Life Happened

Nothing is predictable. One minute everything seems normal, then bang! The next minute, chaos. Life is a series of “Where did that come from?”

My friend Q, who had been living in the US with her husband for 10 years, came home one day and started looking for a job. She said, “I have come home for good.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Life happened,” she replied. Her marriage was not as ideal as it looked; it ended in a bitter divorce.

Another friend, R, who used to describe herself as “blissfully married with three growing kids,” left her husband in a huff. That was the end of bliss. “Life happened,” she lamented. She is now a struggling mom, trying to juggle between work, home, and budget.

On the other side of midnight is another friend, S, who led a devilish, tormented, ugly life, running into one wrong turn after another, making a series of tragic decisions along the way. One day, Jesus found her, and she accepted Him in her heart.

She declared, “New life happened.”

Things, however, are not suddenly rosy for S. But now, when “life happens” (they come and go), she sees them only as temporary setbacks, not ends. Sure, they make her heart writhe in pain sometimes, but she could breathe easy again because she knows . . . 

“. . . that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28 (NIV)

That first Christmas was when Jesus was birthed to give us “New Life,” which comes free to anyone who will receive Him. He became Flesh to be the ultimate sacrifice: to suffer and pay for our sins so we may receive the grace of salvation.

In three days, this year will end. My prayer is, we will come to know about the "New Life" and receive it in the New Year 2016.


Another Meaningful Christmas

Our family being small, we make time to celebrate the Holy Birth together, continuing a tradition started over 20 years ago. Nothing overly fancy. Just a quiet Christmas eve dinner, which is prepared by everyone to make sure it happens.

Earlier, there was rumor that there won’t be any turkey in supermarkets because of stricter customs rules. There were a few in one supermarket, but they were all under five kilos. So JC picked the biggest one at 4.6 (our smallest ever) and continued shopping for the condiments and stuffing.

It turned out to be the tastiest turkey we’ve ever had. JR, with the help of our long-time house-helper Ate Vi and her assistant Delia, made sure that size should not be an excuse for sloppy roasting.

Coming home from the church service, we dug in. Then the gift-giving capped our celebration just before midnight. After years of doing the same rituals, we sort of knew what one liked to receive.

I got my chronological Bible for the 4th year in a row (KJV this time) from son #1, angpaw from son #3 (he loathes shopping), and a cellphone-cum-camera from Tony who gave it as early as October when he had the budget. And three months later, I still have not figured out how to use it properly. 

A meaningful celebration it certainly was. We prayed that somewhere in the US of A, where three members of our family (second son, daughter-in-law, and grandson) now live independent lives, had a celebration as meaningful. Sharing with you imprints of our future memories, made possible by grace:          
"Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name."  1 Chronicles 29:13

We're Glad You Came

Angels descended upon our church—they sang as they did when they heralded the arrival of Jesus over two thousand years ago.

That’s how I felt when our 28-voice choir performed “We’re Glad you Came,” a new Christmas cantata created only last year by the award-winning team of Joel Lindsey and Jeff Bumgardner.

While listening, I had goosebumps all the way and when they sang the last chord, I—like most everyone at church—was teary eyed. It left me speechless, imagining thousands of such angels in God’ home, and all singing Him praises.

Our choir is usually assembled only on special occasions such as Easter, our church’s anniversary, and Christmas. That’s why I particularly looked forward to this rare presentation specially mounted to honor our King.   

The heartfelt music and profound lyrics, full of praise and expressions of gratitude, powerfully set the tone for how Christmas should be celebrated: focused on the Son of God, born that we may know Him as our Savior.

"We're Glad You Came" combines stellar new songs and narration interspersed with some of our well-loved Christmas carols. Highly emotive, the songs and our choir’s rendition must be what Thomas Carlyle meant when he said long ago, “Music is well said to be the speech of angels . . .”

Our musical conductress, Ching, and the choir—once members of our junior singing group—literally grew up before my eyes. Once toddling their way around the pews, they have been gifted not only with a musical ear but with the passion to render their best for God.

The choral books, according to Ching, were actually gifts from Joy, who was our church's pianist and choir conductress until she immigrated to the US with her family. Despite the distance, however, Joy continues to be a part of our angels’ speech. 

We got a double dose of grace when half of the choir members sang an abridged version of the same cantata during our service on Christmas eve, after a moving message by our pastor.
Lord, we’re glad you came!


Have a Blessed Christmas

How was your 2015?

I liken ours to an Oreo cookie: black and white.

Among our blacks were serious health problems that brought us to the emergency room and landed us in the hospital. Among our whites were a family reunion in July that enabled us to have a great family bonding; launching of three of my books; serving the Lord in church; a sentimental trip to China; busy days at work; change of jobs; etc. 

There were hues and all the colors in between, of course, but the blacks and the whites hogged our emotional highs and lows.

Nonetheless, we “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)

We give thanks especially for the birth of Grace, Jesus—for His becoming Flesh on Christmas for us. This is definitely a WHITE (all caps) celebration, so our family colored our world with a merry red surrounded with green, the colors of Christmas.
Thank you for visiting my blog, for your friendship, and for the inspiring and encouraging messages you sent via  the comment box, email, social media, and other means this year. I am blessed.

Have a blessed Christmas, too!


The Mary in Us

For the longest time, my favorite Christmas song has been “Away in a Manger.” It describes for me the humble and unpretentious arrival of Jesus.

Reading the story of Jesus’ birth in the book of Luke, we see nothing but simplicity. It happened in a rural area and was anonymous—so different from the birth of an earthly king that is usually awaited with pomp and pageantry by the citizenry.

But what accompanied Jesus’ birth was the attention of the heavenly host (God’s army). Luke 2:13-14, “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’”

The event was too important to be announced by just one angel. All heaven was moved, sang praises—and marveled at the grace of the Father Who sent Him.

Mary, young as she was, must have been overwhelmed. The good book tells us that she pondered all that happened in her heart.  For who could understand the contrast between the birth's commonness and the Child's greatness?

How did she feel? The magnitude of Jesus’ birth could not be known by the human mind, least of all Mary who was in her early teens.

These questions inspired our women’s group in church to attend one Christmas gathering dressed as Mary. In the course of our event, we tried to ponder the coming of Jesus.
Today we have the Scripture, which reveals all, to help us understand.  The Holy Birth is no longer as incomprehensible as it was for Mary at the time it happened.

But, like Mary, we wanted to continue pondering those things in our heart. Because no matter how much we know, it is still incredible how the King of all creation would do such an unthinkable humbling to save a wretch like me or you. 

One other poignant Christmas song that I also love (by Mark Lowry), in the same rung as “Away in a Manger,” ends with “Mary did you know? The sleeping Child you’re holding is the great I am.”

What a privilege to worship our Deliverer at His birth!    


Scarecrow on Christmas

Scarecrows are a common sight in the agricultural province where I grew up. As in any rural landscape, especially rice fields, farmers put up scarecrows every few meters to protect their crops from birds.

Because we rarely make a trip to the province anymore, I have not seen a scarecrow in years—until yesterday. It stood on a curb in our village where birds abound in early mornings.  

Beautiful melodies of bird songs wake me up at dawn every day. So why would anyone want to scare those birds away? 

The scarecrow not only looked out of place but bizarre. What homes usually have by their gates at this time of the year is a huge Santa Claus.  

Alas, people have so varnished and re-varnished the essence of Christmas that it is now beyond recognition: Santa Claus, Christmas tree, blinking lights, lanterns, exchange gifts, parties with competition (and therefore hours and hours of rehearsals), raffle and door prizes, special dishes and pastries, and caroling. There was that one year, we received a Christmas card featuring Harry Potter and Hogwarts. 

And now, a scarecrow?!

Human beings have been gifted with creativity, so how much and how many more layering can we slop on to conceal Christmas?

A scarecrow has been invented long ago to frighten predators. It particularly scares me now, because it symbolizes how far away we've strayed from the birth of Hope; how much liberty we have taken to deface and demean the first visible scene of God's plan to redeem us from the mire in which we've buried ourselves.

I am not trying to impose my faith on anyone, but Christmas rightfully belongs to those who believe in it. We cannot celebrate it any other way but to reflect, with gratitude, the coming of Jesus, the King of kings, Savior of mankind. 


Light for the Writer’s Soul

Writing is a calling that is both happy and lonely.

That statement seems to oversimplify my writing quotient. Let me illustrate through my own emotional pie chart. Writing is 100% grace, sliced into 96% happy and only 4% lonely—but that small number could be lethal. 

Imagine my excitement, then, when I was told that Media Associates International (MAI), in partnership with Armour Publishing, has published the book "Light for the Writer's Soul: 100 devotions by global Christian writers."

This, I thought, would take care of my aberrant 4%.

Written by contributing writers (of which I am privileged to be a part) from 27 countries, and illustrated by award-winning French artist and illustrator Didier Millotte, this book I would liken to sunburst on a cloudy day. The stories illumine and inflame all at once.

According to MAI, and I agree, "It is ideal for personal devotions of writers and would-be writers, especially those in hard places in the world; a resource in writers groups; workshops; and in mentoring Christian writers."   

For the book to last me one year, I should be reading one devotional article every three days—with enough time to bask in the glow of perspectives similar to mine. But the articles so surprised and stirred me I read the whole book in one sitting!

Much of the personal pain—conflicts, complications, dilemmas, obstacles, and yes, loneliness—of varied writers from varied backgrounds kindled my interest and indeed lit up my soul. 

I now know that the Lord beams His Word in different ways upon different writers, but our responses are set at different timelines. In the end, and always, the fire to write overwhelms the temptation to stop.

If you are reading my blog this far, I assure you that this book will help stoke your (or a friend's) love for the printed word and keep it burning. For a copy of the book, click: link

Without doubt, the book is a light, switched on for the writer's soul.


My White Christmas

Christmas after Christmas, my mother would put up the same tree on a corner table at her drugstore.  Her predictable next steps: cut surgical cotton into strips and fluff them up for each branch; hang lots of candies; then top the tree with a star made from an aspirin box.

It was not my kind of tree.


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We See in a Mirror Dimly

Looking in a mirror used to be my favorite activity when I was young and, well, kinda’ pretty (in my own mind). What I’d see was an unlined face, high cheekbones, one dimple, and eyes that sparkled.

Today, I dread looking in a mirror with my glasses on. I see the opposite of what used to delight me. So I take my specs off and look in a mirror dimly, and I am spared from being spooked by a holocaust survivor.    

Thankfully, I am not unique. Every human being sees in a mirror dimly. What we see isn’t what is.

Kids ask: 

Why do other homes have beautiful Christmas trees and have festive Noche Buena?

Why do my friends get their wishes on Christmas simply by writing to Santa Claus?

Adults ask:

Why do evil people get elected to government positions and are addressed honorable? 

Why do dishonest people become indecently rich and are never punished?   

Kids and adults ask: Are they nicer to God than we are?

But history is also rich with martyrs, people who have done much for God and others and yet lived impoverished lives.  

Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:12 (ESV), “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 

Christmas is for retrospection. As I look at myself in the mirror, I ponder “seeing in a mirror dimly” and realize that the things we see on this side are just hues, shades and shadows. It’s only someday, after we have crossed over to the beautiful, perfect side, will we have all the answers and see all too clearly.

Meanwhile, as the year ends with our celebration of Jesus’ birth, I want to personally thank Him for the grace of family. He gave me a kooky one—like a gift left under my Christmas tree, for free. 


Unique Christmas Ribbons

What so unique about ribbons?

Nothing much. I just thought that trimming my tree this year with ribbons that have been individually chosen—no two are alike—would be unique. I even went as far as crocheting two with different patterns to make sure there is no repeat of any design or color. 

The motif is carried through to my centerpiece vase. My friend G, an art director, suggested a walis-tingting (raffia broom), pliant enough to make my bows bend and sway. 

What’s truly unique about my tree this year, though, is that all the ribbons are recyclable. After taking the tree down, these ribbons will come in handy as bows for yearlong gifts. 

I like to think that each ribbon represents a color of grace, like a gift bow I can’t wait to un-knot, that the Christmas Honoree hands me every second in a day.   


The Man Who Wanted to Kill Christmas

You know the story. I am re-telling it for me, amidst the glitz and blitz, so I will always remember . . .  

On that first Christmas, the king of Judea was Herod, a cruel, blood-thirsty killer. He eliminated anyone who got in his way. Human life meant nothing to him.

A smooth talker, he was also insatiable, wanting to have everything—palaces, huge theaters, you name it.  

When he was near death, some important men from the east arrived.
They asked Herod, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

Herod was distraught and might have thought, I am the King of the Jews!

He called all religious leaders to find out what the Bible said about a coming King. He wanted to know where this King was born: 

“In Bethlehem in Judea, for this is what the prophet has written: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:5-6)

Herod had to act. From the Magi he found out the exact time the star they were following had appeared. He also sweet-talked them into coming back to tell him where they found the Child, so that Herod may also go and worship Him. 

Off the magi went. The star led them to Jesus. They bowed down, worshiped Him, and offered Him expensive gifts because they knew that the little Boy would someday rule the world.

They were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod; they went home through another route.  

Having been fooled, Herod was furious. He ordered the murder of all males less than two years of age!

But nothing could stop God’s plan.

Despite his wealth and power, Herod came to ruin, dying from a painful disease. 

Little Jesus grew up to be the opposite of Herod. He used His power not to kill, but to help others and show love. After a life of poverty and no throne, He died on a lowly cross. But unlike Herod, who caused massive bloodshed among hordes of people, Jesus shed His own blood for all people of the world—and resurrected three days later.   

Nobody could kill Christmas. Not even a Herod.

Come, let us the worship the King: JESUS.


Three Days of Silence

Feeling queasy, nauseous, and uptight (in short, blah), I asked Tony to check my blood pressure. Horrors, it went through the roof! 

He called my doctor who ordered, "Sub-lingual pill, immediately. Re-check her BP in an hour."

I was due to speak at our prayer meeting that evening, and I prayed that I'd feel better to make it. I didn't. After an hour, my BP numbers wouldn't budge. Another sub-lingual pill.

One more hour—the numbers even slightly went up. Third sub-lingual pill. My doctor said, "If after an hour it stays up, take her to the emergency room."  

At the emergency room, I zonked out into a restful sleep for an hour. And by grace, my BP went back to normal. Diagnosing myself, I told my doctor the tummy discomfort (a recurring trouble) I was experiencing could be the culprit. She gave me pills to solve that and stressed, "Rest. Nothing strenuous.”  

Next day, same story. Another sub-lingual pill, and a roomful of anxiety. I had to follow my doctor’s orders.

Writing and painting were out of the equation. I likewise cancelled a book signing event, a radio interview, and a women's gathering in church. 

I had only one option left—read. I dropped by my happy place, The Book Sale shop and bought the two books atop a heap, as though waiting for me: two versions of Randy Alcorn's "Heaven."

They were the perfect buy. While resting and reading, I was made to see, and I mean really visualize (albeit in limited human imagery), God’s glorious home—especially in the kids’ version—and in my three silent days back to normalcy, all my cares sped away. 

When one day everything in my body goes awry, and the Lord says, "It's time," heaven or the New Earth would be, through my new glorified eyes, and as written by the author, "Far better than you and I can imagine."   


Wordless Wednesday

"We are all the creations of God. We have God-given talents. The talent that God gave me is cussing. Instead of blaming me, blame God because He created me.”

This quote from trash-and-tough-talking Rodrigo Duterte, Davao mayor and now a presidential aspirant in the Philippines, was published in major dailies yesterday. Known for his raw, gutter language, brashness, and self-avowed penchant for women, Duterte has both shocked and awed the country.    

I am neither shocked nor awed. I am wordless.

So I will not dignify this quote by going into a tirade against Duterte, nor by maligning him, nor by campaigning against him, nor by apologizing for him, nor by detailing his other lurid exploits, nor by analyzing what he meant.

The following, then, are not my words; they're from the Bible (the book of the Creator Whom Duterte referred to) and what it says about cussing:

"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)