7/30/2020

A Mother’s Quarantine Lament


Our thrice-a-week househelp, Teresa, has become a permanent fixture in our home because of the quarantine. She chose to stay in rather than go home and not have any job (she used to have daily work schedules in various places).  

She is efficiency personified, an angel from the heavens. There is not a corner in the house she does not clean and disinfect. She finds things we had forgotten we had. She tends to our garden with a thumb so green, everything is flowering and growing. It's as though our househelp of over 40 years, the late Ate Vi, has come back to life. 

Unfortunately, Teresa has one big lament. 

Her son, aged 21, got into trouble in December last year. The parents of his girlfriend, 14 years old and therefore still a minor, sued him for rape and he was jailed. He insisted that the act was consensual, but the law is clear that any intimate act with a minor is considered rape, a heinous crime penalized by imprisonment of six to 12 years.  
Teresa’s public attorney suggested out-of-court settlement with the complainants. This forced Teresa to make a loan of P50,000 (the amount specified by the accusers) from various sources and immediately handed the cash to the girl’s parents. 

The next step would have been a hearing so her son could be set free. But the lockdown happened, and court proceedings stopped. When the quarantine eased, the hearing was finally scheduled. But the lawyer was infected with the virus and had to be quarantined. 

After that, another hearing was calendared. This time, the judge got the virus, too, and so the whole courthouse had to be closed for disinfection and sterilization.  

He has been languishing in jail (crowded, hot, dark, and unclean) for seven months now. Teresa sends him money to buy food other than what prisoners are served (sometimes “half cooked rice” and “just tuyo”), but he said the money is confiscated by uniformed men. Sometimes Teresa sends him food through emissaries, but these are seized by prison bullies.     
We are trying our best to help ease Teresa's lament by making her feel at home. Away from the problems of her family, she has our home for a refuge where she can relax, watch You Tube, get in touch with her son via mobile phone. We upped her pay so she could have enough savings to tide her over after the lockdown; and most importantly, we pray that God may grant her His grace of comfort and peace of mind. 

There are many lamenting Teresas in the country today, while we all grapple with the onslaught of the virus. May we cover them with our prayers and help them, where we can.    

photo credits: grabbed from various e-newspapers and thesun.co.uk

7/26/2020

Sorry I'm Late


This apology, “Sorry I’m late,” seems to be a tic among chronic late comers. After that, everything seems forgiven, especially if one of these explains it:  
“Filipino time” is how we call people’s penchant for arriving late at events. It is supposed to be derogatory, but has become an accepted theorem (Who cares? No big deal!) and a part of our culture. Weddings scheduled at 4:00 PM are printed on invitations as 3:00, in anticipation of guests coming in late.  

My grandparents and parents were advocates for promptness. As children, my siblings and I got a dressing down if we were late to any occasion, especially a church service or activity. They would say “Don’t put to shame God’s grace” in all permutations: 

“Being late is telling people that their time is not as important as yours.” 

“It’s disrespectful and rude to keep people waiting.” 

“Making people wait around for you wastes time, money and other resources that could be put to better use elsewhere.”

“It sets a bad example to the young.” 

“It makes people who take the trouble to be prompt feel like suckers.” 

And worst . . .  

“You send out the message to punctual people that ‘I am more important than you.’”  

In schools and workplaces, we have tardiness rules. 

Now, how about the highest office of the land? How many times did our president start the Covid-19 report (Monday nights) with his cabinet and team on time (per announcement)? In all those 18 times, did we ever hear him say, “Sorry I’m late”? 

This is the behavior streaming from the top, saying to everyone, “I am more important than you.” Of course he is. But I hope children will not emulate him, because not all of them will become president one day.  

Two GMRC are being habitually violated: 1) not being ready on time; 2) not apologizing for it. 
What does Scripture say about the need to be always ready? 

“You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.”  Luke 12:40 (NLT) 

7/25/2020

999,999


These numbers are just one digit away from one million—the total number of page hits my site has received since I started blogging in November 2006, over 13 years ago. The last time I celebrated my numbers was when I reached 888,888
It will take some time before I reach another row of the same numbers (1,111,111), so please indulge me; I will post this now for posterity, just for 24 hours.  

It took a few seconds before it changed to one million: 
And these came on my birthday. Another surprising grace. 

So how am I spending my quarantine hours? The same way I had been spending my non-quarantine days: writing, blogging, reading (and solving crossword puzzles). Despite the alarming and often infuriating posts and news online, I try to maintain my sanity. 

At the moment, I am awaiting the edited manuscript of one of my books scheduled for launching in October, and I am finishing another one, which is due in November. 

Join me in my prayer today . . . 

“Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12 NLT) 

Amen. 

7/22/2020

Longlong for Short


His real name is short, but difficult to pronounce or spell, so he tells friends, “Just call me Longlong for short.” 

Longlong was one of the art directors in the advertising agency where we used to be on our toes 24/7 to deliver excellent work to clients. He was one of those who could draw figures on tiny squares (called storyboard) and make them move (simulate movements) and move (evoke emotions) the beholder. 

Those were days of grace when we worked with Matisses, Renoirs, Monets, and Cezannes. They had no computer icons, images, and apps; just sheer, incredible talents. With a flick of a pencil or a brush, Longlong, et al. could tell a compelling story—stories, rather, since they had to do more than three studies per product per day. 

I sought out Longlong for my first storybook, “Fly, Malaya, Fly” (co-authored with my son, JR) that was scheduled for publication. He lent his magical hands gratis et amore and did the illustrations. After that, our paths hardly crossed again. 

But the pandemic served as a most unlikely venue for us to meet big time—on social media. He has been whipping up sketches, daily, of everyone in our old workplace. 

Under the hashtag #RoughPulido (translated as roughly polished), he has turned sketching into a nostalgic trip. Every day, former colleagues try to guess who the featured person is—it’s great, but hard, to remember. There is a gap of at least 20 years since we all saw each other. 

Here is how he remembers me: 
One of us, Hurley, made a collage of all the sketches thus far. Longlong makes us all come together again (the biggest square is that of our big boss, Sev Alcantara).   
 Who'd have thought that a pandemic could transport us back to the past?  

Though we are all physically apart, Longlong’s #RoughPulido summons up memories of: huddling in a brainstorming room, bumping into each other on corridors, debating over deadlines and concepts, and holding each other up in a crisis. 

“. . . encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NLT) 

7/20/2020

50 Is Gold


Last year, when things were normal (pre-Covid quarantine), my family and I had some conversations. I say “some” because when you live with men, conversations are crisp and curt. No issue is ever belabored. I know the exact moment when they tune off in the midst of my prattle.   

Those “some” conversations had to do with my and my husband's 50th anniversary celebration. A golden anniversary is, after all, a milestone by any standard. In ancient days in northern Europe, a husband would gift his wife a beautifully crafted golden wreath, garland, or necklace. 
Why gold? It was the ultimate token of love then because it symbolized the lasting and prized nature of the passage of time. 
My husband knows that my love for jewelry is gone with the wind, and our sons, like us, are not party people. During those “some” conversations, they mentioned about pooling their resources together to gift us with a Caribbean cruise, which is ideal for two people who could no longer stand a plane ride or walk long distances. 

The pandemic changed all that. 

But a 50th wedding anniversary is a rare occasion, considering the high number of separations, divorces, and living-in arrangements today. And so we celebrated with a simple lunch at home with me in my "gown" and Tony in his "tuxedo." 

I look back to that day 50 years ago when we exchanged our vows before God in a small chapel in Quezon City. No frills, no guests, just immediate family. The only aliens were the old pastor who officiated the short ceremony and the photographer (smart phones were still an inspired thought), who took a total of 12 shots. Both begged off from the intimate thanksgiving dinner in a Chinese restaurant. 
From that simple wedding 50 years ago to the golden celebration amidst the quarantine, we give thanks for the immeasurable grace that sustained Tony and me in our life journey as partners, parents, and now, grandparents.   

“. . . what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:9 NKJV) 

7/18/2020

Where have All the Jeepneys Gone?


I can’t remember a day not seeing a jeepney. It has always been a part of the landscape. 

This gaudy, brightly painted, and folksy vehicle is found only in the Philippines. A mestizo, half local and half foreign, the jeepney is reflective of our national character.  

After World War II, the U.S. soldiers left us thousands of non-serviceable jeeps, which helped solve the transportation problem. But not before we gave them a new, unique look—stretched, roofed, and benched into what we all know as jeepney, the “king of the road.”   
This proudly Pinoy creation has symbolized the Filipino’s resilient and optimistic spirit.  

A miniature jeepney is what I proudly give as gifts to foreign guests who gush, “Oh, what an unusual vehicle!” It's a conversation opener about our beloved country. 

Seventy six years later, during the term of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, the jeepney is in danger of becoming extinct. The Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP), launched in 2017, is aimed at making public transportation system efficient and environmentally friendly by 2020. Each jeepney replacement is estimated at P2.1 million (payable in seven years).  

Came 2020, bringing along the Covid-19 lockdown. In one fell swoop, the jeepney was pushed off the road, garaged and rendered useless, leaving over 200,000 drivers jobless. 

We’re now on the 126th day of quarantine in Metro Manila, and very few jeepneys, have been allowed to  ply the roads. 

Where have all the jeepneys gone? And the drivers? 

Still on the road—not driving, but begging. It's one of the options they have with zero income.  


What’s in store for these jeepney drivers at the end of the road? 

That’s just one of the many hard questions I have been asking myself since the onset of the pandemic, which has plunged our country into recession. 

With no answers on the horizon, I run to Scripture for help and hope:  
 
“Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13 NLT) 

Oh, that by God’s merciful grace, I pray I can. 

Photo credits: Rappler. Inquirer, Philippine Star, and and Facebook posts 

7/14/2020

I Can’t Breathe


These words penetrate into and wound my heart. It’s how I feel when things suffocate me, badly needing to come up for air (and it has nothing to do with a face mask). It’s how I feel on this 122nd day of the Covid-19 lockdown. 

“I can’t breathe” has also become an international buzzword of oppression, particularly the “Black Lives Matter” movement after George Floyd uttered it just before he was killed by the police. The same phrase was also said 10 years earlier by Eric Garner, before his life was snuffed out by uniformed men. Many others spoke these words in police custody before they died.  

"I can't breathe" has likewise struck a profound chord in us during this time of pandemic. Our fears choke us. Many feel like we are being strangled and gagged, “Don’t criticize. Just follow!” “Turn a blind eye to selective justice.” “Stay home!” 

“I can’t breathe” goes beyond being deprived of justice and freedom in our land. It's being deprived of one's voice.  
Fear of the virus (and its offshoots such loss of businesses and jobs, resulting in hunger) is bad enough, and yet we seem to be self-flagellating as a nation by prioritizing other less urgent issues that have been taking much of the lawmakers’ time and stoking ordinary citizens’ emotions, on all levels of anger and frustration: 

- the passage of the anti-terrorism bill (certified urgent by the president), emboldening unscrupulous law enforcers to maltreat helpless victims;

- the closing down of the biggest TV network, ABS-CBN (which has offended the president during the presidential campaign four years ago), leaving 11,000 employees and suppliers jobless.  

- the changing of the airport NAIA to some three obscure Filipino words, shortened as PPP.   

These three issues have greatly divided us. Our disunity is flagrantly displayed on social media with the exchange of bitter and fighting words.  Just going through these back-and-forth barbs make me gasp for grace.  
Dear Lord, “. . . let your unfailing love comfort me, just as you promised me, your servant. (Psalm 119:76 NLT) 
 

7/10/2020

First Love


Whoever wrote the line “first love never dies” will never be known, but the words will be be quoted till the end of time. People—psychologists, poets, and romantics—swear by it. In my case, I can vouch for its truth. I married him.  

But this post is not about that first love, it’s about a far greater first love.
I refer to what Scripture means about being first: not the earliest or initial. It’s about being first and foremost in importance, superlative in degree: highest and topmost, as found in Revelation 2:1-8, the text upon which Pastor Cole's live-streamed message was based. 

In sum, the verses are a letter of Jesus to the church in Ephesus, then world-famous as a religious, cultural, and economic center of the region. Our early Christian leaders served there: Paul, Aquilla and Priscilla, Apollos, Timothy, and John.

But Ephesus was also a stronghold of Satan—sorcery and satanic practices were the rage. Jesus had to emphasize His authority and be recognized as central to the church.

He told the church that He knew everything about their works—their labor, patience, godly endurance, outreach, their pursuit of doctrinal purity, and their hatred for evil. He knew they were doing all these right things without becoming weary.   

Outwardly, it was a solid church. Despite all that, Jesus had something against the church: 


“You have left your first love.” 

The problem was serious. A church loses its reason for being when love grows cold.  

What love did they leave? Christians are told to love God and to love one another. 

Their hard work and focus on doctrinal purity had eclipsed their love relationship with Jesus. 

Jesus wanted the church to be restored. 

How? 
  • Remember . . . what it used to be when they first fell in love with Jesus and loved each other; how they used to spend time in His Word; how they used to pray; how excited they were in telling others about Jesus. 
  • Go back . . . repent, know what had gone wrong, and return to the basics.  

“. . . hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (verse 7).  
When Jesus becomes first and foremost in our life, our every act, every  word, every thought, and every church activity will reflect His grace and honor only Him. 

And we will receive the reward of life that never dies.   



7/06/2020

My Quarantine Reply


Friends, family and I frequently keep in touch via private messages. They cite verses and write encouraging words that uplift the soul, making me raise my hands up to the Lord to thank Him for this grace. 

But somewhere in the beginning, middle, or end of their message is a question: "How are you?" 

Now, that is difficult—extremely difficult—to answer, even for someone like me who eats words for breakfast, lunch, and supper (including snack hours while we’re bolted in our homes with 24/7 flexi-time). 

It’s like asking, "Which comes first—the chicken or the egg?" Or, "How many stars are there in the sky?" You simply don’t know where to start.  

How does one reply? 

There is an emoji that says it all.  
It’s the one image that I have kept using again and again when I comment on posts on social media. I think it encompasses all the feelings piled up inside of me. 

And yet, I understand and truly believe that this season is temporary. In Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 and 7 (NLT), we read: 

“For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven. 

“A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.  

“A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.” 

After this season of crying, grieving, tearing, and musing . . . the season for laughing, dancing, mending, and speaking will come, in God's perfect time.  

7/02/2020

On Our Knees


That’s the place (literally and figuratively) where I keep finding myself during the Covid-19 lockdown, now going on its fourth month.  

I go down on my knees for thanksgiving. 

I see grace—our home; our garden with flowers in bloom; our pets; my family with whom I break bread now that we have no separate schedules; a group of faith brethren with whom I study the Word virtually; and live-streamed worship services on Sundays with songs and messages that make me feel God holds the hands of His children. These are more than the basic needs of man: food, clothing, and shelter. How can I complain? 

But when I look at the world outside, at my beloved motherland through my computer screen, my heart bleeds and breaks over some of the scenes. People are dying, starving, suffering from mental exhaustion, begging on the streets, losing (or have lost) their jobs and businesses, and surviving on so little or none at all.  

At the same time I cringe at the habitual cursing, callousness, cruelty, coercion, contradictions, conspiracies, plus more—ad nauseum—exhibited by a number of people in charge. 

I could not put my grief into words until I came upon my friend Lorenz’s* drawing. His jagged lines—he titled this The Humbling—express all that words could not.
I go down on my knees, totally humbled, crying for help. And so do many of us who want to break free  from this jagged life.   

In times like these, I cling on to His words of comfort to those who put their trust in Him (Psalm 17-22 NLT):  

The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help.
He rescues them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

The righteous person faces many troubles,
but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.
For the Lord protects the bones of the righteous;
not one of them is broken!

Calamity will surely destroy the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be punished.
But the Lord will redeem those who serve him.
No one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

*Some of his works may be viewed at ArtThrobs on Facebook.