset? I am right…he/she is wrong? I am wronged…is he/she right?

Second, does it matter that much? So what if I am right and he/she’s not? Many times, the source of the conflict and the issue in the conflict are trivial when I look back on it.

Just let it go. I like the Hokkien proverb: “Tsih na bo ngh e bueh tan.” Literal translation: It takes two coins to make a sound. English paraphrase: It takes two to tango. If I decide not to get into the argument, there is no argument. If I decide to let go, then nothing to argue about.

Choose my wars and choose my timing. In the heat of the moment, many things are said which ought not to be. And even if they need to be said, they might not be uttered in the right manner – right words, right tone and right attitude. Let me be slow to anger, slow to speak and quick to listen and quick to hold my tongue. Then I will be one step closer to being joyful (not pulled down with anger and bitterness – in frustration/irritation.)

I often have to review my past – what I wrote almost 2 years ago still applies. Today I am still learning how to live wisely – to choose joy.  I realised the first step towards joy is humility. It is letting go of the ego – to be right; to prove I am right – to win the argument. Many issues that seem so important fade in significance when I look back on it. They are petty and trivial. They are not worth the angst and the grief of fighting over it. Many times I could have saved myself a lot of stress from anger and frustration if only I knew which battles to fight for and which ones to let go.

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Jesus, I come to you. Show me and help me to be gentle and humble like you.  I need wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit to show me. Amen.

Making peace – Love and Respect

When you quarrel with your spouse, how long does it last? How does it end? Door slamming… or tears falling? Or just plain silence… as in cold war? How long does it last? Who makes peace first? How? What does the peacemaker do? How does the other person respond?

Let me illustrate with an example. This afternoon, hubby and I had a heated argument. It ended with him slamming the door on me and me going downstairs to cool down. I thought he’s going to lock me out of our bedroom. But he did not. So we both slept off the afternoon playing cold war.  I often feel like extending the cold war for as long as possible. I realised that I do not stand to gain from such a mindset. Somewhere along the way, life is easier when I make peace. So after our nap, he asked our daughter a question. I answered it even though he was not asking me because our daughter did not know the answer and I did.  So that was my first step to making peace.

Then I followed it up by texting him questions I need him to answer. After dinner, I asked: “Do you want longan or pomelo?” He said later as he just ate some chocolates and had coffee. Finally, I said: Do you want to go out and take a stroll? And so I think that’s the end of our cold war – as long as our afternoon nap.

Many years ago, hubby and I went on a motorbike ride in the woods.. somewhere in the west coast of U.S. It was our first and last time. I remember we went with his friend who was our tour guide on that trip. I knew hubby had never been on a bike before. The trail in the woods was rough and uneven. I confess that I wanted to ride with his friend instead. But no, I was stuck with him.  Seriously, I rode with him because I know as a wife, I have to.. through thick and thin, even when we might fall. I have to trust him to manage so we both stay on the bike. Yes, we did. Even though we stalled and there was a short stop, we didn’t fall off the bike or land on our butt.

My point is as a wife, I need to follow my husband’s lead. Even though many times, I do not agree with him, God is teaching me lessons of love and respect, submission and humility. Through 30 years of this marital journey, we are learning how to love and respect each other.

Oftentimes, pride is my downfall. If only, I shut up or bite my tongue. If I did not indulge in the momentary pleasure of giving him a piece of my mind. He used to say that I provoked him. But why was he so easily provoked? I learned that nothing upset him more than questioning his authority. And so God is teaching me until today, what it means to submit. Submission is not subversion nor is it about suppression. It is not enslaving myself to oppressive authority. Submission is giving deference to his authority as head of the family. He is the leader in our home. He needs me to give him respect. When I do not agree with him, I need to tame my tongue and learn the art of respectful conversation. It is not easy. I often failed. In the heat of the argument, the tone and the words came out unpleasant and often resulted in cold war… and only after the battle of who’s got the last say! It might be him but with me boiling/steaming angry inside. 😦
And so I am still a work-in-progress. God gives me opportunities to practice. Practice makes perfect. By the transformative power of the Holy Spirit, children of God are called to sanctification – a process of being more and more like Jesus. It does not end until our last breath on earth. It is not a smooth road of pure success and no struggle. It is not by might nor by power but only by My Spirit, says the Lord.

And so dear fellow travellers on this similar journey, let us draw encouragement to obey God in making our marriage a God-honoring offering: Eph. 5:22-24

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Love and Respect: Key ingredients in marriage

Many years ago, hubby and I went on motorbike ride in the woods.. somewhere in the west coast of U.S. It was our first and last time. I remember we went with his friend who was our tour guide on that trip. I knew hubby had never been on a bike before. The trail in the woods was rough and uneven. I confess that I wanted to ride with his friend instead. But no, I was stuck with him. Seriously, I rode with him because I know as a wife, I have to.. through thick and thin, even when we might fall. I have to trust him to manage so we both stay on the bike. Yes, we did. Even though we stalled and there was a short stop, we didn’t fall off the bike or land on our butt.

My point is as a wife, I need to follow my husband’s lead. Even though many times, I do not agree with him, God is teaching me lessons of love and respect, submission and humility. Through 30 years of this marital journey, we are learning how to love and respect each other.

Oftentimes, pride is my downfall. If only, I shut up or bite my tongue. If I did not indulge in the momentary pleasure of giving him a piece of my mind. He used to say that I provoked him. But why was he so easily provoked? I learned that nothing upset him more than questioning his authority. And so God is teaching me until today, what it means to submit. Submission is not subversion nor is it about suppression. It is not enslaving myself to oppressive authority. Submission is giving deference to his authority as head of the family. He is the leader in our home. He needs me to give him respect. When I do not agree with him, I need to tame my tongue and learn the art of respectful conversation. It is not easy. I often failed. In the heat of the argument, the tone and the words came out unpleasant and often resulted in cold war… and only after the battle of who’s got the last say! It might be him but with me boiling/steaming angry inside.

And so I am still a work-in-progress. God gives me opportunities to practice. Practice makes perfect. By the transformative power of the Holy Spirit, children of God are called to sanctification – a process of being more and more like Jesus. It does not end until our last breath on earth. It is not a smooth road of pure success and no struggle. It is not by might nor by power, but only by My Spirit, says the Lord.

And so dear fellow travellers on this similar journey, let us draw encouragement to obey God in making our marriage a God-honoring offering:
Husbands, love your wife. Wives, respect your husband.

What are you giving this Christmas?

What to give for Christmas? To give or not to give… that is the question.

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By now, many people have done their Christmas shopping, gifts given and exchanged. I wonder in all the gift-giving and gift-wrapping and unwrapping, have we remembered to give something to the Celebrant? This Christmas, what have I given to Jesus? Is it my church involvement? Is it about my tithes and donations? Is it about the external and the expensive – costly resources I have? My time and effort? Sure, all these meant something but only in the spirit by which gifts are offered…

Micah asked:

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?

Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  (Micah 6:6-7)

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What gift does God want from me?

Justice: am I a reflection of His justice in everything I do?

Mercy: am I compassionate as He is?

Humility: am I humbly walking with Him?

This Christmas, remember that the true joy of giving is found in giving to the less fortunate; to our helpers at home, to our drivers, to our caregivers, to the street children, to the missionaries; those whom I do not expect to get any gift in return… not because they could not afford to give me anything but because they have already given me so much.

God gives me so much – I know He does not need anything from me; He gave not because He wanted something in exchange. He just wants me to love Him. How do I do that? Obedience. He wants me to:

Act justly. No preferential treatment for the rich and looking down on the poor.

Love mercy: to be kind, merciful and forgiving. If God is so merciful to me for all the sins I’ve done, should I not do the same to those who need forgiveness? If God relents from giving me what I deserve, consequences for the wrongs I’ve done, is it not just right that I extend the same compassion to others?

Walk humbly with my God: walk my talk. walk in total dependence holding on to the hands of my Creator. Walk with head held high and heart bowed low because my God is good, my God is just and my God is merciful.

These are the 3 gifts my God require of me this Christmas: gold of justice; frankincense of mercy and myrrh of humility.

What are you proud of…

What is the world’s standard of success? Money? Fame? Wisdom? Strength? Influence? What are the things people boast about? Parents are proud of their children – their academic achievements and their careers. Athletes take pride in their medals and trophies. Popularity, fame and fortune are the pride of movie stars and celebrities. These measures of success can be deceiving. They often offer a false sense of security.

In the Old Testament, Jeremiah, the prophet, was called by God to speak words of judgement to the southern kingdom of Judah. Jeremiah was caught between the wrath of God and the sins of his people. In Jeremiah 9, he said:

1 Oh, that my head were a spring of water
and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
for the slain of my people.
2 Oh, that I had in the desert
a lodging place for travelers,
so that I might leave my people
and go away from them;
for they are all adulterers,
a crowd of unfaithful people.

3 “They make ready their tongue
like a bow, to shoot lies;
it is not by truth
that they triumph in the land.
They go from one sin to another;
they do not acknowledge me,”
declares the Lord.
4 “Beware of your friends;
do not trust anyone in your clan.
For every one of them is a deceiver,
and every friend a slanderer.
5 Friend deceives friend,
and no one speaks the truth.
They have taught their tongues to lie;
they weary themselves with sinning.
6 You live in the midst of deception;
in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,”
declares the Lord.

God condemned the people for their lies. They deceive themselves and they lie to one another. Their sins lie in their self-deceiving sufficiency – they ignore God (v. 3). God warned Jeremiah in v. 4 to beware of friends and family because even people close to him are liars and traitors.  Again refusal to acknowledge God is the sin that God condemns.

7 Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty says:

“See, I will refine and test them,
for what else can I do
because of the sin of my people?
8 Their tongue is a deadly arrow;
it speaks deceitfully.
With their mouths they all speak cordially to their neighbors,
but in their hearts they set traps for them.
9 Should I not punish them for this?”
declares the Lord.
“Should I not avenge myself
on such a nation as this?”

10 I will weep and wail for the mountains
and take up a lament concerning the wilderness grasslands.
They are desolate and untraveled,
and the lowing of cattle is not heard.
The birds have all fled
and the animals are gone.

11 “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins,
a haunt of jackals;
and I will lay waste the towns of Judah
so no one can live there.”

12 Who is wise enough to understand this? Who has been instructed by the Lord and can explain it? Why has the land been ruined and laid waste like a desert that no one can cross?

13 The Lord said, “It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law. 14 Instead, they have followed the stubbornness of their hearts; they have followed the Baals, as their ancestors taught them.” 15 Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “See, I will make this people eat bitter food and drink poisoned water. 16 I will scatter them among nations that neither they nor their ancestors have known, and I will pursue them with the sword until I have made an end of them.”

God’s punishment for his disobedient people is to banish them into exile – to be conquered by enemies leaving their land in devastation and desolation.

 

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God calls to all the wise, the strong and the rich not to be deceived – not to find security in the things of this world – wisdom, health and wealth. These things do not last. The people in Jeremiah’s time, fooled themselves into a false sense of security. They thought they are wise, they are strong and safe. They said Peace, peace when there is no peace (Jer. 8:10).

Instead of boasting of wisdom, strength and wealth, what are they to boast about?  God said: If you want to brag, then brag that you know me. Be proud that you are wise enough to know who I am. What kind of God am i? I am the Lord, the one who is kind, just and righteous. I am an advocate of the poor, the needy and the oppressed. I am concerned that kindness, justice and righteousness be executed among my people.  These things I delight – these 3: kindness, justice and righteousness – these are important to me. Be proud that you know me and be proud that you are ‘kind’ like me, ‘just and fair’ like me. Delight = take pleasure in doing right on earth. Delight in what the Lord delights. This is what you should boast about. Be proud that you are in a relationship with the Lord of kindness, justice and righteousness.

25 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh— 26 Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the wilderness in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.”

What is circumcision? Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines circumcision as:

Removal of the foreskin or prepuce of the male genital organ, whether for religious reasons or as a purely hygienic measure. Circumcision was practiced in the ancient Near East by the western Semites, including the Ammonites, Moabites, Hebrews, and Edomites. The procedure was rejected by the east Semitic peoples of Mesopotamia, the Canaanites, and the Shechemites.

The Old Testament. The special meaning of circumcision for the people of Israel is found in Genesis 17 and occurs within the context of God’s renewed covenant promise to Abraham, following the initial contractual relationship (Gen. 15). On the second occasion, God again promised lands and offspring to the still childless patriarch, and gave him the sign of circumcision, which was to be imposed upon Abraham and his descendants as a token of covenant membership ( Gen 17:10 ). For the Israelites circumcision was a religious rite and was intended to mark the beginning of covenant solidarity for Abraham’s descendants rather than describing the historical origins of the procedure.

Circumcision of the heart is more important to God than outward circumcision of the flesh. It is more than ritual and external compliance of the law. It is not about the form but the essence. To be uncircumcised at heart is to be unkind, unjust and wrong.

Success by the world standard does not last. To be kind and compassionate to the poor – this has eternal value in the eyes of God. To defend the rights of the oppressed, to speak for the voiceless, to help the helpless, to defend the defenceless, these are close to the heart of God. To be circumcised in the heart is to take delight – to take pleasure, to boast and be proud of knowing God. To know God is to know the person he is. Know that He is the Lord who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth for in these (kindness, justice, and righteousness), He takes delight.

What are you proud of, my friend?

True Worship

Luke 7:36-47 tells the story of Jesus anointed by a sinful woman.

37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tear. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

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The woman saw herself as a sinner kneeling at the feet of Jesus. She cried because she knew how unworthy she was and how merciful Jesus is. She was a prostitute and He was the great teacher. Her great need for forgiveness compelled her to worship with tears in humility at the feet of her Saviour. The greater the sin, the greater the love, the deeper the gratitude.

The Pharisee on the other hand was the self-righteous observer – judging and critical of the incident: How could Jesus, the teacher and prophet let a sinner touch him like that?!

Jesus praised and affirmed the woman with the assurance that her sins ‘though many’ have been forgiven. Jesus criticised Simon, the Pharisee for being a hypocrite: condemning another for what he himself failed to do.

Food for thought:
Worshipping the Holy God is kneeling at his feet – in humble realisation of what a great sinner I am. In Isaiah 6:5, he declared: “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.

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A truly grateful heart remembers how great a debt Jesus paid for me on the cross. Every good thing I receive comes from the Father of heavenly lights… nothing is to be taken for granted.