3/29/2020

King David’s Quarantine


(Reflections on God’s message: Peace over Fear, through Pastor Ariel, on my computer screen.)

David was afraid for his life, just as we are today with the Covid-19 pandemic. He put himself in  quarantine to flee from his son, Absalom, who wanted to kill him so he could be king.

In Psalm 42, we hear David’s cry. Detached from God’s house of worship, he is fearful. He is depressed. He laments over all the troubles he has endured; he longs for God’s presence.

Doesn’t this parallel our fears while imprisoned at home, following guidelines on the lockdown? How can we achieve peace?

Like David, we are grumbling and growling. We are frustrated staying home. We grieve over the deaths of front liners. We are angry over the mistakes of authorities. We hate the cursing on social media. “Don’t go down the negative road,” our pastor stressed, “stop listening to yourself.”

While listening to our fearful selves, we give a space for the enemy to make us even more fearful: “Say goodbye to your business, your job, your finances, your loved ones, if not yourself.”

But.

Because of David’s deep faith in God, he shifted his thoughts and started talking to himself (verse 5), “. . . Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God!”

“Encourage yourself with God’s voice,” Pastor Ariel urged us. “Talk not in a political or medical way—talk to yourself in a Biblical way.”

We need to look back to those days when God upheld our Bible heroes (Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Paul, etc.) in ancient past. Let us remember those times when God did the same for us and our family: He never left us and He poured His generous grace upon us.

God is alive and is with us in our quarantine places . . . so together we prayed and sang this hymn: 

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. 
Because He lives, My fears are gone. 

Peace, not fear.

(Thank You, Lord, for all faith brethren who made the live streaming possible. Thank You for technology that enables us to worship You and listen to Your word wherever we are. Amen.)    

3/28/2020

Somniloquy


I talk and make sounds in my sleep. Weird?

This condition is called somniloquy, defined in medical dictionaries as: a parasomnia that refers to talking aloud while asleep. It can be quite loud, ranging from simple mumbling sounds to loud shouts and long, frequently inarticulate speeches, and can occur many times during a sleep cycle. It usually affects men and children.

I am not a man, neither am I a child anymore. But this condition has started to occur maybe ten years ago. Then, it was few and far between. But as I grow wiser (euphemism for aging), it has become quite frequent.
 
I was alarmed big time: Is there a deep psychological problem or trauma that is haunting me?

“Nothing to be afraid of,” my doctor said. “When we go to sleep, our sound system shuts off. But for some people, it stays ajar, so sounds—most of the time incoherent—seep through.”

I didn’t believe her until my sister, who had lived with our mother in her later years, told me that Mom had the same condition. That revelation made me feel better. It is genetic!

Now I worry less, except when Tony is awakened by my ramblings and couldn’t go to sleep after that. He loses sleep while I enjoy mine.

During my out-of-town trips for book talks, I fear that my somniloquy would disturb whomever is assigned as my roommate. So I explain my malady in great detail ahead of time.

Those who have sleeping disorders (maybe of a different nature) like I have, don’t fret. Grace enables us to face the new day. These verses helped me through mine.

“No need to panic over alarms or surprises, or predictions that doomsday’s just around the corner, Because God will be right there with you; he’ll keep you safe and sound.” Proverbs 3:25-26 (The Message)

3/24/2020

Dye or Die


Itchiness is non-life threatening, but it is totally infuriating. If it runs amok on your scalp, it could turn a perfect day into a total chaos.
Imagine being dressed in your best finery, or talking to some important bigwigs, or lecturing before a roomful of professionals, and suddenly you need to scratch your head—not daintily but vigorously because the urge to scratch is irresistible.  

These horrible scenarios are real and put me in crisis mode for the last two months. Concerned friends suggested balms and different shampoos. Nothing worked.

Finally someone said, “Stop dying your hair.”

No way, that is not an option. In fact, I dyed my hair that day because my gray hair roots screamed, “Dye now!”

And so the itching continued. Montaigne wrote, “Scratching is one of the sweetest gratifications of nature, and as ready at hand as any.” But Tony put his foot down, "Go and see a dermatologist.”

My beautiful dermatologist, impeccably made-up, coiffed, and dressed, said in a soothing, smiling voice, “Seborrheic dermatitis.”

That sounded lethal, so I exclaimed, “If you tell me not to dye, I’ll die!”

She laughed, “No, I will not let you die.”

She then prescribed a lotion, which cost me half of my bank account, to be applied to my scalp for one week before bedtime and anti-histamine pills.  “Try not to scratch when you feel an itch. Because the more you scratch, the more you itch. It’s called the scratch-itch cycle. If the  itching continues, come back.”

It’s been a week, and the itching has lessened, perhaps because I have resisted scratching the itch. And I am due for my next dye. My dermatologist was true to her word—she did not let me die.

3/22/2020

Worship from Home


A menace called Covid-19 has spread its venom all over the world. As of last count, there are almost half a million people afflicted (380 in the country) and over 13,000 deaths. Measures such as country lockdown are in place to contain the virus and widespread fear.

Age-old schedules such as our Sunday worship in church have been derailed.

Today, so as to obey government guidelines, I reluctantly worshiped from home. But it was a decision I will neither forget nor regret in my life.

It was a glorious experience, grace beyond measure. Together with church mates who likewise  stayed home and those who opted to be in church physically, I felt connected with all faith brethren via live streaming and real-time messages on social media.
We sang, prayed, and listened to God’s message together. It was like being  in one room, a community worship that was also deeply personal. Through our Pastor, I heard Jesus say these assuring words to me:

    • I will take care of you.
    • Faith is dependence on Me. TOTAL dependence.
    • Fortify your faith; then fear will leave you.
    • Restoration in the Philippines will come. But it must begin on your knees, in prayer. 
    • Everything is better with Me, including a virus. Faith is not denial. You need  to deal with the problem—there is a problem—but focus on Me.
    • Attack this problem with worship, so that the problem will NOT attack you with worry.
    • Fear makes you indecisive; when you are fearful, you cannot decide properly.
    • In your fear, I say, "Trust Me!”
    • This is the day of salvation; come to Jesus—come to Me.

Today, too, many churches in the globe went online. What an impact to viewers!
 
Someone posted this message, “Many people were reached; they heard the good news about Christ and their lives will be changed & transformed. God took what the enemy meant to separate us and turned it around to unite us.”

(Note: almost 600 people viewed our livestreamed service, six times bigger than our regular church attendance.)

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14 NIV)

3/20/2020

Unpewed


The call to avoid community worship and stay home, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, was getting louder from all directions. Fear of infection has gripped the nation—and the world. I was of two minds myself: to go or not to go to church.

My heart told me to go. And what I saw made me use a word I never used before: unpewed.

In all my years as a Christian, I had sat on a pew during a Sunday worship service. It’s as though a sanctuary is incomplete without them. There had been debates in my home church whether we should discard the ancient, rotting pews for new plastic monobloc chairs. The pews stayed.

Then suddenly, because of the government’s decree on social distancing to halt the spread of Covid-19—sans any discussion or a lengthy debate—the pews disappeared.
My son JR and I attended the first service where our pastor’s sermon was live-streamed, as did many pastors’ around the globe, for those who opted to stay home.

Offertory box instead of bags (left); hand sanitizer
The next day, I read two urgent messages on my FB news feed.   

Message 1 (from Tony’s cardiologist): “Stay home; you could save lives.” 

Message 2 (from my nephew, a surgeon): I had messaged him earlier about praying in church for all medical frontliners. He replied, “Tita, please, please pray at home. God will understand.”
Was it perhaps guilt, fueled by the enemy, that impelled me to go to church and meet with fellow believers? Was it a wrong decision?

I don’t know.

What I know is, God’s constant grace erases all fears and gives me, us, the wisdom to act for the greater good in these extraordinary times.


3/16/2020

Yo, Elvis!


Do you have difficulty remembering people’s names?

I do.

I like asking people’s names especially those who do sincere service work (tellers, security guards, receptionists, etc.), hoping I’d remember them the next time we meet. But the in-betweens stretch to months so when I see them again, I remember their smiles but not their names.

“What’s your name?” I asked the young audiologist whom I visit every six months for my hearing problem. He’s solicitous and patient, explaining in great detail how my pair of  hearing aids—hearing grace I call them—are doing. 

“Elvis,” he replied.

“Yo!” I shrieked.

(The only other Elvis I know had gone to glory long ago, but who, his fans insist, is still alive. He was my husband’s favorite singer. In fact, Tony has an Elvis room where he keeps Elvis thingies, collected through the years.  During his last trip to the US, this Elvis fan flew to Graceland and brought home more memorabilia.)
Last week, six months later, I had to visit the Hearing Clinic again and what do you know? I remembered my audiologist’s name.

“Yo, Elvis!”

“Your name, Ma’am?” he asked. Age has nothing to do with forgetfulness.

While he was fiddling with my hearing aid’s computer chip, I asked, “Do you like Elvis Presley?”

“He was my dad’s favorite singer, Ma’am,” he said.

“He named you after him; you must be a good singer, too.”

“Modesty aside, I am, Ma’am,” he said seriously.

“Can you sing me a few lines?” I joked.

Immediately, he belted, “Wise men say, only fools rush in, but I can’t help falling in love with you . . .”

“Yo! Elvis,” I exclaimed, clapping my hands vigorously.

His assistant rushed into the room, wondering what was happening.

Well, Elvis happened.


3/12/2020

Hello, God!


When I was a little girl, before going to bed one night, my mother taught me how to pray. She said that praying is like saying hello to God, like talking to your best friend. “Tell him what you feel in your heart,” she urged me.

I went down on my knees, clasped my hands, and closed my eyes. But I could’t find the right words to say. So my mother made me repeat this prayer after her:

             Now I lay me down to sleep
             I pray the Lord my soul to keep 
             If I should die before I wake 
             I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen. 

I loved it. It was like talking and singing to God at the same time. From then on, this was my prayer at bedtime. 

But there were other times when I wanted very much to pray. Like when I lied to my teacher or when my best friend was rude to me. I wanted to tell God about my feelings. So I would close my eyes and say, “Hello, God!” then I’d stop. I didn’t know what else to say after that.

One day, our neighbor’s house burst into flames. People were jumping out of their houses. Shaking with fear, I said the only prayer I knew by heart. “Now I lay me down to sleep . . .” My elder cousin laughed—so loud the whole town might have heard. 

I wished then that I had more prayers to say exactly how I felt. 

(The above is an excerpt of my letter to readers in the first Hello, God! book. Knowing that children can’t pray on their own, I wrote for them these prayers with the same rhythm as my first-ever prayer. Hello, God!, a series of three books, was birthed by grace—artwork by my friend, Ggie A. Bernabe, and published by Hiyas.)  
These books are available in any book store at P120.00 each. 

3/08/2020

Angel with One Foot:

The backstory 

“How do angels look like?” my Sunday school teacher asked when I was in grade school.

My thought balloon, They’re dressed in long white dresses, with wings, and have a glow over their heads. 

I didn’t say it out loud because I thought it was a dumb question. Everyone but her knew the answer.
Growing up and growing old, you realize that the dumbest questions are usually the wisest. As your perspective widens, the linear concepts you knew as a child transmute into multi-dimensional prisms. 

The Bible shows us angels in many forms. Language, which continuously evolves, gives angels a myriad of definitions. Figures of speech make things even more complicated.

Conclusion: Angels can look like . . . Endless possibilities. 

My husband was telling me one day about a friend who serendipitously met someone to whom she owed a debt of gratitude years earlier. Their meeting led to a closer friendship.

Debt of gratitude . . . that hooked me, as any interesting story does. I sat up and asked myself, “What if?”

My “what ifs” made me find ways to translate his narrative in a way that might teach kids the value of gratitude. How can this story be different from other tales?

- What if my husband’s friend were a kid?
- What if the lady to whom she owed a debt of gratitude disappeared?
- What if the kid felt incomplete without having said thank you to her lady benefactor?
- What if the benefactor had only one foot?
- What if . . .

Benefactor: angel?

I am oversimplifying it, but the thinking process had swung high and low, until the first draft was completed months later.
Angel with One foot (illustrated by Beth Parrocha-Doctolero) is a story of gratitude—of how one must never miss to say “thank you” to any angel who does him/her a favor.

On a grand scale, for me, I am forever indebted to the One whose empowering grace spurred me to ask “What if?” 

3/04/2020

Speed Writing


Speed reading—that I do, especially if the book is fiction. Between writing and some side teaching, I could read a book in one sitting. It takes me a longer time to read non-fiction though. I go back to passages I like, highlighting and reflecting on them.

But speed writing? I am not in the fast lane.
The shortest time it took me to write a book was four months. Only because Present! was for millennials and was meant to be short.

Why can’t I speed write?

I let concepts swim in my head for sometime. I conduct a focus group discussion (FGD) with target readers. Then when I finally assault my keyboard, I pause now and then to chew over them, reading my Bible and references—checking facts and grammar rules—and reviewing books already written about the topic.

After finishing the first draft, I tweak it maybe a hundred times. Then I throw the hard copy inside a drawer to hibernate for at least a week while I tackle other books. When I return to it, I find all the “errors” that should have been clearer, fresher, and more interesting. I change words, rewrite sentences, and transpose paragraphs. I ask at least five of my target readers to read and comment on it.

On to more polishing. Only when I am happy with it do I send it to my editor. 

That’s why I was surprised when a friend posted on FB that he had just finished six chapters in one month! And he meant to finish the last six in another month! I asked him for tips on speed writing.

One was, “Learn to ride the proverbial inferior horse. Have a tolerance of what can be sent, not sloppy, but not polished to a high sheen . . . knowing that the publisher will edit it anyway. So why edit as you write?”

I pondered that.

Then I realized that after years of rigorous speed writing in advertising, I am now writing for the King and He allows me to enjoy the writing process, romancing it, relishing every step, and learning many new things along the way. I have chosen to take the slow lane. After all, deadlines are not tight. Where I came from, deadlines were: yesterday.

I had already overshot my quota for speed writing. Now, I slow down to savor the moment-by-moment grace of choosing words, stringing them, until the manuscript sings.

"Slow down. Take a deep breath. What's the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway? . . ." (Jeremiah 2:25 MSG)