Any time of day either shines in the glow of sunlight or dims with the blessing of rain. Whichever way, we bask or soak in the glory of God's grace.
For me, however, the most glorious time of day is when the morning breaks, minus the rain. The night quietly leaves and daylight eagerly comes to rouse and keep us going. This in-between hour is when I choose to walk, usually alone in the first 30 minutes, then met by others in the next.
This is also when I try hard to imagine that very first morning a long time ago when the Lord almighty created the world , but can't. For no imagination can ever recreate that very first day when our world was made.
What I am sure about, though, is that when the sun kisses the last of darkness, there are similarities, as captured in words and notes by this old Christian hymn, which I also often sing to praise the God who makes me experience the breaking of morn:
Morning has broken, like the first morning.
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird.
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning,
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word.
Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlight from heaven.
Like the first dew fall, on the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden,
Sprung in completeness where His feet pass.
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning.
Born of the one light Eden saw play.
Praise with elation, praise every morning;
God's recreation of the new day.
Morning has broken, like the first morning.
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird.
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning,
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word.
(This was set to the tune of a Gaelic song, Bunessan; written by Eleanor Farjeon in 1931. Cat Stevens popularized it 40 years later.)
Photo: by Karen
Even the most placid existence can sometimes be wracked by a turbulence so fierce it gives one a thousand sleepless nights.
If you're going through a storm in your life at the moment, try listening to "Blessings" by Laura Story, an American contemporary Christian music singer-songwriter.
This song was soulfully rendered in a duet in our church last Sunday by our Praise and Worship team, and I was blown away. The lyrics say that life's disturbances that cause us so much pain, "remind the heart that this is not our home."
"Blessings" might well be Laura's own prayer. When she was just married in 2006, her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor and contracted meningitis during the delicate surgery. Imagine the fear and uncertainty the young couple have had to face together—up to this day when total healing has not been granted.
Life-altering struggles—a family broken, health snuffed out by a dreaded disease or accident, savings of a lifetime lost, a business gone bad, a loved one's life cut short, friendships betrayed, a dream crushed, a reputation soiled—make us ask God plaintively:
"What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near?
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?"
This song, which won a Grammy Award in the Best Contemporary Christian Song category in 2012, must have resonated with millions of people, it reached No. 1 on the Billboard of Christian Songs chart.
I am borrowing parts of Laura's lyrics as I ask for grace today. Pray with me?
“We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things
“'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise . . .”
Lord, please spare me from any more sleepless nights to make me know you're near.
(To listen to the whole song, click this link.)
The twins, Maika and Nikka, now 9, are growing up really fast. Pretty soon, they will be taller than I am—as all the people in my circle are.
Tony has slackened his pace in tutoring since he heard from the twins' school principal that these little dynamos are both doing well.
One won in a Tula (Poem) Contest and the other is acing her math subjects. Their 3rd grade report cards, which they and their mother (their father had recently passed away after a lingering illness) showed us with pride just before classes begun, prove good performance.
What makes them such a delight is their wide-eyed enthusiasm in learning anything new. I pray that hubby and I will still have enough strength be able to afford their schooling upkeep. Otherwise, they should be on their own sooner than later.
This doesn't worry me as much as it did when they were still in first grade. At age 7 then, they still couldn't distinguish A from Z, nor name any animal except cat and dog.
After three years in a good school (Alliance Christian School and Tutorial Services or ACTS), with nurturing and caring teachers who believe in the power of grace, they can now read with ease, speak English, know Bible stories and the animals of God's creation.
I am sure that our heavenly Father has instilled in these two little clones the solid values they should grow up with in the years to come.
Thank you, Lord, for giving us the privilege and joy to help, in our own little way, two children whom you love. Amen.
(Conclusion, continued from yesterday's post; you may scroll down for Parts 1 and 2)
As I write this chapter about my father, everything seems so anti-climactic. Thus far, it is like a badly-said joke without any punch line. Psychologists term it "coming to terms." Old folks say, growing up. Close kin say, bouncing back. Friends say, thicker hide. I say, answered prayers.
My father didn't change. I did.
Where I used to have blinkers and saw only his drinking, now with hindsight, I could see all the other sides of him too—clearly, objectively, sans the callowness of my youth.
Sometime between JC's third and fourth birthday, my father finally kicked the alcohol habit totally, cold turkey. Maybe because he was already feeling the early pains of cancer, which claimed his life a few years later, or because he didn't need it anymore.
Whatever. At that point, it didn't matter to me one way or the other. My father and I—well, he was my father. The stranger was gone forever.
And today, as I recall those years I spent with my father, my memories of him dwell wonderfully on the redeeming sober moments and all of his latter years: his frequent trips to my own home where he planted fruit-bearing trees in the yard, how he played with my sons, how he chatted away with my husband, how he braved those radiation therapies and surgeries, and how he left with incredible valor. I felt no trace of the agony that dogged me for years.
In fact, it took time before I could write the details about that debilitating syndrome which crippled me in my younger life. I had to look at pictures of snow to make me remember the depths of my feelings during that one last eventful attack in Chicago. It took quite an effort to describe the ghosts which terrified and hounded that little girl who, upon turning into a woman, escaped from home because there lurked a stranger.
Again, why am writing this at all?
I recently dug up a twenty-five-year-old, tattered little book entitled It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown by Charles Schulz. It is about this little kid Linus who, every Halloween, waits for the Great Pumpkin. Linus believes that the only way to celebrate Halloween is to sit in a sincere pumpkin patch and wait for it to come.
A person has to be very sincere in his waiting so the Great Pumpkin will not pass him by. In the book, it doesn't arrive, but Linus—whose childlike faith in someone greater, kinder and more powerful than anyone he has ever known—says with conviction, "Next year, he'll come. Just you wait and see!"
On the first page of the book is a handwritten message of my father, a confirmed book enthusiast till the end, to my son, JC.
"Dear JC, When you will be grown up and I will be gone, you will know what the Great Pumpkin is. Lolo Mateo."
I feel that the message was scrawled for me. I am grown up (well, how else would you call a golden girl?) and he is gone (fifteen years now), and I certainly know what a Great Pumpkin is. Like a Linus, I may have sat sincerely in a pumpkin patch for many years, waited, and kept the faith. Because one day, God rewarded me not in the way I wanted Him to, but in a much bigger fashion I never imagined possible.
My one regret is, I wasn't able to say this to my father before he left us all to be with our heavenly Father, "Thank you for the lesson of the Great Pumpkin, Daddy."
(“Gifts of Grace” Book 1, from where this chapter My Father Mateo was lifted, is now an e-book. So are “Gifts of Grace” Vols. 2 and 3)
(Continued from yesterday's post—you may scroll down for Part 1; lifted from a chapter of my book "Gifts of Grace" Vol. 1)
And so the disturbed, alcohol-phobic young lady nurtured the perpetual hope that one day soon, if she was good and sincere, her father would turn away from alcohol; or he'd stay the way he really was, at least, when her friends were around. Year after year, she prayed. And she waited and waited and waited for the answer. Either the father didn't know how his daughter felt or he just couldn't help himself.
From that cold winter night in Chicago, the distressed lady settled into a comfortable home-away-from-home with her foster parents—a childless uncle and his doting American wife. She made new friends, in all colors. She saw prejudice at close range—the contrast between the city's north white side and the south black side, where the ghettos were. On her way to and from school, she walked by bums in the park and celebrities at Sak's Fifth Avenue.
On weekends, she joined a church singing group. By day, she read glossy magazines and drama books. By night, she directed and rehearsed plays, then finished two more degrees. She wrote for a Filipino newspaper in Chicago and got engaged to her editor-in-chief.
In all those times, she didn't have another attack. So after five years in a foreign land, she came into her own and decided it was safe to go back home.
When she came back to the Philippines, the first order of the day was to marry her fiancè in Manila where they decided to make their home. But before she could get married, as a dutiful daughter, she had to breeze through her family home in the province, where there was a small get-together. Alcohol was served, a few toasts were exchanged. She braced for an attack. But none came.
At her wedding, her father donned his best barong, and was in his best behavior throughout the reception where alcohol flowed generously. She thought that maybe she was too in love to notice otherwise.
A new home, a new life, a new job—they all kept her busy and happy. Then her first son, JC, was born. Predictably, her father was the first guest. He took the bus all the way from Dagupan, where his office was. He had in his arms a blue life-size toy poodle for his first grandson.
Since then, he and his wife, would visit the baby most weekends. The new grandparents loved playing with and taking care of JC. Although there was no rule against drinking at his daughter's home, he would, every so often, go to the small sari-sari store nearby and when he'd come back, he'd smell of gin or San Miguel beer. But the young mother was distressed no more.
Finally I've come to the part of my story which I could clearly remember.
From that time, his change of mien—from the daddy I loved to the stranger I loathed—after a few gulps of alcohol did not trigger in me any adverse reaction anymore. Not even a slight symptom. The panic attack in the snowstorm near Chicago's Old Town six years earlier seemed too remote to remember. Before long, I could attend a party and banter with people in various stages of inebriation.
What was even more surprising was, I could already openly talk about my father's love affair with alcohol, without a tinge of the embarrassment I had felt in those dark years. And the most surprising of all was, my new friends half listened, like they did to a ho-hum small talk about the weather. I could almost read the word "So?" written on their faces.
My younger sister's reaction was even more perplexing. She looked at me like someone who just landed from Mars. Was my father's drinking binges then so insignificant that it was peremptorily dismissed? Was it not even passable material for gossip or scandal?
I think it was at those precise moments when I finally broke free from the remaining shackles of a self-imposed bondage. Everything that ate me up about the sot, the not-so-respectable stranger was no big deal to everyone who knew him well or didn't know him at all. No... big... deal!
So now, I ask myself, what was the fuss all about?
(Part 3, or concluding post, tomorrow)
It was one of those bleary, snowy, and windy Chicago weather. Night had fallen and on the aisle of the crowded bus, I was squashed in between damp, bulky coats. Knowing the route by heart, I could tell we were approaching the second to the last bus stop before reaching the famous Old Town where I was to meet a friend. My estimate was another half hour before we got there.
A gaunt, rawboned middle-aged man came up the bus. In a gruff, froggy voice, he slurred his expletives about the piling snow, extinct taxicabs and the crowded bus. He reeked with alcohol.
Suddenly it happened again. I couldn't ignore the sensations. My heart thumped beyond speed limit, my hands were clammy despite the below-zero weather, my knees turned to jelly, my stomach churned, and my lungs gasped for air. I was on the verge of collapsing. In seconds, I jumped out of the bus before the doors closed. The only way to survive this all-too-familiar panic attack was to get out of that bus, away from that ghastly man, away from the nauseating smell of stale gin.
I didn't care if I'd be stranded in the middle of a deserted side road or buried in the swiftly piling snow, or suffered from frostbite. Any of these would be a fate better than being within the same breathing area as a ghoulish, croaking drunk.
I was, as far back as I could remember, unreasonably horrified of anyone who had imbibed alcohol.
I knew exactly why.
This problem, ridiculous as it might have sounded, stemmed from the man who, in essence, was closest to me—my father. He was, to my mind, addicted to alcohol. Nobody seemed bothered enough (not my mom, nor my siblings, nor my close kin) to suffer the way I did. Which was why it was only I who wanted to fly the coop, so to speak. With "The American Dream" as a convenient excuse, I flew to the US shortly after college graduation so I could be miles and miles away from home. I thought that if I didn't see him I'd be cured of this irrational fear.
But tonight, after one whole year in a far-flung foreign land, I was just proven wrong.
In the Philippines, I had some kind of a radar. I could spot a person who had drunk a little bit too much a hundred meters away. If he came any closer, I'd fold up, crumple and faint. It was an affliction I managed to conceal quite perfectly. I didn't know in whom to confide. More accurately, I was afraid I wouldn't be understood.
I remember vaguely how it all started.
Once there was this self-conscious, onion-skinned, precocious little girl who tried to excel in almost everything she did. To her, it was extremely important for people and her friends to think highly of her. So she wanted nothing more than a picture-perfect family, with parents she could be proud of and introduce to everyone. A smiling mother, who was a caring pharmacist, and a respectable father, who was a brilliant lawyer.
The mother was all she was meant to be. But the father wasn't one she could put into a frame, not when he partied with friends (for a part of him was footloose and fancy free) and had one too many. When he was his sober self, he was exactly what the little girl pictured in her mind—quiet, self-effacing, dignified and yes, respectable.
He would write beautiful speeches and letters. And he would talk about the poetry of Robert Frost and the ideology of Karl Marx. But during a party, in the girl's eyes, the respectable man turned into a loquacious, garrulous stranger who sang off-color songs, off key.
It wasn't that bad in the early days. The parties were few and far between. But as the little girl bloomed into a young lady, even more self-conscious than ever, especially now that she had new friends with fame, fortune, and picture-perfect families, the respectable father came and went.
In the mornings, at home, as he worked on legal briefs and pleadings, he was his ideal Daddy self, talking in hushed, polite tones. At night, coming home from a neighborhood get-together, he'd be a stranger. He'd smell of beer or rum or brandy or gin, trip over his own shoes, cussing at no one in particular. That was when the symptom of her affliction became more palpable: A little bit of a heart leap, until it progressed into a chilling, asphyxiating, and deafening knell.
Anger? Fear? Frustration? Shame? It was all of those things.
(To be continued tomorrow)
I've been scouring my Bible looking for good fathers—well, good fathers with equally good children. Instead, I found really exemplary dads with, alas, bad children.
To my shame, embarrassment, and frustration, I sometimes morph into Eutychus.
Eutychus was the young man in the Bible who fell asleep and fell from the window ledge while listening to Apostle Paul do a lengthy presentation that began in the early evening and lasted till midnight.
This accident caused a major commotion and disrupted Paul's discourse.
Are dogs afraid of cats? Or is it the other way around?
I've read of both, but in our household, our Attorney II is terrified of one cat. And our dog has reason to cower in fear—even if it is in her very own doghouse.
We don't know who owns this cat, but he sometimes manages to invite himself to our garden and once, to Attorney II's own cage. He's definitely so much smaller than our pet, but he can truly be alarming.
Tim Tebow, 24, an American football player in the National Football League (NHL), is a Christian, and very vocal about it with fans, in clinics, hospitals, market places, schools, and orphanages.
He gets down on his knees and prays before every game. He had admitted being a virgin, and is willing to wait for marriage. He'd wear biblical references on his black eye paint.