Friday, October 29, 2010

Death Sentence: Living Thoughts on Deadly Matters

Death. A word that resonates a dark, & hollow state of misery. A point of no return. A twilight zone. A taboo. A cold and damp body. It sounds all too scary for me, that when my friend Joy recently experienced an all too sudden death, I realized it can happen to anybody, including you and me. No exceptions. Then I realized something. No, it was not "seize the day" or "live your life to the fullest" or "sing like you'll never sing again." It was actually a feeling of fear. I felt my hands go clammy and cold thinking that I could just die right in my own house. Or if my dad's cough worsened, he would probably be sent to the hospital and I might not be able to see him again. Or if the gas in the kitchen suddenly were to spark and burn the house, my mom might not get out alive. Or if I were to receive a phonecall from a stranger who would tell me that a person I know just died in a car accident. Geez, possibilities were endless. So I thought I better not move to keep me safe. That night, you would have seen me still as a rock. My body was stiff and unmoving including the tips of my fingers.

God spoke to me through His Word the days following Joy's death. He has his own way of comforting me. Well, apart from giving me brothers and sisters in Christ who showered me with blessings and encouragements.

Day 1: "Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life." ~ Revelation 2:10

Although this was part of a letter sent to the angel in the church of Smyrna, I felt it was God's letter to us as well. These words reminded me that Satan is indeed roaming around the world to test God's chosen people. Just like what he did to Job, Satan can persecute God's people and put them "to the point of death." I read the "Don't be afraid" three times (or more, I forgot), I realized that God knows what Satan's doing. That God knows all about the sufferings his people are going through. And in fact, some have already died. He knows the outcome. He is the one who created life and prepared the "crown of life" anyway. So we really don't have to be afraid.

Day 2: "I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one to them came to be." ~ Psalm 139:13-16

When I read that we are "fearfully and wonderfully" made, I imagined a master craftsman who is really careful in doing his artwork. He wants it to be beautiful, to be perfect. He holds it like it is a very precious thing with his whole body turned to it. He molds it, sews it, weaves it and sculpts it with much love and passion. He doesn't rest until it is wonderful enough. And this is how God made you and me.

We are God's inventions. And as an invention, we cannot simply say "Today or tomorrow we will go to this city or that city, spend a year there; carry on business and make money." No one, not even us, would know better about our plans and our purpose more than the inventor Himself. He is the one who ordained our days and planned for each day before we've even set foot on earth.

Since He knows what ought to happen on each day, even if death is lurking around the corner, we will be spared and protected. I remember one morning after the usual rush hour, my dad was on his way home from dropping me to the office. He heard gunfire from outside. He felt a strong gust of wind brush through his nape. He looked back and saw a cop from a bank pointing a gun towards a robber at the opposite side of the road. Good thing he passed by them safe and sound. When he got home, he saw a bullet hole on the windows behind the driver's seat and beside the passenger's seat. If he were a second too early, the bullet could've hit him in the head.

Day 3: "The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed." Psalm 143:3-4

The enemy is not limited to people who threaten your safety in the dark night. He may also come from the spiritual realms. He is out there to torment God's people with wrong thoughts and depressing emotions. He kills, he lies, he cheats and steals. He distracts us from looking at Jesus, the hope and light of the world, to the fleeting riches and the temporary sufferings he has to offer. He enjoys looking at the fear in our eyes as we think of death, the agitation in our voice as we talk about death, and the great burden in our heart as we try to avoid death. Not knowing that we are already becoming "like those long dead." And you know what King David suggests we do? "I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done." Simply remembering. Remember how God has led you in the past. Remember that God has overcome death when He rose again after the third day. Remember that God is greater than Satan. Remember that God can do immeasurably more than what you can ask and imagine. Remember that God is in control. And remember that God loves you.

May He also freshen your day with joy and strength as you read His Word every morning.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. ~ Psalm 143:8

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Silent She

She wakes up while the sun has barely risen, roosters still quite silent and the wind misty. She goes to the market to buy freshly baked pandesals and some fresh meat, vegetables and fruits. She carries the heavy load home. Once she gets back to the kitchen, she carefully fries a sunny side up egg, one that is still wet, just as you prefer. She accidentally pokes the yolk and the yellow filling starts to spill out. She wants to throw it away and make you another one, but that would be a waste. She thinks maybe you won't mind. She makes a sangag with the rice from last night and a couple of chopped garlic cloves. Afterwards, she places your pandesal in the oven toaster, turns the knob to "3" and hurriedly pours the sangag on your plate before the bottom gets burnt. She then washes the chopping board used for the garlic, a knife, a pot and a pan. She smiles contently as everything is back to its original state, sparkling white. You are still sleeping when she goes to the front yard to water the plants. She takes off the weeds and dried leaves and shoos the nasty mosquitoes and flies away.

Riiiiiinnngggg..... Your alarm buzzes. You press the snooze button and sleep until it alarms ten minutes after. You get up, wash your face and dry yourself with a towel. You go down to the kitchen only to face the same old breakfast. "Nene!!" You shout to call her who is already in your room fixing the bed, "Why do you cook the same thing everyday? Don't you even know how to experiment new things? And why is this egg basag? O come on!"

You are pissed. You decide to feed them to the dog and just buy something on the way later. You see her sullen face which gets you all the more annoyed. You think you pay for her anyway so she deserves to be taught a lesson. She has to fulfill her job you know.

She goes back to her room, thinks about the children that she has left behind in the province. They would've enjoyed the egg. Probably they're currently eating tuyo and rice again. The same thing for the past years. Tears swell up in her eyes as she remembers the three little children she dresses up for school and the young baby girl who sleeps on the duyan tied to the ceiling beside her bed. She longs to hear her first utterance of "Mama" but it now seems impossible as mama is oceans away. She wonders if Junior is studying well in school and if Marissa is eating her vitamins. She has respiratory problem. She hopes Nina is still in the honor roll. She is just as smart and kulit as her papa. How is papa? Hopefully the santol and mango trees are still up and bearing fruits despite the visits of Ondoy, Juan, Pepeng, Raming and others.

"Nene!!" You call her again curious where she could be. It's early in the morning and it ticks you that she might already be resting. She wipes her tears away and meets you at the front door. "Lock the gates," you tell her. You're off to meet the barkada in the mall and chill. She goes back to the house, washes the dishes, mops the floor, and wipes the counter. And after she's done with the kitchen, she starts with the laundry. She has to do all the white and colored clothes today before five pm so she can prepare a yummy dinner for you. Hopefully, you will appreciate it.

Note: This is a piece written as a tribute to all the maids. It does not in any way depict a real-life story.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bottled Dreams

A man takes a jar from the
cabinet and sees it a few
days near its expiration
date. He peels the perforated
seal off the jar and unscrews the cap.
It doesn’t budge. He takes a towel,
covers the surface of the cap. Twists.
He shakes the jar gently, yet firmly. Twists.
It doesn’t budge.

He takes a few steps to
the kitchen counter. Grabs a
sharp knife. He pushes the knife in the
narrow space between the glass and the
tin lid. He stabs it around the lid. He lets go
of the knife, holds the jar with both of his hands.
Turns the cap.
Still does not budge.

He throws the whole jar in the
black garbage bag.

He ties the black garbage bag,
sealing it forever.

Note: A poem I wrote for our Advanced Creative Writing class held at the Filipinas Heritage Library.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Tribute to Joy (1989-2010)

Feet are out of space.

She was a teen when I first met her. She had simple dreams. She wanted to ride a boat and sail to Manila where her neighbors said has “greener pastures”. She planned to work in Manila, go back home to take a two year college degree - a simple secretary course would be okay, and then get an office job. She was interested in a call center job. I told her, “You better start reading these English books." I handed her some pocket books, "and let's talk in English from now on.” She laughed. Then she thought maybe a secretary work would be fine.

But I would hear her read news articles from Philippine Star aloud. She’d ask, “What’s the meaning of ‘doubt’? How about ‘dilemma’?” And when she played with our dog named Jazzy, she’d say, “Bad dog,” “Good dog,” “Out, out,” and “Here’s your food, Jazzy. You eat na.” Short lines that I found adorable.

Once she planned to go back home and finish her studies, but decided to stay. Probably she wanted to help her family financially. Or she preferred to live independently. Or she hoped to fulfill her dreams in Manila.

Heart is out of beat.

She was my baking and cooking buddy. Sometimes I'd tell her, "Okay, it's my turn to cook." But when the splattering hot oil got too intimidating, she'd come to assist me with a smile. Joy was also like a walking organizer. She endured the mess I had created alongside anything I baked. There were the scattered mixing bowls, confectioner’s sugar and baking powder on the kitchen counter, dough droppings, table napkins every where. She’d clean them in a cinch. She even took the liberty of organizing all my baking and cooking materials and labeled the containers with her beautiful handwriting. Sometimes she'd mix the dough with me and tell me about her boyfriend. But before she'd start, she’d ask something like, “Ate, when you have a boyfriend, do you guys fight often?” Then she’d share about her 'handsome' boyfriend. She even had his picture in her cellphone. “Yes, guapo nga!” I would chuckle with her.

Like any giddy teenage girls, she had her share of crushes. She liked Enchong Dee and Jake Cuenca. She had posters of F4 and A1 on her bedroom wall, a couple of which she just posted two weeks ago.

For years that she had been with us, never did I see a droplet of tear trickle down her face. She was strong. She was brave. She wanted to fix things her way. Until she started to feel sick. Her head was aching severely. It was so severe that I have no words to concretely describe it. It was worse than the most painful fever -- when you feel nauseated, dizzy and all.

I found her wearing a bathrobe with its hood covering her head when we went to the hospital. Her eyes were puffy from crying. Her words were shaking as she told me how she felt. She moaned in between breaths. I tried to be still and to limit my questions to save her from exerting effort. That was Monday.

The doctor said she had UTI but she had to be tested for Dengue. Results were to be released on Thursday. She went back to the hospital on Thursday and was confined. It was confirmed that she had Dengue. Good thing, we were able to detect it early I thought. I still got to text with her on Friday and Saturday. She said she was fine, feeling a bit better. She was the type of person who’d reply to texts. Even with something as short as “K” (for okay) she’d send it back. But when I reminded her to eat and drink, she wasn’t able to reply with her usual “k, te joyce”. Little did I know that circumstances had changed drastically.

I called a doctor from UERM yesterday to ask for Joy's platelet count and to check if a certain tawatawa leaves would do her any good. This curly haired, wide spaced face doctor (as described by Ate Kalet, our neighbor) answered me with several exclamation points, "Who are you?! Joy doesn't need a friend, she needs a family! She is in a critical condition right now! What tawatawa leaves are you talking about?! There are tubes already sticking inside her body!" Gee, I can't believe that some doctors can be so insensitive. Instead of "patiently" relaying a patient's condition and understanding the immediate response of the grieving party, she was like provoking a fight. When my dad was in the hospital and was shocked with Joy's condition, the same doctor responded "Why? You think that we are not trained doctors here!? I graduated here in UERM. You want to know all my degrees?"

Good thing, I was able to meet a more pleasant doctor awhile ago. She explained that Joy's sickness was a "rare complicated case of Dengue." She was one of the very few patients who died because of Dengue in that hospital. Her menstruation and dysmenorrhea complicated things. Her other kasama enlightened us that she had been drinking pain killer ever since to help her deal with the pain and control the flow. Last month when she had her period, she wasn't able to take medicine and blood was overflowing. And so was this month. The doctor told us that she had used almost 20 napkin pads yesterday that drained her platelet count. This just goes to show that God’s blueprint of life is definitely difficult to control and predict. He may take people who are young or old, kind or cruel on His own designated time. No day can be added nor subtracted.

I just hope I could’ve helped her more while she was still her. I could've understood how painful her headache was. I could’ve empathized with her more. I could’ve given her something to ease her pain. But I was helpless.

Sigh. I still can't believe that she won't be coming home anymore. No more dreams, no more wedding bells for this sweet girl, now that her heart has stopped beating.

Mind is out of town.

I am supposed to do a concept paper for my management research class which is due three days from now. I have to summarize twenty scholarly articles. But my mind is out of town. It’s away from the here and now. It is a bit groggy as it goes on thinking, questioning, making sense of what has happened.

As I nestled deep in my thoughts, I veered away from where I was literally going. I was thinking that she was just so young. She would just be turning 21 in a few days’ time. She had her whole life ahead of her. And yet she’s gone. Someone once told me that if there is pain, there is a lesson to be gained. But why is “she” the object of the lesson? Why does it have to cost a life? I was walking slowly, one pace at a time, then I hit my foot accidentally on our sliding glass door and blood gushed out from a toe. Bare with me, body, your mind is just out of town.

Joy was loved by all. She was giving and forgiving. I remember one time when we had a new kasama at home who secretly took money from her wallet, she told the person "If you need money, you can just tell me. I can give it to you. You did not have to steal from me. " She had also given some of her old clothes and slippers to friends who were not as blessed. She was happy and content with simple things. Our neighbor told me awhile ago, Joy may be a bit silent but her laughter could reach the guestroom of their house. I could see that her eyes were puffy and red. I guess all who knew her are extremely saddened with the loss.

The consolation is that maybe she'll have the grandest celebration of her life on her 21st birthday. And probably she’s having a feast with Jesus Christ at this very moment. Or maybe, she is already resting happily in the room Jesus has prepared for her in our Father's house.

Hmm.. thinking about it, she may have already reached the prize.

'Til I see you again, Joy.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A New Song Today - Make Me a Dwelling Place

Make me a dwelling place
for your spirit to rest
Scrape all my pride
my iniquities inside
Wrap me in love
so faithful and true
Then adorn me with
the fruits of Your Spirit

I can't do this alone
to welcome You home
For I have nothing in me
That is worthy of Thee

Make me a dwelling place
for your spirit to bless
Set up the lamp
in my darkened space
Can You paint me white
so I may shine the light
Make me be evermore
desirable for Thee

I can't do this alone
to welcome You home
For I have nothing in me
That is worthy of Thee

Note: Inspired by today's devotion ~ Psalm 132

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A New Song Today - Precious Child (Tentative title)

Precious Child
(Tentative Title)

Lead me to the cross
Where your love has changed me
When you wrote the story of salvation
And signed it with your blood

I lift my eyes to the hills
To see the maker of heaven and earth
Wounded, nailed,
Because of me,
Because of me

Who am I that you are mindful of me
When winds blow and waves soar
You still search in the deepest sea
You pick me up from the depths
Cleanse me from the dirt
And call me a precious child of Yours

Sometimes my thoughts fly adrift
And my heart swings low
Yet your love and faithfulness
Stand the same no matter where I go

You welcome with an embrace
Like a Father who has found
what once was lost
I’m amazed,
I’m amazed

Who am I that you are mindful of me
When winds blow and waves soar
You still search in the deepest sea
You pick me up from the depths
Cleanse me from the dirt
And call me a precious child of Yours

My heart longs to go forth
And sing a new song
As I hold the banner high
And proclaim Jesus’ love
To the ends of the earth

Who am I that you are mindful of me
When winds blow and waves soar
You still search in the deepest sea
You pick me up from the depths
Cleanse me from the dirt
And call me a precious child of Yours

Who am I, who am I
Yes, I am Your precious child

Ever since a friend of mine gave me the CD of Sarah O, a Singaporean churchmate of hers, who has transformed several verses into a song, I couldn't help but tell my friends to go write and put a tune to it. Coupled with the fact that the line "Sing a new song" is repeated several times in Psalms.

I praise God that His presence overwhelmed me this morning. I felt His embrace. His love. And as I reflected on His steadfast love, here are words He blessed me with. (feel free to make a tune out of it).

A Pen and A Paper

All I have with me is a pen
and a paper. My best
friends. They are the only
ones who have caught every
drop of my tear and kept
every word I've said. Patient,
giving, longing nothing
in return. The pen may
not be a shoulder big enough to
cry on. But it fits in my
hand perfectly and follows its
every sway. It leaves a mark,
a dot, a letter, a sigh (haayy..
like so) depending on the
orchestration of my fingers.
It writes..

A lost passion
A broken friendship
A longing to hide in
a quiet corner
holding onto nothing but
a pen and a paper, my best
friends. They are the only
pair who withdraws judgment
and is comfortable with silence.
The paper sits and waits for
me to speak, to shed
a tear, to write a sentence,
and to finish a poem. And continues
to write..

A life given
A dream forgotten
An ounce of joy
All I have with me is a pen
and a paper. My best

I think I should paint a clearer picture of who this sinful princess really is. It's not always that I'm upbeat and happy. Sometimes I feel like I've been thrown in the dumps where I couldn't climb out and escape. Last night for example, I was feeling so low and this was what my hands were moved to write.

I would like to add... But sadly these pen and paper don't talk. They are cold and lifeless. They cannot ever replace the bestfriends that I am greatly blessed with.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Hidden Treasure in Barangay 105 Tondo

It was a weekend unlike any other. A couple of my friends and I rode in a car with our doors locked, seat-belts fastened, eyes on a lookout, as we followed the green pick-up car in front of us. It led us to a narrow grimy pathway with cramped houses awkwardly standing on both sides of the road. Between our car and the houses was a little space where children run and play in. They shared it with mothers doing their laundry, toddlers bathing and passersby simply walking. As I was pondering on where we were bound to land (or to park), I saw some of the kids started knocking at the window of the other car. The window was slowly rolled down and a man in plain green shirt leaned his head out the window and gave the kids a series of high-fives like a big brother who just got back home from work to meet a bunch of playful and excited siblings.

Then, I saw him open the door and step out of the car. He was parked right beside a landfill, a dumpsite with waste that could reach at least two floors of a building. This is it. This is where you got yourself into, get out, I pepped myself up. And as soon as I opened my door, a strong indefinable stench hit me. Imagine a mix of rotten bananas, spilled soda, raw meat and vegetables, and styrofoam with dinner remains. I tried to cover the wrinkle on my nose with a smile as I said “hi” to the man in green.

He is Marcel Plado, the head of the livelihood training department of Philippine Christian Foundation, the person I emailed a couple of weeks ago. Philippine Christian Foundation is an organization initiated to “permanently improve the quality of life for the poorest Filipino communities, through education, nutrition, health, medical and family enhancement programs, regardless of religion, race or political boundaries.”

“This is where Philippine Christian Foundation in Tondo is located” He proudly introduced the place to us. It is at the heart of the urban poor community, the land of the poorest of the poor, the avoided dot in the city where wastes are thrown in and forgotten. Right beside the mounted garbage was a small cemented hole that led to a school. The smell was still in the air when we walked pass their library and some classrooms. In each of the classroom, there were about 15 to 20 students (a good teacher-student ratio I suppose) seated in three’s on long tables with noses glued on their books.

“We have 600 full scholars. They are supported by individuals who have committed to help a child.” Marcel explained, “We select the children from the poorest, of the poorest of the poor. We check their backgrounds. We go to their homes. And once we realize that their families do not really have the means, we bring the child in. These are the kids that rarely get to eat three meals per day. So we also provide them free meals.”

“Is it okay for us to go in?” My friend asked pointing to the classroom in front of her.
“Sure!” Marcel responded.
“Good morning visitors, we are pleased to meet you.” The children respectfully stood up from their seats and faced us.

The teacher was writing the words “sound energy” and “kinetic energy” on the board, when we walked in. On the chipped painted walls were artworks made by the students, a poster of the go-glow-grow foods, a cartoon drawn on cartolina showing a student on a mountain and God on the other mountain with a cross in between. Situated at the back was a bookshelf with names of each student written on top of the dividers. Each had a complete set of books.

Our next stop was the library. In it were few old, rusty books, a conference table surrounded by dusty and torn office chairs and boxes of products they were selling. There were beaded necklaces made from old magazines, pouches and pencil cases made from junk food packaging, handbags made from soda cans and tetrapacks. They got their raw materials from the dumpsite we passed through earlier.

“They are made by the mothers in this community. We provide them the raw materials (cleaned in the restoration area) and we pay them for their services. The fee would depend on the length of the production process. We gauge it on the daily wage so that they too would be able to provide for their families. For example, for this handbag,” he grabbed a bag made of soda pull ring tabs from the box, “we give them Php500 per bag because this takes them approximately a day or a day and a half to finish.”
Then he told us "It is not that easy to work with mothers because you cannot just simply push them to work. They have to tend to their children for hours within the day. Some have a lot of worries, like one has a child who had dengue, and these affect the quality and quantity of output as well." He also shared with us that there was a time when he trained at least twenty mothers to sew a type of bag, but only three remained for the job. Thus, he concluded, income alone is not good enough a motivation to keep you in this type of business.

What kept Marcel there was a deep passion that stemmed from a strong life mission. It was a God-given burden, a very difficult one in fact that he decided to follow. Along the way, God has equipped him with strength and patience to teach the mothers, the ideas and willpower to provide them livelihood opportunities. Would you believe that there were only two of them (he & an assistant named Ian) who mobilized the women in the community? As the saying goes, “God’s grace won’t leave you where God’s Will will take you.”

He led us to the production area next. Inside were piles of different products, about six industrial sewing machines mounted on old wooden tables, sacks of raw materials distributed here and there. According to Marcel, the area is open to all the women, anytime of the day. They may go home for hours to tend to their children and then come back. “Their families need them.” He said. Marcel didn’t treat them as mere workers who have to work, work, work, but as people who have needs and as mothers who have families to care for. And because he understands them, the women enjoy coming to work more, it has become their “stress-reliever.” It was interesting that the small condensed jumbled workplace exuded a joyful and loving atmosphere. The women were tenderly calling each other “mama” or “nanay,” sharing stories, laughing, while they were stitching Zesto tetrapacks together and placing coke tansan in plastic shoulder bags. It made me want to learn how to stitch and sit behind one of those sewing machines as well.

“At the present, you may see the products in Kultura and Eco-store. We also export them weekly to countries like UK and Saudi Arabia.” Marcel shared as we walked back to our car. Amazing!

I got to smell the odd mishmash of odors once again when we left the school premises, now with a greater sense of appreciation. Buried in the trash is an opportunity to meet the financial, physical and spiritual needs of the unfortunate people enduring the stench. I hope and pray that there will be more Marcels in town who are not afraid to walk through treacherous roads such as the one in Tondo and find an avoided, stinking dot.

To you who may still be soul searching, undergoing a quarterlife crisis, or enjoying a break time, why don't you visit (and maybe volunteer in) PCF or other foundations. You may also go out of your way and get to know our less fortunate brothers and sisters in Christ. Know their needs. As Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

If you don't have the burden, pray for the love that you may radiate to them. Be God’s hand and reach out.

To you who may be too busy to even visit a site, support foundations such as Philippine Christian Foundation, Gawad Kalinga, He Cares Foundation or any other organization caring for the street children, elderly, ethnic minorities by purchasing their products, “adopting” a child or providing financial support.

To you who are online, please pass this link and inspire others. And maybe pray about it too, you might just be the one God has called to serve the underprivileged brothers in your hometown.

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. ~ Deuteronomy 15:11

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How to become a Writer Lesson 1: Observe Details

If you want to become a writer, the first thing you should do is to look around and find some details that you can highlight and talk about. Now's the time to start. You are on your way home and you see a stout man in his 40's wearing a blue adidas dryfit shirt with red stripes on its sides and a logo of Spain marked on his left chest. You follow his gaze. He sees a lady seated at the corner of a jeepney wearing a white uniform, her flipflops dangling. She holds up her hanky to cover her nose. Know your setting. The street sign slightly slanted shows names of two streets: Sampaguita Street & Bizal (perhaps Rizal) street. There you go. Take note of it if you want to write about a fat man who is stalking a nurse in Sampaguita street. Nah, you muttered.

You continue on with your search. Nothing seems to shout "Look at me! Write about me!" All are stemming from the ordinary as you watch behind the wheel. Look at the people around you. At your right, you see a shabby house made of uncoordinated planks of wood, topped with brown corrugated boxes. A mother whose hair is all over the place is breastfeeding a baby, while a little girl is tagging her stretched and faded sleeveless shirt. Two boys are in front of her playing chess. You think, How is the mother able to manage them all? Shouldn't the three kids be in school already?

Rain starts to pour. Your eyes deviate to the girl with long straight shiny black hair who hurriedly crosses the street holding her books above her head. Too bad she doesn't have an umbrella.. but wow, she made it under the sequioa tree in 5sec tops.

You pass by Baliwag Lechon and Andok's Manok. They are empty except for the two ladies standing behind the counter, one fanning her face and the other texting. Business must be bad, nothing special.

Details. Details. Still have nothing to write about. Probably the air-conditioner is too cold. Lower it down a notch, your braincells might already be freezing. You see a stream of red lights. Boo, traffic. Your eyes rest on the big Shell Gasoline sign at the sidewalk. Prices are up again. Shell's Super Premium is now at Php 44 when in fact it was only Php 43 last week. You might have to give up some movie trips for future transportation costs. Tell yourself: it's okay, the good news is, you'll have more time to look for details and write.

Light turns green. Beeep! A guy in motorcycle almost hits your side mirror. He is carrying his baby, and both of them are dripping wet. Screeech! A child about six years of age holding a bundle of stringed sampaguita suddenly runs in front of you. Argh.. Her parents ought to teach her a lesson!

After two turns, you're finally home.






You turn on the light in your room. You flip your laptop open. You sit in your favorite gray leather chair. You can't think of anything to write. It's what you call "writer's block." Blame it on the rough ride home.

*This "self-help with a twist" piece was written in the car (literally) while I was on my way home. I would just like to point out two things:

1. Sometimes the ordinary can be made extraordinary by simply putting details into words.

2. Sometimes we have too much complaints that we forget to count our blessings.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How to be Creative

Some say that creativity is a gift. It is something you inherit from a parent who is highly creative. Others say it depends if you are left-brained or right-brained. Probably both are true. I wonder though why left-brained people who tend to be creative are disorganized and spontaneous, whereas the artists I've met are more organized and logical. Perhaps there is a difference between being creative and being an artist. This I still have to ponder upon. I believe though that whether you are left or right brained, logical or illogical, fast or slow, all of you have an innate seed of creativity that is waiting to grow and flourish with proper nurturing and creatively molded mindset.

Here are seven ways to water your creativity seed:

1. Open Books.
In the "closed book" mindset, books may simply be a series of words and numbers that tire the eyes of the beholder. Books may be filled with boring black lines and curves making tiny letters (like what you're seeing now on this page). They may be old and dusty or eaten by bookworms. But they are a wonderful trainer of a creative brain. They can give you a leeway to paint the final picture of every scene, every page and every chapter. Open a book and let your creative juices wander!

2. Open Door.
According to Mr. Wallace Stegner, a novelist and professor of creative writing class in Harvard, you "write bigger, better and with more wisdom" when you are a "grower." It is through experiences that you grow. Embrace the joys and sadness, triumphs and failures of life and learn from them. If you are stuck in your comfort zone or mundane routine, get out and take a deep breath of fresh air.

3. Open Mind.
Think of your brain as a tug-of-war between a mother and child (super ego and id, or the left and right brain). The restless, spontaneous child brings new ideas into the vacuum of thought while the logical, responsible mother discerns whether each idea is to be kept or killed. Sometimes the mother wants the artwork to be "relevant" and "liked" by people that it suppresses the creativity of the child. The more boxed and governed the mind is, the less accommodating it is to new and unexplored terrain.

4. Open Eyes.
Okay, so sometimes you are stuck with a routine. Day in, day out you are doing the same thing. No problem. There is still room to ignite your creativity. Open your eyes wider and see the beauty of the details surrounding you. Wear a new lens once in a while to see things a little bit differently. Propose new solutions to a boring task. For example, your morning routine is to wake up, check your cellphone for the time and the number of received messages, read a chapter of the Bible and have some quiet time with the Lord in your room, cook a sunny side-up egg, toast two slices of bread, eat, brush your teeth, take a hot shower, and leave the house. Something as common as this can be spiced up without paying a cent.

You may wake up a little bit earlier and sit in a quiet place at your backyard facing the healthy morning sun and inhaling the fresh dawn air. While all the others are still sleeping and the roosters are barely crowing, spend this precious moment with the Lord. You might as well witness a breathtaking view of the tropical sunrise.

5. Open Line.
A line connects point 1 to point 2, but it doesn't necessarily mean that this is the only rational connection. Try new lines. Connect 1 to 11 or 2 to 345. This reminds me of the Belgian paintings that play with juxtaposition of images. I remember attending a seminar and I saw a painting of a man in gray suit resting on a cool bluish background. Then I saw his nose was a little bit odd. It was green. I stepped a little bit closer only to discover that there was actually an apple on his nose.

Making unique unthinkable connections can give you plenty of new creative ideas to toy with.

6. Open Hands.
You may simply forget your ideas when your hands are busy doing other things. If you want to be more creative with your writing (or even in other fields), open your hands, grab a pen and a paper, and start jotting down the new connections, new experiences or new observations you've grasped. Mr. Isagani Cruz suggests that you set-apart a couple of hours everyday to practice your craft. What he does is he gets up at 3am and he writes until 6. You don't have to wake up that early. The point is if keep your hands free you accommodate the creative child in you and your ideas will easily flow to paper.

7. Open Light.
At the end of the day, acknowledge that all the sources of your ideas, your resources, your books, your eyes, your minds, your hands and your doors come from God, the ultimate creator of creativity and everything good. All ideas done in the dark are futile.

God bless! :)

A Bowl of Wisdom 2: A Singaporean Lady

Dressed in my usual fashion wear, a pair of jeans and a turtle necked top, I went out for dinner with my parents in a fancy place last night. We were invited by a lady consultant who come once or twice a year from Singapore. I brought a book with me in case their discussions would bore me. As we waited for her, my mom and I traversed on the carpeted floor of the hotel lobby. We looked at the ornaments and the intricate details carved on the different furniture plotted strategically in the hallway. Then, I saw a lady with a secured posture walking towards us. She was wearing a crisp black and white tailored business dress, carrying a red leather handbag and walking on what seemed like a pair of black Nine West pumps.

This lady named Angela led us to a cozy room in a Japanese Restaurant. I forgot the name. Inside was a ceiling-high painting of a geisha on a glass wall, and a table for four. On the table were adorable Japanese plates and cups lined on gold trays. The evening started with a rush of updates and news. They discussed what they had to discuss and I read the book I brought with me. After reading a few lines, I couldn't help but listen to her. This lady who could merely be in her late twenties or early thirties was very well-versed in politics, business, and in global matters. "Wow, man!" I thought.

The topic became lighter when the first course of the meal was served. She recommended some good restaurants in Singapore while we enjoyed a bowl of vegetable salad with mayonnaise coating and crunchy sliced chips. Mom told her she liked Japanese and Korean restaurants the best. And she recommended the best Jap restaurant she has ever tasted in Taiwan (name I've also forgotten). Then out of the blue, like a eureka moment her eyes sparkled, she shared a story that happened in Taiwan.

A guy friend of hers was diagnosed with a severe case of testicular cancer. He was just 21 then and single. He trusted in the Lord, and according to Angela, he lifted everything to the Lord. I guess the Lord still has great plans for him. During her recent visit to Taiwan, the guy who once had cancer in one of his reproductive organs was able to get married and have a baby.

It was interesting to see how she intertwined praises for the Lord and stories of faith with news clippings and financial updates. She was not afraid to get blank stares or a mocking laughter. She was working. And yet she was also ministering. I admire her for using her work to bless her clients. I guess in meetings like these she is implicitly trying to tell her clients, "Hey, seek for something purer and rarer than gold."

For some people, the only "calling" in this world would entail you to become a full-time pastor or a full-pledged missionary. If you're not called, then you are probably not a very "spiritual" person. I hope that you will crack this icy myth down to pieces. Not all of us may be a pastor, but all of us are called to be priests and prophets. All of us must be ready to proclaim God's Word wherever and whenever. God may call you to become a consultant like Angela, a businessman, a bank clerk, a teacher, a writer or a wedding planner. He has already placed you in a mission field. Don't wait for your pastor to go to you, plow your field and plant the seeds. You are placed there for a reason. Be the salt and light in your field.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Pill for Depression

A life of a princess is not all that fine and dandy. You will have bouts of depression too. Sometimes when you unintentionally compare yourself with others (despite nagging yourself not to), your competitive self wins and you get the attack. You catch yourself muttering, "I should stop checking other people's facebook pages." Other times you feel maltreated or unfavored when you enter an elegant restaurant, a sophisticated shop, a bank or a corporate meeting. Then you tell yourself, "If only I'm smarter, prettier or richer they would probably treat me like a real princess." Or when your relatives suddenly ask you what you've been doing lately. Why you're not doing this and that. You say you're following your passion. You tell them you want to use God's gifts to the fullest. They hesitate and say "Ah, okay" and then suggest you to do this and that. You get sad and lonely during your last few waking hours when you see no fruits in what you're doing, neither do they. You feel like a hopeless case.

Those are the days.

I have a pill for you, a very effective one in fact.

Grab a glass of water. Take it.

Here goes...

"I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation." ~ Psalms 118:13-14

I know someone who is afraid of falling. Probably falling for him means breaking his bones, splattering some blood and squishing a few delicate organs. In short, falling may result to death.

You want to move forward. You are pushing with all your strength. But circumstances, your own weaknesses, people, keep pushing you back. You cannot move an inch. Worse, you are pushed back. It's amazing to see that at the brink of falling, at the point when logically (a gift of thinking to mankind) you are supposed to fall, it is the time when God saves you. He helps you when you're just "about to" fall. This "about to" signifies a time when you've already acknowledged that you are weak, that you cannot do anything anymore to keep yourself standing strong. This is the time when your mighty God catches you before you get killed. Wow! He shows the world, that hey, this daughter of mine may be weak, you may push her down, but because she has Me, she won't fall. I AM her strength.

It is always awe-inspiring to see God's glory being revealed at the perfect time. When you're deeply heartbroken and God sends a rainbow. When you're down and out and someone suddenly encourages you. When you pray and cry out to God and He points you to a very comforting passage. When people already look down on you and God grants you a breakthrough. When you have nothing to offer God and He gives your lips a song to sing (that was how the song "I Love You, Lord" came about). When you are hopeless, and out of the blue, He gives you hope.

"The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over death."
~ Psalms 118:17-18

Think of this "depression" moment, this time of being pushed back, as a chastening stage or a time of pruning. You need this stressful training period to grow. Ask Manny Pacquio how he has become a world champion. I'm sure he'd say he's religious with his training. I doubt if he enjoys his training everyday though. Being chastened is not really a pleasant experience. It's cutting off your rough edges or your excess baggage. It can be your sin of envy when you keep on comparing yourself with others. Or pride when you always want to be better than the rest. God wants to take them all away so that you will be a productive and loving princess.

Trust that His training will not lead you to death. A friend of mine told me recently that when a father teaches a son, he always has his best intention for him. Same goes with your Father in heaven. All the circumstances you are facing now are part of God's plan.

Cliche as it sounds, it's for your own good.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go!

"Pack all your things. you're moving out," Mom told me yesterday. I replied with a unibrow and a wide stare, "But..but.. why? Where?" Doesn't she want me here anymore? Am I turning to be too much of a burden already? Good thing before I got hysterical or anything near a heart attack (I'm a wee bit histrionic. hehe.), my mom assured me, "Just to the other room. We're going to renovate this room."

I wasn't that excited. The mere thought of disorganizing all my things to be reorganized again was already tedious and stressful. Good thing my cousin Elaine, who says "classifying is such a great joy" was there. She saw the unreadable look on my face and encouraged me with a word of wisdom "You know, the first step is always the hardest. The step from zero to one. Once you've done it, the rest will just continue automatically.. 2,3,4,5..10." So we started laying my books in a box.

Pile after pile of books were added until we filled up two balikbayan boxes, one big black trash bag and one large green shopping bag. There were things I discovered in the process. I found my first organizer in college, a hardbound kiddie notebook that served as my slumbook in grade 6, the "Cute Spice Club" notebook, my diary in grade 3, untouched books I bought in the book fair years ago, mouth-watering recipes filed in a clearbook, highschool newspaper, and some classic books. All of them were hidden behind the front layer you see in this picture.

Then I dealt with the CDs/DVDs/VCDs/VHS. I saw some old videos. Played a few. I saw a couple of Disney albums. Played them too. I even saw a CD of Christian Ingebrigsten (from A1, my fave boyband before) with his autograph. He wrote "Hi Mitzi, Hope all is well. Christian XOXO" I think it was sent by a penpal named Dianna. She lived in Norway. I heard Elaine saying, "No time to reflect." Didn't play it anymore. I opened the other cabinet and segregated the cassette tapes I've collected since I was in grade 1. Amazingly, I still have the "It's a Small World" tape. Got a little disappointed when I wasn't able to find the a1 tapes I used to play three times a day before. I remembered Ben Adams saying, "You'll feel close to us if you listen to our songs three times a day." I reminded myself, You're not a fan anymore.

Then I proceeded to my old (hardly opened) hobbies cabinet. Had a good laugh when I saw my extensive a1, Kavana, Backstreet Boys photo collection. There were newspapers, magazines, key chains, postcards and my own live shots. Felt like I was Robin Williams in One Hour Photo movie. Decided to give all of them away. Stumbled upon books, teddies, bracelets, muffin holder, gifts I meant to give to people but still kept, because I didn't get much opportunity to see them. Labeled the black plastic bag "gifts to give away."

Then off to my girly-artsy-fartsy cabinets. These were probably the most utilized and visited cabinets in my room. Not much new discoveries. Placed them in a box. Moved all the cabinets to the ground floor with the help of Joy. Felt like I would become very macho soon.

After two vigorous afternoons... Viola! See my empty room? I was surprised to find the "packing" process quite fulfilling. It wasn't as boring as I expected it to be. Had a good laugh. Got to reminisce. Was able to discover a lot of hidden blessings. And at the end of the day, got to share them and see some big smiles.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Plagues that kill the church: (5) Using Noncalibrated Rulers

A ruler is a rectangular plank with scribbled marks on its side. It is made out of wood, steel or plastic that varies in usage depending on its user. Kids use it to make a straight line for their drawings. Strict mothers use it as a spanking rod to a naughty child who gets low grades in class. Innovative people sometimes use it as a bookmark or a décor on their tabletop. But a ruler serves one purpose the best. It gives us a standard measurement on length, width, height and depth. Unlike how some people measure time “after five mountains and two seas,” or “after five cigars,” a ruler can give us the same measurement of an inch or a meter wherever we are. It is objective, calculated and exact.

We have a ruler for people as well. We make markings on a wall when we were little kids. These were in feet and inches. The higher we reached, the more satisfied we were. When we got older, our standard of measurement was not measurable in metric system anymore (except probably for the waist line). Our grades and the honors we’ve achieved: valedictorian, salutatorian, cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude, honorable mentions; our tenure at work; our monthly income; our bank accounts; our level in the corporate ladder; our talents (i.e. in writing, in singing, in playing instruments, in business dealings). Again, the higher we achieve, the more satisfied we are… the greater acceptance we receive from the community.

In churches, most often than not, we also hold a number of rulers similar to the ones used in the world setting. We gauge a pastor’s strength in the number of his doctorate degrees. We insist to place this skilled girl in front of the pulpit or this genius guy to play the piano to show that we have an admirable praise and worship team. We invite those who are skilled in marketing for a marketing ministry, writing for a writing ministry. Of course we have a ruler to measure their skills. We have another ruler to check the amount of donations pooled up from the three services last Sunday (Was it more than the previous weeks?). Another ruler is used to count the number of churchgoers, of new faces, of “saved.” And among the saved we urge them to work in ministries, the more involved they are, the higher they are in the ruler.

The Bible has a different set of measurements for a Christian achiever. I remember Martha who was busily preparing her house for the Lord. She was working, something like organizing fellowships or events in the present day, with no one to help her, not even her sister Mary. While she was fixing the place, Mary was seated, enjoying her time with the Lord. She then complained, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" I can hear some of you (including myself) uttering the same thing under your breath. You tell God, “Lord, I’m so tired preparing this event for you. How come so and so doesn’t help me?” Here is the Lord’s answer (feel free to replace Martha with your own name), “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Choose what is better. Choose to grow in Jesus Christ more than in skills, talents and money. The latter may get you a ticket to your most favorite place on earth, but they can’t guarantee you a trip to heaven. In God’s ruler, we all “fall short” of it. No matter how much we own and how good we are, we just cannot pass His heavenly standards. Only through the blood of a perfect being (one who is both God and man) given as a gift, can we pass God’s standards. Now that we have new life in Christ, we follow a different standard of measurement for growth.

He measures growth in character. Are you honest? Are you humble? How do you handle problems? Are you enduring and persevering? Or do you result to finger pointing? Do you draw strength from the Holy Spirit and not on our own power and might? Are you willing to put others up, above you? Are you willing to be chastened and disciplined? Are you willing to be transformed into Christ-likeness?

He measures growth in conviction. Is the way you conduct your life consistent with what you believe in? Are you growing in your knowledge of Christ through our personal devotion and fellowships? Are you obeying Him? Are you willing to follow God’s leading anywhere and anytime? Are you growing in faith when you experience the trials and sufferings God has willed for you?

He measures growth in love. Do you love your churchmates who fail to do their respective parts in the body of Christ? Are you more focused on what these people ought to do than what they’re going through? Are you patient with them? Or do you give them the deadly stare? Are you willing to journey with them through thick and thin? (Or are you the “thick” person who is willing to befriend those who are easy to be friends with?) Have you forgiven those who wronged you? Do you show your love to the orphans and the widowed?

Throw out your earthly rulers that are meaningless and perishable. Hold on to God's ruler. The one and only exact, objective and calculated tool given to you is the Scripture. Go and measure yourself up! Don't fret, if you find yourself (and even others) fall short, because while we're still here, sin is not yet completely destroyed. God's still in the process of completing the good work He has begun in you. We're all work in progress.

All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.
~ 1 Peter 1:24-25

My Ecclesiastes

I love you but you are ruining me. You take so much of my time; you know, I could’ve read a gazillion books, fallen in love like I could have never loved again, sung in the rain, danced the night away and laughed with my neighborhood girl friends. But no, you take it all away. I can’t blame you. The windows at your house are so enticing. They pull me over when I see you serenading me with George Benson’s “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You,” playing a romantic rendition of Chopin’s Ballad 1, or roasting stuffed chicken, my favorite. You stir me. You know my interests and you are such a pro in all of them!

On other days, you are simply too friendly that you keep me in front of that window for too many hours I already fail to track. You talk to me, share some facts including those that I don’t care about. And if you are talking about those I don’t care about and you realize that I really don’t care at all, you gladly change the topic and entertain me with the new Justin Bieber dance moves (which deserve a hundred thousand likes). Oh yes, you can be the master entertainer, the jack-of-all-trades and even the literal “know it all” who keeps me wide awake under the dark moonlight.

You can talk to anybody. You tag along after Oprah, Charice Pempengco and yes, even Justin Bieber. I wonder how they let you follow them. Probably it’s your charm, a charm that is able to elicit extensive, deep, (and even dark) information from all the passersby (including the naïve ol' me). That too takes so much of my time. I could’ve ridden the bicycle across town and burned off the fats that made my doctor say “You’re slightly fat.” I could’ve spent the time playing monopoly with my family after dinner. I could’ve just given all the precious time I wasted on you to my loved ones. You are just so incredible. You usually get the first-hand info from celebrities like Mariel and Robin before the news hits The Buzz. You know who’s “in” and who’s “ out,” who’s hot, cold and lukewarm.

Search not found. But I wonder why you know nothing about my neighbor’s dog. I guess no one’s perfect. Come to think of it, updating myself about my neighbor’s dog is also a waste of time. And yet I’m still here. The way you connect with me makes me feel important, pretty and popular. Sadly, it’s simply impossible for us to be together forever and ever. We’re in two different worlds. (Sigh, thinking about this merely adds to the wasted time, therefore, making me feel even sadder).

One minute left. I can’t believe that there’s a time limit for us today. By golly gee! I forgot why I was here in the first place. I was supposed to ask you about Foucoult and Pascal. Goodbye homework. You’re now disconnected. Internet Explorer is currently in offline mode and can't browse the Web. Goodbye.