12/31/2018

What Next, Santa?

After Christmas, and at the end of the year, Santa Claus bows down to the Reason for the season, and bows out—to appear again next year when December comes.

This being my last post for 2018, I wish to thank portrait artist Gaye Frances Willard for this poignant and worshipful painting entitled “Every Knee Shall Bow,” uploaded and shared on the Net many times over all through the Christmas season. For me, this is one of the most gripping images exchanged this year.

May she find grace in all her canvases and paint brushes.

(From her website: "This painting is being offered as a signed and numbered limited edition print. This is one of the most heartwarming paintings of Christ in the manger with a kneeling Santa available anywhere.")

As midnight strikes tonight, another year will swing in. May we end our 2018 contemplating these Bible verses:

“Turn to me and be saved. All the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’ Isaiah 45:22-23 (KJV)

12/28/2018

The Christmas Party I don’t Miss


Christmas parties seem to multiply every year.

This December, I got invited to a dozen. Yes, 12. Instead of just one party for one organization, smaller groups now throw their own. Take our school, for instance. I remember attending just one party in past years. This year, there was one for the students and their teachers, one for our department, one for another department, one with the Board of Directors, one for an outreach program, etc.

It was no different in my home church: women's group, young couples' group, youth group, men's group, etc.

In the office where I used to work, there was a get-together out of town, one up north, one down south, etc.

I begged off from most of them, but there was one I didn’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t miss: The Christian Writers’  Fellowship (CWF) of OMF Lit. It was announced early:
But even without this assignment (the 3rd variation of the same speech Turn to the Word), I would never miss it for the world. Here, grace overflows. Word people of The Word worship and fellowship as one.   
Then the evening’s highlight: exchange books

This year, several budding authors attended the party for the first time. They surprised their older counterparts with the spoken word, emotive poetry read from their phones.

The exchange books was a riot, as usual. Each one gave an intro of the book he was parting with—usually dramatic or hysterical—and drew a name from a box. Mine was a gift from my cousin Lorna (below left). I hesitated letting it go, but the urgent message had to be shared. It went to my editor, Joan, who exclaimed, “Yey, I love Lutzer!” 


I got The Writer's Mentor (above right) from a poet/editor, Michelle.

Now all ecstatic over the books we received, we wolfed down the food and dove into conversations about—one guess—books.


12/25/2018

Unspeakable Gift


December 25. Today, Christians all over the world celebrate Christmas, or the birth of Christ.

But the date is inconsequential, really. It could be on the 12th of September or the 29th of February, or any day. Nothing changes the fact that one day long ago, the King of all creation gave man a Gift nobody could ever fathom nor deserve.

On Christmas, in a lowly manger, God became a mere mortal, so that 33 years later, He would die on the cross in place of sinful me—to have the chance to live with Him for eternity.

He did this in such an incredibly humble manner that is contrary to what He owns and can do. 
Since it is not about the date, it is not about the trimmings we fuss over either: not the angels, the shepherds, the magi plus all the things invented by modern man—the trees, wreaths, blinking lights, wrapped gifts, Santa Clauses, parties and reunions that define revelry.

Many songs (such as the one below sung by the Ball Brothers and the Go Fish band) and books have been written to describe Christmas, but it remains—to this day—an unspeakable Gift.

It’s about the Cross

It's not just about the manger 
Where the Baby lay 
It's not all about the angels 
Who sang for Him that day 
It's not all about the shepherds 
Or the bright and shining star 
It's not all about the wise men 
Who traveled from afar 

Chorus: 

It's about the cross 
It's about my sin 
It's about how Jesus came to be born once 
So that we could be born again 
It's about the stone 
That was rolled away 
So that you and I could have real life someday 
It's about the cross 

It's not just about the good things 
in this life I've done 
It's not all about the treasures 
or the trophies that I've have won 
It's not about the righteous that I find within 
It's all about the precious blood 
that saved me from my sin 

The beginning of the story is wonderful and great 
But it's the ending that can save you 
and that's why we celebrate 
It's about the cross 
It's about my sin 
It's about how Jesus came to be born once 
So that we could be born again 

It's about God's Son 
Nailed to a tree 
It's about every drop of blood that flowed from 
Him when it should have been me 
It's about the stone that was rolled away 
So that you and I could have real life someday 
So that you and I could have real life someday 
It's about the cross 
It's about the cross 
It's about the cross 

“Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” 2 Corinthians 9:14 (KJV)

12/22/2018

Who Is a Bully?


Three separate videos showing the same kid in Ateneo junior high, bullying three different kids, have gone viral on the Net over the last three days. These have sparked national outrage on social media.

Traditional media (newspapers, radio, and TV) have joined the fray by making this issue banner headlines and topic of editorials.

Except for child rights advocates, majority of netizens have hurled this child bully insults and angry tirades—some crying for the harshest of punishment such as expulsion from school, “beating him senseless” and “not letting him off the hook alive.” 

Vitriol and venom have stained our land.

Days earlier, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle (of the Catholic Church), in his homily to mark the Christmas season, condemned the abuse of power. He also proposed that the powerful—the country’s elected officials—to desist from being bullies.

He did not name names, but our president felt alluded to.

The next day, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, who habitually curses, belittles, and ridicules lesser mortals (or even higher mortals in the hierarchy of man, such as the Pope, the US president, and the International Criminal Court) behind the podium, often in the guise of jokes, hit back, “When did I ever scare or bully people?”

When indeed?

The dictionary defines bully as:

(noun) a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker. Synonyms: persecutor, oppressor, tyrant, tormentor, intimidator

(verb) using superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

Our Philippine law classifies bullying into five basic forms: physical, verbal, relational aggression, cyber-bullying, and sexual bullying.

Physical bullying is easy to identify. This usually involves hitting, kicking, destroying . . . which were graphically shown in the three videos.

Verbal bullying is “name-calling, insulting, threatening, intimidating, and also racist remarks and sexist comments.” This, too, is easy to identify as there are videos that record actions and words.

An Ateneo kid, not having yet reached the age of reason, gets chastised by a whole nation (that includes me) for hitting three other kids.

A big man, the size of a country president, gets admired for his “strong feelings” and for hitting with cuss words whomever catches his ire, giving shoot-to-kill orders, accusing people without proof, and hurting further an already fractious country. 

Who then is a bully? Let me recast that question: Who is the bigger (biggest) bully? And why is he not getting the same ire of a nation whom he bullies and divides every chance he gets? 

Selective judgment?
Deep breath here.

Despite all the bullying, let’s celebrate the birth of Hope.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10 NIV

Photo credit: Hiyas FB page 

12/19/2018

It’s (Not) the Same Banana


“Same Message, Different Words” would have been the accurate title of this post. But banana is more edgy, and at my age, I refuse to be called an old fuddy-duddy.

I refer to my Word People message which I delivered (and uploaded in three parts here) at the OMF Lit’s Book Dedication event prior to the Manila International Book Fair.

Shortly after that, I received another call from Yna, Publications Director of OMF, requesting me to reprise the message for the OMF Lit's corporation meeting, which gather corporation members and Board of Trustees.

That seemed quite easy, but is a no-no in advertising. Words have to be tailor-fitted to an audience.

The first event’s audience was different from these take-two attendees—they being eagles: formidable, seasoned men and women at the helm of their various workplaces, and whose mere presence leaves one shaking in her boots. 

So although I tackled the same topic, I had to recast the whole message—like starting from zero.

I am not complaining; I am actually grateful that an exercise such this makes a writer more careful with the crafting of her words.  It’s similar to a gym workout where the body becomes healthier and more pliable.

A healthy and pliable mind is key when writing books for different markets, which I like to do. In the 18 years since my first published book, I have written for various demographics—from pre-school toddlers, to grade school kids, to teenagers, to young adults, to single women, to working people, to parents, and to retirees.

This was therefore a grace assignment thrown my way to hone the writing. And, I guess, the speaking too.

Yup, the same message for different audiences is (not) the same banana.

12/16/2018

Kunol-Kunol


This term comes alive during our yearly clan reunion. It is a part of our program of activities.

What does kunol-kunol mean? To us, it is simply a time for bonding, doing nothing but talking about something and everything with a person or a group. No agenda, no expected output, no plan of action.

All along I thought that it is a legitimate word in Ilocano, the language of my forefathers. But it is not found in the Ilocano dictionary. Which means, we invented the term?! I wish I knew its etymology because kunol-kunol has been a large part of my growing up—my children’s and now of the grandchildren’s of my generation.

If it is a do-nothing activity, why has kunol-kunol been a vital part of our reunion? I think the answer lies in what some psychologists tell us: “Attachment is a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space.”

One book I read says this of human bonding—the development of a close, interpersonal relationship between two or more people. It takes place between family members or friends . . . whenever people spend time together.

Bingo! In our clan, it’s three days and two nights at the end and beginning of each year.

As we pack our suitcases again for this clan reunion (the theme this year is “Circle of Life”), where we find God’s grace in each other, we look forward to activities such as worship, first of all; fun and games; singing and dancing; presentations and tossing of coins for performers; and yes, that omnipresent kunol-kunol all of 74 years!

12/13/2018

A Hospital Room with a View


For the third time in three months, we rushed my husband, Tony, to the hospital due to the same heart problem: breathing difficulty.

An alert medical team immediately strapped him to wires and what-nots and had him go through a barrage of tests. Finally, we were ushered to a “suite” which would be our home during treatments. 

It is a far cry from your hotel-kind-of-suite, but that’s what they call our hospital room which overlooks an unending traffic snarl below and the university where I teach on eye level not far away. And there’s occasional Wi-Fi, which enables us to video chat with Adrian.

On day two, the air conditioner conked out and we were temporarily moved to another room, Tony’s contraptions in tow. During the hour that took the cooler working again, the maintenance men told this snippet of a story: our "suite” was “where  a rich, old lady was confined [with her maids, private nurses in shifts] for one whole year till she passed on. That’s why the air conditioner had not been cleaned as scheduled.” No wonder it blinked.

It is a room with a view; it is an eye witness to the health sagas of its guests, including ours. It watched the difficult journey of someone who bravely struggled with her sickness till the day her body gave up.

If only the room could talk, the writer in me would love to ask the whos, whys, wheres, whens, and whats of this yearlong hospital stay.

The medical teams have no time for a Q and A; they only attend to vital matters such as patients’ meds and care—not to a room with a view.

As I try to work on my next book on day three, while watching Tony finally able to breathe normally and sleep, I converse with God.
I thank Him for His favors (doctors, nurses, med techs, maintenance men, etc.), His grace, and even for the many mysterious things around me that I can neither explain nor understand. I thank Him for humoring me to express my views on important and trivial issues, such as our antiseptic temporary dwelling space. 

I pray we leave this room soon, life-saving and fascinating though it may be. I so miss my workplace, the little cozy room where I have my Bibles, my books, my files, my notes, myself. 

12/11/2018

Panorama of Human Misery


In developing countries like the Philippines, a high percentage of our population live in poverty.

We call them informal settlers; they build makeshift sheds on lands they don’t own.

There is no definite number of how many people in these places go hungry every day, but their shabby shacks on the fringes of middle-class neighborhoods tell all.       

In contrast, I’ve always viewed America as a land where food overflows, often wasted, and therefore nobody ever goes hungry.

I was wrong.

In California, a nephew and a niece took us on a tour of downtown Los Angeles (LA). Glitzy Hollywood was on top of the list, but on our way there, we passed through sidewalks upon sidewalks of filthy and haphazardly constructed tents. Called Skid Row, here’s where the homeless dwell in hunger, in destitute living conditions, not unlike our informal settlers. 

My heart broke.

In the early 1900s, the place was called “Hobo Corner,” because the place swarmed with tramps, grubby dirty and drunk. Many of them arrived from various states by train and now populate LA because the weather has no winter snow that needs heater to stay alive.

I discovered further that 15% of people in America are vagrants. In LA, the Police Department has been clearing Skid Row of dregs by arresting these down-and-outs, because they are a threat to the environment, sanitation, and aesthetics.

In the Philippines, according to The World Bank, slum dwellers cover 54% of population. Their areas are often burned by unknown culprits. 

LA’s homeless are individuals, while the Philippines’ poor are families. But where they both live continue to be a nagging image of our decaying national landscapes. Despite efforts by religious and civic groups, concerned individuals, and the government, we who enjoy three square meals a day and roof over our heads are assaulted daily by this panorama of human misery.

Believers of God’s bountiful grace have work to do. In my home church, many of our projects are skewed toward the children and the aged in the slums. We work at showing them how to look to the face of our Redeemer, where transformation begins.

“Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.” Psalm 105:4 (NIV) 

Photo credit (top): BBC News

12/07/2018

Where My Books Are


My heartbeat skips when I see my books in unexpected places. This one's at a coffee shop in a mall. 

And my heart jumps on a trampoline when I see my books in little people’s hands—posted at random on FB, like grace popping in unannounced.         

These are the places where I wish I’d see my books more often.

I’ve expressed this a gazillion times, but I will say it again: a book author is no author unless read. 

My unending dream then: As I continue to write more books, more and more kids would chance upon them, pick up the values I wove into every story, make them a part of their growing-up phase, and live them out in their adult years.

“. . . Jesus called a child to come and stand in front of them, and said, 'I assure you that unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven. The greatest in the Kingdom of heaven is the one who humbles himself and becomes like this child.' 

"'And whoever welcomes in my name one such child as this, welcomes me. If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose his faith in me, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone tied around his neck and be drowned in the deep sea.'" (Matthew 18:3-6 GNT) 

12/03/2018

Cut, Cut, Cut!


Five years ago, our church and village officers spearheaded a tree planting on the open space lot beside our place of worship. At that time, I was chairman of the board that administratively oversaw the premises of the church. I felt privileged to have been a part of this noble project for the environment.

In fact, I was blessed with the chance to plant one of over a dozen hardwoods: neem, mahogany, narra, etc.    

Year 2013
Every Sunday from then on, before and after going to church, I would gaze at those trees, especially the one I planted (above), as though I birthed that stately grace of God myself. As they swayed gracefully with the wind, I could actually feel and see their growth inch by inch.

In five years, they have grown really tall, almost dwarfing our church. What joy they gave the passers-by!

Yesterday, however, I got the shock of my life. As had been my weekly habit, I looked toward the area where those trees stood before entering the church. My tree and its many neighbors disappeared!

Rather, only their stumps remained. They were injured and disfigured, lying on the ground like discards. 

December 2018 (Arrow pointing to the tree I planted)
The last time I checked, we have this law, Republic Act No.3571 that specifically “. . .prohibits the cutting, destroying or injuring of planted or growing trees, flowering plants and shrubs or plants of scenic value along public roads, in plazas, parks, school premises or in any other public ground.”

Those trees, which riveted my eyes Sunday after Sunday were cut, cut, cut! Those saplings, lovingly planted by a group of concerned church members and residents one early morning in 2013, were mercilessly chopped off.

My heart bled. You know the pain you feel when your pet has been maltreated and in danger of dying? The only difference is that, these were more than one pet!

Trees are God’s creation, growing and looking up to the heavens—to protect man from earthly catastrophes. Can someone explain why some people would be so cruel to cut them?