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The Weekend of Christmas

*breathe in. breathe out.*

Before anything else, let me give an update on the Starbucks Planner I mentioned on my previous post. Well, on December 15, just before our trip to Isabela for Kuya Leo & Shezha's wedding, I was able to claim my "free" Starbucks Planner. I say "free" because I actually didn't buy anything. :) Thanks to my coffee-addict co-workers and my very supportive boss who bought the remaining beverages needed to complete the required number of stickers. :) And so I had two planners, the Belle De Jour Power Planner (which I also got for free :D) and the Starbucks Planner. Obviously, I cannot use them both, so I had to let go of one. ("Letting go something for someone this Christmas.") After thorough evaluation, I decided to keep the Belle De Jour (it has been my planner since 2010) and give the Starbucks planner to my brother (who gave it to his girlfriend as a Christmas gift). How do I know I made the right decision? I am happy and have no regrets. :)

Now allow me to share how I spent the weekend of Christmas. :)

Friday. December 23.
I left the office at exactly 6PM to attend the last Simbang Gabi at Bonifacio High Street. Once again, Fr. Jorge Peligro touched my heart when he asked us to sing "Silent Night." (And I suddenly missed singing with SFC Chorale Manila. God, help me fix my schedule that I may be able to fulfill one of my goals next year: to once again sing and serve with SFCCM.) Like his previous homilies, he began with a story. That time, he shared about a couple who never had the blessing of a child. The couple then decided to adopt a teenage kid and raised her as their own. Years passed, and when the girl was about twenty, she had a boyfriend, and eventually got pregnant. Her foster parents decided to let her stay with them, along with her baby. And they took care of the newborn as their own grandchild. On the following year, the adopted daughter got pregnant again, and the same thing happened the year after that. Soon enough there were already three kids playing around the couple's house. It was during that time when the adopted daughter felt she was no longer important. She got envious of her own children because all the couple's attention were on them. She finally ended her relationship with her foster parents and walked away. Unfortunately, that girl never knew what "family" is, because in the first place, she never had one. Yes, a couple was kind enough to adopt her but it was already too late for her to realize what a family truly meant. Fr. Jorge stressed the importance of family because as he explained, the first Christmas happened in the context of a family (Joseph, Mary, and Jesus). And so the central theme of his homily was: "Spending Christmas at Bethlehem... everywhere." Bethlehem literally means "House of Bread". In Bethlehem, the Child is born; in Bethlehem, the Bread of Life is born. There may be a lot of interpretations of the crib as one of the more popular symbols of Christmas, but Fr. Jorge gave a new meaning to it. According to him, in order to make our homes a Bethlehem, we must have CRIB.
Care instead of mere concern. With care, there's commitment and involvement. With concern, there could be just words and thoughts, and not necessarily actions.
Reconciliation instead of just respect. Respect is easier to give (in fact, it could be brought about by fear, which is actually not a good thing). You can have respect without having unity of heart and purpose. Reconciliation is deeper. It means meeting of two hearts and union of two minds. Respect can end wars but don't necessarily heal wounds and bring peace - something that can be achieved with reconciliation.
Insights instead of ideas. Ideas are temporary and passing, but insights are long-lasting. They are harder to generate because they are products of fervent prayer and reflection.
Beauty instead of brilliance. Too much intelligence (brilliance) only leads to competition and power-tripping while beauty brings about harmony and order.

And there goes the insightful homily of Fr. Jorge. And I thank God for allowing me to be blessed and inspired by His Words. Though I was not able to complete the nine-day novena, the homilies I've heard (all delivered by Fr. Jorge) are substantial enough to prepare my heart for the coming of the Lord. :)

After the mass, Lawrence and I were supposed to hire a cab to Madison Square (we're claiming our discounted gelato at Mio Gelati, thanks to the great deal from Ensogo) but God had other plans. :) He wanted us to witness the spectacular The Great Big Giant Christmas Story at the Central Amphitheater of Bonifacio High Street. It's a projected shadow play about Giant Jack, the little boy who wanted to give his family the "greatest gift". (It was also featured in Saksi. Watch the video here.) I won't share in detail but the moral of the story is in the lyrics of this song: the greatest gift... is any gift we freely give away to anyone who's loved us, hugged us, and kissed us, every single Christmas, and every single day. (And he whispered, "The greatest gift is the person whose hand I'm holding right now." ♥)

The journey to Madison Square was fun as Kuya Manuel eagerly shared his odd experiences as a taxi driver. We're thankful that he was wise enough to know the alternate routes and so we reached our destination safe and fast. :) When we got off at Madison Square, we headed straight to Mio Gelati, and upon the suggestion of the very friendly crew, we grabbed for ourselves two scoops of regular and premium gelato. I had Mango Cream Pie and Cookies & Cream, while Lawrence had Bubblegum (which tasted a lot like Bazooka :D) and Blueberry Cheesecake. It was such an awesome guiltless pleasure! :) Because "dessert comes first," we had our dinner after the gelato experience. :D After much contemplation and discernment, we decided to try Sunrise Buckets (since it was also the nearest). I know it's a bit costly, but as Lawrence said, "It's Christmas, and we're not going to eat there everyday anyway." Because it was our first time, we followed the advice of the lady at the counter. We ordered Sunrise Original Bucket (1 pound), Kasey's spaghetti, buttered rice, onion rings, and a pitcher of Sunrise Original Iced Tea. So, was it worth the price? I'd say, YES! We've gone to a lot of food establishments already (Lawrence and I really love to eat.) but I have never tasted anything like what we had there. There's simply something peculiar about their food. I don't know about their secret ingredient but I do know that it's uniquely delicious.

After feasting on the sumptuous meal, we went home full and satisfied. :)

And that was simply the perfect pre-Christmas date. ♥

Saturday. December 24.
I woke up to a call from Tita Monic asking for money for Lola Rosa's treatment. She was brought to the hospital the other day because she fainted and broke her arm. Thank God there's Cebuana just outside Lifehomes (and we - Tita Ana, Mama, and I - had a few bucks left, just enough to pay for Lola's hospital expenses). Later that afternoon, as scheduled, Lawrence and I did our last-minute "Christmas shopping." It's the second year that we're doing it. But unlike last year when we were able to buy gifts for all our "inaanaks", we only bought a few things for our respective family members. While walking to "the place to be" (Ever Ortigas) we talked about our plans for 2012. :) The whole afternoon, just like last year, was a glimpse of what we would be 2-3 years from now. And I couldn't help but be excited and hopeful. :) We had dinner at Chowking and went home to wrap the gifts. When Lawrence left, Mama and I talked about how the year has been for us. Just last November, two of my grandmothers (Lola Moning, Papa's foster mother, and Lola Basing, Mama's aunt) died, we (Mama, Tita, and I) went to Iloilo (on separate dates) to visit Lola Rosa (who has been in and out of the hospital), Lolo Banoy (Papa's father) also asked for monetary assistance (Since Lola Santa died, he was left alone in the mountains of Bayawan, with no source of food other than what the mountains could provide, and no source of income.), and the list goes on. Mama sighed and said, "Kung iisipin mo, ang blessed talaga natin." (Come to think of it, we are really blessed.)

I say everything is grace. It was the grace from the Lord which enabled us to give (and spend) more than what we earn. If you would look at our family's financial statement, you would see that almost always, the ending balance is negative. But how are we able to survive and at the same time support our families in Iloilo and Bayawan? We would never make it if we relied merely on our own capacities. Everything was made possible through the grace of God. And we can't thank Him enough.

During Noche Buena, my brother led the prayer which was mostly for the victims of Sendong. (We feel for them for we were victims of Ondoy, too.) We shared a simple meal but we were more than grateful because we have food and shelter - the basic necessities which the Sendong victims lack.

And so that was the eve of Christmas.

Sunday. December 25.
Mama woke us up early to prepare for the 8AM mass at Rosario Church. For the first time after a long while, we were able to hear mass together as one family. That is such a momentous event. :)

After the mass, I went to VVEV to spend the rest of the day with Lawrence's family. I took care, fed, and played with his nieces and nephews. We were also given the rare opportunity to read and edit a missionary's Christmas reflection and we were just honored and inspired. :)

We went home just before dinner but we no longer ate for we were still full. :)

And that was how my Christmas day went. Simple, yet priceless.

Allow me to end this post with a video I made more than a year ago for Ate Gemma's talk (Christian Life Program Talk 2: Who is Jesus Christ?).

As we celebrate Christmas and prepare for the coming year, may we always be reminded of the real reason for the season, Jesus. :)

That would be all for now. Good night and God bless, everyone! Merry Christmas! ♥

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