5/23/2018

Forty Days


It's been two months after Easter, and our pastor is still at it—preaching about Christ's resurrection. For good reasons. The most important of which is, “Resurrection is not a one-day celebration. It should continuously take place in us as we walk through life.”

Instead of ascending immediately to heaven after His resurrection, Jesus stayed on earth for 40 days.
During these important times, He demonstrated to His followers that the greatest miracle on earth had taken place. 

Jesus is alive!

After Jesus’ death on the cross and his body was sealed in a tomb, they grieved, totally devastated. Desperate and fearful, many of them went into hiding. They had believed Jesus was the promised Messiah – but now He was gone.

They had totally forgotten His promise that He would return from the grave.

Jesus had to appear before various groups to prove beyond any doubt that he had been raised from the dead by God's power. Although He appeared to them in the same form that they had seen, He was no longer trapped in that earthly body.

He exhibited to all that He was already omnipotent (all powerful with no limitations), omniscient (all knowing), and omnipresent (He could be everywhere at the same time).  So He appeared here and there, knowing exactly what was happening, and had been able to enter any place, even a room locked from the inside. 

By appearing to His disciples and believers, He was preparing them for the task of evangelism, of the Great Commission—of telling others about what they had witnessed: That Jesus had conquered death, He is alive, and that by grace, we, too, will resurrect from our earthly death if we believe in Him.

 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 (ESV)

Photo credit

5/19/2018

Ettu, Supreme Court?


One word is missing from this old phrase dating back to 1707: judge, jury, and executioner.  Please add: accuser.

That’s what the Supreme Court of my beloved Philippines has become: accuser, judge, jury, and executioner. The judges ousted Maria Lourdes Sereno, the Chief Justice (CJ), via quo warranto* (QW) in vote of 8-6.

The role of the Supreme Court, the last time I looked, is judge—final judge in all cases involving laws of Congress, and the highest law of all, the Constitution.

Accuser?

Some of the judges, on live TV, testified against the CJ in a house impeachment hearing. It was my first time to see Supreme Court justices up close so I was riveted to the boob tube. From the replays, which I again watched closely, it was obvious that some of them had personal gripes against the CJ.

Judge?

The CJ therefore asked that these judges, who appeared on air, to inhibit themselves from the voting in the QW. They did not. These same accusers acted as judges, and predictably, they voted in favor of the ouster petition. Judges, as universally defined, are impartial decision-makers in the pursuit of justice.

Jury?

Same as judge, since the Philippines has no jury system. 

Executioner?

Universally, again, an executioner is defined as an official who carries out a sentence of death on a legally condemned person. The Supreme Court judges legally condemned the CJ, and carried out their sentence of death by ousting her.

From the point of view of ordinary citizens—who oppose the manner in which the CJ was ousted—the death sentence was on the whole judiciary, because it was executed by the country’s highest judicial court. 
In a world of betrayal and bitterness among mortals, I can only ask “Ettu, Supreme Court?”

A pall of doom has been cast upon our democratic system. As a believer of grace, however, I have absolute faith in the justice of the one true Judge.

“For the LORD is our judge, The LORD is our lawgiver, The LORD is our king; He will save us . . .” Isaiah 33:22  (NLT)

*QW can be filed against a “person who usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds or exercises a public office, position or franchise.”


5/15/2018

The Lost Mystique


Being a non-lawyer, I had somewhere in my subconscious that judges of the Supreme Court were isolated from the rest of mankind. It was not important to know who they were.

Their position required them to be cautious in their appearances and behavior in society—avoiding any impression of indecorum. 

They were clothed in mystique. They were not supposed to support any cause nor take sides. 

In recent months, however, they suddenly stripped themselves naked of this mysterious aura.  They took sides, one even displaying personal bitterness.

We met them on national television, live (replayed many times over). And what I saw were mortals, just like you and me, prone to raving and ranting. My jaw dropped when, on close up, Associate Justice Teresita de Castro spew controlled vitriol during the legislative hearing on the impeachment complaints against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno (CJ). The camera caught her and Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez exchanging whispers.

I suddenly realized that these revered beings are like regular social media netizens who can let it all hang out, and freely rant and rave, albeit with restrained language and demeanor.

There have been talks that in the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court some are being paid by gods-that-be and therefore their decisions are predictable. I filed those rumors in the trash bin of my heart.

But more. Social media was abuzz again when Rep. Vilma Santos (a popular movie star on the side) said OMG! This was during the annual meeting of Philippine Women Judges Association where CJ (on indefinite leave) was the invited speaker, after which Santos would speak. But because the CJ touched on the impeachment case against her during her talk, de Castro, president of the association, beat Santos to the podium and rebuked the CJ publicly.

OMG indeed.

This caused many netizens to baptize de Castro as “Pambansang Ampalaya” (The National Bitter Gourd).

And more! The CJ asked that de Castro and the five other judges, who had appeared on TV accusing CJ of misdemeanor, inhibit from voting in the Quo Warranto (QW) case. Nobody inhibited. Hence the vote of 8-6 granting the QW petition to oust the CJ.

Immediately, countless memes such as this flooded the Net:
Other memes showed this photo of all judges who voted for and against the CJ’s ouster.

So now we can put faces to the names we only used to peripherally remember. Now we can recognize them on the streets, in the mall, or any place at all. Now, we can track their failings and feelings. Now I know that one of them owns the mansions I pass by almost daily.

The mystique is lost, and respect for the Supreme Court, diminished.

There is indignation—and celebration. People have taken sides; there is war. We are passing through the rivers as a divided nation. Will the grace of peace unite us ever again?   

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you . . .” Isaiah 43:2

5/11/2018

Supremely Sad


While I am 12,000 miles away from Motherland, something supremely sad happened in the country that is my home.

The Philippines’ Chief Justice, Maria Lourdes Sereno, was ousted in a vote of 8-6. The ruling of the supreme court judges: “She is found disqualified from, and hereby adjudged guilty of unlawfully holding and exercising, the office of the chief justice.”

Brief background: A quo warranto (QW) petition was filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida with the intent of ousting Sereno. QW petition is defined in the Rules of Court . . . It can be filed against a “person who usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds or exercises a public office, position or franchise.” 

On March 5, 2018, Calida accused Sereno of “failing to meet the integrity test when she only filed three of her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth [SALN] in 2012.”

(Contrary to this, these particular SALN were not required by the Judicial and Bar Council [JBC], the body that screens candidates for judicial posts.)

The Rules of Court further says that a QW proceeding may be commenced within one year after the cause of ouster. But only two months after Calida filed the petition, the Chief Justice was ousted today, Friday, May 11.

There are many dissenting opinions penned by justices, lawyers, and legal organizations. There have been protests and prayer vigils among Christians, pleading for God not to allow this to happen.     


Yet it happened. While I do not question God’s sovereignty, my heart bleeds.

I will not go into details, for fear of hemorrhage, as I recall all that had happened—and will continue to happen—in “Pilipinas kong mahal” (my beloved Philippines).  This has been an extremely divisive issue, tearing apart further an already uncertain nation.

But I am certain that our God of grace will still hand down His own verdict at His own perfect time.

Meanwhile . . .

I will follow what was blatantly dishonored by Calida and the eight supreme court justices: Romans 13:1 (NLT), "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." 

Middle photo: by Bullit Marquez/Associated Press

5/07/2018

Perks


Perks are those special benefits—in addition to the big money one is paid—that comes with the job. The more important the position is, the more impressive those freebies are.

But what if you are no longer employed and therefore have been stripped of any title that commands a high basic pay and an impressive coterie of people under your control?

Will perks still apply?

Sure they do.

From the day I chose to be an author, a complete turnabout from the corporate world which consumed me, I knew I was no longer entitled to perks. For one, there is no pay to speak of.

But receiving affirming letters and hearing oral testimonies—of how God has used my books to encourage a troubled someone, or uplift a grieving spirit, or heal a broken heart—have become my basic pay, much more than I ever thought possible.

Beyond that, do I still deserve perks?

No, but I get them anyway. Here' one of them:
This was sent from the US by someone I have not met, so it is more than a perk. It is a windfall. 

It is grace. 

5/03/2018

The Other Cheek


My friend G nags me no end about writing a book on forgiveness. “I have an interesting story for you,” she dangles a carrot in front of me. “I have friends who have other heart-rending stories,” she dangles more carrots.

This has been going on for five years.  But each year, I'd write a book on another subject. She’s probably wondering why I have not considered it, forgiveness being a brave act every person on earth agonizes over.

I have considered it. In fact, I have been chewing it in my head since that day G broached the idea. However, I could not put a finger on what it is exactly. Is it saying “I forgive you” to someone who has deeply hurt you? Or is it moving on and ignoring it with these idiomatic attitudes? 

“Swallow the bitter pill.”
“Sweep it under the rug.”
“Leave him/her ‘out of the picture.’” 
“Treat it like an ‘elephant in the room.’”

Forgiveness was demonstrated to us on the cross, and it is inimitable. Only the Son of God  could say to betrayers, sadists, punishers, executioners, jeerers, haters, and corrupt judges, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

So how can humans do even a semblance of this selfless act?

The Bible has the answer: Turn the other cheek. “But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.” Matthew 5:39
This metaphor nailed it for me. Forgiveness can be humanly demonstrable.

Let me cite Q, a battered wife. Through her married life (25 years), her husband humiliated her by openly flaunting his girlfriends to the world, unmindful of her feelings. One day he left her and lived with a string of beautiful mistresses, one after the other.

Now with his nth mistress, he fell ill, diagnosed with a degenerative disease that needed full-time caring. Guess who offered to give him exactly that? Not any of his mistresses, but Q. She nursed him through his sickness, without rebuke nor reproach for what he had put her through. 

On his deathbed three years later, he sobbed, “Will you ever forgive me?”

“I already have.”

He slapped Q on her right cheek and yet she offered the other.

Her friends sneered, “Martyr complex.”

Q thought otherwise. She saw the essence of forgiveness: offering the other cheek.

This forgiveness story ended the way my childhood books did. And Q “lived happily ever after.”  A life of  peace, soaked in grace.


4/29/2018

Signing and Signing Off


On my fourth and last day in Cagayan de Oro, adrenaline shot through the roof. It had  been soaring since day one.

Our initial stop was Little Me Academy, where grade school kids sat on the floor and listened to the story of "Dump Truck in My Heart" with so much zeal I thought the storytelling would never end.
It’s during book signing, after the storytelling, that I get to personally interact with my young readers. They ask questions, give off-the-cuff remarks, and won’t let you go.
 

But we had to leave Little Me Academy for lunch at a boodle-fight place. The questions continued over crabs and shrimps, "Any tips for aspiring writers?" 

With barely enough time to digest the sea treasures, we rushed to the final event, Meet and Greet, organized by the Private School and School Administrators of the Philippines (PRISSAAP).

The crowd of about 200 was just too eclectic for comfort—parents, yayas, grade school kids, high school students, teachers, and school owners.   

My face blanched. Advertising taught me to focus on a monadic target audience. How was I to connect with an amalgam of ages before me?  "Dump Truck in My Heart" is for ages 8-12. It is not linear and has several flashbacks.

I decided to simply narrate it in chronology, adding elements here and there to make the plot clearer and the theme, lighter.

So what happened?

After the story, the kids of varying ages threw at me spontaneous comments:

“My lola is also in heaven!”

“A dump truck is too heavy. I don’t want it in my heart.”

“I cried in the beginning, but the ending is happy.” 

“I will put balloons in my heart, not dump truck.”

“My lola will never leave me even if she dies. She will stay in my heart.”

Despite my misgivings, they got the message: “For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die.” Isaiah 57:2


The book signing could go on for hours, but the airport was one hour away (barring traffic) and I had a plane to catch.

Signing is hard to ignore and signing off is even harder to do. But grace breezed me through both; I got to the airport in good time. 
 

4/25/2018

Bilingual Message


“Please send the manuscript of your Sunday message for Cagayan de Oro,” Lynnie, Marketing Specialist of OMFLit (Viz-Min) messaged me. “That same message will be for two services.”

I found it odd that she needed it two weeks in advance.  But a dutiful soldier does not question why—Lynnie never makes unreasonable requests.

That Sunday came and as soon as I set foot in church, the pastor met me and explained that I would be speaking in two languages—one in English for the first service, and the other in Chinese for the second service.

“But I can’t speak Chinese!” I panicked. 

“No worries,” he replied, your message has already been translated to Chinese. Simply read your manuscript in English. Then he introduced me to the translator—a scholarly, formidable-looking lady who double-checked with me my Bible verses.

Ah so. That was why my manuscript had to be sent in advance. 

The English message for the first service was as I prepared it—to the minute and to the letter. Now, what about the second service? My speaking time would be doubled with the translation.

“Would it be okay if I skipped some parts?” I hesitated to ask, but asked anyway. 

“Okay,” she said, “I know your message by heart; I will adjust.” 

Whew!

I began my talk with an adlib, “My husband sends his greetings. He's the guy who speaks fluent Fookien. Unfortunately, I am the author. He is simply the wings behind the author.”

The translator picked it up and when she paused, there was loud laughter. 

Such are the blessings that enrich an author’s journey. No two book tours are ever alike. Every single experience is a rich source of grace that keeps the writing more exciting and challenging—book after book after book. 

4/21/2018

Empty Jars, Empty Net


If I had wondered about Jesus’ first miracle on earth, I wondered even more about His last miracle before He ascended to heaven.

Why would his last act be about an empty fishnet?

It was the same question I asked about the first miracle: Why would the first act be about empty wine jars?

From the pulpit last Sunday, two weeks after Resurrection Day, I heard our pastor say, “Both are about emptiness. Nothingness.”
Silently I added, They are like our bookends that keep us in place and upright. 

"The details in the Gospels, particularly in these two miracles, are actually about the details of our own lives," he explained.

There are times, many times, when we feel like our life has run dry, empty like those jars and fishnet.  I could not count the times I grieved over the loss of a loved one, or when I felt betrayed by someone I had trusted, or when I was distressed over some sudden, unexpected turn of events.

These are the points when God’s grace comes and fills us up again. From total emptiness in the beginning of our time—“The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters.” Genesis 1:2 (NLT)—God showed us Who He is and what He can do. 

All through the pages of the Bible, He demonstrates how He fills up people’s empty lives. And then on Resurrection Day, at the rising of the sun, we read about the rising of the Son, leaving the cross empty: the ultimate symbol of a new life and new beginnings.

“Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” Psalm 126:2 (ESV)

Top photo credit 

4/17/2018

First Breakfast


While preparing to share in the Passover, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. By this humble act, He showed them how to love one another. (Aside: it’s unthinkable, by any stretch of the imagination, how any head of anything today could do the same for his people.)

Then at the dining table with His disciples, He said, "I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won't eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God." (Luke 22:15-16, NLT)

That was His last supper with them before His crucifixion. It was a highly symbolic act—His body broken (bread) and His blood shed (wine)—to prepare them for His departure. 

To His disciples, it was a sad farewell. They would never have a meal with Him again, not on this earth. 

But just two weeks after His resurrection, Jesus appeared on the shore waiting for them, coming back from a long dark night of fishing, but catching nothing. (John 21:1-19)

Jesus told them to cast their nets again and they caught such a large number of fish they had a hard time hauling all in! It was the break of dawn, a fresh, new day.
By this time, Jesus had done another humble act. He made a fire of burning coals with fish on it, and some bread. Their breakfast!

He said, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught . . . Come and have breakfast.” Jesus took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

“Come.” It is hope within easy reach.

Anyone does not have to end with the last supper; we are invited to begin anew with the first breakfast.  The meaning of the last super “has been fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

And the resurrection of Jesus is our new beginning, the dawn of our new day, our first breakfast—so  we can leave our old sinful selves and live again.

Can grace be any grander?


4/13/2018

The Best Parenting Book


"This is where the parenting seminar will be held tomorrow afternoon," said the pastor of the school sponsoring the event.

What I saw was a gym with many chairs, arranged facing the stage. And that intimidating podium! "No podium for me," I stressed. "I am more comfortable walking around."

But with almost 300 parents with some millennials and GenZ'ers from different churches, I was prevailed upon to go up the stage. Walking around just wouldn't work.

One hour into the seminar, I divided the crowd into 10 groups for the workshop, a must-do in all the seminars I facilitate.     



All groups were active, complete with discussions, questions, some arguments, and agreements. The reporting by the leaders earned us more knowledge about the topic: Understanding Your Millennial and Gen Z Child (based on my book "Present!" written for millennials).

From the post evaluation, I think we all came out of the seminar more aware of how the young generation today and the generation after it differ from their parents.  “When I was your age . . ." doesn’t work anymore; their brains are wired differently!

We went back to Scripture, to what it says about understanding and bringing up the children God entrusted us with.

In sum, our net take away was: we are swamped with parenting books today. But we must always go back to Scripture. It is the best parenting book ever written, with the same truth yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

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

P.S.

Post-seminar fun:  
       

 

4/09/2018

Purple Rain


There are many kinds of orchids, but the one that holds special meaning to me and my siblings is called Sanggumay (Dendrobium anosmum Lindley 1845, of family Orchidaceae), Purple Rain in English. 
Sanggumay is how we call it in our country. This epiphytic growing orchid is native to Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, New Guinea, and the Philippines. Its flowers, each measuring 8 cm with mauve to purple petals, are borne on leafless stems. It is fragrant, with raspberry-like scent.

My sister, Aie, who now lives in our ancestral home, says Sanggumay was planted in our backyard by our late mom years ago. She loved the color purple, which was probably why she took a liking to this beautiful flower.

But even now that mom’s gone, the Sanggumay continues to bloom every year—the flowers are at their best on her death anniversary.

Mom’s death anniversary is moveable. She died on a Good Friday (April 18) 15 years ago, but my siblings and I decided to commemorate her last day with us every Easter, whatever date it may fall on.

And this is what’s amazing about Mom’s Sanggumay—it blooms in full splendor every Easter, as though celebrating with us the risen Lord and our Mom’s life that now flourishes without end in His holy presence.

Easter celebration is often symbolized by colorful eggs, food, and fellowship in churches all over the country.  Yes, we had all those, too, but in our heart of hearts, Easter is about the resurrection of the perfect Man who died for our sins so that we, too, may have the privilege of rising up to  heaven when our life on earth ends.

What better time to remember our mom, who served God all her life in various roles, than on Resurrection Day?

And what grace can we ever ask for, other than to see and smell the Sanggumay on Easter in gay profusion, like refreshing drops of purple rain?         

4/05/2018

Five Stars


Excellence is symbolized by five stars in the hotel industry.      
     
A five-star rating means, services across all areas are offered to satisfy all of the guests' needs: a range of facilities, and more importantly, personalized service.

I used this five-star symbol as a metaphor to underscore what it takes to serve children. The event, organized to coincide with a book tour in Cagayan de Oro (CDO), Mindanao, brought together Sunday school teachers and youth pastors from various churches.

“We must desire to develop into a five-star worker, consistently raising the bar in our job,” I flashed on screen.

Tough call. How could we offer excellent personalized service with limited time and resources?

“It begins with a change of mindset—our time and resources are unlimited. This is who we are in Scripture: ‘. . . anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him . . . So we are Christ’s ambassadors . . .’ 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 

“As Christ's envoys, we represent Him. Therefore, we can’t be less than a five-star worker, nurturing children with our riches. He has appointed us to share our time and talents, and be generous with His resources.”

After extensive discussions based on the above, we parted ways knowing this truth, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich."  2 Corinthians 8:9


4/01/2018

CDO: The Second Time Around


It was past midnight when I finally settled in my bed at Grand Central Suites, Cagayan De Oro (CDO). My first trip to CDO was in 2013 and in five years, changes have rendered the landscape unfamiliar, including the new airport, which was now a one-hour drive to the city.

God's grace of sleep came instantly, preparing us for the 8 AM first event. 
  
Oro Christian Grace School is a huge Chinese school—in structure and population. I was privileged to meet every single one of the officers, teachers, and staff before the storytelling of Dump Truck in My Heart.      
 
The kids screeched and applauded when I entered the library and the delightfully raucous and riotous affair began.

The children were vocal; they asked questions and volunteered comments.      

As in all of my book tours, it is during the book signing that I get to know my readers up close.  I could write another book with all the things they tell me! 

Next stop in the afternoon, after a lunch treat by the school pastor/chaplain and his wife, was Corpus Christi School, another humongous campus that teemed with teachers and students.  There were more questions, and I had to fish out from my reply reservoir some quips that would bring on more of their endearing titters and giggles.   

 
In both affairs, I earned maybe a thousand new friends whose names my brain will not remember, but whose warmth my heart will never forget. It was all worth the late night sleep and early morning rise.

When I first traveled to CDO for Compassion International, I thought I'd never pass that way again. I erred.  To borrow the lyrics of a song, “It is lovelier the second time around.”   



3/28/2018

The Joy of Waiting


My brother Dave, who works in American Samoa, likes to surprise us. He never announces his visits to the Philippines. He says he doesn’t want anybody waiting for him—“When I’m here, I’m here.” Because his visits are unpredictable, we usually aren’t’ ready to spend as much time with him as we wish.

Dave’s unannounced visits, in a way, make me think about the second coming of Jesus. Over the years, there have been so many predictions about it. Religious groups have preached repentance to their flocks because their leaders have said that Jesus is coming back on such and such a date.

Not one of those predictions has come true. We are all still waiting.

Nobody truly knows when Jesus is coming again. The Bible tells us that it will be when we least expect it. “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (I Thessalonians 5: 2).” It may be today, or tonight, or tomorrow morning, or 15 years from now.

The exact time of His coming again shouldn’t really bother us. What we should be asking ourselves is, “Will we be ready when that day comes?”

There’s a world of difference between thinking He WILL come today and He MAY come today. “May” is a motivation for us to be ready as though the exact time is now.

Dear Jesus, You may come today or anytime. I want to be ready when that happens. Help me to keep trying. Amen.

(This is an excerpt from Grace Found Me, available at OMF Lit and Passages Bookshops, PCBS, National Bookstore, and OMF’s online bookstore.) 
 


Above: These four photos were uploaded to FB by my FB friends. I took the liberty of  borrowing them for this post. Thank you for taking time to read and pose with Grace Found Me. Below: Grabbed from the the website of omflit.com 


 

3/24/2018

Of Last Days and Last Flights


Last days in book tours are rushed affairs: pack, check-out, eat a hurried breakfast, then head to the first event.     

  Above: Living Arrows School 
Gold School (from left, Lynnie of OMF Lit, Me, and school owners) 
After that, a quick lunch is all you can afford, because the next event awaits. (Photo ops, however, are non-negotiable They have to be squeezed in.)  

By this time you'll be panting. Then in a taxi to the airport, you wish the driver would go faster because your flight (the last out of Iloilo) is less than an hour away. Ugh, traffic snarl.

Airport, finally. There are a few minutes left to buy the expected pasalubong.  Suddenly the PA system blares your name: “Grace Chong, please proceed to Gate 4 for boarding."  This is repeated a few times, the next more urgent than the last. You run as fast your flogged body and bad toes could manage.  

As you limp into the plane, people gawk as though seeing someone from Saturn. Blushing, you strap your seat belt on and whisper, Whew!  You close your eyes, take a deep breath, and thank your Enabler for making you catch your flight and for all the etceteras and etceteras of the four-day book saga, focused on proclaiming His grace.    

Up in the firmament, after being allowed to recline your seat, you turn on your cellphone, click on Gallery, and as you scroll down, down, down, you smile at each shot, and say under your breath, Memories are made of this.  

Then your soothed body and mind bring you back to why you are there and Who brought you there.

"I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles. Your awe-inspiring deeds will be on every tongue; I will proclaim your greatness. Everyone will share the story of your wonderful goodness; they will sing with joy about your righteousness." Psalm 145:4-7 (NLT)


3/20/2018

WOW


After delivering the Word at church—two services in a row in Iloilo city—I badly needed to drink a glass of water to wash down choked nerves. (I confess, despite having spoken before different audiences in many places for years, I never got over the jitters, and probably never will.) 

Not only was I given a glass of water, I was served authentic Chinese food in a restaurant by 20 women of WOW—Women of the Word—of Calvary Chapel. Straightaway, I felt like I was one of them, not a guest from out of town. The encounter was free and easy, just bits and pieces of this and that, our ministries, how we began and how we want to go on.

We shared snapshots of our lives, our failures, our successes, our common faith and of the enormous grace that comes with it. 

The evening was so relaxing, with plenty of banter and laughter, we didn’t realize we had exceeded our allotted time. And so we said our goodbyes.   

I realized I may never see them again—not in this life. But definitely, we will continue our conversations, which will no longer be time bound, in a place reserved for all of us, where goodbyes shall be no more. 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34 (NIV)

3/16/2018

Bigger Fonts


The majestic and imposing church, built beginning in 1949 in Iloilo City, loomed large before me. 

My stomach churned.

I have spoken in many churches before, but not in one as huge as this. My slides were not for a gymnasium-sized venue and I was now anxious they could not be read. I did not dwell on my worries too long, though; the ushers welcomed me warmly and ushered me inside the church.

It was, as expected, commodious indoors. The ceiling reached the heavens and although there were several projectors for every area, the endless rows of pews were overwhelming.

Contemplative yet contemporary would be how I’d describe the service—similar to my home church’s. The choir's angelic voices, together with the praise and worship team's edgy vocals (combining organ and modern band instruments) felt like I was in the music section of heaven—and the Lord's presence was in and with me.

"Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?" Psalm 139:7 (NLT)

Behind the pulpit, I clicked on my first slide, "What it takes to be a winner." Then my next slides seemed so miniscule, unreadable from the speaker's monitor. I winged it all the way and prayed that the audience would follow me through.

They must have. After the service, many thanked me for sharing my journey as a writer on God's grace.

Over lunch with the senior pastor, he said, "For the next service this PM, try to increase your font size to a minimum of 60, so you won't have a hard time reading the monitor." He noticed!

Back in the hotel, I rushed to revise my slides. And for the next service, I was faithful to my script, finishing on time to enjoy the music of Dr. Aaron Alfred Lee, world-famous keyboardist/pianist/composer.

As a teacher in communications, I always remind my students to do a venue check before finalizing their presentation slides. I broke my own rule, taking for granted I knew all about church sizes.

Baptist Center Church, according its website, is probably one of the biggest places of worship (protestant) in the Philippines—and the oldest, too. It was a blessing for me to have stepped inside it and speak behind its pulpit.

Photo credit: BCC facade

3/12/2018

Eight: A Miracle Number


From now, I will hold the number eight in high esteem. It created a miracle.

How it began

Our university president (to whom I could never say “no”) requested me to be The Bridge's (student publication) adviser for the third year in a row.  The qualifying exam reaped tons of entries, but I handpicked only the best 12. Two more volunteered to be photographers, bringing the number to 14.

Passion for campus journalism was palpable during our first meeting; there were sparks in the students’ eyes.       

Then the work piled up, got complicated, and the deadline neared. One quit. Then another followed . . . and another . . . and another. (Once upon a time, commitment was a virtue. People never quit, unless they were dead or dying.) Before I could blink, only eight was left.

How it continued

More than a challenge it was, like actually acting out our theme, "Breaking Borders." The remaining eight decided on a magazine, instead of the usual newspaper. They conducted a poll. They worked out exchange deals with suppliers. They secured copyright permits. (Yes, millennials couldn’t be boxed in.) And the edition was to be the university’s special 20th anniversary issue, for launching at a certain date. Too close for comfort.

Grace needed here.

Under ordinary circumstances, among lesser mortals, this would be panic time. But the eight pressed on: writing, editing, interviewing, lay-outing, coordinating, etc. And how about the photo shoot and press work?


More grace needed here.

Timely help and morale boost came from the angels at the Office of Student Affairs. They and our president wrote us encouraging notes. 

Still grace needed here.

At crunch time, ironically on Valentine’s Day, one editor volunteered to be at the press. She was trapped there from morn till eve.

One day later, the press gave an ultimatum, “A person of authority has to sign the proofs so we could  beat the deadline.” That had to be me.

Grace came beyond measure: Our president, her heart made of gold, threw in her full support by keeping me company, bringing along our IT to see to details.
 
How it ended 

It was celebration of our 20th year as an institution that has been breaking borders since day one! A flood of individual and collective appreciation swirled in from the student body. The Bridge is their voice; they are in it; they own it. 

Behind it all are the enduring eight editorial board members (future leaders, no doubt) who broke borders to make it happen. Their first names: Rafayel, Fatima, Shiandra, Allie, Kat,  Sonia, Paolo, and Pau. Their middle name: commitment
 
If that isn’t a miracle, what is?