Monday, October 5, 2015

My New Friend Hannah

First, she attached this intriguing photo to her Private Message (PM) on Facebook. Hannah and I have never met, although she's one of my over 2,000 FB friends.  

Next, she posted this.

Every day she would PM and ask, “Have you received my letter?”

It never arrived, probably because she addressed it to a PO Box. I was of course disappointed, and so was she.

“You know, I also love to write stories like you,” she wrote and sent me a series of cool stickers. “I hope you get to read my letter. I love your books. I want to come to the book fair, but I need to ride a plane. It's too far away."

“Sorry, Hannah, I have not received your letter yet,” I apologized for the nth time. Her reply shocked me.

“You know why I love to send stickers? It’s because I'm still nine years old.”

Nine years old?! All along I thought I was communicating with an adult! At her age, she writes really well—a budding writer indeed.

Not ever wanting to disappoint a kid, especially a book lover, I asked for her home address and immediately sent her via courier “Coming Home,” my latest children’s book.      

As soon as she got the package, she thanked me profusely on PM and asked, “Please read my mom’s FB post.” 

“Hannah is book lover and she wanted to get in touch with the authors of the book she reads. Today her prayers were answered! She was so happy to receive a gift—latest released book—from one of her favorite authors. She said it was her best gift. To God be the Glory!”

I soon learned from various FB posts that Hannah is ranked #1 in her class and is a pastor’s kid.

“Your name is a palindrome,” I wrote her the next day.

“What is that?”

“It is spelled the same way whether forward or backward.”

“Ooohhh. My best friend’s name is a palindrome, too: Ainia. She's also like me—loves books, art, and really cares for other people. And we put up this club called WWJD (What would Jesus Do?).”

A kindred spirit!

God's grace of friendship surprises and delights all at once. Why, He sent me Hannah, 9, from out of nowhere on cyberspace!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

My Life Flashed Before My Eyes

Yes it did, and I wasn't even close to dying.

This phenomenon known as "near-death experience" is a sensation in which a person rapidly sees the whole of his life history in chronological sequence and in extreme detail.

This happened to me, and I had never been more alive!

I dodged writing about it because I wanted to hog the joy for as long as I could. Two months later, however, the writer in me wins over.

My second son and his family were in town (after two years) so we were making up for lost time in a resort out-of-town. I was, for the first time, suffering from extreme allergy—unbearable itch on my limbs—dimming my usually observant eye.

On our way home, my husband was wearing leather shoes and was frequently on his phone. I noticed both unusual behavior, but I was busy scratching my arms and legs. My daughter-in-law said they will treat me to a birthday dinner in a hotel close to our home. My thought balloon: A grand and posh choice.

I gave myself a once-over: slippers, faded jeans, old blouse, and grayish hair begging to be dyed. Ce’st la vie. 

Entering the restaurant, a curtain—like those in a stage play—opened and surprise! 
There, in one brightly-lit, freshly-adorned room, were all the beautiful people who have deeply touched my life: past and present, kith and kin, church-mates and ex-colleagues. All dressed to the nines!

How could this have gone past me? I thought, as someone handed me my red blazer and a bouquet. In stupor, I went around hugging each one.

I steeled myself not to cry, and the program began. It was a roast, hilarious and warm, bringing back memories of oh-so-riotous times! The two videos had old friends greeting me from all over the world. The two cakes, both book-themed, were on stage ready for blowing.

If it were a movie plot, it would be the perfect crime. The least likely culprit: my husband. He was ably abetted by my three sons, daughter-in-law, grandson, and my friend G.

How old am I? Ageless.

As young as the day I decided to gather my wits and live one day at a time—by faith and grace. Now, the surprises keep coming, like that one evening in July 2015 when my life flashed before my eyes.

"You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever!" Psalm 30:11-12 (NLT)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Present! A Present

Midway into writing a funny book about the workplace, I was given a “pressing, priority project titled Present!” by my publisher, OMFLit.

“Meet Stef,” said Yna, publications director. “She has proposed a book on millennials, and we think you should write it. She’ll be your editor.”

She is no more than a baby! I thought. Preppy and pretty, and yes, a millennial, Stef smiled, sans the guile battle-scarred people have mastered over the years. 

When I came to, I dumped the book I was working on and started writing Present!

Stef proved to be much wiser than her age, and I worried whether I was the right author, being light years away from her generation. But, Hey, I chided myself, you hobnob with millennials  twice a week—in a university on a Tuesday and in church on a Sunday.

As what usually happens when I’m in a writing frenzy, the ride toward the finish line is obstructed by roadblocks and detours. I got hospitalized, my computer acted up, and you-wouldn’t-want-to-know. 

Somewhere between pre-printing and pre-launching, Stef got hospitalized, too. Other you-wouldn’t-want-to-know jams arose as well.

But, ahhh, the printed book arrived just before my last day of class for the term. As I bade my students goodbye, I told them about the book and flashed my last slide on screen:

Awwww, they chorused.

That dedication page sums up how the world is scrambling to understand this tech-savvy Gen Y, whose digital world has changed the rules of the games played by all generations before them.

Present! was present at the right time and the right place. Perfect, 100% grace. 

The launching coincided with the 40th anniversary banquet of my home church, so I was absent at that event. Instead, God made it possible for me to be present at the 36th Manila International Book Fair where Present! was presented to the public as a present for the first time.

How was it like writing the book? I ended it thus:

“Through it all, I grew younger and older at the same time, making me feel ageless and generation-less in the process. I thought that maybe, just maybe, the Lord gave me a glimpse of eternity?”

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28 (NLT)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

In One Word, Rules

What does grammar mean in one word?


That is how I try to simplify my introduction to the English Language in my Business Communications class or any Business English class I handle. Many will disagree and say that no language has rules since languages started out without them.

But because clarity is key in business, and English is the international business language, people have to follow sets of rules to be able to understand each other and work together. 

Grammar is actually the structure and system of a language, considered to consist of syntax. Although all languages evolve over time (try reading Shakespeare and Steinbeck side-by-side), there are universally accepted rules to facilitate communication.

There must be over a million rules, and many more are exception to those rules. So how can anyone remember all of them?

This is when I say to my class, “Grammar is not memorization; it is familiarization.

“And familiarization requires reading. So reading and grammar are like chopsticks. You can’t use one without the other.”


“The best writers in the world became the way they are because they read,” I add. “They may not be able to mouth the rules, but they follow them because they are familiar with them.”

More groans.

Then I quote someone they all know (I hope!), Edgar Allan Poe: “A man's grammar, like Caesar's wife, should not only be pure, but above suspicion of impurity.”

This is my simple spiel semester after semester about grammar and reading. By grace, I am able to repeat it, like a fresh idea that has come out of my mouth for the very first time.    

 photo credit:

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Spelling Disease

A madness among young parents, which is contagious like a disease, has become endemic on our shores.   

They bestow upon their newborn a name so unique only they can spell it. Not content with that, they add a second name (or a third) that is just as difficult to spell.

This has become a major problem for institutions who issue certificates, passports, IDs, and other legal documents.

In our medical transcription school, for instance, we need some government bureaus to issue certificates to our graduates. And it never fails—unusual names are misspelled. So we need to get the certificates re-done, going through the long process over and over again. Sometimes it takes up to four revisions before their names are spelled the way their parents want it.

One example is Jennifer. It is normally spelled with two N's and one F. But our student's parents decided that it should be spelled with one N and two F's.

Another example is Katerhinne, with a second name that is the acronym of two sets of grandparents. I will not even attempt to spell that. The first name is confusing enough.
Take the name James. It should be quite easy to spell, but some spell it as Jhames, some Jaymes, some Jaimmes, and some Jaymz.  Go figure.

I am helping curb this disease. 

Whenever I am asked to be a sponsor in a wedding (in this country, a sponsor is called a ninang or ninong, terms of endearment that come with a moral obligation—becoming  the couple's second parents, to whom they may run for advice), I go to work.

I invite the betrothed couple to dinner, where I give a most profound advice (not those love-each- other-till-kingdom-come; or, patch-up-differences-before-going-to-bed; or, be-each-other's-best- friend, etc.)

"Give your child a name that anyone can spell.” And as a P.S. I beg, "Please give him or her only one name."

Politely they laugh, but surely thinking I am encroaching upon their parental rights. Well, tough luck. They have given me parental rights, too, as their second parent!

To my cyber friends, if you are about to be a parent and are reading this, a unique, hard-to-spell name for your future child will give you nightmares so severe you'll forever regret naming him thus.

I thank my parents for naming me Grace, spelled the way it should be. It’s been mispronounced, yes, but never misspelled.

Just as God's grace is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Greatest Play Ever Written (7)

Much talk has been devoted on Senator Grace Poe, a foundling. She and her supporters have taken advantage of the poignant story of her origins to gain voters' sympathy. And now she has announced her desire to be the next president of the Philippines.

In ancient times, God used a foundling to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt: Moses. 

Let’s zoom in on the woman who found him, who stood between him and death—the mother without a name. She is simply called the Pharoah’s daughter.

This unidentified female, whose name nobody knows, was the only mother Moses really knew. The Bible preserves her anonymity even though she was instrumental to the fate of the Israelite nation.

What kind of a woman would save a baby from a terrible death and care for him although he was a Hebrew? 

An Egyptian, she was an idolater who worshiped the sun. Yet in mothering Moses, she was above the pagan plane—even above the cruelty of her pagan father. At the risk losing her favor with the Pharaoh who had decreed the killing of all male Hebrew babies, she felt compassion for the baby she found in the bulrushes.

Imagine that beautiful scene . . . 

When the Pharaoh’s daughter was presented with the baby in the basket, the babe wept, and she must have felt concern for the baby’s welfare and secured as his nurse, until he was weaned, the baby’s real mother, Jochabed.

Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the river at the hour that she did. In God’s play, she, a pagan princess, would save and deliver the child who would become one of the Bible’s greatest heroes.

For 40 years, this princess-without-a-name cared for and educated Moses, giving him all the privileges of a son of the royal court, surrounded with wealth and luxury.

His education would later help Moses write the first five books of the Bible and the Mosaic law. In his education, we have evidence of God’s hand in the shaping of the future of Israel’s great leader.

Like any mother, she must have grieved when Moses killed an Egyptian. Because after that, she could no longer protect her son, who had to flee Egypt to save his life.

We wonder, did they ever see each other again? Was she still alive when, 40 years later, Moses returned to Egypt as the mighty deliverer of the Israelite nation?  We will never know.

All we know, as cast by God in the greatest play ever written, is that she was a kindhearted Egyptian princess, a noble and tender woman who was God’s vessel of grace in a cruel time.

(Note: This is the 7th in a series of eight blog posts on The Greatest Play Ever Written.)

photo credit: from the movie Ten Commandments

Friday, September 11, 2015

Disturbing Films, Disturbing World

Reality hits you hard between the eyes when you watch Philippine indie films. They depict life as raw as it can get, not the life I choose to see—or the life within the four corners of the organized church.

Evil is out there; it is around us. No matter how we delude ourselves into believing there is innate good in people, there is, even more so, innate bad in people.

After The Fall in that idyllic garden, man’s nature has been—to use an overused phrase—between the devil and the deep blue sea.

At the Cinemalaya Festival, this beastly nature is dramatized, and this is what I make time to watch once a year. As an author, I can’t sterilize nor sensitize myself from the fallen world, where I write about grace.

Cinemalaya 2015, for one whole day (from 10 Am to 11 PM), offered me and my friends one full-length film, 21 shorts (all gritty), and two documentaries.
In this dark world where Jesus was born into, He offered light through His life, death, and resurrection.

The themes of all 24 well-crafted films revolved around homosexuality, idolatry, mental illness, theft, treachery, assassination, and drug addiction, most of them ending sadly ever after. To my relief, the full-length film, ended on a hopeful note and the two documentaries inspired:

Titser (Mukha): A Biology graduate from a prestigious university, who was set to become a doctor, decides instead to be a public school teacher in a depressed area.

The Boy Who Cried Books: A young man, with bipolar disorder, sells books on the sidewalk to earn for a college education. This one particularly touched me because the main character’s wares were books, the center of my working life today.

In our world—painted powerfully by the Indies—the good news of the gospel is the only hope.  Christian authors and Bible-believing Christians need to share this hope in joint and distinct voices to be heard.  

Lord, help us to find our voices and make it heard in this disturbed and disturbing world. Amen. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Sunny with a Chance of Rain

This weather forecast comes with a forewarning. 

I would often hear it in the spring when I was living in the US. Although the day would be sunny, there was no escaping the rainfall. So I’d grab an umbrella before heading off to school. 
Life isn’t like a weather forecast. It doesn’t forewarn. We bask in the rays of a glorious sun, then rain suddenly pours—anytime. Therefore, you aren’t prepared with an umbrella to keep you from getting soaked.

But life is exactly that—it is sunny with a chance of rain.

We’re finally home from the hospital where Tony was confined for five days due to a stroke. Looking back and reflecting on it, there was zero forewarning.

After leaving his office that day, doing errands along the way, he came home and asked the driver to go home as well. Then as soon as I was ready, he drove me to church for a prayer meeting.

Less than half an hour later, he called saying he was having signs of a stroke. The rain fell; end of our sunny day.

I know that in a world with free will, we make our own choices, and we can’t get around the fact that troubles come. However, God has a perfect will for us that includes all kinds of protection and grace—like umbrella from life’s rains.

Now in our own bed, Tony thought aloud, “My doctor's order of take-it-easy-for-another-five days is more of prevention. Even if everything seems fine, there’s a chance for another stroke.”

“Like a sunny day with a chance of rain,” I replied.

I recall what our pastor at the prayer meeting was saying before I received Tony’s fateful phone call. 

Pastor: “Anything we receive that takes us away from God is a curse. Inversely, anything we receive that draws us closer to Him is a blessing.”

Our hospital residence wasn’t exactly Shangrila-suite, but called a suite just the same, with functional amenities.

And to our surprise, after all discounts and privileges, our “staycation” cost no more than a family-size pizza!

God had been our Umbrella when it rained. And He will be, when (not if) it rains again.

"The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life." Psalm 121:7 (NLT)

photo credit:

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Alien Hand

My husband had just dropped me off in church for a prayer meeting. While I was intently listening to our pastor’s exhortation, he called.

In his usual monotone he said, "Call our driver. He has to take me to the hospital because I am having signs of a stroke."

I died.

I didn’t have to call our driver. In a prayer meeting, there are more than enough driver volunteers. At the Emergency Room, I listened as Tony described to the doctor what happened.

“My left hand was doing things I didn’t ask it to. It seemed like an alien hand. But after a few seconds, I realized it was mine and my right hand reined it in. I called my Neuro doctor-friend, who advised me to go the nearest hospital immediately because it seemed like a stroke.”

Alien Hand Syndrome. That began our five-day saga in this hospital. It was a stroke, although a transient one. No visible permanent damage, but the doctor wants to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. Some injections, some IV drips, some pills, a CT Scan, and strict bed rest for five days.

Plus lots of griping. Tony was booked to fly to Xiamen today to visit his roots. I could taste his intense disappointment. My heart crumbled.

But calls, text messages, and prayers from our sons, kin, and friends are gluing my heart whole again. Second son, a physician in the US, made calls to Tony’s doctor.

Nobody can ask for more grace.

There were two other instances when I also died after receiving Tony’s phone call.

One, in 1993, he said he had checked himself in the hospital for immediate surgery because of stage 3 colon cancer.

Two, in 2002, he said he had to undergo heart bypass because his andiogram result showed blocked arteries.

And now three, a stroke.

But tomorrow, after his last shots and IV drip, we shall be discharged from this place where we learned what ailed him—Alien Hand.

Famously known as Dr. Strangelove Syndrome, from the old movie entitled Dr. Strangelove, Alien Hand is a neurological disorder where the affected person’s own hand has its own free will or mind of its own. It is also a phenomenon that can result from a brain surgery or a stroke.

I believe it was a divine sign for him to call a friend, and rushing him to the hospital, where we have been residents these five days, was the right thing to do at the right time.

Let’s just say this is my 3rd earthly resurrection, filling my heart with joy and thanksgiving. Three  preludes to my heavenly one.

". . .I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying." John 11:25 (NLT)

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.


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.


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.  


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.


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?!  


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


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.


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 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

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