Are You a Person of Priority?

An odd question, I thought.

I never heard of the phrase “person of priority” before. But as the pastor of son #2’s church in the US continued to speak, it sank in. In fact, it is something every Christian should aspire to be.
He was referring to Mary and Martha when Jesus visited their home. While Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet to listen, Martha was too eager to serve and therefore distracted by details—like forgetting to gas up when running on empty. 

“. . .‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ 

“‘Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:40-42 (NIV)

In like manner, busyness over so many things distracts us from looking up to His throne of grace, which should be our top priority. Busyness (don’t I know it!) brings out the worst in us. Resembling Martha, we become self-absorbed, stressed, resentful, anxious, and troubled.

Mary, a person of priority, embodied David’s words in Psalm 27:4, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” 

Are you a person of priority? Am I?

It’s a question I often ask myself, and which I am trying, with great effort, to answer positively now and all the days of my life.


Reflecting Love

Sparkling on every table—one for each guest at the Mother’s Day celebration of son #2’s church in California—were these prism-like gems reflecting a spectrum of colors. It was tied to a rolled piece of paper with the words, “Reflecting Love.”
It was an apt symbol for the speaker’s love theme, based on 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible’s love chapter. 

She spoke of how motherhood is a reflection of God’s love in every home. From giving birth to a child, then nurturing, guiding, and instructing him till he is all grown up, a mother will always consider her child her baby—and will forever love him unconditionally with all her heart. Truly a reflection of our Father’s love.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love,” the Lord said to the people Israel. (Jeremiah 31:3 NLT)

As I listened, my mind wandered to Moses, whose shining face literally reflected God’s love. “When Moses came down Mount Sinai carrying the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, he wasn’t aware that his face had become radiant because he had spoken to the Lord.” Exodus 34:29 (NLT)

Is it possible for us to also have the radiant face of Moses?

According to Scripture, yes. Over time, as our personal relationship with God gets deeper and closer, we will be transformed and this will show on our face—how we deal with problems and people. Well, our face may not literally glow as did Moses’ shining face, but our transformation can reflect His love.

And as we reflect that love, we can draw others to Him, because the grace of His presence can be seen in and through us—like it did with Moses.


The Road to Grace

That’s the title of one of two books by Richard Paul Evans that I borrowed from the city library while vacationing in California. I usually choose to read his books during my free time (away from home and routine) because of their spiritual undertones that make a reader like me reflect on life. 
Evans, a multi-awarded author, is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than twenty-five novels. The Road to Grace is the 3rd in his The Walk series. 

This book was a quick and riveting read that took me, while sitting on a comfortable sofa, to historical places vividly described with local color.

The protagonist, Alan, who lost his wife, business, friends, and everything he ever loved, decides to walk to the farthest place he could find on the map. It is during his tiring travels that, according to Evans himself, Alan “evolves as a person, spiritually maturing as he learns more about forgiveness and grace.”

How far do you take bitterness? This, for me, is the crux of the story. At what point in life do you unburden yourself of anger?

People are constantly looking for grace, but Alan says, “If we open our eyes, we can see the abundance of it.”

Sometimes with tears in my eyes, I read Lost December. It is Evans’ Christmas-themed retelling of the parable of the prodigal son—perhaps the most poignant story of forgiveness and second chances.

It brought me back to the very first book I ever read by Evans, The Miracle of the Christmas Box, which was sent to me by my friend, Lucy, from Palm Springs. But, uh, it was not really his first book, but simply the intriguing backstory of  The Christmas Box. Now, I wasn't going to pass up reading that first book, was I?  How I did was a story in itself.

In addition to time spent writing heaps of blog posts (my latest three books No Means No; The Real Thief; and Gone? were already finished, ready to go to press before our spring vacation in sunny California), I was blessed with ample time for reading.

Those were certainly some of my own countless roads to grace! 


Remembering Ninoy

Today, August 31, 2018, we commemorate the 35th anniversary of the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, he who said, "The Filipino is worth dying for."  We thank God for sharing this hero's life with us.  
Such grace it was to be a part of his stunning funeral three decades and 5 years ago! 

Photo credit (bottom): Inquirer News


Bicycle Head

Still reeling from the 16-hour travel from the Philippines to Northern California, I couldn’t keep my eyes open as daughter in-law G drove us to our temporary nest for a month. But my eyeballs popped out when I saw this:
Right smack in a busy intersection was a mendicant with a difference. For a moment I thought I was in the circus. He was balancing his bicycle on his head and around his neck was a sign: “Just Hungry, Need Help.”  

Some vehicles stopped and the passengers handed him some money. Is this America?! I asked myself,  The land of milk and honey?! 

I was wide awake after that.

In the next few days, during our drive around the city, we’d see the same guy again and again. Able-bodied and relatively young, he could easily look for a job, which are aplenty in the US of A.

Ay, there’s the rub. He is not lazy, he does his difficult stance in the midst of traffic, through the freezing winter air, or under the heat of the summer sun, day in and day out. But he would not be able to hold a job; he’s mentally ill.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately one in five adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year. Approximately one in 25 adults—9.8 million, or 4.0%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.

Why do people have mental illness?

It’s like asking, why do I get backaches and heartburn? Why does Tony have heart and blood pressure problems?

We experience these things because we dwell in bodies which have been marred by sin. Our body parts waste away, some become hubs of dread diseases. In this fallen world, our organs could fall apart and fail us anytime. And the man with his bike on his head happens to have a warped brain.

What can we do?

Paul addresses this in 2 Corinthians 4:16 (ESV), “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”

That, if we put our trust in the Savior, whose merciful grace renews our inner selves every single day.


Stranger in Heaven

We were in the US when the shooting in a Texas high school happened (two months ago). Nine students and one teacher were murdered by a 17-year-old boy.

It was chilling, but no longer surprising. The newspapers reported, “It is the 22nd US school shooting since the beginning of the year, and the third instance in eight days in which a gunman was on a school campus.” This made me ponder how easily life is lost.

I am afraid for my grandson, Adrian, who goes to school in America. If only I could do something to protect him. 

His mom narrated a similar incident in Adrian's school that left everyone frozen in fear: Two teenagers were seen walking on campus. The guard tired to shoo them away but they wouldn’t budge. So the school authorities decided to padlock all the students inside the school for their safety, while investigation was conducted.

Inside the classrooms, the kids were terrified. They were in various stages of panic. Many were crying, one of whom was Adrian. He would explain to a friend later why he cried.

“I knew we were going to die, and I was worried that I didn’t know anyone in heaven!” he said, realizing that his parents would be left behind on earth and he’d be a stranger there. He didn't assume his classmates would be there, too. 
This anecdote made me heave a sigh of relief, laugh, and grateful. Young as he is at age 11, he knows, without any doubt, where he’s going when he leaves Earth. As a believer in the saving grace of Jesus, he is positive he will be in heaven. 

What an assurance to an anxious grandparent!

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God . . .” John 1:12 (ESV)


Between Black and White

From the Orange County Airport (a.k.a. John Wayne Airport), Tony and I took an Uber to his cousin’s place, where we’d be visiting for four days.

Along the way, the driver—a big, white man with a basso voice—sang President Trump praises. In the same breath, he said, “Obama will go to jail, just you wait and see.” Then he went on and on about how bad the black president was, and how the white president is doing everything he can for America.

When you come across people who are obsessively passionate about their beliefs and which side they are on, it'd be better to keep your mouth shut or you'd be flogged, or killed. 

All we could mutter were, “Really?” “Is that right?” “What do you know?” “Oh, dear.” And all the safe, non-committal phrases the lexicon ever invented.

In a two-party system like America's, people are either black or white (especially after the tenure of its first and only black president).
What baffles me now is, in our country—with a multi-party system—people are divided right down the middle, too. You are either pro-Duterte (our current president) or against. No matter what happens or what issues prop up, people stick to their guns, resolute in their opinion that he is the best-ever, or worst-ever president. 

My prayer is that believers would be able to discern the differences between black and white, and not to blindly take sides. I pray for grace to enlighten us in evaluating the issues, for or against, and their consequences to the country and our people.

The good Book is clear on which way we should go.

While believers are enjoined to pray for and follow authority, we must not condone what is wrong. We should speak up and do something, where he can, when something goes against God's Word, because that is our mandate.

They say that what is right is wrong and what is wrong is right; that black is white and white is black; bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. Woe to those who are wise and shrewd in their own eyes!  Isaiah 5:20-21 (TLB)


Mother's Day 2018

By this time, almost a week in California, I still had not conquered jet lag. Age?

At 3 AM (6 PM in the Philippines, a day after Mother’s Day), I was staring at the ceiling, my eyes unwilling to close. So I visited the Net to check my messages. Most of the posts were how the day was celebrated, complete with photos of ecstatic mommies being treated out and cuddling their presents.

My FB timeline yielded this photo (left) from son #1, which caused me to laugh so loud Tony woke up alarmed. I hardly recognized me. When I did, it brought back beautiful memories of times past when I was a young mom enjoying my first son (shortly after this photo was taken, we were blessed with son #2).
The photo on the right was son #3’s version of the traditional roses. Mother’s Day celebration had begun.

Before breakfast, son #2 presented me with boxes of blank gift cards, which are my favorite gifts of all—next to books, of course. Why? Any writing surface is heaven-sent. 

Grandson #1, and only one, presented his mom with roses.

Then off to church, where mothers were rhapsodized and prayed over. 

At the church's foyer were photo booths set up specially for moms. Beloved grandson, Adrian, suggested that son #2 and I would have our photos taken together, while he did the same with his mom.

Here you go:
Lunch, fun, and bonding—with the part of our family we see only once a year—followed in an Italian restaurant. 

In all, it was indeed mom’s day, but it was also dad’s, children’s, and grand children’s day.

Like all the days of our lives, it was a special grace day. 


Borderless Grace

Mother’s Day this year arrived while Tony and I were away—in California visiting son #2 and family.

No big deal really. As I’ve written often enough, my family does not often communally celebrate national or international events on the day they happen. Sometimes we celebrate it a week before or after. If we forget, we do it one day in the year, if at all.

Celebration for me, for us, is praise and gratitude to God for a milestone or other, and this can take place in one’s heart, minus the bells and whistles. We must be simple folks.

In California this year, the women’s group of my son’s home church had a special gathering on the eve of Mother's Day.  My daughter-in-law, G, an active member of the group, invited me to attend. I was ready to be pleasantly surprised.

And I was.

We were the only Filipinos in the crowd of about 140, but around our table were two American ladies who resided and went to school in the Philippines while their father served as a missionary there. Small world. One of the Christian writers (an American), with whom I share a publisher, is their close family friend.

Special prizes for games, trivia questions, and other stuff got us all laughing. Then the emcee asked, “We have a prize for someone who came from the farthest place.”

Someone raised her hand, “Arizona.”

G nudged me, “Mommy, stand up!”

The emcee asked, “Where are you from?”

“Philippines.” Guess who got the applause and prize? 
We had quiche, croissant, cheese, fruits, and some other western staples. A gift for each one was a paper teapot with tea bags in it. And as I met new friends, I thought of my own women’s group in my church back home, probably sharing pancit, lumpia and kakanin, an all-Filipino fare.  

These all-American mothers in California and the all-Filipino mothers in the place where I live mount events differently. But we have one thing in common: faith in one God, whose borderless grace crosses all barriers of race, language, and coastline.

“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” Acts 17:26 (NIV)