12/30/2013

Borrowed Time


Of all days, my computer died on me on Christmas day. It's the worst thing that can happen to a writer whose lifework is in it—and who has a deadline to meet. 

It started ailing on Christmas eve, but my son JC worked his magic and it was healthy again. 

12/28/2013

Christmas Giving


Scenes of the Christmas season that make me uneasy are uniformed guards in private subdivisions brandishing or jiggling a Christmas gift box with a huge slit.

Their thought balloon, It's Christmas, this is where you put your cash gift. 

Beside their security post is a huge gift-wrapped box with an open top. 

12/27/2013

Astonishing Birthday


No celebration can be as astonishing as the birth itself. It was rightly foretold, and when it happened, the world was never the same again. We have been gifted with Hope for an astonishing future that never ends. 

Our own celebration in our small household was pretty much the same as in previous years, but the joy took on a different form. Which is what makes every year something to look forward to—the new surprises wrapped in grace. 

12/24/2013

The Birth of Grace


The nippy wind of past Christmases is missing. As I did my early morning walk, I felt warm air, making me sweat profusely. It's certainly different from the wintry first Christmas in Bethlehem.

But there is no stopping the celebration of the birth of Grace. 

12/21/2013

The Crossword Puzzle


My favorite stress buster, next to writing and reading, turns 100 years old today!
That's how long the crossword puzzle has been delighting enthusiasts all over the world.

12/18/2013

The Season of Giving:

ESWES!

Giving seems to have gone viral.

After super typhoon Yolanda, every person I know—neighbor, friend, relative, acquaintance, and peer—has helped the typhoon victims in various ways.  

12/15/2013

Like Annus Horribilis


Have you had a week like this?

It felt like I was a helpless, useless piece of rag—pushed, pulled and spun in an endless maximum motion inside a washing machine gone haywire.

In all of seven days—it seemed more like annus horribilis, as Queen Elizabeth described the year 1992 when everything horrible happened one after the other—I could only do what was possible under the circumstances.

12/12/2013

Sweet, Sweet Charity


Poof.

That's how my dear cousin, Charity, left. Too sudden, too quick, too soon. When we heard the devastating news, we didn't know what hit us.

Close kin rushed to be with her. Others, from all over the world, kept vigil at her e-wake and joined in a circle of prayer for the comfort of her two sons and loved ones. 

Poof.

12/10/2013

Winning Arguments


Do you like winning arguments?

I used to—a lot. I was self-programmed to win arguments or bust.

Proving someone wrong meant victory. Emerging as the winner made me feel I was better than the losing side. Arguing, however, always ended in a win/lose situation; or worse, lose/lose when the issue remained unresolved. 

12/06/2013

Tons of Tigers


To say I love tigers is pushing it.

Well, I do love the stripes of them, and the grace of them, and the wonderful design of them as created by a mighty God. In fact, I have clothes, shoes, watches, bags, and other accessories with tiger prints; I just can't get enough of tiger stripes.

12/02/2013

Beautiful Philippines


Whenever I go out of town with family, I keep wishing I had a better camera than my five-year-old-point-and-shoot Kodak. It has never captured the beauty of the country where I was born. 

But then, again, what better camera can record those awesome, breathtaking scenes than the memory of the heart?

11/28/2013

Adrian Island


I am still on an island faraway, and won't be back to earth till after Sunday, when the magic of our lives heads home to Pittsburgh.  

My island is indefinable by words and is somewhere out there, inaccessible by land, air or sea. It's inhabited by all kinds of creatures that kids love and play with in their daydreams, the world that children's storybooks are made of. 

11/24/2013

VIP Guest


Anytime now we will have a tiny, six-year-old guest at home.  He is so important I am closing shop so I can savor and revel in grace, unlimited even by our limited time with him. 
 
I will re-open in a few days.

11/23/2013

Blogging, Not slogging:

Seven years! 

My friend, Letty, once said I am a slogger.  Not to my face, of course. She told another friend—behind my back. After all, slogging is not a complimentary word to describe a friend, specially one who heads the creative department.   

I pondered that remark for an hour, and it comes back to me when I reflect on my work ethics.

It resurfaces again now, many years later, as I complete my seventh year of blogging tomorrow. Yes, seven years! And I never missed one self-imposed deadline yet—okay, late for a day or two when I am in bed, sick—not even when I am abroad or out-of-town with zero wi-fi connection. On those occasions, I blog offline and upload it immediately as soon as my laptop's little green light blinks.

This sure seems like slogging on the outside, but in all honesty (believe it or not), I enjoy every millisecond of blogging.

I think they call that “joy” (if you have a happier word, that would be it).  I enjoy writing every word, or changing it to another one, and I can't think of a better way to spend my time off from my real “job,” book writing, where, if you see me work, seems like I am slogging, too.  

Many people I know (throw in Tony in that group) start one thing and stop midway when they lose interest. I don't lose interest. Maybe because I don't start anything I am not interested in.

Well, I plead guilty to one. I dipped my toes in cooking because I was pressured from all corners to do so (“Every married woman should cook!”). Cooking never liked me, neither did I like it. So after two dishes in a span of months, which got two-thumbs-down reviews both times, I cried, uncle!

In a home where grace dwells, I have three sons and a husband who visit that place—which I don't, unless hogtied or threatened—every chance they get: the kitchen. They go there to cook, I remain in the dining room to eat.

Oh, but this post is not about that place. It is about this place, my seven-year-old blog. It has today over 198,000 hits from 178 countries, 727 posts, and 131 followers. In celebration, I am changing my old, fresh-leaves header . . .

. . . to leaves crafted by human hands—Ugu Bigyan's, a well-admired Filipino pottery artist:   

I can't compose an ode to Leaves of Grace, year 7, better than what Paul wrote to the Romans (Chapter 12: 6-8):  

“In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.” Romans 12:6-8 (NLT)

Lord, thank you for year seven and the years of joyful blogging I have left till you welcome me home. 

Photo credit: www.wikihow.com

11/19/2013

Opulence is Over and Out


Two years ago I was in Leyte province for a series of talks. One of the must-see places to where our host took us was the grand Olot mansion of the Marcoses.

The 17-room residence with an 18-hole golf course, which my friends and I toured with matching ooohs and aaahs, has lost its grandeur. It is now totally unrecognizable.

After super typhoon Yolanda, Leyte is one of 44 provinces that suffered untold losses. These include the mansion that used to proudly stand on a 42-hectare beach front property, which Imelda Marcos considered her family's ancestral home.

All gone in seconds.

It was reduced to a pile of rubble, according to Phil. Daily Inquirer. “The destruction of the controversial estate came nearly three years after the Supreme Court allowed her to retake the property, one of the assets of her husband, the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, which the government had sequestered, on suspicion it was ill-gotten.

“Leyte, which bore the brunt of the most destructive typhoon ever recorded, is one of the poorest provinces in the country . . . the caretaker recalled that a wall of seawater swallowed the entire property. Alas, this grandiose structure—a testament to Imelda Marcos’ wealth and power in her home province—is now gone.”

The quick, enormous destruction in many places wrought by this killer storm reminds me of the quickness of change that can happen to earthly us. This verse about Christ's second coming parallels the hurricane's velocity.

“It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.” 1 Corinthians 15:52 (NLT)

Nothing we have ever earned or hoarded on this planet—neither power nor riches—will  remain. Everything is ephemeral and could be over and out in an instant.

But by His grace, those who have clung to Jesus in turbulence or in peace will be raised up.

We continue to cling to this Hope. 

photo credit: newsinfo.inquirer.net

11/16/2013

Good Things Happen to Bad People


First, let's get this out of the way: Are you good or bad?

Jesus answers this in Mark 10:18 (NLT) "Why do you call me good? . . . Only God is truly good.”

So we are all lumped into one group. Yet we often ask, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” Or, “Why do bad things things happen to good people?”

The universal truth is, God's grace is for everyone. But to pursue the issue, let's put a tag on those who willfully do bad things and therefore dishonor God—bad; those who joyfully do good things to honor God—good.

We read about people in high positions with so much power and money they blatantly spend money not their own.

We read about filthy rich drug Lords and human traffickers who prey on innocent kids, making them addicts, slaves, and thieves, practically useless to society the rest of their lives. 

We read about wheeler-dealers and schemers who manipulate stocks and businesses so they can amass more wealth for their own benefit.

We read about popular men who are idolized by society despite their bevy of mistresses—all well provided for; their illegitimate children driving expensive sports cars followed by a trail of bodyguards.

In recent months, we've been reading about powers-that-be who have diverted people's money to fake NGOs to enrich themselves.

And in recent days, we've been reeling from the grief brought on by the worst natural disaster that ever hit the world—typhoon Yolanda—and people who loot, rape, kill, sow dissent, taking advantage of the misery of others.  

The above have it all—heaps of material things or bullying power ordinary beings can't even imagine.

In contrast . . .

We read nothing of hard-working men and women who sacrifice the little that they have for those who have less in life . . . of starving evangelists who try to spread the goodness of the Lord in places unknown . . . of generous hearts who are constantly on the look out for people with whom they can share their meager resources . . . the list is endless.

Why good things happen to bad people, why corrupt and greedy people prosper, is difficult to understand. 

Even Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived (save Jesus, of course), believed to be the writer of Ecclesiastes, said in Chapter 8:14, “And this is not all that is meaningless in our world. In this life, good people are often treated as though they were wicked, and wicked people are often treated as though they were good. This is so meaningless!”

His explanation, “But even though a person sins a hundred times and still lives a long time, I know that those who fear God will be better off.”

Since Adam's and Eve's fall, we have lived in a fallen world, where man has a free will to decide for himself. Good or evil, the results have been catastrophic. 

But this I believe, a very bad thing will happen someday to all who ignore Jesus Christ and a very good thing will happen to those who call Him Savior. Either we will be separated from God forever or we will be with the Lord for eternity.

We will give an account for what we have done in our life and justice will be served. Everything will be made right. Today is our day of salvation through Jesus, if we call on Him now.  Acts 4:12 (NLT), “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

So yes, good things happen to bad people. And bad things happen to good people.

photo credit: www.jordilabs.com

11/13/2013

Beyond Measure


Typhoon Yolanda, which slammed the Philippines with ruthless fury, “was so powerful that instruments can't measure it's force.” That's according to Hugh Willoughby, professor of meteorology at Florida International University.

It pummeled to destruction anything and anyone in its path.

No figure of speech could capture its rage. 

“It cut through Tacloban like a scythe.”

“Catastrophic waves pounded the shores and flattened structures, crushing bodies underneath.”

“Winds came like hundreds of planes flying overhead and hundreds of trucks driving back and forth.”

“It tore children from their parents' arms.”

“Water, rushing up to the second floor in seconds, drowned families.”

“Worse than being in hell.”

“Bodies are scattered all over; many are being fished out of the sea.”

“The dead are thrown into mass graves without body bags.”

“People are walking dazed, looking for the missing.” 

“The damage rose to an extent more than can be ever be quantified.”


Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), the most terrifying typhoon that ever hit land on record, was beyond measure.

Now is the time to look up to heaven for grace and mercy. Let us not allow ourselves to be distracted by brickbats that crush the spirit and words more hurtful than what has already hit us.

May we come together in prayer, to help and encourage each other with kind words and swift action, and rid ourselves of political affiliations and ambitions, biases, selfishness, anger, and evil design to take advantage of the situation.  

In the words of our Lord Jesus, this is who we are and how we should conduct ourselves, especially at a difficult time such as this:

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father." Matthew 5:13-16 (NLT)

Lord, please give us a generous, understanding, and encouraging heart—beyond measure. 

Photo credit: abscbnnews.com

11/09/2013

Dust to Dust


Undas, the local translation of "Day of the Dead" (Halloween, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day that run from the eve of October 31 to Nov. 2 and are declared pubic holidays), is a festival that is both religious and a cultural practice in the Philippines.

It is a time of gaiety and family gatherings in cemeteries all over the land. In the same way that Christmas and Holy Week are times for going home, Undas builds horrific traffic snarls on all roads leading to cemeteries.

If I were an active participant of this practice, I'd need not a day (with the bumper-to-bumper thoroughfares) but a week to visit all the cemeteries where my loved ones are buried—in Manila and the provinces.

But I believe that those who bade us good-bye and left earth are no longer in the plots where we laid them to rest. That's why I do not leave home on Undas. My siblings make time to meet up and visit our parents' tombs in the province, and Tony drives 50 kilometers to Holy Cross to visit our Adrian's plot—not on that exact day but thereabouts. 

This year, he planned on going again and I planned on staying home. But two days before Undas, we both had to attend a planning meeting for our clan reunion in a home close to Holy Cross. He decided to drive to the memorial park early before attending the meeting.

Since he owns the steering wheel, I was totally at his mercy. He left me with no choice but to ride along.

As he does every year, he called a caretaker to cut the grass and scrub the tomb clean. The sun was harsh and the heat was oppressive, but waited we did till the caretaker had finished all her chores. 

These shots tell the story of the ritual of remembering: the cleaning time, the waiting time, the surveying time, and the paying time.




What looks like a mother grieving is actually an old lady shielding her eyes from the glare.

I cannot speak for Tony but for me, although Adrian will forever remain in my middle, Grace has taken away my grief; in its place came peace and understanding that someday I will see my son again in that great beyond where he and I, and all our loved ones buried in all cemeteries combined, will meet for the grand reunion. 

Cemeteries remind us that our mortal bodies, created from dust, will return to dust. "All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return." Ecclesiastes 3:20 (NIV)

Then all believers in the saving grace of Jesus will be given glorified bodies to live with Him for ever and ever. ". . . and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it." Ecclesiastes 12:7
 

11/06/2013

I Don't Want to Judge


At first blow, this is a noble statement among believers in Christ.

It is also what we call, in these days of compromise, tolerance, individuality, and universality, "politically correct."

Many are now of the opinion that every being has the right to say whatever he wants and what to do with his life. We should therefore not rock the boat or be branded as self righteous.

If you as much say a peep about the Word, about what is right or wrong, the world will hit you back with what is also in the Bible, "He who casts the first stone has no sin."

Touche.

What now? Can we censure, correct, or rebuke? Unless it is within our inner circle (family, close friends, and church mates), we are afraid of being lynched if we even try.

This dilemma has bothered me as I watch with grief the way the world is going—people do what they want, sow seeds of hatred, and express rudely what they find wrong in everything and everyone. 

“I don't want to judge” then, among Christians, is a convenient escape, a cloak of neutrality, and a washing-of-hands stance. It is an abdication of the responsibility of God's children to lead people to the one true Path, Jesus.

Every day, all sins and abominations in the Bible are blatantly committed, outrageously misinterpreted, and shamelessly edited to suit ways of living that benefit the cravings of the self.

That's why the pitfall of "I don't want to judge" is that we can dive into the same hole and nobody will say we're wrong, because they, too, "don't want to judge." Before long, we could also fall into this ugly chasm of unrightable but acceptable wrongs.  

Our only safety net is God's grace.   

His Word shows us how to conduct ourselves at all times. One of them is engraved on a pen given to me (and which I also try to engrave in my heart) by my publisher, OMF Lit: Philippians 4:8 (NLT), ". . . Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise."

In the Bible there are promises of hope, one of them is: 

Psalm 96: 13 (NLT), ". . . Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for He comes, He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness."

“I don't want to judge?” Well, we will all be judged.

11/03/2013

ASAP

This acronym is the rhythm of people in advertising, where I learned my sense of urgency. Men and women move, get things done, and define ASAP the way it should be.  

"ASAP can also apply to politicians," my friend V says. "Take some of our senators, congressmen, and barangay officials. When we say, 'What a wretched man we elected into office!' the wretched man becomes richer and more powerful ASAP," she adds.

Except for V's commentary, I think ASAP is taken seriously only by admen, who are deadline-oriented and result-focused—they are forever on their toes or they lose an account to someone whose ASAP is even faster.

In the real world, people generally take their own sweet time. They seem to be in no hurry.

I usually wait one hour, or more, for my doctor; stand in line for the same length of time at my bank; count days before I get a response for a request from a government bureau; send three messages to a friend before he finds time to text back. Why, we've been waiting for years and years for peace to reign in Mindanao!   

ASAP, I have discovered, is not a proprietary tool of people in advertising (or politics, as my friend V cited). It is as old as the hills.

It was invented in Bible times. As I continue to read about God's prophets and people, I find ASAP to have been their rhythm, too. In those days they were enabled by God to get things done ASAP.

Moses parted the Red Sea in half by simply raising his staff so the the Israelites, on foot, can escape unscathed from the pursuit of Egyptians soldiers, in carriages.

Elijah parted the Jordan river to cross it.  

Jesus made the blind see again, the lame walk again, and the sick well again. ASAP.

The walls of Jericho came crashing down after the people of Israel marched around them for seven days.

Lot's wife turned to salt with one quick backward look.

Aaron's rod turned into a serpent, surprising Egypt's powerful Pharaoh. 

Joshua won battles after battles as soon as God told him He would.

A whole tribe or town of pagans or idol worshipers would be razed to the ground with God's say-so.

I can go on.

Yes, ASAP originated from God almighty when He created the world and everything in it in six days.

Today, Jesus likewise gives us the grace of forgiveness ASAP when we come to Him repentant and ask Him to come into our hearts. 1 John 1:9 (NLT) reads, ". . . if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness."

I think ASAP, in God's dictionary, is the acronym of grace.

10/30/2013

Talking to Tony


Not counting in the Tony I live with, I know over a dozen other Tonys.

One of them is my neighbor. He sat across me at one of the dinner tables at a mutual friend's birthday celebration last night. We talked shop—beginning with the day he and his wife welcomed my family to the neighborhood, to our children now all grown-up with families all their own.

Then as sure as night follows day, our conversation moved to illnesses and medication. This Tony is an engineer, but sounds like a physician. He knows all the medical terms of his physical infirmities and the generic terms of his prescribed medicines.

He's suffering from gazillions of ailments—diabetes and all its complications, a knee injury that may soon need surgery, failing eyesight due to cataracts, and a hearing impairment from loud gunshots during shooting practices in his youth.  His most fervent prayer request is to live four more years for his 50th wedding anniversary.

He now goes around the mall in a wheelchair, but can still do chores like hosing the plants in his garden, which is where I see him when I do my walks early in the morning.

After that sumptuous party meal, falling asleep for me was easier than usual. By 8 PM, I was all zonked out. Then at around 12 midnight, I woke up with a nagging ache in my right hip.

Kidneys! Exactly like Tony's graphic description of kidney pain.

My tummy did a somersault. Acid reflux! The symptoms are exactly as Tony described them as well.

I tossed and turned, counted my blessings, but couldn't go back to sleep. I tried to rub on liniment over my kidneys and drank hot water for my acid reflux. Nothing worked.   
So now I am on my computer, my panacea for everything I feel. One blog might lull me back to sleep.

Thank God for Tony—not the ailing neighbor, although I thank God for him, too—the one who's now sleeping like a log in my bed, nights are not always like this. He gets me occupied with challenges that keep my mind off my errant imagination or hypochondria.  

He has taken to occasional nagging these days (“You forgot to turn off the hallway light.” “You have to charge your cellphone.” “Take your bath now before it gets too cold.” “How come your son isn't home yet?” “You're eating that for breakfast?!.” etc.), but he talks not about kidneys and tummies but about the latest juggernaut in the current book he's reading.

He also always (!) has an opinion on current events, issues—local, regional, international—and always (!) defends a side with the verbal passion and language of a young activist.

Hey, the pain in my kidneys has eased, and the acid in my tummy has calmed down. I just might take that oft-postponed blood lab test—first thing next week.

I think Grace is singing me a lullaby; I'll go back to sleep now. Good night. Rather, good morning!

10/26/2013

Intense Ike


If you're looking for an example of a young over-achiever, you should meet my student Ike*. Everything he does is an overkill.

When I assign the class to write an email, he writes three versions, and also turns in a whole discourse on how email came to be. 

He reminds me of Auguste Rodin's “The Thinker,” that bronze sculpture which is cast in over 25 multiple versions (plus many more in various sizes) and is strewn around the world. This must have been modeled by the likes of Ike.

I am not ratting on Ike; in fact, I feel privileged to have a student like him who takes me seriously—so seriously he spends sleepless nights on a project.

“Do you ever sleep?” I asked him once. 

“Sometimes,” he replied.

“Enjoy what you do. Otherwise, you're headed to . . .”

“Burn out,” he finished my sentence. “How can I do that?” he asked.

That was the hardest question asked of me, next to, “What do you enjoy more, reading or writing?”  

“I like working as hard as you do,” I said, stalling for time. “In fact, I can write non-stop from morning till night, but I feel great doing it. What do you enjoy doing?”

“Sports,” he said. “Running and basketball.” 

“These make you happy? Very happy?”

“Yes!” he exclaimed with a ghost of a smile.

“Do you feel the same way when you do your projects for my class?”

Silence.

“Try to figure out why you go beyond what is required,” I said. He compensates for my students who turn in haphazard work.

“I want a grade of D,” he said frankly. (D is for distinction, the highest grade one can achieve in the university where I teach.)

“Well, a D is forthcoming,” I said. For effort and intensity, I thought. 

“It is?” He seemed shocked, but couldn't keep a grin from breaking.

“I am here to help—find time to consult me before turning in your work,” I said.

Your grammar is faulty and your work is not thought through, these I said silently until these words came out of my mouth, “Ike, I appreciate your walking the extra mile. But I suggest you focus on just the requirement, instead of doing more. You'll have more time to make it better, I promise you.” You'll have more time to sleep, too.

Then I added a cliche for good measure, "Quality, not quantity."

Ike allowed himself a toothy grin, easing up a little. He heaved a sigh of relief, as though waiting for that bit of reassurance.   

We do need to be reassured about the things we do. That's why God reassures us again and again that His grace will always help us. In Hebrews 4:16 (ESV), “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” 

I get a serving of this grace every time I talk to Ike, and I hope he does, too, when he talks to me.

*Not his real name

10/22/2013

When the Earth Shakes


The earthquake of 7.2 magnitude that shook, and is still shaking the Visayas this month, made me fully understand what verses 1-6 in Psalm 19 mean.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
    The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
    night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
    their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
    and their words to all the world.
(NLT)

All we need is gaze up and see the most awesome scenes poets and astronomers (with their loftiest thoughts, words, and metaphors) have tried to describe, but have fallen short. 

The clouds of endless forms, the tranquility and turbulence beyond and below them, the brightness of day through a sun, the shimmer of night through moons and stars—they have no words, but every single second, hour, day, they declare the glory of God.

This mute, continuing testimony is a declaration of the loudest kind, and yet they have no words.

How can there be no God?

And then we look down and the earth shakes. It cracks, it breaks. Giant, man-made buildings, bridges, roads, and homes crumble to the ground in seconds. The treasures of nature—hills, trees, fields, and rocks—they crack wide open, changing the landscape.

We are powerless against the wrath of nature; we can all turn to rubble; everything we have ever built and horded can be buried in soil.   

Like the heavens, the earth and everything in it have no words, but when it shakes, it speaks—in the clearest manner—of the power of the same God who created the spectacle of everything above us.

According to the late Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers of all time, “The message of the heavens and the earth is not addressed to our ears and not uttered in sounds we are familiar with.The message is for our eyes and heart.”
   
Their testimony is for every man. Now that the land we stand on is still shaking every so often with hundreds of aftershocks, we continue to pray for safety, comfort, sustenance, and protection.
   
Spurgeon explained, “Nature's words are like those of the deaf and dumb, but grace tells us plainly of the Father.” Yes, it tells us boldly of the Father whose glory the heavens declare.

These are the current quake's silent but jolting speech:


In the silence, we hear power, glory, majesty, sovereignty, and dominion over all creation.

Only when we open the Scriptures does God speak to us in words.  

How can anyone play deaf to the presence of God?

Photo credits

10/18/2013

A Perfect Date


Stretch limo . . . formal suit and gown . . . a long and winding road . . . perfume . . . posh resto . . . a table for two . . . violins . . . dim lights . . . gourmet food . . . fresh flowers . . . sweet nothings.

TOINK! 

Tony decided to join me in my plan to hitch a ride with JR who had a client call in Divisoria, a shopping district that sells everything at wholesale, dirt-cheap prices.

For me, a small brand-new car (JR's) could rival a limo . . . shorts and  thongs . . . a chaotic melange of hawkers, tricycles, delivery carts, pedestrians, and garbage trucks on a stretch masquerading as a five-lane road stopped and assaulted us with stench every inch of the way:

We entered the old Tutuban train station, still stately but has lost its old glory . . . JR hurried to his meeting and we squeezed into a crowded table at McDonald's to quiet our irate tummies . . . munching on burgers and fries, I glimpsed plastic flowers in a kiosk nearby . . . shouting was the only way to have a conversation over loud rock music and shoppers' chatter. It was nine AM.   

“What time do we go home?” Tony yelled.

“After JR's meeting!” I yelled back.

“What time?” 

I shrugged. Law firms are paid by the hour so who's counting?

The stalls had everything—from can openers to curtains. Up and down escalators, we visited every stall, twice, thrice, slogged through mud outside, bought the trimmings I wanted for my Christmas tree, and before noon, I was done.

“Has JR called yet?”

“Nope.”

We headed to another crowded diner for lunch. Re-visiting again the stalls later, Tony found the Hawaiian shirt, the six-pocket shorts, and the bag for his tablet he couldn't find anywhere before that date. They were being sold for a song but he haggled anyway.

Eureka, we found Randy McDonald's bench vacant! My date took a nap while I took in more stores. 

More hours, aching feet and back later, Tony asked, “Has JR called yet?”

“Nope.”

So we squeezed into another crowded coffee shop and parked our whining bones. 

“Has JR called yet?”

“Nope.” It was the longest time Tony and I were in one shopping place together. Rather, it was the only time Tony went shopping with me.

When nightfall arrived, we had to have supper at another crowded diner. With my spoon midway between my chest and mouth, my phone rings. The driver says, “JR is waiting for you in the car.”

That was the perfect call. Grace came to end a perfect date.

P.S.

We plan to do it again. Let me change that; I think I want to do it again. There's a fat 1% chance it'll be another perfect date.
 

10/14/2013

What Color Am I?


Color has played a big part in our political scene.

During campaign time, parties become brands; they choose a particular color to distinguish them from other brands. Red, yellow, blue, green, purple, orange—each for a political party or a candidate. 

This color phenomenon was birthed when Ninoy Aquino, then a political exile in America, came home and was killed at the Manila International Airport (now known as Ninoy Aquino International airport).

For this grand homecoming of Martial Law's most vocal foe, people tied yellow ribbons all over. Taking off from the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” pro-democracy Filipinos tied yellow ribbons not just around tree branches but around their car's antenna or anything that resembled a branch. Metro Manila blossomed with yellow ribbons.  

In the next three years, yellow would be the color of protest against the dictatorship. And yellow became the color of people power and those associated with it: yellow is the color of our president, PNoy; yellow army is how his supporters are called.

Today, there are issues on grand-scale corruption, involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) handled by our law makers. Nicknamed the PDAF scam, it has stoked anger among tax payers, prompting them to mount an anti-PDAF campaign at the Luneta.

I attended that massive rally, together with an estimated 200,000 people of all political colors. Result: PNoy suspended the PDAF; the Department of Justice and the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee are conducting investigations and inquiries into the issue; the alleged facilitator of the scam, Jeanette Napoles, is in jail awaiting judicial process, etc.

Because the scam involves moneyed and powerful politicians, who can manipulate the hysterical media, the issue has morphed into a dozen derivatives. A second rally was mounted: anti-PDAF; “oust PNoy, he's involved”; down with the government; close the senate and congress; damn the Philippines.

This rally, which became a clash of colors instead of being united against one issue, I skipped. About 3,500 people attended it.

So what color am I?

One of the organizers of the Million People March at Luneta, Peachy Rallonza-Bretana (who disagreed with the multi-intent of the 2nd rally), captured my thoughts on FB through a poster by Betty Abrantes.

(English translation: I am not yellow. I am not green. I am not red. I am not blue. I am not orange. I AM A FILIPINO. This is my color.)

On the issue of corruption, my color is Filipino.

As such, ranting and raving are out of the question. Instead, I pray for grace to help my color live these verses, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;  for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)

May every Filipino who dons this color be granted this grace.

10/10/2013

Who Killed Kae?

Death of a loved is not something you can put behind you—ever. The ache will dull in time, but it stays; it throbs intensely on some days and faintly on others.

I've had my share of deaths in the family—son, father, mother, mom-in-law, dad-in-law, aunts and uncles, and many more. It is like being trapped in the darkest cavern, not knowing how to get out. But grace pokes a hole into the darkness and light streams though.

That's why I am on the same page as Kae's family, especially because of the manner in which she left us all.

The crime has been neatly tied up by the NBI, case closed, punishment will come to the cheap thugs who murdered her. But it is precisely the neatness of the wrap-up that perplexes us—those whose lives Kae touched at one point in her short journey.

Neat.

That word brings us to how the NBI re-enacted the crime. So neat that we, Tony Calvento (veteran columnist and broadcast journalist) among us, question:

“Random act of robbery.” Why leave Kae's engagement ring and watch intact? Why not just run off with her car and its contents instead of dragging her into it? Why ply a gated subdivision, risking the guardhouse, instead of prowling through main streets for victims? Why kill her with such passion? Why burn her car instead of selling it for a sum?  

Reading similar questions on FB's “Justice for Kae,” a wall administered by Kae's loved ones, is like dredging the deep pain they already feel. But questions need to be asked; the investigation leaves gaps even an amateur sleuth can see. 

Digging up the truth worsens the torment, but I think that in our search for justice, grace will help us bear it all, so the mastermind/s can't go scot-free, laughing all the way to bank with 2.5 million pesos. 

Where is justice for Kae?

This reminds me of the Lord's admonition to the Israelites, which might well be His admonition to the NBI and the police—and the perpetrators of this unconscionable murder:

“You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:19-20)

Lord, help us find justice for our dear Kae. Help us have Your “gift of land.”

Photo credit: FB Justice for KAE

10/07/2013

The Indies


Four out of the five independent films were great; however, they were 10 minutes too long, which kept them from moving up to excellent.

That, in one sentence, is my personal review of the films we chose to watch on the last day of Cinemalaya 9 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines this year. The 5th one, which I will not name, should not have been filmed.

One day in a year, my sons, close friends, and I make time for indie films during the week-long Cinemalaya Festival. It's a time for re-connecting with old friends, supporting the film industry, and seeing life the way it is.  Indies show us the harsh realities of life which we gloss over the rest of the year.

Through five to eight films (including shorts), we zoom into the world we live in—in the raw, uncloaked by showbiz glitz.

This year we waited for the last day, after all the reviews had come in, instead of the first, which had been our tradition.

What we missed were speeches of the directors and producers and photo ops with various cast on opening night.

What we gained were the picks of the lot—noteworthy films that won most of the recognition on Awards Night.

“Great” indeed would be the adjective I'd stick to for four of the films: Transit, Babagwa, Ekstra, and Quick Change. Casting, acting, cinematography, directing, and over-all impact, two thumbs up.

Again, my only beef is the extra “10 minutes” that made each film drag in parts. Had the editor cut a few seconds here and there in some scenes, the flow and tempo would have been crisper. 

For instance, there was that scene where the camera followed the actress all over the room and into the bathroom . . . that scene where the players walked from one end of the river to the other . . . those scenes repeated a few times to make a point, but still had the same length each time . . . those prolonged explicit sex gymnastics.

Our collective thoughts: these drawn-out scenes had nothing spectacular to say further, except to hold the plot at a standstill, so why dwell on them?

Long scenes are not new in cinema, but the exceptional films that employed this technique had something important to dramatize, adding texture to the over-all concept (Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa are famous for those).

My “10-minute” discontent notwithstanding, I remain a viewer of Cinemalaya—it adds dimension to the arid and cruel landscapes of life that remain so because grace is ignored or unrecognized.

I hope to learn more in year 10 next year. 

10/03/2013

Throwback Thursday

This photo was unearthed from an auntie's (the lady with the "x") old album, and sent via email to our clan e-groups. My nephew, Mutch, who lives in the US, considered it an irreplaceable treasure and had it restored and enlarged.

What would have been unthinkable in the past is now a cinch to do. Courtesy of modern technology, here's the photo we have today:

It shows my maternal grandparents and their nine children, taken way before the third generation (mine) came to be. My mother (third from right, second row), seventh in the order of sibling succession, must have been in her twenties.

We bring the framed photo to our yearly reunion, now on its 69th year.

Growing up, I had the privilege of receiving counsel and learning important values from them before they all went to glory, and probably now singing old hymns of worship at Jesus' feet. 

Funny that Throwback Thursday (hashtag #TBT), an invention of social media users of this generation, can make people of bygone times scramble for photos of yesteryears and connect the ancient humanoids with the modern cyberoids. 

This trend has caught on, and some netizens have expanded the content of TBT to include songs and videos from the past.

There can be no telling where grace will continue to take me as I grow in years—but now I can quickly shuttle between then and now with clear, sharp photos such as this, and make the link between roots and wings.

9/29/2013

Shine and Zoom


With a stubborn flu virus keeping me in bed for days, I couldn't shine nor zoom, even if I tried. So this post about the children's party I got invited to is awfully late.

The party was actually mine—well, only in the sense that the invitations were issued in my name by Church Strengthening Ministry (CSM), publisher of my two devotionals for children, “Shine” (for girls) and “Zoom” (for boys), launched at the Manila International Book Fair. 

“Shine” comes from Matthew 5:16, which is actually my life verse. I quote the KJV version because that's what is stored in my brain's RAM drive: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." 

“Zoom” comes from Philippians 3:12, “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (NLT)

I don't get invited to children's parties anymore. So you can imagine my excitement to be a part of this one.

It had everything I remember about every children's party in my past life—balloons, a puppet show, storytelling, raffle prizes, games, food, emcees—a celebration of God's goodness.   

The kids came with their moms, dads, grandparents, and yayas. Young and old had a riotous time.

After the unveiling of the books, I got a beautiful bouquet of roses and a cool sign pen from CSM, then the chat with the children began. This part of the party included photo ops with every friend who came around.

They don't make parties like this anymore—not in my world, not since I got my senior discount card. The event even had Pastor Reuel and his six-year-old daughter, Mika, thrown in as super emcees.

Grace also came in a neatly wrapped package. It had in it a publishing team that shines and zooms in bringing God closer to kids through these devotionals: Faye and Nadz, illustrators; Daff, project editor; Joy, editorial manager; and Abner, CEO.

Can a recovering flu victim ask for happier memories?
 

9/27/2013

The Color of Flu


Blue is the color of flu. The bug got to me—and it seems to be the stubborn, thorny variety. 

The bed is not exactly the best place to be, but grace doesn't choose the spaces where it goes. I keep finding it there. 

Meanwhile, my shop is closed today.

Photo: by Dhara Shah

9/22/2013

The White Shoes

As a young reader, I used to hate authors writing about their books' back story. I wanted to keep books pure in my mind.

But in later years, I started reading reviews. Now I read reviews before I buy a book.

After I had become an author myself, I learned to google and discovered that back stories actually make books even more interesting! 

So now I am about to write one. It is not my intention to turn off readers who, like I once did, hate back stories.  

“The White Shoes” came to me like a flash flood. I was busy threshing out book ideas piled in my head, and I had just decided never again to join any writing competition—it is a stressful preoccupation. (This will be explained in a separate blog post.) 

But Rose, my friend and co-teacher, and I were idly chatting one day about our uncomfortable high-heeled shoes in school. She mentioned her friend, Eva, who was so poor she only owned a grubby pair of black shoes. So Eva had to scrounge around for her graduation white shoes.

Deeply affected by the story of Eva's youth, I scribbled on my little notebook some key words. As soon as I got home that night, I fleshed out those words.

From that day, I wrote and re-wrote a story now begging to be told. I took liberties with Eva's shoes—twisted, turned and tangled details—and got my first draft done. (It takes a long time for my writing lamp to burn. Unlike some writers who are able to whip up a story in a day, I agonize over every character, scene, and word, sometimes for months.)

When I finally had the guts to let Rose read my draft (5th or 6th), she sniffled, “I love it!” I wasn't prepared for that reaction; her tears bothered me. I wanted the story light, not mushy or a tear-jerker. I simply wanted children to be grateful for what they are blessed with. 
 
I revised the story many more times and again, showed it to Rose. She smiled through all the pages—but still wiped a tear. One tear, I thought, isn't so bad. Kids are less generous with their tears anyway.

That was also a moment of decision—I sent the manuscript (probably my 56th revision) to the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards 2012. More flash floods, like flash grace, came after that:

It won first prize; it would be published by OMF Lit who chose Sergio Bumatay III as illustrator. I am a fan of Serge, who has, to date, reaped many international awards.

Serge, however, couldn't work on “The White Shoes” till after five months. Joan, my editor, and I decided to wait . . . and wait . . . and wait.
                                                  ooo
                                                         
Seven months later, inside the OMF Lit booth at the Manila International Book Fair, I saw for the first time the printed book, in “Kraft” paper, symbolic of shoe boxes. I caressed every page, seeing how much of Serg's heart is in the story:  

Eva poignantly looks down all the way till the end when she finally looks up, surrounded by shoes of all kinds, and smiles.

I likewise looked up, surrounded by books of all kinds, and smiled to thank the Source of books and shoes. I prayed that young readers would always be grateful for their blessings.