Tag Archives: faith

Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving 2014

October 14.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

In previous years, Thanksgiving was a time to anticipate a tabletop filled with a traditional feast: turkey as its centrepiece, mashed potato with cranberry sauce, roasted, buttered corn, thick lasagna, a creamy potato salad, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, a little wine, and rich coffee with dessert.

But, the price to pay? A day or two in the kitchen, a potentially aggravating sit-in dinner with a few abrasive, tactless family members who are always compelled to criticize either your job, your spouse, your children, your looks, or your lack of any, and a bloated gut or terrible hangover from a few hours of enjoyable gluttony.

Thankfully, that did not happen this year.

This year, my husband and I, and our two children, rented a car for a few days, packed our bags, and travelled to Kingston, Ontario, to spend our Thanksgiving weekend with my father-in-law and mother-in-law, who we haven’t seen in a long time with our last visit to them over four years ago.

On our way, we stopped at Fairview Mall for an emergency bathroom break and happily discovered a LEGO store for the first time. My eldest son, Michael, a 10-year-old boy passionately obsessed with LEGO had a spaz attack! We spent a good half hour in the store checking out the latest box sets, admiring the coloured LEGO wall at the back, and building our own customized  mini-figures.


Michael with LEGO block at LEGO store, Fairview Mall. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael with LEGO block at LEGO store, Fairview Mall. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

Together, we built three customized mini-figures for purchase, one meant to be a replica of my son with his medicine pouch and a weapon of choice to battle the “zombies” of the future Zombie Apocalypse; a Fairy Pie Godmother who brings pie to all LEGO-loving children of the world; and Gardenia, an avid reader, writer, and gardener:

The LEGO mini-figurines we customized on our unexpected trip to the LEGO store: Michael, The Pie Fairy Godmother, and Gardenia. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The LEGO mini-figurines we customized on our unexpected trip to the LEGO store: Michael, The Pie Fairy Godmother, and Gardenia. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

The car ride was loud and enjoyable except for the traffic we were unfortunate enough to get stuck in while on the 401. Still, we gladly took the opportunity to stop at a service station at Trenton to have lunch before arriving to Kingston.

The kids in the car on the way to Kingston. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The kids in the car on the way to Kingston. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

[caption id="attachment_8859" align="aligncenter" width="660"]The kids making faces in Trenton, at our On Route service station. We had Tim Horton sandwiches and soup for lunch. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved. The kids making faces in Trenton, at our On Route service station. We had Tim Horton sandwiches and soup for lunch. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

Once there, it was not only a relief to finally arrive, but to see my in-laws after so many years. There were happy tears, hugs, and a thoughtful dinner waiting for us.

Mamá and Esly talking over dinner. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mamá and Esly talking over dinner. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

While I was originally nervous about visiting them in respect to not seeing them in a number of years, but also because of the language barrier, once we arrived, their gracious hospitality and love made it so much easier to settle in—and stay.

We stayed for three days and two nights!

Each day was an opportunity for us to relax in our pyjamas, talk—really talk—and laugh, and ultimately spend quality time together as a family, which I found touching and rejuvenating.

Michael with his grandpa, Papá Ramiro—both in pyjamas. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael with his grandpa, Papá Ramiro—both in pyjamas. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

Hugs for grandpa! Papá Ramiro and Xara after breakfast. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Hugs for grandpa! Papá Ramiro and Xara after breakfast. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

The wonderful gift of my father-in-law and mother-in-law is not only their strong, personal faith, but how their faith is alive and active in their lives. Papá, who is a retired pastor, does more than spend his time preaching empty words without consequence or validation. His advice is not only usually faith-based, but sound because he is a living testament of what he believes in. Mamá, too, lives out her faith by action, not simply words. To have spent time with them even for a little while was to be a part of God’s loving grace.

Mamá. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mamá. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

It is so refreshing to be a part of such an open and loving family.

On the one hand, Mamá and Papá, have very little financially. They don’t desire a large home, nor a luxury car of which to boast about to friends and family. They travel about once or twice a year to El Salvador, not for a vacation for themselves, but rather an opportunity to give to the poor and needy while there. And they feel no compulsion to own “bigger and better,” worldly things. They live quite simply and are always content with what they have. But, it isn’t because they can’t afford a lavish lifestyle—it’s because their mindset does not focus on the importance of materialism as one of their priorities.

And yet, they have so much of themselves to give emotionally. They are open and direct, but without the need to be condescending, critical, or controlling. While they want what’s best for their son, me, and their grandchildren, they always speak and act with love, kindness, and understanding.

Papá and Esly spending time together talking on the balcony. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Papá and Esly spending time together talking on the balcony. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

We did not have a giant turkey for Thanksgiving or a lavish feast of any kind. Instead, we ate homemade soup with beef and vegetables, pupusas (a Salvadorean dish made of masa flour and mozzarella cheese with cortido, a cabbage, carrot, vinaigrette topping), mashed red bean, Salvadorean cheese, fried plantain with cream, and coffee and tea biscuits for dessert.

I spent some of my time braiding Mamá’s hair while the kids enjoyed running around the small apartment, and my husband helped Papá with the installation of Spanish accent shortcuts onto his computer/keyboard.

We also had the opportunity to see my brother-in-law, Eli, and visit his new home in Kingston. The kids took such a liking to his jokes and playfulness that they want to sleep over at his house next time we visit!

My brother-in-law, Eli, with Esly discussing politics at the dinner table. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My brother-in-law, Eli, with Esly discussing politics at the dinner table. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

Aside from family time, I was also able to visit the artsy core of downtown Kingston. I discovered a nice, little bookstore called, A Novel Idea, where I picked up a Montreal Book Review publication, some Kingston Writers’ promotional cards, a few bookmarks, Kingston Art buttons, and some postcards.

All in all, it was a much-needed getaway from the city, an opportunity to enjoy a long car ride and the autumn sights, to spend some quality time with my husband’s family, and to also get some stationery shopping done, as well as some letter writing to a number of my penpals.

The view overlooking the conservation site from my in-laws’ balcony. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The view overlooking the conservation site from my in-laws’ balcony. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

The kids enjoying their long weekend trip to see their grandparents in Kingston. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The kids enjoying their long weekend trip to see their grandparents in Kingston. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

This year, Thanksgiving was so much more than about eating turkey. It was as it’s meant to be, a time for thoughtful reflection and a time for giving sincere thanks for family, friends, good food, great company, and the love and grace of God and His many blessings.

Whatever faith you may have or however differently you may celebrate, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration this past weekend! While I need not worry about a turkey gut, I’ve had my fill of other delicious foods and time well spent.

Happy Thanksgiving!

***

How do you usually spend Thanksgiving?

What was most memorable about your Thanksgiving celebration this year?

If you could so something differently for next year, what would you like to do?

What are you most thankful for?

***

zara - selfie 1

The White Smoke Has Cleared! We Have a Pope!

events avatar

The White Smoke Has Cleared! We Have a Pope!

03.28.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

I was born and raised by two devout Roman Catholic parents from the Philippines and so it was natural for me to witness the decorative altars in our home as I was growing up.

My mother and father, both had personal rosaries from which to pray with, and one each for every car we owned as a talisman to the Catholic faith.

My first memory of my experience in the Catholic church was climbing the marble steps of St. Catherine of Siena Church to reach the main sanctuary, holding my father’s hand as we walked quietly to a middle-row pew.

I was, as always when we went to church on a Sunday, well-dressed, obedient, and watchful—mindful of how to follow my parents’ lead in the sign of the cross, when to kneel, shake hands, and learn the church’s holy prayers: the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the Apostle’s Creed.

Unsure of myself, but willing and ready to learn, I had devoted my skill in remembering the order of the liturgy, in awe at the beauty of the priest’s vestments, the pristine glow of the chalice, and my favourite part of the mass: the prayers spoken before the Eucharist is raised to the sound of chimes signifying not only the Body of Christ, but for me, His death and resurrection.

I loved the solemnity of the weekly service, the ability to know, follow, and participate in the acts of its prayers and communion and to feel absolved after communion and mass.

I come from a devout Catholic family who’s always been interested in spirituality. My father as a young man had considered becoming a priest. And I, in his footsteps, had seriously considered entering a nunnery after my religious studies at Holy Name of Mary and my relationship and peer ministry with the Felician Sisters.

And though I would later leave the Catholic institutional church later on in my life, having converted to evangelical Christianity, it was with great pride that I was able to witness the election of a new Pope this past Wednesday, March 13, 2013.

While my theological views have somewhat altered and my religious practices differ from my religious upbringing, I have and do hold the Roman Catholic church up in respect and tenderness because of that very history and of course, their reverence to our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Religion is not an event, nor a labelling discourse of theological beliefs, but a spiritual outlet in which to express and experience one’s faith in community.

And so, it is with great joy I was able to celebrate with my brothers and sisters in Christ for the naming of the new Pope on Wednesday on behalf of the Catholic community.

While I don’t revere the man himself, as his role as pontiff does not replace nor rise above God’s own and true authority, I do hope and pray for his spiritual wisdom, obedience, and servitude to Christ and Christ’s teachings.

I did not witness the white smoke which traditionally announces the conclave’s conclusion in its decision in naming a new pontiff, but I was made aware of it the moment it happened, believe it or not, on Twitter!

Which led me to turn on the television and search for live coverage of this historical event. The amount of people not only gathered around the Vatican at St. Peter’s Square that day, but also the multitude of people listening in on radio and watching the news all at the same time in anticipation of this news, made the camaraderie and unity of Christian faith even more intense and prevalent.

I watched nuns in prayer, clutching rosaries, their eyes closed in hopeful reverence. I watched men waving their countries’ flags in excitement. I saw young children on the shoulders of their fathers, waiting for their Catholic blessing from the new pope. I listened to the crowd of patrons chanting in unison, “Viva il Papa!” which means, “Long live the Pope!” in Italian.

From news.yahoo.com
From news.yahoo.com

***

The fervour of the crowd was infectious. The anticipation of this historical change, obvious. And then the drapes on the Vatican balcony stirred.

The announcement of the new Pope was made! And out came this simply dressed man in white with a humility and thoughtfulness that addressed the world:

Pope Jorge Mario Begoglio Francis I

pope francis I
From Wikipedia.org

***

Pope Francis I’s humility precedes him in his choices to live a simple, unadorned life. As an Archbishop, he was known to take the bus rather than taxi and would walk among the people. He even turned down the opportunity to live in the palatial Archbishop’s residence, but chose to live in a small apartment instead.

This seems right, indicative, and reflective of Jesus’ teaching in the Bible:

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” – Matthew 19:23-25 (NIV)

His humility and acts of servitude is also evident in his visit to a hospice of patients afflicted with HIV/AIDS in 2001 when he washed and kissed its patients’ feet.

This is reminiscent of Jesus’ teaching and own act of humility and servitude in washing His disciples’ feet even though He himself is God.

The pope, too, has been known to literally take the “back seat” when gathering with cardinals, often opting to sit at the back during conferences.

This, too, is reflective of the attitude in which Jesus advises the invited guests to a gathering of the Pharisees:

“But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” – Luke 14:10-11 (NASB)

What is also inspiring about Pope Francis I is his outspoken stand for righteousness rather than legalism in his decision to baptize children born out-of-wedlock and his admonition to those that would deny children this sacrament.

It reminds me of Jesus’ teaching and welcome of little children when He said,

“People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” – Mark 10:13-16 (NIV)

While he’s been criticized in North America for his conservatism: matters in which he is against birth control, abortion, and same-sex marriage; he stands as one would in representing and following deeply embedded Catholic beliefs and doctrine.

And he is well-versed as he is well-educated. Before becoming an Archbishop, he taught literature, philosophy, theology, psychology and holds a master’s degree in chemistry. He also knows a number of languages: Spanish, Italian, and German.

But, it is his humility that is most striking; his spirit of servitude that is most impressive; and his theology alive in action as well as his sensitivity to the poor.

You’d also be surprised to know that under his pontiff hat, he’s also got quite a wonderful sense of humour! It was reported by The Toronto Star that during the dinner after the Pope’s election, the cardinals made a toast to him in which he responded, “May God forgive you.” (As shared by Cardinal Dolan.)

Christians will easily understand the humour in this as what is implied by it: It is considered a “sin” to practice drunkenness as it removes form of reason and clear thinking as it is a sin to commit acts of idolatry since Christians are called to love God with his or her entire being as commanded in the Holy Bible:

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’”   “’The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” – Mark 12:28-30 (NIV)

—which I believe (and hope and pray) is something Pope Francis I will continually obey in an act of service to God, God’s glory, and His Church.

The Associated Press quotes the Pope Francis I as saying,

“Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony. Go out and interact with your brothers. Go out and share. Go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit.”

This is the call of every Christian — Catholic, Evangelical, or not. And a hopeful message to share with the world: A hopeful message because it comes from the Catholic’s new spiritual leader—and a hopeful message because it is true.

And in this, as in all things, may God be glorified.

***

Did you withness the announcement of the new pontiff this past March?

What do you think of Pope Francis I?

What do you hope for the Catholic Church after the election of its new spiritual leader?

What are one of Jesus’ teachings do you find wonderful and something you aim to subscribe to in your own life?

If a Christian, what ways do you actively try to live out your faith?

What is your favourite verse in the Holy Bible?

***

zara alexis blog signature