Saturday, February 19, 2011

Little Tokyo and Big Emi

Awhile ago, my parents and I had dinner in a foreign spot down Pasay Road, Makati. With only a small brick bridge to usher us in, I was surprised to discover a Japanese village hidden behind familiar buildings.

There were bungalow structures with pointy rooftops cramped together that reminded me of ol' Tokyo. I guess, that was where Little Tokyo got it's name. Little Tokyo is a small compound of Japanese restaurants and bars serving various Japanese dishes, from giant Takoyakis to Makis, from Sashimi to Saba, from Okonomiyaki to Yakiniku.

The place was indeed very Japanese. Apart from the food being offered, plus the grocery nearby selling Japanese snacks and frozen foods (which you won't find elsewhere), people flocking in were speaking in their native Japanese tongue! As they say, you'd know if a restaurant is authentic if the authentic eaters are in there. So I guess, it was the real deal. But of course I had to taste it firsthand to prove the theory right.

I had their Yakitori Bento Box, my mom had Saba Bento Box, my dad had Cold Soba Noodles and we shared a plate of Futomaki and Nikujaga. The Nikujaga and Futomaki came first. Nikujaga is a Japanese appetizer that features sliced beef sirloin stewed with potatoes and carrots in a sweet delightful dashi sauce. It reminded me of the Korean beef stew in Korean Village. Being priced at Php120, I found it quite expensive since it was served in a very small bowl (imagine 3" in diameter bowl). The size of the Futomaki however was quite large, if I'm not mistaken, a piece would measure 2" in diameter (0.5" larger than the ordinary). It had more than the usual Tamago, crabstick and cucumber fillings. I was able to munch on some bits of shrimp and unagi as well. The price was Php300 for 8 pieces which is good already to get the best Futomaki in town.

My Bento Box came with a bowl of hot miso soup which was quite refreshing to drink. Unlike in other food chains where powdery chemicals that flavored the soup would uncomfortably stick to your throat, theirs was calm and soothing. Inside my Bento Box were two sticks of Yakitori, a stick of four grilled bacon-wrapped asparagus, green salads with Japanese vinaigrette dressing, mashed potatoes, three fat slices of tuna and a bed of Japanese white rice. A little too much for my stomach, so I shared some with my dad. For a price of Php340, it was okay, could be better.

I got to taste their Saba Bento Box, it was real good. Saba is a seasonal fish, more commonly known as the mackarel. The fish meat was soft and tasty, or in their language, umami. Next time, I'd pay Php40 pesos more (Php380) and get that big Saba box instead.

On our way home from dinner, the car radio was tuned in DWRB 104.3 (FM). Kundiman songs were being played, those that you'd hear 30 years ago. My mom kidded my dad, "You're a senior citizen na talaga (really), that's why you enjoy listening to these songs!" I added to it saying, "Yes, it's making me sleepy." Laughter reverberated in the car as my dad tried to defend himself saying, "But, it's really relaxing.."

Then, Atty. Romy Macalintal continued on with his program. He asked his guest, Korina Sanchez, to read a love poem. The poem was "I Thank You God" by EE Cummings.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

According to Korina, many of us are only thankful when we get what we ask for. We simply let go of the many blessings that God has given us. So for tonight, I would like to thank God for two Emi ("blessing" in Japanese) that I may not usually verbalize my gratitude to. They are the very people who took me to Little Tokyo!

Thank You Lord for giving me a dad who is very selfless. He is very patient with me (esp. if I take too long in the bathroom or if my room's a mess.). I can see that he really gives his best to his family. He ensures that his family lacks nothing. And because of this, I can't ask for anything more!

Thank You also for giving me such a beautiful mom whose energy is devoted to keeping our house a home. She calms my restless soul. She encourages me to pursue my dreams. I love them both!

Domo arigatou gozaimasu Iesu! ("Thank You very much Jesus" in Japanese.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How God has Written My Love Story

I remember being a girl with a very low self-esteem. I was less talented compared to my cousins who were getting awards, in music and arts, left and right. I was an average student. I wasn't exactly slender. I had nothing much to be proud of. The only moments that I felt good about myself was when guys liked me. That was my source of esteem.

I discovered this when I was in college. It was the stage of my life when I got to experience being pursued by men. I remember the first Valentines day I had received gifts. I had more than what my two hands could handle. Guy number one gave me a bouquet of roses. Guy number two gave me another bouquet and a bear. Guy number three gave me a basket with a stuffed toy and balloons tied to it. Guy number four gave me a rose and a book. I realized that there were people who appreciated me, who loved me despite my nothing-to-be-proud-of state. I was liked, and I was ecstatic.

The happiness that they brought me was something I held onto. There was an empty space in my heart that, I felt like, only they could fill. And in order to keep myself happy and content, I decided to follow what my relatives told me to do, to "collect and select".

The fun thing about it was I got all the attention. I was too busy conversing on the phone and cellphone after school, that there was a time when I was banned from these mediums of communication. The downside on the other hand was I hurt people. I comforted myself saying, it's their choice to stay or let go anyway. Yes, I was selfish. I was a lost girl who measured herself up with the number of men liking her.

I was in this bondage for seven years. It was only in 2007, that it all stopped. How? I attended a fellowship. The guy that I liked (and I thought liked me) brought another girl to church. I thought he was the one already because we had the same values and all. But I had to let go of him and unfortunately I had nobody to replace his space. The need to look for someone else to like made me realize that I was in an unending destructive cycle. Unending because someone has to fill that empty space. Destructive because someone has to get hurt, either the guy or me.

In that fellowship, a mellow inspirational song started to play..
People need the Lord, people need the Lord. At the end of broken dreams, He's the open door..
When I heard it, tears started rolling down. I realized that the only answer to my problem, the only freedom to this cycle is Jesus Christ. I would only get to experience real joy when every room in my heart, including the space that I had set apart for men, would be dedicated to Jesus Christ.

That night I welcomed Him to that room. I wanted my joy to come from Him and not from any other man anymore. I prayed for God to take away my desire to like and be liked, until my God's Best comes along. I did not want to hurt and be hurt incessantly. And if my God's Best were to come, I prayed for a sign, that he would (1) like me at the same time that I'd like him and (2) meet my God's Best qualities (This GB list has been completed in early 2007.)

My God's Best List:

1. Mature Christian
2. Selfless
3. Pro-active
4. Hardworking
5. Gentle Listener
6. Creative thinker, not boring
7. Above average living status (negotiable)
8. Willing to live abroad (negotiable)
9. Active in church
10. Has wisdom
11. Independent yet God-dependent
12. Loves to learn
13. Taller than me
14. Not thinner than me, but not that fat
15. Fair skin complexion, not whiter than me
16. Street smart
17. Close Christian family
18. Adventurous
19. Deep voice
20. Easily smiles

By God's grace, God took away my desire to like and be liked by men. I felt free and joyful. I was happy to be single. When guys liked me, I was surprised with myself when I prayed that they would not like me anymore because it was distracting. I felt complete. I was ready to be single for life.

On September 2007, during my cousin's bridal shower, a friend of mine named Ivy told me that if ever I'd have a boyfriend preferably he would also come from the same church. I said, "Nah, they are all brothers to me." Then she asked, "What do you think of David Jan Chan?" This same sister asked David the same question, and mentioned to him my name. After that day, the idea just popped and disappeared like a bubble.

I've known David ever since we were little kids. He was the brainy little boy who'd walk up the chapel stage to get his first honor award. He was also the same boy in college that I had called ET because of the shape and size of his head. But we never got to talk. The first time that we dialogued was in AZCOP 2007: Pleasing Your Ultimate Boss Camp. The odd thing was, just a month later, whenever I played "When God Made You" I would remember him. But it wasn't because I was liking him and vice versa already. The image of him would just pop into my head whenever I listened to the song. It was oddly pleasant.

On the Valentines Day of 2008, he told me that he would like to court me, the biblical way. I didn't expect it. Courtship is quite different biblically because it is exclusive. It is getting-to-know each other with marriage as the end goal in mind. I told him I'd pray about it and give him the answer soon.

I learned in summer of 2008 that he was thinking of becoming a pastor. My parents and many of my relatives didn't like him for me because of that very fact. I didn't want him to be one either. It was funny that during that time God taught me through timely devotions to "Face the Giants" on the same day when my relatives told me to not be with him; and to "make necessary adjustments" on the same day when my father was telling me he might not have the capacity to provide for me in the future.

I felt that I should already tell him by May, whether it would be a YES or NO, to prevent either of us from investing too much time, effort and emotions. On the 3rd week of May, he attended a full-timer's camp. He told me that Monday that God reaffirmed him of his calling. I was devastated because I had never wished to end up with a pastor. I prayed and prayed, and on Wednesday, I got an answer.

I locked myself in a room and asked God if I should be in a courtship relationship with him or not. Two unusual event occurred. First, God reminded me of the God's Best list I had created and lifted up to Him early last year. I found it under piles of books in one of my rarely opened cabinets. I checked if he was able to meet all the criteria. He did. He was the first one.

Second, my devotion that morning was: God gives blessings, and these blessings may come with a responsibility. I realized that David was (and still is) God's blessing to me and I have no other thing to do but to accept him.

I asked my parents for permission if I could be in a relationship with him. They said I was old enough to decide for myself. How my relationship with David has adjourned and how my family's view of him has changed after May 2008, is a different story of God's grace altogether.

Valentines day reminds me that God writes beautiful love stories. Sometimes we have to wait for it to uncover. Sometimes we just have to enjoy the story, whichever page we are.

Happy Valentines Day! May Christ be at the center of your hearts!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Remembering the Past: May 10, 2007

I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own. We are not able to plan our own course. So correct me Lord, but, please be gentle. Do not correct me in anger, for I would die.
~ Jeremiah 10:23-24
May 10, 2007

It is mostly amazing, partly scary, to know that someone's planning for you. Amazing because despite your frailty and weakness, you know that Someone can lead you to achieve, can bring you to places, can provide you with the strength to overcome. That same Someone is the one who made the heavens and the earth, who was and is the only one God who've judged other gods (the others have passed away).

It's partly scary because you may have your own plans and God has his. They may be different, completely or partially. Since God's plan will prevail, it may hurt when you have to let go of your own plans and desires.

Let's remember that God, as the potter, has infinite wisdom. He knows what is best for you (I know this has already been a cliche usually used when a person's hurt, confused or worried). And He may correct you, by aligning your plan to His.

I found this entry in my 2007 journal. During that time, I just left my first job. I felt like a failure. I didn't do well at work and I didn't know where to go. Reading my past entries last night, I was able to remember my struggles back then. How I struggled when my friends were earning salaries a lot higher than mine. How I struggled with keeping my heart pure for God. How I struggled with persecution. How I struggled with not knowing where to go. There were lots more that made me almost give up.

Reading them four years later, I am able to see how God has helped me overcome my struggles. How he has changed my view on money. How he has made me overcome guy issues. How he has given me strength during persecutions. And how he has led some of these persecutors to Christ. I saw how the pieces fit. How God answered my unending questions. And how he has changed me, molded me, to fit in the future that my young, naive, 2007 eyes could not see.

Praise the Lord! It's truly encouraging to remember the past. It equips us with hope, pushes us to move forward, and encourages us to grow further.

May we remember God's faithfulness as we look forward to the future that He has prepared with much joy and excitement! :)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Successful Pasta Experiment # 1: Spicy Sardines and Sweet Corn in Oil Pasta

No cream in the house for Filipino Carbonara. My dad's allergic to tomato sauce. No tuna or salmon. No bacon or pancetta. No eggs. I couldn't find most of the top-of-mind ingredients for pasta in the kitchen. But I still had to whip something up for dinner. Good thing I found a bottle of olive oil, some canned goods in the store room, a couple of sweet corns from Pampanga, and the usual garlic and onion bulbs in the dirty kitchen.

From the above mentioned finds, I was able to make a quick, easy and delish pasta dish!

2 cans (5.5 oz) 555 spicy sardines sliced
2 large sweet corns
3/4 cup olive oil
1 bulb onion
6 cloves garlic
0.5 lb spaghetti noodles
a dash of pepper

Get everything ready. The onion sliced. The garlic chopped. The sardines, sliced into bits, dried from the sauce. The sweet corn kernels taken from the cob. Bring water to a boil and then throw in your pasta noodles. Take note of the boiling minutes labeled on your noodle packaging. You would need to start the countdown once you pour the noodles in the pot.

For the sauce, toast the garlic and sweat the onion in 2/4 cup olive oil. Once the garlic has turned golden brown and you can already smell the sweet fragrance of onion and garlic, send in the sardines and the corn kernels. Sprinkle some ground pepper. Mix them all together with the noodles, and pour the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil, you'd get something like this!

It was my first time preparing and eating this type of pasta today. My take: The addition of cool corn kernel bits was a pleasant surprise. It's sweet taste was a perfect contrast to the spicy sardines. My advice: add some parmesan cheese or keso de puti if you are feeling pinoy.

Bon Appetit! (In Tagalog: That's it, pancit!)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Biblical Definition of Religion: Is yours for real?

What is religion? That is when we go to church, we sing praises, we worship, we attend weekly fellowships, we kneel down in prayer, we raise our hands high in adoration, and then we go to church again, we sing praises, and maybe add a few days of fasting. We let go of meat, of meals, of tv, etc.

But, are you sure? If this is how you define religion, then better read on. You are straying away from God's original framework for "religion". The REAL religion is not a scheduled ritual in church. Believe it or not, even if you are loaded with ministries, you may not be practicing the real religion in which God blesses.

A real religion acts upon the Scripture. The only proper way of dealing with the Scripture is doing it.And this is how we should act according to the Bible. If you would read James 1, James enumerated the three components of a real religion.

1. Bridles his tongue and doesn't deceive his heart

People who are easy to find faults in others, who are easily angered, are not practicing true religion. They see themselves as "more religious" than others who have fault. They forget that they too are sinners and imperfect; that they too need the grace of God to be saved. True religion is also free from hypocrisy. It doesn't show a doble kara where you wear the pious hat only on some days and in front of some people.

2. Shows compassion to the oppressed

I realized that many of us are lacking in this aspect. If you would read Isaiah 1:10-17, God rejects people's worship however lavish because they use it as a pious evasion of the self-denying demands of helping the weak. Even lifting their hands in prayer avails nothing (ESV Study bible). God also defines the true meaning of fasting in Isaiah 58:6-7. The fasting that He chooses is more than dieting. It is to loose the bonds of wickedness; undo straps of yoke; let oppressed go free; share bread with the hungry; bring homeless into the house; and cover the naked.

Now, you might excuse yourself saying, "How can I help the poor? If I give them money, they might use it wrongly or give it to syndicates." Well, it's not only money that they need. They'd also need food, clothing, shelter, justice and freedom. Are you willing to help them even if it'd cost you? The real religion helps people who are in need, those who cannot give anything in return.

I am emphasizing this number because as evangelicals, we are guilty of sharing what is most convenient. Words. Mouth service. Talks. Thoughts. Most of the ministries that relate to the poor start with sharing the gospel (through a story, an event, an outreach, a medical mission) and end with it as well. It usually lasts one day long. After that, we leave them behind and hope that God would work in the "seed" that we've planted. I know that the Gospel is the most important gift mankind can ever receive. But I hope you would consider the broader scope of the gospel message. I hope that you would look at its entirety. Faith is not limited to proclaiming the gospel message in words and training followers to do the same. Faith is "doing" the Scripture from Genesis to Revelation no matter what it takes.

Test your heart, are you sharing the Word only because it is the most convenient? Telling a story and praying for someone is a lot easier than inviting the crippled homeless man living under the bridge you see everyday on your way home from work. The previous is free; the latter, uncomfortable.

3. Unstained of the world

In one word: UNWORLDLY. Remaining "not of this world" in this world is definitely going against the flow of society. This would mean that our vision, mission, personal strategies and daily decisions should not base on the world's measure of success, but on God's measure of righteousness.


My quiet time today pointed out that I am so unreligious (if there is such a word) or ungodly (ouch!) because I am not able to practice the real religion that God has set out for me to do. And so I pray that God may forgive me for engaging in a comfortable religion far too long. May God give me the idea as to how I should help the oppressed with the gifts that He has given me. May I learn to share more, to give more and to love more, especially to those that the world ignores.

I hope that you would do the same. Let's us take each day as an opportunity to share to the marginalized.. to the child that knocks at the car window, to our maids, to the old man sleeping on a cardboard box. May we see each instance as a divine appointment for us to share God's love and word.

God bless you!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Food For Thought: Good Food for a Good Cause

Food For Thought is a small store beside Royal at Queens hotel in Singapore. I was only able to discover this hidden treasure when my friend brought me there 30 minutes before our (hotel) check out time. I was supposed to be up in my room packing. But I decided to go with her since I didn't know when I'd be back again.

Food For Thought not only provides 'good food for a good cause', but it also advocates NGO causes that include conservation of the environment, fight against hunger, helping the poor children, etc.

I particularly love the shabby chic ambiance of the store. It has a pleasant country style with quirky twists. If you would look at their ceiling, they decorated it with recycled old vases and orchids. They also used glass cups for the lighting, probably to add shimmer and lessen the use of electricity.

On their walls and table tops were printed statements that speak of the causes they believe in. For example the one below is "Make Poverty History. 'Cause we wait for the day when the last shall be first." Wonderful isn't it?

Learning from the vision of the future (read Matthew 25), as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goat, so will God separate the righteous from the unrighteous on the day of judgment. And if you would look closely, God will not ask, "Why will I allow you to enter my Kingdom?" and expect a simple answer of "because I believe in You."

On the judgment day, it is definitely easy to just say, "I believe in Jesus, so please let me enter Heaven's gates." But God will hold you accountable (responsible, liable) for every blessing (gift, time, wealth and other provisions you receive). Were you able to use them well? Did you use them to help the least of His brothers? Did you feed the hungry and the thirsty, clothe the needy and heal the sick? Or are you using them selfishly?

I don't mean that God looks only at your good works. By all means, no. When you are helping the poor, you are doing it for Jesus! And this is faith in action. ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

I say faith in action because it is still by faith that we are saved - a gift of God, and not by good works. But faith is not static. It moves people to action. Wasn't it faith that let Noah build an ark of cypress wood when all men were rejoicing and corrupting? Wasn't it faith that let David muster up the courage to fight against Goliath when he had no experience in fighting a giant? Wasn't it faith that let Mary, the sister of Lazarus, pour a pint of pure nard (a very expensive perfume worth a year's wage!) on Jesus' feet? Wouldn't it be faith to offer the same or even more to the "least" of our family because this equates to doing it for Jesus?

I was really moved while I was inside. I saw various social enterprises helping the poor in different Asian countries (i.e. Cambodia, Vietnam). I know it is more profitable to establish ordinary single-bottom-line (for profit only) businesses compared to social and ecological enterprises. However, these establishments have decided to share their profits and tighten the gap between the rich and the poor. I hope more social entrepreneurs and advocates will rise up. It's funny how one of the shirts in the store has put my sentiments in a lyric form, "'cause apathy is so last millennium."

I believe that this is a new season for us Christians to not simply be good boys and girls in the workplace. It is time to act upon our faith, to be proactive, to focus on people OUTSIDE the church (to help the street children for instance). It is time to move one step up from learning (and even teaching)... to doing.

Someone told me, many of us are afraid to advocate social causes because we don't want to be like the other sects and denominations who only "do good works." Please. Let's stop making excuses.

Faith is not static, it moves people to action.

Faith without works is dead (James 2:17)