3/24/2017

The Piano


Years ago, when my family and I moved into the small house we bought with our savings (where we still are, till the Lord calls us to our real home), we combed the village for a church. We found one—a warehouse lean-to. The sign said “Gospel Church” so we decided it was going to be our spiritual home.

On our first Sunday in this small church, with no more than a dozen people (including children), my eyes were riveted to the old piano in the corner, which nobody played. We sang all the hymns a cappella.

The pastor later asked if I could play the piano; that was my first ministry in the church. 

I'd practice at home the hymns to be sung the next worship service and would play that piano Sunday after Sunday for years and years.

But change came into churches and ours was not spared.

As our building structure and membership grew, the singing switched to gospel songs. Then with the energetic youth came their guitars, drums, cymbals, beat box, and yes, an electronic keyboard—minus the piano, which has grown old like I have.

Now, hymns would occasionally be sung, but accompanied by the musical instruments that make people clap their hands and sway their arms.

One day last month, the old piano was wrapped in a cloth, a sure sign that it will no longer be played,  ever.


Call me maudlin, but I sort of felt nostalgic. Not because I no longer played it, but because of what it symbolizes—the changes that have happened in Sunday worship. My three sons and their contemporaries may no longer remember all the hymns we used to sing, but I do.

Being a student of the Word and believer of Grace, I know that worship is not about format or musical instruments, or outside trimmings. It’s about what’s in our heart, about worshiping Him in spirit and in truth.

Yet that piano, a reminder of what once was, in its current state, somehow tugs at the heart.

“Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” Psalm 100:1-3 (KJV)

3/20/2017

Silent Treatment


One of the most frustrating responses to those on the receiving end is the silent treatment. It can make them feel powerless, invisible, insignificant, guilty, and worst, angry. It can provoke even the most patient person. 

Psychologists say that it is a method of control, punishment, manipulation (in short, a form of emotional abuse) used by individuals as a weapon to get what they want and to inflict pain upon the object of their silence.
Silent treatment, then, is not only deafening, it is lethal.   

If you've ever been the object of silent treatment, you know how devastating that feels, especially when you care a lot about that person ignoring you. Now, silent treatment can be retaliatory. I know of a lady who was so hurt by what her older brother did, she stopped talking to him.

The older brother tried hard to talk to her, ask for forgiveness, and make amends, but the offended one wouldn’t budge. Suddenly, the older brother died. At his funeral, his sister was inconsolable. If only she could turn back the time.

Do we sometimes feel like the spurned older brother when we talk to God and He does not answer? 

Habakuk felt that way (1:2 NLT), “How long, O LORD, must I call for help? But you do not listen! ‘Violence is everywhere!’ I cry, but you do not come to save.”

The Psalmist moans (22:2), “Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.”

Job laments (30:20), “I cry to you, O God, but you don’t answer. I stand before you, but you don’t even look.”

In reality, God wasn’t absent nor indifferent to Habakuk, David, or Job. He never left them, us, alone. It just felt that way—a warped perception when we are in the valley of tears.

He speaks to us at all hours in Scripture: through the beauty of His creation around, beneath and above us; with every breath we take, and each morning when we wake up to new grace.


3/16/2017

Credit Grabber


It is a fact of life: credit grabbers are everywhere.

Indira Gandhi, the only female Prime Minister of India once said, “There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there.” 

Truth is, we all belong to both groups. Some work harder than others, but we are all wont to take the credit for our accomplishments. 

“I was able to buy this due to hard work.”

“I got an award for my excellent performance.”

“I have written several books in only ten years.” 

“I have been persevering; I will reward myself with a shopping binge.” 

“Because of my idea, we got the account.”

We go on and on.

Our pastor’s message last Sunday reminded us that we cannot take credit for anything. All our noteworthy traits that make things happen and make us successful come from a Source. “We can do absolutely nothing without grace. Everything is God’s, from God, and by God.”

Many famous people in history have been credited with discovering this and that, pioneering this and that, leading this and that, revolutionizing this and that, winning this and that, and championing this and that.

“Where did their courage, wisdom, guts, strength, and all other attributes come from?” he asked.

Our Bible heroes’ stories ended up the way they did because of God’s intervention. Every single story has been woven together in intricate patterns to show us an awesome tapestry with the splendor of GOD.

He Who tells the rain to fall, the sun to shine, the winds to blow, and the nose to breathe must get the credit.

“When we take credit for something, we glorify ourselves. The only One Who should be glorified is El Shaddai, Adonai, Yahweh, Jehovah Rapha, Elohim, El Olam, etc.—our God of power and might."  
May we resolve to thank Him for all that we have and what we could do.

"I, yes I, am the Lord, and there is no other Savior." Isaiah 43:11 (NLT)


3/12/2017

NO to Death Penalty


Voting 216 to 54 (with one abstention), Philippine Congress overwhelmingly approved last week the re-imposition of capital punishment (death by hanging, firing squad, and lethal injection) for serious drug-related cases. 

This watered-down version originally included heinous crimes like rape, kidnap-for-ransom, and plunder. Now it is singularly focused on drugs.

The Death Penalty was abolished 10 years ago, but it has been a top priority for President Duterte, who was elected on promises to end drug abuse in three to six months after assuming power.

Eight months after the president took his oath of office, 8,000 people have been killed, mostly drug users shot by mysterious gunmen.

The draft will now go to the Senate and, if passed, will become a law.

I say NO to death penalty.
For four reasons:

1. There is no proof anywhere in the world that death penalty deters crimes.

2. Our graft-ridden justice system is still working its way to perfection. What if the wrong person is sentenced to die? What if the right person bribes his way to freedom?

3. Drug abuse is not any worse than rape, kidnap-for-ransom, and plunder.

4. My faith in God, Jesus. He came to earth, suffer and die, to give us life, not destroy it. This is fully illustrated in John 10 about the Shepherd and His sheep. Verse 10 (NLT) summarizes it, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”

Although Jesus was not talking about earthly life, His purpose has been to save lives for eternity—His gift of grace for all men, including drug offenders (if their lives are not snuffed out prematurely). Only He has the right to take back what He has given.   

We have a government, which all Christians are duty-bound to follow. But to vote “yes” to include  killing fellow beings in the laws of our land (while we still have voices and the chance to oppose it)?!  Mine is but one small voice, but a voice nonetheless.

Yes, my unequivocal stand is NO.


3/08/2017

You’ve Got a Friend


People have defined friend in countless ways—all of them good.

“A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.” Arnold H. Glasow

“Friendship . . . is born at the moment when one man says to another 'What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .'” C.S. Lewis

“A true friend encourages us, comforts us, supports us like a big easy chair, offering us a safe refuge from the world.” H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” Elbert Hubbard

Likewise, countless songs have been written about friends—all of them encouraging, enabling. One of my favorites is James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend.”

When you're down and troubled
And you need a helping hand
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night


A friend is a treasure on earth.

Now, imagine being a friend of God in heaven!   

We read in the book of James (2:23 NLT), “And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: ‘Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.’ He was even called the friend of God.”

This special relationship between man and God would be echoed in John 15:14-15 by Jesus, “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.”

Friend with God then, according to CH Spurgeon is “within reach; Jesus Himself invites us to live and act, and be His friends.” Like us, He had lived on this cruel earth, He knows how it is to go down. He knows all about us.

He therefore gives us not a scanty measure of grace, but all of Himself, which encompasses all the definitions of and songs about a friend—so that we may live more abundantly.

James Taylor’s song parallels this old hymn written by Joseph M. Scriven in 1855:

Have we trials and temptations? 
Is there there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,

Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.


Indeed, “What a Friend we have in Jesus.”


3/04/2017

Created and Crated Memories


How can one create memories?

Science says it is an extremely complex process that happens in our brain.  Our 100 billion specialized cells called neurons send signals to each other. And each neuron can have up to 10,000 connections with other neurons. These points of connection are called synapses . . . Oh, you wouldn’t want to know all that, do you?

I like to think that memories are grace that comes to make us remember the peak moments of our lives—those times when we smiled and felt good about the world and ourselves. And when they come, we smile and feel good all over again.

One of the memories that came to me one day was when I got a message from someone (her name is Richelle) I have never met. She said she wanted me to sign 100 copies of “No Lipstick for Mother.”

Mere mention of this book always makes me smile and feel good for many reasons: the idea was inspired by a dear friend who drives a tricycle; the manuscript was adjudged first prize in the Palanca Awards; the book was cited in a university textbook as a good example of women empowerment. I also cite the book when I am invited to talk on gender equality. 

Now, can these memories be crated? Yes, they can.  

Simply ask Richelle. She owns Crated Memories, “a subscription-based monthly themed product that is aimed to build memorable moments between parents and kids through creative activities.” Inside a box to be crated to subscribers are: the book of the month, around which various arts and crafts activities, interactive games, quizzes and exercises for vocabulary building revolve. All these are all planned by a childhood educator.   

“In most activities, we provide words/phrases related to the story for the kids’ language growth,” explained Richelle.

I found the concept refreshing, considering how gadgets have taken over baby-sitting in this digital age. Crated Memories goes against the grain—it a big, brave effort in encouraging parents to bond and interact with their kids in a warm, fun, and close encounter, minus electronics. 
Through Crated Memories, may parents find the grace of good ol’ bonding once more, then smile and feel good about the wonderful world of families created by our Abba Father. 


2/28/2017

Sense of Urgency


One of the non-traits of millennials that I have observed in my encounters with them is: sense of urgency. They take their own sweet time with class assignments. If they don’t make the deadline, so what?

In contrast, motorcycle drivers are so in a hurry, they break all traffic rules. They drive as though there’s a race to their destination.

Both behaviors are puzzling, making one wonder if there is a middle ground.

Perhaps these are two graphic examples of the contrasting speed with which human beings make life decisions: too slow or too rash. Both are based on the clock and the calendar—inventions of man. On earth, we are time bound.

And yet, both are relative.

Sometimes there are difficult circumstances when we wish things would move along more quickly so they’ll be over as soon as possible. Other times, there are impending dangers that we wish we could hold back for as long as we could.  And yet other times, we stand in a long wait—but the reward for our hard work does not come.

Our timing is flawed, which is why when making decisions that have lifelong consequences, we need grace.
 
“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” James 1:5 (NLT)

“I rushed into marriage at 15 because I was pregnant,” said one of my friends. “Look where it got me.”

She has since separated from her husband and her three children are under the care of her parents because she is not earning enough to support them.

“It was a dream job. But I didn’t want to make a mistake so I did some sort of SWOT analysis before I took it,” another friend told me. She laughs at this incident now but it broke her heart then. “When I finally got all the pros and cons down pat and decided to take it, the employer said they had already hired someone else.”

I personally believe that we all need some sense of urgency in everything we do to get things done and make things right. Especially at this time of chaos.

Matthew 3:2 says it succinctly, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

It’s nearer than we think.


2/24/2017

The Magic of V Day


Most of the boys in my class of 20 on V Day (Valentine’s not Veterans) were missing. One hour later, they came trooping in like a gaggle of geese—honking “Happy V Day!” and giving out roses to the girls.

I got one, too, over which I exclaimed, “This doesn’t excuse you all from being late!”

They guffawed, as though it was the funniest joke they’ve ever heard. That’s how festive V Day was in my Business Environment class. Everyone had this silly grin on his/her face, half listening to the lessons.

Just before the class ended, one of the girls came and whispered to me, “Ms., is it okay if we performed a Valentine’s number?”

Enough of this foolishness, I almost spat out. But I thought twice; I was young once, and although I can no longer remember, I was probably just as foolish.

About a dozen went in front, unabashedly sang in harmony a song unfamiliar to me but had the lyrics, “You are beautiful.” They also danced with gay abandon, peak performance level. Then at the end of the number, one of the guys presented—with flourish—a rose to . . . the shyest, most quiet
girl in class.      

I did not realize she was the only one who did not receive a rose earlier!

The expression on her face was priceless. She stood up and gave everyone a hug.

It was magic. And stunning grace for me. I teared up and castigated myself, They’re not as foolish as you thought.

Outside the classroom, the performers were still lolling about. I whispered, That was a very nice gesture.

Someone exclaimed, “It was my idea!”

“No, it was mine!” another one retorted.

“Mine!” “Mine!”

The magic went poof. But the grace remained. Oh, to be young again . . . 

Addendum: In the faculty room, I gave my rose to one of my peers—single, and had recently broken up with her boyfriend. She messaged me later, “Hi, Ms. Chong! Thank you so much for the rose. I can feel God's love through you. Love is stronger than anything, for as long as it's true.” 


2/20/2017

Promises and Covenants


Three to six months.

That was the timeframe then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte promised the Filipino people  to rid the country of corruption, drugs, and criminality. He premised this promise with, “if elected president.”

He was quoted in newspapers as adding spice to that already spectacular promise, “If I fail in three months, better leave the country or I will step down and give the presidency to Bongbong [Marcos].”

I took those to be his covenant with the electorate.

It has been eight months since he became president, and we are still reeling from the scourge of these three social problems. Corruption in all levels of government is as active as before, drugs and criminality are as rampant as they have always been.

And there is no resignation.

“Promises are made to be broken,” is a saying that originated in the 1500s that still resonates today because nine out of 10 (more or less) it’s true.

That’s probably why when God makes a covenant with human beings, it is unilateral. He always fulfills his side of the bargain, and as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, we don’t fulfill ours.

God’s promises populate the Bible. Let me quote two from NLT:

“Understand, therefore, that the LORD your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.”  Deuteronomy 7:9

“No, I will not break my covenant; I will not take back a single word I said.” Psalm 89:34

We stand on God's promises. Every one of them is grace carved in stone. They cannot be broken. 

2/16/2017

Irony

  
I was completely floored.

One of the kindest, nicest, wisest, most helpful, most generous, most caring, and most cheerful men I have ever met (let’s call him Marcus)—who, according to his wife, is a romantic, thoughtful husband; has only good things to say about anyone; stays behind the scenes to let other people shine; and is loved by all—does not believe in God.

My eyes popped the day these words came out of his mouth, “I don’t believe in God.”

Irony indeed. His resume reads like a dream record of successes: educated in some of the best schools abroad, held high positions in prestigious companies, and had toured the world. He also went to a theological school at some point in his life, desiring to be a catholic priest.

A voracious reader, Marcus could engage anyone in conversations about any book, ideology, and current issue.

After his shocking pronouncement, I asked him journalism’s five “w’s” and one “h” in rapid succession.

He laughed. Then he expounded some arguments so intellectual he lost me. I decided that no matter how I tried to understand his reasons, I couldn’t.

I live on faith. He lives on logic. One is oil and the other is water.

Still, the fact that he has all the qualities I desire to have to model my faith, puzzles me. How could goodness and non-belief go together? How could he not see the blessings in his life, the grace in who he is?

Perhaps this is one of life ironies that believers are made to face to deepen their faith. What seems safe isn't, and vice-versa. From that day of our conversation, I added Marcus’ name to my list of prayer concerns.


2/12/2017

I Am a Pusher


Lest I get locked up by the President’s men implementing his ruthless, relentless anti-drug campaign, let me explain.

In my various circles, I take my roles seriously—sometimes (okay, often) too seriously I expect everyone to have the same passion.

What Confucius said thousands of years ago still rings true today: “The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential . . . these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.”

As a college lecturer, I push my students to their limits. Five out of 20 catch on, march to my beat, and appreciate the pushing. But millennials, as we all know, are distracted by technology, and therefore the rest do not think excelling is a big thing; passing is good enough.

As a writer, I likewise push—myself first of all. After a first draft, I rewrite and revise, reading my manuscript from the point of view of both an editor and a reader. So I consult my readers, informally through FB’s Messenger or through an FGD. It takes forever to get a reply, and to get people together. Then I badger my editor, sending her questions and following up.

As a Sunday School (SS) teacher, I study my lessons two weeks in advance. But there are Sundays when I have only two “students” or none at all. I push, “I missed you in SS last Sunday.” “Will I see you at SS next time?” “Hey, our SS lesson next week is interesting; be there.”

As adviser to our university newspaper, I exact commitment from the editorial staff. One time, as I lectured on the value of hard-work, one of them was reduced to tears.

Pushing can hurt those who see it as nagging. On the other hand, it is fulfilling for me—a gift of grace—especially when things get done well. Yet sometimes I muse: should I just chill, let things flow, and not worry about results?

I go back to Scripture to keep me on track—and to view pushing from the right perspective. 
“. . . whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8 ESV)


 

2/08/2017

Start Them Young


Next to childbirth, probably the hardest thing to do is to organize a family reunion. It’s like birthing a million ideas to keep 160 people of all life stages occupied and delighted.

But it can be done.

In our last family reunion, I was chairman. My first act was to appoint my youngest brother in my place, and catapulted myself to chairman emeritus. Another grace thrown down my lap was the 26 brilliant minds in my branch of the family: in-laws, nieces, nephews, brothers, and only sister. I didn’t have to lift a finger.

(Ooops, I nagged a little.)

I am in awe of the young ones who conceived activities and labored to make them happen.One was: Corners.

There was a corner for oldies: those who couldn’t join active events anymore. Old albums, scrapbooks, newsletters, souvenirs, and looped videos kept the 50s and above quietly occupied.

There was a corner for clowning—the photo booth.

There was a corner for street food, where people lined up to have their fill of squid balls, fish balls, etc.

There was an outdoor corner for varied sports; and an indoor corner for varied games.

There was a corner for prizes, with drop boxes specifying the kind of prize one wanted to win.

And—this one’s my favorite—there was a corner for kiddies. Toys galore, table activities, games, play doughs, art contests, and books (Hiyas-published storybooks). I loved this corner because I saw kids either reading alone, reading to each other, or being read to by an adult.

All of 16 years now, I have been an advocate for reading. In my encounters with my college students, I am disheartened by the fact that, because of technology and the internet, not many read anymore.

My hope for this tragic trend to be reversed are the little ones. If adults could interest them in books even before they could read, then I know they will grow up to be readers.

To support this hope, we decided to give all the kids ages six and below free books during the reunion’s closing ceremonies. As the kids’ names were called, their parents carried or led them to the stage to get their books.
It was an encouraging sight: little ones, their face aglow, excited to get a copy of a book!

Who said authors are not paid enough? This photo fills my cup to overflowing. 


2/04/2017

Downsizing Love


This we know, yet we do it: use the word “love” so lightly it has become banal. Anyone can say it to anyone, without meaning it.  

Downsizing the big word “love” might have begun in the 15th century when the ideograph heart (the graphic heart we use today to symbolize heart and therefore, love) was created.

This ideograph is now even found in Facebook as one of the emoticons you tick off if you like a post.

Even worse, the word “love” has a new Filipino translation: lab, which is also the shortened form for Labrador or laboratory. I’ve received messages from girl friends who end their sentence with “lab u!

I plead guilty to saying, “I loved that book” or “I loved the food” or I loved her dress.”

Our careless speech today, especially because one-liners and sound bites on social media are the norm, makes it hard to discern what we mean when we say we “love” this or that. We have trivialized the word. 

When I turned the page of my calendar to February four days ago, my eyes were riveted to the ideograph printed on day 14: Valentine’s Day. This made me ponder the word “love,” and shocked myself to realizing what it has been reduced to. 

At church, we say or sing, “I love you Lord.” What do we actually mean? Is this in the same vein as “lab u?”

The Bible is not careless with the word “love.”

John 3:16 (KJV), the foundation of my faith, says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

In John 15:12, Jesus also said, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

In Romans 5:8, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

There are many, many more.

As we celebrate the love month (there goes the word again!), may God’s grace teach us to live and demonstrate the real meaning of "love" in our relationships—with people and especially with the Lord.  

“Love” is a big word. I pray we keep it that way, and not follow the trend of downsizing it further.



1/31/2017

Kairos vs. Clock Watching


Clock watcher.

That’s what I’d been for most of my life in the corporate world. Barring any snags beyond my control, I finished every chore on time and produced all I could in 24 hours. I was hardly ever late to any appointment, too.

Every moment had to be productive. When a task was on a slump, I'd start a new one. Doing many things all at the same time—that’s where you’d find me.

On the plane home from a meeting abroad, I’d already be writing my “thank-you” notes while every passenger would be asleep. Back in the office, I’d immediately shoot out those notes.

Are you panting yet?

“Chronos perspective,” that’s how our pastor called my clock-watching behavior. I thought of one day as 24 hours. My small white board had a to-do list with corresponding deadlines.

My thoughts ran parallel with what I read in Scripture, “We should number our days.” Our time on earth is so brief, I wanted to be a good steward of every second of time.

“On the other hand, this contradicts what Paul is saying in Ephesians 5,” our pastor added. Paul instructs us to redeem the “Kairos perspective,” which is to seize opportune moments.

My clock watching habit came to a head one day. I was furiously trying to beat a deadline when I got a desperate call from a friend about ready to give up on life. Would I miss my deadline for her?

Difficult question for a clock watcher.

But Kairos took over: time is an opportunity marching in, not a clock ticking minutes away.

The three hours spent with my despondent friend—and missing a deadline—was more valuable than the three hours I'd have spent finishing a task. After our talk, she resolved to move on.

Time stewardship, I have learned from that experience, is not packing as much as I can into 24 hours. Rather, it is being alert, like a hawk, on the lookout for the slightest hint of an opportunity to share the glory of God’s grace.

Note to moi: A true steward of time organizes a schedule with moments open to seizing Kairos moments. 


1/27/2017

Voices and Choices


In my writing journey, listening to voices is part of the process. From these voices, I make my choices.

The varied voices I hear either affirm or negate my initial thoughts. It’s like listening to the thump-thump of my future readers’ hearts. I see different perspectives—enriching and clarifying.

I recently finished my first draft—always a feat for me—of a story. I had son #1 read it. His terse comment, “Too harsh, too vivid.”

Upon hearing his voice, I wrote a softer version. Then to my second reader I went—Tony. He said, as tersely as my first reader, “Too tame; try being more graphic.”

Now I was faced with two opposing views. First version? Second version?

To settle my dilemma, I exposed both versions to four grade-school teachers, like a small-scale Focus Group Discussion (FGD). To my surprise, they all chose version 1! Being more communicative than son#1 and husband, they gave me insights that made me look more closely into version 1 to enhance it:

"Yes, crime has consequences."

"Very timely. Kids should know about their rights in case they get picked up by the police, especially today."

"Suspenseful. I wanted to know how it would end."

"Punishment and forgiveness came together. Nice."

Version 1 was on the right track, as far as readership is concerned. I followed my guts and saw it through.
For days on end, I worked on version 1, revising, polishing, tweaking, and twisting it (and checking my legal facts) to a point where I think I am now ready to send it to my editor.

Version 2 will stay in the freezer.

But the story is far from being finished. The editor has a voice, too, and so does the back-up editor, and so does the artist.

Voices. Choices.

The book that finally reaches the reader’s hand is a product of all. I credit no one, not even the writer, for any published book to happen.

Christian books are a product of grace, my only enabler. God’s grace makes a writer’s ears and heart listen, and listen well, so she can make the right choices.

   

1/23/2017

Golden Eggs


Red eggs used to be a staple on our breakfast table. They go well with juicy tomatoes and fresh mountain ferns; eaten with fried rice; then finished off with a steaming cup of coffee. Nifty-yummy and picker-upper they were.

That was before my brother D and his wife G gifted us with golden eggs—salted duck eggs from their duck farm that go by the same principle of making red eggs, minus the poison.

Surprised? It shocked me.

Since time immemorial, salted duck eggs are dyed red to distinguish them from fresh eggs.

Now here’s the shocker.

The red dye used by many commercial red-egg makers contain chemicals that cause conditions such as allergies and asthma, plus more. This has been proven in various research in the US and Europe. In fact, some European manufacturers have pledged to eliminate this dye from candy, soft drinks, and similar products.
The sad truth, however, is that red eggs are freely sold everywhere in the Philippines, because they are backyard industries and therefore do not go through the screening process of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Red-eggs fans may argue that the dye on the shell does not affect the egg, which is what we ingest. However, since eggshells are porous, there is no telling how much of the red dye seeps through and therefore eaten.

D and G’s golden eggs were dipped in and colored with turmeric (a perennial plant of the ginger family) powder and therefore all-natural.

They taste just as good as the red eggs—maybe even better—we had been used to. But golden eggs such as these are not commercially viable, because turmeric costs so much more than red dye.

This is not a discourse against red eggs. Rather, it is an ode to golden eggs, 100% natural, and therefore,  pure grace.

Photo credit: www.cookingspree.com

1/19/2017

New Year, New Ears


In the last five years, or maybe even longer, I have slowly been losing interest in activities that I used to love.

Movies have become dull, except during the Cinemalaya Festival (Filipino Indie Films) where all movies have English sub-titles;  TV shows have become a bore; and yakking on the phone for long hours with my sister, Lucy (my friend in California), and best cousin in New York have become an ordeal.
 
I have likewise shunned using or answering calls on my mobile phone, preferring to read text messages.   

I conveniently blamed my waning interests on aging. But I was actually in denial. What I was losing was not my interest, but my ears.

Like my grandmother and mother before me (yes, it’s in the genes), my sense of hearing has deteriorated to a point where I hear words other than what are said:

First day vs. birthday
Tea vs. three 
Daily vs. baby
Ryan vs. Gian
Ringing vs. meeting

Results? Wrong answers to the right questions, and vice-versa. 

Son #2, a doctor and who calls from the US, must have known what I was going through. I’d immediately pass on the phone to Tony, or speak so loud the phone receiver popped. Once or twice, he had mentioned “hearing aid” but because it costs an arm and a leg, I was prepared to go through the rest of my life without ears.

All that has come to pass.

As a Christmas gift, son# 2 and his wife said I could have any hearing aid of my choice. So I headed to the Active Hearing Center where I was fitted by a nice, young lady with a pair of Siemens thingies. They are so  discreet, you'd never know they're there unless you stared.   

And guess what?

I am dying to watch the next movie, the TV shows I missed, and once again, I am looking forward to long phone chats with my sister, Lucy, and my best cousin.  

Now, I hear every epithet some of my students utter under their breath, behind my back. I have abandoned my front-row seat during faculty meetings. And I am able to understand all the items put forth in our prayer meetings. The better to hear of how God’s grace works in people’s lives.    

I feel gargantuan guilt that these two tiny widgets in both my ears cost one big motorcycle and a bike, but hey, I console myself, a mom costs more than that.

This New Year, I have new ears!  I think I can hear you applauding.


1/15/2017

72 Stars


Looking back to our clan’s 72nd reunion, which my family branch hosted, I go through a myriad of deeply reflective emotions. Sometimes I chuckle, shed tears, laugh out loud, or simply feel good by looking at our countless photos and videos taken by different nieces and nephews.

One of the many episodes that keeps a smile pasted on my face was narrated by a nephew, whom I call our resident pastor (and a real one, too) since he is assigned to deliver God’s messages in our worship and thanksgiving services, and to lead the prayers before every activity.

Here’s how he wrote it:

“Dear Auntie,

“On the first day of the reunion after the thanksgiving service, my wife and I went to the Kid's Corner and we saw the clay dough scattered all over. We started tidying up the area in preparation for those who will use it next.

"Adrian [note: my only grandson, aged 9, who attended our annual reunion for the very first time] and Matthew [note: my grandnephew, aged 8, who also attended the reunion for the first time] were there also—my Facebook friends whom, after a long time, I was able to meet personally!

“I told Adrian to use the plastic molds and create 72 stars to symbolize the 72 years of our coming together. Adrian asked if Matthew could join and do the task too. I agreed.

“After some time—probably, 20 or 30 minutes—Adrian approached me and told me that they were through. I was surprised.

“They took me seriously. And they finished the task!     

“I was blessed with these two because they listened and they believed in what I said. They did what they were told even when no one was watching.

“You seldom see kids like them nowadays. Such is the faith that our heavenly Father delights upon. I commend the parents and grandparents, too—who are training these two children in the way that they should go!”

Family reunions are made of these. Starlit grace all, 72 and beyond. 


1/11/2017

Timeless Ends


Our 72nd annual clan reunion themed “Timeless,” which was hosted by my family branch, ended on January 1, 2017—one year to the day we accepted the assignment, as emblazoned on our uniform t-shirts.

On that same day, preps quickly began. That’s how serious we all were (28 in all) about the job, which comes every nine years.  

Being the eldest in a family of five siblings, I was the de facto chairman. But on day one, I instantly promoted myself to emeritus and passed on the responsibility to my youngest brother, Dave, who still has the grace of vigor.

Our children, located in various parts of the world, and whose media savvy we envy, put up a Facebook page with a header featuring our acceptance t-shirt. They brainstormed on cyberspace and came up with varied monthly contests that generated excitement. 

Then two months before the event, after a series of meetings presided by the chairman-designate, the chairman emeritus launched the theme and logo, also on social media:

TIMELESS

On December 30, 2016, the Vergara Clan will come together for the 72nd time. But 72 is just a number.

“The tie that binds” spans yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Our Lolo Berto and Lola Cionang, who started it all, are gone and so are the nine originals who came after them.

One day, I will be gone, too, following the neo-riginals who have said goodbye. But I know that the spirit behind the V-Clan reunion will remain timeless. Thus, it is this year’s theme. (Chit sub-clan)

“The timeless in you is aware of life's timelessness. And knows that yesterday is but today's memory and tomorrow is today's dream.” (Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet) 

During the event, we had efficient help from the clan execom (made up of representatives from each family branch) to man the corners, activities, programs, and prizes for all life stages: kiddies, oldies, and middies. For the first time, we had a photo booth where everyone unleashed his histrionic best.

All that has ended. On January 1, 2017, we bade the clanistas (our term of endearment for clan members) passed on the job to the next host. 

In our effort to make our 72nd reunion memorable for all clanistas every day of the past year, we (28 pax)  were exceedingly blessed daily with timeless joy from a timeless God:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8 

1/03/2017

Broken Christmas Traditions


Over many Christmases in my married life, I have created some traditions, which I impose upon the family—all boys. These fall under their trivia list, which is why Tony humors me, probably thinking, “It’s no skin off my nose.”

First, a family Christmas card. I get the boys together for a family photo with a Christmas letter about how our year was.
 
Second, a roast turkey for Noche Buena. In the early days, Tony was chef after which son #3 took over. But both were blessed with a gofer—Ate Vi, our long-time househelp.

Third, a Christmas tree with a different motif each year.

For the first time in years, we have no Christmas card. My two unmarried sons, #1 and #3, were too busy with their personal pursuits. They are no longer kids, so I couldn’t cajole them into posing. My photo file has nothing close to a family shot.

“Mom, nobody reads Christmas letters anymore,” son #3 said.

“There’s FB, Twitter, and . . .” added son #1.

I gave up.

For the first time in years, too, son#3 opted to buy a roast turkey instead of preparing one. Reason: his gofer, now advanced in the years, retired one month before Christmas (but that’s another story). Ate Vi’s replacement hasn’t seen the likes of an oven.

“This turkey doesn’t come close to yours,” I complained to son #3. Tony and son #1 agreed, but we had nothing else for Christmas dinner.

Goodbye to home-cooked turkey.

And then, there’s my Christmas tree. Trimming it required no help from the boys so it went up and served as my uncomplaining photo model.

Two Christmas traditions now gone with the wind, what was I to do?

While writing a blog on Christmas and reading the Scripture, I came across how man-made traditions can control people. Jesus addressed the issue in Mark 7. The Pharisees and Jews had traditions such as not eating unless they washed their hands a certain way, etc.  

In v. 5, the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

Jesus reminded them of Isaiah’s prophesy on hypocrites—“These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

Where in the Bible, I asked myself, does it require a family photo/letter and roast turkey for Noche Buena? 

Without those, Christmas is still Christmas. In fact, man-made traditions could take time away from focusing on the King of kings.

While celebrating Christmas in December 2016, sans my traditions which kept me in stupor, I was doused in grace, and I quickly came to. 

  

1/01/2017

Welcome 2017


“You crown the year with a bountiful harvest; even the hard pathways overflow with abundance.” Psalm 65:11

Thank You, Lord Jesus, for your grace year after year. Help us to continue focusing on You, no matter what happens in the world, in the year 2017. Amen. 

12/29/2016

Christmas is Christmas


Merry CHRISTmas! 
That’s how I greet kith and kin around December 25—not “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.”

Much as I try analyzing the logic—backward, forward, upward, downward—I can’t see why people should be offended when we greet them thus. Greetings are simply greetings; it’s the way I feel; and I am not imposing my belief on those whom I greet.

We can’t redefine what Christmas is. It is the symbolic date of the birth of the Savior of mankind. This I believe because that’s what I read in Scripture. It was the reason the holiday was created.

People of the world differ in their belief and faith. I respect that. I have no problem whatsoever being greeted with “Happy Hanukkah” or “Eid ul-Adha” or “Pit Senyor” or “Gong Xi Fa Cai” or however other people of various persuasions express their joy.

I reply with a big smile and a sign of peace.

Christ is the reason for the December holidays and season. In whatever language, it’s a merry Christmas for me.   

French: Joyeux Noël
German: Froehliche Weihnachten
Greek: Kala Christouyenna
Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka
Italian: Buon Natale
Spanish: Feliz Navidad

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 (NIV)

Merry CHRISTmas cyber friends!

12/25/2016

For My Sake, He Became Poor


In the years before my dear friend Sonia left for her appointment with Jesus, she’d always have a reminder for me every December. She’d say, “The first Christmas was in a manger, stripped of all the grandeur we put up today.”

“No grandeur in my tree whatsoever!” I’d reply defensively. She knew of my self-imposed tradition of putting up a tree with a different theme every year. “It’s festive because it reflects how I feel about the birth of Jesus.”

“Just make sure your tree—or any décor—captures the true meaning of Christmas,” she said with a smile.

 The true meaning of Christmas. I always chew on Sonia’s statement for a full hour before deciding on my tree’s motif.

Without Sonia, nobody reminds me to keep my tree simple anymore. But her voice rings clear.

This year I trimmed my fifteen year-old faux fir with old lights from the storeroom and wrapped it in blue tulle (less than P100) bought from a surplus shop. I also accented the fir tree with oversized costume shades or sunglasses, also from a discount store.

Why blue, and why shades?

Between writing marathons, I take a break by painting nature scenes. One of the hardest to capture is the blue expanse above what God called the heaven. So while painting, I go outdoors and watch the sky being covered, bared, or curtained by clouds, while wearing my shades to keep my eyes from squinting.

My fir tree is a thanksgiving to God for the sometimes silky, sometimes milky, sometimes layered, sometimes rippled white clouds, which also sometimes come in fierce reds, bold yellows, and foreboding blacks—to give the blue expanse a one-of-a-kind face every minute, day and night.    
 
When Jesus, born poor on that first Christmas, will come again, we will see Him “coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30).

Marveling at the heaven, painting it, and trimming my tree with its color this Christmas, makes me want to shout in gratitude to God who, because He loves me, became Flesh on Christmas Day—and will one day come from the clouds of heaven to take me home.

“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9 (KJV)

(This post was originally written for the OMF Literature website.)