5/25/2020

A 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. 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)


5/19/2020

Locked at 1,000


After abandoning my daily walks three years ago due to my curling toes, I thought I’d never experience walking at dawn again. But the corona virus lockdown emboldened me.

Being at home 24/7 with zero exercise is not good for the health. So with my face mask, I ventured onto the street to walk—gingerly and slowly lest my right toes would go berserk. And what do you know? I made it to a few meters without any pain.

So I dared more meters till I felt my toes begin to complain. All told, I was able to do 1,000 steps, 10% of what I used to make before my foot malady. But hey, 10% is better than none.

My writing regimen for my new book has taken a new turn. Because I am not time bound, I have chosen to limit my words to 1,000 per day so I could do other things—reading, listening to music, doing social media, watching TV, chatting on the phone, and simply idling. Little did I know that the number 1,000 is found in the Bible a few hundred times.
One of them is found in Mathew 5:41. Christians are required to walk two miles if compelled to walk a mile. In a commentary I read, Roman “mile” was made up of 1,000  paces (mille passuum) or steps.

The things you learn in a pandemic! And the things you see!

My quiet time is no longer rushed; I nurse it like a (refreshing ade) drink and savor grace, enabling me to reflect on these verses:

“Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
for my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will not be shaken.” 
(Psalm 62:5-6 NLT)


5/15/2020

A Day in the Life


One of the Beatles’ best songs, A Day in the Life, combines the best of Lennon and McCartney. Lennon writes about disillusionment while McCartney speaks of optimism.

On social media, people are either disillusioned or optimistic over the Covid-19 lockdown. I like to stay with optimism. The corona virus crisis is an opportunity to thank God for His extraordinary grace that we would have missed under ordinary times.

Our day in the life: or how our lives have changed. (Other posts have the details. Blogging time, after all, is unlimited.) 
Tony, our two sons who live with us, and I break bread together and converse. I mean, really converse. We also plan the menu together—what should we order outside or what can we cook inside. 

First thing in the good morning, I do my morning walk (other post).

Then I print out crossword puzzles from the internet for Tony and me. Before the virus struck, mornings in our terrace were for sipping coffee, reading newspapers and solving their crosswords, but publications don’t reach our village anymore. And because we are forbidden to go out, we soak in books.

(On Sundays, we worship via livestreamed service and greet faith brethren online.)

After lunch, through the good afternoon, both sons and I camp inside my cramped writing room to share the AC. I work on my next book (other post), son #1 does some programming, and son #3 writes his doctoral dissertation. Tony, who is averse to AC, naps in our furnace-like bedroom.

Son #1 makes us iced coffee while we each face our computers/books. We keep in touch with son #2 and family who are in the US via digital gadgets. In fact, we just celebrated our only grandson’s birthday virtually (other post).

I send and receive many online messages. At no time have I kept in touch with so many people more than now.

Snacks (an ordered pizza or rice cake). Son #1 does his afternoon walk, son # does his fitness program with his trainer online.

After supper, we retreat to our bedrooms for our quiet time and the good night’s rest.

Tomorrow is another day in the life—to thank God for the good morning, good afternoon, and good night. 

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7 (NIV)

5/11/2020

Mother Lily


In a pressure cooker where I worked for two decades, Lily was the head of Personnel (Human Resource was still a mindless infant not knowing how to grow up).

An evolution happened beneath the surface: her name morphed to Mother Lily.

There is no historical record of how that came to be, but I have two hypothesis. One, “Mother” was the groovy way to call a boss. Two, there was an infamous Mother Lily in the movie industry.

What does it matter?

Anyone in all the world who checks attendance, calls you out for infraction, and reads to you the riot act is both feared and reviled. Mother Lily bore those onuses on her shoulders. Yet, again, beneath the surface, she was loved.

Outside of the office, she valued personal relationships and knew everyone—past and present—by name, even after the company closed and we all went our separate ways.

And then, social  media happened. It gathered many of the separated staff once more.  Somehow, we know how most of us are doing, and occasionally we schedule small face-to-face encounters.

Cocooned in our homes for almost two moths now because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have time for things that are important, among which is the renewal of vows of friendship.

One of our former art directors, Ggie, messaged all those in her list of contacts, “This is for Mother Lily’s birthday. Please take a photo of yourself holding a blank sheet of paper to your chest. I need it now!”

Ggie posted this on the celebrant’s wall—a group photo of  grace: a touching reunion of separated friends.
To Mother Lily and all my dear friends in that happy land far away, once long ago . . .

5/07/2020

Joint Celebration


“Nobody is exempt from _____________.”

I asked our group in adult Sunday school to fill in the blank with one word. Our answers were similar in mood: Sorrow. Trials. Problems. Fear. Sickness.

Timothy J. Keller (American theologian and author) seems to explain these answers with this quote, “Nobody is exempt from trials and tribulations. In fact this is what often happens to people God loves very much, for it is part of God’s often mysterious and good plan for turning us into something great.”

Starting with the fall of man, every person has had his share of grief. In Scripture—aside  from the book of Job and Lamentations—verses about grieving abound. On the flip side, we’ve all had our share of joy.

Grief and joy. They come together like a pair of scissors. One can’t work without the other. They're  back-to-back grace.
Golda Meir, past prime minister of Israel said, “Those who don’t know how to weep with their whole heart, don’t know how to laugh either.” 

Centuries earlier, Paul called us to a life of both sorrow and happiness—not just inside of our cocoon, but outside. In Romans 12:15, he wrote, “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” 

By grieving with others, we would see the panorama of the Lord’s love for all. He accomplishes His purposes in us—and through others. Mourning only for our own loses is dwelling in self-pity, unable to comfort those who are also hurting.

God gives us the opportunity (an opportunity so pronounced in this Covid-19 pandemic) to enter other people’s lives so we could grieve with them and experience how the Lord leads us to a joint celebration.

5/03/2020

Hello, Shorty!


The first in line—that’s where I belonged in school while everyone was growing up except me.

From elementary grade to college, and definitely in graduate school (because by then I was in the US straining my neck up to Americans), I was dwarfed by humanity. At that time, height shaming was not a crime, so those close to me would tease, “Hello, shorty!”

Before we reached our maximum height, my cousin Minna, with whom I saw eye-to-eye, and I would jump the highest during our family reunion on New Year’s Day; we believed what people said that if you did that, you’d grow taller.

They lied.

We both got vertically pegged at 5 feet (or barely). 

“Big things come in small packages,” my mom and Minna’s mom would say to make us feel better.  They added, “Think Cleopatra, or Queen Victoria, or Deng Xiaoping, or Jose Rizal.”   

To the rescue came clogs, then stiletto heels, then wedgies, then clunky mules, and then platform shoes. And there was that era when we seemed stretched because of the beehive hairdo. Indeed, we were way below the required height-line for many jobs (such as a stewardess or a beauty pageant contestant).

By grace, I married a tall man, with whom I have three tall sons, by my standards. That sealed my shorty stature, a fate I resigned to.     

But one glorious day, my grandson, Adrian, was born. He inherited my “shortest in the family” title and I reveled in my new position in the area of elevation. 

Till he came home for a vacation last year.

Now 12 years old, he has outgrown me by an inch or so. I say “or so” because when we hugged, I was wearing my cork espadrilles, yet, I had to tilt my head up to say, “Hello!” 
Well-mannered, respectful, and affectionate, Adrian did not gloat nor say, “Hello, shorty!”


4/29/2020

Online Teaching


Online learning has been a way of life for me for quite sometime now. My library is the cyberspace. Much of the new things and information I know today came from the Net.

But online teaching?

This is something new that came with the Covid-19 pandemic. Classes cannot be stopped. But despite training from techie son #1 and IT in the university where I teach, I remain technologically challenged. For how long? Oh, maybe another 20 years. And that’s an educated guess.
There are just too many dizzying apps with too many varied icons to click—not necessarily in succession. You just need to continually risk making mistakes. And then there’s the intermittent power or Internet connection. Suddenly, your screen goes black. Suddenly, you don’t hear your audience’s voices anymore. Suddenly, your slides grow big and small like a yoyo. Suddenly, you need to go to another app. Suddenly, oh, gazillions of surprises! 

 
Now, if this is where teaching is going, I think I need to consider a four-letter word—quit.

Yet, that’s a dilemma. I remember distinctly what Douglas MacArthur once wrote or said somewhere, “Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul.

Body wrinkles I already have. But wrinkles of the soul?!

Please excuse me while I sing an old hymn:

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!  

4/25/2020

Covid-19: Sob, the Flowers Wilted


One of my favorite spots at the SM mall in our neighborhood is the flower section—not to buy, because they are pricey, but to gawk. Some are arranged in baskets and vases. But some just sit there, waiting for someone to choose them, pay through her nose, in a bunch or apiece. 

Flowers have always fascinated me. That’s why, when nobody's looking, I brazenly paint them between writing marathons. On canvas, they stay fresh and don’t wilt.
 But sob, the flowers in the mall wilted.
All it took was Covid-19 to make them sag, slouch, slump, and stoop—a sorry sight. I would have loathed seeing the beautiful, expensive flowers devalued this way, but my friend Ggie sent me these photos when she was there for errands.

It was temporary grief, however. As I reflect on flowers, gifts of the King of grace for  you and me, I know they are blooming elsewhere—in parks, gardens, curbs, empty lots, and open fields—still looking up to their Creator.

Covid-19 may pass or stay. Flowers will waste away. Life will be gone any day, but this is God’s promise to those who believe . . . 

“. . . having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because

“All flesh is as grass,
And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass.
The grass withers,
And its flower falls away,
But the word of the Lord endures forever.” 

1 Peter 1:23-25 (NKJV)

4/21/2020

Silence: Sealing off Grace


While on lockdown, the words I post on social media are carefully crafted to extol or call down an issue. As a citizen wanting only what's best for the country, I participate in national conversations.

Then suddenly, in our church prayer concerns, one item said, "May we act in solidarity to combat Covid-19 instead of complaining and criticizing the government."

“Instead of . . .” that made me feel sad. Because it is not a choice between being in solidarity and being gagged in silence. They are not mutually exclusive. We need to do both. Governments draw wisdom from people's complaints and criticisms, especially during pandemic.

This feeling I could not put into words without hurting the author of the list.

Then on page 121 of the book I am reading, Philip Yancey’s What Good Is God?, the author wrote the words I could not express.

Let me quote Yancey (emphases mine):

“I write honestly . . . even through it may cause others pain. I would hope that readers call me down on my own inconsistencies and exaggerations . . . I know of no more honest book than the Bible, which tells the ugly truth about its main protagonists [think of Moses, David, Peter, Paul] as well as the church to carry on the tradition.

“In contrast, the Pharisees and their kin exhibit one persistent flaw: an inability to take criticism.

“People and institutions naturally want to present themselves in the best light and thus we rationalize or cover up mistakes. When we do so we move away from authenticity toward the very dangers Jesus warned against, in the process sealing off grace.”

My personal belief: while Christians must follow government rules to the last drop during the Covid-19 quarantine, we should not stay silent.
We need to question inconsistencies, lies, blasphemy, unfulfilled promises, foul language, character assassination, unpreparedness, corruption, vulgarity, and more. Lives are at stake.

Otherwise, the authorities will think everything they are doing is right. And we become accomplices to what is wrong, enemies of authenticity, which Jesus preached, and seal off His grace.

Let me end by quoting Dr. Rico Villanueva who wrote in Inquirer, "I find the fact that God allows His people to ask him 'why?' empowering, especially during this time when some of our leaders do not allow any form of complaint. If God can be questioned, why can’t we do the same with our leaders? Are they higher than God? (Doc Rico finished his Ph.D. in the Old Testament from the UK and teaches Sacred Scripture at the Ateneo and the Asia Graduate School of Theology.) 

4/17/2020

Covid-19 and ECQ: Excruciating?


I have used the word excruciating only a few times in my life. 

These were when the world was at its darkest: seeing my dad suffer from cancer and eventually losing him; losing a newborn son; losing Tony's only brother to drug overdose; losing my mom to heart failure; losing my mom-in-law and sis-in-law one month apart; hearing the doctor’s prognosis about my husband’s condition (four times, within a few years, close to dying); and less than a dozen more.

Excruciating—meaning, a combination of extreme agony, unbearable torture, and  intense pain—is hardly used in a faith-based life. God’s comforting grace always lifts you up from the pits. That I’ve always believed.

But it was only last Good Friday, in our livestreamed worship service amidst an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), when I realized why.
To illustrate Jesus’ supreme sacrifice for sinful man, Pastor Ariel’s message was hinged on the scourge. It is the whip, made of several pieces of leather with lead embedded on each strand, used to inflict the worst penalty on innocent Jesus before His crucifixion.

From the pulpit, he graphically described how scourging could have damaged Jesus’ shoulders, back, and legs. (A scourge cuts through the skin, and as the blows continue, its ends cut deeper, till blood oozes from the veins. Finally, the skin hangs in ribbons and the entire body is an unrecognizable mass of scrap.)

The savage cruelty continued at His crucifixion.
Can you imagine anything more painful? Excruciating comes from the Latin word excruciare, from cruciare, to crucify. It means, “a pain like the pain of crucifixion.”

The physical pain Jesus endured was surpassed only by the emotional pain He felt at being betrayed by the people He loved and being forsaken by God. And yet, His first words were, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34 NKJV)

On that Good Friday, I learned that when I am tempted to use the word excruciating, I will look back to the crucifixion. And I will remember that no human pain can ever be big enough (not even the curse of Covid-19 and the ECQ) to match what Jesus went through for me.

4/13/2020

A Quarantined Birthday


A is my nephew—not by blood but by bond, a mighty bond of shared faith. He’s a kind, caring, and helpful kid (I call everyone kid in our church because I saw them grow up) whose heart is almost as big as the sun. 

On top of all the things he does to assist church workers, he volunteers to drive his huge, white van for everyone in our place of worship who does not have a ride. He fetches indigent kids on Sundays so they could attend junior church and Sunday school. This is not to mention his, “Anything I can do for you, Tita?” when he sees me walking around. I could go on. 

I write about him now because he outdid himself on his birthday a few days back. 

Because of the Covid-19 lockdown, it is not possible to have any form of event gathering that involves people other than family.
But A chose to celebrate his birthday with people in his circle.

With his parents, he dropped by our house to share his blessings—grace that would have been served on a table if he were free to celebrate his milestone. No prolonged conversation, just a brief "hi" and "goodbye." They dropped by other homes, too, as posted by church mates on social media later.

While under quarantine for two more weeks, united only via livestreamed worship services and  prayers, may we find beautiful ways—as A did—to hold each other up and fight off our anxiety over the invisible enemy that has suddenly plunged the world in total chaos.

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near." (Hebrews 10:24-25 NLT)

4/09/2020

Covid-19: Are We in the Same Boat?


Rich or poor, young or old, male or female—everyone is a prey of the virulent virus called Covid-19. So are we in the same boat?

No, we’re not.

Just a cursory glance at photos and posts on mass and social media shows two separate and different boats.

Boat A is made of sturdy and expensive materials, and motorized. If you stay inside, the virus can’t get you.

Boat B is makeshift, improvised. It’s made whole only by patches of wood scraps. If you stay in it, it can capsize, leak, and sink even before the virus can get you.

These boats emerged simultaneously after the lockdown was announced. Boat A, with all its resources knew where to go. Boat B, with its meager resources suddenly cut, could not find its way.

“We’re all in this together,” our lawmakers tried to ram that down our throat. In fact, they crafted a law called “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” which gave the president emergency powers to equally serve everyone quickly.

So can we heal as one, even if we’re not in the same boat?

A poem that went viral spoke of staying home, reading books, exercising, making art and playing games.

On the other hand, a series of posts continue to speak of going to bed on empty stomachs, crying of hunger, and waiting and waiting for any dole out—perhaps some grains of rice and anything edible?

These photos (ctto) tell the story better than words.   

Are we in the same boat?

Not the way it looks. The only chance we can live with the thought is to accept, by faith and by grace, what Scripture says.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV)

Photos: all borrowed from the Internet 

4/05/2020

Mother Teresa in a Time of Pandemic


Since we lost Ate Vi, our lifelong househelp, we had a quick succession of others who took their job half-seriously and left unceremoniously. Househelps have become a thing of the past.

But one day, Teresa knocked on our door and said she could work for us three times a week.  She’d come in early and leave late. We didn’t know her from Adam, but we were desperate and she seemed sincere.

Teresa turned out to be unexpected grace dropped from above. Three times a week, this struggling single mother of five, masquerading as a warrior, would clean and sanitize every nook and cranny of our house, wash and iron our clothes, change our curtains and linens, sort out our things inside cabinets, tend to the garden, etc. It felt as though Ate Vi resurrected.

Until the Covid-19 pandemic.

Because of the strict implementation of the quarantine, Teresa asked us if she could stay in till after the lockdown?

If this isn’t manna from heaven, what is? Before us was Mother Teresa personified. She came to serve the poor in spirit, four dependent individuals and five pets marooned in a house that needs daily caring.

It’s been three weeks since she moved in, freeing us to do our work online while she sees to the details of our daily needs. Mother Teresa sends her pay to her children who have children of their own but have nothing to feed them because their jobs are on hold.

Picture her family as one of these people, not knowing what social distancing means because they are hungry.
Feel her anguish, her helplessness, her frustration because help from the government has been slow or has not come at all. Listen to her gratitude that she has a job, food to eat, and a temporary home where she is needed, loved, and appreciated. 

I weep and pray for all the mother Teresas in many homes today. Lord, help us to find ways to serve them in return.

"And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God." Hebrews 13:16 (NLT)

Photo credit: https://verafiles.org/articles/hunger-does-not-know-social-distancing

4/01/2020

What’s Social Distancing?


In a crisis—especially a pandemic—everything is urgent. It is vital to use simple words that can readily be understood by everyone.  Euphemisms such as “social distancing” are for ordinary times. From explaining the phrase to finally understanding it, many lives could have already been lost.

Social distancing, in essence, means: not seeing anybody anymore; breaking up friendships; not having anything to do with some people; reducing one’s social obligations; being a recluse; praying alone instead of praying with faith brethren, etc.
Why can’t we use "physical distancing" instead? I asked myself from the very beginning because that was what we wanted people to do—stay physically far away from each other to avoid contamination. Physical distancing can be easily understood by anyone—regardless of age or educational attainment.
I thought I was alone in this “nit-picking” until I read an article that said, “Experts prefer ‘physical distancing,’ and the WHO agrees.”

Daniel Aldrich, a professor of political science and public policy at Northeastern University, is concerned that the term could be counterproductive. He explained that it is  misleading, because the pandemic should encourage strengthening social ties while maintaining physical distancing.

He gave as an example, “People running errands for elderly neighbors practice social connectedness with physical distance.”

Indeed, social ties (not distances) can get us through any kind of trouble. We create all kinds of support groups for various medical and societal problems, don’t we?

In The Washington Post, I read that WHO has started using the term “physical distancing.” The organization wants people—even if they are far apart physically—to still remain connected.

Social connections are necessary to heal and recover. It’s like sharing the grace that we receive instead of hogging it all to ourselves.

“So encourage each other and build each other up . . .” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NLT)

3/29/2020

King David’s Quarantine


(Reflections on God’s message: Peace over Fear, through Pastor Ariel, on my computer screen.)

David was afraid for his life, just as we are today with the Covid-19 pandemic. He put himself in  quarantine to flee from his son, Absalom, who wanted to kill him so he could be king.

In Psalm 42, we hear David’s cry. Detached from God’s house of worship, he is fearful. He is depressed. He laments over all the troubles he has endured; he longs for God’s presence.

Doesn’t this parallel our fears while imprisoned at home, following guidelines on the lockdown? How can we achieve peace?

Like David, we are grumbling and growling. We are frustrated staying home. We grieve over the deaths of front liners. We are angry over the mistakes of authorities. We hate the cursing on social media. “Don’t go down the negative road,” our pastor stressed, “stop listening to yourself.”

While listening to our fearful selves, we give a space for the enemy to make us even more fearful: “Say goodbye to your business, your job, your finances, your loved ones, if not yourself.”

But.

Because of David’s deep faith in God, he shifted his thoughts and started talking to himself (verse 5), “. . . Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God!”

“Encourage yourself with God’s voice,” Pastor Ariel urged us. “Talk not in a political or medical way—talk to yourself in a Biblical way.”

We need to look back to those days when God upheld our Bible heroes (Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Paul, etc.) in ancient past. Let us remember those times when God did the same for us and our family: He never left us and He poured His generous grace upon us.

God is alive and is with us in our quarantine places . . . so together we prayed and sang this hymn: 

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. 
Because He lives, My fears are gone. 

Peace, not fear.

(Thank You, Lord, for all faith brethren who made the live streaming possible. Thank You for technology that enables us to worship You and listen to Your word wherever we are. Amen.)    

3/28/2020

Somniloquy


I talk and make sounds in my sleep. Weird?

This condition is called somniloquy, defined in medical dictionaries as: a parasomnia that refers to talking aloud while asleep. It can be quite loud, ranging from simple mumbling sounds to loud shouts and long, frequently inarticulate speeches, and can occur many times during a sleep cycle. It usually affects men and children.

I am not a man, neither am I a child anymore. But this condition has started to occur maybe ten years ago. Then, it was few and far between. But as I grow wiser (euphemism for aging), it has become quite frequent.
 
I was alarmed big time: Is there a deep psychological problem or trauma that is haunting me?

“Nothing to be afraid of,” my doctor said. “When we go to sleep, our sound system shuts off. But for some people, it stays ajar, so sounds—most of the time incoherent—seep through.”

I didn’t believe her until my sister, who had lived with our mother in her later years, told me that Mom had the same condition. That revelation made me feel better. It is genetic!

Now I worry less, except when Tony is awakened by my ramblings and couldn’t go to sleep after that. He loses sleep while I enjoy mine.

During my out-of-town trips for book talks, I fear that my somniloquy would disturb whomever is assigned as my roommate. So I explain my malady in great detail ahead of time.

Those who have sleeping disorders (maybe of a different nature) like I have, don’t fret. Grace enables us to face the new day. These verses helped me through mine.

“No need to panic over alarms or surprises, or predictions that doomsday’s just around the corner, Because God will be right there with you; he’ll keep you safe and sound.” Proverbs 3:25-26 (The Message)

3/24/2020

Dye or Die


Itchiness is non-life threatening, but it is totally infuriating. If it runs amok on your scalp, it could turn a perfect day into a total chaos.
Imagine being dressed in your best finery, or talking to some important bigwigs, or lecturing before a roomful of professionals, and suddenly you need to scratch your head—not daintily but vigorously because the urge to scratch is irresistible.  

These horrible scenarios are real and put me in crisis mode for the last two months. Concerned friends suggested balms and different shampoos. Nothing worked.

Finally someone said, “Stop dying your hair.”

No way, that is not an option. In fact, I dyed my hair that day because my gray hair roots screamed, “Dye now!”

And so the itching continued. Montaigne wrote, “Scratching is one of the sweetest gratifications of nature, and as ready at hand as any.” But Tony put his foot down, "Go and see a dermatologist.”

My beautiful dermatologist, impeccably made-up, coiffed, and dressed, said in a soothing, smiling voice, “Seborrheic dermatitis.”

That sounded lethal, so I exclaimed, “If you tell me not to dye, I’ll die!”

She laughed, “No, I will not let you die.”

She then prescribed a lotion, which cost me half of my bank account, to be applied to my scalp for one week before bedtime and anti-histamine pills.  “Try not to scratch when you feel an itch. Because the more you scratch, the more you itch. It’s called the scratch-itch cycle. If the  itching continues, come back.”

It’s been a week, and the itching has lessened, perhaps because I have resisted scratching the itch. And I am due for my next dye. My dermatologist was true to her word—she did not let me die.

3/22/2020

Worship from Home


A menace called Covid-19 has spread its venom all over the world. As of last count, there are almost half a million people afflicted (380 in the country) and over 13,000 deaths. Measures such as country lockdown are in place to contain the virus and widespread fear.

Age-old schedules such as our Sunday worship in church have been derailed.

Today, so as to obey government guidelines, I reluctantly worshiped from home. But it was a decision I will neither forget nor regret in my life.

It was a glorious experience, grace beyond measure. Together with church mates who likewise  stayed home and those who opted to be in church physically, I felt connected with all faith brethren via live streaming and real-time messages on social media.
We sang, prayed, and listened to God’s message together. It was like being  in one room, a community worship that was also deeply personal. Through our Pastor, I heard Jesus say these assuring words to me:

    • I will take care of you.
    • Faith is dependence on Me. TOTAL dependence.
    • Fortify your faith; then fear will leave you.
    • Restoration in the Philippines will come. But it must begin on your knees, in prayer. 
    • Everything is better with Me, including a virus. Faith is not denial. You need  to deal with the problem—there is a problem—but focus on Me.
    • Attack this problem with worship, so that the problem will NOT attack you with worry.
    • Fear makes you indecisive; when you are fearful, you cannot decide properly.
    • In your fear, I say, "Trust Me!”
    • This is the day of salvation; come to Jesus—come to Me.

Today, too, many churches in the globe went online. What an impact to viewers!
 
Someone posted this message, “Many people were reached; they heard the good news about Christ and their lives will be changed & transformed. God took what the enemy meant to separate us and turned it around to unite us.”

(Note: almost 600 people viewed our livestreamed service, six times bigger than our regular church attendance.)

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14 NIV)

3/20/2020

Unpewed


The call to avoid community worship and stay home, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, was getting louder from all directions. Fear of infection has gripped the nation—and the world. I was of two minds myself: to go or not to go to church.

My heart told me to go. And what I saw made me use a word I never used before: unpewed.

In all my years as a Christian, I had sat on a pew during a Sunday worship service. It’s as though a sanctuary is incomplete without them. There had been debates in my home church whether we should discard the ancient, rotting pews for new plastic monobloc chairs. The pews stayed.

Then suddenly, because of the government’s decree on social distancing to halt the spread of Covid-19—sans any discussion or a lengthy debate—the pews disappeared.
My son JR and I attended the first service where our pastor’s sermon was live-streamed, as did many pastors’ around the globe, for those who opted to stay home.

Offertory box instead of bags (left); hand sanitizer
The next day, I read two urgent messages on my FB news feed.   

Message 1 (from Tony’s cardiologist): “Stay home; you could save lives.” 

Message 2 (from my nephew, a surgeon): I had messaged him earlier about praying in church for all medical frontliners. He replied, “Tita, please, please pray at home. God will understand.”
Was it perhaps guilt, fueled by the enemy, that impelled me to go to church and meet with fellow believers? Was it a wrong decision?

I don’t know.

What I know is, God’s constant grace erases all fears and gives me, us, the wisdom to act for the greater good in these extraordinary times.


3/16/2020

Yo, Elvis!


Do you have difficulty remembering people’s names?

I do.

I like asking people’s names especially those who do sincere service work (tellers, security guards, receptionists, etc.), hoping I’d remember them the next time we meet. But the in-betweens stretch to months so when I see them again, I remember their smiles but not their names.

“What’s your name?” I asked the young audiologist whom I visit every six months for my hearing problem. He’s solicitous and patient, explaining in great detail how my pair of  hearing aids—hearing grace I call them—are doing. 

“Elvis,” he replied.

“Yo!” I shrieked.

(The only other Elvis I know had gone to glory long ago, but who, his fans insist, is still alive. He was my husband’s favorite singer. In fact, Tony has an Elvis room where he keeps Elvis thingies, collected through the years.  During his last trip to the US, this Elvis fan flew to Graceland and brought home more memorabilia.)
Last week, six months later, I had to visit the Hearing Clinic again and what do you know? I remembered my audiologist’s name.

“Yo, Elvis!”

“Your name, Ma’am?” he asked. Age has nothing to do with forgetfulness.

While he was fiddling with my hearing aid’s computer chip, I asked, “Do you like Elvis Presley?”

“He was my dad’s favorite singer, Ma’am,” he said.

“He named you after him; you must be a good singer, too.”

“Modesty aside, I am, Ma’am,” he said seriously.

“Can you sing me a few lines?” I joked.

Immediately, he belted, “Wise men say, only fools rush in, but I can’t help falling in love with you . . .”

“Yo! Elvis,” I exclaimed, clapping my hands vigorously.

His assistant rushed into the room, wondering what was happening.

Well, Elvis happened.


3/12/2020

Hello, God!


When I was a little girl, before going to bed one night, my mother taught me how to pray. She said that praying is like saying hello to God, like talking to your best friend. “Tell him what you feel in your heart,” she urged me.

I went down on my knees, clasped my hands, and closed my eyes. But I could’t find the right words to say. So my mother made me repeat this prayer after her:

             Now I lay me down to sleep
             I pray the Lord my soul to keep 
             If I should die before I wake 
             I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen. 

I loved it. It was like talking and singing to God at the same time. From then on, this was my prayer at bedtime. 

But there were other times when I wanted very much to pray. Like when I lied to my teacher or when my best friend was rude to me. I wanted to tell God about my feelings. So I would close my eyes and say, “Hello, God!” then I’d stop. I didn’t know what else to say after that.

One day, our neighbor’s house burst into flames. People were jumping out of their houses. Shaking with fear, I said the only prayer I knew by heart. “Now I lay me down to sleep . . .” My elder cousin laughed—so loud the whole town might have heard. 

I wished then that I had more prayers to say exactly how I felt. 

(The above is an excerpt of my letter to readers in the first Hello, God! book. Knowing that children can’t pray on their own, I wrote for them these prayers with the same rhythm as my first-ever prayer. Hello, God!, a series of three books, was birthed by grace—artwork by my friend, Ggie A. Bernabe, and published by Hiyas.)  
These books are available in any book store at P120.00 each. 

3/08/2020

Angel with One Foot:

The backstory 

“How do angels look like?” my Sunday school teacher asked when I was in grade school.

My thought balloon, They’re dressed in long white dresses, with wings, and have a glow over their heads. 

I didn’t say it out loud because I thought it was a dumb question. Everyone but her knew the answer.
Growing up and growing old, you realize that the dumbest questions are usually the wisest. As your perspective widens, the linear concepts you knew as a child transmute into multi-dimensional prisms. 

The Bible shows us angels in many forms. Language, which continuously evolves, gives angels a myriad of definitions. Figures of speech make things even more complicated.

Conclusion: Angels can look like . . . Endless possibilities. 

My husband was telling me one day about a friend who serendipitously met someone to whom she owed a debt of gratitude years earlier. Their meeting led to a closer friendship.

Debt of gratitude . . . that hooked me, as any interesting story does. I sat up and asked myself, “What if?”

My “what ifs” made me find ways to translate his narrative in a way that might teach kids the value of gratitude. How can this story be different from other tales?

- What if my husband’s friend were a kid?
- What if the lady to whom she owed a debt of gratitude disappeared?
- What if the kid felt incomplete without having said thank you to her lady benefactor?
- What if the benefactor had only one foot?
- What if . . .

Benefactor: angel?

I am oversimplifying it, but the thinking process had swung high and low, until the first draft was completed months later.
Angel with One foot (illustrated by Beth Parrocha-Doctolero) is a story of gratitude—of how one must never miss to say “thank you” to any angel who does him/her a favor.

On a grand scale, for me, I am forever indebted to the One whose empowering grace spurred me to ask “What if?” 

3/04/2020

Speed Writing


Speed reading—that I do, especially if the book is fiction. Between writing and some side teaching, I could read a book in one sitting. It takes me a longer time to read non-fiction though. I go back to passages I like, highlighting and reflecting on them.

But speed writing? I am not in the fast lane.
The shortest time it took me to write a book was four months. Only because Present! was for millennials and was meant to be short.

Why can’t I speed write?

I let concepts swim in my head for sometime. I conduct a focus group discussion (FGD) with target readers. Then when I finally assault my keyboard, I pause now and then to chew over them, reading my Bible and references—checking facts and grammar rules—and reviewing books already written about the topic.

After finishing the first draft, I tweak it maybe a hundred times. Then I throw the hard copy inside a drawer to hibernate for at least a week while I tackle other books. When I return to it, I find all the “errors” that should have been clearer, fresher, and more interesting. I change words, rewrite sentences, and transpose paragraphs. I ask at least five of my target readers to read and comment on it.

On to more polishing. Only when I am happy with it do I send it to my editor. 

That’s why I was surprised when a friend posted on FB that he had just finished six chapters in one month! And he meant to finish the last six in another month! I asked him for tips on speed writing.

One was, “Learn to ride the proverbial inferior horse. Have a tolerance of what can be sent, not sloppy, but not polished to a high sheen . . . knowing that the publisher will edit it anyway. So why edit as you write?”

I pondered that.

Then I realized that after years of rigorous speed writing in advertising, I am now writing for the King and He allows me to enjoy the writing process, romancing it, relishing every step, and learning many new things along the way. I have chosen to take the slow lane. After all, deadlines are not tight. Where I came from, deadlines were: yesterday.

I had already overshot my quota for speed writing. Now, I slow down to savor the moment-by-moment grace of choosing words, stringing them, until the manuscript sings.

"Slow down. Take a deep breath. What's the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway? . . ." (Jeremiah 2:25 MSG)

2/29/2020

“Laglagip ken Panagrambac” (Part 2)


The second half of our clan's (over 300 at last count; half is scattered all over the world) 75th annual reunion was indeed a celebration (panagrambac) of a different kind.

After being zapped back to the launch pad for this tradition (laglagip or memories) in Pangasinan, our long motorcade led us to a resort in a nearby town where fun and laughter took on lives of their own.

Sports, games, swimming, ukulele jamming, talent show, sub-clan presentations, bidding ala Sotheby’s, rummage sale, raffles, prizes, and kunol-kunol (bonding) came one after the other, or crammed simultaneously. It was as though time was running out. 

And the coup de grace! A formal dinner.

Dressed to the nines, we sashayed into a huge, dream-like ballroom richly decked with fresh flowers above, below, and before us; lights dripping from the ceiling and blooming out of vases; a red carpet leading to the stage, and ornate dinnerware. Glitz and glam all the way.
On this culminating activity, we . . .

- waited for the year 2019 to end, watching the clock move its way toward midnight for the beginning of 2020;

- held hands in a huge circle to sing our grandparents’ favorite Ilocano folk and gospel songs;

- prayed together as one to thank God for His blessings all through the past year;

- blended our voices in Lutkin’s Benediction—impromptu, yet again in perfect harmony;

- sang this hymn prayerfully together for the 75th time since 1945 -

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.

- welcomed 2020 with a lusty countdown, tight hugs, and a noisy snake dance.

Before we went our separate ways at noon, the host sub-clan turned over the chairmanship to the next sub-clan. The following reunion will morph into another format, as every single one has been unique, shaped by the hosts-in-charge.   

To many of us, this yearly clan reunion is a grace event that can’t be missed. And why not?

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NLT)

Photo gallery of Panagrambac :

 

2/25/2020

“Laglagip ken Panagrambac” (Part 1)


If that sounds Greek to you, it might well be. It was the Ilocano theme of our 75th (yes, 75th!)  annual clan reunion that ran from the last two days of 2019 to the first day of 2020.

Translated to English, this means “Memories and Celebration.”

Laglagip . . .

The host sub-clan took us back to where it all started in Pangasinan:

- the first reunion site (UCCP church) to unveil a commemorative marker
- the lands of our grandparents that financed our early reunions
- the man-made water reservoir to maintain their farms
- the school that bears our grandfather’s name in appreciation of his donating the land
It was a historical journey for the few remaining cousins who were in the first reunion, and a heritage lesson for the younger generations (3rd to the 6th) who have no idea about their roots. 

In a convoy of about 50 vehicles, we stopped at all the above places. Then we gathered inside  the church—built by our grandparents and which remains robust today—for a memorial service, remembering all the clanistas (clan members) who are no longer with us. More than a hundred of us sang at the top of our voices old hymns reminiscent of a bygone era when our forefathers sang the same tunes in praise of our God.

"Count your blessings; Name them one by one."

"Great is thy faithfulness, mercy, and love." 

From there, we visited our grandparents’ burial ground, which is a vivid narrative of their faith. Our lolo designed and supervised the building of his and our lola’s tomb himself, knowing this mortal coil would one day cease. And after that one day, we would finally be home to where we truly belong—the house of forever with Jesus. He had this built while he was still strong, years before he and our lola breathed their last. 

How can we not remember the blessings of yesteryears? How can we not celebrate His faithfulness and His grace of family

We then drove, still in a convoy, to a resort in a nearby town for the panagrambac (celebration).

Random photos of Laglagip . . .
  

(to be continued next post . . .)

Photo credits: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2118128734969348/