12/29/2011

Wait Till the Darkness Is Over


Year 2011 is almost done; let us end it with hope.

The kind of hope that when we look up, even in darkness, we see a castle in the clouds.

The kind of hope that despite all the disasters and death around us, the darkness will be over. 

The kind of hope that is so eloquently woven in a Christmas song that children today may  not know, Whispering Hope. In my youth, it was one of the most sung hymns in house-to-house caroling. In amateur singing contests, it was the choice piece of many contestants.

But even I have not thought of it for a long time, until last Sunday when I heard it over the car radio.  I sang along and for the first time, I heard the lyrics clearly.  Beautiful phrases:

Soft as the voice of an angel . . . 

Wait till the darkness is over,

Wait till the tempest is gone.

Hope for the sunshine tomorrow,

After the shower is gone. 


 It was written in 1868 by  Septimus Winner, a prolific songwriter (Ten Little Injuns, Listen to the Mockingbird) who released much of his work under the pseudonym, Alice Hawthorne. 

The text of Whispering Hope appears to be based on the scriptures:

Hebrews 6:19: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain . . .”

1Thessaloninans 5:8, “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.”

Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us . . .”  

Yes, the darkness will be over. Lord, please grant us grace to wait with peace and patience.

12/25/2011

Gifts of Grace and Hope

Christmas 2011

Have you ever heard a conversation as strange as this before?

Husband (to wife): I still haven't bought you a gift.

Wife: I still haven't bought you a gift either. 

Silence.

Husband: What if—

Wife (finishing her husband's sentence):—you don't give me any, then I need not give you one. 

Husband (smiling): Deal.

Wife: Deal.

That conversation isn't strange, it's true. It was between Tony and me a week ago. And opening no gift from him and laughing about it now, I come across this FB entry of my friend Sito.

Question: Did you get everything you want this Christmas?

Answer: No. But then it is not my birthday. Did you give the celebrant what He wants this Christmas?


ooo

No matter how hard we try to remind ourselves that Christmas is not about us, we lapse. Let me write this on a Post-it: Christmas is about the birth of a Savior, who left His heavenly riches to become poor because of His love for us.  
ooo


This holy birth is what the world celebrates on December 25. And this was how the members of my small family—those of us who were able to be physically together at this time—celebrated it:
 
(Our 6.2-kilo turkey came out nice and brown this year, and tasted just as good.)
(It took a day and a half for Ate Vi and JR to prepare this special bird.)
(Hats off, or on, to the chef!)
(Top right photo: Ate Vi receives her gifts from each member of her second family.)
(Photo op with the dining table centerpiece.)
(Tee from Vietnam and Prince Valiant Collection 4)
We remembered, and continue to remember that all the trimmings that come with Christmas every year are a celebration of the gifts of grace and hope to have eternal joy with the Word—who became Flesh on a glorious Christmas day—after our life on earth shall have ended.

12/24/2011

Mary Christmas, Merry Christmas!

Two dear friends led me to think deeply about Mary this Christmas.

First, Yay.  She cried, “Yay!” when she found a book with an accompanying music CD at the second-hand bookstore where we had been browsing (heavy-duty reading, actually) books after books for almost an hour.  Glancing at the cover, I immediately hummed, “Mary Did You Know?”

The tune and lyrics of this song, written by Mark Lowry and put to music by Buddy Greene in 1984, touched me greatly when I heard it sung in our church the first time years ago. It never fails to move me still every time I hear it: 

“ . . . Mary did you know that your baby Boy has come to make you new? This Child that you've delivered will soon deliver you. 

“. . . Mary did you know that your baby Boy is Lord of all creation?” 


In Luke 1:46-47, Mary said,“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . .” 

Second, Josil. He was the devotion speaker at the Christmas party of the OMFLit Christian Writers Fellowship and his message centered on the nativity scene, particularly Mary's reaction to what has happened.

Luke 2: 18 and 19: “ . . . and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Amidst the excitement, amazement, and joy, Mary stayed quiet and reflected in her heart the meaning of it all.

May we be like Mary as we prepare for our Christmas celebration today and have a Mary Christmas. Amidst the merriment—frantic excitement, frenzied amazement, and feverish joy—all around us right now, I pray we find time on Christmas eve to stay silent for a few special moments and ponder the greatest Gift ever given to man: the grace of salvation.

The Lord of all burst forth on earth on that early Christmas morn to deliver Mary, all mothers, all fathers, all sons and daughters, and all of creation.

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!


12/22/2011

Student Woes


Schools are on Christmas break, so teachers/professors have time to huddle. Guess what they talk about?

You can name that tune in one note: student woes. 

The consensus is, a teacher needs patience unlimited. Let me share some of the tales I either experienced myself or heard from my peers. I am surprised at how similar these stories  are, with slight variations.
ooo

A student rushes to the exam room two hours late, “My alarm clock was set for PM not AM!”
ooo

Student: My computer got a virus. Can I submit my assignment tomorrow?

Teacher: I won't be here tomorrow and the rest of the week. 

Student: Next week then?
ooo

A student begs and begs the teacher to allow open notes the following exam day.  The teacher relents. 

Exam day:

Student: I left my pen at home, can you lend me yours? And oh, can you please explain what this question is all about? 

Teacher: “Look it up in your book, it's one whole chapter." 

Student: “Sorry, I left my book at home, too.”
ooo

Teacher: As I repeatedly stressed for several sessions now, today is the deadliest deadline for your term papers.  

Student: “I am done, I just haven't printed it yet.”

Teacher: So you don't have it with you TODAY.    

Student: I have it all in my flash drive TODAY. I'll turn it in tomorrow after printing it.
ooo

Student: Why did I get such a low grade?

Teacher: Ask yourself.

Student: I did, but I didn't know the answer. So I am asking you.
ooo

Me: I can't teach you all about good writing in one semester. Reading will teach you that.

Student: I hate reading.

Me: That's the worst statement I have ever heard in my life.

Student: Why?

Me. Try saying that to another author.
ooo

The horror tales go on and on. So why stick around and teach?

I believe teachers are given such woes to teach us patience. This will arm us against the onslaught of non sequitur logic in our day-to-day walk with fellow mortals. Besides, without student woes, what would teachers huddle about? 

Seriously, teaching has its moments, and they far outweigh the woes. The students who make it big in the world after graduation are more than enough rewards for teachers. We have many of those!

We even have a Miss World runner-up who impressed judges with her intelligence and poise.

One graduate sent me a text message on Teacher's Day: “Thank you for knowing I could write before I did. With your guidance, I have just been hired as a writer in a multinational corporation and am toying with the idea of writing my first book!”
ooo

Oh, yes, the grace of teaching turns student woes to student wows!

12/18/2011

"Philippine Collegian" Nostalgia


A childhood family friend, Vic, who has remained a pal through the years, emailed me this caricature by Ely Santiago (well-respected caricaturist, painter, and social commentator until his demise in 1993).

It made me grin for very long minutes and remember those wonder years when I was in college, a staff member of Philippine Collegian, the official student publication of the University of the Philippines (UP).  

That's me wearing a weird wavy page-boy hairdo beside our editor, Lito Imperio, at the helm, among section editors and writers.

Peering closely at the thinner, younger versions of ourselves, I can recognize only a few faces now and what they did for the publication—it's been several millennia! But I remember vividly those weekly night-to-dawn press work somewhere. 

The crammers among us would bang away on vintage typewriters while I'd fall asleep sitting down, waiting patiently for the proof of my page fresh from the rotogravure (computer denizens, google the word if you don't know what it means!).      

Then the boys, gentlemen of the first order, would bring me back to my dorm in a cab at around four or five in the morning.

Those were the crude, creative days before computers and cellphones, so the work took 20 times longer—and 20 times more exciting.

Vic has also emailed me in the last few weeks recent photos of these talented writing bunch—now with balding and graying hair—in various reunions. Along with the photos was a rundown on what they had been up to. Yes, they have regularly kept in touch! Sadly, two had disappeared in the latest shots due to lost battles with fatal ailments.

After UP, the road forked, and I journeyed on a different route. That's why I am delighted to get to know, the second time around, these friends of long ago.

Soo Inn Tan, another friend from a totally different writing circle, said this in his latest essay, "Nostalgia is an attempt to reconstruct an idealized past.” 

Well,  that's precisely why this phrase has become a cliché, "the good old days." We want to keep thoughts of the past forever good. 

"Will you come to the next get-together?" Vic asked.

"Why, yes."

For sure, I'll find plenty of good there, plenty of grace, as I did in the UP Philippine Collegian long ago.


12/14/2011

Joy to the World


Joy to the World is NOT a Christmas carol.

That got you, didn't it? It shocked me, too.

Among the many Christmas carols we sing this merry season, Joy to the World stands out as a favorite, or the most popular of them all.
 
In many places, in fact, this is sung with everyone being asked to rise, ending the event on a high, joyful note.

Growing up, I have always thought that it was composed as a Christmas song—to welcome the birth of Christ.

Recently, however, I found out that the English hymn writer who wrote it, Isaac Watts (1674-1748), based the song on Psalm 98 in the Bible. Let me quote here verses 7, 8, and 9:

Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!

Let the earth and all living things join in.

Let the rivers clap their hands in glee!

Let the hills sing out their songs of joy before the Lord.

For the Lord is coming to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with justice.

Psalm 98 is about the second coming of Christ, not his birth. So the hymn Joy to the World is all about being joyful that Christ is coming back to earth to render justice to all people.

The song was first published in 1719 in Watts' collection—The Psalms of David.

Watts, a pastor, wrote many hymns and carols and was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree by the the University of Edinburgh in 1728. He penned the words of Joy to the World as a hymn praising Christ's triumphant return at the end of the age, rather than a Christmas song celebrating his first coming as a baby born to Joseph and Mary in a stable.

The music was adapted and arranged to Watts' lyrics by Lowell Mason in 1839 from an older, extremely popular melody, Handel's Messiah by George Frederick Handel (1685-1759), also often sung on Christmas.

After knowing all these facts, I looked up again the lyrics of Joy to the World. And true enough, they are about the joy we will feel when Jesus comes again!

For me, however, it does not really matter whether the song is for Christ coming to the world the first time or the second time. It is a triumphant song that expresses joy, fitting for the grandest birth of all.

So please join me as I sing the second and last stanza, and remember that over 2,000 years ago, a Baby was born in a lowly manger and all the world rejoiced.

Joy to the world, the Saviour reigns
Let Saints their songs employ
While fields and floods
Rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, Repeat, the sounding joy

Rejoice! Rejoice in the Most High,
While Israel spreads abroad
Like stars that glitter in the sky,
And ever worship God,
And ever worship God,
And ever, and ever worship God.

By His grace, may the world have joy, joy, joy this Christmas!

My tree this year (unlit and lit; details below)

12/10/2011

My Author Story


How did I become an author? What or how much of me did it take to get there?

These were the questions I needed to answer in my talk at the Project Author Seminar of Salt and Light Ventures at the AIM conference hall.

Answering those two questions in book talks and casual encounters with readers has been no big deal. All I have time to say is an abridged version of how indeed did I end up being an author, when all my life I was an ad gal.

But to speak for 45 long minutes—now, that had to be a tell-all, including all the "lurid" details. This I only realized when I was beginning to write my talk.  But there was no turning back!  I couldn't say no to the organizer's Chairman and CEO, my friend Ardy, who has been trying to arrange a meeting with me for a year now, but, well, you know how dates can be so ephemeral in this chaotic age, and so the appointment never happened.

I had to retrace my steps from the day I decided to have my manuscripts published. Then I discovered I had already been writing about those in bits and pieces in my book-in-progress on retirement, which I am currently fine-tuning before turning it over to my editor.
.
The book and the talk, they somehow dovetailed by coincidence, if not by divine providence.

As it happened, the talk was a preview of the book. And judging from the audience response, I ought to have at least a few guaranteed readers when the book goes to press. The feedback I got was totally and delightfully unexpected.

"I definitely will write my own story of grace NOW," someone said after my talk.

"Can't dilly-dally any longer. I need to take my manuscripts seriously soon," another one said.

"Now I know exactly what to write about—and I will go for it!" said a young gentleman.

"I've been mulling over these topics," a soft-spoken lady told me, showing me her notes. "Now I am confident I am in the right track."

I also got several private and wall messages on FB and email saying how my author story made them rev up their idling writing engine.

I had prayed that my talk would encourage the attendees to throw caution (and fear) to the wind and follow their heart: write.

That hope is now a certainty. If only 50% of the 40 who attended the seminar had been emboldened to have their thoughts published in print or on e-pages, then every second of the 45 minutes would have been worth it!

And oh, my author story is nothing spectacular compared to other authors'. My answer to both questions: it is a simple story of grace.

12/06/2011

Iloilo Hello (Part 2)


Blitzkrieg isn't a very wholesome term, but that's the word that pops out when I remember my Iloilo trip. It was like storming five places in rapid succession.  

Book blitz it was, and I pray that the people whom I reached are a little better because of it. I am definitely better—more encouraged to reach and meet as many readers as I could.  Bonding with them, feeling their palms, made me realize that a writer and readers are one. 

In all three schools, I talked twice—first for the younger kids and second for the older ones. I actually asked for it.  Initially, one school had all the children (pre-school to high school) assembled in one hall. I thought that talking to all would be like talking to none.   

Division done, connection made—on to book signing. Kids make heart wrenching remarks and ask mind boggling questions.

Next stop: adults.

They are a totally different breed. Unlike children, they hold back and censor their thoughts, but just as warm. The seminar for singles drew a crowd of over 150, a few of whom are Compassion college scholars studying in Iloilo; it was great to see about a dozen of them there. The Q and A matched my whole talk in length.

The teachers' seminar made me marvel anew at these noble professionals who love spending time—beyond what is required—with children. One of the attendees, a white-haired senior citizen, said she will never retire.

All book talks and seminars done on day three, I retreated to my room to pack. One last talk in a church the next day and then to the airport. 

“Tired?” Angel 1, Lynnie, asked.

“Never,” I said, winking at Angel 2, Christine.

They both hied off to the mall and brought me home a packed dinner.

One hour later, my tummy was churning and burning, which I thought a good sleep would cure.  

But at two in the morning, I woke up woozy, as though my stomach moved to my neck.  I almost didn't make it to the bathroom.  I wretched and wretched and wretched, and out came my dinner in spattering installments.  After more wretching, debasing the pristine bathroom in the process, I felt like I ran around our village a hundred times, totally spent.

Me: Lord, are you telling me to rest?

God:

Me:  Lord, is this my last day on earth?

God:

Me: Will you enable me to do my talk tomorrow?


God:

Cleaning up my mess, careful not to wake up Angel 1, Lynnie, took all the energy I had left. All zonked out, I barely crawled back to bed.  

At seven AM, only half of me woke up, towing my luggage with my Angels 1 and 2 to church. I did my talk and signed books before the three of us rushed to the airport.  

After strapping on my seat belt, I went out like a light, nudged only by my seatmate when it was time to deplane.

Home at last; some soup, then off to bed—all of 12 hours.

Waking up still weak to a new day, I was able to do the chores I had left behind. God had answered my questions the night before! 

God: Yes, I am telling you to rest; blitzkrieg is over. 

God:
No, this is not your last day on earth; not yet.   

God:
Yes, I will enable you to talk in church; and you will. 

Can grace ever be explained?

12/02/2011

Iloilo Hello (Part 1)


Iloilo is now a bustling metropolis, which was a pleasant surprise for me.

You know when a place has become totally modern and urban—traffic build-up isn't very far behind. I was there four years go and everything was five minutes away. This time around, we got caught in traffic while rushing to catch an early event.

Well, the traffic wasn't that bad really, not the kind we get in Manila on rush hour, but when you're on a marathon schedule, every tiny snag seems big.

The traffic build-up I am referring to is probably more about the bottleneck in my mind. I badly want to blog about all the exciting activities, but I came home to a work backlog that allows me only so much time and so much space. 

My four-day Iloilo trip was much like all the trips I take to all parts of the country—book tour.  But this one was jointly arranged by Philippine Christian Bookstore (PCBS) and OMF Lit. I was to visit three schools (two sessions in each, with different age groups) and speak in two seminars (one for teachers and one for singles).

Lots of talks, lots of book signing, lots of new friends, and lots of photos to show for them.

The children were as sweet as my favorite biscocho. And the teachers were as warm as the yummy kadyos (cooked with native chicken) I was treated to. Burp.

Two ladies and dear friends took care of everything for me: Lynnie of Cebu and Christine of Iloilo. If you look up the meaning of angel in the dictionary, you'll find their names in bold.  PCBS and OMF Lit, thank you.  

To say I had fun in Iloilo would be a lie. I had grace, grace, grace far beyond fun and one blog.

(Part 2 in a day or so)