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: 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. ) 

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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