Try going to a place where there is no internet connection and staying there for four straight days.
On the first day, you get disoriented.
On the second day, you go insane.
On the third day, you have no choice but to take stock of who you are.
On the fourth day, to your shock and disbelief, you find your authentic self—the self you lost in the noise of mass media and the electronic world.
For four days I was cloistered in a Wi-fi free zone. Note: the word “free” comes after, not before, Wi-fi (which is the norm in my and many urban neighborhoods today).
I discovered how much time FB, youtube, blogs, e-mails, e-bay, e-news, e-columns, and other web sites, where I overindulge and overstay day after day, have taken away from my writing, reading, and quiet/prayer time.
At the leadership training conference of Compassion International, where I facilitated one of its modules, I lived in an Eden-like valley surrounded by Laguna mountains, and far away from the cement jungle—and Wi-fi.
There I learned once again how to LOL (not Laugh Out Loud, but Live Out Life) the way it should be: the exact words are found in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, the theme of the gathering.
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with you body.
It was no coincidence that I roomed with a physician, another speaker and a new friend, who survived terminal cancer 10 years ago by deeply studying and putting into practice what the Scriptures say about nutrition—the regimen of the ancient Bible men and women who lived hundreds of years.
From her I am learning what nature has to offer our body which controls our mind.
When she decided to forgo the rest of her treatments in favor of natural diet and supplements, her doctor was appalled. “I am dying anyway, Doc,” she argued. “If I die, then you're right. If I live, God healed me.”
She has since then been studying the molecular structures of trees, fruits, and plants freely given to us by the Creator who extended her life, sharing her findings on TV interviews, and being in constant awe of their wonders to man.
“We came from dust,” she explained. “There is a connection between us and food that grows in dust.”
It was also no coincidence that I forgot to bring along my cellphone charger. My only lifeline to the world had become mute, mimicking me—the better to really hear myself.
Our body, defiled by the alluring call of Wi-fi, sometimes needs a long stretch of silence to be drained of chatter and sounds—and be re-charged with the calming grace of nature.
Laymen like me say Dementia for Alzheimer's disease and vice-versa. I never really understood the differences or similarities.
Not even when people I love were or are afflicted with one or the other, or both. Medicine has not come up with a cure for these conditions. There are ways to retard them, but in the end, the afflicted person will lose his/her memory, cognitive ability, and worse, the person that he/she once was.
Ate Miriam is the older sister I never had. A fellow believer of grace and a neighbor, she had been there for me since my family and I moved to the village where we've lived for years.
She was always the wise one.
In my book Gifts of Grace 1, I called her the three ghost busters in one. She would drop everything and come when I needed reminding, help, and whatever else you can think of. I paid my real estate tax on time every year because she made sure I did. She was as generous with her time as with her advice.
Today, she still lights up when she sees me in church, and gives me a hug. But sometimes she doesn't say my name. She asks a question a hundred times over and tells an anecdote the same number of times, or more. She just turned 75.
She now shuttles between her children's homes. But always, she pines for her own home in our neighborhood.
I learned that she was in her eldest daughter's house in QC last week—and would be there for two weeks, but suddenly she was back home in just three days.
She tells the story her own way, which she finds hilarious, but the real story is everything but. It was a cause of mini heart attacks in many homes.
The truth is, she escaped.
She hailed a cab and told the driver to bring her to Pandacan—the place where she grew up. She said she was going to pay him P4,000.
In Pandacan—the terrain of which has totally changed from when she was a little girl—the cab driver went round and round, even after finding one church that she said was adjacent to her residence. There are now three churches in that same area and it was one o'clock in the morning.
The Lord's protection came forth. One of the men—still outdoors having a good time with friends—recognized her. He turned out to be her nephew. He quickly asked her to get down, but not after she paid the cab driver what she thought was P4,000, but which was actually only P40.00.
Relatives brought her home immediately to our village to make sure she was safe and sound.
Dementia (or is it Alzheimer's?). It's like a UFO that abducted the real Ate Miriam, and in her place brought home a look-alike alien whose moods, personalities, and thoughts are totally different from the Ate Miriam I have known and loved for years.
Everyone tries hard—especially her children—but we can't seem to find the reasonable, helpful, fun-loving, take-charge, and gracious Ate Miriam anymore.
Our collective prayer is that God will give us a bigger heart, with many rooms for patience, understanding, kindness, and love to deeply care for this special guest in our midst—the way we did for the original Ate Miriam.
Once in a blue moon, my old friends and I plan a get-together—meaning, a dinner in one place at a specific time. It is probably one of the most difficult events to mount on planet earth, bar none. It takes weeks, or months even, before we finally agree on a date.
Then something comes up, and so it gets postponed.
Deciding on the venue is another story; getting a headcount is next to impossible.
If one thinks he already has a number of attendees a week before, he's dead wrong.
Every day the number changes. One calls to cancel and another calls to confirm—in and out, ad infinitum.
But miracles happen, and one such plan pushed through (whew!) one evening last week to celebrate the birthdays of two of us (as you might have guessed, the birthday dates have lapsed because of the umpteenth postponements, but no matter). Nothing wrong in celebrating a May 1st birthday on the 16th, is there?
Now, how about those who would have wanted to come but were not informed? Ooops, but that's another story. We all lead busy, busy lives in a busy, busy world, and because we are all getting on in years, we inadvertently forget.
The night brought together 12 people (out of a possible 200). I bussed familiar faces again after a long time, and I remembered a popular quote from Flavia Weedn in her book, Forever. “Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same.”
These are some of the people who stayed for awhile in my life.
“What you taught me is coming in handy in all my talks,” I told Norbert, seated to my right.
“And what's that?” he asked.
“Don't you remember? You taught me how to do power point presentations!”
“We worked on a few together,” I tried to jog his memory.
People don't remember the things they unselfishly do for others. But the beneficiaries of these gracious acts remember them forever.
I was a recipient of many kind acts from these 11 friends in the past (one blog on grace won't do them justice), which I am sure they don't remember either.
But I do. They're the footprints on my heart.
In the early morning of our occasional family get-away, while waiting for the boys to wake up for breakfast, Tony and I walked to the lake just behind our casita and watched the ducks.
The lake looked so different the night before through our window.
There must have been about 40 white ducks—swimming, walking around, eating grass, and going about their business. Some three to five yellow ducklings were trailing the big ones everywhere.
I grew up with a bevy of ducks in our yard and surroundings in the province. My grandmother who lived next door had all sorts of animals. She also had honking geese and snorting pigs, plus a number of cackling chickens and crowing roosters.
And I took them all for granted.
Because they were always there, I never bothered to look closely and know more about their behavior.
Life uprooted me from the province and now I reside in Manila where there are no ducks nor any of the animals my grandmother so lovingly cared for.
That's why on that early morning by the lake, I was surprised to discover that ducks can fly!
They flew above the lake and effortlessly landed on the water where they glided gracefully from bank to bank.
It was my first time, too, to see ducks mating; first time to watch how a mother duck takes care of her ducklings; first time to notice that they eat fresh grass.
"Were have you been?" Tony asked. He is a Manila boy through and through but knows everything about ducks, geese, pigs, chickens and roosters.
Well, I know more about tigers and predators in the wilds, which National Geographic regularly shows on TV. But domesticated animals? I should really spend time knowing them more, and knowing how much grace the Lord sent my animal-loving grandmother who, in the absence of her married nine children, spent precious time with her pets.
Grandma was a fiercely loyal woman of God who, in her best baro at saya, was always the earliest in church Sunday after Sunday. Now I know the source of her joy in her twilight years. She delighted in those animals till her last breath.
Like the little, trivial acts we do outdoors in this electronic age that cages us indoors, duck watching is illuminating.
Gaunt, toothless, with a full head of white hair, and wearing a loose mid-calf house dress, she is a familiar figure in the neighborhood.
Early in the morning, she rummages through every garbage can with a long stick that also serves as her cane. Then she puts her finds inside a sack.
In the beginning she would do it on the sly, when nobody was looking—usually very early in the morning when everyone was still in bed, or at noon when people were having lunch.
Then she dared doing it openly and everybody pretended not to notice. But now, every morning she does it as if it were her birthright, and people greet her as they would a neighbor gardening or jogging.
“Good morning, Mrs. Galvan!” I say. Sometimes she greets me back, sometimes she doesn't hear, or pretends not to hear, and goes about her morning routine.
Years ago, Mrs. Galvan* had it all.
She was the wife of a CEO in a big company; a lady of leisure whose only job was to see to her children who went to expensive private schools, and oversee her coterie of maids and drivers in her family's private motor pool.
But suddenly, her husband, who seemed infallible, had a stroke. He was rushed to the hospital where he stayed for months on end, going through every conceivable tests, surgeries, and other expensive medical procedures to stay alive.
When all hope was gone, he was brought home, where he lingered a few more months, draining the family of all its resources.
Because the kids were still in school and Mrs. Galvan never worked a day in her life, there was zero income. The maids and cars had to go, and the children enrolled in public schools.
“I sometimes earn as much as P1,000 from what I find in the trash,” Mrs. Galvan proudly tells friends. She uses the money for her share in the pay of the village security guards and the homeowner's dues.
Neighbors stockpile things that are still recyclable—crates and cartons, newspapers, wood scraps, etc. I, for one, don't shred my reams upon reams of drafts. All these go on top of the heap of our garbage cans, waiting for Mrs. Galvan to “find” them and sell to junk dealers.
She lives alone in the big house now, but her children (all married) visit her often. I am sure they could afford to make her a lady of leisure once more, but Mrs. Galvan neither begs or nor compels anyone to help her. No dole outs, please.
Her children, in fact, have all been persuading their mother to live with one of them. But Mrs. Galvan is defiant, “This is my house; here I am free to do anything I want.”
They have also been dissuading her from doing what they call an embarrassing preoccupation. But the moment they leave for their own homes, to the trash bins Mrs. Galvan goes.
“I am doing nothing wrong. This is a way to earn my keep. It's nothing to be ashamed of!”
Mrs. Galvan has found dignity in what people look down upon as the lowliest of “jobs.” And a community has found in her a worthy project, without waiting for a Typhoon Ondoy to make neighbors come together. Mrs. Galvan now wears rubber gloves, a gift from a family, when she does her morning routine; she has enough sacks, given by other families, for her treasures.
And nobody dares stop her—not even the security guards to whom she gives a part of her earnings—from what she feels is honest work for honest living.
Right on, Mrs. Galvan.
Through you, God teaches a neighborhood lessons in fortitude—a village, lessons in courage . . . and in grace.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)
*not her real name
Celebrating God's enabling grace.
Sing this hymn with me?
A Mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper He amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.
(Text by Martin Luther; Translation by Frederick H. Hedge )
Up goes the new header:
"Grace, you haven't changed!” friends and acquaintances, whom I haven't seen for sometime, exclaim with a matching gasp and a look of disbelief.
A part of me wants to believe them; another part laughs, like anyone does when she hears a joke.
I look at myself in the mirror and even without my eyeglasses on, I can spot the changes—big, dramatic ones.
So I play along, “Nobody changes with time.”
But trust brothers to speak the awful truth.
When my brother Earl came home from Australia, where he lives with his family, he gave me a prolonged hug then looked at me and remarked, “Aww, you're old!”
“Gee, how wonderful to see you, too!” I replied.
My brothers—all three of them—are the child in “The Emperor's New clothes.” When everybody is saying to the emperor, “What lovely new clothes!” the child cries, “But he isn't wearing anything at all!”
Just when everybody is saying to me, “You look so young!” my brothers will say, well, you know what they'll say.
I have in mind imposing the unwritten Ilocano rule, respect your eldest. But they would have a quick retort, “Where is that written?”
I wrote a whole chapter on one of them in Gifts of Grace book 1. I could write a few more on how the other two say or do all manner of things just to see how quickly they could get my goat.
People usually walk gingerly around others, but my brothers? They tell ME like it is.
Okay, I admit, they are my true looking glass; they verbalize exactly what other people see, but are too polite to say. Through these irreverent three, I know how I am changing through the years.
In our every encounter, which is not often (one lives in Australia, one lives in American Samoa, and one lives in Baguio), I see Grace the way she is. No illusion, delusion, apparition, deception, nor hallucination.
I thank God for the gift of brothers. They are grace beyond telling.
Oh, how they tell!
Every year, I cancel all appointments just so I could attend one special graduation ceremony. It is an occasion I never want to miss.
How special is this event?
It is a milestone for about 30 students from the LDP (Leadership Development Program) of Compassion International (Philippines).
The LDP is something I keep in the hearth of my heart since I was invited to be one of five, of various persuasions, who serve in its National Advisory Committee (NAC).
The NAC meets these students from all over the country for the first time, four years earlier, through sheaves of papers where their qualifications and recommendations are written down. Then we finally meet them in the flesh for an interview, where my heart breaks and my eyes smart every single time.
They come with stories after stories that the mind couldn't even begin to imagine—how poverty in all its ugly dimensions could cripple even the strongest of spirits. And you wonder how they have coped and how they have come this far.
But then, God shows His mighty power through them, and in the LDP, He continues to uphold them with His manifold grace.
They go through all four or five years of college and on graduation day (also called Pasasalamat or thanksgiving), one could hardly see a trace of the cowed children they once were. A number of them graduate with Latin honors and other recognitions from universities like Ateneo, UP, and La Salle.
The poverty they emerged from is still visible in their parents, who are brought to the graduation rites, but this is obscured by the glow of joy they radiate as they go up to share the stage with their children.
Sometimes several sponsors fly in from other parts of the world to hug and personally congratulate their sponsored child.
For the sixth consecutive year I have had the privilege to be a part of these riveting, tearful scenes. And there's nothing that inspires and empowers me more.
They teach me that agony and adversity can never be conquered by our frail, finite selves. But if we entrust them to Jesus, He will unshackle us from these mortal coils, just as He releases children from the prison of poverty through Compassion International.
My memory of shoes is a bit spotty as I am not a shoe enthusiast. But I think I might have owned a pair of Ferragamo in my past life. It was either a hand-me-down from a rich friend who has a private warehouse of expensive hordes, or bought dirt-cheap at a closing-out sale.
Salvatore Ferragamo, Italian shoe designer, was a byword during my mother's youth. I first heard his name when my mom and Auntie Ruth were talking about their favorite Hollywood stars and how these glamorous women wore nothing but handmade footwear by Ferragamo.
To name a few: Sophia Loren, Gene Tierney, Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, Joan Crawford, the Duchess of Windsor and other nameless heiresses and celebrities.
Because Aunt Ruth was single, beautiful, and oh-so-fashionable, she had a few pairs of Ferragamo shoes. I still had no concept of money then so I was clueless on how much they cost. From her I learned that Ferragamo was an innovator—both scientific and creative in his approach to cobbling.
Today there are many new names in luxurious shoes, and I only know some of them from magazines ads. I buy inexpensive, comfortable footwear because I think luxurious, branded ones are a waste of money. (Okay, I'm cheap.) But when it comes to brand recall, for me Ferragamo is top-of-mind.
When I saw this bigger-than-life sculpture of a Ferragamo shoe in a museum in Singapore, I was led down memory lane. It was specially made for Judy Garland in 1938, before I was even conceived.
A quick research on Ferragamo showed me a photo of this same shoe on several websites. Wow, it must have been a sensation in those days!
I also discovered that this shoe-crazed man invented the classic styles of footwear (copied by younger designers over the years) that will probably be with us forever: the wedge heel, the stiletto heel, the cage heel, the cork heel, the invisible straps, and the outlandish multi-colored sandals.
Funny how some seemingly insignificant items like the huge Ferragamo shoes can spark a flashback to something so familiar in the past, evoking fond memories of events, people and places.
Perhaps that's how grace works sometimes. It reminds us that every experience enriches the way we are—the way we look at things.
During one of our coffee chats, my friend Rose asked me, “What are your similarities with Tony?”
Difficult question. If it were asked in a job interview, I would have been turned down. After about 10, maybe 30, minutes I gave up. “How about differences? I could come up with a thousand in a second.”
I was being facetious. Of course hubby and I have similarities—two: (1) we both love our children; and (2) we both love to read.
And I guess everything else moved from there. Shared values based on the Word came into play when we disciplined our children. Shared wisdom from years of reading books (the Bible most of all) helped in the tricky task of raising three boys.
And here's where the third similarity, and the most important one, comes in; we both believe in grace. How our boys turned out (thank you, Lord!) was all by grace—it guided us in our decision making.
Males and females are so wisely designed by our Creator to be different—physically, mentally and emotionally.
We approach questions, issues, and problems differently; show our feelings differently; behave differently, and are equipped differently. Men read the headlines; we look for the fine prints.
In many research results on the subject, the conclusions have been the same: a man (or a woman) is attracted to someone who complements him, not someone who is a mirror of himself.
These are just some of the things that hubby loves: history, geography, cooking, the great outdoors, the sun, unplanned trips, traveling, gardening, watching TV, and singing. On the flip side is, well, that's where my interests lie.
In Bible times, one could clearly see the demarcation line between what women did and what men were called to do. Through the years, with women's lib, gender laws and all, that line has blurred.
But this fact holds: the marriages that often last are those that have complementary pairs. I see this in mine, my friends' and kin's.
“. . . the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” (Genesis 2: 21-23)
Rose and I ended our topic with this conclusion: man and woman are made differently, that's why they have separate toilets.