Wednesday, September 2, 2015

My Most-Liked Photo


Last summer, I was into painting.

I still am, but not as much as I was in the last two months. My real life has taken over once again.

The summer of 2015 was a fluke. Life came to a halt. I was on a waiting mode—waiting for classes to begin, for my manuscripts to come back from my editor, for my new books to be launched, and coincidentally, I purposely freed up my schedule so I could spend all my time with my grandson, Adrian, who was scheduled to come home for a visit from the US.

Painting was timely grace to keep my adrenaline pumping or I’d go insane.

I’ll never be a Leonardo da Vinci, I thought, but dreams are free, so I might as well splurge!  

One of the art museums to where Tony and I took our Adrian was interactive. The many interesting art pieces are what photography buffs might call “to die for.” But Adrian took my camera and was all over the place, making us pose here and there, and clicking away. “Don’t move, Amah!”

Among all the shots he took of me and Tony, my most-liked photo, which I am sure defines me, is this:
 I uploaded it to Facebook and to my surprise, the number of “like” from friends and foe kept rising by the second. It is my most-liked photo to date, bar none.

Mona Lisa, the most recognized, most written about, most sung about, most talked about, most parodied painting in the world, never fails!

Everything, however, is wrong about the photo. The real Mona Lisa painting is much smaller at only 30 inches x 21 inches. Still, when I saw it at the Musée du Louvre in Paris sometime ago, it took my breath away. Alas, it was cordoned off from fans and gawkers.

But Adrian’s shot of a Mona Lisa rip-off and me, makes my dream come true. I need not grow up to be a Leonardo da Vinci!

Here's the real deal, though. It comes with a matching blooper stinger—toink.  

Saturday, August 29, 2015

I Am Indispensable


When I was still green in the workplace, wise people I looked up to would always advise me,  “Nobody is indispensable.”

They were teaching me not to think too highly of myself or act like a diva, because there is always someone out there who can take my place. It was a sure-fire way of bursting one’s bubble.

After I became a boss myself, I would parrot those words for swell-headed juniors.

Today, however, 15 years after leaving the workplace for good, my mind just made a u-turn, “I am indispensable.”

This was while our pastor was delivering the message about a parable familiar to many, "The Lost Sheep."

The shepherd had 100 sheep. One day, one was lost. He immediately left the 99 and went looking for it. When he found the lost sheep, he carried it on his shoulder and brought it home. He was so happy everyone rejoiced with him. (Matthew 18:10-14)

Why would the shepherd bother looking for just one ordinary sheep? He had 99 anyway, so minus one should not have made any difference. Or, he could have easily bought a new sheep. But no, he went out looking for the lost one—and didn’t stop till he found it.

Why?

Because that’s the kind of Shepherd our God is. He doesn't wait for anyone to call for help; He knows when one is lost and initiates the search.

Why?

Because standards of the world are different from God’s. His lost sheep is precious, there is not one like it. It is indispensable!

God tells us through this parable that every person created by Him is special and irreplaceable. He looks for us when we stray so we could complete His family.

"He is a seeking God," our pastor stressed. The shepherd wanted the lost sheep back because it belonged in his care and he longed to care for him like he cared for all the others.

That's how God treasures a wretch like me, I mused, tearing up. His grace saves me and takes me safely home.

On the cross, Jesus did His best for me. Have I done my best for Him? Or, have I even tried?

Photo credit: 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Day I Don’t Look Like Me

  
Once a year, for two hours, I lose my bangs, my trademark. My whole body is swathed in black, making me look obese.
I literally and figuratively lose myself. But that’s a small price to pay for one special ritual of my life as a part-time college teacher.

On graduation day, my former students—those whom I tried hard to discipline and train in the classroom on ways of their future workplaces—take center stage and I couldn’t be prouder.

Before the ceremonies, they arrive one by one, all dolled up, perfumed, and unrecognizable. Out of their school uniforms, the girls look like beauty queens: accessorized dresses, made-up faces, coiffed hair, and stockinged feet tottering on six-inch heels.  The boys look like young CEOs, dapper in new dark suits, gelled hair, and polished pair of shoes.

And their parents! Likewise in designer party clothes, they don permanent grins as they put hoods on their children and medals on the outstanding ones.

And I muse, These are the people who worked hard, paid through the nose, and, pardon the melodramatic word—sacrificed—so they could enroll their children in a transnational university. They deserve their five minutes of fame and their lifetime of pride for their achievement.     

It’s a yearly ritual, with a similar cast, but with new excitement each time. Applauding my former wards—queuing up on stage, receiving that piece of paper from the Chairman of the Board, President, and Dean, donned in the same costume as their professors—levels our playing field.

Seated in one row, my colleagues and I gasp on cue and we gush into each other’s ears, reminiscing incidents in classrooms of years past.

One day in a year, in my humongous costume that hides my new dress, and cap that hides my old bangs, grace colors my heart with all shades of feel-good emotions for having been a part of these kids’ growing up into formidable human beings—ready to take on the global stage.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Pamana Shot Dead


I was outraged when I read this news yesterday. And I continue to seethe.

“Three-year-old Philippine Eagle named Pamana [heritage] was found dead two months after she was released into the wild. She sustained a fatal gunshot wound in her right chest, according to the Philippine Eagle Foundation [PEF] Executive Director Dennis Salvador.”


This endangered Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) flew to freedom on June 12 after being cared for and brought back to health at PEF, which found her suffering from two gunshot wounds. There are now only about 400 left of these endangered birds. And every day, they face threats of being killed. They are also losing their homes due to deforestation.

This was the subject of a story written by my third son, JR, when he was in grade school. This same story I unearthed when I began writing full-time in the year 2000. We named the eagle in the story, Malaya (freedom). After JR and I polished it, we sent it to Dennis Salvador, at that time waging a war against illegal hunters.

Aimed at bringing awareness to the rampant killing of this Philippine treasure, and hopefully help stop this merciless act, the book was published by Caltex Philippines, an advocate for the preservation of the environment.

"Fly, Malaya, Fly!" (illustrated by Longlong Pesquira) was launched in Davao City in 2001.    
 

Fifteen years later, today, the awareness has been achieved, I think, but the shooting has not stopped!     
 
This bird, with a wingspan spreading up to seven feet and therefore the largest eagle in the world, is now a critically-endangered species.

People found guilty of killing critically endangered species can face jail sentences of up to 12 years, and fines of up to P1 million (Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act).

Yet, these criminals are running around loose and are on a shooting spree.   

Is there hope?

With PEF, determined to be a steward of God’s flying creations, I want to remain hopeful. My prayer is that after Pamana, no Philippine eagle will be killed ever again—and that we all become good stewards of His every grace.  

Photo of Pamana: From the Province of Davao Oriental FB page


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

When Is a Job Done?


In the advertising world, a TV ad is not done till you actually see it on TV.

Even after the ad has been given a standing ovation and approved by client, the creative team can’t rest easy.  Client can still change his mind, “Hold it!” Sometimes, because of competitive moves or budget constraints, the ad sits on the back burner and waits . . . and waits. 

When it is finally aired, those who slaved over the ad heave a sigh of relief and only then can they release that sense of longing held in their chest too long. 

This parallels writing a children’s book. Or almost.

The manuscript is singing and the book layout is raring to begin, but “Hold it!” The artwork is still crawling. So the book does not get “aired” and it goes on the back burner where it waits . . . and waits.  

Hallelujah!

The waiting was finally over for “Coming Home” (the first book in the series called Happy Home) scheduled for launching twice, with “Hold it!” halting it twice as well. 

On July 25 at 2:00, at the Ateneo Rizal Library during the Children’s Book Fair . . . it. was. launched.

Euphoria?

Not quite. Unlike an aired TV ad, the job is far from done with a launched book. I have always believed that unless a Christian author's book is read, there is no ministry to speak of. 

After all the noisy excitement below (storytelling, book signing, hobnobbing with lovely children and their parents), I quietly pray: that “Coming Home” will be read, and each reader will thank the Lord for the grace of family, in a happy home.

That’s when the job is done. And euphoria kicks in.

   

Friday, August 14, 2015

View of Decades


We met up to see the new condo unit of our friend, Dolly, on the 50th floor. Up in the clouds, we gasped at the breathtaking view beneath and around us.
Looking at our photo later, we gasped even louder at the view of decades before us.

We are a group of friends who happen to live in the same part of the metropolis. So from the time we met each other at our once place of work, then found ourselves away from it, we sort of tried to connect and re-connect.   

Each time, chats and laughter are a marathon.   

But what we hadn’t realized till that day, while staring at our photos with the fantastic view of skyscrapers, was that we were actually viewing a group of BFFs whose ages are separated by decades: 80, 70, 60, 50, 40!

This could only mean that friendship is not dictated by age. The young and the not-so-young can bond just as strongly—if not stronger—as those who were born in the same era. Activities would have to be limited, though, since some are definitely more energetic than others.

We also realized that over the years, we manage to celebrate our milestones together: birthday, non-birthday, bienvenida, despedida, non-venida, new condo, old condo, new house, old house, new book, old book, new hairdo, old hairdo, book launch, whatever.

I am sure that when someday my knees should wobble, and would need not only crutches but grace to help me walk, my friends would still be there.

One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, wrote: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You, too? Thought I was the only one.” 

Can people separated by decades say that to each other?!  

    
"Cheers!"


Monday, August 10, 2015

The Greatest Play Ever Written (6)


Ehud, the Assassin

That would make a perfect title for a bestselling book thriller adapted into a movie or a Broadway play. Ehud’s story, which comes right out of Judges 3, is action-packed, garnished with gore and greed. 

It happened during the reign of Eglon, king of Moab, who oppressed and coerced the people of Israel into worshipping idols. The Israelites cried out to the Lord for deliverance.

God raised up Ehud, a left-handed judge, who made a double-edged sword a cubit long (about a foot and a half) to kill the king and liberate His people from his rule.

Ehud must have been a charmer, possessing a golden tongue. He sweet-talked the king into believing that he had a “secret message” for him from God. The king ordered his servants to leave. 

Ehud’s “secret message” was his sword, which he plunged into the fat belly of the unsuspecting obese king. The Bible graphically describes this murder scene in verse 22 (NASB), “The handle also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the refuse came out.”

(Modern-day authors of horror and violence can draw inspiration from this verse.)   

Like a seasoned assassin and master of deceit, Ehud deftly locked the doors to keep the guards out, and fled just as deftly. 

When Ehud returned to the people of Israel, he blew a trumpet of victory and told them that the Lord had given Moab into their hands. They wasted no time in striking down about 10 thousand Moabites, all able-bodied and strong—not one was spared.

And the land had peace for 80 years.

As an audience of this powerful play, I have learned that our God hears the cries of His people and rescues us in times of need.

Through Ehud, God’s grace freed the people of Israel from abuse at the hands of the Moabites.

God doesn't discriminate in choosing people to accomplish His will. Ehud was left-handed, considered a disability in the ancient world, yet God used him to win a major victory for His people.

Ehud, the assassin, became Ehud, the redeemer.

(Note: This is the sixth in a series of eight posts on "The Greatest Play Ever Written.)


Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Fascinating Fan


The text message surprised me. It came from a name (let’s call her Eve) I could hardly recall. But her words were intriguing. Anything that has to do with my books gets my attention.

“My only grandson, Rafa, is a fan of your children’s books. He wants to meet Grace D. Chong [how I'm called by my young readers].” Eve also reminded me we stayed in the same dorm in college.

That was a million years ago; how on earth could she remember? I thought.

We set a time and place; I try not to pass up any opportunity to meet my young readers.

Seeing Eve again brought back memories. She was with a young, handsome couple (her son and his wife) and their little boy: Rafa!

He was small, just a toddler, definitely not yet a reader.

“Three years old,” they said, and Rafa buried his face in his father’s shoulder, too shy to say anything, but wore a wide, disarming smile.

Before we could order snacks, Rafa’s dad put on the table my “Oh, Mateo!” books, all well-worn but neatly covered with plastic.

Over tea, coffee, and pastries, Rafa answered every question about the books. He knew all the stories by heart, the characters—even the minor ones—as though he had read them himself over and over again.

Rafa’s parents and Eve have been reading the stories to him since he was old enough to listen. He’s allowed to watch TV or fiddle with a Tablet only on weekends. No wonder he is growing up loving books. With a kid like Rafa, my dream of seeing a generation of readers during my lifetime may yet come true!

I wrote a short note on each of his books (I was told later that he wanted his mom to read all the messages) while he mentioned snippets of the stories.

As I was signing his books, Rafa rushed to give my arm unrestrained squeezing, then ran back to his dad quickly.

I gave him a copy of “Coming Home,” the first in a new series called “Happy Home,” which has yet to be formally launched. Immediately, he asked his mom to read it to him.

As he listened, his eyes twinkled, as though relishing every word, like a political analyst listening to a presidential SONA.

To say it was an enchanting afternoon with a tiny fascinating fan would be a lie. For an author, it was the ultimate high—like grace from the sky.

So why do I write for children?

Why do I breathe?


Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Greatest Play Ever Written (5)


In modern history, there are several monarchs or leaders whose reign did not last very long. The shortest rule ever recorded is that of Luís Filipe, King of Portugal, February 1, 1908.

When he was still Crown Prince Filipe, he and his father, King Carlos, were both shot by a revolutionary assassin during a royal tour. The King was killed instantly, and that automatically made Luis Filipe a king, according to monarchial logic.

En route to the hospital however, Luis Filipe also died due to massive blood loss. He was a king for a period of less than 30 minutes!

In our Biblical history, which I like to call the greatest play ever written, the shortest-reigning king was Zimri—referred to as “briefly, brightly king.”   


In 1 Kings 16:8-20, scenes show how this anti-hero quickly rose and quickly fell:      

Elah, the son of Baashaa, and the current king of Israel, was an evil king—he committed sins against the Lord by worshipping idols and influencing all of the people of Israel to do the same.  This angered the Lord. 

One of King Elah's officials was Zimri, who was in command of half of the kingdom's chariots.  He plotted against the king. So while King Elah was happily drinking in the home of his palace administrator, Zimri barged in, struck him down, and killed him. 

With Elah's death, Zimri proclaimed himself king.  As soon as he enthroned himself, he killed off Baasha, the father of King Elah, including his whole family and close friends. He spared no single male.

After seven days, the soldiers encamped elsewhere had heard about Zimri killing the king. They proclaimed Omri, the commander of the army, king over Israel. Then Omri and his army laid siege to the city of Tirzah, the seat of the kingdom. When Zimri saw that the city was taken, he was unwilling to surrender, nor cede his power and position. Instead, he went inside the royal palace and set it on fire—himself in it. 

Doesn’t Omri remind you of leaders past and present who are blind to grace? Because of insatiable greed, they would do anything to come into power and hang on to it, even it will lead them to ruin.   

“A greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.” Proverbs 28:25 (ESV)

(Note: This is the fifth in a series of eight posts on "The Greatest Play Ever Written.")


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Amahrazzi


Adrian, the smart little boy who happens to be my one and only grandson, blew into town, blessing us with the privilege of doting on him for two weeks. Now, that's what I'd call a windfall!   

He calls me Amah (Chinese honorific for mom of my dad). And because I follow and take pictures of him wherever he goes, he also calls me Amahrazzi. He could be right; I charged my camera battery more than a thousand times during the 14 days he spent with us.

My husband and two sons in the country had to cram into those precious days everything we wanted to do with this tiny dynamo in one year and eight months—the length of time we haven’t seen him.

All told, we went to four museums, three amusement parks, a zoo, countless restaurants, game centers, and took him through a few cultural heritage tours to get to know more about his native land.

He also spent time feeding JC's guinea pigs; talking to Attorney, the dog; painting; playing Rambo and Indiana Jones with JR’s driver and Ate Vi—TV some, reading lots.  

Only eight years old, he knows more than many adults about the Philippines. He uses words like “simulated” and “privacy” and I didn’t have to bother explaining anything. “Amah, I know what diorama is.”

He asks difficult questions. So we try to give him correct and complete answers, an SOP with his parents. Sadly, he has outgrown my storybooks (for ages 8-12); he’s now into thick books written by the likes of James Patterson. But he humored me by listening to my stories at bedtime after saying his prayer.  

Even an Amahrazzi can’t get enough photos of this super-active tyke, our boss. So I decided to simply store those images in my memory bank, for as long as it holds (before succumbing to the scourge of aging, dementia).

He has gone back “home” with his parents, who make him toe the line. For someone who is growing up in America, where freedom reigns and rings, Adrian does not talk back to his dad, mom, and elders, and he is good-natured, disciplined, full of humor, and shows pakikisama (translation: affability).   

He is no pushover, though. He speaks his mind, but doesn’t go beyond limits. 

When I asked him about Sunday School, he said, “Papa and mama are still looking for a church.” They had just moved to a new state before flying to the Philippines.

I am sure that God, in his infinite mercy and grace, will lead him to a place of worship where he will find faith friends with whom he can learn about His great love for His children. 

Our prayers go with you and your parents, Adrian! Ti Dios aluadan na ka. (Translation: the Lord bless you and keep you.)


Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Greatest Play Ever Written (4)


After three posts on nondescript Bible characters, let's shine the spotlight on one major player: Thomas.

A very compelling scene in the New Testament was when Jesus, after his crucifixion, appeared alive and glorified to His disciples to comfort them and proclaim to them the good news of His victory over death. (John 20:19-29)

Thomas was not there. After being told by the others about Jesus' resurrection and personal visit, Thomas doubted.  He wanted physical proof of the risen Lord for him to believe! 

This scene is re-enacted every day among non-believers. The list of celebrity atheists, for instance, is long. The list grows exponentially if we include the elite intelligentsia and the scientists, who probe or conduct experiments to validate hypotheses. They vehemently deny the existence of God because they have not seen Him.  

To see is to believe.

So many doubting Thomases walk this earth, it is alarming. What's equally alarming is that Christians suffer doubt, too, sometimes. Here's where Thomas serves as our mirror. He provides both instruction and encouragement.

Thomas experienced doubt in the face of the heartbreaking loss of the One he loved. His faith weakened.

When we face a massive loss or a crisis (heartbreak, life-threatening disease, death of someone dear to us, and grief), and our faith weakens, too, may we be comforted with the thought that Christ knows what we are going through.

Jesus did not have to prove anything, nor was obligated to Thomas. After all, they had spent three years working together. Thomas saw with his own eyes all of His miracles; he heard with his own ears Jesus' prophecies about His death and resurrection. Furthermore, Thomas received the news from the other disciples about Jesus' return. These should have been enough proofs.

But no. He had to see to believe.

Why did Jesus accommodate Thomas? He knew his weakness, just as He knows our human frailty.    

Once Thomas saw the scars, he proclaimed in faith, “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28). Jesus commended him for his faith, although that faith was based on sight.

Jesus further encourages us in John 20:29, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." He meant that in His physical absence, He would send the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who would live within believers from then on, enabling us to believe that which we do not see with our eyes.

So how do we keep from doubting as Thomas did? “Pray and read,” our pastor stressed in his message one Sunday. "Times of doubt will become less frequent if we talk to God in prayer and feed our faith with His Word."

The cast of characters in the Bible is, no doubt whatsoever, a cast of grace.

Note: This is the fourth in a series of eight posts on “The Greatest Play Ever Written.” 
 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Why I Write for Children


(This post was originally written for the OMFLit blog page to celebrate National Children's Book Day, today. I am re-posting it here for my cyber friends.)

Many people think that writing for children is easier than writing for adults. It is not.

I’ve been writing a story on patriotism for years, but failing. To adults, patriotism is love for country, but how do you translate that to kids?

I believe children’s book authors should reduce complex, abstract concepts into simple, concrete images that children can embrace and not misread.

Storybooks for children are deceptively simple. But one needs keener sensitivity and wilder imagination to write them. It takes me an infinitely longer time to write a children’s story than an essay for adults of the same length.

So why insist on writing for children when I can choose writing only “real” books?

Years ago, before leaving the corporate world, I joined the Palanca Awards. Among the competition categories was “Short Story for Children” which required inculcating family and Filipino values in readers aged 8 to 12. That hooked me.

If I were to write for children at all, I mused, I should not simply spin daydreams. The mom in me, too busy to read even one storybook to my three sons when they were little, vowed to write the books I wish I had read to them: stories where they would find tools to love God and His wonderful creation.

Guilt?

Beyond that, I was moved to dip into and share the myriad of bittersweet experiences I had as a child and as a mom. They bounced off my head, and I wrote my first storybook that won my first Palanca award, first prize.

Fifteen years later . . .

The first book in “Happy Home” series—Coming Home—will be launched this July, during the National Children’s Book Day. The series is published by Hiyas, the children’s book imprint of OMF Literature.

Happy Home series revolves around the Zambrano family.  A family is a special household of different people who model what Jesus said, “Love each other as I have loved you.”  No problem is too big nor too small.  A father, a mother, three children (two by blood and one adopted) and a loyal househelp: They worship a loving God and are happy together!

It took me almost a year to write the books in the Happy Home series, and took even longer to polish. Vividly illustrated by Leo Kempis-Ang, these books—and those still to come—hope to make kids value their own family.

If one child can catch that lifelesson, I couldn’t be more blessed. 


(This was scheduled for launching at the International Book Fair in September last year, but due to some snags, it was moved to December 20. Another roadblock delayed it. Finally, finally, it's here! Grace defies schedules—it can come anytime and we are grateful, always.)


Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Greatest Play Ever Written (3)


Oddballs playing cameo roles are thrown in the Bible here and there. What is their significance? If at all. 

These character actors are woven in and out of small scenes, with fleeting walk-on parts on the stage’s apron, or treated like props of major actors.

We’ve watched hot-tempered Korah, the rebel leader; Alishama, the serious scribe; and now, let’s look closely at an entirely different creature—humongous King Og.

King Og of Bashan was the last survivor of the Rephaim (Hebrew for giants).  Meaning, there were giants like him but they had all perished in wars against the Israelites.

How big was he? Definitely much bigger than Goliath, whom we meet much later during David’s time.

Og’s bed was made of iron and was more than thirteen feet long and six feet wide. Today, he’d make a great basketball player.

We meet Og in the Bible just after the powerful Amorite King Sihon of Heshbon was ruined by the Israelites.  Og was not cowed. He knew he was even more powerful and desired no peace. He trusted his own strength, which hardened his heart. Not even the slaying of all the other giants of Bashan weakened his spirit.

Formidable as he was with his bulk and size, Og led out his whole army to meet the Israelites in battle.

This was the scene that confronted Moses. But the Lord told Him in Deuteronomy 3: 2 (NLT), “'Do not be afraid of him, for I have given you victory over Og and his entire army, and I will give you all his land . . .” ” 

And so Og was killed, his whole kingdom totally captured; his walled cities, fortified towns, and locked gates wholly destroyed. The Israelites kept all his livestock and everything else of value.

Og, "whose height was like the height of the cedars, whose strength was like the oaks,” became his conquerors’ monument of greatness, and their work was done.

It had to be an Og, a ferocious giant, to show believers through all generations that no enemy is too big to vanquish if God is with us.

No sin is too big for God’s grace to turn into nothing. Just believe; just receive.

Note: This is the third in a series of eight posts on "The Greatest Play Ever Written.



Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Greatest Play Ever Written (2)


Elishama who?!

He is another one of those cryptic characters in the great God-breathed play, the Bible. The thing that makes Elishama noteworthy is not really because he is noteworthy—his role is extremely minor.

In fact, we do not know much about Elishama, who was a scribe/secretary mentioned briefly in Scripture (Jeremiah 36:12). I tried to research on who he was, but found nothing.

What makes this vague Bible character noteworthy is the extra-biblical evidence that have recently been found of him—and therefore, the historical reliability of Scripture.

From biblehistory.net I gleaned this:

In 1975, 44 miles outside Jerusalem, 250 clay seals were found. “These small lumps of clay that are impressed with a seal, in ancient times served as an official signature for an individual. The clay seals were then attached to documents to identify the sender. Amazingly, among the seals that were found were the names of three Biblical figures mentioned in the 36th chapter of the book of Jeremiah.” 

Printed on one of the seals is, “Elishama, servant of the king.” 

What other concrete proof do we need that Elishama was really a scribe in the exact time, setting, and situation that the Bible describes? Lawyers would call this hard evidence. Scripture is indeed God-breathed, even down to the smallest detail and minor characters!

God makes His presence felt in incalculable ways and through inexhaustible grace. That Elishama actually existed is just one of them.

Note: This is the second in a series of eight posts on “The Greatest Play Ever Written.”


Friday, July 10, 2015

The Greatest Play Ever Written (1)


What delights me most about my chronological Bible (Christmas gift from JC) is that it is arranged like it were a play, beginning with Act 1, Scene 1.

It brings back memories of my years at the Art Institute of Chicago as a student in performing arts. It makes me look at each Bible persona as a character, with a role to play, no matter how small, that brings the story to the last act and finally, the ending.

All characters were written in by the Playwright to represent real-life characters relevant through all generations.
One of these characters is Korah.

I glossed over this obscure man in my regular Bible. But on stage, he comes on strong.

Korah was a rubble rouser, like the loud-voiced oppositionists who find everything wrong with their leaders in government.

Korah raised up a mob of Israelites to oppose Moses’ leadership—he questioned why Moses was God's only spokesperson.

Guess what happened next. God caused a massive but localized earthquake that caused Korah and his underlings to fall off from the face of the earth.   

“The earth opened its mouth and swallowed the men, along with their households and all their followers who were standing with them, and everything they owned.” Numbers 16:32 (NLT) 

This scenario won’t happen to the Korahs on earth today, but his is a hopeful story. It points us to the end of characters who oppose God's anointed.

If you were a play director, whom would you cast as Korah in this modern world?

Many come to mind. Just think of all the rebel leaders in countries that deposed their elected officers, or those who cry, "Impeach, impeach!" 

The intent of the master Playwright in including characters in cameo roles boggles the mind. He never missed out on details—those tiny touches that bring the epic play into our consciousness, relevant to the core.

Christians know the ending of this play. It is both tragic and triumphant. It’s tragic for those who don't believe in Christ as the only way to life everlasting.

It’s triumphant, ending happily ever after, for those who have accepted, and will accept, the grace of forgiveness from our Lord Jesus, and believe in Him as their Savior before they leave this earth or before He comes again. 

Note: This is the first in a series of eight posts on “The Greatest Play Ever Written.” 


Monday, July 6, 2015

The Basic Bible Message


"The Bible is nothing but a compilation of speculations, inconsistencies, long-winded stories, and unproven theories written by mortals,” an unbeliever said with derision.

In one blow, he tried to ruin God’s Word—the foundation of my faith. 

For those who do not believe in Scripture as God-breathed, the message is actually very simple. But it is interestingly told in stories upon stories, in 66 books, about betrayal and loyalty, failures and successes, joy and grief, through the most unlikely characters that span many generations until the coming of the Messiah.  

In one sentence, this is the basic Bible message:

Man was completely ruined in sin, and therefore cannot save himself; only by the power of God’s grace, through Jesus, can he be saved.“And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Acts 2:21 (NIV)

It is a humbling message that the human mind, especially one exposed to volumes of theories and ideologies, would not naturally think up.

When left to himself, man invents an ideology he can prove and believe in. Most of these ideologies espouse that man is not completely sinful and that he can somehow, in some way, save himself—and that there is no such thing as heaven or hell. These are proud thoughts of human beings. We don't naturally, in humility, admit our failings. 

This I believe: the authors of the Bible were controlled not by their own spirits but by God's Holy Spirit. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)

Only through this same Holy Spirit can anyone understand the Bible for what it truly is.

But then, again, if a person does not believe in the basic message of the Bible, all arguments are moot.

Lord, in a world of open ideas, help your children to keep the faith. Amen.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Rose’s Rainbow


My friend Rose loves music—so much that she can sing, play the keyboard, and compose songs in a wink. She conducts the choir in her home church and she wrote and put to music our university hymn.

One day last week, I showed her the photo of my latest painting while she hummed a tune. Suddenly, she said, “Grace, would you paint me a rainbow with notes on it?”

It is a drastic departure from the series I am working on—flowers and butterflies. But I asked, “When is your birthday?”

I couldn’t refuse a friend, especially one who was singing hosannas to my handiwork. In a moment of madness I promised, “I’ll do one in time for your special day.”

She belted out a song of grace. 

A week later, the news about the SCOTUS legalizing same-sex marriage was the biggest topic in all the world. On FB and social media, the rainbow became an icon. My gay friends and everyone sympathetic to the Supreme Court decision changed their profile photos to one with a rainbow.

The very next day, as soon as I saw Rose, I told her, “I have to apologize. I cannot paint your rainbow.” 

Thinking I had other things to do, she said, “That’s okay, do it when you’re less busy.”

“No, Rose, I cannot paint a rainbow at this time when people equate it with the same-sex marriage issue,” I replied, slowly explaining to her my stand.

In the Bible, the rainbow is the beautiful sign of God’s covenant with Noah and every living creature “. . . that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth [Genesis 9:8-15].”

At the moment, however, it has taken a different turn. I will not paint a rainbow, not while the sign has been skewed and, pardon the word, bastardized.     

“Oh, please don’t!” she said almost in hysterics, sharing my sentiments. Regaining her composure, she smiled, “Paint me a rose instead.”

I will start painting Rose’s rose tomorrow—it will have a butterfly in it. And possibly a musical note or two.

But no rainbow.

“Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman, ' for she was taken out of man." For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”  Genesis 2:22-24



Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Boss Is in Town!


My one and only grandchild, Adrian, has planed in from the US. I can't imagine a more exciting month! It's grace beyond telling.

All of eight years, he'll turn our world delightfully upside down. Everything and everyone take a back seat while he's around.   


"Children are a gift from the Lordthey are a reward from him. Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands." Psalm 127:3-4 (NLT)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Alive, Alert, Awake, Enthusiastic


Four peppy words from an old, old camp song, which we used to sing with gusto, defined me—and they still do, or so I think.  


As one steps closer to the sunset, his/her energy naturally diminishes. I see gray-haired men and women walking slowly or being assisted by a younger someone.  God has so designed our human bodies to be born with all the verve in the world that will slowly wane as the pages of time flip away, till we reach our final resting place. 

We recently sang this song in one gathering and I am blessed to still be alive, first of all.

Then the fact that I am still alert—friends say I am quick to respond to communications like emails and FB messages, and can take notes faster than a millennial—is a bonus.

Now, being awake is a mark of aging. I wake up at all odd hours, go to the bathroom, then stay wide-eyed till the wee hours of the morning. When I finally rise from bed, I do a one-hour walk, and all through the day, I don't take naps. All because I don't feel sleepy.

Enthusiastic—I oooh and aaah at every little thing. Ordinary things awe me, which is why I paint them. I marvel at people's feats, big or small, old or new, which is why I write about them. And I continue to love interacting with young people, which is why I teach them, twice a week.  

Let's take enthusiastic further.

I am excited to see what my glorious body would look like after my early body has conked out or decayed. This enthusiasm I share with my friend Yay, a faith sister and a fellow writer/teacher.  She is abroad at the moment and won't be back till next month, so this topic of conversation is in the freezer. 

Meanwhile, I will keep singing this song to myself—allegro con brio, con confuoco—and thank God for those four grace words which he continues to lavish, not only on the young ones, but also on the young once.  

"That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!" 2 Corinthians 4:16-17



Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Chill Out


The paid workforce runs under stress and duress. That’s why workhorses need to chill out or go nuts.

This I can say with authority, having gone through an incinerator called corporate world for over two decades, after which I said, “Enough.”

So now, every day is chill-out day, right? That’s overstretching it.

Even out of the workplace, one can’t run away from stress and duress in this chaos-filled world. Watching TV news and reading the dailies make one’s heart pump faster than it should. Chill-out day is here to stay. 

Mine is painting.

I could get lost in a world of colors and shapes with bottomless possibilities. All I do is dab, swoosh, splash, swirl, drip, smear, smudge, scratch, or fling paint (depending on how my feeble hands could manage it) on to the surface of the canvas. 

Voila! Images come as a surprise.

At day’s end, whether observers’ eyes (not mine) think they are passable or terrible is immaterial. I always paint over the original painting anyway.

“Oh, you changed your pink flowers to yellow?!” my friend G said when I showed her the image I worked on a day after she saw the beginnings of it.

“Where is that field of flowers you did last Easter?” Ate Vi asked while putting my canvasses in order at the end of my chill-out day. She was shocked when I told her it had become a solitary sunflower.

Hey, a chill-out day is supposed to be a cool, relaxing day, right? No pressures, no quotas, no inventories.

It was on one of these days when Tony was on a chill-out mode, too, reading a thriller a few yards from my work area. Without my knowledge, he took some photos of me and uploaded one to his FB page to show only me.  He forgot (or doesn’t know how) to adjust the setting to private.    
 
Next thing I knew, almost 300 of my friends made comments about the photo!   

“This is my most-liked post ever,” Tony said. I couldn’t tell whether he was complaining or bragging.

Then it was picked up by Metrocebu News. Below is a screen grab:
This is the image I was working on: unfinished, unsigned. I am posting it for posterity, because on my next chill-out day, it just might look totally different. 

Like clockwork, the exuberant colors of grace emerge to refresh me on my chill-out day.      

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24 (ESV) 


Saturday, June 20, 2015

My Labor Day


This post has nothing to do with labor prior to childbirth. I can’t remember that far, far back. It’s about that one day when all of me was 100% on the job. Yet everything went wrong and I had no scapegoat. 
  
Ate Vi was due back from her summer vacation. No show.  

The two temps who helped with household chores were to come early. No show. 

My boys had all left for work and I was left at home holding the (doggie) bag. Attorney, JR’s dog, stared at me and I stared right past her. What do you want? 

Oh, breakfast. So I rustled up left-overs and served her a plateful. She stood still, fixing her gaze at me. On a diet? 

I moved to the kitchen to tackle the pile of dirty dishes everyone left on the breakfast table.

I’d rather do something else, I said to the suds on my hands, especially when I got to the pots and pans. I had not turned on my computer; my primed canvas was waiting for the first dash of paint; the books I was reading stayed untouched on my bedside table.   
 
Tough luck, today housekeeping is what you do, the suds might have replied.

Dishwashing done, I dashed to the bedroom to make the bed and neaten the place. That should be a cinch, but the scorching temperature hovering over 40 degrees Celsius made me itch all over. I picked up one of my three back scratchers to ease my triple-deck prickly heat.   
 

On to dust the furniture and sweep the floor, sweat drenching my clothes. Back scratcher to the rescue!  

What to do about lunch?  I scraped off the cold omelet from a pan, and gleaned some diced carrots from yesterday’s dish. Unfortunately, the left-over rice smelled funny so I turned my sight on the solitary pandesal. 

The afternoon temperature rose further. Attorney had not touched her breakfast so I didn’t serve her lunch. I mixed some doggie pellets into her uneaten breakfast, though, and close to panic, I texted Tony, “Ate Vi has not arrived, the two girls did not come, and the dog won’t eat.”

He texted back, “She’ll eat when hungry.”

I was hungry, but I didn’t eat. If you had my kind of lunch, would you?

Six PM, the furnace that was our home had not cooled down. The cleaning, scrubbing, and scouring took forever, so I called up a neighborhood restaurant and ordered supper. (Actually the real reason was, I can’t cook; so shoot me.)

I will beg the boys to use plastic spoons and fork, and paper plates. This was my best idea for the day. 

While I was throwing away the used plastic wares, the doorbell rang. It was Ate Vi!

Before I could collapse, grace ended my labor day happily ever after. 

P.S. I am now in awe of housekeepers in all shapes and forms.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Trivial Meetings


How productive are your meetings? Do you really spend more time discussing the major issues, or do you dwell on the trivial ones? 

I’ve attended top-level meetings myself where busted lightbulbs—and other minor concerns that could have been delegated to the janitor—were discussed with passion.

That’s called the Parkinson’s Law of Triviality (PLOT), created by the man who likewise created the Parkinson’s Law, which I blogged about recently. His name: Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British naval historian and author of some 60 books.          


PLOT means meetings/sessions give disproportionate weight to trivial issues.

Let’s say a steering committee meets to map out their strategies for their organization’s 70th anniversary.  The members spend majority of their time with pointless discussions on easy-to-grasp issues which they debate endlessly: where to hold it; who should be invited; design of the advertising artwork; food to serve—forgetting the strategic issues.

We usually put the blame on the leader’s lack of facilitation skills, or on our fellow team member’s low intellect or competence, or both. We get frustrated and hope we slip into a coma so we are oblivious to it all.    

Why do such meetings happen? According to Parkinson, it’s difficult to discuss hi-fallutin’ issues, and not many can contribute deep ideas that will wow others. So we confine ourselves to things we are comfortable with—with matching jokes and anecdotes that make others take notice.  

More examples:

A board of trustees meeting: 10 minutes discussing the proposed vision/mission strategy and 90 minutes on where and how to print/post the new vision/mission.

An annual planning session: 10 minutes on year-that-was review and 90 minutes on the slogan for next year.  

A building committee meeting: 10 minutes on the budget of a one million-peso wing and 90 minutes on what to call it.

There are more.

The thing is, triviality is woven in the fabric of human nature. So when you go to a meeting dreading a PLOT, summon enough patience, put up with all the chit-chats about this and that, and beg God for grace so that you may be able to sit through it all without losing your good humor.  

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Ephesians 4: 2

photo credit

Friday, June 12, 2015

It’s Way Past My Bedtime


There’s nothing I look forward to more than meeting old friends—those who figured largely in my past; those who never made it easy for my brain in the workplace; those who encroached upon my comfort zone.

Challengers, I called them collectively.

They made working worth waking up for, and worth not sleeping off for.

In a retiree's placid life, which encourages you to do anything you want at your own pace and time, and which has reprogrammed your bedtime to a ridiculously early hour of the evening, you entertain yourself with thoughts of frenzy-crazy yesteryears—when every second counted and every word uttered had to have a rationale or you’d be niggled, either by your conscience or by the challengers. 

One get-together was planned to celebrate the birthday of one, in a place unheard of by my now un-hip, un-trendy ears, used to a quiet place away from the maddening crowd: Dillinger’s 1903.

Dillinger! Born 1903, he was a wild, dangerous criminal whose name evokes the Gangster Era in Midwest USA. A joint named after him must be some kind of a place. Oh, dear.

Game! 

The place was dark, too dark, for someone whose eyesight has grown dim. But the food was excellent, even if you couldn't scrutinize it. And the company—it’s what I’ve always known: SUPER.

That one word, all caps, is an all-embracing superlative I couldn’t improve on.

Except for a few who couldn’t make it, the laughter, the wit, the banter, the reminiscences, the irreverence, the warmth, the friendship, despite disparate ages, was complete—all there.

The oldest in the group, not yet me, was repeating like a mantra, “I can’t see people’s faces.” And then there’s me.
 
Not drunk, just struggling to stay awake because it was way past my bedtime. Challenging it was, but the evening was not something I would have slept away for the world.

It was, in my blog parlance, SUPER grace.

My thought balloon, I’m game for the next one.

Photos by Baby

Monday, June 8, 2015

First Fruits

I have known Abigail since she was in her mother's womb. The Lord had just taken her dad, without whose physical presence she would grow up.

And grow up she did, under the care of her mom, who also took up the cudgels for a dad. As a toddler, Abigail was regularly brought to Sunday school, while her mom attended the church service. In adult Sunday school, her mom (many years my junior) and I would be classmates, and eventually teach the class alternately.

As a teenager, Abigail was an active member of the church youth group, leading in various activities. She would also handle little kids in church projects.

Now she is a remarkable young woman, reminiscent of her courageous namesake in the Bible. After finishing a degree in education, she immersed herself into the rigid review for the licensing exam. Predictably, she aced it, and landed a job in the process.

And then came the anticipated milestone of every newbie in the working world—payday!

Here's what her mom shared with me, meant to be confidential. But I am writing about it because my heart is full, and I feel like it's light on a hill that can't be hidden:

Abigail asked her, “This is my first fruits, right, mom?”

“Yes.”

“Then I should offer it to the lord.” And she placed the total amount, every single centavo of it, into the offering plate during the next Sunday worship service.

This is the sort of thing that makes me cry (okay, bawl and blubber, in private). And I tear up every time I remember this. She makes any mother proud.

Knowing and seeing Abigail, who must have learned her ways by her mother's  example, is grace beyond words. I say no more.

“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” Proverbs 3:9-10 (ESV)



Thursday, June 4, 2015

Double Delight, Year Five


Our twins, Maika and Nikka, are now as tall as I am. And they just turned 11!

They are not our own children, but the use of "our" seems right since we have been privileged to watch them grow up from age seven.  

They recently finished fifth grade, financed by a kind-hearted benefactor, who took on from where Tony and I (now both retired and therefore unable to afford the cost of education in a private school) left off

This same benefactor again volunteered to take them through sixth grade, the last level offered by the Christian school where they are enrolled.

During their Moving-up Ceremonies in March, Maika and Nikka got medals of recognition for good performance. They also participated in the school program (yellow arrows below).

Just last week, they finished the Daily Vacation Bible School in church, and I see them attending Sunday School. Our hope is that they continue to know more and more the Source of every grace through their teachers. It is also our prayer that their mom and siblings will meet and see Jesus through them.

When our third and youngest son graduated from Law school a few years back, Tony and I thought we had graduated, too. But life throws in surprises at every turn; we are moved to welcome them, making our twilight years more delightful—in this case, doubly delightful

Now, we have to see to buying two pairs of black pumps, two pairs of PE rubber shoes, some pairs of socks, two school bags, two umbrellas, and we’re ready to go for another school year!

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


Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Page on amazon.com


Two things always make me uncomfortable: one, self-promotion; and, two, discussion about money.

“Which is why you will never be rich,” my sister Aie said. She’s one to talk; she is my clone in these departments.  Must be the genes. 

“I am rich,” I replied. “Not in material wealth, but in everything else. God provides all that I need.”

“Touche!” she exclaimed in Ilocano.

This conversation happened a long time ago, and Aie will probably not remember it, but it comes to me now because I discovered, accidentally, that I have an author’s page on amazon.com. My publisher sort of mentioned a few months back that my books are now available at Amazon, but I left it at that.

Three days ago, while I was trying to search for a book in Amazon, I spotted my name. Clueless and curious, I clicked on the link and bingo!     


“You worked in advertising for two decades, and you teach Advertising. You know that a product will only move if you advertise it. How do you expect your books to move?” my friend G admonished me.

I believe in marketing; in fact, I have discussed this with my publisher’s marketing staff ad nauseum. But there is something about overtly doing it myself to promote me that doesn’t sit well with my psyche.

For this Amazon thingy, I tried to conjure enough chutzpah (this took one long day and one long night) and uploaded my author’s page to my FB timeline, emailed it to friends and family, and broadcast it to my various circles.

That wasn't so hard, was it?

It was. But I was rewarded with many positive responses from all quarters. 

While at it, and a bit emboldened, may I add: if you are abroad and looking for a gift (e-book or paperback formats) that speaks of God’s abounding grace written by someone whose heart beats for and in the Philippines, here's the link:

http://www.amazon.com/Grace-D.-Chong/e/B00J14B3FC


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Summer Endings


Eight posts ago, I blogged about summer beginnings—my unfinished paintings. The scorching days were then just starting to assault us without mercy, and today, while the heat is still as oppressive as it was in those early summer days, the whining has lessened.

The universal truth has been proven once again: everything is just a matter of getting used to. 

This morning marks one of my summer endings (finishing a painting is not one of them)—the last day of summer classes.

I've never taught in the summer before because I was always busy with book deadlines, but by a grand burst of generous grace, I was given an early deadline for my latest book—so my manuscript was sent to my editor sometime in March.

The last paper from my habitually late student, turned in as usual at the last minute, is ready for grieving. Not one of my suggestions to improve his draft was followed; all comments, ignored. 

When pressed to explain why, he said, "I forgot."

And the teacher's grief turns for the worse. But I have learned to make grief of this nature short-lived, or I'd need a nitroglycerin under my tongue.

In four days, too, Ate Vi will be back from her summer vacation. With bated breath, I will quickly turn over the noble task of housekeeping, which she dumped on my lap. Happy days are here again!

On to more unfinished paintings . . .  


. . . more reading, and definitely, more writing—there are again too many niggling ideas in my head that need to be transformed into concepts that should eventually end as words.

I had hoped I'd finish at least one painting before summer's gone, but that was just a hope, not a promise. 

Summer endings are just as blessed as summer beginnings, aren't they?

“For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” 1 Timothy 4:4-5 (NIV)


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Gift of Self


Whenever I receive a gift painstakingly made by the giver, a huge smile escapes my lips. It means so much more than the gift itself. The giver has shared a part of himself/herself, warming the heart.

One such gift came from one of our students (let’s call her Pi) in our medical transcription school. She is actually from India, and is in the Philippines only for a year while her husband fulfills a contract with his multi-national employer. 

To while away her time, she decided to take up medical transcription. What makes Pi stand out from among our current students is that she wears only her country’s traditional costumes—lovely and well-coordinated prints—which never cease to surprise and delight us. 

One day she arrived with an extra bag; inside was a dish she cooked herself.

“I don’t serve my husband and kid any food prepared outside of the home,” she said.

“You do all the cooking?!” I asked, mouth agape. For someone who has zero credentials in cooking, I stand in awe of people who have. 

Then she brought out a dish with mouth-watering brown balls that I’ve never seen the likes of.

Gulab jamun,” she said. “For the three of you.” 
The three are JC, head of school; Leone, office manager; and me, her English teacher.

We didn’t have to be prompted twice. The balls were melt-in-your-palate goodness, with a taste so alien and so perfect. They were gone in minutes.

What made them sweeter was the fact that Pi slaved over a hot stove for us, sharing a part of herself. 

Grace, which deluges our days, also comes in sweet brown balls and through a sweet friend named Pi.  


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Be Silent, Listen!


Silent and listen have exactly the same letters. One is an anagram of the other. 

Not only are they inter-related, they are also inter-dependent. One can’t listen without first being silent.

Not too many people today listen anymore. In my classes, I have to sing and dance (sometimes stand on my head, or eat fire, or walk on burning coals) to make my students listen. Except for a few—the outstanding ones, those who make me want to keep teaching—my stunts are all for naught.

When there is so much noise outside and inside of us, we can’t hear what another person is saying or feeling. Worse, we can’t hear God.

Listening to God is like listening to anyone; before we can hear Him, we must be ready to listen.  If we want to hear God speak, we must be quiet and be focused on what He is saying.

Prayer is one way we converse with God. We can’t hear what He says to us, totally missing out on His grace, unless we shut out the chaos around us and focus on Him.

Reading the Bible is another. The Bible is one of the ways through which He speaks to us.

Whether praying to Him or reading His Word, we have to make a deliberate choice to be silent. 

We live in a terribly noisy world. Everywhere we go, sounds and distractions compete with our minds, submerging our thoughts below the surface level. In this milieu, it is not easy to be silent. 

William Arthur Ward, American author and editor, wrote:

We must be silent before we can listen.
We must listen before we can learn.
We must learn before we can prepare.
We must prepare before we can serve.
We must serve before we can lead.


Words I wish I had written.  

"Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.” Matthew 7:24 (NLT)


Friday, May 15, 2015

Quadruple Rainbow


By its sheer splendor, a rainbow always renders me speechless; it makes me remember God’s covenant with Noah after the great flood:

“When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures. Never again will the floodwaters destroy all life.” Genesis 9:14-15 (NLT)

I am not alone; those who know their Bibles remember that God remembers, too. No matter how much floodwaters we experience in this country typhoon after typhoon, I know that it isn’t going to end life on earth. Something else will—what that is, nobody knows.

If one rainbow stretched across the sky brings me goosebumps, I wonder what a quadruple rainbow might do!

Recently, Amanda Curtis, CEO of a fashion company in New York, was blessed to have snapped a photo of not one, not two, not three, but four rainbows!
After she posted this photo to Twitter, it became a phenomenon, immediately re-twitted thousands of times. All major TV networks and newspapers scrambled their way to Amanda, asking permission to publish/air the photo.

But we are a cynical people, too. After seeing the photo, many branded it to be fake. Some sneered saying, “There is no such thing!” According to the CNN weather producer, this was a double rainbow that has been reflected in the sky, due to a smooth body of water underneath the rainbow.

Rainbow specialists have a scientific explanation, “Quaternary rainbows are natural products of the combination of refraction, dispersion and reflection inside raindrops. These are the same processes that create all rainbows, yet they are taken to their extreme to produce these higher order variants.”

Whatever that means.

For me, when I behold a rainbow appearing in the clouds, I am reminded that there would be no more floods like the one God sent in Noah’s time.

A quadruple rainbow, then, is a quadruple sign—and quadruple grace.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Fall in Love and Stay in Love


Sometime ago, a friend of mine, an adviser of a university campus paper (on its 10th anniversary), requested me to write a message to encourage the editorial staff.

I welcome such opportunities—nothing pleases me more than to encourage young writers to fall in love, and stay in love, with writing.

Dear Editor,

How refreshing to write those two words! It has been ages since I wrote a letter to an editor. In ancient days, I was an editor, too. I was ten and coerced by my teachers into being the Ed-in-chief of our grade school paper. I must have enjoyed it so much it showed. I successively took on the same role in our church and clan—the Girl Scout and other organizations.

At the University of the Philippines, a magnet pulled me toward the Philippine Collegian, where I reported to an Ed-in-chief. Those were some of the most exciting times of my life.

Campus journalism gave me the ultimate high and disciplined me to a point that if I stopped writing today, I'd probably end up in a hospital bed. I am sure I share this feeling with your staff. I have always believed that every writer has been gifted with the passion to write.

Writing can transform a young wordsmith into someting bigger. Before you know it, the members of your staff will take on roles of leadership in the community and even the country. A stroke of a pen (rather, a click on a keyboard today) is like a magic wand. It conjures images that make good things morph into astonishing wonders.

What wonders are these? Well, your imagination is as limitless as the words that only you can craft. Keep writing beyond your 10th anniversary. Keep writing till it hurts to stop.

Grace

"We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith . . ."  Romans 12:6 (NIV)

Photo credit 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Parkinson’s law


Are you familiar with Parkinson’s Law? (Yes, the law, not the disease.)  

I heard about this law for the first time in one of those casual grace conversations with friends. One of them, Carol, just delivered a talk on productivity.

She was defining a super-productive person when she mentioned Parkinson’s Law.

What’s that?

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,” she explained. 

Ah, so!

So that's the term that describes people who wait till the last hour to do whatever they are supposed to do. They expand their work to fill the time frame given to them. Meaning, even if you give them a long deadline, they will fall under the same last-minute work ethic toward completion. 

Have you ever experienced Parkinson’s Law yourself?

One student couldn’t turn in her assignment when it was due because her printer had conked out the night before. She could have printed it one week before, right?

All year, a school administrator knew she needed a guest speaker for Mother’s Day, but she put off inviting one till the last month before the occasion. All the possible speakers she had called already had something scheduled on that day and were not available. 

For weeks on end, you have a writer’s block, and then suddenly you become a lean, mean machine in the final week before deadline. During which time, you could have experienced any of these things: a nationwide brown out; a computer crash; intermittent Wi-Fi connection; or an invitation to a surprise party you couldn’t refuse.

Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British historian, first observed this habit when he was with British Civil Service. He noted that as bureaucracies expanded, they became more inefficient. He concluded:  as the size of something increases, efficiency drops.

He also found that even simple tasks became more complex to take up the time allotted to it. Ergo, as the length of time for a task becomes shorter, the task becomes simpler and easier to solve.

In the advertising world where I used to work, every project was urgent. The office would turn into a steaming pressure-cooker that got things done at the shortest possible time.

That’s why in my workplace today, the academe, I have used the same principle without knowing what it was called. I give myself and my students short deadlines—and check on their work every session.

Does it work?

I am not sure. Maybe pressure-cookers are not their thing. But at the very least, within a short period of time, I could rewrite the rules if things aren’t steaming fast enough, and not wait forever for anyone to finish his work.

Parkinson’s Law, gotcha!


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Not a Boxing Fan


Manny Pacquiao just lost his much-hyped fight against Floyd Mayweather. It was a unanimous decision after 12 rounds.

Sports analysts say Mayweather ((48-0, 26 KOs) ) did a brilliant performance and Pacquiao was diminished, or even done in.

Photo: REUTERS/Steve Marcus 

No matter. He remains a hero among many Filipinos and other people in different parts of the world. Not only is he a well-loved pugilist, he is also a philanthropist. Earning millions of dollars from his fights, Pacquiao has given much to others. 

Personally, however, I cannot muster enough courage to watch any boxing bout—not even when much of the world was all agog over this “Fight of the Century.” There is something about deliberately hurting someone that grieves me.

Combat sports like kickboxing, wrestling, judo, and mixed martial arts are great for self defense under dire circumstances, but if done to disable the opponent with an audience salivating over who should win and chanting, “kill him, kill him” well, that’s another sad story.

At the risk of being branded dogmatic or narrow-minded, I wrote this post because I have never understood how violating someone’s body can be a source of excitement.

I know that danger and injuries do happen in any sport. My second son suffered from a dislocated shoulder for years because he was into many sports (except boxing). C’est la vie.

But because boxing’s aim is to hurt, cut, batter, pummel, and knock-out one’s opponent to win, I am one with others who are having difficulty reconciling boxing with the Christian view of honoring the body, the temple of the Holy Spirit. 

“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NLT)

In my research, I found that since World War II, over 350 boxers have died from ring injuries. Many, like Ali, have had to endure lifelong infirmities. These boxing bodies, losers and winners, made many spectators either rich or poor through betting.

This post will invite brickbats, I'm sure, but no matter how I psych myself up, I shut my eyes when boxing scenes are shown on TV. 

Human flesh, our life on earth, is a one-time amazing gift of grace from our Maker. Is boxing a way to honor it, just as the loser (in this bout, Pacquiao) is honored by millions of fans, and the winner (Mayweather) is honored with a championship belt and millions of dollars?

It's a moral dilemma. I may not get an answer in my lifetime.


Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Growling Tummy


As I visit our atis (sugar apple or sweetsop) fruits and watch them grow in our garden every day, I likewise revisit the book I wrote about this, my favorite fruit.  

The Growling Tummy is the 5th in a series of 16 “Oh, Mateo!” books and highlights the value of honesty. (All 14 books were illustrated by award-winning illustrator Beth Parrocha-Doctolero.)
It was lunchtime in school and Mateo, aged 8, was hungry. His tummy growled. It sounded like the dog that suddenly grabbed his lunch box and lapped up his food!

Now, what to do?

Mateo walks home with his tummy growling non-stop. Suddenly, he sees three of his classmates up on one of the atis trees of the grouchy old lady who owns the growling dog that just ate his lunch.

The boys are freely helping themselves to the yummy atis fruits and putting some in their pockets. They tempt famished Teo to join them, “We're hidden behind so many trees, the old lady can't see us here!"

Teo refuses and instead goes to the old lady, whose house sits in the middle of her orchard,  introduces himself, and warms his way into her heart. She allows him to climb one of her fruit trees after Teo volunteers to sweep her yard of leaves in exchange for some fruits.

Sounding like her dog and Teo’s tummy, she growls, “Mateo, you may pick only one! Any size!”

Teo quickly climbs up one atis tree, and picks the biggest, yummiest atis in the world!

Now, the time has come for my photo of our own atis tree to climb up my site. Soon I will have the biggest, yummiest atis in the world, too. Wink.


The banana fruits, all four bunches of grace—good and perfect—have ripened and gone down some non-growling tummies in our household. The old header has outlived itself and therefore comes down.

“Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” James 1:1 (NLT) 


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Summer Beginnings


While biting my nails, waiting for the manuscript of my latest book “Present!” to be sent back by my editor, I intensely keep busy with other pursuits that take second fiddle to my writing.

One of them is painting.

Since that Sunday of Resurrection, when faith brethren in church got together to celebrate Easter by painting, I have not stopped. With every free time (from part-time summer teaching and marathon reading), I grab my brushes—and paint.

The last time I dabbled in painting was in 2006. This time, nine years later, I have decided to tackle  summer colors and patterns. 

Butterflies are it.

I really want to be an artist when I grow up. (I am as inept in painting as I am in cooking.) Painting, like reading, holds so much rapture for me, the restful kind. What grace that feeling is—it’s like lying down in green pastures, beside the still waters. Indefinable peace for the restless soul. 

I initially began painting on that glorious Sunday some palm fronds, topped with a butterfly hovering over flowers. The painting is unfinished; it needs re-touching and re-doing. I have an idea of what it needs; I just don't know if my hands are capable of doing them.

After that, I started a few more. Again they are all unfinished, needing a splash there and a swoosh here. Or maybe some dabs and rubs. But I signed one or two so the blame does not fall on anyone but me.

Then one day last week, my friend G, an artist of the first order (also an art director par excellence) joins me and tries to put some sense into my madness.
Oooh, she knows exactly what a teeny section needs and her hands obey her imagination. She gives me great tips here and there, but somehow, my hands rampage toward the messy, danger zones.

I get excited just thinking about my next images—my mind is definite, but my hands are iffy. So, let me give you a sneak peek of my initial works.

I call the series "Summer Beginnings." I hope to finish at least one before summer is gone—or before I get back to the reason I breathe: writing.

"He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.” Psalm 23:2-3 (ESV)