Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Computer with a Heart

Mothers might have invented the term “multitasking" long before it made its way to the dictionary.

From pregnancy to childbirth, until such time that our children can do things on their own, we hover around, busy with every task g at home and at work (for working moms), dividing 24 hours and seven weeks into productive moments employers could only dream of.  

From my quick research, I discovered that the term “multitasking” was first used in a mechanical context in 1966 when technology began to dictate our way of life. It originated from the computer engineering industry, referring to the ability of a microprocessor to process several tasks simultaneously. 

Computer multitasking in single-core microprocessors involves time sharing. Only one task can actually be active at a time, but tasks are rotated every second.  Therefore, with the invention of multi-core computers, each core can perform a separate task simultaneously.

Sounds familiar? 

Yes, moms are like multi-core computers who can perform many tasks simultaneously. But, ah, there’s a big difference. A computer only has a “brain” created by humans.

It has no heart.

Moms have a heart—an extra-large one, if we go by sizes. We operate by and with that four-letter word called “love.”
How else can one work all day in the office and then come home to help her kids with their homework, put them to bed with a story, and sleep lightly at night so she could hear every unusual sound from the little ones? 

Then she wakes up at dawn to make sure that the kids have their “baon” and are ready for school. While in the office, she constantly calls home to check with the yaya how things are going.

How about the food—groceries and meals? She plans those, too. And the house guests who hop in sometimes? How about when the kids get sick? Or have a special event in school? And her duties in her church and community? She juggles time between work, community, church, and school. 

Daunting chores!  

Then there’s her husband. And her home. They both need time—the husband, of course, gets the bigger share of caring.

My friend, Malou, has no house helper and her husband is an OFW. So she has to be both father and mother to their three kids.

Once I invited her to coffee and she told me about her jam-packed daily schedule. “Between my kids, their school, and our home, I am blessed to have this relaxing time.”  

After she narrated her typical day, I panted from exhaustion. “I got so tired just listening to your activities. You’re a super mom!” I said, meaning it. “How do you do it?”

“Through the art of multitasking,” she replied. 

“Art?! You have elevated multitasking to an art? But it’s the science of time management and multiple duties,” I replied, amazed.

She giggled. 

For moms, multitasking is a no-brainer. It has to do with the heart—a gift of grace from the Master Multi-tasker Who created the earth and everything in, over, around and under it.  

(Adapted from my column “Happy endings” in Moms and Kids Magazine) 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Big Brother and Down Syndrome

February, the shortest month of the year, unpacked big events in succession: Valentine’s day; Chinese New Year; International Book Giving Day; and lest we forget . . .

February is National Down Syndrome Consciousness Month in the Philippines.

Many people are aware of Down Syndrome (DS) as a condition that afflicts one in 800 live births in the world. But not many know that children with DS, God's special blessings, possess great potential to live normal lives.

That’s why Republic Act 157 proclaimed February as National Down Syndrome Consciousness Month, under the auspices of the DSAPI:

It is to give Filipino children with DS "a mantle of protection against abuse, violence, and indifference." Like you, me, and every citizen, they deserve dignity and respect. 

These were the least we could do for my cousin Tinoy, born with DS.

He could speak only a few words and remained a child, but his parents never looked at him any differently. They were as proud of Tinoy as they were of their other children.

He was not kept at home, hidden from the world. This unconditional treatment rubbed off on everyone who ever met Tinoy—kith and kin alike.

In my visits with Tinoy when he and I were children, I taught him one word, ibon (bird), because he loved watching birds in flight. It took lots more visits and lots more practice before he could say, “uh-i-i-bon.”

What delighted me no end was, every time I’d see him (even a year or two apart), he would come to me and say, “uh-i-i-bon” and point to the sky.

These wonderful grace-encounters with Tinoy inspired the writing of “Big Brother” many years later, even if distance, time, and eventually his early death came between us.
“Big Brother,” a Palanca award winner and illustrated by Beth Parrocha-Doctolero, is a book of thanksgiving for the lives of Tinoy and every child born with DS.

It’s also a plea for those who’d chance upon the book to give kids with DS a chance to live full and decent lives.

I have always believed and felt, deep in my heart, that they could understand and feel more than we think they can—even if they remain as children while we grow up.

(Big Brother is available in all Philippine bookstores. It may also be ordered online through omflit.com)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Red-letter Day

Happy New Year. Gong Xi Fa Cai!

In the restaurant where we dined last night, New Year's eve, about 99% of the people were wearing red. The d├ęcor was all in red, too.

The occasion was indeed a red-letter day—a term that dates back from the 1400s. It those days, peopled marked feast days and other holy days in red on church calendars. Today, holidays are marked red in most calendars. 

Aside from being a red-letter day, Chinese New Year is dominated by the color red because red is considered the luckiest color in China. It is associated with happiness and good fortune; it symbolizes fire, believed to ward off evil spirits.

If you ever attend a Chinese celebration, wearing something red is always a good decision.

During these celebrations, one will not miss seeing the Ang Pao. In fact, my children, when they were little, looked forward to receiving them. These are little red envelopes stuffed with crisp new bills. They are given by the older family members as a gift to the young ones.  

As a token of appreciation, household staff and employees are sometimes also given Ang Pao as rewards for a job well done!

And speaking of red-letters days, wedding is one of them.

In Filipino weddings, the bride wears white. But in most Chinese weddings, the bride wears a traditional Chinese wedding dress in red.

Funny how one color could dictate one’s way of looking at life. Time and again, I’ve blogged about how superstitions can warp one’s mind, taking it away from the Source of grace.

I’ve always believed that no color, no omen, no sign, no nothing, no feng shui, and no luck can ever take the place of the love of God, from Whom all things (prosperity and happiness) flow.

The only red that is significant for me is the blood of Jesus—that which was shed for us so we may have life eternal, after this one has ended. 

Thank you, Lord, for this New Year.

“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” Romans 8:31 (NLT)


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Love is in the Air

That’s the theme of the Valentine’s event where I was invited to speak. It’s been dubbed the love banquet.

What is there to talk about on such occasions? I’ve gone past romantic love many decades over. In fact, I’ve grown cynical about this whole February 14 hoo-ha. After many years in advertising, the culprit in the wild spending and revelry happening today, I have learned to let the day pass by with nary a care.

And now to speak about it?!

Romantic love, as the world knows it, is a far cry from the love written in Scripture.

Love, as Jesus demonstrated with his life, which culminated in His death on earth, can never be replicated. Not even if we try and try.

“Love keeps no record of wrongs,” He says in 1 Corinthians 13: 5.  Yet here I am writing about everything that’s wrong about today, when love is supposed to be celebrated. 

I am shamed by this verse and all the other verses that run through that beautiful love chapter. 

Love indeed is in the air. It is in the air we breathe. Without it, we have no life.

Each time we inhale life-giving air, we breathe in God's love through His grace—unassailable proof that despite our failings and wrongs, the Lord still freely gives us this air that we need to survive.  

That is the single message I wish to leave those who will attend the love banquet, which includes me. Because love is in the air, we could celebrate love today, tomorrow, and all the many tomorrows thereafter—'til we breathe no more. 

Give Someone a Book

Since I took up writing as a second career, I have shunned buying gifts other than books. Not all enjoy books as much as I do, but the delight in giving them is immeasurable. 

And today is another opportunity to give someone(s) a book. It’s International Book Giving Day! 

I chose to give the first book in the Oh, Mateo! series (Half and Half) to Rose.

She is no longer a child, she is all of 25, with a husband who left her, and three children. When she came to live with us as Ate Vi’s (our househelp of over 30 years) assistant two weeks ago, I found out that because of an extremely hard life, she barely finished third grade.  

Rose has a difficult time reading, but she is a survivor. She could text, is street smart, and knows her way around. When I invited her to church last Sunday, she cried during our Pastor’s sermon. She said she realized that despite her enormous problems, she is still here today, intact, because of God’s grace. 

Tony suggested that the best gift we probably could ever give Rose is to share with her my children’s books to read, one at a time, with the hope that she will begin to have a hint of the childhood she never had.

She breezed through the Filipino text, but she gave up on the English text. Ate Vi is encouraging her to read syllable per syllable. Eventually, I am sure, she would catch on.

We who are exposed to books take these printed gems for granted. But there are many others, those in far-flung places all over the country, who, like Rose, have no access whatsoever to anything readable. 

As we celebrate International Book Giving Day today, may we find it in our hearts to give someone a book.

Heart Diet

Let's go on a heart diet today, the day of hearts. It's good for, well, our heart.

(As for me, it's kind to my tummy, too.)         

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

February Is Her Name

There is a girl named February—probably the only person on earth named such. However, she wants to be called Febe, instead of February. 

Nobody knows her real name, except her parents and close relatives, of course. And now, also her grade school principal, who had read her birth certificate.

“Why don’t you want to be called February?” she asked.

“Because I wasn’t born in February! I was born in November.” 

“Would you rather be called November, then?” she smiled.

“Yes,” she said.  “But Febe is okay.”

Febe was named February because her parents met on February 14, Valentine’s day. It was a special day, so they named their first-born after this special month.      

Every February 14 (exactly four days from now), in many parts of the world, flowers, cards, gifts, and other goodies are exchanged between and among loved ones, in the name of St. Valentine.

You probably know the legend, but let me tell you anyway.  Long, long ago, Valentine, a priest of Rome, was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire.

In jail, Valentine healed the daughter of his jailer. Before he was executed, he wrote his jailer’s daughter a letter signed "Your Valentine" as a farewell.

Just like Valentine’s Day, the name February has many legends and myths on how it came to be. But in truth, the word February comes from the Latin word februa, meaning “to cleanse.” This was a Roman festival of purification or Februalia. It was a month when people were ritually washed to be forgiven of their sins.

As of this writing, people are already busy shopping or planning parties. On the 14th, restaurants will be filled, flower shops will sell a lot of flowers, and chocolates in red packaging will flood the stores. Valentine Cards will be sent via email or on social media. 

“Everybody celebrates your name!” Febe’s school principal said when the calendar hit February.

“But it is not my birthday!”  Febe insisted. 

“My name is Doreen and nobody celebrates it,” the principal explained. “You’re blessed to have a name that is celebrated by everyone. Thank God for this grace.

After a brief pause, Febe declared, “My name is February!”

(Adapted from my column “Big Little People” published in The Freeman on February 8, 2015.) 

Photo credit: http://www.sensfoundation.com/

Friday, February 6, 2015

Imperfect love

She requested me to arrange their meeting after 40 years. She was a balikbayan from the US; he never left Philippine shores.

“When I saw him again, the 40 years disappeared,” she confided to me later. She looked like a lovestruck teenager.

“When I saw her again, the 40 years disappeared,” he admitted as much separately. He was visibly smitten.  

They were only in their 20s forty years ago—so young and so in love. So they got married before she flew to the US. She discovered that as a nurse, she had a bright future there. Deciding to stay and not to come back home, she tried to convince him in her letters to follow her.

He loved his job as a Navy officer in the Philippines. He asked her to come back, but she wouldn't.

No one budged. Years passed and they both “married” other people, and each had children of his/her own. More years passed and through Facebook they met each other again: she is now a widow and he, a widower.

Perfect ending to Love is lovelier the second time around?

Not quite.

Before the Facebook encounter, he had entered into a relationship with another woman. And in the meeting I had arranged for them, he told her about it. 
She was heartbroken—again. “We need to have our marriage annulled then,” she suggested.  With the annulment, the last encumbrance in their relationship would be severed forever.

He refused. So she flew back to the US desolate. He was left pining for her; he didn't want to lose her the second time around, but he also couldn't afford to hurt the girl with whom he has a relationship now.

Are marriages made of these? Is this what love is about?

As we celebrate what the world has dubbed the "month of love," February, may we ponder the love shown to us by Jesus, our Lord of grace: 

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; . . .”   1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (ESV)

(Adapted from my book, 'Circle of Compassion,' published by OMF Lit in 2013)       

Monday, February 2, 2015

Stage Mother

Gloria (not her real name) had a dream: to be a movie actress like Vilma Santos.
She had the looks and a natural flair for acting.

Unfortunately, a series of unfortunate events prevented her from pursuing her obsession until marriage finally wrote finis to her dream.  

When she had a daughter of her own, she was determined to fulfill her dream through her child. She hired a private acting coach for Gloria Jr. and spent much of her time telling her daughter how wonderful it was to be an actress.

Every summer, Gloria would lug her daughter to many movie studios and advertising agencies for videotaping. She also had tons of photos of her daughter in various costumes and poses.

Gloria Jr., however, neither had the looks nor the acting talent of her mother. She also loathed what her mother had been trying to ram down her throat. But as a dutiful daughter, she went along with her mom's plans—for years. 

One day, a brutally frank talent scout told Gloria, “Sorry, 'Day, but I don't think your daughter has an ounce of acting talent.”

Gloria cursed; Gloria Jr. rejoiced.

After finally realizing the futility of it all, Gloria asked her daughter, “If you can't be an actress, what is it you want to be?”

Gloria Jr., now 15, replied brightly, “An architect!”  

We can’t live our dreams through another person, not even if she is our own child. Each of us is made differently, given different gifts through grace.

Looking back, I am grateful to my parents for not imposing their dreams on me. My dad was a lawyer and my mom was a pharmacist, both active in politics. I am into the arts; not interested in any political post. That's precisely why today I am doing what I like best: writing.

Like Gloria, who learned her lesson well (albeit slowly), may we remember this about our children:  

"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate." Psalm 127:3-5 (ESV)
(A portion of this post has been excerpted from my book, “Circle of Compassion,” published by OMF Lit in 2013)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Bitter Hatred

For me, one the most stirring books about a father-son relationship ever written in modern history is “Dear Father, Dear Son” (Two lives . . . Eight hours) by Radio/TV talk show host Larry Elder.

Without giving the content away, let me touch on the back story, which Elder shares in his interviews.

He held a bitter hatred for his father, a Marine and a tough man with a difficult, dirt-poor past. Elder feared him so much he vowed to stand up to him one day.

He did when he was 15. They fought and Elder didn't speak to him for 10 years! 

At age 25, Elder felt restless, had difficulty sleeping and eating. A friend suggested that maybe the unresolved issues with his father were causing these. So Elder sought out his dad, thinking they would talk for only five minutes—say the worst things to each other—and done.  

Instead, they sat on two stools from 2:30 until 10:30 PM. In those eight hours, the father morphed from an ill-tempered, cruel ogre to a kind, caring inspiration. This is what the mesmerizing book is all about. “I completely misread him,” Elder lamented.   

“Dear Father, Dear Son,” according to critics, is a handbook for life: a story of a son searching for what he thought was a missing father, but who has been there all along.

The Father of all is in our midst, He is not missing at all. But many people today are missing His presence, because they deny the grace offered by the Son.

But to those who believe, it is all too clear, “I am the way, the truth and the light,” he said before He went back to His rightful place in heaven. “No one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6)

(An excerpt from my book, Circle of Compassion, published by OMFLit)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Voice Activated

When my brother Matt arrived from babysitting his grandson in the US, he regaled us with stories of his interesting domestic chores. For six months, he took care of nappies, milk, and other needs of an infant while his daughter and son-in-law worked full-time.

An American neighbor remarked, “Filipinos are so blessed. I wanted my parents to help with my baby, too, so I sent them two plane tickets. They sent them back!”

Babysitting was a role my brother relished, including working with his hands, relying on no one but himself. “I also enjoyed shoveling the snow; it kept me fit.”

This lifestyle is so different from the Philippines’ which, he said, is “voice activated.”  

You need something done? Just call out:

“Water please!”

“Pick me up at noon, okay?”

“Open the gate.”

“Bring me my briefcase.”

“Take over drying the dishes." 

Household helping hands will do your bidding.

Countries differ culturally, but, how wonderful that grace abounds in all! We can taste and see this grace by acknowledging and being grateful for it.  

“Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” Psalm 34:8

(This is one of the 365 entries in my book "Gace@Work" published by OMFLit.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pastor Moe

In a clear, distinct voice and impeccable diction, Pastor Moe—already an authoritative and a riveting speaker in his 20s—tackled Psalm 90, penned by his namesake, Moses. 

He had barely started when many of us in the pews wiped our eyes, not only because of his powerful message, but because of what he has become.

I am one of those who saw Pastor Moe from childhood to college, under the wings of his grandmother, a faith sister—who did a precarious balancing act of both a strict parent and a doting lola.

Reared in Sunday school, Pastor Moe was smart, with his share of adventures typical of boys his age. He was enrolled in Christian schools until high school and excelled throughout. 

It was when he went to college, where crossroads are found, that he turned truant—not caring whether he was coming or going. This caused his lola and family heartaches.

But somewhere down the road, an unseen Hand led him to a Bible school away from home. There, Moe was not exactly a saint, taking for granted the support and scholarship lavished on him by concerned parties. He squandered time and overstayed. 

His family got fed up; his scholarship and support were withheld. Coincidentally, while earnestly praying for him to someday preach behind the pulpit as a pastor, his grandma fell ill. Her mind ground to a halt, brought on by Alzheimer’s disease.

But the God of second chances worked on Moe. He opened the young slacker’s eyes and ears to what He wanted Moe to do. Now with zero finances, he had to work to survive and to continue with school. He tackled odd jobs, unheard of during his comfortable growing-up years with a protective lola.  

With new determination, and unceasing prayers of the people who love him, Moe finally graduated from Bible School, earning him the privilege of being a pastor. He has found his calling; he was soon invited to be youth pastor in a church somewhere far away. 

Last week, he flew in for a short vacation and to celebrate his birthday with his lola and family.

It was great to see him again; greater still to find out he would deliver the message during the Sunday service, his first-ever in his home church.

“I am scared,” he began, smiling impishly. Who wouldn’t? The pews were packed with the youth he grew up with and the people who watched him grow up.

Singularly-focused on Moses’ song, Pastor Moe stressed why God is our Dwelling Place. The audience was hushed, awestruck by God’s words.  
Listening with rapt attention, we understood how the Lord's grace redeems, restores, and refines people—admonishing us to never give up on any of His children, because He, our Dwelling Place, does not.

Photo grabbed from Pastor Moe's FB wall

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Adultery and Idolatry

These are two words that spell, all caps, DANGER. 

They have been our staple in our Sunday School class in church over the last few weeks.

In blatant terms, adultery is cohabiting with anyone or anything other than God. Idolatry is worshiping anyone and anything other than God.

Said in those straightforward definitions, they sure are scary, forbidden territories.

But in this modern world that embraces all ideologies, is kind to all aberrations, and has erased hell as a destination, being scared is no longer in fashion.

The pursuit of happiness is hip; the pursuit of holiness is, at best, meh, and at worst, ridiculous.

What happened?

Money happened.

In many societies, the mad-rush for money is on. Money can buy you anything that awes mortal beings: power, position, popularity, possessions, privileges, pleasures, and in this country, politics, where (if we read the reports of dailies on corruption) money begets more money.

In Randy Alcorn’s “Money, Possessions, and Eternity,” readers are challenged to rethink our attitudes toward material wealth. He presents thought-provoking arguments on materialism, stewardship, prosperity theology, debt, and more.

Money is a touchy subject. With this blog, I know I am impinging on raw nerves—mine most of all. But there is no other way to talk about money than to face it head-on.

A wealthy friend of mine, who generously funds feeding programs for the poor, once said, “This is my ticket to heaven.” The rich can certainly buy their way to anywhere, but not to heaven.

“When I was earning oodles of money,” said another friend now retired, “I had no need for God. But now, on a meager pension, I realize I can’t live another day without Him.” 

Money draws us away from God, just as an alluring mistress or a paramour does, the Bible tells us.   “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows." 1Timothy 6:10 (NLT)

And in the altar of materialism where money is worshiped, God is forgotten. “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24   

To save us from the danger of adultery and idolatry, we need to rely on God’s grace, not on our money.   

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

First Three Days of the Year

January 1 started with a bang—from a bottle of laxative.

It was the first step in the preps for my scheduled virtual colonoscopy (or CT colonography) two days later.

It turns out that all those first three days of 2015 have surged to the top of the chart of my life peaks, or days I’d rather forget.    

Flashback a little: just before Christmas, I had an aborted colonoscopy due to problems too unsavory to discuss. This prompted my doctor to make me go through another try—this time, the virtual colonoscopy. I thought all preps would be virtual, too, because unlike the first, this procedure required no hospital confinement nor anesthesia.

Was I wrong.

After that bottle of laxative on New Year’s Day, I am plunged into a clear liquid diet for the next 36 hours, and as though those aren’t torture enough, I take a second bombs-away bottle. On the 3rd day, the 20-minute drive to the hospital seems like 20 years.

Then just as you are about to collapse from hunger and hysteria, the CT-Scan technician takes you into the cold, Antarctic-like room where your tush is pumped with gallons of air till you’re ready to burst, but too weak to complain.

With your sanity now running on empty, the attending doctors around you say, “Just ten more pumps.”

Your exhausted inner self whispers, Lord, into Your hands I commend my spirit.
Somewhere between panic and desperation, grace enfolds you. It comes through a doctor-friend who hovers nearby, and never leaves, her voice assuring you, "You'll be okay." 

Whrrrr. Some tiny red lights blink above as you, flat on your back, are slid through a white, gleaming, surreal circle. A robotic machine voice commands, “Breathe in. Release. Hold.” Then after a minute says, “Breathe.”

Another whrrrr. Now lying prone on bloated tummy, pain everywhere, you are again slid through that icy circle. “Breathe in. Release. Hold . . . now, breath. We’re done.”

You open your eyes, not to oblivion, but to the same world from whence you came. The angel hands you wads of tissue paper, with which you wipe your wet eyes, nose, and mouth.

Then like a tire having a slow flat tire, you try, but fail, to discreetly release the pumped air while the technician, your new best friend, smiles, “Results tomorrow.”

Tomorrow is a hallelujah moment.

No mass. No polyps. Just some humor of nature, or age: a tangled-up colon somewhere in the middle. Inoperable. So your gastroenterologist scrawls on a prescription sheet, outlining what foods to avoid and what medications to take whenever discomforts above and below set it—the rest of your life.

You could say, my new year began auspiciously. With a bang, that is.

“For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’” Isaiah 41:13 (ESV)


Friday, January 9, 2015

Seventy and Counting

About this time every year, I write about the annual reunion where I say “Goodbye” to the old year and “Hello” to the new one.  Kinda predictable you might say. In a way it is.

But there is always something new about it. This time we celebrated our 70th year—a milestone any way you look at it. Our forebears who started it all are now all gone, two generations of them, but the tradition continues.

One other thing that never happened before was that it rained non-stop. All the outdoor activities had to be cancelled and the kids were most disappointed over the water polo that never was.

It was unbelievably cold, which rarely (or never) happens in Metro Manila. We were kept warm, however, by the grace of relationship that we try to nurture through distance and time.

In numbers, one fourth is gone and a big chunk is abroad. Of the 140 who were able to make it, 20% are seniors, the third generation to which I belong. Whether this gathering can still be stretched for more years is no longer in our hands but in the younger generations’ (4th, 5th, and 6th).

(photo by Danny Digan)
There are other families/clans around the world who have been doing reunions far longer than we have, but ours is probably the only clan that has been doing it for three days and two nights in a row, without miss, seven decades now! 

What makes this gathering so successful every time and an occasion to look forward to every year?

You name it, we have it:  games, competitive sports; a band; a talent show with spectacular, professional performances; a lionized celebrity (nephew); awards and prizes; a council meeting where issues and finances are discussed; well-planned meals; a three-day program that includes toddlers and dodderers; an instant rendition of the Lutkin Benediction in four voices; and most of all, a solemn thanksgiving and memorial service, where we honor God and thank Him for the lives of all clan members (past and present). 

During our service, themed “Light and Darkness,” our young pastor (a nephew) emphasized letting one’s light shine. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:8-10 (NKJV)   

May the younger generations, then, who come after us always remember: Reunions aren’t only about shining within the family; it is about being light in the Lord and walking as children of light for others.       

First day gear
Second day garb (photo by Darlene Digan)

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Truth Will Set You Free

Some people are not aware that this statement comes from the Bible, and said by Jesus Himself.
Which is why we often hear different individuals from different quarters mouthing this statement in varied contexts to suit their purposes. It has been mangled beyond recognition.

It is used in the context of: not lying, baring one’s soul, revealing a guarded secret.

It is used in the halls of justice; in making someone own up to a crime, a fault, or an addition.

It is used to promote academic freedom, the power of learning—freeing one from ignorance. 

Jesus’ statement has nothing to do with any of those. I am neither a preacher nor a theologian, just an ordinary student of the Word, yet no matter how many times I read these verses, they speak to me in the most literal sense. There is no hidden or figurative meaning: John 8:31-36 . . .    

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?

“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Jesus provides the simplest commentary for His own statement. Being a slave to sin is the greatest bondage. And only He, through His grace of forgiveness, can free us from this bondage.

In ancient times, slaves had no permanent place in a family, but a son belongs to His family forever. Nothing could be more explicit than what He said in John 14:6, “. . . ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

Only believing in Jesus, the Truth, and becoming His child, will set us free.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Year 2015:

From Thanksgiving to Thanksliving 

One new coined word that still has to make it to the dictionary is thanksliving. Before it could, reams of pages have already been written about it.

I’d like to add a page more. 

Thanksliving is one notch above thanksgiving; it is thanksgiving in action—wherever we go, whenever we turn, whatever we do, and whomever we meet.

When we were brainstorming ideas for our church’s 36th anniversary theme, we focused on gratitude, nothing less, nothing more. For how can a very small bodega transform into a community church with faithful members who exhort each other come rain or come shine? How can a make-shift lean-to grow into a structure that now houses a school with students numbering close to 200?

More than the building, however, we know that God’s ministry is kept alive in this church, not by ourselves, but by grace.

We came up with the theme “Endless Gratefulness,” the essence of a servant's reverence toward a  living God.

That anniversary Sunday, we sang, at the top of our voices, hymns of thanksgiving.
Our speaker gave life to our theme through the word thanksliving. He spoke of how we must live gratefulness: how it should be a way of life, and how it should affect and infect others outside of ourselves. He repeatedly said, “If we're truly grateful, it really ought to show in our lives.”

In 1Thessalonians 5:18, Paul was explicit, “… give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Paul had been able to be grateful even if he faced enormous problems, because he knew that God was good all the time. And a good God would allow difficult circumstances that would eventually result in something good.

As we usher in the year 2015, may we turn our thanksgiving into thanksliving. Despite tragedies, problems, and frustrations that may befall us and our land, His grace will allow us to rise above them all.    

Monday, December 29, 2014

Beyond 200

Let me end the year with an edited excerpt of my regular column, Big Little People, published yesterday in The Freeman, the daily newspaper of  Philippine Star in Cebu. 

I started writing this bi-weekly column at the same time I started blogging. It’s been eight years and yesterday, my 200th column saw print.

Two months back, when I was in Cebu for a book talk, I met the talented staff behind the section where my column appears. They so kindly put together this write-up, a gesture I will forever treasure.    
The excerpt: 

The number 200 is neither interesting nor popular. Unlike 100 which speaks of perfection—the highest score one can receive in an examination or a school card—200 is neither here nor there.

But today, I think the number 200 is special because this is my 200th column!

In my first column entitled "One Very Special Interest,” I wrote about the importance of reading. So 200 articles later, today, I hope I have encouraged at least 200 kids to read. Then that would be 200 reasons to jump with joy!    

In the Bible we find in John 6 a wonderful story about the number 200.

Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and a large crowd of people followed Him. They had earlier seen signs that He was healing the sick and that convinced them to seek this Man who could do such miracles.

Together with His disciples, Jesus saw the crowd coming toward Him. He asked Philip, “Where may we buy bread so that these people may eat?”

Philip was appalled. Where would they get the money to buy bread to feed 5,000 people?! He replied, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.”

In those days, one denarius was equivalent to a penny, a one-day wage for a laborer.  Two hundred denarii then would be 200 pennies, equivalent to the pay of two hundred laborers in one day. Today, that would be worth more than half a million pesos! 

In the crowd was a boy who had five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus took them and after giving thanks in prayer to God, He multiplied the bread and fish to feed all the men, women and children—as much as they wanted—and there was so much leftover!

I see the number 200, then, as a symbol of sufficiency. Even if we think we don’t have enough, just as Philip did, God fills up the insufficiency.

My header changes at the end of the year to welcome the sufficient grace that will deluge us in the New Year, 2015.

Old header
New header

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Gloria in Excelsis Deo

It rained hard on Christmas eve, flooding the road fronting our house.

Our 11-year-old, beat-up car wouldn’t start. So through the flood and rain, hubby tried to drive it while son #3’s driver pushed, hoping it would start. It was stubborn. Some neighbors helped and after a few more tries up and down the road, the car eventually coughed to life. 

What went wrong? Well, the mechanic said, "Anything can go wrong with an old car."

The dark skies wept through the day and all through our church’s Christmas eve service. But as the choir sang, in great jubilation, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, with the congregation joining in, no rain nor disaster of any proportion could dampen the spirit that comes with celebrating the birth of Grace on Christmas.  

Our small half family (half is somewhere far away) went through all our Christmas traditions—a roast turkey dinner, followed by opening of gifts. The turkey almost didn’t make it; it was the only one left in the supermarket. People ahead of me ignored it because it was of an inferior brand. But a turkey is a turkey is a turkey. At 6.2 kilos, it is good for four creative meals.

I got another chronological Bible this year from son #1 (Holman Christian Standard Bible) and a mouse from hubby. (Last year my computer conked out on me on Christmas day; this time, my mouse died.)  Son#2 sent his and his family’s gift weeks ago through the mail. Son #3 promised my gift is forthcoming.

But the greatest Gift of all is what the shepherds heard from the angels on a silent night over two thousand years ago.

Come, adore on bended knee
Christ, the Lord, the new-born King.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Glory to God in the highest!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Smiles

Except for household chores and cooking, all other tasks belong to me. Preparing our yearly Christmas card, therefore, falls under my jurisdiction. It isn’t a walk in the park.

A Christmas card should reflect the joy of the season. And what better image to communicate it than a smile? 
This is where the problem arises. Except for me, the creatures I live with are camera-shy; rather, camera-averse.

While the world takes selfies, my boys take cover.  The few times my camera catches them smiling is when they are not aware the thingamajig is before them. After scouring my files of photos, I find one or two where they seem like they're savoring the moment. So I quickly edit and put these together.

I had no problem whatsoever with the other half of the family—those that reside in the US of A. Daughter-in-law is a photographer par excellence and she has a way of capturing the perfect moment with perfect framing and perfect lighting. Her boys—dearest grandson Adrian and son #2—oblige and humor her.  All I do is grab her photos on FB.

Here’s my magnum opus.

There. Smiles that could set the world on fire (I wish). Smiles that celebrate Christmas—the day earthlings were given a Gift and were never the same again.

May we all take time to smile as we honor the greatest Grace that came to us on Christmas day.  

“The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” Luke 2:11 (NLT)

Monday, December 22, 2014


This word has become so common in net-speak. I wondered about it the first time I read it in a post on FB. Mr. Webster defines it as: a loud sound that resonates. But netizens, I soon discovered, use it to mean: great and amazing.

Now I think I may be able to use boom! myself without diluting both definitions.    

Among all the Christmas parties I have attended so far (now uncountable), one stands out: our department's get-together in the university where I teach. It was not only because of the food or the delight factor, but more so because of the inspirational message delivered by one of our heads who, although he may not admit it, is also a guru: Leo.

Unlike other inspirational messages which are often verbose and pedantic in the academe, his was succinct. It consisted of only two words: Be kind.

Yes, boom! Not “What?!” “Huh?” “Duh.” 

This message was exactly what ornery professors (plagued with stress over difficult students, millennials all, whose heads are locked into their gadgets and own selves instead of putting maximum effort on learning) needed to hear.

In fact, this is the message of Christmas. What could be kinder than that sublime act of Jesus Christ coming to earth as Human to save selfish sinners from eternal damnation?

Be kind. It is a message so loud it resonates.

But is it doable? It could be difficult; it is difficult. Especially for someone like me whose patience has always run thin. But with grace, I can try, and may yet succeed.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 (ESV)


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Kindred Spirits

In 1925, long before I was born, Severino Reyes—founder and editor of the Tagalog magazine, Liwayway—started writing Kuwento ni Lola Basyang (stories of Grandma Basyang) for the magazine and used Lola Basyang as his pen name.

Lola Basyang is a character similar in form and function to Mother Goose. In his lifetime, Severino, wrote 400 of such stories about kings, love, and enchanted places.

Twenty five years later, Severino’s son, Pedrito, revived the Lola Basyang stories in comic book form, with illustrations by Maning de Leon, Jesus Ramos, and Ruben Yandoc.

For another 25 years, these stories were made into movies that became box-office blockbusters. 

As a little girl, I had my own Lola Basyang—my Lola Cionang, mom of my mom. She would retell some of those stories (re-published in Bannawag magazine, the Ilocano version of Liwayway), embellished with her experiences and punctuated with Christian values. Often, she would tell her own stories, making them up as she went along.

For years, since I started writing children’s stories in the year 2000, when asked what made me begin writing stories for children, I flip-flopped from one answer to another. It varied from “it’s just an accident to it’s fun” because in truth, I didn’t know why. My most common rationale was, “Stories for children is a category in the Palanca Awards which charms me most because it inculcates love for literature and family values among children.”

(My first children’s book won first prize in this writing competition; all my six Palanca awards are for this category.)

But I think I found the real answer when my family spent some time at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, a heritage resort in Bataan this time last year. It is a village of restored Spanish-era houses with cobblestone roads near the beach.

There I came upon Lola Basyang. Serendipity! And memories came flooding back.   

It was she, or rather, it was my Lola Cionang’s story-telling prowess that made me fall in love with children’s stories—and now, writing them myself. Why, we’re kindred spirits!

It’s mind-blowing how the grace of childhood leads us to our charmed choices in adulthood.

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

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Owning Christmas

(Devotional reflections on Christmas at the last get-together for the year of the Christian Writers' Fellowship)  

Let me begin by showing you my Christmas tree this year. The white fabric and ecru tissue-paper flowers are all made by hand—mine. All told, the trimmings of this 12-year-old tree is less than P500.

I call it my tree because the men who live with me—a husband and two sons—don’t even know it’s there. When son No. 1 came home on the day I finished trimming it, I asked, “Tada! How do you like my tree?”


When son No. 3 came home, again I asked, “How do you like my tree?”

“Mom, it’s November 1, it’s a long way to Christmas!"

Finally, the husband came home, “How do you like my tree?”

“You better make sure those are LED lights to save on electricity.”

Indeed, it is my Christmas tree! 

But my Christmas tree pushed me into a pit of unpleasant thoughts. It’s the Christmas season once again and the country gets busy, proven by the horrible traffic.

Sadly, this is symptomatic of what Christmas has become: we have owned Christmas as our personal time for revelry.

The trouble with owning something is, we think we can do anything with it—our own way. Yes, we have appropriated Christmas for: our own joy, our own party, our own holiday, our own time to do our happy things like taking a vacation, mounting reunions, shopping for gifts, decorating the home, preparing Noche Buena food, receiving Christmas bonus, buying new outfits, and for me, trimming my tree.

At the backseat of a Christian's mind is that we celebrate Christmas because it is the symbolic date of our Savior's birth. But, really, what is the percentage of this thought in relation to all the other things sold in stores during the season?

In the university where I teach, in lieu of exchange gifts, each faculty member will give a gift to a child somewhere in the slums of Cavite. Well and good. When those gifts are sent over, the kids will naturally think of Christmas as the time for them to receive gifts—again pushing to the back burner the reason for the occasion.

In my neighborhood, one house opens its gate on Christmas Day; the owner gives away food and gifts to anyone who comes around. You should see the long line of people waiting for their freebies under the heat of the sun, or the rain. 

The less fortunate among us go on a heyday knocking on doors, declaring, “Namamasko po!” (I have come to collect my gift this Christmas!), as though people owe them. How many organizations go around singing carols, asking for donations—it's fund-raising time! 

Driving through villages, you’ll find security guards flailing boxes for money from oncoming vehicles. Every single messenger—from the post office, insurance company, Meralco, to PLDT, leave an envelope to homeowners, expecting it to be filled with cash.  And if the homeowner says, “I am sorry,” he murmurs, "Ang kuripot."  (How stingy.) 

Entitlement. Because we have owned Christmas, we feel we are entitled to receive, to have our own agenda on how to spend it. Naturally the retail business takes advantage of this ownership.

Our Bible history tells us that the very first Christmas—the year Jesus was born—was the opposite of the Christmas that we know today. In the small town of Bethlehem, it was awfully dark. Sleepy shepherds were keeping watch over their flock.

After that Holy Birth, it didn’t get any better. There came the time when all that people heard were woeful sounds of inconsolable mothers, weeping. The magi (which we have erroneously baptized as the three kings) went to Judea searching for the newborn King of the Jews, having "seen His star in the east." They were directed to the small village of Bethlehem. On their way there, King Herod asked them to let him know who this King was when they found Him. What Herod had in mind was an evil scheme—to kill Jesus. He was afraid that this new King would take over his throne. 

The magi found Jesus and honored Him, but an angel told them not to go back to Herod, so they returned home by another route. Realizing he had been fooled by the magi, Herod was livid. He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and below.   

In those dark days, the prophecy in the Old Testament was fulfilled. In Jeremiah 31:15 we read, “A cry is heard in Ramah—deep anguish and bitter weeping. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted—for her children are gone.”

Our Bible tells us that the very first Christmas, God in all His majesty, became Flesh so that everyone, all sinners, may be saved from the mire of sin.  That is the reason for Christmas, which is lost in the hoopla and noble effort to be generous to everyone.  

In the Philippines, children trek to the homes of their ninong (godfather) and ninang (godmother)  expecting a gift. We wonder whether the reason for all this fuss was ever explained in detail to these children—if at all. 

And because we own Christmas, we often hear these words:   

“Christmas is for children.” Christmas has been delegated to children. 

“The true meaning of Christmas is giving.” This obligates us to give gifts on Christmas.

“It doesn't feel like Christmas." We have assigned Christmas to entertain us.  

And then we hear familiar complaints:

“So many calamities—what a terrible Christmas!” “No bonus this year? Oh, it’s going to be a very sad Christmas.” “My husband can’t come home from Dubai, our Christmas won’t be complete.” “Christmas is so expensive.” This one I heard on TV, “Pasko na naman, walang wala ako. Nakakalungkot, wala man lang akong maibigay, maski bagong damit ng mga apo ko.” (It's Christmas again. I am so broke, I can't even give my grandchildren new clothes.)

Indeed, we have sequestered Christmas for our own—and we celebrate Christmas as though it were our own birthday party or blow-out for a job well done.  We read on FB many plans for Christmas, we see photos of beautifully decorated homes and planned special food for the Christmas dinner.

Are these things familiar to you? Fruit cake, ham, keso de bola, parol from Pampanga, gift list, Santa Claus, Christmas party, and in the US, mistletoe, Christmas balls and wreaths.  We have added so many doodads to Christmas that we have to wade through them to remember its essence. Yes, the definition of Christmas has blurred. Worse, adults and children have their own definition of Christmas.

With other holidays in the year, we focus on the celebration. On Independence Day, we have flag raising ceremonies and wave miniature flags of our country. On Araw ng Kagitingan, we honor our heroes in appropriate ceremonies. On our own birthday, people greet us. On labor Day, Teacher’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, People Power Day, plus all the days invented by marketing men, we focus on the reason for the celebration.

But on Christmas?

Today, there is a growing pressure in Western countries, which has already arrived at SM, to replace  "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays." A salesgirl greeted me last week, “Happy Holidays, Ma’am.” I replied, “Merry Christmas! Bakit nawala na si Christ sa Christmas?” (Why did you delete Christ from Christmas?)

“Yun po ang utos sa amin. Kung 'Merry Christmas' daw po, baka may masaktan.” (Our instruction from management, Ma'am, so as not to offend anyone.) Of the 20 cards I received last year, 18 omitted the word Christmas. 

People have indeed owned Christmas as their own holiday.  Meaning, more and more people are being swayed to the idea that using the word Christmas is no longer politically correct, and therefore,  a no-no.  

Is political correctness taking precedence over truth?   

The truth was, is, and forever shall be. Christmas symbolizes the day the world witnessed the most astounding voluntary act of grace.  It was the day the Almighty and sovereign God took upon Himself the form of a Servant.  

Yes, the One deserving to be served, revealed Himself as One desiring to serve. It was the day the world witnessed the most genuine act of self-humbling. 

So completely, absolutely, totally, thoroughly did our Lord Jesus Christ humble Himself that He surrendered His will to the will of His heavenly Father.  More than amazing, the eternal Son of God became Flesh in humble surroundings, was subjected to human parents, dwelt in a modest home, reviled by the very people whom He served, and died between two common criminals with nothing on His back.    

On that first Christmas, on that single act of human birthing, God revealed the truth, previously unknown to us, that only through Jesus can man go on living in a glorious eternal home.  

Everyone, including hardhearted scientists, or maybe even atheists, cannot deny a Supreme Power through the spectacular things around us: the starry nights, the incredible sunrises and sunsets, the roar of thunder, the depths of oceans, the colors of flowers, and the fury of volcanoes.  Then among Christians, the Bible—a divine revelation of God.

But of all the startling revelations of almighty God, none is clearer than God's final revelation of Himself in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ.

How can December 25 (or the day the shepherds heard from heaven), then, not be anything but Christmas?

Jesus came to earth for all men; we can have Him as our own personal Savior if we accept Him in our heart. But we can never own the day amazing Grace was birthed for us on Christmas Day. Only Jesus owns Christmas; we don’t. Although He gave Himself for all of us on Christmas, we should not take the liberty of owning that divine, spectacular day. 

Simply believing in the Name of Jesus, born on Christmas, our Savior, Son of God, will birth a new spirit in us. In John 1:12 (KJV), we read, "But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name . . ."  

Merry Christmas!   
 ( Photo credit: Malu Tiongson-Ortiz)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Old, Older Friends

Years wreak havoc on one's face and body. Like violent storms, they leave you physically ravaged. This you’d never find out once you believe what your friends say:

"You don't look a day older!"

"You look the same since the last time I saw you."

"What keeps you forever young?"

But each time I look in the mirror, I am told a different story. Unlike my friends, the mirror neither cares about my feelings nor about me. It gives me an in-you-face, line-by-line account of what I have turned into with the passing of years. 

This doesn’t make me unique.  

Celebrities who have an arsenal of expensive make-me-look-good tricks are not exempt from the onslaught of years. Proof?

I recently met in a party a dozen of my old friends from the corporate world where I overstayed and spent the most vigorous part of my life. One look and I realized (they realized, as well), although very discreetly, we are no longer the same.

Thought balloons:

Who is this old lady? Grace?!

He used to be a heartthrob.

She has doubled, no tripled, in size!

His hair has not turned gray, it’s gone!

This is definitely the geriatric set!

Then the conversations begin. And, without warning, the joy of seeing each other again immediately deletes the grotesque thought balloons. Years are cruel on what the eyes can see, but kind to the soul. Why, we're a new, improved version of our old selves: wittier, wiser, mellower, and sillier.

Grudges, biases, bitterness (a.k.a. bitchiness in our time) have grown so old they are forgotten. What the heart remembers are the excitement and the highs of once working together—adversaries one minute, allies the next—summed up as the best of times.  
Old friends are older, but God so designed friendship never to age. In fact, it grows stronger with  distance, with years in between, with memories of an ancient past, and with a thought that today, we no longer sweat the small stuff, but savor the grace that comes with the big ones, meaning, only those that truly matter.  

"Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." 1Thessalonians 5:11 (ESV)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Black Cat

At dawn, the first living organism I lock eyes with is, yes, a black cat.

We are both early risers. It glares at me and I glare back. It seems to know what time I open our gate for my morning walk; it positions itself just a yard away. Then it blinks, crosses my path, and retreats when it hears my purposeful, determined march.

The next walking day, the black cat is there again, as though it has been assigned to keep watch. 

In the town where I grew up, people were afraid of a black cat. As a little girl I would hear adults looking upon this creature as a symbol of bad luck or misfortune, especially if it crosses a person’s path.

But my grandmother, the sage in my growing-up years, would pooh-pooh such idea, “Hogwash! God created all kinds of cats—and one of these species is colored black.”

She was, as usual, right. How could a black cat negate the joy of seeing the sunrise, of feeling the sweat on my back and the breeze that dries it off, and of having the energy to walk for an hour and be active all my hours after that?

How could a black cat diminish the grace that wafts around me with every recorded step on my pedometer, with every breath I take (those last five words I borrowed from a song I swooned over as an adolescent in love with love)?

I’ve been taking my early morning walks for the last thirteen years—this number is another bad omen in our town, but that’s another story—and in all those years, a black cat has mostly been the opening act of my new day.

As cats only have a life span of 12-15 years, the one that crossed my path this morning may be a daughter/son of the very first one who ever greeted me 13 years ago.

Tomorrow, when the black cat meets me just off our gate, it will be another blessed day—just as all my days have been while I can still walk jauntily on the land where the Lord placed me.

“My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.” Psalm 130:6 (KJV)


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Write, Win Prizes, and Be Published

Call for entries!

Media Associates International (MAI) has announced:

“Help us encourage Christian writers worldwide. Submit an original devotional aimed to inspire and nurture the faith of fellow writers around the globe. Top devotionals will be published in a devotional booklet for worldwide use in writing workshops and beyond. Your devotional may be selected to appear here on MAI’s LittWorld Online blog, a resource for writers worldwide. Win cash and bless writers beyond your borders.” (click for details)

For this exciting contest, please watch this MAI video:

Yes, that’s me. I am a behind-the-scenes author, who’d rather write than talk, but for this contest I made an exception and took the bold step of talking to an international audience.

I’d do anything to encourage fellow published (and closet) Christian writers to keep writing about the grace that comes only from God and spread the word.   

“Beautiful words stir my heart. I will recite a lovely poem about the king, for my tongue is like the pen of a skillful poet.” Psalm 45:10 (NLT)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Happy Home

In recent years, there has been a surge of single-parent and extended families. The nuclear family (defined as a group that includes only the father, mother, and biological children) is vanishing.

I prefer to define family as a household with a father, mother, children (biological or adopted), and househelps, who treat every individual with respect, and whose love for each other and God is boundless.  

That’s why when OMF Literature, my publisher, asked me to write a series of storybooks 20 months ago on a family, I chose to call it “Happy Home.”

The characters are loosely based on real-life people who had been an important part of my youth, juxtaposed into a family that consists of a father, a mother, three children (two are biological and one, adopted) and a fiercely loyal househelp.

Two books were scheduled for launching at the International Book Fair last September, but heartbreaking snags got in the way, the details of which I don't want to remember. Finally on December 20, three months later, just before Christmas, the first book in the series will be launched.

It is called Coming Home. 

A talented artist, whose body of work I have admired from a distance, was dropped from heaven to illustrate "Happy Home." His name is Leo Kempis Ang and while making the book come to life, he has become a cyber friend. His humorous/Pinoy style fits the book series to a tee, a joy I share with my editor, Joan. Below are some of his sketches that have been put to bed.                    

Coming Home has come . . . in God’s own time.

What was also dropped from heaven after the aborted book launching was an unexpected grace of patience.

For someone who was born with a wart called impatience and thrives best in a quick-paced work environment, I received exactly what I needed.  

Wait, God must have whispered in my ear. And I listened. 

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven . . .” Ecclesiastes 3:1

(I will blog about the details of the launching as soon as everything is finalized. You are all invited to come and join the fun!)

Friday, November 28, 2014

Can You Explain Explain?

One of the most difficult words to explain is: explain.

Even a teacher in communications, like I am, can't find the simplest, most understandable words to explain it well so it may be understood.

Mr. Webster defines explain thus, "To tell someone something in a way that helps them understand it better." Mr. Roget gives these synonyms: illustrate, interpret, elucidate (words that don’t make explaining any easier). 

The learning outcomes (UK-based) prescribed in my class writing requirement were pretty simple: identify and explain

What I got from one of my students was a jumble of many words identifying facts and figures, quotations from reliable sources of more facts and figures, but no explanation.  

I showed him his work, and said, "You did not explain what you identified.” 

"I did."

"Where is your explanation?"

He pointed to the facts and figures and all the words he wrote that occupied two precious pages, totaling 500 words.

"But you did not explain them. What do these facts and figures mean? I borrowed Mr. Webster’s words, "Tell me in words that will help me understand these better." 

He looked at me with such incredulity I felt like my IQ dropped to 12.  

"You don’t understand these?" he asked.

The earth beneath me caved in. Only grace made me survive the moment, grasping words, “Oh, I do, but the instruction says, you have to explain. And if you don’t, you only get half a grade. You identified really well, but you did not explain.”

Mouth agape, he stared at me. Mouth pursed, I stared back.    

He blinked, “Do I have to re-do my paper?”

“Well, not if you don’t want to. But if you want to get the other half of your grade . . ."

“I will re-do it,” he mumbled. 

I released the breath held in my lungs too long. 

“Let my teaching fall on you like rain; let my speech settle like dew. Let my words fall like rain on tender grass, like gentle showers on young plants.” Deuteronomy 32:2