Autumn Portraits

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A Farm Visit

Farm Visit-27I don’t like to live in a farm. That has been my thought since my family moved here in Fort St. John. But that changed when we visited the farm of Roy and Gloria. We went to visit Roy and Gloria on thanksgiving day. Gloria showed us around their property and we really had a wonderful time. That visit changed my view of what living in a farm looks like. I have been trying to understand what Roy was trying to tell me before about buying property outside of the city limits. He was trying to convince me about the practicality of buying a farm land. I wouldn’t listen, because I could not imagine myself and my family living in a farm. After all, we came here to Canada expecting to live in a “Big City.” To live in a farm was way out of the question. Well, until that thanksgiving visit. That visit really change my perspective. The real surprise for me was that my wife was really receptive to the idea. She was the one who was initially really against the idea of living in the “bukid.” That visit changed her view radically and in fact that visit changed everything. Right now, I can finally see my family and myself staying and settling down in a farm land. I can see the benefits from the financial perspective to the benefit to the quality of life regarding health and overall well-being.

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L-R: Gloria, Remo, Cheryl and Theo

That visit was not planned. But sometimes in our lives, the unplanned moments are those that change us. I am really glad for that visit. I thank Roy and Gloria for the hospitality. I thank Irene for the invite to visit and being the guide to reach the place. I thank God for I know that it was His purpose for this to happen. Now I wait with my family for the next step in our journey. Maybe one of these days, through God’s guidance and provision, we might just start living in a farm!

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Gloria with one of her cows.

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A curious cow.

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Going uphill to the hay field.

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View from uphill

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It was already late autumn so most of the leaves have already fallen. Gloria mentioned that if we had come two weeks earlier, the colors of the tree leaves were really beautiful. Next time we’ll come earlier.

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On the way back from the hay field. The group of trees on the right side are the only trees that still have most of their leaves on.

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We took advantage to take a portrait among the trees.

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The Highway of Life

Landscape-6932Life is usually a cycle. But there are times that it can also be a U-turn. When you are making headway into life’s highway, sincerely believing that you are making good progress, unforeseen circumstances force you to make a U-turn and before you even have time to reflect, you’re headed right back where you began. Usually, the difficulty is compounded by the fact that there aren’t many directional signs and you have to “guesstimate” along the way. Whatever the “unforeseen circumstance” may be, it forces you to realize that you have been travelling on the wrong highway all along.

While travelling through life’s highway, there is always the risk of making a wrong turn and end up on the unpleasant side of life. Or you make a presumably right turn but still end up in a dead-end street. There may even be times when you travel along the way and not really know where you are headed. And the thought that you are headed to a place where you don’t know you have arrived can be daunting.

There will surely be times that you will experience travelling several miles through the back roads of life before finding your way back into the right highway. The hidden beauty of the back road is that you discover places that you never even knew existed. Although unbeknownst to you, many people pass through these roads. These are the individuals that you’ll unlikely to meet along the expressway of life. And as you travel through one of these back roads, you will discover fascinating and unique characters that will touch your life in ways that will make it richer and give you a more expansive view of life. Sharing in their life experiences will add beauty to your own and will give you a better appreciation of life as a whole.

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The unhurried pace of the back roads compels you to engage and immerse into life more fully. You learn to be patient; to persevere and to wait. You’ll have time to appreciate the beauty of your surroundings and interact with the individuals that reside in it. You’ll have time to appreciate the simple beauty of the wild flowers that grow along the sidewalks and you’ll take notice of the sweet aroma of the air. You may even find time to smile or chat with that person on the side street. These encounters would leave an indelible mark on your experience that you inevitably come out a much better person. It is on these back roads where you develop real strength of character.

As you travel through the back roads, you acquire a sense of direction that will eventually guide and help you to choose which highway to take. In my own journey through the back roads, I have discovered the immense beauty of God’s unchanging love. I have discovered that HE is more than willing not only to show me the right direction to the right highway of my life, but would willingly walk with me on my journey through this highway. God has shown me through His Word that this highway is actually a narrow road that leads to a very definite place; a place that He has especially prepared for me and all His children. He has provided all that is necessary for me and His children to find this place. He is also continually calling all those who are searching for this place and are willing to come to Him to find the right direction in their own lives.

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I may still be travelling through the back roads of life, or perhaps cruising through its freeway, seemingly without direction or destination. But I know that this is actually not the case, because I know that I am being guided by a loving God and will someday reach that place which He has prepared for His children to finally find rest. According to one of the most amazing promises in His Word, no eyes have seen nor ears have heard nor can hearts imagine the grandeur of the place that God has prepared for those who love Him.

Because of this promise, I can now “cruise” through life with a sense of purpose and direction because I know that I am divinely guided. I have set my goal to reach the place that God has shown me through His word. Even now, as I journey through life’s narrow road, I find comfort in knowing that I am headed into the right direction and can rest in God’s faithful promises.

Father and Sons

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A Sketch of My Face by Theo

Children have the greatest capacity to enjoy life. Their main mission in life is to enjoy life. They entrust their needs to their parents and race through life as if nothing really matters more than the time spent in playing.  They live carefree lives, having the times of their lives without a thought for the next minute much less for tomorrow or the rest of their lives. Life to them is one big playground. Theirs is an enviable life and how wonderful to be like a carefree child again.

I am grateful for the experience of fatherhood. The experience has allowed me to see myself through my children and get a glimpse of my own childhood through them. I have very few vivid memories of my childhood, but watching my children grow up has somehow shown me what it might have been.

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Father and Sons Circa 2001

I had an ordinary but relatively happy childhood. I lived in a time where cellphones, iPads or computers were things that would not even visit our wildest imaginations. Most of my toys, I had to build myself and the games I played with my neighborhood friends, were played outside of our homes. We played on any open field that we would have decided to be the playground for the day. When we played, we were really in the game and not just imagining it. There was no such thing as virtual reality. What we had was a full dose of reality itself or at least what looked like reality to us children back then.

My two boys have now reached the early teen years. As I watch them grow up, the cold reality sets in that life is moving along too fast. This is mildly shocking especially for those of us approaching the middle age years. Where have all the years gone? It drives home the fact that we must take every opportunity to enjoy life as it zips along. Opportunity lost is lost forever. But, of course, for my boys who are in their early teens, time may feel so agonizingly slow.

It still surprises me that my children still enjoy spending time around me and their mother, although it does reach a point where it gets on my nerves. They just simply want to hang around that sometimes, I need to be firm enough to shoo them away. I do know that I need to spend more time and do those father-son-and-boys things with them. My wife keeps reminding me that before you know it, they would have gone out into the world of their own living their own lives. Then, it’s too late.

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Theo on my right and Remo on my left. Taken on Father’s Day 2014.

The reason why this surprises me is because I did not have this kind of relationship with my father. My relationship with my father was a strict father-to-son relationship. There was no hanging around with my father and no father-son activity I remember spending with him. So now that it’s my turn to be a father, I have a hard time getting used to it. Even now I’m still working at it. I did not plan nor expected to have this kind of relationship with my children. I realize now that if things were simply allowed to work out the way they should, this is the kind of father-son relationship that would turn out by default. I really do not foresee how this will all turn out in the future or what benefit my children or I will derive from it. But, for now it seems to be working out quite well and I’m happy despite all my complaints. I still do need to keep my nerves in check, though.

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A Sketch by Remo

My wife used to say that the children need assurance that they are loved and respected as individuals. I guess, mothers just simply know. Even without delving into the deep science of it all, I believe that it is a basic human need to be loved, respected and validated as an individual. I only need to examine my own feelings to know this to be true. I feel the same and manifest the same need, too. And because I didn’t have this kind of validation as a child, even now in my adulthood approaching middle age, I still find myself craving for it. I didn’t need to search too far, though. I can find enough love and respect and validation within my family, and surprisingly in particular, from my own children. Being loved and respected is one great benefit of fatherhood. I am grateful that I am a father.

 

From Here to There…

Our life here in the northeastern part of British Columbia in Canada has just about come full circle. Summer is just around the corner and people are scrambling to get their toys out to play and take full advantage of the warm weather. When summer finally sets in, we would have experienced all four seasons of this beautiful country.

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Aerial View of Fort St. John

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Peace River at Sunset

We arrived here last summer and one year doesn’t seem that long. We haven’t settled down just yet, that’s for sure but, one year through our lives in this great country feels like just moments ago. Perhaps, we simply lost track of time trying to settle down. Or, maybe the divided seasons gives the passing of time the illusion of being too fast. Winter seems too long and summer seems too short. Spring and autumn seems to just pass by almost without notice.

People might ask, how does it feel to be so far away from home? This is not an easy question to answer mainly because this may not be the right question to ask considering my situation. Due to my experience at being away from home for so long, I have lost track of what a home feels like, much less what it looks like. At the few times that I have managed to “come home” to my hometown, it sadly made me realize that the place I once called “home” have ceased to be one for me. My hometown is never the same after a few years of being away. The house is gone; the friends are gone or have moved out, perhaps never to meet again. Even close relatives have become more like strangers than anything else. The familiar faces and places are now replaced with strangers and unfamiliar streets and edifices. The uncanny feeling of being a stranger in your own hometown inevitably sets in. The feeling of “home” is gone.

The number of years that one stays in one place is not always the defining factor that makes it a place to call home. This will be true only if one doesn’t move away. I’ve spent 25-plus years in my hometown, about half of my present age, and yet, I feel more “at home” in my most recent place before moving to Canada wherein I’ve stayed for only 6-plus years. That’s not even half the time I’ve stayed in my hometown. I believe that one of the defining factors for a place in becoming a home is the amount and the quality of the meaningful relationships that have been built and nurtured in that place. Once these relationships cease to exist, the definition of home for that place ultimately disappears.

So, how does it feel like trying to find a home? As I ponder upon this question, the answer seems as elusive as finding that proverbial needle in that proverbial haystack. Perhaps, I have been without a home for too long that I feel more at home with the idea than anything else. When I speak of home in this context, it means having a permanent place to really settle down and take root, if you may. And if building and nurturing meaningful relationships are the building blocks of home, then we are definitely still a long way off, especially out here in this place that we have just moved in.

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View From Our Balcony at Early Evening

This whole idea of “homelessness” was chosen out of necessity. I chose to accept the situation because it was a necessary step, at that time, to get on with my life. Choosing this path was the best way to move forward. It is a bothersome idea being too comfortable at being without a home. It disturbed me to think that my children might grow up not having a true identity of who they are. Of course, they knew that they are Filipinos, and that they are of the masculine gender, and that they are called by certain unique names and that they cannot escape that fact that they have a certain surname that they acquired from their father. But, the bigger scheme of things such as, in which society they will take root or what place do they hold in this society, is something that needed to be established. I remember my eldest son’s longing to go back to Abu Dhabi, not so much for the awesome malls and the scorching weather but rather because he has left a lot of his friends there. I know that my younger son felt the same way. Again, the element of the built, nurtured and meaningful relationships takes center stage here. Even if I had to read between the lines in the many ways they expressed those desires, it really pains me to think that they really miss their friends. Now that moving to a place where the opportunities to acquire new friends have narrowed down considerably, this has definitely affected their psyche and social life. I may never know the real effects on them as a person, whether for good or for bad.

Perhaps I need to mention also that these adjustments do not affect our children alone. My wife and I terribly miss the warm fellowship and the satisfying worship experience we had with our church family in Abu Dhabi. We miss the provocative conversations and the pleasurable experiences we shared with our friends. Unfortunately, the fellowship experience here is as unenthusiastic as eating a bowl of cold soup in a cold winter night. The fact that we are new in this place could be the reason for this experience. Hopefully, this will change as we start to settle down just a little bit and get to know the people. It will take considerable time and effort to find that “homey” place and feeling again. Although this may not be our last stop before heaven, our family is earnest in our effort to find a home somewhere out here on this vast and magnificent country.

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For the past seven years, I have lived a “semi-nomadic” life, moving from here to there depending on the kind of circumstance or opportunity that would present itself. Several times, I am tempted to envy those who have the privilege to really settle down in their “homes.” Living a “semi-nomadic” life is not always a bad thing. This kind of life has actually taught me to be open and always ready for change. It teaches one to be less emotionally attached to material things that will eventually be left behind, be given or thrown away.

The emotional attachment that comes from worthwhile personal relationships that were built over time is completely another matter of course. This type of attachment does take time to get detached from. Although, one can get used to this after going through it a few times, there is real danger that lies beneath the surface. One can get so used to it that it may seem alright to just build superficial relationships or even worse, cease to build at all? To avoid getting emotionally attached and thus risk getting hurt, one will finally end the desire to build true and meaningful relationships. This is definitely not the way to live. This is not the way God designed life to be. Life is about meaningful, refreshing and wonderful relationships if it is to be worth living at all. But it does begin with having the right relationship with God. Eventually, this will lead towards the right relationships with our neighbors.

The human heart or, shall I say, the human mind is a resilient organ. It can remember if prompted to or it can forget if deemed necessary.  But, I do find myself struggling many times to forget the fond memories and the pleasurable conversations among true friends. Good memories of good friends are hard to forget even with a resilient mind. Perhaps, it’s not even a good idea to try to forget those memories in the first place.

The “semi-nomadic” life does not allow much room for meaningful relationships to germinate, take root and eventually grow. Relationships take time to develop. It would require one to actually stay in one place for considerable amount of time in order for any relationship to have a chance to grow. I’m sure that it requires so much more, but without these prerequisites, it is doomed before it even begins.  And if meaningful relationships are the building blocks of home, then it goes without saying that to build a home we need to build meaningful relationships.

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One year on, I still have to find my place in the bigger scheme of life here in Canada. It is safe to say, too, that I am still very much trying to find my place in the bigger scheme of life itself. True friends are really hard to find and it is truer as one gets older. That’s a mild understatement. The job is good but the language barrier is something that still needs to be overcome. Not to mention overcoming the culture gap and the generation gap as well. It is not so much as the English language as the way it is spoken out here and how ideas are expressed compounded by the lingo of the Canadian culture that makes it a challenge to get across the language barrier. One year on, and I have yet to find a crack on that barrier. Anyway, I’ll continue chipping on that wall and perhaps, one of these days it will fall down like the walls of Jericho. Fortunately, my sons are having better success at this than me or my wife. This is a good sign. The youth are definitely resilient.  Adults are more flexible though, brought about by experience and maturity, although maturity is beginning to sound more like old age.

I am not in a rush but, admittedly, I expected too much for yet so little time. I guess the middle age crisis alarm signals are starting to sound off just a little bit. The sounds are ever so subtle but audible nonetheless.

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I would like to end this writing on a positive note or in hopeful note for that matter. It is springtime now here in Fort St. John. Spring always bring with it the opportunity for new life and hope. Every once in a while, there is a slight rain but overall the weather is great. Summer is just around the corner and the children are really excited about riding their new bicycles. There is nothing like the seemingly boundless energy and the enthusiasm of the youth to remind us that life is great. There is a certain kind of urgency in them that pushes them to really try to enjoy life and I wish that I could still see life through their eyes. Middle age crisis shall have its day, but not for now.

Life is hard, but God is good. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Life can only have real meaning if one has a real meaningful relationship with God. Only then will this translate to meaningful relations with our neighbors. Amidst all of life’s challenges, it would be wise to invest in building that relationship with our Creator God. As one wise person once said, the knowledge of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

In the meantime, there is life to be lived to the fullest. There is a home to be built. There are friends to be found, old friends to re-connect, and relationships to be built or re-built. Life goes on…from here to there.

To Our Seventh-Day Adventist Church Family in Abu Dhabi

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The place of growth has always been where adversity resides. This is true for my spiritual growth as well as my personal growth. I have always been pleasantly surprised about your acceptance of me as me. I have been away from the “normal” church life for four long years, and yet, when I finally found the courage to come back, you have welcomed me with arms wide open. I felt as if I have never been away at all. This gives me a glimpse of the profound reality of God’s unchanging love.

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I faced tremendous challenge in my work there in Abu Dhabi. There were times when I wanted to just give up and walk away from it all. It was always too easy to give up. But then, there was the church family. I found sustaining strength, from the small group that I and my wife attended. I know you, the people who were there. I shall not mention any names but, I shall never forget you all. You were there at the lowest point in my life. And when I found victory or triumph in my spiritual as well as in my everyday life battles you were there to share it with. I know that you faced the same kind of battles that I did and
yet you always found time to encourage a downtrodden brother such as me. You never had to say anything. Just the fact that you accepted me just as I am was enough. The very thought that I knew that I belonged and was accepted was extremely comforting. This was all that I needed. And if you come to think of it, this is exactly what all of us need: to know that we are loved, no matter what or who we are. Jesus accepts us just as we are and He knows that it is what we need most. The small group has been God’s instrument in fulfilling this into reality.

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We had faced many a spiritual battle in our church life together. It made me realize that war is never over until Jesus comes. There is never a time that we can leave our guards down…never. We’ve lost some battles and won some. But, the most difficult ones are those that shattered the relationships among the brethren. Those are the battles that nobody wins or ever will. We must remember that the church is primarily relationship centred and relationship driven. The Word of God is explicit about this; love God above all, and love your neighbour as yourself. That is why if we have fractured our relationships among our brethren, then we have lost our mandate as a church.

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When my family and I left for “greener (or colder) pasture,” we felt like we were leaving behind our family, and rightly so, because, after all we are one big family of God. I was surprised at the thought that people came out of their way to give us a very pleasant farewell. I was even more surprised with the testimonies of some people that showed how much they appreciated the presence of our family. You may never know how much it meant to me. Especially considering that I always thought of myself as a “difficult person” to be friends with. Some of you never said anything much. You never had to. We understand that there are still no words that were invented to verbalize some of our deepest feelings. I find comfort in knowing that when we left, some of the broken relationships have started to find wholeness once again. It is never ever easy to mend broken relationships but it is never impossible. Healing comes only through God’s grace. With God, all things are possible.

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If I have to mention some regrets, it would be that I may have lost some good friends along the way. I am glad for those friends that I have hurt but found time to ask for forgiveness. Your forgiveness meant so much to me. For those that I forgot to ask forgiveness for, I humbly ask them now. I am sorry for those I may have hurt along the way for one reason or another. There is no reason or an excuse to hurt anybody. This is especially true among brethren.

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If there is anything that I am thankful for, it would be that I am truly grateful for spending a slice of my life with you all. I’ve grown much in spirit and in facing life as a whole because of my experience in the church life over there. I left a part of me right there. I may be someone who is never truly misses (or pretends to be), but I know that in the deep recesses of my heart a part of my life is missing because I left it there with you. Being away from each other is not something that we must fret about. This is not much of a tragic situation anymore. There is always the internet and, of course, FB. We may never meet again in person and may never smell each other’s bad breath ever again. But the greatest tragedy of this all is that if we do not see each other in heaven. We must continue to hold on to that blessed hope and hopefully find time to pray for each other’s well-being. My family and I are forever grateful for the prayers offered to God to accompany us in our new life in a strange land. My family and I love you. God will bless us all.

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Wife and Mother

It’s mother’s day! We all rush to greet our mothers. And amidst all this mad rush to greet our mothers, hopefully, we will not forget the “mother” who will be with us throughout our lives after we have “outgrown” our biological mothers. And who am I referring to? It is no other than our wives, the mother of our children.  And for some of us, the replacement for our biological mother.

I am struggling here. I am struggling to find the right words to honor my wife for her role as mother to my children and wife to me. I was hoping that a bunch of flowers would do that for me. Or, maybe a dinner date and a kiss goodnight to recall our dating days. I know that she would be thrilled and would love those gestures. So what is preventing me from actually showing those gestures if I know it would make her happy? Nothing, really, except my own selfish laziness. In that case, I might just do it.

What if I made the wrong decision in marrying another woman? I am sure I wouldn’t be as happy as I am now. And the opening statement of this paragraph already assumes that I made the right decision in marrying my wife. And which, I am proud to say, is absolutely true! I am truly a happily-married man and that is owing, of course, to the fact that I married the right woman. I am sure my children are happy as well for that fact.

Is their mother great? You bet she is! My oldest son wouldn’t even hesitate to say that his mother is one of the most beautiful mothers around. And he is very protective of his mother. He is “protecting” her for his father. He believes (must be deep in his heart) that his mother is so attractive that other men might find it hard to resist her beauty. So, oldest son to the rescue! He would stay by his mother’s side so that other men would know that she has a son, and therefore, very much married. This rubs off to his younger brother, too. Both of them would take turns protecting their mother. My older son would even “advise” her not to wear “inappropriate” dress so that other men will not cast meaningful glances at her.

Now, why would he act this way? What prompted him to think in such manner? There is only one explanation, I believe. He loves his mother so much, that’s why. There is simply no other explanation. He wants to protect his mother because he loves her and he wants her to stay happy with their father (credit to me, I guess). He and his younger brother believe that their mother is meant only for their father and that their father is meant only for their mother and they are meant to be together and live happily ever after… with them in tow, of course.

This speaks a lot about the kind of mother that they have. A loving but strict mother. She is not only a mother but also a friend. A mother that they can be proud of. A mother that they can talk to about their personal lives and not be afraid of ridicule. A mother who will nurture their talents and encourage them to excel. A mother who can be strict at times and yet they know that it is for their own good. A mother who will teach them the basics in life like cooking and ironing their clothes and washing dishes. A mother who will actually laugh at their jokes! They couldn’t ask for more, from a mother. And I can see that they are absolutely happy for it.

What applies to them, applies to me as well (well, up to a certain extent). I couldn’t ask for more from a wife. Anyone who looks at me walking with my wife would definitely exclaim silently, what a lucky man I am! I wouldn’t even try to tell them otherwise. Because truly I am the luckiest married man I will ever know. You know why? That is because I married my wife. And that’s a fact my children will definite agree 100%. I just hope that my wife feel that same way, too. But I have a positive feeling that she does. Because until now, after thirteen years of marriage, she still looks absolutely great. This speaks a lot about her family life. Don’t blame me for that. She does a lot of effort to keep it that way. I would definitely give her most of the credit. She deserves it. And, oh, I’m off to buy some flowers!