Saturday, February 6, 2016

Keep Writing


What were the most encouraging words someone ever said that pushed you into doing what you love doing now?

The words that keep ringing in my ears right now are: 

Yet, they were not even said to me directly. They were scrawled by my professor on the title page of my typewritten script for our playwriting class.

These two words were more than medals or plaques of merit. For me, they meant I had something going there and that I should pursue it.

I did not pursue writing right away—not in the way I have been relentlessly at it in the last 16 years. But I remember those words each time a reader sends me an encouraging message or a note with words so close to "Keep writing!"

Today, these have evolved into a nagging reminder for me to read and hear to stoke the writing ember that can die with the onslaught of modern concerns.

This has been a killer week. I had not had enough time to write everything I have in my head for a book that's due in March.

My blog rhythm has been compromised (16 hours late), too. Just as I get ready to write, something pops up. Or just when I am immersed in a paragraph, something tumbles down my lap.

"Keep writing!"

I should, I really should. Ooops, my phone's ringing.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Memories of Campus Journalism


Yesterday, the first day of the so-called love month, I did nothing but teach my college editorial staff how to do interesting newsletter layout.

As the adviser of our university paper, the look and the content—and attitude—of the publication fall on my lap.

It is an exciting assignment, something I took on with no question asked. But with this job come coaching and mentoring, tasks that require gargantuan patience—and going years back, plucking from my university memoir, as a campus journalist, what can be taught today to hard-core millennials. 

Aside from their writing talents, my chosen editors (who had to pass a rigorous test), have zero knowledge of journalism.

Words like headline, subhead, ears, nose for news, news angle, column inches, page jump, tombstone, etc. are as foreign to them as how a typewriter looks like.  

What to do?

I guess that's why there is a love month. It's when you painstakingly teach the ABC's of a job you used to love so they, too, will love it.

As one of only a dozen, chosen from among thousands to write for a prestigious campus newspaper, and one who will always look to those wonder semesters as part of her life's peak moments—I received grace in many unmeasured column inches.  

Journalism would also become the venue for meeting my future husband (maybe I should blog about that, too, one day soon). 

Memories of a job so loved, then, should be shared—and passed on.  

So, I now move from a header of hope . . .

to a header of love:

Friday, January 29, 2016

Enabling Grace


My friend, Vee, a ballet teacher, sent me a photo (below) with this message:

"I asked two early birds to read the January 21 entry of your 'What’s for Breakfast Vol. 1' book. They were so interested and both prayed to receive Christ—I was so elated! Keep writing, Ms. Grace. Your books reach the souls of little kids."    

Here's the January 21 devotional entry read by the tiny ballerinas:

Oh, No! Brown-out!

You are watching your favorite TV show.  The suspense is making you bite your nails. You can’t wait for the ending and suddenly, pooof! The pictures disappear and it’s dark all over. Oh, no!

Everyone at home gropes for a candle so you could at least see each other. Grrrr, you say, utterly frustrated and angry.

Without light, we can’t see.

That’s how it is if we don’t have Jesus in our lives. We would be in total darkness—groping, feeling sad, bad, and mad. We wouldn’t know what to do.

Jesus lights up our lives. Through Him we are joyful because He helps to know exactly how to do things right.

Tonight, before you go to sleep, switch off all the lights. In the dark, see if you can find where your pencil is.

Prayer: 

Shine on me, Jesus, shine!
Light up this life of mine.
Make me see Your brightness
Lead me out of the darkness. Amen.

“I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12  


 A story such as Vee's urges me to keep me writing . . . and praying for grace to enable me to do so.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Dear Diary


Many things in my lifetime have changed. This makes me often ask, “Why did that happen?”

Diary, for instance. In my day, we kept our diary under lock and key. We felt bad when people read it.

Today, many people make Facebook their diary—posting everything that in days of yore was kept secret—and feel bad when people don’t read it.

I was a veritable diarist. It must have in those diaries where I developed my insatiable desire for writing. But when I got married, I burned them all—perhaps to start a new chapter in my life (or start on a clean slate).

What I didn’t realize was, I would still be keeping diaries, tiny they may be, till today:   

Reading them, however, I see nothing but events, things purchased, and milestones—daily listings of grace. That’s probably why I still write them year after year and allow no one but me to read them.

Sometime along my life journey, I went into book writing and those books have become my diaries. In addition to those books, you are reading my blog. I also keep a small notebook where I write my thoughts and ideas, like a journal of sorts, but that is for another post.

The courage to write a book or a blog is not the same as the courage to write in a diary. I’d spill out everything in a diary, but I am prudent in writing a book/blog. Because there is one big difference. A diary has a reader of one—the writer. A book or a blog has readers other than the writer.

That’s why when I read FB posts that bare innermost feelings, avowals of love or hatred for someone, lurid details of one’s warts or horrible day, rants about this and that, I cringe and stop reading.

Call me old-fashioned (or old, period), but I feel that personal posts are meant only for diaries (or private journals). Yet this cliché stares me down, “Times have changed.”

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Book-Signing Treats


My books take me to different places, where I get to experience something new every single time.

“Meet and Greet the Author” is how my book-signing engagements are usually called. But when children are my audience, I call it “Meet and Greet the Readers.” How they interact with each other and with me enrich my arsenal of learning on kids, which I need as I continue writing storybooks and devotionals for them.  

One such event was at St. Edward’s, a new grade school in a new subdivision that sprouted in the middle of acres and acres of what was once an agricultural land. It took us hours to find it.   

Ah, but the rewards outplayed the inconvenience.

As the storyteller of one of my books leaped and emoted onstage, the seven-and-eight year-old kids sat in wide-eyed wonder, alternately giggling and wiggling. It was a treat to watch their unrestrained reactions.

This scene was re-enacted—a double treat for me—for the nine-and-ten-year-old students, who took over the gym as the first batch piled out.   

Then during the book-signing, which had both batches in an orderly queue, I had the pleasure of receiving grins and smiles. Some went as far as pinching my arms and touching my face, bussing me on the cheek and giving me a hug. A few stayed around for photo ops.

The warm, spirited chat with the school principal, a confessed closet writer, and his staff over pizza, capped the day.

God’s grace can overflow and overwhelm.

"Children are a blessing and a gift from the Lord." Psalm 127:3 (CEV)


Sunday, January 17, 2016

An Extraordinary Gift Exchange


It’s only the beginning of 2016 and already, the past year seems ancient. Since we refer to 2015 as last year, what happened last month sounds like stale news.

But, really, Christmas was just three weeks ago, so I am going to write about a particular Christmas party that I look forward to every year, and which I look back to with fondness even after the New Year has snugly set in. 

I speak of our OMFLit Christian Writers’ Fellowship (CWF) Christmas get-together we call “pot-bless” (more popularly known as potluck). Each attendee brings something to drink or munch on to the dinner table.

It begins with worship through songs, prayers, reflections, and a message. Then “whatever” ensues:  games, raffles, food, chats, jokes, photo ops—nothing rigid, nothing fancy, nothing predictable, just spontaneous stuff that keeps everyone bantering about the one thing he/she loves: books.  

Then the gift exchange or exchange gift drives everyone to maximum excitement. Yes, books! When you come to this party, you have to bring a book that you treasure and wish you’d keep forever—but would be glad to share with a kindred spirit.

Last year (three weeks ago) I chose a book that is so-not-me: a Philippine history book. I have little interest in history, but I happened to grab one of the many books of my husband (a history buff), and it grabbed me. I thought it might bless another writer, too, so I decided on making it my exchange gift.

Unfortunately, typical of me, I failed to bring it to the party. That desperate situation called for a desperate move: I rushed to the OMF Lit Bookshop and bought a copy of one of my books.

We drew names and successively, we were supposed to explain our book choice. I confessed. In a group such as this, you can be truthful and not be lynched for your idiocy—or senility. 

The recipient of my gift (my book) grinned and said, “I want my history book!”

Oh, dear. Naturally, lusty laughter drowned him out. 

From him, I got the perfect book: Weird by Craig Groeschel. I had coveted it after reading his The Christian Atheist, but if you are a book freak in a bookstore, books electrify you, and when you come to, you have enough pile in your arms, but not enough cash.   

That’s why the CWF Christmas party, from the first hour to the last, is exchange grace, or grace exchange.

It's only 11 months to the next one.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Towel Folding Art


Creativity is boundless. It can happen any time, anywhere, on anything. I am always fascinated by how people can create something extraordinary out of the ordinary.

Towels, for instance.

When I saw the towel in our hotel room, it took all of my attention. A duck!

I ignored the food and drink freebies and stared at the duck. I asked Tony to take my photo with it, then I slowly unfolded the source of my fascination to see how it was done. They were two towels in one.  

Towel folding art or towel origami, as some people may call it, has its origin in carnival cruise lines to amuse the guests. Today, you find it in many hotels, especially the high-end ones. It takes some doing and therefore eats up a lot of manhours.
 
With digital technology, new art forms have evolved. But the old, traditional ones—those that need nothing but the artist’s hands and imagination—can wow. And how!

In our busy lives (my two unmarried sons have gruelling jobs and social lives of their own, and my husband refuses to be a stay-home retiree), we try to find a reason to be together. We found one over the weekend (birthday of son #1) and had a staycation in a neighborhood boutique hotel on promo rates.

I asked my boys what sort of towel they had in their room.

Their reply, "White." 

"Oh."

It was a 24-hour grace. But the icing on my cake was a duck towel.


Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Refreshing Sight


Every so often, the Lord wakes me up to a joyful surprise.

One early morning, when I opened my Facebook page, this photo uploaded by my friend Anne made me gasp. Her nephews are intently reading two of my devotional books.

The caption reads, “This is a stolen shot; they didn’t pose for this.”

It made my day.

Another friend, Lucy, who has never met Anne, commented on the photo: “What a refreshing sight! No cellphones! There's hope for the youth!”

My day got even better.

In my latest book “Present!” I wrote pages upon pages about young people preoccupied with electronic gadgets, hardly ever having time to read books anymore. I had validated this sad fact through interviews and a Focus Group Discussion. This translates to fewer readers of the Scripture, which every Christian must read and re-read to grow.

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 (NLT)

The above photo, then, is indeed a refreshing sight. I like to think (wish may be a better word) that it is replicated in many homes. A grace moment like this encourages authors like me to keep writing.

Majority of millennials may have turned to cellphones and gadgets and have abandoned reading the printed page, but before me is a photo of two boys, a proof that many others still reach out for earnestly written words to feed their soul.



Tuesday, January 5, 2016

That First Sunday


The second book in the Happy Home series, “That First Sunday,” got off the press too close to Christmas day. It was supposed to have been launched at the Book Fair in September.

This is one of my books that went far, far beyond what biologists call the human gestation period of nine long months.

No matter. It’s out now and I am delighted that at least a hundred kids are reading and, I pray, learning from it. One hundred was, more or less, the number of copies that I gave away as Christmas presents to all the children in my circle.

The book lovers among them read the book immediately after saying “Thank you” and immediately, too, I saw how their faces lit up while flipping through the pages. And suddenly, the pain caused by the problems that snagged the book’s production vanished.

“Coming Home,” the first in the series (beautifully rendered and illustrated by Leo Kempis Ang), introduces the members of the Zambrano family, whose love for God and each other helps them overcome problems that could ruin relationships.

“What inspired you to write the series?” asked my editor, Joan.

In a word, family. My grandparents on my mother’s side, were two of the pioneering Christians in a little town. Growing up I saw, ringside view (they were next-door neighbors), and during family reunions, how they planted values in their children—not through words but through their lives. Those values were likewise passed on to us, their grandchildren.

What are those values?

God first. Sabbath day is sacred. Live a life of gratitude. Christ is the center of your life. Read your Bible. Sing hymns. If you’re married, your loyalty is with your husband first, not your parents. Support the weak. Give of yourself, of your time, of your resources to others in need. Adopt a stray. Serve in church. Your home church is your family, too. Live simply.

Now that I am writing those down, I can think of many, many more, but space constrains me. 

“What do you hope children will learn from the series?” Joan followed up her question.   

All those that inspired the writing of the series (above).

As you read through “That First Sunday,” note that every character in the Zambrano family, no matter how old, values relationship (not necessarily by blood) that honors the One Who, with endless patience and amazing grace, said, “This is my commandment: "Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” John 15:12 (NLT)

All the characters, then, are based on real-life people whom the Lord allowed to touch my life. Taking creative license, I changed names, mixed and matched events, abbreviated timelines, but they all sprung from actual encounters and values learned in my childhood.

By fleshing out the characters—what they represent in children's lives—and relating them to actual experiences, parents and teachers can use "That First Sunday" as a teaching tool while having fun.   

Take a peek at “That First Sunday” and try to re-live a similar experience, feeling the warmth of family and a sense of belonging. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Header of Hope


The year 2016 is crucial for the Philippines. We will have our presidential elections in May, five months from now.

Personally, I have been praying for sincere, incorruptible leaders who will serve the country and its people the best way they know how. I know many others are praying as well.

We don’t know what the outcome will be. But we have hope that the Lord will answer our prayers His way.

“And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you.” Psalm 39:7 (NLT)

I am putting up a header of hope . . .
. . . in lieu of my old one:

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Questions, One Old Answer


Over 2,000 years ago, the Lord revealed to prophet Habakkuk that sinful Judah would be invaded by the evil Chaldeans.

Habakkuk, therefore, rightfully predicted the ruin of Judah, and later, also the doom of the Chaldeans. But he said there was hope for individuals to preserve their life—by faith. He said in Habakkuk 2:4 (NKJV), “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.” 
 
The reward promised to those who would patiently wait on God is life, the grace of deliverance from destruction.

Many generations later, Apostle Paul echoed Habakkuk to the Romans, (Chapter 1: 17), “. . . in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’”

Habakkuk and Paul both remind us that when we have doubts about God’s ways, we must not be impatient. After pouring out our complaints and requests before Him, we must observe His answers by His Word, His Spirit, and providences.

God will not disappoint our expectations if we wait to hear what He will say to us. Though the promise is deferred, it will come—to abundantly reward us for waiting.

Those who distrust God's timing will not walk right with Him. But the just or the righteous shall live by faith in these precious promises, even if their delivery is not forthcoming. Only those who live by faith shall be happy here and forever.

2015 ushers in new, tough questions:

What if the global warming worsened and killed more people and crops?

“The just shall live by faith.” 

What if the evil came to power after the elections?

“The just shall live by faith.”

What if China claimed all of the Philippines’ shores? 

"The just shall live by faith.”
 
What if someone I love betrayed me? 

“The just shall live by faith.”

To a non-believer, this one old answer may be the ultimate cop out: hanging on by faith? 

Yes. A child of God lives by faith. Even if he goes through a grinding mill or thrown into a snake pit, he will always live by faith.

Habakkuk thousands of years ago expressed this distinctly, and so did Paul, hundreds of years later: Faith alone will receive the righteousness of God, the Giver of faith.

Happy New Year!


Monday, December 28, 2015

Life Happened


Nothing is predictable. One minute everything seems normal, then bang! The next minute, chaos. Life is a series of “Where did that come from?”

My friend Q, who had been living in the US with her husband for 10 years, came home one day and started looking for a job. She said, “I have come home for good.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Life happened,” she replied. Her marriage was not as ideal as it looked; it ended in a bitter divorce.

Another friend, R, who used to describe herself as “blissfully married with three growing kids,” left her husband in a huff. That was the end of bliss. “Life happened,” she lamented. She is now a struggling mom, trying to juggle between work, home, and budget.

On the other side of midnight is another friend, S, who led a devilish, tormented, ugly life, running into one wrong turn after another, making a series of tragic decisions along the way. One day, Jesus found her, and she accepted Him in her heart.

She declared, “New life happened.”

Things, however, are not suddenly rosy for S. But now, when “life happens” (they come and go), she sees them only as temporary setbacks, not ends. Sure, they make her heart writhe in pain sometimes, but she could breathe easy again because she knows . . . 

“. . . that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28 (NIV)

That first Christmas was when Jesus was birthed to give us “New Life,” which comes free to anyone who will receive Him. He became Flesh to be the ultimate sacrifice: to suffer and pay for our sins so we may receive the grace of salvation.

In three days, this year will end. My prayer is, we will come to know about the "New Life" and receive it in the New Year 2016.



Friday, December 25, 2015

Another Meaningful Christmas


Our family being small, we make time to celebrate the Holy Birth together, continuing a tradition started over 20 years ago. Nothing overly fancy. Just a quiet Christmas eve dinner, which is prepared by everyone to make sure it happens.

Earlier, there was rumor that there won’t be any turkey in supermarkets because of stricter customs rules. There were a few in one supermarket, but they were all under five kilos. So JC picked the biggest one at 4.6 (our smallest ever) and continued shopping for the condiments and stuffing.

It turned out to be the tastiest turkey we’ve ever had. JR, with the help of our long-time house-helper Ate Vi and her assistant Delia, made sure that size should not be an excuse for sloppy roasting.

Coming home from the church service, we dug in. Then the gift-giving capped our celebration just before midnight. After years of doing the same rituals, we sort of knew what one liked to receive.

I got my chronological Bible for the 4th year in a row (KJV this time) from son #1, angpaw from son #3 (he loathes shopping), and a cellphone-cum-camera from Tony who gave it as early as October when he had the budget. And three months later, I still have not figured out how to use it properly. 

A meaningful celebration it certainly was. We prayed that somewhere in the US of A, where three members of our family (second son, daughter-in-law, and grandson) now live independent lives, had a celebration as meaningful. Sharing with you imprints of our future memories, made possible by grace:          
"Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name."  1 Chronicles 29:13


We're Glad You Came


Angels descended upon our church—they sang as they did when they heralded the arrival of Jesus over two thousand years ago.

That’s how I felt when our 28-voice choir performed “We’re Glad you Came,” a new Christmas cantata created only last year by the award-winning team of Joel Lindsey and Jeff Bumgardner.

While listening, I had goosebumps all the way and when they sang the last chord, I—like most everyone at church—was teary eyed. It left me speechless, imagining thousands of such angels in God’ home, and all singing Him praises.

Our choir is usually assembled only on special occasions such as Easter, our church’s anniversary, and Christmas. That’s why I particularly looked forward to this rare presentation specially mounted to honor our King.   

The heartfelt music and profound lyrics, full of praise and expressions of gratitude, powerfully set the tone for how Christmas should be celebrated: focused on the Son of God, born that we may know Him as our Savior.

"We're Glad You Came" combines stellar new songs and narration interspersed with some of our well-loved Christmas carols. Highly emotive, the songs and our choir’s rendition must be what Thomas Carlyle meant when he said long ago, “Music is well said to be the speech of angels . . .”

Our musical conductress, Ching, and the choir—once members of our junior singing group—literally grew up before my eyes. Once toddling their way around the pews, they have been gifted not only with a musical ear but with the passion to render their best for God.

The choral books, according to Ching, were actually gifts from Joy, who was our church's pianist and choir conductress until she immigrated to the US with her family. Despite the distance, however, Joy continues to be a part of our angels’ speech. 

We got a double dose of grace when half of the choir members sang an abridged version of the same cantata during our service on Christmas eve, after a moving message by our pastor.
Lord, we’re glad you came!


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Have a Blessed Christmas


How was your 2015?

I liken ours to an Oreo cookie: black and white.

Among our blacks were serious health problems that brought us to the emergency room and landed us in the hospital. Among our whites were a family reunion in July that enabled us to have a great family bonding; launching of three of my books; serving the Lord in church; a sentimental trip to China; busy days at work; change of jobs; etc. 

There were hues and all the colors in between, of course, but the blacks and the whites hogged our emotional highs and lows.

Nonetheless, we “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)

We give thanks especially for the birth of Grace, Jesus—for His becoming Flesh on Christmas for us. This is definitely a WHITE (all caps) celebration, so our family colored our world with a merry red surrounded with green, the colors of Christmas.
 
Thank you for visiting my blog, for your friendship, and for the inspiring and encouraging messages you sent via  the comment box, email, social media, and other means this year. I am blessed.

Have a blessed Christmas, too!


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Mary in Us


For the longest time, my favorite Christmas song has been “Away in a Manger.” It describes for me the humble and unpretentious arrival of Jesus.

Reading the story of Jesus’ birth in the book of Luke, we see nothing but simplicity. It happened in a rural area and was anonymous—so different from the birth of an earthly king that is usually awaited with pomp and pageantry by the citizenry.

But what accompanied Jesus’ birth was the attention of the heavenly host (God’s army). Luke 2:13-14, “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’”

The event was too important to be announced by just one angel. All heaven was moved, sang praises—and marveled at the grace of the Father Who sent Him.

Mary, young as she was, must have been overwhelmed. The good book tells us that she pondered all that happened in her heart.  For who could understand the contrast between the birth's commonness and the Child's greatness?

How did she feel? The magnitude of Jesus’ birth could not be known by the human mind, least of all Mary who was in her early teens.

These questions inspired our women’s group in church to attend one Christmas gathering dressed as Mary. In the course of our event, we tried to ponder the coming of Jesus.
Today we have the Scripture, which reveals all, to help us understand.  The Holy Birth is no longer as incomprehensible as it was for Mary at the time it happened.

But, like Mary, we wanted to continue pondering those things in our heart. Because no matter how much we know, it is still incredible how the King of all creation would do such an unthinkable humbling to save a wretch like me or you. 

One other poignant Christmas song that I also love (by Mark Lowry), in the same rung as “Away in a Manger,” ends with “Mary did you know? The sleeping Child you’re holding is the great I am.”

What a privilege to worship our Deliverer at His birth!    


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Scarecrow on Christmas


Scarecrows are a common sight in the agricultural province where I grew up. As in any rural landscape, especially rice fields, farmers put up scarecrows every few meters to protect their crops from birds.


Because we rarely make a trip to the province anymore, I have not seen a scarecrow in years—until yesterday. It stood on a curb in our village where birds abound in early mornings.  

Beautiful melodies of bird songs wake me up at dawn every day. So why would anyone want to scare those birds away? 

The scarecrow not only looked out of place but bizarre. What homes usually have by their gates at this time of the year is a huge Santa Claus.  

Alas, people have so varnished and re-varnished the essence of Christmas that it is now beyond recognition: Santa Claus, Christmas tree, blinking lights, lanterns, exchange gifts, parties with competition (and therefore hours and hours of rehearsals), raffle and door prizes, special dishes and pastries, and caroling. There was that one year, we received a Christmas card featuring Harry Potter and Hogwarts. 

And now, a scarecrow?!

Human beings have been gifted with creativity, so how much and how many more layering can we slop on to conceal Christmas?

A scarecrow has been invented long ago to frighten predators. It particularly scares me now, because it symbolizes how far away we've strayed from the birth of Hope; how much liberty we have taken to deface and demean the first visible scene of God's plan to redeem us from the mire in which we've buried ourselves.

I am not trying to impose my faith on anyone, but Christmas rightfully belongs to those who believe in it. We cannot celebrate it any other way but to reflect, with gratitude, the coming of Jesus, the King of kings, Savior of mankind. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Light for the Writer’s Soul


Writing is a calling that is both happy and lonely.

That statement seems to oversimplify my writing quotient. Let me illustrate through my own emotional pie chart. Writing is 100% grace, sliced into 96% happy and only 4% lonely—but that small number could be lethal. 

Imagine my excitement, then, when I was told that Media Associates International (MAI), in partnership with Armour Publishing, has published the book "Light for the Writer's Soul: 100 devotions by global Christian writers."

This, I thought, would take care of my aberrant 4%.

Written by contributing writers (of which I am privileged to be a part) from 27 countries, and illustrated by award-winning French artist and illustrator Didier Millotte, this book I would liken to sunburst on a cloudy day. The stories illumine and inflame all at once.

According to MAI, and I agree, "It is ideal for personal devotions of writers and would-be writers, especially those in hard places in the world; a resource in writers groups; workshops; and in mentoring Christian writers."   

For the book to last me one year, I should be reading one devotional article every three days—with enough time to bask in the glow of perspectives similar to mine. But the articles so surprised and stirred me I read the whole book in one sitting!

Much of the personal pain—conflicts, complications, dilemmas, obstacles, and yes, loneliness—of varied writers from varied backgrounds kindled my interest and indeed lit up my soul. 

I now know that the Lord beams His Word in different ways upon different writers, but our responses are set at different timelines. In the end, and always, the fire to write overwhelms the temptation to stop.

If you are reading my blog this far, I assure you that this book will help stoke your (or a friend's) love for the printed word and keep it burning. For a copy of the book, click: link

Without doubt, the book is a light, switched on for the writer's soul.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

My White Christmas



Christmas after Christmas, my mother would put up the same tree on a corner table at her drugstore.  Her predictable next steps: cut surgical cotton into strips and fluff them up for each branch; hang lots of candies; then top the tree with a star made from an aspirin box.

It was not my kind of tree.

...

Read more



Monday, December 14, 2015

We See in a Mirror Dimly


Looking in a mirror used to be my favorite activity when I was young and, well, kinda’ pretty (in my own mind). What I’d see was an unlined face, high cheekbones, one dimple, and eyes that sparkled.

Today, I dread looking in a mirror with my glasses on. I see the opposite of what used to delight me. So I take my specs off and look in a mirror dimly, and I am spared from being spooked by a holocaust survivor.    

Thankfully, I am not unique. Every human being sees in a mirror dimly. What we see isn’t what is.

Kids ask: 

Why do other homes have beautiful Christmas trees and have festive Noche Buena?
 

Why do my friends get their wishes on Christmas simply by writing to Santa Claus?

Adults ask:

Why do evil people get elected to government positions and are addressed honorable? 
 

Why do dishonest people become indecently rich and are never punished?   

Kids and adults ask: Are they nicer to God than we are?

But history is also rich with martyrs, people who have done much for God and others and yet lived impoverished lives.  

Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:12 (ESV), “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 

Christmas is for retrospection. As I look at myself in the mirror, I ponder “seeing in a mirror dimly” and realize that the things we see on this side are just hues, shades and shadows. It’s only someday, after we have crossed over to the beautiful, perfect side, will we have all the answers and see all too clearly.

Meanwhile, as the year ends with our celebration of Jesus’ birth, I want to personally thank Him for the grace of family. He gave me a kooky one—like a gift left under my Christmas tree, for free. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Unique Christmas Ribbons


What so unique about ribbons?

Nothing much. I just thought that trimming my tree this year with ribbons that have been individually chosen—no two are alike—would be unique. I even went as far as crocheting two with different patterns to make sure there is no repeat of any design or color. 

The motif is carried through to my centerpiece vase. My friend G, an art director, suggested a walis-tingting (raffia broom), pliant enough to make my bows bend and sway. 

What’s truly unique about my tree this year, though, is that all the ribbons are recyclable. After taking the tree down, these ribbons will come in handy as bows for yearlong gifts. 

I like to think that each ribbon represents a color of grace, like a gift bow I can’t wait to un-knot, that the Christmas Honoree hands me every second in a day.   


Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Man Who Wanted to Kill Christmas


You know the story. I am re-telling it for me, amidst the glitz and blitz, so I will always remember . . .  

On that first Christmas, the king of Judea was Herod, a cruel, blood-thirsty killer. He eliminated anyone who got in his way. Human life meant nothing to him.

A smooth talker, he was also insatiable, wanting to have everything—palaces, huge theaters, you name it.  

When he was near death, some important men from the east arrived.
They asked Herod, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

Herod was distraught and might have thought, I am the King of the Jews!

He called all religious leaders to find out what the Bible said about a coming King. He wanted to know where this King was born: 

“In Bethlehem in Judea, for this is what the prophet has written: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:5-6)

Herod had to act. From the Magi he found out the exact time the star they were following had appeared. He also sweet-talked them into coming back to tell him where they found the Child, so that Herod may also go and worship Him. 

Off the magi went. The star led them to Jesus. They bowed down, worshiped Him, and offered Him expensive gifts because they knew that the little Boy would someday rule the world.

They were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod; they went home through another route.  

Having been fooled, Herod was furious. He ordered the murder of all males less than two years of age!

But nothing could stop God’s plan.

Despite his wealth and power, Herod came to ruin, dying from a painful disease. 

Little Jesus grew up to be the opposite of Herod. He used His power not to kill, but to help others and show love. After a life of poverty and no throne, He died on a lowly cross. But unlike Herod, who caused massive bloodshed among hordes of people, Jesus shed His own blood for all people of the world—and resurrected three days later.   

Nobody could kill Christmas. Not even a Herod.

Come, let us the worship the King: JESUS.


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Three Days of Silence


Feeling queasy, nauseous, and uptight (in short, blah), I asked Tony to check my blood pressure. Horrors, it went through the roof! 

He called my doctor who ordered, "Sub-lingual pill, immediately. Re-check her BP in an hour."

I was due to speak at our prayer meeting that evening, and I prayed that I'd feel better to make it. I didn't. After an hour, my BP numbers wouldn't budge. Another sub-lingual pill.

One more hour—the numbers even slightly went up. Third sub-lingual pill. My doctor said, "If after an hour it stays up, take her to the emergency room."  

At the emergency room, I zonked out into a restful sleep for an hour. And by grace, my BP went back to normal. Diagnosing myself, I told my doctor the tummy discomfort (a recurring trouble) I was experiencing could be the culprit. She gave me pills to solve that and stressed, "Rest. Nothing strenuous.”  

Next day, same story. Another sub-lingual pill, and a roomful of anxiety. I had to follow my doctor’s orders.

Writing and painting were out of the equation. I likewise cancelled a book signing event, a radio interview, and a women's gathering in church. 

I had only one option left—read. I dropped by my happy place, The Book Sale shop and bought the two books atop a heap, as though waiting for me: two versions of Randy Alcorn's "Heaven."

They were the perfect buy. While resting and reading, I was made to see, and I mean really visualize (albeit in limited human imagery), God’s glorious home—especially in the kids’ version—and in my three silent days back to normalcy, all my cares sped away. 

When one day everything in my body goes awry, and the Lord says, "It's time," heaven or the New Earth would be, through my new glorified eyes, and as written by the author, "Far better than you and I can imagine."   

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Wordless Wednesday


"We are all the creations of God. We have God-given talents. The talent that God gave me is cussing. Instead of blaming me, blame God because He created me.”

This quote from trash-and-tough-talking Rodrigo Duterte, Davao mayor and now a presidential aspirant in the Philippines, was published in major dailies yesterday. Known for his raw, gutter language, brashness, and self-avowed penchant for women, Duterte has both shocked and awed the country.    

I am neither shocked nor awed. I am wordless.

So I will not dignify this quote by going into a tirade against Duterte, nor by maligning him, nor by campaigning against him, nor by apologizing for him, nor by detailing his other lurid exploits, nor by analyzing what he meant.

The following, then, are not my words; they're from the Bible (the book of the Creator Whom Duterte referred to) and what it says about cussing:

"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)


Monday, November 30, 2015

Instant Booksigning


Going into a bookstore has always been a treat for me. That's one of the places where my time stands still.

But going into a bookstore crowded with kids, flitting here and there, scanning and reading books, and comparing notes, is a triple treat!

My friend Luis, a famous children's book author I look up to, and I just came from a meeting and decided to spend some time at the OMFLit Bookshop. The festive sight that greeted us was something we never expected.  

Children—grade school students of a public school—filled the place to the rafters. Their teachers, scattered around supervising them, said, "We brought them here so they could each buy a book of their choice."

I took note of some kids holding my books and filed toward the cash register. "Want me to sign those?" I asked tentatively.

I got a question instead of an answer, "Who are you?"

"Well, I am the author of those books," I said, summoning my sweetest smile.

"Really? Wow!" they shrieked.

Their voices reached some of their teachers' ears and not a second too long, they were beside me, posing for a groupfie.

I looked around for Luis and I saw him with another group of kids and teachers, doing exactly the same thing.

Deja vu.

It was like being at the Manila International Book Fair—my other happy place, up the same rank as a bookstore—all over again.

Authors never know what instant grace awaits them in the places to where they go. 

If I didn't have another appointment, I would have stayed in that bookshop till kingdom come.


Friday, November 27, 2015

There Is No Plan B


An ex-First Lady had been photographed piously praying in churches, clutching a rosary. In fact, there were rumors that she had a collection of rosaries, one of which was made of diamonds. 

And yet, a photo of her bedroom shows an array of graven idols—representing different gods. Is she making sure she has covered all bases? That if one fails, she has other options? 

Likewise, in a number of restaurants or shops, I continue to spot different idols on shelves, usually behind the cash register: Virgin Mary side-by-side with Buddha, Krishna, and some other gods whose names escape me.

"There is something good about all religions and their gods," said an acquaintance who claims to be a liberalist (let's call him Sam), "so I give them all the benefit of the doubt."

Sam is certain that all gods have their own unique way of saving a person for "heaven." 

I am not equipped to pick a fight with Sam. He has the gift of gab, and all I have is grace to hang on to my faith—faith that was profoundly explained by our pastor in one Sunday message, synthesized in four short words and a letter:

"There is no Plan B,” he emphasized. 
“Only Jesus, Jesus only," he continued. 

I took it to mean that one has to live solely for and singularly focused on Jesus. Everything we do should be for His glory and honor alone, because salvation is His only plan for us. 

"How can we believe this? Faith," our pastor specified. "This faith is only as good as that on Whom it is placed—that He can do for us what He promises to do."  

In this light, someone had created an acronym for F-A-I-T-H, and I am borrowing it now to focus further what "No Plan B" means.

Forsaking
All
I
Take
Him. 
                                                                        
That's forsaking all other gods and trusting only in Him. Faith in Christ is not faith, until He’s all we're holding onto. Because we know, we believe, that He is able to hold us forever and never let us go—all the way through life everlasting.

“There is no Plan B.”

"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12 (NIV)


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Numbers on Year Nine


Numbers, numbers, everything was about numbers.

In the workplace where I risked life and limb, one had to have numbers to get anything approved. Numbers showed that one’s proposal would work, no arguments needed.   

Numbers do say a lot. Politicians watch numbers carefully to see how they’re fairing in the popularity game. Then they have to have the numbers to be elected.

Allow me then to do numbers as I celebrate the ninth year anniversary of Leaves of Grace.  However, unlike in the workplace or any business where numbers mean much, mine are just benchmarks to see where I’ve been. Okay, they’re encouragement to keep me going, too.

So here they are:

Readers from all 196 countries in the world have visited my site at least twice—from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. I lacked four last year to complete the total number. 

There are over 292,000 hits today or an average of 200 visits daily in the last three years. Up by 60,000 from last year’s page views.  

I have uploaded 939 posts so far; one post every 3.5 to four days. That’s 100 posts more over last year's.  

What do not appear in this site are the many letters I received and continue to receive via email and on FB Private Message, saying they read my posts regularly. Words like “healing” “uplifting” “encouraging” “nourishing” make me, more than ever, resolve to continue blogging.

There’s no way, really, anyone can stop when she's writing about grace—the gift that keeps giving, and giving, and giving.

And as I do whenever I celebrate or spend my day in gratitude for blessings, I change my header . . .

from the old . . .

to the new. 

“Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!” 1 Chronicles 16:8 (ESV)



Friday, November 20, 2015

Put All Your Eggs in One Basket


“Diversify,” financial gurus would advise.  “Don't invest all your money in one company. Never put all your eggs in one basket.”

It makes sense, doesn't it?  

If you have all of your resources in one place, or if you put your money and future into one investment scheme, and that business nosedives, you lose everything. Big risk indeed.

There are many sad tales about people having all of their eggs in one basket (remember the  single-day US stock market crash on Sept. 29, 2008?) and they lost their shirt. That one, quick painful moment flushed out all they ever had. 

“Faith does not work that way,” our pastor stressed from the pulpit, and a sudden spate of grace lit up my mind. “You either have faith in the one true God or you don’t. You either trust Him fully or you don’t. Put all your eggs in God's basket.”

My imagination conjured a basket of eggs.

I thought, Not one egg less, everything has to be in that basket or your trust is wanting.

He pushed, “Faith is complete reliance on another to do that which you could not do for yourself. Nobody can save himself. Through Jesus alone can anybody be saved.”

In a breath, he demolished the age-old investment principle of not putting everything in one basket.  

But, then, he was not talking about material investment; he was talking about investment of the life that has been gifted us—the life that will not end on earth, but will remain perpetuo in a place so beautiful I can’t even begin to imagine it.   

Quickly I summarized in my little notebook his point: Faith is absolute. Believe in Him for everything, every time, everywhere. That is the soundest investment of all. 

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)



Monday, November 16, 2015

Offline


Three days in a row, every ATM machine that I went to had this haphazardly written sign, “Offline.”  


Funny how one word can spawn a school of negative subtexts:

Go away!
Vamoose!
Shoo!
No money here.
I have your money, he-he. 
Try some other ATM.
Leave me alone.
Don’t bother me.
Can't you see I'm resting?
Take it or leave it.
End of argument. 
Plus many more

So you postpone buying and paying for life’s essentials till the ATM is online again.

In this digital age, we are at the mercy of machines. When they conk out, we cave in.

“Machines can never replace people,” we like to say. But people conk out, too.

Imagine driving through horrific traffic to have something urgent signed by someone someplace, only to be told that the person you need to see is out to lunch.

“But I called before coming! He promised he’d be here!”

So you wait, only to be jolted again by a message that the person fell ill and decided to go home. He has a message for you: “Could you please come back some other time?”

You wonder and worry when that “some other time” will come again. Meanwhile, you will miss a crucial deadline.

Machines, people—they can both be offline. Just as you would feel offline, too, fearful and dreadful after such frustrating tries and re-tries.

What a contrast to what we read in Deuteronomy 31:6 (ESV), “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Let me paraphrase this in the context of the above frustrations: Don’t conk out nor cave in; I am always online.

Whenever I come to the edge of my wits over machines and people, I reach out for calming grace. It readily comes through verses upon verses in the Bible. This is just one of them.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Greatest Play Ever Written (8)


I can go on and on with the non-star cast of the Bible, character after character, and I will always be amazed at how the Playwright threads them all together for the happy ending—Jesus.

My blog series on Bible characters ends with this post—focusing on what stage plays usually tag as “The crowd.” This comprises unnamed groups in the cast, without whose roles the play would not be complete.
These groups have people who have no names and do not seem to count for anything.  And there are many of them!

The hypocrites, the wise men of the east, the man with two sons, the rich fool, the snobbish Pharisees, the Centurion and his servant, the four thousand men (Matthew 15:38), the soldiers who stripped Jesus, the saints who were raised (Matthew 27:52), the maniac of the tombs, the seventy disciples (Luke 10:1), the ten lepers, the Greeks (John 12:20), etc. etc. etc.

The Bible is silent on their identity.

We praise famous men and women in the Bible, we study them in our Sunday school classes, but what about those who passed through chapters and verses like a wisp of wind?

Space prevents me from listing all of these unnamed men and women of God’s book.

I think this is God’s way of telling us that although we may be unknown in our work for Him, or we think that “I do not count for anything,” we matter. We may be hidden from people’s eyes, but not from God’s.

For ourselves, it is sufficient to know that, whether our names are in neon or simply listed in the playbill as “the crowd,” they are written upon God’s palms and in His home, every child of His is to have a new name.

We are in God’s cast of characters and we didn’t even have to audition for the role. That’s grace in this life and the life beyond.   

Note: This is the 8th and the last in a series of posts on "The Greatest Play Ever Written."


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Children Who Read


One of the sights that make my heart do a somersault is when I see children reading books other than their textbooks. 

Of course you’d expect that statement from an author of children’s books. But even if I didn’t write for children, I’d still feel the same.

In my many encounters with kids, I found that those who love to read have a richer vocabulary and can actually converse well with an adult on various topics.

Studies and science on reading have proven this to be true. It has been found by the Institute of Education (UK) that children who read at an early age do significantly better at school than their peers. These little people made more progress in math, vocabulary and spelling than those who rarely read.

It was also noted that reading for pleasure had the strongest effect on children's vocabulary development—and they are able to absorb and understand new information quickly in all subjects.

Adrian, my grandchild, reads. And how! I took this photo of him when he visited us three months ago.

I was not surprised when his mom posted this on FB:   

Caption: A messy pile of books is always near Adrian's bed. Cannot complain about it now after he was recognized today in the school assembly for his awesome reading. Target was 10 reading points for 1 trimester. His current score (and the trimester far from over) = 95.

My granny heart naturally did a most spirited somersault.

My husband thinks it’s in the genes, because in our family, we all love to read. Our home is littered with books. And now that he is retired, Tony reads one book a week—he brings one with him wherever he goes.

I never believed that love for reading has anything to do with genes. Neither does it have to do with discipline. You can’t order a child to read and expect him to love it.

It has everything to do with role modelling. If a child sees his parents/family reading a lot, he will likely grow up to be a reader, too.

There are of course new studies supporting Tony’s claim that love of reading is genetic, and nothing of mine, but whenever I see kids reaching out for a book first, instead of a toy or a game console, my mind speaks, Their parents must be readers, too.

Here are photos of kids who, in my opinion, have bookworms for parents.  
(Photo by Teacher Teacher Mars)  

If, by grace, my aging heart remains sturdy, I wish to feel countless somersaults in more years to come.