1/19/2021

Holding On—Together


Since the year 1988, when If We Hold on Together* was first performed by Diana Ross for a movie, our subclan has been repeatedly singing the tune as our group presentation for our yearly big clan reunion.   

Somehow, we never got it right—not the lyrics, anyway. Each one always had the words on a piece of paper (or phone) surreptitiously glanced at during the performance. 

By fair means or foul, it became our signature song on every occasion we were together.  We even sang it at my son #2’s wedding, never mind the miscues and unreached notes.  

In a couple of reunions, we had the audacity to play the melody on angklung.  

For three decades, despite the imperfections, we have been rewarded with a lusty applause after the last note, like getting an “A” for effort. Or perhaps the poignant lyrics deliver the message of togetherness, a rarity among families in our world today.  

“If we hold on together        
I know our dreams will never die
Dreams see us through to forever
Where clouds roll by
For you and I”

Then came our 76th clan reunion amidst the coronavirus pandemic, on 1 January (Philippines) and December 31 (other parts of the globe). Virtual it had to be, but the Execom still required each subclan to have a group presentation. 

Guess what we did.   

From four different countries and 11 households, our subclan recorded the same song we’ve performed for three decades to a soundtrack sent by our young techies.  

Ah, the miracle of technology. With clever editing, the video got more than a lusty applause from the chat box. 

For the first time, I shed tears while paying close attention to the lyrics.  

Not because of the grammatical lapse (which I noticed for the first time, too, but will be discussed in a separate post), but because . . .  

At no time has holding on together been more meaningful for me than now that we are all physically apart. Togetherness has nothing to do with time and distance. And this special feeling, spoken by tears, is grace received that can only be expressed in silence. 

*Written by James Horner and Will Jennings as theme song for the film The Land Before Time 

Photo credit: top (Pinterests.ph)

1/15/2021

A Year of Minimalism


In our home, the year 2020 was a year of minimalism—not in terms of worry and fear—but in terms of trappings of the consumer culture that has engulfed the world. 

I had been sparing. Instead of splurging on things that I thought gave my family joy, I distanced myself from them with careful restraint. Minimalism was the rhythm of my year.

Our Christmas trimmings were unearthed from an old box in our storeroom by Mother Teresa as I was not inclined to do anything I had done in past years: themed d├ęcor all over our house, indoor and outdoor (c/o Tony).   

Minimalism in this sense freed me from the stress that society imposes upon the season—shopping, gift wrapping, decorating, not to mention battling the dreadful holiday traffic to get to where you should be. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with all of the above. What’s wrong is that I gave too much meaning to them, neglecting what’s essentially important with the time I have left on earth: and that is to focus on the birth of Hope.   

These verses from my MSG Bible explained it for me:  

“. . . time is of the essence. There is no time to waste, so don’t complicate your lives unnecessarily. Keep it simple—in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things—your daily routines of shopping, and so on. Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This world as you see it is on its way out.” (1 Corinthians 7:30-31) 

This was fleshed out during the yearly party that I never miss to attend —the Christian Writer’s Fellowship Christmas get-together. This year, I didn’t have to dress up, suffer traffic woes, nor worry whether I’d be there on time to hear the message (A Thrill of Hope by Josil Gonzales, founding chairman) and fellowship with kindred spirits who serve the Lord through words. 

It was attended by friends from around the world!                     

A tradition that had to be modified because of safety protocols was the exchange of books. Each was encouraged to write on FB about the book he was ready to share with someone. The grace of this arrangement is, not just one, but all, will receive the book! 

A year of minimalism 2020 was, but more meaningful than what the world normally allows. 


1/11/2021

Let the Chaos Begin

 

Those words, said in jest by Teo, anchorman of our 76th Clan reunion on ZOOM on 1 January 2021 have never felt more right and more beautiful!  

He meant we could unmute, open mic, and talk (or shout in excitement) to whomever we chose on screen. 

"Chaos” translates to kunol-kunol (Ilocano term for bonding or idle chat), the part of our annual reunion that I love best, since I no longer have the proper joints and bones to participate in sports and games.  
  
One page out of eight

A grace event, nothing less, is what I call this 76th reunion, considering the dark hole we had been sucked into for most of 2020. I thought we’d stop at 75 (our golden jubilee) as soon as the crisis erupted last year. 

I was wrong.

The Execom, composed of younger members, and therefore tech savvy, of each sub-clan made it happen—complete with all the elements that had made all 75 reunions a riot and something to look forward to year after year. 

It opened with a thanksgiving and memorial service that looked back to all our blessings, including the love shared with those who have gone home to Jesus.    

 

A pastor in our clan delivered a powerful message about the God who binds us together, and the virtual choir sang our favorite hymns. We listened to a soundtrack of our voices singing the Lutkin Benediction in one past reunion.

Offertory for Project Nehemiah of the Umingan church

Virtual choir

The chat box got busy: 

“Goosebumps!”

“Awesome!” 

“Thank you, Lord!” 

This 76th is different not only because it was virtual, but many members from all parts of the world—including those who have not come home in ages—attended without spending time for preps and travel. It shattered all attendance records.  

All sub-clan presentations were recorded. The eloquent live liturgist and emcees worked hard at continuity, still, the three-hour event came with pixels, lagging, dead air, and all technical glitches you can think of. 

I'd say those were inconsequential. When you’re with the people the Lord gave you to grow up with, and who influenced your total being, everything but the hugging is perfect. 

In fact, those digital flaws were moments when Teo announced, “Continue with the chaos.”

We held hands in our heart for our family circle; sang Blest be the tie that binds; did a countdown, 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 (based on a clock in some part of the globe), and shouted Happy New Year!” 

Again came the chaos.   


1/07/2021

And the Turkey Trots Back

 

After ending our tradition of a home-cooked turkey for Christmas dinner four years ago, we thought it was gone for good. 

The turkey we ordered from a restaurant on 25 December 2016 was a big disappointment, so we decided on a staycation the following year, and partook of the hotel’s turkey on Christmas eve, three years in a row. Then what do you know? 

The pandemic resurrected the turkey tradition; the bird came trotting back! 

We couldn’t risk going to a hotel, and since we have Mother Teresa (all of nine months now since the quarantine began), JR decided he could do it again with her help. 

I didn’t think I’d blog about a home-cooked turkey ever again, but, well . . .  

Early in the evening, we attended our church’s virtual service; we polished off the bird; chatted with son #2 in the US; enjoyed some gift giving (only son #1 had gifts for everyone); then off to dreamland, but not before giving thanks for the Savior Who  became flesh on that first Christmas, changing this wretched world forever. 

It was another merry and grace-filled Christmas. 

"I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High." (Palm 9:1-2 NIV)  

1/04/2021

Anti-vaxxers: Fomenting Fear

 

As soon as the coronavirus started battering humanity, a number of doctors in the country got infected and died. That pained (okay, distressed and alarmed) me, because son #2 is a doctor in the US. I prayed that a vaccine would be available soon to protect him from this invisible but lethal enemy.  

In America, the number of deaths hit the roof! It shattered all global records.  

However, testing of vaccines for safety and effectiveness by pharmaceutical companies in various countries showed promise. But skeptics—scoffing at the danger of the virus and violating safety precautions—have been rude and rowdy, mocking the idea of a vaccine. 

Refusing vaccines began back in the 1800s when the smallpox vaccine was used in large numbers. Since then, vaccines have met a wave of opposition because (as I have culled from health magazines): they are linked to neurological disorders, allergic reactions, autism, and mistrust of science and pharmaceutical companies.  

Many scientists and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) assured us that these fears are medically unfounded. 

Despite that pronouncement, anti-vaxxers continue to rise on social media. Campaigners are working full-time to foment fear in vaccines, directing the doubters to online stores which sell products purporting to have health benefits. These undermine the roll-out of any future vaccine against COVID-19. 

On the verge of panic, my mommy heart danced when I read on my son’s FB page that he had been injected with a vaccine, with a photo to boot! 


Still, I worried because he has been allergy-prone since birth. I shouldn’t have; God’s grace intervened. He posted this message a few hours later:   

“Tonight as I go to sleep, I feel a dull ache in my arm where I received my COVID vaccine. 

“I also feel something I honestly haven't felt in quite a while: Hope.”

Double grace:  

“24-hour update. Soreness in the arm continues, but really no worse than what I'd get a few days after a vigorous workout. I'm tired, but I was even before the shot. No fever or new body aches.

“I think I am developing x-ray vision.” 

Triple grace:   

“48+ hour update. Arm feels a lot better, no other symptoms to speak of. I feel able to leap tall buildings with a single bound.”

Quadruple grace: 

“72+ hour update: arm soreness barely noticeable, everything else working as expected.

“I accidentally nicked myself with a scalpel blade this morning. Or at least I think I did. The blade broke off and my skin was unbroken. Curious.” 

Grace galore: 

“96-hour update: arm is back to normal” 

Pro-vaccine groups (which include my family) need to throw light on those who malign the vaccine.  

At the risk of courting the ire of my son, I am blogging about his vax experience, his sense of humor versus my sense of horror, in the hope that anti-vaxxers would see this light. 

* * *

How did the second shot go?  See for yourself:  


1/01/2021

What’s Up, 2021?


The year just ended was tough, and that’s putting it mildly. From January, when the Taal Volcano erupted, we started staying indoors and wearing face masks to protect us from the ash fall.

Then, less than two months later, the ides of March forced us to stay home and to wear our mask whenever we strayed out for errands. The Covid-19 pandemic changed our daily routine, if not our lives. 

For one whole year, we suffered the sting and consequences of a virus gone wild and unchecked, plus killer earthquakes (including two on Christmas day) and typhoons that caused massive flooding. Businesses have closed, resulting in widespread unemployment. Thousands are still stranded in many places in and out of the country. 

We went online—teaching, learning, worshiping, bonding, fellow-shipping, etc. Face-to-face interaction has gone extinct. 

There are news about a vaccine this new year (captured in art by my friend Ggie) that might end the pandemic, but with indecisive government officials, that isn’t forthcoming—not in the next few months—not even till the end of the year, according to many doomsayers who are furiously shaking their heads.                                  

         

As I look back through the past 12 months, I find my thoughts and feelings inscribed in over 100 blogs. The activities that kept me busy, aside from writing and reading, continued on the digital road. 

One of my books, all ready for printing, could not be published because the price of imported paper and ink have spiked. 

At least one, Memories of Grace came through simply because OMF Lit, my publisher, decided on a more manageable POD (publish on demand) printing, in-house. Just one hundred copies for the online Manila International Book Fair. 

What happens to book publishing? What happens to teaching? What happens to . . . oh, so many other things. 

There are no specific answers, no specific timelines. Just prayers for a less turbulent 2021. 

We who believe in the redeeming grace of Christ, turn to His Word again and again, confident that He is taking care of us as we see more and more signs of His second coming: 

“Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14 (NLT)


12/28/2020

He Gives, and Gives, and Gives


His love has no limit, His grace has no measure
His pow'r has no boundary known unto men
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again  

That’s the chorus of He Giveth More Grace, one of my favorite hymns. Even before I was old enough to understand the lyrics, I already loved it; perhaps because my mom used to sing it aloud a lot. (Mom’s legendary generosity in life might have been inspired by this tune.) 

It’s about boundless, bottomless grace. Like a circle that has no end.   
Anyone with a relatively comfortable life could relate to the hymn. 

But the person who penned it lived the opposite of anything but comfortable. Annie J. Flint (1866–1932) knew unlimited pain. She lost both her parents when she was a child. Fortunately, she was adopted by a family that taught her the Scriptures, to read, write, and create music. 

And that planted in her heart a dream—to be a concert pianist. Alas, she developed severe rheumatoid arthritis in her early-twenties. By her 30th birthday, Anne could barely walk. Her biography reads, “Her hands were disfigured, her body was twisted, and she was rarely able to sleep because of the extreme discomfort she experienced throughout her joints.” 

It was through her agony and anguish that she became closer to God. Despite the intense pain in her deformed fingers, Annie wrote poetry, which were reflections of God’s Word and His sustained presence in her life. 

Because of her ailments, she was cooped up in a tiny room in a sanitarium, yet she rarely complained about her condition. Her friends and family described her to be always encouraging and funny. As though roles had been reversed, she penned encouraging verses and gift-books, which contained her collection of poetry, for them.  

Soon, Anne’s writings were published and widely read. People marveled that such amazing lyrics could be composed by hands burdened by unabated chronic pain. And, unlike poems of melancholia, the dominant theme of Annie’s writing was God’s goodness amidst trials and tribulations. 

One of her awe-inspiring works, born from suffering, is He Giveth More Grace. 

How can one not believe such words, coming from someone who led a life of torment and torture? 


12/24/2020

A Savior Is Born


One dark night over 2,000 years ago, the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, was born in a manger. 

No fanfare, no celebrations, no fancy rites, no notable guests—just poor shepherds watching their flock. 

From that night, our dark world was lit with Hope. Anyone who accepts this Savior (who would grow up to freely give grace to you and me, and sacrifice His own life on the cross) in his heart will be saved and have eternal life.   

That is the simple but profound message of Christmas. 

We are not told of the date and details of the venue, whether it was in an open field, a barn, a cave, or a home. For what does it matter? 

But artists through the centuries have come up with this image, which we call the nativity tableau or creche, as a graphic interpretation of that lowly birth.    

 

And so on Christmas, every year, we celebrate the birth of Hope, with pomp and circumstance: glitters galore, fancy festivities, and rousing revelry. 

We might be too busy to look back to and reflect on that dark night, but the essence of Christmas remains the same. 

MERRY CHRISTMAS! 


12/22/2020

Art: What Is It?

 

One of the many things that fascinate me about staying home during the pandemic is the slew of creativity that I am privileged to enjoy on social media. 

My artist and writer friends post their works, and if they were all collected into a printed anthology, we’d have tons of tomes that could fill up a gym!  

A former colleague and a friend, Lorenz, posts about his art to a close circle almost daily: what he does, how he does it, why he does it, and finally the finished product. This one's titled "When You Love Someone."  

"I love it, Lorenz! May I borrow it for my blog?” I wrote on his FB wall. 

He replied, “Can you message me why this resonated with you?” 

My message: 

I see Christmas—love. 

I feel it encompasses everything that love is. There is a burst of many colors, all colors, converging and diverging. They go in all directions, yet they make a unified whole. 

Love likewise transcends every beautiful emotion, no rhyme or reason, but feels right. I can’t define it really, but as I have always believed, God is the reason we even know what love is. In laying down His life for us, He taught us everything we need to know about true lovegenerous, unending, and a burst of all colors. 

On Christmas, I am reminded of God's love for the world—undeserved and un-reciprocated.

His reply (artist’s POV): 

I wanted to draw that love goes beyond physical & external. What's inside the heart is more important.

Art is mysterious that way. 

He, the artist, painted his heart. I, the beholder, saw it with my own.  

Art is as diverse as an individual’s perspectives. Although it originates from an artist’s imagination, ideas, and technical skill, it is appreciated for its emotional power. 

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NLT) 

The world, as God created it, has every color, shape, size, sound, and movement that we can never fathom in our lifetime. But what we see, feel, touch, taste, and hear inspire us to replicate its splendor in art. 

Isn’t that what His holy birth is all about? 

NAIMBAG A PASKUA!    


12/19/2020

Can the Coronavirus Cancel Christmas?


Many columns, articles, and news items in today's newspapers (yes, Tony and I still buy three printed dailies every single day!) speak about Christmas being cancelled by the coronavirus. Some went as far as saying, “Death of Christmas.”  

In ancient times, the barbaric king of Judea, Herod, tried not only to cancel but to totally eliminate Christmas. He ordered the killing of all children two years old and below so that Jesus, whose exact whereabouts he did not know, would not be spared. 

Scripture tells us that savage as he was, with all the power at his command, Herod could not kill the Savior of the World. 

Alas, the various write-ups in newspapers have a different definition or representation of Christmas. 

To a believer of the birthed Christ, Christmas has nothing to do with the merry-making, feel-good and dazzling froufrous the world has invented over the years: family gatherings, homecoming, parties, blinking lights, decorated trees, bonuses, or Santa Claus.  

Nothing can cancel, steal, or kill Christmas. Nobody could stop Grace from coming. 

Misunderstanding the true meaning of the Divine Birth misleads us to think that the Covid-19 quarantine, which prevents people from having all these ostentatious trimmings, can take Christmas away.   

Herod tried, but failed. Since then, there have been wars, massacres, epidemics, disasters, and other catastrophes severely battering mankind. 

But Christmas remains the way it was planned—Light for a dark, dark world. 

“The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.” John 1:9-10 (NLT)  

MERRY CHRISTMAS! 


12/16/2020

When Youth is Gone


It’s that time of the year when organizations or groups plan and organize Christmas parties. 

One of these groups emailed me, asking for my baby picture to be used in a game during the gathering.

Baby picture?! That was sooo long ago I couldn’t remember where they might be! Or do I even have one?  

I ransacked an old chest where I store things I do not need every day. And there they were! Three old albums that my mother bequeathed to me when I got married, “You may show this to your future grandchildren.” 

Many years later, I have only one grandchild, Adrian, and he is in the US, so there is no chance for me to show him my old photos—or would he even be interested? 

After wiping the thick dust off the albums, I leafed through their yellowing and fragile pages, careful not to damage them further. All photos have faded! I chose two which are still recognizable and asked an artist friend to please make them clearer. 

This was taken when I was a few months old. I remember my mom telling me that the studio photographer waited a long time for that half smile.

      

Another one (again shot in a studio) was taken when I was three years old. I had to look twice, thrice, to make sure it was me. I looked in the mirror and . . . well, no resemblance whatsoever.                                              

I excitedly showed Tony my rare finds.

“Who are those cute babies?” he asked, beaming.  

“Me!” I proudly cried. 

He went back to the book he was reading, and asked, “What happened?” 

Aaaargh! He’s lucky the divorce law will never pass in the Philippines. 

But because it’s almost Christmas, I tried to regain my composure and muster kindness to reply in a brave voice, “Youth is gone.” Then I added silently, It left while I was not looking, and it will never come back. 

“Youth? What youth?” he asked absentmindedly. 

I looked in the mirror again, and I saw . . . wisdom. 

“Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.” Job 12:12 (ESV)

Gloria in excelsis deo! 


12/12/2020

14th Year Slips Away


My 14th blog anniversary has come and gone. Ooops, it slipped away unnoticed. 

I just realized I missed the date: November 24, which I commemorate annually with a post. 

The coronavirus lockdown, now on its 9th month, has made the passing of days a blur for me. 

“What day is today?” 

That’s usually the question I ask Tony or my sons. Except for Sunday, which stands out because I look forward to attending our virtual worship service and listening to God’s message, every day seems the same. Unvaried, unhurried.  

Back to my blog anniversary . . . if you had given birth to a kid on November 24 fourteen years ago, he would perhaps be in junior high today. 

That’s how long I have been blogging. Hah! And some friends thought I could not sustain the rhythm.

I have; I blog every four days or less, without miss. That calls for a celebration, doesn’t it? 

My numbers speak for themselves: 

  • 1,447 blog posts (from 1345 last year)
  • 1,077,00 blog hits (from 882,000 last year) 
My blog birthday cake candles have been lit and I am about to blow them with a wish.  

May I always be grateful for the grace that lights my way all through the week, whether it’s a Monday, a Tuesday, a Wednesday, a Thursday, a Friday, a Saturday, and yes, a Sunday!


12/08/2020

Zoom in and to Indonesia


This was my post on my FB wall a few days back:  

“I will be in Indonesia tomorrow to talk to school children about the importance of reading during one school's book week. The pandemic makes travelling so easy. One click of a button, or two, and there you are!”  

This message was accompanied by this photo: 

Next came a slew of replies, more than 300 congratulatory notes and emojis, but many were apprehensive:

“Stay safe.” “Wear your mask and shield.” “Take a side trip to Bali if it’s safe.” “Is anyone assisting  you?” “You must be a VIP being allowed to travel during the pandemic.”  “I wish I could join the Indonesian children to hear you talk.” 

Plus more.   

And I thought my post and the event poster were explicit about being virtual on Zoom. I had to reply to each one saying it’s all online. 

Tony has this theory, “People read social media messages perfunctorily. Try reading reading some posts selling goods properly priced. The replies?  ‘How much?’” 

"Oh, yeah." 

He added, "When people post about death anniversaries of loved ones long gone, replies are usually 'Sorry for your loss.' 'Hugs.' 'Condolences.'" 

He's right. As of today—six days after I posted the message—'heart' and 'like' reactions continue to come."  

Well, as scheduled, I zoomed in and to Indonesia! 

"Read and you will find." 

"If you want to be writer, read." 

My trip was a bit bumpy. I could not get there on time due to technical glitches. My slides, sent a week earlier, could not be found immediately. There were times I couldn’t hear my hosts and they could not hear me. 

My technophobia, which came about when the pandemic began, attacked me big time. 

But grace always comes in time to save the day. My task to read to the kids the story of “Gone?” to encourage love of reading sailed through. I had wished to interact more with my young audience but then, again, technology and time restrained us. 

I thank the Lord for introducing me to new friends—amiable teachers who made the online meet-up possible and fun. I pray that the school kids have learned something from those two short talks about reading and writing. 

To my friends who worried about my taking the trip to Indonesia, thank you for your concern—I am back, although a bit shaken, intact and fit to continue my marathon writing.  

***

Addendum: I visited Indonesia once in my past life (with a special trip to Bali) and it was an experience of a lifetime! 


12/04/2020

Gender Reveal


Blogger Jenna Myers Karvunidis, who loves celebrating, started the gender reveal idea in 2008, while she was expecting her first child. “It’s important to mark moments of joy,” she said and planned a party for her family—to get them excited about her baby. She then created a novel and theatrical way of revealing her baby’s sex: she baked a cake with pink and blue icing.  Girl or boy? 

She got them guessing and excited, exactly the way she wanted it.  

Everyone shrieked with delight upon discovering that Jenna’s first baby would be a girl! She blogged about it and her post was picked up by several publications. Her gender-reveal party became a trend.  

Trends naturally reach our shores and as we are inclined to copy anything western, today we see many posts online about grand parties announcing the sex of babies still unborn.    

Since that first gender-reveal party however, Jenna has regretted starting it. Just recently, 12 years later, she said that the joy people experience during the party has been at the expense of non-binary and trans people.” She does not want to cause others pain. 

She is speaking of course of another trend that has polarized the world: LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Q for Questioning [still exploring one's sexuality] or Queer), society's five additional classifications of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Gender has gone beyond male or female.  If we want to be politically correct, and not offend people, we should not limit gender identity to boy or girl. 

This is the polar opposite of what is being revealed to us from the pulpit during our virtual worship services by our pastors. As they delve deeper into Revelation, the last book of the Bible (on which my personal faith is based), it has become crystal clear to me that in the end, man only has two choices: 

“Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me.” (Matthew 12:30 NLT)   

Put even simply, either I believe the Bible or I don’t. Either I live or die. Either I choose wellness or illness; eternal life or endless punishment.      

There are still many details or "God Reveal" in Revelation that baffle my limited mind —the varied allegories, symbols, and other figures of speech—but the indelible grace that God has written in my heart since the day I first believed is enough to make me trust and obey.  


11/30/2020

Worst-case Scenario


In business, defining the worst-case scenario—a risk management concept where the direst of outcome is projected so that plans could be put in place to avert its impact—is the most horrifying stage in a planning session. 

But that is a pin prick if we look at the savage events in our history. 

The Great Chinese Famine from 1958 to 1962 killed at least 45 million people. 

The Khmer Rouge (Communist Party of Kampuchea), from 1975 to 1979 completely destroyed Cambodia. The death toll of this regime cannot be accurately calculated, because records were under wraps. Still, the most reliable estimate is 2.5 to 3 million murdered, which constituted 21% of the country’s population. 

World War I was vicious, killing five million, military and civilian. If we include deaths from the Spanish influenza which was a direct result of the War, the estimate would jump to 65 million. 

The gruesome World War II had been replayed for us by our uncles who served in the army. About 71 million people died. Rome, Paris, Moscow, Leningrad, and London were devastated. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Stalingrad, and Manila were obliterated. 

Its most infamous aspect is the Holocaust. Six million European Jews (men, women, and children) were tortured and murdered by poisonous gas. Recent estimates tell us that five million non-Jews were also murdered by the Nazis.

And here we are today battling the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Can anything be worse than these? 

Yes. The Tribulation. It will be the worst-case scenario for man. 

Jesus said there would be a period of great tribulation before His second coming. In Matthew 24, he extensively explains what will occur during the end times. There would be religious deception, wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes (verses 4-7). 

In the book of Revelation, the worst-case scenario before Jesus returns is graphically painted by Apostle John in metaphors, similes, and symbols. 

“Tribulation” is from the Greek word thlipsis, which means, oppression, affliction, tribulation, distress, and dire straits. In layman’s terms: the most terrible adversities that mankind could ever experience.  

The popular narrative shown in images is a collapsed civilization and a melted world. The planet is a wasteland of crumbled structures and vehicles. Millions of dead bodies are scattered about. Media is hushed. The power grid is gone. No sign of life.  

When we picture this worst-case scenario, we forget that God is sovereign over the earth. Nothing happens to us outside of His permission. When evil reigns, seemingly unchecked by Him, we despair. But we must always remember that His grace prevails. 

Although the events we read about in the Bible are horrifying, our faith reminds us that we are eternal beings—this earthy life is not the end. 

Has the Tribulation Period started with today’s chaotic world being battered by the Covid-19 virus?  

We don’t know for sure. What we know is that the signs are increasing, and it is one day closer today than it was yesterday.

"Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:36 NIV)


11/26/2020

From Senior to Teenior


After I had learned a few digital tricks, and became quite confident doing them on my own, I started calling myself a teenior. Neat, huh? I was now proudly a tech-savvy senior, in the same league as a teen. 

I thought I invented the term to describe me, until I realized—while Googling free and away—that Teenior is a registered name of a company in New Mexico.  Its website defines teeniors as: Tech Savvy Teens Empowering Senior. 

Its homepage explains that teens and young adults help seniors learn technology through one-on-one, personal coaching. “Whether it's a smartphone, computer or software, our goal is to empower you to connect with your loved ones, engage with your community (and the world) through technology, while providing paid, meaningful jobs for youth.” 

I am the opposite of a teenior! But I am claiming the term because I feel it describes me. So there is no copyright infringement, is there? 

I was born in a generation that never had any inkling—or never went thinking beyond what we had—that someday, technology would turn our guts, insides, and innards upside down.  

The coronavirus pandemic made our lot even worse. If you are clueless about technology, you are a non-entity. Only grace and Bible verses on God’s unfailing love had made me feel I still count. 

One of these is, “No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39 NLT)

So I tried to cope and cope up, inch by inch. I hired a young techie to help me with my online speaking activities and whenever my boys are around, I ask them questions, never mind if they reply or stay mute. 

This much I learned through eight months of isolation from the outside world: if you want to keep in touch with the world outside, you have to embrace the consequences of learning. 

And I am learning? At this stage, although I call myself a teenior, I have not gotten to a point where I can call me a techie. But I will get there; just watch me. 

(That last statement is said with the grit of a minute mouse.) 


11/22/2020

The Big Picture


For two days in a row, this heartwarming photo (cropping mine) of a man—a most unlikely kind to love reading—went viral online.             

                                                          

Shirtless, sun toasted, and barefooted, he sat on the floor of a bookstore with his face mask on and was snapped reading intently, unmindful of his surroundings. According to the person who uploaded the photo, the man stayed there for some time, simply enjoying the printed word. 

To the credit of the store employees, they let the man be.  They neither shooed him out nor told him off. 

I looked at the photo with my heart’s eye, as it passed my homepage countless times. 

It was on the third day when I was sent the same photo by a friend. “Lookie! Your book is on the shelf!” 

And sure enough, “No Means No” (encircled in red) was displayed there. I was too focused on the detail and neglected the big picture, literally. I messaged my friend back with a matching laughing emoji, “I must be highly myopic to see the big picture!”  

That’s what I am reminded of Sunday after Sunday by our pastor during our virtual worship service. We have become too focused on what we are suffering during this pandemic (When will this end? How am I going to survive? This is too much!) that we have become disheartened and despondent, totally forgetting the big picture. 

This will not last. It may seem like a long (eight months now) torment, but all this will end. The Bible reminds us that to those who believe, our suffering on earth is just a minuscule part of our forever life.  

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:10 NIV) 

We are being prepared for the big picture. 


11/18/2020

It’s Here! Memories of Grace


This devotional for seniors, written all through 2019 until February 2020, finally saw print and will be launched at the online MIBF (Manila International Book Fair) happening from November 24-30.  

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which stumped the world, its original launching date was postponed indefinitely. Institutions, including book publishing, have been totally immobilized. 

In the Preface, I wrote in part: 

For months, I had focused on it, pausing only to celebrate Jesus’ birth on Christmas. I couldn’t write fast enough—memories of grace are unlimited; they multiplied as I talked to people of my generation. Everyone seemed to have an endless lake from which marvelous memories spring. 

But March came and time stopped. Many businesses and working people actually retired due to force majeure. 

This devotional had to be reevaluated. Yna Reyes, Publishing and Communications Director of OMF Literature Inc., explained that we have to be relevant to the times. I couldn’t agree more. Many of the entries had to go. To help provide solace for fellow seniors caged in their homes, I had to stay current by writing about how we are today. 

Like a second wind, memories of grace came rushing in even faster, obscuring the anxiety caused by the unseen enemy. 

Memories of Grace (devotions for your golden years) is finally here. 

It was written in times of smiles, and also in times of tears. Someone  said that “smiles will fade and the tears will dry,” but memories of God’s amazing grace—especially because the elderly have so much to look back to—are treasures that will endure till the Lord comes again or says, “Come home.”  

Let us then remember the days we mourned, the days we danced, the days we got lost, the days we charted new roads, the days we loved, the days we hated, and the days of this pandemic. His grace was never a second or a breath away.  

May we etch in our hearts what Jesus said to His disciples (and to us who believe) before He left for heaven. He empowered all to speak of His grace and promised, “. . . I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). 

 ooo

Get hold of  a copy to give as a present to a senior this Christmas. If you are a senior, you might want to remember all the grace heaped upon you by the Lord through the years. It is priced at P250, but will be sold at 20% off during the online bookfair (November 24-30). 


11/14/2020

Online Book Tours


Around this time, I should be resting from several book tours out of town—in time for the Manila International Book Fair. Alas, the Covid-19 pandemic settled them all for me: stay home. 

From my working nook at home, I did more book tours than all past book tours put together.  

CSM, my publisher for “Twin Blessings,” a devo-series for children, made me record a three-part reading of three devos, with a brief explanation of what the book is about. The media staff enhanced the recording with music and captions, then aired it. 

The video gathered over a thousand viewers (adults and kids alike) from as far as the US, Canada, HK, and all parts of the country. Several of the viewers sent me photos while they watched the recording. 

As a follow-up to that online book tour, CSM had me host a one-hour webinar entitled “Teaching Our Kids to Do Devotions.” This time, the audience (mostly parents) was even bigger!  

More: 

On our church’s 45th anniversary, I was asked to do a storytelling of “Gone?” a storybook on love for reading (published by Hiyas of OMF Lit and illustrated by Koi Carreon).    

The choice is relevant to today’s growing problem on kids’ disinterest in reading books due to digital gadgets. Kids who love reading will definitely want to read the awe-inspiring stories in the greatest book ever written: the Bible. 

This was uploaded to our church’s website page and again, the hits were way, way beyond what we could have gathered in a face-to-face storytelling session. 

How can these “online book tours” not be (let me use unusual superlatives) collosal and exponential grace? 

Although I rue not being able to talk to my readers up close, the number of people reached more than makes up for this loss. The ministry harvest—like the five loaves and two fish—has been multiplied a thousand fold! 

“. . . he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Mattew 14:19-21 NIV) 


11/10/2020

Ice Cream? No, Thanks!


Ice cream is America’s favorite dessert and I am guessing that it is also some other countries’ most-loved afters in many parts of the world. I never met a person who doesn’t love ice cream, especially in the summer. 

In a poll conducted in the US for people to choose a favorite dessert, ice cream was the obvious winner—and twice as popular as its closest competitor, cake.

I was not one of those people. I didn’t exactly hate ice cream, but I could live without it. 

Being cloistered at home during the pandemic must have altered my body chemistry. I suddenly took to liking and craving for a certain locally manufactured ice cream flavor: Dan Eric’s Coffee Mocha.  

Ask me how it happened. 

Vaguely, I might have tasted it during one of our church’s social gatherings. Someone offered me a cone and I was surprised to have enjoyed it. It was like drinking iced coffee. 

Then one steamy day in July, one of my sons came home with a quart of ice cream and offered me some. It was a so-so experience, but seeing how much the boys enjoyed and lapped it up, I decided to order more—and perhaps partake of it in a family group activity. 

I called up my friend who owns an ice-cream parlor, “Sallie, do you have a flavor with coffee in it?” 

She sent a gallon of Coffee Mocha. That was the day I got hooked. 

Hooked is not a very good word, especially for someone who writes about grace. So let me change that to . . . fan. I became a fan, an avid one. Now, there is not a day that I don’t eat a cup (usually after lunch when the sun is at its hottest). 

You have turned silly and shallow, I whispered to myself when I started writing this blog about ice cream.

But, hey, ice cream is an $11 billion industry and coffee is at $250 billion in the world today! Those numbers are neither silly nor shallow. 


11/06/2020

Level Up


Faith, in the dictionary, is defined as "Trusting or believing something or someone, without having to see physical evidence." 

The Bible defines it thus:  

"Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1) It is not just a "gut instinct;" it's a tangible truth accepted by the body—feelings that have the confidence and certainty to accept everything that comes from God. 

Faith, however, comes in sizes. The Bible speaks of faith as small as a mustard seed, which is 1 to 2 millimeters in diameter or the size of a pinhead. It is minuscule! 

Yet, Jesus said in Matthew 17:20 “. . . Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” 

So why, then, do many of us, who believe 100% in a powerful and all-knowing God, still forget that God is working in our lives today, even as the pandemic shakes our core? 

I, for one, believe that God can do anything He wants because He created the universe and me. I claim to have faith bigger than a mustard seed. But why am I fearful about the still unseen consequences of this crisis?  

"Level up!" our pastor stressed one Sunday in his virtual message. He seemed to be telling me to make my faith grow.  

Indeed, Jesus used the teeny-weeny mustard seed to illustrate the kind of faith we need, because it has the potential to grow into something much, much bigger. 

Our faith is meant to level up.  

How? We need to ask for faith in constant prayers. Then grace will enable us to watch how God does what we think is impossible. 

Our initial introduction to the concept of faith is small. It is a faith that comes from hearing and believing the Word of God. After that, however, our faith has to level up, because it cannot stay small. We need to bury it in the soil of God’s Word so it can take root and grow. 

“Level up” is a phrasal verb—popularized by gaming—that has become a part of our daily lingo. It is advancing from one level to the next, until one achieves the highest level. 

In the same manner, we need to level up in our faith, thinking less of ourselves and more of God, leaving everything at His feet. 

It’s the level of belief that no matter what happens, we are certain we are in good hands.  

11/02/2020

What's with White?


My grandmother used to say (in Ilocano), “No make-up can hide kayumanggi skin for long. As soon as you wash off your make-up, your natural brown skin shows. People should be happy with the skin color God blessed them with.” 

My Lola went to glory over 50 years ago. But if she were around today, she’d say the same thing about the “white sand” (crushed dolomite) dumped on a 500-meter stretch of Manila Bay’s shoreline in September—six months into the pandemic. 

        
Her words were exactly my beginning thoughts when I heard of this rehabilitation project. My additional thoughts, when I learned that it has a whooping budget of P386, were: 

This is so ill-timed.

People are starving and the last thing they need is a white beach.  

Many netizens thought the same way and expressed their anger on social media. Some even pointed out the health problems posed by the dolomite shipped from Alcoy, Cebu. 

But President Duterte, who has an approval rating of 91%, lauded Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu for his initiative and praised the project, “People now are really enjoying the reclaimed area with the white sand.”  

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said he was “stunned by the beauty and vast possibility for tourism.” He called the white sand “pure genius.” 

In response to the flak they received on social media, government apologists insist that this is good for people’s mental health, especially the poor’s. In their suffering, they need to see something beautiful to enjoy.  

Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta told reporters, after touring the white sand with Sec. Cimatu, “I am satisfied because the water is clean.” 

Why this obsession with a white beach? Why not simply clean Manila bay without changing the color of its sand? Why cover a “kayumanggi” beach with make-up. It would just be washed away! 

Sure enough, when it started raining (especially with the onslaught of typhoon Quinta), the white sand is slowly being washed away. In its place are the garbage swept to the shores by the waves. What is there to enjoy now? 

Sec. Cimatu insists the cost is only P28 million, not P386 as alleged. 

But P28 million is not peanuts. We can think of 28 million ways to rehabilitate (not beautify) Manila Bay. 

This parallels many people going to great lengths to have fair skin. They buy expensive whitening products and shade themselves with an umbrella or wear long sleeves to avoid the tanning rays of the sun. The skin whitening industry is big and booming in many countries. 

That’s where the world is going as the end times near.  By God’s protective grace, we will always be grateful for what we have, and not be swept by the tide. 

1 Peter 3:3-4 reminds us, “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.”

ooo
Going . . . going . . . (Nov. 14, after typhoon Ulysses)

Photos: all borrowed from FB posts