12/02/2016

Why Devotions for Kids Matter



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

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

11/28/2016

Are You Writing Your Next Book?


This question has a two-step answer.

1) Yes. I am always writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish I could tell them about those still unpublished stories.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

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


11/24/2016

Ten


Ten is the first number that has two digits.

Ten is the first number in grammar rules that is written as a numeral and not spelled out.

Ten refers to a perfect score of 10.00 for a single routine in artistic gymnastics.

Ten is an adjective for a lady who is so attractive she personifies perfection.

Ten is used to describe something that couldn't get any better. 

Ten is the number of years I have been blogging. And I intend to make it better.         

Hah! And some of my friends said blogging is ningas kugon (a Filipino phrase or idiom meaning “flaming cogon grass” or figuratively, quickly going up in flames). It’s attributed to the Filipino cultural trait of eagerly starting something, but then quickly losing steam soon after.

What’s behind my sticky tenacity? Grace.

There is always something about His grace to write about. And there is always grace to stoke the writing fire and keep it burning.    

In ten years, I have uploaded 1,044 posts. My numbers include readers/guests from 193 countries in the world, 44 change of headers, and an all-time-page-views history of over 395,000. My 10th year's page hits came up to a high 103,000, which totally surprised me.

I have maintained the layout/look I created on day one (a lesson I brought home from advertising: brand essence), and I will continue blogging till my fingers stiffen from arthritis or my eyes blur from too much reading.

I will celebrate! Sing with me?

I will celebrate
Sing unto the Lord
I will sing to Him a new song
I will celebrate
Sing unto the Lord
I will sing to Him a new song

(Don Moen)

11/20/2016

Dear Imee

(An open letter to Imee Marcos) 

Please do not trivialize the anti-Marcos-burial protesters by calling us "yellowish."

During Martial Law, my personal friends were jailed, tortured, raped, maimed, and murdered; we lost our jobs because your father shut down media; we lost our legal rights because he suspended the writ of habeas corpus; plus many more atrocity.

Would you call those “yellowish?”

You let your father’s body fester, displaying to the world his replica, for 27 years so that you could, on November 18, 2016, 12 noon, brandish his power over Filipinos once again by burying him at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Shrine).

You opened up our old wounds; you forced us to relive those dark, dark years in our country's history.   

Forgive? Yes, every Christian must. But reward? Reward the perpetrator of beastly crimes with a hero’s burial? Marcos is not a hero.

So please do not gag us nor kill our spirit, like your father did, by branding us “yellowish.” Call us by our real names:

Martial Law Victims.

We.are.not.yellowish.

We are black. Black with and in pain. 
May the grace of humility find you, Imee. When it does, I pray that you receive it.

11/18/2016

How Bitter is Bitter?


A constant source of joy in walking at dawn is meeting fellow walkers and hearing your own voice and theirs chirping, “Good morning!”

There aren’t too many of them—rising before the sun is up is, after all, an ambitious endeavor, especially for people held captive by electronic gadgets through the night.

One of my meet-and-greet friends is a middle-aged man who walks with his dog. Let’s call him Masiong—he with a baritone voice that shoo away the last remnants of sleep, "Good morning!"

For years, that was my ritual with him and the few others whose voices signal roosters to crow and households to stir.  

Then one fortuitous day, Tony (my husband), an officer of our neighborhood organization, had a meeting with 11 others. They had to decide whether to approve or disapprove the application for a carwash shop along our road. All except one voted "nay."

I was unaware that the applicant was Masiong.

The next time I met him on the road, he made a U-turn. "Lovely day!" I called out. He quickened his pace.    

"Guess what," Tony said later that week, "our neighbor Masiong just gave me a severe sneer. I wonder if he knows that I wasn't alone in denying his application for a carwash shop. It was almost a unanimous decision." 

"Come again?” 

Tony explained, and I agreed, that a carwash shop in our quiet neighborhood would create traffic; invite noise, strangers and maybe crimes; deplete our water supply, etc.”

Masiong was naturally disappointed. 

Fast forward to five years later.

At dawn, on the days that I walk, Masiong with his dog either makes a U-turn or cranks his head away from me. He also does the same with Ate Vi, our long-time househelp, who is another early riser.  

Bitter, he was. Bitter, he is. And bitter, will he always be?       

Who can hold a grudge that long and still survive? How can anyone withhold the grace of forgiveness that was freely given on the cross to even the most evil of men?

Dozens of verses in the Bible call us to steer clear of bitterness. One of them is, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Ephesians 4:31 (ESV)

Tomorrow, like I always do, I will chirp, “Lovely day!”

Who knows? I just might hear Masiong’s baritone voice again.  


11/14/2016

From Grief to Hope


Shortly after uploading my post on deep grief, this message by one of my FB friends catches my eye, “We are a people of hope. We must not give in to despair."  

I scroll down and another post talks to me, "Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” Augustine

Further down, "Hope is being able to see the light despite all the darkness." Desmond Tutu

Just below it, "We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope." Martin Luther King, Jr.

What else would make me single out these posts but grace? They leap out of the page to make me reflect on why I have been grieving the way I do. And now, as I am plucked out of the black hole, I begin to see light. 

I grab my Bible and turn to the verse I often heard from the children with whom I have had the privilege of conversing at Compassion Philippines. It’s a verse I have highlighted many times over: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Indeed, tomorrow is promising. The Lord may even surprise us with His second coming. But between now and then, hope should "spring eternal." 

We leave our deep grief at His feet and from the black hole, the seed of hope takes root and sprouts. 

11/10/2016

In Deep Grief


"Black hole: a place in space where gravity pulls so hard that even light cannot get out."

 I feel like I am in it.

The news on Nov. 8 that nine Supreme Court Justices voted to allow ex-president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery), with only five anti-votes, knocked me out.

It was a tragic, sad, bleak day. And the darkness remains.

My growing family and I slogged through and lived in fear during the difficult Martial law years, the darkest part of our history I would not wish upon my worst enemy. I agree with these dissenting opinions :   

"Marcos is not a hero or 'an exemplary public officer' because of the human rights atrocities committed under his regime." Justice Marvic Leonen

"Even if Marcos was a medal of valor awardee, he 'ceased to qualify' for interment at the heroes' shrine because he was ousted through the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution." Senior Justice Antonio Carpio

"The argument that the late president's burial does not make him a hero 'disregards the status of Libingan as a national shrine, the public policy in treating national shrines . . .'” Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa

"President Rodrigo Duterte acted with grave abuse of discretion by allowing the burial because it violates domestic and international law ‘to do justice for human rights victims’ – both monetarily and non-monetarily.  Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno

And from the office of the Vice President:

"We strongly oppose the decision to bury former President Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB).

"How can we allow a hero's burial for a man who has plundered our country and was responsible for the death and disappearance of many Filipnos? Those who have gravely committed crimes and moral turpitude to the Filipino people cannot be buried at the LNMB . . .

"It is our responsibility to teach our children the heroism and sacrifice of our forefathers. And Mr. Marcos is no hero." Leni Robredo

At a time of deep grief, only grace can pluck us out of a black hole and let our light shine through again.

“For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.” Psalm 22:28 (ESV)



11/06/2016

Family Matters


This dates me, but the first thing that comes to mind when I hear “Family Matters” is the American TV sitcom in the late 80’s that ended before the new millennium began. It was about a well-knit, big family in the city where I turned the corner from a clingy, self-indulgent kid to a braver, bolder adult: Chicago. 

Eons later, back to home country, here I am talking about “Family Matters” again—but no longer about the sitcom, but about a magazine and a radio program. They have the same name (which proves that matters about family truly matter), but are totally separate entities.

“Family Matters,” the magazine, is where my friend Ruth writes feature stories. She messaged me one day asking if I could talk about being a lola in its special grandparents’ issue.

“But I only have one grandson. And he is abroad, coming to visit only once a year!” I hedged.

“One is enough,” resolute Ruth replied, asking questions on values in rearing children—and grandchildren.

Ruth’s article raised my happiness ratio to maximum level.   

I immediately sent it to my grandson, Adrian (aged 9), who said, “Wow, I am featured in a magazine!”

Someday, when he’s older and re-reads what his Amah (Chinese honorific for grandma) said about having him, I pray he learns from it.

“Family Matters,” the radio show (DZAS), is where my friend Marie and Haydee regularly broadcast nuggets of wisdom on daily living. Through CSM (book publisher), they invited me to a chat about my book, Twin Blessings. 

 It is a one-and- a-half-hour program that combines praise to our Savior, laughter on air, book talks, relationships with listeners, and odes to family. We randomly discussed why, when, where, how I write, what I write about. 

Unlike long ago and far away when I also dabbled in radio hosting, radio stations today is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities that immediately show audience response—giving the hosts real-time feel of how the show is going.

Both “Family Matters,” (the magazine and the radio show) were pathways for me to talk about the only thing that drives me as a lola, wife, mother, teacher, writer, etc. while my life clock continues to tick closer to my appointment with my Maker: His grace. 

And I have my dearest friends in media to thank for these opportunities.


11/02/2016

Send the Light


“Send the light, the blessed gospel light,” wistfully sang Pastor Popoy, our church's young missionary, in his soulful voice during our worship service. 

Knowing the hymn by heart, I silently sang along with him. It’s been two weeks since that Sunday and I am still humming it—definitely an LSS (last song syndrome) or more importantly, a prayer. 

It’s a plea to our Master, Who rules our universe, for His light to please shine upon us.  

Many have been feeling like we’re living in the Dark Ages. With all these modern gadgets that bring us news all over our country, almost from island to island, I know how our light as a people has grown dimmer and dimmer over the past months.

We have new leaders in government, hugely popular, that have been ramrodding their way to challenge existing laws and policies in the guise of change for the “good of the Filipino people.”  It’s an open season for killing, diplomatic turnabout, cursing, flip-flopping—confusing many but empowering more toward impunity.

Never has the Christian community been so divided right down the middle.

“If the Bible says it’s wrong, it’s wrong,” says one side.

“The Bible tells us to respect authority,” says the other side.

“Respect and condoning what is wrong are two different things,” the argument continues.  

“Opposing the leadership, in whatever form, undermines unity,” the retort comes fast.

And so the debate (peppered with bitterness, anger, malice, and self-righteousness) rages on and on, magnified on social media.

Where do we stand?

I, for one, feel as though I am teetering in the dark, badly needing light, God’s light, to shine upon what’s right so I may see where we are going and what to do before we reach either doom or glory.

One thing is sure, every Christian I know is praying. But, again, many prayers (at least those I read on social media) are either “for” or “against” pronouncements and actions of the new dispensation. 

My own are the lyrics of this old hymn by Charles H. Gabriel (1888):

“Let us pray that grace may everywhere abound,
Send the light! Send the light!
And a Christ-like spirit everywhere be found,
Send the light! Send the light!”

Amen.



10/29/2016

Good Is Not Good Enough


In grade school, good earns us stars.

In high school, good lands us  in the honor roll.

In college, good bestows us with Latin honors: summa, magna, cum.

In the workplace, good gets us a promotion, a raise, and perks.

In the community, good earns us popularity and esteem.

In our spiritual life, good welcomes us to heaven—that perfect place where no tears, aches, nor sins take place. 

That last statement, for evangelical Christians, is a fallacy and a heresy. 

Even if I gave half of my earnings to the poor, fed all the hungry in my neighborhood, housed all orphans, built a hospital wing for indigents, or went to church every day, I will not get to heaven.

Nothing that I will ever do or can do—no matter how good—will buy me heaven.

What, then, is good enough to be good enough for one to be saved from sins and get a pass to heaven?

None. Zero. Nil. Nada. Zilch.

Salvation is a gift; it’s a grace from the Lord.

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

“When you believed . . .”

When I think of this verse, I am reminded of John Newton's Amazing Grace, a hymn written in 1779:  

“'twas Grace that taught,
my heart to fear.
And grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear,
the hour I first believed.”


Good works or deeds, no matter how many or how much in our lifetime, do not reward us heaven.

Only God’s grace does.


10/25/2016

What if?


Among the brainstorming techniques available to us, this two-word question, "What if?" seemed to work best for me and my teams when I was in the workplace.

The volume of answers cascaded like Niagara Falls. With raging, deafening noise, the ideas converged, crested, and plummeted into a river of possibilities that would never have come about without "What if?"

This question gives us the freedom to think beyond borders and to resist the usual. In my business communications classes and the seminars I facilitate, this question is always a part of the workshops—because it works.

But outside of those activities, I shun asking the question. For thousands of reasons: 

When my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I asked myself, "What if?" I got nothing but horrifying scenarios. 

While on board a plane, we felt it shake and nosedive in the middle of Pacific Ocean. "What if?"painted for me vivid visions of endings, all of them tragic.

Deep into writing a story, I focused on Mary, particularly in Luke 1:31 (NLT) when an angel of God announced, "You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus."

I asked myself, "What if she said no?" Panicking, I ran to our pastor. 

He admonished me, "Nobody, not Mary, not Judas, not Moses nor anyone, could thwart God's plan. His Book is unlike novels with alternative endings. The Bible is the beginning, middle and ending of everything and everyone. Period." 

That shushed me up good, never asking "What if?" again while reading the Scripture.

By faith, one just has to take it all in—simply because it is the truth.

By grace, one will understand how every piece of what seems to be a puzzle comes together into one perfect whole.

10/21/2016

Real Fast, Real time


If you upload a photo of your lunch to social media now, someone abroad will click on “like” or react with a “wow” before you could take your first bite. The time difference between here and there, or anywhere, has disappeared.

With technology, everything is real fast at real time. 

Bombings, wars, earthquakes, tornados or any news from any place on earth is known by all the peoples of the world on TV, digital phones, or the Net at the same time they are happening. 

A friend of mine, X, in the US wanted to surprise her husband with the adobo dish her family’s restaurant in the Philippines is famous for (the secret recipe is carefully guarded).

While cooking, however, X totally forgot the combining ratio of the vinegar, patis (fish sauce), and soy sauce, “which made the difference between our family adobo and the adobo of the rest of the country.”  

She called her mom on her mobile phone and instantly got the answer she needed. 

Real fast, real time.

That isn’t the case with prayers though. God, who is all-powerful, and who created the universe and everything in it in six days, often makes us wait for His answers to our prayers.

So we turn into a Habakuk and mouth his complaint, “How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (Chapter 1:2)

We want to believe that a loving God wants to do everything for us. Yet, Christians also know that there are prayers He won't answer at all. And if we don’t take the hint, we could wait forever.

The blessing is, along the way grace makes us grateful for that withheld the answer. We realize, just as James did in 4:3, “And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.”

God is not on a real fast, real time mode. Waiting on the Lord, therefore, has become more difficult today when speed drives the world. 

But we can look at the waiting as a season for stretching and growing our faith. 


10/17/2016

For Wives Only


In my last post, I left out many unnamed women in the Bible that impacted our Bible heroes’ lives. My self-imposed word count of 400 can be constricting.  

Let’s zoom in on three more—this time, wives.

First, Mrs. Pilate. She appears in a single verse, Matthew 29:19 (NLT). As Pontius Pilate is about to proclaim Jesus guilty, she says, "Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night."

An enlightened wife gives her husband advice or another point-of-view to help open his mind. One of our roles in this complex merger called marriage is acting as our husband's conscience, especially in crucial times.

Sadly, our husband’s decisions are beyond our control.

Second, Mrs. Potiphar (Genesis 39:6-20). A woman of leisure—rich, bored, spoiled, probably donned in fabulous clothes—she has an army of servants at her bidding. What the lady wants, she gets.

She turns her lust on her husband’s appointed head of household: Joseph. Young, handsome, well-built, like today’s heartthrobs, and yes, a mere hired hand. She seduces him, shamelessly luring him to go to bed with her day in and day out.      

Joseph says, “No.” “No.” “No.” He runs. She gets even. She cries, "Rape!" And Joseph lands in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

There are similar stories today. But as women after God's own heart, we are grateful that those stories are not ours.

Third, Mr. Noah. Although mentioned five times in the Bible, she has no name nor description. But imagine . . . a woman living with a hard-working husband who let her in on God’s order to build an ark, because God would destroy sinful Earth with water.

Not a whimper from her. Not even when, years later, she, her family, and every pair of the world’s animals stepped into the ark, where they were marooned for about a year (Genesis 6:18; 7:7, 13; 8:16, 18).

In there, she must have fostered a close family life as they moved away from everything they had; as she prepared for a time when the earth would have no one but them.  

How many Mrs. Noah are there today?

Let’s leaf through the Bible to meet more unnamed wives—our how-to or how-not-to manuals. Consider, too, the nameless wife of Job, of Isaiah, of Ezekiel, of Lot, of Naaman, of Gilead, of Cain, etc.

In their stories, grace lies in wait for us to discover.    


10/13/2016

What Kind of a Woman Are You?


In our study of women in the Bible, we usually focus on those whose names have gained prominence because of their important roles. To name a few: Mary, the mother of Jesus; Ruth, the loyal daughter-in-law; Esther, the beauty queen who saved the Jewish people; and Eve, the first wife and mother.

Among them, within the chapters where their stories are told, we find many other women who have no names. What roles do they play? Why weren’t they given names? Why are they even in the Bible?

I believe that these nameless females are important because they serve as mirrors for us to see the kind of women we are. They reflect a part of us that we gloss over or don’t recognize.
That was precisely the title of my talk one weekend among the women of our church:  “What kind of a woman are you?” It drew uneasy laughter from the audience.

In 1 Kings 3:16-28, we meet two unnamed women, both prostitutes and pregnant, who lived together. Three days after one gave birth, the other gave birth as well.

One of the babies died and each claimed that the baby who lived was hers. They went to King Solomon to settle the issue. 

Wise as he was, Solomon asked for a sword and offered to divide the baby between them.

"Don't!" One mother cried out to spare the baby’s life and was willing to give the boy to the other mother. But Solomon awarded the living child to her instead and said to all, “She’s the baby’s mother.”

Why? She was unselfish and sacrificial, giving up her child so he might live. Are we that kind of a mother?   

Or, is our mind so warped that, like the other mother, we think nothing of a baby being killed just to prove we’re right?

“What kind of a woman are you?” I asked. It was likewise a question for myself, for anyone living by grace—and trying, all her life, to be a woman after God’s own heart.


10/09/2016

Back to Regular Programming


September is gone.

It carted along with it the activities (usually spread over a few months) crammed in thirty days. Somehow, all the events that needed my presence was bundled in one big bale.

First, the school term ended, and I was saddled with final papers and grades. Simultaneously, I had to attend the Palanca Awards Night, not because I was one of the judges, but because I like attending it.

Before I could catch my breath, I facilitated a daylong writing workshop for youth advocates of PCMN against sexual abuse among children.

And because the Manila International Book Fair happened that same week, I shuttled back and forth to the venue for two launches and book signing activities. These—while I celebrated with my spiritual family the 41st anniversary of our home church with a series of programs.

I squeezed in additional back-to-back activities—another writing workshop for university professors and an awarding ceremony for the same group, where I shared my author story. Both were through the invitation of a long-time friend I could not refuse.

Was I panting yet?

Yes. Not from exhaustion, but from excitement. In my "retired" mode, these are the things that keep the adrenaline pumping. All of them just happened to take place in the same month in one fell swoop.

In the second half of September, I had to attend the women’s group fellowship of several churches (one of which is ours) because I had said “yes” months ago to deliver the day’s talk.

Meanwhile, the second school term began and you know what that entails—new slides, review of syllabus, etc.   

Then last but not least, I attended the launching of ANI 39, a book/anthology of literary works (by 91 Filipino writers in this issue) where one my stories has been featured. In the program, I was privileged to read an excerpt from that story.

It’s October and it's back to regular programming. I am now trotting at my regular leisurely pace again, like basking under the shy sun on a calm beach, and writing my next book while reflecting on everything that happened.

What was September 2016 like? A tsunami!  

But instead of giant waves from under the sea, giant grace from above engulfed me. How’d have I gone through all those with pep and verve on my own?

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13 NIV)



10/05/2016

A Night of Harvest


Ani is the Filipino word for harvest. 

It’s a most fitting title for the literary journal that the Cultural Center of Philippines (CCP) publishes every year. An anthology of literary works by Filipino writers in various genres and dialects, Ani's 39th issue was  launched in September this year.  
    
The literary works of 91 writers (names on back cover above) are in this 2016 issue with the theme “Kahayupan/The Animal Kingdom.” Ani 39 was produced by the CCP’s Intertextual Division as part of the celebration of CCP’s 47th anniversary.

Now here’s why this issue is particularly special for me:

One of my stories, “The Dump Truck in My Heart,” is part of the children’s literature section.

Let me quote the CCP website, “Dr. Luis P. Gatmaitan, guest section editor of Ani 39, was able to gather works by the best writers for children.”

That made my heart leap to Mars and back.

Then I got a call from CCP, “We'd like you to read an excerpt of your work at the formal launching of Ani 39.”

My heart leaped even higher; this time to Pluto and back.

Third son might have taken pity on his mom, he escorted her to the event. “Nice,” was his effusive compliment after I performed in the program.  


(Top right: the original painting on the book cover by Neil Doloricon) 
That night, I felt as though the country's literati—the same crowd one sees in the Carlos Palanca Awards—was in full attendance.

(The authors whose works are featured in Ani 39)
As I was star gazing, someone nudged me, “Till next year’s issue.”

Can writing life get any better? On that one starry night, I harvested grace.  


10/01/2016

A Day with Professors


Like the title of my newest book, Twin Blessings, I felt doubly blessed at a university where I was invited to perform two roles: one, facilitator in a writing workshop in the morning; and two, speaker in an awarding ceremony in the afternoon.

“Your audience would be professors,” Cynthia, the lady who invited me, said.

The university is huge, with about 700 in the teaching staff, but 70 are into academic writing and would want to dip a finger into creative writing.

Used to handling a maximum of 20 people in a workshop, I dreaded the number 70. It was far too big to manage.

But to my shock and surprise, the session proved more fluid than I imagined—with everyone participating. There was not enough time for me to comment on every single work, but hey, these are professors, they could do that adeptly on their own, based on the principles discussed with them.   

Earlier, when I stepped into the HR portals, with the Head and her staff welcoming me so warmly, I knew I'd have a day like no other. Ergo, I did not have fun; I had a ball! And, I hope, so did they. 
  
For the above, I was rewarded with a huge bouquet of fresh flowers, a plaque of appreciation, new friends, and tons of photos documenting the event. 

The afternoon was more formal, but no less vibrant than the morning. Twenty-five professors were feted for having had a trade or textbook published in the past year.  My talk was on writing (what else?), particularly about my author story. 

In her remarks, the University VP for Academics emphasized the need for professors to leave a legacy through and hone their craft in writing.

Since everyone in the audience is a writer, I felt at home speaking to kindred spirits, who share my passion for the printed word.

For this, I was rewarded one more time with a huge bouquet of fresh flowers, another plaque, more new friends, and more photos.

The first photo below sums up the twin volumes of grace they heaped on my lap, and which I will treasure for life.  The rest of the photos, which will be kept for posterity, show only a hint of what went on through my nonpareil day with professors-turned-friends.       



9/27/2016

Caring for Children


To my shame and embarrassment, I was clueless about this advocacy.

I didn't realize that that there are almost 200 youth advocates for children under the aegis of Youth for Safety (Y4S), one of the major programs of Philippine Children’s Ministries Network (PCMN), also a registered NGO.

Y4S has the vision to free Filipino children from sexual abuse and exploitation through youth advocates.

Impossible dream? 

No. These Y4S youth advocates are being equipped by PCMN to be effective in various areas through training—writing is one of the skills they need "to be able to lead, advocate and communicate." 

Ensconced in a safe and peaceful world of writing, I had some kind of blinders for raw and edgy programs.

But one day, after uploading to FB my photos in a recent creative writing workshop, I received a cryptic message from someone I had not met. Fe, national director of PCMN, wrote, “I wish you could conduct your creative writing workshop for PCMN youth.”

I got curious and later found out that the PCMN youth (Y4S), volunteers from various evangelical churches, are trained peer mentors and advocates against child sexual abuse.

This cut right through my middle. My impression of millennials made a u-turn. A “no” was not an option.

The workshop was then scheduled by Garicel, Y4S’s program coordinator. Simultaneously, I informed Hiyas, my publisher of children's books, and they sent over copies of different titles to be given away to each of the attendees.

On D-day, I was blessed to have worked with 20 young men and women—ages 16 to 24—from various parts of the country, in one room, for one whole day.        


It was a spirited session, from opening to closing. As I watched the youth passionately write and share their magnum opus, I prayed that more millennials be stirred to care for disadvantaged children in whatever manner or form.  

The day was long, but so was the fun. The immense joy hauled in by grace bunked in my heart long after the day was over.


9/23/2016

Bully versus Bully


As scheduled, this 3rd book in the Happy Home series was launched at the Manila International Book Fair on September 16, a Friday.

However, the school that was to attend the launching cancelled. Due to the recent spate of killings brought about by the drug war waged by our newly elected president, the school authorities felt unsafe bringing a horde of small schoolchildren to a crowded place.

But as they say in showbiz, “The show must go on.” Trouper that they were, the four people who staged a radio rendition of the story performed as though they had a full-house sports arena for an audience.

I had visions of a very quiet launching with just me and Leo Kempis Ang, the illustrator of the series, chatting the one and a half hours away.  

Undaunted and untiring, OMF Lit’s staff got busy inviting people through the microphone and by holding up copies of the book like playing cards in all the busy aisles. 

And without warning, grace swooped in.

Adults—some with their kids—dropped by, bought copies of the book, and had them singed by Leo and me. The stream of people who came kept us wonderfully busy all morning!

The photos below tell only half the story of the happy launching of Hiyas' Bully versus Bully.      
 
We raise our hands up to praise the Lord.


9/19/2016

Twin Blessings

Back story: The title of my latest book (a children’s devotional-cum-novelette) was chosen from about 20 others. The original title was Double Delight, but my editor said it sounded like an ice-cream flavor. So I sent her a few more alternatives, and voila, Twin Blessings!

Many of the stories were rewritten while my husband and I were in the US for a vacation. There I had been able to watch and interact closely with my grandson, Adrian, from whom I borrowed many of Dom’s (the twin sister who grew up in the US) traits and antics. It is a blessing that Adrian is the same age as the twins, so the writing seemed easier and infinitely more delightful.

The gist of the story had been frozen in my hard drive for years. But it thawed last year when it suddenly popped out of my head while chatting with the Editorial Manager of Church Strengthening Ministry (CSM) at the 40th Manila International Book Fair (MIBF). 

Her name, Joy, was what I felt when she said . . . ooops, sorry, I could only recall how I felt, not the words of Joy, but it was a green light or a need for another devotional.

That led to CSM's approval of the story (treated like a devoseries).

But as I always do before finalizing a story for kids—to make sure the intent is clear—I conducted a Focus Group Discussion among advocates for children. From them I got new insights and questions I could never have asked myself. That showed my way to writing, and finally to the book’s launching at the CSM’s Grand Unveiling of Resources at the 41st MIBF last week.
  
This was followed two days later by an on-site launch at the CSM booths with a children’s party that included a puppet show, face painting, games, and giving away of loot bags to the children who joined the fun.
 
All told, the title Twin Blessings makes me feel as though grace surged like a flash flood twice.

First, at the Book Fair last year when the story had a chance to be defrosted, which then made me write, write, write (an activity I love best, bar none).

Second, at the Book Fair again one year later, when—now a book—Twin Blessings landed in  readers' hands. 

May every kid (or adult) who reads every devotion in Twin Blessings be doubly blessed by the richness of the Lord’s Word, packaged in slices of life, sewn together into one story that celebrates God-given relationships.

9/15/2016

Happy Hour for Happy Home


Since the year 2000, when my first book (The Boy Who Had Five Lolas) was published, about this time of the year I hold my breath waiting for the Happy Hour. In marketing, this is the limited period of time when bars or other social venues offer drinks at a discount with free hors d'oeuvres. It turns into a night of revelry. 

My own Happy Hour—and I mean happy, minus the drinks and hors d'oeuvres —is when a new book is launched, usually during the Manila International Book Fair held every September. 

The publisher usually offers my just-born baby at a discount and gives freebies such as a bookmark or a notebook. And there’s a revelry of joy and excitement that mounts to its highest peak in my heart.

Tomorrow, one more Happy Hour is coming up! It will be held at the Book Fair. This time it’s for the 3rd book in the Happy Home series: Bully versus Bully. I hope the kids for whom it was written will emulate and take to heart the values in it.

Please come and join me as I celebrate the grace that inundates every book launching, indeed a happy hour. 

9/11/2016

A Celebrity in the Clan


There aren't too many celebrities in this world. That's why we lionize them. They are a select breed of people who have done something extraordinary that merits applause and fame.

We have a celebrity in the clan!

There, I was waiting to say that at the proper time and proper place. What better time and place than my blogsite, where I fear no censure. In short, I can brag to my heart's content.

The current Christine in Broadway's Phantom of the Opera is Ali Ewoldt, a niece. She's the daughter of a first cousin and therefore a close blood relative.
So what?

Phantom of the Opera is the longest-running Broadway musical and many actresses have been cast in that role over the years.

Oh, but Ali is different. In those 25 years that the show has been running, Ali is the first woman of color chosen for the lead role!

Ali, therefore, has broken barriers, paving the way for women of all colors and backgrounds to be given the opportunity on The Great White Way.

Because of this historic feat in a groundbreaking role, Ali has been written about by many writers all over the US and the Philippines. I consider it grace to be able to write about her, too.  

She comes from a family blessed with an ear for music. Allow me now to namedrop. Her grandma (my aunt) loved to sing and used to perform with her sisters (one of them was my mom) on stage. Her eldest aunt (my BFF) had a voice that won in all the singing contests in our youth; she is a Broadway habituĂ© and used to take then little Ali to watch musicals. I believe she was Ali’s harshest critic, too.

I don’t know much about her dad’s side of the family since Ali was born and grew up in the US, but I am sure she has their genes as well.

Although she has a Psychology degree from Yale, cum laude, Ali chose the volatile path to the stage—from audition to audition—where she is always cast in plum roles. There she shines, like the neon lights on her billboards, and shines even more brightly in Phantom of the Opera.

Can an aunt be prouder?   

Photo credit: Matthew Murphy   

9/07/2016

Lovers of Literature


In one big room (usually the ballroom of Manila Peninsula Hotel), every first week of September, lovers of literature get together for the Palanca Awards Night. I am privileged to be among them again this year—as one of the 57 judges. 

This is the night when excellence is celebrated.

The winners are identified and feted, with their loved ones and judges in all categories, plus special guests—famed literary enthusiasts and published authors—in the audience to applaud them and take their photos to record the moment. 

Now on its 66th year, the Palanca Awards is the longest running literary contest organized by the Carlos Palanca Foundation Inc. This year, there were 986 entries in 20 categories—among which were 51 winners, 24 of whom were first-time awardees.

A friend of mine who never misses a Palanca Night calls it a family reunion. In a way it is. It brings together people who belong to different demographics, but with common psychographics (meaning: same mindset), a term we invented in advertising, and in whose veins flows the same passion for the printed word.

Although it is a family reunion, I don’t know many of them personally (especially the famous ones)—neither do they know me—but I have read their books, and therefore, they are kindred spirits.

In this age of selfie, I still haven’t learned to take one, so I pass up opportunities to have photos with those whom I admire like F. Sionil Jose, Krip Yuson, Butch Dalisay, Tony Mabesa, National Artist Virgilio Almario, etc. Philippine literature wouldn’t be without them. 

My photos are limited (taken by third son JR, who had to be cajoled to take them), but they represent the grace that permeated the soft air.      

I take the chance to talk to the winner in the category which I judged with two others. He is a high school teacher and this is the first time he joined the Palanca.

“Beginner’s luck,” he grins.

Literature has nothing to do with luck, I want to reply, it is a gift from the Master writer Himself, but his wife wants a quick selfie and so the conversation turns to smiles and endless “Congratulations!”

Ah, literature!   


9/03/2016

No Hiding Place


With practically everyone in the world wired to technology, there is no information, name, person, book, idea, disease, item, foreign word, slang—you name it—that you can’t google anymore. Everything is out there somewhere. And someone, somehow, can find it.

If you have ever written a comment or posted your photo on the Net, at any point in the future, they can be traced to you.

Is there a place to hide?

The word “incognito” is in danger of becoming extinct. 

I know of many friends who have lost track of each other many years ago, but through the Net, have found each other again.

Try googling your name . . .

Scary, isn’t it?

Before the digital revolution, only God knew where to find us.  

In the Bible, we are introduced to the first hiding in the first book. Immediately after eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hid from God. But with the Lord, there is no hiding place.

“Can anyone hide from me in a secret place? Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?" says the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:24 NLT)

"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable." (Hebrews 4:13) 

Indeed, He sees everything, including what’s in the secret place of our heart. 

And yet, in this troubled world, when there is no safe place to hide, the God from whom we can’t hide, is the same God who can hide us from assaults, sieges, and such.

“For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock.” Psalm 27:5

There is a hiding place. It is ensconced in grace.

8/30/2016

Low Blow


Boxing/wrestling aficionados or not, we all know what low blow means. It is an illegal strike below the opponent’s waist—unsportsmanlike and unfair.            
 
The phrase has since entered our lingo as being cruel and callous. It cuts like a knife; it hurts.

That’s what we witness during political campaigns, and what we are witnessing—long after the elections are over—from our highest official of the land. And media blows it up, making it the banner headline, relegating bigger issues in the background.

Low blows are on TV for us to watch, and in newspapers and the Internet for us to read. 

In his war against drugs (for which he gave himself a six-month deadline), our president takes to the podium and strikes a low blow against those suspected of the crime and those who oppose his tactics—including the international community.

His shame-and-name strategy to wipe out drugs has cut like a well-honed knife among people in practically all branches of government.

I am not one to judge the wisdom or style of our newly elected president. Those who adore and voted for him say he is right and this is all part of his brilliant strategy. “Change has come.” 

Along the way, however, without solid proof or due process, reputations are damaged, hearts are broken, lives are snuffed out, and I don’t know what harm or good this is doing to our children (the little ones for whom I write about grace, for whom I carefully choose my words).  

One friend, a die-hard apologist for the president snapped at me, “Oh, come on. If children have been raised well by their parents, these kids shouldn’t be affected by cursing and low blows. Besides, those offenders have been warned, so they deserve it!”

I wept. That, too, was a low blow.


8/26/2016

Everything Okay?


Tattoos go back thousands of years.

Humans have marked their bodies since ancient times. Tattoos then served many purposes: amulets, status symbols, signs of love and beliefs, adornments and punishment.

In the Philippines, as I remember, only hoodlums and criminals had tattoos, graphic signs of “bad.” People would speak in whispered derision or fear when they saw people (mostly men) with tattoos.

This photo from a newspaper reminded me of those days—convicts in a jail were stripped bare for illegal-drugs inspection. This is not a photo of “then.” This is a photo of “now.”

Tattoo is more in now than ever before. In fact, it is now a part of life.

In addition to convicts and would-be convicts, all strata of society are enamored with tattoos—from high-schoolers, to millennials, to celebrities. The designs may be different (finer, more colorful and artistic today) but they are called the same name: tattoo.          

Aside from tattoos, I can cite a myriad of things that were once not-okay but have become okay.

In fashion, one couldn’t wear pearls or lace with jeans. Neither could one wear dresses without hose or a slip. Just look around any day, everything is okay—short hemline, uneven hemline, or sheer hemline matched with denims, slippers, or rubber shoes.  

In parenting, a child couldn’t talk back to his parents. Today, children are encouraged to speak their minds and they feel entitled to equal respect.  Laws are such that capital punishment is now illegal.

What were once wrong are now "right." Lying, name-calling, cursing, accusing, ranting, shaming, and killing are a daily fare on the Internet, especially social media. I can’t name all that has become a norm—from what used to be wrong—due to my self-imposed blog word count.  

But I am afraid, deathly afraid, that soon, we may no longer see the difference between what’s wrong and what’s right. The yardstick for what’s okay has radically changed.

Isaiah 5:20 (ESV) warns and reminds me and anyone who shares my faith: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

The grace to see the difference is what we seek, because not everything is okay.


8/22/2016

Lola Dusing


Have you met a nonagenarian?

I haven’t. The octogenarians I knew went to glory before they could reach the awesome age of 90.

But one day, Ching (a faith sister) introduced me to her grandmother, Lola Dusing, all of 95—not in a face-to-face meeting, but through my books.

Ching said the old lady, a faithful woman of God, loves to read and she especially enjoyed my “Flying on Broken Wings.”

“She still reads at 95?!” I was surprised.

“Without reading glasses,” Ching laughed. She was going to visit Lola Dusing in Mindanao and wanted to bring her one of my books.

Wow.

After reviewing my titles, Ching decided on “Circle of Compassion.” 

A few days later, I received messages from Ching, “Lola Dusing loves the book!” “She likes your writing style.” “She has a special present for you."

Can words be more energizing? I have been spoiled receiving messages and gifts from kids over the years, but from a 95-year-old?!

Her gift was something I never expected to receive:   

It’s entirely hand-sewn, every piece of cloth (in various shapes and sizes) carefully stitched together—certainly a labor of love. It's the most valuable table cloth I could ever own!

God sometimes gives some people many, many years in which to feel His presence and enjoy His blessings—Lola Dusing is one of them. And I am now privileged to count her as one of my readers and gifts of grace.  

Lola Dusing with two more of her grandchildren