Thursday, March 30, 2006

Growing good apples

Gabriel is going to high school in September. Markus will remain at Lena Shaw Elementary for another two years, without a sibling at the same school. This early, I am already conditioning my boys for next school year when things will be different.

“Will you be okay by yourself in school? No more Kuya Gabriel to watch you, and tell on you, and be with you going here and there?” I asked Markus at breakfast this morning.

“Mom, all he says to me is ‘Shut up!’” Markus replied in his typically exaggerated manner. “He doesn’t like to play with any of my friends except Gord for some reason. He doesn’t like Charlie and he thinks Howie has a flat face like this,” Markus said as he showed me what he meant by “flat face”.

“You don’t judge a person by appearance,” I told him. “You judge by his character. You should choose your friends wisely…” This led us to a discourse on the matter. “Have you heard the story of the bad apple?

Mickey, who was in the kitchen, reacted with amusement. “Is there a story of the bad apple? What’s the story?” He was curious and chuckling.

“Hmm, the story is…,” I thought for a while, “the bad apple infects the good apple.” Quite a story, huh? I ran out of words.

“Is that always true, Mom?” Mickey asked. “How come my friend Christopher used to swear all the time and now he has stopped? And he’s really trying hard to avoid it…” Apparently, Mickey challenged Christopher about this and influenced him in other ways.

“There are exceptions,” I said. “That’s an exception. Usually it is the bad apple that spoils the good one.” Turning to Markus, I said, “Kuya Mickey is the good apple.” With this, I was hoping to affirm Mickey’s good influence on his friend and not the other way around, and to present Markus with an example in his brother.

Whispering, Markus said, “He’s not completely good, Mom. He hit me. The other day, he threw cards at me.”

Hearing the “whisper”, Mickey quickly reacted, “Do you cry? Then why aren’t you crying?... That’s called a controlled hit.” Mick went on a self-defence mode.

It’s quite often that these boys play rough so when they talk about “hitting” I know it’s the playful type. But, yes, they get hurt roughhousing. And if they go overboard, they have to deal with me.

Mickey has actually tempered his rough streak towards the younger ones, be it ever so slowly. “Kuya Mickey is maturing,” I assured Markus. Gino is past that stage. He is now more of a taskmaster. Wash your plate… Take a shower…

Going back to the apple, I reiterated, “You be the good apple, Markus. And choose good friends.”

Just then, Gabriel joined us at the table. “Oh, here’s another good apple,” I said.

Knowing the power of words to build up or tear down, I’d say I have four good apples in my hands.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Canada, eh!

“Mom, it’s March 12 today! We’ve been in Canada for eight years,” Gino said excitedly as he rushed downstairs to where I was.

“Oh, yeah!” I replied. I had completely forgotten about it, our Date of Landing, often asked for on official documents. Eight years already! I feel like I’ve been here much longer.

When we decided to migrate to Canada, we conditioned ourselves about it long before we actually left. We knew little of this huge country, so we gathered as much info as we could. I was on the Internet a lot, researching and getting excited. We also asked around from people who had been here.

“You don’t know anyone in Canada?” “You are very brave.” These were the frequent feedback we got from people who seemed amazed that we would leave a thriving business and haul our family to an unknown territory with no one to help us settle. Everyone tried to be supportive and encouraging, but you could sense their concern…or sometimes, doubt.

Who wouldn’t be concerned? We had no jobs waiting, no house to head straight to, no contacts except my parents in Seattle who had not been to Vancouver themselves. We had four small children, the two youngest still bottlefeeding.

Looking back, the only thing bigger than my fear of the unknown was my faith in the God I knew. He will pave the way, He will never leave us or forsake us, He will be before us and behind us. I don’t know how else we could have done what we did without these assurances.

When we arrived at the Vancouver Airport, my parents were there. They were very glad to see us, but my mother was so anxious she was having ulcer problems. They were the primary reason we came to BC in the first place and not to Calgary or PEI.

As planned, we headed straight to the YMCA because our research said that it was the cheapest accommodation in Vancouver. With eight alisbayan boxes, two huge pieces of luggage and several carry-ons, we took two taxis to the Y, unperturbed by the fact that we had made no reservation. This is Canada, and people make reservations and appointments… But it was too late to worry about that.

Thank God there were vacancies and we were accepted at the Y. We got two bedrooms and were allowed to use their storage room to temporarily keep our boxes. We spent the first few hours after arrival walking on the streets of Vancouver and savouring the sights and sounds and smell of fresh cold air. It was not until the next day, Friday, that we started looking for housing ads.

The receptionist at the Y on weekends happened to be a Filipino living in Surrey, our targeted destination only because it was called the City of Parks and was close to the US border. Kuya Leo, as we began calling him, told us of a newly vacated rental house across his place and invited us to check it out. He even contacted the landlord for us. We checked it out, and by Sunday, we were able to move in. Although the house was 50 years old and small, I fell in love with it. It reminded me of TV’s little house on the prairie in a town called Walnut Grove.

Our newfound place was a quaint little house under walnut trees with countless squirrels running up and down. It had a great view of city lights across the Fraser River at night. I didn’t mind that it was probably the oldest, smallest and most unattractive house on the street, I was just glad to have a roof over our heads. That home would become our nest for the next six months.

Kuya Leo, his wife and family became our instant family in Canada. They poured out all the help they could give us, introduced us to other new Filipino immigrants and drove us around. They took good care of us. When they got a new van, they sold us their old 6-seater Cutlass Cierra car for a mere $300 to help us get around. “This will still be good for three years,” Kuya Leo said. Indeed, it was.

As soon as we got a telephone line and directory, I looked for a Christian church. I saw one that had a Filipino sounding pastor and called it immediately. I was right. The Filipino pastor, who knew people we knew in the Philippines, was very eager to meet us and bring us to the service that Sunday. He did this for two more Sundays until we got our car. We were very pleased to find the Filipinos in that church very friendly, hospitable and gracious, I had a culture shock! It was like they were one big family who still held to traditional Filipino values you find in the rural countryside back home.

When some church people found out we had very little furniture and household stuff, they brought us many things. We were gracious to receive them, never mind if it appeared like we were, you know, FOBs. It was good for cultivating humility.

One lady in church had a mother who decided to move in with another daughter. She wanted to give away all her furniture. Did we want them? she asked. We had been sleeping on comforters and racing each other to sit on two chairs at the dining table and one chair in the living room, who wouldn’t want them? With that windfall plus other pieces of furniture given by other people, our house was suddenly full. So what if nothing matched?

In two months, we had a house, a car, a big network of friends and church family, furniture, a living room with a view... The only thing we needed was a job! But this is for another blog…

It was quite an experience settling in Canada. But I will never forget the piece of paper, old and faded, tacked on a kitchen corkboard that greeted us when we first entered our little house ‘neath the walnut trees. Scribbled on it was the verse in Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

That was the best welcome anyone could have given us.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Holy Firewall

Recently, I saw the movie Firewall starring Harrison Ford. I first heard about it at work from our president, no less, who said that if anyone touched his family, “he got the wrong family”. I’m sure he said that not to impress the missus who was sitting at the front row (though I bet she was tickled pink.) He was determined to do whatever it took to rescue his family from the bad guys, if he were in that position, just like what Jack Stanfield (Ford’s character) did in the movie.

As I think about the film now, I can relate to it on another dimension. As a computer concept, firewall has something to do with security issues, and that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about another kind of firewall, or rather wall of fire, that gives me a different sense of security. Before I retire I night, I usually pray for an impenetrable wall of fire around our household, then in quiet trust that God will indeed protect us, I peacefully and quickly doze off to dreamland. I pray for the same wall of fire to surround each member of my family as we head out to different directions, and especially for my teens when they are out at night.

I will say with no apologies that Jesus Christ is my firewall (and with that I mean anti-virus, etc. too). He protects me from external attacks by hackers and spammers and every kind of viruses and worms out to wreak havoc in my system. And He deletes and disinfects what is wrong IN me in the first place.

The only thing is, there is such a thing as free will, and the firewall will not override it. If I choose to open up myself to things I know aren’t good and are potentially destructive, I knowingly or unknowingly let in malicious, vicious “viruses” that will slow down my system or make me do crazy things, or worse, crash altogether.

I was telling someone, “You have to reformat (your life)” like you would do to a seriously messed up hard drive. If you know your life has been infected by sin, (okay, some people prefer to use more palatable terms like weaknesses or shortcomings), you either delete or disinfect it because it will spread surreptitiously in your internal drive -- your soul. You might need a drastic reformatting with outside help. Just as you call a techie if it concerns your PC, you call on Jesus for spiritual heart malfunctions or dysfunctions. He then sends help through various means and agents.

The point is, you don’t want destructive viruses and pesky worms undermining how you function—or end up—in life.

My son Mickey reminded me one day that we should do a virus scan on our PC regularly. We need to do the same with our souls. Don’t wait for your system to crash and be irreversibly damaged.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Filling the blog

Wow, this blog is a year old already. Thank you blogspot for giving me a cyberplace where I can virtually store my ramblings. You save me space on my hard drive.

I thought of blogging when I realized it was better than flooding the Inboxes of my contacts with anecdotes that may not sound interesting nor personal to everyone’s liking. With a blog, nobody is “spammed”. Everyone can read my stories at their own pleasure. No pressure. For my part, I can write as little or as much as I want regardless of whether anyone is reading it.

Actually, my plan was to compile my stories and intersperse them with tried and tested recipes from my kitchen. I still intend to turn this into a family recipe book for my four boys and for posterity. I figure it would be heartwarming and practical at the same time, something they can take along when they start going places or living on their own.

At the moment, it seems that my book dream will remain in the backburner. I have more stories to blog while they are fresh in my mind. Unlike recipes that can be repeated, life experiences cannot be replayed. The ingredients or end result will never be the same.

I guess I will be blogging for the next while. Here’s to more cheers!