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.
     

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dinner by Candlelight


Not since two decades ago (or more) have I had the privilege of dining by candlelight. Glenda made it all possible again yesterday.  This time it was not only with Tony, but with two other men who abhor any concession to the artsy style of dining.

And it was not only dinner by candlelight, it was everything by candlelight at home. All four of us sat in various places in the dark from early morning to late at night, unable to do anything without electricity and phone lines, except seeing our own bent shadows. 

The howling of the wind was eerie, but the ringing in my ears, eerier.
Every so often, while killer Glenda, touted as fiercer than ferocious Typhoon Milenyo in 2006, lashed at our surroundings, we’d hear clanging (of unhinged roofs), crashing (of trees and lampposts), and other violent, breaking sounds we could not quite make out.

I’d have cowered in fear, but knowing that grace had ensconced us in safety, I prayed instead for the thousands whose homes had been displaced and whose health had been risked.

With our phone and laptop batteries spent, we were cut and shut off from the world outside. But after the passing of the night, a new, bright morning came through.  

The power came back at midnight, the wind and rains exited to some other land, and today, the sun, although still a bit shy, is shining upon us again.

There are debris to clean up, floods to drain, and damages to repair, but the day Glenda made our lives grind to a halt was something I will remember with a smile. We, the 2/3 family in our Philippine household (1/3 is in Pittsburgh), dined by candlelight—a rare, unexpected family get-together that would never have come without the prodding of Typhoon Glenda. 

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT)  
A 105-year-old tree uprooted by Typhoon Glenda, PhilStar

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

National Children’s Book Day 2014


Sharing with you this fun infographic posted by Hiyas, my publisher, on its website today, in celebration of National Children’s Book Day.

How does one celebrate this special day?

For one, read a book to a young child. For another, if he can already read, give him a children’s book. Let’s help raise a generation of book-loving kids. 
 
Please check out my Hiyas children’s books on OMFLIt’s Pinterest page:

http://www.pinterest.com/omflit/childrens-books-by-grace-chong/

Saturday, July 12, 2014

When the Skies Weep


The skies are weeping again. For months, we sweltered and suffered from the oppressive heat, and now, suddenly, the rains have come.

In fact, the skies have been weeping for three consecutive days, like an inconsolable widow at her husband's wake. We likewise weep over the devastation it heaps upon us. Many areas pool into epic floods that can drown everything we ever owned and us. We wonder why we have to suffer these copious tears from the firmament.  

But it is when the skies weep that heroes are born. They reward us with stunning photos we see simultaneously on TV, the Internet, and print media—photos that otherwise don't come in dry land on normal days:

"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends,” Jesus speaks in John 15:13. His words tell us how far love to a brother should extend, even to the laying down of our lives—the highest instance of love among men.

This emulates the love Jesus has for man, how he rains His grace on us. He came down from heaven, laid aside his royal majesty, and laid down not his riches but His life. It was no ordinary life; it was the life of the Lord of glory.  And so He suffered death on the cross, in place of sinful man—those whom he had chosen as friends.

The utmost act then, when the skies weep, is when we cast aside our mortal identity, don our superhero cape, and lay down our lives for Jesus' friends.   

PNoy photo by Michael Robertson  

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Happiness Is . . .


Many research studies have been conducted on what makes people happy.

One result I have read said that happiness quotient is highest in the richest countries. Another says that life satisfaction is highest among people in the upper income bracket.

Money does bring happiness because it can buy things than can make us “happy.”

But if you begin reading the book of Ecclesiastes, written by an extremely rich man and therefore had everything under the sun, you’ll find in chapter 1, verse 2 that, “'Everything is meaningless,’” says the Teacher, “‘completely meaningless!’”

He means, everything under the sun can come to ruin. Things like savings accounts, art and jewelry collection, a pool of vehicles, manors, and tracts of land cannot cause lasting satisfaction. All it takes is a falling economy or natural disasters and they lose their value.

In Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, the book concludes, “. . . Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.”

There is only one Someone who is not from “under the sun” and that is Christ. 

Happiness is . . . knowing how much grace we receive from Him. 
When we accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, we receive the grace of forgiveness, the biggest grace of all.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Why Marriages Last


If you’ve been married to the same man for as long as I have (44 years today), you’d call it a feat, or even a miracle. Those cheesy, public avowals of everlasting love on FB that are meant to make readers drool with envy would call it: undiminished ardor. 

I call it grace.

For how can two strangers, with individual egos and minds; different characters, tastes, opinions, and habits; and coming from disparate genders and genes live together? How can they continue going through alternating rough and smooth roads, turbulent and fair weather, valleys and plains in a tumultuous world?   

Man has invented these phrases, again parroted on FB: “My soul mate.” “I can’t live without you.” “The most wonderful man/woman in the world.” “You mean the world to me.” And many more mush. 

Some insist the occasion calls for it, but I won’t noisily fall into any of those platitudes, not in public anyway.  I’d rather silently fall into and fall back on . . . 

“Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’” And he said, “‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” Matthew 19:4-6 (NLT)

For me, those beautiful words spoken by Jesus are carved in stone and in one’s heart. No cloying words of love for public consumption can make it better than it already is.

Thank you, Lord, for the grace of marriages that last in this temporal world.

“. . . till death do us part." 
 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Cheerio

Do you know someone blessed with a cheerful disposition? I do.

Lorelie (not her real name) always seems to be happy, wearing what I call a “toothpaste smile” under all circumstances—even after she lost her mom. Her mood is so infectious that whenever I feel low, I invite her to a cup of coffee and before the hour ends, my mood shifts to hers. Indeed, she is a smiling spout of grace! 

In contrast, there are others who seem to be chronically off-mood. They perpetually complain about people, life, and burdens in general. They, too, are infectious.

Joy is one of the gifts Jesus promised to His followers before he ascended to heaven. “So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy” (John 16:22).

When we are on the verge of being testy or grouchy, let’s seek out a Lorelie (or be a Lorelie) and remember that to reflect the joy we have in Christ, we must begin by showing a joyful demeanor and spread cheer.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Cc and Bcc


It was business emails day in class—how electronic business letters can effectively be used in the workplace. My students are all familiar with how email works; they've been using it for some time.

But emails per se and effective business communications are two different animals.

One is of the wilds (the kind they know).  Just type your thoughts at random, with no regard for format or rules.

And the other is of the circus, under a tent, properly trained and tamed—it does exactly what it should do: move and make the reader react favorably (the kind they need to learn).

When I started discussing Cc and Bcc, they gave me glazed, unfocused eyes that said “hohum.”

That was when I realized that these kids were born long after carbon paper had gone extinct.

So I went through the whole song-and-dance routine. Cc, I said, stands for "carbon copy.” Those listed in the Cc: field of a message will receive a copy of that message. All other recipients will be able to see who received a copy of the message. Cc is useful when you wish to share a message with someone but are not requesting that he replies. 

Bcc, I explained, stands for "blind carbon copy." The difference between Cc and Bcc is that Bcc recipients are invisible to all of the other recipients of the message (including other Bcc recipients). It is useful when you don't wish to share your recipients' email addresses with everyone who receives your message.

They gave me eyes that pop when light comes back after a long brown out. 

Funny how I thought all along that the kids of this electronics generation should be teaching me instead of me teaching them.

Well, I have been breathing far longer than they have. The blessing of being a teacher is having the opportunity to share the grace of experience earned through eons to a wide-eyed captive audience.   
  

Monday, June 23, 2014

Baggy Pants


Just as the fashion world is into tight-hugging trousers, my roommate went in search of baggy pants.

The trouble with fashion trends is that shops carry only them and junk everything else. No clothing store—not one that Tony has doggedly trekked to in the last two months—carries baggy pants anymore.

“How can they stop making comfy pants?!” I think he might have been asking himself, loathe to wearing anything that hugs skin. “They’re the most comfortable apparel next to pajamas!”  He didn’t say those either, well, not aloud for any ear to hear.     

Then yesterday in a mall, while walking through the men’s section on our way home, he cried, “Eureka!”  Again, I actually didn't hear a peep, but that was what he might have exclaimed when he asked me, “We are in no hurry, are we?”

Next thing I knew, he asked the salesgirl for a pair in his size for fitting.

Naturally, it fitted him to a tee. The price was a bit steep, but he ordered them in all colors! Unfortunately, the shop had only two available, in similar colors. He took them both anyway and is now one very happy, two-new-baggy-pants owner.

Okay, that’s according to me, despite the impassive demeanor he demonstrates through his long treasure-hunt sojourn. It's because I yield to fashion trends, discomfort notwithstanding; he defies them (abhors them even), comfort is everything.     

As I was leafing through the dailies this morning, muttering to myself, Baggy pants are so passe, I read in the fashion section, “Baggy pants are coming back!”

Life indeed is full of grace. 

Now, mulling over my husband’s counter-trend attitude, I wish all Christians would likewise be adamant about following world trends when it comes to their faith.

Jesus said to His disciples,  "If  you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”  John 15:19 (NKJV)
 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Worst and Best Fear


A new fear or phobia, which was not even an idea in my youth, has popped up among the electronically-wired generation today. To them, our ancient fears below may now be utterly prosaic:   

Acrophobia (fear of height). Today's kids go bunjee jumping and ziplining, and are into extreme sports.

Arachnophobia (fear of spiders). Computer-generated movies now feature gigantic spiders the size of buildings and young audiences lap them up—the creepier the better.

Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes). Current TV food channels show exotic serpents made into delectable recipes. Reality TV feature people fondling snakes.  

Cynophobia (fear of dogs). Pets are all the rage; dog clinics, shops and salons abound; dogs sleep on their masters’ beds. 

Astraphobia (fear of thunder and lightning). This century's eardrum-breaking music on ear phones are louder than claps of thunder. 

Trypanophobia (fear of injections). Tattoos, tattoos, tattoos.

‘Nuf said.

So now comes the world’s worst fear. Nine out of every 10 people aged under 30 admit to suffering this new phenomenon: Nomophobia. The fear of having No Mobile phone.

These self-confessed addicts spend four to six hours a day on their mobile phone, checking it every ten minutes, and placing it next to their bed at night (it’s the new Teddy bear). They become anxious when their phone loses reception, runs out of battery, or is misplaced.       

Have mobile phones become as addictive as shabu, cigarettes, and gambling?

On the upside, older people are in no danger of being nomophobic. Often I forget to check my phone, or bring it with me when I leave home. I don’t take it to bed nor to the bathroom. I don’t get panic attacks if it is missing. 

Up until two weeks ago, I had a dumb Nokia phone. Now that I have been persuaded into buying my new smartphone, I am struggling with the how to use it. It will take dollops of grace for me to master half of its functions. 

In contrast to this worst fear is the best fear—a fear that does not cause panic nor irrational behavior. We read about it in the Bible at least 300 times: Fear of the Lord.

Scripture is full of examples of how fearing God is a positive thing. Joseph wins his brothers' trust when he declares he is a God-fearing man . . . it was because the midwives feared God that they obeyed Him and spared the Hebrew babies from the authorities . . . Pharoah brought disaster on his nation because he did not fear God . . . Moses chose leaders who feared God and therefore wouldn't take bribes. There are many more.

In the New Testament (Matthew 10:28), Jesus states this even stronger, "Don't be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell."

Fearing God saves us from caving into irrational fears such as nomophobia. That's why hearing someone is God-fearing actually makes us trust that person more. People who fear God become sensitive to other people’s needs because their thoughts are not centered on worldly gadgets.  

Fearing God frees us from even the worst fear in the world.

Top photo credit

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Five-star Dad


Here is a letter a father received from one of his children. He keeps this in a special place in his heart, treasuring it more than anything he ever owned.

Hi, Dad!

How do I love thee? Let me count the stars. You’re a five-star dad! Thank you for the five important stars you bequeathed to me, now shining brightly to light my way . . .   

1.    The star of priority – to love God more than anyone or anything  
2.    The star of a clean and unsullied life – to never let my guard down when temptations come 
3.    The star of courage – to make tough decisions and to stand up for what is right   
4.    The star of discernment – to choose with whom to hang out with; and what new ideas to trash or treasure   
5.    The star of fortitude – to move on despite disappointments and difficulties     
 

I thank God that you are my father. On Father’s Day, dinner’s on me in a five-star hotel, no less. Would you be free? 

Love,
Larry (not his real name)

What a blessing to have a child like this. And what a father he has!

To all dads reading this, Happy Father’s Day! 

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

(This is the last in a series of  four blogs leading to Father's Day in gratitude to our heavenly Father for the grace of dads in our midst.)

photo credit

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Salute to Single Dads


Two days from now, on Sunday, many parts of the world will celebrate Father’s Day. I wish to pay a special tribute to all single dads who see to their children’s needs all by themselves. 

Research studies have shown that single moms, wired to be caregivers and multi-taskers, have better coping mechanisms and resilience than single dads. That’s why I have always held singles dads, who do a remarkable job of both dad and mom, in high esteem.

In Oh, Mateo! (illustrated by Beth Parrocha-Doctolero)—a series of 15 books plus a one-year devotional revolving around eight-year-old Mateo—I draw attention to a single dad, Ador.

A poor farm hand, Mateo’s father lost his wife when Mateo was baby, but he slogs on, works hard, and does his best for his little boy despite dire lack of resources.

Mateo is growing up to be a responsible, happy, and adventurous boy, well-liked in the neighborhood. His father Ador has instilled in him Christian values, the blessings of life, and God’s amazing grace.
In Sunday school, Teo and his classmates are asked by their teacher to write a letter to their father on Father’s Day. Here’s Teo’s letter . . .  

Dear Tatay,

You are my superhero. And Apong Cion said that because Nanay is already with Jesus in heaven, you do a super Nanay job, too.  But it is not Mother’s Day, so this is only for F-A-T-H-E-R.       

Thank you very much for . . . 

F – Framing Nanay’s photo so I will always remember her.   

A – Adding coins to my alkansiya. It’s almost half full! 

T – Taking me to Sunday School to learn Bible stories. T is also for the Tree house you built for me.

H – Helping me and my friends make kites. Yey! H is also for my Half of the fresh fruits you bring home. 

E – Explaining why I need to always pray and always read.

R – Rushing home from work when I am sick to give me a sponge bath. R is also for Nanay’s Recipes which you teach me to cook with the secret ingredient.

Happy Father’s Day, Tatay!  Oh, I should greet God, too, right? Because He is the Father of all.  Happy Father’s Day, God!  

Love,
Teo

“The father of godly children has cause for joy. What a pleasure to have children who are wise.” Proverbs 23:24 NLT

May God give all struggling single dads the wisdom and fortitude to raise their children in the way they should go. 

(This post is the 3rd in a series of  blogs leading to Father's Day in gratitude to our heavenly Father for the grace of dads in our midst

Translations:
Tatay
Daddy
Nanay
Mommy
Apong
honorific for an old woman
Alkansiya
piggy bank

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Many Dads


Francis (not his real name) was in his mother’s womb when his father died.

“But I grew up having so many father-figures in church,” he tells his friends or anyone he encounters. “Not once have I felt fatherless. Most important of all, I have our Heavenly Father who has been with me from inside the womb to where I am standing today.” 

On Father’s day, Francis gives about a dozen of his surrogate fathers a token gift to show his appreciation of their support and love.

Unlike Francis, some people struggle with Father's Day—especially those who only have adoptive fathers, those who may be living with stepfathers, or those whose birth fathers have died. 

Jesus’ statement to Mary after His resurrection should encourage those of us who feel fatherless, “‘Don’t cling to me,’” Jesus said, ‘for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (John 20:17).

Jesus gave all of us an open relationship with our Father God.

Thank you, Lord, for giving us fathers through whom we found our Heavenly Father.

(This post is the 2nd in a series of  blogs leading to Father's Day in gratitude to our heavenly Father for the grace of dads in our midst.)