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.        


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. 



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.   


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.  


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?? 


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


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)


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) 


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