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.


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.


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. 


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.    


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.


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)


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.  


A Day with Professors

Like the title of my newest book, Twin Blessings, I felt doubly blessed at a university where I was invited to perform two roles: one, facilitator in a writing workshop in the morning; and two, speaker in an awarding ceremony in the afternoon.

“Your audience would be professors,” Cynthia, the lady who invited me, said.

The university is huge, with about 700 in the teaching staff, but 70 are into academic writing and would want to dip a finger into creative writing.

Used to handling a maximum of 20 people in a workshop, I dreaded the number 70. It was far too big to manage.

But to my shock and surprise, the session proved more fluid than I imagined—with everyone participating. There was not enough time for me to comment on every single work, but hey, these are professors, they could do that adeptly on their own, based on the principles discussed with them.   

Earlier, when I stepped into the HR portals, with the Head and her staff welcoming me so warmly, I knew I'd have a day like no other. Ergo, I did not have fun; I had a ball! And, I hope, so did they. 
For the above, I was rewarded with a huge bouquet of fresh flowers, a plaque of appreciation, new friends, and tons of photos documenting the event. 

The afternoon was more formal, but no less vibrant than the morning. Twenty-five professors were feted for having had a trade or textbook published in the past year.  My talk was on writing (what else?), particularly about my author story. 

In her remarks, the University VP for Academics emphasized the need for professors to leave a legacy through and hone their craft in writing.

Since everyone in the audience is a writer, I felt at home speaking to kindred spirits, who share my passion for the printed word.

For this, I was rewarded one more time with a huge bouquet of fresh flowers, another plaque, more new friends, and more photos.

The first photo below sums up the twin volumes of grace they heaped on my lap, and which I will treasure for life.  The rest of the photos, which will be kept for posterity, show only a hint of what went on through my nonpareil day with professors-turned-friends.       


Caring for Children

To my shame and embarrassment, I was clueless about this advocacy.

I didn't realize that that there are almost 200 youth advocates for children under the aegis of Youth for Safety (Y4S), one of the major programs of Philippine Children’s Ministries Network (PCMN), also a registered NGO.

Y4S has the vision to free Filipino children from sexual abuse and exploitation through youth advocates.

Impossible dream? 

No. These Y4S youth advocates are being equipped by PCMN to be effective in various areas through training—writing is one of the skills they need "to be able to lead, advocate and communicate." 

Ensconced in a safe and peaceful world of writing, I had some kind of blinders for raw and edgy programs.

But one day, after uploading to FB my photos in a recent creative writing workshop, I received a cryptic message from someone I had not met. Fe, national director of PCMN, wrote, “I wish you could conduct your creative writing workshop for PCMN youth.”

I got curious and later found out that the PCMN youth (Y4S), volunteers from various evangelical churches, are trained peer mentors and advocates against child sexual abuse.

This cut right through my middle. My impression of millennials made a u-turn. A “no” was not an option.

The workshop was then scheduled by Garicel, Y4S’s program coordinator. Simultaneously, I informed Hiyas, my publisher of children's books, and they sent over copies of different titles to be given away to each of the attendees.

On D-day, I was blessed to have worked with 20 young men and women—ages 16 to 24—from various parts of the country, in one room, for one whole day.        

It was a spirited session, from opening to closing. As I watched the youth passionately write and share their magnum opus, I prayed that more millennials be stirred to care for disadvantaged children in whatever manner or form.  

The day was long, but so was the fun. The immense joy hauled in by grace bunked in my heart long after the day was over.


Bully versus Bully

As scheduled, this 3rd book in the Happy Home series was launched at the Manila International Book Fair on September 16, a Friday.

However, the school that was to attend the launching cancelled. Due to the recent spate of killings brought about by the drug war waged by our newly elected president, the school authorities felt unsafe bringing a horde of small schoolchildren to a crowded place.

But as they say in showbiz, “The show must go on.” Trouper that they were, the four people who staged a radio rendition of the story performed as though they had a full-house sports arena for an audience.

I had visions of a very quiet launching with just me and Leo Kempis Ang, the illustrator of the series, chatting the one and a half hours away.  

Undaunted and untiring, OMF Lit’s staff got busy inviting people through the microphone and by holding up copies of the book like playing cards in all the busy aisles. 

And without warning, grace swooped in.

Adults—some with their kids—dropped by, bought copies of the book, and had them singed by Leo and me. The stream of people who came kept us wonderfully busy all morning!

The photos below tell only half the story of the happy launching of Hiyas' Bully versus Bully.      
We raise our hands up to praise the Lord.


Twin Blessings

Back story: The title of my latest book (a children’s devotional-cum-novelette) was chosen from about 20 others. The original title was Double Delight, but my editor said it sounded like an ice-cream flavor. So I sent her a few more alternatives, and voila, Twin Blessings!

Many of the stories were rewritten while my husband and I were in the US for a vacation. There I had been able to watch and interact closely with my grandson, Adrian, from whom I borrowed many of Dom’s (the twin sister who grew up in the US) traits and antics. It is a blessing that Adrian is the same age as the twins, so the writing seemed easier and infinitely more delightful.

The gist of the story had been frozen in my hard drive for years. But it thawed last year when it suddenly popped out of my head while chatting with the Editorial Manager of Church Strengthening Ministry (CSM) at the 40th Manila International Book Fair (MIBF). 

Her name, Joy, was what I felt when she said . . . ooops, sorry, I could only recall how I felt, not the words of Joy, but it was a green light or a need for another devotional.

That led to CSM's approval of the story (treated like a devoseries).

But as I always do before finalizing a story for kids—to make sure the intent is clear—I conducted a Focus Group Discussion among advocates for children. From them I got new insights and questions I could never have asked myself. That showed my way to writing, and finally to the book’s launching at the CSM’s Grand Unveiling of Resources at the 41st MIBF last week.
This was followed two days later by an on-site launch at the CSM booths with a children’s party that included a puppet show, face painting, games, and giving away of loot bags to the children who joined the fun.
All told, the title Twin Blessings makes me feel as though grace surged like a flash flood twice.

First, at the Book Fair last year when the story had a chance to be defrosted, which then made me write, write, write (an activity I love best, bar none).

Second, at the Book Fair again one year later, when—now a book—Twin Blessings landed in  readers' hands. 

May every kid (or adult) who reads every devotion in Twin Blessings be doubly blessed by the richness of the Lord’s Word, packaged in slices of life, sewn together into one story that celebrates God-given relationships.


Happy Hour for Happy Home

Since the year 2000, when my first book (The Boy Who Had Five Lolas) was published, about this time of the year I hold my breath waiting for the Happy Hour. In marketing, this is the limited period of time when bars or other social venues offer drinks at a discount with free hors d'oeuvres. It turns into a night of revelry. 

My own Happy Hour—and I mean happy, minus the drinks and hors d'oeuvres —is when a new book is launched, usually during the Manila International Book Fair held every September. 

The publisher usually offers my just-born baby at a discount and gives freebies such as a bookmark or a notebook. And there’s a revelry of joy and excitement that mounts to its highest peak in my heart.

Tomorrow, one more Happy Hour is coming up! It will be held at the Book Fair. This time it’s for the 3rd book in the Happy Home series: Bully versus Bully. I hope the kids for whom it was written will emulate and take to heart the values in it.

Please come and join me as I celebrate the grace that inundates every book launching, indeed a happy hour. 


A Celebrity in the Clan

There aren't too many celebrities in this world. That's why we lionize them. They are a select breed of people who have done something extraordinary that merits applause and fame.

We have a celebrity in the clan!

There, I was waiting to say that at the proper time and proper place. What better time and place than my blogsite, where I fear no censure. In short, I can brag to my heart's content.

The current Christine in Broadway's Phantom of the Opera is Ali Ewoldt, a niece. She's the daughter of a first cousin and therefore a close blood relative.
So what?

Phantom of the Opera is the longest-running Broadway musical and many actresses have been cast in that role over the years.

Oh, but Ali is different. In those 25 years that the show has been running, Ali is the first woman of color chosen for the lead role!

Ali, therefore, has broken barriers, paving the way for women of all colors and backgrounds to be given the opportunity on The Great White Way.

Because of this historic feat in a groundbreaking role, Ali has been written about by many writers all over the US and the Philippines. I consider it grace to be able to write about her, too.  

She comes from a family blessed with an ear for music. Allow me now to namedrop. Her grandma (my aunt) loved to sing and used to perform with her sisters (one of them was my mom) on stage. Her eldest aunt (my BFF) had a voice that won in all the singing contests in our youth; she is a Broadway habituĂ© and used to take then little Ali to watch musicals. I believe she was Ali’s harshest critic, too.

I don’t know much about her dad’s side of the family since Ali was born and grew up in the US, but I am sure she has their genes as well.

Although she has a Psychology degree from Yale, cum laude, Ali chose the volatile path to the stage—from audition to audition—where she is always cast in plum roles. There she shines, like the neon lights on her billboards, and shines even more brightly in Phantom of the Opera.

Can an aunt be prouder?   

Photo credit: Matthew Murphy   


Lovers of Literature

In one big room (usually the ballroom of Manila Peninsula Hotel), every first week of September, lovers of literature get together for the Palanca Awards Night. I am privileged to be among them again this year—as one of the 57 judges. 

This is the night when excellence is celebrated.

The winners are identified and feted, with their loved ones and judges in all categories, plus special guests—famed literary enthusiasts and published authors—in the audience to applaud them and take their photos to record the moment. 

Now on its 66th year, the Palanca Awards is the longest running literary contest organized by the Carlos Palanca Foundation Inc. This year, there were 986 entries in 20 categories—among which were 51 winners, 24 of whom were first-time awardees.

A friend of mine who never misses a Palanca Night calls it a family reunion. In a way it is. It brings together people who belong to different demographics, but with common psychographics (meaning: same mindset), a term we invented in advertising, and in whose veins flows the same passion for the printed word.

Although it is a family reunion, I don’t know many of them personally (especially the famous ones)—neither do they know me—but I have read their books, and therefore, they are kindred spirits.

In this age of selfie, I still haven’t learned to take one, so I pass up opportunities to have photos with those whom I admire like F. Sionil Jose, Krip Yuson, Butch Dalisay, Tony Mabesa, National Artist Virgilio Almario, etc. Philippine literature wouldn’t be without them. 

My photos are limited (taken by third son JR, who had to be cajoled to take them), but they represent the grace that permeated the soft air.      

I take the chance to talk to the winner in the category which I judged with two others. He is a high school teacher and this is the first time he joined the Palanca.

“Beginner’s luck,” he grins.

Literature has nothing to do with luck, I want to reply, it is a gift from the Master writer Himself, but his wife wants a quick selfie and so the conversation turns to smiles and endless “Congratulations!”

Ah, literature!   


No Hiding Place

With practically everyone in the world wired to technology, there is no information, name, person, book, idea, disease, item, foreign word, slang—you name it—that you can’t google anymore. Everything is out there somewhere. And someone, somehow, can find it.

If you have ever written a comment or posted your photo on the Net, at any point in the future, they can be traced to you.

Is there a place to hide?

The word “incognito” is in danger of becoming extinct. 

I know of many friends who have lost track of each other many years ago, but through the Net, have found each other again.

Try googling your name . . .

Scary, isn’t it?

Before the digital revolution, only God knew where to find us.  

In the Bible, we are introduced to the first hiding in the first book. Immediately after eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hid from God. But with the Lord, there is no hiding place.

“Can anyone hide from me in a secret place? Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?" says the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:24 NLT)

"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable." (Hebrews 4:13) 

Indeed, He sees everything, including what’s in the secret place of our heart. 

And yet, in this troubled world, when there is no safe place to hide, the God from whom we can’t hide, is the same God who can hide us from assaults, sieges, and such.

“For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock.” Psalm 27:5

There is a hiding place. It is ensconced in grace.


Low Blow

Boxing/wrestling aficionados or not, we all know what low blow means. It is an illegal strike below the opponent’s waist—unsportsmanlike and unfair.            
The phrase has since entered our lingo as being cruel and callous. It cuts like a knife; it hurts.

That’s what we witness during political campaigns, and what we are witnessing—long after the elections are over—from our highest official of the land. And media blows it up, making it the banner headline, relegating bigger issues in the background.

Low blows are on TV for us to watch, and in newspapers and the Internet for us to read. 

In his war against drugs (for which he gave himself a six-month deadline), our president takes to the podium and strikes a low blow against those suspected of the crime and those who oppose his tactics—including the international community.

His shame-and-name strategy to wipe out drugs has cut like a well-honed knife among people in practically all branches of government.

I am not one to judge the wisdom or style of our newly elected president. Those who adore and voted for him say he is right and this is all part of his brilliant strategy. “Change has come.” 

Along the way, however, without solid proof or due process, reputations are damaged, hearts are broken, lives are snuffed out, and I don’t know what harm or good this is doing to our children (the little ones for whom I write about grace, for whom I carefully choose my words).  

One friend, a die-hard apologist for the president snapped at me, “Oh, come on. If children have been raised well by their parents, these kids shouldn’t be affected by cursing and low blows. Besides, those offenders have been warned, so they deserve it!”

I wept. That, too, was a low blow.


Everything Okay?

Tattoos go back thousands of years.

Humans have marked their bodies since ancient times. Tattoos then served many purposes: amulets, status symbols, signs of love and beliefs, adornments and punishment.

In the Philippines, as I remember, only hoodlums and criminals had tattoos, graphic signs of “bad.” People would speak in whispered derision or fear when they saw people (mostly men) with tattoos.

This photo from a newspaper reminded me of those days—convicts in a jail were stripped bare for illegal-drugs inspection. This is not a photo of “then.” This is a photo of “now.”

Tattoo is more in now than ever before. In fact, it is now a part of life.

In addition to convicts and would-be convicts, all strata of society are enamored with tattoos—from high-schoolers, to millennials, to celebrities. The designs may be different (finer, more colorful and artistic today) but they are called the same name: tattoo.          

Aside from tattoos, I can cite a myriad of things that were once not-okay but have become okay.

In fashion, one couldn’t wear pearls or lace with jeans. Neither could one wear dresses without hose or a slip. Just look around any day, everything is okay—short hemline, uneven hemline, or sheer hemline matched with denims, slippers, or rubber shoes.  

In parenting, a child couldn’t talk back to his parents. Today, children are encouraged to speak their minds and they feel entitled to equal respect.  Laws are such that capital punishment is now illegal.

What were once wrong are now "right." Lying, name-calling, cursing, accusing, ranting, shaming, and killing are a daily fare on the Internet, especially social media. I can’t name all that has become a norm—from what used to be wrong—due to my self-imposed blog word count.  

But I am afraid, deathly afraid, that soon, we may no longer see the difference between what’s wrong and what’s right. The yardstick for what’s okay has radically changed.

Isaiah 5:20 (ESV) warns and reminds me and anyone who shares my faith: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

The grace to see the difference is what we seek, because not everything is okay.


Lola Dusing

Have you met a nonagenarian?

I haven’t. The octogenarians I knew went to glory before they could reach the awesome age of 90.

But one day, Ching (a faith sister) introduced me to her grandmother, Lola Dusing, all of 95—not in a face-to-face meeting, but through my books.

Ching said the old lady, a faithful woman of God, loves to read and she especially enjoyed my “Flying on Broken Wings.”

“She still reads at 95?!” I was surprised.

“Without reading glasses,” Ching laughed. She was going to visit Lola Dusing in Mindanao and wanted to bring her one of my books.


After reviewing my titles, Ching decided on “Circle of Compassion.” 

A few days later, I received messages from Ching, “Lola Dusing loves the book!” “She likes your writing style.” “She has a special present for you."

Can words be more energizing? I have been spoiled receiving messages and gifts from kids over the years, but from a 95-year-old?!

Her gift was something I never expected to receive:   

It’s entirely hand-sewn, every piece of cloth (in various shapes and sizes) carefully stitched together—certainly a labor of love. It's the most valuable table cloth I could ever own!

God sometimes gives some people many, many years in which to feel His presence and enjoy His blessings—Lola Dusing is one of them. And I am now privileged to count her as one of my readers and gifts of grace.  

Lola Dusing with two more of her grandchildren 


Divine Detour

Hurrying to one book-signing event, I bumped into an old friend, Conrad. He was on a short break from a writing workshop.

"I want to be an author like you," he said. "Let me be a copycat," he joked.

"Go for it!" I encouraged him. Conrad and I were both creative writers in competing ad agencies years ago. Friendly competitors we called ourselves outside of our individual offices.   

"You look happy," he said as we hugged.

"Very!" I told him. "There's nothing I'd rather do!" 

"You should have left advertising sooner then," he replied.

"Yeah, I should have," I replied. "But, then . . . there would not have been enough insight or issues to write about."

"Right," he agreed. "No wounds, cuts, or bruises." 

We laughed, having both known the incessant trauma inflicted upon admen by deadly deadlines, unrealistic expectations of clients, fierce competitors, and the punishing pressure to keep coming up with something fresh.   

That thought of pursuing writing sooner stayed with me.

I seriously took up creative writing very late in life—in fact, it came at the end of a career and motherhood that drained me of energy and chutzpah. My career had reached a plateau and motherhood had become irrelevant because my children had grown up.  

It was like making a detour to the main road, where I am today.      
I took that long, sometimes-bumpy-often-shaky, inconvenient way around that drove me off the short path. But the thing about a detour is, you see new vistas you never saw before, sceneries totally different from those on the highway.

After that short chat with Conrad, I realized that my detour prepared me for this writing ministry, where I am able to see grace more clearly than I ever did.

Was the delay, then, a divine detour?

I believe it was. Because now I have finally reached the place where I want to be for as long as I am allowed to travel on mother Earth.

You may have made detours, too, because new roads were being built or old ones were being fixed. And if you have, you know that detours can be long or longer, with vistas that are either ghastly or lovely. 

But always, a divine detour leads us to eternal gratitude for and perpetual appreciation of the main road.


Playing Hide-and-Seek with Patience

Patience: a word derived from the Latin verb patior that means, to suffer. Ergo, patience is the inner strength to bear what gets our goat with composure, instead of anger.

More than any other virtue, patience is what I’ve tackled most in my writings. It’s because it comes and goes with me—like playing hide and seek. In one of my books I wrote, “I was born with a wart: impatience.”

When things do not come up to my standards or sense of urgency, I suffer inside—okay, seethe. In recent days on TV and the newspapers, we’ve witnessed how impatience can translate to road rage and kill!

What I have learned over the years (through the process of aging) is to mask it. But masking and exterminating are two different things.

Patience, for a Christian, is supposed to be rooted in faith in our savior, Jesus. In His life, He demonstrated patience for us. He went through humiliation, betrayal, suffering, and finally death on the cross—without anger, not a tinge, to seek vengeance.

As I reflect on my illusive patience for the millionth time, I seek to have a glimpse of the deeper meaning of every day circumstances—that things are not always what they seem, or how I want them to happen.

I now ponder this verse for the nth time, too, personally highlighting patience, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, PATIENCE, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control . . .” Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

This fruit is what every Christian covets.  

The first cyber poster below talked to me, so I borrowed it and added my own second poster. Both are for my benefit.  
Am I succeeding? With dollops of daily grace, I am—most of the time now. That is far better than none-of-the-time, which took the lion's share of my persona in years past. 

It’s probably why the Lord continues to allow me to closely interact with millennials—in both my writing and teaching—for 16 years now. Nobody can try your patience more than they can! 

In response, their emoji would be this:


Movie Review: Pamilya Ordinaryo

The dirt, grime, and filth are so real you can feel them on your skin and in your soul.

On the other side of the world that we, the educated/working class, don’t see or close our eyes to, live two people so steeped in reality they have no space in their lives for the abstract—such as opinions or dreams.

They only struggle to survive, day after day, receiving or deflecting whatever comes. They are deprived of morals and vocabulary, the subtle nuances of language and emotions. So they curse when they’re angry, sad, or frustrated—about the only feelings they are familiar with. And because joy simply trickles in, they have no words to express it.  

Pamilya Ordinaryo robbed me of sleep the night after watching it at the Cinemalaya (Philippine Independent Film Festival) 12, especially because the director and writer, Eduardo Roy, Jr., chose teenage parents (ages 16 and 17), still children in my circle, to show us life at its rawest.   

Rugby-sniffing Ariel (Ronwaldo Martin) and Jane (Hasmine Killip) live on a scungy sidewalk with discarded cardboard for bed and stolen discards for furnishings. Where they poo or pee is not shown, but the answers are lodged in our mind.   

They have a less-than-a month-old baby, Arjan (a coined name after theirs), who gets stolen by a gay man, one of those alley prowlers who prey on the weak and the poor.

The rest of the well-crafted movie follows Ariel and Jane in their difficult quest to recover the only thing they ever owned. They are thrown into mainstream society, but are never welcomed. Here, where they don’t belong, they are soiled further. Apathy, scam, rape—adeptly portrayed sans melodrama—drive the hopelessness into the pits.     

I had hoped for redemptive grace in the end, a short sigh of relief, but that hope was dashed when the scene shows Ariel and Jane escaping from captors in a moving bus—probably headed to nowhere, the place that awaits them—among passengers as stoic as they are, lost in their own thoughts.

In that ultimate scene, you sort of wait for what would happen next. But it ends, depicting what has become of humanity.  

It is one of the more powerful indie films I have had the chance to watch this year. Not only because of the authenticity of the scenes, dialogues, silences (through the CCTV device), and actors, but because it is too intrusive to ignore.

Kudos to the other members of the cast for their noteworthy performances: Maria Isabel Lopez, Sue Prado, Ruby Ruiz, Moira Lang, Karl Medina, Erlinda Villalobos, Domingo Cobarrubias, Paolo Rodriguez, John Bon Andrew Lentejas, John Vincent Servilla, Rian Magtaan, Myla Monido, Alora Sasam, and Ruth Alferez.


Kids' Choice Awards

Before sending any children’s book manuscript to my publisher for finalization, I usually request four to five kids to read and critique it.  Their comments I seriously listen to—and work those elements into the story.

I believe that because they are my readers, they are my primary concern.

That’s why when I was told that one of my books, Coming Home, was one of nine finalists chosen by a group of kid judges (ages 8-13) at the National Children’s Book Awards (NCBA), I could not contain my joy.

Among all the awards my books have received over the years, this recent citation stands above the rest—a special grace. It reads: 

“Coming Home was chosen as a book in the Top 9 because of its touching story about an orphan boy coming to terms with living with his new family. The story is seen from the younger children's perspective and it definitely shows just how lucky millions of kids are. The moral and the plot come together in a way that is both educational and lovable.” 

The National Book Development Board (NBDB) and the Philippine Board of Books for the Young (PBBY) started awarding the NCBA during the celebration of National Children’s Book Day (NCBD) in 2010 “to honor significant children's books, created through the perfect marriage of text and illustrations.”

Launched after Coming Home, the second book in the Happy Home series—That First Sunday—was likewise featured at the Book Fair, which was part of the celebration of NCBD in July every year.
 The excitement that always comes with speaking about books before an audience, plus meeting new and old friends there, have been recorded in the photos below:   



Uncle Bob

Uncle Bob passed on as he moved in life—quickly.   

After a massive heart attack, he was cremated and buried before the beginning of what Chinese culture calls the Ghost Month, the 7th lunar month of the year, or August 3-31 in 2016.

He was gone too fast, way too fast; we regret not having had the chance to say goodbye or see him one last time. But that is not to say we can’t grieve his passing, because we do.

Two to three times a year, Uncle Bob would break bread with Tony and me. Those events were usually celebratory and therefore over authentic Chinese lauriat—Lunar New Year, Mooncake Festival, and someone’s birthday/anniversary on Tony’s side of the family.

One could tell when Uncle Bob had arrived. He would briskly come and greet us, with anecdotes to narrate. Around a table of usually quiet diners, his voice would prevail. But that is not the only thing that made Uncle Bob a bigger-than-life character for me.

He was a—let me invent a word that is not in the dictionary—carer.  He selflessly cared so much for others he would serve them in big-little ways. He would immediately stand up from where he sat to assist an elderly cousin all the way to the bathroom (as often as necessary), or pile dishes he thought were good on someone’s plate, or patiently guide and see to his wife’s needs who has recently been showing signs of dementia, plus many more acts of caring.  

Conversations about health had him saying, “My medical exams are always perfect, and I eat anything.” This octogenarian was on no maintenance pills and had zero problem with his weight. He was lean, almost scrawny, and lithe.

There is no telling, however, how long or short our life on earth is or will be. Uncle Bob was feasting with us, with gusto, flitting back and forth between buffet dishes at the Shangri-la Hotel just two months ago.

To uncle Bob’s wife, children and grandchildren, let me just say, I am grateful beyond words for the privilege—through Tony—of knowing a quick-witted, fast-acting carer, and of being a part of his circle.


Advocating Short Paragraphs

“I advocate short paragraphs,” I told my class in Business English, after reviewing their term papers.

My obvious rationale: 

Paragraphing helps readers to process ideas into meaningful chunks of thought—where one point ends and where another begins.

In sum, a paragraph is a section in a piece of writing that begins on a new line and can be as short as one sentence and as long as 10 sentences. No more than that.

"What?!" one student, who turned in a three-page paper with a single paragraph, almost lunged at me.

"ONE sentence?! A sentence couldn't possibly be a paragraph?!"

"Why not?" I tried nonchalance, while groping for some grace of patience.

"All my life I've been taught that a paragraph is a collection of sentences, not ONE sentence!" His mouth was agape—as though he just heard an earth-shaking news.

I flashed on screen a page from the book they were assigned to read. On it was this one-sentence paragraph:

"It is such a secret place, the land of tears."

His head danced the hula. Undeniably, he didn't read the book.

And that's the crux of my problem with millennials today. In writing assignments, many turn in papers with paragraphs as long as the River Nile, and run-on sentences that are not far behind.

"Give your readers a break," I pleaded. "Give them time to digest one thought before you introduce a new one. Long paragraphs give readers too much information to manage all at once. Readers need planned pauses, especially when reading complex papers/articles/stories. Hit the enter button!"
"So how long should an ideal paragraph be?" he pushed.

"As long or as short as you want it—to meet your objective. It can unfold for one page or consist of one word, or even one letter."

"ONE letter?!" This time he stood up, like spoiling for a fight.

I wrote on the white board:

I . . .

“This one-letter paragraph in a story is said by a character who was interrupted by something or someone. The next words are in another line below it," I explained, my patience now in place.

He sat down, wordless.

"The rule of thumb," I stressed, “is that each paragraph should focus on only one idea or concept or emotion. When you shift to a new idea, shift to a new paragraph. Make the enter button your friend!”

Everyone in the classroom nodded, except the petulant one. Question marks crowded his confused demeanor. His mouth moved but I heard nothing, not a peep.

"Our reference book," I grinned at nobody in particular, "answers all questions about paragraphs. Try reading it.”
For this advocacy (or argument victory), let me change my header.



The Bright Side

Day and night. Light and darkness. There are two sides to everything.

But the dark side seems to be winning out lately. If you read the newspapers here and abroad, many of the articles are about the spilling of blood.

In the Philippines, after the election of a new president, who has waged an all-out war against drugs and who seems to have endorsed the killing of addicts and pushers, the statistics of drug-related deaths have gone up to 11 a day.

Social media is even worse. Through words and memes, people assassinate each other. On my news feed, the exchanges of brickbats outnumber the exchanges of birthday greetings. Anger and malice are tearing people apart. 

These are enough to make one’s day pitch black.

Thankfully, there are optimists around us—people who see grace clearly and therefore always look at the bright side. One of them is this website (link). It features photos that not only lift the spirit but give hope, warming the heart. I find this specially poignant:      

When we ache, we badly seek comfort. This little toddler, young as she is, shows us how to give it. A simple gesture of wiping tears away is like being ensconced in the palm of a loving God, the Source of all comforts. 

I wish we adults had her mindset—comfort-giving, instead of killing each other with words, images, bombs, and guns.


Should I Be Alarmed?

Has the world of children turned dark while I was sleeping?

I recently conducted another Creative Writing Workshop for kids ages 8-12. This batch had an additional hour in which to draft the stories they’ve been itching to write.

As gifted children go, they were intense, serious, and driven as they let their creative juices flow on paper.

The harvest was as I expected—imaginative and fresh.   

What made my jaw drop was the content in general: most of them were dark—some gruesome, some violent, some tragic—sans the happily-ever-after ending. 

One had one whole village wiped out.

Another had the hero stabbed to death by a monster-alien. 

And yet another had the scene in a filthy, leaky prison.

One more described two old people salivating, about to fulfill their lifelong dream to travel to a country. But the only craft that could bring them there acted up, then conked out—for good. 

Most of their characters have low-self-esteem and are in abusive relationships. They lose their battles; they are killed.

All these despite my rah-rah for them to offer hope and joy to their readers.

Since these kids are all voracious readers, I ask: What are they reading? What are their influencers? Why do they see the world differently from the way I see it? 

Only three out of 17 kids had me smiling at the end of their stories: good triumphed over evil; redemption. The kind of stories I write for them.

Am I living in the dark ages? 

Ooops, even their dark and my dark have different meanings. 

As a children’s book author, what to do? Should I be alarmed?

While chewing on possible answers to these questions, I hum this song of grace: 

There's a friend for all the children
to guide us every day,
whose care is always faithful
and never fades away;
there's no-one else so loyal
his friendship stays the same;
he knows us and he loves us,
and Jesus is his name.


Going Paperless

“We are going paperless this term,” announced our department Chair during our faculty meeting.

I broke out in cold sweat and hives. I also started biting my nails, a habit I kicked way back in grade school.

For non-techies, who confuse logging out with logging in, especially in new sites or apps, this could be a punishment worse than hanging.

You’re kidding, of course, I replied silently.

“I am not kidding,” he said, when he saw my face and of those who belong to my generation.

The next hour was a seminar/workshop on how to do it, using a proprietary app/tool—the one which will be used by both teacher and students. 

“Now create your own site, with your own design for your class,” the IT said, “by simply doing this.” His cursor on the big screen darted from side to side.

I got lost before I could begin. Would it be better to quit now than to subject myself to humiliation and, uh, disgrace?  

This called to mind Hamlet’s famous soliloquy: “. . . Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and, by opposing, end them?”

The workshop was torture, so I am trying to self-study at home or wherever I could get hold of a computer. Meanwhile, my other non-computer jobs have to be abandoned in favor of going paperless.

It has been three weeks, and the learning curve is no less steep. I have already uploaded several files to my cyber class, but my students couldn’t find them. Where could they be?

Yet, as I often challenge my classes, “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.”

Now deep in prayers for terabytes of grace from above, I am trying—frenziedly trying—to do it right.

To be continued. 


Take Two:

Creative Writing Workshop for Kids

I thought the first workshop was going to be a one-off event.

But to accommodate friends’ requests for a creative writing workshop for their kids in our neighborhood, my first son organized a second one. He dubbed it: Creative Writing Workshop for Kids in Las Pinas. 

Instead of just 15 expected attendees, we had 17!

How cool is that?

So, did we have fun? More than fun, grace was overwhelming. As a children’s book author, I have a lot to learn from and about kids today.

They. Are. Different. They already entertain issues that I thought were adults’ alone. Their ideas are out of the kiddie world’s firmament (this calls for another blog post). 

Also, I have always thought that kids have a short attention span. Not these 17 talented children. They were all ears and took in all the tasks with nary a complaint. Then I remembered that this was their thing. 

All of them are fast and furious readers. They are all potential authors, too. In fact, many of them have already written stories on their own. With just a dash of seasoning, they could give some adults stiff competition.  

They took to writing like birds to flying. Some of them even drew their ideas. And my fear that four straight hours for children ages eight to 12 (in fact, one was a six-year-old dynamo who seemed like she was six years older) would be too long was unfounded. I felt like they could work for another four.

And so, take two. On to the next batch of readers and writers.

This early, I am bracing up for a deluge of creativity that would keep me on my toes as I  continue to write for them.