Friday, November 27, 2015

There Is No Plan B

An ex-First Lady had been photographed piously praying in churches, clutching a rosary. In fact, there were rumors that she had a collection of rosaries, one of which was made of diamonds. 

And yet, a photo of her bedroom shows an array of graven idols—representing different gods. Is she making sure she has covered all bases? That if one fails, she has other options? 

Likewise, in a number of restaurants or shops, I continue to spot different idols on shelves, usually behind the cash register: Virgin Mary side-by-side with Buddha, Krishna, and some other gods whose names escape me.

"There is something good about all religions and their gods," said an acquaintance who claims to be a liberalist (let's call him Sam), "so I give them all the benefit of the doubt."

Sam is certain that all gods have their own unique way of saving a person for "heaven." 

I am not equipped to pick a fight with Sam. He has the gift of gab, and all I have is grace to hang on to my faith—faith that was profoundly explained by our pastor in one Sunday message, synthesized in four short words and a letter:

"There is no Plan B,” he emphasized. 
“Only Jesus, Jesus only," he continued. 

I took it to mean that one has to live solely for and singularly focused on Jesus. Everything we do should be for His glory and honor alone, because salvation is His only plan for us. 

"How can we believe this? Faith," our pastor specified. "This faith is only as good as that on Whom it is placed—that He can do for us what He promises to do."  

In this light, someone had created an acronym for F-A-I-T-H, and I am borrowing it now to focus further what "No Plan B" means.

That's forsaking all other gods and trusting only in Him. Faith in Christ is not faith, until He’s all we're holding onto. Because we know, we believe, that He is able to hold us forever and never let us go—all the way through life everlasting.

“There is no Plan B.”

"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12 (NIV)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Numbers on Year Nine

Numbers, numbers, everything was about numbers. 

In the workplace where I overstayed, one had to have numbers to get anything approved. Numbers showed that one’s proposal would work, no arguments needed.   

Numbers do say a lot. Politicians watch numbers carefully to see how they’re fairing in the popularity game. Then they have to have the numbers to be elected.

Allow me then to do numbers as I celebrate the ninth year anniversary of Leaves of Grace.  However, unlike in the workplace or any business where numbers mean much, mine are just benchmarks to see where I’ve been. Okay, they’re encouragement to keep me going, too.

So here they are:

Readers from all 196 countries in the world have visited my site at least twice—from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. I lacked four last year to complete the total number. 

There are over 292,000 hits today or an average of 200 visits daily in the last three years. Up by 60,000 from last year’s page views.  

I have uploaded 939 posts so far; one post every 3.5 to four days. That’s 100 posts more over last year's.  

What do not appear in this site are the many letters I received and continue to receive via email and on FB Private Message, saying they read my posts regularly. Words like “healing” “uplifting” “encouraging” “nourishing” make me, more than ever, resolve to continue blogging.

There’s no way, really, anyone can stop when she's writing about grace—the gift that keeps giving, and giving, and giving.

And as I do whenever I celebrate or spend my day in gratitude for blessings, I change my header . . .

from the old . . .

to the new.  

“Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!” 1 Chronicles 16:8 (ESV)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

“Diversify,” financial gurus would advise.  “Don't invest all your money in one company. Never put all your eggs in one basket.”

It makes sense, doesn't it?  

If you have all of your resources in one place, or if you put your money and future into one investment scheme, and that business nosedives, you lose everything. Big risk indeed.

There are many sad tales about people having all of their eggs in one basket (remember the  single-day US stock market crash on Sept. 29, 2008?) and they lost their shirt. That one, quick painful moment flushed out all they ever had. 

“Faith does not work that way,” our pastor stressed from the pulpit, and a sudden spate of grace lit up my mind. “You either have faith in the one true God or you don’t. You either trust Him fully or you don’t. Put all your eggs in God's basket.”

My imagination conjured a basket of eggs.

I thought, Not one egg less, everything has to be in that basket or your trust is wanting.

He pushed, “Faith is complete reliance on another to do that which you could not do for yourself. Nobody can save himself. Through Jesus alone can anybody be saved.”

In a breath, he demolished the age-old investment principle of not putting everything in one basket.  

But, then, he was not talking about material investment; he was talking about investment of the life that has been gifted us—the life that will not end on earth, but will remain perpetuo in a place so beautiful I can’t even begin to imagine it.   

Quickly I summarized in my little notebook his point: Faith is absolute. Believe in Him for everything, every time, everywhere. That is the soundest investment of all. 

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

Monday, November 16, 2015


Three days in a row, every ATM machine that I went to had this haphazardly written sign, “Offline.”  

Funny how one word can spawn a school of negative subtexts:

Go away!
No money here.
I have your money, he-he. 
Try some other ATM.
Leave me alone.
Don’t bother me.
Can't you see I'm resting?
Take it or leave it.
End of argument. 
Plus many more

So you postpone buying and paying for life’s essentials till the ATM is online again.

In this digital age, we are at the mercy of machines. When they conk out, we cave in.

“Machines can never replace people,” we like to say. But people conk out, too.

Imagine driving through horrific traffic to have something urgent signed by someone someplace, only to be told that the person you need to see is out to lunch.

“But I called before coming! He promised he’d be here!”

So you wait, only to be jolted again by a message that the person fell ill and decided to go home. He has a message for you: “Could you please come back some other time?”

You wonder and worry when that “some other time” will come again. Meanwhile, you will miss a crucial deadline.

Machines, people—they can both be offline. Just as you would feel offline, too, fearful and dreadful after such frustrating tries and re-tries.

What a contrast to what we read in Deuteronomy 31:6 (ESV), “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Let me paraphrase this in the context of the above frustrations: Don’t conk out nor cave in; I am always online.

Whenever I come to the edge of my wits over machines and people, I reach out for calming grace. It readily comes through verses upon verses in the Bible. This is just one of them.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Greatest Play Ever Written (8)

I can go on and on with the non-star cast of the Bible, character after character, and I will always be amazed at how the Playwright threads them all together for the happy ending—Jesus.

My blog series on Bible characters ends with this post—focusing on what stage plays usually tag as “The crowd.” This comprises unnamed groups in the cast, without whose roles the play would not be complete.
These groups have people who have no names and do not seem to count for anything.  And there are many of them!

The hypocrites, the wise men of the east, the man with two sons, the rich fool, the snobbish Pharisees, the Centurion and his servant, the four thousand men (Matthew 15:38), the soldiers who stripped Jesus, the saints who were raised (Matthew 27:52), the maniac of the tombs, the seventy disciples (Luke 10:1), the ten lepers, the Greeks (John 12:20), etc. etc. etc.

The Bible is silent on their identity.

We praise famous men and women in the Bible, we study them in our Sunday school classes, but what about those who passed through chapters and verses like a wisp of wind?

Space prevents me from listing all of these unnamed men and women of God’s book.

I think this is God’s way of telling us that although we may be unknown in our work for Him, or we think that “I do not count for anything,” we matter. We may be hidden from people’s eyes, but not from God’s.

For ourselves, it is sufficient to know that, whether our names are in neon or simply listed in the playbill as “the crowd,” they are written upon God’s palms and in His home, every child of His is to have a new name.

We are in God’s cast of characters and we didn’t even have to audition for the role. That’s grace in this life and the life beyond.   

Note: This is the 8th and the last in a series of posts on "The Greatest Play Ever Written."

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Children Who Read

One of the sights that make my heart do a somersault is when I see children reading books other than their textbooks. 

Of course you’d expect that statement from an author of children’s books. But even if I didn’t write for children, I’d still feel the same.

In my many encounters with kids, I found that those who love to read have a richer vocabulary and can actually converse well with an adult on various topics.

Studies and science on reading have proven this to be true. It has been found by the Institute of Education (UK) that children who read at an early age do significantly better at school than their peers. These little people made more progress in math, vocabulary and spelling than those who rarely read.

It was also noted that reading for pleasure had the strongest effect on children's vocabulary development—and they are able to absorb and understand new information quickly in all subjects.

Adrian, my grandchild, reads. And how! I took this photo of him when he visited us three months ago.

I was not surprised when his mom posted this on FB:   

Caption: A messy pile of books is always near Adrian's bed. Cannot complain about it now after he was recognized today in the school assembly for his awesome reading. Target was 10 reading points for 1 trimester. His current score (and the trimester far from over) = 95.

My granny heart naturally did a most spirited somersault.

My husband thinks it’s in the genes, because in our family, we all love to read. Our home is littered with books. And now that he is retired, Tony reads one book a week—he brings one with him wherever he goes.

I never believed that love for reading has anything to do with genes. Neither does it have to do with discipline. You can’t order a child to read and expect him to love it.

It has everything to do with role modelling. If a child sees his parents/family reading a lot, he will likely grow up to be a reader, too.

There are of course new studies supporting Tony’s claim that love of reading is genetic, and nothing of mine, but whenever I see kids reaching out for a book first, instead of a toy or a game console, my mind speaks, Their parents must be readers, too.

Here are photos of kids who, in my opinion, have bookworms for parents.  
(Photo by Teacher Teacher Mars)  

If, by grace, my aging heart remains sturdy, I wish to feel countless somersaults in more years to come.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Gifts for the Soul

From close friends and family, I always get the gifts that I want, and not necessarily need. This special set of people, for whom I need not wear make-up nor dress-up, know exactly what they are!

Two gifts that hit bulls-eye were from third son, his wife, and their son on their last visit to the country.

Their first gift is this bag designed with nothing but books, books, books—the reasons for my happy and busy days.

Inside this bag was the second gift—a painting kit (acrylic, my medium), complete with a tiny easel and a canvas, the reasons for my happy and restful days.  

I put the bag to use by packing it with my teaching ammo and my chronological Bible (gift from first son), which is what I read in my in-between hours—between waiting for and finally consulting with my doctor; between one class and the next; between appointments; between whatever.

I put the painting kit to work and came up with this:   

The gifts that I want are what I call gifts for the soul, or, as I had already written in three volumes, Gifts of Grace. 

"We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19 (ESV)

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Celebrating Life

With my own eyes, I witnessed how people are celebrating death and the spirits of the underworld today.

I had an appointment somewhere in the Global City and there I saw affluent kids in expensive and store-bought costumes, mostly as devils, ghouls, ghosts, witches, and corpses. They were going in and out of stores which filled their plastic pumpkins with goodies.

On my way home, I saw more kids. This time, they were wearing improvised costumes, probably hand-sewn by their mothers. They were likewise dressed as devils, ghouls, ghosts, witches, and corpses—and streaming out of the enclaves of the rich—with their plastic bags also filled with goodies. 

I have seen enough, too many in fact, symbols of death today that all I want to do is celebrate the grace of life:

- the life that the Lord Himself breathed into Adam’s nostrils; 

- the life that we will have but once on earth, and for all eternity when our life on earth ends;

- the life our departed loved ones were blessed with. 

Up comes my new header, with the buoyant butterfly and fresh flowers, symbols of His love for those who live to honor Him:

My old header goes down.

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Genesis 2:7

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Hymns and Ever After

Hymns had been a huge part of my growing-up years. At church, we sang nothing but hymns. I could still sing many of them from memory.

In the church where I worship today, we hardly sing hymns anymore. The Praise and Worship Team prefers modern gospel songs with danceable tunes. That’s why whenever hymns are taken up in conversations today, I sit up.

One such conversation was after a corporation meeting that I attended. Over lunch, I chatted with a small group of ladies.  

“Many gospel songs today are not in context,” said one, referring to the me-emotions in lyrics instead of Biblical truths.

“Hymns are enough to save you,” stressed another.

I pondered that. And I sang in my head:

Living for Jesus Who died in my place,
Bearing on Calv’ry my sin and disgrace;
Such love constrains me to answer His call,
Follow His leading and give Him my all.

Our consensus was that hymns are grounded on Scripture, on salvation, and on Christ being our Savior.

I silently hummed:

Take my love, my Lord, I pour,
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be,
Ever, only, all for Thee.

We exchanged stories about some elderly people we knew who suffered from Alzheimer’s in their last years. They had forgotten everything and everyone, but hymns. One of them sang “Amazing Grace” from the time she woke up in the morning till the time she went to bed.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see. 

“My mom,” said one of us, “would ask me to sing hymns in her sick bed till the Lord took her home.”

Nearer my God to Thee, nearer to Thee!
E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me;
Still my song shall be, nearer my God to thee.

“Hymns are enough to save you . . .” because they speak of the Good News.

One gets to know about the gift of salvation, or life ever after, by hearing and reading about it. In the absence of the Bible, there are hymns—they’ve been written and put to music by our Christian brethren so we may hear about the ever after.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God . . .” Ephesians 2:8 (NIV) 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Quiet Time in a Noisy World

Is it possible to have silence in this noisy world? Extremely difficult. 

I just wrote a book about the din that drowns out our attention. Things are happening all at the same time, many of them are in the Net, all just a touch away.  Then there are scenes around us that mimic behaviors in other countries.

Kids talk back to their parents; teens flaunt their affection (some people say, lust) in public; spouses live in separate homes, with his, hers, and ours children; cults, witchcraft, superstitions, social media, self-entitlement, and focus on me, me, me are trends; etc.  

How can one stay silent?

This was why I was invited to a church one Sunday to talk to tweens and millennials about the importance of a quiet time or devotion every day. I’ve written a few devotional books for both age groups so the organizers of the church’s book fair might have thought that the topic is close to my heart.

It is. 

But I was still surprised that in both sessions, almost all of my audience raised their hands when I asked, “Who among you have a daily quiet time?”

They even defined “devotion” thus: a special time away from everything and being singularly focused on the Lord, praising Him, thanking Him, talking to Him, and listening to His soft, still voice. 

In both sessions, although I did most of the talking, I was the student and my listeners were my teachers. They taught me that shutting out a noisy world is a cinch. My net take-away: all one has to do is pray for the Holy Spirit to turn your ear to mute and listen with your heart.  

(Children and tweens)
Many of them use my devotionals (that, too, was a surprise) as a tool that keeps them focused on one nugget of life or one facet of God’s love that can only come through grace.

The skies were dark; the electricity went off. Typhoon Lando was pummeling at Metro Manila, but the kids and millennials (Sunday School habitué) with whom the Lord connected me that Sunday, were sunshine that illumined my mind:

Quiet time in this noisy world is not, and should not be a problem.

“And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper." 1 Kings 19:12 (NLT)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Not a Georgia O’Keeffe

My friend Caloy, a versatile art director and a painter I greatly admire, calls me up occasionally before he begins work in the morning. We talk shop about our common interests and friends—we have a legion of them, having worked together in a large ad agency, which was my training lab as now a full-time author.

"Caloy, I am painting again today!" I announced, spewing an immediate caveat, "But don’t you dare call me a painter.”
"You're a Georgia O'Keeffe," he replied.

I wanted to crawl under my easel, even if I don't take Caloy's statements seriously.

That morning he called and asked, "Are you doing anything today? Can you and G [another close friend whom he likewise calls in early mornings] please accompany me to COMELEC?"

"To do what?"

"To file my candidacy for President of the Philippines."

That unleashed my first guffaw for the day. (A total of 130 aspirants filed their Certificate of Candidacy for this position.)

Funny that he mentioned Georgia O'Keeffe. I am in awe of her. Her painting, an exquisitely rendered white blossom of a weed, sold last year for $44.4 million at an auction, setting a record for an artwork by a female artist.
Pardon my audacity, but I actually have two things in common with O'Keeffe. She went to the same school I went to, Art Institute of Chicago. And we both love to paint flowers and nature's bountiful grace. But there end our similarities.

At the Art Institute, she took up Fine Arts; I took up Performing Arts.

She painted flowers with faultless finesse and impeccable rendition of lines and shadows. I paint with gay abandon, with attention only to the thump-thump of my heart.

She said, ". . . I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way—things I had no words for.”

I say, "There is no other way I could say things, but with words—written words. I paint color and shapes because they refresh my mind, pushing me to write more words."

My paintings will probably fetch, if at all, 44.40 in pesos, not 44.4 in million dollars as O'Keeffe's, but they pack me with so much joy I always ache to paint the next wonders around me after my last.
“O LORD, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.” Psalm 104:24 (KJV)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Chain Letters

One thought baffles me now and then. Why do some people fall for chain letters? 

There are basically three categories of chain letters that I get via email or Facebook.

1. From strangers: Get-rich quick pyramid schemes
2. From people who do not share my faith: Exploitation of superstition (threatens recipient with bad luck that can end in death)
3. From friends: Emotionally manipulative messages (breaking the chain means you do not care or love the sender) that comes with a prayer for the receiver

I have no problem with Nos. 1 and 2. I trash them with no ifs, buts, or maybes. Spam! 

But I pause on No. 3.

Why would a friend give a deadline or condition on friendship and blessings?

I got one such letter again and the veiled threat was, "If you do not forward this letter back to me, then you do not consider me your close friend." And the promise of sending it back is, "Something good will happen to you in nine days." 

For me, a couple of things are simplified—or worse, compromised—in such a letter.

One, friendship is being put to a test. If you do not do what it says, you are suspect. Relationship is reduced to one simple act of "sending back." Past encounters or long-term bond that established closeness do not count.

Two, blessings are mocked, giving God a deadline. In my faith, all blessings come from God, and only He can give deadlines or a timeline on when He bestows them.

Are we so immersed in the things of this digital world that we no longer think deeply about what we post or send out? Have we trivialized everything, including friendship and blessings?

Or, are those who send these scheming chain letters really friends? Do they even believe that blessings can come anytime—before or beyond nine days?

I was going to facetiously end this post with, “Please forward this to 15 friends.” But by grace, good sense prevails. Let me end with, chain letters be trashed!

"This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.  There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (John 15:12-13)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Rose for Rose, Grace for Grace

As soon as she saw my latest painting, Rose gasped and purred, “Please paint me a rainbow with musical notes." Music is an integral part of her—a singer, composer, instrumentalist, choir conductress, and lyricist rolled-into-one.

I promised I'd do one in time for her birthday.  
But because of the international hoo-ha on the legalized same-sex marriage, which made the rainbow a seal of approval for LGBT, I demurred days later, “I can’t paint you a rainbow; not now anyway.”

Recovering quickly she said, “Okay can you paint me a rose instead?" 

“Well . . .okay." 

Then I got immersed in book concerns. Her birthday came and went. But a promise is a promise, so I sidelined writing for two full days last week and painted her a rose—with a butterfly, in keeping with my themed  series.  

I wanted her musical notes to be there, and it took a while before I could figure out where to put them. 

Aside from Rose, one other colleague, Ayet, wished aloud for a painting as a birthday gift, too.

(Let me stress one more time, I paint for refreshment and have no delusions about being a Da Vinci or any artist of consequence. But two biased friends think I am: Rose and Ayet. How can I refuse?)

Ayet’s birthday isn’t till next month, but while painting Rose’s rose, my now-paint-bespattered hands and arms drove me to paint Ayet’s, too.

After my acrylics have dried, I placed each on a faux easel, wrapped both, and handed one after the other in our faculty room.

Their shrieks of delight and unabashed excitement to pose with the paintings stunned me. And I realized that the whole process—from promising, to doing and giving—was a string of invigorating grace, of which I was the receiver.
"And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.” John 1:16

Friday, October 9, 2015

Going Back to Our Roots

My husband is a history buff. Each time I need information about the past, I run to him instead of reading up on it.

When he said he wanted to take a trip to China, particularly Xiamen, I was sure it wasn’t an impulse decision. We’ve all been to China gaping at tourist spots, yet I knew he ached to go back, minus the family, to trace his roots. Maybe to see how he fits in the larger world in historical context.

His flight had been booked. He and some cousins would travel together and go to their ancestors’ place of birth and meet kin who have chosen to remain there.

Unfortunately, Tony had a stroke three days before the trip. Despite pleas with his physician, he was prohibited from flying, “Not now; maybe in three weeks.”

Finally, last week, he re-booked—after being given the green light. With a cousin, Sonny, he sought his China connections with familial generations, passed down only through oral histories.

By contrast, my own genealogy has never been a problem. My hometown was just six hours away, now  reduced to three with new superhighways.

But China is a world apart, with family myths needing confirmation.

He did confirm a lot! Ancestors used to own vast lands lost to the red revolution. But there stands a town, modern yet quaint, called Yu Tsuo (House of Yu) where everyone bears my husband’s middle name—most of whom entertained him and Sonny with 20-course lauriat meals at every turn. They trekked up a hill to visit their great, great grandfather’s tomb.

Psychologists say that genealogy research is a way to consolidate sense of place in an age where families have become fractured. In this trip, I am sure that Tony discovered family medical history that caused his cancer, heart attack, and stroke in one lifetime—but surviving all, he was still strong enough to visit the past.

His photos tell only half the story. The other half, I feel, is in his heart.
Throughout his four-day travel, my prayer warriors and I went on our knees. 

So as he regales me and my sons now with anecdotes of his forbears’ history in China, the only thing that’s important to a history-non-fan like me is that God’s grace upheld him in his dream trip, despite his fragile condition, and enabled him to come home intact.

“. . . the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” Psalm 121:8 (NIV)

Monday, October 5, 2015

My New Friend Hannah

First, she attached this intriguing photo to her Private Message (PM) on Facebook. Hannah and I have never met, although she's one of my over 2,000 FB friends.  

Next, she posted this.

Every day she would PM and ask, “Have you received my letter?”

It never arrived, probably because she addressed it to a PO Box. I was of course disappointed, and so was she.

“You know, I also love to write stories like you,” she wrote and sent me a series of cool stickers. “I hope you get to read my letter. I love your books. I want to come to the book fair, but I need to ride a plane. It's too far away."

“Sorry, Hannah, I have not received your letter yet,” I apologized for the nth time. Her reply shocked me.

“You know why I love to send stickers? It’s because I'm still nine years old.”

Nine years old?! All along I thought I was communicating with an adult! At her age, she writes really well—a budding writer indeed.

Not ever wanting to disappoint a kid, especially a book lover, I asked for her home address and immediately sent her via courier “Coming Home,” my latest children’s book.      

As soon as she got the package, she thanked me profusely on PM and asked, “Please read my mom’s FB post.” 

“Hannah is book lover and she wanted to get in touch with the authors of the book she reads. Today her prayers were answered! She was so happy to receive a gift—latest released book—from one of her favorite authors. She said it was her best gift. To God be the Glory!”

I soon learned from various FB posts that Hannah is ranked #1 in her class and is a pastor’s kid.

“Your name is a palindrome,” I wrote her the next day.

“What is that?”

“It is spelled the same way whether forward or backward.”

“Ooohhh. My best friend’s name is a palindrome, too: Ainia. She's also like me—loves books, art, and really cares for other people. And we put up this club called WWJD (What would Jesus Do?).”

A kindred spirit!

God's grace of friendship surprises and delights all at once. Why, He sent me Hannah, 9, from out of nowhere on cyberspace!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

My Life Flashed Before My Eyes

Yes it did, and I wasn't even close to dying.

This phenomenon known as "near-death experience" is a sensation in which a person rapidly sees the whole of his life history in chronological sequence and in extreme detail.

This happened to me, and I had never been more alive!

I dodged writing about it because I wanted to hog the joy for as long as I could. Two months later, however, the writer in me wins over.

My second son and his family were in town (after two years) so we were making up for lost time in a resort out-of-town. I was, for the first time, suffering from extreme allergy—unbearable itch on my limbs—dimming my usually observant eye.

On our way home, my husband was wearing leather shoes and was frequently on his phone. I noticed both unusual behavior, but I was busy scratching my arms and legs. My daughter-in-law said they will treat me to a birthday dinner in a hotel close to our home. My thought balloon: A grand and posh choice.

I gave myself a once-over: slippers, faded jeans, old blouse, and grayish hair begging to be dyed. Ce’st la vie. 

Entering the restaurant, a curtain—like those in a stage play—opened and surprise! 
There, in one brightly-lit, freshly-adorned room, were all the beautiful people who have deeply touched my life: past and present, kith and kin, church-mates and ex-colleagues. All dressed to the nines!

How could this have gone past me? I thought, as someone handed me my red blazer and a bouquet. In stupor, I went around hugging each one.

I steeled myself not to cry, and the program began. It was a roast, hilarious and warm, bringing back memories of oh-so-riotous times! The two videos had old friends greeting me from all over the world. The two cakes, both book-themed, were on stage ready for blowing.

If it were a movie plot, it would be the perfect crime. The least likely culprit: my husband. He was ably abetted by my three sons, daughter-in-law, grandson, and my friend G.

How old am I? Ageless.

As young as the day I decided to gather my wits and live one day at a time—by faith and grace. Now, the surprises keep coming, like that one evening in July 2015 when my life flashed before my eyes.

"You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever!" Psalm 30:11-12 (NLT)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Present! A Present

Midway into writing a funny book about the workplace, I was given a “pressing, priority project titled Present!” by my publisher, OMFLit.

“Meet Stef,” said Yna, publications director. “She has proposed a book on millennials, and we think you should write it. She’ll be your editor.”

She is no more than a baby! I thought. Preppy and pretty, and yes, a millennial, Stef smiled, sans the guile battle-scarred people have mastered over the years. 

When I came to, I dumped the book I was working on and started writing Present!

Stef proved to be much wiser than her age, and I worried whether I was the right author, being light years away from her generation. But, Hey, I chided myself, you hobnob with millennials  twice a week—in a university on a Tuesday and in church on a Sunday.

As what usually happens when I’m in a writing frenzy, the ride toward the finish line is obstructed by roadblocks and detours. I got hospitalized, my computer acted up, and you-wouldn’t-want-to-know. 

Somewhere between pre-printing and pre-launching, Stef got hospitalized, too. Other you-wouldn’t-want-to-know jams arose as well.

But, ahhh, the printed book arrived just before my last day of class for the term. As I bade my students goodbye, I told them about the book and flashed my last slide on screen:

Awwww, they chorused.

That dedication page sums up how the world is scrambling to understand this tech-savvy Gen Y, whose digital world has changed the rules of the games played by all generations before them.

Present! was present at the right time and the right place. Perfect, 100% grace. 

The launching coincided with the 40th anniversary banquet of my home church, so I was absent at that event. Instead, God made it possible for me to be present at the 36th Manila International Book Fair where Present! was presented to the public as a present for the first time.

How was it like writing the book? I ended it thus:

“Through it all, I grew younger and older at the same time, making me feel ageless and generation-less in the process. I thought that maybe, just maybe, the Lord gave me a glimpse of eternity?”

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28 (NLT)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

In One Word, Rules

What does grammar mean in one word?


That is how I try to simplify my introduction to the English Language in my Business Communications class or any Business English class I handle. Many will disagree and say that no language has rules since languages started out without them.

But because clarity is key in business, and English is the international business language, people have to follow sets of rules to be able to understand each other and work together. 

Grammar is actually the structure and system of a language, considered to consist of syntax. Although all languages evolve over time (try reading Shakespeare and Steinbeck side-by-side), there are universally accepted rules to facilitate communication.

There must be over a million rules, and many more are exception to those rules. So how can anyone remember all of them?

This is when I say to my class, “Grammar is not memorization; it is familiarization.

“And familiarization requires reading. So reading and grammar are like chopsticks. You can’t use one without the other.”


“The best writers in the world became the way they are because they read,” I add. “They may not be able to mouth the rules, but they follow them because they are familiar with them.”

More groans.

Then I quote someone they all know (I hope!), Edgar Allan Poe: “A man's grammar, like Caesar's wife, should not only be pure, but above suspicion of impurity.”

This is my simple spiel semester after semester about grammar and reading. By grace, I am able to repeat it, like a fresh idea that has come out of my mouth for the very first time.    

 photo credit:

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Spelling Disease

A madness among young parents, which is contagious like a disease, has become endemic on our shores.   

They bestow upon their newborn a name so unique only they can spell it. Not content with that, they add a second name (or a third) that is just as difficult to spell.

This has become a major problem for institutions who issue certificates, passports, IDs, and other legal documents.

In our medical transcription school, for instance, we need some government bureaus to issue certificates to our graduates. And it never fails—unusual names are misspelled. So we need to get the certificates re-done, going through the long process over and over again. Sometimes it takes up to four revisions before their names are spelled the way their parents want it.

One example is Jennifer. It is normally spelled with two N's and one F. But our student's parents decided that it should be spelled with one N and two F's.

Another example is Katerhinne, with a second name that is the acronym of two sets of grandparents. I will not even attempt to spell that. The first name is confusing enough.
Take the name James. It should be quite easy to spell, but some spell it as Jhames, some Jaymes, some Jaimmes, and some Jaymz.  Go figure.

I am helping curb this disease. 

Whenever I am asked to be a sponsor in a wedding (in this country, a sponsor is called a ninang or ninong, terms of endearment that come with a moral obligation—becoming  the couple's second parents, to whom they may run for advice), I go to work.

I invite the betrothed couple to dinner, where I give a most profound advice (not those love-each- other-till-kingdom-come; or, patch-up-differences-before-going-to-bed; or, be-each-other's-best- friend, etc.)

"Give your child a name that anyone can spell.” And as a P.S. I beg, "Please give him or her only one name."

Politely they laugh, but surely thinking I am encroaching upon their parental rights. Well, tough luck. They have given me parental rights, too, as their second parent!

To my cyber friends, if you are about to be a parent and are reading this, a unique, hard-to-spell name for your future child will give you nightmares so severe you'll forever regret naming him thus.

I thank my parents for naming me Grace, spelled the way it should be. It’s been mispronounced, yes, but never misspelled.

Just as God's grace is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Greatest Play Ever Written (7)

Much talk has been devoted on Senator Grace Poe, a foundling. She and her supporters have taken advantage of the poignant story of her origins to gain voters' sympathy. And now she has announced her desire to be the next president of the Philippines.

In ancient times, God used a foundling to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt: Moses. 

Let’s zoom in on the woman who found him, who stood between him and death—the mother without a name. She is simply called the Pharoah’s daughter.

This unidentified female, whose name nobody knows, was the only mother Moses really knew. The Bible preserves her anonymity even though she was instrumental to the fate of the Israelite nation.

What kind of a woman would save a baby from a terrible death and care for him although he was a Hebrew? 

An Egyptian, she was an idolater who worshiped the sun. Yet in mothering Moses, she was above the pagan plane—even above the cruelty of her pagan father. At the risk of losing her favor with the Pharaoh who had decreed the killing of all male Hebrew babies, she felt compassion for the baby she found in the bulrushes.

Imagine that beautiful scene . . . 

When the Pharaoh’s daughter was presented with the baby in the basket, the babe wept, and she must have felt concern for the baby’s welfare and secured as his nurse, until he was weaned, the baby’s real mother, Jochabed.

Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the river at the hour that she did. In God’s play, she, a pagan princess, would save and deliver the child who would become one of the Bible’s greatest heroes.

For 40 years, this princess-without-a-name cared for and educated Moses, giving him all the privileges of a son of the royal court, surrounded with wealth and luxury.

His education would later help Moses write the first five books of the Bible and the Mosaic law. In his education, we have evidence of God’s hand in the shaping of the future of Israel’s great leader.

Like any mother, she must have grieved when Moses killed an Egyptian. Because after that, she could no longer protect her son, who had to flee Egypt to save his life.

We wonder, did they ever see each other again? Was she still alive when, 40 years later, Moses returned to Egypt as the mighty deliverer of the Israelite nation?  We will never know.

All we know, as cast by God in the greatest play ever written, is that she was a kindhearted Egyptian princess, a noble and tender woman who was God’s vessel of grace in a cruel time.

(Note: This is the 7th in a series of eight blog posts on The Greatest Play Ever Written.)

photo credit: from the movie Ten Commandments

Friday, September 11, 2015

Disturbing Films, Disturbing World

Reality hits you hard between the eyes when you watch Philippine indie films. They depict life as raw as it can get, not the life I choose to see—or the life within the four corners of the organized church.

Evil is out there; it is around us. No matter how we delude ourselves into believing there is innate good in people, there is, even more so, innate bad in people.

After The Fall in that idyllic garden, man’s nature has been—to use an overused phrase—between the devil and the deep blue sea.

At the Cinemalaya Festival, this beastly nature is dramatized, and this is what I make time to watch once a year. As an author, I can’t sterilize nor sensitize myself from the fallen world, where I write about grace.

Cinemalaya 2015, for one whole day (from 10 Am to 11 PM), offered me and my friends one full-length film, 21 shorts (all gritty), and two documentaries.
In this dark world where Jesus was born into, He offered light through His life, death, and resurrection.

The themes of all 24 well-crafted films revolved around homosexuality, idolatry, mental illness, theft, treachery, assassination, and drug addiction, most of them ending sadly ever after. To my relief, the full-length film, ended on a hopeful note and the two documentaries inspired:

Titser (Mukha): A Biology graduate from a prestigious university, who was set to become a doctor, decides instead to be a public school teacher in a depressed area.

The Boy Who Cried Books: A young man, with bipolar disorder, sells books on the sidewalk to earn for a college education. This one particularly touched me because the main character’s wares were books, the center of my working life today.

In our world—painted powerfully by the Indies—the good news of the gospel is the only hope.  Christian authors and Bible-believing Christians need to share this hope in joint and distinct voices to be heard.  

Lord, help us to find our voices and make it heard in this disturbed and disturbing world. Amen. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Sunny with a Chance of Rain

This weather forecast comes with a forewarning. 

I would often hear it in the spring when I was living in the US. Although the day would be sunny, there was no escaping the rainfall. So I’d grab an umbrella before heading off to school. 
Life isn’t like a weather forecast. It doesn’t forewarn. We bask in the rays of a glorious sun, then rain suddenly pours—anytime. Therefore, you aren’t prepared with an umbrella to keep you from getting soaked.

But life is exactly that—it is sunny with a chance of rain.

We’re finally home from the hospital where Tony was confined for five days due to a stroke. Looking back and reflecting on it, there was zero forewarning.

After leaving his office that day, doing errands along the way, he came home and asked the driver to go home as well. Then as soon as I was ready, he drove me to church for a prayer meeting.

Less than half an hour later, he called saying he was having signs of a stroke. The rain fell; end of our sunny day.

I know that in a world with free will, we make our own choices, and we can’t get around the fact that troubles come. However, God has a perfect will for us that includes all kinds of protection and grace—like umbrella from life’s rains.

Now in our own bed, Tony thought aloud, “My doctor's order of take-it-easy-for-another-five days is more of prevention. Even if everything seems fine, there’s a chance for another stroke.”

“Like a sunny day with a chance of rain,” I replied.

I recall what our pastor at the prayer meeting was saying before I received Tony’s fateful phone call. 

Pastor: “Anything we receive that takes us away from God is a curse. Inversely, anything we receive that draws us closer to Him is a blessing.”

Our hospital residence wasn’t exactly Shangrila-suite, but called a suite just the same, with functional amenities.

And to our surprise, after all discounts and privileges, our “staycation” cost no more than a family-size pizza!

God had been our Umbrella when it rained. And He will be, when (not if) it rains again.

"The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life." Psalm 121:7 (NLT)

photo credit:

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Alien Hand

My husband had just dropped me off in church for a prayer meeting. While I was intently listening to our pastor’s exhortation, he called.

In his usual monotone he said, "Call our driver. He has to take me to the hospital because I am having signs of a stroke."

I died.

I didn’t have to call our driver. In a prayer meeting, there are more than enough driver volunteers. At the Emergency Room, I listened as Tony described to the doctor what happened.

“My left hand was doing things I didn’t ask it to. It seemed like an alien hand. But after a few seconds, I realized it was mine and my right hand reined it in. I called my Neuro doctor-friend, who advised me to go the nearest hospital immediately because it seemed like a stroke.”

Alien Hand Syndrome. That began our five-day saga in this hospital. It was a stroke, although a transient one. No visible permanent damage, but the doctor wants to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. Some injections, some IV drips, some pills, a CT Scan, and strict bed rest for five days.

Plus lots of griping. Tony was booked to fly to Xiamen today to visit his roots. I could taste his intense disappointment. My heart crumbled.

But calls, text messages, and prayers from our sons, kin, and friends are gluing my heart whole again. Second son, a physician in the US, made calls to Tony’s doctor.

Nobody can ask for more grace.

There were two other instances when I also died after receiving Tony’s phone call.

One, in 1993, he said he had checked himself in the hospital for immediate surgery because of stage 3 colon cancer.

Two, in 2002, he said he had to undergo heart bypass because his andiogram result showed blocked arteries.

And now three, a stroke.

But tomorrow, after his last shots and IV drip, we shall be discharged from this place where we learned what ailed him—Alien Hand.

Famously known as Dr. Strangelove Syndrome, from the old movie entitled Dr. Strangelove, Alien Hand is a neurological disorder where the affected person’s own hand has its own free will or mind of its own. It is also a phenomenon that can result from a brain surgery or a stroke.

I believe it was a divine sign for him to call a friend, and rushing him to the hospital, where we have been residents these five days, was the right thing to do at the right time.

Let’s just say this is my 3rd earthly resurrection, filling my heart with joy and thanksgiving. Three  preludes to my heavenly one.

". . .I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying." John 11:25 (NLT)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

My Most-Liked Photo

Last summer, I was into painting.

I still am, but not as much as I was in the last two months. My real life has taken over once again.

The summer of 2015 was a fluke. Life came to a halt. I was on a waiting mode—waiting for classes to begin, for my manuscripts to come back from my editor, for my new books to be launched, and coincidentally, I purposely freed up my schedule so I could spend all my time with my grandson, Adrian, who was scheduled to come home for a visit from the US.

Painting was timely grace to keep my adrenaline pumping or I’d go insane.

I’ll never be a Leonardo da Vinci, I thought, but dreams are free, so I might as well splurge!  

One of the art museums to where Tony and I took our Adrian was interactive. The many interesting art pieces are what photography buffs might call “to die for.” But Adrian took my camera and was all over the place, making us pose here and there, and clicking away. “Don’t move, Amah!”

Among all the shots he took of me and Tony, my most-liked photo, which I am sure defines me, is this:
 I uploaded it to Facebook and to my surprise, the number of “like” from friends and foe kept rising by the second. It is my most-liked photo to date, bar none.

Mona Lisa, the most recognized, most written about, most sung about, most talked about, most parodied painting in the world, never fails!

Everything, however, is wrong about the photo. The real Mona Lisa painting is much smaller at only 30 inches x 21 inches. Still, when I saw it at the Musée du Louvre in Paris sometime ago, it took my breath away. Alas, it was cordoned off from fans and gawkers.

But Adrian’s shot of a Mona Lisa rip-off and me, makes my dream come true. I need not grow up to be a Leonardo da Vinci!

Here's the real deal, though. It comes with a matching blooper stinger—toink.  

Saturday, August 29, 2015

I Am Indispensable

When I was still green in the workplace, wise people I looked up to would always advise me,  “Nobody is indispensable.”

They were teaching me not to think too highly of myself or act like a diva, because there is always someone out there who can take my place. It was a sure-fire way of bursting one’s bubble.

After I became a boss myself, I would parrot those words for swell-headed juniors.

Today, however, 15 years after leaving the workplace for good, my mind just made a u-turn, “I am indispensable.”

This was while our pastor was delivering the message about a parable familiar to many, "The Lost Sheep."

The shepherd had 100 sheep. One day, one was lost. He immediately left the 99 and went looking for it. When he found the lost sheep, he carried it on his shoulder and brought it home. He was so happy everyone rejoiced with him. (Matthew 18:10-14)

Why would the shepherd bother looking for just one ordinary sheep? He had 99 anyway, so minus one should not have made any difference. Or, he could have easily bought a new sheep. But no, he went out looking for the lost one—and didn’t stop till he found it.


Because that’s the kind of Shepherd our God is. He doesn't wait for anyone to call for help; He knows when one is lost and initiates the search.


Because standards of the world are different from God’s. His lost sheep is precious, there is not one like it. It is indispensable!

God tells us through this parable that every person created by Him is special and irreplaceable. He looks for us when we stray so we could complete His family.

"He is a seeking God," our pastor stressed. The shepherd wanted the lost sheep back because it belonged in his care and he longed to care for him like he cared for all the others.

That's how God treasures a wretch like me, I mused, tearing up. His grace saves me and takes me safely home.

On the cross, Jesus did His best for me. Have I done my best for Him? Or, have I even tried?

Photo credit: 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Day I Don’t Look Like Me

Once a year, for two hours, I lose my bangs, my trademark. My whole body is swathed in black, making me look obese.
I literally and figuratively lose myself. But that’s a small price to pay for one special ritual of my life as a part-time college teacher.

On graduation day, my former students—those whom I tried hard to discipline and train in the classroom on ways of their future workplaces—take center stage and I couldn’t be prouder.

Before the ceremonies, they arrive one by one, all dolled up, perfumed, and unrecognizable. Out of their school uniforms, the girls look like beauty queens: accessorized dresses, made-up faces, coiffed hair, and stockinged feet tottering on six-inch heels.  The boys look like young CEOs, dapper in new dark suits, gelled hair, and polished pair of shoes.

And their parents! Likewise in designer party clothes, they don permanent grins as they put hoods on their children and medals on the outstanding ones.

And I muse, These are the people who worked hard, paid through the nose, and, pardon the melodramatic word—sacrificed—so they could enroll their children in a transnational university. They deserve their five minutes of fame and their lifetime of pride for their achievement.     

It’s a yearly ritual, with a similar cast, but with new excitement each time. Applauding my former wards—queuing up on stage, receiving that piece of paper from the Chairman of the Board, President, and Dean, donned in the same costume as their professors—levels our playing field.

Seated in one row, my colleagues and I gasp on cue and we gush into each other’s ears, reminiscing incidents in classrooms of years past.

One day in a year, in my humongous costume that hides my new dress, and cap that hides my old bangs, grace colors my heart with all shades of feel-good emotions for having been a part of these kids’ growing up into formidable human beings—ready to take on the global stage.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Pamana Shot Dead

I was outraged when I read this news yesterday. And I continue to seethe.

“Three-year-old Philippine Eagle named Pamana [heritage] was found dead two months after she was released into the wild. She sustained a fatal gunshot wound in her right chest, according to the Philippine Eagle Foundation [PEF] Executive Director Dennis Salvador.”

This endangered Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) flew to freedom on June 12 after being cared for and brought back to health at PEF, which found her suffering from two gunshot wounds. There are now only about 400 left of these endangered birds. And every day, they face threats of being killed. They are also losing their homes due to deforestation.

This was the subject of a story written by my third son, JR, when he was in grade school. This same story I unearthed when I began writing full-time in the year 2000. We named the eagle in the story, Malaya (freedom). After JR and I polished it, we sent it to Dennis Salvador, at that time waging a war against illegal hunters.

Aimed at bringing awareness to the rampant killing of this Philippine treasure, and hopefully help stop this merciless act, the book was published by Caltex Philippines, an advocate for the preservation of the environment.

"Fly, Malaya, Fly!" (illustrated by Longlong Pesquira) was launched in Davao City in 2001.    

Fifteen years later, today, the awareness has been achieved, I think, but the shooting has not stopped!     
This bird, with a wingspan spreading up to seven feet and therefore the largest eagle in the world, is now a critically-endangered species.

People found guilty of killing critically endangered species can face jail sentences of up to 12 years, and fines of up to P1 million (Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act).

Yet, these criminals are running around loose and are on a shooting spree.   

Is there hope?

With PEF, determined to be a steward of God’s flying creations, I want to remain hopeful. My prayer is that after Pamana, no Philippine eagle will be killed ever again—and that we all become good stewards of His every grace.  

Photo of Pamana: From the Province of Davao Oriental FB page

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

When Is a Job Done?

In the advertising world, a TV ad is not done till you actually see it on TV.

Even after the ad has been given a standing ovation and approved by client, the creative team can’t rest easy.  Client can still change his mind, “Hold it!” Sometimes, because of competitive moves or budget constraints, the ad sits on the back burner and waits . . . and waits. 

When it is finally aired, those who slaved over the ad heave a sigh of relief and only then can they release that sense of longing held in their chest too long. 

This parallels writing a children’s book. Or almost.

The manuscript is singing and the book layout is raring to begin, but “Hold it!” The artwork is still crawling. So the book does not get “aired” and it goes on the back burner where it waits . . . and waits.  


The waiting was finally over for “Coming Home” (the first book in the series called Happy Home) scheduled for launching twice, with “Hold it!” halting it twice as well. 

On July 25 at 2:00, at the Ateneo Rizal Library during the Children’s Book Fair . . . it. was. launched.


Not quite. Unlike an aired TV ad, the job is far from done with a launched book. I have always believed that unless a Christian author's book is read, there is no ministry to speak of. 

After all the noisy excitement below (storytelling, book signing, hobnobbing with lovely children and their parents), I quietly pray: that “Coming Home” will be read, and each reader will thank the Lord for the grace of family, in a happy home.

That’s when the job is done. And euphoria kicks in.