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!

Buhay Makulay 002: Treasure Simplicity

Some things in life can be simple.

There is so much on my mind these days. Things to accomplish, ideas to share, blessings to be thankful for. How often I have sat in front of this tab on my browser, “Add New Post,” eager to write a new blog entry. Yet each time I am tangled between so many different threads of life and thought, that my mind is left speechless. Numb, even.

I type a line or a phrase. Pause. Then highlight and delete it. Before I can complete a thought, I am taken away by a work meeting, an errand to run, a class to teach, or just boring old exhaustion. Hours, days, weeks later; I have a few empty drafts and nothing new. So here come my few centavos worth of thoughts, hoping to break this cycle of silence. And like most of my writing, it is less for the sake of being heard by others, and more to able to hear myself.

Yesterday, was the seventh workshop day of Buhay Makulay’s Likha Workshop series (7/10). To close off our volunteer’s debrief after lunch, I asked my team to go around the circle and share how the children pointed them to God that morning. One sentence.

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After they had all shared such beautiful and sweet spoonfuls of joy and learning, I was left with a reminder for my own heart that I in turn shared with them: Some things in life can just be simple.

There are things in life that will choose to be complicated. They will complicate themselves on their own without your help or desire. They will even refuse to be anything except complicated. A problem at work. A quarrel with your best friend. What to order at your favorite restaurant.

But, there are things in life that don’t have to be complicated at all, even if our human minds perceive them so. Like the truth that God is good. The human longing to belong. The desire to achieve a lifelong dream. The love of a father for a child. How to get to your afternoon meeting. Who to invite to your birthday celebration. Or what to cook for breakfast.

I have been very very very busy for the past few months. Probably the busiest I have been in the past year. In the midst of the craziness, I am finding clarity. In the overabundance of life happenings, I am almost forced to sift through all of it, looking carefully for the things that actually carry weight, to keep me grounded. The things that are worth holding on to, worth setting my eyes on.

I’d like to think I am continuously in the process of simplifying my life. This is not only the process of removing objects from my possession. Neither is it a mere reduction of activities, commitments or hobbies. It goes deeper into the surface than that: It is a paring down of the things that I regard with value. These, we can choose. When those things are clear and simple in your heart, no earthly complication can corrode it. Through the complexity, the truth will speak simply.

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How did I come to reflect about simplicity with my Buhay Makulay kids? I don’t know exactly. But in their company, the world somehow simplifies itself. Perhaps it is because we are taken away from our usual hectic daily-grind environments, where we are eaten up by worries both big and small. For the children, these worries on any given day could include where their next meal will come from, how they cannot go to school because of a parent’s illness, or a recent death of a family member. Mine, though not as grave and often tied less to immediate need, tend to feel just as urgent.

Yet the joy on the children’s faces will seldom reveal the losses of which they suffer or the needs that cannot be fulfilled. They will leave their worries at the door and enjoy a moment with you. With the swing of their voices in my ear as they tell me about their artwork, I know we are friends. And this friendship is simple. This moment is simple and true.

Let the world be complicated; but draw near to the things that keep you simply and genuinely you, without muddling for achievement, recognition, prize or gain.

 

(P.S. Happy 25th post, Speak Soon! YAY!)

Buhay Makulay: From Single Session to Season of Service

For the seventh year in a row, we celebrated our love for children with Buhay Makulay’s annual Children’s Fair. The  festivities were held two Saturdays back. This tradition began years ago, and ignited for me a deeper, lifelong commitment to community service in my home country. This coming Saturday, Buhay Makulay will be opening it’s first season of workshops ever, a dream I have held in my heart since the early days of Buhay Makulay.  This is the same dream that brought me back here to Manila. I am beyond excited!

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Getting ready to welcome the kids! June 22, 2013.

This present phase is very special for our organization. We are crossing over from single events to a more sustained presence in the life of the kids we reach out to. In the past, due to the restrictions of distance (I lived overseas!) or manpower, the work has been limited to stand-alone events – a morning fair, an afternoon workshop, or an evening performance concert (all valuable contributions to the existing work of our partner organizations, but never enough!). And although we have grown alongside some of our kids through the years, we still yearn for more. The time is ripe for bigger movement and deeper involvement. We want to form relationships, opening up real opportunities to mentor kids, and not just see them once a year. That’s where all of this was always headed!

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So here comes our first season ever! It’s called Likha. In english that means “to create.”  Our inspiration is taken from Isaiah 64:8 “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. “

Likha will give children the space to express themselves through visual and performance art. More than teaching about the arts, we will nurture a healthy community of children where each child feels loved and cared for. Our children represent the country’s poorest communities, families living with terminal illnesses like HIV/AIDS, or households torn down by abuse or abandonment.

We have been working on this for a long time and I cannot wait to see how the children respond to our pilot program. For the past few months, I have been meeting with my team of volunteers and our partners at the Precious Jewels Ministry. Slowly we’ve been pulling together ideas but more importantly, we’ve been knitting our hearts together as a team of volunteers, ready to serve and pour out love on these kids.

Some people behind Buhay Makulay and Precious Jewels Ministry. What a fun collaboration!
Some people behind Buhay Makulay and Precious Jewels Ministry. What a fun collaboration!

Looking forward to seeing the children this Saturday. We’ll be meeting twice a month all the way until December! We’re no strangers to the kids, but I am looking forward to being called their friend.

(On a fundraising note, we are still in need of sponsors for Likha. If you are interested to donate in cash or in kind, your gifts will go a long way. Please get in touch with me, or email buhaymakulaymanila@gmail.com for more info. To sponsor one child for the full program costs only P10,000 or $240. For a single session P1,000 or $24. )