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 under 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  


Friday, October 10, 2014

Surprising Grace


My regular blood chemistry test was due two months ago. I kept postponing it because, aside from being terrified of needles and blood, I dread the results.

Something had always been amiss, like a decimal point or two. These could make you go bonkers—more meds, more needle pricks, more exercises, less food.

In those two months of postponement, I prayed and prayed for good results. So finally, I gathered enough boldness to do it or I’d get a gentle tut-tutting from my doctor.

When the piece of paper bearing the results was handed to me, I closed my eyes, trying to muster enough courage to look at my numbers. Very, very slowly I opened one eye and . . .

For the first time in three years, or more, every decimal point was within normal values. N-O-R-M-A-L.

What, a, surprise!  

I was so ecstatic I told my friend Doreen, the first person I saw in church, about my blood-test epic.  

With knitted brows she asked, “You said you prayed and prayed for it, and yet you’re surprised?”  

Ooops. I prayed and prayed because I was afraid. Yet why would God’s grace surprise me?

The Bible reminds us that Jesus calms the storms in our lives and we should never be afraid.    

“ . . . ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” Matthew 8:26 (NIV)


Monday, October 6, 2014

Kit-and-Caboodle Book Launching


“My, you have the whole kit and caboodle in your luggage! No wonder it weighs a ton,” my aunt, an American, exclaimed when I met her for the first time in Chicago.

I have never heard of, nor used, those words before. But they fascinated and charmed me. Too shy to ask what they meant, I had to find out for myself.  

Later I learned that it is an old idiom that means, “the whole thing.”  A kit is what a soldier would put in his tool-bag. Caboodle is an archaic term meaning group or collection.

Since I lived with her and my uncle for five years, my English syntax became idiomatic, too. I’d find opportunities to say kit and caboodle like a local.

Now residing in the Philippines, I have not used the idiom in decades, but it suddenly popped in my mind when the publisher of my latest book, Grace@Work, announced that it will be launched with almost 30 other new titles (for disparate target markets). 

Having been fed, for two decades, with the marketing/advertising principle to launching only one brand at a time for maximum awareness, I felt disoriented. But I am no longer a resident of that corporate world, so maybe the principles outside are different.    

Here are photos of the kit-and-caboodle book launching (to quell the unease in my head, I renamed the event thanksgiving)—cancelled during the Manila International Book Fair because of the one-day floods in Metro Manila. It finally happened on September 25.     
 
Surely it was an omnibus affair, dubbed "Words for Every Season," attended by the authors, their guests, the publishing board and staff, suppliers, partners, bloggers, readers, and the media. It was the launching pad of all OMFLit's front list for various audiences—children to seniors—and seasons.

I would liken it to the way the Lord blesses us—with faith in our Savior, Jesus, we receive not piecemeal grace, but the whole kit and caboodle.  

“Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks. For we know it is made acceptable by the word of God and prayer.” 1 Timothy 4:4-5 (NLT)


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Book-Signing Blitz


For marketing practitioners, one ideal place for a book-signing blitz is Cebu City. Everything is five minutes away; you have the luxury of getting to several places in one day.  

We did just that over the weekend.

Mounted by my publisher, OMF Lit (Cebu branch), our book tour in two and a half days (the remaining half of my three days there was for a seminar, which deserves a separate post) covered three schools, two book stores (twice), and two book tables after two church services.  

  
Hectic, yes, but the rewards outweighed the punishing pace. Whose heart won’t melt with candid remarks such as these?

From kids: 

“Mateo struck me all the time! Do you have a new one that will struck [sic] me some more?”

“I learned from ‘No Lipstick for Mother’ never to be afraid of my mom.”

“You have no new devotional?! Are you too, uh, lazy to write another one?” 

“My favorite page in ‘Super Devos’ is page 1 to page 365. I like, I like, I like.” (She flips every page.)

“My name is Alysha, and you haven’t written about me yet.”

From adults: 

“‘Grace found Me’ was my companion every day for a year. Now it’s going to be ‘Grace@Work.’” (A lady in her 50’s) 

“Please sign 26 copies of ‘Grace@Work’ for the teachers in my school. Would you write something encouraging for each one?” (A young lady school administrator) 

“I need ‘Grace@Work’ to help me deal with stress.” (A gentleman engineer who works in Dubai) 

“It’s a gift for a friend of mine, but her birthday isn’t till next month, so I will have time to read it first.” (A female yuppie)

I replied, “Grace@Work’ is a devotional. You need to read only one a day so you can reflect on it.”   

“Oh, then I need to get myself one," she said, quickly taking a copy from the shelf.

There are more, all written in my memory. The term that people steeped in marketing use is book-signing blitz, but for me, it really was a blitz of grace.

"May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord." 2 Peter 1:2 (NLT)

  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Traveling Alone


“You’re traveling alone?!” my friend Zeny asked, disbelief written on her face. Her tacit sub-text was, at you age?!   

I have always traveled alone for my book tours. For one, I try to be considerate to sponsors/hosts who, I know, are on a budget. For another, nobody (certainly not Tony) would enjoy being lugged around to various events where only authors and readers are involved.    

In fact, as this blog uploads as scheduled, I should be on my last day in Cebu where I have been over the weekend for another book tour—this time, for my latest book, Grace@Work.  

Before this trip, I bumped into my friend Andy, an American missionary in the country, who has just come back from his home leave. He said, “I had a grand reunion with my mother. She lives alone, drives her car, and does everything on her own—at age 86."

Maybe if she were an author, she’d be doing book tours alone, too.

One is really never alone in book events. You meet strangers who quickly become friends along the way. Old friends also get in touch once they know you’re in town.

For this book tour, I met hundreds of new friends and was able to share my faith with many of them. In fact, later this morning, after the church worship in one church, I will be meeting more—particularly Sunday School kids who will listen to some stories from my books.

I am not traveling alone at all; God's presence is palpable. I am traveling with hordes and herds of grace.

Tonight I shall say hello to my bed at home in Manila and say good-bye this afternoon to my huge hotel room booked by my gracious and generous hosts:
"Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand." Psalm 73:23 (ESV)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book Fair Mania 2014


The Philippines is not yet a book-reading country—proven in sales and in research. If a book sells 5,000 copies in a year, it is a bestseller.

That’s why I am always delighted when the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF) happens.  In one place, one bumps into fellow book lovers who pack the venue in five days. Patiently, we line up to the cash register in various booths and to have our books signed by authors. We even smile at total strangers because we know they are book comrades. 

Only one of my three books made it to the MIBF this year. There was a big roadblock that prevented the two others (the beginning of another series of children’s books called Happy Home, revolving around a Christian family) from pulling through.  

In God’s own time they will be launched. I believe that an author's writing ministry is never done until she's read. I thank Him for replacing my (and my editor's) initial disappointment with excitement as I trekked to SMX MOA, where I purchased tons of books on which I spent every single centavo of my hard-earned budget!

In between shopping, I was invited to hobnob with my readers on previously published children’s books by signing and posing for the ubiquitous camera. It’s an assigned role I relish; it tells me that my writing has not been for naught.  

I’ll let the photos do the telling.

Day 1:                           
Day 2:                       
Day 3: 
“Rain, rain go away, come again another day.” It wouldn’t. It poured relentlessly from night till night. All roads to the MIBF were impassable.  

Day 4:
My only book that made it to MIBF 2014, Grace@Work (above)
 
Day 5: 
A tummy bug, as deadly as the torrent of rain on Day 3, got to me. I had to cancel my last book signing schedule.  

And now, after another MIBF, I will quietly sit in my corner and do either of two things: read or write. What grace to be able to soak in both!   


Saturday, September 20, 2014

No Read, No Write


Lola Cionang, my maternal grandmother, was unlettered. She had difficulty reading; she could write only a few words and sign her name. But she was wise.   
 
By her example and words, I learned to be punctual (especially in church), considerate, and circumspect in everything I do. She knew her Bible, even if she read it syllable by syllable. She constantly sang hymns (Ilocano) from memory. As a little girl, I pegged her age at 60, the stage when, I thought, people knew it all.

I had often wondered where she got her wisdom, but never got around to asking her.

Now, decades later, I know. She went through a tortuous life—a child bride with nine children, conceived before and during a barbaric world war. She was the perfect foil for my grandfather, a controlling Don with a Spanish temper.

By scrimping, she was able to buy farm lands for their children's education in Manila. Without raising her standard of living, wearing the same baro't saya over and over again, she and my grandfather put up a place of worship for the community, which remains standing to this day. 

Where did all her wisdom come from? In today's lingo, people say, “She's been there, done that.” I say, life with God. She didn't read from books what she learned from her journey. This wise woman lived a life fraught with adversities, but not once did her faith waver in a loving God. 

(The above is a short chapter from my book, Circle of Compassion, published by OMF Lit in 2013. It is available in all book stores and at the ongoing Manila International Book Fair, Sept. 17-21, 2014, SMX MOA.) 
“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” Deuteronomy 4:9 (ESV)


Friday, September 19, 2014

Trail of Tears


Copious, overflowing tears have been falling from the sky, submerging many parts of the country, including Metro Manila. There has been no let-up since last night. The weather bureau calls it monsoon rains after Typhoon Mario battered our shores. 

People, me included, are rained in; reined in, rather. Today's activities at the Manila International Book Fair (Sept. 17-21) have been cancelled, including the formal launching of Grace@Work.

No matter. Any day, dry or wet, is a great time to honor and praise the Source of overflowing grace.

"Today would have been dad’s 102nd birthday," my sister emailed, "had not the Lord taken him 32 years ago."

In celebration of everything that today is, let me change my header:

From dry leaves to wet leaves . . .

 
“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lady D


From tot-hood, Lady D, one of my six, exceptionally smart and pretty nieces (in my unbiased opinion, of course), has always been enamored with ballet. Our early family reunions were peppered with stories of her passion, for which she made time after classes or on weekends.

I thought she’d get over it in college especially because she took up a degree that has nothing to do with body movements. But there, she became a tireless member of the university’s cheer-dance team, which awed us with litheness and contortions defying bones and gravity—undefeated team champion five years in a row. 

After graduation, Lady D, without blinking, followed her heart, and is now twirling, soaring, swaying, and dipping gracefully on land and on air in outlandish, never-land costumes, creating smiles in thousands of children at a Disneyland in Asia.

She’s probably one of the very few people whose single-minded focus on what they want to do in life never wavers.

When asked, my college students today want this, that, them and those—nebulous options in case one fizzles out. 

Not with Lady D. Her one and only choice is working out well.

These photos, grabbed from her FB wall, show her enjoying what she loves best, despite a knee injury last year, which could have rendered her dancing shoes useless forever. With surgery, therapy, a brief rest, and dogged determination, she is back with a vengeance.  

I think of my niece now because, while I gear up for the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF), to where hundreds of little people will troop starting tomorrow, I see her and me as kindred spirits in doing something special for children.   

Lady D does it with dance; I do it with books. But both passions are born of grace, and borne by grace. 

“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” 1 Peter 4:10 (NLT) 

See you all at the MIBF on Sept. 17-21, SMX MOA! Chat with me while I sign my books, the newest of which is Grace@Work:



 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sixty Minutes with 60 Kids


There were six of us: four from OMF Literature, a storyteller, and me in a van. Our trip to San Pablo, Laguna took a hurried lunch and two hours on a bumper-to-bumper highway. It took another hour to get the venue ready.

Then the program began—storytelling of The White Shoes, a prize-filled game, and finally, book signing (where I made time to briefly interact with each one).

This book activity, mounted by Expressions Bookstore at Ultimart Mall, brought in about 60 kids and lasted 60 minutes.

It took us longer to get home—a hurried early supper, two and a half hours on the road, with vehicles at a standstill in most stretches, and heavy rain.

"Was it worth all that trouble?" I whined to Tony after emoting and narrating what we had just gone through.

His belligerence surprised me. "More than worth it!" he scowled. "It's not toothpaste you are selling,  where ROI is measured in pesos and cents. Sixty or six kids . . ."

" . . . the ROI is unquantifiable!" I finished—and punctuated—his sentence, not for him, but for me. I caught myself in time, before totally regressing to my workplace obsession of making every minute of my time productive.

Between the two of us, Tony, I believe, should have been the children's book author

Now looking back, and reviewing our photos, the 60 minutes spent with 60 enthusiastic and unusually attentive 6-to-10-year-olds, learning the importance of books, of reading, of listening, of being grateful (especially for the things God has blessed you with, the main message of  The White Shoes), was worth every bit of trouble to and from the place where I was privileged to meet them.

In fact, the time, effort, and logistics splurged on the event were a small price to pay for the values they and I learned in 60 minutes. 

I'll have to see to my propensity for whining. Here's where I pray, and pray hard, for more grace.

"Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him." Psalm 127:3 (NLT)


Monday, September 8, 2014

Nose Job


The all-female club I belonged to held an essay contest among high school students in all schools in Makati. I invited a writer friend, who also is a surgeon, to head the board of judges.

When he arrived at the venue, he whispered in my ear, Most of your friends got a nose job—from the same plastic surgeon. 

I looked at my friends and indeed, they had the same shape of upturned noses, like they shared the same genes.

The process of altering one's facial (and body) imperfections have become a trend in recent years among moneyed people. No wonder all my co-members in that organization were svelte, pretty, and sported no eyebags nor arm flabs.   

I mulled this over. And the image of a friend in church came to mind. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer over two years ago. Her right arm has tripled in size due to her mastectomy. Because of her arm's weight, her right shoulder droops. 

On Sundays after the worship service, she walks like any healthy being to our Sunday School class. Often she volunteers to share her thoughts, “I thank God for loving me despite my frailties and imperfections.” What a beautiful woman she is!   
***
                                                                
The above is an excerpt from my book “Circle of Compassion” published by OMF Literature in 2013.

The beautiful woman I mentioned was Fely; she was called home by our Savior a few days ago. Her last three months in bed were a saga of agony—for her and her loved ones, who witnessed her untold physical pain. 

“Why would a faithful woman of God, one who served Him with the best years of her life, be subjected to such suffering?” the question in our minds was tearfully verbalized by her only daughter.

This brings us back to Job, a faithful man of God, who suffered even more and asked “Why?” at every turn.

But at her wake and funeral, we were riveted to and inspired by one man—her husband, Pastor Ben. He personified peace, “peace that passeth understanding.”

Among everyone, he should have been the most bereaved. But among everyone, he showed us what grace is.

He demonstrated what living for Jesus should be. And it isn’t about bitterness or grief over earthly death.

Till we meet again, beautiful Fely.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Last Day Ritual


Another semester is over. My students' blazers and mine are going to the cleaners. 
This leaves me two conflicting feelings as I work on final grades: relief and pain. While majority will sail through, some will not.

As a part-time, twice-a-week college teacher (tutor is how our school calls us), I only get to interact with my students during class hours. So I take time to talk to each one on the last day—a personal ritual I have observed over a few years. It is tedious and tiring, but the desire to do it overpowers every discomfort.

In these talks, I assess their major course works and tell them their strengths, silently praying they would be encouraged to fight the battles of college life, and eventually, the global workplace for which our transnational university is gearing and arming them.

They share their back stories, personal issues, and how they are coping. Some are icy, wearing that I-could-not-care-less air in the beginning, but thawing in the end. These talks convince me that all of us have an issue and are just waiting for an ear willing to listen.  

The time for each student is no longer than 10 minutes, but I find these exchanges enriching for both teacher and student. My own should’ves, could’ves, and would’ves are put to rest.

I am deep in conversation with one of them when three students, who have already had their 10 minutes, hover behind me. “Yes?” I ask.

“Miss, may we give you a hug?” one says, beaming. 

I stand up quickly to take the offer, and I am rewarded with three warm hugs.

People say teaching is not just a career, it is a calling and a work of art. I think it is more than that: it is grace.

It is life-changing nourishment for this tutor, coursed through her students.

“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 (NLT)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Wheelchair-bound


Wherever I go these days, I seem to see more wheelchair-bound seniors literally being pushed around by able-bodied young people.

Those wheels have not suddenly mushroomed, but my mind now sees them more often, because I think I am a hair’s breadth away from their passengers’ ages.  
 
These seniors have lost their mobility and they are now at the mercy of their pushers. Having written Flying on Broken Wings (Stories of courage in overcoming disability), I know what they are going through.

In fact, I should know better than use the now-viewed-as-negative phrase "wheelchair-bound" since the wheelchair is an enabler, not a binder. But I use it purposely to make a statement. 

“I fear being wheelchair-bound,” I thought aloud.

I got two quick responses from two of my sons, said with deadpan irreverence. 

Son 3:  Mom, by that time you won’t even remember whether you’re sitting down or standing up.  

Son 1:  Mom, a wheelchair and an ergonomic chair function the same way when you type on your computer keyboard, which is what you do all day. 

Son 2 is not around to postulate an argument. He will probably just send me the wheelchair from Pittsburgh.

Fear.

How paralyzing can it be? It’s enough to shove one to a wheelchair prematurely.

I have to remind myself of the Lord’s reminder to the aged and the aging: Isaiah 46:4, “I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.”

Yes, in our twilight years, grace will carry us along—on wheels.  


Friday, August 29, 2014

I Forgot

Forgetfulness is the domain of the elderly, or so I thought. The world has believed that when one grows older, his neurons lose their agility and therefore the ability to recall things progressively wanes as well.

This couldn't be farther from the truth.

Being with millennials twice a week (my teaching schedule in a university), I am convinced that college girls and boys are just as forgetful, or worse.

Every session when I ask for their assignments or requirements, half of the class says, "I forgot."

This also holds true with lectures and instructions. After eloquently and jauntily explaining a lesson or two, I try to fish for some feedback by asking questions. I get any of the following: the look of nothing; a sheepish smile; a scratch of the head; a knitted brow; a challenging glare; and many more  versions of "I forgot."

So fellow seniors, don't despair. Forgetfulness is not about age.

Try giving instructions to a 17-year-old and ask him to echo it back to you. He'll give you that glazed stare that blatantly says, "I forgot."

Let's worry not about becoming forgetful as we move farther down the horizon. Let's bask in the grace of our growing years. There are multitudes of millennials out there whose neurons are attuned elsewhere and quick to command their vocal chords to say, "I forgot."

"Wisdom is with aged men, With long life is understanding." Job 12:12 (NASB)


Monday, August 25, 2014

What Is a Hero?


(I usually blog every four days, but I am making an exception today, National Heroes Day. I had just posted a blog early this morning and now, before the morning is over, I am posting one again.) 

As we thank the Lord for the lives of our big-time heroes who did big things for our country, let us not forget to also thank Him for the many heroes around us who may not be honored in a proper forum, or may not even be recognized in their lifetime. 

What is a hero?

Philippine Daily Inquirer Junior Edition defines it as "ordinary people doing extraordinary things."

This I had not read till I received two separate text messages with the same content from my good friend Luis and my sister Aie. They advised me to check out yesterday’s issue of Junior Inquirer. A 10-year-old kid singled me out as her everyday hero! 

Instantly, I had the whole household scurrying to find the newspaper. We found it in seconds (encircling mine).

And true enough, on the front page, a girl named Victoria Albitos wrote these words:

Among all the awards I have received as an author, this one’s a oner; it has its own hallowed place on my shelf of treasures.

I have always cherished the thought that unknown heroes are strewn everywhere. In fact, I wrote about 45 of them in a series of three books. Unlike Junior Inquirer’s tag of  Everyday Heroes, however, I called them Gifts of Grace.

They are one and the same.

And to be cited as a modern-day hero in a major daily by a young girl named Victoria (putting into words what I try hard to do with my storybooks, the only reason I write), this blogger will always remember National heroes Day 2014.   

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


Infinitea


We have discovered a common mind and body relaxant at home on a Sunday evening before we all part ways again tomorrow, to each his own schedule, when the work-week begins.

The grace of tea.

We order it from our neighborhood tea parlor called Infinitea that serves, and delivers, a large (maybe infinite) variety of tea. 

I always order for myself winter melon tea, the tallest size, please.

Ahhh, the refreshing taste of my tea gives me indescribable serenitea because this oppotunitea of drinking tea with family is a raritea and a noveltea.  

In fact, this activitea in itself is some kind of festivitea for me. It has the abilitea to take away the incongruitea and rigiditea of the enemies of a working life: stress and frustration.     

That’s why as I sip my tea, I am blogging with hilaritea and levitea. I am sure that in realitea, the qualitea of my Infinitea tea has relaxed me, with certaintea.  

I am all tead up. Yes, on a Sunday evening my tea cup runneth over.   

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” Psalm 23:5 (KJV)


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Grace@Work


Every fraction of a millisecond, grace was palpably at work through my latest book, Grace@Work.  From the birth of the idea to the day the final cover was approved (below), nothing could have moved without grace.
 
Grace@work was initially conceived as a devotional for the workplace to uplift busy, stressed-out men and women—as I was for years—whose whole being is plugged to his/her work from sunrise to sundown (sometimes extending till dawn), like an overcharged mobile phone.

But as the book wrote itself, the issues extended beyond the workplace, too. After all, working people’s existence intertwines with the frenzied arena of daily living.

Writing a book, as all authors know, is a full-time, exacting craft.  

I don’t mean the body being tied to the computer 24/7. I mean heart and mind, through all waking hours (and sometimes, even sleeping hours), being wired in ideas, concepts, and words that dovetail with the Word, with what the Author of life has written in Scriptures.   

Sights and sounds compete to distract, and one can get easily sidetracked. So body and soul have to team-up to get it right. It is a formidable job; there are no short-cuts.

Grace@work, published by OMF Literature, spanned for me two school semesters, United Nations Day, the Halloween, Christmas, New Year, an emergency hospital confinement, a computer crash, a printer blast, brown-outs, typhoons, the dead heat of summer, and everything in between. 

Yet the joy of making it come through overwhelmed. "I burst out in songs of thanksgiving."* 

Against all odds, it will be launched at the 35th Manila International Book Fair in mid-September (17th to the 21st), SMX MOA, and I pray that everyone who'll read it, wherever he/she may be, will feel God’s grace at work.     

*“The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” Psalm 28:7 (NLT)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Janitor: Half Beautiful


“Beautiful” is not the adjective to describe a movie about police work that spends half of the time re-enacting and solving a grisly robbery with 10 people massacred.

But The Janitor, loosely based on the worst-ever bank robbery that shocked the country years ago, and one of the five indie films I watched at the Cinemalaya X, is extraordinary. 
  
For me, everything about the film is two-thumbs-up: from the cast (very well put together in ensemble acting) to the costumes to the dialogue to the set design to the sounds to the cinematography to the editing.  You forget that you are watching an indie because it has the spit and polish of a sleek commercial film while dramatizing grit.

My usual beef about many Filipino films (long, lingering, laborious scenes) is missing from this fast-paced masterpiece that surprises at every turn.  

Why do I say half beautiful when all I have been doing is gushing over The Janitor?

Well, I am averse to violent scenes; rather, my cowardly heart can’t take action-thrillers with gory, bloody images. So half of the time, my eyes are shut and opened again when the gun shots and thuds are gone. But those I was with (people in advertising whose judgment and taste I respect) are over the moon with their praises for the scenes I missed.

Half and half make a beautiful whole.

Watching Cinemalaya films is like watching grace at work, particularly in me. I am pushed to see the world at large to further understand the complexities of the human brain and heart—and feeling how grace works its way in, ready for the taking.  

On awards night, the talented people behind The Janitor, directed by Michael Tuviera, were duly recognized for best director, best screenplay, best supporting actor, best sound, and best editing for their beautiful handiwork.

Rightfully deserved, beautifully deserved indeed.

Photo credit

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Yearly Indie


Once a year, two of my sons, some friends and I pay tribute to the Philippine movie industry by watching as many indie films as we could pack in one day at the Cinemalaya (Philippine Independent film Festival).  

It is also what I call my personal annual booster shot, or vaccine against the ills of society. The people in my circle generally live sterile lives, blind from the dregs and dung around us. The indies open your eyes, open them big, to see the contaminated sewer in which we live.   

I had our tickets bought (day passes that allow you to watch any movie without queuing in ticket booths). But as we got to the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Norbert sends a text message that he couldn’t make it to the first screening. What to do with his ticket?

JR prods me to sell it at half the cost. So I approach a student at the tail end of a line and ask, “Would you like to buy a ticket at half the price?”

He looks at me with suspicious, bleary eyes and shoos me off. And I thought I was doing him a favor!

I walk over to another ticket booth where the queue is a mile long. Using the same spiel, I approach some students. They give me the same look, and turn me away. But a yuppy who must have heard my voice from somewhere in the line rushed forward and said, “I’ll take it! I’ll pay you the whole amount.”

“No, no, I am selling it at a discount. Our friend couldn’t make it.”

He grins like a cheshire cat. Or in my language, he has the look of one who has just received grace.

Ooops, I talked about my being a scam suspect and forgot all about the movies. (Reviews on my next posts, I promise.) 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

How to be Happy


I just read about a 72-year-old study* that began all the way back in 1937, when 268 Harvard University sophomores were asked to participate in a study measuring “a formula—some mix of love, work, and adaptation—for a good life.” 

Here are three lessons culled from this study:

1. Have a healthy outlet.

2. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

3. Happiness must be shared.

These three things are nothing new.

If at all, they validate what every Bible-reading person or Christian has known for over 200 years. 

No. 1: Jesus had repeatedly promised, "Pray unceasingly. I am listening. I am with you. Put your cares upon me and I will take care of you.”  He likewise said, "Pray for one another."

Over the years, I have dumped a lot of my personal garbage upon the members of my spiritual family in our small village church. They have been there through a succession of family illnesses and deaths. Just one text message and they are all there to stand by me and pray for me.

No. 2: Humility was what Jesus practiced all His short life on earth.  Despite being 100% God Who created the massive universe and everything on it, He walked with the downtrodden, was seen in the company of the scums of the earth. Except at the wedding in Cana, He was not seen in society functions that boosted one's ego.

No. 3: Share your happiness? Jesus shared everything He had, even His life.

Can grace be defined any further?

*Reported in the media for the first time by Atlantic Magazine, June 2009


Photo credit

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Is Peach the Color of Rude?


“Even if you don’t respect a man, respect his position,” my dad used to say, implanting good manners in me. It made no sense then as it was beyond my comprehension. 

Years later, in the workplace, my boss would mouth these words in a staff meeting, “Even if you don’t respect the man, respect his position.” He had heard our grumblings about a client, a CEO, whom we baptized “King He-rude.”

The words finally hit home. And I’d echo them to people in my team, and now, even to my seminar audiences and students.

Then horror of horrors, as I awaited our president’s SONA (State of the Nation Address) on TV, after he had been introduced and before he could utter his first words, about seven creatures in peach walked beneath the rostrum. I thought they’d perform a doo-wop, you know, like a musical ta-da.

I’d later find out that they were the “honorable” guests, who had filed an impeachment case against the president. They were the same guys dressed up to the nines, in matching peach barongs/gowns, and had hogged TV spotlight on the red carpet as they ranted and raved against the highest official of our land. 

They were also the same peaches who, days before, had been given huge media mileage through interviews about their complaint. In all, they had filed the case in the proper forum, aired their tirades, made peach their color, and recruited enough peaches for their cause.

Still unsatisfied, they walked out on the president at the single biggest gathering of elected officials in the country: the joint session of the Philippine Congress. A flagrant disrespect of the position.    

I have just defined rude in its most despicable terms. As a kid-lit author on Christian values, I worry about what that pitchy behavior would teach our children. Has the lovely peach in all hues become the color of rude?

These seven "honorable" peaches might be heirs of the honorable Pharisees who were rude to Jesus—the Son of God, the Messiah, and the Lord of lords—at every turn. This rudeness rubbed off on people, and eventually, rude would morph to crude, cruelty at its most abominable height.

This savagery hounded Jesus until His death on the cross; walk-outs, tirades, rants and raves accompanied His last words, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

Photo credit

Friday, August 1, 2014

Not Bad Words


“Saying bad words is not bad as long as you don’t mean them,” Marlon, a Christian who works in a movie production shop, said. “They are just expressions—like 'oh,' 'cool,' or 'wow!'”

“I can’t believe I am hearing that from you!” said his sister, appalled.

“When I say '#*@!#!!,' I don’t mean it at all,” Marlon explained.

“Then why even say it? There are gazillions of other words in the dictionary!”

Our standard of good words has declined over the years, and people seem to be declining with it.
 
Our tongue is a gift from God; it must honor Him with what it says. The book of Proverbs is a treasure chest of lessons on what to do with our tongue:

10:19, “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.”

21:23, “Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.”

15:2, “The tongue of the wise makes knowledge appealing, but the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness.”

I agree with Marlon's sister; to honor a Holy God with our tongue, we need to use words that reflect His grace.  

*The names above were changed to protect the characters’ privacy.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Facebook Funnies


Social media, particularly Facebook, has redefined the word “friend” for me.

Here’s why. I have 2,000 FB friends, most of whom I have never met in person.

On the other hand, only seven, or less, of my real-life friends (those who belong to my generation and with whom I hang out regularly) have email addresses and do Facebook. They are “techno-averse,” euphemism for can’t-follow-instructions.

Unlike them, and with the grace of persistence, I have been able to go through those fine prints, so now I could email, blog, google, yahoo, do Facebook and ppt all I want.

Is that why I have 2,000 friends? No.   

Someone recently requested me to add him as friend. Let’s call him Jerry to protect his reputation. I accepted, as I am wont to do with every friend request. He immediately wrote me a private message: “Thank you. Now we are friends! You married a wonderful man!” I thought of my husband and reminded myself of what I forget—yes, Tony can be wonderful.

But reading the ending of Jerry’s note, I realized he wasn’t talking about Tony but my 2nd son. “JB and I were classmates in medical school.”

He mistook me for my son’s wife!

I replied, “This is JB’s mom, not his wife. I hope you don’t unfriend me, Jerry, now that you discovered I am an old hag.”

His apologies were profuse, “Ma’am, I am so, so, so sorry . . . etc. etc. I am really glad we are friends."

So now you know. All my 2,000 friends—except for the seven, or less, who are my real-life friends—are my three sons’ friends, friends of their friends, thinking I am the wife or the sister or the cousin, someone within their age range.

Not bad, not bad at all.
 
“Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green.” Psalm 92:14 (NLT)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Write without Fear


There’s one quality that separates old, published writers (moi) from young, unpublished ones.  

Boldness. Plus all its derivatives and synonyms. Young wordsmiths write without fear.

Last month I was invited to a Saturday young writers’ hangout-out, where I facilitated a workshop, and therefore had a chance to interact with 10 very young writers (ages 8-14).

Their task was to write an essay about someone they like very much, without saying so, but should leave the readers knowing so.

They allowed themselves no thinking time. They grasped pencil and paper, and piled words on their writing plates like the smorgasbord was running out of food. 

Watching them, I looked back to my youth, when I was their age, so terribly in love with words. And indeed, I possessed the same derring-do (how archaic that word sounds). No hesitation, no caution, no circumspection, no fear.

Then the years strew upon one’s path an odd amalgam of rejection notes, unanswered query letters, editors’ suggestions, publishers’ marketing decisions, ho-hum book readers’ reception, moderate book sales, and bland reviews—and the writing derring-do becomes archaic, if not obsolete, like it is now in new-edition dictionaries.  

I want to believe that writing without fear is God's grace-seed planted in a word-lover's young heart. Then it grows into a tree called passion that bears fruit called steadfastness, as the once-young becomes a published writer, one who crafts words not for herself but for others to meet her Savior.

Although the fear visits like an unwanted guest now and then, especially when your hope for an "aye" from a publisher is dimmed by the possibility of a "nay," the fruit ripens.      

And so she writes . . . and writes . . . and writes. But not without fear. And never without grace.

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. Galatians 6:9 (KJV)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Very, Very Goodie


My birthday cake, if all its candles were lit right now, could set a forest on fire. 
Yes, I am celebrating another nth birthday today and I am at a loss for words on how to thank the Lord for enabling me to still remember most of the people who have touched my life plus all the years behind me. There were as many hits as there were misses, but grace found its way in all.

There are zero regrets. For how can one ignore the strength and resolve that came with the misses? And how can one ignore a new set of strength and resolve that came with the hits?

Today, there is only a parade of unending thanksgiving for my many rites of passage from one life stage to another. 

A lot of my old friends and family started greeting me through text messages as early as yesterday. I had one reply for all: “Now an oldie but a goodie.”

Their text retorts were varied and had me in stitches. One sums them all up: “Very, very goodie.”

This parallels my verse of thanksgiving today, Psalm 136:1 (KJV): “O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

Indeed, God is good. His mercy made this oldie—this one with aged, gnarled fingers that can still work their magic on the keyboard to celebrate the 20th of July, the day she was given breath, with a change of blog headers—very, very goodie.

The old . . .

The new . . .

P.S.

To all my friends on social media, I will not be able to individually thank you for your greetings, so I did what is always possible under all circumstances: I thanked God for your friendship and asked Him to please continue to rain his grace upon you.