Merry Christmas!

Christmas snuck up on me again!

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Our Aritao tree on Christmas eve!

Today is one of my favorite days of the year. Christmas day may be one of the few that I leave unplanned,  no to-do list, no agenda, and no expectations. After a late night of hanging out with the family, eating ham, sipping wine and opening presents, a sweetly lit Christmas eve is followed by a day at home, taking a real day off.

Very late this morning, I woke up my favorite way: slowly. Through my bedroom window I was greeted by a lovely view – a crisp clear blue behind this brilliant white. I thought I may have woken up to snow covered mountains, and not the low, fluffy white clouds that eased me out of bed. With sleep still in my eyes I snapped a photo that doesn’t do it justice:

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Around Christmastime, the world has been inclined to suffer some of its heaviest hits, this year and in years past – be it from natural disaster like a supertyphoon, from discord between nations or families, or violence both intentional or accidental. These experiences cut even more pain when held in the light of celebration and the desire for peace.

Despite the darkness and ruin that overcomes so many, hope endures. Victims of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda spend this season very differently from the last, a long way down from their expectations of Christmas cheer. Despite promises of local organizations, not all families have had their electricity  reconnected since the storm, spending the holidays steeped in darkness. Many still clutch the gaping hole of loss -their first Christmas without a father, or without a home of their own. A night is haunted by nightmares of the savage flooding, and the daytime is not large enough to get lost in. Too many still survive in conditions that defy even the most basic of human needs. During this season of plenty, we cannot forget those that have little.

These people are not alone in their grief. All over the world are people sinking in their sorrow. All over the world, we must hail their resilience. There is no other way.

On Christmas Sunday, I had the privilege of leading the Prayers of the People. Portions of it, I share with you today. And if you would so wish, pray this prayer with me today: 

Dear Father, 

We come to You today with thanksgiving in our hearts, with worship for You on our lips, and hope rising among us.

You are our light through all season, through all generations. We are in awe of You.

We fall short of Your glory and acknowledge our wrongdoings, our hardened hearts and our eyes that have turned away from You. We are sorry.

Thank You for the coming of Jesus, for the joy of the advent season, waiting patiently and expectantly for You. 

We lift up to You the families represented in our church. Whether the holidays are spent in loud cheer or silently in our hearts, whether our table sits three generations or just You Jesus, and us – bring joy to all our homes, big and small, in plenty and in little, here and abroad. We invite You in. We celebrate You. 

We remember those all over the world, and right in our city, struck by tragedy, loss, sickness, natural disaster, injustice, depression, hatred, hunger or pain.

May the light of Your presence this Christmas push out every darkness, soothe every aching heart, every tearful child, or every family that has lost their hope. 

Bring your provision and joy to their place of need. Satisfy their hungry hearts. Satisfy our hungry hearts. Lastly, may Your Light, the Light that Jesus brings, shine the brightest of all the Christmas.

Amen. 

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Nothing lights up this season and every season, like the King born in a manger. Family and friends, thank you for being messengers of this light too – for your generosity of company, word, gift or smile – blessings on you! Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, Merry Christmas!

From the Crosswalk into the Rain

When it began to rain hard this afternoon, I was inside one of the bedrooms with the blinds shut to keep the bright heat out. A deep, long-grunting thunder was nature’s alarm.In just a few minutes, the afternoon shifted completely, from a tortured heat to clouds weeping. The sky was white outside, still bright, though dulled slightly by the weighted clouds. The drops were heavy, made to echo even more forcefully under the roof of our old house. Oh how we’ve needed the rain!

I was busy reading, but the rain was loud and called me to walk outside to a roofed but open part of the house. I sat down a few inches away from the rain, the concrete underneath me still pinching hot. I watched the rain and felt the temperature’s soft drop around me. I recalled the last time I remember walking deliberately into rainfall. It hasn’t happened very often in recent years.

I sat there for a while. Happy for the fresh air that arrived with the downpour. But it wasn’t enough to just sit there and watch.

I couldn’t help myself and decided to step out into the rain.

I found my dad by our front door, enjoying the cool of the rain, without having to be in it. He watched me walk into the raindrops. I was smiling. He was trying to convince me I was under acid rain.

I spread my arms out and just walked around our yard, considering how strong the drops of water beat down. I cupped my hands together, wondering how long it would take me to collect rain in the palms of my hand.

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Later, I finished the book I began reading last night. I had made an informal pact with myself that to unwind this weekend, I would first turn to a book rather than my weekly episodes of The Voice. I hate that I’ve had very little time to read, or that I’ve made very little time to read. I haven’t read a book in months, and the last one was similar to watching a romantic comedy, but it took longer. (At the very least, I was entertained.)

On my way to a meeting yesterday afternoon, I conveniently ducked into a nearby second-hand bookstore right before arriving at a pedestrian walk. The cause of the detour was to avoid the awkward situation of arriving at a crosswalk when you feel like it’s about to go red for pedestrians but you can’t really tell – so you kind of make motions to move – but then you hesitate – then you realize you look stupid because you can still make the cross – but then you’re afraid you’ll embarrass yourself by being the person that walks across and is eventually honked at halfway there because the traffic light just went green — and you’re still in the middle of the road.

Yeah, I think about that stuff.

Even as I was in there for the lamest of reasons, I thought to myself, there must be a reason why I’m in here. Well another reason why I’m in here, not just escaping potential shame. So I looked at the first book that I found interesting, speed read the first few pages and a few random paragraphs from later chapters too. Less than five minutes after I walked in, I was crossing the road with new old book in hand (in perfect timing, I might add), determined I would spend a bit of the weekend getting lost in it. I was also determined to make that bookstore experience matter. It couldn’t have been just me cowardly running away from an awkward public situation that probably isn’t really that awkward to begin with.

I didn’t get lost in the book, I found myself in it.

Have you read Donald Miller’s, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”? I more than recommend it and I will most likely read it again, continuing to respond to it for weeks. And for months more, I’ll wish that I had written this book myself.

Here’s a quick excerpt, among many thought-provoking and action-enticing excerpts that I could have put forward:

“We get robbed of the glory of life because we aren’t capable of remembering how we got here. When you are born, you wake up slowly to everything. Your brain doesn’t stop growing until you turn twenty-six, so from birth to twenty-six, God is slowly turning the light on, and you’re groggy and pointing at things saying circle and blue and car and then sex and job and health care. The experience is so slow you could easily come to believe life isn’t that big of a deal, that life isn’t staggering. What I’m saying is I think life is staggering and we’re just used to it. We are all are like spoiled children no longer impressed with the gifts we’re given – it’s just another sunset, just another rainstorm moving in over the mountain, just another child being born, just another funeral…

If I have a hope, it’s that God sat over the dark nothing and worte you and me, specifically, into the story and put us in with the sunset and the rainstorm as though to say, Enjoy your place in my story. The beauty of it means you matter, and you can create within it even as I have created you.”

I guess it’s no wonder then that a few hours after I read those lines, I stepped out into the rain, and thanked God for such a beautiful day.

It wasn’t just another afternoon of rain.

Resurfacing T

I think you may have guessed from the silence emanating from my blog, that either (1) life has been very busy and exciting for me or (2) life has been desperately boring, locking me up in a state too horribly embarrassing to even write about, that my shame has caused me to hide out in internet anonymity until further notice, or at least until something remotely entertaining in my life arrives to push me out of the depths of dilly dallying doom that suffocates me like a tie tied too tight.

Well…you will be glad to know that it is the former. This year could not have gotten off to a better start. And all of it in unplanned ways. Ah, it’s always in unplanned ways! I can’t even begin to share about how my life’s plot continues to thicken (in promising, not questionable ways), but I will write a bit about a few things I have learned about myself in these first weeks of the year:

1. Entrepre-WHAT?!

Yes, it seems I have been making the crossover. Well, maybe less of a crossover into someone different and more of an expanding of self. It’s been some months in the discovery, and more than a handful of people have given me similar feedback,… but I am finally coming to terms with this: that I may have more than just two and a half threads of business-minded muscle in this dancer’s body, woven in bright stitches in all my artsy-fartsyness! It was a speaking engagement with a partner foundation just two weeks ago that really opened my eyes to how I was breaking out into a new discipline. (More on that in future writing!)

We shall see where this goes! But for now, I am beyond excited to be able to make this discovery as the company I represent helps build livelihood programs for Filipinos with very limited professional prospects at the moment. It is an amazing feeling to be able to help provide jobs for people that so desperately need it, when I myself have just recently began my life in the “professional” world.

2. I’m a dancer, and there’s just no way to shake it out of my body. Or out of my soul for that matter.

In the latter half of 2012, after moving back to the Philippines I hadn’t been training or taking many dance classes. After having a very dance-intensive life in college, this was a bit of a letdown – for body, mind and heart. I appeased myself by teaching Zumba classes, running (not a favorite past time, but it will do, if only to push my body toward some sort of limit), and dancing alone in my little home studio. Right before the close of 2012, thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I discovered a place to dance, take classes, and push my body toward a whole new limit. It came at just the right time! This year my opportunities in that place have grown even more.

Not only that, but in just the second day of this year, I was reunited with two good friends who took me to a freestyle dance workshop on a whim. No doubt, I felt a little out of my element, but it was the needed push to open my year up to dancing again.I was challenged, inspired and more importantly, reconnected with a community of dancers.

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Reunited on stage after eight years!

Just a few weeks ago, I got another random call from one of those friends on a Thursday– telling me, not asking me, about our plans for performing over that weekend. Together we did the doxology for a college dance concert, barely practicing before the show! They needed someone who was comfortable with improvising, and there we were, freestyling a somewhat structured prayer, through dance.

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Then again, randomly, last Monday, I got a text from the other of the two friends asking for a favor, that I might dance with him at church on Sunday. It seems I rarely turn down an opportunity to perform because I said yes, even when he told me we’d have to dance seven times throughout the day. The creative process leading up to Sunday consisted of just two practices, but we were certainly amazed at how God used even those short moments together to help us choreograph a story of love between two characters. I got proposed to seven times in one day! (That Sunday’s theme was “Marry Me!”)

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We survived sixteen hours, seven services and proposals! I wouldn’t mind not hearing Train’s “Marry Me” for another sixteen months…

3. The calendar fills up without even trying.

Barely a few weeks into the year, 2013 was already shaping itself up. Dates were getting blocked out for events, like weddings or trips. We were setting quarterly targets at work. With my Buhay Makulay team we were setting program dates and casting visions. So on and so forth. But the spaces underneath dates are now tied down in scribbles. First in vague ideas, but more and more concrete as the weeks go by.

I’ve noticed how nice it is to be able to think of a year in calendar quarters, rather than school semesters. My calendar no longer revolves around an academic schedule (with the sad loss of casualties like summer break and winter break), but I can now look at a year in full and wide perspective, not broken up and spilling into another year. I like this view a lot better. It makes more sense to me, a steady ebb and flow of months and seasons. Although I panicked a little when I realized how far ahead things could be arranged! I already have an idea of what my December looks like, even from this end of the calendar year.

Now wasn’t that a mouthful of a post?! Bottom line? 2013, what an adventure it will be to slowly unwrap you!  I just hope I find time to write about it.

Speak soon,

T.

The tree on Peter Street that lost its leaves this week

There’s a tree on my street that has convinced itself that it is autumn in the Philippines. For those of you unfamiliar with Filipino weather, there is really no such thing as autumn in the Philippines. All we know of seasons are wet and dry, hot and hotter.

I ride by this tree every morning, right at the corner of Peter Street. It’s leaves are almost all gone, and the silhouette of it’s slinky bark and branches are exposed. I hadn’t been paying enough attention in the weeks or days before the leaves fell, so I am no witness to the process; but I doubt this tree’s leaves changed color with that fiesty passion, the way they do in landscapes that endure four seasons each year.

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I feel a little bit like this tree, undergoing a season it believes it is accustomed to, in a landscape that finds it’s journey a little strange, a little unexpected. The greenery here is largely unchanging all throughout the year.

Everyone has their good days and their bad days. On some days, I sit in limbo for a bit, bouncing simple questions around my head that would drive a philosopher mad. The questions are simple and self-searching, but also posed emotionless and without consequence.

All these questions try to carve reason out of my blunt edges. Some days I feel I run on autopilot, in a happy but strange way. In this scenario, I am the pilot who finds herself sitting on the nose of the plane I am supposed to be flying, while it is soaring still safely through the atmosphere. (Scientific realities and probabilities must be set aside for this imagery.) The view is magical, and the plane is doing what it must be doing, but something is a little odd, a little outside of the body.

On contrasting days, I am giddy from right below my sternum and through my being. On those days, life is inspiring, I am recharged and all my previous questions melt like chocolate in my mouth. All it takes is a good meeting. A ball released to roll into a plan. A new connection. An old one restored. Some days, all it takes is a tug on the line, on one of the lines I’ve thrown out into the water that from day to day shifts from murky to clear, and back again as it pleases.

These days are the affirmation.

 

Over the twelve months of the year here, green is just green. Green does not often redden or yellow, or fall off the trees. Not all together does green dry up and curl into the crisp crunches below your stomping feet. Green stays within its family of green – no new green of spring, or cold green of winter. Well at least green does not season here, the way it does in the place I last lived. They live and die, yellowing and browning in their own time.

Here, it seems the earth does not prompt man to think and feel collectively the passing of time, the changing of season. Time is not forced upon you by the chill of the air or the warming up of the sun. Cycles of death and life are not thrown at you by the daily voice of  the weather. You must explore the passing of time in your own terms.

Again, I am like that tree on my street, undergoing change, undergoing transition, nudging new life out of my extremities. Some days I don’t understand why my leaves are falling, and why those of other trees do not. All I know, is that for this season, I am planted where I am supposed to be, growing upright, growing outward.

Some days the question is not why. Some days there is no question. Just a wondering – about the burden that God has put on my heart, one I cannot eloquently name or place as of yet. Though I call it burden, it does not feel like one, but rather its presence and its impetus are as ordinary as deciding to eat when you are hungry.

You just eat. You just do it. No need to reason why.

I miss the fall. And the people I have previously walked through the season with. The fire and bright that overwhelms the landscape during this time is arresting. Every day something is different, every day a new color, a new urgency. Unlike the tree on my street, I don’t want to skip the process of autumn, though it is not around me. I want to sink into it, enjoy it.

I will let my colors change, burn and swing away. Then I will keep trucking through the winter, in whatever form it finds me.

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