Our Christmas Home 2012

A Blessed Christmas from our home to yours....

Welcome to our 2012 Merry Christmas home Tour. Come on in!

Our Christmas decor would not be complete without our nativity scene greeting our dear guests and reminding us all of the reason for the season

I love decorating especially for the holidays.  It's a way for me to prepare not just our home but also my heart for the celebrant of the season....for the One Who "stepped out of heaven onto earth, in order that we might one day step out of earth into heaven".  The One Who left us peace...'not as the world gives' (John 14:27) but the kind of peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), so that it may be for us, heaven (in the here and now) all the way to heaven.  

Our homes should be a place of comfort and refuge; and so I like to create an atmosphere that reflects simplicity, peace, and serenity, that my heart might be prepared to celebrate the birth of Christ, The Immanuel (God with us), and also the birth of our middle son, Immanuel.

View of our Living Room from upstairs

and of course, every year since Isabella's involvement with SFBallet Nutcracker production (since 2009), our Nutcrackers and ballerina ornaments come out to grace the top of our piano joined by our taekwondo ornaments (representing our 3 sons)

Dining/Living Room

Family Room

I hope you enjoyed our Merry Christmas home tour this year.
Blessed Christmas from our family to yours.
Our end-of-year family letter is available here


It's Nutcracker Time at the War Memorial Opera House!

Here is Isabella's schedule for 2012.  She will be one of the 4 dragonflies in Act 2 this year.
for tickets go to: sfballet.org

Date                     Time       
12/8    Saturday      2 PM, 7 PM
12/11  Tuesday       7 PM
12/13  Thursday      7 PM
12/15  Saturday      2 PM, 7 PM
12/18  Tuesday       7 PM
12/19  Wednesday  7 PM
12/21  Friday          2 PM, 7 PM
12/23  Sunday        2 PM, 7 PM
12/24  Monday       11 AM
12/27  Thursday      2 PM, 7 PM
12/28  Friday          7 PM

Here are some photos (by Erik Tomasson) of Isabella as a butterfly from last year's production

Thanksgiving 2012

Ever so grateful for an awesome Thanksgiving celebration this year filled with so MANY blessings.  Our loving family is complete, as always, including my dear niece, Daisy, and dear auntie Edith who came to join us this year.

Though the usual turkey was absent from this year's menu  (our oven had a stuck key that couldn't be reset)  we still had plenty to feast on including beef caldereta (stew), inihaw na bangus (grilled milkfish), empanaditas, and fruit salad. We eventually had the turkey the following day:) I set our old table (that we finally moved back from Pismo) in our family room so hubby and the boys can watch their favorite sports shows while feasting.

Later in the afternoon, we headed to the park for some photo shoot and some football fun for Isabella and big bro Phil (Isabella is inspired by a  book she's currently reading about a girl playing football).

While Phil and Isabella were playing football, Ian and I were enjoying photo shoot fun with Daisy as our photographer

And more park fun until dawn!!!

And park fun continued the following day, Friday, playing basketball and more football.

And for Saturday, it was on to bowling fun with the kids and Daisy who slept over.  They finally got me to play bowling for the very first time.

And we ended the week with fun in the city on a beautiful Sunday.  We (my sons, Daisy, and I) headed to Crissy Field after dropping Isabella off at SFB for Nutcracker rehearsal.  Immanuel met us there with our dog Isis.

And finally, after we picked up Isabella, our beautiful Sunday ended over wonderful dinner at the equally beautiful Yerba Buena Gardens 

Personal New Year (Birthday) Thanksgiving

(submitted for December 2012 Church Newsletter)

The month of November is a special month for me. Not only is it Thanksgiving, it is also the time when I get to celebrate my very own personal new year...my birthday! With that said, I thought I’d share my “Personal New Year’s Thanksgiving” including some of the things that I have learned thus far over 45 years of a blessed life and over 26 years of equally blessed marriage and motherhood coupled with some of my fave Scriptures and quotes.

Count your blessings, name them one by one, ….see what God hath done! 

Thankful for: 

  • God’s goodness and love (my saving grace....though unearned and undeserved, is always ever unconditional and unending) 
  • Jesus Christ (my Rock and Redeemer
  • Holy Spirit (my Guide and Counselor
  • Word of God (my daily bread
  • Prayer (my lifeline; “oldest form of wireless communication; no busy signal, always available, never a dropped call”
  • Family (my first-hand teachers on love; “The love of family is life’s greatest joy”; “Love is the only thing that can be divided without being diminished”)
  • Friends (my angels on earth
  • Health (my wealth on earth
  • Home (my refuge and shelter on earth; “All the riches in the world cannot equal a home filled with love”
  • Writing/journaling (my reflections and testimonies of God’s faithfulness in my life
  • Quiet time (my time with God; In His presence is fullness of joy - Psalm 16:11
  • Bible Study Group and church (my brothers and sisters-in-Christ
  • The beauty of nature (my favorite art; How Great Thou Art!

Some of my Spiritual Do's and Don'ts: 

  • Don't think of how far we have to go; Do think of how far we've come. (“I may not be where I need to be, but thank God I'm not where I used to be” – Joyce Meyer) 
  • Don't wait until everything is perfect before we decide to enjoy our life everyday; Do enjoy where we are on the way to where we're going 
  • Don't compare and judge ourself and others; Do realize we all have strengths and weaknesses and therefore need one another 
  • Don't take on cares; Do cast off our cares on HIM. (To do what I can, and leave what I can't to God. To let go and let God)

On Marriage: “The gift of weathering the seasons of life together is only experienced when we do not give up in the dry seasons.”

On Motherhood: To embrace the differences amongst/between our children. To notice and to love what is already good in each them. To be attentive and to completely savor every season/phase of their growth. (they grow up fast)

On Life: To be aware and fully enjoy the richness of everyday life; To have an expectant heart....The best is yet to come!!!

Thank God We Are Not The Same

(submitted for November 2012 church newsletter)

Have you ever heard a sermon at church and the message pertains to a situation that you are currently experiencing? And it's as if God is talking to you right then and there? Doesn't it give you goosebumps of gratitude and awe all over?

I elbowed my husband during the sermon at the recent Heritage Sunday to point out the title of the message: "Thank God, We Are Not The Same!" Though the focus of the message was more about embracing the diversity in the church, the title hit home for me as it pertains to my recent complaints and frustrations toward the "differences" between me and my husband.

You see, my husband and I are polar opposites. Besides the obvious age (15 years my senior) and cultural (I'm Filipino and he's American)gaps that we have, my husband is a night owl and I'm a morning person. His top choices for TV shows and movies would be my least, and vise versa. And while I love to go out and big crowds don't bother me, my husband would rather stay home especially if there's even a slight chance that there would be a big crowd. The list can go on and on.

Like a diverse church united by the same Spirit that established the very first church (Acts 2:1-13 The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost), over the years (26 years and strong), the same Spirit empowered our marriage and we have learned to respect our differences, to compromise, and to focus on our similarities and the things that bind us together.

By the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have even learned to like some of the things that the other enjoys. And most importantly, I have come to realize and embrace that there are wonderful gifts that a polar opposite can bring. The gift of our polar opposite can fill in our blanks, challenge us to stretch, and even complete us.

For years I have been asking: "God, please change my husband" when I should have been praying: "Thank you God, we are not the same".

Solitude: A Renewal Ritual

(submitted for October 2012 church newsletter)

Life throws us "curve balls" every once in a while. You know, those times when all of a sudden things seem too overwhelming to handle? When that happens we are thrown out of balance. The enemy targets our time for solitude because those off-balance moments are the enemy’s playground.  I have learned that it is during those very "busy" moments when I need a time for solitudeeven more. Only when I pause and take time in solitude, to pray and process the whirlwind of emotions that always accompany those "curveballs", can I regain my equilibrium and bring me back in balance.

Jesus practiced solitude throughout his life and ministry.  He sought solitude prior to preaching (Mark 1:35, Luke 4:42), after hearing about the death of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:13), after feeding the multitude (Matthew 14:23), before choosing His disciples (Luke 6:12), and at the end of his life he sought solitude in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36).  If Jesus Himself needed time to be with the Father, how much more do we need this time?

Solitude is a primary spiritual discipline. Dallas Willard says, “solitude is generally the most fundamental in the beginning of the spiritual life, and it must be returned to again and again as that life develops.”  If we are to grow spiritually, we need to continuously practice the discipline of solitude preferably on a daily basis. Solitude has become my foundation for the practice of other disciplines such as meditation, journaling, and prayer.

Solitude rarely happens unless it's scheduled. Therefore, the first most important step is carving out the time.  Log it in your calendar as “appointment with God”. Anytime that works best for you is the best time. The important thing is that you take time.  Pretty soon you won’t need to log it in anymore, because it will become a natural part of your schedule.

I like to think of solitude as one of my renewal rituals and a time for some R&R (rest and reflection). Rituals allow us to create our own ways or strategies of doing things that inspire us and that work best for us.  We can uplift or elevate the way we do ordinary things so that a simple task rises to the level of something special - as in putting the “extra” in the ordinary, making it extraordinary.  As a stay-at-home mom, I spend a large portion of my time keeping the home clean.  I have learned to incorporate cleaning as part of this renewal ritual.  I may not be sitting still, but my mind is free and open, allowing a time for solitude and prayer.  To elevate the task, I may put on my special apron, play a soothing music, or light a sweet smelling candle, allowing an enriched sense of well-being as I take delight in a clean home that exudes serenity and invites more solitude. Which brings us to the next step: finding your own place of peace and comfort.

Retreating to your own place of peace and comfort can be one of the highlights of solitude. You could dedicate a corner of a room (perhaps by the window?) and possibly decorate it with a comfortable chair or chaise, coupled with a nice lamp and table for tea, and maybe a beautiful basket for fave books and journals?. Or it could be in the warmth and comforts of your bed.  You can possibly add a luxuriously soft blanket and pillows (just be careful not to fall asleep:). Or it could even be in the sanctuary of your car which has become the more common spot for me. When lived in Pismo Beach, I parked by the beach after I dropped the kids off at school and indulged in the beauty of God's creation.  These days, I park in San Francisco after dropping Isabella off , either by the ballet with the view of the beautiful Opera House and City Hall, or by the marina with the view of the awesome Golden Gate bridge.  Anywhere it may be, I look forward to it everyday. As I go to my place of solitude, I am excited about what will happen and I wait expectantly. I know my time there would be something rich and fruitful. It is a place where I retire for renewal and a place to commune and delight with the Lord.


presented at St. Paul UMC, Fremont, CA May 20, 2012

and submitted for Jul/Aug 2012 newsletter

When Ate Lolita Flores, our Bible study group leader, asked me to do a testimony, I tried to think of a reason why I couldn’t. But you see, that’s just the thing...when you are part of a Bible study group, the “I can’t” becomes “I can”.

So I thought I'd start with an introduction of myself before Christ (my “B.C.” life). I'm an only child, born and raised in the Philippines.  I grew up attending an all girls’ Catholic school so I can say I have always known OF Christ.  But my understanding of Him was confined to the usual "head" knowledge. Unfortunately we all know that mere head knowledge is not enough to get that deep joy and peace that only comes through a personal relationship with the Lord.

After my first year of college, we migrated to the US. The following month, I enrolled at a computer school in San Francisco where I met my husband who was my instructor. We got married the following year. Yes, it was fast and I was only 18 years old. And my husband will tell you (as he tells everyone) that I wrote him a note (on a Hello Kitty stationery) saying, “I came to America to find a blue eyed American with a Harvard education, and you’re it”. Looking back now, I can’t believe I did that. But you see back then, my motto was: “what Imelda wants, Imelda gets”. I’m telling you all this to make a point at how shallow my then mindset was.

We started our family right away. We are now blessed with four wonderful children. But as a very young wife and mother during my “B.C. life”, I was focused on the accumulation of wealth and I led a "trying-to-have-it-all" kind of lifestyle.   We moved several times in search of the bigger and better home.  But my level of happiness and satisfaction was all superficial.  There was no real deep joy and contentment. In other words, as Pastor Sun Hee so cleverly preached, I felt WEIRD rather than WIRED and FRIED rather FIRED.

Well my opportunity for that came in 2004 disguised in the form of financial difficulty. The kind of opportunity which, as Pastor Sun Hee described, took me from being bored, bland, and burnt-out to being bewildered, amazed and astonished.

In the spring of 2004, after 18 years of lucrative computer consulting business, my husband lost his major consulting contract and we also lost our entire savings. So there was no means to replenish the pot (no job), nothing to draw out from (no savings), and our eldest son was then entering College. For someone so focused on material wealth, I was in total despair and it brought me to my knees and I wrestled with God with my why, and how, and what questions. And in my “wrestling” came the beginning of my enlightenment and transformation.

Around that same time my mom met an “angel” in the person of Tita Rose Agana during one of her walks. Tita Rose became instrument of my spiritual journey. She introduced us to Ate Lolit Flores and the Fremont Bible Study Group. God started to slowly reveal Himself through the study of His Word.
I remember the very first verse that God impressed upon in my heart: “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” Psalm 37:4. Through the study of His Word, I slowly came to know the incredible love of God through Christ, giving way to a deep hunger and delight for His Word; and He started changing the desires of my heart.

My husband continued to be without a consulting contract for 2 years. In 2006 we were forced to sell one of our homes (the big one which I thought was my dream home). As I continued to delight in the Lord, my focus turned to HIS promises and the positive effects of my husband’s “joblessness”. I saw how it allowed my husband quality time with our children.

We ended up moving back into our smaller home, our then rental property. It was a Divine appointment that not only rescued and released me from a superficial and exhausting lifestyle (cleaning a big house is not all that fun; no wonder I felt “fried”), it turned out to be the best course of action after all. We sold our home for so much more than what it would have sold in the economy that followed, allowing us to purchase a home in Pismo Beach close to Cal Poly where our eldest son attended College.

It was there where He revealed to me the kind of life that He came for us to have, one that is overflowing with riches of the heart that nothing and no one can ever take away that causes us to get bewildered, amazed, and astonished, even in challenging times.

And it's only by spending time in His Word that I get to really know HIM and learn to hear His still, small voice, to release control, to “let go and let God, to “be still, and know that He is God. And a Bible study group allowed me that opportunity. I look forward to Fridays when our small group enjoys fellowship, sharing praises and burdens as we study and get filled by the Word of God. I love my small group and I am in awe of their unequalled and instant support. Like when I recently suffered a back pain. One quick text and they were all praying for me. And as if their prayers were not enough, they personally came to visit me to lay healing hands including healing massage…I am truly grateful.

I may not be where I need to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be (as Joyce Meyer would often say in her messages). Through my Bible study group, I have come to enjoy quiet time, reading devotionals, and listening to inspirational talks, allowing me to continually take delight in the Lord.
In closing, and in conjunction with Pastor Sun Hee’s recent messages, through the study of God’s Word, the power of the Holy Spirit took me from feeling WEIRED and FRIED (from relying on my own powers and pursuing treasures on earth) to feeling WIRED and FIRED and having the courage in declaring the awesome love and saving power of God. Thanks be to God.

Solitude: Places of Comfort

In my quest for the simple life, I have come to enjoy my "Once Upon a Solitude".
Solitude is at the top of my "recharging" rituals.
These are the images of my places of comfort....my mini destinations at home where I can retire for my sweet retreat to nourish and recharge my soul during my precious quiet time....my "recharging" stations at home...my very own mini vacation spots in the quiet of home sweet home.

Shopping: "Recharging" Ritual

Stanford Shopping Mall 02/20/12

Shopping is one of the many rituals I enjoy doing in order to recharge myself (especially if I'm with people I love).  I consider it a great blessing that my darling daughter and I enjoy doing this ritual together.

The people who know me, REALLY know me, know that I can go shopping without necessarily having to buy anything.  I don't go for the fun of buying....I go for the pure joy of shopping... as in taking time and lingering as we browse through the beautiful shops and boutiques...touching and feeling soft fabrics, delighting in colours and aromas (I love smelling candles).  The whole experience seems to recharge my creativity and energy.

And it's always an extra treat when we end our day with my favorites....desserts and coffee! (hot cocoa for my sweet Isabella)

And shopping also becomes a heavenly fellowship when with sister(s)-in-Christ.

This post is inspired by a kindred blog: The Inspired Room

View of Drive along Hwy. 101

Trip to San Diego on 02/12/12 for my beloved mother-in-law, Claire Phillips', memorial service at Rancho Bernardo Memorial Garden.

Images of our trip taken from my iphone from the passenger seat:)

Posting for Skywatch Friday

Greece Trip 1995

Thanks to the study on the book of John which allowed me to recollect our travel to Greece back in 1995.  It allowed much appreciation and gratitude for the grace of God that I'm talking about.  I know I'm a work in progress and far from being truly Christ-like, but I also know that I have come a long way.  I'm ever so grateful that I'm not the same apathetic and selfish person I used to be; or at least for the most part:)

In recalling our travel to Greece, I was able to scan the very limited photos and memorabilia I have of our trip.  Yet another proof of my former uncaring self.  I didn't care much about taking photos then.  I didn't give it much thought. Maybe because I was so much more involved in shopping that even pausing to take photos would take away from my precious shopping time.  And then the grace of God.  What a coincidence that my BFF now is a photographer! I only have very few really close friends.  I can count them in one hand.  But each one of them have something in common.  Something that I didn't have.  Something that God wanted to show and give me....unselfishness.  Each friend is a picture of a caring and giving persona.  Characteristics that God wanted me to have if I am to become more like Him.  He gave me friends and a husband possessing these characteristics lacking in me so that I can see first hand.  Sort of like Jesus Christ becoming flesh so that we can "see".  And then the grace of God.  Those godly characteristics finally rubbed off on me.  I finally care now! And it gave way for deep joy and peace to come in to my heart.  And as for taking photos, thank God for camera phones!:)  On that note, here are the very few photos I have of our entire trip to Greece in March 21-27, 1995. (A total of 6 photos, 3 taken by me:), and 6 ticket memorabilia I managed to keep:))

Russ in Athens

 Russ at the Museum

Russ and me at a dinner in Athens

Russ and me at a dinner on the ship


Me at the Gate of Hercules in Ephesus

 This is all I have for Patmos:(
At least I managed to keep our ticket:)

Related Post: Bible Study on the Book of John

The Word Became Flesh

(submitted for St. Paul UMC June 2012 newsletter)

Our present bible study at Fremont Bible Study Group is on the Gospel of John. I remember when my husband and I traveled to Greece in 1995. We went on a cruise of the Greek isles including the island of Patmos and we visited the cave where the Apostle John wrote the book of Revelation. Just even thinking about it now gives me major goose bumps. Unfortunately I didn't feel it back then because I was not yet in the Word and was not “in tune” with the Holy Spirit. I remember all I could think of at that time was getting out of that cave so I can go shopping. So sad. But I do recall my husband feeling in awe at that moment and I thought he was weird. Sad, but it is now a wonderful testimony and affirmation to me of 1st Corinthians 2:14, which says, "the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned."

I missed the deep joy then, but thank God for His grace, I have it now!!! Praise the Lord!!! I now have the kind of deep joy that surpasses understanding. The kind of deep joy that I pray for everyone. The kind of deep joy that can only come from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

God continues to reveal so many things to me during our bible study and I get so overwhelmed. I can't even imagine how the Apostle John must have felt during that time in the cave when he was writing the book of Revelation. I, too, desire to write what God is somehow impressing upon me through the study of His Word. But it is so overwhelming that I feel like I will be mumbling and I'm afraid no one will understand what I'm trying to say. But wait! I cannot say no one will understand because 1st Corinthians 2:14 says only the people without the Spirit will not understand. Kind of like what the Apostle John said in
 John 1:5- "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it."

So I'll give it a shot. Here goes. I learned that God reveals just the right amount of information to just the right person(s) at just the right time. In His own perfect time.

Even the book of Revelation, or the whole Bible for that matter, is still not fully understood to this day. The Apostle John wrote what was impressed upon him by the Holy Spirit. Maybe he even had some of the same fears I'm having now. Fears that people might not understand and that they may even think he's foolish. But discernment and revelation was neither up to him nor anyone of us. It is only God who can and will reveal just the right amount of information to just the right person(s) at just the right time....the most opportune time.

Just like when He gave the law to Moses. Even the law was only half of the puzzle then. The fulfillment of the law, Jesus, came later. Hence,
 v. 17: "For the law was given to Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

This verse also reaffirms to me the awesome character of God. The law that was given to Moses displays not only the holiness of God but also His goodness and sovereignty. The law also demonstrates the unrighteousness of mankind. None of us can live up to the law. The magnitude of the law shows us how holy our God is, and how sinful we are. If there is no sin, then there's no need for law; and vice versa. And here's where we see God's sovereignty and goodness. He knows that we cannot live up to the law and that the unholy cannot come to the Holy.  Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Grace is the unmerited favor of God. This clearly shows His goodness. While we were still sinners, He sent His only Son.
The Word became flesh. Hence, the purpose of the Book of John: To proclaim Jesus' true identity and make Him known so that all may come to repentance.

v.12: Yet to ALL who RECEIVED HIM, to those who BELIEVED in His name, He gave the right to BECOME children of God.