February Blessings

In two days it will be March.

February has been an unusually busy month for me.    

I’ve been mostly at home—in my little corner pounding on my keyboard non-stop—writing the third volume of my book, Gifts of Grace

It’s coming along fine, thank you.

At the end of each day, I am spent—heart, body and soul—but happy. I realize that this feeling comes not so much from a sense of fulfillment as from a higher Source, for whom I do what I do. “And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16)

In February, too, we found a reason to celebrate. My one and only grandson (nine months old now) was dedicated to the Lord, officiated by my older brother, Pastor Fed.

Although 13,000 miles away, we were with Adrian through photos sent by his parents. “Isn’t he lovely?” Grace upon grace indeed.


What an Ad!

Once in a while, a print ad jolts me. What I do is clip it and discuss it with my students in my Contemporary Advertising class.

Today, there is a controversy over a big government deal with China, now cancelled. Our country is in a deep moral dilemma. There have been accusations of high level corruption in government and Jun Lozada, a government man consulted about the deal, was summoned by the Senate—literally surrounded and protected by nuns—to tell what he knows about the corruption.

Those pro President GMA say he is a liar. Those pro Jun Lozada say he is telling the truth.

What does the Pontifical University (The University of Santo Tomas), the oldest university in the country, alma mater of Lozada, have to say about it? This is where the ad comes in.

In this crisis, we pray for a massive dose of grace to make us do what is right in God’s sight.

In the big rally planned for tomorrow, February 25 (anniversary of EDSA 1), may the Lord protect the pure in heart and may His will, alone, be done.


Star Gazing

It was like having a dream where you want to wake up but can’t. You’re blinded by the twinkling of a galaxy of stars in one big, but suffocating, space.

I am not talking about movie stars or the celebrities whose lives we dig up in gossip columns. I am referring to a different kind of ilk—stars in politics, diplomatic corps, military, and judiciary. Stars that make it to newspaper headlines and the 6 o’clock news.

The occasion was the 108th anniversary of The Manila Bulletin, a major newspaper these stars love most or can never hate.

When all Philippine newspapers scream with headlines like, “Massive Cheating in the South,” or “Wire Tapping Scandal Angers GMA” or “Destabilization Plot Uncovered,” The Manila Bulletin writes, “Pope appoints Papal Nuncio.”

So everyone was there—from the Justice of the Supreme Court, the Speaker of the House, the Senate President, Ambassadors of different countries, the Executive Secretary, Ex-Presidents, to the current President of the Philippines.

After imbibing too much juice of varying kinds, I rushed to the comfort room only to be shooed away, “Ma’am, that cubicle is reserved for President GMA.”

I decided to enjoy the event by asking Tony to take my photo with some of them. “Let me take a shot of you with Joe de Venecia,” he suggested.

“No way,” I said, and walked instead to where US Ambassador Kristie Kenney was having a tete-a-tete with Carlos P. Romulo’s widow.

Tony, who always had a nose for news said the next day after reading the newspaper headlines (not The Manila Bulletin), “You missed the chance to have a photo caption that says, ‘Me and the Speaker before the ax fell.’”

Why were Tony and I there in the first place? Well, veteran advertising people get invited to media functions; this particular newspaper just happens to attract all the stars.

Star gazing isn’t as nightmarish as it sounds. Most of the stars, especially those who figure in corruption, deception, wheeling and dealing and cheating, and cover-ups are a frequent fare in our church’s prayer concerns.

A simple folk like me just can’t seem to get used to the glare of all the constellations—sparkling and falling stars among them.

After that night, I cried over this verse, “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land . . .” 2 Chronicles 7:14

Please help us pray for the healing of our land.


Confused Heart

Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone and I am still unsure about what it means. I know it is a stroke of marketing genius—when flowers, chocolates, restaurants, and other wares make huge commercial profits.

But what is it really? What exactly are we celebrating? Or for whom is it celebrated?      

Going back to its history, Valentine’s Day long, long ago was a pagan tradition; and in later years, was made a part of Christian celebrations. There is not just one but several legends on how this happened.

My personal feeling is, love can’t be pigeon-holed into one day. The Scriptures tell us that love is long-suffering and forever; it never looks back, but keeps going on till the end. And without it, we are nothing.

Okay, that’s a different kind of love, you may say. Valentine’s Day is all about calf love or romantic love. But ah, there’s the rub.

Romance is not bound by schedules. Let me try to remember what some authors have said about romance—“It is a roller coaster ride, it has its ups and downs.” Shakespeare’s Romeo said, “It’s a madness most discreet.”

Romance is unruly, spontaneous and improvises—it is a sudden burst of inspiration, a sleepless night, a note written at a whim, a poem, a giggle in a middle of a lecture, goose bumps and tears, flowers and chocolates for no reason, and many, many more.

It is always a joy for me to delight the people I love, freshen friendships, and send an e-mail or a text message of love. But that can and should happen anytime one feels like it.

It is the sense of duty—of giving someone you love something that is quadruple the cost on Valentine’s Day because he or she expects it—that confuses this day’s purpose.

Pardon the philosophizing; many of you may not agree.

Let me then simply end with 1 Corinthians 14:1 (The Message): "Go after a LIFE [emphasis mine] of love as if your life depended on it—because it does."


Mystery No More

When man landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, something in me died. Sure, it was a leap forward in science but it was step backward in music and poetry—the end of the moon’s mystery.

Suddenly, the soft, beautiful feelings evoked by songs such as Fly Me to the Moon, Moon River, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, Moonlight Becomes You, and Blue Moon had been reduced to the hard reality of rock samples, molecules, spacecraft, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin.

This was exactly how I felt, again, after the mystery behind the identity of “Mona Lisa” was solved early this year.

Leonaro da Vinci’s magnum opus is arguably the most famous painting in the world. Few other works of art have been subject to as much scrutiny, study, and parody. Historians have wondered whether the smiling woman may have been da Vinci’s lover, his mother, or the artist himself.

Enabled by grace to visit the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France a few years ago, I was able to view the cordoned-off painting two meters away. My hair stood on ends. Oh, that mysterious smile, that mysterious woman!

Back in Manila, when I told my artist friends about it my experience, their eyes misted.

Well, those goose bumps and tears are gone now. German academics at the Heidelberg University Library believe they have solved the centuries-old mystery of the "Mona Lisa." They say dated notes scribbled in the margins of a book in October 1503 confirm that Lisa del Giocondo was indeed the model of this famous portrait. The notes were made by a Florentine city official Agostino Vespucci, an acquaintance of the artist.

The comments say da Vinci was working on three paintings at the time—one of them a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy merchant, Francesco del Giocondo. She has long been suspected as the most likely model for the 16th century painting but was never proven till now.

Art experts say this discovery is a breakthrough. "There is no reason for any lingering doubts that this is another woman," Leipzig University art historian Frank Zoellner said. “Mona Lisa” is also known as "La Gioconda" (joyful woman in Italian). These two titles both have the woman's first name and married name!

My miniature print of "Mona Lisa" had been delicately wrapped and stowed away like it was the original itself. After the discovery of the model’s identity, I brought it out. Somehow, it is not as precious as it used to be.

With my shades on, I look more mysterious.


A Flower for Leni

Yesterday, two days after I posted my blog on death in which I mentioned his name as an honest doctor, our good friend Leni (Dr. Lenito Gatchalian) quietly passed away. He died in his sleep, in his bedroom, of cardiac arrest.

Leni wasn't only honest, he was one of the most caring doctors I have ever known. He often volunteered his services to those who couldn't afford medical care. And he was a member of a group of CBers who answered the call of those in distress.

Although he wasn't very sick, he had been suffering from emphysema for the past couple of years. “A result of my heavy smoking,” he admitted.

He was my husband’s surgeon when Tony was diagnosed with colon cancer 14 years ago. Tony was in bad shape, the tests were not very good. But Leni (the husband of my close friend Delma) was very optimistic and after the surgery, before chemotheraphy could even begin, he told Tony, “I want us to go to the beach ten years from now.” They never made it to the beach because he was too busy and so was Tony but the two of them kept in touch—every day.

They were each other’s text mate. They would exchange jokes and inspirational messages every single day! Yesterday being Chinese New Year, Tony sent Leni a Happy New Year greeting early in the morning. It was the first and only day Leni didn't text back—and will never again.

What can I say? I have said all I wanted to say about death in my last post.

But perhaps this is what needs to be said over and over again—to my husband, myself, our children and his children who have learned to live without their mother for over ten years now—the Lord’s promise in times of pain and loss, fear and uncertainty:

"I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:18

Please join us in prayers for the Lord’s grace to sustain those who are mourning Leni's passing—especially his children (Lendell, Lester, and Leanne), in-laws, grandchildren, and loved ones.

We will miss you, Doc. Please say "hello" to Delma.


O Death, Where Is Your Sting?

Medical science has a lot to say about how people should lead their lives to stay healthier and live longer. Time Magazine had an article on a recent breakthrough study on how to prolong life.

Doctors have statistics to prove why a person gets sick of some disease at some point in time and why he will perish when some parts of his organs don’t function the way they should. They say that based on their present understanding, one has probably x months or years to live.

But I have met a few honest doctors—my son JB and our friend Leni among them—who admit that they don’t know for sure. There is always an element of mystery on when life will end.

One of our neighbors has been bedridden for almost 20 years. And yet, other neighbors have kicked the bucket at their prime.

I just got word that an acquaintance suddenly died at age 42. Stroke. He never smoked, never drunk, and was a gym habitué.

Two very close friends, Christians both, were diagnosed with breast cancer at almost the same time. One has long perished while the other is still going strong, with no sign of the disease.

My nephew, 29, was just promoted in his job, about to move in to his first condo unit, and had just left a celebration party. He was on his way home and got killed in a car accident.

An uncle (a couch potato, with cholesterol-sugar-heavy diet) who was supposed to have died at age 75 due to stage four prostate cancer, didn’t—not until he was almost 100, of heart failure.

We’ve heard of stories about malignant cysts suddenly disappearing or people, proclaimed clinically dead, suddenly waking up as though nothing happened.

My cousin was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. One doctor said she only has six months to live. Another doctor said her tests show only borderline malignancy and therefore treatable.

Dulce Saguisag survived cancer for 10 years and suddenly, coming home from a ballroom dancing session, her van got hit by a speeding truck. She died on the spot.

A friend who underwent surgery for cancer was nursed by his young wife. Years later, his wife also succumbed to the same disease and passed on, way ahead of him.

The list is endless.

I believe that Medical Science may offer an opinion, but only God knows. “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” Psalm 139:16

Beyond this, God invites us to join in His mysterious work by asking us to pray for the sick. “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:13-14.

And so we do pray for our ailing friends and loved ones. God is all-powerful. Therefore He will heal or do something more important. And we will abide by His decision.

Fact is, unless Jesus returns very soon, our mortal bodies will all return to dust. Most of the time we ignore our mortality. But when someone dear to us dies and we come face to face with death, we suddenly review our priorities and concentrate on the things that matter most.

After so many deaths (friends' and family's) in recent months, I am reviewing—or re-aligning—my priorities and concentrating on the things that matter most. May God lather me with His grace as I try to do so.


Grace by the Sea

My family and I, bibliophiles in varying degrees, are perpetually poised to pounce on a bookshop.

As soon as MV Doulos—the biggest floating bookshop in the world—anchored on Manila Bay, JR and I were there like a shot.

The charm and lure of MV Doulos, aside from the books she carries, is that she’s the world's oldest active ocean-faring passenger ship. There are plans to decommission her because she is just a tad younger than Titanic!

MV Doulos is purposed deeply: she visits port cities throughout the world to encourage inter-cultural understanding and share a message of hope in God. The bookshop was full and most of those who were there had filled up their baskets with books.

I decided beforehand that I would only buy books and CDs I couldn’t find in Manila. So I skipped the baskets and lanes with familiar titles. I looked instead through the old-edition areas, hoping I would discover rare finds.

I did.

I found the one book of Max Lucado which I still don’t have, "Turn."

Serendipity one after another . . .

Also beneath a stack of hardbound books were two copies of Beatrix Potter’s "Peter Rabbit!"

I thought I’d never find it anywhere except on e-bay where the price is forbidding. I got them both, thinking one would make a perfect gift for Tony, a closet artist who loves Potter’s style. And the other copy, I will keep for my children’s book collection.

I also discovered Maurice Sendak’s old book, “Bears.” Again, another one for my collection!

These four books were three hours of my time on board. One additional hour I spent looking for CDs of old hymns. I rummaged through shelves after shelves of gospel CD’s but ended up finding none. Nada. Nil. Are they really gone for good? I couldn’t find them in Manila either.

It was way past sunset when JR and I decided to call it a day. After saying good-bye and thank-you to the men and women of various races, the friendly young missionaries of MV Doulos who were giving away tracts on grace and salvation, we decided to enjoy our purchases over alfresco dinner on a floating restaurant at the edge of Luneta Park.

It was a day of grace by the sea.


On a Magazine Cover?!

Great news it was indeed! JB was featured on the cover of a medical magazine in Michigan, USA. His wife, Gianina, took his photo reading this magazine and sent it to us with the caption, “JB’s 15 seconds of fame.”

In truth, JB (upper left corner) shares the spotlight with 13 other doctors. “What is mysterious,” JB wrote, “is that there is no story inside the magazine about us at all. We are not even identified. I wonder why.”

Elementary, my dear Mr. Watson (I suspect young blog readers won’t remember Sherlock Holmes). America, smitten with reality shows, equality, and being politically correct (or careful not to offend viewers from various sectors of society), always features people representing different nationalities in mass media. Notice how group scenes in movies, TV shows and advertisements show Asians and other races together with Americans in one frame?

In this particular magazine cover, if you look closely, you’ll find both male and female doctors of varying ages: Indian, European, American-Indian, African-American, and of course, a young, good-looking Asian (indulge his mom). It’s a neat cover that is not prejudiced against age, gender, or race.

That is not to say that we aren’t proud of JB. I am posting his photo for all of you, my on-line family and friends—and the world—to see!