12/28/2015

Life Happened


Nothing is predictable. One minute everything seems normal, then bang! The next minute, chaos. Life is a series of “Where did that come from?”

My friend Q, who had been living in the US with her husband for 10 years, came home one day and started looking for a job. She said, “I have come home for good.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Life happened,” she replied. Her marriage was not as ideal as it looked; it ended in a bitter divorce.

Another friend, R, who used to describe herself as “blissfully married with three growing kids,” left her husband in a huff. That was the end of bliss. “Life happened,” she lamented. She is now a struggling mom, trying to juggle between work, home, and budget.

On the other side of midnight is another friend, S, who led a devilish, tormented, ugly life, running into one wrong turn after another, making a series of tragic decisions along the way. One day, Jesus found her, and she accepted Him in her heart.

She declared, “New life happened.”

Things, however, are not suddenly rosy for S. But now, when “life happens” (they come and go), she sees them only as temporary setbacks, not ends. Sure, they make her heart writhe in pain sometimes, but she could breathe easy again because she knows . . . 

“. . . that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28 (NIV)

That first Christmas was when Jesus was birthed to give us “New Life,” which comes free to anyone who will receive Him. He became Flesh to be the ultimate sacrifice: to suffer and pay for our sins so we may receive the grace of salvation.

In three days, this year will end. My prayer is, we will come to know about the "New Life" and receive it in the New Year 2016.



12/25/2015

Another Meaningful Christmas


Our family being small, we make time to celebrate the Holy Birth together, continuing a tradition started over 20 years ago. Nothing overly fancy. Just a quiet Christmas eve dinner, which is prepared by everyone to make sure it happens.

Earlier, there was rumor that there won’t be any turkey in supermarkets because of stricter customs rules. There were a few in one supermarket, but they were all under five kilos. So JC picked the biggest one at 4.6 (our smallest ever) and continued shopping for the condiments and stuffing.

It turned out to be the tastiest turkey we’ve ever had. JR, with the help of our long-time house-helper Ate Vi and her assistant Delia, made sure that size should not be an excuse for sloppy roasting.

Coming home from the church service, we dug in. Then the gift-giving capped our celebration just before midnight. After years of doing the same rituals, we sort of knew what one liked to receive.

I got my chronological Bible for the 4th year in a row (KJV this time) from son #1, angpaw from son #3 (he loathes shopping), and a cellphone-cum-camera from Tony who gave it as early as October when he had the budget. And three months later, I still have not figured out how to use it properly. 

A meaningful celebration it certainly was. We prayed that somewhere in the US of A, where three members of our family (second son, daughter-in-law, and grandson) now live independent lives, had a celebration as meaningful. Sharing with you imprints of our future memories, made possible by grace:          
"Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name."  1 Chronicles 29:13


We're Glad You Came


Angels descended upon our church—they sang as they did when they heralded the arrival of Jesus over two thousand years ago.

That’s how I felt when our 28-voice choir performed “We’re Glad you Came,” a new Christmas cantata created only last year by the award-winning team of Joel Lindsey and Jeff Bumgardner.

While listening, I had goosebumps all the way and when they sang the last chord, I—like most everyone at church—was teary eyed. It left me speechless, imagining thousands of such angels in God’ home, and all singing Him praises.

Our choir is usually assembled only on special occasions such as Easter, our church’s anniversary, and Christmas. That’s why I particularly looked forward to this rare presentation specially mounted to honor our King.   

The heartfelt music and profound lyrics, full of praise and expressions of gratitude, powerfully set the tone for how Christmas should be celebrated: focused on the Son of God, born that we may know Him as our Savior.

"We're Glad You Came" combines stellar new songs and narration interspersed with some of our well-loved Christmas carols. Highly emotive, the songs and our choir’s rendition must be what Thomas Carlyle meant when he said long ago, “Music is well said to be the speech of angels . . .”

Our musical conductress, Ching, and the choir—once members of our junior singing group—literally grew up before my eyes. Once toddling their way around the pews, they have been gifted not only with a musical ear but with the passion to render their best for God.

The choral books, according to Ching, were actually gifts from Joy, who was our church's pianist and choir conductress until she immigrated to the US with her family. Despite the distance, however, Joy continues to be a part of our angels’ speech. 

We got a double dose of grace when half of the choir members sang an abridged version of the same cantata during our service on Christmas eve, after a moving message by our pastor.
Lord, we’re glad you came!


12/24/2015

Have a Blessed Christmas


How was your 2015?

I liken ours to an Oreo cookie: black and white.

Among our blacks were serious health problems that brought us to the emergency room and landed us in the hospital. Among our whites were a family reunion in July that enabled us to have a great family bonding; launching of three of my books; serving the Lord in church; a sentimental trip to China; busy days at work; change of jobs; etc. 

There were hues and all the colors in between, of course, but the blacks and the whites hogged our emotional highs and lows.

Nonetheless, we “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)

We give thanks especially for the birth of Grace, Jesus—for His becoming Flesh on Christmas for us. This is definitely a WHITE (all caps) celebration, so our family colored our world with a merry red surrounded with green, the colors of Christmas.
 
Thank you for visiting my blog, for your friendship, and for the inspiring and encouraging messages you sent via  the comment box, email, social media, and other means this year. I am blessed.

Have a blessed Christmas, too!


12/23/2015

The Mary in Us


For the longest time, my favorite Christmas song has been “Away in a Manger.” It describes for me the humble and unpretentious arrival of Jesus.

Reading the story of Jesus’ birth in the book of Luke, we see nothing but simplicity. It happened in a rural area and was anonymous—so different from the birth of an earthly king that is usually awaited with pomp and pageantry by the citizenry.

But what accompanied Jesus’ birth was the attention of the heavenly host (God’s army). Luke 2:13-14, “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’”

The event was too important to be announced by just one angel. All heaven was moved, sang praises—and marveled at the grace of the Father Who sent Him.

Mary, young as she was, must have been overwhelmed. The good book tells us that she pondered all that happened in her heart.  For who could understand the contrast between the birth's commonness and the Child's greatness?

How did she feel? The magnitude of Jesus’ birth could not be known by the human mind, least of all Mary who was in her early teens.

These questions inspired our women’s group in church to attend one Christmas gathering dressed as Mary. In the course of our event, we tried to ponder the coming of Jesus.
Today we have the Scripture, which reveals all, to help us understand.  The Holy Birth is no longer as incomprehensible as it was for Mary at the time it happened.

But, like Mary, we wanted to continue pondering those things in our heart. Because no matter how much we know, it is still incredible how the King of all creation would do such an unthinkable humbling to save a wretch like me or you. 

One other poignant Christmas song that I also love (by Mark Lowry), in the same rung as “Away in a Manger,” ends with “Mary did you know? The sleeping Child you’re holding is the great I am.”

What a privilege to worship our Deliverer at His birth!    


12/22/2015

Scarecrow on Christmas


Scarecrows are a common sight in the agricultural province where I grew up. As in any rural landscape, especially rice fields, farmers put up scarecrows every few meters to protect their crops from birds.


Because we rarely make a trip to the province anymore, I have not seen a scarecrow in years—until yesterday. It stood on a curb in our village where birds abound in early mornings.  

Beautiful melodies of bird songs wake me up at dawn every day. So why would anyone want to scare those birds away? 

The scarecrow not only looked out of place but bizarre. What homes usually have by their gates at this time of the year is a huge Santa Claus.  

Alas, people have so varnished and re-varnished the essence of Christmas that it is now beyond recognition: Santa Claus, Christmas tree, blinking lights, lanterns, exchange gifts, parties with competition (and therefore hours and hours of rehearsals), raffle and door prizes, special dishes and pastries, and caroling. There was that one year, we received a Christmas card featuring Harry Potter and Hogwarts. 

And now, a scarecrow?!

Human beings have been gifted with creativity, so how much and how many more layering can we slop on to conceal Christmas?

A scarecrow has been invented long ago to frighten predators. It particularly scares me now, because it symbolizes how far away we've strayed from the birth of Hope; how much liberty we have taken to deface and demean the first visible scene of God's plan to redeem us from the mire in which we've buried ourselves.

I am not trying to impose my faith on anyone, but Christmas rightfully belongs to those who believe in it. We cannot celebrate it any other way but to reflect, with gratitude, the coming of Jesus, the King of kings, Savior of mankind. 

12/18/2015

Light for the Writer’s Soul


Writing is a calling that is both happy and lonely.

That statement seems to oversimplify my writing quotient. Let me illustrate through my own emotional pie chart. Writing is 100% grace, sliced into 96% happy and only 4% lonely—but that small number could be lethal. 

Imagine my excitement, then, when I was told that Media Associates International (MAI), in partnership with Armour Publishing, has published the book "Light for the Writer's Soul: 100 devotions by global Christian writers."

This, I thought, would take care of my aberrant 4%.

Written by contributing writers (of which I am privileged to be a part) from 27 countries, and illustrated by award-winning French artist and illustrator Didier Millotte, this book I would liken to sunburst on a cloudy day. The stories illumine and inflame all at once.

According to MAI, and I agree, "It is ideal for personal devotions of writers and would-be writers, especially those in hard places in the world; a resource in writers groups; workshops; and in mentoring Christian writers."   

For the book to last me one year, I should be reading one devotional article every three days—with enough time to bask in the glow of perspectives similar to mine. But the articles so surprised and stirred me I read the whole book in one sitting!

Much of the personal pain—conflicts, complications, dilemmas, obstacles, and yes, loneliness—of varied writers from varied backgrounds kindled my interest and indeed lit up my soul. 

I now know that the Lord beams His Word in different ways upon different writers, but our responses are set at different timelines. In the end, and always, the fire to write overwhelms the temptation to stop.

If you are reading my blog this far, I assure you that this book will help stoke your (or a friend's) love for the printed word and keep it burning. For a copy of the book, click: link

Without doubt, the book is a light, switched on for the writer's soul.


12/15/2015

My White Christmas



Christmas after Christmas, my mother would put up the same tree on a corner table at her drugstore.  Her predictable next steps: cut surgical cotton into strips and fluff them up for each branch; hang lots of candies; then top the tree with a star made from an aspirin box.

It was not my kind of tree.

...

Read more



12/14/2015

We See in a Mirror Dimly


Looking in a mirror used to be my favorite activity when I was young and, well, kinda’ pretty (in my own mind). What I’d see was an unlined face, high cheekbones, one dimple, and eyes that sparkled.

Today, I dread looking in a mirror with my glasses on. I see the opposite of what used to delight me. So I take my specs off and look in a mirror dimly, and I am spared from being spooked by a holocaust survivor.    

Thankfully, I am not unique. Every human being sees in a mirror dimly. What we see isn’t what is.

Kids ask: 

Why do other homes have beautiful Christmas trees and have festive Noche Buena?
 

Why do my friends get their wishes on Christmas simply by writing to Santa Claus?

Adults ask:

Why do evil people get elected to government positions and are addressed honorable? 
 

Why do dishonest people become indecently rich and are never punished?   

Kids and adults ask: Are they nicer to God than we are?

But history is also rich with martyrs, people who have done much for God and others and yet lived impoverished lives.  

Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:12 (ESV), “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 

Christmas is for retrospection. As I look at myself in the mirror, I ponder “seeing in a mirror dimly” and realize that the things we see on this side are just hues, shades and shadows. It’s only someday, after we have crossed over to the beautiful, perfect side, will we have all the answers and see all too clearly.

Meanwhile, as the year ends with our celebration of Jesus’ birth, I want to personally thank Him for the grace of family. He gave me a kooky one—like a gift left under my Christmas tree, for free. 

12/12/2015

Unique Christmas Ribbons


What so unique about ribbons?

Nothing much. I just thought that trimming my tree this year with ribbons that have been individually chosen—no two are alike—would be unique. I even went as far as crocheting two with different patterns to make sure there is no repeat of any design or color. 

The motif is carried through to my centerpiece vase. My friend G, an art director, suggested a walis-tingting (raffia broom), pliant enough to make my bows bend and sway. 

What’s truly unique about my tree this year, though, is that all the ribbons are recyclable. After taking the tree down, these ribbons will come in handy as bows for yearlong gifts. 

I like to think that each ribbon represents a color of grace, like a gift bow I can’t wait to un-knot, that the Christmas Honoree hands me every second in a day.   


12/10/2015

The Man Who Wanted to Kill Christmas


You know the story. I am re-telling it for me, amidst the glitz and blitz, so I will always remember . . .  

On that first Christmas, the king of Judea was Herod, a cruel, blood-thirsty killer. He eliminated anyone who got in his way. Human life meant nothing to him.

A smooth talker, he was also insatiable, wanting to have everything—palaces, huge theaters, you name it.  

When he was near death, some important men from the east arrived.
They asked Herod, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

Herod was distraught and might have thought, I am the King of the Jews!

He called all religious leaders to find out what the Bible said about a coming King. He wanted to know where this King was born: 

“In Bethlehem in Judea, for this is what the prophet has written: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:5-6)

Herod had to act. From the Magi he found out the exact time the star they were following had appeared. He also sweet-talked them into coming back to tell him where they found the Child, so that Herod may also go and worship Him. 

Off the magi went. The star led them to Jesus. They bowed down, worshiped Him, and offered Him expensive gifts because they knew that the little Boy would someday rule the world.

They were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod; they went home through another route.  

Having been fooled, Herod was furious. He ordered the murder of all males less than two years of age!

But nothing could stop God’s plan.

Despite his wealth and power, Herod came to ruin, dying from a painful disease. 

Little Jesus grew up to be the opposite of Herod. He used His power not to kill, but to help others and show love. After a life of poverty and no throne, He died on a lowly cross. But unlike Herod, who caused massive bloodshed among hordes of people, Jesus shed His own blood for all people of the world—and resurrected three days later.   

Nobody could kill Christmas. Not even a Herod.

Come, let us the worship the King: JESUS.


12/06/2015

Three Days of Silence


Feeling queasy, nauseous, and uptight (in short, blah), I asked Tony to check my blood pressure. Horrors, it went through the roof! 

He called my doctor who ordered, "Sub-lingual pill, immediately. Re-check her BP in an hour."

I was due to speak at our prayer meeting that evening, and I prayed that I'd feel better to make it. I didn't. After an hour, my BP numbers wouldn't budge. Another sub-lingual pill.

One more hour—the numbers even slightly went up. Third sub-lingual pill. My doctor said, "If after an hour it stays up, take her to the emergency room."  

At the emergency room, I zonked out into a restful sleep for an hour. And by grace, my BP went back to normal. Diagnosing myself, I told my doctor the tummy discomfort (a recurring trouble) I was experiencing could be the culprit. She gave me pills to solve that and stressed, "Rest. Nothing strenuous.”  

Next day, same story. Another sub-lingual pill, and a roomful of anxiety. I had to follow my doctor’s orders.

Writing and painting were out of the equation. I likewise cancelled a book signing event, a radio interview, and a women's gathering in church. 

I had only one option left—read. I dropped by my happy place, The Book Sale shop and bought the two books atop a heap, as though waiting for me: two versions of Randy Alcorn's "Heaven."

They were the perfect buy. While resting and reading, I was made to see, and I mean really visualize (albeit in limited human imagery), God’s glorious home—especially in the kids’ version—and in my three silent days back to normalcy, all my cares sped away. 

When one day everything in my body goes awry, and the Lord says, "It's time," heaven or the New Earth would be, through my new glorified eyes, and as written by the author, "Far better than you and I can imagine."   

12/02/2015

Wordless Wednesday


"We are all the creations of God. We have God-given talents. The talent that God gave me is cussing. Instead of blaming me, blame God because He created me.”

This quote from trash-and-tough-talking Rodrigo Duterte, Davao mayor and now a presidential aspirant in the Philippines, was published in major dailies yesterday. Known for his raw, gutter language, brashness, and self-avowed penchant for women, Duterte has both shocked and awed the country.    

I am neither shocked nor awed. I am wordless.

So I will not dignify this quote by going into a tirade against Duterte, nor by maligning him, nor by campaigning against him, nor by apologizing for him, nor by detailing his other lurid exploits, nor by analyzing what he meant.

The following, then, are not my words; they're from the Bible (the book of the Creator Whom Duterte referred to) and what it says about cussing:

"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)


11/30/2015

Instant Booksigning


Going into a bookstore has always been a treat for me. That's one of the places where my time stands still.

But going into a bookstore crowded with kids, flitting here and there, scanning and reading books, and comparing notes, is a triple treat!

My friend Luis, a famous children's book author I look up to, and I just came from a meeting and decided to spend some time at the OMFLit Bookshop. The festive sight that greeted us was something we never expected.  

Children—grade school students of a public school—filled the place to the rafters. Their teachers, scattered around supervising them, said, "We brought them here so they could each buy a book of their choice."

I took note of some kids holding my books and filed toward the cash register. "Want me to sign those?" I asked tentatively.

I got a question instead of an answer, "Who are you?"

"Well, I am the author of those books," I said, summoning my sweetest smile.

"Really? Wow!" they shrieked.

Their voices reached some of their teachers' ears and not a second too long, they were beside me, posing for a groupfie.

I looked around for Luis and I saw him with another group of kids and teachers, doing exactly the same thing.

Deja vu.

It was like being at the Manila International Book Fair—my other happy place, up the same rank as a bookstore—all over again.

Authors never know what instant grace awaits them in the places to where they go. 

If I didn't have another appointment, I would have stayed in that bookshop till kingdom come.


11/27/2015

There Is No Plan B


An ex-First Lady had been photographed piously praying in churches, clutching a rosary. In fact, there were rumors that she had a collection of rosaries, one of which was made of diamonds. 

And yet, a photo of her bedroom shows an array of graven idols—representing different gods. Is she making sure she has covered all bases? That if one fails, she has other options? 

Likewise, in a number of restaurants or shops, I continue to spot different idols on shelves, usually behind the cash register: Virgin Mary side-by-side with Buddha, Krishna, and some other gods whose names escape me.

"There is something good about all religions and their gods," said an acquaintance who claims to be a liberalist (let's call him Sam), "so I give them all the benefit of the doubt."

Sam is certain that all gods have their own unique way of saving a person for "heaven." 

I am not equipped to pick a fight with Sam. He has the gift of gab, and all I have is grace to hang on to my faith—faith that was profoundly explained by our pastor in one Sunday message, synthesized in four short words and a letter:

"There is no Plan B,” he emphasized. 
“Only Jesus, Jesus only," he continued. 

I took it to mean that one has to live solely for and singularly focused on Jesus. Everything we do should be for His glory and honor alone, because salvation is His only plan for us. 

"How can we believe this? Faith," our pastor specified. "This faith is only as good as that on Whom it is placed—that He can do for us what He promises to do."  

In this light, someone had created an acronym for F-A-I-T-H, and I am borrowing it now to focus further what "No Plan B" means.

Forsaking
All
I
Take
Him. 
                                                                        
That's forsaking all other gods and trusting only in Him. Faith in Christ is not faith, until He’s all we're holding onto. Because we know, we believe, that He is able to hold us forever and never let us go—all the way through life everlasting.

“There is no Plan B.”

"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12 (NIV)


11/24/2015

Numbers on Year Nine


Numbers, numbers, everything was about numbers.

In the workplace where I risked life and limb, one had to have numbers to get anything approved. Numbers showed that one’s proposal would work, no arguments needed.   

Numbers do say a lot. Politicians watch numbers carefully to see how they’re fairing in the popularity game. Then they have to have the numbers to be elected.

Allow me then to do numbers as I celebrate the ninth year anniversary of Leaves of Grace.  However, unlike in the workplace or any business where numbers mean much, mine are just benchmarks to see where I’ve been. Okay, they’re encouragement to keep me going, too.

So here they are:

Readers from all 196 countries in the world have visited my site at least twice—from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. I lacked four last year to complete the total number. 

There are over 292,000 hits today or an average of 200 visits daily in the last three years. Up by 60,000 from last year’s page views.  

I have uploaded 939 posts so far; one post every 3.5 to four days. That’s 100 posts more over last year's.  

What do not appear in this site are the many letters I received and continue to receive via email and on FB Private Message, saying they read my posts regularly. Words like “healing” “uplifting” “encouraging” “nourishing” make me, more than ever, resolve to continue blogging.

There’s no way, really, anyone can stop when she's writing about grace—the gift that keeps giving, and giving, and giving.

And as I do whenever I celebrate or spend my day in gratitude for blessings, I change my header . . .

from the old . . .

to the new. 

“Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!” 1 Chronicles 16:8 (ESV)



11/20/2015

Put All Your Eggs in One Basket


“Diversify,” financial gurus would advise.  “Don't invest all your money in one company. Never put all your eggs in one basket.”

It makes sense, doesn't it?  

If you have all of your resources in one place, or if you put your money and future into one investment scheme, and that business nosedives, you lose everything. Big risk indeed.

There are many sad tales about people having all of their eggs in one basket (remember the  single-day US stock market crash on Sept. 29, 2008?) and they lost their shirt. That one, quick painful moment flushed out all they ever had. 

“Faith does not work that way,” our pastor stressed from the pulpit, and a sudden spate of grace lit up my mind. “You either have faith in the one true God or you don’t. You either trust Him fully or you don’t. Put all your eggs in God's basket.”

My imagination conjured a basket of eggs.

I thought, Not one egg less, everything has to be in that basket or your trust is wanting.

He pushed, “Faith is complete reliance on another to do that which you could not do for yourself. Nobody can save himself. Through Jesus alone can anybody be saved.”

In a breath, he demolished the age-old investment principle of not putting everything in one basket.  

But, then, he was not talking about material investment; he was talking about investment of the life that has been gifted us—the life that will not end on earth, but will remain perpetuo in a place so beautiful I can’t even begin to imagine it.   

Quickly I summarized in my little notebook his point: Faith is absolute. Believe in Him for everything, every time, everywhere. That is the soundest investment of all. 

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)



11/16/2015

Offline


Three days in a row, every ATM machine that I went to had this haphazardly written sign, “Offline.”  


Funny how one word can spawn a school of negative subtexts:

Go away!
Vamoose!
Shoo!
No money here.
I have your money, he-he. 
Try some other ATM.
Leave me alone.
Don’t bother me.
Can't you see I'm resting?
Take it or leave it.
End of argument. 
Plus many more

So you postpone buying and paying for life’s essentials till the ATM is online again.

In this digital age, we are at the mercy of machines. When they conk out, we cave in.

“Machines can never replace people,” we like to say. But people conk out, too.

Imagine driving through horrific traffic to have something urgent signed by someone someplace, only to be told that the person you need to see is out to lunch.

“But I called before coming! He promised he’d be here!”

So you wait, only to be jolted again by a message that the person fell ill and decided to go home. He has a message for you: “Could you please come back some other time?”

You wonder and worry when that “some other time” will come again. Meanwhile, you will miss a crucial deadline.

Machines, people—they can both be offline. Just as you would feel offline, too, fearful and dreadful after such frustrating tries and re-tries.

What a contrast to what we read in Deuteronomy 31:6 (ESV), “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Let me paraphrase this in the context of the above frustrations: Don’t conk out nor cave in; I am always online.

Whenever I come to the edge of my wits over machines and people, I reach out for calming grace. It readily comes through verses upon verses in the Bible. This is just one of them.

11/12/2015

The Greatest Play Ever Written (8)


I can go on and on with the non-star cast of the Bible, character after character, and I will always be amazed at how the Playwright threads them all together for the happy ending—Jesus.

My blog series on Bible characters ends with this post—focusing on what stage plays usually tag as “The crowd.” This comprises unnamed groups in the cast, without whose roles the play would not be complete.
These groups have people who have no names and do not seem to count for anything.  And there are many of them!

The hypocrites, the wise men of the east, the man with two sons, the rich fool, the snobbish Pharisees, the Centurion and his servant, the four thousand men (Matthew 15:38), the soldiers who stripped Jesus, the saints who were raised (Matthew 27:52), the maniac of the tombs, the seventy disciples (Luke 10:1), the ten lepers, the Greeks (John 12:20), etc. etc. etc.

The Bible is silent on their identity.

We praise famous men and women in the Bible, we study them in our Sunday school classes, but what about those who passed through chapters and verses like a wisp of wind?

Space prevents me from listing all of these unnamed men and women of God’s book.

I think this is God’s way of telling us that although we may be unknown in our work for Him, or we think that “I do not count for anything,” we matter. We may be hidden from people’s eyes, but not from God’s.

For ourselves, it is sufficient to know that, whether our names are in neon or simply listed in the playbill as “the crowd,” they are written upon God’s palms and in His home, every child of His is to have a new name.

We are in God’s cast of characters and we didn’t even have to audition for the role. That’s grace in this life and the life beyond.   

Note: This is the 8th and the last in a series of posts on "The Greatest Play Ever Written."


11/08/2015

Children Who Read


One of the sights that make my heart do a somersault is when I see children reading books other than their textbooks. 

Of course you’d expect that statement from an author of children’s books. But even if I didn’t write for children, I’d still feel the same.

In my many encounters with kids, I found that those who love to read have a richer vocabulary and can actually converse well with an adult on various topics.

Studies and science on reading have proven this to be true. It has been found by the Institute of Education (UK) that children who read at an early age do significantly better at school than their peers. These little people made more progress in math, vocabulary and spelling than those who rarely read.

It was also noted that reading for pleasure had the strongest effect on children's vocabulary development—and they are able to absorb and understand new information quickly in all subjects.

Adrian, my grandchild, reads. And how! I took this photo of him when he visited us three months ago.

I was not surprised when his mom posted this on FB:   

Caption: A messy pile of books is always near Adrian's bed. Cannot complain about it now after he was recognized today in the school assembly for his awesome reading. Target was 10 reading points for 1 trimester. His current score (and the trimester far from over) = 95.

My granny heart naturally did a most spirited somersault.

My husband thinks it’s in the genes, because in our family, we all love to read. Our home is littered with books. And now that he is retired, Tony reads one book a week—he brings one with him wherever he goes.

I never believed that love for reading has anything to do with genes. Neither does it have to do with discipline. You can’t order a child to read and expect him to love it.

It has everything to do with role modelling. If a child sees his parents/family reading a lot, he will likely grow up to be a reader, too.

There are of course new studies supporting Tony’s claim that love of reading is genetic, and nothing of mine, but whenever I see kids reaching out for a book first, instead of a toy or a game console, my mind speaks, Their parents must be readers, too.

Here are photos of kids who, in my opinion, have bookworms for parents.  
(Photo by Teacher Teacher Mars)  

If, by grace, my aging heart remains sturdy, I wish to feel countless somersaults in more years to come.

11/04/2015

Gifts for the Soul


From close friends and family, I always get the gifts that I want, and not necessarily need. This special set of people, for whom I need not wear make-up nor dress-up, know exactly what they are!

Two gifts that hit bulls-eye were from third son, his wife, and their son on their last visit to the country.

Their first gift is this bag designed with nothing but books, books, books—the reasons for my happy and busy days.

Inside this bag was the second gift—a painting kit (acrylic, my medium), complete with a tiny easel and a canvas, the reasons for my happy and restful days.  

I put the bag to use by packing it with my teaching ammo and my chronological Bible (gift from first son), which is what I read in my in-between hours—between waiting for and finally consulting with my doctor; between one class and the next; between appointments; between whatever.

I put the painting kit to work and came up with this:   

The gifts that I want are what I call gifts for the soul, or, as I had already written in three volumes, Gifts of Grace. 

"We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19 (ESV)

10/31/2015

Celebrating Life


With my own eyes, I witnessed how people are celebrating death and the spirits of the underworld today.

I had an appointment somewhere in the Global City and there I saw affluent kids in expensive and store-bought costumes, mostly as devils, ghouls, ghosts, witches, and corpses. They were going in and out of stores which filled their plastic pumpkins with goodies.

On my way home, I saw more kids. This time, they were wearing improvised costumes, probably hand-sewn by their mothers. They were likewise dressed as devils, ghouls, ghosts, witches, and corpses—and streaming out of the enclaves of the rich—with their plastic bags also filled with goodies. 

I have seen enough, too many in fact, symbols of death today that all I want to do is celebrate the grace of life:

- the life that the Lord Himself breathed into Adam’s nostrils; 

- the life that we will have but once on earth, and for all eternity when our life on earth ends;

- the life our departed loved ones were blessed with. 

Up comes my new header, with the buoyant butterfly and fresh flowers, symbols of His love for those who live to honor Him:

My old header goes down.

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Genesis 2:7
   

10/29/2015

Hymns and Ever After


Hymns had been a huge part of my growing-up years. At church, we sang nothing but hymns. I could still sing many of them from memory.

In the church where I worship today, we hardly sing hymns anymore. The Praise and Worship Team prefers modern gospel songs with danceable tunes. That’s why whenever hymns are taken up in conversations today, I sit up.

One such conversation was after a corporation meeting that I attended. Over lunch, I chatted with a small group of ladies.  

“Many gospel songs today are not in context,” said one, referring to the me-emotions in lyrics instead of Biblical truths.

“Hymns are enough to save you,” stressed another.

I pondered that. And I sang in my head:

Living for Jesus Who died in my place,
Bearing on Calv’ry my sin and disgrace;
Such love constrains me to answer His call,
Follow His leading and give Him my all.


Our consensus was that hymns are grounded on Scripture, on salvation, and on Christ being our Savior.

I silently hummed:

Take my love, my Lord, I pour,
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be,
Ever, only, all for Thee.


We exchanged stories about some elderly people we knew who suffered from Alzheimer’s in their last years. They had forgotten everything and everyone, but hymns. One of them sang “Amazing Grace” from the time she woke up in the morning till the time she went to bed.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see. 


“My mom,” said one of us, “would ask me to sing hymns in her sick bed till the Lord took her home.”

Nearer my God to Thee, nearer to Thee!
E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me;
Still my song shall be, nearer my God to thee.


“Hymns are enough to save you . . .” because they speak of the Good News.

One gets to know about the gift of salvation, or life ever after, by hearing and reading about it. In the absence of the Bible, there are hymns—they’ve been written and put to music by our Christian brethren so we may hear about the ever after.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God . . .” Ephesians 2:8 (NIV) 

10/25/2015

Quiet Time in a Noisy World


Is it possible to have silence in this noisy world? Extremely difficult. 

I just wrote a book about the din that drowns out our attention. Things are happening all at the same time, many of them are in the Net, all just a touch away.  Then there are scenes around us that mimic behaviors in other countries.

Kids talk back to their parents; teens flaunt their affection (some people say, lust) in public; spouses live in separate homes, with his, hers, and ours children; cults, witchcraft, superstitions, social media, self-entitlement, and focus on me, me, me are trends; etc.  

How can one stay silent?

This was why I was invited to a church one Sunday to talk to tweens and millennials about the importance of a quiet time or devotion every day. I’ve written a few devotional books for both age groups so the organizers of the church’s book fair might have thought that the topic is close to my heart.

It is. 

But I was still surprised that in both sessions, almost all of my audience raised their hands when I asked, “Who among you have a daily quiet time?”

They even defined “devotion” thus: a special time away from everything and being singularly focused on the Lord, praising Him, thanking Him, talking to Him, and listening to His soft, still voice. 

In both sessions, although I did most of the talking, I was the student and my listeners were my teachers. They taught me that shutting out a noisy world is a cinch. My net take-away: all one has to do is pray for the Holy Spirit to turn your ear to mute and listen with your heart.  

(Children and tweens)
(Millennials)
Many of them use my devotionals (that, too, was a surprise) as a tool that keeps them focused on one nugget of life or one facet of God’s love that can only come through grace.

The skies were dark; the electricity went off. Typhoon Lando was pummeling at Metro Manila, but the kids and millennials (Sunday School habitué) with whom the Lord connected me that Sunday, were sunshine that illumined my mind:

Quiet time in this noisy world is not, and should not be a problem.

“And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper." 1 Kings 19:12 (NLT)


10/21/2015

Not a Georgia O’Keeffe


My friend Caloy, a versatile art director and a painter I greatly admire, calls me up occasionally before he begins work in the morning. We talk shop about our common interests and friends—we have a legion of them, having worked together in a large ad agency, which was my training lab as now a full-time author.

"Caloy, I am painting again today!" I announced, spewing an immediate caveat, "But don’t you dare call me a painter.”
  
"You're a Georgia O'Keeffe," he replied.

I wanted to crawl under my easel, even if I don't take Caloy's statements seriously.

That morning he called and asked, "Are you doing anything today? Can you and G [another close friend whom he likewise calls in early mornings] please accompany me to COMELEC?"

"To do what?"

"To file my candidacy for President of the Philippines."

That unleashed my first guffaw for the day. (A total of 130 aspirants filed their Certificate of Candidacy for this position.)

Funny that he mentioned Georgia O'Keeffe. I am in awe of her. Her painting, an exquisitely rendered white blossom of a weed, sold last year for $44.4 million at an auction, setting a record for an artwork by a female artist.
Pardon my audacity, but I actually have two things in common with O'Keeffe. She went to the same school I went to, Art Institute of Chicago. And we both love to paint flowers and nature's bountiful grace. But there end our similarities.

At the Art Institute, she took up Fine Arts; I took up Performing Arts.

She painted flowers with faultless finesse and impeccable rendition of lines and shadows. I paint with gay abandon, with attention only to the thump-thump of my heart.

She said, ". . . I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way—things I had no words for.”

I say, "There is no other way I could say things, but with words—written words. I paint color and shapes because they refresh my mind, pushing me to write more words."

My paintings will probably fetch, if at all, 44.40 in pesos, not 44.4 in million dollars as O'Keeffe's, but they pack me with so much joy I always ache to paint the next wonders around me after my last.
 
“O LORD, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.” Psalm 104:24 (KJV)


10/17/2015

Chain Letters


One thought baffles me now and then. Why do some people fall for chain letters? 

There are basically three categories of chain letters that I get via email or Facebook.

1. From strangers: Get-rich quick pyramid schemes
2. From people who do not share my faith: Exploitation of superstition (threatens recipient with bad luck that can end in death)
3. From friends: Emotionally manipulative messages (breaking the chain means you do not care or love the sender) that comes with a prayer for the receiver

I have no problem with Nos. 1 and 2. I trash them with no ifs, buts, or maybes. Spam! 

But I pause on No. 3.

Why would a friend give a deadline or condition on friendship and blessings?

I got one such letter again and the veiled threat was, "If you do not forward this letter back to me, then you do not consider me your close friend." And the promise of sending it back is, "Something good will happen to you in nine days." 

For me, a couple of things are simplified—or worse, compromised—in such a letter.

One, friendship is being put to a test. If you do not do what it says, you are suspect. Relationship is reduced to one simple act of "sending back." Past encounters or long-term bond that established closeness do not count.

Two, blessings are mocked, giving God a deadline. In my faith, all blessings come from God, and only He can give deadlines or a timeline on when He bestows them.

Are we so immersed in the things of this digital world that we no longer think deeply about what we post or send out? Have we trivialized everything, including friendship and blessings?

Or, are those who send these scheming chain letters really friends? Do they even believe that blessings can come anytime—before or beyond nine days?

I was going to facetiously end this post with, “Please forward this to 15 friends.” But by grace, good sense prevails. Let me end with, chain letters be trashed!

"This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.  There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (John 15:12-13)


10/13/2015

A Rose for Rose, Grace for Grace


As soon as she saw my latest painting, Rose gasped and purred, “Please paint me a rainbow with musical notes." Music is an integral part of her—a singer, composer, instrumentalist, choir conductress, and lyricist rolled-into-one.

I promised I'd do one in time for her birthday.  
 
But because of the international hoo-ha on the legalized same-sex marriage, which made the rainbow a seal of approval for LGBT, I demurred days later, “I can’t paint you a rainbow; not now anyway.”

Recovering quickly she said, “Okay can you paint me a rose instead?" 

“Well . . .okay." 

Then I got immersed in book concerns. Her birthday came and went. But a promise is a promise, so I sidelined writing for two full days last week and painted her a rose—with a butterfly, in keeping with my themed  series.  

I wanted her musical notes to be there, and it took a while before I could figure out where to put them. 

Aside from Rose, one other colleague, Ayet, wished aloud for a painting as a birthday gift, too.

(Let me stress one more time, I paint for refreshment and have no delusions about being a Da Vinci or any artist of consequence. But two biased friends think I am: Rose and Ayet. How can I refuse?)

Ayet’s birthday isn’t till next month, but while painting Rose’s rose, my now-paint-bespattered hands and arms drove me to paint Ayet’s, too.

After my acrylics have dried, I placed each on a faux easel, wrapped both, and handed one after the other in our faculty room.

Their shrieks of delight and unabashed excitement to pose with the paintings stunned me. And I realized that the whole process—from promising, to doing and giving—was a string of invigorating grace, of which I was the receiver.
  
"And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.” John 1:16


10/09/2015

Going Back to Our Roots


My husband is a history buff. Each time I need information about the past, I run to him instead of reading up on it.

When he said he wanted to take a trip to China, particularly Xiamen, I was sure it wasn’t an impulse decision. We’ve all been to China gaping at tourist spots, yet I knew he ached to go back, minus the family, to trace his roots. Maybe to see how he fits in the larger world in historical context.

His flight had been booked. He and some cousins would travel together and go to their ancestors’ place of birth and meet kin who have chosen to remain there.

Unfortunately, Tony had a stroke three days before the trip. Despite pleas with his physician, he was prohibited from flying, “Not now; maybe in three weeks.”

Finally, last week, he re-booked—after being given the green light. With a cousin, Sonny, he sought his China connections with familial generations, passed down only through oral histories.

By contrast, my own genealogy has never been a problem. My hometown was just six hours away, now  reduced to three with new superhighways.

But China is a world apart, with family myths needing confirmation.

He did confirm a lot! Ancestors used to own vast lands lost to the red revolution. But there stands a town, modern yet quaint, called Yu Tsuo (House of Yu) where everyone bears my husband’s middle name—most of whom entertained him and Sonny with 20-course lauriat meals at every turn. They trekked up a hill to visit their great, great grandfather’s tomb.

Psychologists say that genealogy research is a way to consolidate sense of place in an age where families have become fractured. In this trip, I am sure that Tony discovered family medical history that caused his cancer, heart attack, and stroke in one lifetime—but surviving all, he was still strong enough to visit the past.

His photos tell only half the story. The other half, I feel, is in his heart.
Throughout his four-day travel, my prayer warriors and I went on our knees. 

So as he regales me and my sons now with anecdotes of his forbears’ history in China, the only thing that’s important to a history-non-fan like me is that God’s grace upheld him in his dream trip, despite his fragile condition, and enabled him to come home intact.

“. . . the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” Psalm 121:8 (NIV)