Frank

Peals of thunder woke me up early that morning. The clock read 4 am. Outside my window, strong winds were howling, and the rain was pouring hard. Moments later came the power interruptions. There wasn't going to be a fine weather that Sunday.

When I got out of the dorm for church at 8:30, the winds had subsided—temporarily, at least—but the rain was unceasing. I made my way towards the waiting shed, waited for what seemed like 30 minutes for a jeep, and settled for a taxi instead. Everywhere the water was overflowing—along the Elliptical Road, Quezon Avenue, and Timog. The scenes made it easy to imagine the flood that put Noah's ark to good use.

Frank

I arrived 15 minutes late for Sunday worship. There were few people in the sanctuary, about an eighth of the usual number of attendees. But I had a blessed time. Few as we were, Pastor Bob didn't postpone our present pulpit series on the Ten Commandments.

I later learned that Frank (typhoons have male names nowadays, I wonder why) killed many and destroyed millions worth of properties. Why are calamities like this happening to us?

I'm sure the Lord ordained it to happen. Is he unjust in doing so? No, God can never be unjust. Though it's hard to imagine, everything that happens in the world is ultimately part of his plans. He is, and always will be, in control. Otherwise, he ceases to be God.

Right now I call to mind the victims and their families. The death toll has risen to three-digit figures. From what I understand a passenger ferry capsized in the course of the typhoon, drastically increasing the number of casualties. Operations are undergoing to retrieve the dead floating bodies, but, from the latest news, these were haulted because authorities have discovered toxic substances in the ship.

It makes me wonder all the more, “What if this happened to me?” Will I, like my hero Horatio Spafford, still sing joyfully, “It is well with my soul?”

Paul Velasco has left for good

The last time I saw Paul Velasco in person was a couple of weeks ago. He came back to get his transcript of records.

I met him as he was queuing at PNB to withdraw cash from the ATM. After weeks of not seeing him, he didn't change much. Paul still had the bulging tummy, hairy legs, and that face people mistook for Brad Pitt's.

“Kumusta ka na, Paul?” I asked.

“Mag-mimigrate na kami sa New Zealand. By the end of June or start of July,” he said.

The news stunned me. Though I had it coming—Paul's parents have gone to work in Wellington since we were in third year—it was difficult to swallow the news. Paul was leaving us for good.

That day, he treated me to Figaro, in the College of Home Economics' Tea Room, where he used to have his practicum during his college days.

After many kumustahans, we had to part ways. My mice were waiting for me in the lab; he had other friends to meet.

I think the last words I said to him were, “Read your Bible and pray everyday.”

Wherever he is right now, I know the Lord's hand is keeping him. I just hope that, even if we don't ever see each other again (at least in this life), I would receive some news that Paul is growing in his faith and love for Jesus Christ. I hope he finds a church that will nurture him spritually. I hope he continues to fellowship with other Christians, and someday, find a faithful, mature believer for a wife.

I'm terribly saddened by his leaving. The last time I had this feeling was when Jef left for the States for good.

And I'd wish he'd call us, his friends, once in a while, so he could greet us with his newly-acquired New Zealand twang.

Now using Ubuntu. How cool is that?

I write this using my newly-installed operating system Ubuntu. I'm running version 8.04, the Desktop Edition.

Ubuntu is a Linux-based OS that can be dowloaded for free. In my case, I filled out the form at the Canonical website—the worldwide distributor of the OS—and got my CD through mail after about four weeks. The good news is that I got it for free. I didn't pay a single centavo even for shipment.

Ubuntu is an ancient African word that means “humanity to others.” It's the promise of Ubuntu that it will always be “free of charge, including enterprise releases and security updates.” Written on the CD package were these words:

“Ubuntu CDs contain only free software applications; we encourage you to use free and open source software, improve it and pass it on.”

Reading that totally changed my mind. Why pay for something you could otherwise get for free—with almost the same quality, if not better?

Some of my good friends have made the switch to Ubuntu, and I know quite a few people who've had it installed in their own computers. Katrina Alvarez, for one, encouraged me to make the switch in her reply to my email about a month ago. Her blog entries are full of raves about the product, referring to it as something that gave her a sort of “mental thrill.” I can sense she's enjoying every bit of it.

You don't need to be a geek to use Ubuntu—or anything Linux, for that matter. Like Windows, it's also user friendly. A big plus is that it uses almost the same keyboard shortcuts an experienced Windows user would have mastered.

But it's not Windows, and a person who uses Ubuntu must not regard it as the free version of Windows—because it is not. It is a different OS altogether. They may work similarly, but they're not the same. There are no viruses in Ubuntu.

Windows has done a lot of good to me—that I admit. But the Christian in me wanted to do something that would glorify God. Many (like me, in the past) have used pirated versions of Windows, among other softwares. But why do that when we can switch to something we can get for free?

I'm not about to say that Ubuntu is far better than Windows—a lot of people, the majority of converted Ubuntu users, have calimed that. For the meantime, though, I don't want to make a rash judgment. I think I need to take my time...get the hang of it first and know if it's really the right OS for me.

So far, Ubuntu has been fun and user-friendly and beautiful—man, you should see how the default desktop looks like (I'm looking at it right now, and absolutely lovin' it). I look forward to using it for the next few years, until, well, Ubuntu version 9 comes out.

Screenshot

Right now, I'm in the process of discovering many things. It's not difficult to understand why people like Katrina have made the switch.

Now he's 18

Today is Sean's birthday. He's turning, what, 18, and it's still hard to believe. My younger brother is a growing man.

One of the things I probably regret during my childhood is that I never got the chance to be close to him, inasmuch as I've always been close to Manong Ralph. In a sense, it was because our interests were clashing. Sean wanted to watch Cartoon Network; I was hooked to BBC. Or he wanted to play outdoors; I wanted to read indoors. And the only times we got together was during those time when I'd be away for a while and a couple of days after I returned. After that, we were always back to our old ways.

I had the penchant for making his life miserable. Far from being angelic (as some family friends thought), I was a horrid, cruel boy. I would come close to Sean and distract him with irritating sounds from my throat. Or I would lambast him with insults whenever Tatay asked me to tutor him with chemistry.

But he had his share of wrongdoings, too. When we were young, he stole my pillow, the one I occasionally talked to before I slept. He stole it, for no apparent reason, and, being lame and weak, I couldn't get it from him, else I'd suffer the pain of his punches. He also destroyed the toy train that a classmate from nursery gave me. When I lent it to Sean, it was running with a well-oiled engine; when he gave it back, the railways were chopped off.

But we've grown older and wiser, I guess. We could only look back at the past at something we can heartily laugh at. What were we thinking those days?

I praise God for how he was worked in my brother's life. He's in Davao, training to be a dentist. So far, I hear he's doing well. "A late bloomer," my mother always says.

Because we're at the opposite poles of the country, we only converse through text or email, or I usually call him whenever I have the chance to. His voice has grown coarser and fuller, and it makes me just wonder if he looks any older than his premature 21-year old brother.

For his birthday, I pray that Sean would become a godly man who lives his life only for God's glory.

Happy birthday, Sean!

Sean

Greatest treasure and reward

My study on Acts has so far taken me to Chapter 3. The account begins with the lame man begging at the gate of the temple (Acts 3:2). As Peter and John are about to enter the gate, the man sees the two apostles.

Here we see Peter and John's changed hearts. Instead of hurrying past him (as most of us are prone to do these days, whenever kids in Philcoa ask us for alms), they take notice of him and say, "Look at us" (verse 4). They saw, not only his physical, but moreso, his spiritual needs. Under any normal circumstances in the past, they wouldn't do this, of course, but the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4) transformed their hearts.

Expecting monetary gifts, the lame man looks at Peter and John. At this point, Peter would say something that would absolutely shock him, words that would change his life forever.

Peter says (Acts 3:6):

Silver and gold, I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.

Then Peter lifts him up. He feels his feet and ankle bones receiving strength. For the first time in his life (for he was born lame [verse 2]), he can walk. He leaps with joy, praising God.

Peter's words stabbed me to the heart. He didn't have earthly possessions to boast of, as he claimed, "Silver and gold I do not have."

And yet he had so much more. "What I do have I give you."

What was his most prized possession?

It was knowing Christ. His fellowship and communion with Christ were his joy and reward. And he had nothing else to give but the good news that, like him, the lame man could experience the same joy in Christ's presence.

This passage reminds me of that song (Knowing You) from years ago:

Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You
There is no greater thing.


I suppose all our problems in life will be easier to bear when we truly understand that Christ is in us; He is our greatest treasure.

Bisi-bisihan




"You look tired, Lance," my classmate Chesca told me during lunch time.

"I am...and I still have many things to do," I replied, forcing a smile. I just got out of the lab to buy something to eat over at Fine Arts (where they sell cheap but delicious siomai--something you shouldn't miss for the world, I tell you).

In my mind was the lost list of responsibilities to finish, including the long experiment I had to do at 4pm, the mice I had to check, the meeting I had to cancel, the org requirements I had to fulfill.

That's how I am these days, by the way. Busy. And this time, it's for real.

At this point, I'm still getting used to the fact that I cannot enjoy my free time as much as I used to. Before I graduate next year, I want to immerse myself in extra-curricular activities, and also do well in my thesis--things I've never done since I entered college.

In a sense, I want to see how far I'd go...if I could juggle numerous commitments as well as other people do (or seem to do). Give it a sem, I told myself, and I could always forgo some of my responsibilities, if I couldn't manage them anymore.

So far, so good, though.

I think the reason why I'm still able to rejoice despite the fact that my to-do list is almost always full is that my prayer time has been so vibrant these past few days. My study series on the Acts has given me extraordinary perspectives on how a Christian must rely on the outworking of the Holy Spirit to effect changes in himself as well as in the Christ's Church. So far it has been an encouraging perspective. (Praise be to God for the Bible that continues to be a source of enlightenment and hope for me.)

The secret is to put everything in God's hands. Do all for His glory, as Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:31 so boldly proclaims it. And rely in His grace because it is sufficient.

Things don't always go my way these days. Sometimes, I get depressed, just like what happened yesterday when my cells were dislodged, no longer to be found. That was three week's worth of work, and it vanished. Just. Like. That.

But what's all that momentary failure compared to the pain Christ did on the cross to save me from my sins? I mean, surely that's trivial compared to matters concerning, say, eternity.

I hardly read my blog these days, let alone write something cohesive and sensible. But, believe it or not, I'm having fun. It's going to be one great rocky ride, but God will give me strength.

Tonight, I walked into my room dead-tired. After a day's work, I could wish for nothing else but a good night's rest.

Coming home

I’m coming back to Yakal today.

The first time I did so was in 2004, with an excitement quivering down my stomach. I’ve heard many things about the place—Yakal was the place to be.

But three years since, I no longer have that kind of fascination for dorm life. A greater part of me wants my own room, something I could have for myself, without the trouble of telling my roommates to stay quiet because I’m studying.

This year is different because the people I used to hang out in the lobby with, my Kalayan batchmates, are no longer going to be there. Many of them have graduated—some weren’t admitted. Last week, when I dropped by to get my keys, all I saw were new, unfamiliar faces.

I’ve also been assigned to a different room, in a different wing altogether, with a new set of roommates I don’t even know by name, save one. I have no idea how things will turn out—if they’ll turn off the lights when I go to sleep, if they’ll shut their music off when I open my book, if they’ll sweep the floor when it’s cluttered and dirt-ridden.

Things are never going to be the same again. But why did I choose to go to the dorm, anyway?

Because I had commitments. God, once again, gave me the privilege to be part of the core of Yakal Christian Fellowship, a leadership position that requires me to trust in His grace alone and never on my own strength.

For the past three years, I’ve had the joy of seeing people come to a saving knowledge of Christ because their roommates invited them to our Tuesday gatherings. That alone is sufficient to outweigh all my other hesitations of living in Yakal.

As a bonus, some of my good, old friends are still in the fellowship, with Jason Enriquez, my Kalayaan roommate, being at the helm of YCF. I thank God, too, for the little brothers and sisters I have, the younger ones whose growth in their knowledge and love of the Savior has been a true encouragement for me.

Two sems to go, and I’ll be out of Yakal forever. But, for the meantime, I’m packing my bags because—after these two, long months of summer—I’m finally coming home.

A panda like you've never seen before

I was in Trinoma with Hazel Baconga and Checa Robles last night to watch Kung Fu Panda. The movie was hilarious. There were no dull moments, and it was totally action-packed.

Where else can you find a mantiz that can carry a weight that's 1000 times his? Or a panda who calls an long-necked avian his dad? Or a tigress who sounds like Angelina Jolie?

But, on hindsight, maybe I really had fun because Po, the panda, reminded me so much of Monchi Goce. The similiarities are striking. They'd both kill for a dumpling.

The Summer of 2008

As a child, summer always meant longer days to play outdoors, or a month-long stay at Lola Glo’s house in Polomolok, or a divine chance to soak in London Beach. Now that I’m in college, I can only look back to those days as memories now tainted with the dirty patina of time.

The past two months have been stressful.

God has made me realize what a sinner I am, and how I need His grace each day of my life.

But in Him, I have hope. “In the multitude of my anxieties, your comforts delight my soul”(Psalm 94:19). My delight is that the Lord would forgive me and bring me closer to Him.

Classes are about to start next week. What will the Lord be teaching me this time?

Devouring a bag of chicharon

While walking on the street, we see a man carrying bags of chicharon.

We hesitate at first, but the desperation of the man's face, combined with our palate's search for novel tastes, got the better of us. We pay him 30 pesos for a pack.

At home, we devour the food--it's really just fried pig skin we soaked in native vinegar.

While munching, Kuya Imay comments that our money is worth it. "Maraming laman. Hindi gaya ng iba na puro hangin lang malalasahan mo."

"Oo nga 'no?" I realize his point. "Pero hindi kaya double-dead lang 'yung baboy na kinatay?"

He lost his appetite while I continued with my gastronomic rites.

To the second mouse I shall be dissecting this afternoon

You were sleeping when I dropped by your cage. That was four days ago. You were sleeping like a baby, completely unaware that I was peering at you from the wire mesh, until I grabbed you by the tail to check your belly.

I can’t believe how strong you were. I half-expected you to weaken after we moved you to a new facility. You see, the mouse room was repainted last week. We just didn’t want you to get choked by the paint fumes.

Today, I ask for your forgiveness. I’m not sure if you realize how difficult a situation I am in right now.

I’m not so sure if it’s easier the second time around—the procedure, I mean. Somehow, it still gives me the creeps—the thought of sacrificing innocent lives—all in the name of science. But I will have to do it, not so much because I want to, but because I have no other choice.

If only you could tell me your last wishes, I would gladly do them. But hearing you speak out loud would make your defenseless screeching and painful screaming a million times harder to bear.

I will miss you, Marie.

Barya

I ride jeepneys all the time.

I've never owned a car, let alone driven one. So I choose to think that commuting, although stressful and demanding at times, does have its own share of joys. For one, you don't have to worry if your car has been stolen. You don't have to drop by the gas stations to pay for the fuel. And you don't have to put up with suicidal drivers.

Yesterday, on my way to the Albert Hall, I rode a tricycle from UP Village to Philcoa. Then I hailed a jeepney that would take me to UP.

"Manong, bayad po." I passed on the hundred-peso bill. It was 9 in the morning. In a jeepney with the sign, Barya lang po sa umaga.

"Wala ka bang barya?" asked Mamang Driver, looking at me through the mirror above his head.

I said no, I didn't have loose change. I said I do have six pesos, but that was two pesos short of the minimum fare.

I expected a tongue-lashing from him. Almost all jeepney drivers have loud mouths. Maybe it's part of the training--to have their voice heard amidst the honking and screeching of the cars in polluted Metro Manila. Instead, Mamang Driver smiled--laughed even--and said, "Sa susunod na sumakay ka dito, bayaran mo 'ko ha?"

A second incident happened when I rode a UP Ikot jeep. The driver, too, didn't have loose change when I handed him my hundred-peso bill. I was surprised when he didn't scratch his head in annoyance but graciously, "Magpapabarya tayo..."

Another passenger came in, also with a hundred-peso bill. "Wala po kayong barya?" asked Mamang Driver, in the most gracious, un-jeepney-driver-like tone I have heard in my commuting life. He too didn't have any other loose change.

The driver continued driving past CP Garcia. Five minutes later, we were in Vinzon's Hall. That was my destination.

"Wala pa rin po kayong barya?" I asked him.

Incidentally, another jeepney parked beside ours. Mamang Driver, after some jeepney-driver small talk, exchanged my money with smaller 20-peso bills. I finally got back my 94 pesos.

But it was time to go. I thanked Mamang Driver and wished him well. May there be more jeepney drivers like him and less passengers like me.

Clearly the lesson of the day was change is for the better.