Oh, Math!

One of the editors I work with, Beng, posted on social media about waking up from a nightmare: being unable to solve a Math problem!

That could have been my post. Math always brought me nightmares—whether I was awake or asleep.      

In college, I was in danger of failing my Math 101. I had to do something fast. I asked a Math major, my dorm mate, to please tutor me. She said, "Okay, but you'll have to pay me per hour."

It was a gargantuan problem. I did not have extra money and I couldn’t tell my parents about it. So I decided to skip snacks for a week and to walk, instead of ride, to every place in our huge campus so I could save my transportation budget.

Since I was paying my tutor an hourly rate, I forced myself to learn quickly.

I passed! My barely passing mark, however, brought my average grade down. Well, small price to pay for not failing.

My brain shut off whenever I encountered anything that had to do with numbers. I couldn't balance my checkbook and I shunned from making counting (even money) my problem. 

Like a big joke, I was elected treasurer in our small church. I couldn't make my Math-impaired system an excuse. So Sunday after Sunday, I’d struggle with numbers. A good thing it was just plus (offerings and tithes) and minus (expenses). Sixteen years later, the church grew so big the job became complicated—SSS, Pag-ibig, Philhealth, petty cash, vouchers, etc. came into the picture.

I was a candidate for mental exhaustion. So I begged an accountant friend to take over. After turning over the cash left with me, my accountant friend said, "You have an overage of P4,300.16 [she counted to the last centavo!].”

That was an accrual of all the cash I put in for fear or shortage. 

How did I ever manage those 16 years? With oodles of grace, no less. As I tried to be a good steward of the Lord's money, I learned to be a good steward of my own. Now I can balance my checkbook.

Sometimes my brain still shuts off when numbers are discussed, but am I blessed that they’re out of my hands, as I now work with words full time. 

(In the university where I teach, our grades are in letters, not numbers. Whew!)


Packing: An Epic Production

I have been busy packing for a month-long trip in the last two months. Yes, packing takes me that long. It's always like an epic movie production.

First, I pile all the things I think I need inside my luggage. Of course it bursts and belches. So then I take one away one day and take another one away the next day and the next, till everything is sitting comfortably in all the compartments.

Naturally, I am still taking things away one after the other, as the days run out on me.

Most of all, I need to ask the Lord to pack in grace for me. I can’t travel without it.

"You'll travel safely, you'll neither tire nor trip. You'll take afternoon naps without a worry, you'll enjoy a good night's sleep. No need to panic over alarms or surprises, or predictions that doomsday's just around the corner, because God will be right there with you; he'll keep you safe and sound." Proverbs 3:23-26 (MSG)


Happy Resurrection Sunday

If I followed my blog rhythm, my next post wouldn't be due until two days from now. However, this day is too important to pass up.

This is the day we remember and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, three days after he died on the cross for us.

Happy Resurrection Sunday!

On this special occasion, worship is the first order of our day. We are up by 4 AM, and before the sun rises, we are singing our first worship song with our faith brethren in church.

This year, our pastor focused on the empty tomb and what it means. Scriptures say (Matthew 28:6-8), “He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.  And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead . . .” 

Four action words are in those verses:

•    Come

•    See

•    Go

•    Tell 

These verbs are significant because they are what Jesus' resurrection is all about—so mankind can conquer death as well. Come to Him. See that He has risen. Now, go and tell everyone the good news—we, too will have our own resurrection day after we’ve turned to dust.

And then, forever.

Grace that never ends . . .   


A Teacher’s Lament

The school year 2016-2017 has ended. While encoding my final grades, I felt happy and sad at the same time. 

Out of 25 students, seven got excellent grades. That’s a remarkable 28%. I was expecting eight, which would have jacked up my percentage to a high 32%, but one had a plagiarism issue, so I slid him down to Fail.  

This failing mark saddened me, because the student’s (let’s call him Anton) performance all through the term had been exemplary.  He is a good writer, a deep thinker, and articulate.

But stealing someone's words is non-negotiable. This was discussed in class ad infinitum especially because they were writing academic papers.

In Anton’s case, it shouldn’t have happened. His paper was written, organized, and researched well (and properly referenced), except for one short paragraph that he lifted en toto from another classmate’s work, submitted three days earlier. 

(The peril of having a writer for a teacher is that in checking papers, I read every word, and notice every misplaced punctuation mark. That short, copied paragraph did not escape me.)

Our university’s policy on plagiarism among students is to sanction both—the copier and the source. But before that, I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I talked to Anton the next day, and asked him to explain the errant paragraph.

Immediately contrite, he owned up to copying it. “X lent me her paper and I didn’t have enough time to flesh out one topic, so . . .” he sputtered. 

“Both of you will fail,” I said.

“Please, Miss Chong,” he begged. “Please do not penalize her. She doesn’t know I copied from her paper. She lent it to me with the best of intentions. I could never face her again if she found out.”

“Anton’s grade then is an F,” I intoned stoically, my heart bursting into smithereens.  

“I know, Miss, no excuses. I deserve it."


"But, er, Miss, would you give me a s-second chance? I will revise my paper just to get a Pass," he said with great difficulty.  

What you did was totally senseless! I would have wanted to scream but that would be digging it in. He is an intelligent, persevering young man; I only wished he had learned his lesson. 

He did. Before he left the room, I received encouraging grace through his whispered words, I will never do it again, Miss; I promise. 

I called him back and handed him his paper, "You have 24 hours to revise it."  

He smiled.


Sheer Grace

Eleven years ago, Medical Transcription (MT) was the in thing, a sunrise industry. It had become a law in the US—all doctor-patient encounters should be recorded or printed in readily-available documents. That opened a plethora of jobs here and abroad.

Our family jumped on the bandwagon and put up a school (Optimum TransSchool, Inc.) to train would-be transcriptionists. There were already many schools in our area, but what's one more?

Our vision was to be the leading MT Training Center, delivering an excellent industry-based program for our students to be job-ready upon graduation. We bought chairs for the waiting area in preparation for the influx of enrollees.

On our first day, we had one inquiry. He wasn't too sure about enrolling, but with the magic of our persuasion, he became our first student. And the only one—till two weeks later.   

Our chairs in the waiting area remained empty. And during our first, second, third, and fourth years, enrollment was sparse. Meanwhile all the other MT schools closed one after the other. Meaning, MT was not as hot as originally touted.

We kept our ground, despite non-revenue. On our seventh year, we agreed with our partners that capital infusion will be stopped. We likewise agreed that at any time we (those who are manning it) feel it's time to close shop, we should—and declare bankruptcy. 

Now on our 10th year, we're still here.

Not earning oodles of income (far from it), but gaining self-fulfillment and a sense of purpose. Our vision is fulfilled with our every graduate. About 98% are employed and are leaders in their offices. In fact, before our students could finish their course, they already have assured posts somewhere.  

MT companies call up, "What are you teaching your students? They are excellent! Can you give us more?"

MT company executives have come to our school to convince our students to join them as soon as possible.

Why are we still here? Our school is a happy place. Graduates come and visit with boxes of goodies to tell us stories of success. Some students enroll because they have personal problems—but see their days at our school as calming respite. Graduation days are bitter-sweet affairs; some regret leaving, but they must, because a job is waiting elsewhere. 

Why are we still here? Sheer grace. 


A Nation Bewitched

A phenomenon that never ceases to baffle me is the nation’s adoring love for our new president, Rodrigo Duterte. Since assuming office in June last year until today, the fervor of people’s  adulation has not waned.

Today, we are witnesses to how millions sing him hosannas. 

He laces his speeches here and abroad with expletives never-before-heard behind a presidential podium. “Oh, those are minor fringes. Look at his actions not his words.”

He mounts vitriolic attacks against long-time country allies, the EU, and calls them sons of whores. “Oh, it’s about time someone stood up to these big-wheels who think they can bully small ones like us.” 

He curses the Pope and the Catholic Church for criticizing his war on drugs. “Oh, come on, the Catholic Church is not exactly lily white.” 

He admits he has ordered the killing of criminals and of drug addicts. In fact, he said he had killed some with his own hands.  Statistics show that in his eight months as president, 8,000 drug addicts or pushers (all of them poor) have been slain. “Oh, they deserve to die. Those addicts are not human, they cause us so much grief.”

He allows the burial of the late Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged the country, at the Cemetery of Heroes. “Oh, move on, the guy has been dead for years; he was a soldier so he deserves to be buried there.”

He fires the elected Vice President from his cabinet. “Oh, you perform, he retains you. You don’t perform, well, he fires you!”

He has not solved crime and corruption which he promised he would in three to six months. “Oh, in six years, that will all be solved; the country is in the right direction.” 

He brags that he had a sexually transmitted disease when he was younger. He has three girlfriends; he is taking Fentanyl for a malingering disease. “Oh, hahaha! [amused laughter]”

He appoints a bold, sexy dancer known to perform lap dances on stage to the Movie and Television Review and classification Board. “Oh . . .”

He can do no wrong. You get lynched if you as much say anything negative about him. He has us all wrapped in his macho fingers. The nation is enraptured, bewitched.

His Christians fans are quick to quote Romans 13:1(NLT), “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.”

Is submission to authority the same as adoring love? For how do we make of this: 

“What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20)

Lord, please give us grace to understand this baffler that has gripped our nation.   


Mothers and Child

Over a few years, my friend Yay and I have had practically the same college students because we teach in the same university (albeit different subjects) offering UK business degrees.

Many of these former students now have families of their own, and the others are successful leaders or executives in the places where they work, here and abroad.

We take pride in their achievements; we like to think we had somehow helped in their development as noteworthy individuals.

Once in a while, some of those students seek the both of us out, treat us to a cup of coffee, or come and attend our book events. 

One of them is Carla.

She used to be a topnotch writer in a Manila publication before she decided to be with her husband in the US. She came to one of our twin-book-signing activity at OMF Lit, bought our books, and gave us each a gift. To this day, I keep the pair of earrings shaped like tiny sparkling ribbons she chose specially for me. 

Another one is Ryan.

In Yay’s class, he had heard about our Savior and has since accepted Him as his own. Now he is a youth leader and serves Jesus in a growing community church. He has put up his own design shop while moonlighting as a designer in a bigger shop. Knowing perhaps that teachers carry too many doodads, he gave Yay and me each a tote bag. 

Many others mention both our names on social media, or make time to send us twin messages. 

This made Yay quip, “Mothers and child.”

The grace of having a co-teacher with whom you share your faith—aside from sharing classrooms, students, and academic complexities (with a bit of grumbling sometimes)—is that you have someone to enrich and support you through discussions of the Word, on occasions when the load is too heavy to carry alone. 

Teaching is only five or ten percent of my time, but it reaps me 100% of grace through students like Carla and Ryan. 


Project Author

I sometimes meet people who so love writing, they think of nothing else. I know the feeling. Seventeen years ago, after leaving the workplace for good, I only had one thought: Write. There I was, jobless for the first time in years, and the only thing I ever wanted to do was write.

Now a published author for as long as my exit from the corporate world, I want to help writers, where I can, in being published. That's why I accept invitations to speak before writing enthusiasts in the hope of encouraging them to hasten their steps toward having a book ready for their intended readers.

The latest gathering of writers to where I got invited was Project Author—an ongoing advocacy of my friend, Ardy Roberto (a best-selling author, an award-winning entrepreneur, and sought-after motivational speaker). A few years back, he invited me to speak in one such gathering. The attendees then were business executives, some of whom already had manuscripts, but did not know how they could be published.

This time around, Project Author was billed: Ministry Edition (Writing to evangelize, equip, and inspire). “An exclusive, by invitation only, class for Christian leaders, influencers, workers, ministers, pastors who have a burden to write a book to spread the good news, equip the church, or inspire people to become closer to God,” wrote Ardy in his website. 

I had previous plans, but I felt this was top priority. So I made quick arrangements to be with faith brethren and once again, re-tell my author story.

“Being published was not on my horizon,” I began, “not while I was busy in the workplace. But I believe that the series of events [more like serendipity] that led me to where I am today was no accident.”

It was a spirited group of 35 people who never ran out of questions, even while we were running out of time.  

But the main message I wanted to leave them was, “Write. NOW. As in, right now! We can’t dilly-dally any longer. Tomorrow is no longer an option. By grace, you can.”

P.S. A few days later, Ardy blogged about my talk.     

The way he ended it warmed my heart: “By the way, remembering what Grace said to ‘just write,’ I wrote most of this blog post on my phone, using the WordPress app, while on the nice air conditioned point to point bus from Alabang to Greenbelt . . . Decided to write instead of watching the Warriors NBA game on my phone. That was the hardest part. The trip took half an hour. Just write, right?)   


The Piano

Years ago, when my family and I moved into the small house we bought with our savings (where we still are, till the Lord calls us to our real home), we combed the village for a church. We found one—a warehouse lean-to. The sign said “Gospel Church” so we decided it was going to be our spiritual home.

On our first Sunday in this small church, with no more than a dozen people (including children), my eyes were riveted to the old piano in the corner, which nobody played. We sang all the hymns a cappella.

The pastor later asked if I could play the piano; that was my first ministry in the church. 

I'd practice at home the hymns to be sung the next worship service and would play that piano Sunday after Sunday for years and years.

But change came into churches and ours was not spared.

As our building structure and membership grew, the singing switched to gospel songs. Then with the energetic youth came their guitars, drums, cymbals, beat box, and yes, an electronic keyboard—minus the piano, which has grown even older like I have.

Now, hymns would occasionally be sung, but accompanied by the musical instruments that make people clap their hands and sway their arms.

One day last month, the old piano was wrapped in a cloth, a sure sign that it will no longer be played,  ever.

Call me maudlin, but I sort of felt nostalgic. Not because I no longer played it, but because of what it symbolizes—the changes that have happened in Sunday worship. My three sons and their contemporaries may no longer remember all the hymns we used to sing, but I do.

Being a student of the Word and believer of Grace, I know that worship is not about format or musical instruments, or outside trimmings. It’s about what’s in our heart, about worshiping Him in spirit and in truth.

Yet that piano, a reminder of what once was, in its current state, somehow tugs at the heart.

“Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” Psalm 100:1-3 (KJV)


Silent Treatment

One of the most frustrating responses to those on the receiving end is the silent treatment. It can make them feel powerless, invisible, insignificant, guilty, and worst, angry. It can provoke even the most patient person. 

Psychologists say that it is a method of control, punishment, manipulation (in short, a form of emotional abuse) used by individuals as a weapon to get what they want and to inflict pain upon the object of their silence.
Silent treatment, then, is not only deafening, it is lethal.   

If you've ever been the object of silent treatment, you know how devastating that feels, especially when you care a lot about that person ignoring you. Now, silent treatment can be retaliatory. I know of a lady who was so hurt by what her older brother did, she stopped talking to him.

The older brother tried hard to talk to her, ask for forgiveness, and make amends, but the offended one wouldn’t budge. Suddenly, the older brother died. At his funeral, his sister was inconsolable. If only she could turn back the time.

Do we sometimes feel like the spurned older brother when we talk to God and He does not answer? 

Habakuk felt that way (1:2 NLT), “How long, O LORD, must I call for help? But you do not listen! ‘Violence is everywhere!’ I cry, but you do not come to save.”

The Psalmist moans (22:2), “Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.”

Job laments (30:20), “I cry to you, O God, but you don’t answer. I stand before you, but you don’t even look.”

In reality, God wasn’t absent nor indifferent to Habakuk, David, or Job. He never left them, us, alone. It just felt that way—a warped perception when we are in the valley of tears.

He speaks to us at all hours in Scripture: through the beauty of His creation around, beneath and above us; with every breath we take, and each morning when we wake up to new grace.


Credit Grabber

It is a fact of life: credit grabbers are everywhere.

Indira Gandhi, the only female Prime Minister of India once said, “There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there.” 

Truth is, we all belong to both groups. Some work harder than others, but we are all wont to take the credit for our accomplishments. 

“I was able to buy this due to hard work.”

“I got an award for my excellent performance.”

“I have written several books in only ten years.” 

“I have been persevering; I will reward myself with a shopping binge.” 

“Because of my idea, we got the account.”

We go on and on.

Our pastor’s message last Sunday reminded us that we cannot take credit for anything. All our noteworthy traits that make things happen and make us successful come from a Source. “We can do absolutely nothing without grace. Everything is God’s, from God, and by God.”

Many famous people in history have been credited with discovering this and that, pioneering this and that, leading this and that, revolutionizing this and that, winning this and that, and championing this and that.

“Where did their courage, wisdom, guts, strength, and all other attributes come from?” he asked.

Our Bible heroes’ stories ended up the way they did because of God’s intervention. Every single story has been woven together in intricate patterns to show us an awesome tapestry with the splendor of GOD.

He Who tells the rain to fall, the sun to shine, the winds to blow, and the nose to breathe must get the credit.

“When we take credit for something, we glorify ourselves. The only One Who should be glorified is El Shaddai, Adonai, Yahweh, Jehovah Rapha, Elohim, El Olam, etc.—our God of power and might."  
May we resolve to thank Him for all that we have and what we could do.

"I, yes I, am the Lord, and there is no other Savior." Isaiah 43:11 (NLT)


NO to Death Penalty

Voting 216 to 54 (with one abstention), Philippine Congress overwhelmingly approved last week the re-imposition of capital punishment (death by hanging, firing squad, and lethal injection) for serious drug-related cases. 

This watered-down version originally included heinous crimes like rape, kidnap-for-ransom, and plunder. Now it is singularly focused on drugs.

The Death Penalty was abolished 10 years ago, but it has been a top priority for President Duterte, who was elected on promises to end drug abuse in three to six months after assuming power.

Eight months after the president took his oath of office, 8,000 people have been killed, mostly drug users shot by mysterious gunmen.

The draft will now go to the Senate and, if passed, will become a law.

I say NO to death penalty.
For four reasons:

1. There is no proof anywhere in the world that death penalty deters crimes.

2. Our graft-ridden justice system is still working its way to perfection. What if the wrong person is sentenced to die? What if the right person bribes his way to freedom?

3. Drug abuse is not any worse than rape, kidnap-for-ransom, and plunder.

4. My faith in God, Jesus. He came to earth, suffer and die, to give us life, not destroy it. This is fully illustrated in John 10 about the Shepherd and His sheep. Verse 10 (NLT) summarizes it, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”

Although Jesus was not talking about earthly life, His purpose has been to save lives for eternity—His gift of grace for all men, including drug offenders (if their lives are not snuffed out prematurely). Only He has the right to take back what He has given.   

We have a government, which all Christians are duty-bound to follow. But to vote “yes” to include  killing fellow beings in the laws of our land (while we still have voices and the chance to oppose it)?!  Mine is but one small voice, but a voice nonetheless.

Yes, my unequivocal stand is NO.


You’ve Got a Friend

People have defined friend in countless ways—all of them good.

“A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.” Arnold H. Glasow

“Friendship . . . is born at the moment when one man says to another 'What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .'” C.S. Lewis

“A true friend encourages us, comforts us, supports us like a big easy chair, offering us a safe refuge from the world.” H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” Elbert Hubbard

Likewise, countless songs have been written about friends—all of them encouraging, enabling. One of my favorites is James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend.”

When you're down and troubled
And you need a helping hand
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night

A friend is a treasure on earth.

Now, imagine being a friend of God in heaven!   

We read in the book of James (2:23 NLT), “And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: ‘Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.’ He was even called the friend of God.”

This special relationship between man and God would be echoed in John 15:14-15 by Jesus, “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.”

Friend with God then, according to CH Spurgeon is “within reach; Jesus Himself invites us to live and act, and be His friends.” Like us, He had lived on this cruel earth, He knows how it is to go down. He knows all about us.

He therefore gives us not a scanty measure of grace, but all of Himself, which encompasses all the definitions of and songs about a friend—so that we may live more abundantly.

James Taylor’s song parallels this old hymn written by Joseph M. Scriven in 1855:

Have we trials and temptations? 
Is there there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,

Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Indeed, “What a Friend we have in Jesus.”


Created and Crated Memories

How can one create memories?

Science says it is an extremely complex process that happens in our brain.  Our 100 billion specialized cells called neurons send signals to each other. And each neuron can have up to 10,000 connections with other neurons. These points of connection are called synapses . . . Oh, you wouldn’t want to know all that, do you?

I like to think that memories are grace that comes to make us remember the peak moments of our lives—those times when we smiled and felt good about the world and ourselves. And when they come, we smile and feel good all over again.

One of the memories that came to me one day was when I got a message from someone (her name is Richelle) I have never met. She said she wanted me to sign 100 copies of “No Lipstick for Mother.”

Mere mention of this book always makes me smile and feel good for many reasons: the idea was inspired by a dear friend who drives a tricycle; the manuscript was adjudged first prize in the Palanca Awards; the book was cited in a university textbook as a good example of women empowerment. I also cite the book when I am invited to talk on gender equality. 

Now, can these memories be crated? Yes, they can.  

Simply ask Richelle. She owns Crated Memories, “a subscription-based monthly themed product that is aimed to build memorable moments between parents and kids through creative activities.” Inside a box to be crated to subscribers are: the book of the month, around which various arts and crafts activities, interactive games, quizzes and exercises for vocabulary building revolve. All these are all planned by a childhood educator.   

“In most activities, we provide words/phrases related to the story for the kids’ language growth,” explained Richelle.

I found the concept refreshing, considering how gadgets have taken over baby-sitting in this digital age. Crated Memories goes against the grain—it a big, brave effort in encouraging parents to bond and interact with their kids in a warm, fun, and close encounter, minus electronics. 
Through Crated Memories, may parents find the grace of good ol’ bonding once more, then smile and feel good about the wonderful world of families created by our Abba Father. 


Sense of Urgency

One of the non-traits of millennials that I have observed in my encounters with them is: sense of urgency. They take their own sweet time with class assignments. If they don’t make the deadline, so what?

In contrast, motorcycle drivers are so in a hurry, they break all traffic rules. They drive as though there’s a race to their destination.

Both behaviors are puzzling, making one wonder if there is a middle ground.

Perhaps these are two graphic examples of the contrasting speed with which human beings make life decisions: too slow or too rash. Both are based on the clock and the calendar—inventions of man. On earth, we are time bound.

And yet, both are relative.

Sometimes there are difficult circumstances when we wish things would move along more quickly so they’ll be over as soon as possible. Other times, there are impending dangers that we wish we could hold back for as long as we could.  And yet other times, we stand in a long wait—but the reward for our hard work does not come.

Our timing is flawed, which is why when making decisions that have lifelong consequences, we need grace.
“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” James 1:5 (NLT)

“I rushed into marriage at 15 because I was pregnant,” said one of my friends. “Look where it got me.”

She has since separated from her husband and her three children are under the care of her parents because she is not earning enough to support them.

“It was a dream job. But I didn’t want to make a mistake so I did some sort of SWOT analysis before I took it,” another friend told me. She laughs at this incident now but it broke her heart then. “When I finally got all the pros and cons down pat and decided to take it, the employer said they had already hired someone else.”

I personally believe that we all need some sense of urgency in everything we do to get things done and make things right. Especially at this time of chaos.

Matthew 3:2 says it succinctly, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

It’s nearer than we think.


The Magic of V Day

Most of the boys in my class of 20 on V Day (Valentine’s not Veterans) were missing. One hour later, they came trooping in like a gaggle of geese—honking “Happy V Day!” and giving out roses to the girls.

I got one, too, over which I exclaimed, “This doesn’t excuse you all from being late!”

They guffawed, as though it was the funniest joke they’ve ever heard. That’s how festive V Day was in my Business Environment class. Everyone had this silly grin on his/her face, half listening to the lessons.

Just before the class ended, one of the girls came and whispered to me, “Ms., is it okay if we performed a Valentine’s number?”

Enough of this foolishness, I almost spat out. But I thought twice; I was young once, and although I can no longer remember, I was probably just as foolish.

About a dozen went in front, unabashedly sang in harmony a song unfamiliar to me but had the lyrics, “You are beautiful.” They also danced with gay abandon, peak performance level. Then at the end of the number, one of the guys presented—with flourish—a rose to . . . the shyest, most quiet
girl in class.      

I did not realize she was the only one who did not receive a rose earlier!

The expression on her face was priceless. She stood up and gave everyone a hug.

It was magic. And stunning grace for me. I teared up and castigated myself, They’re not as foolish as you thought.

Outside the classroom, the performers were still lolling about. I whispered, That was a very nice gesture.

Someone exclaimed, “It was my idea!”

“No, it was mine!” another one retorted.

“Mine!” “Mine!”

The magic went poof. But the grace remained. Oh, to be young again . . . 

Addendum: In the faculty room, I gave my rose to one of my peers—single, and had recently broken up with her boyfriend. She messaged me later, “Hi, Ms. Chong! Thank you so much for the rose. I can feel God's love through you. Love is stronger than anything, for as long as it's true.” 


Promises and Covenants

Three to six months.

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

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

I took those to be his covenant with the electorate.

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

And there is no resignation.

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

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

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

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

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

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



I was completely floored.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I Am a Pusher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Start Them Young

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

But it can be done.

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

(Ooops, I nagged a little.)

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

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

There was a corner for clowning—the photo booth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Downsizing Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are many, many more.

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

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


Kairos vs. Clock Watching

Clock watcher.

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

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

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

Are you panting yet?

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

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

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

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

Difficult question for a clock watcher.

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

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

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

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


Voices and Choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, crime has consequences."

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

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

"Punishment and forgiveness came together. Nice."

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

Version 2 will stay in the freezer.

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

Voices. Choices.

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

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



Golden Eggs

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

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

Surprised? It shocked me.

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

Now here’s the shocker.

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: www.cookingspree.com