Monday, July 6, 2015

The Basic Bible Message


"The Bible is nothing but a compilation of speculations, inconsistencies, long-winded stories, and unproven theories written by mortals,” an unbeliever said with derision.

In one blow, he tried to ruin God’s Word—the foundation of my faith. 

For those who do not believe in Scripture as God-breathed, the message is actually very simple. But it is interestingly told in stories upon stories, in 66 books, about betrayal and loyalty, failures and successes, joy and grief, through the most unlikely characters that span many generations until the coming of the Messiah.  

In one sentence, this is the basic Bible message:

Man was completely ruined in sin, and therefore cannot save himself; only by the power of God’s grace, through Jesus, can he be saved.“And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Acts 2:21 (NIV)

It is a humbling message that the human mind, especially one exposed to volumes of theories and ideologies, would not naturally think up.

When left to himself, man invents an ideology he can prove and believe in. Most of these ideologies espouse that man is not completely sinful and that he can somehow, in some way, save himself—and that there is no such thing as heaven or hell. These are proud thoughts of human beings. We don't naturally, in humility, admit our failings. 

This I believe: the authors of the Bible were controlled not by their own spirits but by God's Holy Spirit. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)

Only through this same Holy Spirit can anyone understand the Bible for what it truly is.

But then, again, if a person does not believe in the basic message of the Bible, all arguments are moot.

Lord, in a world of open ideas, help your children to keep the faith. Amen.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Rose’s Rainbow


My friend Rose loves music—so much that she can sing, play the keyboard, and compose songs in a wink. She conducts the choir in her home church and she wrote and put to music our university hymn.

One day last week, I showed her the photo of my latest painting while she hummed a tune. Suddenly, she said, “Grace, would you paint me a rainbow with notes on it?”

It is a drastic departure from the series I am working on—flowers and butterflies. But I asked, “When is your birthday?”

I couldn’t refuse a friend, especially one who was singing hosannas to my handiwork. In a moment of madness I promised, “I’ll do one in time for your special day.”

She belted out a song of grace. 

A week later, the news about the SCOTUS legalizing same-sex marriage was the biggest topic in all the world. On FB and social media, the rainbow became an icon. My gay friends and everyone sympathetic to the Supreme Court decision changed their profile photos to one with a rainbow.

The very next day, as soon as I saw Rose, I told her, “I have to apologize. I cannot paint your rainbow.” 

Thinking I had other things to do, she said, “That’s okay, do it when you’re less busy.”

“No, Rose, I cannot paint a rainbow at this time when people equate it with the same-sex marriage issue,” I replied, slowly explaining to her my stand.

In the Bible, the rainbow is the beautiful sign of God’s covenant with Noah and every living creature “. . . that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth [Genesis 9:8-15].”

At the moment, however, it has taken a different turn. I will not paint a rainbow, not while the sign has been skewed and, pardon the word, bastardized.     

“Oh, please don’t!” she said almost in hysterics, sharing my sentiments. Regaining her composure, she smiled, “Paint me a rose instead.”

I will start painting Rose’s rose tomorrow—it will have a butterfly in it. And possibly a musical note or two.

But no rainbow.

“Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman, ' for she was taken out of man." For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”  Genesis 2:22-24



Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Boss Is in Town!


My one and only grandchild, Adrian, has planed in from the US. I can't imagine a more exciting month! It's grace beyond telling.

All of eight years, he'll turn our world delightfully upside down. Everything and everyone take a back seat while he's around.   


"Children are a gift from the Lordthey are a reward from him. Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands." Psalm 127:3-4 (NLT)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Alive, Alert, Awake, Enthusiastic


Four peppy words from an old, old camp song, which we used to sing with gusto, defined me—and they still do, or so I think.  


As one steps closer to the sunset, his/her energy naturally diminishes. I see gray-haired men and women walking slowly or being assisted by a younger someone.  God has so designed our human bodies to be born with all the verve in the world that will slowly wane as the pages of time flip away, till we reach our final resting place. 

We recently sang this song in one gathering and I am blessed to still be alive, first of all.

Then the fact that I am still alert—friends say I am quick to respond to communications like emails and FB messages, and can take notes faster than a millennial—is a bonus.

Now, being awake is a mark of aging. I wake up at all odd hours, go to the bathroom, then stay wide-eyed till the wee hours of the morning. When I finally rise from bed, I do a one-hour walk, and all through the day, I don't take naps. All because I don't feel sleepy.

Enthusiastic—I oooh and aaah at every little thing. Ordinary things awe me, which is why I paint them. I marvel at people's feats, big or small, old or new, which is why I write about them. And I continue to love interacting with young people, which is why I teach them, twice a week.  

Let's take enthusiastic further.

I am excited to see what my glorious body would look like after my early body has conked out or decayed. This enthusiasm I share with my friend Yay, a faith sister and a fellow writer/teacher.  She is abroad at the moment and won't be back till next month, so this topic of conversation is in the freezer. 

Meanwhile, I will keep singing this song to myself—allegro con brio, con confuoco—and thank God for those four grace words which he continues to lavish, not only on the young ones, but also on the young once.  

"That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!" 2 Corinthians 4:16-17



Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Chill Out


The paid workforce runs under stress and duress. That’s why workhorses need to chill out or go nuts.

This I can say with authority, having gone through an incinerator called corporate world for over two decades, after which I said, “Enough.”

So now, every day is chill-out day, right? That’s overstretching it.

Even out of the workplace, one can’t run away from stress and duress in this chaos-filled world. Watching TV news and reading the dailies make one’s heart pump faster than it should. Chill-out day is here to stay. 

Mine is painting.

I could get lost in a world of colors and shapes with bottomless possibilities. All I do is dab, swoosh, splash, swirl, drip, smear, smudge, scratch, or fling paint (depending on how my feeble hands could manage it) on to the surface of the canvas. 

Voila! Images come as a surprise.

At day’s end, whether observers’ eyes (not mine) think they are passable or terrible is immaterial. I always paint over the original painting anyway.

“Oh, you changed your pink flowers to yellow?!” my friend G said when I showed her the image I worked on a day after she saw the beginnings of it.

“Where is that field of flowers you did last Easter?” Ate Vi asked while putting my canvasses in order at the end of my chill-out day. She was shocked when I told her it had become a solitary sunflower.

Hey, a chill-out day is supposed to be a cool, relaxing day, right? No pressures, no quotas, no inventories.

It was on one of these days when Tony was on a chill-out mode, too, reading a thriller a few yards from my work area. Without my knowledge, he took some photos of me and uploaded one to his FB page to show only me.  He forgot (or doesn’t know how) to adjust the setting to private.    
 
Next thing I knew, almost 300 of my friends made comments about the photo!   

“This is my most-liked post ever,” Tony said. I couldn’t tell whether he was complaining or bragging.

Then it was picked up by Metrocebu News. Below is a screen grab:
This is the image I was working on: unfinished, unsigned. I am posting it for posterity, because on my next chill-out day, it just might look totally different. 

Like clockwork, the exuberant colors of grace emerge to refresh me on my chill-out day.      

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24 (ESV) 


Saturday, June 20, 2015

My Labor Day


This post has nothing to do with labor prior to childbirth. I can’t remember that far, far back. It’s about that one day when all of me was 100% on the job. Yet everything went wrong and I had no scapegoat. 
  
Ate Vi was due back from her summer vacation. No show.  

The two temps who helped with household chores were to come early. No show. 

My boys had all left for work and I was left at home holding the (doggie) bag. Attorney, JR’s dog, stared at me and I stared right past her. What do you want? 

Oh, breakfast. So I rustled up left-overs and served her a plateful. She stood still, fixing her gaze at me. On a diet? 

I moved to the kitchen to tackle the pile of dirty dishes everyone left on the breakfast table.

I’d rather do something else, I said to the suds on my hands, especially when I got to the pots and pans. I had not turned on my computer; my primed canvas was waiting for the first dash of paint; the books I was reading stayed untouched on my bedside table.   
 
Tough luck, today housekeeping is what you do, the suds might have replied.

Dishwashing done, I dashed to the bedroom to make the bed and neaten the place. That should be a cinch, but the scorching temperature hovering over 40 degrees Celsius made me itch all over. I picked up one of my three back scratchers to ease my triple-deck prickly heat.   
 

On to dust the furniture and sweep the floor, sweat drenching my clothes. Back scratcher to the rescue!  

What to do about lunch?  I scraped off the cold omelet from a pan, and gleaned some diced carrots from yesterday’s dish. Unfortunately, the left-over rice smelled funny so I turned my sight on the solitary pandesal. 

The afternoon temperature rose further. Attorney had not touched her breakfast so I didn’t serve her lunch. I mixed some doggie pellets into her uneaten breakfast, though, and close to panic, I texted Tony, “Ate Vi has not arrived, the two girls did not come, and the dog won’t eat.”

He texted back, “She’ll eat when hungry.”

I was hungry, but I didn’t eat. If you had my kind of lunch, would you?

Six PM, the furnace that was our home had not cooled down. The cleaning, scrubbing, and scouring took forever, so I called up a neighborhood restaurant and ordered supper. (Actually the real reason was, I can’t cook; so shoot me.)

I will beg the boys to use plastic spoons and fork, and paper plates. This was my best idea for the day. 

While I was throwing away the used plastic wares, the doorbell rang. It was Ate Vi!

Before I could collapse, grace ended my labor day happily ever after. 

P.S. I am now in awe of housekeepers in all shapes and forms.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Trivial Meetings


How productive are your meetings? Do you really spend more time discussing the major issues, or do you dwell on the trivial ones? 

I’ve attended top-level meetings myself where busted lightbulbs—and other minor concerns that could have been delegated to the janitor—were discussed with passion.

That’s called the Parkinson’s Law of Triviality (PLOT), created by the man who likewise created the Parkinson’s Law, which I blogged about recently. His name: Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British naval historian and author of some 60 books.          


PLOT means meetings/sessions give disproportionate weight to trivial issues.

Let’s say a steering committee meets to map out their strategies for their organization’s 70th anniversary.  The members spend majority of their time with pointless discussions on easy-to-grasp issues which they debate endlessly: where to hold it; who should be invited; design of the advertising artwork; food to serve—forgetting the strategic issues.

We usually put the blame on the leader’s lack of facilitation skills, or on our fellow team member’s low intellect or competence, or both. We get frustrated and hope we slip into a coma so we are oblivious to it all.    

Why do such meetings happen? According to Parkinson, it’s difficult to discuss hi-fallutin’ issues, and not many can contribute deep ideas that will wow others. So we confine ourselves to things we are comfortable with—with matching jokes and anecdotes that make others take notice.  

More examples:

A board of trustees meeting: 10 minutes discussing the proposed vision/mission strategy and 90 minutes on where and how to print/post the new vision/mission.

An annual planning session: 10 minutes on year-that-was review and 90 minutes on the slogan for next year.  

A building committee meeting: 10 minutes on the budget of a one million-peso wing and 90 minutes on what to call it.

There are more.

The thing is, triviality is woven in the fabric of human nature. So when you go to a meeting dreading a PLOT, summon enough patience, put up with all the chit-chats about this and that, and beg God for grace so that you may be able to sit through it all without losing your good humor.  

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Ephesians 4: 2

photo credit

Friday, June 12, 2015

It’s Way Past My Bedtime


There’s nothing I look forward to more than meeting old friends—those who figured largely in my past; those who never made it easy for my brain in the workplace; those who encroached upon my comfort zone.

Challengers, I called them collectively.

They made working worth waking up for, and worth not sleeping off for.

In a retiree's placid life, which encourages you to do anything you want at your own pace and time, and which has reprogrammed your bedtime to a ridiculously early hour of the evening, you entertain yourself with thoughts of frenzy-crazy yesteryears—when every second counted and every word uttered had to have a rationale or you’d be niggled, either by your conscience or by the challengers. 

One get-together was planned to celebrate the birthday of one, in a place unheard of by my now un-hip, un-trendy ears, used to a quiet place away from the maddening crowd: Dillinger’s 1903.

Dillinger! Born 1903, he was a wild, dangerous criminal whose name evokes the Gangster Era in Midwest USA. A joint named after him must be some kind of a place. Oh, dear.

Game! 

The place was dark, too dark, for someone whose eyesight has grown dim. But the food was excellent, even if you couldn't scrutinize it. And the company—it’s what I’ve always known: SUPER.

That one word, all caps, is an all-embracing superlative I couldn’t improve on.

Except for a few who couldn’t make it, the laughter, the wit, the banter, the reminiscences, the irreverence, the warmth, the friendship, despite disparate ages, was complete—all there.

The oldest in the group, not yet me, was repeating like a mantra, “I can’t see people’s faces.” And then there’s me.
 
Not drunk, just struggling to stay awake because it was way past my bedtime. Challenging it was, but the evening was not something I would have slept away for the world.

It was, in my blog parlance, SUPER grace.

My thought balloon, I’m game for the next one.

Photos by Baby

Monday, June 8, 2015

First Fruits

I have known Abigail since she was in her mother's womb. The Lord had just taken her dad, without whose physical presence she would grow up.

And grow up she did, under the care of her mom, who also took up the cudgels for a dad. As a toddler, Abigail was regularly brought to Sunday school, while her mom attended the church service. In adult Sunday school, her mom (many years my junior) and I would be classmates, and eventually teach the class alternately.

As a teenager, Abigail was an active member of the church youth group, leading in various activities. She would also handle little kids in church projects.

Now she is a remarkable young woman, reminiscent of her courageous namesake in the Bible. After finishing a degree in education, she immersed herself into the rigid review for the licensing exam. Predictably, she aced it, and landed a job in the process.

And then came the anticipated milestone of every newbie in the working world—payday!

Here's what her mom shared with me, meant to be confidential. But I am writing about it because my heart is full, and I feel like it's light on a hill that can't be hidden:

Abigail asked her, “This is my first fruits, right, mom?”

“Yes.”

“Then I should offer it to the lord.” And she placed the total amount, every single centavo of it, into the offering plate during the next Sunday worship service.

This is the sort of thing that makes me cry (okay, bawl and blubber, in private). And I tear up every time I remember this. She makes any mother proud.

Knowing and seeing Abigail, who must have learned her ways by her mother's  example, is grace beyond words. I say no more.

“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” Proverbs 3:9-10 (ESV)



Thursday, June 4, 2015

Double Delight, Year Five


Our twins, Maika and Nikka, are now as tall as I am. And they just turned 11!

They are not our own children, but the use of "our" seems right since we have been privileged to watch them grow up from age seven.  

They recently finished fifth grade, financed by a kind-hearted benefactor, who took on from where Tony and I (now both retired and therefore unable to afford the cost of education in a private school) left off

This same benefactor again volunteered to take them through sixth grade, the last level offered by the Christian school where they are enrolled.

During their Moving-up Ceremonies in March, Maika and Nikka got medals of recognition for good performance. They also participated in the school program (yellow arrows below).

Just last week, they finished the Daily Vacation Bible School in church, and I see them attending Sunday School. Our hope is that they continue to know more and more the Source of every grace through their teachers. It is also our prayer that their mom and siblings will meet and see Jesus through them.

When our third and youngest son graduated from Law school a few years back, Tony and I thought we had graduated, too. But life throws in surprises at every turn; we are moved to welcome them, making our twilight years more delightful—in this case, doubly delightful

Now, we have to see to buying two pairs of black pumps, two pairs of PE rubber shoes, some pairs of socks, two school bags, two umbrellas, and we’re ready to go for another school year!

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 (ESV) 


Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Page on amazon.com


Two things always make me uncomfortable: one, self-promotion; and, two, discussion about money.

“Which is why you will never be rich,” my sister Aie said. She’s one to talk; she is my clone in these departments.  Must be the genes. 

“I am rich,” I replied. “Not in material wealth, but in everything else. God provides all that I need.”

“Touche!” she exclaimed in Ilocano.

This conversation happened a long time ago, and Aie will probably not remember it, but it comes to me now because I discovered, accidentally, that I have an author’s page on amazon.com. My publisher sort of mentioned a few months back that my books are now available at Amazon, but I left it at that.

Three days ago, while I was trying to search for a book in Amazon, I spotted my name. Clueless and curious, I clicked on the link and bingo!     


“You worked in advertising for two decades, and you teach Advertising. You know that a product will only move if you advertise it. How do you expect your books to move?” my friend G admonished me.

I believe in marketing; in fact, I have discussed this with my publisher’s marketing staff ad nauseum. But there is something about overtly doing it myself to promote me that doesn’t sit well with my psyche.

For this Amazon thingy, I tried to conjure enough chutzpah (this took one long day and one long night) and uploaded my author’s page to my FB timeline, emailed it to friends and family, and broadcast it to my various circles.

That wasn't so hard, was it?

It was. But I was rewarded with many positive responses from all quarters. 

While at it, and a bit emboldened, may I add: if you are abroad and looking for a gift (e-book or paperback formats) that speaks of God’s abounding grace written by someone whose heart beats for and in the Philippines, here's the link:

http://www.amazon.com/Grace-D.-Chong/e/B00J14B3FC


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Summer Endings


Eight posts ago, I blogged about summer beginnings—my unfinished paintings. The scorching days were then just starting to assault us without mercy, and today, while the heat is still as oppressive as it was in those early summer days, the whining has lessened.

The universal truth has been proven once again: everything is just a matter of getting used to. 

This morning marks one of my summer endings (finishing a painting is not one of them)—the last day of summer classes.

I've never taught in the summer before because I was always busy with book deadlines, but by a grand burst of generous grace, I was given an early deadline for my latest book—so my manuscript was sent to my editor sometime in March.

The last paper from my habitually late student, turned in as usual at the last minute, is ready for grieving. Not one of my suggestions to improve his draft was followed; all comments, ignored. 

When pressed to explain why, he said, "I forgot."

And the teacher's grief turns for the worse. But I have learned to make grief of this nature short-lived, or I'd need a nitroglycerin under my tongue.

In four days, too, Ate Vi will be back from her summer vacation. With bated breath, I will quickly turn over the noble task of housekeeping, which she dumped on my lap. Happy days are here again!

On to more unfinished paintings . . .  


. . . more reading, and definitely, more writing—there are again too many niggling ideas in my head that need to be transformed into concepts that should eventually end as words.

I had hoped I'd finish at least one painting before summer's gone, but that was just a hope, not a promise. 

Summer endings are just as blessed as summer beginnings, aren't they?

“For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” 1 Timothy 4:4-5 (NIV)


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Gift of Self


Whenever I receive a gift painstakingly made by the giver, a huge smile escapes my lips. It means so much more than the gift itself. The giver has shared a part of himself/herself, warming the heart.

One such gift came from one of our students (let’s call her Pi) in our medical transcription school. She is actually from India, and is in the Philippines only for a year while her husband fulfills a contract with his multi-national employer. 

To while away her time, she decided to take up medical transcription. What makes Pi stand out from among our current students is that she wears only her country’s traditional costumes—lovely and well-coordinated prints—which never cease to surprise and delight us. 

One day she arrived with an extra bag; inside was a dish she cooked herself.

“I don’t serve my husband and kid any food prepared outside of the home,” she said.

“You do all the cooking?!” I asked, mouth agape. For someone who has zero credentials in cooking, I stand in awe of people who have. 

Then she brought out a dish with mouth-watering brown balls that I’ve never seen the likes of.

Gulab jamun,” she said. “For the three of you.” 
The three are JC, head of school; Leone, office manager; and me, her English teacher.

We didn’t have to be prompted twice. The balls were melt-in-your-palate goodness, with a taste so alien and so perfect. They were gone in minutes.

What made them sweeter was the fact that Pi slaved over a hot stove for us, sharing a part of herself. 

Grace, which deluges our days, also comes in sweet brown balls and through a sweet friend named Pi.  


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Be Silent, Listen!


Silent and listen have exactly the same letters. One is an anagram of the other. 

Not only are they inter-related, they are also inter-dependent. One can’t listen without first being silent.

Not too many people today listen anymore. In my classes, I have to sing and dance (sometimes stand on my head, or eat fire, or walk on burning coals) to make my students listen. Except for a few—the outstanding ones, those who make me want to keep teaching—my stunts are all for naught.

When there is so much noise outside and inside of us, we can’t hear what another person is saying or feeling. Worse, we can’t hear God.

Listening to God is like listening to anyone; before we can hear Him, we must be ready to listen.  If we want to hear God speak, we must be quiet and be focused on what He is saying.

Prayer is one way we converse with God. We can’t hear what He says to us, totally missing out on His grace, unless we shut out the chaos around us and focus on Him.

Reading the Bible is another. The Bible is one of the ways through which He speaks to us.

Whether praying to Him or reading His Word, we have to make a deliberate choice to be silent. 

We live in a terribly noisy world. Everywhere we go, sounds and distractions compete with our minds, submerging our thoughts below the surface level. In this milieu, it is not easy to be silent. 

William Arthur Ward, American author and editor, wrote:

We must be silent before we can listen.
We must listen before we can learn.
We must learn before we can prepare.
We must prepare before we can serve.
We must serve before we can lead.


Words I wish I had written.  

"Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.” Matthew 7:24 (NLT)


Friday, May 15, 2015

Quadruple Rainbow


By its sheer splendor, a rainbow always renders me speechless; it makes me remember God’s covenant with Noah after the great flood:

“When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures. Never again will the floodwaters destroy all life.” Genesis 9:14-15 (NLT)

I am not alone; those who know their Bibles remember that God remembers, too. No matter how much floodwaters we experience in this country typhoon after typhoon, I know that it isn’t going to end life on earth. Something else will—what that is, nobody knows.

If one rainbow stretched across the sky brings me goosebumps, I wonder what a quadruple rainbow might do!

Recently, Amanda Curtis, CEO of a fashion company in New York, was blessed to have snapped a photo of not one, not two, not three, but four rainbows!
After she posted this photo to Twitter, it became a phenomenon, immediately re-twitted thousands of times. All major TV networks and newspapers scrambled their way to Amanda, asking permission to publish/air the photo.

But we are a cynical people, too. After seeing the photo, many branded it to be fake. Some sneered saying, “There is no such thing!” According to the CNN weather producer, this was a double rainbow that has been reflected in the sky, due to a smooth body of water underneath the rainbow.

Rainbow specialists have a scientific explanation, “Quaternary rainbows are natural products of the combination of refraction, dispersion and reflection inside raindrops. These are the same processes that create all rainbows, yet they are taken to their extreme to produce these higher order variants.”

Whatever that means.

For me, when I behold a rainbow appearing in the clouds, I am reminded that there would be no more floods like the one God sent in Noah’s time.

A quadruple rainbow, then, is a quadruple sign—and quadruple grace.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Fall in Love and Stay in Love


Sometime ago, a friend of mine, an adviser of a university campus paper (on its 10th anniversary), requested me to write a message to encourage the editorial staff.

I welcome such opportunities—nothing pleases me more than to encourage young writers to fall in love, and stay in love, with writing.

Dear Editor,

How refreshing to write those two words! It has been ages since I wrote a letter to an editor. In ancient days, I was an editor, too. I was ten and coerced by my teachers into being the Ed-in-chief of our grade school paper. I must have enjoyed it so much it showed. I successively took on the same role in our church and clan—the Girl Scout and other organizations.

At the University of the Philippines, a magnet pulled me toward the Philippine Collegian, where I reported to an Ed-in-chief. Those were some of the most exciting times of my life.

Campus journalism gave me the ultimate high and disciplined me to a point that if I stopped writing today, I'd probably end up in a hospital bed. I am sure I share this feeling with your staff. I have always believed that every writer has been gifted with the passion to write.

Writing can transform a young wordsmith into someting bigger. Before you know it, the members of your staff will take on roles of leadership in the community and even the country. A stroke of a pen (rather, a click on a keyboard today) is like a magic wand. It conjures images that make good things morph into astonishing wonders.

What wonders are these? Well, your imagination is as limitless as the words that only you can craft. Keep writing beyond your 10th anniversary. Keep writing till it hurts to stop.

Grace

"We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith . . ."  Romans 12:6 (NIV)

Photo credit 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Parkinson’s law


Are you familiar with Parkinson’s Law? (Yes, the law, not the disease.)  

I heard about this law for the first time in one of those casual grace conversations with friends. One of them, Carol, just delivered a talk on productivity.

She was defining a super-productive person when she mentioned Parkinson’s Law.

What’s that?

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,” she explained. 

Ah, so!

So that's the term that describes people who wait till the last hour to do whatever they are supposed to do. They expand their work to fill the time frame given to them. Meaning, even if you give them a long deadline, they will fall under the same last-minute work ethic toward completion. 

Have you ever experienced Parkinson’s Law yourself?

One student couldn’t turn in her assignment when it was due because her printer had conked out the night before. She could have printed it one week before, right?

All year, a school administrator knew she needed a guest speaker for Mother’s Day, but she put off inviting one till the last month before the occasion. All the possible speakers she had called already had something scheduled on that day and were not available. 

For weeks on end, you have a writer’s block, and then suddenly you become a lean, mean machine in the final week before deadline. During which time, you could have experienced any of these things: a nationwide brown out; a computer crash; intermittent Wi-Fi connection; or an invitation to a surprise party you couldn’t refuse.

Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British historian, first observed this habit when he was with British Civil Service. He noted that as bureaucracies expanded, they became more inefficient. He concluded:  as the size of something increases, efficiency drops.

He also found that even simple tasks became more complex to take up the time allotted to it. Ergo, as the length of time for a task becomes shorter, the task becomes simpler and easier to solve.

In the advertising world where I used to work, every project was urgent. The office would turn into a steaming pressure-cooker that got things done at the shortest possible time.

That’s why in my workplace today, the academe, I have used the same principle without knowing what it was called. I give myself and my students short deadlines—and check on their work every session.

Does it work?

I am not sure. Maybe pressure-cookers are not their thing. But at the very least, within a short period of time, I could rewrite the rules if things aren’t steaming fast enough, and not wait forever for anyone to finish his work.

Parkinson’s Law, gotcha!


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Not a Boxing Fan


Manny Pacquiao just lost his much-hyped fight against Floyd Mayweather. It was a unanimous decision after 12 rounds.

Sports analysts say Mayweather ((48-0, 26 KOs) ) did a brilliant performance and Pacquiao was diminished, or even done in.

Photo: REUTERS/Steve Marcus 

No matter. He remains a hero among many Filipinos and other people in different parts of the world. Not only is he a well-loved pugilist, he is also a philanthropist. Earning millions of dollars from his fights, Pacquiao has given much to others. 

Personally, however, I cannot muster enough courage to watch any boxing bout—not even when much of the world was all agog over this “Fight of the Century.” There is something about deliberately hurting someone that grieves me.

Combat sports like kickboxing, wrestling, judo, and mixed martial arts are great for self defense under dire circumstances, but if done to disable the opponent with an audience salivating over who should win and chanting, “kill him, kill him” well, that’s another sad story.

At the risk of being branded dogmatic or narrow-minded, I wrote this post because I have never understood how violating someone’s body can be a source of excitement.

I know that danger and injuries do happen in any sport. My second son suffered from a dislocated shoulder for years because he was into many sports (except boxing). C’est la vie.

But because boxing’s aim is to hurt, cut, batter, pummel, and knock-out one’s opponent to win, I am one with others who are having difficulty reconciling boxing with the Christian view of honoring the body, the temple of the Holy Spirit. 

“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NLT)

In my research, I found that since World War II, over 350 boxers have died from ring injuries. Many, like Ali, have had to endure lifelong infirmities. These boxing bodies, losers and winners, made many spectators either rich or poor through betting.

This post will invite brickbats, I'm sure, but no matter how I psych myself up, I shut my eyes when boxing scenes are shown on TV. 

Human flesh, our life on earth, is a one-time amazing gift of grace from our Maker. Is boxing a way to honor it, just as the loser (in this bout, Pacquiao) is honored by millions of fans, and the winner (Mayweather) is honored with a championship belt and millions of dollars?

It's a moral dilemma. I may not get an answer in my lifetime.


Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Growling Tummy


As I visit our atis (sugar apple or sweetsop) fruits and watch them grow in our garden every day, I likewise revisit the book I wrote about this, my favorite fruit.  

The Growling Tummy is the 5th in a series of 16 “Oh, Mateo!” books and highlights the value of honesty. (All 14 books were illustrated by award-winning illustrator Beth Parrocha-Doctolero.)
It was lunchtime in school and Mateo, aged 8, was hungry. His tummy growled. It sounded like the dog that suddenly grabbed his lunch box and lapped up his food!

Now, what to do?

Mateo walks home with his tummy growling non-stop. Suddenly, he sees three of his classmates up on one of the atis trees of the grouchy old lady who owns the growling dog that just ate his lunch.

The boys are freely helping themselves to the yummy atis fruits and putting some in their pockets. They tempt famished Teo to join them, “We're hidden behind so many trees, the old lady can't see us here!"

Teo refuses and instead goes to the old lady, whose house sits in the middle of her orchard,  introduces himself, and warms his way into her heart. She allows him to climb one of her fruit trees after Teo volunteers to sweep her yard of leaves in exchange for some fruits.

Sounding like her dog and Teo’s tummy, she growls, “Mateo, you may pick only one! Any size!”

Teo quickly climbs up one atis tree, and picks the biggest, yummiest atis in the world!

Now, the time has come for my photo of our own atis tree to climb up my site. Soon I will have the biggest, yummiest atis in the world, too. Wink.


The banana fruits, all four bunches of grace—good and perfect—have ripened and gone down some non-growling tummies in our household. The old header has outlived itself and therefore comes down.

“Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” James 1:1 (NLT) 


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Summer Beginnings


While biting my nails, waiting for the manuscript of my latest book “Present!” to be sent back by my editor, I intensely keep busy with other pursuits that take second fiddle to my writing.

One of them is painting.

Since that Sunday of Resurrection, when faith brethren in church got together to celebrate Easter by painting, I have not stopped. With every free time (from part-time summer teaching and marathon reading), I grab my brushes—and paint.

The last time I dabbled in painting was in 2006. This time, nine years later, I have decided to tackle  summer colors and patterns. 

Butterflies are it.

I really want to be an artist when I grow up. (I am as inept in painting as I am in cooking.) Painting, like reading, holds so much rapture for me, the restful kind. What grace that feeling is—it’s like lying down in green pastures, beside the still waters. Indefinable peace for the restless soul. 

I initially began painting on that glorious Sunday some palm fronds, topped with a butterfly hovering over flowers. The painting is unfinished; it needs re-touching and re-doing. I have an idea of what it needs; I just don't know if my hands are capable of doing them.

After that, I started a few more. Again they are all unfinished, needing a splash there and a swoosh here. Or maybe some dabs and rubs. But I signed one or two so the blame does not fall on anyone but me.

Then one day last week, my friend G, an artist of the first order (also an art director par excellence) joins me and tries to put some sense into my madness.
Oooh, she knows exactly what a teeny section needs and her hands obey her imagination. She gives me great tips here and there, but somehow, my hands rampage toward the messy, danger zones.

I get excited just thinking about my next images—my mind is definite, but my hands are iffy. So, let me give you a sneak peek of my initial works.

I call the series "Summer Beginnings." I hope to finish at least one before summer is gone—or before I get back to the reason I breathe: writing.

"He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.” Psalm 23:2-3 (ESV)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Hat’s Off


To protect myself from the moist air in my dawn walks, I wear a hat.  The hat stays till I reach home at 6 AM.

Today, seconds after the first glimmer of the morning sun, I took my hat off—approximately at step 4,000 (according to my pedometer), and about 5:34 AM.   
It is summer. 

Dewdrops pop and vanish as soon as the sun peeps and makes its way to the horizon.

When I ended my walk at step 7,500 (seven kilometers), the sun was shimmering all around. Dogs were barking, people were chattering, and birds were singing. Even Tony was up and smiling.

Before today, it would still be dark when I reached home at 6 AM. My path would be lit by street lamps and occasional school buses. Then I’d be welcomed by the aroma of egg omelet, fried rice, brewed coffee or some other yummy concoction from Ate Vi’s kitchen. The boys would still be in bed.  

Without my hat, my cropped hair gets blown by the wind and my head is infinitely lighter, like it were wafting freely with the tree leaves that fall from branches that sway to and fro along my route. The better to feel the whisperings of nature in my ear. Even my feeble eyes see clearly the bountiful grace in the neighborhood—it’s in all the flowers in bloom and the butterflies that kiss them.  

Tomorrow, the sun will come out even earlier and I’ll be hatless earlier, too. In a few weeks, I will definitely be hatless from my first step to my last.

Oh, I take my hat off to God. I take my hat off to His summer! 


Monday, April 20, 2015

Go Bananas


The one fruit that seems to reside permanently in our home is the banana. Tony buys a bunch almost daily (the yellow, seedless kind, which we call lacatan). And I am always surprised at how fast they disappear—and appear again. 
I can go through life without bananas, but obviously, the boys can’t. "I am living with three monkeys," I sometimes say, but nobody takes offense. At any given time, one of them—or all—are busy enjoying the yellow berry.

Without my knowledge, Ate Vi planted a banana tree in our garden. Yesterday, she asked me, “Want to see the beginning of banana fruits?”

Tada!

The first thing that came to my mind was to use it for my header. Not, “The boys will enjoy our very own bananas in a few weeks.” Those were Ate Vi’s words, said with her usual aplomb.

Our very own bananas. That’s what summer brings: a lot of sunshine that makes banana plants bear bunches of banana fruits.

Then she gives me another surprise. “Since you don’t go much for bananas, you will soon have your very own favorite atis, too.”

She leads me to the atis tree—and there, hanging from one of the branches is a solitary atis! “Oh, there will be more,” she said with her standard poise.

That made me, pardon the pun, go bananas.  

In just two surprising moments in our garden, much of summer grace has come—and from our very own trees.

The bananas go up:
 
The dew drop goes down:  

Friday, April 17, 2015

Day of Resurrection


On the Sunday Christians all over the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, adults and children in my home church resurrect our love for the arts. 

After the Sunrise Service, our spiritual family breaks bread together, then those who nurse a closet (or overt) passion to paint go to work in our church yard.

This is a tradition we started four years ago. And it seems to be gaining ground.

This year, more kids join the session. Especially because the objective is to gather 40 paintings for exhibit on our church’s 40th anniversary in September. All amateurs, we are guided by our Youth Pastor who has done more artworks than all of us put together. 

“I didn’t go to art school,” he apologizes. “I just love painting.”  Those exact words would have come from my mouth, but the difference between him and me is that, judging from his body of wonderful works, he definitely has the talent! 

The last time I put my paint brushes to use was at the same time and place last year. Busyness in writing and some teaching relegated those brushes in a corner where they gathered dust for 365 days.

I’ve always said that although I love painting, painting doesn’t love me. What my mind sees is not what my hands deliver. My gifts lie elsewhere, but the wonderful feelings painting brings becloud the inability.

I am not complaining; I am thanking the resurrected Savior for giving us areas of interest that rain untold joy, untold grace.

 As soon as I get home, I show Tony (an art enthusiast) the photo of our harvest.

“This one’s excellent!" he singles out the work of Jillian, aged 9. "And this. And this. Confident strokes,” he adds. The works of the kids impress him! Sigh, he ignores mine.

That challenges me to slave over my painting some more, to come close to the kids’. I spend the rest of the day urging my hands to do what I want to see.

At day’s end, “Nah.” The hands simply can’t deliver, but the heart brims with gladness. And I lift up my brushes in praise of my resurrected Lord!   

“May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” Psalm 121:2

Photos:grabbed from the FB pages of Karen and Ching

Monday, April 13, 2015

Grace Period


That much-appreciated limited period of time in which penalties are not imposed even if you are late—for whatever (insurance, class, appointment, or any kind of bill)—is called grace period. Very apt. Although undeserved, it is given out of consideration for inability.

Grace periods come with different time frames—some short, some long—but the important thing is: as long as you make it during this time, you are free from any obligation or punishment.

In sum, you or your payments are not considered late.

In the university where I teach, grace period is 15 minutes after the start of the official class hour. Beyond that, students are no longer accepted into the classroom.

Their penalty translates to missed opportunity (lecture, quiz, project, discussion, etc.) that leads to lowered grade.

A grace period is exactly that—it is grace; it is given to anyone who, even if late, has the same privileges as those who are on time.

On earth, our grace period within which to accept “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” is our lifespan. We are given our whole lifetime to say “aye” or "nay” to Jesus. 

Many people take their own sweet time, saying life has to be enjoyed first. The trouble is, tomorrow may not come; our life could end tonight or anytime. Beyond that, we will stand in judgment.

Alas, the grace period granted us cannot be taken for granted. 

“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:14 (ESV)

Photo credit

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Foot in Mouth


Not only babies (and acrobats) can put their foot in their mouth.  

We can, too. I can and I do. 

Foot in mouth is an old idiom, originating from the foot-in-mouth disease (a deadly virus found in cattle), and dating back to the 1800s. The idiom refers to humans whose words get them in trouble.

It’s when you say something stupid, insulting, or hurtful that you regret. You wish you hadn’t said it, but it’s too late to take it back.

I am not exactly gaffe-prone—my mom taught me tact painstakingly—but once in a while, even if I mean well, my words land in the wrong direction.

This one’s an example, which I wrote about in my book Circle of Compassion. Even after so many years, remembering the incident still turns me red. 

ooo

I bumped into my old friend, Jim, in the busy lobby of a hotel. He was with a young boy about eight years old. “Hello, stranger!” he said, hugging me. “It's been, what, ten years? Meet my son Javis.”

“Hello, Javis! You look just as handsome as your dad. Where's your mom?” 

“I don't know where my mom is, OKAY?” he said angrily, running away and disappearing through the crowd. His worried father quickly ran after him.

Aw, did I put my foot in my mouth! Red with embarrassment, I immediately called up a mutual friend and told her what happened.

“It's still all very hush-hush,” she said. “After their spectacular wedding which awed you, me, and all other 1,000 guests, Jim and Nieves were not exactly the ideal couple we all thought they were. In the States, even with all the luxury in the world in a huge house, the marriage didn't work out. But they stayed together till their son turned seven last year. Nieves left their conjugal home and was never heard from since. Now Jim and their son Javis are back in the Philippines—for good.  And guess what . . .”   

“Thanks,” I said, unwilling to hear more.  


ooo

Foot in mouth is something we sometimes can’t avoid. But it is more than worth our while to think about words before we say them.

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29 (ESV) 


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Empty Promises


OPM. That was the acronym we used for clients and bosses who reneged on their promise because they either forgot about it or didn’t mean it at all. OPM is Oh Promise Me, a song in the 19th century. 

The world is indeed full of OPMs. Ads tell us we can be rich, fair, beautiful, tall, healthy, or even healed from a disease, if we purchased this or that product.

Politicians promise us a better life if we voted for them.

Friends say, “I’ll come and see you,” but never do.

“You’ll be okay, I promise you,” say some do-gooders when we are in bad shape; we’ll never be okay, not on the basis of their promise. 

“Promises are made to be broken,” is a saying we often quote.

Empty promises surround us all year, and maybe all through our lives.
 
Only God made a promise that is not empty. On Easter, according to preacher Steven Kellett, “God gave us emptiness that is full of promise.”

Easter has one, great promise proven by emptiness:

Empty cross—on that cross, Jesus offered His perfect life in our behalf; there, where His blood was spilled, He paid the penalty for our sins. Anyone who asks for forgiveness will be forgiven. 

“He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.” Romans 4:25 (NLT) 

Empty tomb—He did not remain in the tomb, just as any believer in Jesus who dies on earth will be risen from the grave to eternal life.

“He isn't here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.” Matthew 28:6     
 
Indeed, God gave us emptiness so full of promise—the promise of eternal life witnessed by man on Easter: 

“Jesus replied, ‘Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.’” John 12:23-25  

Happy Easter everyone!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Hope


Someone very close to my heart died from drug overdose at age 30.

I knew him since he was 16 years old. His parents, who spoke very little English and Filipino, would request me to go to Ian's (not his real name) school in their behalf to settle misbehavior issues with the Rector. On our third meeting within the same year, the Rector warned, “Ian would be kicked out if we caught him smoking marijuana again!” 

It didn't happen again, but Ian had progressed from grass to cough syrup to shabu to cocaine in the next few years while in college.

Again and again, I would talk to him. Again and again, he got jailed. Again and again, his parents would bail him out.

One day he was convinced to check into a very expensive rehab facility. But he escaped after a few days and his parents would check him into a new one . . . ad infinitum. I couldn't keep track of the number of rehab houses, the amount of money spent for his expensive addiction, and the slew of goods he stole in exchange for drugs as years went by.

When he was found lifeless, sprawled on the floor in his parents' home, his only sister ranted and raved, “My parents should have given up on him. Ian was born hopeless!”   

That stung me. At the cross two thousand years ago, God dispensed grace through Jesus: an open invitation for everyone to receive Hope.

But my dear Ian declined. 

As we reflect on Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection this Holy Week, may we accept the Hope offered to each one of us.

Nobody is ever born hopeless. Hopelessness is something we bring on to ourselves if we look the other way and decline our one and only Hope for life everlasting.
 
"But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Romans 5:8 (NLT)

(This post was adapted from my book “Circle of Compassion,” published by OMF Literature in 2012.)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Family Bonding


We’ve gone where the world has gone! To that dark pit where gizmos have taken the place of face-to-face encounters:

Make no mistake about it, here we are all deep into great conversations, but not with each other. When have doodads taken over our lives?

This is the theme of my new book entitled Present! While writing it, I analyzed, bit by bit, the pitfalls of being attached to a digital thingy, based on a slew of research materials. But after sending the finished manuscript to my editor, I find myself falling into the trap and modeling it.

I’m afraid my credibility may have dripped down the sewer.

After the book shall have been edited, I will read it again—not as the writer but as a reader. I think I need that book more than anybody at this point.

Ancient Roman philosopher, Marcus Tullius Cicero, couldn’t have known about technology taking over our lives today when he said, “Silence is one of the great arts of conversation.” He never reckoned with this kind of family bonding. 

Going back to Present! I am now in the midst of the next publishing stage: waiting.

After hibernating the manuscript, waiting—the longest step in the long book-writing process—for the edited manuscript can take forever. I am biting my nails as I look forward to the step after waiting: printing.

Right now I need a drink; I thirst for the calming grace of patience.  

Friday, March 27, 2015

In the Same Boat


This idiom was first used by the ancient Greeks, referring to the risks shared by all passengers in a small boat at sea. Through time, the meaning came to include all people in similar, unpleasant circumstances at sea, on land, or in the air.

Let me go back to its origin to distil the complicated concept of life storms.  

These are problems that assault us, making us feel as though we’re sinking, drowning, being beaten by the swirling waters and turbulent tides in the deep blue sea.
In such situations, we desperately call out to God for help.

When the problem continues to rip us apart, we ask, "Are you sleeping, Jesus?"

Jesus was indeed sleeping!  

In a boat with His disciples, Jesus was asleep, unmindful of the dangers that lurked around them.

"But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water . . . The disciples woke him up, shouting, 'Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown? 

“When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, 'Silence! Be still!'  Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm.

“Then he asked them, 'Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?'”

If you were in the same boat, wouldn't you be afraid, too? The possibility of drowning and dying is terrifying. 

But ah, Jesus was in the same boat, too!  The same boat being battered by waves and wind.

How easily we forget that when we suffer through harrowing experiences, He is with us. He will not allow us to sink; He calms the waves and wind.

But in truth, the real storm is not what's outside of us, but what is within us—fear. It’s gnawing fear that makes the situation seem worse; it’s our inner turmoil that needs calming.   

Jesus asks, "Do you still have no faith?"

Jesus is in the same boat. And if He is, should we be fearful? Should we even worry?

May His grace continue to steady and strengthen our fledgling faith. 

(Quoted verses: Mark 4:37-40 NLT)

Photo credit: Painting by Ludolf Bakhuizen, 1695