8/11/2020

This Is War


Without knowing about the American band, Thirty Seconds to Mars, my husband said on the first day of lockdown, “This is war.” 

That’s the title of the third record of this band (December 2009). It begins with:  

A warning to the people
The good and the evil
This is war
To the soldier, the civilian
The martyr, the victim
This is war 

Tony stressed then, “During World War II, people had only one thing in mind—to escape from the enemy to survive. They hid in dug-outs or remote areas, where they would be safe. They never left the place except to look for food. They waited till the war was over before they got on with their lives outside."         

Four months into the lockdown, I read the message of Uganda President KaUGCguta Museveni that seems to echo Tony’s opinion about the corona virus, but said with eloquence to uplift the spirits of the Ugandans: 

(My abridged version)   

“In a war situation, nobody asks anyone to stay indoors. You stay indoors by choice. If you have a basement, you hide there for as long as hostilities persist. During a war, you don't insist on your freedom. You willingly give it up in exchange for survival . . . you don't complain of hunger; you bear it and pray that you live to eat again . . . you don't argue about opening your business; you  close shop and run for your life . . . you don't worry about your children not going to school . . .

“The world is currently in a state of war . . . a war without guns, bullets, human soldiers, borders, cease-fire agreements, and  sacred zones. The army is without mercy . . . no milk of human kindness. It is indiscriminate, with no respect for children, women, or places of worship. This army is not interested in spoils of war. . . its only agenda is a harvest of  death. 

“Thankfully, this army has a weakness and it can be defeated . . . COVID-19 cannot survive physical distancing. It only thrives when you confront it . . . It is helpless when you take your destiny in your own hands by keeping them sanitized as often as possible.

“. . . Let's exercise patience . . . In no time, we shall regain our freedom, enterprise, and socializing." 

Thirty Seconds to Mars ended “This is War” with the same hope:

A brave new world
The war is won
The war is won
A brave new world   

Tony often repeats himself, “This war will end.” 

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) 

Meanwhile, we beg God to fill our hearts with His grace of peace. 


8/07/2020

Change


Next to “dentist,” the most frightening word for me is “change.”

A change in flight schedule makes me bite my nails; a change in daily routine makes me dizzy; a change in an appointment date tightens my throat; a change in weather causes me to sneeze non-stop and my nose to run. And now, this life-changing Covid-19 lockdown!

In short, in the aging process, I have become a creature of habit.

But there is one area where I enjoy change—writing. I change every word, every sentence, every punctuation mark, every concept, as quickly as I can blink. I switch from writing one book to another and to another. I thought this was a horrible habit, so I kept it a secret within the four walls of my writing room. 

I thought wrong.

When I was in Cebu to guest at Childlink Learning Center and Childlink High School, Inc. late last year, I received a surprise certificate. It referred to me as a “Master of Change.”
It reads:

“Dragonflies shed their old selves over and 
over again, from the wingless swimmers 
they’re hatched in the water to air-breathing 
crawlers up blades of grass or cattails. 
There they finally unfurl the wings 
they’ve been growing in secret preparation 
for this day—and they take to the air.  

You make it look so easy.”  

My writing secret is no secret after all. And it isn’t a horrible habit as I thought it was. In fact, I just might have met a kindred spirit in the Directress of the school who signed this certificate.
Change is a dragonfly, created by the Master of grace. 

8/03/2020

Books of Grace


Social media have been with us for a number of years, yet I still don’t know how to use them effectively to communicate with fellow netizens. Or perhaps my brain still could not assimilate their reach and power. 

My sons (who coerced me into blogging over 13 years ago) had been nagging me to create a page for my books and reading in general. 

Son #1: Mom, you have a variety of too many friends on your FB timeline: family, friends, acquaintances, and readers. Your posts are just as varied. You need to have a separate page for books, so your messages can be more focused."

Son#2: There is hardly any advertising or promotions for your books, how will readers know about them? 

“They’re in book stores,” I argued. 

Chorus: Mom, how many people go to bookstores? Only you and us, and book worms—we are not very many.  

Chorus: Mom, writing books is useless unless you have readers. 

Okay. 

This gave birth to “Books of Grace,” a page on Facebook. I considered no other name, since I write about grace and my name happens to be, yes, Grace. 
I thought my job had ended with doing the design, but . . . well, if you happen to run a page,  you know how much energy and time it entails. You need to reply to queries and keep looking for something newsworthy to engage your readers. 

It has not been easy, but it has been fun. 

There I meet fellow book lovers and get a feel of how they react to my books and reading in general. Their messages and responses guide me in writing the next one. 

If you are on FB, please consider dropping by “Books of Grace” and leave a message. Nothing delights me more than meeting and conversing kindred spirits. 
 

7/30/2020

A Mother’s Quarantine Lament


Our thrice-a-week househelp, Teresa, has become a permanent fixture in our home because of the quarantine. She chose to stay in rather than go home and not have any job (she used to have daily work schedules in various places).  

She is efficiency personified, an angel from the heavens. There is not a corner in the house she does not clean and disinfect. She finds things we had forgotten we had. She tends to our garden with a thumb so green, everything is flowering and growing. It's as though our househelp of over 40 years, the late Ate Vi, has come back to life. 

Unfortunately, Teresa has one big lament. 

Her son, aged 21, got into trouble in December last year. The parents of his girlfriend, 14 years old and therefore still a minor, sued him for rape and he was jailed. He insisted that the act was consensual, but the law is clear that any intimate act with a minor is considered rape, a heinous crime penalized by imprisonment of six to 12 years.  
Teresa’s public attorney suggested out-of-court settlement with the complainants. This forced Teresa to make a loan of P50,000 (the amount specified by the accusers) from various sources and immediately handed the cash to the girl’s parents. 

The next step would have been a hearing so her son could be set free. But the lockdown happened, and court proceedings stopped. When the quarantine eased, the hearing was finally scheduled. But the lawyer was infected with the virus and had to be quarantined. 

After that, another hearing was calendared. This time, the judge got the virus, too, and so the whole courthouse had to be closed for disinfection and sterilization.  

He has been languishing in jail (crowded, hot, dark, and unclean) for seven months now. Teresa sends him money to buy food other than what prisoners are served (sometimes “half cooked rice” and “just tuyo”), but he said the money is confiscated by uniformed men. Sometimes Teresa sends him food through emissaries, but these are seized by prison bullies.     
We are trying our best to help ease Teresa's lament by making her feel at home. Away from the problems of her family, she has our home for a refuge where she can relax, watch You Tube, get in touch with her son via mobile phone. We upped her pay so she could have enough savings to tide her over after the lockdown; and most importantly, we pray that God may grant her His grace of comfort and peace of mind. 

There are many lamenting Teresas in the country today, while we all grapple with the onslaught of the virus. May we cover them with our prayers and help them, where we can.    

photo credits: grabbed from various e-newspapers and thesun.co.uk

7/26/2020

Sorry I'm Late


This apology, “Sorry I’m late,” seems to be a tic among chronic late comers. After that, everything seems forgiven, especially if one of these explains it:  
“Filipino time” is how we call people’s penchant for arriving late at events. It is supposed to be derogatory, but has become an accepted theorem (Who cares? No big deal!) and a part of our culture. Weddings scheduled at 4:00 PM are printed on invitations as 3:00, in anticipation of guests coming in late.  

My grandparents and parents were advocates for promptness. As children, my siblings and I got a dressing down if we were late to any occasion, especially a church service or activity. They would say “Don’t put to shame God’s grace” in all permutations: 

“Being late is telling people that their time is not as important as yours.” 

“It’s disrespectful and rude to keep people waiting.” 

“Making people wait around for you wastes time, money and other resources that could be put to better use elsewhere.”

“It sets a bad example to the young.” 

“It makes people who take the trouble to be prompt feel like suckers.” 

And worst . . .  

“You send out the message to punctual people that ‘I am more important than you.’”  

In schools and workplaces, we have tardiness rules. 

Now, how about the highest office of the land? How many times did our president start the Covid-19 report (Monday nights) with his cabinet and team on time (per announcement)? In all those 18 times, did we ever hear him say, “Sorry I’m late”? 

This is the behavior streaming from the top, saying to everyone, “I am more important than you.” Of course he is. But I hope children will not emulate him, because not all of them will become president one day.  

Two GMRC are being habitually violated: 1) not being ready on time; 2) not apologizing for it. 
What does Scripture say about the need to be always ready? 

“You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.”  Luke 12:40 (NLT) 

7/25/2020

999,999


These numbers are just one digit away from one million—the total number of page hits my site has received since I started blogging in November 2006, over 13 years ago. The last time I celebrated my numbers was when I reached 888,888
It will take some time before I reach another row of the same numbers (1,111,111), so please indulge me; I will post this now for posterity, just for 24 hours.  

It took a few seconds before it changed to one million: 
And these came on my birthday. Another surprising grace. 

So how am I spending my quarantine hours? The same way I had been spending my non-quarantine days: writing, blogging, reading (and solving crossword puzzles). Despite the alarming and often infuriating posts and news online, I try to maintain my sanity. 

At the moment, I am awaiting the edited manuscript of one of my books scheduled for launching in October, and I am finishing another one, which is due in November. 

Join me in my prayer today . . . 

“Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12 NLT) 

Amen. 

7/22/2020

Longlong for Short


His real name is short, but difficult to pronounce or spell, so he tells friends, “Just call me Longlong for short.” 

Longlong was one of the art directors in the advertising agency where we used to be on our toes 24/7 to deliver excellent work to clients. He was one of those who could draw figures on tiny squares (called storyboard) and make them move (simulate movements) and move (evoke emotions) the beholder. 

Those were days of grace when we worked with Matisses, Renoirs, Monets, and Cezannes. They had no computer icons, images, and apps; just sheer, incredible talents. With a flick of a pencil or a brush, Longlong, et al. could tell a compelling story—stories, rather, since they had to do more than three studies per product per day. 

I sought out Longlong for my first storybook, “Fly, Malaya, Fly” (co-authored with my son, JR) that was scheduled for publication. He lent his magical hands gratis et amore and did the illustrations. After that, our paths hardly crossed again. 

But the pandemic served as a most unlikely venue for us to meet big time—on social media. He has been whipping up sketches, daily, of everyone in our old workplace. 

Under the hashtag #RoughPulido (translated as roughly polished), he has turned sketching into a nostalgic trip. Every day, former colleagues try to guess who the featured person is—it’s great, but hard, to remember. There is a gap of at least 20 years since we all saw each other. 

Here is how he remembers me: 
One of us, Hurley, made a collage of all the sketches thus far. Longlong makes us all come together again (the biggest square is that of our big boss, Sev Alcantara).   
 Who'd have thought that a pandemic could transport us back to the past?  

Though we are all physically apart, Longlong’s #RoughPulido summons up memories of: huddling in a brainstorming room, bumping into each other on corridors, debating over deadlines and concepts, and holding each other up in a crisis. 

“. . . encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NLT) 

7/20/2020

50 Is Gold


Last year, when things were normal (pre-Covid quarantine), my family and I had some conversations. I say “some” because when you live with men, conversations are crisp and curt. No issue is ever belabored. I know the exact moment when they tune off in the midst of my prattle.   

Those “some” conversations had to do with my and my husband's 50th anniversary celebration. A golden anniversary is, after all, a milestone by any standard. In ancient days in northern Europe, a husband would gift his wife a beautifully crafted golden wreath, garland, or necklace. 
Why gold? It was the ultimate token of love then because it symbolized the lasting and prized nature of the passage of time. 
My husband knows that my love for jewelry is gone with the wind, and our sons, like us, are not party people. During those “some” conversations, they mentioned about pooling their resources together to gift us with a Caribbean cruise, which is ideal for two people who could no longer stand a plane ride or walk long distances. 

The pandemic changed all that. 

But a 50th wedding anniversary is a rare occasion, considering the high number of separations, divorces, and living-in arrangements today. And so we celebrated with a simple lunch at home with me in my "gown" and Tony in his "tuxedo." 

I look back to that day 50 years ago when we exchanged our vows before God in a small chapel in Quezon City. No frills, no guests, just immediate family. The only aliens were the old pastor who officiated the short ceremony and the photographer (smart phones were still an inspired thought), who took a total of 12 shots. Both begged off from the intimate thanksgiving dinner in a Chinese restaurant. 
From that simple wedding 50 years ago to the golden celebration amidst the quarantine, we give thanks for the immeasurable grace that sustained Tony and me in our life journey as partners, parents, and now, grandparents.   

“. . . what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:9 NKJV) 

7/18/2020

Where have All the Jeepneys Gone?


I can’t remember a day not seeing a jeepney. It has always been a part of the landscape. 

This gaudy, brightly painted, and folksy vehicle is found only in the Philippines. A mestizo, half local and half foreign, the jeepney is reflective of our national character.  

After World War II, the U.S. soldiers left us thousands of non-serviceable jeeps, which helped solve the transportation problem. But not before we gave them a new, unique look—stretched, roofed, and benched into what we all know as jeepney, the “king of the road.”   
This proudly Pinoy creation has symbolized the Filipino’s resilient and optimistic spirit.  

A miniature jeepney is what I proudly give as gifts to foreign guests who gush, “Oh, what an unusual vehicle!” It's a conversation opener about our beloved country. 

Seventy six years later, during the term of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, the jeepney is in danger of becoming extinct. The Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP), launched in 2017, is aimed at making public transportation system efficient and environmentally friendly by 2020. Each jeepney replacement is estimated at P2.1 million (payable in seven years).  

Came 2020, bringing along the Covid-19 lockdown. In one fell swoop, the jeepney was pushed off the road, garaged and rendered useless, leaving over 200,000 drivers jobless. 

We’re now on the 126th day of quarantine in Metro Manila, and very few jeepneys, have been allowed to  ply the roads. 

Where have all the jeepneys gone? And the drivers? 

Still on the road—not driving, but begging. It's one of the options they have with zero income.  


What’s in store for these jeepney drivers at the end of the road? 

That’s just one of the many hard questions I have been asking myself since the onset of the pandemic, which has plunged our country into recession. 

With no answers on the horizon, I run to Scripture for help and hope:  
 
“Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13 NLT) 

Oh, that by God’s merciful grace, I pray I can. 

Photo credits: Rappler. Inquirer, Philippine Star, and and Facebook posts 

7/14/2020

I Can’t Breathe


These words penetrate into and wound my heart. It’s how I feel when things suffocate me, badly needing to come up for air (and it has nothing to do with a face mask). It’s how I feel on this 122nd day of the Covid-19 lockdown. 

“I can’t breathe” has also become an international buzzword of oppression, particularly the “Black Lives Matter” movement after George Floyd uttered it just before he was killed by the police. The same phrase was also said 10 years earlier by Eric Garner, before his life was snuffed out by uniformed men. Many others spoke these words in police custody before they died.  

"I can't breathe" has likewise struck a profound chord in us during this time of pandemic. Our fears choke us. Many feel like we are being strangled and gagged, “Don’t criticize. Just follow!” “Turn a blind eye to selective justice.” “Stay home!” 

“I can’t breathe” goes beyond being deprived of justice and freedom in our land. It's being deprived of one's voice.  
Fear of the virus (and its offshoots such loss of businesses and jobs, resulting in hunger) is bad enough, and yet we seem to be self-flagellating as a nation by prioritizing other less urgent issues that have been taking much of the lawmakers’ time and stoking ordinary citizens’ emotions, on all levels of anger and frustration: 

- the passage of the anti-terrorism bill (certified urgent by the president), emboldening unscrupulous law enforcers to maltreat helpless victims;

- the closing down of the biggest TV network, ABS-CBN (which has offended the president during the presidential campaign four years ago), leaving 11,000 employees and suppliers jobless.  

- the changing of the airport NAIA to some three obscure Filipino words, shortened as PPP.   

These three issues have greatly divided us. Our disunity is flagrantly displayed on social media with the exchange of bitter and fighting words.  Just going through these back-and-forth barbs make me gasp for grace.  
Dear Lord, “. . . let your unfailing love comfort me, just as you promised me, your servant. (Psalm 119:76 NLT) 
 

7/10/2020

First Love


Whoever wrote the line “first love never dies” will never be known, but the words will be be quoted till the end of time. People—psychologists, poets, and romantics—swear by it. In my case, I can vouch for its truth. I married him.  

But this post is not about that first love, it’s about a far greater first love.
I refer to what Scripture means about being first: not the earliest or initial. It’s about being first and foremost in importance, superlative in degree: highest and topmost, as found in Revelation 2:1-8, the text upon which Pastor Cole's live-streamed message was based. 

In sum, the verses are a letter of Jesus to the church in Ephesus, then world-famous as a religious, cultural, and economic center of the region. Our early Christian leaders served there: Paul, Aquilla and Priscilla, Apollos, Timothy, and John.

But Ephesus was also a stronghold of Satan—sorcery and satanic practices were the rage. Jesus had to emphasize His authority and be recognized as central to the church.

He told the church that He knew everything about their works—their labor, patience, godly endurance, outreach, their pursuit of doctrinal purity, and their hatred for evil. He knew they were doing all these right things without becoming weary.   

Outwardly, it was a solid church. Despite all that, Jesus had something against the church: 


“You have left your first love.” 

The problem was serious. A church loses its reason for being when love grows cold.  

What love did they leave? Christians are told to love God and to love one another. 

Their hard work and focus on doctrinal purity had eclipsed their love relationship with Jesus. 

Jesus wanted the church to be restored. 

How? 
  • Remember . . . what it used to be when they first fell in love with Jesus and loved each other; how they used to spend time in His Word; how they used to pray; how excited they were in telling others about Jesus. 
  • Go back . . . repent, know what had gone wrong, and return to the basics.  

“. . . hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (verse 7).  
When Jesus becomes first and foremost in our life, our every act, every  word, every thought, and every church activity will reflect His grace and honor only Him. 

And we will receive the reward of life that never dies.   



7/06/2020

My Quarantine Reply


Friends, family and I frequently keep in touch via private messages. They cite verses and write encouraging words that uplift the soul, making me raise my hands up to the Lord to thank Him for this grace. 

But somewhere in the beginning, middle, or end of their message is a question: "How are you?" 

Now, that is difficult—extremely difficult—to answer, even for someone like me who eats words for breakfast, lunch, and supper (including snack hours while we’re bolted in our homes with 24/7 flexi-time). 

It’s like asking, "Which comes first—the chicken or the egg?" Or, "How many stars are there in the sky?" You simply don’t know where to start.  

How does one reply? 

There is an emoji that says it all.  
It’s the one image that I have kept using again and again when I comment on posts on social media. I think it encompasses all the feelings piled up inside of me. 

And yet, I understand and truly believe that this season is temporary. In Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 and 7 (NLT), we read: 

“For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven. 

“A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.  

“A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.” 

After this season of crying, grieving, tearing, and musing . . . the season for laughing, dancing, mending, and speaking will come, in God's perfect time.  

7/02/2020

On Our Knees


That’s the place (literally and figuratively) where I keep finding myself during the Covid-19 lockdown, now going on its fourth month.  

I go down on my knees for thanksgiving. 

I see grace—our home; our garden with flowers in bloom; our pets; my family with whom I break bread now that we have no separate schedules; a group of faith brethren with whom I study the Word virtually; and live-streamed worship services on Sundays with songs and messages that make me feel God holds the hands of His children. These are more than the basic needs of man: food, clothing, and shelter. How can I complain? 

But when I look at the world outside, at my beloved motherland through my computer screen, my heart bleeds and breaks over some of the scenes. People are dying, starving, suffering from mental exhaustion, begging on the streets, losing (or have lost) their jobs and businesses, and surviving on so little or none at all.  

At the same time I cringe at the habitual cursing, callousness, cruelty, coercion, contradictions, conspiracies, plus more—ad nauseum—exhibited by a number of people in charge. 

I could not put my grief into words until I came upon my friend Lorenz’s* drawing. His jagged lines—he titled this The Humbling—express all that words could not.
I go down on my knees, totally humbled, crying for help. And so do many of us who want to break free  from this jagged life.   

In times like these, I cling on to His words of comfort to those who put their trust in Him (Psalm 17-22 NLT):  

The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help.
He rescues them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

The righteous person faces many troubles,
but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.
For the Lord protects the bones of the righteous;
not one of them is broken!

Calamity will surely destroy the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be punished.
But the Lord will redeem those who serve him.
No one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

*Some of his works may be viewed at ArtThrobs on Facebook. 

6/28/2020

Badge of Fans


The corona virus quarantine must have turned me into an FB denizen. Every week I get tons of: 

“You have been identified as one of the top fans of (FB page). Go get your badge now.”
I never did. These nudges, however, tell me two things: 

1. I read every page I see on my own news feed. This is good because I make time to know current ideologies and what modern people think about.  

2. My movements are tracked and no longer private. This is bad because I take my privacy seriously. In fact, my blogs and post are neither chronological nor scheduled as they happen.

And badges for fans? I guess at a certain point in life, one outgrows being a fan of anything. In fact, I can’t even recall how it felt like to be a screaming fan anymore—or being dewy eyed listening to my favorite singers. 

Does age turn one into a cynic? I hope not. I guess interests change with the passing of years. And we begin to have a different definition of what is important.  

So what’s important? 

“ . . . be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.” (Ephesians 5:15-16 NLT)

6/24/2020

A Tale of Two Leaders


With apologies to Charles Dickens . . . 

These are the best of times, the worst of times—the age of wisdom, the age of foolishness; the epoch of belief, the epoch of incredulity; the season of light, the season of darkness; the spring of hope, the winter of despair.

Using two leaders instead of two cities, I am illustrating polar opposites in leadership values.  
Leader A is young, a newbie in politics. Since day one of the virus lockdown, he has been hailed for looking after his constituents’ needs. Although with good intentions, he almost got into hot water when he allowed some tricycles to transport frontliners. 

On his 31st birthday, he prohibited any kind of celebration. Instead of birthday gifts, he urged his well-wishers to buy grocery food packs and give them to the needy. His tweets:   

Leader B is five years short of being a senior citizen. He is a major general and the chief of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO). On his 55th birthday, he was surprised by his men and some high-ranking police officers with a party, complete with a Voltes 5 cake, a scrumptious array of food with matching alcoholic beverages, tables and chairs, and balloons. 

Photos of the party were then uploaded online by the NCRPO’s Public Information Office.  

A ruckus on social media trended. Ordinary citizens screamed of violations of government’s ban on mass gathering, alcoholic beverages, and social distancing, which the honorable general was supposed to implement. 

To his credit, leader B apologized but insisted in an interview, "Wala pong mali doon...It would be ungentlemanly kung 'di ko sila hinarap at pinauwi ko sila [There was nothing wrong there...It would be ungentlemanly if I did not face them and if I told them to go home].”  
Here are two of our leaders (A and B) in a time of pandemic, the season of light and the season of darkness. We rejoice, we grieve.  

But beyond all those, we are grateful that it is still (and always will be) the season of grace for all.   

Photo credit: W and Rappler

6/20/2020

Off-strat and Out of Order


“You’re off-strat,” my boss would promptly say when you as much as said anything that veered away from the strategy. 

“Out of order,” says the chairman in meetings when you speak about anything other than what is on the table. 

Sadly, during these critical months, while we race against time to ease people of life-threatening problems brought about by the Covid-19 lockdown, we have been off-strat and out of order. 

These are not my personal opinions; they are from experts: 

For three months now, our updates are not based on raw, granular data. People who died two months ago are added to today’s numbers. Meaning, data two months ago was inaccurate—and yet they were plotted out to be the basis for decisions. 

Over 220,00 jeepney drivers are out of job. Add to this number the daily earners like waiters,  construction workers, etc. Zero income for their families.   

Employees who have been allowed to work have no transportation. Many walk and bike to and from work for hours.  

Schools are generally unprepared to go online. Indigent students cannot afford the gadgets needed for such classes. Schools are hard-at-work putting never-tried-before modules to work. 

Over 40% of micro to middle-sized enterprises (MSMEs) will close. That includes our own.  

Suicide and depression cases are increasing. OFWs are coming home and are now jobless. Children are crying of hunger. Thousands have died. Plus many, many more. 

And yet, the authorities prioritized the: anti-terrorism bill, the suppressing of the press, Rappler, for cyber crime, the closing of a TV network; and discussion on taxing online sellers.    

Can’t those wait till after seeing to the people's more pressing problems? Health. Food. Death.  
How long will we be off-strat and out of order? 

I am no expert and don’t have the authority to offer any solution. I can only echo Habakkuk, weeping while praying for grace from the Almighty:  

“How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! ‘Violence is everywhere!’ I cry, but you do not come to save. Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery? . . .”  (Habakkuk 1:2-3 NLT) 

6/16/2020

Dark Ages


The world seems to have fallen back to the dark ages. 

As we are caged in our homes (specially senior citizens like me), we look out the window and try to see where light may be coming from. 

Unfortunately, light comes from neither here nor there. We see sparks, but they are soon gone. 

We read posts of both experts and amateurs, whose minds we respect, and because of many differing points of view (POV), we grope: conspiracy theories, fake news, propaganda, and worse, arrogance and ignorance.  

Dark. 

It is difficult to see the light. 

Then out of this darkness shines grace—brilliance from the arts, the industry most affected by government’s quarantine measures. I behold drawings, paintings, digital art, memes, short videos online that spell light. Again, they get blurred by whining, accusing, blaming, raving, and ranting posts. 

I try to seek them out. And here’s one that gives me goosebumps. It is intrusive and presents a perturbing point of view in four frames, ironically published on June 12, 2020, the Philippines’ 122nd independence day.  

ACL: “Fought to achieve it, fight to keep it.” 
Agree or not, it is an artist’s stunning POV, without resorting to gutter language, the trademark of paid trolls today.

Dark.

If this scenario be true, it is difficult to see where to go from here.

Yet, it was also on a dark night when Light was born. And if we see and believe that Light, and bring It to our heart, we need never experience darkness again.

The world is dark today, but my faith makes me focus on the Light in my heart so I don’t walk in darkness and get lost. 

“I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12 NLT) 

Photo credit: ACL 

6/12/2020

Handling the Truth


“You can’t handle the truth!” yelled Colonel Nathan R. Jessep, played by Jack Nicholdon, in the movie A Few Good Men. He then went  on a tirade to defend himself.

It came back to me when I looked in my mirror after 75 days of the Covid-19 quarantine. This image stared me in the face.
No, not Mona Lisa—her hair (a meme created by my artist friend, Ggie). That is exactly how my hair roots look today.

Oh, I can handle the truth. What I—and the rest of my womankind—can’t handle is leaving home without a perfect coif. And so we dye and suffer the consequences of chemicals. 

The 75 days of house arrest have actually been grace for my scalp. No dye has touched it since March 16. So I asked myself why I even allow chemicals on my head?

There are over 500 brands of hair dyes in the world, and they come in thousands of different colors and hues, and they are sold in ALL stores, and most of their advertising say: (not in so many words) your natural hair can look better.

And so these become our “truth.” A sad commentary on mankind’s love of self.

I am on the ninth chapter of the book I am currently writing, and this verse made me sit up after that encounter with my mirror. 

“ . . . we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18 ESV)

Ah me!

6/08/2020

Share Your Art


Writers and artists, the off-the-wall personas who make up a creative team in an advertising shop, have been suddenly barred from leaving their homes because of the corona virus pandemic.

But nobody could cage free spirits.

With their computers, they have been unleashing online their unconstrained creativity via memes, poetry, sound bytes, and art works of all kinds.

One of them, Ggie (my sister from another womb), sent me this. “Come on,” she messaged me, “share your art!”
 “No way!” I balked. “I’d rather write than draw a bird!"

This friend is a nag, and harassed me every day. I let my guard down and thought, Why not? 

Since I have all the time in the world, I tried my hand at computer art. I am a newbie and will never trade writing to visual art, but it was worth a try.

My first attempt: Circles can never go wrong, can they?
 My second attempt: I took some of my books* to draw the bird.

All told, these took one week of my time, after which I proudly showed them to Tony. He said, “They’re okay.”

Okay?! Just okay?! 

On second thought, I’ll take “okay.” It is not his usual, “What's that?"

Let’s enjoy the lockdown artist friends. Thank you for showing us your amazing magnum opuses on social media. The quarantine could take a few more days. Or weeks? Or months?

P.S. I grabbed Ggie's beautiful bird from her wall. I am sure she did this in less than 30 minutes.

*My prayer is that these books on grace, plus all the others that did not make it to this bird, will continue  to take flight despite the downturn in the publishing industry. 


6/04/2020

Mister God, This Is Grace


If you are put off by spiritual laments, feel free to click away.
Mister God, This Is Anna is an old book about friendship between a 16-year-old boy, Fynn, and a four-year-old foundling. I didn’t get to read it till 2001, when my sister Aie gifted me with a copy. It was riveting; I devoured it in two sittings.

The corona virus quarantine makes one look through bookshelves again, in lieu of bookshops, which are all closed, and discover old readings.

This book whispered, Read me again. I have barely gone through page 10 when I felt myself lugubriously sobbing. It was not because of the cruel lashes  etched on Anna’s bruised body, but because I shrunk in shame at the way she went past them—more than I or any adult could, over a slightly bruised ego.

Anna is unscathed, her faith in and knowledge of Mister God is whole and unshaken. She seems like a theologian, living spiritual doctrines both in mind and heart, with a full sense of God’s nature.

Fynn is a foil to Anna’s pint-sized Albert Schweitzer. She asks difficult questions, which require unconventional answers. She knows about evil, pain, and abuse, but shows no sign of suffering from what we conveniently call trauma.

By telling Anna's story, the author (Fynn) memorializes a young but awe-inspiring  kid who is unforgettable. Constantly pondering various aspects of her faith, Anna believes that religion, to be meaningful, must be lived.

"She never made eight years, she died by an accident, with a grin on her beautiful face. She died  saying, 'I bet Mister God lets me get into heaven for this'."

Reading it again 19 years later while anxious over the pandemic, I do not find it only moving, but disturbing. Anna, an unschooled waif, humbles adults ten times her age.

Adulthood blinds us to see beauty where there is uncertainty. To Anna, things may be chaotic, but beauty is undiminished. 

Today, many people—especially me—have been asking, “Why, God?”

But rereading, Mister God, This Is Anna, I find myself thinking, Mister God, This Is Grace. It’s like having a bittersweet sense of what life is about and a capacity to make the mess bearable.

It is mortifying, but liberating.

6/01/2020

The Number 40


“The Israelites,” Pastor Ariel (our home church’s senior pastor) stressed in his livestreamed Sunday message, "were stuck in the desert for 40 years. In all those years, the Lord never left them. They were never forsaken—their shoes did not wear out, their food did not run out, and they won every battle.”

It was one of his several illustrations of how the Lord took care of His people in olden times. “Just as He took care them, He will take care of us. God finishes what He started.”

When God began to create all things, He finished everything in six days.

When God sent Jesus to the world to save people from their sins, He finished His mission on the cross.

When God  started His great work in you and me, He will bring it to a flourishing finish on the day Christ Jesus will come again.

On our 40th day of lockdown, our barangay officials went from house to house to drop off some sustenance. This one’s ours.
Weeks earlier, the Village Homeowners Association gifted us with one whole piece of dressed chicken and the barangay dropped off rice such as the above and some canned goods.

The Israelites were on lockdown for 40 years in the desert (that's several years beyond one generation!), while we have been sequestered in our homes for just over two months.
We cannot complain. For every grace, we give thanks.

Hebrews 13:5 assures us, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” (ESV)

5/28/2020

Duplicity: Selective Grace


Grace, as defined in Scripture, is unmerited favor. When Christ was on Earth, He consistently bestowed grace upon all men: whoever they were, wherever they came from or went, whatever they said or did, and whomever they associated with.

Today, that grace-for-all is still for all.

The rain waters both weeds and grass; the air gives life to criminals and saints; the sun shines for the wicked and the righteous; the Earth is home to every individual born, no matter what race.

Grace, as mortals dispense it, is selective. We choose who will and won’t receive it from us. We decide who is deserving and who is not—based on our judgment.

Selective grace. Duplicity.

This has become so pronounced during this pandemic. The highest official of our land and his cabinet, all addressed “honorable,” have brazenly chosen the people who will receive grace from them and who will not.

While we ordinary mortals are reeling from the onslaught of the corona virus, obeying laws and rules, the implementors have broken these before our eyes: wear a mask; no big gathering; no alcohol; social distancing; plus more.

How can we not be outraged when officials who recklessly violated these laws got away scot free? 

A senator, positive for the virus, accompanied his wife to a hospital where he might have infected people, including the frontliners.

An OWWA undersecretary met with a large group of OFWs who were in quarantine.

The top police officer of the NCR, General Debold Sinas, celebrated his birthday with other officials and his men—wearing no masks, imbibing alcohol, enjoying a sumptuous meal minus social distancing, and worse, blatantly uploading photos of their revelry on their online page, and lying about them after these went viral. 

Our president went on air to emphasize once again, “The law is the law is the law. The rule is the rule is the rule. When you mess up with the law, I will see to it that you go to prison for your kalokohan niyo [misbehavior]."

Mang Dodong, a fisherman, went out of his house to purchase goods he would sell to feed his family.  Because he had no travel pass, he was arrested, jailed for 12 days, and was freed only after posting P3,500 bail, donated by a kind soul.

But in the same speech, His Excellency said and I quote,  “The law is the law. Well, akin na yun (that’s mine). It’s my responsibility but I will not order his (Gen. Sinas) transfer. He stays there, until further orders . . .”

Selective grace. Duplicity.

And so the general stays, ordering people to obey the same rules he violated.

There are many, many more poor citizens arrested, jailed, tortured (some killed) for violating a quarantine rule or saying something that hurt the feelings of His Excellency.

In Mang Dodong, we see them all. 
Photo credit: (ctto) grabbed from posts of various individuals online 

5/25/2020

Pandemic of Questions


An unknown enemy, nicknamed by WHO as Covid-19, has come to assault, endanger, and inflict untold suffering upon humanity. It lurks stealthily and furtively in crevices, the air, and all possible surfaces and spaces. As of this writing, almost 400,000 people have died.

No one is spared in the world: black, white or in-between; infants, adults, or super seniors; very poor, middle poor/rich or filthy rich.

And so we are angry and distraught, asking skeptical questions.

Many have found grace to answer these questions on various platforms: social media, blogs, editorials, articles, interviews, etc. But the questions are asked over and over again.

To this end, OMF Lit took a step to help put people’s mind at rest: a FREE, downloadable e-book. (The printed edition will be available soon.) 
I was one of nine authors tapped to answer some of the questions. The other eight are:  

Bishop Efraim M. Tendero
Joyce Piap-Go
Jun Gonzaga
Nelson T. Dy
Nomer Bernardino
Nor Aquino-Gonzales
Ronald Molmisa
Rico Villanueva

On our knees, we prayed for  discernment and wisdom in writing answers, with the hope that we could offer our readers comfort and refreshment based on the Word. 

Download a copy and may you find in the book solace and consolation, even as we now live in a world we cannot control.    


5/22/2020

Cyber Birthday Party


Our only grandson, Adrian, was going to turn 13, a milestone by any standard. Unfortunately, the corona virus pandemic crushed all odds for a celebration outside of the home.

So we did one better—celebrate outside of the country and time zone: Manila and the US, with 15 hours time difference. His mom organized an online chat with both her family and my son’s. Two sets of families plus the celebrant’s would get together at a certain hour!

The grandma in me got to work. What does one prepare for a big milestone? Food? Lechon? Cake? Balloons? Buntings? Costumes?

Alas, no shop was open for any of these.

Again, go for the better alternative: cyberspace.

And so we had a party, 12 thousand miles apart. Neither the sound nor the Internet connection cooperated, but the warmth and joy from both ends of the world were just a screen apart. Adrian blew the candles on his birthday cake, we sang him the birthday song, and said our birthday wishes.

His fave food when he's with us; pandemic-inspired b-day cake
No celebration in the Philippines is complete without a lechon.
Birthday blessings, dear Adrian. May you grow up in the Lord’s nourishing grace.

The celebrant, his parents, pet dog, cake, and two sets of Philippine families on screen
“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24 (ESV)