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.