A book you own but have never read: Wonder

wonderAnd I’m actually wondering why I didn’t read it sooner! This book had been quietly sitting on my office table for a year, and if it wasn’t for this reading challenge that I’m challenging myself with, I still wouldn’t have touched it. Maybe because I thought I was too old for a middle-school story. Maybe because I thought I wouldn’t relate much with the main character. And surprise, I was so wrong.

The Story:

“Wonder” by R.J. Palacio is about a 10 year-old boy named August who was born with facial deformities. After years of being homeschooled, his parents enrolled him in fifth grade, in a normal school, with normal students, with normal faces. At first he was freaked out with the idea, but then when his parents brought him to the school for a tour, he decided that he wanted to go. He thought he was used to all the attention his face had attracted his entire life. It didn’t take long for August to realize that middle school was not as easy as he thought it would be.

My Rating: 5 inspiring stars

An absolute tearjerker. I love how brave and honest August is about his feelings, and he is actually blessed to have a family who is very proud of him, and loves him deeply despite of who or what other people think he is. I liked how the author told the story in different point of views, letting the reader know not just Auggie’s thoughts, but also what the people around him are thinking, how they are feeling, and what they are going through. This is why though the story is focused on August, you can’t help but relate to and love all those other characters as well.

For me, the most important message of this story is that most of the time, people are not who they appear to be on the outside. A happy face may be trying to hide a hurting heart. There can be a lot of weakness hiding beneath a tough facade. And an ugly face (in the world’s standards) can hide a very beautiful heart. Everyone needs someone who would see beyond what is visible, and say they understand, and that they’re with us, no matter what.

We may not be like Auggie who was born with physical deformities, but there will always be parts of ourselves that we often wish we don’t have. Sometimes we let our insecurities get the best of us, paralyzing us into seclusion. We’re afraid to try new things, because we feel we’re not capable. We choose to hide instead of fight, because losing is just too frightening for us.

What I learned from this book is that we have to be an August. Not perfect, yes, but a fighter.

My favorite quotes:

“I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.”

“You don’t need your eyes to love, right? You just feel it inside you.”

“I want you to know that you have me looking out for you.”

“The things we do are the most important things of all. They are more important than what we say or what we look like. The things we do outlast our mortality.”

A classic romance: Wuthering Heights

wuthering-heightsThis wasn’t listed in our reading assignments in high school, and the first time I learned that such a book exists was while I was reading Eclipse, the Twilight Saga’s second installment. I think that was five or six years ago. If you’ve read it, you’ll recall that this was Bella Swan’s favorite book. She identified herself with Cathy, and Edward, Heathcliff.

Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights was also referenced in some of the many books that I’ve read after Twilight so I just felt that this would be a good one.

The Story:

The book tells a story of a love that has affected generations, as narrated by a new tenant named Mr. Lockwood, and a loyal servant named Nelly Dean.

It started when Mr. Earnshaw found Heathcliff, an orphan, on the streets of Liverpool. Out of compassion, he took the child with him to Wuthering Heights, where he lived with his two children–Hindley and Catherine. As they grew older, Catherine became very attached with Heathcliff and he returned her affections, while Hindley, the elder, despised and bullied him.

After Mr. Earnshaw died, Heathcliff left Wuthering Heights thinking that Catherine didn’t love him enough to marry him, because he was lacking in so many things, especially when compared with Edgar Linton, who was Catherine’s suitor from Thrushcross Grange.

No one knew how he managed it, but Heathcliff returned as a very successful man. Catherine, however, was already married to Edgar Linton, though her heart still belonged to him. In revenge, Heathcliff tormented Catherine’s husband by winning the affections and eloping with his sister, Isabella Linton. Catherine, out of depression, lost her life, but not before giving birth to a lovely child who was also named Catherine, or Cathy, as Edgar would call her.

When Isabella realized that Heathcliff only used her for revenge, she left Heathcliff, and raised her son, Linton Heathcliff, on her own. But when Isabella died, Edgar was not able to save his nephew from the hands of his father.

Upon the death of Hindley Earnshaw, Heathcliff became the master of everything in Wuthering Heights, that even Hindley’s son, Hareton Earnshaw, was decreased into a servant.

In his unquenchable thirst for revenge against Edgar, Heathcliff manipulatively plotted the marriage of young Cathy Linton and his son. Cathy, being naive, spirited, and kind-hearted, easily fell in love with Linton. Out of fear, agreed to help his father deceive Cathy into marrying him.

Soon, Edgar Linton died, and Cathy was left miserably in the hands of Heathcliff and her unloving husband in Wuthering Heights. Eventually, Linton also left her.

Hareton Earnshaw has beenn trying to win Cathy’s attention since they first met. However, because was just a servant in Wuthering Heights, Cathy could not consider him even as a cousin. He tried his best to study on his own and be better to win her attention, but Cathy only shamed him and found him laughable. However, as Cathy grew familiar with his constant presence in Wuthering Heights, she soon found herself attracted to him.

The story ended with Cathy and Hareton’s engagement, and the death of Heathcliff, whose conscience won over, at the very end.

My Rating: 5 stars

It took me 8 days to finish this because I found it hard adjusting to all those classic English words. But otherwise, I enjoyed the story. Many have given this book a bad rating because the main character (Heathcliff, and even Catherine) was very evil and manipulative. Though that could be true, I liked this book because of the way it ended. For me, letting Cathy end up with Hareton was enough to compensate for all the bad things Heathcliff has done. (And because I’ve been rooting for Hareton all along.) Emily Bronte also tried to give light to the story through the way Heathcliff died. I don’t know how others would interpret it, but for me, starving himself for four days is Heathcliff’s way of paying for his crimes.

No matter how cruel and dark we think we are, our souls will always be searching for the light.

My favorite lines:

“If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a might stranger: I should not seem part of it.” – Catherine Earnshaw   

“I gave him my heart, and he took it and pinched it to death, and flung it back to me. People feel with their hearts…and since he has destroyed mine, I have not power to feel for him.” – Isabella Linton

Prejudiced world

chess

Chapters Covered: Job 8:1 – 10:22

“If I am guilty–woe to me! Even if I am innocent, I cannot lift my head, for I am full of shame and drowned in my affliction.” – Job 10:15

After Eliphaz, it was Bildad’s turn to rebuke Job, and he did this with firm conviction that Job had offended and sinned against God. As written in the early chapters, we know that this assumption is false. Unlike Eliphaz who tried to be as gentle and comforting as he could in speaking his mind, Bildad just attacked Job with harsh words, without bothering to check if his accusations were indeed true. While his arguments might be considered valid, if his assumption regarding Job’s way of living was false, they still won’t be the right words to say.

Today, we are living in a prejudiced world, and it is actually heartbreaking when these invalid assumptions come from the minds and mouths of our Christian friends. Some are just too quick to tag other fellow believers as “sinners” or “hypocrites” without really bothering to know the whole story. It is important to remember that the Lord deals with each of us individually and uniquely. One experience is different from another and so we should be very careful when giving open rebukes. Otherwise, we’d push the person farther from God instead of helping him/her draw nearer.

When an opportunity to give an advice to a troubled or depressed person arises, the best thing to do is to pray for the right things to say. Ask God for wisdom, and pray that He may use you as an instrument to bring that person closer to Him.

When words wound rather than heal

words

Chapters Covered: Job 4:1 – 7:21

“How painful are honest words!” – Job 6:25

It’s funny and actually amazing how today’s reading tells of the exchange between Job and Eliphaz, when I just had a heartbreaking argument with one of my best friends.

In these chapters, Eliphaz could not contain the silence and decided to speak his mind regarding Job’s situation. Good as his intentions were, his words of advice were not what Job needed, and were thus unappreciated. Eliphaz was quick to assume that Job’s unfortunate and miserable state was a result of his lack of integrity, and unfaithfulness in the eyes of God. He advised that if Job would only correct his heart and his ways, the Lord would bring back everything that was taken away from him.

What Eliphaz did not understand was that Job did not do anything wrong, and that actually, what he was experiencing was God’s way of taking pride in his faithfulness and integrity. So instead of bringing comfort and encouragement, because Eliphaz did not know the real story, his words only grieved his friend more.

When one of your friends in undergoing a tough moment, we have to choose our words carefully, so as not to sound judgmental and insensitive. Sometimes, even comforting words would only cause more pain than healing. The only wise thing to do in situations like this is to be a good listener. Let them know that you’re there, and you’re listening. Most of the time, your silent presence is the best remedy you could give a hurting friend.

From riches to ruins

Chapters covered: Job 1:1 – 3:26ruins

“Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a hedge around everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” – Job 1:9-11

In a sense, I have identified my life with Job’s. Maybe I’m not as blameless and upright as he was (v.1), but being born in a Christian family, I’ve known and experienced the meaning of having a blessed life since I was young. I never had any reason to doubt the goodness of God, for He was able to provide everything I needed.

But as I became exposed to this thing called “freedom of choice,” I started to stray, little by little. I spent my time, thoughts, money, and passions on the things of this world, and it was only until I had nothing left that I realized how wrong those choices were.

I sincerely felt the grief in Job’s heart in chapter 3 because I also felt those emotions myself during those dark days. I questioned why I was born, lost my sense of purpose, and hid myself from the world. My heart got filled with anger and entertained vengeful thoughts towards those that wronged me. But then the Lord reminded me of these words:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” – Job 1:20

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” – Job 2:10

The truth is, there is nothing in this world that I could really call mine. Every possession, my family and friends, the works of my hand… they all belong to the Lord. And so who was I to complain if they were taken away? God has given everything to me, and He could either give more, or take away some if He believes it would be for our own good.

The good news is, whenever we are faced with challenges and trials, we know that God is always watching us and cheering us on. Me He be as confident in our faith and integrity as He was with Job’s.

Intervention

babel

Chapters covered: Genesis 10:1 – 11:26; 1 Chronicles 1:5-27

These passages speak of the clans of the sons of Noah (Shem, Ham, and Japheth) according to their lines of descent, up to Abram.  And squeezed in between these verses is a story about a certain city that the people during those times started building (The Tower of Babel — Genesis 11:1-8). Personally, I prefer calling it the story of God’s intervention.

As I was reading this story, I found myself asking a lot of why’s, and then trying to answer each one of them by reading and reading the verses multiple times. It went like this:

Q: Why did God confuse their language?
A: So they will not understand each other?
Q: Why didn’t God want them to understand each other?
A: Because if they understand each other, nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them, just like the tower they were building.
Q: Why can’t God allow them to do be successful in everything they’re doing?
A: Because their motive was wrong. They wanted the city to reach the heavens, so they could make a name for themselves.

As I arrived at this conclusion, I was reminded of my experiences from the past year. It was the year when I thought I was good enough to make a name for myself. So after finishing graduate school, I spent most of my money putting up businesses that involved things/activities that I wasn’t really passionate about, but because I thought I was good enough, I took the plunge anyway. And guess what. None of them worked out, and until now I’m still suffering from the consequences, financially.

It was a really low moment for me, but in my heart I believed in one thing–that it was God making an intervention in my life. He knew that the motives of my heart were not aligned with His plans and purposes in my life, and that’s why He didn’t allow those business attempts to prosper. Without realizing it, I was building my own Tower of Babel.

Humbled as I am, I thank the Lord for interventions like this, because through them I am reminded of how present God is in my life. He is constantly watching and patiently leading me to the road He originally intended for me to walk on.

Never again

972901-mar19_rainbow

Chapters covered: Genesis 7:1 – 9:29

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart:”Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” – Genesis 8:21

I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth. – Genesis 9:11

I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. – Genesis 9:15

The phrase ‘never again’ was repeated in these chapters several times, emphasizing the truth and sincerity of God’s promise to Noah and the generations to come. It is amazing to know that we have a God who remembers and keeps His promises. Our family, friends, and ‘heroes’ may fail us, but we are assured that the Lord never will. He knows every promise He has made, and He intends to keep all of them, for our sake.

As I re-read Genesis 8:21, I realized that God did not make this covenant out of nowhere, or just because He wanted to. He made this promise because he saw Noah’s offering, and it touched His heart. This is why for me, I consider pleasing God in our lives a prerequisite to experiencing the fruits and proofs of His promises.