The female roots of my family tree

This morning, I woke up at my mom’s house. She and I spent an evening out together yesterday — dinner, coffee, a short lecture about the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and then the BNC’s ballet performance of Don Quixote at Place-des-Arts. It was our way of celebrating Mother’s Day (which is actually today here in Canada). With the memories of the previous evening’s performance running through my head, the first thing I experienced this morning as I reflected was a sense of pride.

We’re not Cuban or any other kind of Latin American by any means, but we share the same Iberian passion, heart, and exuberance that the dancers of the BNC displayed last night, and that honestly all Hispanic people display on a daily basis. But seeing it on stage in all the sumptuous finery of classical ballet was a pivotal moment for me, I think. From the music featuring tambourines and castanets and the distinct rhythms of Spanish dances right up to the sheer joy and love of life expressed in the movements of the dancers, Don Quixote put me in touch with a side of my heritage that I’ve never really felt connected to before.

My Spanish heritage is something I don’t often consider — I have always been first and foremost a Canadian, even before I became a citizen, and of course Filipino culture reigned supreme at home — but lately it’s been creeping to the foreground of my thoughts. I’ve been thinking a lot more about my identity, which is probably why I’ve finally started poking into the Spanish and Spanish-influenced chapters of my family history. And, as it turns out, much of what links me to these roots comes from the women of my family.

Although the hot Iberian blood runs on both sides, I know more about my mother’s side of the family than my father’s. The primary factor playing into this imbalance of knowledge is that my mother’s family were all in Canada when I was growing up, including my maternal grandmother who was full to bursting of family history. By marriage she was a Gomez but by birth she was a Garcia, a direct descendant of the Mercado-Alonso union that would become known as the Rizal family, and so the family history is extremely well documented and archived. They were blessed with an abundance of daughters but only two sons, though they’re more well-known of course for the legacy of José Rizal than they are for anything their daughters did.

But that doesn’t mean any of them, or any of the ladies to follow, led boring and insignificant lives. Thanks to my maternal grandmother, whom we referred to as “Lola” in our family, my earliest recollections include stories of the great-grand-women of the family: women whose most formative and defining moments were in harrowing experiences such as world wars and civil uproar; women who, for their time, experienced the privileges of education, personal wealth, and careers — things that we today believe are normal components of the everyday life of a modern woman, but back then were considered to be firmly in the domain of menfolk; women who, in short, have created for my sisters and me an unbroken legacy of strength, grit, and resilience tempered by love, kindness, and faith.

Sometimes it’s hard to live up to that kind of family history. Here I am at twenty-six and I feel like I’m in a pretty good place in my life; at any rate, I’m more comfortable with myself and more loving and accepting of who I am now than I ever have been. But although I’ve been down the foundations of my adult life for the last few years when I compare myself to the women of my family tree when they were my age, I always feel like I’m found left for wanting in their presence. But then I remember that you can’t compare your chapter one to someone else’s chapter twenty — and the fact of the matter is, my world is very different from the worlds of these ladies, so of course it makes sense that my story is being written at a markedly different pace.

I often wonder (and honestly, worry) if I’ll ever be able to be as strong, poised, gracious, confident, and beautiful as the women of my family before me. Even when I compare myself to my sisters I find myself in a brief panic over the thought that I’ll never be anything remotely like them.

There’s a quote that I’ve seen everywhere on social media today and I’ve been pondering on it while I’ve been preparing to write this, and by putting those thoughts alongside my insecurities in the face of my feminine legacy, I’ve realized something important: it doesn’t matter if my experiences at age twenty-six aren’t quite as earth-shattering and life-changing as those of the women before me, or that I’m nowhere near as well-established in my life and my career as they were at this age.

What truly matters is that the iron-clad strength of their souls that allowed them stand upright in their convictions and the passion that burned in their hearts to fuel their lives was passed on to me, along with many examples of what one may accomplish if one looks life straight in the the eye and never backs down. It doesn’t matter how I do it myself, just that I harness that strength and passion in my own bones and heart, and live life to the fullest as they did…in the best way I know how. That is how I might live up this legacy and embrace this heritage of mine.

And so:

“Here’s to strong women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.” 

In Pursuit of Happiness, #5: FlipFolding, Besties, and Instagram

FlipFolding: Okay, so for those of you who watch The Big Bang Theory, you’ll probably vaguely recall a very early episode in which Sheldon Cooper is folding his T-shirts using a handy-dandy device. Known outside of TV-land as a FlipFold, its makers claim to have tested this domestic tool on toddlers and husbands to ensure that it can be easily used by anyone to turn an Everest-sized mountain of laundry into neat piles of folded garments in minutes.

I am not a fan of laundry at any stage of its life cycle that doesn’t involve me wearing it, so of course as soon as I saw that episode years ago I had to have one. And after an equal number of years hinting about wanting one and whining about its absence from my life my best friend finally delivered this Christmas by giving me my very own bright yellow FlipFold!

I have already gone crazy with this thing. Pretty much as soon as I took it out of its packaging, I was already going to town on the swirling vortex that used to be my T-shirt drawer. Before retiring for the night I spent about ten minutes folding all my old work T-shirts into neatly uniform (haha, get it? Uniform…*cough*) piles that can now be easily packed away into storage boxes to make room for more T-shirts to go crazy with on FlipFolding. 

This weekend has essentially been all about gleefully exclaiming that I am the proud owner of a FlipFold and I am definitely not done singing this thing’s praises.

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Besties: Which brings me to the second thing that’s making me happy this week, which are my best friends. Of course, the one who gave me the FlipFold is totally winning this week (just kidding; I don’t keep score but if I did she’d definitely be leading the board right now!), but I’m very blessed and lucky to have a small handful of wonderful best friends as opposed to countless acquaintances.

From watching me flip out over a FlipFold to taking care of my fat cat over holidays to giving me lifts home after 10PM to being there when I’ve had a bad day and just need to vent, my best friends are true gems and I love them all dearly. They’re reasons that I get up in the morning and I treasure every moment of time I spend with them.

I’ve been fortunate to have enough time to go around each week for these wonderful people and I love that there’s always enough time to make significant, meaningful, and warm memories that I’ll cherish until we’re all old and grey. The mere fact that they all put up with my incessant request for “bestie selfies” already makes them significantly wonderful human beings.

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Instagram: Speaking of selfies, my Instagram feed is notorious for having a “#pointless #selfie” every couple of days. Keeping in tandem with my efforts to turn Tweets into meaningful connections (hello there, @MrsFridayNext and @LolaBlakes!) I’m trying to use Instagram to build similar connections to people who post more than just pointless selfies all day long.

So, yes, I’m not one of the billions who follow any permutation of Kardashians or their accompanying baggages. I’d rather spend my scrolling time on people who make social media worthwhile.

Enter @naturalhealthmomma, who I encountered on Instagram when I first began my journey towards wellness and wholeness in my life through working out, eating clean, and loving the little moments.

Known off-screen as Sara, she’s a wife and mother whose story of motherhood, clean living, and faith somehow brought her into my Instagram feed. I’m not questioning what the universe wants me to get out of reaching out to Sara, because so far all it’s brought me is inspiration for cleaner and healthier living, faith in what seems to be impossible, and joy in being given the opportunity to glimpse the ups and downs of her journey.

What began as a diagnosis for PCOS, coming off synthetic hormonal control (aka The Pill), and a long haul of medical procedures resulted in twin boys, Rocco and Maximus – and they became her inspiration to venture further away from the chemically saturated world of the 21st century and into a cleaner, more natural, and homegrown lifestyle.

Sara’s blog over at www.lovelifenaturally.org is full of recipes and ideas to help you get started on your own journey into the world of clean living, and her Instagram account offers you an intimate glimpse into the way she’s chosen to implement these concepts in her family’s daily life.  While we’re all aware that social media and Internet portrayals of our lives are the “best face” we present to the world, I honestly feel that Sara’s web-based documentation and presentation of her life encapsulates the genuine goodness that “living and loving life naturally” can offer.

Go check out her stuff and, until next week, don’t forget to find little bits and pieces of happiness in your own lives!

Seeing through the rain

Walking home in the rain from the cinema last night, I was waiting to cross the boulevard and thinking about how much life has changed in the last year.

I realised I’ve found more of my adult self in this last year than I have in all of the years combined since my twenty-first birthday, and a lot of that is down to having learned how to love and live for another person.  I’m not talking about living for somebody else in the sense of depending on them for validation and worth and purpose, but rather in the sense of being able to unite your own dreams and plans and goals with those of another person…simply because you share a love with them that is genuine and runs deep.  You open yourself up to a whole world of good and bad when you love somebody that way, but if it’s all meant to work out with them all of the good makes up tenfold for everything bad you have to experience.    You love them enough to want them to be happy, and trust that they see the same thing when they look at you.

Seeing him smile and hearing him laugh made me feel happy because it meant he was happy.  But what made me even happier was waking up every day of our relationship and knowing that I was one day further along in human plans that finally seemed to line up with God’s plans…that I was making a choice of my own discernment and will to fulfill a call to a relationship heading towards marriage and family.

I told him more than once that I love God more than him – for no other reason other than because it’s the truth.  What made me happiest about the relationship we shared was the fact that it fit into what I knew God wants for me, which meant my personal happiness was finally firmly rooted in someone eternally constant and loving.  The human heart is fickle, as we see over and over again whenever we love and lose, but God is love.

The catalyst to the breakup was a decision made in his part that caused confidence and trust to fall out on mine, thus causing the worst kind of pain initially:  a selfish one that’s rooted in pride and a false sense of betrayal.  I say it’s the worst kind of pain because its root makes it hurt even more than it should, because it makes us blind to anything else but how it makes us feel.  This kind of pain demands angrily of the human love, “How could you do this to me, after all I have endured for you?”  and, equally angry, of God, “I was doing as You commanded then, so why must I suffer now?”

While we can never truly know why people do what they end up doing, deep down inside my heart I know that what he chose to do was not fuelled by anger or spite or a desire to cause pain.  What made me feel his intentions as painful actions was the fact that loving him made me want to love God less so that I wouldn’t lose my relationship.  I was deeply unhappy and struggled in trying to reconcile the two – in trying to have both even though the more I tried, the more unsettled I felt.  But when I saw how this same conflict was beginning to manifest itself in our relationship, I felt a different pain.  It was the kind that comes not out of feeling betrayed, but rather out of knowing that what you’re asking of the person you love can’t be given to you without it being detrimental to their own pursuit of fulfilment, peace, and happiness.

To those two infuriated demands I mentioned above, I never really got an answer to the human question – though I did get an answer to the divine one through a long and difficult discernment.  I asked God why, and He replied, “Because I have commanded you to love others as I have loved you.  Because I am Love, and made you in that image.”

I am still fighting through both kinds of pain.  The first pain slows down the healing, which strangely enough motivates me to take the second kind of pain and offer it to God in the hope and trust that He can tend to all of my wounds.  I have that hope and trust in Him because through all the worst storms of my voyage so far, He offered me His hand to help steer my ship towards safe harbors.  Through every difficult and painful experience, I have come to see God’s hand in my life, and until last night I never knew how to explain that revelation in human terms.

But today I finally can, because the analogy came to me last night as I stood in the rain at the intersection of that windy boulevard.  In the same way that I can see the shape of the wind as it blows through the raindrops right before they hit the pavement, I can see the shape of God’s hand in how my life experiences sculpt me into the daughter He envisioned long before I began to take on human form.  I was made in His image, not He in mine, and if choosing to learn how to love sacrificially — as He did, on the wood of the Cross — is how I may better reflect that image, then may He heal me so that one day I may again try loving another person as He has loved me.