May you be blessed in the city, and blessed in the country! (Deuteronomy 28:3)

Monday, December 31, 2012

How God’s Word Can Shape Your 2013

It’s the last day of 2012 and I can’t help but thank the Lord for all the wonderful blessings that came with this year, and all the lessons I’ve learned. Looking back, I realize that this year has been greatly shaped by God’s message for me this year. Let me explain.

Just about the strike of midnight every New Year (or thereabouts), we — my family and I, extended family, and members of our Catholic community, Elim — have our annual tradition of asking the Lord for His message for us for the coming year. Whether we are with other families, just our own family or by ourselves, we put ourselves before God’s presence. With our personal Bibles in hand, we say a simple, heartfelt prayer, asking the Lord to speak to us through His Word. We pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us and lead our hands to open our Bibles to where His personal message is for us. We also pray for the Holy Spirit to guide our eyes to read the certain passage or passages where He wants to speak to us. We then open our Bibles prayerfully and start to read, seeking insight as we do so. As a certain passage touches us, we take this to heart and continue to ponder and respond to God’s Word — whether it is something we need to apply, something we need to put faith in or something to wait on. It’s a Word that we hold on to for the entire year.

As for me, the message I got for 2012 was from Zephaniah 3:14-20. This already got me excited at the get-go, since the first lines talk about joy.

Shout for joy, daughter Zion!
sing joyfully, Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
daughter Jerusalem!

True enough, my 2012 was largely filled with joy. Also, through this passage in Zephaniah, the Lord somehow revealed to me throughout the months who I was in Christ — that I was His divine daughter. This happened in so many ways: through prayer, His Word, other people, walks outdoors, events, books, films, circumstances, etc.

Flowers on my office desk that my officemates
gave me on my birthday :)
This year, I turned 40, and it’s as if new life surged through me! Whereas some of my dreams and passions were either relegated to the wayside or I was confused as to what my dreams and passions were in the first place (there was a time when I nearly got jaded! Or maybe I already was at some point…), this year saw the restoration of these passions and dreams. Some of these are writing, singing and traveling abroad. I never stopped writing (that’s part of my work, actually), but I had a new passion for it, specifically sharing my experiences with others (evidence is this blog which I only began last October; plus my articles were featured in Good Housekeeping Magazine Philippines in April and HomeLife Magazine in October). 
Article in Good Housekeeping
Article in HomeLife
For the singing part, well, I never stopped singing either (as I am part of our community’s music ministry), but I began to have a new fervor for music, found myself songwriting (haven’t done that in a while) and even learned how to record the song on my laptop. J

For the traveling abroad part, I got to go to Singapore! (Read about it here.)

And guess what? God had already promised all these at the start of the year, as Zephaniah 3:20c states: “When I bring about your restoration before your very eyes, says the LORD.”

This is just a summary of how my 2012 went — all packed with God’s goodness and grace. For the record, I did have my share of trials, problems and not-so-good times (we all do, don’t we?), but God has been faithful to see me through all of these, as I’d always go back to His Word for me for the year, and claim His promises.

And now, I look forward to 2013 with so much eagerness and hope. Am gearing up for more dreams and goals. And of course — am excited yet again for whatever God’s message will be for me for the coming year.

I encourage you to do the same — to seek God’s specific Word for you for the coming year. If you can do it with your family, great! If not, then find a quiet place where you can be alone with the Lord. Expect Him to speak to your heart through His Word. Let His Word shape your 2013. And see what surprises await you in the coming year!

Have a Blessed and Hope-filled New Year!

Feel free to post your comments!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Finding Jesus in the Flurry

"I’m participating in the Keeping Christ in Christmas Blog Carnival, hosted by Raising (& Teaching) Little SaintsTruly Rich Mom and Arma Dei: Equipping Catholic Families. We'll be sharing different ways, tips, stories and real-life experiences that will help us focus on Jesus as the Reason for the Christmas season. Please scroll down to the end of the post to see the list of carnival entries.” 

Just came home from dinner with my Bible cell group, and we shared about our Christmas reflections. In the midst of cute stuffed Santas hovering over the lamps and the aroma of Japanese food in the air, I shared how important it is to deliberately find Jesus in all the busyness and distractions of this season. Especially at this time when the darkness seems to be magnified due to current events (read: death toll rising due to Typhoon Pablo here in the Philippines; the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting incident in the US), all the more reason for us to shine the light of Jesus to bring hope to this world.

O holy night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth...

A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks
A new and glorious morn
— from the song “O Holy Night”

We can’t just fall victim to our circumstances, I shared, with layers of distractions and burdens covering the true meaning of Christmas. We can’t allow the evil one to steal our joy and we can’t simply resign ourselves to grapple through these few days leading to Christmas. If we think we’ve somehow already missed the Christmas spirit, we can ask the Lord to redeem the time that we think was messed up. But we must celebrate now, at this moment, for it’s Jesus’ birthday. It’s all about Him. We need to look for that quiet place within us, even in the chaos surrounding us. And even in all that we see, we can find Jesus.

We walked out of the restaurant and one among us mentioned how beautiful the decorations of the mall were. I looked up to see floor upon floor adorned with red ornaments and Christmas lights. Such a festive sight! This just reminded me again of the Light of the World — He it is who brings us hope.

There is still time to find Jesus in the flurry. But maybe it only takes a few minutes of quiet in your heart and a sincere desire to seek the Christ of Christmas.

Jesus, everything is so busy around me. I quiet my heart right now. Please let me know You are near. And grant me Your peace. Amen.

For more inspiration regarding Christmas, check out these other posts:

Here are the links to the other blog carnival participants. I hope you'll take the time to visit them and leave a comment on their posts! :) The list will be updated throughout the day, so please do come back and check on them. God bless us all!

Homeschool Mosaics: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Joy: Keeping Christ in Christmas: Advent Interruptions
The Breadbox Letters: Interrupted by Glory
TwentyTuesdayAfternoons: Keeping Christ in Christmas/ The Season of Giving / A Wee Bit of Beach Holiday Angst
The Learning Basket: Staying With the Nativity Story
Tercets: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Rosary Mom: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Ate Maui: Hoping and Bringing Hope
Written By the Finger of God: 12 Traditions for Keeping Christ in Christmas
Dominique's Desk: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Felix at Fifty: What Jesus Wants for Christmas
Mommy Bares All: Birthday Cake for the Birthday Boy on Christmas Day
Between Now and Later: Keeping Christ in Christmas, I am trying...
Lique's Antics: Family Antics: Christmas Reflection
Life of Fortunate Chances: Our First Ever Christmas: Keeping Christ in Christmas
The Mommy Journey: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Roller Coaster Ride: How to Remind Your Kids of Jesus Christ This Christmas
Cymplified: Christ -Centered Christmas: Cymplified!
Mountain Grace: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Touring Kitty: Grown-up Christmas List
Mommy Chinkysoup for the Soul: A Very Special Christmas
City Girl, Country Home: Finding Jesus in a Flurry
Coffee Moments with Sam: Christmas Unwrapped: 5 Presents Our Kids Truly Deserve
Raising Lifelong Learners: Keeping Christ in Christmas
The Diary of a Sower: Keeping Christ in Christmas: Celebrating the Golden Days
Arma Dei: Equipping Catholic Families: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Raising (and Teaching) Little Saints: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Truly Rich Mom: The Greatest Gift of All This Christmas
Joy-Filled Family: CHRIST in Christmas
Blueberry 010: Keeping Christ in Christmas: Jesus is the Reason for the Season
Deeper Truth Blog: Keeping Christ in Christmas Carnival
Holy Ducklings: 10 Ways to Make Advent Special for Your Little Ducklings
Green Eggs and Moms: Keeping Christ in Christmas: Green Eggs & Moms Style!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Wide-eyed Wonder

I recently came across a beautiful quote from a book authored by Bishop Fulton J Sheen: “God walks into your soul with silent step. God comes to you more than you go to Him. Never will His coming be what you expect, and yet never will it disappoint. The more you respond to His gentle pressure, the greater will be your freedom.”

I especially love the part that says, “Never will His coming be what you expect, and yet never will it disappoint.” I love how God surprises His people, especially during this season. Consider how He surprised Mary with the news that she would be the mother of the Savior. Or how He surprised Joseph with that kind of news (OK, that was totally major!). Or how He surprised the shepherds and the Three Wise Men that the Messiah was born. But doesn’t it also surprise us that they saw in this little Baby the promise of hope? They saw.

Do we see? Do we notice? Do we pay attention? If our eyes are truly open, then we shall see.

If you watched “Rise of the Guardians,” you know that North (the Russian Santa character) is one whose core is filled with wonder. I can relate with him, as I’ve been praying that I not miss a thing this Christmas season.  True enough, I’ve been encountering God’s surprises recently in so many ways. Here are a few:

• Through the heartfelt and inspiring messages spoken during our office Christmas party
• Through the students who came Christmas caroling at the office
• Through a friend who came to share some delicious chocolate cupcakes (still at the office)
• Through the song that my sister and I sang during our community Christmas party the following day (we sang “Grown-up Christmas List,” which talks about not being jaded but still being able to dream. )
Just a side note: my sister and I have been singing
together since we were kids :)

• Through an encouraging word from someone
• Through an answered prayer

Seemingly normal occurrences can very well be God’s gifts to us. But only when we unwrap them with our sense of wonder and spiritual inquisitiveness will we be able to see and appreciate them for all that they’re worth. Perhaps they are indeed filled with joy, with hope, with love.

God, please gives us that wide-eyed wonder. Give us eyes to see. Amen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What Christmas Rush?

This is what I have not yet
accomplished fully;
that'll follow, for sure

OK, I have a confession to make: I am so far from having checked all the names on my Christmas gift list. But for some reason, I feel no pressure. As people were distributing gifts during yesterday’s Christmas party at our Catholic community’s homebase, I was receiving and saying, “Thank you!” Of course, I had prepared gifts for the exchange gift part, but other than that, I wasn’t giving away gifts just yet (OK, there’s still next week…).

Part of me kinda wonders why I am not experiencing the proverbial Christmas rush. Maybe the provincial life has caught up on me, that of being laid back, I think to myself. Or maybe I am just deliberately sparing myself from unnecessary stress as I choose to savor the season. What also assures me is that at least (or at best?) I have a birthday gift for Jesus (He’s the first One on my Christmas gift list; after all, it is His birthday we’re celebrating). The rest will follow.

For the record, and now that I think of it, I have been quite busy lately — two weekends ago, we had houseguests who stayed with us for three days, and two of those days were spent bringing them around the countryside; the week after, aside from my usual domestic and work-at-home concerns, I held an ukay-ukay (kind of like a garage/yard sale) at home (I do this every so often); that same week, my husband and I organized the Christmas party for our community branch; and the following morning, we packed (mostly my son’s clothes and some toys) for our afternoon flight back to the city. Now that I’m back in the city, I’ve already attended two Christmas parties and I’m also back working in the office.

In this busyness, I actually do not feel the rush! And now it dawns on me that for the past four days that I have been in the city, I’m even able to exercise outside every morning and just enjoy talking to God.

So there, it is possible to not have the Christmas rush!

I guess it’s all in the focus. A friend of mine said that she’s decided to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament each day to free her from all the distractions. Another said that she would concentrate on helping others in need this Christmas. As for me, I’ve determined to seek the Lord even more this season, to recognize God’s surprises (more on that in my next blog post) and to enjoy it as much as I can.

When we focus on what really matters during Christmastime, then there really isn’t any room for the rush.

Feeling the Christmas rush? Then maybe it’s time for some hush. Ask the Prince of Peace to fill your heart and soul. And pray this prayer with me: Dear Jesus, Christmas is all about You. Help me to not get distracted by the many concerns of the holidays. Help me focus on You. As I put You first during this season of Your birth, I know everything else will fall into place. Thank You so much! Amen.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Don’t Miss a Thing this Christmas!

Happy Second Sunday of Advent!

I’m back in the urban city for the holidays. Just had a nice, morning walk at the village park. I always enjoy these times of exercise because these are also times when I spend time praying and reflecting. I couldn’t help but notice and thank God for the various trees lining the sidewalk. I think I have a favorite one now (I don’t even know what kind of tree it is); it’s this certain one that has a massive trunk and branches stretching out in such artistry. When I look up, its branches and leaves cover such a wide area; simply beautiful!

Yesterday morning, while still at the countryside and at about the same time, I had just come home from Mass and was enjoying the cool December breeze. Then, while I was standing at my backyard facing the fields, a flock of white birds began gliding through the air. I ran to take a closer look; simply beautiful!

God’s touch is all around. Nature takes no effort in displaying His glory, for that’s what it was made for.

But God’s touch is also within. And this season, I’ve been telling the Lord, “Lord, I don’t want to miss a thing!” Not so much the parties, the gift-giving, the colors and lights. But, “Lord, I don’t want to miss a thing with regard to what You want to tell me this season of Your birth. I don’t want to miss a thing with regard to all that You have in store for me.”

This comes only by spending time with Him. For me, this is what makes Christmas most special — spending time with the Birthday Celebrant, asking Him what He wants for His birthday, allowing Him to refresh my spirit.

I have a favorite spot in my country home. It’s a sofa in the living room. It’s the place where I pray most times, because when I sit there, I can easily see our altar. And it’s there where I get to “hear” Him speak to me, in my heart.
Altar at home

Of course, I sense His presence in so many other places and hear Him speak in so many ways. Just like now. I’m now seated on another sofa, in a smaller living room, surrounded by beautiful floral arrangements (my mom’s biz, actually). And yet, when I read today’s Mass readings, whoa! God’s Word became so alive! For instance, today’s response: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy” (Psalm 126:3). I can only agree!

So to me, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas if I didn’t spend time with the Celebrant. This is what makes all the difference for me. Try it out, and see how much deeper and more meaningful your Christmas will be!

Let every heart prepare Him room. — from “Joy to the World”
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” (Luke 3:4)

Friday, November 30, 2012

The “Frugirl’s” Guide to Christmas Decorating

” ”I’m participating in the Spend-Less Holidays: Saving While Savoring the Season Blog Carnival, hosted by The Frugal Fil-Am and Dainty Mom. We’ll be sharing our tips on how to spend less this holiday season, so that we can have a more meaningful Christmas. Please scroll down to the end of the post to see the list of carnival entries.”

I love Christmas! It’s my favorite season of the year! That’s because it’s the time to celebrate the birthday of Jesus, the reason for the season! And being an avid home decorator, I so enjoy sprucing up my home during the holidays. Honestly, some years ago I actually considered not decorating our home at Christmas, that being a low point in my life. But as I prayed and reflected, I realized that all the more I needed to decorate — as a way to honor and celebrate the Birthday Celebrant! So I did, and it made a difference (for me, at least!).

I’m the frugal type, so as much as I don’t have to spend for something, I won’t. (I even call myself, “Frugirl.”) And that goes for Christmas decorations! So here are some points that have helped me make the most of Christmas decorating without having to spend a whole lot (really!):

1. Find an inexpensive Nativity Scene. This was my top priority as I was about to decorate my own home. Being a Catholic, I believe that Christmas ought to center on Jesus. So I found this beautiful, yet very affordable Nativity Scene at a local bookstore some years ago.

2. Simply receive. If people give you Christmas decorations as gifts, simply receive! Then find out how they can fit in your Christmas décor.
Got these pillows (or pillow cases) from three different people
Got this candle holder from my uncle last Christmas

3. Simply ask. “Mom, do you have any Christmas décor that you don’t need? I’m open to donations,” so said I a few weeks ago. My mom has a whole lot of Christmas décor stored up in her attic, many of which are not being used anymore. So I just ask. And she gives. (Many times, though, I don’t ask; she simply gives. In this case, see #2.)
All these trinkets from my mom!
Still from my mom (told you she had lots of stuff! Which is why I ask!)
4. Go natural. Last year, we moved into a bigger home. But we didn’t have a Christmas tree. So my husband and I went window-shopping, only to realize that Christmas trees are expensive! Not to worry — I had a back-up plan. A few months before the Christmas season, I was able to retrieve some bamboo branches that were about to fall on our backyard. And these I used to make “your-not-so-usual” Christmas tree.

Since we already have a Christmas tree this year,
this is what I did with our branches from last year
5. Repurpose. Keep an eye out for stuff you can use in new ways, such as used cans and bottles.

6. Find inspiration for new things. Look no further than the Internet for new ideas on how to decorate.

Found this idea online...

7. Make your own Christmas décor. I’m not very good at making stuff, but since our Christmas tree didn’t have a star on top, and I could hardly find any Christmas tree stars being sold in the shops, I decided to make one. Our Christmas tree had to have a star, as it symbolizes the star of Bethlehem that pointed to the Baby Jesus.

8. Research on how what you have can work. While thinking about how to decorate our home this year, I remembered that my father-in-law brought this certain red carpet to our home which wasn’t being used anymore and was just rolled up in one room. (When he brings stuff to our home, it usually means we can already use them.) When I had our helper unroll it, I realized we could use it during this season, especially with its color. My challenge was how to make it work with our sofas, a thin and not-so-tall Christmas tree (also given by my in-laws), and a second-hand white ottoman given to us by friends. So I surfed the Internet for some ideas, and here’s how our living room turned out:

So there you go. I’d say about 90% of the Christmas décor in our house is given. Which is why when I look at all these, I don’t just see things; I see stories. And people. Individuals even. My heart wells up in gratitude to the Lord for using them to add beauty and warmth to our home. And at the same time, I say a prayer of blessing for them.

Enjoy your decorations, and may your homes reflect the Christmas spirit!

“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

What are your tips on Christmas decorating on a budget? Feel free to post your comments! J

Please do check out the other participants of the Spend-Less Christmas Carnival participants! God bless you!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

When in the World Am I Getting Married?

I remember it very well. My boyfriend and I were in this restaurant on a date. But unlike other dates, I had my head down most of the time while eating my food. This was not a happy date. He told me some news, something that I didn’t want to hear. He would be relocating to the province soon, as he truly believed in his heart that God wanted him to work there.

OK…what about our future? We had been in a committed relationship for more than three years, and it was clear that marriage was part of the plan. And living in the city. So why did this wild card suddenly surface and catch me off guard? This was not part of the original plan.

Guess what? This was reality. Who was I to get in the way of God’s plan? As we exited the restaurant, I began to cry. While walking past partying weekend people. I must have looked like a mess.

So our relationship would soon be classified under “LDR” (long-distance relationship). But wait. I was hoping at this time that he would’ve already proposed marriage. After all, he expressed years back that after he took the Bar Exams, his plan was to settle down already. So the Bar was over, but no hint of a proposal.

Maybe at Christmas, I thought. Christmas came and went, and no proposal.

Anyway, he did relocate at the start of the new year, and we got used to seeing each other only every other week. Meanwhile, I wondered when he would ask me to marry him. Maybe during Valentine’s Day. (OK, I’m the romantic type, so this would be the perfect time to pop the question!) But nope. Maybe during my birthday. My birthday’s in May, and by this time, the results of the Bar were already out for sometime (he passed!), so I figured this might be the time. Wrong!

After this, I finally surrendered my expectations to the Lord. Up went the white flag. I decided to just trust in God’s timing. I continued to live my single life fully, enjoying the opportunities to serve the Lord in our singles ministry, putting nothing on hold.

One normal day in July, as my boyfriend and I went out for coffee after having dinner with his family in a dampa*, he started saying something like the more he got to know me, the more he realized I was the one for him. I was totally clueless as to what this was leading to. Then he asked me, “Will you marry me?” I could hardly believe my ears. So much so that I began to rattle on (I can’t remember now what I said) and my tongue couldn’t even enunciate a “yes!” (I think that made him nervous.) Finally, after what seemed like an eternity (to him…I think it was just a few minutes, though), I said, “Yes!”

While he was bringing me home, I was giddy. But I wondered, Where’s the ring? I tried to brush it off, not wanting to be demanding. But minutes after we arrived at my house, my fiancé of less than an hour caught me by surprise. A tiny box emerged from his hand. He opened it to reveal…the ring! OK, that got me. I started to cry (for joy now).

Oh cool, wedding mode was officially on! But provincial living mode? Um…say what? Let’s deny that for the meantime, folks…I am getting married!!!

* A restaurant where you can buy fresh seafood and have it cooked to your liking; “a wet market restaurant,” says my hubby

> Howdy, readers! Thanks for reading! Just post your own comments below, whether it be about your own proposal stories, waiting and what not! God bless!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Washing Dishes or The Sanctified Sink

(Note: I posted this on an old social networking site back in October 18, 2006.)

I like washing dishes. For some reason, I enjoy it. I like getting the plates and pots and pans and utensils all squeaky clean. I like the smell of the dishwashing liquid.

For nearly a week, we hadn't had much water here in our apartment. This was pretty unusual, since water hadn't been scarce for months. Emily, our helper, told us that our landlady said there was some pipe construction going on somewhere. That being the case, a trickle would come about lunchtime, but only downstairs. For our bathroom upstairs, water would start pouring again mid to late evening. So it was a surprise when Ferdie, my husband, opened the faucet in the kitchen sink after lunch today and told me to look — water! Not just trickles, but strong, flowing water! "Praise the Lord!" I said. "I'm excited to wash the dishes," I told him. (Or maybe I was more excited to get the place cleaned up of the mess! Emily comes only twice a week, by the way.)

So there I was again, my usual spot — the sanctified sink. I like washing dishes not just because I like washing dishes. I like washing dishes because I get to ponder or praise or plan or pray or do other things. At times, I find myself worshiping the Lord while rounding up the plates with liquid suds. Sometimes, I ponder about my life while removing the grease off the grill pan. Other times, I pray for others while rinsing the glasses. Or I pray for those who gave us the plates and pots and pans for our wedding. Still other times, I think about projects at work while lining up the dishes on the drainer.

I remember one time, while washing the dishes, I was sharing stories with my sister-in-law, Sim. (She and my brother, Dino, came from their couples' Time Out Vacation and they were our houseguests; Dino and Ferdie were out playing badminton at that time.) It just amused me how much we shared about the Lord while I was at the sink! Then there are other times when I find myself singing and/or dancing to cool worship or Christian music while washing dishes.

A lot of thanksgiving goes out, too, while I'm busy letting the water run over these tools used for cooking and eating. I tell the Lord I'm grateful for all that's happening in my life...and yes, non-stick pans! Oh, dishwashing (or should I say, "panwashing") is so easy with these wonderful inventions! Thank You, Lord, for Teflon! It's a different story with the rice cooker pot when the hardened rice stuck to the bottom and sides is as stubborn as a mule. Or the grill pan when bits of burnt meat are stuck in between grooves. During these times, it's rather difficult to worship, as I am very much focused on the task at hand. So I keep at it — several rounds of washing till the pot and pan are free of any food residue. The lesson here? Perseverance.

So there you go, the kitchen sink has become a place of God's visitation for me in many ways. That's why I can call it the sanctified sink. Just now I remember [a saint…was it St Teresa of Avila? I could be wrong…] who, while cooking an egg, would levitate in ecstasy because of her love for the Lord. Well, I have never yet levitated in ecstasy while washing dishes. But I can account for the joy I've experienced because of the Lord while doing this mundane task.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be preparing in a need for me to wash dishes tonight. Ferdie and I are having [local] steak at [a nearby diner].

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)