12/28/2020

He Gives, and Gives, and Gives


His love has no limit, His grace has no measure
His pow'r has no boundary known unto men
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again  

That’s the chorus of He Giveth More Grace, one of my favorite hymns. Even before I was old enough to understand the lyrics, I already loved it; perhaps because my mom used to sing it aloud a lot. (Mom’s legendary generosity in life might have been inspired by this tune.) 

It’s about boundless, bottomless grace. Like a circle that has no end.   
Anyone with a relatively comfortable life could relate to the hymn. 

But the person who penned it lived the opposite of anything but comfortable. Annie J. Flint (1866–1932) knew unlimited pain. She lost both her parents when she was a child. Fortunately, she was adopted by a family that taught her the Scriptures, to read, write, and create music. 

And that planted in her heart a dream—to be a concert pianist. Alas, she developed severe rheumatoid arthritis in her early-twenties. By her 30th birthday, Anne could barely walk. Her biography reads, “Her hands were disfigured, her body was twisted, and she was rarely able to sleep because of the extreme discomfort she experienced throughout her joints.” 

It was through her agony and anguish that she became closer to God. Despite the intense pain in her deformed fingers, Annie wrote poetry, which were reflections of God’s Word and His sustained presence in her life. 

Because of her ailments, she was cooped up in a tiny room in a sanitarium, yet she rarely complained about her condition. Her friends and family described her to be always encouraging and funny. As though roles had been reversed, she penned encouraging verses and gift-books, which contained her collection of poetry, for them.  

Soon, Anne’s writings were published and widely read. People marveled that such amazing lyrics could be composed by hands burdened by unabated chronic pain. And, unlike poems of melancholia, the dominant theme of Annie’s writing was God’s goodness amidst trials and tribulations. 

One of her awe-inspiring works, born from suffering, is He Giveth More Grace. 

How can one not believe such words, coming from someone who led a life of torment and torture? 


12/24/2020

A Savior Is Born


One dark night over 2,000 years ago, the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, was born in a manger. 

No fanfare, no celebrations, no fancy rites, no notable guests—just poor shepherds watching their flock. 

From that night, our dark world was lit with Hope. Anyone who accepts this Savior (who would grow up to freely give grace to you and me, and sacrifice His own life on the cross) in his heart will be saved and have eternal life.   

That is the simple but profound message of Christmas. 

We are not told of the date and details of the venue, whether it was in an open field, a barn, a cave, or a home. For what does it matter? 

But artists through the centuries have come up with this image, which we call the nativity tableau or creche, as a graphic interpretation of that lowly birth.    

 

And so on Christmas, every year, we celebrate the birth of Hope, with pomp and circumstance: glitters galore, fancy festivities, and rousing revelry. 

We might be too busy to look back to and reflect on that dark night, but the essence of Christmas remains the same. 

MERRY CHRISTMAS! 


12/22/2020

Art: What Is It?

 

One of the many things that fascinate me about staying home during the pandemic is the slew of creativity that I am privileged to enjoy on social media. 

My artist and writer friends post their works, and if they were all collected into a printed anthology, we’d have tons of tomes that could fill up a gym!  

A former colleague and a friend, Lorenz, posts about his art to a close circle almost daily: what he does, how he does it, why he does it, and finally the finished product. This one's titled "When You Love Someone."  

"I love it, Lorenz! May I borrow it for my blog?” I wrote on his FB wall. 

He replied, “Can you message me why this resonated with you?” 

My message: 

I see Christmas—love. 

I feel it encompasses everything that love is. There is a burst of many colors, all colors, converging and diverging. They go in all directions, yet they make a unified whole. 

Love likewise transcends every beautiful emotion, no rhyme or reason, but feels right. I can’t define it really, but as I have always believed, God is the reason we even know what love is. In laying down His life for us, He taught us everything we need to know about true lovegenerous, unending, and a burst of all colors. 

On Christmas, I am reminded of God's love for the world—undeserved and un-reciprocated.

His reply (artist’s POV): 

I wanted to draw that love goes beyond physical & external. What's inside the heart is more important.

Art is mysterious that way. 

He, the artist, painted his heart. I, the beholder, saw it with my own.  

Art is as diverse as an individual’s perspectives. Although it originates from an artist’s imagination, ideas, and technical skill, it is appreciated for its emotional power. 

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NLT) 

The world, as God created it, has every color, shape, size, sound, and movement that we can never fathom in our lifetime. But what we see, feel, touch, taste, and hear inspire us to replicate its splendor in art. 

Isn’t that what His holy birth is all about? 

NAIMBAG A PASKUA!    


12/19/2020

Can the Coronavirus Cancel Christmas?


Many columns, articles, and news items in today's newspapers (yes, Tony and I still buy three printed dailies every single day!) speak about Christmas being cancelled by the coronavirus. Some went as far as saying, “Death of Christmas.”  

In ancient times, the barbaric king of Judea, Herod, tried not only to cancel but to totally eliminate Christmas. He ordered the killing of all children two years old and below so that Jesus, whose exact whereabouts he did not know, would not be spared. 

Scripture tells us that savage as he was, with all the power at his command, Herod could not kill the Savior of the World. 

Alas, the various write-ups in newspapers have a different definition or representation of Christmas. 

To a believer of the birthed Christ, Christmas has nothing to do with the merry-making, feel-good and dazzling froufrous the world has invented over the years: family gatherings, homecoming, parties, blinking lights, decorated trees, bonuses, or Santa Claus.  

Nothing can cancel, steal, or kill Christmas. Nobody could stop Grace from coming. 

Misunderstanding the true meaning of the Divine Birth misleads us to think that the Covid-19 quarantine, which prevents people from having all these ostentatious trimmings, can take Christmas away.   

Herod tried, but failed. Since then, there have been wars, massacres, epidemics, disasters, and other catastrophes severely battering mankind. 

But Christmas remains the way it was planned—Light for a dark, dark world. 

“The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.” John 1:9-10 (NLT)  

MERRY CHRISTMAS! 


12/16/2020

When Youth is Gone


It’s that time of the year when organizations or groups plan and organize Christmas parties. 

One of these groups emailed me, asking for my baby picture to be used in a game during the gathering.

Baby picture?! That was sooo long ago I couldn’t remember where they might be! Or do I even have one?  

I ransacked an old chest where I store things I do not need every day. And there they were! Three old albums that my mother bequeathed to me when I got married, “You may show this to your future grandchildren.” 

Many years later, I have only one grandchild, Adrian, and he is in the US, so there is no chance for me to show him my old photos—or would he even be interested? 

After wiping the thick dust off the albums, I leafed through their yellowing and fragile pages, careful not to damage them further. All photos have faded! I chose two which are still recognizable and asked an artist friend to please make them clearer. 

This was taken when I was a few months old. I remember my mom telling me that the studio photographer waited a long time for that half smile.

      

Another one (again shot in a studio) was taken when I was three years old. I had to look twice, thrice, to make sure it was me. I looked in the mirror and . . . well, no resemblance whatsoever.                                              

I excitedly showed Tony my rare finds.

“Who are those cute babies?” he asked, beaming.  

“Me!” I proudly cried. 

He went back to the book he was reading, and asked, “What happened?” 

Aaaargh! He’s lucky the divorce law will never pass in the Philippines. 

But because it’s almost Christmas, I tried to regain my composure and muster kindness to reply in a brave voice, “Youth is gone.” Then I added silently, It left while I was not looking, and it will never come back. 

“Youth? What youth?” he asked absentmindedly. 

I looked in the mirror again, and I saw . . . wisdom. 

“Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.” Job 12:12 (ESV)

Gloria in excelsis deo! 


12/12/2020

14th Year Slips Away


My 14th blog anniversary has come and gone. Ooops, it slipped away unnoticed. 

I just realized I missed the date: November 24, which I commemorate annually with a post. 

The coronavirus lockdown, now on its 9th month, has made the passing of days a blur for me. 

“What day is today?” 

That’s usually the question I ask Tony or my sons. Except for Sunday, which stands out because I look forward to attending our virtual worship service and listening to God’s message, every day seems the same. Unvaried, unhurried.  

Back to my blog anniversary . . . if you had given birth to a kid on November 24 fourteen years ago, he would perhaps be in junior high today. 

That’s how long I have been blogging. Hah! And some friends thought I could not sustain the rhythm.

I have; I blog every four days or less, without miss. That calls for a celebration, doesn’t it? 

My numbers speak for themselves: 

  • 1,447 blog posts (from 1345 last year)
  • 1,077,00 blog hits (from 882,000 last year) 
My blog birthday cake candles have been lit and I am about to blow them with a wish.  

May I always be grateful for the grace that lights my way all through the week, whether it’s a Monday, a Tuesday, a Wednesday, a Thursday, a Friday, a Saturday, and yes, a Sunday!


12/08/2020

Zoom in and to Indonesia


This was my post on my FB wall a few days back:  

“I will be in Indonesia tomorrow to talk to school children about the importance of reading during one school's book week. The pandemic makes travelling so easy. One click of a button, or two, and there you are!”  

This message was accompanied by this photo: 

Next came a slew of replies, more than 300 congratulatory notes and emojis, but many were apprehensive:

“Stay safe.” “Wear your mask and shield.” “Take a side trip to Bali if it’s safe.” “Is anyone assisting  you?” “You must be a VIP being allowed to travel during the pandemic.”  “I wish I could join the Indonesian children to hear you talk.” 

Plus more.   

And I thought my post and the event poster were explicit about being virtual on Zoom. I had to reply to each one saying it’s all online. 

Tony has this theory, “People read social media messages perfunctorily. Try reading reading some posts selling goods properly priced. The replies?  ‘How much?’” 

"Oh, yeah." 

He added, "When people post about death anniversaries of loved ones long gone, replies are usually 'Sorry for your loss.' 'Hugs.' 'Condolences.'" 

He's right. As of today—six days after I posted the message—'heart' and 'like' reactions continue to come."  

Well, as scheduled, I zoomed in and to Indonesia! 

"Read and you will find." 

"If you want to be writer, read." 

My trip was a bit bumpy. I could not get there on time due to technical glitches. My slides, sent a week earlier, could not be found immediately. There were times I couldn’t hear my hosts and they could not hear me. 

My technophobia, which came about when the pandemic began, attacked me big time. 

But grace always comes in time to save the day. My task to read to the kids the story of “Gone?” to encourage love of reading sailed through. I had wished to interact more with my young audience but then, again, technology and time restrained us. 

I thank the Lord for introducing me to new friends—amiable teachers who made the online meet-up possible and fun. I pray that the school kids have learned something from those two short talks about reading and writing. 

To my friends who worried about my taking the trip to Indonesia, thank you for your concern—I am back, although a bit shaken, intact and fit to continue my marathon writing.  

***

Addendum: I visited Indonesia once in my past life (with a special trip to Bali) and it was an experience of a lifetime! 


12/04/2020

Gender Reveal


Blogger Jenna Myers Karvunidis, who loves celebrating, started the gender reveal idea in 2008, while she was expecting her first child. “It’s important to mark moments of joy,” she said and planned a party for her family—to get them excited about her baby. She then created a novel and theatrical way of revealing her baby’s sex: she baked a cake with pink and blue icing.  Girl or boy? 

She got them guessing and excited, exactly the way she wanted it.  

Everyone shrieked with delight upon discovering that Jenna’s first baby would be a girl! She blogged about it and her post was picked up by several publications. Her gender-reveal party became a trend.  

Trends naturally reach our shores and as we are inclined to copy anything western, today we see many posts online about grand parties announcing the sex of babies still unborn.    

Since that first gender-reveal party however, Jenna has regretted starting it. Just recently, 12 years later, she said that the joy people experience during the party has been at the expense of non-binary and trans people.” She does not want to cause others pain. 

She is speaking of course of another trend that has polarized the world: LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Q for Questioning [still exploring one's sexuality] or Queer), society's five additional classifications of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Gender has gone beyond male or female.  If we want to be politically correct, and not offend people, we should not limit gender identity to boy or girl. 

This is the polar opposite of what is being revealed to us from the pulpit during our virtual worship services by our pastors. As they delve deeper into Revelation, the last book of the Bible (on which my personal faith is based), it has become crystal clear to me that in the end, man only has two choices: 

“Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me.” (Matthew 12:30 NLT)   

Put even simply, either I believe the Bible or I don’t. Either I live or die. Either I choose wellness or illness; eternal life or endless punishment.      

There are still many details or "God Reveal" in Revelation that baffle my limited mind —the varied allegories, symbols, and other figures of speech—but the indelible grace that God has written in my heart since the day I first believed is enough to make me trust and obey.  


11/30/2020

Worst-case Scenario


In business, defining the worst-case scenario—a risk management concept where the direst of outcome is projected so that plans could be put in place to avert its impact—is the most horrifying stage in a planning session. 

But that is a pin prick if we look at the savage events in our history. 

The Great Chinese Famine from 1958 to 1962 killed at least 45 million people. 

The Khmer Rouge (Communist Party of Kampuchea), from 1975 to 1979 completely destroyed Cambodia. The death toll of this regime cannot be accurately calculated, because records were under wraps. Still, the most reliable estimate is 2.5 to 3 million murdered, which constituted 21% of the country’s population. 

World War I was vicious, killing five million, military and civilian. If we include deaths from the Spanish influenza which was a direct result of the War, the estimate would jump to 65 million. 

The gruesome World War II had been replayed for us by our uncles who served in the army. About 71 million people died. Rome, Paris, Moscow, Leningrad, and London were devastated. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Stalingrad, and Manila were obliterated. 

Its most infamous aspect is the Holocaust. Six million European Jews (men, women, and children) were tortured and murdered by poisonous gas. Recent estimates tell us that five million non-Jews were also murdered by the Nazis.

And here we are today battling the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Can anything be worse than these? 

Yes. The Tribulation. It will be the worst-case scenario for man. 

Jesus said there would be a period of great tribulation before His second coming. In Matthew 24, he extensively explains what will occur during the end times. There would be religious deception, wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes (verses 4-7). 

In the book of Revelation, the worst-case scenario before Jesus returns is graphically painted by Apostle John in metaphors, similes, and symbols. 

“Tribulation” is from the Greek word thlipsis, which means, oppression, affliction, tribulation, distress, and dire straits. In layman’s terms: the most terrible adversities that mankind could ever experience.  

The popular narrative shown in images is a collapsed civilization and a melted world. The planet is a wasteland of crumbled structures and vehicles. Millions of dead bodies are scattered about. Media is hushed. The power grid is gone. No sign of life.  

When we picture this worst-case scenario, we forget that God is sovereign over the earth. Nothing happens to us outside of His permission. When evil reigns, seemingly unchecked by Him, we despair. But we must always remember that His grace prevails. 

Although the events we read about in the Bible are horrifying, our faith reminds us that we are eternal beings—this earthy life is not the end. 

Has the Tribulation Period started with today’s chaotic world being battered by the Covid-19 virus?  

We don’t know for sure. What we know is that the signs are increasing, and it is one day closer today than it was yesterday.

"Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:36 NIV)


11/26/2020

From Senior to Teenior


After I had learned a few digital tricks, and became quite confident doing them on my own, I started calling myself a teenior. Neat, huh? I was now proudly a tech-savvy senior, in the same league as a teen. 

I thought I invented the term to describe me, until I realized—while Googling free and away—that Teenior is a registered name of a company in New Mexico.  Its website defines teeniors as: Tech Savvy Teens Empowering Senior. 

Its homepage explains that teens and young adults help seniors learn technology through one-on-one, personal coaching. “Whether it's a smartphone, computer or software, our goal is to empower you to connect with your loved ones, engage with your community (and the world) through technology, while providing paid, meaningful jobs for youth.” 

I am the opposite of a teenior! But I am claiming the term because I feel it describes me. So there is no copyright infringement, is there? 

I was born in a generation that never had any inkling—or never went thinking beyond what we had—that someday, technology would turn our guts, insides, and innards upside down.  

The coronavirus pandemic made our lot even worse. If you are clueless about technology, you are a non-entity. Only grace and Bible verses on God’s unfailing love had made me feel I still count. 

One of these is, “No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39 NLT)

So I tried to cope and cope up, inch by inch. I hired a young techie to help me with my online speaking activities and whenever my boys are around, I ask them questions, never mind if they reply or stay mute. 

This much I learned through eight months of isolation from the outside world: if you want to keep in touch with the world outside, you have to embrace the consequences of learning. 

And I am learning? At this stage, although I call myself a teenior, I have not gotten to a point where I can call me a techie. But I will get there; just watch me. 

(That last statement is said with the grit of a minute mouse.) 


11/22/2020

The Big Picture


For two days in a row, this heartwarming photo (cropping mine) of a man—a most unlikely kind to love reading—went viral online.             

                                                          

Shirtless, sun toasted, and barefooted, he sat on the floor of a bookstore with his face mask on and was snapped reading intently, unmindful of his surroundings. According to the person who uploaded the photo, the man stayed there for some time, simply enjoying the printed word. 

To the credit of the store employees, they let the man be.  They neither shooed him out nor told him off. 

I looked at the photo with my heart’s eye, as it passed my homepage countless times. 

It was on the third day when I was sent the same photo by a friend. “Lookie! Your book is on the shelf!” 

And sure enough, “No Means No” (encircled in red) was displayed there. I was too focused on the detail and neglected the big picture, literally. I messaged my friend back with a matching laughing emoji, “I must be highly myopic to see the big picture!”  

That’s what I am reminded of Sunday after Sunday by our pastor during our virtual worship service. We have become too focused on what we are suffering during this pandemic (When will this end? How am I going to survive? This is too much!) that we have become disheartened and despondent, totally forgetting the big picture. 

This will not last. It may seem like a long (eight months now) torment, but all this will end. The Bible reminds us that to those who believe, our suffering on earth is just a minuscule part of our forever life.  

“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) 

We are being prepared for the big picture. 


11/18/2020

It’s Here! Memories of Grace


This devotional for seniors, written all through 2019 until February 2020, finally saw print and will be launched at the online MIBF (Manila International Book Fair) happening from November 24-30.  

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which stumped the world, its original launching date was postponed indefinitely. Institutions, including book publishing, have been totally immobilized. 

In the Preface, I wrote in part: 

For months, I had focused on it, pausing only to celebrate Jesus’ birth on Christmas. I couldn’t write fast enough—memories of grace are unlimited; they multiplied as I talked to people of my generation. Everyone seemed to have an endless lake from which marvelous memories spring. 

But March came and time stopped. Many businesses and working people actually retired due to force majeure. 

This devotional had to be reevaluated. Yna Reyes, Publishing and Communications Director of OMF Literature Inc., explained that we have to be relevant to the times. I couldn’t agree more. Many of the entries had to go. To help provide solace for fellow seniors caged in their homes, I had to stay current by writing about how we are today. 

Like a second wind, memories of grace came rushing in even faster, obscuring the anxiety caused by the unseen enemy. 

Memories of Grace (devotions for your golden years) is finally here. 

It was written in times of smiles, and also in times of tears. Someone  said that “smiles will fade and the tears will dry,” but memories of God’s amazing grace—especially because the elderly have so much to look back to—are treasures that will endure till the Lord comes again or says, “Come home.”  

Let us then remember the days we mourned, the days we danced, the days we got lost, the days we charted new roads, the days we loved, the days we hated, and the days of this pandemic. His grace was never a second or a breath away.  

May we etch in our hearts what Jesus said to His disciples (and to us who believe) before He left for heaven. He empowered all to speak of His grace and promised, “. . . I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). 

 ooo

Get hold of  a copy to give as a present to a senior this Christmas. If you are a senior, you might want to remember all the grace heaped upon you by the Lord through the years. It is priced at P250, but will be sold at 20% off during the online bookfair (November 24-30). 


11/14/2020

Online Book Tours


Around this time, I should be resting from several book tours out of town—in time for the Manila International Book Fair. Alas, the Covid-19 pandemic settled them all for me: stay home. 

From my working nook at home, I did more book tours than all past book tours put together.  

CSM, my publisher for “Twin Blessings,” a devo-series for children, made me record a three-part reading of three devos, with a brief explanation of what the book is about. The media staff enhanced the recording with music and captions, then aired it. 

The video gathered over a thousand viewers (adults and kids alike) from as far as the US, Canada, HK, and all parts of the country. Several of the viewers sent me photos while they watched the recording. 

As a follow-up to that online book tour, CSM had me host a one-hour webinar entitled “Teaching Our Kids to Do Devotions.” This time, the audience (mostly parents) was even bigger!  

More: 

On our church’s 45th anniversary, I was asked to do a storytelling of “Gone?” a storybook on love for reading (published by Hiyas of OMF Lit and illustrated by Koi Carreon).    

The choice is relevant to today’s growing problem on kids’ disinterest in reading books due to digital gadgets. Kids who love reading will definitely want to read the awe-inspiring stories in the greatest book ever written: the Bible. 

This was uploaded to our church’s website page and again, the hits were way, way beyond what we could have gathered in a face-to-face storytelling session. 

How can these “online book tours” not be (let me use unusual superlatives) collosal and exponential grace? 

Although I rue not being able to talk to my readers up close, the number of people reached more than makes up for this loss. The ministry harvest—like the five loaves and two fish—has been multiplied a thousand fold! 

“. . . he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Mattew 14:19-21 NIV) 


11/10/2020

Ice Cream? No, Thanks!


Ice cream is America’s favorite dessert and I am guessing that it is also some other countries’ most-loved afters in many parts of the world. I never met a person who doesn’t love ice cream, especially in the summer. 

In a poll conducted in the US for people to choose a favorite dessert, ice cream was the obvious winner—and twice as popular as its closest competitor, cake.

I was not one of those people. I didn’t exactly hate ice cream, but I could live without it. 

Being cloistered at home during the pandemic must have altered my body chemistry. I suddenly took to liking and craving for a certain locally manufactured ice cream flavor: Dan Eric’s Coffee Mocha.  

Ask me how it happened. 

Vaguely, I might have tasted it during one of our church’s social gatherings. Someone offered me a cone and I was surprised to have enjoyed it. It was like drinking iced coffee. 

Then one steamy day in July, one of my sons came home with a quart of ice cream and offered me some. It was a so-so experience, but seeing how much the boys enjoyed and lapped it up, I decided to order more—and perhaps partake of it in a family group activity. 

I called up my friend who owns an ice-cream parlor, “Sallie, do you have a flavor with coffee in it?” 

She sent a gallon of Coffee Mocha. That was the day I got hooked. 

Hooked is not a very good word, especially for someone who writes about grace. So let me change that to . . . fan. I became a fan, an avid one. Now, there is not a day that I don’t eat a cup (usually after lunch when the sun is at its hottest). 

You have turned silly and shallow, I whispered to myself when I started writing this blog about ice cream.

But, hey, ice cream is an $11 billion industry and coffee is at $250 billion in the world today! Those numbers are neither silly nor shallow. 


11/06/2020

Level Up


Faith, in the dictionary, is defined as "Trusting or believing something or someone, without having to see physical evidence." 

The Bible defines it thus:  

"Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1) It is not just a "gut instinct;" it's a tangible truth accepted by the body—feelings that have the confidence and certainty to accept everything that comes from God. 

Faith, however, comes in sizes. The Bible speaks of faith as small as a mustard seed, which is 1 to 2 millimeters in diameter or the size of a pinhead. It is minuscule! 

Yet, Jesus said in Matthew 17:20 “. . . Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” 

So why, then, do many of us, who believe 100% in a powerful and all-knowing God, still forget that God is working in our lives today, even as the pandemic shakes our core? 

I, for one, believe that God can do anything He wants because He created the universe and me. I claim to have faith bigger than a mustard seed. But why am I fearful about the still unseen consequences of this crisis?  

"Level up!" our pastor stressed one Sunday in his virtual message. He seemed to be telling me to make my faith grow.  

Indeed, Jesus used the teeny-weeny mustard seed to illustrate the kind of faith we need, because it has the potential to grow into something much, much bigger. 

Our faith is meant to level up.  

How? We need to ask for faith in constant prayers. Then grace will enable us to watch how God does what we think is impossible. 

Our initial introduction to the concept of faith is small. It is a faith that comes from hearing and believing the Word of God. After that, however, our faith has to level up, because it cannot stay small. We need to bury it in the soil of God’s Word so it can take root and grow. 

“Level up” is a phrasal verb—popularized by gaming—that has become a part of our daily lingo. It is advancing from one level to the next, until one achieves the highest level. 

In the same manner, we need to level up in our faith, thinking less of ourselves and more of God, leaving everything at His feet. 

It’s the level of belief that no matter what happens, we are certain we are in good hands.  

11/02/2020

What's with White?


My grandmother used to say (in Ilocano), “No make-up can hide kayumanggi skin for long. As soon as you wash off your make-up, your natural brown skin shows. People should be happy with the skin color God blessed them with.” 

My Lola went to glory over 50 years ago. But if she were around today, she’d say the same thing about the “white sand” (crushed dolomite) dumped on a 500-meter stretch of Manila Bay’s shoreline in September—six months into the pandemic. 

        
Her words were exactly my beginning thoughts when I heard of this rehabilitation project. My additional thoughts, when I learned that it has a whooping budget of P386, were: 

This is so ill-timed.

People are starving and the last thing they need is a white beach.  

Many netizens thought the same way and expressed their anger on social media. Some even pointed out the health problems posed by the dolomite shipped from Alcoy, Cebu. 

But President Duterte, who has an approval rating of 91%, lauded Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu for his initiative and praised the project, “People now are really enjoying the reclaimed area with the white sand.”  

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said he was “stunned by the beauty and vast possibility for tourism.” He called the white sand “pure genius.” 

In response to the flak they received on social media, government apologists insist that this is good for people’s mental health, especially the poor’s. In their suffering, they need to see something beautiful to enjoy.  

Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta told reporters, after touring the white sand with Sec. Cimatu, “I am satisfied because the water is clean.” 

Why this obsession with a white beach? Why not simply clean Manila bay without changing the color of its sand? Why cover a “kayumanggi” beach with make-up. It would just be washed away! 

Sure enough, when it started raining (especially with the onslaught of typhoon Quinta), the white sand is slowly being washed away. In its place are the garbage swept to the shores by the waves. What is there to enjoy now? 

Sec. Cimatu insists the cost is only P28 million, not P386 as alleged. 

But P28 million is not peanuts. We can think of 28 million ways to rehabilitate (not beautify) Manila Bay. 

This parallels many people going to great lengths to have fair skin. They buy expensive whitening products and shade themselves with an umbrella or wear long sleeves to avoid the tanning rays of the sun. The skin whitening industry is big and booming in many countries. 

That’s where the world is going as the end times near.  By God’s protective grace, we will always be grateful for what we have, and not be swept by the tide. 

1 Peter 3:3-4 reminds us, “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.”

ooo
Going . . . going . . . (Nov. 14, after typhoon Ulysses)

Photos: all borrowed from FB posts

10/29/2020

Gathering Grace


Psychiatrists say that millions of people are suffering emotionally, as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Surveys from the US and other countries have reported the rise of adverse mental health conditions associated with isolation and reduced functions. 

In these polls, respondents reported symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder; trauma-related symptoms; new or increased substance use; and thoughts of suicide. These conditions are higher this year than what was reported last year. 

Yes, many people are indeed suffering.

What can we do to avoid poor mental health? Many of my friends have turned to art—even those who never took up art in their life before the lockdown. One of them is Heidi, whose amazing works (in various series), are a breath of fresh air amidst the many doom-and-gloom uploads from a distraught citizenry. 

“Oh, no, I am not am artist,” she said when I told her I am a fan of her art. “I am just enjoying doing this for sharing. FB friends need less toxic posts these days.” 

I marveled at her "Inspire" poster series, not only because one of them is titled “Gathering Grace” but because of the encouraging messages she has on each poster. About the series she wrote, “Be inspired; keep the faith; we will get through this.”   

Then she uploaded her alphabet series—and naturally, I downloaded G. Again, she emailed me. “If you want, I can send you my alphabet series.” I yelped with joy.      

I thank God for friends like Heidi who encourages us to choose hope over despair , to see the light seeping through the darkness. 

For indeed, grace is everywhere for the taking, and there is no limit to what we can and want to gather.        

10/25/2020

No More Tears


It’s been sometime (almost 70 years) since the No More Tears Johnson's Baby Shampoo was launched. But it still is very much around today, with even a safer formulation.  

As an ad gal for over 20 years, I marveled at the impact of the No More Tears slogan, which had become a benchmark for advertising campaigns.  

My babies are all grown up and my taste in shampoos has changed. But I distinctly remember the slogan today after listening to the live-streamed message of our pastor. 

For about three months now, his messages have been focused on Revelation, the last book of the New Testament. 

It’s an extremely difficult book for me to understand as it is allegorical, symbolic, metaphorical and emblematic all at the same time. I could write thousands of blogs about it and still would not be able to cover the breadth and depth of what the Lord is telling us about the end times.  

Even Bible scholars are divided in their interpretation of the last days. My readings of commentaries over the years have not given me a clear picture of what to expect—not with my limited imagination and wisdom. 

But one thing is so simple in my heart and mind: Those who believe in the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ will be protected all through the great tribulation—where the worst, never-before-felt pain and terror, will throw mankind into panic, anguish, and hysteria. 

His children will come out of the great ordeal safely to be with Him. And there will be no more tears. 

 

10/21/2020

Soft Pillow


This Bible verse in various translations is perhaps the most quoted and uploaded online: 

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Roman 8:28 KJV) 

It is a reassurance to those “called according to His purpose” that things will not remain the way the are: deaths, sickness, hunger, anger, enmity, and a general feeling of hopelessness. 

Roman 8:28 is a promise of hope. There have been volumes of paeans for this verse, but the one that resonates most with me is a metaphor: 

“Soft pillow for a tired heart.” 

It was preached and penned by Reuben Archer Torrey (28 January 1856 – 26 October 1928), an American evangelist, pastor, educator, and writer. 

At the end of an exhausting day, there is nothing like a soft pillow upon which to rest our weary head—and sleep soundly, refreshed and energized when we rise in the morning. 

Our pastor analyzed the verse word for word for us one Sunday. Allow me to distill (a habit I carried over from advertising, where a complicated message is communicated in a 30-second commercial) the one-hour-and-a-half message.  

We know,” he said, “means we who believe know the truth. Some may not acknowledge it when faced with troubles, but we know that God is in control.” 

He stressed, “Everything includes all, nothing is omitted.” 

Works together,” he said and explained, “The hardships we are going through during this pandemic have been unprecedented. But we know that our tears over this crisis plus all the other events in our lives then and now will work together for our good.” 

He expounded on the crucial caveat, “To them who are called according to His purpose.” Not to every man, not to all; only to those who know His purpose and are living a life according to that purpose. 

Clearly, this verse aims to bring comfort—a soft pillow at the end of a draining and trying day. 

Apostle Paul knew the pain of tiredness and the feeling of being beaten down. That’s why he reminded the Romans that God is working out all things for good. 

Romans 8:28 is a call to magnify our vision of God and His immeasurable grace.   


10/17/2020

Stunned Silence


If you have ever been stunned by someone or something, you know the feeling. Your tongue freezes. Your breathing halts. Your mind goes blank. But only for a few seconds.  

“When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” Revelation 8:1 (ESV) 

Half an hour?! Now, by earthly standards, that’s almost eternity for anyone to keep still. 


Scripture does not specify the reasons for this long silence in heaven after the opening of the seventh seal, but Bible scholars offer possibilities. Our pastor described amazing scenarios in his message last Sunday on the Book of Revelation.  

“Glorious worship.” “Too awesome for words or movement.” 

Other theologians continue to theorize: 

“It is a sign of deep respect in the presence of the Judge of all the earth. Just as earthly courtrooms demand silence when the judge is presiding, so does the heavenly courtroom.  ‘The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him. [Habakkuk 2:20]’” 

"The scroll of God’s judgment is fully revealed for the first time. Now all heaven can see God’s plan to judge the wickedness of the earth, destroy the kingdom of the beast, and set things right. All heaven remains silent as God’s righteousness is on display.” 

“Heaven can now see the trumpet judgments . . . ‘more terrible than anything the world will have ever seen [Mark 13:19–20]’ because the final catastrophes are about to befall the earth, and stillness fill the time of tense expectation." 

“It’s like the calm before the storm.” 

"It's anticipating the revelaton of a secret."  

“It emphasizes the importance and impressiveness of the final and seventh seal. With its opening comes a climax in the Day of the Lord. Evil has had its day; now the Lord will have His.” 

"Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10 ESV) 

Any of those expectations is enough to make any believer’s jaw drop. So why even try to guess? 

Meanwhile, as you and I await that stunning day, I will continue to soak in the warmth of His moment-by-moment grace.  


10/13/2020

Teachers' Quiet time


Sometime in February this year, I got a call from my publisher, “Would you consider  writing a 365-day devotional for teachers?? 

Consider?!  

It took less than a millisecond for me to reply, “I can start now!”  

There are no ifs, buts, or maybes for me to write a book on grace. There is nothing I like to do better. 

“It is not scheduled for launching this year, so take your time. Your deadline is November.” 

My heart jogged for three days.  

Immediately I did a Focus Group Discussion (FGD) among 13 teachers, and started churning out devos after devos. Being a teacher myself, I know mostly what problems teachers encounter daily and what their spiritual needs are.  

Little did I—nor anybody—know that just a month later, the world will be at a standstill due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In one fell swoop, the teacher’s life has changed. Her concerns have made a u-turn. Her spiritual needs have gone deeper and wider. 

The devos I have already written now seem to belong to a long-forgotten era. Another FGD is out of the question because seniors are banned from going out of their homes. I did some phone calls and email blast, but surveys are not the same as dynamic and interactive conversations.  

Where to go? 

How do I get into the psyche of a teacher who’s burdened with this? 

So here I am, stumped. My deadline is nearing—or is there a deadline, considering the changes in Book Fair schedules and book issues? 

And yet it is at this time when teachers (saddled with digital problems and lack of  resources amidst pay cuts) need to have refreshment from the Word. It is at this time when those who have been assigned the job of teaching children the path of the Lord need to quiet their anxious soul.  

I look up and these are the words I hear: 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 ESV) 

Photo: borrowed from a social media post

10/09/2020

Last Hurrah


Edwin O'Connor’s novel, “The Last Hurrah” written in 1956, became popular after it was filmed into a movie. Since then, “last hurrah” has become an expression to mean swan song; end of an era. 

I am borrowing the phrase, but it is not in the context upon which the book was written, which is about a hugely popular, astute politician, Skeffington. He lorded it over his rivals until times changed and in the end, his political savvy, at age 74, was crushed in a world overhauled by technology. He was defeated and he died a fallen man. 

Fallen is a word used today by businesses slain to death by the coronavirus pandemic. Many have closed shop, down and beaten.  

On the contrary, son #1, who runs our Medical Transcription (MT) training center, sees this as an opportunity. 

“Our time has come,” he said, and started setting up a fully online system that will keep the school running despite the lockdown. "Medical Transcrition was not a top-of-mind career before the pandemic. But being shackled at home will make people realize this is exactly the job they need without going out to work and risk being infected." 

Spot on. MT can be done right at home. 

He then took steps to make the school be known via social media ads and messages to old inquiries. "Now anyone can train in MT wherever they are in the Philippines, or outside," he explained with confidence. 

While he was toiling over the new system that can adapt to a world overturned by an unseen virus, I told myself, Our last hurrah. 

Meaning, for as long as God makes this Covid-19-infested world turn, the sun will still rise, the flowers will still bloom, the grass will still grow, we will still get up in the morning, and we will continue to discover grace that the Lord offers free to those who want to receive it—one last time. 

His optimism is catching. How can one not see the opposite of Skeffington’s fate? 

Tony and I have joined the fray—for us who grew up on typewriters, transitioning to online learning is like traipsing a forest with ferocious animals—doing odds and ends to help. 

Son #1 has reason to be bullish. In all our 14 years in the business, MT companies have hounded us for more hirees. About 98% of our graduates (2% opted for other calling) are often employed before they could graduate and many are occupying premier positions in MT companies here and abroad. Those who are in Manila come and visit our school with food to celebrate their milestones. 

However, there is no longer a need for a four-walled classroom; we will soon vacate it. In its place is a borderless learning lab that will prepare students anywhere for an ideal job—in the comfort of home. Can we dare stop?

   

Our MT center’s hurrah is not the last. Not at all. It’s a hurrah that is meant to last.  

"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland." (Isaiah 43:19 NIV)

10/05/2020

Analog Brain


In this digital age, how does one with an analog brain survive? 

I kept asking myself that question when I was requested by my publishers to record this and that. I asked the same question over and over again when I was invited to speak in one webinar—then two, then three.  

Something fast had to be done with my brain or I’d be forever panicking. Son #1, who is a techie, puts on an ugly scowl on his otherwise handsome face when I ask him a question. His thought balloon, Mom, you asked me that question a million times. And you still don’t know?! 

I was getting paranoid. 

My last, and best, resort: hire someone with a digital brain. And so I did. 

The kid was ecstatic, “When do I start Ma’am?” (From my view, everyone's a kid; he actually just graduated from college but the pandemic stole what would have been his first job.) 

“Next week,” I said. 

But that same day, the university where I teach conducted a webinar on how to engage students online. The facilitator simulated different apps—games, quizzes, interactive gizmos—and my analog brain went berserk. A short circuit blew it up. My monitor kept giving me instructions contrary to what the facilitator was saying. 

At the same time, my publisher messaged me, “Please re-shoot your recording. It should be horizontal and the sound is not too clear.”  

My nerves took a downward spin. 

So I called the kid. “Can you start now?”

“You mean now, Ma’am? As in, now?”

“As in this second!” 

And so today, I go online—doing book tours, conducting seminars, joining online meetings, acting as a panelist in discussions—minus the stress, with my own Siri and Alexa. Ask me to configure anything and all I do is message my digital brain. The only computer control key I use—without having to touch my keyboard—is voice command. 

“Next slide please” 

“Please upload.” 

“Let's re-shoot. Please add captions.”  

“Louder sound please.” 

“Revise slide #25. Thank you."  

Yes, the one with an analog brain is surviving with the precious gift of digital grace. 

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17 NIV) 
 

10/01/2020

Severe Hunger


Aside from death, the other brutal and terrifying consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic is severe hunger. 

I wanted to ignore such news to preserve my sanity and fragile nerves brought on by seven months of lockdown, but the headlines screamed—online and in print. 

“Hunger hits new high of 30.7%” 

This alarming percentage, gathered by the Social Weather Station (SWS) in a mobile survey conducted from September 17-20, translates to 7.6 million households all over the country! 

It is a number that can’t be glossed over even if one were in a glass cage   or born with a calloused heart. 

What a sharp increase from a poll conducted one quarter earlier! If the quarantine  continues—and it will, if one were to look at the infected cases now at over 300,000—the trend will rise further. 

Gutom na Kami (English translation: We are hungry)
Severe hunger or extreme scarcity of food causes the fast deterioration of mental and physical health, spawning epidemics of fatal infectious diseases (in addition to what has been plaguing us) that eventually will lead to . . . death. 

This is tragic—even more so because there is hardly anything an individual, who is not in a position of power nor have the resources, can do to help and do something about it.

There is one act, however, that we can do individually or collectively in our confinement. We can turn our eyes upon the Giver of grace and pray. I know and I believe that He will answer His children's plea, not in the way we want or expect, but in His unfathomable but loving ways.  

“You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father.” John 14:13 (NLT)

Photo credit: rappler.com

9/28/2020

PVGC: Never Ever Forget (Part 2)


(This is the second and last part of an earlier blog posted four days ago.) 

Growing-up years  

Shortly thereafter, the Pilar Village Community Center, Inc. (PVCCI) was organized & registered with the SEC to run and maintain PVGC. 

And as the membership grew, so did the building. The members pooled their physical strength and resources together to erect a bigger and sturdier place of worship—continually being refurbished and improved until today.   


Then a series of movements again shook the church. Many members immigrated and worked in other lands. And some moved to bigger churches. But the few remaining families, again, walked on and never wavered, with the help of  CAMACOP pastors assigned to be our shepherds.   

Maturing phase 

There is no stopping the work of the Lord. 

Ministries have blossomed: visitation, musicales, celebration of important dates, children’s choir, Sunday School, Junior church, DVBS, all part of the programs  outlined during Church Board strategic planning sessions at the beginning of each year. 

Enlarged mission field

Village Christian Alliance School was founded to help nurture pre-school children in the ways of the Lord. 

In the year 2009, VCAS was registered with the Department of Education and was renamed ACTS (Alliance Christian School and Tutorial Services, Inc.) to include grade school. Now even with the pandemic, ACTS remains strong and ready to take on fully virtual or blended learning. 

Organizational support

Meanwhile, the PVCCI Board keeps busy and elects a Chairman yearly. Two pioneers, who never faltered in serving God despite the many trials, were: 

Atty. Ireneo Espiritu+ 

Arch. Ephraim Santos+ 

The others: Bro. Art Eugenio,  Bro, Rolly Balabagnp, Bro. Samuel Pagdilao, Sis. Bing Talahuron. Bro. Sam Pagdilao, Jr., Ley Sarinas (8 terms); Ernie Uy, (10 terms); Bro. Mario Ayon; Bro. Manuel Batto, Sis. Grace Chong, and Bro. JR Chong (8 terms).  

Aside from Pastors Franco+ and Domingo+, and Pastor Joe Dalino, there were  other lead pastors at PVGC (please refer to the timeline for names and dates).  

Year 45

Today we thank the Lord for Rev. Ralph Dulman (associate pastor) and Rev. Ariel Cole (senior pastor) who lead us in keeping the PVGC light shining. Sis. Kamilla Barbo recently joined the pastoral team as our intern pastor for kids. We praise the Lord for picking us up whenever we fall down and make us stand up again.   

Ten decades and six years since our birth, we celebrate the ministries the Lord has entrusted to us: 

    • Children: outreach program, Sunday School, VBS, ACTS, children’s Sunday worship 

    • Auxiliaries: seminars, workshops, Life Growth

    • Cottage Groups: weekly meet-ups for prayers and Bible study 

    • Elderly: Sunshine Fellowship 

    • General activities: Virtual worship every Sunday; daily prayer time; medical/dental mission; disaster relief; scholarship programs; commemoration of special occasions, and many more. 

We remember the trials and the missteps, but we remember even more vividly the days of triumphs and blessings that kept us going. We, who saw those early years, now remind our children and their children’s children . . . 

". . . when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” (James 1:2-3) 

Never ever forget what PVGC is all about.  

* * *

(Addendum: son #3, who was born five years after we found PVGC, is now chairman of the church board. And although this piece has been published online, I am uploading it here as well, so I will always remember, for as long as my mind is intact or until the Lord comes again, or until He calls me home.) 

Son #3, in front wearing blue polo barong