Friday, August 26, 2016

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.


Monday, August 22, 2016

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.

Wow.

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 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

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.



Sunday, August 14, 2016

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:


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

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.


Sunday, August 7, 2016

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:   

 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

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.


Monday, August 1, 2016

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.

Before
After
 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

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.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

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.



Wednesday, July 20, 2016

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. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

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.      

Before
During
After

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Double Delight: Year Six


This is my sixth and last blog post on our delightful twins, Maika and Nikka. They have graduated from grade school!

I intended to write and upload this last April, when they marched to receive their diplomas, but various things got in the way.

To backtrack a bit, my husband took on the education of then seven-year-old twins, who were out of school because of poverty. We enrolled them in a private Christian school (our church’s) and every year thereafter. In the beginning, because they were behind in knowledge and exposure, Tony tutored them privately.

It was uphill from there. They adapted quickly and soon, they were at par with their classmates in everything, including confidence.

During year four, tuition fees and other consumer prices increased, so we (now in our prime years, both retired) decided to move them to a public school the next year. But a benefactor (our second son) wouldn’t hear of it. He and his wife took on the twins from there.

And today, Maika and Nikka are six years wiser, bigger, older (soon to be teenagers)—and better!
We don’t see them on weekdays anymore, but on Sundays, through a window of the youth Sunday School room in our church's premises, they smile and wave, while off we go to the adult section. 

Last we heard, they are enrolled in a public high school. With their solid academic foundation, steeped in the Lord's Word and grace, we pray that they will be good role models there.

God, in His infinite love, will continue to see them through. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Fall


Escalators are pretty safe for adults; they are slow moving and have hand rails. How could anyone possibly meet an accident there?

Well, Tony did. He took a nasty spill backwards, and I, two steps ahead, came tumbling down too as I tried to help him.

Before that happened, I was whistling a happy tune when I heard a heavy THUD-THUD and the rustling noises of packages up in the air behind me. My husband was struggling to sit up and four mall guards came to the rescue. I screamed so loud my voice might have reached our relatives in China. One of those who helped had the presence of mind to put a bag of ice on his bleeding head.

Attempt to stop the escalator failed. So we all reached the highest rung onto safety on all fours, with our things scattered all over.

Curious onlookers crowded around as the guards tried to hold Tony up. His bad knee prevented him from keeping a dignified front. Poise all gone, I continued to crawl— picking up my coins, pens, and all other items in my purse and our purchases.   

Soon there was wheelchair and we all rushed to the mall clinic, where I shuddered at the grotesque, gaping Adidas wounds on his head (inset). 

Three stripes, red and drippy. After some first-aid from the two nurses, we decided to rush him to the emergency room of a nearby hospital because his head stripes oozed non-stop.

To rule out brain hemorrhage (he’s on blood thinners due to a recent stroke) and broken bones, his doctor ordered CT-Scan, x-ray, and other medical thingamajigs.

Normal all, whew!

But his three gashes needed sutures and we were advised to be confined for further observation.

How could any adult meet an accident in an innocent escalator? Wise people say accidents can happen anywhere when you talk n’ text. You guessed right—that caused the fall. Grrr.

Things could have spiraled down, but friends in faith rallied around through prayers.

From the clinic, to the emergency room, to the private hospital room till check-out time 30 hours later, grace embraced us. Except for the Adidas stripes, body aches, and ink blots (hematomas) all over, my talk n' text husband will be good as new. Indeed, great is God’s faithfulness.

After the discounts, senior privileges, and government insurance policies . . . our hospital bill? ZERO.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Of Ears and Emails


On the first day of my English for Business class, I assigned my students to research on writing business emails. “Apply what you have learned by writing me an email, evaluating how our class went,” I said.

“After receiving my reply," I added, "print the email thread for discussion and grading the next time we meet." 

Every email raved over the first day of class, except one. It had something important to say: 

Dear Ms. Chong,

I enjoyed our first session in your class and I would want you to hear my evaluation of it. The class was smooth, well-paced, and fun. However, sometimes a student calls out to you and you do not answer him, including me. I hope you will be more inclined to answer your students when called out to in the future.

Thank you for your patience and consideration.

Sincerely ,
KJ


* * *

Dear KJ,

Thank you for your message. I am glad you had fun on our first day of class.

As for replying to students, may I request that you make your voice louder next time. If I wasn’t able to give you attention, please be assured it was not intentional. I have difficulty hearing when too many sounds are going on at the same time. I hope you can be a little more patient regarding this matter.

Please print this email thread and bring the hard copy to class for discussion and correction next session.

Blessings,
Ms. Chong
 

* * *

Hi, KJ!

I thought of a more practical idea—raise your hand when you want to say something. My eyes are better than my ears at the moment. That way, you can be acknowledged immediately. 


Ms. Chong


* * *

Hello, Ms. Chong,


That’s actually a good idea. I will be doing that. By the way, should I be adding this part of the conversation as well in the printed paper?

Thank you for your suggestion and see you next session. 

Sincerely,
KJ 


* * *

Dear KJ,

It’s your call.

You may print all—just for laughs and for my teaching moment. Or you may not, because you will be self-checking more emails than your classmates. This exercise comprises: guided self-marking, 50%, and marking by the tutor, me, 50%.  Added up, this will be your final grade for this assignment.

Ms. Chong 


* * *

Dear Ms. Chong,

I see.  Then I will be disregarding most of the messages.

Thank you very much for your advice.

Sincrely,
KJ 


* * *

I did not disregard any of the messages. I screen-grabbed them all and made them a part of my slide  presentation the next session.  Just as I thought, the class had a good laugh, learned  how email exchanges should go—and I had my own grace moment. 

Finding teaching moments like this is like finding a treasure in a trash heap.


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Take What You Need


Patience was what I tried to summon for two weeks, but miserably failed. Within those dates, I had alternately cajoled, instructed, and warned one of my students to submit his paper because his grade had to be finalized (I am a stickler for deadlines).

It would have been so easy to write “Fail,” but our department head for Student Relations begged me, “Patience.”

Unfortunately, patience and other virtues are hard to come by.

This thought amused me when Tony and I were in the US for a short vacation. Our daughter in-law G and our grandson Adrian took us to a make-your-own-pizza place for lunch. While munching on the luscious our-own-concoction, Adrian pulled me to a nook at the restaurant to show me this:

“What do you need, Amah [grandma]?” he asked.

In a breath, I said, “Patience.”

He picked a small piece of paper from a canister marked “Patience” and in seconds, I got what I needed.

“I think Angkong [grandpa] needs strength,” Adrian added—Tony had a bad right knee—picking a small piece of paper from the canister marked “Strength” and gave it to Tony. 

If only life were as simple. You need something right here, right now? Then pick from a canister and you’re good to go!

That restaurant nook reminded me of a small box called “Biblicard” that someone gave me years ago. I looked for it as soon as we got back home to the Philippines. Each card has a bible verse preceded with, “If you need . . .” I had forgotten about it, so finding it seemed like serendipity.
Let me highlight the verses on patience.   

Why, it is as easy as picking from a canister! With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, one can take from a verse the perfect grace she needs for the hour.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Gathering of Women


My mother was an active member of the women’s group in our church. I grew up often seeing her excitedly packing her bag for conferences here and there, and coming home a day or two later, overflowing with happy narratives of new knowledge and experiences. 

It was no surprise then that she was elected an officer of the national women's organization ad perpetuum.  If they had a prize for perfect attendance, she’d have won it hands down, too. 

I am less of a social being; unlike her, I am no conference goer. From my recollection, I had attended one or two sporadically, but only for half a day.

It was therefore a novel adventure for me when I was prevailed upon by nine other women in our church to attend one recently—all of three days in Bacolod City, an hour flight away.  

I had never seen so many women in my life, packed in one ballroom—1750 plus!  

    
We were seated so close to each other you could hear someone sigh, burp, or clear her throat. The better to feel the shared excitement of worshiping together while listening to inspired speakers! These women came from all parts of the Philippines, speaking different dialects—but one in faith. 

Being with them, praising the same God and uplifting one another, made the whole conference wonderfully undefinable, but can be concretely summarized as: grace of encouragement.  

An added bonus was a chance to meet some of my book readers at the OMF Lit book table.

After the conference, as I bonded with my church mates (more like faith sisters and bosom buddies) in visiting tourist spots and eating local food, I remembered my mom. No wonder she attended all the gathering of church women in her time!

“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11


Friday, June 24, 2016

Exceptional Kids


Teachers today mourn the fact that students do not read anymore. These digital netizens simply skim over internet soundbites, FB messages, watch vlogs, MTVs, and videos of their choice.  Therefore, they struggle writing a decent sentence with a coherent idea.

Well, yes, but there are exceptions to that observation. And those exceptions are exceptional!

I had 19 of them in one room one day this month—children aged 8 to 12, who voraciously read and love to write. They were gathered by HIYAS, OMF Literature’s imprint for children’s books, for a creative writing workshop, which I was privileged to facilitate.

From 9 AM to 12 noon, they were attentive and enthusiastic, doing all the exercises with gusto. They were quick thinkers, too, writing ideas within the short minutes given them. Asked to each read a storybook, they tackled the pages immediately.

You can easily tell a reader from a non-reader. Upon seeing a book, the reader’s eyes twinkle before he  grabs and reads the first page—not stopping till he gets to the back cover, lapping up even the blurb. In contrast, the non-reader's eyes meander; he sets the book aside and manages to do everything but read it.

(I took my grandson, Adrian, to a book store when he was here for vacation. He ran past the toys and went straight to the book section. After about half an hour scanning through many books, he started to cajole me into buying him one. He didn't have to utter one word, I bought him two.)

At the OMF Lit creative writing workshop, I was reminded of Adrian 19 times. Here were children who behaved for three straight hours, pausing only to eat a sandwich and drink some juice. But even while having snacks, they were either reading the books strewn on the table or writing.

One day, some of these reading children will be authors. Those who will choose other careers will remain readers.

For a teacher, meeting exceptional kids is exceptional grace.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Listen with Your Heart


Five years ago, I blogged about the 24/7 noise inside my ears—tinnitus—a symptom that my hearing was slowly going.  

The noise is still there. Whether it has worsened or I have grown used to it, I do not know. What I do know is that, sometimes, when I answer someone's question, he/she does two acts in succession: laugh, then shout.

Neither act is very encouraging. You have to be prepared to welcome both with a smile or a shrug.  

Hearing loss, people call it. 

"Faulty word recognition," was what the audiologist in the US, called it. I could hear the sound but couldn't figure out the word.

"Repeat after me," she said. "Gratitude." 

Moi: "Very rude."

Audiologist: "Extender." 

Moi: "Stand there."

Audiologist: “Shameful.”

Moi: "Stay cool." 

Etc.

People who are hearing impaired are missing out on the words of the world. There is no cure for this degenerative malady.

But there is help—from a pair of hearing aids. Among those that I tried on in the US and here, the best ones reduced the tinnitus and environment sounds, and made me recognize spoken words. They ushered me into a whole new world!

Trouble is, these digital gizmos cost the moon and stars.

I was quoted an outrageously indecent amount for one pair that would still need change of batteries every week and regular maintenance such as electronic adjustments, forever and ever.

If anyone had that amount, I thought, she could enroll ten needy children in school for one year. A poor family of five could live on it for two years.

These thoughts brought me back to what my best cousin wrote in the comment box of my blog five years ago, “It is amazing how, even with that tini-tinni 24/7 annoyance, you have managed to listen with your heart, cuz. Always.”

My resolve therefore: Since this condition is non-life-threatening, I can live with this noise. And pretty soon, with our Father's generous grace, I can shrug off people laughing and shouting, too.

I will continue listening with my heart. 


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Nameless Friends


A recent trip to Singapore with my husband earned us countless but nameless friends.

As Tony and I leisurely roamed the streets, visited interesting spots, and dined in restaurants of the world’s only island-city state, he with his cane and I with my scarf, we idly talked about what we didn’t see the last time we were there.

That’s when it happened. 

Filipinos within hearing distance (shoppers, idlers, waiters, salespeople) smiled, came closer, and like old friends, engaged us in conversations about their family and why they came to Singapore. They asked which part of the Philippines we are from and for how long was our visit there.  

What they didn’t ask were our names, neither did we ask theirs—perhaps mutually thinking our paths would never cross again. 

The Filipino diaspora, which has transported our countrymen to probably all parts of the world, cannot—and will not—sublimate one’s longing for home. Talking to someone who speaks the same language in a foreign land somehow makes home a little closer.

I liken these shop talks with these strangers-turned-friends to grace thrown in, like a spice in a brew that perks up what would have been a flat and bland face-off between two people who have had these same-old, same-old exchanges for over four decades. 

There are approximately 200,000 Filipinos working and residing in Singapore today. What a blessing for Tony and me to have befriended a fraction of them!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

My 1000th Blog Post


What’s so historically significant about the number 1000? None.

What I readily think of, however, when I hear the number 1000 is found 1 Peter 3:8 (NLT): ". . . a day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day."

In my simplistic logic, this is why it often takes a mighty long time for God to answer my prayers. I only have a lifetime of, should He allow it, 80+ years, while God has eternity.

But I digress.

I feel I need to celebrate my 1000th post as I upload it now, because I never thought I'd reach this number. When I started blogging on 24 November 2016, I vowed to have a rhythm of one entry every four days—till my mind could no longer manage to string words in coherent sentences or my hands could no longer type those thoughts on my keyboard, whichever comes first. 

My vow remains steadfast and so do my mind, hands, and even eyesight. I can't say the same for my hearing, but then again, I digress.

The fact is, this is my 1000th blog post, and I am celebrating!


Aside from changing my header, I am singing a song of thanksgiving to God for this glorious grace—He has brought me this far despite my myopic and okay, pessimistic, view of my earthly faculties and mortality. 

I think I just might sneak toward the fridge and gobble up that chocolate bar waiting with a thought balloon, "Eat Me!" Or I could call my amigas and treat each of them to a cup of chamomile tea.

“The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” Psalm 28:7 (NLT)


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Creative Writing Workshop for Kids


For some years now, I have been conducting creative writing workshops initiated by organizations here and abroad, and just recently, by my publisher.  In those workshops (mostly for children), many budding writers have been discovered and a number of their stories have been published.

It is always a thrill—and a refreshing time of grace—to work with children who brim with enthusiasm and, unlike adults, write without fear. Not only are they bold, they are also extremely imaginative.

My friends with children who voraciously read and are raring to write (some even keep journals) have been urging me to conduct one in this area. They want their kids to be encouraged and inspired in a class with fellow budding writers. 

Okay, why not? The time has come.  

Let’s see . . . parents who are interested in enrolling their kids in this Creative Writing Workshop on July 2, 1 to 5 PM, please call: 836-0313 and ask for Leone or JC for reservation. You may also text 0916-26400-22 (Globe); 0928-7173167 (Smart).   

We can, however, accommodate only 15 (ages 8 to 12).  So it has to be on a first-come-first-served basis.
 

Monday, June 6, 2016

ASEAN Grand Prize (Part 2)


Two hours before the awarding ceremony dubbed “Celebrating Our Stars,” I was all dolled up, enduring the punishing pinch of my girdle and hose.

“Why the rush?” Tony asked. Well, he knew better than to stall. Not even wild horses could stop me then. 

At the venue, we caught the proverbial worm. The organizers were still arranging the chairs and installing the sound system. 

The program was simple, almost austere—and finished in no time. When I was called on stage, I must have sprinted, so fast that Tony, with his aching right knee, had not been able to take a decent picture of me receiving my precious award. The photos in this post are the best he could manage. 

My next act was to claim my prize money at a designated table. I was given an envelope with my name on it. I hurriedly put it in my purse, signed a receipt, then off I went to the buffet table.

After dinner, I looked in my purse for . . . “OMG!” I cried, breaking out in cold sweat. “My envelope is gone!”

Tony rummaged through my very small purse, but there was nothing there except my lipstick.

“Ask for help from the person-in-charge,” my cool-headed photographer suggested.

I did, but not before I had asked for grace in a most ardent and urgent prayer.

“Stay there,” the organizer told me.

After about five minutes, which seemed like eternity, he came back with an envelope. It had my name on it!

“You must have dropped it,” he said. “Someone had picked it up and gave it to one of my staff.”

I gave him a grateful and relieved hug.

In other places in the world, I thought, this envelope could have been lost. But this was Singapore and my cash prize was intact to the last dollar. 

I was taught an old lesson at that moment. It’s a lesson I keep re-learning: mind your every action, just as you mind your every word.

As an author, I painstakingly mind every written word, but with every unwritten action . . .  

“Why the rush?”

Why indeed.

Friday, June 3, 2016

ASEAN Grand Prize (Part 1)


“YOU JUST WON A GRAND PRIZE . . .”

Thus screamed, in all caps, the subject-line of one of my unread email messages. 

I receive emails of this nature often and they are, you guessed it, all scams.

It took two days before I opened the email. I intended to cursory read the content before dumping it. But to my complete surprise, it was real!

Indeed, Beth (the illustrator of all 15 books of the Oh, Mateo! series) and I won a grand prize for this No. 6 book, “Look for the Star,” published by OMF Lit under its Children's book imprint, Hiyas, and we were being invited to go to Singapore to receive the award.
My jaw dropped and stayed there for what seemed like hours. I visited the website of the organizer and yes, it is a legitimate award, a prestigious one, which sifts through  published children’s storybooks in all of Asia and declares the winners.

I bowed my head to thank the Lord for this fortuitous good news.

“Look for the Star” is a story of a wayward, stowaway boy, led back home by a larger-than-life star handmade by his parents, who never gave up on him through the years.

It was inspired by the unconditional love that God shines upon anyone who acknowledges and believes in Him. It shines even brighter when, taking the metaphor further, the road is pitch dark and we don’t know which way to go. 

For this unexpected grace, however, I (unfortunately, Beth couldn't make it) knew exactly which way to go, “Singapore, here I come!”

“. . . ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12 (ESV)
  

Monday, May 30, 2016

A Single Yellow Rose


Being a principal sponsor or witness (ninang) in a wedding is, for me, a big responsibility.

I take it seriously especially because the pastor usually asks during the ceremony, “Will you promise to counsel, guide, pray for, and act as second parents to the couple?”

Due to life’s roadblocks, I have not been totally faithful in carrying out this responsibility.  But in some areas, or when there are red flags, I try.

There was that one couple who held modest jobs and lived modest lives, but with plans to include all the frills that shape modern weddings today: fresh flowers, well-known caterer, pre-during-after videos, fancy invitation, new clothes for the entourage, etc.

I invited both the groom-to-be and bride-to-be to dinner and there I spoke about my own wedding.

I had a single yellow rose in lieu of a bouquet.
That symbolized the beauty of simplicity that would define my wedding and married life. We only had immediate family members in a small church plus the pastor, who declined to join us for dinner. Thirteen people. Thirteen photos.  

Our savings and gifts allowed us to fully furnish our first apartment with enough left-over for emergencies and for helping others in need.

“Focus on what’s important. A wedding is a ceremony of two people committing to stay together and to love each other, before God. Beyond that, everything else is luxury to impress the guests,” was the essence of what I said through dinner.

I re-enact  the same scene (in a different restaurant) with other couples—as needed—hoping they at least half-listen and will consider leading a simple lifestyle.

This concept of simplicity has been affirmed time and again in Sunday school when we study stewardship: that the owner of everything we have is God, even if we think we earned it all through our own smarts and hard work; we are only His managers. We should not lavish ourselves with what we don’t own.   

At the risk of being a fuddy-duddy, I advise young couples who choose me to be their ninang not to  squander the grace that comes to them on the day they say their vows before God, after which they become one, “till death do them part.”  

“. . . aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands - ” 1 Thessalonians 4:11 (ESV)    

Thursday, May 26, 2016

White Castle


Long ago, when I was a starving art student in Chicago, my small circle of Filipino friends, all faith brethren, and I would treat ourselves to teeny burgers in a place called White Castle. 

Back then, it was the cheapest burger joint in town—open 24/7.

With these friends I attended the church service and Sunday school every week. One of us, Cito, had an excellent ear for music, composed gospel songs, and played the guitar. He initiated our forming a singing group, which we forgot to name (or was there a name that I can’t remember?).

This tightly-knit group with a limited repertoire would be invited to sing in suburban churches. At night, on our way home, we’d drop by White Castle.

As life would dictate, the road forked and we went on separate ways, hearing from each other only intermittently. I came back home to get married and live here for good.

Fast forward to 2016.

We heard that Esoy had a massive stroke, with 70% of his brain affected, the left side of his body paralyzed, and his speech impaired. He was in ICU for weeks.

So when Tony and I made our sentimental trip to Chicago, our first act was to visit him.  

I held his hand and he surprised me with a grip so tight I thought my bones had cracked. The image that popped in my head was White Castle. I asked him, “Hey, do you remember White Castle?”

He smiled, teared up, and whispered what sounded like “yes.” These were first-time feats, surprising even his wife. It was a grand grace moment.

I spoke into his ear about our White Castle days and I could feel his hand grasping mine even more tightly. He smiled, mouthed some phrases, and his eyes told us he was latching on to those memories.  

Medical science tells us that Esoy is not likely to recover fully. Well, science does not know everything. We reserve our questions for the One who has all the answers.

But for now . . .

“Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.” 3 John 1:2

Photo credit

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Twin Butterflies


Let me quote HonorĂ© de Balzac today, “When the heart is full, the lips are silent.”

Unexpectedly, I came upon twin good news, like twin butterflies coming out of one chrysalis. And because the heart is full, there is no way my lips can utter a squeak.

That’s half true, of course.

I always blurt out every good news the moment I receive it. But this time, both news constrain me—one has been “embargoed” (that’s what the email said), and the other can’t be announced till the proper time.

So why am I even blabbing about them?

I want to honor the Creator of butterflies. As I asked in one of my books . . .

How can a squiggly, ugly worm morph into a beautiful, colorful flying wonder? Does this crawling misery know that one day, it will morph into epiphany? Does it realize it will transform into a new spectacular shape with exquisite design? And then when it flies freely, sipping sweet nectar from one lovely flower to another, does it not show the fullness of grace?   

From worm to butterfly—this is what unexpected good news does, especially after having been barraged with bad news and thrown down into a dark, dunk place.

I am changing my header, in thanksgiving for the twin butterflies that doubly delighted me one dreary day.         

 
“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” John 1:16 (ESV)

 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Beaten Black and Blue


The bruising presidential campaign/election in the country has left the electorate black and blue.

Sensibilities, personalities, ideologies, and especially egos have been savagely smashed, leaving a gushing, gaping wound in people’s hearts. Just visit group sites in social media and you can feel the depth and breadth of people’s collective moaning (vanquished) and collective gloating (victor).

We have elected another minority president, Rody Duterte, who got roughly 39% of boisterous votes, 3% short of the mandate of his predecessor, Pres. Benigno C. Aquino III, our current president.

For the sake of our country, which has been through so much self-inflicted turmoil, I sincerely hope our new president will slowly get the cooperation of the rest of the equally boisterous, but much larger, 61%.  

“Change is coming!” was his campaign battlecry, which he orated with expletives, cusses, and braggadocio.

Change is a catch-all phrase that the 39% interpreted as a U-turn; no to continuity of our gains (as espoused by his closest rival); all new—a quick-fix to still unresolved issues and unsolved problems. And 39% bought it.

Having been beaten black and blue in this 2016 election myself, I believe we can’t be healed by one tough-talking president, no matter how well-meaning his battlecry was. 

Change can only come from each individual heart. And that change can happen only if that heart is open to accept grace. 

“. . . And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” Ezequiel 36:26

Photo credits: Top; bottom, The Silent Majority FB page