4/28/2015

Summer Beginnings


While biting my nails, waiting for the manuscript of my latest book “Present!” to be sent back by my editor, I intensely keep busy with other pursuits that take second fiddle to my writing.

One of them is painting.

Since that Sunday of Resurrection, when faith brethren in church got together to celebrate Easter by painting, I have not stopped. With every free time (from part-time summer teaching and marathon reading), I grab my brushes—and paint.

The last time I dabbled in painting was in 2006. This time, nine years later, I have decided to tackle  summer colors and patterns. 

Butterflies are it.

I really want to be an artist when I grow up. (I am as inept in painting as I am in cooking.) Painting, like reading, holds so much rapture for me, the restful kind. What grace that feeling is—it’s like lying down in green pastures, beside the still waters. Indefinable peace for the restless soul. 

I initially began painting on that glorious Sunday some palm fronds, topped with a butterfly hovering over flowers. The painting is unfinished; it needs re-touching and re-doing. I have an idea of what it needs; I just don't know if my hands are capable of doing them.

After that, I started a few more. Again they are all unfinished, needing a splash there and a swoosh here. Or maybe some dabs and rubs. But I signed one or two so the blame does not fall on anyone but me.

Then one day last week, my friend G, an artist of the first order (also an art director par excellence) joins me and tries to put some sense into my madness.
Oooh, she knows exactly what a teeny section needs and her hands obey her imagination. She gives me great tips here and there, but somehow, my hands rampage toward the messy, danger zones.

I get excited just thinking about my next images—my mind is definite, but my hands are iffy. So, let me give you a sneak peek of my initial works.

I call the series "Summer Beginnings." I hope to finish at least one before summer is gone—or before I get back to the reason I breathe: writing.

"He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.” Psalm 23:2-3 (ESV)

4/24/2015

Hat’s Off


To protect myself from the moist air in my dawn walks, I wear a hat.  The hat stays till I reach home at 6 AM.

Today, seconds after the first glimmer of the morning sun, I took my hat off—approximately at step 4,000 (according to my pedometer), and about 5:34 AM.   
It is summer. 

Dewdrops pop and vanish as soon as the sun peeps and makes its way to the horizon.

When I ended my walk at step 7,500 (seven kilometers), the sun was shimmering all around. Dogs were barking, people were chattering, and birds were singing. Even Tony was up and smiling.

Before today, it would still be dark when I reached home at 6 AM. My path would be lit by street lamps and occasional school buses. Then I’d be welcomed by the aroma of egg omelet, fried rice, brewed coffee or some other yummy concoction from Ate Vi’s kitchen. The boys would still be in bed.  

Without my hat, my cropped hair gets blown by the wind and my head is infinitely lighter, like it were wafting freely with the tree leaves that fall from branches that sway to and fro along my route. The better to feel the whisperings of nature in my ear. Even my feeble eyes see clearly the bountiful grace in the neighborhood—it’s in all the flowers in bloom and the butterflies that kiss them.  

Tomorrow, the sun will come out even earlier and I’ll be hatless earlier, too. In a few weeks, I will definitely be hatless from my first step to my last.

Oh, I take my hat off to God. I take my hat off to His summer! 


4/20/2015

Go Bananas


The one fruit that seems to reside permanently in our home is the banana. Tony buys a bunch almost daily (the yellow, seedless kind, which we call lacatan). And I am always surprised at how fast they disappear—and appear again. 
I can go through life without bananas, but obviously, the boys can’t. "I am living with three monkeys," I sometimes say, but nobody takes offense. At any given time, one of them—or all—are busy enjoying the yellow berry.

Without my knowledge, Ate Vi planted a banana tree in our garden. Yesterday, she asked me, “Want to see the beginning of banana fruits?”

Tada!

The first thing that came to my mind was to use it for my header. Not, “The boys will enjoy our very own bananas in a few weeks.” Those were Ate Vi’s words, said with her usual aplomb.

Our very own bananas. That’s what summer brings: a lot of sunshine that makes banana plants bear bunches of banana fruits.

Then she gives me another surprise. “Since you don’t go much for bananas, you will soon have your very own favorite atis, too.”

She leads me to the atis tree—and there, hanging from one of the branches is a solitary atis! “Oh, there will be more,” she said with her standard poise.

That made me, pardon the pun, go bananas.  

In just two surprising moments in our garden, much of summer grace has come—and from our very own trees.

The bananas go up:
 
The dew drop goes down:  

4/17/2015

Day of Resurrection


On the Sunday Christians all over the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, adults and children in my home church resurrect our love for the arts. 

After the Sunrise Service, our spiritual family breaks bread together, then those who nurse a closet (or overt) passion to paint go to work in our church yard.

This is a tradition we started four years ago. And it seems to be gaining ground.

This year, more kids join the session. Especially because the objective is to gather 40 paintings for exhibit on our church’s 40th anniversary in September. All amateurs, we are guided by our Youth Pastor who has done more artworks than all of us put together. 

“I didn’t go to art school,” he apologizes. “I just love painting.”  Those exact words would have come from my mouth, but the difference between him and me is that, judging from his body of wonderful works, he definitely has the talent! 

The last time I put my paint brushes to use was at the same time and place last year. Busyness in writing and some teaching relegated those brushes in a corner where they gathered dust for 365 days.

I’ve always said that although I love painting, painting doesn’t love me. What my mind sees is not what my hands deliver. My gifts lie elsewhere, but the wonderful feelings painting brings becloud the inability.

I am not complaining; I am thanking the resurrected Savior for giving us areas of interest that rain untold joy, untold grace.

 As soon as I get home, I show Tony (an art enthusiast) the photo of our harvest.

“This one’s excellent!" he singles out the work of Jillian, aged 9. "And this. And this. Confident strokes,” he adds. The works of the kids impress him! Sigh, he ignores mine.

That challenges me to slave over my painting some more, to come close to the kids’. I spend the rest of the day urging my hands to do what I want to see.

At day’s end, “Nah.” The hands simply can’t deliver, but the heart brims with gladness. And I lift up my brushes in praise of my resurrected Lord!   

“May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” Psalm 121:2

Photos:grabbed from the FB pages of Karen and Ching

4/13/2015

Grace Period


That much-appreciated limited period of time in which penalties are not imposed even if you are late—for whatever (insurance, class, appointment, or any kind of bill)—is called grace period. Very apt. Although undeserved, it is given out of consideration for inability.

Grace periods come with different time frames—some short, some long—but the important thing is: as long as you make it during this time, you are free from any obligation or punishment.

In sum, you or your payments are not considered late.

In the university where I teach, grace period is 15 minutes after the start of the official class hour. Beyond that, students are no longer accepted into the classroom.

Their penalty translates to missed opportunity (lecture, quiz, project, discussion, etc.) that leads to lowered grade.

A grace period is exactly that—it is grace; it is given to anyone who, even if late, has the same privileges as those who are on time.

On earth, our grace period within which to accept “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” is our lifespan. We are given our whole lifetime to say “aye” or "nay” to Jesus. 

Many people take their own sweet time, saying life has to be enjoyed first. The trouble is, tomorrow may not come; our life could end tonight or anytime. Beyond that, we will stand in judgment.

Alas, the grace period granted us cannot be taken for granted. 

“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:14 (ESV)

Photo credit

4/09/2015

Foot in Mouth


Not only babies (and acrobats) can put their foot in their mouth.  

We can, too. I can and I do. 

Foot in mouth is an old idiom, originating from the foot-in-mouth disease (a deadly virus found in cattle), and dating back to the 1800s. The idiom refers to humans whose words get them in trouble.

It’s when you say something stupid, insulting, or hurtful that you regret. You wish you hadn’t said it, but it’s too late to take it back.

I am not exactly gaffe-prone—my mom taught me tact painstakingly—but once in a while, even if I mean well, my words land in the wrong direction.

This one’s an example, which I wrote about in my book Circle of Compassion. Even after so many years, remembering the incident still turns me red. 

ooo

I bumped into my old friend, Jim, in the busy lobby of a hotel. He was with a young boy about eight years old. “Hello, stranger!” he said, hugging me. “It's been, what, ten years? Meet my son Javis.”

“Hello, Javis! You look just as handsome as your dad. Where's your mom?” 

“I don't know where my mom is, OKAY?” he said angrily, running away and disappearing through the crowd. His worried father quickly ran after him.

Aw, did I put my foot in my mouth! Red with embarrassment, I immediately called up a mutual friend and told her what happened.

“It's still all very hush-hush,” she said. “After their spectacular wedding which awed you, me, and all other 1,000 guests, Jim and Nieves were not exactly the ideal couple we all thought they were. In the States, even with all the luxury in the world in a huge house, the marriage didn't work out. But they stayed together till their son turned seven last year. Nieves left their conjugal home and was never heard from since. Now Jim and their son Javis are back in the Philippines—for good.  And guess what . . .”   

“Thanks,” I said, unwilling to hear more.  


ooo

Foot in mouth is something we sometimes can’t avoid. But it is more than worth our while to think about words before we say them.

“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 (ESV) 


4/05/2015

Empty Promises


OPM. That was the acronym we used for clients and bosses who reneged on their promise because they either forgot about it or didn’t mean it at all. OPM is Oh Promise Me, a song in the 19th century. 

The world is indeed full of OPMs. Ads tell us we can be rich, fair, beautiful, tall, healthy, or even healed from a disease, if we purchased this or that product.

Politicians promise us a better life if we voted for them.

Friends say, “I’ll come and see you,” but never do.

“You’ll be okay, I promise you,” say some do-gooders when we are in bad shape; we’ll never be okay, not on the basis of their promise. 

“Promises are made to be broken,” is a saying we often quote.

Empty promises surround us all year, and maybe all through our lives.
 
Only God made a promise that is not empty. On Easter, according to preacher Steven Kellett, “God gave us emptiness that is full of promise.”

Easter has one, great promise proven by emptiness:

Empty cross—on that cross, Jesus offered His perfect life in our behalf; there, where His blood was spilled, He paid the penalty for our sins. Anyone who asks for forgiveness will be forgiven. 

“He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.” Romans 4:25 (NLT) 

Empty tomb—He did not remain in the tomb, just as any believer in Jesus who dies on earth will be risen from the grave to eternal life.

“He isn't here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.” Matthew 28:6     
 
Indeed, God gave us emptiness so full of promise—the promise of eternal life witnessed by man on Easter: 

“Jesus replied, ‘Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.’” John 12:23-25  

Happy Easter everyone!

4/03/2015

Hope


Someone very close to my heart died from drug overdose at age 30.

I knew him since he was 16 years old. His parents, who spoke very little English and Filipino, would request me to go to Ian's (not his real name) school in their behalf to settle misbehavior issues with the Rector. On our third meeting within the same year, the Rector warned, “Ian would be kicked out if we caught him smoking marijuana again!” 

It didn't happen again, but Ian had progressed from grass to cough syrup to shabu to cocaine in the next few years while in college.

Again and again, I would talk to him. Again and again, he got jailed. Again and again, his parents would bail him out.

One day he was convinced to check into a very expensive rehab facility. But he escaped after a few days and his parents would check him into a new one . . . ad infinitum. I couldn't keep track of the number of rehab houses, the amount of money spent for his expensive addiction, and the slew of goods he stole in exchange for drugs as years went by.

When he was found lifeless, sprawled on the floor in his parents' home, his only sister ranted and raved, “My parents should have given up on him. Ian was born hopeless!”   

That stung me. At the cross two thousand years ago, God dispensed grace through Jesus: an open invitation for everyone to receive Hope.

But my dear Ian declined. 

As we reflect on Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection this Holy Week, may we accept the Hope offered to each one of us.

Nobody is ever born hopeless. Hopelessness is something we bring on to ourselves if we look the other way and decline our one and only Hope for life everlasting.
 
"But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Romans 5:8 (NLT)

(This post was adapted from my book “Circle of Compassion,” published by OMF Literature in 2012.)