Monday, December 15, 2003

ALNP-Luzon Branch Women's Moderators' Retreat

When We're Prim and Proper Posted by Hello

Wacky BWM's

Luzon BWMs Away from Home Posted by Hello

Saturday, November 01, 2003

The Waters of Power

My blood sister's baptismal name is Ma. Cristina so I've always been curious what the famous Ma. Cristina Falls looks like. Ate is now an Australian citizen and on the day of the Lingkod National Leaders Training Conference (NLTC) outing in Iligan, I proudly texted her that I was on my way to finally see her namesake. I almost did not join the outing because of body aches brought about by the E-Night and all the preparations that went to it, but something in me could not forego that rare chance of seeing the waterfalls of Iligan City.

I got a tangerine sticker so I belonged to Bus No. 1, Jeeps No. 1-7, and Ma. Cristina was the last place our group visited. I was excited, momentarily forgetting all physical discomfort caused by the 350 steps (one-way) we climbed and the rain that soaked us the whole day.

Ma. Cristina was worth the wait. Living water seemed to gush out of the mountains. For me, it was a magnificent display of God's power. I was content just to stare at it and to marvel at how such a beautiful thing could be so powerful. God's word for me during the first day of the NLTC came back, which was to Soak in His power, so that when I am squeezed by my personal challenges back in the real world, it would be His glory that would come out of me. I stood there before the Ma. Cristina falls soaking in the beauty around me, and soaking in the nonstop rain as well. Despite the hustle and bustle of activity around me -- picture-taking ad infinitum with brothers and sisters; lectures from brother-biologists and environmentalists - in my heart I was saying a prayer of thanksgiving to the God who created Ma. Cristina falls.

I was content, relatively, until a sister from Lingkod-Iligan announced over the megaphone, "Brothers and sisters, in five minutes, they will turn the power of the waterfalls full blast". I tuned in to the lecturers beside me to inquire what "full blast" meant, for I was already overwhelmed by the manifestation of God's excellence before me. I was told to watch out for a greater burst of water and a higher level of splash. Having left all scientific thinking back in high school, I pestered my brothers, "But how would I know if it's already full blast???" The professionals looked at me in half-wonder and half-exasperation and said, "Ella, you'll just know. Stay put and just watch out for it." I heard a whisper in my heart, "Be still and know
that I am God."

A few minutes passed and then I knew that the water was falling full blast. What a blessing it was, for I didn't expect it. I saw again how only God could outdo Himself in splendor.

On the way back to Chali Beach, I could not sleep. As our bus wound its way around the various checkpoints on the road, I reflected on the message of the full-blast waterfalls for me. I particularly felt an awareness of how I often underestimated this God I had committed my life
to. Thinking I had already used up my apportionment of grace after God showed His power over my profession, family, service, actually, in most areas of my life, I thought that where life had led me was "it" already. I thought it was up to me to sustain my serving of grace until my last
days on earth, but there in between Iligan and Cagayan de Oro, God actually reminded me that He was faithful to finish whatever work He began in me. I felt Him telling me, "You ain't seen nothing yet, My child. I haven't gone full blast yet."

Just as I didn't deserve to be saved by Him from all the pitfalls I fell into in the past, I believed that I had done nothing to deserve this fresh outpouring of grace that was before me. Beset by personal turmoil now that I am back in my little world in QC, I am reminded of God's display of majesty and I know just what to do - to stay put and to watch Him work His wonders once again.

Psalm 63: 2-9 (NAB)

O God, you are my God-- for you I long!
For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts,
Like a land parched, lifeless, and without water.
So I look to you in the sanctuary to see your power and glory.
For your love is better than life; my lips offer you worship!
I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands, calling on
your name.
My soul shall savor the rich banquet of praise, with joyous lips my
mouth shall honor you!
When I think of you upon my bed, through the night watches I will recall
That you indeed are my help, and in the shadow of your wings I shout for
My soul clings fast to you; your right hand upholds me.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Saturday Night NLTC 2003 with the QTs Posted by Hello

Friday Night at NLTC 2003 Posted by Hello


BAG without our Bags Posted by Hello

Friday, October 24, 2003

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Friday, September 12, 2003

Childlike Faith

Sitting on my office desk is a gift from my friend Tess. She cut out one of the pencil sketches made by a New York artist of Jesus playing with a baby, and placed it inside a beautiful frame to remind me of how Jesus sees me and how I can be with Him. I alwalys stare at the picture when the walls close in on me in the office, for it shows me how I can run to Jesus like a child and be a delight to Him.

I met up with a law school friend a couple of weeks ago. Though she is older than me and a product of Catholic education, she told me that she only discovered the rosary this year and has been praying it regularly. She says that she does not understand the mysteries but she clings to them, memorizing them like a child, and this has given her so much peace in her advancing single life. Come to think of it, because I've wanted to understand it and analyze it, I haven't memorized the new Mysteries of the Light yet.

The e-mail I forwarded yesterday from Max Lucado paints another picture of the Father wanting to play with His children. How long has it been since I had allowed God to be God? This morning during my prayer time I was all apologies to God, for even my time with Him is disturbed by text messages and wandering thoughts about the things I have to do. I felt His hands on both my cheeks this morning and heard Him telling me, "My daughter, before
you run off again attempting to please me, I want you to know that what would truly delight me is if you could BE STILL for a few minutes before me."

"Be still and know that I am God", the Lord told the Psalmist. I am re-learning this lesson, that no matter how good the things I busy myself with are, if I cannot stop long enough to abide in the Lord in complete abandon, then I am spending my time on what's merely second best.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

"If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a
resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as
to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away
everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do
not have love, I gain nothing."

I went to Mass today with a desire to spend quality time with the only King of my Heart, the Lover of my Soul, my tower of refuge and strength. I felt His unconditional love despite my faults, weaknesses, imperfections, mistakes. If He were one to count these, He would have
given up on me a long time ago. More than ever, I want to go back to the beginning of my love story with God, when I trusted Him more and relied less on my own judgment and strength. The writer Elisabeth Elliott, already a grandmother, said that she finds delight in being a child before God.

I hope to learn to believe with childlike faith and to surrender everything to the Lord more fully now. Maybe that is the secret to a joyful, peaceful heart. :)

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Braces for Life

“Relax lang ang lower lip”, my dentist kept repeating during my latestappointment, as he proceeded to insert the wires and bands into thebrackets of my teeth. It turns out that my muscles are so sensitivethat they are quick to react at the slightest sense of pain, to protectmyself. With my eyes closed, I wondered how to tell my muscles to relaxwhen pliers, scissors, and other metallic objects were being used on mypoor little mouth. “Relax, Ella, relax”, I told myself, but it didn’twork. I was as tense as ever, my hands balled into fists.

I brought this upon myself. I was the one who approached the ortho,with a lot of prodding from my mother, to ask for braces to correct theirregular growth of my teeth. I even promised to pay him and his team asum of money just so they could inflict pain on me on a regular basis.I thought I could use the forced diet, too. The first few visits wereindeed painful. After some time I got used to the procedure and thoughtI could live with this for the next year, for the sake of aesthetics.But I spoke too soon! The next several visits proved to be longer andmore complicated than the initial stages. My speech has been affectedtoo, since I developed some lisps due to my struggle to avoid the sorescaused by the foreign objects I had willingly installed on my teeth. Ihave an extended run of my toothbrush time daily now, as Bactidol andMint floss are, more than ever, no longer an option.

Yet I endure the oral torture, the defective speech (can’t realize mydream to be Tina Monzon-Palma’s protégée), the monthly payments, thedaily ceremony in front of the bathroom mirror, and the deprivation ofsome food (like corn on the cob and bubble gum), because I believe inthe end result of all these --> A full Gloria Diaz smile, as my dentistpromised. (As of now I have half the Gloria Diaz smile daw according tohis professional opinion.)

Would that I could have as much faith in what God is doing in my life!If only I were more cooperative to Him. A year ago He made me a promiseand then said, “Be still, and know that I am God.” However, every timemy heart muscles sense danger they contract to protect myself from pain.Yet I know that I asked for this. I know that I like His promise. Hedidn’t promise an easy ride, and I supposedly know what this entails.But I’m only human. In my earnest efforts to relax I end up being a lottenser, so God’s hands cannot shape me with ease.

When I was learning to swim my instructor kept telling the class thatstiff movements would only cause us pain and slow us down. When wefinally learned to relax, we glided on the water like mermaids and wereable to swim longer distances.

Para sa mga matigas ang ulo katulad ko, God is our Potter. Hope wecould all become like clay and allow Him to mold us to the best peoplewe could be. :-)

Sunday, August 24, 2003

A Man of God Has Captured My Heart

Last night I worshipped God . I stood,danced, and praised Him for His victory over sickness and temptation. I raised my hands in thanksgiving for the gift of family and the gift ofmusic. I reached the heights of worship and praise during the 20th anniversary concert of Gary Valenciano at the Music Museum.

Movie trailers and reviews say that you should watch a certainhighly-recommended movie "if you're going to watch one movie this year". Well, for me "if you're going to watch one concert this year", I highlysuggest that you catch the remaining shows of this Gary V. Hits @ theMusic Museum series. Whether or not you get the chance to watch thisconcert I'm raving about, I'm going to proceed to tell you about itanyway. I cannot help it, after reading the Psalm for today:

PSALM 128:1b-2, 3, 4, 5

R. "See how the Lord blesses those who fear him. Blessed are you who fearthe Lord, who walk in his ways! For you shall eat the fruit of yourhandiwork; blessed shall you be, and favored. R. You wife shall be like afruitful vine in the recesses of your home; Your children like oliveplants around your table. R. Behold, thus is the man blessed who fears theLord. R. The Lord bless you from Zion: may you see the prosperity ofJerusalem all the days of your life. R."

Thus is the man blessed who fears the Lord. There is no doubt in my heartthat Gary V. is our brother who lives in "holy fear" of the Lord. Musicaltalents grow on trees here in the Philippines. Even in our own branch herein Lingkod QC we are so used to beautiful voices in harmony and musicianswho provide us rhythm to groove to. What sets Gary V. apart from the restof the Filipino artists, however, is the way he performs, for he is likean arrow pointing to God and witnessing to His faithfulness. When Gary V.sings, dances, plays instruments, and gives his spiels, he does not say"Hey, look at me. I'm a handsome man swathed in Swarovski crystals who isimpressing you with MY talents." So Gary V.'s designer chose to dot hisall-black number with some glittering crystals, but those little starsthat shone in his outfit sparkled not to dazzle the audience with theartist's pride, but served to shine like the the flashes of light thatfollow a holy man.

I have grown up to his music, I must confess, but I chose to write abouthis concert not just as a fan temporarily in-love with him. I want tohonor him for I believe that what he strives to stand for is not easy. Inan industry corrupted by pride and ambition, Gary V. has, for the past 20years, managed to witness to his audience about God's work in his life. I've seen Gary V. perform in benefit concerts with as much gusto as if hewere being paid in hundreds of thousands to sing "The Warrior is a Child".Last night, he gave a moving tribute to his mother, that moved me tobecome a mother (hey with a son like that a mother's heart can't help butburst, I reckon... I want that...). He and his band sang a version of"Letting Go" that left the audience slack-jawed in disbelief. He saidthat the words of that song were his message to his fellow performers,that beyond the lights and the fame there is Someone Bigger. He jumpedand danced with his son Gabriel, candidly admitting that he could nolonger keep up with his son's energy level. He downed two bottles ofmineral water consecutively after Gabriel left the stage (Tiguls na siGary V!).

There was some dancing but not to the level of Gary's previous concerts atbigger venues, yet the audience could not help leaping to their feet. Some even shed tears of joy as God spoke to them through the music. Earlyduring the show Gary said that he has only lasted this long and reachedthis level of success because Someone promised him that if he put Himfirst in his life, He would always be there. That was his introduction tothe song "I Will be Here". He shared that juvenile diabetes usuallyblinds the patient after five years, but he has lived through 25 years ofthe ailment and his doctors are amazed how clear his vision remains. Garygrabbed every opportunity to thank and praise God and it did not soundlike a script he has to do two nights a week for five weeks. He did itlike a prayer meeting leader exhorting his community to worship.

Andworship we did!

There were hilarious moments in the show, too. Gary V. showed hischildlike side when he played the audience for a full 20 minutes with,well something I cannot share without spoiling the fun for some of you whoplan to see the show. Suffice to say that we were in stitches watchingGary's antics and reacting to his spontaneous remarks.

Some people are given gifts and they hide it out of fear. Some people aregiven gifts and claim all the glory. To see our very own "TotalPerformer" sharing God's love number after spectacular number has left mejoyful and hopeful. Gary V. shows us that as warriors, children, artists,fathers, mothers, wives, in whatever roles we play, we could use these asour way of glorifying God, and God would bless us indeed. Gary V. standsout as a man of God in these times, when the question often arises whethergood men still follow the Lord, and whether they succeed at it.

Will this message reach him? I hope he already knows that his dream hasbeen fulfilled, his dream of touching hearts and not just ears. I praiseand thank God for my brother Gary Valenciano.


After the show the brothers and sisters and I were telling each other thatthe concert was just like attending a prayer meeting! Someone commented,though, that prayer meetings don't cost P600. :) We were at thebleachers of that small, intimate venue, but every peso was worth it. Itfelt like being front seat in a foretaste of heavenly worship. I may beexaggerating, but that is always a writer's prerogative. And a fan's. :)

Friday, August 08, 2003

Blessings on My 29th Birthday

One of my addictions as an eight-year old girl living in Olongapo City was a Game & Watch toy owned by my older cousin. Every afternoon, for about a month or so, I would rush home from school, change out of my uniform, and play Popeye inside her optical shop, oblivious to the rest of the world. During those moments my only concern was how to catch the goodies that fell from the sky for Olive Oyl and I, and to keep them from Brutus who wasted no time in rocking my boat.

I think those goodies included whole pineapples, cans of spinach, bottles of cola, and one other item I cannot recall at the moment. Failure to catch any of these things meant they would be gone, wasted and lost to me forever. I never got to enjoy any of the things I caught as my hands were busy catching the next surprise that was thrown my way.

More than two decades later I'm still at the game. I juggle too many things at the same time. I don't have time to sit down and savor a slice of pineapple or a bottle of cola. I don't eat the spinach that is meant to strengthen me. I just acquire, acquire, acquire until my boat gets too heavy and I tip over. Sometimes the enemy succeeds in distracting me so he could get what I have and make me feel lousy for losing.

God's blessings come in torrents. Yes, I try to fix my eyes on heaven but I hardly have time to enjoy the blessings provided here on earth. My boat is easily rocked by the challenges and storms that I face, making me forget how blessed I actually am.

I met a car accident but loved ones came to my rescue immediately after. I had health and car insurance, plus the erring driver eventually paid. Even though I hardly enjoyed it, being a lawyer and having lawyers as friends worked to my advantage for I was able to protect my rights. The car is even looking better now because of the brand new spare parts that were installed. For three weeks I experienced the service of loved ones who drove for me. Whenever I needed to take a taxi, I had some cash to pay for the fare. Instead of being grateful, however, I was short-tempered and anxious during that trying month.

Rejoice in all circumstances, that is what Scripture tells us. For two consecutive years, brothers and sisters threw surprise birthday parties for me. Last year there were three celebrations in fact, and this made me promise myself that I would give back in due time. News spread early this year that court lawyers would receive a 100% salary increase. The timing was perfect, I
thought, and come July I would be able to surprise my lovedones with a party.

The salary increase did not materialize, so don't believe the newspapers and politicians. By June I accepted greater service so I was busy, I was tired, and I felt there was no reason to have a party anymore. I looked at the amount of love God had given me, and my friends, officemates, parents, siblings, brothers and sisters, and I realized just to be alive and loved is a reason to celebrate!

That, plus a hundred different things that came my way this year. A trip to Sydney, a fulfilling job, a loving community, and a whole lot more. I thought, Lord, you're right. It's time to party. He assured me that He would provide.

Last week, God did provide. :) Food and drinks flowed and I did not have to beg, borrow or steal for that. People came to celebrate the dawn of my last year as a twentysomething. God is faithful even though I was not! Though I have to pray daily for the grace to be grateful, one look at the 80 people who came and the others who called, emailed and texted, my brain tells me I have to say thank you.

Thank you everyone for being the cast of this telenovela. Secrets, grade school barkada. Phinx, high school friends. A-99, law school blockmates. Lingkod, community. Officemates. Friends. Family. God is so generous! My cup runneth over.

This email was not sent earlier because of technical problems. At least because of the passage of time, the message has been properly summarized. Otherwise kung nasulat ko agad ito after the party baka nobela na naman. :)

I hope that you all have the time to enjoy your blessings, which abound, even in times of adversity. God bless everyone!

Thursday, April 24, 2003


"Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into thetemple courts." Acts 3:2 (NIV)

Nakaka-addict talaga ngayon ang magbasa, kasi tuwing babasahin ko ang Scriptures prayerfully, the Spirit leads me to new reflections to old passages. Kahit nga magpalit lang ako ng Bible version, naiiba na rin ang reflection. Since I left my NRSV Bible last night at Janet's house afterour AG, I went back to my NIV and saw these beautiful words. :)

Take this man who was crippled from birth. Hindi ko naman fully ma-imagine kung paano maging lumpo talaga, pero may mga bagay (sobrang dami) na maco-consider kong crippling sa buhay ko, from birth pa. May mga misconceptions na ako about God na kinalakihan ko na, na sobrang hirap nang baguhin. Now that I'm into a personal relationship with God, I'm being called to unlearn those things. Lalo naman sa aking self-image, itdoesn't take a genius to know that a woman's concept of beauty is really a complicated issue.

So maybe like the crippled man, I allowed myself to be brought by the world into the temple gate called "Beautiful" - I find this name so significant in today's First Reading - to beg. Not knowing any better, not knowing he could ask for so much more from the One who lives inside the temple, he just begged for money, for silver and gold. He, like me,didn't know what true Beauty meant. He probably had a simple, outsider'sview of God. He didn't even ask that he be healed... or maybe, he stopped asking after a while. Kuntento na siyang magpabuhat sa mga nagsasabi sa kanya kung ano ang dapat gawin at hingin at magpabitbit hanggang sa TempleGate. Kuntento na rin siyang maupo duon para mamalimos.

Until God sent Peter and John into the crippled man's way. He who was waiting outside the temple gate called Beautiful begged for money. Hedidn't realize that by sending His disciples to the crippled beggar, Jesus was answering the true prayer of that beggar's heart - for healing. Money and external beauty are peanuts compared to God's mercy and love.

"He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God." Acts 3:8 (NIV)

That man instantly proclaimed how God had healed him. Siguro hindi niya akalaing gagaling pa siya. Hindi niya alam na ito pala ang hinihintay niya nang pagkatagal-tagal.

I'm also a beggar for God's mercy and love. I want to live by faith and not by sight. Sana pag andyan na ang Peter at John na pinadala ni God sa akin, magkaroon din ako ng expectant faith at hintayin ko rin ang ibibigay nila sa akin.

The farthest distance I've ever known is from my head to my heart....

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

My Costly Perfume

When, out of some 73 books of the Bible and goodness knows how many passages within them, you come across a particular Bible story three times from the most unlikely sources in a span of weeks, it often is the case that God is speaking to you through that passage. It would normally be a good move to take some time to listen quietly to what He is saying to your heart. :-)

“Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” - John 12:3

During the women’s Lenten retreat, our theme was the same as the above passage, but it was taken from the Gospel according to Luke. In that version, the woman who broke the alabaster jar was nameless, and she was even said to be a sinful woman (cf. Luke 7:36-38). For obvious reasons all of the sisters who attended could relate to that sinful, nameless woman. Just last week I opened a book that I suddenly thought of borrowing from our sister Janet, and lo and behold, the first chapter features the same nameless woman with the alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil. Max Lucado, the author of “A Love Worth Giving”, used her as an example of extravagant love. For indeed, when that woman walked into a roomful of men to break her jar for Jesus and to wipe His feet with her hair while crying incessantly, the woman painted a perfect picture of how we should express our love and gratitude for our Savior. The CD “Something More” features a song about that woman, too, and I listen to it almost everyday now.

Today when I read that story again in the Gospel, I was reminded of an ongoing conversation I have with Jesus. Grabe na pag in-ignore ko pa Siya. It’s similar to a conversation I recently had with my mother. You see, I saw our picture lying on top of our piano. It was taken during the recent recital of Mama’s piano students and it was a shot of the two of us on stage. I was on the mike reading the names of her piano students. Now, I’ve come to believe that my best pictures are taken from above (kind of how God sees me siguro), and since that picture was taken from below the stage, I didn’t like the angle. I said, “Ma, itabi natin itong picture na ito. Hindi ako kagandahan diyan eh.” She replied, “Ano? Gandang-ganda nga ako sa iyo diyan anak eh. Kaya ko nilagay diyan naghihintay ako ng frame na paglalagyan.” I paused to look at my mother, to check if she was serious. I saw her take the picture and re-install it to its previous pedestal on top of our piano. When she left I stared at the picture again. Why would anyone want to frame this? I thought. I realized then that only a mother’s unconditional love could see through the bad camera angle and still see a beautiful face worthy of display at the most conspicuous part of the house. I shook my head at this unconditional love….

Jesus asked me once while I was meditating after the second talk in our Lenten retreat, what I would do if I found out that He was there, in person, at the Chapel, which stood across the building where we were having our sessions. He asked if I would do what that nameless sinful woman did.

“Would you run to me, Ella, with an expensive jar filled with your costliest perfumed oil? Would you elbow your way through the crowd just to kiss My feet?”

At that time, my answer was, “I’m sorry, my Lord, but if you tell me that You’re here now, in person, I’d have to watch you through the windows only. I wouldn’t dare come near you.”

Jesus asked my why, when not so long ago I would not have stopped until I had the front seat where I could be closest to Him. I simply told Him that it was because I didn’t feel worthy of His presence, that I was so enmeshed in sin and entrapped in selfishness that I didn’t deserve that front seat. I was so ashamed of myself that I wanted to hide from Him. A foolish thing to do, considering He can see through flesh to my heart, I know.

Jesus replied that underneath all my masks and walls is His precious daughter. My external appearance was important, just as the jar that was made of rare alabaster was expensive, too. But He said that what’s more important to Him is what’s inside. My heart, my alabaster heart, contains perfumed oil that could fill a room with its fragrance, if only I would be generous enough to share it. Lord, before we could get to that very essence of my being, there would be a lot of breaking to do, as I have setup an intricate façade around my heart to keep it from getting hurt. I have guarded my heart for so long, revealing only what seems to be pleasing pictures of me. I have only offered my best to You and the brothers and sisters, for would anyone accept the bitterness, the confusion, the sadness that sometimes visit my heart? I have only shared that which I thought was worthy of sharing. All negative emotions I have locked inside. Don’t come knocking for that, Jesus.

Then He said, “My child, that is false humility. You’re saying that I did not create something beautiful in You. Do you want me to take away all of your talents? Do you want me to give to others your loved ones who surround you at all times? Do not look in the mirror with your own eyes. Through My unconditional love you can be holy, blameless, and pure. Allow me to see your entire picture and let My love celebrate You.”

I have a face that my mother thankfully loves. More than that, I have a heart that my Lord and Savior finds beautiful, even if while sitting here I am still having a hard time understanding this truth.

That woman showed extravagant love, for she was extravagantly saved by Jesus. He removed her from her sinful past, restored her standing in community, exalted her acts before all the men sitting in the banquet, and, in the version of Matthew, even said that her story would be told every time the Gospel is shared. I was reminded of how I have been saved from my past. I do not have to fail any exam and lose everything for me to remember God’s generosity to me. Jesus does not have to die on the Cross again for me to accept His love for me. I just have to remember.

And this week, we remember.