Monday, November 24, 2014

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe:

Eight years today! 

What’s an eight-year-old like? 

He is in third grade. If he loves to read, he should be on his fifth adventure book; if he attends Sunday School, he should have memorized two dozen verses; if he is into sports, he should be spending his free time enjoying them; if he has been trained to work with his hands, he should be doing his assigned home chores on his own. He now contributes to making decisions in the family.

That eight-year-old was born at the same time as Leaves of Grace. How he has grown!

Yup, I complete my eight years of blogging today. So how have I grown?

In content, I have not strayed from the reason I said “uncle” after being out-argued by my sons, pushing me into creating this site.

Grace.

It so overwhelms I can’t write enough about it. In November 2006, I was not yet a grandma—now I am, a very proud one, eight years wiser and eight years happier (I am still working on being more patient).

In faith, I have evolved from the size of a mustard seed. With every blog, I try to get to know the great Author of life better. With every sunrise, I try to hone my chops to write more incisively. With every change of a calendar year, I try to reflect on what was, with thanksgiving. With every phrase, I try to look at words as God-given pearls so that I could, as my friend Yna would encourage authors, string them into a precious necklace that honors Him.

In numbers, I now have cyber friends from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, a total of 193 countries (four short of all countries in the world).                    
I have over 234,000 hits and about 20,000 comments and reviews. My posts have come up to 839, and as I review post one, I realize this: 

No matter how old one gets, she is still a work-in-progress. Perfection can only come on the day Christ returns. What an awe-inspiring, mind-boggling moment that would be! 

Old header down:

New header up: 
 
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6 (NLT)


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Vanilla Ice Cream


My doctor’s squiggles, all two pages of orders on how I should be admitted/treated in the hospital, are difficult to read. I don’t even attempt to decipher the hieroglyphics. But three words leap out of the pages: vanilla ice cream.  I dismiss them as eye trick. After all, I have never been a big fan of vanilla ice cream. 

So I get settled in what could be a nice room had it not been in a hospital, with a nurse who immediately barks orders for me to gulp half a bottle of laxative! “The next half should be taken after an hour. One more bottle after that.”

(The medical procedures in the morning require a super clean tummy and colon.)

“No solid food for 12 hours,” she adds.

“What?!” I panic. But I am hungry.

“Except vanilla ice cream,” her lips break into a smile.  

No thanks. I realize the three words I read are not an eye trick; my doctor really means vanilla ice cream! Of all the ice-cream flavors in the world, he has to choose the one I dislike.

But after ten thousand trips to the bathroom, my tummy begs for food. So Tony promptly goes out to buy me vanilla ice cream, his excuse to leave a whining, groaning bundle of nerves.

He comes back with two cones. Without missing a beat, I prepare to tackle one. At that point I was prepared to eat dust.
"Just the vanilla, skip the chocolate chips and nuts!" Tony takes the side of the nurse.

Grudgingly, I say good-bye to what could make the vanilla ice cream bearable, and bring the white stuff inside my mouth.

And I hear violins . . . heavenly sounds that match the heavenly taste of the yummiest thing that has ever landed on my tongue. 

The melodious strings are joined by a full orchestra and angel voices as I wolf down the second cone. Ahhh . . . 

I am back home now, thanking God for holding my hand during the whole ordeal. I am still groggy from the anesthesia and lack of proper sleep. The results are not exactly excellent, but non-life-threatening. Through the 24-hour harrowing experience, there is one blissful thought: vanilla ice cream.

I’ve always known that grace comes to us in various forms. But I didn’t know it comes in cones, too. Now I do.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (ESV)

 

Friday, November 21, 2014

TGIF


While working people may be sighing, exclaiming, or whispering "TGIF" today, I am packing my suitcase for a destination nobody would wish upon his worst enemy: the hospital. My tummy doctor said I should check in for some tummy work-up tomorrow.

I am not looking forward to it.  Okay, I loathe it. Medical procedures are the opposite of a relaxing soak in a Jacuzzi. It’s similar to the prospect of balancing on a high wire without a safety net.

I exaggerate.

I want to humor that part of myself that can still smile, no matter what the circumstances. That’s the part of me that stubbornly writes about grace despite wars, massacres, corruption, bigotry, hatred, betrayal, and all sorts of trouble and turbulence in this mad-crazed world.  

Admonition to self: Nothing, not even a medical procedure, nor its results, should benumbed the Strength yoked upon the heavy-laden heart of one who believes in a God who promised, “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:29-30 (NLT)

Indeed, thank God it’s Friday!

photo credit

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cyber Persona


Blogging and joining social networking sites are a no-no to many people. Reason? "I don't want to bare my soul in public."

Some netizens argue that one can bare only what he wants to bare. "Many of what one reads or sees in cyber photos are people's public persona, meant to impress, making them bigger than they really are. Their private lives are just a fraction of what they project, and sometimes totally different."  

One active fashion blogger is actually an old grandma who looks nothing like the fashion plate her writings and photos reveal.

"It's my stress buster," she says, laughing. She gets a kick out of the comments of her conned readers.

The persona of Jesus yesterday, today, and tomorrow had, has been and will always be the same. What our forefathers read in their Bibles is exactly the same as what we are reading today.

Readers may change, but Bible truths (whether in printed or e-book form) remain the same.

In the same manner, God’s grace draws no line. What was bestowed to our forefathers is the same grace offered to both non-netizens with a private persona and for netizens who weave an awesome public persona.   

"But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." Matthew 23:12

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Boy without a Smile


Sometime ago I wrote a book entitled Ragamuffin Kid: The Boy without a Smile.  It was one of four stories in art published by Ayala Museum. 

The hero is Bulan, a mute orphan boy, who kept walking and walking because he had no place to go.  Sometimes, kind people would give him leftover food or old clothing, but always, he slept on the sidewalk at night. 

After a very long walk, he saw a family in the park who were so happy they seemed to have a perpetual smile. In fact, when they saw him, they smiled!  Not only did they smile, they offered him a home.

It didn’t take long before the mute boy found his voice, then started smiling. And he never stopped smiling ever again.

Why do some people never smile?

My niece had this answer. “Only animals do not smile, so if someone doesn’t like to smile, maybe he is not human,” she said this with a big smile, followed by more smiles.

The late Mother Teresa, an awardee of Nobel Peace Prize, once said, “Peace begins with a smile.” 

Indeed, after hurting someone and you smile at him/her, saying you’re sorry, the odds are, he/she will smile back and the enmity is diffused.

People who like to smile say a lot of good things about why we should smile. Santosh Kalwar, a poet and an author, wrote, “I was smiling yesterday, I am smiling today, and I will smile tomorrow. Simply because life is too short to cry for anything.” 

The Boy without a Smile, a historical fiction set 100 years ago, was inspired by Juan Luna’s painting entitled Ragamuffin Kid (cover of the book). It is available at the Ayala Museum Art Shop.

If you can grab a copy, it may just cause you to remember all the grace around you and . . .  smile.

"Always be joyful; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 15:16  (NLT)


Monday, November 10, 2014

Casual Cyberparade


The days when people were discreet about their relationships are gone forever. Except for those in their seniors years, nobody remembers or pines for those times anymore. 

What we are treated to on social media is a parade of what goes on in people's private lives. Reading "In a relationship" and "It's complicated" is as casual and as frequent as OMG (Oh My God!).
 
Intimate love letters to one’s spouse or significant other are now public documents for everyone to “like” and gush over in “comment.”

(Strangers whom I've never met in my life call me "Mommy" so casually, I try hard to remember if I actually birthed them.)

Yes, times have changed—we are in what many call the age of casualness, when formality is passé and rules are relaxed.

It is not uncommon to see old people wobbly clinging to backs of bus seats while able-bodied males are so casual they can't even stand up to offer their seats. 

May we never be so casual to use the name of God irreverently. Humans dependent on grace can never be on a par with the almighty Grace Himself. The Creator and His creation are not on the same level. Not in the way that we call our pals "Bro" or "'Pre." 

The Bible is clear on this, "You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name” Deuteronomy 5:11(NLT)

Lord, Your name is above all names. Guide us to never misuse it. Amen.

(This post is a page from my latest book, Grace@Work, published by OMF Literature, and launched at the 2014 Manila International Book Fair.) 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Can't Buy Me Peace


Millions of fans wailed and sobbed when Michael Jackson, Pop/Rock star, died at age 50. 
TV networks, newspapers, radio, the Net—every medium known to man—went on a frenzy outdoing each other with the most detailed and graphic update. 

Almost three years later, his personal physician was found guilty for injecting Michael with surgical anesthetic powerful enough to put him to sleep. That, plus the other drugs in the singer’s system, caused his death. In his defense, the physician told the court that the singer begged him, “Just make me sleep; it doesn’t matter what happens.”

Regularly over the years, according to news items, Michael took sedatives and other drugs to make him sleep. In his interview with Oprah, he said he had a very lonely childhood; he couldn't play outside with other kids because he was stuck inside either rehearsing, recording or performing. 

Tons of articles have been written about how he spent a remarkable amount of time avoiding people, wearing disguises, breaking off relationships, and changing telephone numbers; people still pursued him. He tried being different by altering his looks, but he couldn't change the person that he was. 

Talent, fame, power, and money came into one man. But when things went wrong or in his moments of emptiness, not one—nor all—could buy him peace.

Those of us who believe in the God of grace and peace, know that peace can only come, for free, to anyone who accepts Him as his Savior in his heart.

"I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid." John 14:27 (NLT)

(This is an excerpt from my book, Circle of Compassion, published by OMF Literature in 2013.)

Photo credit:

Sunday, November 2, 2014

All of My Days


College students often interview me about creative writing as part of their class project. I make time for these interviews because, not only do I learn more about the young, I also learn more about myself.

My last interview was by someone called Raff. He had the usual questions: "Where do you get your ideas?" "How long have you been writing?" "What is your advice to beginning writers?"

But one question that made me stutter with the answer I thought had, but not really, was this: "Aside from writing, reading, teaching, and, as a break from the three, solving crossword puzzles, what else do you do?"

Aren't those enough? were the words I halted in my mind.

His was a legitimate question, usually from young people. To them, writing is a breeze, reading takes only a fraction of one's time, and teaching is a cinch (students tune off in class anyway, so hours of preparation do not count).

"I do nothing else," I finally answer Raff. "These three tasks take all of my time, all of my soul, all of me. In fact, I wish there were more than 24 hours in one day so I could do more of the same."

My reply made Raff stutter, too, confused about what to say next. The words he halted in his mind must have been, That's all you do?! What a boring life!

My answer would have been, That's all I do and it is a charmed life.

Then I’d hum the praise song, All of my days, I will speak of Your goodness. All of my days I will speak of Your grace.  And while humming, I’d change the lyrics: All of my days I will write, read, and teach of your goodness. All of my days I will write, read, and teach of you grace.

Why? Raff would then ask.  

The actual interview ended five paragraphs ago. Yet I continue to play the hypothetical Q and A in my mind because when I contemplate God's grace, I see no ending. But my life on earth will someday end, so all of my days . . .
Because there is unwritable, unreadable, and unteachable joy in God’s presence. 

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

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Spot the Book Lover


Book lovers are not many in this country. But you can easily spot one anywhere.

At a book store, she is riveted to a page, oblivious to the noise or commotion around her. 

In a coffee shop, his one hand reaches for his mug, while his eyes hungrily feast on an open book held by his other hand. 

At a book sale, he quickly scans all the titles with covetous eyes, while clutching two or three chosen titles close to his chest. 

Seated on a public bench or anything that resembles a chair (building stairways, maybe), she stares at her e-book reader, while waiting for . . . whomever. 

In any queue, she sports no bored look; she has that furrowed brow or a half smile, depending on what page of her book she’s on.

Knowing his gift is a book, a kid tears the gift wrapper and starts reading. 

Spying a book on a messy table, she reaches out for it, flips a page, and she’s done in.

In her home, her knick-knacks are book ends. His shelves spill over with books even in the dining room.

My friend Glo and I recently attended OMF Lit’s corporation meeting, which happens once a year, and which we both never miss, knowing we’d be given a bag of free books as appreciation for our attendance.  

In the car on our way home, we dug into our paper bag, chose a book, and started reading.

Even through the Ayala tunnel, which was pitch-black, we lifted our books into positions where we could catch the light of other vehicles. We used our cellphones to enhance the lighting. This was us all the way—through bad traffic and whatever else.

In my circles, many of my friends love books. Tony reads one a week. It’s one of life’s non-guilty pleasures.

Book lover. Spot her anywhere; find a kindred spirit in him. Look at how grace makes her eyes sparkle; watch how grace illumines his face.

It is my prayer that the path of all book lovers be lit by words, especially God’s, in the greatest book ever written, the Bible.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105 


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Slave to Batteries


Wrist watches in ancient days (my time) had no batteries. We manually wound them in the morning and they kept going all day.

Then came those mechanical watches that need no winding. The natural motion of the wearer's arm provides energy to run the watch. 

But horror of horrors, in the '70s, battery-powered watches tick-tocked their way in, too. They were touted to be more accurate than other watches. And modern man, being more time conscious than ever before, latched on to this new technology, which has since become the benchmark of wrist watches.  

Designers joined the fray and have been coming up, ad nauseum, with designs limited only by one's imagination.

Now, here’s the thing. My predisposition towards resisting the usual was swept by the tide.

So if you're into uniquely-designed watches like I am, you become a victim of battery-powered watches, now sold practically anywhere (including flea markets) at much lower costs than the functional, mechanical ones.

I now have a drawer-full of bracelet-like, one-of-a-kind watches (received as gifts or bought on a whim) and it seems like I am in a watch shop every week for new batteries.

In my Marketing Communication class today, I discussed needs, wants, and demands. It seemed as though the lecture was for me, not for my students. My wrist watch need has morphed into want, and worse, into demand.

I have been sucked into a deep hole, enslaved by batteries. 

My single thought at this moment: sell all my watches at our forthcoming church's fund-raising garage sale.

With my slew of watches gone, I will save every centavo I shall have spent on batteries, and with my savings, I will buy myself one plain, mechanical watch that will last me all the remaining years of my life. 

It's a bright, brilliant thought that can only be accomplished with iron will, steeled by grace. 

“And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’” Luke 12:15 


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Gender-sensitive Books


Gender sensitivity, per se, is easy to understand. It is the ability to recognize issues and problems in the way societies look at gender. It is a pressing issue in places that still treat women inferior to men.

I was invited to speak on this topic by Zonta International. My talk was well-received, and modesty aside, applauded.

This emboldened me to accept an invitation to speak before high school students, their teachers, and some advocates for women. Being an author, I was to focus on the impact of books on gender sensitivity.  

In my message, I established parameters: I’d speak only of two genders because I have no opinion on anything outside of those. I avoided getting into issues of the LGBT group, which is using gender sensitivity to leverage their position.

I spoke of the creation and gender bias against women in books. Citing research data and book classics, I said that women still have a long way to go in being viewed as the heroine. Men are typecast in that role and readers in general have accepted this status quo. 

I also emphasized that my favorite book, the Bible, makes no distinction between men and women in using God-given talents. “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith . . .” Romans 12: 6 (ESV)

Was I nonplussed in the Q and A portion when I received written questions (9 out of 10) that dwelt on LGBT, such as:

“How can I stop myself from being gay?”

“Why do you say that there are only two genders, when there are gays and lesbians.”

“What happens when a boy says he is a girl?”


Gender sensitivity is not easy to understand after all.

Trying not to sound frustrated or evasive, I reiterated that I limited my talk to the two genders because I have no opinion nor expertise on anything beyond them. I also said, gay or lesbian is not a gender, they are sexual preferences. 

Amidst my discomfort, the 10th sheet of paper came to me hurriedly through one of the teachers: “What makes you write such wonderful books?”  

 Obviously, it was to sidetrack the other 9 questions and to relieve me of my unease. As I have always experienced, grace takes up the cudgels for us at crunch time. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Help Me


When someone you don’t know personally calls for help, what would you do?

One of my FB friends (let’s call her Precious), whom I have never met, posted this message on her homepage: help me 
My gut reaction was to reply, asking what was wrong so I could help in whatever way. But I have far too many friends on FB. (I accept all friend requests when he/she is already a friend of a friend.) Majority of them are actually strangers.

So I decided to leave Precious’ message unanswered, but I did what I could do best under the circumstances: prayed that the Lord be with her and help her.

After that message came a succession of other messages, all with her urgent call for help:

Is there someone out there?

Does anybody care?

If you read this, please text me

I can’t take it anymore

Is this the end?

I need someone . . .


There was a sputtering of replies from among her 22 FB friends, asking what was wrong. But time seemed to be running out, so I dared reply to all of Precious' pleas. My short messages were worded differently, but the gist centered on this verse:  “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NLT)

I shared my dread over Precious’ condition with my faith-sister Doreen, who felt as I felt, and decided to pray for her as well.

Three days went by and there were no more messages on her wall.

On the fourth day, my heart leaped when I read these words:

Thank you, Ma'am Grace.  Okay na po ako. May pinagdaanan kasi akong mabigat na problema. Pero, kaya ko na. (Am okay now. Went through a big problem, but I think I am over it.)

I take no credit whatsoever for Precious’ renewed strength. All I had were words, borrowed from God’s.

But the Lord’s presence and grace embraced her, cradled her, comforted her, and assured her everything would be okay.


Monday, October 13, 2014

A Beautiful Good-bye


Once there were two sisters, Nicki and Linda (not their real names), who were related neither by blood nor genes.

Nicki was the wealthy employer, well-known as the glamorous queen; Linda was the ordinary employee, unknown and unaffected.

Linda’s job required her to travel with her boss to all the world’s richest cities, where dining in exclusive places and feasting on Beverly Hills’ priciest crabs were daily fare.   

Along the way, they became friends. And further down the road, they became sisters.

What is a sister? Barbara Alpert, an author, says, “She is your mirror, shining back at you with a world of possibilities. She is your witness, who sees you at your worst and best, and loves you anyway.  She is . . . someone who knows when you are smiling, even in the dark. She is your teacher, your defense attorney, your personal press agent, even your shrink.”

Nicki, always dressed to the nines, lived in a manor, reigning over a vast network of resources; Linda, always clad in functional clothes, lived in a modest home, nothing more.

But they both supported each other and each other’s families, with a tacit pact to be traveling companions forever. In those travels, they’d tour many places of worship, but maintained their common faith in a loving God and prayed together.  

Suddenly, one day, Linda was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Nicki frequented the hospital, giving comfort; bringing flowers, food, cash, her staff—and a Bible, which Linda pored over every day.

“Hang in there,” Nicki would say, suggesting to take her to the Holy Land. She also planned on moving Linda to the best hospital with the best doctors.

But Linda demurred, not wanting to impose further and knowing it was downhill from there. It was; although the suffering stretched to months, which she spent in the humble structure she called home.

Nicki continued to be the most frequent guest, sometimes alone, sometimes with an entourage, and always with prayers for Linda. Between visits, Nicki would send an oxygen tank, dextrose pole, and speakers for Linda’s phone so she could listen to praise music. Even at midnight, Nicki’s driver or assistant would pop in to bring anything Linda might need.

On Nicki’s last visit . . .
 
Nicki (sobbing): Are you tired?

Linda: Yes, I'm tired.

Nicki: Why don't you rest? You keep saying you're tired, but you don't want to rest. If you have hurt someone, you can say sorry, and if somebody has hurt you, let go . . . when you get to heaven, please pray for me.

Linda: Yes, I will pray for you, I’ve always wanted you to be happy.

Nicki: Oh, thank you . . . I am, uh, leaving for Paris tomorrow.

Linda: When will you be back?

Nicki: In three weeks.

Linda: When you come back, I might not be here anymore. 

When Nicki came back, Linda had left for our Father’s home.

What is a sister? Jodi Picoult, another author, asks, “If you have a sister and she dies, do you stop saying you have one? Or are you always a sister, even when the other half of the equation is gone?”

Always a sister, Nicki is wont to say (she, the glamorous queen who stepped down from her throne for Linda; she, with a big heart that found its match in Linda’s). Because a sister is grace—till the world is no more.  

“A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” Proverbs 17:17  


Friday, October 10, 2014

Surprising Grace


My regular blood chemistry test was due two months ago. I kept postponing it because, aside from being terrified of needles and blood, I dread the results.

Something had always been amiss, like a decimal point or two. These could make you go bonkers—more meds, more needle pricks, more exercises, less food.

In those two months of postponement, I prayed and prayed for good results. So finally, I gathered enough boldness to do it or I’d get a gentle tut-tutting from my doctor.

When the piece of paper bearing the results was handed to me, I closed my eyes, trying to muster enough courage to look at my numbers. Very, very slowly I opened one eye and . . .

For the first time in three years, or more, every decimal point was within normal values. N-O-R-M-A-L.

What, a, surprise!  

I was so ecstatic I told my friend Doreen, the first person I saw in church, about my blood-test epic.  

With knitted brows she asked, “You said you prayed and prayed for it, and yet you’re surprised?”  

Ooops. I prayed and prayed because I was afraid. Yet why would God’s grace surprise me?

The Bible reminds us that Jesus calms the storms in our lives and we should never be afraid.    

“ . . . ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” Matthew 8:26 (NIV)


Monday, October 6, 2014

Kit-and-Caboodle Book Launching


“My, you have the whole kit and caboodle in your luggage! No wonder it weighs a ton,” my aunt, an American, exclaimed when I met her for the first time in Chicago.

I have never heard of, nor used, those words before. But they fascinated and charmed me. Too shy to ask what they meant, I had to find out for myself.  

Later I learned that it is an old idiom that means, “the whole thing.”  A kit is what a soldier would put in his tool-bag. Caboodle is an archaic term meaning group or collection.

Since I lived with her and my uncle for five years, my English syntax became idiomatic, too. I’d find opportunities to say kit and caboodle like a local.

Now residing in the Philippines, I have not used the idiom in decades, but it suddenly popped in my mind when the publisher of my latest book, Grace@Work, announced that it will be launched with almost 30 other new titles (for disparate target markets). 

Having been fed, for two decades, with the marketing/advertising principle to launching only one brand at a time for maximum awareness, I felt disoriented. But I am no longer a resident of that corporate world, so maybe the principles outside are different.    

Here are photos of the kit-and-caboodle book launching (to quell the unease in my head, I renamed the event thanksgiving)—cancelled during the Manila International Book Fair because of the one-day floods in Metro Manila. It finally happened on September 25.     
 
Surely it was an omnibus affair, dubbed "Words for Every Season," attended by the authors, their guests, the publishing board and staff, suppliers, partners, bloggers, readers, and the media. It was the launching pad of all OMFLit's front list for various audiences—children to seniors—and seasons.

I would liken it to the way the Lord blesses us—with faith in our Savior, Jesus, we receive not piecemeal grace, but the whole kit and caboodle.  

“Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks. For we know it is made acceptable by the word of God and prayer.” 1 Timothy 4:4-5 (NLT)


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Book-Signing Blitz


For marketing practitioners, one ideal place for a book-signing blitz is Cebu City. Everything is five minutes away; you have the luxury of getting to several places in one day.  

We did just that over the weekend.

Mounted by my publisher, OMF Lit (Cebu branch), our book tour in two and a half days (the remaining half of my three days there was for a seminar, which deserves a separate post) covered three schools, two book stores (twice), and two book tables after two church services.  

  
Hectic, yes, but the rewards outweighed the punishing pace. Whose heart won’t melt with candid remarks such as these?

From kids: 

“Mateo struck me all the time! Do you have a new one that will struck [sic] me some more?”

“I learned from ‘No Lipstick for Mother’ never to be afraid of my mom.”

“You have no new devotional?! Are you too, uh, lazy to write another one?” 

“My favorite page in ‘Super Devos’ is page 1 to page 365. I like, I like, I like.” (She flips every page.)

“My name is Alysha, and you haven’t written about me yet.”

From adults: 

“‘Grace found Me’ was my companion every day for a year. Now it’s going to be ‘Grace@Work.’” (A lady in her 50’s) 

“Please sign 26 copies of ‘Grace@Work’ for the teachers in my school. Would you write something encouraging for each one?” (A young lady school administrator) 

“I need ‘Grace@Work’ to help me deal with stress.” (A gentleman engineer who works in Dubai) 

“It’s a gift for a friend of mine, but her birthday isn’t till next month, so I will have time to read it first.” (A female yuppie)

I replied, “Grace@Work’ is a devotional. You need to read only one a day so you can reflect on it.”   

“Oh, then I need to get myself one," she said, quickly taking a copy from the shelf.

There are more, all written in my memory. The term that people steeped in marketing use is book-signing blitz, but for me, it really was a blitz of grace.

"May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord." 2 Peter 1:2 (NLT)

  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Traveling Alone


“You’re traveling alone?!” my friend Zeny asked, disbelief written on her face. Her tacit sub-text was, at you age?!   

I have always traveled alone for my book tours. For one, I try to be considerate to sponsors/hosts who, I know, are on a budget. For another, nobody (certainly not Tony) would enjoy being lugged around to various events where only authors and readers are involved.    

In fact, as this blog uploads as scheduled, I should be on my last day in Cebu where I have been over the weekend for another book tour—this time, for my latest book, Grace@Work.  

Before this trip, I bumped into my friend Andy, an American missionary in the country, who has just come back from his home leave. He said, “I had a grand reunion with my mother. She lives alone, drives her car, and does everything on her own—at age 86."

Maybe if she were an author, she’d be doing book tours alone, too.

One is really never alone in book events. You meet strangers who quickly become friends along the way. Old friends also get in touch once they know you’re in town.

For this book tour, I met hundreds of new friends and was able to share my faith with many of them. In fact, later this morning, after the church worship in one church, I will be meeting more—particularly Sunday School kids who will listen to some stories from my books.

I am not traveling alone at all; God's presence is palpable. I am traveling with hordes and herds of grace.

Tonight I shall say hello to my bed at home in Manila and say good-bye this afternoon to my huge hotel room booked by my gracious and generous hosts:
"Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand." Psalm 73:23 (ESV)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book Fair Mania 2014


The Philippines is not yet a book-reading country—proven in sales and in research. If a book sells 5,000 copies in a year, it is a bestseller.

That’s why I am always delighted when the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF) happens.  In one place, one bumps into fellow book lovers who pack the venue in five days. Patiently, we line up to the cash register in various booths and to have our books signed by authors. We even smile at total strangers because we know they are book comrades. 

Only one of my three books made it to the MIBF this year. There was a big roadblock that prevented the two others (the beginning of another series of children’s books called Happy Home, revolving around a Christian family) from pulling through.  

In God’s own time they will be launched. I believe that an author's writing ministry is never done until she's read. I thank Him for replacing my (and my editor's) initial disappointment with excitement as I trekked to SMX MOA, where I purchased tons of books on which I spent every single centavo of my hard-earned budget!

In between shopping, I was invited to hobnob with my readers on previously published children’s books by signing and posing for the ubiquitous camera. It’s an assigned role I relish; it tells me that my writing has not been for naught.  

I’ll let the photos do the telling.

Day 1:                           
Day 2:                       
Day 3: 
“Rain, rain go away, come again another day.” It wouldn’t. It poured relentlessly from night till night. All roads to the MIBF were impassable.  

Day 4:
My only book that made it to MIBF 2014, Grace@Work (above)
 
Day 5: 
A tummy bug, as deadly as the torrent of rain on Day 3, got to me. I had to cancel my last book signing schedule.  

And now, after another MIBF, I will quietly sit in my corner and do either of two things: read or write. What grace to be able to soak in both!   


Saturday, September 20, 2014

No Read, No Write


Lola Cionang, my maternal grandmother, was unlettered. She had difficulty reading; she could write only a few words and sign her name. But she was wise.   
 
By her example and words, I learned to be punctual (especially in church), considerate, and circumspect in everything I do. She knew her Bible, even if she read it syllable by syllable. She constantly sang hymns (Ilocano) from memory. As a little girl, I pegged her age at 60, the stage when, I thought, people knew it all.

I had often wondered where she got her wisdom, but never got around to asking her.

Now, decades later, I know. She went through a tortuous life—a child bride with nine children, conceived before and during a barbaric world war. She was the perfect foil for my grandfather, a controlling Don with a Spanish temper.

By scrimping, she was able to buy farm lands for their children's education in Manila. Without raising her standard of living, wearing the same baro't saya over and over again, she and my grandfather put up a place of worship for the community, which remains standing to this day. 

Where did all her wisdom come from? In today's lingo, people say, “She's been there, done that.” I say, life with God. She didn't read from books what she learned from her journey. This wise woman lived a life fraught with adversities, but not once did her faith waver in a loving God. 

(The above is a short chapter from my book, Circle of Compassion, published by OMF Lit in 2013. It is available in all book stores and at the ongoing Manila International Book Fair, Sept. 17-21, 2014, SMX MOA.) 
“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” Deuteronomy 4:9 (ESV)


Friday, September 19, 2014

Trail of Tears


Copious, overflowing tears have been falling from the sky, submerging many parts of the country, including Metro Manila. There has been no let-up since last night. The weather bureau calls it monsoon rains after Typhoon Mario battered our shores. 

People, me included, are rained in; reined in, rather. Today's activities at the Manila International Book Fair (Sept. 17-21) have been cancelled, including the formal launching of Grace@Work.

No matter. Any day, dry or wet, is a great time to honor and praise the Source of overflowing grace.

"Today would have been dad’s 102nd birthday," my sister emailed, "had not the Lord taken him 32 years ago."

In celebration of everything that today is, let me change my header:

From dry leaves to wet leaves . . .

 
“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lady D


From tot-hood, Lady D, one of my six, exceptionally smart and pretty nieces (in my unbiased opinion, of course), has always been enamored with ballet. Our early family reunions were peppered with stories of her passion, for which she made time after classes or on weekends.

I thought she’d get over it in college especially because she took up a degree that has nothing to do with body movements. But there, she became a tireless member of the university’s cheer-dance team, which awed us with litheness and contortions defying bones and gravity—undefeated team champion five years in a row. 

After graduation, Lady D, without blinking, followed her heart, and is now twirling, soaring, swaying, and dipping gracefully on land and on air in outlandish, never-land costumes, creating smiles in thousands of children at a Disneyland in Asia.

She’s probably one of the very few people whose single-minded focus on what they want to do in life never wavers.

When asked, my college students today want this, that, them and those—nebulous options in case one fizzles out. 

Not with Lady D. Her one and only choice is working out well.

These photos, grabbed from her FB wall, show her enjoying what she loves best, despite a knee injury last year, which could have rendered her dancing shoes useless forever. With surgery, therapy, a brief rest, and dogged determination, she is back with a vengeance.  

I think of my niece now because, while I gear up for the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF), to where hundreds of little people will troop starting tomorrow, I see her and me as kindred spirits in doing something special for children.   

Lady D does it with dance; I do it with books. But both passions are born of grace, and borne by grace. 

“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” 1 Peter 4:10 (NLT) 

See you all at the MIBF on Sept. 17-21, SMX MOA! Chat with me while I sign my books, the newest of which is Grace@Work:



 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sixty Minutes with 60 Kids


There were six of us: four from OMF Literature, a storyteller, and me in a van. Our trip to San Pablo, Laguna took a hurried lunch and two hours on a bumper-to-bumper highway. It took another hour to get the venue ready.

Then the program began—storytelling of The White Shoes, a prize-filled game, and finally, book signing (where I made time to briefly interact with each one).

This book activity, mounted by Expressions Bookstore at Ultimart Mall, brought in about 60 kids and lasted 60 minutes.

It took us longer to get home—a hurried early supper, two and a half hours on the road, with vehicles at a standstill in most stretches, and heavy rain.

"Was it worth all that trouble?" I whined to Tony after emoting and narrating what we had just gone through.

His belligerence surprised me. "More than worth it!" he scowled. "It's not toothpaste you are selling,  where ROI is measured in pesos and cents. Sixty or six kids . . ."

" . . . the ROI is unquantifiable!" I finished—and punctuated—his sentence, not for him, but for me. I caught myself in time, before totally regressing to my workplace obsession of making every minute of my time productive.

Between the two of us, Tony, I believe, should have been the children's book author

Now looking back, and reviewing our photos, the 60 minutes spent with 60 enthusiastic and unusually attentive 6-to-10-year-olds, learning the importance of books, of reading, of listening, of being grateful (especially for the things God has blessed you with, the main message of  The White Shoes), was worth every bit of trouble to and from the place where I was privileged to meet them.

In fact, the time, effort, and logistics splurged on the event were a small price to pay for the values they and I learned in 60 minutes. 

I'll have to see to my propensity for whining. Here's where I pray, and pray hard, for more grace.

"Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him." Psalm 127:3 (NLT)


Monday, September 8, 2014

Nose Job


The all-female club I belonged to held an essay contest among high school students in all schools in Makati. I invited a writer friend, who also is a surgeon, to head the board of judges.

When he arrived at the venue, he whispered in my ear, Most of your friends got a nose job—from the same plastic surgeon. 

I looked at my friends and indeed, they had the same shape of upturned noses, like they shared the same genes.

The process of altering one's facial (and body) imperfections have become a trend in recent years among moneyed people. No wonder all my co-members in that organization were svelte, pretty, and sported no eyebags nor arm flabs.   

I mulled this over. And the image of a friend in church came to mind. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer over two years ago. Her right arm has tripled in size due to her mastectomy. Because of her arm's weight, her right shoulder droops. 

On Sundays after the worship service, she walks like any healthy being to our Sunday School class. Often she volunteers to share her thoughts, “I thank God for loving me despite my frailties and imperfections.” What a beautiful woman she is!   
***
                                                                
The above is an excerpt from my book “Circle of Compassion” published by OMF Literature in 2013.

The beautiful woman I mentioned was Fely; she was called home by our Savior a few days ago. Her last three months in bed were a saga of agony—for her and her loved ones, who witnessed her untold physical pain. 

“Why would a faithful woman of God, one who served Him with the best years of her life, be subjected to such suffering?” the question in our minds was tearfully verbalized by her only daughter.

This brings us back to Job, a faithful man of God, who suffered even more and asked “Why?” at every turn.

But at her wake and funeral, we were riveted to and inspired by one man—her husband, Pastor Ben. He personified peace, “peace that passeth understanding.”

Among everyone, he should have been the most bereaved. But among everyone, he showed us what grace is.

He demonstrated what living for Jesus should be. And it isn’t about bitterness or grief over earthly death.

Till we meet again, beautiful Fely.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT