We traveled three and a half hours to have lunch in Pampanga. By any standard, that's a very long trek (especially during this heavy-traffic season), just for a meal. But we could be stubborn.
Two years ago, we did the same exact thing—to celebrate one occasion which I forget.
What's different about this trip was, JR paid for all the bills, including the toll fees and gas. A free ride is a wonderful thing!
The Province of Pampanga is more popularly known as the culinary capital of the Philippines. It was the capital of the Philippine archipelago from 1762-1764 during the British invasion of Manila and the first Spanish province in 1571. It was originally called "La Pampanga" (Pampang means river bank) by the Spaniards because they found the early settlers there living near the river banks.
Replace Merry Christmas with Happy Holidays?!
This pressure in western countries seems to be heating up. Of the many greetings I received this year, half omitted the word Christmas. The argument bandied about is that, Christmas is no longer politically correct.
Is political correctness winning over truth?
The truth is, Christmas symbolizes the day the world witnessed an astonishing self-humbling: God almighty made Himself in the likeness of man. The greatest act of grace.
Jesus Christ totally surrendered His will to the will of His heavenly Father. He became flesh in a manger, lived and worked in humble surroundings, and died between two criminals.
Through this human birthing, God revealed this truth: only through Jesus can man go on living in a glorious eternal home.
How can December 25 (or the day the shepherds heard from heaven), then, not be anything but Christmas?
In my new book, Grace Found Me, I wrote about real people mired in insurmountable circumstances. But always, in time, grace came to teach, save, nurture, heal, and comfort. Yes, through the potholed road of life, God's grace finds you and me again and again.
Who can fathom this act of grace delivered on Christmas day?
No one. Grace remains the greatest mystery of all time. We are not called to explain grace but to believe, seize, share, and be grateful for it; and to enjoy the hope of being with Him forever when He calls us home.
In fact, His birth was not explained. The angel simply said, " . . . Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." Luke 2:10 (KJV)
To take Christ out of Christmas leaves it meaningless.
But believing in Jesus, born on Christmas, our Savior, births a new spirit in us. "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 . . ." John 1:12 (KJV)
Out of a roomful of almost 80 pre-school kids, enthusiastically singing a praise action song, a little boy about five years old caught my eye. In the middle row, he looked in my direction and waved, as though he had known me for years. Then, just as instantly, he went back to singing with gusto.
I was introduced as the author of the children's books that they read in school. And that I was going to talk about those books.
“How old are you?” I asked as an opener. They said four, five, and six—all at the same time. But the boy in the middle row stood up and said with the widest grin and loudest voice, “I am five!”
I told them about how I write books for them; and when I asked for a volunteer who might want to read a page of my “Super Devos,” all 80 hands were raised. But the teacher chose a girl to do the job. I got all the responses I wanted.
It was a very spirited group, all dressed up for a Christmas class party after the session with me.
My longest stay in Cebu just ended—four long, bustling days. My luggage is unpacked but not my mind and heart.
My pen literally ran out of ink and my reading glasses fell apart.
The almost 400 photos I took do not begin to tell the joy and buzz that crammed my nights and days. Cebu in December is always busy. Half of the plane was occupied by tourists from other lands. And the Mactan Airport was so crowded it took thirty minutes before I could hail a cab, and another hour to get to my hotel.
OMF Lit mirrored the busy city. Text messages from Lynnie, a dear friend and host extraordinaire, welcomed me, giving precise instructions on what to do next. After depositing my luggage in my room, I went straight to work, crossing the street to the Book Fair dubbed "Inspire Cebu!" in the mall, and started signing books, most especially the newly airlifted "Grace Found Me," and meeting new friends till late at night.
The OMF Lit staff—Eresh, Ramil, Noel, Allan, Bon-bon, Nanette, et. al.—looked as though they had each gulped a bottle of uppers. What passion and energy!
|At the "Inspire Cebu!"Book Fair|
|Reading Super Devos; with the school head|
Statistics show that December is the most popular month for weddings. I am an eyewitness to that. Aside from all the Christmas parties and reunions in December, I am invited to several weddings.
December is ideal for dress-up wedding rituals. The weather is cool and breezy, quite romantic. You and your make-up don't wilt and melt as you don your dressiest frock and highest heels.
One such wedding was that of a friend's son in a fairytale venue that looked and built more like a movie set than a lasting structure. Every angle was adorned for the lenses—gilded columns, vines intertwined, art deco see-through ceiling, a singing brook under a rococo bridge, swatches after swathes of billowy cloth overhead, chariots and poodles, and greens.
Eclectic and photogenic, it had all the elements of romance thrown in. I think the designer wanted to elicit this question from whoever is looking at the pictures, “Where and when was this?” It's a place that could be anywhere but here and now.
|The ride to everland|
|Trying on the ride for size|
|The dog in everland|
|Friends of the groom's parents|
During the yuletide season, not too many words are devoted to Joseph as much as there are to Mary. Even in movies showing the nativity, Joseph seems to be relegated to the background.
When we talk of our faith, Joseph might not be one of our Biblical examples. Now, as we celebrate Christmas and find the manger in our midst, let us zoom in on Joseph.
Mary confided to Joseph about an angel who announced that she would have a child who (Luke 1:32) “. . . will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David . . .”
In Matthew, we read that Joseph was a "righteous man," but he found Mary's story too hot to handle. You see, if anyone found out that Mary was pregnant, she would be stoned to death. Joseph mulled over a quiet divorce after marriage.
But God intervened. As Joseph was sleeping, an angel from God spoke to him, (Matthew 1:20) “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
Joseph listened and listened well. He was faithful to God's call.
Dear God, help me to emulate Joseph's faithfulness. May I remain faithful to You this season and all year through.
(The above is one of the December daily thoughts in my new book, "Grace Found Me," which came off the press this week. You might want to look it up. In another week, it will be available in major bookstores nationwide.)
It's here! "Grace Found Me" (365 Thoughts for Busy Women), my latest book, has been delivered—exactly nine long months from the day the manuscript was completed.
A writer is like a mother-in-waiting, praying for the day the stork flies down to bring in the baby.
What's the book about? The Author's Note explains it all:
I never had problems getting a visa, but horror stories about being denied by the US Embassy was discouraging. So be it, I had no reason to go back to the US again.
Then JB and Gianina had Adrian—that little wallop of a kid who leads us around by the nose. “Come to Michigan and have more time with Adrian,” JB would invite his father and me each time he and his family came home for a vacation.
JB sure knew the magic word.
So I made a decision to apply for a new US Visa, cajoling Tony to do likewise, but he said he is through with things like that—meaning, he has lost his good humor.
It took one month to finish my application on-line. And another three to summon some energy to make an appointment for interview.
Friends advised showing this and that document, which would have covered my whole life. JB said bring photos of you and Adrian. I listened to JB and to myself. Somehow, I felt compelled to bring five of my books.
Wearing my faux pearls, I marched to the US embassy with Adrian's photos and five books, no documents.
There I made instant friends. Two lovely young ladies were to my right and another two to my left, all anxious and nervous.
Sitting on orange chairs then on blue then on black (as the queue moved), I watched hopefuls turn around from a row of glass-covered booths with their passports and sad, sour faces. Denied, denied, denied, denied, denied.
I immediately wrote in my mind an email to JB and Gianina: Sorry, I'd have wanted to come but . . .
“Hello!” the consul, with blonde hair, and not much older than my eldest son, chirped. “Have you been to the US before?”
“Many times, I went to school there,” I replied.
“Columbia and Chicago Art Institute.”
“Why do you want to go to the States again?”
“To visit Adrian, my three-year-old grandson. He's adorable!”
“Adrian's father, what does he do?” he was nosy.
“He's a physician in Grand Rapids,” I replied.
“And what do you do?” he probed.
“I am an author. Wanna' see some of my books?” I grinned.
His eyes lit up. “Yes, please.”
Hmmm, a closet writer, I thought, and fanned all five proudly. He pointed to Gifts of Grace 3, which I slotted into his teeny window. He read the back cover.
Knows his blurbs, I murmured.
He then tackled the inside pages and started reading . . . and reading . . . flipping the page . . . and reading . . . chuckling . . . and reading . . .
Finishing the whole book? I wanted to ask, but knew better.
Finally he looked up, “Is your husband traveling with you?”
“Nope! He has no patience for the Visa application process,” I said. Oooops, that wasn't a very nice thing to say.
“How long do you intend to stay there?”
Now, that question unnerved me. I wasn't sure, I have not decided. “Ahhhhgh . . .” I babbled, all spaced out. Oooops, I just dug my grave.
“That's good enough for me!” he laughed again, throwing my passport in his drawer and closing it with a thud.
Before I could ask, “That's it?!” he said in earnest, “God bless you, Ma'am.”
In the eyes of your over 20 grandchildren, all inconsolable when you were rushed to the hospital—where you breathed your last less than 72 hours later—you were a hero.
In my eyes, you were a hero, plus more.
You were one of 75,000 Filipino, American, and Chinese prisoners of war, who were hauled and dehumanized by the enemy, forcibly marched for five to six days with no food nor a single sip of water in the WW2 Bataan Death March in 1942. You lived to tell us the gruesome, albeit miraculous, story.
“God,” you'd say over and over again, “never left my side.”
And so God was with you for 92 grace-packed years.
In some of those years, I was privileged to celebrate most of my New Years with you, in our clan reunion.
In some of those years, I had been able to tell you my own little stories, which pale in comparison with yours, but you listened anyway.
In some of those years, I saw you play a no mean chess game with nephews and emerging the champion.
In some of those years, you were a frequent guest (more frequent than I could manage to go home) of my parents in the province, your hometown. You'd take public transportation from Manila just to be there to pay your land taxes, on Halloween, and on any other occasion that made you re-live your childhood.
In some of those years, I delighted at seeing you and my mom—your younger sister and fan—chat for hours and gush over Alvin Patrimonio's latest basketball game. You relished being the grandfather of probably the best basketball star of all time.
In some of those years, I witnessed how your six living children and their spouses loved and took care of you even if they already had children of their own.
In some of those years, I marveled at how a soft-spoken uncle would be so honored and cherished by noisy nieces and nephews.
In some of those years, you were widowed twice in a row—and had the rare privilege of marrying two of the most caring women I ever met.
In some of those years, you took a third wife, “Because I could be lonely,” you said. Now she, along with all of us, are in deep grief because you left us (not really too soon; God blessed you with an unusually long, healthy life) before we could celebrate the coming of 2011 in the clan reunion you so looked forward to since the last one.
Your two remaining sisters (out of nine siblings), both with fading or faded memories in the US, will never know you're gone—which is just as well. They are now gently cushioned from the gloom of missing you.
But because they share your faith, our faith in the one true Savior, Jesus, somewhere in a special part of Auntie Pure's and Auntie Pat's mind, they are confident, as I am, that you survived the Bataan Death March so your long life would be a wonderful story of indestructible hope to be a part of the Heaven Life March with all the angels—forever.
Good-bye my hero, plus more.