Love, Joy and What?

Peace is elusive. And when the bond keeping the “peace” is weak, this is what happens:

I’m glad the real peace we can have in our hearts is secured more than just by adhesive tape. It is from the Saviour in whom we commerate this season.

Merry Christmas everyone!

(*photo taken one night when we arrived home and our “PEACE” had fallen)

Pasko, Paksiw, Pakso

Parang mga bata, sabik na sabik kaming sumapit ang Pasko sa taong ito. Kulang na lang ay hilahin namin ang mga araw para maging Pasko na. Hindi dahil sa mahaba ang listahan namin para kay Santa Claus. Nanabik lang kami dahil magiging iba ang pagdaraos namin nito.

Binalak namin kasi na mag-Pasko sa isang lugar na hindi pa namin nararating. Matagal-tagal din naming inasam-asam na mabisita ang lungsod na iyon. Maraming oras din ang aming ginugol sa pagsasaliksik, pagpaplano at paghahanda sa aming gagawing paglalakbay. At maraming pawis at ipon ang ipinuhunan sa biyaheng ito.

Pero alam n’yo ba na mas maraming pawis at mas malaking ipon ang kailangan kung kami ay magbabalik bayan, lalo na kung sa panahon ng Pasko?

Aming pinapanaginipan na sa umaga ng Pasko, kami ay mag-aalmusal ng kakaibang tinapay, at hihigop ng mainit na tsokolate, habang nakatanaw sa mataas na toreng bakal na napapalamutian ng mga ilaw.

Sabi nila maganda raw ang Pasko sa lugar na iyon. Sabi nila wala raw kahalintulad ang Pasko sa siyudad na iyon. Kung ang Pasko ay kung saan ang boong paligid ay ginagayakan ng mga kumukurap-kurap at makukulay na ilaw, hindi ba magandang magdiwang ng Pasko sa Lungsod ng mga Ilaw?

Ngunit sa hindi inaasahang mga pangyayari, sumabog ang kaguluhan sa lugar na iyon. Kumalat ang mga demonstrasyon. Naglipana ang mga nagproprotesta na nakasuot ng dilaw. Akala ko sa bansang tinubuan ko lamang ang mga “dilaw.” Naging marahas at madugo pa ang mga naging salpukan ng mga demonstrador at mga pulis. Sa tutuusin, kung ating babalik-aralin ang kasaysayan ng mundo, sila ang nagpatanyag sa salitang “rebolusyon.”

Kaya hindi man namin gusto, ay wala kaming magawa kung hindi mapilitang kanselahin sa huling minuto ang aming paglalakabay. Ayaw naman naming malagay sa binggit ng alanganin, o maipit sa mga nagbabanggaang pwersa.

Oo nga’t may mga nabayaran na kaming hindi na namin mabawing buo. Mayroong halaga rin ang nawala na parang bula. Sisingilin na lang namin ito sa karanasan at aral ng buhay. Nakakapanghinayang din ang mga oras at pagod na ginugol namin sa paghahanda sa biyaheng ito. Hindi maiiwasan na kami ay makaramadam ng kalungkutan dahil napurnada ang aming pangarap. Mga ilang buwan ding kaming naghintay at nasabik, mauuwi lang pala sa wala. Ang aming Pasko, naging Pakso!

Pero matapos kaming mahimasmasan sa aming kabiguan, ay natanggap din naman namin ang naging kapalaran. Hindi kami galit sa mga tao sa lugar na iyon. Kung sa amin ay maliit na pagkabigo ang hindi matuloy ang aming pangarap na bakasyon, para sa kanila, ang kanilang kabuhayan at karapatang mabuhay ang ipinagtatanggol nila. Amin silang sinusuportan sa kanilang laban.

Kaya amin nalang ipagdiriwang ang Pasko dito sa Iowa. Magiging maliit na pagdiriwang na lamang ito. Mag-papaksiw na lang siguro kami sa Pasko.

Ngunit wala kaming dahilan para magmukmok at magreklamo. Dahil sa buong mundo ngayon, saan ka man dumako, sa kabila ng mga kasiyahan at selebrasyon ng panahong ito, ay mayroong mga tao at kanilang pamilya na marahil hindi nakakaramdam ng Pasko. Marahil sila ay dumaranas ng kahirapan ng buhay. Marahil sila ay naghihikahos. O kaya nama’y sila ay nakaratay sa banig ng karamdaman. Marahil sila ay nangungulila. O kaya’y nasakuna ng digmaan. Ano kaya ang Pasko para sa kanila?

Pero alam naman nating lahat na ang Pasko ay hindi tungkol sa pagliliwaliw, o paglilibang, o handaan, at inuman. Ito ay tungkol sa pagdating ng ating Tagapagligtas. At ito ay sapat na upang tayo’y magpasalamat.

Noong panahon ni Hesukristo, matagal na hinihintay ang ipinangakong Manunubos. Ang lahat ay nasasabik sa pagdating ng Mesiyas na sa kanila’y magpapalaya’t magliligtas. Ngunit nang dumating ang takdang panahon, walang man lang maglaan ng silid para sa Kanya. Hanggang sa sabsaban na lang ang naging lugar Niya. Dahil iba rin ang kanilang ekspektasyon at pakahulugan sa darating na Tagapagligtas, marami sa kanila ang nabigo. 

Kung sa panahon natin kaya Siya dumating, ilan kaya sa atin ang handang sumalubong?

Sa Paskong ito, ano mang ang ating pagkakaabalahan, sana ay may lugar sa ating puso ang ating Manunubos.

At kung ano man ang ating hinihintay sa Pasko – bonus, regalo galing sa  Ninong at Ninang, o nawawalang sinta (Pasko na sinta ko hanap hanap kita……), o kahit pahinga lang mula sa kapaguran sa trabaho – sana ay hindi tayo mabigo. 

Pero kung ang hinihintay natin ay kaligtasan at tunay na kasiyahan galing kay Hesukristo, sigurado akong hindi tayo mabibigo. Walang gulo o kahit pa giyera ang kayang humadlang nito.

Maligayang Pasko po sa inyong lahat.

Tag, You’re It

With fresh snow on the ground and with temperature of 14º F (-10º C) that we trekked down to the nearby tree farm. It’s that time of year again to choose a Christmas tree.

From our previous experiences, it usually takes us several minutes (though it feel like hours) to go up and down the line after line of trees, before we could pick the “perfect” tree.

Not this time.

On the first line of trees that we approached, we already made our choice. We did it in less than a minute! It is a record!

Here’s a close up photo of our Christmas tree with my wife tagging it with our name.

We’ll be coming back in two weeks to have this tree cut and bundled and for us to bring it home.

Since we did it so quickly, there was plenty of time for me to eat popcorn and sip hot chocolate inside the tree farm’s store. 

Actually I was looking for Santa, who usually is sitting inside this store, to give him my Christmas list. But he was not there. Perhaps he’s still busy preparing the turkey for the Thanksgiving.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)


Christmas 2017

Some parts of the United States have seen significant snowfall early this season. Even in places that rarely see snow, like Atlanta Georgia and Texas had some snow this December.

But not here in Iowa. We have been dry the whole month of December. Though 2 days ago we had some dusting of snow. The snow fall was so little that they melted few hours later. I thought we missed our chance of having a white Christmas this year.

Then this Christmas eve, snow came to our area. We’ll have another white Christmas after all!

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Like the anticipated snow fall here, the coming of the Messiah was long-awaited by his people some two thousand years ago. Yet when he came, they missed it! Only the unsuspecting shepherds came and some wise men from far away foreign land.

Today, I hope we don’t miss the reason for this season. And it’s not the snow.

Merry Christmas every one!

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Iba Namang White Christmas

Habang ako’y nagda-drive pauwi kagabi ay aking napuna na may mga butil-butil ng niebe (snow) na lumilipad. Matagal-tagal na rin namang kaming naghihintay ng snow, kahit na hindi ko paboritong libangan ang mag-shovel nito. Sabi kasi sa aming weather forecast, maaaring magkaroon daw kami ng 1-2 inches ng snow. Yey, White Christmas!

Pagbangon ko kaninang umaga ay dumungaw ako kaagad sa labas. Kakarampot naman pala ang snow na bumagsak. Ang kuripot naman!

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Dahil konting-konti lang ang aming snow (above photo), siguradong malulusaw at maglalaho na ang lahat ng ito bago pa mag-Pasko. Sang-ayon ulit sa aming weather forecast, wala na kaming  snow fall bago mag-Pasko dito sa Iowa. Mapupurnada yata ang aming White Christmas!

Nainggit tuloy ako sa mga lugar dito sa Amerika na maraming snow ngayong Pasko. Noong nakaraang araw lang, ay pinadalhan ako ng aming kaibigan ng photo na kuha niya mula sa Morristown, New Jersey (photo below). Parang scene sa Frozen ang dating.

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Sa Morristown, New Jersey ako unang napadpad at nanirahan dito sa Amerika. Tatlong taon din akong lumagi doon. Dito ko naranasan ang aking kauna-unahang White Christmas, na noon ay nakikita ko lamang sa mga pictures. Dito ko nasabing para akong nakatira sa loob ng Christmas card.

Nang ako’y bata pa at naninirahan sa Maynila, hindi ko inakalang ako’y makakaranas ng White Christmas. Nagkakasya na ako sa mga dekorasyon namin sa aming classroom sa paaralan ng mga Christmas tree na pinuno ng mga bulak para magmukhang may snow. Sa bulak lang masaya na ako.

Tapos sa klase kakanta kami ng “Dashing through the snow” at “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.” Ano ba naman ang malay ko sa snow at White Christmas? Alam ko lang noon ay “dashing through the flood!” Kinakanta rin namin ‘yung “Frosty, the Snowman.” Pero ‘yung Frosty alam ko at gusto ko. Ito ay isang brand ng ice candy noong bata ako. Masarap siya!

Taong 1991 nang nakaranas ako na pumuti ang kalsada sa Maynila. Pag-gising ko isang umaga at sa pagdungaw ko sa labas, ay nakita kong medyo maputi ang aming paligid. Nag-snow sa Maynila?! Pero nang aking kilatisin, hindi ito snow, kundi abo pala! Abo mula sa pagsabog ng Mt. Pinatubo.

Taong 1994, aking nilisan ang Pilipinas. Hindi para makakita ng snow o maghukay ng yelo, pero para tugisin ang aking mga pangarap sa buhay.

Ngayon, makatapos kong maranasan ang marami ng White Christmas, iba na ang gusto ko sa Pasko. Ibang puti na ang gusto ko, hindi snow. Puti, tulad ng puting buhangin sa beach ng Zambales.  Puti, tulad ng kesong puti sa loob ng bagong lutong pandesal. Puti, tulad ng bagong kaskas na niyog sa ibabaw ng puto bungbong.

Umulan na lang sana ng bagong kaskas na niyog. Samahan na rin sana ng pag-ulan ng puto bungbong at bibingka. Teka, masakit yatang mabagsakan ng bibingka!

Hay, nami-miss ko na naman ang Pilipinas.

Sa lahat ng mga Pilipino sa iba’t-ibang lupalop ng mundo, ano mang puti ang pumapaligid sa inyo – maging ito’y snow, o kaya’y abo at lahar, o puting buhangin at malinaw na dagat, o kaya’y disyerto, o mga puting semento, o kaya nama’y mga kumpol na bulak, o tambak ng puting basura, o kaya’y maging bagong kayod na niyog – kayong lahat ay aking binabati ng Maligayang Pasko!

 

 

Bethlehem Hills and Herod’s Mountain: A Christmas Reflection

It is mid-December, and in a few days it will be Christmas. It’s a season for celebration, yet it is well-known that the holiday season can be a cause of stress and depression for some people. Perhaps we should let go of that long Christmas shopping list of ours.

Even if the whole world celebrate Christmas in December, it is likely that Jesus was not born in the winter. Based on Biblical narrative, shepherds were watching their flocks in the fields at night during that time, and December nights in Judaea can be too cold for the shepherds to sleep outside in the fields.

Many scholars believe that it was probably spring time when Jesus was born, so December 25th is unlikely to be the exact date of Jesus’ birth. What I am saying is that the date may be off, yet I am not saying that we should not remember or celebrate Jesus’ birth. That’s another subject of discussion and debate.

Earlier this year, we were blessed with a visit to the Holy Land, including a trip to the city of Bethlehem.

IMG_4282.jpgBethlehem is about 10 kilometers away from Jerusalem. Today it is a Palestinian territory. So our guide who was an Israeli national and who was touring us in Jerusalem, boarded off our charted bus just before we entered Bethlehem, and another tour guide whom I assumed was a Palestinian, hopped in our bus after we entered the city and cleared the checkpoint. They must have some specific rules and arrangement.

We went to visit the Church of Nativity, the site believed where Jesus was born. This Byzantine basilica was built on top of a cave. So at the cellar of this church was a grotto (photo below), marked as the traditional site of Jesus’ birth.

img_4306Though the exact location is hard to prove accurately with archeological support, for me, it is enough that the city of Bethlehem exists to believe that Jesus was born. It does not matter where the exact spot is, as long as it was recorded that it was in Bethlehem, the city of David.

“For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”(Luke 2:11). What a reassuring thought, that our Lord and Savior came to this earth, and that should not be a cause of stress and depression, but instead of joy and hope.

While on the bus, I observed that the terrain around Bethlehem was hilly. In fact, Bethlehem sits on top of a hill rising about 3,500 feet above the desert valley. It must have been difficult for Mary who was fully pregnant and about to give birth to climb those hills.

IMG_4290We passed through some hills that were full of houses and buildings today (photo above). It was probably in one of those hills, two thousand years ago, where shepherds were watching their sheep when suddenly they saw a bright light and then the angels appeared to them announcing the birth of the Messiah. It must have been a marvelous experience to be on those hills that glorious night.

The tour guide asked us to look beyond Bethlehem hills and direct our sight to a strange-looking mountain in the distance. It was truncated and cone-shaped. I enlarged the section of the photo above to feature the mountain. (Sorry I was not able to get a better picture.)

IMG_4290It was a strange-looking mountain because it was man-made. The mountain was named Herodium, a fortress that Herod the Great constructed, about 5 kilometers southeast of Bethlehem. This was the same King Herod that tried to kill Jesus by slaughtering all the male infants in the region.

As history recorded it, when Herod the Great, was searching for a place to build his home and fortress, there was not a mountain high enough for him to build this structure. Instead there were two hills near each other at the site where he wanted it.

So what did Herod do? He cut down one hill and with an army of laborers he placed the pared hill on top of the other hill to make it higher, one bucket of dirt and rocks at a time. He literally moved a mountain.

When Jesus and his disciples were having discussion about faith, they were probably looking at this Herod’s mountain, which was hard to miss in the Judaean desert. Its dominating presence was a constant reminder of an oppressive regime. It was a common knowledge of that time how Herod moved a mountain.

However, what Jesus was telling his disciples is that faith, is much more powerful than what Herod can do. With faith they can be mightier than the mightiest ruler of their time.

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

Yes, we can move mountains. Though not by our own power but by the mighty power of God.

What mountains are we facing? What giant challenges are gripping our hearts with fear? Let’s put our faith in the King of Bethlehem hills, and He will move our mountains.

May we all have a meaningful Christmas.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Last Walk of a Fallen Jedi

(It’s Christmas season once again. Also in 10 days the new Star Wars movie will be out. I would like to re-post a story of one of our ICU patients. The original article was posted in December 2015, “When You Wish Upon A Star Wars.”)

I entered the room and stood silently at the foot of his bed, watching him breathe. He was hooked to a small ventilator that is connected to a mask covering his face with straps around his head, that he looked like a jet fighter pilot. Beside the bed was his father and his mother who were obviously distraught, yet trying to hold off tears.

Luke* (not his real name) was one of our ICU patients. Even though he was only in his 20’s, he had his fair share of surgeries and hospitalizations than many patients in a geriatric floor combined.

He had a genetic disorder that prevents the development of various organ system. This affects the skeletal system giving them a peculiar look and stature, that some people coin the term FLK syndrome: Funny-Looking Kid. Though for me, there’s nothing funny at all. This disorder also causes heart defects, and can involve other organs like the lungs, liver, gastrointestinal tract, lymphatic and blood system. Even so some people with this genetic disorder could live to adulthood, some would succumb to this disease early in life.

Luke had a number of surgeries to fix his heart problem, and other procedures too many to recall. He had been treated in well-known hospitals like Mayo Clinic, for his disease. But despite of all the technology and medical interventions, his body continued to betray him.

For the last several months he had been in and out of the hospital, usually staying for several weeks at a time, including ICU stay. I have taken care of him a number of times in the past.

In spite of his illness, Luke tried to live his life as “normal” as possible. His family gave him the opportunities and the best care they could. His mother, who was a patient of mine too, had the genetic disorder as well, albeit with a milder manifestation, thus I knew the family well.

One thing I learned, was that Luke likes Star Wars, even though the first Star Wars movie came out more than a decade before he was born. Perhaps he envisioned himself as a Jedi Knight. Yeah, he was a fan of this movie genre, just like the rest of us, I guess.

In this last hospital admission, Luke came in with a lung infection causing respiratory failure, requiring intubation and mechanical ventilation. He came on Thanksgiving Day.

After several days in our ICU, we were able to extubate (take out the endotracheal tube) him, only to place him on a non-invasive positive pressure ventilator (NIPPV) with a face mask, as he cannot breathe on his own. This is like a CPAP machine. At least he can stay awake and not be sedated on the non-invasive ventilator, and he can speak as well. He can only tolerate a limited time off the NIPPV, and had to be hooked right back on it. He would not survive without it.

As I watched him with his “jet-fighter mask” with his bed as his vessel, what came to mind was that in a cruel twist of fate, this kid who likes Star Wars, now breathes like Darth Vader: whoooh….poooh, whoooh…..poooh, whoooh…..poooh. Every breath, there’s a gush of pressurized air coming out of the ventilator and through his mask.

After one holiday, another one is approaching. Christmas is just around the corner. And Luke remains in the hospital, ventilator-dependent, with no clear sight that he’ll get better. He knows it, and his family knows it. Luke’s days here on earth is numbered.

With wishful thinking, maybe he can linger a little longer to see the new Star Wars movie which he was looking forward to seeing for the longest time. But how? Him in the hospital? On a ventilator?

But wait, isn’t it Christmas season after all?

Wish granted!

After making elaborate arrangements and collaboration, Luke and his family will be going to a movie theater, to be accompanied by some medical staff, for a special private showing of the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” when it opens this weekend.

After that trip to the theater, Luke will be going home for Christmas with his family, on hospice care. No more hospitals. No more ventilators. No more pain.

Perhaps he could stay home until Christmas. But if not, Luke could soar into the heavens and once and for all, walk on stars. His final home.

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Post Note: Luke made it through Christmas. He eventually lost his battle few months later.

The End Of A Miracle

(I am reposting an article from December 26, 2010, “My Christmas Calling.” I wrote it after being on-duty on Christmas day.)

Christmas morning. Freshly fallen snow was on the ground. It was a White Christmas after all.

Bah, humbug!

I forced myself to get up from bed. My throat was sore. It felt like somebody stuck a fork in my throat and scraped it raw. My body aches like I just ran a marathon. I caught a Christmas bug, you know. No, not the “joyful feeling” of the holidays. A real bug.

I don’t want to go to work, emotionally and physically. But I have to. I am on-duty for Christmas. Our patients in the hospital, especially in the ICU, needs my care. (But who will care for me?) On days like this, I just have to suck it in, take a couple (or make it a handful!) of Tylenol and will myself to go.

I left home with the kids still sleeping and the gifts under the tree unopened. Maybe I would be able to come home early and we can open the gifts together.

In the hospital I greeted people with perfunctory “Merry Christmas,” though I was not feeling the “merry” part. In fact was in a Scrooge-mood.

It was a busy day: 32 total hospitalized patients I rounded upon, 2 hospitals I went to, 19 ICU patients, 12 ventilator-dependent, 2 carbon monoxide poisoning that needed hyperbaric oxygen treatment, 1 chest tube insertion, 1 endotracheal intubation, 1 arterial catheter placement, 2 central venous catheter placement……. and a partridge in a pear tree.

As I dealt with the very critically ill patients and talked with their families, I knew that I was not the bearer of good tidings and joy, but rather of grim news most of the times. As the families broke down into tears and came to term to the gravity of the condition of their loved ones, I thought that these people were experiencing far worse Christmas than me. At least I am going home tonight. My patients will not. Some of them will not come home, ever. And for these families, Christmas will never be the same.

Slowly my “Grinchy” attitude peeled off and was replaced with a sympathetic spirit. I then realized my purpose for this holiday: that is to give my compassionate care for these unfortunate people, in this supposed to be joyful occasion.

The last patient I admitted to the ICU on Christmas came late afternoon. He was 32 years old. When he was 7, he received a life-giving gift, when he became a recipient of a heart transplant. His “miracle” heart had kept him alive for all these 25 years. However, for the past few years, his existence was less than joyful. Complications after complications have developed, and one by one his organs started failing. Including his borrowed heart.

Today he was brought to the Emergency Department barely alive. After transferring him to our ICU – placing him on a mechanical ventilator, putting tubes and catheters in his body, and flooding his system with medicines – his condition did not really improve much.

I spoke with her mother in the ICU’s waiting room. She quietly, but boldly stated, in between sobs, that she was ready to let go of her son who have suffered enough. She indicated to me that she just wanted his “boy” to go gently into the night.

Somehow, the ‘miracle’ heart will be resting this Christmas night.

Did the miracle ended?

I don’t think so. For the miracle of love persists. Love that is shown here by letting go. Letting go in some occasion, is more selfless than holding on.

There is another 7-year old boy who is waiting for his gift. That boy is my son waiting at home. He may be anxious to open his gifts. Or maybe he’s anxious just to see me come home.

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