1/31/2021

Final Act, Scene IV

 

My latest chronological Bible (CSB’s Day-by-Day), the Christmas 2020 gift from son #1, is now my favorite among all my chronological Bibles. 

Scripture is divided into Acts and Scenes, like a powerful stage play with a beginning and an ending.  

It takes a lifetime or two to completely inter-relate and internalize all the details in the Bible, so this version makes it easier—and more exciting—for me. 

The theater is close to my heart. It was a large part of my life in the US, while studying (and being involved in professional stage plays at Goodman theater) at the Art Institute of Chicago for a degree in performing arts. 

The three Acts in CSB’s Day-by-Day: 

Act 1- God’s plan for all people

Act 2: God’s covenant People 

Act 3: God’s New Covenant People (New Testament) 

George Guthrie wrote in the Introduction, “What many people don’t realize is that the Bible’s sixty-six books weave together an amazing, cohesive  story, a Grand Story that God has written on the world, and, believe it or not, you and I are a part of that story.” 

As is my habit (so shoot me!) in reading any book, I pore over the beginning then skim through the ending. 

Whoa! We are now in Scene IV, just before the final Scene when our Savior comes again! This made me rejoice—determined to devour this Book in 2021.   

* * *

Backstory: On one Christmas day over 10 years ago, son #1 gifted me with my first chronological Bible. He must have noticed how much I loved it, he gave me another translation the next year . . . and the next . . . It has become a beautiful tradition, which I look forward to. 

He usually writes a note on the first page. This one’s on my CSB’s Day-by-Day.  

 

Yes, as Scene IV plays out, “Let us be found laboring.” 


1/27/2021

Luck Is a Four-letter Word


My header, while this post is current, features the four-leaf clover, which my playmates and I would look for in our schoolyard at the beginning of each year. 

It was not an easy search, which made the activity more fun. We were told that if you found one, you would have good luck all through the year.   

That I believed, until my grandmother heard us giggling about our find.  

"There is no such thing as luck!" she stressed in Ilocano. 

I do not remember her exact words, but to me this was clear, “All good things come from God.” She cited a verse, which I finally found and understood when I was older,  remembering her words. 

“. . . from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace." (John 1:16) 

In truth, only God determines how this life is played out; there is no luck. And yet, many people cling on to luck via inanimate objects. Perhaps you are familiar with these images (right).   

As my faith grew, I chose to be a mouthpiece of my grandma to children as young as I was then. Believer in Christ ought not to believe in lady luck, promote lucky ideas, have lucky rabbits feet, look for four-leaf clovers, buy round fruits on New Year, have a horseshoe hanging around his neck, re-arrange his furniture to avert bad luck—none of those.  

According to Paul, living by faith is the way to go after meeting the risen Christ on the Damascus Road. Instead of relying on rites and laws to gain God’s approval, he turned around and depended on faith. 

Luck relates to chance, and the Bible teaches us that things do not happen by chance. I believe that everything entering my life comes from God directly or is filtered through His permissive will. 

It does not matter if I understand why or how. Because that is precisely what faith is, “. . . the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).” 

During this faith-stretching pandemic, a trial He allowed, good has been erupting. And luck has nothing to do with it. 

By faith I understand that the universe was formed at God's command; our troubles are not bad luck. Let me echo what someone wrote in one of my readings, “I don’t believe in good luck. I believe in a good God.” 

This period of quarantine has given me more time to write about this goodness.  Looking back to the years since my grandmother woke me up to the truth, I tear up, because I see God’s miracles, not streaks of good luck.  

Let me take the header down here, for the record. 

1/23/2021

Book Review: Hope Bearer

 

With so much free time while in quarantine, I savored Hope Bearer (Lessons of Hope and Courage in times of Crisis and Change) in two straight days. I was drawn to it like a moth to light. 

Church Strengthening Ministry, Inc. (CSMI), publisher, designed the book for adults who are (children’s Sunday School teachers) and can be (parents or any adult in a household with kids ages 4-12) involved in children’s ministry. 

I am both, although not to kids in this age range anymore. But the book illumined my mind, and taught me how to answer the questions children are asking either silently or aloud today: “Why is everything so different?” “Why am I afraid and sad?” “Why can’t I go out?” “When will everything go back to how it was?” 

CSMI’s Hope Bearer, divided into 10 units with a total of 30 lessons, provides answers that can be delivered to young readers in easy steps. It is a rich resource and a sharp tool for teaching-and-bonding moments.   

It was in Sunday school where I met Jesus, Who sacrificed His life to save me. There, the light was turned on for me to seek His radiance through prayers wherever I was. That’s why I believe Sunday school is vital in every kid’s life.   

In the middle of March last year, however, an unseen but dangerous virus took Sunday school away. The world turned pitch-black. Suddenly, kids are isolated in their homes, away from their teachers, friends, school, and church. 

Adults have coping mechanisms borne out of experience, but do kids? 

Hope bearer was created to bring back the ray of light that glows for kids caught between shadows of uncertainty and insecurity. 

The lessons come with questions, exercises, and activities that lead kids where to look and what to discover, eventually storing these things in their heart. The book enables us to behold our great God, and with Him, no space is unlit.  

What charms me most about Hope Bearer is its usage flexibility: online, home-based, face-to-face or a blending of all. 

The book’s easy-to-follow curriculum includes: doable crafts, singable tunes, practical applications, relevant online links, and uplifting principles of Scripture, which point to the Source of hope and Hope Himself: our loving God. 

I pray for Hope Bearer to reach every household and church during this global crisis. It equips us (parents, siblings, grandparents, and teachers) to continue conducting children’s Sunday school—to keep the ray of light shining upon and wrapping kids in a world gone dim. 


1/19/2021

Holding On—Together


Since the year 1988, when If We Hold on Together* was first performed by Diana Ross for a movie, our subclan has been repeatedly singing the tune as our group presentation for our yearly big clan reunion.   

Somehow, we never got it right—not the lyrics, anyway. Each one always had the words on a piece of paper (or phone) surreptitiously glanced at during the performance. 

By fair means or foul, it became our signature song on every occasion we were together.  We even sang it at my son #2’s wedding, never mind the miscues and unreached notes.  

In a couple of reunions, we had the audacity to play the melody on angklung.  

For three decades, despite the imperfections, we have been rewarded with a lusty applause after the last note, like getting an “A” for effort. Or perhaps the poignant lyrics deliver the message of togetherness, a rarity among families in our world today.  

“If we hold on together        
I know our dreams will never die
Dreams see us through to forever
Where clouds roll by
For you and I”

Then came our 76th clan reunion amidst the coronavirus pandemic, on 1 January (Philippines) and December 31 (other parts of the globe). Virtual it had to be, but the Execom still required each subclan to have a group presentation. 

Guess what we did.   

From four different countries and 11 households, our subclan recorded the same song we’ve performed for three decades to a soundtrack sent by our young techies.  

Ah, the miracle of technology. With clever editing, the video got more than a lusty applause from the chat box. 

For the first time, I shed tears while paying close attention to the lyrics.  

Not because of the grammatical lapse (which I noticed for the first time, too, but will be discussed in a separate post), but because . . .  

At no time has holding on together been more meaningful for me than now that we are all physically apart. Togetherness has nothing to do with time and distance. And this special feeling, spoken by tears, is grace received that can only be expressed in silence. 

*Written by James Horner and Will Jennings as theme song for the film The Land Before Time 

Photo credit: top (Pinterests.ph)

1/15/2021

A Year of Minimalism


In our home, the year 2020 was a year of minimalism—not in terms of worry and fear—but in terms of trappings of the consumer culture that has engulfed the world. 

I had been sparing. Instead of splurging on things that I thought gave my family joy, I distanced myself from them with careful restraint. Minimalism was the rhythm of my year.

Our Christmas trimmings were unearthed from an old box in our storeroom by Mother Teresa as I was not inclined to do anything I had done in past years: themed d├ęcor all over our house, indoor and outdoor (c/o Tony).   

Minimalism in this sense freed me from the stress that society imposes upon the season—shopping, gift wrapping, decorating, not to mention battling the dreadful holiday traffic to get to where you should be. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with all of the above. What’s wrong is that I gave too much meaning to them, neglecting what’s essentially important with the time I have left on earth: and that is to focus on the birth of Hope.   

These verses from my MSG Bible explained it for me:  

“. . . time is of the essence. There is no time to waste, so don’t complicate your lives unnecessarily. Keep it simple—in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things—your daily routines of shopping, and so on. Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This world as you see it is on its way out.” (1 Corinthians 7:30-31) 

This was fleshed out during the yearly party that I never miss to attend —the Christian Writer’s Fellowship Christmas get-together. This year, I didn’t have to dress up, suffer traffic woes, nor worry whether I’d be there on time to hear the message (A Thrill of Hope by Josil Gonzales, founding chairman) and fellowship with kindred spirits who serve the Lord through words. 

It was attended by friends from around the world!                     

A tradition that had to be modified because of safety protocols was the exchange of books. Each was encouraged to write on FB about the book he was ready to share with someone. The grace of this arrangement is, not just one, but all, will receive the book! 

A year of minimalism 2020 was, but more meaningful than what the world normally allows. 


1/11/2021

Let the Chaos Begin

 

Those words, said in jest by Teo, anchorman of our 76th Clan reunion on ZOOM on 1 January 2021 have never felt more right and more beautiful!  

He meant we could unmute, open mic, and talk (or shout in excitement) to whomever we chose on screen. 

"Chaos” translates to kunol-kunol (Ilocano term for bonding or idle chat), the part of our annual reunion that I love best, since I no longer have the proper joints and bones to participate in sports and games.  
  
One page out of eight

A grace event, nothing less, is what I call this 76th reunion, considering the dark hole we had been sucked into for most of 2020. I thought we’d stop at 75 (our golden jubilee) as soon as the crisis erupted last year. 

I was wrong.

The Execom, composed of younger members, and therefore tech savvy, of each sub-clan made it happen—complete with all the elements that had made all 75 reunions a riot and something to look forward to year after year. 

It opened with a thanksgiving and memorial service that looked back to all our blessings, including the love shared with those who have gone home to Jesus.    

 

A pastor in our clan delivered a powerful message about the God who binds us together, and the virtual choir sang our favorite hymns. We listened to a soundtrack of our voices singing the Lutkin Benediction in one past reunion.

Offertory for Project Nehemiah of the Umingan church

Virtual choir

The chat box got busy: 

“Goosebumps!”

“Awesome!” 

“Thank you, Lord!” 

This 76th is different not only because it was virtual, but many members from all parts of the world—including those who have not come home in ages—attended without spending time for preps and travel. It shattered all attendance records.  

All sub-clan presentations were recorded. The eloquent live liturgist and emcees worked hard at continuity, still, the three-hour event came with pixels, lagging, dead air, and all technical glitches you can think of. 

I'd say those were inconsequential. When you’re with the people the Lord gave you to grow up with, and who influenced your total being, everything but the hugging is perfect. 

In fact, those digital flaws were moments when Teo announced, “Continue with the chaos.”

We held hands in our heart for our family circle; sang Blest be the tie that binds; did a countdown, 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 (based on a clock in some part of the globe), and shouted Happy New Year!” 

Again came the chaos.   


1/07/2021

And the Turkey Trots Back

 

After ending our tradition of a home-cooked turkey for Christmas dinner four years ago, we thought it was gone for good. 

The turkey we ordered from a restaurant on 25 December 2016 was a big disappointment, so we decided on a staycation the following year, and partook of the hotel’s turkey on Christmas eve, three years in a row. Then what do you know? 

The pandemic resurrected the turkey tradition; the bird came trotting back! 

We couldn’t risk going to a hotel, and since we have Mother Teresa (all of nine months now since the quarantine began), JR decided he could do it again with her help. 

I didn’t think I’d blog about a home-cooked turkey ever again, but, well . . .  

Early in the evening, we attended our church’s virtual service; we polished off the bird; chatted with son #2 in the US; enjoyed some gift giving (only son #1 had gifts for everyone); then off to dreamland, but not before giving thanks for the Savior Who  became flesh on that first Christmas, changing this wretched world forever. 

It was another merry and grace-filled Christmas. 

"I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High." (Palm 9:1-2 NIV)  

1/04/2021

Anti-vaxxers: Fomenting Fear

 

As soon as the coronavirus started battering humanity, a number of doctors in the country got infected and died. That pained (okay, distressed and alarmed) me, because son #2 is a doctor in the US. I prayed that a vaccine would be available soon to protect him from this invisible but lethal enemy.  

In America, the number of deaths hit the roof! It shattered all global records.  

However, testing of vaccines for safety and effectiveness by pharmaceutical companies in various countries showed promise. But skeptics—scoffing at the danger of the virus and violating safety precautions—have been rude and rowdy, mocking the idea of a vaccine. 

Refusing vaccines began back in the 1800s when the smallpox vaccine was used in large numbers. Since then, vaccines have met a wave of opposition because (as I have culled from health magazines): they are linked to neurological disorders, allergic reactions, autism, and mistrust of science and pharmaceutical companies.  

Many scientists and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) assured us that these fears are medically unfounded. 

Despite that pronouncement, anti-vaxxers continue to rise on social media. Campaigners are working full-time to foment fear in vaccines, directing the doubters to online stores which sell products purporting to have health benefits. These undermine the roll-out of any future vaccine against COVID-19. 

On the verge of panic, my mommy heart danced when I read on my son’s FB page that he had been injected with a vaccine, with a photo to boot! 


Still, I worried because he has been allergy-prone since birth. I shouldn’t have; God’s grace intervened. He posted this message a few hours later:   

“Tonight as I go to sleep, I feel a dull ache in my arm where I received my COVID vaccine. 

“I also feel something I honestly haven't felt in quite a while: Hope.”

Double grace:  

“24-hour update. Soreness in the arm continues, but really no worse than what I'd get a few days after a vigorous workout. I'm tired, but I was even before the shot. No fever or new body aches.

“I think I am developing x-ray vision.” 

Triple grace:   

“48+ hour update. Arm feels a lot better, no other symptoms to speak of. I feel able to leap tall buildings with a single bound.”

Quadruple grace: 

“72+ hour update: arm soreness barely noticeable, everything else working as expected.

“I accidentally nicked myself with a scalpel blade this morning. Or at least I think I did. The blade broke off and my skin was unbroken. Curious.” 

Grace galore: 

“96-hour update: arm is back to normal” 

Pro-vaccine groups (which include my family) need to throw light on those who malign the vaccine.  

At the risk of courting the ire of my son, I am blogging about his vax experience, his sense of humor versus my sense of horror, in the hope that anti-vaxxers would see this light. 

* * *

How did the second shot go?  See for yourself:  


1/01/2021

What’s Up, 2021?


The year just ended was tough, and that’s putting it mildly. From January, when the Taal Volcano erupted, we started staying indoors and wearing face masks to protect us from the ash fall.

Then, less than two months later, the ides of March forced us to stay home and to wear our mask whenever we strayed out for errands. The Covid-19 pandemic changed our daily routine, if not our lives. 

For one whole year, we suffered the sting and consequences of a virus gone wild and unchecked, plus killer earthquakes (including two on Christmas day) and typhoons that caused massive flooding. Businesses have closed, resulting in widespread unemployment. Thousands are still stranded in many places in and out of the country. 

We went online—teaching, learning, worshiping, bonding, fellow-shipping, etc. Face-to-face interaction has gone extinct. 

There are news about a vaccine this new year (captured in art by my friend Ggie) that might end the pandemic, but with indecisive government officials, that isn’t forthcoming—not in the next few months—not even till the end of the year, according to many doomsayers who are furiously shaking their heads.                                  

         

As I look back through the past 12 months, I find my thoughts and feelings inscribed in over 100 blogs. The activities that kept me busy, aside from writing and reading, continued on the digital road. 

One of my books, all ready for printing, could not be published because the price of imported paper and ink have spiked. 

At least one, Memories of Grace came through simply because OMF Lit, my publisher, decided on a more manageable POD (publish on demand) printing, in-house. Just one hundred copies for the online Manila International Book Fair. 

What happens to book publishing? What happens to teaching? What happens to . . . oh, so many other things. 

There are no specific answers, no specific timelines. Just prayers for a less turbulent 2021. 

We who believe in the redeeming grace of Christ, turn to His Word again and again, confident that He is taking care of us as we see more and more signs of His second coming: 

“Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14 (NLT)