Thursday, December 18, 2014

Kindred Spirits


In 1925, long before I was born, Severino Reyes—founder and editor of the Tagalog magazine, Liwayway—started writing Kuwento ni Lola Basyang (stories of Grandma Basyang) for the magazine and used Lola Basyang as his pen name.

Lola Basyang is a character similar in form and function to Mother Goose. In his lifetime, Severino, wrote 400 of such stories about kings, love, and enchanted places.

Twenty five years later, Severino’s son, Pedrito, revived the Lola Basyang stories in comic book form, with illustrations by Maning de Leon, Jesus Ramos, and Ruben Yandoc.

For another 25 years, these stories were made into movies that became box-office blockbusters. 

As a little girl, I had my own Lola Basyang—my Lola Cionang, mom of my mom. She would retell some of those stories (re-published in Bannawag magazine, the Ilocano version of Liwayway), embellished with her experiences and punctuated with Christian values. Often, she would tell her own stories, making them up as she went along.

For years, since I started writing children’s stories in the year 2000, when asked what made me begin writing stories for children, I flip-flopped from one answer to another. It varied from “it’s just an accident to it’s fun” because in truth, I didn’t know why. My most common rationale was, “Stories for children is a category in the Palanca Awards which charms me most because it inculcates love for literature and family values among children.”

(My first children’s book won first prize in this writing competition; all my six Palanca awards are for this category.)

But I think I found the real answer when my family spent some time at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, a heritage resort in Bataan this time last year. It is a village of restored Spanish-era houses with cobblestone roads near the beach.

There I came upon Lola Basyang. Serendipity! And memories came flooding back.   

It was she, or rather, it was my Lola Cionang’s story-telling prowess that made me fall in love with children’s stories—and now, writing them myself. Why, we’re kindred spirits!

It’s mind-blowing how the grace of childhood leads us to our charmed choices in adulthood.

This Bible verse found in Proverbs 22:6 (KJV) has the words for it, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Owning Christmas


(Devotional reflections on Christmas at the last get-together for the year of the Christian Writers' Fellowship)  

Let me begin by showing you my Christmas tree this year. The white fabric and ecru tissue-paper flowers are all made by hand—mine. All told, the trimmings of this 12-year-old tree is less than P500.

I call it my tree because the men who live with me—a husband and two sons—don’t even know it’s there. When son No. 1 came home on the day I finished trimming it, I asked, “Tada! How do you like my tree?”

“Nice.”

When son No. 3 came home, again I asked, “How do you like my tree?”

“Mom, it’s November 1, it’s a long way to Christmas!"

Finally, the husband came home, “How do you like my tree?”

“You better make sure those are LED lights to save on electricity.”

Indeed, it is my Christmas tree! 

But my Christmas tree pushed me into a pit of unpleasant thoughts. It’s the Christmas season once again and the country gets busy, proven by the horrible traffic.

Sadly, this is symptomatic of what Christmas has become: we have owned Christmas as our personal time for revelry.

The trouble with owning something is, we think we can do anything with it—our own way. Yes, we have appropriated Christmas for: our own joy, our own party, our own holiday, our own time to do our happy things like taking a vacation, mounting reunions, shopping for gifts, decorating the home, preparing Noche Buena food, receiving Christmas bonus, buying new outfits, and for me, trimming my tree.

At the backseat of a Christian's mind is that we celebrate Christmas because it is the symbolic date of our Savior's birth. But, really, what is the percentage of this thought in relation to all the other things sold in stores during the season?

In the university where I teach, in lieu of exchange gifts, each faculty member will give a gift to a child somewhere in the slums of Cavite. Well and good. When those gifts are sent over, the kids will naturally think of Christmas as the time for them to receive gifts—again pushing to the back burner the reason for the occasion.

In my neighborhood, one house opens its gate on Christmas Day; the owner gives away food and gifts to anyone who comes around. You should see the long line of people waiting for their freebies under the heat of the sun, or the rain. 

The less fortunate among us go on a heyday knocking on doors, declaring, “Namamasko po!” (I have come to collect my gift this Christmas!), as though people owe them. How many organizations go around singing carols, asking for donations—it's fund-raising time! 

Driving through villages, you’ll find security guards flailing boxes for money from oncoming vehicles. Every single messenger—from the post office, insurance company, Meralco, to PLDT, leave an envelope to homeowners, expecting it to be filled with cash.  And if the homeowner says, “I am sorry,” he murmurs, "Ang kuripot."  (How stingy.) 

Entitlement. Because we have owned Christmas, we feel we are entitled to receive, to have our own agenda on how to spend it. Naturally the retail business takes advantage of this ownership.

Our Bible history tells us that the very first Christmas—the year Jesus was born—was the opposite of the Christmas that we know today. In the small town of Bethlehem, it was awfully dark. Sleepy shepherds were keeping watch over their flock.

After that Holy Birth, it didn’t get any better. There came the time when all that people heard were woeful sounds of inconsolable mothers, weeping. The magi (which we have erroneously baptized as the three kings) went to Judea searching for the newborn King of the Jews, having "seen His star in the east." They were directed to the small village of Bethlehem. On their way there, King Herod asked them to let him know who this King was when they found Him. What Herod had in mind was an evil scheme—to kill Jesus. He was afraid that this new King would take over his throne. 

The magi found Jesus and honored Him, but an angel told them not to go back to Herod, so they returned home by another route. Realizing he had been fooled by the magi, Herod was livid. He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and below.   

In those dark days, the prophecy in the Old Testament was fulfilled. In Jeremiah 31:15 we read, “A cry is heard in Ramah—deep anguish and bitter weeping. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted—for her children are gone.”

Our Bible tells us that the very first Christmas, God in all His majesty, became Flesh so that everyone, all sinners, may be saved from the mire of sin.  That is the reason for Christmas, which is lost in the hoopla and noble effort to be generous to everyone.  

In the Philippines, children trek to the homes of their ninong (godfather) and ninang (godmother)  expecting a gift. We wonder whether the reason for all this fuss was ever explained in detail to these children—if at all. 

And because we own Christmas, we often hear these words:   

“Christmas is for children.” Christmas has been delegated to children. 

“The true meaning of Christmas is giving.” This obligates us to give gifts on Christmas.

“It doesn't feel like Christmas." We have assigned Christmas to entertain us.  

And then we hear familiar complaints:

“So many calamities—what a terrible Christmas!” “No bonus this year? Oh, it’s going to be a very sad Christmas.” “My husband can’t come home from Dubai, our Christmas won’t be complete.” “Christmas is so expensive.” This one I heard on TV, “Pasko na naman, walang wala ako. Nakakalungkot, wala man lang akong maibigay, maski bagong damit ng mga apo ko.” (It's Christmas again. I am so broke, I can't even give my grandchildren new clothes.)

Indeed, we have sequestered Christmas for our own—and we celebrate Christmas as though it were our own birthday party or blow-out for a job well done.  We read on FB many plans for Christmas, we see photos of beautifully decorated homes and planned special food for the Christmas dinner.

Are these things familiar to you? Fruit cake, ham, keso de bola, parol from Pampanga, gift list, Santa Claus, Christmas party, and in the US, mistletoe, Christmas balls and wreaths.  We have added so many doodads to Christmas that we have to wade through them to remember its essence. Yes, the definition of Christmas has blurred. Worse, adults and children have their own definition of Christmas.

With other holidays in the year, we focus on the celebration. On Independence Day, we have flag raising ceremonies and wave miniature flags of our country. On Araw ng Kagitingan, we honor our heroes in appropriate ceremonies. On our own birthday, people greet us. On labor Day, Teacher’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, People Power Day, plus all the days invented by marketing men, we focus on the reason for the celebration.

But on Christmas?

Today, there is a growing pressure in Western countries, which has already arrived at SM, to replace  "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays." A salesgirl greeted me last week, “Happy Holidays, Ma’am.” I replied, “Merry Christmas! Bakit nawala na si Christ sa Christmas?” (Why did you delete Christ from Christmas?)

“Yun po ang utos sa amin. Kung 'Merry Christmas' daw po, baka may masaktan.” (Our instruction from management, Ma'am, so as not to offend anyone.) Of the 20 cards I received last year, 18 omitted the word Christmas. 

People have indeed owned Christmas as their own holiday.  Meaning, more and more people are being swayed to the idea that using the word Christmas is no longer politically correct, and therefore,  a no-no.  

Is political correctness taking precedence over truth?   

The truth was, is, and forever shall be. Christmas symbolizes the day the world witnessed the most astounding voluntary act of grace.  It was the day the Almighty and sovereign God took upon Himself the form of a Servant.  

Yes, the One deserving to be served, revealed Himself as One desiring to serve. It was the day the world witnessed the most genuine act of self-humbling. 

So completely, absolutely, totally, thoroughly did our Lord Jesus Christ humble Himself that He surrendered His will to the will of His heavenly Father.  More than amazing, the eternal Son of God became Flesh in humble surroundings, was subjected to human parents, dwelt in a modest home, reviled by the very people whom He served, and died between two common criminals with nothing on His back.    

On that first Christmas, on that single act of human birthing, God revealed the truth, previously unknown to us, that only through Jesus can man go on living in a glorious eternal home.  

Everyone, including hardhearted scientists, or maybe even atheists, cannot deny a Supreme Power through the spectacular things around us: the starry nights, the incredible sunrises and sunsets, the roar of thunder, the depths of oceans, the colors of flowers, and the fury of volcanoes.  Then among Christians, the Bible—a divine revelation of God.

But of all the startling revelations of almighty God, none is clearer than God's final revelation of Himself in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ.

How can December 25 (or the day the shepherds heard from heaven), then, not be anything but Christmas?

Jesus came to earth for all men; we can have Him as our own personal Savior if we accept Him in our heart. But we can never own the day amazing Grace was birthed for us on Christmas Day. Only Jesus owns Christmas; we don’t. Although He gave Himself for all of us on Christmas, we should not take the liberty of owning that divine, spectacular day. 

Simply believing in the Name of Jesus, born on Christmas, our Savior, Son of God, will birth a new spirit in us. In John 1:12 (KJV), we read, "But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name . . ."  

Merry Christmas!   
 ( Photo credit: Malu Tiongson-Ortiz)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Old, Older Friends


Years wreak havoc on one's face and body. Like violent storms, they leave you physically ravaged. This you’d never find out once you believe what your friends say:

"You don't look a day older!"

"You look the same since the last time I saw you."

"What keeps you forever young?"

But each time I look in the mirror, I am told a different story. Unlike my friends, the mirror neither cares about my feelings nor about me. It gives me an in-you-face, line-by-line account of what I have turned into with the passing of years. 

This doesn’t make me unique.  

Celebrities who have an arsenal of expensive make-me-look-good tricks are not exempt from the onslaught of years. Proof?

I recently met in a party a dozen of my old friends from the corporate world where I overstayed and spent the most vigorous part of my life. One look and I realized (they realized, as well), although very discreetly, we are no longer the same.

Thought balloons:

Who is this old lady? Grace?!

He used to be a heartthrob.

She has doubled, no tripled, in size!

His hair has not turned gray, it’s gone!

This is definitely the geriatric set!


Then the conversations begin. And, without warning, the joy of seeing each other again immediately deletes the grotesque thought balloons. Years are cruel on what the eyes can see, but kind to the soul. Why, we're a new, improved version of our old selves: wittier, wiser, mellower, and sillier.

Grudges, biases, bitterness (a.k.a. bitchiness in our time) have grown so old they are forgotten. What the heart remembers are the excitement and the highs of once working together—adversaries one minute, allies the next—summed up as the best of times.  
Old friends are older, but God so designed friendship never to age. In fact, it grows stronger with  distance, with years in between, with memories of an ancient past, and with a thought that today, we no longer sweat the small stuff, but savor the grace that comes with the big ones, meaning, only those that truly matter.  

"Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." 1Thessalonians 5:11 (ESV)


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Black Cat


At dawn, the first living organism I lock eyes with is, yes, a black cat.

We are both early risers. It glares at me and I glare back. It seems to know what time I open our gate for my morning walk; it positions itself just a yard away. Then it blinks, crosses my path, and retreats when it hears my purposeful, determined march.

The next walking day, the black cat is there again, as though it has been assigned to keep watch. 

In the town where I grew up, people were afraid of a black cat. As a little girl I would hear adults looking upon this creature as a symbol of bad luck or misfortune, especially if it crosses a person’s path.

But my grandmother, the sage in my growing-up years, would pooh-pooh such idea, “Hogwash! God created all kinds of cats—and one of these species is colored black.”

She was, as usual, right. How could a black cat negate the joy of seeing the sunrise, of feeling the sweat on my back and the breeze that dries it off, and of having the energy to walk for an hour and be active all my hours after that?

How could a black cat diminish the grace that wafts around me with every recorded step on my pedometer, with every breath I take (those last five words I borrowed from a song I swooned over as an adolescent in love with love)?

I’ve been taking my early morning walks for the last thirteen years—this number is another bad omen in our town, but that’s another story—and in all those years, a black cat has mostly been the opening act of my new day.

As cats only have a life span of 12-15 years, the one that crossed my path this morning may be a daughter/son of the very first one who ever greeted me 13 years ago.

Tomorrow, when the black cat meets me just off our gate, it will be another blessed day—just as all my days have been while I can still walk jauntily on the land where the Lord placed me.

“My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.” Psalm 130:6 (KJV)

  

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Write, Win Prizes, and Be Published


Call for entries!

Media Associates International (MAI) has announced:

“Help us encourage Christian writers worldwide. Submit an original devotional aimed to inspire and nurture the faith of fellow writers around the globe. Top devotionals will be published in a devotional booklet for worldwide use in writing workshops and beyond. Your devotional may be selected to appear here on MAI’s LittWorld Online blog, a resource for writers worldwide. Win cash and bless writers beyond your borders.” (click for details)

For this exciting contest, please watch this MAI video:



Yes, that’s me. I am a behind-the-scenes author, who’d rather write than talk, but for this contest I made an exception and took the bold step of talking to an international audience.

I’d do anything to encourage fellow published (and closet) Christian writers to keep writing about the grace that comes only from God and spread the word.   

“Beautiful words stir my heart. I will recite a lovely poem about the king, for my tongue is like the pen of a skillful poet.” Psalm 45:10 (NLT)


Monday, December 1, 2014

Happy Home


In recent years, there has been a surge of single-parent and extended families. The nuclear family (defined as a group that includes only the father, mother, and biological children) is vanishing.

I prefer to define family as a household with a father, mother, children (biological or adopted), and househelps, who treat every individual with respect, and whose love for each other and God is boundless.  

That’s why when OMF Literature, my publisher, asked me to write a series of storybooks 20 months ago on a family, I chose to call it “Happy Home.”

The characters are loosely based on real-life people who had been an important part of my youth, juxtaposed into a family that consists of a father, a mother, three children (two are biological and one, adopted) and a fiercely loyal househelp.

Two books were scheduled for launching at the International Book Fair last September, but heartbreaking snags got in the way, the details of which I don't want to remember. Finally on December 20, three months later, just before Christmas, the first book in the series will be launched.

It is called Coming Home. 

A talented artist, whose body of work I have admired from a distance, was dropped from heaven to illustrate "Happy Home." His name is Leo Kempis Ang and while making the book come to life, he has become a cyber friend. His humorous/Pinoy style fits the book series to a tee, a joy I share with my editor, Joan. Below are some of his sketches that have been put to bed.                    

 
Coming Home has come . . . in God’s own time.

What was also dropped from heaven after the aborted book launching was an unexpected grace of patience.

For someone who was born with a wart called impatience and thrives best in a quick-paced work environment, I received exactly what I needed.  

Wait, God must have whispered in my ear. And I listened. 

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven . . .” Ecclesiastes 3:1

(I will blog about the details of the launching as soon as everything is finalized. You are all invited to come and join the fun!)


Friday, November 28, 2014

Can You Explain Explain?


One of the most difficult words to explain is: explain.

Even a teacher in communications, like I am, can't find the simplest, most understandable words to explain it well so it may be understood.

Mr. Webster defines explain thus, "To tell someone something in a way that helps them understand it better." Mr. Roget gives these synonyms: illustrate, interpret, elucidate (words that don’t make explaining any easier). 

The learning outcomes (UK-based) prescribed in my class writing requirement were pretty simple: identify and explain

What I got from one of my students was a jumble of many words identifying facts and figures, quotations from reliable sources of more facts and figures, but no explanation.  

I showed him his work, and said, "You did not explain what you identified.” 

"I did."

"Where is your explanation?"

He pointed to the facts and figures and all the words he wrote that occupied two precious pages, totaling 500 words.

"But you did not explain them. What do these facts and figures mean? I borrowed Mr. Webster’s words, "Tell me in words that will help me understand these better." 

He looked at me with such incredulity I felt like my IQ dropped to 12.  

"You don’t understand these?" he asked.

The earth beneath me caved in. Only grace made me survive the moment, grasping words, “Oh, I do, but the instruction says, you have to explain. And if you don’t, you only get half a grade. You identified really well, but you did not explain.”

Mouth agape, he stared at me. Mouth pursed, I stared back.    

He blinked, “Do I have to re-do my paper?”

“Well, not if you don’t want to. But if you want to get the other half of your grade . . ."

“I will re-do it,” he mumbled. 

I released the breath held in my lungs too long. 

“Let my teaching fall on you like rain; let my speech settle like dew. Let my words fall like rain on tender grass, like gentle showers on young plants.” Deuteronomy 32:2


Monday, November 24, 2014

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe:

Eight years today! 

What’s an eight-year-old like? 

He is in third grade. If he loves to read, he should be on his fifth adventure book; if he attends Sunday School, he should have memorized two dozen verses; if he is into sports, he should be spending his free time enjoying them; if he has been trained to work with his hands, he should be doing his assigned home chores on his own. He now contributes to making decisions in the family.

That eight-year-old was born at the same time as Leaves of Grace. How he has grown!

Yup, I complete my eight years of blogging today. So how have I grown?

In content, I have not strayed from the reason I said “uncle” after being out-argued by my sons, pushing me into creating this site.

Grace.

It so overwhelms I can’t write enough about it.

In November 2006, I was not yet a grandma—now I am, a very proud one, eight years wiser and eight years happier (I am still working on being more patient).

In faith, I have evolved from the size of a mustard seed. With every blog, I try to get to know the great Author of life better. With every sunrise, I try to hone my chops to write more incisively. With every change of a calendar year, I try to reflect on what was, with thanksgiving. With every phrase, I try to look at words as God-given pearls so that I could, as my friend Yna would encourage authors, string them into a precious necklace that honors Him.

In numbers, I now have cyber friends from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, a total of 193 countries (four short of all countries in the world).                    
I have over 234,000 hits and about 20,000 comments and reviews. My posts have come up to 839, and as I review post one, I realize this: 

No matter how old one gets, she is still a work-in-progress. Perfection can only come on the day Christ returns. What an awe-inspiring, mind-boggling moment that would be! 

Old header down:

New header up: 
 
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6 (NLT)


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Vanilla Ice Cream


My doctor’s squiggles, all two pages of orders on how I should be admitted/treated in the hospital, are difficult to read. I don’t even attempt to decipher the hieroglyphics. But three words leap out of the pages: vanilla ice cream.  I dismiss them as eye trick. After all, I have never been a big fan of vanilla ice cream. 

So I get settled in what could be a nice room had it not been in a hospital, with a nurse who immediately barks orders for me to gulp half a bottle of laxative! “The next half should be taken after an hour. One more bottle after that.”

(The medical procedures in the morning require a super clean tummy and colon.)

“No solid food for 12 hours,” she adds.

“What?!” I panic. But I am hungry.

“Except vanilla ice cream,” her lips break into a smile.  

No thanks. I realize the three words I read are not an eye trick; my doctor really means vanilla ice cream! Of all the ice-cream flavors in the world, he has to choose the one I dislike.

But after ten thousand trips to the bathroom, my tummy begs for food. So Tony promptly goes out to buy me vanilla ice cream, his excuse to leave a whining, groaning bundle of nerves.

He comes back with two cones. Without missing a beat, I prepare to tackle one. At that point I was prepared to eat dust.
"Just the vanilla, skip the chocolate chips and nuts!" Tony takes the side of the nurse.

Grudgingly, I say good-bye to what could make the vanilla ice cream bearable, and bring the white stuff inside my mouth.

And I hear violins . . . heavenly sounds that match the heavenly taste of the yummiest thing that has ever landed on my tongue. 

The melodious strings are joined by a full orchestra and angel voices as I wolf down the second cone. Ahhh . . . 

I am back home now, thanking God for holding my hand during the whole ordeal. I am still groggy from the anesthesia and lack of proper sleep. The results are not exactly excellent, but non-life-threatening. Through the 24-hour harrowing experience, there is one blissful thought: vanilla ice cream.

I’ve always known that grace comes to us in various forms. But I didn’t know it comes in cones, too. Now I do.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (ESV)

 

Friday, November 21, 2014

TGIF


While working people may be sighing, exclaiming, or whispering "TGIF" today, I am packing my suitcase for a destination nobody would wish upon his worst enemy: the hospital. My tummy doctor said I should check in for some tummy work-up tomorrow.

I am not looking forward to it.  Okay, I loathe it. Medical procedures are the opposite of a relaxing soak in a Jacuzzi. It’s similar to the prospect of balancing on a high wire without a safety net.

I exaggerate.

I want to humor that part of myself that can still smile, no matter what the circumstances. That’s the part of me that stubbornly writes about grace despite wars, massacres, corruption, bigotry, hatred, betrayal, and all sorts of trouble and turbulence in this mad-crazed world.  

Admonition to self: Nothing, not even a medical procedure, nor its results, should benumbed the Strength yoked upon the heavy-laden heart of one who believes in a God who promised, “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:29-30 (NLT)

Indeed, thank God it’s Friday!

photo credit

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cyber Persona


Blogging and joining social networking sites are a no-no to many people. Reason? "I don't want to bare my soul in public."

Some netizens argue that one can bare only what he wants to bare. "Many of what one reads or sees in cyber photos are people's public persona, meant to impress, making them bigger than they really are. Their private lives are just a fraction of what they project, and sometimes totally different."  

One active fashion blogger is actually an old grandma who looks nothing like the fashion plate her writings and photos reveal.

"It's my stress buster," she says, laughing. She gets a kick out of the comments of her conned readers.

The persona of Jesus yesterday, today, and tomorrow had, has been and will always be the same. What our forefathers read in their Bibles is exactly the same as what we are reading today.

Readers may change, but Bible truths (whether in printed or e-book form) remain the same.

In the same manner, God’s grace draws no line. What was bestowed to our forefathers is the same grace offered to both non-netizens with a private persona and for netizens who weave an awesome public persona.   

"But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." Matthew 23:12

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Boy without a Smile


Sometime ago I wrote a book entitled Ragamuffin Kid: The Boy without a Smile.  It was one of four stories in art published by Ayala Museum. 

The hero is Bulan, a mute orphan boy, who kept walking and walking because he had no place to go.  Sometimes, kind people would give him leftover food or old clothing, but always, he slept on the sidewalk at night. 

After a very long walk, he saw a family in the park who were so happy they seemed to have a perpetual smile. In fact, when they saw him, they smiled!  Not only did they smile, they offered him a home.

It didn’t take long before the mute boy found his voice, then started smiling. And he never stopped smiling ever again.

Why do some people never smile?

My niece had this answer. “Only animals do not smile, so if someone doesn’t like to smile, maybe he is not human,” she said this with a big smile, followed by more smiles.

The late Mother Teresa, an awardee of Nobel Peace Prize, once said, “Peace begins with a smile.” 

Indeed, after hurting someone and you smile at him/her, saying you’re sorry, the odds are, he/she will smile back and the enmity is diffused.

People who like to smile say a lot of good things about why we should smile. Santosh Kalwar, a poet and an author, wrote, “I was smiling yesterday, I am smiling today, and I will smile tomorrow. Simply because life is too short to cry for anything.” 

The Boy without a Smile, a historical fiction set 100 years ago, was inspired by Juan Luna’s painting entitled Ragamuffin Kid (cover of the book). It is available at the Ayala Museum Art Shop.

If you can grab a copy, it may just cause you to remember all the grace around you and . . .  smile.

"Always be joyful; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 15:16  (NLT)


Monday, November 10, 2014

Casual Cyberparade


The days when people were discreet about their relationships are gone forever. Except for those in their seniors years, nobody remembers or pines for those times anymore. 

What we are treated to on social media is a parade of what goes on in people's private lives. Reading "In a relationship" and "It's complicated" is as casual and as frequent as OMG (Oh My God!).
 
Intimate love letters to one’s spouse or significant other are now public documents for everyone to “like” and gush over in “comment.”

(Strangers whom I've never met in my life call me "Mommy" so casually, I try hard to remember if I actually birthed them.)

Yes, times have changed—we are in what many call the age of casualness, when formality is passé and rules are relaxed.

It is not uncommon to see old people wobbly clinging to backs of bus seats while able-bodied males are so casual they can't even stand up to offer their seats. 

May we never be so casual to use the name of God irreverently. Humans dependent on grace can never be on a par with the almighty Grace Himself. The Creator and His creation are not on the same level. Not in the way that we call our pals "Bro" or "'Pre." 

The Bible is clear on this, "You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name” Deuteronomy 5:11(NLT)

Lord, Your name is above all names. Guide us to never misuse it. Amen.

(This post is a page from my latest book, Grace@Work, published by OMF Literature, and launched at the 2014 Manila International Book Fair.) 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Can't Buy Me Peace


Millions of fans wailed and sobbed when Michael Jackson, Pop/Rock star, died at age 50. 
TV networks, newspapers, radio, the Net—every medium known to man—went on a frenzy outdoing each other with the most detailed and graphic update. 

Almost three years later, his personal physician was found guilty for injecting Michael with surgical anesthetic powerful enough to put him to sleep. That, plus the other drugs in the singer’s system, caused his death. In his defense, the physician told the court that the singer begged him, “Just make me sleep; it doesn’t matter what happens.”

Regularly over the years, according to news items, Michael took sedatives and other drugs to make him sleep. In his interview with Oprah, he said he had a very lonely childhood; he couldn't play outside with other kids because he was stuck inside either rehearsing, recording or performing. 

Tons of articles have been written about how he spent a remarkable amount of time avoiding people, wearing disguises, breaking off relationships, and changing telephone numbers; people still pursued him. He tried being different by altering his looks, but he couldn't change the person that he was. 

Talent, fame, power, and money came into one man. But when things went wrong or in his moments of emptiness, not one—nor all—could buy him peace.

Those of us who believe in the God of grace and peace, know that peace can only come, for free, to anyone who accepts Him as his Savior in his heart.

"I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid." John 14:27 (NLT)

(This is an excerpt from my book, Circle of Compassion, published by OMF Literature in 2013.)

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Sunday, November 2, 2014

All of My Days


College students often interview me about creative writing as part of their class project. I make time for these interviews because, not only do I learn more about the young, I also learn more about myself.

My last interview was by someone called Raff. He had the usual questions: "Where do you get your ideas?" "How long have you been writing?" "What is your advice to beginning writers?"

But one question that made me stutter with the answer I thought had, but not really, was this: "Aside from writing, reading, teaching, and, as a break from the three, solving crossword puzzles, what else do you do?"

Aren't those enough? were the words I halted in my mind.

His was a legitimate question, usually from young people. To them, writing is a breeze, reading takes only a fraction of one's time, and teaching is a cinch (students tune off in class anyway, so hours of preparation do not count).

"I do nothing else," I finally answer Raff. "These three tasks take all of my time, all of my soul, all of me. In fact, I wish there were more than 24 hours in one day so I could do more of the same."

My reply made Raff stutter, too, confused about what to say next. The words he halted in his mind must have been, That's all you do?! What a boring life!

My answer would have been, That's all I do and it is a charmed life.

Then I’d hum the praise song, All of my days, I will speak of Your goodness. All of my days I will speak of Your grace.  And while humming, I’d change the lyrics: All of my days I will write, read, and teach of your goodness. All of my days I will write, read, and teach of you grace.

Why? Raff would then ask.  

The actual interview ended five paragraphs ago. Yet I continue to play the hypothetical Q and A in my mind because when I contemplate God's grace, I see no ending. But my life on earth will someday end, so all of my days . . .
Because there is unwritable, unreadable, and unteachable joy in God’s presence. 

"You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." Psalm 16:11 (NIV)  

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Spot the Book Lover


Book lovers are not many in this country. But you can easily spot one anywhere.

At a book store, she is riveted to a page, oblivious to the noise or commotion around her. 

In a coffee shop, his one hand reaches for his mug, while his eyes hungrily feast on an open book held by his other hand. 

At a book sale, he quickly scans all the titles with covetous eyes, while clutching two or three chosen titles close to his chest. 

Seated on a public bench or anything that resembles a chair (building stairways, maybe), she stares at her e-book reader, while waiting for . . . whomever. 

In any queue, she sports no bored look; she has that furrowed brow or a half smile, depending on what page of her book she’s on.

Knowing his gift is a book, a kid tears the gift wrapper and starts reading. 

Spying a book on a messy table, she reaches out for it, flips a page, and she’s done in.

In her home, her knick-knacks are book ends. His shelves spill over with books even in the dining room.

My friend Glo and I recently attended OMF Lit’s corporation meeting, which happens once a year, and which we both never miss, knowing we’d be given a bag of free books as appreciation for our attendance.  

In the car on our way home, we dug into our paper bag, chose a book, and started reading.

Even through the Ayala tunnel, which was pitch-black, we lifted our books into positions where we could catch the light of other vehicles. We used our cellphones to enhance the lighting. This was us all the way—through bad traffic and whatever else.

In my circles, many of my friends love books. Tony reads one a week. It’s one of life’s non-guilty pleasures.

Book lover. Spot her anywhere; find a kindred spirit in him. Look at how grace makes her eyes sparkle; watch how grace illumines his face.

It is my prayer that the path of all book lovers be lit by words, especially God’s, in the greatest book ever written, the Bible.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105 


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Slave to Batteries


Wrist watches in ancient days (my time) had no batteries. We manually wound them in the morning and they kept going all day.

Then came those mechanical watches that need no winding. The natural motion of the wearer's arm provides energy to run the watch. 

But horror of horrors, in the '70s, battery-powered watches tick-tocked their way in, too. They were touted to be more accurate than other watches. And modern man, being more time conscious than ever before, latched on to this new technology, which has since become the benchmark of wrist watches.  

Designers joined the fray and have been coming up, ad nauseum, with designs limited only by one's imagination.

Now, here’s the thing. My predisposition towards resisting the usual was swept by the tide.

So if you're into uniquely-designed watches like I am, you become a victim of battery-powered watches, now sold practically anywhere (including flea markets) at much lower costs than the functional, mechanical ones.

I now have a drawer-full of bracelet-like, one-of-a-kind watches (received as gifts or bought on a whim) and it seems like I am in a watch shop every week for new batteries.

In my Marketing Communication class today, I discussed needs, wants, and demands. It seemed as though the lecture was for me, not for my students. My wrist watch need has morphed into want, and worse, into demand.

I have been sucked into a deep hole, enslaved by batteries. 

My single thought at this moment: sell all my watches at our forthcoming church's fund-raising garage sale.

With my slew of watches gone, I will save every centavo I shall have spent on batteries, and with my savings, I will buy myself one plain, mechanical watch that will last me all the remaining years of my life. 

It's a bright, brilliant thought that can only be accomplished with iron will, steeled by grace. 

“And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’” Luke 12:15 


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Gender-sensitive Books


Gender sensitivity, per se, is easy to understand. It is the ability to recognize issues and problems in the way societies look at gender. It is a pressing issue in places that still treat women inferior to men.

I was invited to speak on this topic by Zonta International. My talk was well-received, and modesty aside, applauded.

This emboldened me to accept an invitation to speak before high school students, their teachers, and some advocates for women. Being an author, I was to focus on the impact of books on gender sensitivity.  

In my message, I established parameters: I’d speak only of two genders because I have no opinion on anything outside of those. I avoided getting into issues of the LGBT group, which is using gender sensitivity to leverage their position.

I spoke of the creation and gender bias against women in books. Citing research data and book classics, I said that women still have a long way to go in being viewed as the heroine. Men are typecast in that role and readers in general have accepted this status quo. 

I also emphasized that my favorite book, the Bible, makes no distinction between men and women in using God-given talents. “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith . . .” Romans 12: 6 (ESV)

Was I nonplussed in the Q and A portion when I received written questions (9 out of 10) that dwelt on LGBT, such as:

“How can I stop myself from being gay?”

“Why do you say that there are only two genders, when there are gays and lesbians.”

“What happens when a boy says he is a girl?”


Gender sensitivity is not easy to understand after all.

Trying not to sound frustrated or evasive, I reiterated that I limited my talk to the two genders because I have no opinion nor expertise on anything beyond them. I also said, gay or lesbian is not a gender, they are sexual preferences. 

Amidst my discomfort, the 10th sheet of paper came to me hurriedly through one of the teachers: “What makes you write such wonderful books?”  

 Obviously, it was to sidetrack the other 9 questions and to relieve me of my unease. As I have always experienced, grace takes up the cudgels for us at crunch time. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Help Me


When someone you don’t know personally calls for help, what would you do?

One of my FB friends (let’s call her Precious), whom I have never met, posted this message on her homepage: help me 
My gut reaction was to reply, asking what was wrong so I could help in whatever way. But I have far too many friends on FB. (I accept all friend requests when he/she is already a friend of a friend.) Majority of them are actually strangers.

So I decided to leave Precious’ message unanswered, but I did what I could do best under the circumstances: prayed that the Lord be with her and help her.

After that message came a succession of other messages, all with her urgent call for help:

Is there someone out there?

Does anybody care?

If you read this, please text me

I can’t take it anymore

Is this the end?

I need someone . . .


There was a sputtering of replies from among her 22 FB friends, asking what was wrong. But time seemed to be running out, so I dared reply to all of Precious' pleas. My short messages were worded differently, but the gist centered on this verse:  “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NLT)

I shared my dread over Precious’ condition with my faith-sister Doreen, who felt as I felt, and decided to pray for her as well.

Three days went by and there were no more messages on her wall.

On the fourth day, my heart leaped when I read these words:

Thank you, Ma'am Grace.  Okay na po ako. May pinagdaanan kasi akong mabigat na problema. Pero, kaya ko na. (Am okay now. Went through a big problem, but I think I am over it.)

I take no credit whatsoever for Precious’ renewed strength. All I had were words, borrowed from God’s.

But the Lord’s presence and grace embraced her, cradled her, comforted her, and assured her everything would be okay.


Monday, October 13, 2014

A Beautiful Good-bye


Once there were two sisters, Nicki and Linda (not their real names), who were related neither by blood nor genes.

Nicki was the wealthy employer, well-known as the glamorous queen; Linda was the ordinary employee, unknown and unaffected.

Linda’s job required her to travel with her boss to all the world’s richest cities, where dining in exclusive places and feasting on Beverly Hills’ priciest crabs were daily fare.   

Along the way, they became friends. And further down the road, they became sisters.

What is a sister? Barbara Alpert, an author, says, “She is your mirror, shining back at you with a world of possibilities. She is your witness, who sees you at your worst and best, and loves you anyway.  She is . . . someone who knows when you are smiling, even in the dark. She is your teacher, your defense attorney, your personal press agent, even your shrink.”

Nicki, always dressed to the nines, lived in a manor, reigning over a vast network of resources; Linda, always clad in functional clothes, lived in a modest home, nothing more.

But they both supported each other and each other’s families, with a tacit pact to be traveling companions forever. In those travels, they’d tour many places of worship, but maintained their common faith in a loving God and prayed together.  

Suddenly, one day, Linda was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Nicki frequented the hospital, giving comfort; bringing flowers, food, cash, her staff—and a Bible, which Linda pored over every day.

“Hang in there,” Nicki would say, suggesting to take her to the Holy Land. She also planned on moving Linda to the best hospital with the best doctors.

But Linda demurred, not wanting to impose further and knowing it was downhill from there. It was; although the suffering stretched to months, which she spent in the humble structure she called home.

Nicki continued to be the most frequent guest, sometimes alone, sometimes with an entourage, and always with prayers for Linda. Between visits, Nicki would send an oxygen tank, dextrose pole, and speakers for Linda’s phone so she could listen to praise music. Even at midnight, Nicki’s driver or assistant would pop in to bring anything Linda might need.

On Nicki’s last visit . . .
 
Nicki (sobbing): Are you tired?

Linda: Yes, I'm tired.

Nicki: Why don't you rest? You keep saying you're tired, but you don't want to rest. If you have hurt someone, you can say sorry, and if somebody has hurt you, let go . . . when you get to heaven, please pray for me.

Linda: Yes, I will pray for you, I’ve always wanted you to be happy.

Nicki: Oh, thank you . . . I am, uh, leaving for Paris tomorrow.

Linda: When will you be back?

Nicki: In three weeks.

Linda: When you come back, I might not be here anymore. 

When Nicki came back, Linda had left for our Father’s home.

What is a sister? Jodi Picoult, another author, asks, “If you have a sister and she dies, do you stop saying you have one? Or are you always a sister, even when the other half of the equation is gone?”

Always a sister, Nicki is wont to say (she, the glamorous queen who stepped down from her throne for Linda; she, with a big heart that found its match in Linda’s). Because a sister is grace—till the world is no more.  

“A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” Proverbs 17:17