2/20/2017

Promises and Covenants


Three to six months.

That was the timeframe then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte promised the Filipino people  to rid the country of corruption, drugs, and criminality. He premised this promise with, “if elected president.”

He was quoted in newspapers as adding spice to that already spectacular promise, “If I fail in three months, better leave the country or I will step down and give the presidency to Bongbong [Marcos].”

I took those to be his covenant with the electorate.

It has been eight months since he became president, and we are still reeling from the scourge of these three social problems. Corruption in all levels of government is as active as before, drugs and criminality are as rampant as they have always been.

And there is no resignation.

“Promises are made to be broken,” is a saying that originated in the 1500s that still resonates today because nine out of 10 (more or less) it’s true.

That’s probably why when God makes a covenant with human beings, it is unilateral. He always fulfills his side of the bargain, and as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, we don’t fulfill ours.

God’s promises populate the Bible. Let me quote two from NLT:

“Understand, therefore, that the LORD your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.”  Deuteronomy 7:9

“No, I will not break my covenant; I will not take back a single word I said.” Psalm 89:34

We stand on God's promises. Every one of them is grace carved in stone. They cannot be broken. 

2/16/2017

Irony

  
I was completely floored.

One of the kindest, nicest, wisest, most helpful, most generous, most caring, and most cheerful men I have ever met (let’s call him Marcus)—who, according to his wife, is a romantic, thoughtful husband; has only good things to say about anyone; stays behind the scenes to let other people shine; and is loved by all—does not believe in God.

My eyes popped the day these words came out of his mouth, “I don’t believe in God.”

Irony indeed. His resume reads like a dream record of successes: educated in some of the best schools abroad, held high positions in prestigious companies, and had toured the world. He also went to a theological school at some point in his life, desiring to be a catholic priest.

A voracious reader, Marcus could engage anyone in conversations about any book, ideology, and current issue.

After his shocking pronouncement, I asked him journalism’s five “w’s” and one “h” in rapid succession.

He laughed. Then he expounded some arguments so intellectual he lost me. I decided that no matter how I tried to understand his reasons, I couldn’t.

I live on faith. He lives on logic. One is oil and the other is water.

Still, the fact that he has all the qualities I desire to have to model my faith, puzzles me. How could goodness and non-belief go together? How could he not see the blessings in his life, the grace in who he is?

Perhaps this is one of life ironies that believers are made to face to deepen their faith. What seems safe isn't, and vice-versa. From that day of our conversation, I added Marcus’ name to my list of prayer concerns.


2/12/2017

I Am a Pusher


Lest I get locked up by the President’s men implementing his ruthless, relentless anti-drug campaign, let me explain.

In my various circles, I take my roles seriously—sometimes (okay, often) too seriously I expect everyone to have the same passion.

What Confucius said thousands of years ago still rings true today: “The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential . . . these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.”

As a college lecturer, I push my students to their limits. Five out of 20 catch on, march to my beat, and appreciate the pushing. But millennials, as we all know, are distracted by technology, and therefore the rest do not think excelling is a big thing; passing is good enough.

As a writer, I likewise push—myself first of all. After a first draft, I rewrite and revise, reading my manuscript from the point of view of both an editor and a reader. So I consult my readers, informally through FB’s Messenger or through an FGD. It takes forever to get a reply, and to get people together. Then I badger my editor, sending her questions and following up.

As a Sunday School (SS) teacher, I study my lessons two weeks in advance. But there are Sundays when I have only two “students” or none at all. I push, “I missed you in SS last Sunday.” “Will I see you at SS next time?” “Hey, our SS lesson next week is interesting; be there.”

As adviser to our university newspaper, I exact commitment from the editorial staff. One time, as I lectured on the value of hard-work, one of them was reduced to tears.

Pushing can hurt those who see it as nagging. On the other hand, it is fulfilling for me—a gift of grace—especially when things get done well. Yet sometimes I muse: should I just chill, let things flow, and not worry about results?

I go back to Scripture to keep me on track—and to view pushing from the right perspective. 
“. . . whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8 ESV)


 

2/08/2017

Start Them Young


Next to childbirth, probably the hardest thing to do is to organize a family reunion. It’s like birthing a million ideas to keep 160 people of all life stages occupied and delighted.

But it can be done.

In our last family reunion, I was chairman. My first act was to appoint my youngest brother in my place, and catapulted myself to chairman emeritus. Another grace thrown down my lap was the 26 brilliant minds in my branch of the family: in-laws, nieces, nephews, brothers, and only sister. I didn’t have to lift a finger.

(Ooops, I nagged a little.)

I am in awe of the young ones who conceived activities and labored to make them happen.One was: Corners.

There was a corner for oldies: those who couldn’t join active events anymore. Old albums, scrapbooks, newsletters, souvenirs, and looped videos kept the 50s and above quietly occupied.

There was a corner for clowning—the photo booth.

There was a corner for street food, where people lined up to have their fill of squid balls, fish balls, etc.

There was an outdoor corner for varied sports; and an indoor corner for varied games.

There was a corner for prizes, with drop boxes specifying the kind of prize one wanted to win.

And—this one’s my favorite—there was a corner for kiddies. Toys galore, table activities, games, play doughs, art contests, and books (Hiyas-published storybooks). I loved this corner because I saw kids either reading alone, reading to each other, or being read to by an adult.

All of 16 years now, I have been an advocate for reading. In my encounters with my college students, I am disheartened by the fact that, because of technology and the internet, not many read anymore.

My hope for this tragic trend to be reversed are the little ones. If adults could interest them in books even before they could read, then I know they will grow up to be readers.

To support this hope, we decided to give all the kids ages six and below free books during the reunion’s closing ceremonies. As the kids’ names were called, their parents carried or led them to the stage to get their books.
It was an encouraging sight: little ones, their face aglow, excited to get a copy of a book!

Who said authors are not paid enough? This photo fills my cup to overflowing. 


2/04/2017

Downsizing Love


This we know, yet we do it: use the word “love” so lightly it has become banal. Anyone can say it to anyone, without meaning it.  

Downsizing the big word “love” might have begun in the 15th century when the ideograph heart (the graphic heart we use today to symbolize heart and therefore, love) was created.

This ideograph is now even found in Facebook as one of the emoticons you tick off if you like a post.

Even worse, the word “love” has a new Filipino translation: lab, which is also the shortened form for Labrador or laboratory. I’ve received messages from girl friends who end their sentence with “lab u!

I plead guilty to saying, “I loved that book” or “I loved the food” or I loved her dress.”

Our careless speech today, especially because one-liners and sound bites on social media are the norm, makes it hard to discern what we mean when we say we “love” this or that. We have trivialized the word. 

When I turned the page of my calendar to February four days ago, my eyes were riveted to the ideograph printed on day 14: Valentine’s Day. This made me ponder the word “love,” and shocked myself to realizing what it has been reduced to. 

At church, we say or sing, “I love you Lord.” What do we actually mean? Is this in the same vein as “lab u?”

The Bible is not careless with the word “love.”

John 3:16 (KJV), the foundation of my faith, says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

In John 15:12, Jesus also said, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

In Romans 5:8, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

There are many, many more.

As we celebrate the love month (there goes the word again!), may God’s grace teach us to live and demonstrate the real meaning of "love" in our relationships—with people and especially with the Lord.  

“Love” is a big word. I pray we keep it that way, and not follow the trend of downsizing it further.



1/31/2017

Kairos vs. Clock Watching


Clock watcher.

That’s what I’d been for most of my life in the corporate world. Barring any snags beyond my control, I finished every chore on time and produced all I could in 24 hours. I was hardly ever late to any appointment, too.

Every moment had to be productive. When a task was on a slump, I'd start a new one. Doing many things all at the same time—that’s where you’d find me.

On the plane home from a meeting abroad, I’d already be writing my “thank-you” notes while every passenger would be asleep. Back in the office, I’d immediately shoot out those notes.

Are you panting yet?

“Chronos perspective,” that’s how our pastor called my clock-watching behavior. I thought of one day as 24 hours. My small white board had a to-do list with corresponding deadlines.

My thoughts ran parallel with what I read in Scripture, “We should number our days.” Our time on earth is so brief, I wanted to be a good steward of every second of time.

“On the other hand, this contradicts what Paul is saying in Ephesians 5,” our pastor added. Paul instructs us to redeem the “Kairos perspective,” which is to seize opportune moments.

My clock watching habit came to a head one day. I was furiously trying to beat a deadline when I got a desperate call from a friend about ready to give up on life. Would I miss my deadline for her?

Difficult question for a clock watcher.

But Kairos took over: time is an opportunity marching in, not a clock ticking minutes away.

The three hours spent with my despondent friend—and missing a deadline—was more valuable than the three hours I'd have spent finishing a task. After our talk, she resolved to move on.

Time stewardship, I have learned from that experience, is not packing as much as I can into 24 hours. Rather, it is being alert, like a hawk, on the lookout for the slightest hint of an opportunity to share the glory of God’s grace.

Note to moi: A true steward of time organizes a schedule with moments open to seizing Kairos moments. 


1/27/2017

Voices and Choices


In my writing journey, listening to voices is part of the process. From these voices, I make my choices.

The varied voices I hear either affirm or negate my initial thoughts. It’s like listening to the thump-thump of my future readers’ hearts. I see different perspectives—enriching and clarifying.

I recently finished my first draft—always a feat for me—of a story. I had son #1 read it. His terse comment, “Too harsh, too vivid.”

Upon hearing his voice, I wrote a softer version. Then to my second reader I went—Tony. He said, as tersely as my first reader, “Too tame; try being more graphic.”

Now I was faced with two opposing views. First version? Second version?

To settle my dilemma, I exposed both versions to four grade-school teachers, like a small-scale Focus Group Discussion (FGD). To my surprise, they all chose version 1! Being more communicative than son#1 and husband, they gave me insights that made me look more closely into version 1 to enhance it:

"Yes, crime has consequences."

"Very timely. Kids should know about their rights in case they get picked up by the police, especially today."

"Suspenseful. I wanted to know how it would end."

"Punishment and forgiveness came together. Nice."

Version 1 was on the right track, as far as readership is concerned. I followed my guts and saw it through.
For days on end, I worked on version 1, revising, polishing, tweaking, and twisting it (and checking my legal facts) to a point where I think I am now ready to send it to my editor.

Version 2 will stay in the freezer.

But the story is far from being finished. The editor has a voice, too, and so does the back-up editor, and so does the artist.

Voices. Choices.

The book that finally reaches the reader’s hand is a product of all. I credit no one, not even the writer, for any published book to happen.

Christian books are a product of grace, my only enabler. God’s grace makes a writer’s ears and heart listen, and listen well, so she can make the right choices.

   

1/23/2017

Golden Eggs


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

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

Surprised? It shocked me.

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

Now here’s the shocker.

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: www.cookingspree.com

1/19/2017

New Year, New Ears


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All that has come to pass.

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

And guess what?

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

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

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

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


1/15/2017

72 Stars


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

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

Here’s how he wrote it:

“Dear Auntie,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


1/11/2017

Timeless Ends


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

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

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

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

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

TIMELESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1/03/2017

Broken Christmas Traditions


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

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

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

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

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

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

I gave up.

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

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

Goodbye to home-cooked turkey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

1/01/2017

Welcome 2017


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

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

12/29/2016

Christmas is Christmas


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry CHRISTmas cyber friends!

12/25/2016

For My Sake, He Became Poor


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

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

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

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

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

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

Why blue, and why shades?

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

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

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

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

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


12/23/2016

Irreplaceable Oski


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

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

B-b-but, this was different.

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

Uh, noooo!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cremation and funeral followed a little over 24 hours later.

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

“What?”

“To all the girls I’ve loved before.”

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

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

Oski, there will never be another you.

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


12/22/2016

Second Chances


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

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

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

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

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

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

He paled.

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

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

Love, then, is about giving second chances.

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

This Second Chance was born on Christmas day.

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

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

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

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

I replied, “It's a deal, Jerry.”  

Second chances: starting on a clean slate.

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

What a merry Christmas!


12/18/2016

Arming Kids


This verse makes me shudder:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How are we to arm them?

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

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

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

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

  

12/14/2016

Timeless


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus the theme: Timeless.

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

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

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


12/10/2016

Dreams (Part 2)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12/06/2016

Dreams (Part 1)


I am a dreamer.

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

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

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

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

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

“Dreams,” I insist.

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever.

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

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

12/02/2016

Why Devotions for Kids Matter



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

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

11/28/2016

Are You Writing Your Next Book?


This question has a two-step answer.

1) Yes. I am always writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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