Wednesday, December 30, 2015

We Are Not Debt-Free

Back in the country where I grew up, we believe in a superstition that whatever your condition is on the first day of the year, it is likely that it will remain that way for the whole year.  As a result it is everyone's goal to set their lives in the best position before the clock strikes midnight on the eve of new year.  People clean their houses really well, fill up their food containers (pantries), get a new hairdo, new clothes, food on the table - enough to be hospitable and generous. etc.  But beyond all these, the most important of them all is the deep-seated tradition to settle all debts before the year ends.  People try everything to be found debt-free when the year turns.  In fact work places give a 13th-month pay to employees just so they may be able to have an abundant table and to settle remaining obligations at the end of the year.  We all, not only Filipinos, find a sense of peace when any accountability is fulfilled.  We all desire freedom.  Who doesn't?  However, I'm not going to continue talking about the debts that we can pay for.

There is a debt that is different from the ones that keep us awake at night.  It is not like the ones that make us want to hide our faces from other people nor the ones that make us grumpy because we didn't pay them on time.  But even if we don't feel this way about this obligation, we ought to because it is heavier than the ones that we all are accustomed to thinking about.  This debt is something we will never be released from.  This is the continuing debt to love one another. Love one another continually.  It is the only way that we will be able to fulfill the law of God.

The verse in Romans 13:8 says, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law."

1. Debt to love remains.  No amount of payment will ever free us from the duty to love one another. There is no end to love.  Your mortgage payment will at some point be paid in full but you and I will never be freed from the obligation to love.

2.  Love is not a limited resource.  Love never ends - there is no limit to love.  You can't give it all nor consume it all.  There is no excuse for not being able to love.  For as long as you are connected to the Source, there will always be a steady supply of the grace you need to love.

3.  Love is everyone's obligation to everyone.  In the ideal world people love each other.  However, our human nature compels us to discriminate when we love.  We love those whom we expect to get favor from or those who have shown favor to us - never mind the others.  The scripture says that we are to love others as we love ourselves.

In the Philippine-culture there exist a similar, but not the same, indebtedness - the one that can never be settled.  They are the help extended out of kindness.  The name for this kind of debt is"utang na loob"  (meaning debt that is internal).  This debt remains inside your chest not your chest of gold but the chest that holds your heart.  The only difference from the love that is talked about in Romans 13:8 is that the loving here is limited to the one with whom you owe kindness to.

Once upon a time, there was a King who came out of his palace, and out of his kingdom to come and live in a desperate world of sinful man. These men are walking-dead because they are bound to die with all the punishment due upon them.  The king took it upon himself all their debts paid for all of them with His own.  He lived in poverty and eventually gave up his life in order to pay the full price. He gladly gave it all up so that the walking-dead would have life.  The King is Jesus Christ.  We the people are the walking-dead.

We must love the King who purchased our life with his own so that we get the freedom.  And as people who have been purchased through love - the love of God, he left us a legacy of not only a life of freedom but a life of love.  As free people we have the confidence to show off our inheritance. He said, "love as I have loved you."  With all mercy and grace, He loved us.  We no longer live in scarcity but in abundance through Him.  There is no need to hoard on love, we can be generous now. The problem is, we remain to live our lives as if we are still in debt.  We fail to love because we live in a limited resource mentality.  We fail to be generous because we have not figured out the extent of the inheritance we have.

This is the beginning of a year.  It is time to make a resolution. Make an installment on that continuing debt - one person at a time.  Happy New Year!  

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Growing with Our Tradition

Christmas is truly full of traditions with family and friends.  One of our favorite traditions is the making of ginger bread houses which we do with our friends, the Lippuner family.  It started way back when the kids were barely capable of making two pieces of graham crackers stick together, back when they ate more candies than they put on their houses, back when Brahms' house was called a "Junk Yard" because that's what it really looked like.  Last year, however, Marcus made a beautiful Church with a steeple and a cross on the top.  We were then joined by Stephen Denghausen, Shannon's friend, when he made a very simple ginger bread house which was named (by Brahms) "Abraham Lincoln's Cabin".

This year the kids made even more grown-up ginger bread houses.  For the first time ever, Brahms' house was not leaning or in danger of collapsing.  It was very sturdy and even beautiful!  Anna made an Eiffel Tower while Erich made a three story house with decking on the second floor.  Miriam made a beautiful triangular house with fences around it. Even Sue and I made our own houses.  Also this year, Caroline, Marcus' girlfriend, joined us.  She made something similar to what Sue made except that she had something like solar panels on the roof.

Shannon, being a now working girl, was not able to be with us - although I believe that she would have a better picture of houses that are decorated with icing since she now lives in Wisconsin.  This was the first time that one of my own children is not home to make a ginger bread house.  While Brahms is still in college and comes home during winter breaks, a time will also come when he will be bound by other commitments such as job or relationships.  Marcus has already missed other years in the past due to his job and soon Anna's time will also come.  A time will come when there will be only one child at home for both of our families.  But we will deal with it when we get there.

Amber, our transient dog (owned by the Cha Family) was with us again.  The kids love her and she's just the perfect size for our not-so-dog-loving family.

And as we watch our kids grow up we also see ourselves (as parents) grow older.  Where there was once a monochromatic hair color, there are now natural highlights trying to replace the entirety of the original hair. This year I began to show my white hair.  Reluctantly, I began to agree that the color now complements the deepening wrinkles on my face.  It might take time getting used to seeing white hair on my face but eventually this will lead to freedom.  My children are right when they say that it will look awkward for me to have black hair when their father has gray beard and hair. My only argument is that Tim wears his hair short and therefore the gray color does not show as much as it shows on my long tresses. Nonetheless, I am resolved into going along with my age - not ahead but along with it.

The village is changing and so are the people in the village.  :)

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Season of Hope

(*This post was inspired by my response to an email I received from someone who is undergoing a dark period in life.)

Contrary to being merry, Christmas season is generally a gloomy time of the year.  Meteorological and emotional factors seem to connive in posing impediments to more joyful days. Short days, lack of sunshine, cold weather, the pressures from traditions, people’s expectations, keeping up appearances and thoughts of happier days in the past make us feel defeated sometimes.  It is at this time when people long for things that are not and ignore the things that are. Then the world seem to shrink and you feel squeezed by the current situation.  It is during this times when people resort drastic measures not as way out but an ultimate expression of hopelessness - as if the world ends today.  And yet there is a bigger world outside which is not the same as the tight world you are in at the moment.  There is a way to that place but right now the door is closed.  The question is will you be prepared to get out when that door opens again?   

Christmas is a season and it coincides with winter.  Christmas is like a spark of hope in the midst of darkness.  Like the trees that have enjoyed a period of splendor - will at some point exhaust all their glorious foliage to prepare for dormancy, we need to take the time to slow down.  It is the season to rest.  As a gardener, this is season when we look at the bare essentials of the garden.  When all the garden clutter is gone it is easy to see what needs to be pruned, culled or maintained.  It is also the time to condition the soil and eradicate overwintering pests and their breeding grounds.  Soon spring and summer will be here again when plants begin to bud and bloom again.  Plants will grow because the season for growth will have come. But the new life will depend on how much preparation was done during the rest period.  Will they have a healthy growing season or will they be stunted and deficient?  Will they be weak and susceptible to pests or will they be able to withstand stresses that come along?  Just because growth is not visible during dormancy does not mean that growth is not happening.  Soon when the sun warms the soil, there will be no stopping for growth again. 

God sent Jesus Christ when the world exhausted its all to reinstate its broken relationship with its Maker and failed.  Christmas marked the rest period for mankind. It is the time of peace.  The way out has been opened.  Time to stop trying to find other means to get to what mankind was made to long for - God.  The problem remains to be the wrong focus of our hearts.  And we still keep on doing things. We seem to be stuck on the seasonal rather than the permanent elements of life.  And because we do not allow our hearts to rest, we do not have the time to prepare our hearts for a more robust and abundant spring.  Christmas is not the end but it is the manifestation hope.   Easter is yet to come when God's mercy is manifested in eternal measures. 

Don't get carried away by the temporary concerns of this world but focus on God who is permanent and His undying love.  He set the seasons in place as He brings forth the rain and sunshine at the appointed time.  I was told that Wisconsin is a place that have very definite four seasons.  Unlike California, especially the areas close to the Bay, where the weather varies very slightly from season to season, you can almost wear the same wardrobe for the whole year.  Wisconsin folks learn to enjoy life during the different seasons.  Last spring when I went to help Shannon find an apartment there, we met many people who, strangers as they were to us, made sure they told us about the coming May 24th when the renowned Farmer's Market opens and all outdoor pools will open again.  And when they talked about it there is this anticipation on their faces.  In the midst of the cold they can look forward to the time when they can take away their heavy coats and enjoy the warmth of the sun on their backs again.  Seasons are changing and if we are careful we will see that each season has a good purpose in this life.

Easter is yet to come when God's mercy is 
manifested in eternal measures. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Picture of Kindness

Tim is the most kind person I know. Why am I saying this?  It's because I took this picture as he was passing by and it turned out beautifully!  It reminds me of how kind he is to me. That is who he is all the time but this picture reflects that.  What a favored woman I am to have him. (Thank God!) Even after twenty five years, I still wonder how I got so blessed. 

He is very aware of what I think.  As I often tell him, "You are very nice to me... (long pause) except when you're not very nice to me."  This phrase is safe and useful because it covers not only the beautiful moments but even those those uncommon times when (you know) husband and wife forget that they are husband and wife and they act like enemies. It makes him laugh when I say it to him because I speak in a staggered fashion so that he gets a few seconds to savor the first part of the statement and then he's brought back down to earth with the second part.  Now whenever I complement him, he holds his breath and waits to see if my sentence has ended or not.  It has become a joke between us.  In fact he has used the same complement including the leveling second part on me. :)

It is so unconventional that Jesus would use the relationship of a husband and wife to describe His love for the church.  But the more I spend time with Tim the more I understand my position in Christ. I know how much my husband loves me, everything around the house reminds me of that - the coffee maker, our bed, the couch, the table we eat our meals at, the stove where we both prepare food and many more.  They are there as reminders of that kindness that he is to me.  And even then, as we get older the more consciously I consider his thoughts before I do a certain thing.  I would have thought that it is the other way around.  But knowing my husband more makes me more aware of what works to experience joy and peace.

The question then is, if Tim was to take a picture of me what would he see?  If God was to take a snap shot of my life, what would that picture show?  

Pictures speak louder than words, so they say.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Little Christmas Tree

This is the second time since we moved to this house and third time since Tim and I got married that we used a natural Christmas tree.  We bought our first real tree during our first Christmas together on Helene Lane in Morgan Hill.  Since then we only used a seven-footer artificial tree until last year when we were too lazy to set it up and we bought a 3-foot tree. 

The one we have now is a four-foot Noble Fir.  It is seated on top of my small desk.  No furniture was moved to accommodate it except for my computer - which is not a furniture.  Brahms and Miriam decorated it and they are very pleased at how it turned out.  The only things I had to do was to add more lights and re-position the ribbons.  Shannon who is not home was glad to hear about the size of the tree we got because she has always been a proponent for a small Christmas tree.  

And so I must say that the value of Christmas trees comes not from their inherent size but on the ornaments that we put on them that bring out their sentimental quality - reminiscent of the season. We all are like a little Christmas tree in the eyes of God; on our own merits we are nothing.  By nature we are hopeless and separated from Him. With Christ covering the soul with his own life, man's life sparkles at last. 

Little Christmas tree
 no one to buy you give yourself  to me...

Friday, December 4, 2015

Home Sick

Miriam is enjoying some rest time today.  The hectic school and band schedule finally caught up with her.  There are not a lot going on at school today that resting at home with a bad cold is more important  matter than any of her school commitments today.

As parents, we've always been sensitive to how our kids feel when they are sick.  We are aware of their seriousness about school that when they say they are not feeling well we always give them the option to rest.  Sometimes they insist on going to school but when they say they want to stay home- that is it - no questions asked.

So today, Tim and I also took the chance to catch some needed sleep.  We got up early but when we found out that she's not up to going out we sent back to sleep.

Even our bunny benefited from Miriam being home.  She got a bath and took a long nap.  :)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

All I Really Want

At the Lewis House, Christmas season begins after Thanksgiving – not sooner. So it happened that we start listening to Christmas music. Just the other day I was listening to “All I Want” by Steven Curtis Chapman, and it struck me that the world is so lost.

A very long time ago in the time of Moses, a generation of god-seeking people replaced the true God with a product of their hands- a golden calf. God was mad that he would have struck them dead but he forgave them.

A long time ago in a slightly closer past, Jesus came down into the world for a purpose – to give this destined-to-hell people what they needed – a Savior. God gave His Son, out of his love, so that we could have a life with Him in heaven if we believe in Him. He was with us. He lived with us. He took our intended punishment upon himself – even to death on a cross- to free us from eternal damnation. God gave us what we desperately needed, an abundant life. This is Christmas!

We have replaced the source of our joy with things we can hold instead of the One who holds us in His hands. 

But here we are again. Another generation of people, who has seen, lived with or heard of the Savior, is seeking yet another thing in His place. We celebrate Christmas with so many traditions. We have now replaced Jesus Christ with material things. The meaning of Christmas has long been gone and –downgraded. People complain about the phrase “Happy Holidays” and the red Starbucks cups. May it be that we revere the Son of God more than choosing the phrase “Merry Christmas” and drinking coffee in a snow-flake and snow—man decorated paper cup. We train our kids to make wish lists. We buy them the one toy that will make them stand out from the other kids. We believe that the latest electronic gadget will make them happier than everyone else. We have replaced the source of our joy with things we can hold instead of the One who holds us in His hands.

This is the first year that a member of our family resides in another state- a faraway state. Now I wish to have all of us together on Christmas Day with all the traditions (including listening to Kenny Roger’s “Christmas in America” and making ginger bread houses), food (yummy= high fat and sugar content), friends, presents, and games (Catan and Civ) that we have been accustomed to. But most of all, I want my family to be reminded of and act according to the gift we received in Jesus Christ. For what is family without the love of Christ?