Celebrating Life

With my own eyes, I witnessed how people are celebrating death and the spirits of the underworld today.

I had an appointment somewhere in the Global City and there I saw affluent kids in expensive and store-bought costumes, mostly as devils, ghouls, ghosts, witches, and corpses. They were going in and out of stores which filled their plastic pumpkins with goodies.

On my way home, I saw more kids. This time, they were wearing improvised costumes, probably hand-sewn by their mothers. They were likewise dressed as devils, ghouls, ghosts, witches, and corpses—and streaming out of the enclaves of the rich—with their plastic bags also filled with goodies. 

I have seen enough, too many in fact, symbols of death today that all I want to do is celebrate the grace of life:

- the life that the Lord Himself breathed into Adam’s nostrils; 

- the life that we will have but once on earth, and for all eternity when our life on earth ends;

- the life our departed loved ones were blessed with. 

Up comes my new header, with the buoyant butterfly and fresh flowers, symbols of His love for those who live to honor Him:

My old header goes down.

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Genesis 2:7


Hymns and Ever After

Hymns had been a huge part of my growing-up years. At church, we sang nothing but hymns. I could still sing many of them from memory.

In the church where I worship today, we hardly sing hymns anymore. The Praise and Worship Team prefers modern gospel songs with danceable tunes. That’s why whenever hymns are taken up in conversations today, I sit up.

One such conversation was after a corporation meeting that I attended. Over lunch, I chatted with a small group of ladies.  

“Many gospel songs today are not in context,” said one, referring to the me-emotions in lyrics instead of Biblical truths.

“Hymns are enough to save you,” stressed another.

I pondered that. And I sang in my head:

Living for Jesus Who died in my place,
Bearing on Calv’ry my sin and disgrace;
Such love constrains me to answer His call,
Follow His leading and give Him my all.

Our consensus was that hymns are grounded on Scripture, on salvation, and on Christ being our Savior.

I silently hummed:

Take my love, my Lord, I pour,
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be,
Ever, only, all for Thee.

We exchanged stories about some elderly people we knew who suffered from Alzheimer’s in their last years. They had forgotten everything and everyone, but hymns. One of them sang “Amazing Grace” from the time she woke up in the morning till the time she went to bed.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see. 

“My mom,” said one of us, “would ask me to sing hymns in her sick bed till the Lord took her home.”

Nearer my God to Thee, nearer to Thee!
E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me;
Still my song shall be, nearer my God to thee.

“Hymns are enough to save you . . .” because they speak of the Good News.

One gets to know about the gift of salvation, or life ever after, by hearing and reading about it. In the absence of the Bible, there are hymns—they’ve been written and put to music by our Christian brethren so we may hear about the ever after.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God . . .” Ephesians 2:8 (NIV) 


Quiet Time in a Noisy World

Is it possible to have silence in this noisy world? Extremely difficult. 

I just wrote a book about the din that drowns out our attention. Things are happening all at the same time, many of them are in the Net, all just a touch away.  Then there are scenes around us that mimic behaviors in other countries.

Kids talk back to their parents; teens flaunt their affection (some people say, lust) in public; spouses live in separate homes, with his, hers, and ours children; cults, witchcraft, superstitions, social media, self-entitlement, and focus on me, me, me are trends; etc.  

How can one stay silent?

This was why I was invited to a church one Sunday to talk to tweens and millennials about the importance of a quiet time or devotion every day. I’ve written a few devotional books for both age groups so the organizers of the church’s book fair might have thought that the topic is close to my heart.

It is. 

But I was still surprised that in both sessions, almost all of my audience raised their hands when I asked, “Who among you have a daily quiet time?”

They even defined “devotion” thus: a special time away from everything and being singularly focused on the Lord, praising Him, thanking Him, talking to Him, and listening to His soft, still voice. 

In both sessions, although I did most of the talking, I was the student and my listeners were my teachers. They taught me that shutting out a noisy world is a cinch. My net take-away: all one has to do is pray for the Holy Spirit to turn your ear to mute and listen with your heart.  

(Children and tweens)
Many of them use my devotionals (that, too, was a surprise) as a tool that keeps them focused on one nugget of life or one facet of God’s love that can only come through grace.

The skies were dark; the electricity went off. Typhoon Lando was pummeling at Metro Manila, but the kids and millennials (Sunday School habitué) with whom the Lord connected me that Sunday, were sunshine that illumined my mind:

Quiet time in this noisy world is not, and should not be a problem.

“And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper." 1 Kings 19:12 (NLT)


Not a Georgia O’Keeffe

My friend Caloy, a versatile art director and a painter I greatly admire, calls me up occasionally before he begins work in the morning. We talk shop about our common interests and friends—we have a legion of them, having worked together in a large ad agency, which was my training lab as now a full-time author.

"Caloy, I am painting again today!" I announced, spewing an immediate caveat, "But don’t you dare call me a painter.”
"You're a Georgia O'Keeffe," he replied.

I wanted to crawl under my easel, even if I don't take Caloy's statements seriously.

That morning he called and asked, "Are you doing anything today? Can you and G [another close friend whom he likewise calls in early mornings] please accompany me to COMELEC?"

"To do what?"

"To file my candidacy for President of the Philippines."

That unleashed my first guffaw for the day. (A total of 130 aspirants filed their Certificate of Candidacy for this position.)

Funny that he mentioned Georgia O'Keeffe. I am in awe of her. Her painting, an exquisitely rendered white blossom of a weed, sold last year for $44.4 million at an auction, setting a record for an artwork by a female artist.
Pardon my audacity, but I actually have two things in common with O'Keeffe. She went to the same school I went to, Art Institute of Chicago. And we both love to paint flowers and nature's bountiful grace. But there end our similarities.

At the Art Institute, she took up Fine Arts; I took up Performing Arts.

She painted flowers with faultless finesse and impeccable rendition of lines and shadows. I paint with gay abandon, with attention only to the thump-thump of my heart.

She said, ". . . I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way—things I had no words for.”

I say, "There is no other way I could say things, but with words—written words. I paint color and shapes because they refresh my mind, pushing me to write more words."

My paintings will probably fetch, if at all, 44.40 in pesos, not 44.4 in million dollars as O'Keeffe's, but they pack me with so much joy I always ache to paint the next wonders around me after my last.
“O LORD, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.” Psalm 104:24 (KJV)


Chain Letters

One thought baffles me now and then. Why do some people fall for chain letters? 

There are basically three categories of chain letters that I get via email or Facebook.

1. From strangers: Get-rich quick pyramid schemes
2. From people who do not share my faith: Exploitation of superstition (threatens recipient with bad luck that can end in death)
3. From friends: Emotionally manipulative messages (breaking the chain means you do not care or love the sender) that comes with a prayer for the receiver

I have no problem with Nos. 1 and 2. I trash them with no ifs, buts, or maybes. Spam! 

But I pause on No. 3.

Why would a friend give a deadline or condition on friendship and blessings?

I got one such letter again and the veiled threat was, "If you do not forward this letter back to me, then you do not consider me your close friend." And the promise of sending it back is, "Something good will happen to you in nine days." 

For me, a couple of things are simplified—or worse, compromised—in such a letter.

One, friendship is being put to a test. If you do not do what it says, you are suspect. Relationship is reduced to one simple act of "sending back." Past encounters or long-term bond that established closeness do not count.

Two, blessings are mocked, giving God a deadline. In my faith, all blessings come from God, and only He can give deadlines or a timeline on when He bestows them.

Are we so immersed in the things of this digital world that we no longer think deeply about what we post or send out? Have we trivialized everything, including friendship and blessings?

Or, are those who send these scheming chain letters really friends? Do they even believe that blessings can come anytime—before or beyond nine days?

I was going to facetiously end this post with, “Please forward this to 15 friends.” But by grace, good sense prevails. Let me end with, chain letters be trashed!

"This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.  There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (John 15:12-13)


A Rose for Rose, Grace for Grace

As soon as she saw my latest painting, Rose gasped and purred, “Please paint me a rainbow with musical notes." Music is an integral part of her—a singer, composer, instrumentalist, choir conductress, and lyricist rolled-into-one.

I promised I'd do one in time for her birthday.  
But because of the international hoo-ha on the legalized same-sex marriage, which made the rainbow a seal of approval for LGBT, I demurred days later, “I can’t paint you a rainbow; not now anyway.”

Recovering quickly she said, “Okay can you paint me a rose instead?" 

“Well . . .okay." 

Then I got immersed in book concerns. Her birthday came and went. But a promise is a promise, so I sidelined writing for two full days last week and painted her a rose—with a butterfly, in keeping with my themed  series.  

I wanted her musical notes to be there, and it took a while before I could figure out where to put them. 

Aside from Rose, one other colleague, Ayet, wished aloud for a painting as a birthday gift, too.

(Let me stress one more time, I paint for refreshment and have no delusions about being a Da Vinci or any artist of consequence. But two biased friends think I am: Rose and Ayet. How can I refuse?)

Ayet’s birthday isn’t till next month, but while painting Rose’s rose, my now-paint-bespattered hands and arms drove me to paint Ayet’s, too.

After my acrylics have dried, I placed each on a faux easel, wrapped both, and handed one after the other in our faculty room.

Their shrieks of delight and unabashed excitement to pose with the paintings stunned me. And I realized that the whole process—from promising, to doing and giving—was a string of invigorating grace, of which I was the receiver.
"And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.” John 1:16


Going Back to Our Roots

My husband is a history buff. Each time I need information about the past, I run to him instead of reading up on it.

When he said he wanted to take a trip to China, particularly Xiamen, I was sure it wasn’t an impulse decision. We’ve all been to China gaping at tourist spots, yet I knew he ached to go back, minus the family, to trace his roots. Maybe to see how he fits in the larger world in historical context.

His flight had been booked. He and some cousins would travel together and go to their ancestors’ place of birth and meet kin who have chosen to remain there.

Unfortunately, Tony had a stroke three days before the trip. Despite pleas with his physician, he was prohibited from flying, “Not now; maybe in three weeks.”

Finally, last week, he re-booked—after being given the green light. With a cousin, Sonny, he sought his China connections with familial generations, passed down only through oral histories.

By contrast, my own genealogy has never been a problem. My hometown was just six hours away, now  reduced to three with new superhighways.

But China is a world apart, with family myths needing confirmation.

He did confirm a lot! Ancestors used to own vast lands lost to the red revolution. But there stands a town, modern yet quaint, called Yu Tsuo (House of Yu) where everyone bears my husband’s middle name—most of whom entertained him and Sonny with 20-course lauriat meals at every turn. They trekked up a hill to visit their great, great grandfather’s tomb.

Psychologists say that genealogy research is a way to consolidate sense of place in an age where families have become fractured. In this trip, I am sure that Tony discovered family medical history that caused his cancer, heart attack, and stroke in one lifetime—but surviving all, he was still strong enough to visit the past.

His photos tell only half the story. The other half, I feel, is in his heart.
Throughout his four-day travel, my prayer warriors and I went on our knees. 

So as he regales me and my sons now with anecdotes of his forbears’ history in China, the only thing that’s important to a history-non-fan like me is that God’s grace upheld him in his dream trip, despite his fragile condition, and enabled him to come home intact.

“. . . the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” Psalm 121:8 (NIV)


My New Friend Hannah

First, she attached this intriguing photo to her Private Message (PM) on Facebook. Hannah and I have never met, although she's one of my over 2,000 FB friends.  

Next, she posted this.

Every day she would PM and ask, “Have you received my letter?”

It never arrived, probably because she addressed it to a PO Box. I was of course disappointed, and so was she.

“You know, I also love to write stories like you,” she wrote and sent me a series of cool stickers. “I hope you get to read my letter. I love your books. I want to come to the book fair, but I need to ride a plane. It's too far away."

“Sorry, Hannah, I have not received your letter yet,” I apologized for the nth time. Her reply shocked me.

“You know why I love to send stickers? It’s because I'm still nine years old.”

Nine years old?! All along I thought I was communicating with an adult! At her age, she writes really well—a budding writer indeed.

Not ever wanting to disappoint a kid, especially a book lover, I asked for her home address and immediately sent her via courier “Coming Home,” my latest children’s book.      

As soon as she got the package, she thanked me profusely on PM and asked, “Please read my mom’s FB post.” 

“Hannah is book lover and she wanted to get in touch with the authors of the book she reads. Today her prayers were answered! She was so happy to receive a gift—latest released book—from one of her favorite authors. She said it was her best gift. To God be the Glory!”

I soon learned from various FB posts that Hannah is ranked #1 in her class and is a pastor’s kid.

“Your name is a palindrome,” I wrote her the next day.

“What is that?”

“It is spelled the same way whether forward or backward.”

“Ooohhh. My best friend’s name is a palindrome, too: Ainia. She's also like me—loves books, art, and really cares for other people. And we put up this club called WWJD (What would Jesus Do?).”

A kindred spirit!

God's grace of friendship surprises and delights all at once. Why, He sent me Hannah, 9, from out of nowhere on cyberspace!


My Life Flashed Before My Eyes

Yes it did, and I wasn't even close to dying.

This phenomenon known as "near-death experience" is a sensation in which a person rapidly sees the whole of his life history in chronological sequence and in extreme detail.

This happened to me, and I had never been more alive!

I dodged writing about it because I wanted to hog the joy for as long as I could. Two months later, however, the writer in me wins over.

My second son and his family were in town (after two years) so we were making up for lost time in a resort out-of-town. I was, for the first time, suffering from extreme allergy—unbearable itch on my limbs—dimming my usually observant eye.

On our way home, my husband was wearing leather shoes and was frequently on his phone. I noticed both unusual behavior, but I was busy scratching my arms and legs. My daughter-in-law said they will treat me to a birthday dinner in a hotel close to our home. My thought balloon: A grand and posh choice.

I gave myself a once-over: slippers, faded jeans, old blouse, and grayish hair begging to be dyed. Ce’st la vie. 

Entering the restaurant, a curtain—like those in a stage play—opened and surprise! 
There, in one brightly-lit, freshly-adorned room, were all the beautiful people who have deeply touched my life: past and present, kith and kin, church-mates and ex-colleagues. All dressed to the nines!

How could this have gone past me? I thought, as someone handed me my red blazer and a bouquet. In stupor, I went around hugging each one.

I steeled myself not to cry, and the program began. It was a roast, hilarious and warm, bringing back memories of oh-so-riotous times! The two videos had old friends greeting me from all over the world. The two cakes, both book-themed, were on stage ready for blowing.

If it were a movie plot, it would be the perfect crime. The least likely culprit: my husband. He was ably abetted by my three sons, daughter-in-law, grandson, and my friend G.

How old am I? Ageless.

As young as the day I decided to gather my wits and live one day at a time—by faith and grace. Now, the surprises keep coming, like that one evening in July 2015 when my life flashed before my eyes.

"You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever!" Psalm 30:11-12 (NLT)