Thursday, January 29, 2015

Bitter Hatred


For me, one the most stirring books about a father-son relationship ever written in modern history is “Dear Father, Dear Son” (Two lives . . . Eight hours) by Radio/TV talk show host Larry Elder.

Without giving the content away, let me touch on the back story, which Elder shares in his interviews.

He held a bitter hatred for his father, a Marine and a tough man with a difficult, dirt-poor past. Elder feared him so much he vowed to stand up to him one day.

He did when he was 15. They fought and Elder didn't speak to him for 10 years! 

At age 25, Elder felt restless, had difficulty sleeping and eating. A friend suggested that maybe the unresolved issues with his father were causing these. So Elder sought out his dad, thinking they would talk for only five minutes—say the worst things to each other—and done.  

Instead, they sat on two stools from 2:30 until 10:30 PM. In those eight hours, the father morphed from an ill-tempered, cruel ogre to a kind, caring inspiration. This is what the mesmerizing book is all about. “I completely misread him,” Elder lamented.   

“Dear Father, Dear Son,” according to critics, is a handbook for life: a story of a son searching for what he thought was a missing father, but who has been there all along.

The Father of all is in our midst, He is not missing at all. But many people today are missing His presence, because they deny the grace offered by the Son.

But to those who believe, it is all too clear, “I am the way, the truth and the light,” he said before He went back to His rightful place in heaven. “No one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6)

(An excerpt from my book, Circle of Compassion, published by OMFLit)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Voice Activated


When my brother Matt arrived from babysitting his grandson in the US, he regaled us with stories of his interesting domestic chores. For six months, he took care of nappies, milk, and other needs of an infant while his daughter and son-in-law worked full-time.

An American neighbor remarked, “Filipinos are so blessed. I wanted my parents to help with my baby, too, so I sent them two plane tickets. They sent them back!”

Babysitting was a role my brother relished, including working with his hands, relying on no one but himself. “I also enjoyed shoveling the snow; it kept me fit.”

This lifestyle is so different from the Philippines’ which, he said, is “voice activated.”  

You need something done? Just call out:

“Water please!”

“Pick me up at noon, okay?”

“Open the gate.”

“Bring me my briefcase.”

“Take over drying the dishes." 

Household helping hands will do your bidding.

Countries differ culturally, but, how wonderful that grace abounds in all! We can taste and see this grace by acknowledging and being grateful for it.  

“Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” Psalm 34:8

(This is one of the 365 entries in my book "Gace@Work" published by OMFLit.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pastor Moe


In a clear, distinct voice and impeccable diction, Pastor Moe—already an authoritative and a riveting speaker in his 20s—tackled Psalm 90, penned by his namesake, Moses. 

He had barely started when many of us in the pews wiped our eyes, not only because of his powerful message, but because of what he has become.

I am one of those who saw Pastor Moe from childhood to college, under the wings of his grandmother, a faith sister—who did a precarious balancing act of both a strict parent and a doting lola.

Reared in Sunday school, Pastor Moe was smart, with his share of adventures typical of boys his age. He was enrolled in Christian schools until high school and excelled throughout. 

It was when he went to college, where crossroads are found, that he turned truant—not caring whether he was coming or going. This caused his lola and family heartaches.

But somewhere down the road, an unseen Hand led him to a Bible school away from home. There, Moe was not exactly a saint, taking for granted the support and scholarship lavished on him by concerned parties. He squandered time and overstayed. 

His family got fed up; his scholarship and support were withheld. Coincidentally, while earnestly praying for him to someday preach behind the pulpit as a pastor, his grandma fell ill. Her mind ground to a halt, brought on by Alzheimer’s disease.

But the God of second chances worked on Moe. He opened the young slacker’s eyes and ears to what He wanted Moe to do. Now with zero finances, he had to work to survive and to continue with school. He tackled odd jobs, unheard of during his comfortable growing-up years with a protective lola.  

With new determination, and unceasing prayers of the people who love him, Moe finally graduated from Bible School, earning him the privilege of being a pastor. He has found his calling; he was soon invited to be youth pastor in a church somewhere far away. 

Last week, he flew in for a short vacation and to celebrate his birthday with his lola and family.

It was great to see him again; greater still to find out he would deliver the message during the Sunday service, his first-ever in his home church.

“I am scared,” he began, smiling impishly. Who wouldn’t? The pews were packed with the youth he grew up with and the people who watched him grow up.

Singularly-focused on Moses’ song, Pastor Moe stressed why God is our Dwelling Place. The audience was hushed, awestruck by God’s words.  
Listening with rapt attention, we understood how the Lord's grace redeems, restores, and refines people—admonishing us to never give up on any of His children, because He, our Dwelling Place, does not.

Photo grabbed from Pastor Moe's FB wall

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Adultery and Idolatry


These are two words that spell, all caps, DANGER. 

They have been our staple in our Sunday School class in church over the last few weeks.

In blatant terms, adultery is cohabiting with anyone or anything other than God. Idolatry is worshiping anyone and anything other than God.

Said in those straightforward definitions, they sure are scary, forbidden territories.

But in this modern world that embraces all ideologies, is kind to all aberrations, and has erased hell as a destination, being scared is no longer in fashion.

The pursuit of happiness is hip; the pursuit of holiness is, at best, meh, and at worst, ridiculous.

What happened?

Money happened.

In many societies, the mad-rush for money is on. Money can buy you anything that awes mortal beings: power, position, popularity, possessions, privileges, pleasures, and in this country, politics, where (if we read the reports of dailies on corruption) money begets more money.

In Randy Alcorn’s “Money, Possessions, and Eternity,” readers are challenged to rethink our attitudes toward material wealth. He presents thought-provoking arguments on materialism, stewardship, prosperity theology, debt, and more.

Money is a touchy subject. With this blog, I know I am impinging on raw nerves—mine most of all. But there is no other way to talk about money than to face it head-on.

A wealthy friend of mine, who generously funds feeding programs for the poor, once said, “This is my ticket to heaven.” The rich can certainly buy their way to anywhere, but not to heaven.

“When I was earning oodles of money,” said another friend now retired, “I had no need for God. But now, on a meager pension, I realize I can’t live another day without Him.” 

Money draws us away from God, just as an alluring mistress or a paramour does, the Bible tells us.   “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows." 1Timothy 6:10 (NLT)

And in the altar of materialism where money is worshiped, God is forgotten. “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24   

To save us from the danger of adultery and idolatry, we need to rely on God’s grace, not on our money.   


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

First Three Days of the Year


January 1 started with a bang—from a bottle of laxative.

It was the first step in the preps for my scheduled virtual colonoscopy (or CT colonography) two days later.

It turns out that all those first three days of 2015 have surged to the top of the chart of my life peaks, or days I’d rather forget.    

Flashback a little: just before Christmas, I had an aborted colonoscopy due to problems too unsavory to discuss. This prompted my doctor to make me go through another try—this time, the virtual colonoscopy. I thought all preps would be virtual, too, because unlike the first, this procedure required no hospital confinement nor anesthesia.

Was I wrong.

After that bottle of laxative on New Year’s Day, I am plunged into a clear liquid diet for the next 36 hours, and as though those aren’t torture enough, I take a second bombs-away bottle. On the 3rd day, the 20-minute drive to the hospital seems like 20 years.

Then just as you are about to collapse from hunger and hysteria, the CT-Scan technician takes you into the cold, Antarctic-like room where your tush is pumped with gallons of air till you’re ready to burst, but too weak to complain.

With your sanity now running on empty, the attending doctors around you say, “Just ten more pumps.”

Your exhausted inner self whispers, Lord, into Your hands I commend my spirit.
Somewhere between panic and desperation, grace enfolds you. It comes through a doctor-friend who hovers nearby, and never leaves, her voice assuring you, "You'll be okay." 

Whrrrr. Some tiny red lights blink above as you, flat on your back, are slid through a white, gleaming, surreal circle. A robotic machine voice commands, “Breathe in. Release. Hold.” Then after a minute says, “Breathe.”

Another whrrrr. Now lying prone on bloated tummy, pain everywhere, you are again slid through that icy circle. “Breathe in. Release. Hold . . . now, breath. We’re done.”

You open your eyes, not to oblivion, but to the same world from whence you came. The angel hands you wads of tissue paper, with which you wipe your wet eyes, nose, and mouth.

Then like a tire having a slow flat tire, you try, but fail, to discreetly release the pumped air while the technician, your new best friend, smiles, “Results tomorrow.”

Tomorrow is a hallelujah moment.

No mass. No polyps. Just some humor of nature, or age: a tangled-up colon somewhere in the middle. Inoperable. So your gastroenterologist scrawls on a prescription sheet, outlining what foods to avoid and what medications to take whenever discomforts above and below set it—the rest of your life.

You could say, my new year began auspiciously. With a bang, that is.

“For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’” Isaiah 41:13 (ESV)

  

Friday, January 9, 2015

Seventy and Counting


About this time every year, I write about the annual reunion where I say “Goodbye” to the old year and “Hello” to the new one.  Kinda predictable you might say. In a way it is.

But there is always something new about it. This time we celebrated our 70th year—a milestone any way you look at it. Our forebears who started it all are now all gone, two generations of them, but the tradition continues.

One other thing that never happened before was that it rained non-stop. All the outdoor activities had to be cancelled and the kids were most disappointed over the water polo that never was.

It was unbelievably cold, which rarely (or never) happens in Metro Manila. We were kept warm, however, by the grace of relationship that we try to nurture through distance and time.

In numbers, one fourth is gone and a big chunk is abroad. Of the 140 who were able to make it, 20% are seniors, the third generation to which I belong. Whether this gathering can still be stretched for more years is no longer in our hands but in the younger generations’ (4th, 5th, and 6th).

(photo by Danny Digan)
There are other families/clans around the world who have been doing reunions far longer than we have, but ours is probably the only clan that has been doing it for three days and two nights in a row, without miss, seven decades now! 

What makes this gathering so successful every time and an occasion to look forward to every year?

You name it, we have it:  games, competitive sports; a band; a talent show with spectacular, professional performances; a lionized celebrity (nephew); awards and prizes; a council meeting where issues and finances are discussed; well-planned meals; a three-day program that includes toddlers and dodderers; an instant rendition of the Lutkin Benediction in four voices; and most of all, a solemn thanksgiving and memorial service, where we honor God and thank Him for the lives of all clan members (past and present). 

During our service, themed “Light and Darkness,” our young pastor (a nephew) emphasized letting one’s light shine. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:8-10 (NKJV)   

May the younger generations, then, who come after us always remember: Reunions aren’t only about shining within the family; it is about being light in the Lord and walking as children of light for others.       

First day gear
Second day garb (photo by Darlene Digan)

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Truth Will Set You Free


Some people are not aware that this statement comes from the Bible, and said by Jesus Himself.
Which is why we often hear different individuals from different quarters mouthing this statement in varied contexts to suit their purposes. It has been mangled beyond recognition.

It is used in the context of: not lying, baring one’s soul, revealing a guarded secret.

It is used in the halls of justice; in making someone own up to a crime, a fault, or an addition.

It is used to promote academic freedom, the power of learning—freeing one from ignorance. 

Jesus’ statement has nothing to do with any of those. I am neither a preacher nor a theologian, just an ordinary student of the Word, yet no matter how many times I read these verses, they speak to me in the most literal sense. There is no hidden or figurative meaning: John 8:31-36 . . .    

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?

“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Jesus provides the simplest commentary for His own statement. Being a slave to sin is the greatest bondage. And only He, through His grace of forgiveness, can free us from this bondage.

In ancient times, slaves had no permanent place in a family, but a son belongs to His family forever. Nothing could be more explicit than what He said in John 14:6, “. . . ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

Only believing in Jesus, the Truth, and becoming His child, will set us free.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Year 2015:

From Thanksgiving to Thanksliving 

One new coined word that still has to make it to the dictionary is thanksliving. Before it could, reams of pages have already been written about it.

I’d like to add a page more. 

Thanksliving is one notch above thanksgiving; it is thanksgiving in action—wherever we go, whenever we turn, whatever we do, and whomever we meet.

When we were brainstorming ideas for our church’s 36th anniversary theme, we focused on gratitude, nothing less, nothing more. For how can a very small bodega transform into a community church with faithful members who exhort each other come rain or come shine? How can a make-shift lean-to grow into a structure that now houses a school with students numbering close to 200?

More than the building, however, we know that God’s ministry is kept alive in this church, not by ourselves, but by grace.

We came up with the theme “Endless Gratefulness,” the essence of a servant's reverence toward a  living God.

That anniversary Sunday, we sang, at the top of our voices, hymns of thanksgiving.
Our speaker gave life to our theme through the word thanksliving. He spoke of how we must live gratefulness: how it should be a way of life, and how it should affect and infect others outside of ourselves. He repeatedly said, “If we're truly grateful, it really ought to show in our lives.”

In 1Thessalonians 5:18, Paul was explicit, “… give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Paul had been able to be grateful even if he faced enormous problems, because he knew that God was good all the time. And a good God would allow difficult circumstances that would eventually result in something good.

As we usher in the year 2015, may we turn our thanksgiving into thanksliving. Despite tragedies, problems, and frustrations that may befall us and our land, His grace will allow us to rise above them all.    


Monday, December 29, 2014

Beyond 200


Let me end the year with an edited excerpt of my regular column, Big Little People, published yesterday in The Freeman, the daily newspaper of  Philippine Star in Cebu. 

I started writing this bi-weekly column at the same time I started blogging. It’s been eight years and yesterday, my 200th column saw print.

Two months back, when I was in Cebu for a book talk, I met the talented staff behind the section where my column appears. They so kindly put together this write-up, a gesture I will forever treasure.    
 
The excerpt: 

The number 200 is neither interesting nor popular. Unlike 100 which speaks of perfection—the highest score one can receive in an examination or a school card—200 is neither here nor there.

But today, I think the number 200 is special because this is my 200th column!

In my first column entitled "One Very Special Interest,” I wrote about the importance of reading. So 200 articles later, today, I hope I have encouraged at least 200 kids to read. Then that would be 200 reasons to jump with joy!    

In the Bible we find in John 6 a wonderful story about the number 200.

Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and a large crowd of people followed Him. They had earlier seen signs that He was healing the sick and that convinced them to seek this Man who could do such miracles.

Together with His disciples, Jesus saw the crowd coming toward Him. He asked Philip, “Where may we buy bread so that these people may eat?”

Philip was appalled. Where would they get the money to buy bread to feed 5,000 people?! He replied, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.”

In those days, one denarius was equivalent to a penny, a one-day wage for a laborer.  Two hundred denarii then would be 200 pennies, equivalent to the pay of two hundred laborers in one day. Today, that would be worth more than half a million pesos! 

In the crowd was a boy who had five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus took them and after giving thanks in prayer to God, He multiplied the bread and fish to feed all the men, women and children—as much as they wanted—and there was so much leftover!


I see the number 200, then, as a symbol of sufficiency. Even if we think we don’t have enough, just as Philip did, God fills up the insufficiency.

My header changes at the end of the year to welcome the sufficient grace that will deluge us in the New Year, 2015.

Old header
New header

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Gloria in Excelsis Deo


It rained hard on Christmas eve, flooding the road fronting our house.

Our 11-year-old, beat-up car wouldn’t start. So through the flood and rain, hubby tried to drive it while son #3’s driver pushed, hoping it would start. It was stubborn. Some neighbors helped and after a few more tries up and down the road, the car eventually coughed to life. 

What went wrong? Well, the mechanic said, "Anything can go wrong with an old car."

The dark skies wept through the day and all through our church’s Christmas eve service. But as the choir sang, in great jubilation, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, with the congregation joining in, no rain nor disaster of any proportion could dampen the spirit that comes with celebrating the birth of Grace on Christmas.  

Our small half family (half is somewhere far away) went through all our Christmas traditions—a roast turkey dinner, followed by opening of gifts. The turkey almost didn’t make it; it was the only one left in the supermarket. People ahead of me ignored it because it was of an inferior brand. But a turkey is a turkey is a turkey. At 6.2 kilos, it is good for four creative meals.

I got another chronological Bible this year from son #1 (Holman Christian Standard Bible) and a mouse from hubby. (Last year my computer conked out on me on Christmas day; this time, my mouse died.)  Son#2 sent his and his family’s gift weeks ago through the mail. Son #3 promised my gift is forthcoming.

But the greatest Gift of all is what the shepherds heard from the angels on a silent night over two thousand years ago.

Come, adore on bended knee
Christ, the Lord, the new-born King.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.


Glory to God in the highest!


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Smiles


Except for household chores and cooking, all other tasks belong to me. Preparing our yearly Christmas card, therefore, falls under my jurisdiction. It isn’t a walk in the park.

A Christmas card should reflect the joy of the season. And what better image to communicate it than a smile? 
This is where the problem arises. Except for me, the creatures I live with are camera-shy; rather, camera-averse.

While the world takes selfies, my boys take cover.  The few times my camera catches them smiling is when they are not aware the thingamajig is before them. After scouring my files of photos, I find one or two where they seem like they're savoring the moment. So I quickly edit and put these together.

I had no problem whatsoever with the other half of the family—those that reside in the US of A. Daughter-in-law is a photographer par excellence and she has a way of capturing the perfect moment with perfect framing and perfect lighting. Her boys—dearest grandson Adrian and son #2—oblige and humor her.  All I do is grab her photos on FB.

Here’s my magnum opus.

There. Smiles that could set the world on fire (I wish). Smiles that celebrate Christmas—the day earthlings were given a Gift and were never the same again.

May we all take time to smile as we honor the greatest Grace that came to us on Christmas day.  

“The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” Luke 2:11 (NLT)


Monday, December 22, 2014

Boom!


This word has become so common in net-speak. I wondered about it the first time I read it in a post on FB. Mr. Webster defines it as: a loud sound that resonates. But netizens, I soon discovered, use it to mean: great and amazing.

Now I think I may be able to use boom! myself without diluting both definitions.    

Among all the Christmas parties I have attended so far (now uncountable), one stands out: our department's get-together in the university where I teach. It was not only because of the food or the delight factor, but more so because of the inspirational message delivered by one of our heads who, although he may not admit it, is also a guru: Leo.

Unlike other inspirational messages which are often verbose and pedantic in the academe, his was succinct. It consisted of only two words: Be kind.

Yes, boom! Not “What?!” “Huh?” “Duh.” 

This message was exactly what ornery professors (plagued with stress over difficult students, millennials all, whose heads are locked into their gadgets and own selves instead of putting maximum effort on learning) needed to hear.

In fact, this is the message of Christmas. What could be kinder than that sublime act of Jesus Christ coming to earth as Human to save selfish sinners from eternal damnation?

Be kind. It is a message so loud it resonates.

But is it doable? It could be difficult; it is difficult. Especially for someone like me whose patience has always run thin. But with grace, I can try, and may yet succeed.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 (ESV)

    

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Kindred Spirits


In 1925, long before I was born, Severino Reyes—founder and editor of the Tagalog magazine, Liwayway—started writing Kuwento ni Lola Basyang (stories of Grandma Basyang) for the magazine and used Lola Basyang as his pen name.

Lola Basyang is a character similar in form and function to Mother Goose. In his lifetime, Severino, wrote 400 of such stories about kings, love, and enchanted places.

Twenty five years later, Severino’s son, Pedrito, revived the Lola Basyang stories in comic book form, with illustrations by Maning de Leon, Jesus Ramos, and Ruben Yandoc.

For another 25 years, these stories were made into movies that became box-office blockbusters. 

As a little girl, I had my own Lola Basyang—my Lola Cionang, mom of my mom. She would retell some of those stories (re-published in Bannawag magazine, the Ilocano version of Liwayway), embellished with her experiences and punctuated with Christian values. Often, she would tell her own stories, making them up as she went along.

For years, since I started writing children’s stories in the year 2000, when asked what made me begin writing stories for children, I flip-flopped from one answer to another. It varied from “it’s just an accident to it’s fun” because in truth, I didn’t know why. My most common rationale was, “Stories for children is a category in the Palanca Awards which charms me most because it inculcates love for literature and family values among children.”

(My first children’s book won first prize in this writing competition; all my six Palanca awards are for this category.)

But I think I found the real answer when my family spent some time at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, a heritage resort in Bataan this time last year. It is a village of restored Spanish-era houses with cobblestone roads near the beach.

There I came upon Lola Basyang. Serendipity! And memories came flooding back.   

It was she, or rather, it was my Lola Cionang’s story-telling prowess that made me fall in love with children’s stories—and now, writing them myself. Why, we’re kindred spirits!

It’s mind-blowing how the grace of childhood leads us to our charmed choices in adulthood.

This Bible verse found in Proverbs 22:6 (KJV) has the words for it, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Owning Christmas


(Devotional reflections on Christmas at the last get-together for the year of the Christian Writers' Fellowship)  

Let me begin by showing you my Christmas tree this year. The white fabric and ecru tissue-paper flowers are all made by hand—mine. All told, the trimmings of this 12-year-old tree is less than P500.

I call it my tree because the men who live with me—a husband and two sons—don’t even know it’s there. When son No. 1 came home on the day I finished trimming it, I asked, “Tada! How do you like my tree?”

“Nice.”

When son No. 3 came home, again I asked, “How do you like my tree?”

“Mom, it’s November 1, it’s a long way to Christmas!"

Finally, the husband came home, “How do you like my tree?”

“You better make sure those are LED lights to save on electricity.”

Indeed, it is my Christmas tree! 

But my Christmas tree pushed me into a pit of unpleasant thoughts. It’s the Christmas season once again and the country gets busy, proven by the horrible traffic.

Sadly, this is symptomatic of what Christmas has become: we have owned Christmas as our personal time for revelry.

The trouble with owning something is, we think we can do anything with it—our own way. Yes, we have appropriated Christmas for: our own joy, our own party, our own holiday, our own time to do our happy things like taking a vacation, mounting reunions, shopping for gifts, decorating the home, preparing Noche Buena food, receiving Christmas bonus, buying new outfits, and for me, trimming my tree.

At the backseat of a Christian's mind is that we celebrate Christmas because it is the symbolic date of our Savior's birth. But, really, what is the percentage of this thought in relation to all the other things sold in stores during the season?

In the university where I teach, in lieu of exchange gifts, each faculty member will give a gift to a child somewhere in the slums of Cavite. Well and good. When those gifts are sent over, the kids will naturally think of Christmas as the time for them to receive gifts—again pushing to the back burner the reason for the occasion.

In my neighborhood, one house opens its gate on Christmas Day; the owner gives away food and gifts to anyone who comes around. You should see the long line of people waiting for their freebies under the heat of the sun, or the rain. 

The less fortunate among us go on a heyday knocking on doors, declaring, “Namamasko po!” (I have come to collect my gift this Christmas!), as though people owe them. How many organizations go around singing carols, asking for donations—it's fund-raising time! 

Driving through villages, you’ll find security guards flailing boxes for money from oncoming vehicles. Every single messenger—from the post office, insurance company, Meralco, to PLDT, leave an envelope to homeowners, expecting it to be filled with cash.  And if the homeowner says, “I am sorry,” he murmurs, "Ang kuripot."  (How stingy.) 

Entitlement. Because we have owned Christmas, we feel we are entitled to receive, to have our own agenda on how to spend it. Naturally the retail business takes advantage of this ownership.

Our Bible history tells us that the very first Christmas—the year Jesus was born—was the opposite of the Christmas that we know today. In the small town of Bethlehem, it was awfully dark. Sleepy shepherds were keeping watch over their flock.

After that Holy Birth, it didn’t get any better. There came the time when all that people heard were woeful sounds of inconsolable mothers, weeping. The magi (which we have erroneously baptized as the three kings) went to Judea searching for the newborn King of the Jews, having "seen His star in the east." They were directed to the small village of Bethlehem. On their way there, King Herod asked them to let him know who this King was when they found Him. What Herod had in mind was an evil scheme—to kill Jesus. He was afraid that this new King would take over his throne. 

The magi found Jesus and honored Him, but an angel told them not to go back to Herod, so they returned home by another route. Realizing he had been fooled by the magi, Herod was livid. He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and below.   

In those dark days, the prophecy in the Old Testament was fulfilled. In Jeremiah 31:15 we read, “A cry is heard in Ramah—deep anguish and bitter weeping. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted—for her children are gone.”

Our Bible tells us that the very first Christmas, God in all His majesty, became Flesh so that everyone, all sinners, may be saved from the mire of sin.  That is the reason for Christmas, which is lost in the hoopla and noble effort to be generous to everyone.  

In the Philippines, children trek to the homes of their ninong (godfather) and ninang (godmother)  expecting a gift. We wonder whether the reason for all this fuss was ever explained in detail to these children—if at all. 

And because we own Christmas, we often hear these words:   

“Christmas is for children.” Christmas has been delegated to children. 

“The true meaning of Christmas is giving.” This obligates us to give gifts on Christmas.

“It doesn't feel like Christmas." We have assigned Christmas to entertain us.  

And then we hear familiar complaints:

“So many calamities—what a terrible Christmas!” “No bonus this year? Oh, it’s going to be a very sad Christmas.” “My husband can’t come home from Dubai, our Christmas won’t be complete.” “Christmas is so expensive.” This one I heard on TV, “Pasko na naman, walang wala ako. Nakakalungkot, wala man lang akong maibigay, maski bagong damit ng mga apo ko.” (It's Christmas again. I am so broke, I can't even give my grandchildren new clothes.)

Indeed, we have sequestered Christmas for our own—and we celebrate Christmas as though it were our own birthday party or blow-out for a job well done.  We read on FB many plans for Christmas, we see photos of beautifully decorated homes and planned special food for the Christmas dinner.

Are these things familiar to you? Fruit cake, ham, keso de bola, parol from Pampanga, gift list, Santa Claus, Christmas party, and in the US, mistletoe, Christmas balls and wreaths.  We have added so many doodads to Christmas that we have to wade through them to remember its essence. Yes, the definition of Christmas has blurred. Worse, adults and children have their own definition of Christmas.

With other holidays in the year, we focus on the celebration. On Independence Day, we have flag raising ceremonies and wave miniature flags of our country. On Araw ng Kagitingan, we honor our heroes in appropriate ceremonies. On our own birthday, people greet us. On labor Day, Teacher’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, People Power Day, plus all the days invented by marketing men, we focus on the reason for the celebration.

But on Christmas?

Today, there is a growing pressure in Western countries, which has already arrived at SM, to replace  "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays." A salesgirl greeted me last week, “Happy Holidays, Ma’am.” I replied, “Merry Christmas! Bakit nawala na si Christ sa Christmas?” (Why did you delete Christ from Christmas?)

“Yun po ang utos sa amin. Kung 'Merry Christmas' daw po, baka may masaktan.” (Our instruction from management, Ma'am, so as not to offend anyone.) Of the 20 cards I received last year, 18 omitted the word Christmas. 

People have indeed owned Christmas as their own holiday.  Meaning, more and more people are being swayed to the idea that using the word Christmas is no longer politically correct, and therefore,  a no-no.  

Is political correctness taking precedence over truth?   

The truth was, is, and forever shall be. Christmas symbolizes the day the world witnessed the most astounding voluntary act of grace.  It was the day the Almighty and sovereign God took upon Himself the form of a Servant.  

Yes, the One deserving to be served, revealed Himself as One desiring to serve. It was the day the world witnessed the most genuine act of self-humbling. 

So completely, absolutely, totally, thoroughly did our Lord Jesus Christ humble Himself that He surrendered His will to the will of His heavenly Father.  More than amazing, the eternal Son of God became Flesh in humble surroundings, was subjected to human parents, dwelt in a modest home, reviled by the very people whom He served, and died between two common criminals with nothing on His back.    

On that first Christmas, on that single act of human birthing, God revealed the truth, previously unknown to us, that only through Jesus can man go on living in a glorious eternal home.  

Everyone, including hardhearted scientists, or maybe even atheists, cannot deny a Supreme Power through the spectacular things around us: the starry nights, the incredible sunrises and sunsets, the roar of thunder, the depths of oceans, the colors of flowers, and the fury of volcanoes.  Then among Christians, the Bible—a divine revelation of God.

But of all the startling revelations of almighty God, none is clearer than God's final revelation of Himself in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ.

How can December 25 (or the day the shepherds heard from heaven), then, not be anything but Christmas?

Jesus came to earth for all men; we can have Him as our own personal Savior if we accept Him in our heart. But we can never own the day amazing Grace was birthed for us on Christmas Day. Only Jesus owns Christmas; we don’t. Although He gave Himself for all of us on Christmas, we should not take the liberty of owning that divine, spectacular day. 

Simply believing in the Name of Jesus, born on Christmas, our Savior, Son of God, will birth a new spirit in us. In John 1:12 (KJV), we read, "But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name . . ."  

Merry Christmas!   
 ( Photo credit: Malu Tiongson-Ortiz)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Old, Older Friends


Years wreak havoc on one's face and body. Like violent storms, they leave you physically ravaged. This you’d never find out once you believe what your friends say:

"You don't look a day older!"

"You look the same since the last time I saw you."

"What keeps you forever young?"

But each time I look in the mirror, I am told a different story. Unlike my friends, the mirror neither cares about my feelings nor about me. It gives me an in-you-face, line-by-line account of what I have turned into with the passing of years. 

This doesn’t make me unique.  

Celebrities who have an arsenal of expensive make-me-look-good tricks are not exempt from the onslaught of years. Proof?

I recently met in a party a dozen of my old friends from the corporate world where I overstayed and spent the most vigorous part of my life. One look and I realized (they realized, as well), although very discreetly, we are no longer the same.

Thought balloons:

Who is this old lady? Grace?!

He used to be a heartthrob.

She has doubled, no tripled, in size!

His hair has not turned gray, it’s gone!

This is definitely the geriatric set!


Then the conversations begin. And, without warning, the joy of seeing each other again immediately deletes the grotesque thought balloons. Years are cruel on what the eyes can see, but kind to the soul. Why, we're a new, improved version of our old selves: wittier, wiser, mellower, and sillier.

Grudges, biases, bitterness (a.k.a. bitchiness in our time) have grown so old they are forgotten. What the heart remembers are the excitement and the highs of once working together—adversaries one minute, allies the next—summed up as the best of times.  
Old friends are older, but God so designed friendship never to age. In fact, it grows stronger with  distance, with years in between, with memories of an ancient past, and with a thought that today, we no longer sweat the small stuff, but savor the grace that comes with the big ones, meaning, only those that truly matter.  

"Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." 1Thessalonians 5:11 (ESV)


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Black Cat


At dawn, the first living organism I lock eyes with is, yes, a black cat.

We are both early risers. It glares at me and I glare back. It seems to know what time I open our gate for my morning walk; it positions itself just a yard away. Then it blinks, crosses my path, and retreats when it hears my purposeful, determined march.

The next walking day, the black cat is there again, as though it has been assigned to keep watch. 

In the town where I grew up, people were afraid of a black cat. As a little girl I would hear adults looking upon this creature as a symbol of bad luck or misfortune, especially if it crosses a person’s path.

But my grandmother, the sage in my growing-up years, would pooh-pooh such idea, “Hogwash! God created all kinds of cats—and one of these species is colored black.”

She was, as usual, right. How could a black cat negate the joy of seeing the sunrise, of feeling the sweat on my back and the breeze that dries it off, and of having the energy to walk for an hour and be active all my hours after that?

How could a black cat diminish the grace that wafts around me with every recorded step on my pedometer, with every breath I take (those last five words I borrowed from a song I swooned over as an adolescent in love with love)?

I’ve been taking my early morning walks for the last thirteen years—this number is another bad omen in our town, but that’s another story—and in all those years, a black cat has mostly been the opening act of my new day.

As cats only have a life span of 12-15 years, the one that crossed my path this morning may be a daughter/son of the very first one who ever greeted me 13 years ago.

Tomorrow, when the black cat meets me just off our gate, it will be another blessed day—just as all my days have been while I can still walk jauntily on the land where the Lord placed me.

“My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.” Psalm 130:6 (KJV)

  

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Write, Win Prizes, and Be Published


Call for entries!

Media Associates International (MAI) has announced:

“Help us encourage Christian writers worldwide. Submit an original devotional aimed to inspire and nurture the faith of fellow writers around the globe. Top devotionals will be published in a devotional booklet for worldwide use in writing workshops and beyond. Your devotional may be selected to appear here on MAI’s LittWorld Online blog, a resource for writers worldwide. Win cash and bless writers beyond your borders.” (click for details)

For this exciting contest, please watch this MAI video:



Yes, that’s me. I am a behind-the-scenes author, who’d rather write than talk, but for this contest I made an exception and took the bold step of talking to an international audience.

I’d do anything to encourage fellow published (and closet) Christian writers to keep writing about the grace that comes only from God and spread the word.   

“Beautiful words stir my heart. I will recite a lovely poem about the king, for my tongue is like the pen of a skillful poet.” Psalm 45:10 (NLT)


Monday, December 1, 2014

Happy Home


In recent years, there has been a surge of single-parent and extended families. The nuclear family (defined as a group that includes only the father, mother, and biological children) is vanishing.

I prefer to define family as a household with a father, mother, children (biological or adopted), and househelps, who treat every individual with respect, and whose love for each other and God is boundless.  

That’s why when OMF Literature, my publisher, asked me to write a series of storybooks 20 months ago on a family, I chose to call it “Happy Home.”

The characters are loosely based on real-life people who had been an important part of my youth, juxtaposed into a family that consists of a father, a mother, three children (two are biological and one, adopted) and a fiercely loyal househelp.

Two books were scheduled for launching at the International Book Fair last September, but heartbreaking snags got in the way, the details of which I don't want to remember. Finally on December 20, three months later, just before Christmas, the first book in the series will be launched.

It is called Coming Home. 

A talented artist, whose body of work I have admired from a distance, was dropped from heaven to illustrate "Happy Home." His name is Leo Kempis Ang and while making the book come to life, he has become a cyber friend. His humorous/Pinoy style fits the book series to a tee, a joy I share with my editor, Joan. Below are some of his sketches that have been put to bed.                    

 
Coming Home has come . . . in God’s own time.

What was also dropped from heaven after the aborted book launching was an unexpected grace of patience.

For someone who was born with a wart called impatience and thrives best in a quick-paced work environment, I received exactly what I needed.  

Wait, God must have whispered in my ear. And I listened. 

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven . . .” Ecclesiastes 3:1

(I will blog about the details of the launching as soon as everything is finalized. You are all invited to come and join the fun!)


Friday, November 28, 2014

Can You Explain Explain?


One of the most difficult words to explain is: explain.

Even a teacher in communications, like I am, can't find the simplest, most understandable words to explain it well so it may be understood.

Mr. Webster defines explain thus, "To tell someone something in a way that helps them understand it better." Mr. Roget gives these synonyms: illustrate, interpret, elucidate (words that don’t make explaining any easier). 

The learning outcomes (UK-based) prescribed in my class writing requirement were pretty simple: identify and explain

What I got from one of my students was a jumble of many words identifying facts and figures, quotations from reliable sources of more facts and figures, but no explanation.  

I showed him his work, and said, "You did not explain what you identified.” 

"I did."

"Where is your explanation?"

He pointed to the facts and figures and all the words he wrote that occupied two precious pages, totaling 500 words.

"But you did not explain them. What do these facts and figures mean? I borrowed Mr. Webster’s words, "Tell me in words that will help me understand these better." 

He looked at me with such incredulity I felt like my IQ dropped to 12.  

"You don’t understand these?" he asked.

The earth beneath me caved in. Only grace made me survive the moment, grasping words, “Oh, I do, but the instruction says, you have to explain. And if you don’t, you only get half a grade. You identified really well, but you did not explain.”

Mouth agape, he stared at me. Mouth pursed, I stared back.    

He blinked, “Do I have to re-do my paper?”

“Well, not if you don’t want to. But if you want to get the other half of your grade . . ."

“I will re-do it,” he mumbled. 

I released the breath held in my lungs too long. 

“Let my teaching fall on you like rain; let my speech settle like dew. Let my words fall like rain on tender grass, like gentle showers on young plants.” Deuteronomy 32:2


Monday, November 24, 2014

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe:

Eight years today! 

What’s an eight-year-old like? 

He is in third grade. If he loves to read, he should be on his fifth adventure book; if he attends Sunday School, he should have memorized two dozen verses; if he is into sports, he should be spending his free time enjoying them; if he has been trained to work with his hands, he should be doing his assigned home chores on his own. He now contributes to making decisions in the family.

That eight-year-old was born at the same time as Leaves of Grace. How he has grown!

Yup, I complete my eight years of blogging today. So how have I grown?

In content, I have not strayed from the reason I said “uncle” after being out-argued by my sons, pushing me into creating this site.

Grace.

It so overwhelms I can’t write enough about it.

In November 2006, I was not yet a grandma—now I am, a very proud one, eight years wiser and eight years happier (I am still working on being more patient).

In faith, I have evolved from the size of a mustard seed. With every blog, I try to get to know the great Author of life better. With every sunrise, I try to hone my chops to write more incisively. With every change of a calendar year, I try to reflect on what was, with thanksgiving. With every phrase, I try to look at words as God-given pearls so that I could, as my friend Yna would encourage authors, string them into a precious necklace that honors Him.

In numbers, I now have cyber friends from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, a total of 193 countries (four short of all countries in the world).                    
I have over 234,000 hits and about 20,000 comments and reviews. My posts have come up to 839, and as I review post one, I realize this: 

No matter how old one gets, she is still a work-in-progress. Perfection can only come on the day Christ returns. What an awe-inspiring, mind-boggling moment that would be! 

Old header down:

New header up: 
 
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6 (NLT)


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Vanilla Ice Cream


My doctor’s squiggles, all two pages of orders on how I should be admitted/treated in the hospital, are difficult to read. I don’t even attempt to decipher the hieroglyphics. But three words leap out of the pages: vanilla ice cream.  I dismiss them as eye trick. After all, I have never been a big fan of vanilla ice cream. 

So I get settled in what could be a nice room had it not been in a hospital, with a nurse who immediately barks orders for me to gulp half a bottle of laxative! “The next half should be taken after an hour. One more bottle after that.”

(The medical procedures in the morning require a super clean tummy and colon.)

“No solid food for 12 hours,” she adds.

“What?!” I panic. But I am hungry.

“Except vanilla ice cream,” her lips break into a smile.  

No thanks. I realize the three words I read are not an eye trick; my doctor really means vanilla ice cream! Of all the ice-cream flavors in the world, he has to choose the one I dislike.

But after ten thousand trips to the bathroom, my tummy begs for food. So Tony promptly goes out to buy me vanilla ice cream, his excuse to leave a whining, groaning bundle of nerves.

He comes back with two cones. Without missing a beat, I prepare to tackle one. At that point I was prepared to eat dust.
"Just the vanilla, skip the chocolate chips and nuts!" Tony takes the side of the nurse.

Grudgingly, I say good-bye to what could make the vanilla ice cream bearable, and bring the white stuff inside my mouth.

And I hear violins . . . heavenly sounds that match the heavenly taste of the yummiest thing that has ever landed on my tongue. 

The melodious strings are joined by a full orchestra and angel voices as I wolf down the second cone. Ahhh . . . 

I am back home now, thanking God for holding my hand during the whole ordeal. I am still groggy from the anesthesia and lack of proper sleep. The results are not exactly excellent, but non-life-threatening. Through the 24-hour harrowing experience, there is one blissful thought: vanilla ice cream.

I’ve always known that grace comes to us in various forms. But I didn’t know it comes in cones, too. Now I do.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (ESV)

 

Friday, November 21, 2014

TGIF


While working people may be sighing, exclaiming, or whispering "TGIF" today, I am packing my suitcase for a destination nobody would wish upon his worst enemy: the hospital. My tummy doctor said I should check in for some tummy work-up tomorrow.

I am not looking forward to it.  Okay, I loathe it. Medical procedures are the opposite of a relaxing soak in a Jacuzzi. It’s similar to the prospect of balancing on a high wire without a safety net.

I exaggerate.

I want to humor that part of myself that can still smile, no matter what the circumstances. That’s the part of me that stubbornly writes about grace despite wars, massacres, corruption, bigotry, hatred, betrayal, and all sorts of trouble and turbulence in this mad-crazed world.  

Admonition to self: Nothing, not even a medical procedure, nor its results, should benumbed the Strength yoked upon the heavy-laden heart of one who believes in a God who promised, “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:29-30 (NLT)

Indeed, thank God it’s Friday!

photo credit

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cyber Persona


Blogging and joining social networking sites are a no-no to many people. Reason? "I don't want to bare my soul in public."

Some netizens argue that one can bare only what he wants to bare. "Many of what one reads or sees in cyber photos are people's public persona, meant to impress, making them bigger than they really are. Their private lives are just a fraction of what they project, and sometimes totally different."  

One active fashion blogger is actually an old grandma who looks nothing like the fashion plate her writings and photos reveal.

"It's my stress buster," she says, laughing. She gets a kick out of the comments of her conned readers.

The persona of Jesus yesterday, today, and tomorrow had, has been and will always be the same. What our forefathers read in their Bibles is exactly the same as what we are reading today.

Readers may change, but Bible truths (whether in printed or e-book form) remain the same.

In the same manner, God’s grace draws no line. What was bestowed to our forefathers is the same grace offered to both non-netizens with a private persona and for netizens who weave an awesome public persona.   

"But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." Matthew 23:12

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Boy without a Smile


Sometime ago I wrote a book entitled Ragamuffin Kid: The Boy without a Smile.  It was one of four stories in art published by Ayala Museum. 

The hero is Bulan, a mute orphan boy, who kept walking and walking because he had no place to go.  Sometimes, kind people would give him leftover food or old clothing, but always, he slept on the sidewalk at night. 

After a very long walk, he saw a family in the park who were so happy they seemed to have a perpetual smile. In fact, when they saw him, they smiled!  Not only did they smile, they offered him a home.

It didn’t take long before the mute boy found his voice, then started smiling. And he never stopped smiling ever again.

Why do some people never smile?

My niece had this answer. “Only animals do not smile, so if someone doesn’t like to smile, maybe he is not human,” she said this with a big smile, followed by more smiles.

The late Mother Teresa, an awardee of Nobel Peace Prize, once said, “Peace begins with a smile.” 

Indeed, after hurting someone and you smile at him/her, saying you’re sorry, the odds are, he/she will smile back and the enmity is diffused.

People who like to smile say a lot of good things about why we should smile. Santosh Kalwar, a poet and an author, wrote, “I was smiling yesterday, I am smiling today, and I will smile tomorrow. Simply because life is too short to cry for anything.” 

The Boy without a Smile, a historical fiction set 100 years ago, was inspired by Juan Luna’s painting entitled Ragamuffin Kid (cover of the book). It is available at the Ayala Museum Art Shop.

If you can grab a copy, it may just cause you to remember all the grace around you and . . .  smile.

"Always be joyful; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 15:16  (NLT)


Monday, November 10, 2014

Casual Cyberparade


The days when people were discreet about their relationships are gone forever. Except for those in their seniors years, nobody remembers or pines for those times anymore. 

What we are treated to on social media is a parade of what goes on in people's private lives. Reading "In a relationship" and "It's complicated" is as casual and as frequent as OMG (Oh My God!).
 
Intimate love letters to one’s spouse or significant other are now public documents for everyone to “like” and gush over in “comment.”

(Strangers whom I've never met in my life call me "Mommy" so casually, I try hard to remember if I actually birthed them.)

Yes, times have changed—we are in what many call the age of casualness, when formality is passé and rules are relaxed.

It is not uncommon to see old people wobbly clinging to backs of bus seats while able-bodied males are so casual they can't even stand up to offer their seats. 

May we never be so casual to use the name of God irreverently. Humans dependent on grace can never be on a par with the almighty Grace Himself. The Creator and His creation are not on the same level. Not in the way that we call our pals "Bro" or "'Pre." 

The Bible is clear on this, "You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name” Deuteronomy 5:11(NLT)

Lord, Your name is above all names. Guide us to never misuse it. Amen.

(This post is a page from my latest book, Grace@Work, published by OMF Literature, and launched at the 2014 Manila International Book Fair.) 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Can't Buy Me Peace


Millions of fans wailed and sobbed when Michael Jackson, Pop/Rock star, died at age 50. 
TV networks, newspapers, radio, the Net—every medium known to man—went on a frenzy outdoing each other with the most detailed and graphic update. 

Almost three years later, his personal physician was found guilty for injecting Michael with surgical anesthetic powerful enough to put him to sleep. That, plus the other drugs in the singer’s system, caused his death. In his defense, the physician told the court that the singer begged him, “Just make me sleep; it doesn’t matter what happens.”

Regularly over the years, according to news items, Michael took sedatives and other drugs to make him sleep. In his interview with Oprah, he said he had a very lonely childhood; he couldn't play outside with other kids because he was stuck inside either rehearsing, recording or performing. 

Tons of articles have been written about how he spent a remarkable amount of time avoiding people, wearing disguises, breaking off relationships, and changing telephone numbers; people still pursued him. He tried being different by altering his looks, but he couldn't change the person that he was. 

Talent, fame, power, and money came into one man. But when things went wrong or in his moments of emptiness, not one—nor all—could buy him peace.

Those of us who believe in the God of grace and peace, know that peace can only come, for free, to anyone who accepts Him as his Savior in his heart.

"I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid." John 14:27 (NLT)

(This is an excerpt from my book, Circle of Compassion, published by OMF Literature in 2013.)

Photo credit: