Mending A Childhood

Both my kids are in their forties now. Though my days of feeding, clothing, and putting a roof over their heads are long gone, I still see them as my little ones. Embracing their independence was a huge step for this single parent whose main priority was to give them a better start in life than she, herself, had received. I think that’s the least all parents ought to focus on in the first place, even if it’s just slightly better than theirs.

As a child, I had to listen to lectures that started with, “When I was your age, I didn’t get to ride a bus. I walked miles and miles to go to school every day,” or “Let me tell you something, there are so many kids who’d want to be in your shoes right now. So the least you can do is bring good grades.”

Every time I was put in my place for voicing an opinion, I learned to make a mental note not to ever treat my kids that way. Even as a preteen, I had vowed to be a better parent, because I already knew the fact that “being little” and “feeling little” were two different things.

The one other thing I was prepared to do was accepting my kids for who they were, instead of trying to make them into my “mini-me”s. I recognized and respected our differences without being critical. I tried to fit into their busy schedule and made myself available as often as I could. And I praised them for their level of wisdom, making sure they knew the fact that I, too, was looking up to them.

These days, both my kids come and go as they please. There’s no guilt, shame, nor obligation attached to our relationship. I’m invited over more frequently than I’d ever expected. They even include me to their family vacations.

I can’t go back and change my childhood experiences. Nor do I want to. But the way my own kids’ childhood years developed, it honestly feels as though mine, too, has received all the necessary mending in order to keep moving forward, without those haunting nostalgic memories.


A Miracle

There was a time this one precious lady and I had plenty in common. We both worked extra hard to make ends meet, raised two kids, each, as single parents, and found success while claiming independence many others often don’t get to experience.

And as if her hardships were any rougher than mine, I always felt bad for her, since I always knew what she was going through. Our occasional phone conversations were more or less about comparing notes and trying to encourage one another.

She is a kindhearted soul who gives more than she receives at just about every level, be it love, a helping hand, or monetary means. When I heard the news that she had finally tied the knot with a good man, both retired, I was over the moon. That one particular phone call was full of joy and laughter for a change.

Though I had stopped pursuing marital happiness a longtime ago, I couldn’t have been happier for her. I’ll never know whether her good news gave me a sense of relief long overdue or hope, proving that good things might just be around the corner.

Then I found out that her husband had been in a terrible accident and was in the hospital. I can’t even describe the pain I felt for her, thinking how close she had come to that “happily ever after” feeling. I cried bitter tears, praying that God’s mercy would grant them a second chance. And God was merciful in the end. Her husband just came out of surgery, needing very little time for rehab and recovery. Hallelujah! God is good!


Common Denominator

All my efforts went into wanting to belong to some group or body of community. I would join Bible studies and attend different churches, one after the other, in hopes of trying to fit in somewhere. I even dragged my kids just so they, too, got to taste a sense of belonging among their peers. That’s what being a refugee does to people who exchange the only solid life they once knew for a world of unknown and unproven, all for the sake of offering something better for the next generation.

As a Christian who grew up in a non-Christian nation, my need to learn the basis of my religion was highly important. So was my desire to understand people in general, and not just the Muslims, with all their sense of worship and rituals. I kept studying various religions and journaling their important details, in hopes of finding a common denominator. Though few were against the worship of another entity other than self, most people had found a higher being to look up to. I guess most people were equal, in the sense of believing that they needed supernatural help for dealing with life.

My own religion was enough for me. I found no reason to switch over. But what I found to be true, and this one took many many years to evaluate, was that all so-called Christians weren’t on the same page. Nor did they truly understand what Christianity meant. Christianity, just like all other religions, comes with its own set of responsibilities, one of which is to understand why they are called “Christians.”  We, the followers of Christ, believe Christ is the son of God, who willingly died for our sins and rose from the dead, and sits at the right hand of our God as our advocate. And we, as the recipients of such a great gift, are expected to live in a state of gratitude and humility. 

Admitting a certain title doesn’t mean that one has arrived. That’s just the beginning. I pray more and more people will want to know where they belong, why they belong, and what’s expected of them in order to start making conscious decisions. It seems one common denominator for the entire population isn’t enough. Even smaller pockets of people need to identify their own, justcso they can create peace and harmony, both of which are very important elements for the survival of humanity. Don’t just settle for anything. Do your research and broaden your understanding.


The Mean Old Lady

I once knew this old lady who happened to be one of my long-term customers. Her only son had died of AIDS many years before she lost her husband. I believe her loneliness is what made her bitter and unforgiving. And because I grew up trying to earn my mother’s approval, which almost never happened, other than a few left-handed compliments, I was bound and determined to put a smile on this lady’s face.

My motto was, “If you continue to do good to people regardless of how they feel about you, sooner or later, they’ll end up responding positively someday, even if accidentally.” My need to receive her approval must’ve been greater that my self-worth at the time, because I kept turning the other cheek and acted as if I hadn’t heard her hurtful comments, one after the other.

During one of her visits, she was sitting under the dryer with a perm solution when I overheard her tell some other customer how annoying I was. And because of the dryer, she had no idea how loud she was being at the time. Fat tears started rolling down my face. It was the first time ever that I realized I wasn’t going to be able to please everyone. It was heartbreaking, to say the least. It really is very hard for me to throw in the towel, when all I want is to put a smile on someone’s face.

It wasn’t too long after that I saw her teeny obituary in the paper. I went for the viewing and found out that she belonged to a large congregation and that she was a Sunday School teacher, while many visitors kept talking about how loving and generous she was within the church body. Though I’ll never understand why this old lady didn’t like me -she didn’t even try; but I still took a few minutes to whisper, “You are forgiven. Rest in peace.” And I’ll never know whether or not she received my comment, but it did me a world of good. What a relief it was to know that she no longer had to suffer loneliness. Pretending to be happy is probably of the most exhausting roles one could decide to take on.


Babies’ First Steps

Watching my babies’ first steps had to have been the most exciting of all experiences. Knowing that some children don’t get to accomplish even that much due to their physical limitations they’re born with, I was that much more grateful that my two were healthy and capable.

They did well at school, including both good grades and behavior ethics. I must say, they didn’t give me one bit of trouble growing up. If anything, they kept encouraging me, as if they, too, were raising me. I guess seeing me become a single parent, overnight, gave them the kind of parental impulses most expecting parent develop during pregnancy, all of which were much needed and appreciated.

Then came time to graduate from college, my daughter first, and my son four years later. I got to watch them take their first steps into the confusing elements of the corporate world. Again, by the grace of God, the few setbacks were very small next to the awesome celebrations I was allowed to participate in.

These days, I still watch them closely, as if they were taking their first steps like they did some four decades ago. I not only enjoy seeing them accomplish that which gives them pleasure in life, but I also love seeing them materialize some of my unlived dreams; not because it would make me happy, but because, for some reason, it makes them happy. So again, it is fair to say that, by the grace of God, I get to see all my dreams come true.


The Storms Of Life

Looking back, I can see how precious all those little islands of happiness were. And I also remember both the sweetness and satisfaction of each arrival, to the point that a massive celebration had to be the most appropriate to help seal the victory.

Let’s take, for instance, my arrival to America, which was a topic I had never even thought about, because it was too good to be true. Considering the distance and the fact that I might not have been good enough for it, I had never allowed myself to even dream about such an unimaginable and an unreachable goal. Therefore, even its mere musings weren’t to cross my mind.

That was just of the many blessings I got to experience in life. How about the awesome feeling I got to taste each time I held my newborn for the first time, one of them two years before my coming to America, and the second one shortly after my arrival. Not only did they bring levels of joy I hadn’t felt before, but they also brought a fresh sense of dedication and determination to aim better and to aim higher, both of which was like a breath of fresh air for someone like me who grew up with no self-worth whatsoever.

Then came a time to dig my hands into a career path which involved taking night courses, passing the State Board, and earning a certificate of cosmetology. I worked as a hairdresser for forty years, thirty-one of which I operated my own salon, employing many others to earn a living and thrive.

But none of those islands of happiness was within a close proximity. I had to swim through choppy, even raging and tempestuous waters at times, in order to make it through this massive sea called life. Knee-deep wasn’t gonna to cut it. I had to chance life to make it better.

The main storm was the husband I had chosen, a perfect replica of my mother, who might could’ve found some normalcy through a medication, had he given it a try. But I wasn’t that lucky. His restlessness had dragged us all the way to America, even though his miserable disposition wasn’t about to change. Then he tried the divorce, thinking the source of his unhappiness might’ve been me. That didn’t give the results he was looking for. Little did he know that, thanks to his never-ending restlessness, I was also able to built a relationship with God who happens to be the head of my household. It’s His unconditional love that’s kept giving me the courage to smile at each challenging storm and say, “It’s time to tighten your seat belt little one. God is about to take you on a different ride.”

I pray these words will be an encouragement to someone out there who is trying to hold on to their buoy. Though the swim seems impossible at times, it also makes the arrival that much sweeter.


Another New Beginning

Life took me through many landscapes, some joyful, others not so. But for the most part, it’s been great. Though I’m no longer driven by the ambitions, most of which were to define and validate me, I still find plenty of sweet moments to cherish, especially when I get to visit my loved ones.

It’s funny how I ended up going through a process of elimination, downsizing the amount of people I once saw as friends, while learning which ones were worthy of my trust. And those who didn’t make the cut often left deep scars of disappointment. I had to let go and let God.

It was either that or I was going to let their level of toxicity affect others. The only way to survive the miserable mental and emotional hold they had over me was to simply walk away, without even a whisper. My goal is no longer to let people know how disappointed I am due to their poor behaviors. If they don’t have the decency to be a considerate human being, my mere words will only cause them to be defensive. And that always ends up with more hurt.

My greatest defense these days is to be myself no matter what, without giving anyone the satisfaction of getting under my skin, changing who I am and how I prefer kindness and gentleness over ugliness any given day. As a matter of fact, the only advice I remember giving both my children as they were leaving home to find their own life journey was this: “Do not waste time and effort trying to change the world. See to it that the world doesn’t change you.” And that’s the part I’m still working on, day in and day out.


Idol Worship

The idols of the 21st century are entirely different than the artifacts used thousands of years ago. Today’s “golden calf” is an insatiable hunger for money, prestige, and success. For some, the high regard of others could be the ultimate goal, depending on whether they are trying to make up for a childhood gone wrong or simply responding to the demands of a loved one. But more often than not, people are either after comfort or a myriad of passions mainly for self-satisfaction or self-validation.

I still remember the endless shelves of self-help books that flooded the market back during the second half of the eighties and all throughout the nineties. Everyone was looking to place “self” on a pedestal as a sign of the ultimate approval. That way, they didn’t need to receive one from others. Nor did they care to receive one from God. So as “self” became the god, creating a greater separation from the giver of life, life became duller and less and less satisfying.

Why am I writing this today? I happen to have several good reasons. A friend of mine lost her job and she is having to liquidate her assets, since she’s no longer as marketable as she once was due to age. Another friend just found out she has an autoimmune disorder and she will have to go through a chemotherapy treatment, possibly indefinitely. This other lady I know lost her husband in a tragic car accident and she needs to become the breadwinner.

The only thing these three families had in common is the fact that they lacked for nothing. They lived large. They lived frivolously. Don’t get me wrong. They were great people. They shared their goods with others. They even helped the less fortunate by donating chunks at a time. And they didn’t even care to see whether or not they were being recognized for their good deeds.

But “humble” was never a part of their vocabulary. They had either missed that lesson on humility all together or relying on their own abilities was a far better option than a complete submission to God’s will. After all, the latter sounded more like something only the “weak” would do.

I used to question God, a lot, about the various illnesses and the awful circumstances of the world, the famines and the wars people had to endure. I no longer do, because God, through His infinite mercy, is wanting us to learn humility. And true humility comes by recognizing how great God is and how insignificant our works are next to His mighty presence. Once we submit ourselves to Him, without any further expectations, He decorates our lives with so much more than we can ever imagine. He is good!


The Gift Of Salvation

In case you were too busy to notice lately, Pope Francis has masterfully brought together all the end times elements necessary for the One World Religion called Chrislam. Trying to unite Christianity and Islam had been a long-term project of his for quite sometime.

And now that Chrislam has been officially established, Pope Francis is already working to promote the “No one is saved alone — Peace and Fraternity” slogan. Seeing a false fraternity couple with a false salvation is more than enough to confuse even a seasoned Christian, let alone those who are barely holding on to their faith due to world’s challenging circumstances.

Matthew 24: 24,25 explains, “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before.”

Those who know the scripture inside out have been prewarned about the End Times, on which most of the preachers have based their sermons lately. But I’m still baffled to see Pope Francis, who is supposed to be the leader of the flock, push the “saved” into a fraternity with the unsaved.

My only question at this point is, “What is Christianity without Christ?” The main reason Christ came to this fallen world was to conquer mankind’s death to sin by offering eternal life to those who accept him as God’s only begotten son, which is his true identity.

That leads me to another question, “Had the Catholicism of Rome been a counterfeit Christianity all along?” Considering we, Christians, are expected to see those in Christ as our brothers and sisters, I have a hard time understanding how we are supposed to see those who are “unsaved” as our family members.

Jesus was clear about many things, one of which was, “You are either for me or against me.” I understand the fact that we, as Christians, are expected to pray for the unsaved. But there is no verse in the Bible that refers to a salvation without the acceptance of who Christ is.

Please understand, my brothers and sisters, that I’m not trying to sound pious or worthy of salvation through my own works. God is still working on me through His infinite mercy and grace, chiseling away the filth of the world, just so I can be a little more like Christ everyday. The only thing I’m worried about is those who are already struggling and could stand to lose their own God-given identity.


In Deep Thoughts

I realize we are all in deep thoughts these days. And yes, we are all entitled to our opinions, some people more than others, of course. I’ve known those who approach with, “Let me give you a friendly advice…” and end up dumping the entire content of their miserable details. By the time they are through with you, it feels as though you need to jump in the shower and wash away all that junk, just so you can start breathing again.

Others can be aggressive. They’ll say things like, “I’m a teacher of life. I’m just trying to educate you…” And the more you try to avoid their breathing down your neck, the closer they chase you. Especially these days that a kind and considerate soul is hard to come by, they’ll hold on to you for dear life. Their need to feel superior is what validates their existence.

I personally prefer those who base their opinions on some form of truth, due to which I’m inclined, not forced, to listen. I’m never against learning something new. I believe we continue to evolve until it’s our turn to depart from this world. And I also believe we stop growing the minute we think we know all there is to know.

Not only do I want to better myself, but I also want to make a difference for those who are looking up to me. I don’t go out of my way to voice my opinions. Nor do I so freely dispense them in order to show how much better I am than others. Only losers see life as a contest.

To me, if a friend or relative bothers to voice their opinion, it’s because they care. And that’s exactly what would motivate me to speak up. When someone I love is too involved to see even the most obvious, I’ll tap dance around the truth if I have to, making sure my message is soft as a cushion, in case they need to lay upon it to rest a while.

The best way to prepare for tomorrow is doing your best today. And if my best involves facing the hard truth or helping someone else with theirs, so be it.

Life can be seen as an intricate and a highly confusing maize with many unsolvable details. It can also be considered a beautiful gift from above, filled with precious victories. What we do with life depends on how we decide to treat it. My plan to savor every memory, good or bad, as a precious gem hasn’t backfired yet. I suggest you do the same, especially if you like rising above all difficulties and making every minute count before it’s too late.