1/23/2017

Golden Eggs


Red eggs used to be a staple on our breakfast table. They go well with juicy tomatoes and fresh mountain ferns; eaten with fried rice; then finished off with a steaming cup of coffee. Nifty-yummy and picker-upper they were.

That was before my brother D and his wife G gifted us with golden eggs—salted duck eggs from their duck farm that go by the same principle of making red eggs, minus the poison. 

Surprised? It shocked me.

Since time immemorial, salted duck eggs are dyed red to distinguish them from fresh eggs.

Now here’s the shocker.

The red dye used by many commercial red-egg makers contain chemicals that cause conditions such as allergies and asthma, plus more. This has been proven in various research in the US and Europe. In fact, some European manufacturers have pledged to eliminate this dye from candy, soft drinks, and similar products.
The sad truth, however, is that red eggs are freely sold everywhere in the Philippines, because they are backyard industries and therefore do not go through the screening process of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Red-eggs fans may argue that the dye on the shell does not affect the egg, which is what we ingest. However, since eggshells are porous, there is no telling how much of the red dye seeps through and therefore eaten.

D and G’s golden eggs were dipped in and colored with turmeric (a perennial plant of the ginger family) powder and therefore all-natural.

They taste just as good as the red eggs—maybe even better—we had been used to. But golden eggs such as these are not commercially viable, because turmeric costs so much more than red dye.

This is not a discourse against red eggs. Rather, it is an ode to golden eggs, 100% natural, and therefore,  pure grace.

Photo credit: www.cookingspree.com

1/19/2017

New Year, New Ears


In the last five years, or maybe even longer, I have slowly been losing interest in activities that I used to love.

Movies have become dull, except during the Cinemalaya Festival (Filipino Indie Films) where all movies have English sub-titles;  TV shows have become a bore; and yakking on the phone for long hours with my sister, Lucy (my friend in California), and best cousin in New York have become an ordeal.
 
I have likewise shunned using or answering calls on my mobile phone, preferring to read text messages.   

I conveniently blamed my waning interests on aging. But I was actually in denial. What I was losing was not my interest, but my ears.

Like my grandmother and mother before me (yes, it’s in the genes), my sense of hearing has deteriorated to a point where I hear words other than what are said:

First day vs. birthday
Tea vs. three 
Daily vs. baby
Ryan vs. Gian
Ringing vs. meeting

Results? Wrong answers to the right questions, and vice-versa. 

Son #2, a doctor and who calls from the US, must have known what I was going through. I’d immediately pass on the phone to Tony, or speak so loud the phone receiver popped. Once or twice, he had mentioned “hearing aid” but because it costs an arm and a leg, I was prepared to go through the rest of my life without ears.

All that has come to pass.

As a Christmas gift, son# 2 and his wife said I could have any hearing aid of my choice. So I headed to the Active Hearing Center where I was fitted by a nice, young lady with a pair of Siemens thingies. They are so  discreet, you'd never know they're there unless you stared.   

And guess what?

I am dying to watch the next movie, the TV shows I missed, and once again, I am looking forward to long phone chats with my sister, Lucy, and my best cousin.  

Now, I hear every epithet some of my students utter under their breath, behind my back. I have abandoned my front-row seat during faculty meetings. And I am able to understand all the items put forth in our prayer meetings. The better to hear of how God’s grace works in people’s lives.    

I feel gargantuan guilt that these two tiny widgets in both my ears cost one big motorcycle and a bike, but hey, I console myself, a mom costs more than that.

This New Year, I have new ears!  I think I can hear you applauding.


1/15/2017

72 Stars


Looking back to our clan’s 72nd reunion, which my family branch hosted, I go through a myriad of deeply reflective emotions. Sometimes I chuckle, shed tears, laugh out loud, or simply feel good by looking at our countless photos and videos taken by different nieces and nephews.

One of the many episodes that keeps a smile pasted on my face was narrated by a nephew, whom I call our resident pastor (and a real one, too) since he is assigned to deliver God’s messages in our worship and thanksgiving services, and to lead the prayers before every activity.

Here’s how he wrote it:

“Dear Auntie,

“On the first day of the reunion after the thanksgiving service, my wife and I went to the Kid's Corner and we saw the clay dough scattered all over. We started tidying up the area in preparation for those who will use it next.

"Adrian [note: my only grandson, aged 9, who attended our annual reunion for the very first time] and Matthew [note: my grandnephew, aged 8, who also attended the reunion for the first time] were there also—my Facebook friends whom, after a long time, I was able to meet personally!

“I told Adrian to use the plastic molds and create 72 stars to symbolize the 72 years of our coming together. Adrian asked if Matthew could join and do the task too. I agreed.

“After some time—probably, 20 or 30 minutes—Adrian approached me and told me that they were through. I was surprised.

“They took me seriously. And they finished the task!     

“I was blessed with these two because they listened and they believed in what I said. They did what they were told even when no one was watching.

“You seldom see kids like them nowadays. Such is the faith that our heavenly Father delights upon. I commend the parents and grandparents, too—who are training these two children in the way that they should go!”

Family reunions are made of these. Starlit grace all, 72 and beyond. 


1/11/2017

Timeless Ends


Our 72nd annual clan reunion themed “Timeless,” which was hosted by my family branch, ended on January 1, 2017—one year to the day we accepted the assignment, as emblazoned on our uniform t-shirts.

On that same day, preps quickly began. That’s how serious we all were (28 in all) about the job, which comes every nine years.  

Being the eldest in a family of five siblings, I was the de facto chairman. But on day one, I instantly promoted myself to emeritus and passed on the responsibility to my youngest brother, Dave, who still has the grace of vigor.

Our children, located in various parts of the world, and whose media savvy we envy, put up a Facebook page with a header featuring our acceptance t-shirt. They brainstormed on cyberspace and came up with varied monthly contests that generated excitement. 

Then two months before the event, after a series of meetings presided by the chairman-designate, the chairman emeritus launched the theme and logo, also on social media:

TIMELESS

On December 30, 2016, the Vergara Clan will come together for the 72nd time. But 72 is just a number.

“The tie that binds” spans yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Our Lolo Berto and Lola Cionang, who started it all, are gone and so are the nine originals who came after them.

One day, I will be gone, too, following the neo-riginals who have said goodbye. But I know that the spirit behind the V-Clan reunion will remain timeless. Thus, it is this year’s theme. (Chit sub-clan)

“The timeless in you is aware of life's timelessness. And knows that yesterday is but today's memory and tomorrow is today's dream.” (Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet) 

During the event, we had efficient help from the clan execom (made up of representatives from each family branch) to man the corners, activities, programs, and prizes for all life stages: kiddies, oldies, and middies. For the first time, we had a photo booth where everyone unleashed his histrionic best.

All that has ended. On January 1, 2017, we bade the clanistas (our term of endearment for clan members) passed on the job to the next host. 

In our effort to make our 72nd reunion memorable for all clanistas every day of the past year, we (28 pax)  were exceedingly blessed daily with timeless joy from a timeless God:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8 

1/03/2017

Broken Christmas Traditions


Over many Christmases in my married life, I have created some traditions, which I impose upon the family—all boys. These fall under their trivia list, which is why Tony humors me, probably thinking, “It’s no skin off my nose.”

First, a family Christmas card. I get the boys together for a family photo with a Christmas letter about how our year was.
 
Second, a roast turkey for Noche Buena. In the early days, Tony was chef after which son #3 took over. But both were blessed with a gofer—Ate Vi, our long-time househelp.

Third, a Christmas tree with a different motif each year.

For the first time in years, we have no Christmas card. My two unmarried sons, #1 and #3, were too busy with their personal pursuits. They are no longer kids, so I couldn’t cajole them into posing. My photo file has nothing close to a family shot.

“Mom, nobody reads Christmas letters anymore,” son #3 said.

“There’s FB, Twitter, and . . .” added son #1.

I gave up.

For the first time in years, too, son#3 opted to buy a roast turkey instead of preparing one. Reason: his gofer, now advanced in the years, retired one month before Christmas (but that’s another story). Ate Vi’s replacement hasn’t seen the likes of an oven.

“This turkey doesn’t come close to yours,” I complained to son #3. Tony and son #1 agreed, but we had nothing else for Christmas dinner.

Goodbye to home-cooked turkey.

And then, there’s my Christmas tree. Trimming it required no help from the boys so it went up and served as my uncomplaining photo model.

Two Christmas traditions now gone with the wind, what was I to do?

While writing a blog on Christmas and reading the Scripture, I came across how man-made traditions can control people. Jesus addressed the issue in Mark 7. The Pharisees and Jews had traditions such as not eating unless they washed their hands a certain way, etc.  

In v. 5, the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

Jesus reminded them of Isaiah’s prophesy on hypocrites—“These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

Where in the Bible, I asked myself, does it require a family photo/letter and roast turkey for Noche Buena? 

Without those, Christmas is still Christmas. In fact, man-made traditions could take time away from focusing on the King of kings.

While celebrating Christmas in December 2016, sans my traditions which kept me in stupor, I was doused in grace, and I quickly came to. 

  

1/01/2017

Welcome 2017


“You crown the year with a bountiful harvest; even the hard pathways overflow with abundance.” Psalm 65:11

Thank You, Lord Jesus, for your grace year after year. Help us to continue focusing on You, no matter what happens in the world, in the year 2017. Amen. 

12/29/2016

Christmas is Christmas


Merry CHRISTmas! 
That’s how I greet kith and kin around December 25—not “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.”

Much as I try analyzing the logic—backward, forward, upward, downward—I can’t see why people should be offended when we greet them thus. Greetings are simply greetings; it’s the way I feel; and I am not imposing my belief on those whom I greet.

We can’t redefine what Christmas is. It is the symbolic date of the birth of the Savior of mankind. This I believe because that’s what I read in Scripture. It was the reason the holiday was created.

People of the world differ in their belief and faith. I respect that. I have no problem whatsoever being greeted with “Happy Hanukkah” or “Eid ul-Adha” or “Pit Senyor” or “Gong Xi Fa Cai” or however other people of various persuasions express their joy.

I reply with a big smile and a sign of peace.

Christ is the reason for the December holidays and season. In whatever language, it’s a merry Christmas for me.   

French: Joyeux Noël
German: Froehliche Weihnachten
Greek: Kala Christouyenna
Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka
Italian: Buon Natale
Spanish: Feliz Navidad

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 (NIV)

Merry CHRISTmas cyber friends!

12/25/2016

For My Sake, He Became Poor


In the years before my dear friend Sonia left for her appointment with Jesus, she’d always have a reminder for me every December. She’d say, “The first Christmas was in a manger, stripped of all the grandeur we put up today.”

“No grandeur in my tree whatsoever!” I’d reply defensively. She knew of my self-imposed tradition of putting up a tree with a different theme every year. “It’s festive because it reflects how I feel about the birth of Jesus.”

“Just make sure your tree—or any décor—captures the true meaning of Christmas,” she said with a smile.

 The true meaning of Christmas. I always chew on Sonia’s statement for a full hour before deciding on my tree’s motif.

Without Sonia, nobody reminds me to keep my tree simple anymore. But her voice rings clear.

This year I trimmed my fifteen year-old faux fir with old lights from the storeroom and wrapped it in blue tulle (less than P100) bought from a surplus shop. I also accented the fir tree with oversized costume shades or sunglasses, also from a discount store.

Why blue, and why shades?

Between writing marathons, I take a break by painting nature scenes. One of the hardest to capture is the blue expanse above what God called the heaven. So while painting, I go outdoors and watch the sky being covered, bared, or curtained by clouds, while wearing my shades to keep my eyes from squinting.

My fir tree is a thanksgiving to God for the sometimes silky, sometimes milky, sometimes layered, sometimes rippled white clouds, which also sometimes come in fierce reds, bold yellows, and foreboding blacks—to give the blue expanse a one-of-a-kind face every minute, day and night.    
 
When Jesus, born poor on that first Christmas, will come again, we will see Him “coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30).

Marveling at the heaven, painting it, and trimming my tree with its color this Christmas, makes me want to shout in gratitude to God who, because He loves me, became Flesh on Christmas Day—and will one day come from the clouds of heaven to take me home.

“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9 (KJV)

(This post was originally written for the OMF Literature website.) 


12/23/2016

Irreplaceable Oski


Tony, my half (delete “better” because it hints at gender inequality), pulled a fast one on me not long ago.  He surprised me with a birthday party. My dearest one never had insane moments except this one time.

Aside from being clueless, I found it odd heading to a hotel ballroom. When the ornate door opened, an amalgam of faces grinned, representing different layers of my textured life: some kin, some church friends, including our Pastor; some in-laws; and some current and past colleagues—and there was Oski.
In a daze, I walked around but was asked to sit down when Oski approached the podium. He was the emcee?!  Oski, emcee extraordinaire and ad industry icon, was always a riot. I had joined throngs of admen who slapped their seatmate’s back and rolled on the floor laughing (ROFL).

B-b-but, this was different.

Our Pastor—he who preached about proper, reverent words—was in the room.  So were my editors, devout Christians all. 

Uh, noooo!

Irrepressible Oski, face stoic, was at his most improper and irreverent best. He barked, roared, and brayed, making mincemeat of the celebrant. The room burst into a din of hoots and ha-ha-has. On another planet, at another time, I’d lap these up, agog over what would come next. 

But that night, in my new hallowed place—an author on grace—my toes went numb from curling. 

Surreptitiously, I glanced at our Pastor’s table. He was slapping his seatmate’s back. I peeked at my publisher’s corner—ROFL all. Everyone, including my 8-year-old grandson, was burbling.

Suddenly, I was zapped to my ex-ad life, where Oski loomed large as esteemed colleague (and loomed larger as forever friend), and my past and present blended in one, made possible by Oski's magic. 

Little did I know it would be the last time I’d watch Oski emcee a gathering—and it was mine. What a blessed  birthday gift it was!

After a fatal stroke last month, he slipped away. But not before a legion of caring friends scampered to gather around him, pray for his healing, then only to say goodbye.   

Ironically, I was in a middle of a party when someone messaged me that he was gone. Amidst the crowd, I sobbed—the only time Oski made me cry.

Cremation and funeral followed a little over 24 hours later.

This one-in-a-trillion friend left me tons of memories—poignant, hilarious, cerebral, bizarre—from every encounter where he hogged conversations with his jokes and Oskisms. My party is just one of them.
  
In one book launching event, he asked, “Gadachong, help me write my first book. I already have a title for it.” 

“What?”

“To all the girls I’ve loved before.”

I grimaced, “How about changing it to ‘To all the people I’ve loved before’—to include me?”

“You are not people,” he deadpanned. “You’re Gadachong,”

Oski, there will never be another you.

"I thank my God every time I remember you." Philippians 1:3 (NLT)


12/22/2016

Second Chances


After I retired from the workplace in 2000, I thought my career had ended. But the Lord gave me a second chance, a second chapter: He made me write books and teach. 

Those were not my plans. But doors opened and I entered them.

Now as a part-time college instructor, I am drawn to second chances.

Last week, on our last day for the term, we had a mock job interview, complete with a resume, cover letter—the works. After the interview, I took time to encourage each student.  

One of them was Jerry (not his real name)—one of the smartest in class. But he was a sluggard: poor attendance with lackluster performance. On occasion, I'd talk to him about trying his best, but nothing happened. This time, I took a different tack; I threatened him.

“Jerry, you are failing. You never gave me any reason to pull you up to pass. You could be excellent if you want to, but yadda, yadda, yadda. Tonight I will review your performance; it may not be a pass.”  

He paled.

That night, Jerry sent me an email: “Good evening, Ms. Chong. I just want to say thank you for being nice as a professor, and for being patient with me. I am sincerely sorry from the bottom of my heart that I have disappointed you. If there is anything I can do to get a PASS, please let me know. Thank you, and merry Christmas!”

Christmas. Our pastor spoke to us about what Christmas is about last Sunday—love. God became Flesh because He loves us.

Love, then, is about giving second chances.

After The Fall in Eden, man deserved to die. But because God loves us, He gave us a second chance.

This Second Chance was born on Christmas day.

With His birth, we are promised forgiveness for our sins if we seek repentance. Yes, God so loves us He doesn’t want anyone to perish. We read in James 4:6 (NKJV), “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'"

I emailed Jerry back. “Thank you so much for your message. Yes, there is something you can do to get a PASS.  Promise me you’ll do better next term—mean it, and do it.  Will you? Merry Christmas.”

He replied in less than a minute, ending every sentence with an exclamation mark.   

“Good evening Ms. Chong! I will take you up on that promise! Thank you so much! I promise to do better! You have my word!”    

I replied, “It's a deal, Jerry.”  

Second chances: starting on a clean slate.

On Christmas, Jesus was born so I may begin on a clean slate. If I confess my sins to Him, and accept Him as my Savior, my past is deleted. And I become a child of God.

What a merry Christmas!


12/18/2016

Arming Kids


This verse makes me shudder:  

“ . . . There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,  treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—” 2 Timothy 3:1-4 (ESV)

We see them happening today—in Aleppo, in the Philippines.   

More than ever, we need to arm our children against these evil forces that have crept in over the years, and now here with ferocity.

This was how I began my talk “Why Devotions for Kids Matter” at CSM’s Teach and Reach Seminar—not to scare my audience of 307 educators and church workers, but to stress how important children’s devotions are.      

I have so far written nine devotionals for children. Based on feedback, these books have helped young readers in their faith walk and value formation. For this, I am deeply grateful.

Unfortunately, if one were to base the reach of these books on sales, they are in the hands of only a few. Whatever reasons there are, I feel that Christian communities are yet to see the urgent need for kids’ devotionals. 

Every single day, kids are exposed to worldwide atrocities through the internet and television—wars, rape, pornography, suicide, man-made and natural disasters, crimes, killings, cursing, lies, violence in all forms, poverty, corruption, the list goes on.

How are we to arm them?

Parents can’t keep yakking their head off. In fact, they are too busy battling traffic to and from work to even have time to yak. Teachers only have so much time to deliver the curriculum. Elected leaders have ceased to be role models. Political correctness and compromise have taken over GMRC (Good Manners and Right Conduct).

Even Christmas—the birth of our Savior—has morphed into so many varying definitions, far removed from the right one.

"I believe that regular devotion (in school, home, or church) is one armor," thus I ended my talk.   
 
By getting kids to sit down for two to three minutes a day, reading and discussing interesting characters and exciting events within the realm of their experience—based on God’s word—and praying with them, they have an ammunition against the onslaught of deceit.

This is my prayer and CSM's, and we hope, the audience's too. We have laid it down at God’s throne of grace.

  

12/14/2016

Timeless


Choosing a theme for a clan reunion that has been annually going strong for the last 72 years can be daunting.  It has to integrate the essence of the gathering, which embraces its history: how it began and the people who started it all.

In our case, it was our grandfather and grandmother (my mom's side) who, in 1945, gathered their nine children and families. It was in that event that the old patriarch and matriarch made a dictum to make this the beginning of a yearly family tradition—even after they're gone.

To make sure the yearly event continues, they bequeathed a piece of farmland for this purpose. The harvest would be used for the expenses.

Over the years, however, due to climate change, the farmland has not been as productive as it was, while the clan has been exponentially growing.

A device was hatched to fund the reunion: "tax" (called pledge) from each member of the clan, based on his age.

This arrangement has made it last this long. But one other problem is unsolvable: Diaspora. Majority of the clan members are now all over the world. A measly 25% or 120 pax attend the reunion regularly.

How relevant, then, is the reunion still to the grind of expensive living and the dispersion of its members?

Despite the snags, the organizers this year (my branch of the family) felt that the depth of filial feelings, happy memories of reunions past, and the grace of family are timeless.

Thus the theme: Timeless.

Timeless, too, is our individual and collective faith in Jesus, the God of our two forbears—they who encouraged their children to worship the same God during and after every reunion.

We are confident that our unchanging God, Who is the same yesterday, today, and
forever—timeless—will see this clan through (whether or not the reunion ends) till He comes again.

(I wish to thank my artist friend, Ggie, for creating the logo design gratis et amore.)


12/10/2016

Dreams (Part 2)


In Bible times, although it was not a common occurrence, God spoke to a few people through dreams.

Some of the best known dreams are Joseph's—reasons why he is known as Joseph the dreamer.  His dreams were about his future role as the second-in-charge to the Egyptian Pharaoh, which changed the lives of the Hebrews. 

Today, many people still place or try to find meaning in their dreams. Some even go as far as seeking dream interpreters; looking up dream dictionaries that offer meanings to symbols/images. And maybe because of coincidences in real life, others think that dreams are a way by which God communicates to them the way He did in ancient times.

But dreams are a natural part of the sleeping state—they are unreal.

In fact, the Bible talks about dreams’ fleeting nature: "A hungry person dreams of eating but wakes up still hungry. A thirsty person dreams of drinking but is still faint from thirst when morning comes. So it will be with your enemies, with those who attack Mount Zion." Isaiah 29:8 (NLT)

If you're one of those (like me) who could remember your dreams vividly, leave them as such—dreams.  They make good conversation pieces, stimuli for creative ideas, reminders of people and events we have long forgotten. They could also be symptoms of some psychological disorder.

God communicates with us today through the Bible and makes us feel His presence in our prayers, quiet times, and through the grace we enjoy every day.

Think not of dreams, but of  ". . . whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8 (NLT)

12/06/2016

Dreams (Part 1)


I am a dreamer.

No longer in my waking hours, but in my catnaps, siestas, and sleep. Each time I nod off (even for just a few seconds), I dream.

These dreams are totally disjointed, incoherent, timeless and aimless. But they are always in spectacular colors.

I meet people I have not seen in years and we converse as though we see each other every day. Then the scene changes to another room, or another field, with different people each time, often under bizarre circumstances. Even my relationships with these characters are switched and sometimes illogical.

On some nights, Tony is my younger brother or grandfather or boss; our home, either a palace, a haunted house, or a shack.

Sometimes, I am suddenly awakened by Tony because he says I am either mumbling or screaming. “Nightmare,” he calls them.

“Dreams,” I insist.

In those cavalcade of images, people, and events, I experience stories that don’t make sense, but some ideas make it to the real stories that I write.

Countless poems have been written about dreams. And every single one is the writer’s truth.
Sigmund Freud’s controversial theories about the meaning of dreams in 1900 have not led to solid, objective data. In short, they are all unproven.

With today’s brain imaging in sleep labs, dreaming is being probed more deeply. Although scientists have discovered that dreaming occurs in REM sleep, they disagree on what happens during that state.

Some say the emotional part of the brain is activated and the executive part, deactivated.

Some believe that it is a complex interplay between emotional and cognitive information—dreams serve to help our brains process emotional memories and integrate them into our long-term memories. And because “traumatic events are associated with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, they can cause nightmares.”

Whatever.

The debate and studies continue. But as I do when I can’t explain a complex phenomenon, I reduce it to one word: grace.

Everything that happens inside my brain (awake or asleep) and in my heart (awake or asleep) come from a deep resource of my being that has been “fearfully and wonderfully made.”  (Psalm 139:14)

12/02/2016

Why Devotions for Kids Matter



 
Need I say more? These kids are miners. Page after page, they pan for grace.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words that I give you today. Repeat them to your children.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)

11/28/2016

Are You Writing Your Next Book?


This question has a two-step answer.

1) Yes. I am always writing.

2) Whether it will be a book is another matter. Only publishers can decide whether to turn manuscripts into books—unless authors self-publish.

The first statement is the only answer reading kids need to know. They should be spared from the complexity of roadblocks authors meet.

I was asked that same question again at a book signing/speaking engagement last week. It was followed up with, “What is it about?”

When an author is blessed with tons of reading kids gathered under a covered court, she gets those questions—pushing her to write some more and do nothing else.

These kids at the Laguna BelAir Science School (LBASS) are encouraged to read. And during the school’s 20th anniversary celebration (Emerald Visions 20/20), they had a book fair.

Because their teachers have been using my books as teaching materials, I was invited to interact with the children by their librarian, “to have a meaningful and personal connection with you . . . you will serve as their role model in critical thinking and effective communication.”

At the school gate, a streamer greeted me. So did the guard.
From there, everything was effusive warmth, beginning with the principal, the vice principal, the teachers, and staff.

“A meaningful and personal connection” was grace I’d never have thought possible. As I walked into the covered court, the kids waved, jumped up and down, roared with “hellos” and other greetings with big smiles.

Before posing for the photo ops, they rewarded me with short zippy conversations and unabashed hugs—a court-ful of attention. “I feel like a rock star,” I teased Chino of OMFLit (my publisher).

During my talk, I knew it was impossible to have everyone’s young ears, but their incisive questions afterwards proved they listened well.

“Are you writing your next book?” “What’s it about?” Questions from the LBASS thinking, insatiable readers.

I wish I could tell them about those still unpublished stories. But the book they will eventually read may be totally different.

So between then and my next book, I pray that the children learn and live by the values woven into the stories already in their hands.


11/24/2016

Ten


Ten is the first number that has two digits.

Ten is the first number in grammar rules that is written as a numeral and not spelled out.

Ten refers to a perfect score of 10.00 for a single routine in artistic gymnastics.

Ten is an adjective for a lady who is so attractive she personifies perfection.

Ten is used to describe something that couldn't get any better. 

Ten is the number of years I have been blogging. And I intend to make it better.         

Hah! And some of my friends said blogging is ningas kugon (a Filipino phrase or idiom meaning “flaming cogon grass” or figuratively, quickly going up in flames). It’s attributed to the Filipino cultural trait of eagerly starting something, but then quickly losing steam soon after.

What’s behind my sticky tenacity? Grace.

There is always something about His grace to write about. And there is always grace to stoke the writing fire and keep it burning.    

In ten years, I have uploaded 1,044 posts. My numbers include readers/guests from 193 countries in the world, 44 change of headers, and an all-time-page-views history of over 395,000. My 10th year's page hits came up to a high 103,000, which totally surprised me.

I have maintained the layout/look I created on day one (a lesson I brought home from advertising: brand essence), and I will continue blogging till my fingers stiffen from arthritis or my eyes blur from too much reading.

I will celebrate! Sing with me?

I will celebrate
Sing unto the Lord
I will sing to Him a new song
I will celebrate
Sing unto the Lord
I will sing to Him a new song

(Don Moen)

11/20/2016

Dear Imee

(An open letter to Imee Marcos) 

Please do not trivialize the anti-Marcos-burial protesters by calling us "yellowish."

During Martial Law, my personal friends were jailed, tortured, raped, maimed, and murdered; we lost our jobs because your father shut down media; we lost our legal rights because he suspended the writ of habeas corpus; plus many more atrocity.

Would you call those “yellowish?”

You let your father’s body fester, displaying to the world his replica, for 27 years so that you could, on November 18, 2016, 12 noon, brandish his power over Filipinos once again by burying him at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Shrine).

You opened up our old wounds; you forced us to relive those dark, dark years in our country's history.   

Forgive? Yes, every Christian must. But reward? Reward the perpetrator of beastly crimes with a hero’s burial? Marcos is not a hero.

So please do not gag us nor kill our spirit, like your father did, by branding us “yellowish.” Call us by our real names:

Martial Law Victims.

We.are.not.yellowish.

We are black. Black with and in pain. 
May the grace of humility find you, Imee. When it does, I pray that you receive it.

11/18/2016

How Bitter is Bitter?


A constant source of joy in walking at dawn is meeting fellow walkers and hearing your own voice and theirs chirping, “Good morning!”

There aren’t too many of them—rising before the sun is up is, after all, an ambitious endeavor, especially for people held captive by electronic gadgets through the night.

One of my meet-and-greet friends is a middle-aged man who walks with his dog. Let’s call him Masiong—he with a baritone voice that shoo away the last remnants of sleep, "Good morning!"

For years, that was my ritual with him and the few others whose voices signal roosters to crow and households to stir.  

Then one fortuitous day, Tony (my husband), an officer of our neighborhood organization, had a meeting with 11 others. They had to decide whether to approve or disapprove the application for a carwash shop along our road. All except one voted "nay."

I was unaware that the applicant was Masiong.

The next time I met him on the road, he made a U-turn. "Lovely day!" I called out. He quickened his pace.    

"Guess what," Tony said later that week, "our neighbor Masiong just gave me a severe sneer. I wonder if he knows that I wasn't alone in denying his application for a carwash shop. It was almost a unanimous decision." 

"Come again?” 

Tony explained, and I agreed, that a carwash shop in our quiet neighborhood would create traffic; invite noise, strangers and maybe crimes; deplete our water supply, etc.”

Masiong was naturally disappointed. 

Fast forward to five years later.

At dawn, on the days that I walk, Masiong with his dog either makes a U-turn or cranks his head away from me. He also does the same with Ate Vi, our long-time househelp, who is another early riser.  

Bitter, he was. Bitter, he is. And bitter, will he always be?       

Who can hold a grudge that long and still survive? How can anyone withhold the grace of forgiveness that was freely given on the cross to even the most evil of men?

Dozens of verses in the Bible call us to steer clear of bitterness. One of them is, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Ephesians 4:31 (ESV)

Tomorrow, like I always do, I will chirp, “Lovely day!”

Who knows? I just might hear Masiong’s baritone voice again.  


11/14/2016

From Grief to Hope


Shortly after uploading my post on deep grief, this message by one of my FB friends catches my eye, “We are a people of hope. We must not give in to despair."  

I scroll down and another post talks to me, "Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” Augustine

Further down, "Hope is being able to see the light despite all the darkness." Desmond Tutu

Just below it, "We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope." Martin Luther King, Jr.

What else would make me single out these posts but grace? They leap out of the page to make me reflect on why I have been grieving the way I do. And now, as I am plucked out of the black hole, I begin to see light. 

I grab my Bible and turn to the verse I often heard from the children with whom I have had the privilege of conversing at Compassion Philippines. It’s a verse I have highlighted many times over: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Indeed, tomorrow is promising. The Lord may even surprise us with His second coming. But between now and then, hope should "spring eternal." 

We leave our deep grief at His feet and from the black hole, the seed of hope takes root and sprouts. 

11/10/2016

In Deep Grief


"Black hole: a place in space where gravity pulls so hard that even light cannot get out."

 I feel like I am in it.

The news on Nov. 8 that nine Supreme Court Justices voted to allow ex-president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery), with only five anti-votes, knocked me out.

It was a tragic, sad, bleak day. And the darkness remains.

My growing family and I slogged through and lived in fear during the difficult Martial law years, the darkest part of our history I would not wish upon my worst enemy. I agree with these dissenting opinions :   

"Marcos is not a hero or 'an exemplary public officer' because of the human rights atrocities committed under his regime." Justice Marvic Leonen

"Even if Marcos was a medal of valor awardee, he 'ceased to qualify' for interment at the heroes' shrine because he was ousted through the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution." Senior Justice Antonio Carpio

"The argument that the late president's burial does not make him a hero 'disregards the status of Libingan as a national shrine, the public policy in treating national shrines . . .'” Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa

"President Rodrigo Duterte acted with grave abuse of discretion by allowing the burial because it violates domestic and international law ‘to do justice for human rights victims’ – both monetarily and non-monetarily.  Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno

And from the office of the Vice President:

"We strongly oppose the decision to bury former President Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB).

"How can we allow a hero's burial for a man who has plundered our country and was responsible for the death and disappearance of many Filipnos? Those who have gravely committed crimes and moral turpitude to the Filipino people cannot be buried at the LNMB . . .

"It is our responsibility to teach our children the heroism and sacrifice of our forefathers. And Mr. Marcos is no hero." Leni Robredo

At a time of deep grief, only grace can pluck us out of a black hole and let our light shine through again.

“For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.” Psalm 22:28 (ESV)



11/06/2016

Family Matters


This dates me, but the first thing that comes to mind when I hear “Family Matters” is the American TV sitcom in the late 80’s that ended before the new millennium began. It was about a well-knit, big family in the city where I turned the corner from a clingy, self-indulgent kid to a braver, bolder adult: Chicago. 

Eons later, back to home country, here I am talking about “Family Matters” again—but no longer about the sitcom, but about a magazine and a radio program. They have the same name (which proves that matters about family truly matter), but are totally separate entities.

“Family Matters,” the magazine, is where my friend Ruth writes feature stories. She messaged me one day asking if I could talk about being a lola in its special grandparents’ issue.

“But I only have one grandson. And he is abroad, coming to visit only once a year!” I hedged.

“One is enough,” resolute Ruth replied, asking questions on values in rearing children—and grandchildren.

Ruth’s article raised my happiness ratio to maximum level.   

I immediately sent it to my grandson, Adrian (aged 9), who said, “Wow, I am featured in a magazine!”

Someday, when he’s older and re-reads what his Amah (Chinese honorific for grandma) said about having him, I pray he learns from it.

“Family Matters,” the radio show (DZAS), is where my friend Marie and Haydee regularly broadcast nuggets of wisdom on daily living. Through CSM (book publisher), they invited me to a chat about my book, Twin Blessings. 

 It is a one-and- a-half-hour program that combines praise to our Savior, laughter on air, book talks, relationships with listeners, and odes to family. We randomly discussed why, when, where, how I write, what I write about. 

Unlike long ago and far away when I also dabbled in radio hosting, radio stations today is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities that immediately show audience response—giving the hosts real-time feel of how the show is going.

Both “Family Matters,” (the magazine and the radio show) were pathways for me to talk about the only thing that drives me as a lola, wife, mother, teacher, writer, etc. while my life clock continues to tick closer to my appointment with my Maker: His grace. 

And I have my dearest friends in media to thank for these opportunities.


11/02/2016

Send the Light


“Send the light, the blessed gospel light,” wistfully sang Pastor Popoy, our church's young missionary, in his soulful voice during our worship service. 

Knowing the hymn by heart, I silently sang along with him. It’s been two weeks since that Sunday and I am still humming it—definitely an LSS (last song syndrome) or more importantly, a prayer. 

It’s a plea to our Master, Who rules our universe, for His light to please shine upon us.  

Many have been feeling like we’re living in the Dark Ages. With all these modern gadgets that bring us news all over our country, almost from island to island, I know how our light as a people has grown dimmer and dimmer over the past months.

We have new leaders in government, hugely popular, that have been ramrodding their way to challenge existing laws and policies in the guise of change for the “good of the Filipino people.”  It’s an open season for killing, diplomatic turnabout, cursing, flip-flopping—confusing many but empowering more toward impunity.

Never has the Christian community been so divided right down the middle.

“If the Bible says it’s wrong, it’s wrong,” says one side.

“The Bible tells us to respect authority,” says the other side.

“Respect and condoning what is wrong are two different things,” the argument continues.  

“Opposing the leadership, in whatever form, undermines unity,” the retort comes fast.

And so the debate (peppered with bitterness, anger, malice, and self-righteousness) rages on and on, magnified on social media.

Where do we stand?

I, for one, feel as though I am teetering in the dark, badly needing light, God’s light, to shine upon what’s right so I may see where we are going and what to do before we reach either doom or glory.

One thing is sure, every Christian I know is praying. But, again, many prayers (at least those I read on social media) are either “for” or “against” pronouncements and actions of the new dispensation. 

My own are the lyrics of this old hymn by Charles H. Gabriel (1888):

“Let us pray that grace may everywhere abound,
Send the light! Send the light!
And a Christ-like spirit everywhere be found,
Send the light! Send the light!”

Amen.



10/29/2016

Good Is Not Good Enough


In grade school, good earns us stars.

In high school, good lands us  in the honor roll.

In college, good bestows us with Latin honors: summa, magna, cum.

In the workplace, good gets us a promotion, a raise, and perks.

In the community, good earns us popularity and esteem.

In our spiritual life, good welcomes us to heaven—that perfect place where no tears, aches, nor sins take place. 

That last statement, for evangelical Christians, is a fallacy and a heresy. 

Even if I gave half of my earnings to the poor, fed all the hungry in my neighborhood, housed all orphans, built a hospital wing for indigents, or went to church every day, I will not get to heaven.

Nothing that I will ever do or can do—no matter how good—will buy me heaven.

What, then, is good enough to be good enough for one to be saved from sins and get a pass to heaven?

None. Zero. Nil. Nada. Zilch.

Salvation is a gift; it’s a grace from the Lord.

Ephesians  2:8 (NLT)  “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Highlighting mine)

“When you believed . . .”

When I think of this verse, I am reminded of John Newton's Amazing Grace, a hymn written in 1779:  

“'twas Grace that taught,
my heart to fear.
And grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear,
the hour I first believed.”


Good works or deeds, no matter how many or how much in our lifetime, do not reward us heaven.

Only God’s grace does.


10/25/2016

What if?


Among the brainstorming techniques available to us, this two-word question, "What if?" seemed to work best for me and my teams when I was in the workplace.

The volume of answers cascaded like Niagara Falls. With raging, deafening noise, the ideas converged, crested, and plummeted into a river of possibilities that would never have come about without "What if?"

This question gives us the freedom to think beyond borders and to resist the usual. In my business communications classes and the seminars I facilitate, this question is always a part of the workshops—because it works.

But outside of those activities, I shun asking the question. For thousands of reasons: 

When my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I asked myself, "What if?" I got nothing but horrifying scenarios. 

While on board a plane, we felt it shake and nosedive in the middle of Pacific Ocean. "What if?"painted for me vivid visions of endings, all of them tragic.

Deep into writing a story, I focused on Mary, particularly in Luke 1:31 (NLT) when an angel of God announced, "You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus."

I asked myself, "What if she said no?" Panicking, I ran to our pastor. 

He admonished me, "Nobody, not Mary, not Judas, not Moses nor anyone, could thwart God's plan. His Book is unlike novels with alternative endings. The Bible is the beginning, middle and ending of everything and everyone. Period." 

That shushed me up good, never asking "What if?" again while reading the Scripture.

By faith, one just has to take it all in—simply because it is the truth.

By grace, one will understand how every piece of what seems to be a puzzle comes together into one perfect whole.

10/21/2016

Real Fast, Real time


If you upload a photo of your lunch to social media now, someone abroad will click on “like” or react with a “wow” before you could take your first bite. The time difference between here and there, or anywhere, has disappeared.

With technology, everything is real fast at real time. 

Bombings, wars, earthquakes, tornados or any news from any place on earth is known by all the peoples of the world on TV, digital phones, or the Net at the same time they are happening. 

A friend of mine, X, in the US wanted to surprise her husband with the adobo dish her family’s restaurant in the Philippines is famous for (the secret recipe is carefully guarded).

While cooking, however, X totally forgot the combining ratio of the vinegar, patis (fish sauce), and soy sauce, “which made the difference between our family adobo and the adobo of the rest of the country.”  

She called her mom on her mobile phone and instantly got the answer she needed. 

Real fast, real time.

That isn’t the case with prayers though. God, who is all-powerful, and who created the universe and everything in it in six days, often makes us wait for His answers to our prayers.

So we turn into a Habakuk and mouth his complaint, “How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (Chapter 1:2)

We want to believe that a loving God wants to do everything for us. Yet, Christians also know that there are prayers He won't answer at all. And if we don’t take the hint, we could wait forever.

The blessing is, along the way grace makes us grateful for that withheld the answer. We realize, just as James did in 4:3, “And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.”

God is not on a real fast, real time mode. Waiting on the Lord, therefore, has become more difficult today when speed drives the world. 

But we can look at the waiting as a season for stretching and growing our faith. 


10/17/2016

For Wives Only


In my last post, I left out many unnamed women in the Bible that impacted our Bible heroes’ lives. My self-imposed word count of 400 can be constricting.  

Let’s zoom in on three more—this time, wives.

First, Mrs. Pilate. She appears in a single verse, Matthew 29:19 (NLT). As Pontius Pilate is about to proclaim Jesus guilty, she says, "Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night."

An enlightened wife gives her husband advice or another point-of-view to help open his mind. One of our roles in this complex merger called marriage is acting as our husband's conscience, especially in crucial times.

Sadly, our husband’s decisions are beyond our control.

Second, Mrs. Potiphar (Genesis 39:6-20). A woman of leisure—rich, bored, spoiled, probably donned in fabulous clothes—she has an army of servants at her bidding. What the lady wants, she gets.

She turns her lust on her husband’s appointed head of household: Joseph. Young, handsome, well-built, like today’s heartthrobs, and yes, a mere hired hand. She seduces him, shamelessly luring him to go to bed with her day in and day out.      

Joseph says, “No.” “No.” “No.” He runs. She gets even. She cries, "Rape!" And Joseph lands in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

There are similar stories today. But as women after God's own heart, we are grateful that those stories are not ours.

Third, Mr. Noah. Although mentioned five times in the Bible, she has no name nor description. But imagine . . . a woman living with a hard-working husband who let her in on God’s order to build an ark, because God would destroy sinful Earth with water.

Not a whimper from her. Not even when, years later, she, her family, and every pair of the world’s animals stepped into the ark, where they were marooned for about a year (Genesis 6:18; 7:7, 13; 8:16, 18).

In there, she must have fostered a close family life as they moved away from everything they had; as she prepared for a time when the earth would have no one but them.  

How many Mrs. Noah are there today?

Let’s leaf through the Bible to meet more unnamed wives—our how-to or how-not-to manuals. Consider, too, the nameless wife of Job, of Isaiah, of Ezekiel, of Lot, of Naaman, of Gilead, of Cain, etc.

In their stories, grace lies in wait for us to discover.    


10/13/2016

What Kind of a Woman Are You?


In our study of women in the Bible, we usually focus on those whose names have gained prominence because of their important roles. To name a few: Mary, the mother of Jesus; Ruth, the loyal daughter-in-law; Esther, the beauty queen who saved the Jewish people; and Eve, the first wife and mother.

Among them, within the chapters where their stories are told, we find many other women who have no names. What roles do they play? Why weren’t they given names? Why are they even in the Bible?

I believe that these nameless females are important because they serve as mirrors for us to see the kind of women we are. They reflect a part of us that we gloss over or don’t recognize.
That was precisely the title of my talk one weekend among the women of our church:  “What kind of a woman are you?” It drew uneasy laughter from the audience.

In 1 Kings 3:16-28, we meet two unnamed women, both prostitutes and pregnant, who lived together. Three days after one gave birth, the other gave birth as well.

One of the babies died and each claimed that the baby who lived was hers. They went to King Solomon to settle the issue. 

Wise as he was, Solomon asked for a sword and offered to divide the baby between them.

"Don't!" One mother cried out to spare the baby’s life and was willing to give the boy to the other mother. But Solomon awarded the living child to her instead and said to all, “She’s the baby’s mother.”

Why? She was unselfish and sacrificial, giving up her child so he might live. Are we that kind of a mother?   

Or, is our mind so warped that, like the other mother, we think nothing of a baby being killed just to prove we’re right?

“What kind of a woman are you?” I asked. It was likewise a question for myself, for anyone living by grace—and trying, all her life, to be a woman after God’s own heart.


10/09/2016

Back to Regular Programming


September is gone.

It carted along with it the activities (usually spread over a few months) crammed in thirty days. Somehow, all the events that needed my presence was bundled in one big bale.

First, the school term ended, and I was saddled with final papers and grades. Simultaneously, I had to attend the Palanca Awards Night, not because I was one of the judges, but because I like attending it.

Before I could catch my breath, I facilitated a daylong writing workshop for youth advocates of PCMN against sexual abuse among children.

And because the Manila International Book Fair happened that same week, I shuttled back and forth to the venue for two launches and book signing activities. These—while I celebrated with my spiritual family the 41st anniversary of our home church with a series of programs.

I squeezed in additional back-to-back activities—another writing workshop for university professors and an awarding ceremony for the same group, where I shared my author story. Both were through the invitation of a long-time friend I could not refuse.

Was I panting yet?

Yes. Not from exhaustion, but from excitement. In my "retired" mode, these are the things that keep the adrenaline pumping. All of them just happened to take place in the same month in one fell swoop.

In the second half of September, I had to attend the women’s group fellowship of several churches (one of which is ours) because I had said “yes” months ago to deliver the day’s talk.

Meanwhile, the second school term began and you know what that entails—new slides, review of syllabus, etc.   

Then last but not least, I attended the launching of ANI 39, a book/anthology of literary works (by 91 Filipino writers in this issue) where one my stories has been featured. In the program, I was privileged to read an excerpt from that story.

It’s October and it's back to regular programming. I am now trotting at my regular leisurely pace again, like basking under the shy sun on a calm beach, and writing my next book while reflecting on everything that happened.

What was September 2016 like? A tsunami!  

But instead of giant waves from under the sea, giant grace from above engulfed me. How’d have I gone through all those with pep and verve on my own?

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13 NIV)



10/05/2016

A Night of Harvest


Ani is the Filipino word for harvest. 

It’s a most fitting title for the literary journal that the Cultural Center of Philippines (CCP) publishes every year. An anthology of literary works by Filipino writers in various genres and dialects, Ani's 39th issue was  launched in September this year.  
    
The literary works of 91 writers (names on back cover above) are in this 2016 issue with the theme “Kahayupan/The Animal Kingdom.” Ani 39 was produced by the CCP’s Intertextual Division as part of the celebration of CCP’s 47th anniversary.

Now here’s why this issue is particularly special for me:

One of my stories, “The Dump Truck in My Heart,” is part of the children’s literature section.

Let me quote the CCP website, “Dr. Luis P. Gatmaitan, guest section editor of Ani 39, was able to gather works by the best writers for children.”

That made my heart leap to Mars and back.

Then I got a call from CCP, “We'd like you to read an excerpt of your work at the formal launching of Ani 39.”

My heart leaped even higher; this time to Pluto and back.

Third son might have taken pity on his mom, he escorted her to the event. “Nice,” was his effusive compliment after I performed in the program.  


(Top right: the original painting on the book cover by Neil Doloricon) 
That night, I felt as though the country's literati—the same crowd one sees in the Carlos Palanca Awards—was in full attendance.

(The authors whose works are featured in Ani 39)
As I was star gazing, someone nudged me, “Till next year’s issue.”

Can writing life get any better? On that one starry night, I harvested grace.