2/28/2015

God Doesn’t Make Sense


Even to hard-core believers, sometimes God doesn’t make sense.  

This, in essence, was what I gleaned from our pastor’s message one Sunday. I nodded so hard the pew shook and my head almost came off my neck.

Why would a God Who loves us, Who came down His throne to save inconsequential us from our sins, allow senseless things to happen?

Why would God allow 44 police (SAF) to be massacred by heartless murderers?

Why would God allow pastors and missionaries to be persecuted and killed?

Why wouldn’t God answer the prayers for peace in war-torn countries?

And the most shuddering news in recent days—the barbaric beheading of 21 Christians by the ISIS. Why would God allow His children’s innocent blood to spill into the sea?

From accounts of those who witnessed the savage execution, the helpless victims were repeating the words “Lord, Jesus Christ.” Some screamed “Yeshua!”

When Pope Francis visited the Philippines recently, a 12-year-old girl asked him through her tears, “Why is God allowing [bad things] to happen, even to innocent children?”

The head of over 1.2 billion Roman Catholics was stumped. Visibly moved, he had no answer. He could only say, “Only when we are able to cry are we able to come close to responding to your question.”

Humans have finite minds, and because we think simply, we can’t even begin to approximate God’s thoughts. In Isaiah 55:8, we read, "‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’ says the LORD. ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.’”

No, we can never imagine the boundless grace that comes to us every second of every day. That’s why we don’t thank Him enough. Our simple minds simply can’t fathom the sense of many things happening to us.

We, hard-core believers in His unconditional love, with the faith of a child, can only trust, simply trust.  


2/24/2015

Computer with a Heart


Mothers might have invented the term “multitasking" long before it made its way to the dictionary.

From pregnancy to childbirth, until such time that our children can do things on their own, we hover around, busy with every task at home and at work (for working moms), dividing 24 hours and seven weeks into productive moments employers could only dream of.  

From my quick research, I discovered that the term “multitasking” was first used in a mechanical context in 1966 when technology began to dictate our way of life. It originated from the computer engineering industry, referring to the ability of a microprocessor to process several tasks simultaneously. 

Computer multitasking in single-core microprocessors involves time sharing. Only one task can actually be active at a time, but tasks are rotated every second.  Therefore, with the invention of multi-core computers, each core can perform a separate task simultaneously.

Sounds familiar? 

Yes, moms are like multi-core computers who can perform many tasks simultaneously. But, ah, there’s a big difference. A computer only has a “brain” created by humans.

It has no heart.

Moms have a heart—an extra-large one, if we go by sizes. We operate by and with that four-letter word called “love.”
How else can one work all day in the office and then come home to help her kids with their homework, put them to bed with a story, and sleep lightly at night so she could hear every unusual sound from the little ones? 

Then she wakes up at dawn to make sure that the kids have their “baon” and are ready for school. While in the office, she constantly calls home to check with the yaya how things are going.

How about the food—groceries and meals? She plans those, too. And the house guests who hop in sometimes? How about when the kids get sick? Or have a special event in school? And her duties in her church and community? She juggles time between work, community, church, and school. 

Daunting chores!  

Then there’s her husband. And her home. They both need time—the husband, of course, gets the bigger share of caring.

My friend, Malou, has no house helper and her husband is an OFW. So she has to be both father and mother to their three kids.

Once I invited her to coffee and she told me about her jam-packed daily schedule. “Between my kids, their school, and our home, I am blessed to have this relaxing time.”  

After she narrated her typical day, I panted from exhaustion. “I got so tired just listening to your activities. You’re a super mom!” I said, meaning it. “How do you do it?”

“Through the art of multitasking,” she replied. 

“Art?! You have elevated multitasking to an art? But it’s the science of time management and multiple duties,” I replied, amazed.

She giggled. 

For moms, multitasking is a no-brainer. It has to do with the heart—a gift of grace from the Master Multitasker Who created the earth and everything in, over, around and under it.  


(Adapted from my column “Happy endings” in Moms and Kids Magazine) 

2/20/2015

Big Brother and Down Syndrome


February, the shortest month of the year, unpacked big events in succession: Valentine’s day; Chinese New Year; International Book Giving Day; and lest we forget . . .

February is National Down Syndrome Consciousness Month in the Philippines.

Many people are aware of Down Syndrome (DS) as a condition that afflicts one in 800 live births in the world. But not many know that children with DS, God's special blessings, possess great potential to live normal lives.

That’s why Republic Act 157 proclaimed February as National Down Syndrome Consciousness Month, under the auspices of the DSAPI:

It is to give Filipino children with DS "a mantle of protection against abuse, violence, and indifference." Like you, me, and every citizen, they deserve dignity and respect. 

These were the least we could do for my cousin Tinoy, born with DS.

He could speak only a few words and remained a child, but his parents never looked at him any differently. They were as proud of Tinoy as they were of their other children.

He was not kept at home, hidden from the world. This unconditional treatment rubbed off on everyone who ever met Tinoy—kith and kin alike.

In my visits with Tinoy when he and I were children, I taught him one word, ibon (bird), because he loved watching birds in flight. It took lots more visits and lots more practice before he could say, “uh-i-i-bon.”

What delighted me no end was, every time I’d see him (even a year or two apart), he would come to me and say, “uh-i-i-bon” and point to the sky.

These wonderful grace-encounters with Tinoy inspired the writing of “Big Brother” many years later, even if distance, time, and eventually his early death came between us.
“Big Brother,” a Palanca award winner and illustrated by Beth Parrocha-Doctolero, is a book of thanksgiving for the lives of Tinoy and every child born with DS.

It’s also a plea for those who’d chance upon the book to give kids with DS a chance to live full and decent lives.

I have always believed and felt, deep in my heart, that they could understand and feel more than we think they can—even if they remain as children while we grow up.

(Big Brother is available in all Philippine bookstores. It may also be ordered online through omflit.com)

2/19/2015

A Red-letter Day


Happy New Year. Gong Xi Fa Cai!

In the restaurant where we dined last night, New Year's eve, about 99% of the people were wearing red. The d├ęcor was all in red, too.

The occasion was indeed a red-letter day—a term that dates back from the 1400s. It those days, peopled marked feast days and other holy days in red on church calendars. Today, holidays are marked red in most calendars. 

Aside from being a red-letter day, Chinese New Year is dominated by the color red because red is considered the luckiest color in China. It is associated with happiness and good fortune; it symbolizes fire, believed to ward off evil spirits.

If you ever attend a Chinese celebration, wearing something red is always a good decision.

During these celebrations, one will not miss seeing the Ang Pao. In fact, my children, when they were little, looked forward to receiving them. These are little red envelopes stuffed with crisp new bills. They are given by the older family members as a gift to the young ones.  

As a token of appreciation, household staff and employees are sometimes also given Ang Pao as rewards for a job well done!

And speaking of red-letters days, wedding is one of them.

In Filipino weddings, the bride wears white. But in most Chinese weddings, the bride wears a traditional Chinese wedding dress in red.

Funny how one color could dictate one’s way of looking at life. Time and again, I’ve blogged about how superstitions can warp one’s mind, taking it away from the Source of grace.

I’ve always believed that no color, no omen, no sign, no nothing, no feng shui, and no luck can ever take the place of the love of God, from Whom all things (prosperity and happiness) flow.

The only red that is significant for me is the blood of Jesus—that which was shed for us so we may have life eternal, after this one has ended. 

Thank you, Lord, for this New Year.

“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” Romans 8:31 (NLT)

   

2/14/2015

Love is in the Air


That’s the theme of the Valentine’s event where I was invited to speak. It’s been dubbed the love banquet.

What is there to talk about on such occasions? I’ve gone past romantic love many decades over. In fact, I’ve grown cynical about this whole February 14 hoo-ha. After many years in advertising, the culprit in the wild spending and revelry happening today, I have learned to let the day pass by with nary a care.

And now to speak about it?!

Romantic love, as the world knows it, is a far cry from the love written in Scripture.

Love, as Jesus demonstrated with his life, which culminated in His death on earth, can never be replicated. Not even if we try and try.

“Love keeps no record of wrongs,” He says in 1 Corinthians 13: 5.  Yet here I am writing about everything that’s wrong about today, when love is supposed to be celebrated. 

I am shamed by this verse and all the other verses that run through that beautiful love chapter. 

Love indeed is in the air. It is in the air we breathe. Without it, we have no life.

Each time we inhale life-giving air, we breathe in God's love through His grace—unassailable proof that despite our failings and wrongs, the Lord still freely gives us this air that we need to survive.  

That is the single message I wish to leave those who will attend the love banquet, which includes me. Because love is in the air, we could celebrate love today, tomorrow, and all the many tomorrows thereafter—'til we breathe no more. 


Give Someone a Book


Since I took up writing as a second career, I have shunned buying gifts other than books. Not all enjoy books as much as I do, but the delight in giving them is immeasurable. 

And today is another opportunity to give someone(s) a book. It’s International Book Giving Day! 

I chose to give the first book in the Oh, Mateo! series (Half and Half) to Rose.

She is no longer a child, she is all of 25, with a husband who left her, and three children. When she came to live with us as Ate Vi’s (our househelp of over 30 years) assistant two weeks ago, I found out that because of an extremely hard life, she barely finished third grade.  

Rose has a difficult time reading, but she is a survivor. She could text, is street smart, and knows her way around. When I invited her to church last Sunday, she cried during our Pastor’s sermon. She said she realized that despite her enormous problems, she is still here today, intact, because of God’s grace. 

Tony suggested that the best gift we probably could ever give Rose is to share with her my children’s books to read, one at a time, with the hope that she will begin to have a hint of the childhood she never had.

She breezed through the Filipino text, but she gave up on the English text. Ate Vi is encouraging her to read syllable per syllable. Eventually, I am sure, she would catch on.

We who are exposed to books take these printed gems for granted. But there are many others, those in far-flung places all over the country, who, like Rose, have no access whatsoever to anything readable. 

As we celebrate International Book Giving Day today, may we find it in our hearts to give someone a book.


Heart Diet


Let's go on a heart diet today, the day of hearts. It's good for, well, our heart.

(And for me, it's kind to my tummy, too.)        



2/10/2015

February Is Her Name


There is a girl named February—probably the only person on earth named such. However, she wants to be called Febe, instead of February. 

Nobody knows her real name, except her parents and close relatives, of course. And now, also her grade school principal, who had read her birth certificate.

“Why don’t you want to be called February?” she asked.

“Because I wasn’t born in February! I was born in November.” 

“Would you rather be called November, then?” she smiled.

“Yes,” she said.  “But Febe is okay.”

Febe was named February because her parents met on February 14, Valentine’s day. It was a special day, so they named their first-born after this special month.      

Every February 14 (exactly four days from now), in many parts of the world, flowers, cards, gifts, and other goodies are exchanged between and among loved ones, in the name of St. Valentine.

You probably know the legend, but let me tell you anyway.  Long, long ago, Valentine, a priest of Rome, was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire.

In jail, Valentine healed the daughter of his jailer. Before he was executed, he wrote his jailer’s daughter a letter signed "Your Valentine" as a farewell.

Just like Valentine’s Day, the name February has many legends and myths on how it came to be. But in truth, the word February comes from the Latin word februa, meaning “to cleanse.” This was a Roman festival of purification or Februalia. It was a month when people were ritually washed to be forgiven of their sins.

As of this writing, people are already busy shopping or planning parties. On the 14th, restaurants will be filled, flower shops will sell a lot of flowers, and chocolates in red packaging will flood the stores. Valentine Cards will be sent via email or on social media. 

“Everybody celebrates your name!” Febe’s school principal said when the calendar hit February.

“But it is not my birthday!”  Febe insisted. 

“My name is Doreen and nobody celebrates it,” the principal explained. “You’re blessed to have a name that is celebrated by everyone. Thank God for this grace.

After a brief pause, Febe declared, “My name is February!”

(Adapted from my column “Big Little People” published in The Freeman on February 8, 2015.) 

Photo credit: http://www.sensfoundation.com/

2/06/2015

Imperfect love


She requested me to arrange their meeting after 40 years. She was a balikbayan from the US; he never left Philippine shores.

“When I saw him again, the 40 years disappeared,” she confided to me later. She looked like a lovestruck teenager.

“When I saw her again, the 40 years disappeared,” he admitted as much separately. He was visibly smitten.  

They were only in their 20s forty years ago—so young and so in love. So they got married before she flew to the US. She discovered that as a nurse, she had a bright future there. Deciding to stay and not to come back home, she tried to convince him in her letters to follow her.

He loved his job as a Navy officer in the Philippines. He asked her to come back, but she wouldn't.

No one budged. Years passed and they both “married” other people, and each had children of his/her own. More years passed and through Facebook they met each other again: she is now a widow and he, a widower.

Perfect ending to Love is lovelier the second time around?

Not quite.

Before the Facebook encounter, he had entered into a relationship with another woman. And in the meeting I had arranged for them, he told her about it. 
She was heartbroken—again. “We need to have our marriage annulled then,” she suggested.  With the annulment, the last encumbrance in their relationship would be severed forever.

He refused. So she flew back to the US desolate. He was left pining for her; he didn't want to lose her the second time around, but he also couldn't afford to hurt the girl with whom he has a relationship now.

Are marriages made of these? Is this what love is about?

As we celebrate what the world has dubbed the "month of love," February, may we ponder the love shown to us by Jesus, our Lord of grace: 

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; . . .”   1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (ESV)

(Adapted from my book, 'Circle of Compassion,' published by OMF Lit in 2013)       

2/02/2015

Stage Mother


Gloria (not her real name) had a dream: to be a movie actress like Vilma Santos.
She had the looks and a natural flair for acting.

Unfortunately, a series of unfortunate events prevented her from pursuing her obsession until marriage finally wrote finis to her dream.  

When she had a daughter of her own, she was determined to fulfill her dream through her child. She hired a private acting coach for Gloria Jr. and spent much of her time telling her daughter how wonderful it was to be an actress.

Every summer, Gloria would lug her daughter to many movie studios and advertising agencies for videotaping. She also had tons of photos of her daughter in various costumes and poses.

Gloria Jr., however, neither had the looks nor the acting talent of her mother. She also loathed what her mother had been trying to ram down her throat. But as a dutiful daughter, she went along with her mom's plans—for years. 

One day, a brutally frank talent scout told Gloria, “Sorry, 'Day, but I don't think your daughter has an ounce of acting talent.”

Gloria cursed; Gloria Jr. rejoiced.

After finally realizing the futility of it all, Gloria asked her daughter, “If you can't be an actress, what is it you want to be?”

Gloria Jr., now 15, replied brightly, “An architect!”  

We can’t live our dreams through another person, not even if she is our own child. Each of us is made differently, given different gifts through grace.

Looking back, I am grateful to my parents for not imposing their dreams on me. My dad was a lawyer and my mom was a pharmacist, both active in politics. I am into the arts; not interested in any political post. That's precisely why today I am doing what I like best: writing.

Like Gloria, who learned her lesson well (albeit slowly), may we remember this about our children:  

"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate." Psalm 127:3-5 (ESV)
   
(A portion of this post has been excerpted from my book, “Circle of Compassion,” published by OMF Lit in 2013)