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 peak 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

Monday, March 23, 2015

Kenosis


I've been blessed with two wise, thinking bosses, from whom I have learned a lot.  (I omit from this post the creative, unstructured ones who honed my right brain.) 

The first, Abaja, often turned on the light for me when I was still in the corporate world. Much of how my left brain behaves today I credit to him.

The second, Leo, is also a switchman. He regularly clicks the “on” of my academic light bulb.

He opened my eyes to the word kenosis. “Emptying,” he said.

We were talking about problem students—those whose plates are full with too many issues, all big in their mind, and therefore have no space even for a small serving of classroom lessons.

“Only when one’s mind is emptied of issues can he listen again,” he said. Those were not Leo's exact words, but that was the lesson I chose to learn.

This flashed back to my first guru. Before he retired he said, “I don't want to be somebody anymore. I just want to be nobody.”  From his FB posts, I have no doubt that emptying has done him wonders. 

Christians believe that self-emptying is the ethic of Jesus. He waived all privileges in His place of glory so He could be with us, like us, on earth. This self-sacrifice was for the redemption and salvation of all humanity.

Apostle Paul in fact urged the Philippians to imitate Christ's self-emptying. He issued a call for humility and for Christians to imitate Christ. “. . . he gave up his divine privileges; took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” Philippians 2:7-8 (NLT)

Uncanny how two bosses from two different worlds speak of kenosis—one in a corporate arena; the other, in an academic hub.  

Is it at all possible for modern man to be Christ-like and empty himself of worldly trappings and desires?

Only by grace.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Book, the Play, the Joy


The book: 

Originally written in English, No Lipstick for Mother won first prize in the Palanca Awards 2005.  It was re-told in Filipino by my friend, Dr. Luis P. Gatmaitan, a Palanca hall-of-fame awardee and a well-loved children’s book author. 
Both book versions (illustrated by Kora Dandan-Albano) have since delighted hundreds, hopefully thousands by now, of young readers here and abroad.

I wrote it to empower women. It focuses on the outer beauty that the world acknowledges (symbolized by lipstick) versus the unfading inner beauty God wants women to cherish.

March being National Women’s Month in the Philippines, I thought it might be relevant to re-visit the book.    

The Play:

No Lipstick for Mother is now also a stage play!

Not in English, not in Filipino, but in Cebuano.

It was produced in Cebu by Childlink Learning Center and Childlink High School Inc. Directed by no less than the school’s directress, Maria Theresa F. Tio, the play delighted young and old audiences alike.

I wish I had watched it. But Manila and Cebu are a flight apart. If only I had been able to conjure a magic carpet, I’d have turned myself into Aladdin. 

The Joy: 

Photos of the play arrived via email—images I would keep and treasure as priceless and precious possessions.

As soon as I saw them, I rose from my computer chair and gave the cast and crew a standing ovation.

Literature and drama are two different art forms. But what thrills me most about the book is that the story lent itself well to 3-D movements and songs, and that, aside from readers, it had been able to send the message to a live audience. 

Before March ends, may all my cyber friends be granted the grace of joy in celebrating National Women's Month.

"Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.” 1 Peter 3:3-4 (NLT) 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Serpent vs. Serpent


While reading my chronological Bible, I found a strange story that made me sit up, ponder and wonder. It’s found in Numbers 21:4-9.

The people of Israel complained again (for the umpteenth time) and God again (!) punished them.  Even after being severely punished over and over by God for past disobedience, they never learned their lesson.

This time, the Lord sent fiery serpents that bit people to their death.  

And as he did many times before, Moses begged the Lord to spare the people. God, in his infinite patience, again relented. He provided a very specific, odd remedy to save them.

God instructed Moses to make a fake fiery serpent made of bronze and set it on a pole. He said that anyone who looked at it will live.

Moses did just that.

Now, why would God use a serpent to save the people from the serpent? Why would He tell Moses to make an image of the very thing that was killing his people?

This must have been the same questions asked by some of the stubborn Israelites who simply refused to look—and died. 

But those who looked upon the bronze serpent with the eyes of faith lived, even as the serpent’s venom was already draining life from their bodies.

Many years later, however, the reigning king, Hezekiah, destroyed the bronze serpent after consultation with God. Why?

Over time, it morphed into an object of idolatrous worship—it had become a god. People burned incense before it and worshiped it, instead of God.  What was meant to be good was turned into evil.

That is the story of our lives.

In the beginning, Adam and Eve were given a paradise. But they believed a serpent more than God. Again and again, despite umpteenth chances, man keeps falling into evil ways.

That’s why over two thousand years ago, God gave sinful men the ultimate Grace on a cross: His only Son became sin so that through Him we will have a chance to be in paradise with God. 

Those who gaze upon that cross with the eyes of faith will be healed from the scourge of sin and live with Jesus forever.    

"God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God.”  Ephesians 2:8 (NLT)

Photo: Moses and the Brazen Serpent, 1898, Augustus John (1878–1961), Oil on canvas

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Hibernating


Deposit it inside a drawer for hibernation . . . 
That's what I just did with the manuscript of my latest book.

This is the step in my writing that I take very seriously. This is also the time when I spend my time doing nothing except celebrating. Hence, as has been my ritual on this blogsite when I celebrate, my header changes:

From here . . .

To here . . .

Am I making sense?

Not at all, not to anyone.

This one's all about my personal writing process, which some people may find odd. 

After furiously writing for months—writing, re-writing, revising, re-revising, editing, re-editing, printing the draft, tearing it up, re-printing, editing again—I finally come to a version I am comfortable with. But before I send it to my editor, I send it to a drawer to hibernate for at least two weeks.

During such time, I forget about it.

After the silent two weeks, I read it again.

And I see them! Them are those errors or lapses that escaped me. How did I ever miss them? Duh. 

They glare at me saying, "Work, work, work some more!"

And I obey. I tweak and twist, push and pull all day, all night.  

Then off to my editor the manuscript goes, right on time for my deadline.

There are many more steps and more months before the manuscript becomes a book, if it all, but that's another saga I will blog about some other time.

Meanwhile, let me dwell in the grace of my manuscript's hibernation.

"With all my heart I will praise you, O Lord my God. I will give glory to your name forever . . ."  Psalm 86:12 (NLT)

By the way, in case you’re interested, my book's working title is "Present!"


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Big Best Breakfast


Have you been treated to a blast of blessings all at once?

I was. And I asked myself, What did I do to deserve this? 

Amidst months of busy, busy days, over the weekend Tony and I traveled to the place where I grew up, bringing along with us my best cuzzin Minna who was visiting from New York after a long while.   

The landscape has changed, like it always does when I make those rare trips home.  The new highway cut our traveling time down to half; instead of lean-tos, new Manila-like shops lined the streets. The dirt bends and the trees of my youth have aged beyond recognition. 

Yet, the fervor of family get-togethers remained the same. My siblings and their spouses, who likewise all went home for this impromptu cuzzin-welcome, met us with warm how-wonderful-to-see-you-again hugs, coupled with digital clicks.

We had grand activities like visiting a mountain resort and kunol-kunol (translation: chats with disjointed sentences and laughter on any topic that comes to mind), but none more magnificent than the big best breakfast that extended up to lunch before we said our good-byes. 

My brother Dave and his wife, Gladys, live in a manor with an herb garden for a backyard. There we spent the night and in the morning, we were surprised by an all-natural breakfast, with a platter of omelets courtesy of their duck farm—prepared with TLC by the two of them.

“Eat, eat,” I ordered our special guest, Minna, who, like me, was dazed by the array of food.

“My heart is full,” she said, digging in. 

Grace is like that. It feels your heart, my heart, even if I didn’t do anything to deserve it.
    

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

How Intelligent Are You?


Intelligence is an extremely complex subject. 
There are IQ tests that measure intelligence, but debates are raging over their flaws.

In fact, Guinness retired the "Highest IQ" category in 1990 after concluding IQ tests are too unreliable to designate a single record holder.

But I am writing about two of those found with the highest IQs because I find them fascinating:  

One is a Korean named Kim Ung-yong, born in 1963, with an IQ of 210.

He started speaking at the age of six months and was able to read Japanese, Korean, German, English and many other languages by his third birthday.

At age four, he had memorized about 2000 words in both English and German. At age eight, he was invited by America’s NASA and conducted research work for 10 years. He also received a Ph.D in Physics at Colorado State University a few years later.

But at age 13, Kim was burnt out and returned to his homeland. He shocked everyone by choosing an ordinary office work. Apparently, people expected him to reach the moon. But he says, “I have found my bliss.”  

The other genius, James William Sidis, an American (1898-1944), was credited to have an IQ of 250-300. At age two, he could read English; at age four, he was typing original work in French. A year later, he had devised a formula to accurately name the day of the week for any given date. At eight, he projected a new logarithms table based on the number twelve.

James entered Harvard at age 12 and graduated cum laude.  By this time, he could speak and read fluently French, German, Russian, Greek, Latin, Armenian and Turkish.

At some point in his life, however, James said, “I am tired of thinking.” He took on obscure mechanical jobs that paid just enough for his subsistence.

The lives of these two geniuses show us that intelligence, like everything else we own on earth, does not bring on happiness or success. 

The road to eternal joy and pleasures is Jesus, the Grace birthed for us in a lowly manger thousands of years ago. Without Grace, all that we have on earth burns out. 

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”  Psalm 16:11

Photo credit: smitsonianmag.com