12/29/2016

Christmas is Christmas


Merry CHRISTmas! 
That’s how I greet kith and kin around December 25—not “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.”

Much as I try analyzing the logic—backward, forward, upward, downward—I can’t see why people should be offended when we greet them thus. Greetings are simply greetings; it’s the way I feel; and I am not imposing my belief on those whom I greet.

We can’t redefine what Christmas is. It is the symbolic date of the birth of the Savior of mankind. This I believe because that’s what I read in Scripture. It was the reason the holiday was created.

People of the world differ in their belief and faith. I respect that. I have no problem whatsoever being greeted with “Happy Hanukkah” or “Eid ul-Adha” or “Pit Senyor” or “Gong Xi Fa Cai” or however other people of various persuasions express their joy.

I reply with a big smile and a sign of peace.

Christ is the reason for the December holidays and season. In whatever language, it’s a merry Christmas for me.   

French: Joyeux Noël
German: Froehliche Weihnachten
Greek: Kala Christouyenna
Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka
Italian: Buon Natale
Spanish: Feliz Navidad

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 (NIV)

Merry CHRISTmas cyber friends!

12/25/2016

For My Sake, He Became Poor


In the years before my dear friend Sonia left for her appointment with Jesus, she’d always have a reminder for me every December. She’d say, “The first Christmas was in a manger, stripped of all the grandeur we put up today.”

“No grandeur in my tree whatsoever!” I’d reply defensively. She knew of my self-imposed tradition of putting up a tree with a different theme every year. “It’s festive because it reflects how I feel about the birth of Jesus.”

“Just make sure your tree—or any décor—captures the true meaning of Christmas,” she said with a smile.

 The true meaning of Christmas. I always chew on Sonia’s statement for a full hour before deciding on my tree’s motif.

Without Sonia, nobody reminds me to keep my tree simple anymore. But her voice rings clear.

This year I trimmed my fifteen year-old faux fir with old lights from the storeroom and wrapped it in blue tulle (less than P100) bought from a surplus shop. I also accented the fir tree with oversized costume shades or sunglasses, also from a discount store.

Why blue, and why shades?

Between writing marathons, I take a break by painting nature scenes. One of the hardest to capture is the blue expanse above what God called the heaven. So while painting, I go outdoors and watch the sky being covered, bared, or curtained by clouds, while wearing my shades to keep my eyes from squinting.

My fir tree is a thanksgiving to God for the sometimes silky, sometimes milky, sometimes layered, sometimes rippled white clouds, which also sometimes come in fierce reds, bold yellows, and foreboding blacks—to give the blue expanse a one-of-a-kind face every minute, day and night.    
 
When Jesus, born poor on that first Christmas, will come again, we will see Him “coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30).

Marveling at the heaven, painting it, and trimming my tree with its color this Christmas, makes me want to shout in gratitude to God who, because He loves me, became Flesh on Christmas Day—and will one day come from the clouds of heaven to take me home.

“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9 (KJV)

(This post was originally written for the OMF Literature website.) 


12/23/2016

Irreplaceable Oski


Tony, my half (delete “better” because it hints at gender inequality), pulled a fast one on me not long ago.  He surprised me with a birthday party. My dearest one never had insane moments except this one time.

Aside from being clueless, I found it odd heading to a hotel ballroom. When the ornate door opened, an amalgam of faces grinned, representing different layers of my textured life: some kin, some church friends, including our Pastor; some in-laws; and some current and past colleagues—and there was Oski.
In a daze, I walked around but was asked to sit down when Oski approached the podium. He was the emcee?!  Oski, emcee extraordinaire and ad industry icon, was always a riot. I had joined throngs of admen who slapped their seatmate’s back and rolled on the floor laughing (ROFL).

B-b-but, this was different.

Our Pastor—he who preached about proper, reverent words—was in the room.  So were my editors, devout Christians all. 

Uh, noooo!

Irrepressible Oski, face stoic, was at his most improper and irreverent best. He barked, roared, and brayed, making mincemeat of the celebrant. The room burst into a din of hoots and ha-ha-has. On another planet, at another time, I’d lap these up, agog over what would come next. 

But that night, in my new hallowed place—an author on grace—my toes went numb from curling. 

Surreptitiously, I glanced at our Pastor’s table. He was slapping his seatmate’s back. I peeked at my publisher’s corner—ROFL all. Everyone, including my 8-year-old grandson, was burbling.

Suddenly, I was zapped to my ex-ad life, where Oski loomed large as esteemed colleague (and loomed larger as forever friend), and my past and present blended in one, made possible by Oski's magic. 

Little did I know it would be the last time I’d watch Oski emcee a gathering—and it was mine. What a blessed  birthday gift it was!

After a fatal stroke last month, he slipped away. But not before a legion of caring friends scampered to gather around him, pray for his healing, then only to say goodbye.   

Ironically, I was in a middle of a party when someone messaged me that he was gone. Amidst the crowd, I sobbed—the only time Oski made me cry.

Cremation and funeral followed a little over 24 hours later.

This one-in-a-trillion friend left me tons of memories—poignant, hilarious, cerebral, bizarre—from every encounter where he hogged conversations with his jokes and Oskisms. My party is just one of them.
  
In one book launching event, he asked, “Gadachong, help me write my first book. I already have a title for it.” 

“What?”

“To all the girls I’ve loved before.”

I grimaced, “How about changing it to ‘To all the people I’ve loved before’—to include me?”

“You are not people,” he deadpanned. “You’re Gadachong,”

Oski, there will never be another you.

"I thank my God every time I remember you." Philippians 1:3 (NLT)


12/22/2016

Second Chances


After I retired from the workplace in 2000, I thought my career had ended. But the Lord gave me a second chance, a second chapter: He made me write books and teach. 

Those were not my plans. But doors opened and I entered them.

Now as a part-time college instructor, I am drawn to second chances.

Last week, on our last day for the term, we had a mock job interview, complete with a resume, cover letter—the works. After the interview, I took time to encourage each student.  

One of them was Jerry (not his real name)—one of the smartest in class. But he was a sluggard: poor attendance with lackluster performance. On occasion, I'd talk to him about trying his best, but nothing happened. This time, I took a different tack; I threatened him.

“Jerry, you are failing. You never gave me any reason to pull you up to pass. You could be excellent if you want to, but yadda, yadda, yadda. Tonight I will review your performance; it may not be a PASS.”  

He paled.

That night, Jerry sent me an email: “Good evening, Ms. Chong. I just want to say thank you for being nice as a professor, and for being patient with me. I am sincerely sorry from the bottom of my heart that I have disappointed you. If there is anything I can do to get a PASS, please let me know. Thank you, and merry Christmas!”

Christmas. Our pastor spoke to us about what Christmas is about last Sunday—love. God became Flesh because He loves us.

Love, then, is about giving second chances.

After The Fall in Eden, man deserved to die. But because God loves us, He gave us a second chance.

This Second Chance was born on Christmas day.

With His birth, we are promised forgiveness for our sins if we seek repentance. Yes, God so loves us He doesn’t want anyone to perish. We read in James 4:6 (NKJV), “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'"

I emailed Jerry back. “Thank you so much for your message. Yes, there is something you can do to get a PASS.  Promise me you’ll do better next term—mean it, and do it.  Will you? Merry Christmas.”

He replied in less than a minute, ending every sentence with an exclamation mark.   

“Good evening Ms. Chong! I will take you up on that promise! Thank you so much! I promise to do better! You have my word!”    

I replied, “It's a deal, Jerry.”  

Second chances: starting on a clean slate.

On Christmas, Jesus was born so I may begin on a clean slate. If I confess my sins to Him, and accept Him as my Savior, my past is deleted. And I become a child of God.

What a merry Christmas!


12/18/2016

Arming Kids


This verse makes me shudder:  

“ . . . There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,  treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—” 2 Timothy 3:1-4 (ESV)

We see them happening today—in Aleppo, in the Philippines.   

More than ever, we need to arm our children against these evil forces that have crept in over the years, and now here with ferocity.

This was how I began my talk “Why Devotions for Kids Matter” at CSM’s Teach and Reach Seminar—not to scare my audience of 307 educators and church workers, but to stress how important children’s devotions are.      

I have so far written nine devotionals for children. Based on feedback, these books have helped young readers in their faith walk and value formation. For this, I am deeply grateful.

Unfortunately, if one were to base the reach of these books on sales, they are in the hands of only a few. Whatever reasons there are, I feel that Christian communities are yet to see the urgent need for kids’ devotionals. 

Every single day, kids are exposed to worldwide atrocities through the internet and television—wars, rape, pornography, suicide, man-made and natural disasters, crimes, killings, cursing, lies, violence in all forms, poverty, corruption, the list goes on.

How are we to arm them?

Parents can’t keep yakking their head off. In fact, they are too busy battling traffic to and from work to even have time to yak. Teachers only have so much time to deliver the curriculum. Elected leaders have ceased to be role models. Political correctness and compromise have taken over GMRC (Good Manners and Right Conduct).

Even Christmas—the birth of our Savior—has morphed into so many varying definitions, far removed from the right one.

"I believe that regular devotion (in school, home, or church) is one armor," thus I ended my talk.   
 
By getting kids to sit down for two to three minutes a day, reading and discussing interesting characters and exciting events within the realm of their experience—based on God’s word—and praying with them, they have an ammunition against the onslaught of deceit.

This is my prayer and CSM's, and we hope, the audience's too. We have laid it down at God’s throne of grace.

  

12/14/2016

Timeless


Choosing a theme for a clan reunion that has been annually going strong for the last 72 years can be daunting.  It has to integrate the essence of the gathering, which embraces its history: how it began and the people who started it all.

In our case, it was our grandfather and grandmother (my mom's side) who, in 1945, gathered their nine children and families. It was in that event that the old patriarch and matriarch made a dictum to make this the beginning of a yearly family tradition—even after they're gone.

To make sure the yearly event continues, they bequeathed a piece of farmland for this purpose. The harvest would be used for the expenses.

Over the years, however, due to climate change, the farmland has not been as productive as it was, while the clan has been exponentially growing.

A device was hatched to fund the reunion: "tax" (called pledge) from each member of the clan, based on his age.

This arrangement has made it last this long. But one other problem is unsolvable: Diaspora. Majority of the clan members are now all over the world. A measly 25% or 120 pax attend the reunion regularly.

How relevant, then, is the reunion still to the grind of expensive living and the dispersion of its members?

Despite the snags, the organizers this year (my branch of the family) felt that the depth of filial feelings, happy memories of reunions past, and the grace of family are timeless.

Thus the theme: Timeless.

Timeless, too, is our individual and collective faith in Jesus, the God of our two forbears—they who encouraged their children to worship the same God during and after every reunion.

We are confident that our unchanging God, Who is the same yesterday, today, and
forever—timeless—will see this clan through (whether or not the reunion ends) till He comes again.

(I wish to thank my artist friend, Ggie, for creating the logo design gratis et amore.)


12/10/2016

Dreams (Part 2)


In Bible times, although it was not a common occurrence, God spoke to a few people through dreams.

Some of the best known dreams are Joseph's—reasons why he is known as Joseph the dreamer.  His dreams were about his future role as the second-in-charge to the Egyptian Pharaoh, which changed the lives of the Hebrews. 

Today, many people still place or try to find meaning in their dreams. Some even go as far as seeking dream interpreters; looking up dream dictionaries that offer meanings to symbols/images. And maybe because of coincidences in real life, others think that dreams are a way by which God communicates to them the way He did in ancient times.

But dreams are a natural part of the sleeping state—they are unreal.

In fact, the Bible talks about dreams’ fleeting nature: "A hungry person dreams of eating but wakes up still hungry. A thirsty person dreams of drinking but is still faint from thirst when morning comes. So it will be with your enemies, with those who attack Mount Zion." Isaiah 29:8 (NLT)

If you're one of those (like me) who could remember your dreams vividly, leave them as such—dreams.  They make good conversation pieces, stimuli for creative ideas, reminders of people and events we have long forgotten. They could also be symptoms of some psychological disorder.

God communicates with us today through the Bible and makes us feel His presence in our prayers, quiet times, and through the grace we enjoy every day.

Think not of dreams, but of  ". . . whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8 (NLT)

12/06/2016

Dreams (Part 1)


I am a dreamer.

No longer in my waking hours, but in my catnaps, siestas, and sleep. Each time I nod off (even for just a few seconds), I dream.

These dreams are totally disjointed, incoherent, timeless and aimless. But they are always in spectacular colors.

I meet people I have not seen in years and we converse as though we see each other every day. Then the scene changes to another room, or another field, with different people each time, often under bizarre circumstances. Even my relationships with these characters are switched and sometimes illogical.

On some nights, Tony is my younger brother or grandfather or boss; our home, either a palace, a haunted house, or a shack.

Sometimes, I am suddenly awakened by Tony because he says I am either mumbling or screaming. “Nightmare,” he calls them.

“Dreams,” I insist.

In those cavalcade of images, people, and events, I experience stories that don’t make sense, but some ideas make it to the real stories that I write.

Countless poems have been written about dreams. And every single one is the writer’s truth.
Sigmund Freud’s controversial theories about the meaning of dreams in 1900 have not led to solid, objective data. In short, they are all unproven.

With today’s brain imaging in sleep labs, dreaming is being probed more deeply. Although scientists have discovered that dreaming occurs in REM sleep, they disagree on what happens during that state.

Some say the emotional part of the brain is activated and the executive part, deactivated.

Some believe that it is a complex interplay between emotional and cognitive information—dreams serve to help our brains process emotional memories and integrate them into our long-term memories. And because “traumatic events are associated with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, they can cause nightmares.”

Whatever.

The debate and studies continue. But as I do when I can’t explain a complex phenomenon, I reduce it to one word: grace.

Everything that happens inside my brain (awake or asleep) and in my heart (awake or asleep) come from a deep resource of my being that has been “fearfully and wonderfully made.”  (Psalm 139:14)

12/02/2016

Why Devotions for Kids Matter



 
Need I say more? These kids are miners. Page after page, they pan for grace.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words that I give you today. Repeat them to your children.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)