Athleisure, et. al.

One of my colleagues, Ayet, a Marketing professor asked, “Is at leisure one word or two words?”

“Two words, of course,” I replied, with a thought balloon, You didn’t know?!

It turned out that it was I who didn’t know. Tut-tut, you're slipping, I berated my unenlightened self.

She meant, athleisure—a term I heard of only then. How could have I not known that weird word? 

With the help of a quick digital research, I discovered that “athleisure was first used in 1976 on an advertisement for trainers, but its sudden rise saw the word officially enter the US Merriam Webster dictionary in April, 2016. It is defined as casual clothing to be worn for exercising and for general use.”

I came from an era when sleepwear was for sleeping and lounge wear was for lounging.  

But in this digital age, weird concepts, and therefore words, are born every minute. Creative people coin or invent them. Whenever I hear one for the first time, I say, “Duh.” Now I find myself saying “duh” with more frequency than ever before. A word, however, is not a bonafide word until it makes it into a legitimate dictionary.

How does a word get into a dictionary?

Frequency of usage. When it is widely used by people and often cited in an extensive range of publications—for a significant period of time—the dictionary editors research how the word is expressed in context to find its basic meaning. This process used to take years, but with global connectivity, the journey to a dictionary has been drastically shortened.

And because language is alive and is evolving, old words in the dictionary now have new meanings: cloud, scroll, and tablet to name a few.

Happily, one of the oldest words in the Bible is grace. To Christians, its meaning remains unchanged. 

The year has not yet ended and already more than 1,000 words have been added to Merriam-Webster and Oxford English Dictionary. 

Some of the new words I learned before I heard of athleisure were: NBD, awesomesauce, lookbook, and agender.

If you still don’t know what they mean, you may say “duh” but look them up quickly and be a hipster.


The Itch to Give

The Christmas season brings out in many people the obligation to give.  

This thought visited me every year and I’d always assumed it was either one of two reasons, or both:

One, malls and stores display inviting wares on sale that cover the gamut of needs and wants of everyone you know; two, it feels like people—including those you hardly say “hello” to all through the year—seem to expect it.

But I happen to be reading Charles R. Swindoll’s “Grace Awakening” (a present from a balikbayan friend). In one chapter, the author expounds on the itch to give on Christmas so powerfully, I re-processed my thought.

Looking back, I had not been obligated at all. I gave as many Christmas gifts as I could (my list is super long) not because I needed to, but because I wanted to.

And that makes a world of difference.

He writes, “Christmas scratches the itch of grace deep within us. It provides us the opportunity each year to deliberately get out of ourselves and do something tangible for someone else with no . . . interest in being ‘paid back.’”

My list, and probably yours, too, includes: janitors, mailmen, delivery guys, traffic officers, beauticians, hardware store salesman, street sweepers—people who have touched our lives during the year. As you imagine their smiles in unwrapping their gifts, you know they feel blessed, perhaps more than how you feel when unwrapping your own.

Swindoll adds, “Christmas [like no other annual celebration] prompts us to demonstrate true grace.” He asks, “What makes giving so wonderfully addictive?”

In sum, we have the itch to give on Christmas because we want to model the grace of Christ, who left His heavenly riches to give Himself to inconsequential us. 

Are you making your Christmas gift list yet? I am sure it’s going to be super long.



Pajama Glam

My sleepwear is a collection of loose old rags. The shabbier, the better—for dreamin'.    

G, my daughter-in-law, must have noticed my pieces of tatters when my husband spent our vacation in son #2’s home last summer. Whether she was aghast or amused, she didn’t show it. But the next thing I knew, she bought me the most beautiful pajama set.

“Oooh,” I gushed. “These are for office wear, not for snoring!”

She laughed, "Nooo." 

“Watch me,” I threatened her.

It was the opposite of shabby, but surprisingly, it was oh-so-comfortable.

When we got back home, I had my beautiful PJ’s washed and ironed, and on the first day of class, I wore it to school with my blazer. But first, I requested Tony to take my photo wearing my OOTD and sent it to G via Messenger.

In school, my co-teachers (the ladies) cooed:

“Your outfit is sooo cool.”

“You're glam personified, Grace.”

“America has done you good. You look better than ever!”

My students (the girls) babbled and burbled:

“Miss, you look so fashionable.”

“Wow, Miss, love your OOTD!”

G messaged me after receiving my photo. “Oh, gosh, you were right, Mommy, it doesn’t look like sleepwear at all.”

I’ll let you in on a secret. This is not the first time I did this. Once I saw a housedress (duster, we call it in the Philippines) with graphic paisley prints. It was so dirt cheap I bought it without thinking. The next week, I wore it to school beneath my blazer. It was the most comfortable dress I ever had and I felt like a million dollars.

But what do you know? I googled “sleepwear as office wear” and found hundreds of photos!

And I thought I was unique.

Well, as Margaret Wolfe Hungerford said in her book Molly Bawn (1878), “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”    


Reading between the Lines

I asked three millennials what "read between the lines" means:  

(1) "Narrating the scenario?"

(2) "Understanding something better?"

(3) "Sorry, Ms., nothing comes to my head."

When I requested #1 and #2 to explain their answers, they had run out of words. There was nothing to ask #3.

Author Shannon L. Adler wrote, "The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't being said. The art of reading between the lines is a life-long quest of the wise."

I am afraid to say this, but we are losing (or have lost) the art of reading between the lines.   

With it, we have lost all understanding of other literary devices such as sarcasm, hyperbole, symbolism, etc.

We are in an in-you-face era where everything is taken at its face value. Cut-and-paste, sans critical thinking.

We are also in an era where cursing, lewd jokes, and rudeness are virtues, especially if uttered by officials in positions of power. 

Our president, for instance, curses at whomever has caused his ire. He also likes cracking lewd/gender-biased jokes, and eschews tactful language in all his speeches (formal or informal occasions). When I complain, I get these admonitions from his fans:  

"That’s trivia, look at his accomplishments.” 

"Those words are nothing, look into his heart." 

"He is the only president who is real; real talk.”

Whatever happened to GMRC (Good Manners and Right Conduct) that we teach our children at home and in school?

Whatever happened to role modelling?

One of my advocacies is children's literature. That's why I care about what children learn from adults, especially from our leaders.

Or do I sound like I am still living in ancient times when "yesses" and "nos" were read between the lines?

But let’s go even farther back—thousands of years ago. Jesus talked in parables to teach people lessons. Listeners read between the lines.

So, okay, today—if we insist on saying it like it is, without the folly of in-your-face foul language, Apostle Paul had these words to the Ephesians, chapter 4:29 (ESV):

"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Can we get more forthright than that? 


Prose or Poetry

Once, long ago, I dabbled in poetry.  I must have been quite good at it, my UP professor in  literature  said, “Keep writing!” 

I did keep writing, but not in verse. I found more romance in prose—or maybe I discovered I could express my thoughts more profoundly in sentences and paragraphs. And poetry never figured in my writing life again.  

Up until this term. 

A colleague in the university where I teach is a hard-core business management professor. But deep inside him hides an artist. Aside from being a concert pianist, he writes poetry. He is light years my junior, but I am drawn to his chatter because they are mostly about literature, particularly writing. 

During one of our budget meetings, he wrote a haiku on a small piece of paper which he surreptitiously passed on to me. Truth be told, I have not looked into haiku for years. So this one took me back to that once-long-ago. 

Then last week, he wrote a sonnet, or was it a quatrain?  Then the next day, he was talking about cinquaint. 

Poetry must have made a comeback in my middle so audaciously, I woke up early this morning, rushing to my keyboard and writing my first poems in years—two cinquaints on the one word which I have written about in prose, in over 50 published books to date:

So will I take up writing verse again?

Hmmm . . .


Book Blitz at Brent

The word Brent evokes warm memories.  It reminds me of my cousins Faith, Hope, and Charity, who all attended the exclusive Brent School Baguio while I lived with their family for a year. They outshone other kids in other schools.  

Then it was the school—most expensive, with well-equipped classrooms sprawled on a wide rolling terrain and an international curriculum.

Brent has since grown and is now also in Metro Manila, where alumna Faith worked for many years. I never understood what she did there, but with her long years of experience as professor at UP and a Ph.D., it must have been something important. 

So when I got invited recently to the international school’s Booklatan 2017 (presentations from Filipino authors/illustrators/storytellers to promote Filipino arts and literature), I called up Faith. She encouraged me to go. 

My morning at Brent turned out to be a book blitz. With the Hiyas Team (book publisher), Domz Agsaway, illustrator of our newly launched “Dump Truck in My heart,” and I presented to over 200 students in three successive sessions (grades 3, 4, and 5). 

After a storytelling by Yna of OMFLit, Domz and I answered a battery (the kids had more queries than we had time to answer them all) of tough questions. After which came the usually festive book signing and photo ops. 

But it was the interaction (I call this my goodie truck) with the eloquent kids that will be parked permanently in my heart.  

“Were you experiencing some kind of grief when you wrote the book?”

“When the dump truck drives away, won’t it take all the happy memories, too?”

“What thoughts did you have when you illustrated the book?”

My deepest gratitude goes to the gracious grade school principal, Ms. Mitch; librarian, Ms. Teri; teachers’ aides, and library staff, for making our morning at Brent International School Manila a book blitz of grace.

Unlike a dump truck, Brent's goodie truck in my heart will never drive away. 


Dios ti Agngina, Manang Vi

This Ilocano phrase, when literally translated, asks for the Lord’s grace in saying “thank you,” with a prayer that the person being thanked is blessed a thousandfold.

We say Dios ti agngina, Manang* Vi, our househelp of many years—she who watched our three mischievous little boys grow up into responsible young men; she who had served all my siblings and their families when they came to visit.

She was a member of the family, and we feel deeply indebted to her.

Manang Vi passed on yesterday, just days after her 70th birthday, in her hometown. After supper she said, “I want to sleep now.” She never woke up.

It was about this time last year when she left us for good. Before then, she’d been worrying over her sister, Francing, who suffered from terminal cancer. She would regularly send money to the province for medication and called the shots over the phone. Unfortunately, Francing didn’t make it.

She went home for Francing's funeral and when she came back, she was never the same again. She would stare into space, feel all sorts of aches, and worse, she was testy with everyone.

On her last Christmas with us
I had to talk to her, “You don’t smile anymore. Sometimes we don’t know how to –“  

She snapped, “How can I smile when I am not feeling well!”

I took the chance to tell her what we’ve been afraid to say years earlier (since she turned 65), “Maybe you need to take a rest; you’ve been working all your life and--”

“No,” she said curtly. But days later, her sister came to pick her up. Her retirement money had been advanced years before, because she wanted to put up a business. But we felt we still owed her, and pooled our resources (Tony and I are now both retired) to send her off with a decent farewell gift. 

My sister, brother and sister-in-law would visit her once in a while since my family lives so far away. They would bring a pastor to pray for her. “She doesn’t look good,” they’d tell us.   

Son #3 made time to visit her, too, and his prognosis was the same.

What grieves me now is the phone call that her family cannot afford the down payment for funeral services. She had money—she’d been able to buy a farm, build a house, and send her nieces and nephews to school. Often, I would tease her, “Hey, Miss Moneybags, save some money for your funeral expenses.” Did she ever listen?

But now is not the time for questions. She had always been there for us; we will be there—as we pool our resources one last time—for her.   
Rest now, Manang Vi. “You have fought the good fight, you have finished the race, and you have remained faithful.” 2 Timothy 4:7 (NLT)

Dios ti agngina.

*an Ilocano honorific for older sister; Ate in Filipno



Unlikely Winner

It’s a common belief that students who have the money—and therefore have access to better schools, gadgets, expensive books and activities such as workshops and travels—will outperform those who have nothing.  

Carol, who graduated valedictorian in our church's school, proved this wrong.   

A slum dweller, Carol was a beneficiary of the church's outreach program, called the "afternoon class." It is a free, abbreviated grade school curriculum for indigent children who pass the entrance exam.

Carol excelled above everyone, including those in the paying sections. She was also an earnest learner, joining all school contests and activities, such as one of my creative writing workshops for children.   

Months later, our pastor surprised me, "One of your workshop kids, Carol, won the writing contest among all private school students in the city!” 

My heart soared. I asked our pastor to tell me more about Carol; only then did I know about her background.

Here was a kid who walked to and from school, perhaps malnourished, clothed and shod in hand-me-downs, and survived on irregular meals, besting all contestants in a writing competition!

It would be so easy for me, who taught her the basics of good writing; her teachers, who nurtured her talents in class; her donors, who financed her school needs in the "afternoon class;" or her parents, who birthed her, to claim the credit for her success. 

But wait.

Scripture says, "For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen." Romans 11:36

Only God can endow anyone with anything that can help children like Carol to fulfill their God-given purpose in life. May God alone be praised.  

Photo credit


MIBF 39: Crowded and Congested

People, people, people everywhere.

Old and young, toddlers and retirees, students and teachers lined up for hours to enter the MIBF venue on the event’s last day. The guards turned all exits into entrances just to accommodate everyone who forced their way in.

I had to leave our 42nd anniversary celebration in church immediately after a quick lunch to catch my 3:30 PM schedule for “Grace under Pressure” book signing at the CSM booth.

How I got in was magic, made possible by an official MIBF ID. One after the other, I received text messages from friends, who had earlier set a date with me, that they turned around, “Can’t swim in the sea of people!” 

Since it was still too early for my book signing, I dawdled in the Hiyas booth, where I met readers of all kinds and friends.

The air-conditioning was almost non-existent and to go from one place to another, you’d have to walk like a Chinese Amah with bound feet, or you’d crush into someone before, behind, or beside you.  Were it not for the joy I feel when surrounded with books and book lovers, I’d have whined.

I almost didn’t make it to the CSM booth in time because of the crowd. But once there, seeing and chatting with old and new friends, time stopped. The 30-minute schedule whizzed by and I overstayed by another 30. 

It took two hours for my driver to find me and help me with my purchases. A person of lesser mettle (or someone who does not love books as much as those who bore the inconveniences) would have passed up that last day or passed out. 

The unprecedented turnout on MIBF’s last day only meant one thing: more and more people are reading. And that falls under the category, “Wow!"


Grand Book Tasting

Avid readers went gaga over the smorgasbord of book resources offered and served by CSM (Church Strengthening Ministry) Publishing all through the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF) in September. The streamer around its booth screamed: Book Buffet!

To dovetail with this theme, the traditional grand book launching was dubbed Grand Book Tasting. The parallelism is seamless. Food nourishes the body; books nourish the soul.

When my kids were little, Tony and I made this policy statement, “We will scrimp on everything except on two things: food and books.”

They readily downed the dictum. Each time we went into a book store, they would each have a pile of books that made us dig deep into our pockets. Each time we ate out, they knew exactly what to have. When the prices of food and books spiraled, there was no way we could rescind the contract.

That’s how they grew up to be voracious readers—and eaters, too. Which was why my daughter-in-law, after becoming a part of the family, coined the term “Chong palate.”

But I digress.

The Grand Book Tasting at the MIBF was grand indeed. CSM Publishing launched more than 20 new book titles, my Grace under Pressure being one of them. The event gathered a crowd representing many churches—pastors, lay ministers, elders, Sunday school teachers, deacons, outreach volunteers, etc. It was a visual demonstration of the publishing house’s mission: To strengthen the Church, equip the saints, and reach mankind.

All the authors briefly introduced his/her book, after which the books were unveiled, prayed over, and offered to the Lord.

Introduction of "Grace under Pressure"

I echo the prayer of Joy, CSM Publishing’s editorial manager, at the Grand Launching: May these books (pored over for one whole year by authors, designers, editors, printers and the CSM Publishing staff) become vital resources in feeding and empowering the church and the saints to reach mankind.  

"Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him." Psalm 34:8


Turning into a Three-toed Sloth

Three-toed sloths are the slowest animals in the world, moving only with a maximum speed of 0.003 miles per hour.

That’s how I felt on the day Dump Truck in My Heart was launched at the Manila International Book fair.

For months, I had looked forward to this important event. In fact, I wrote the date in big, bold letters on my white board.
Finally it arrived. I woke up, bathed, dressed up, and was ready, giving the driver at least three hours (the distance between our home and the venue is 20 minutes) lead time.

As soon as we got to the highway, we creeped. There was an accident two kilometers away and the vehicles before and behind us impatiently honked their horns. Before long, the highway turned into a parking lot—for more than an hour.

I must have glanced at my watch ten times every second, as though it would tick-tock more quickly if I looked often. When we finally got going at the speed of a three-toed sloth, we only had 20 minutes left.

I repeatedly texted Joan, my editor, updating her on our progress. My tummy knotted, my toes curled, and my breath stopped when, with just 10 minutes left, we were still about 500 meters away.

At two minutes before the appointed time, I reached the escalator, skipping rungs, bumping onto people, and praying.

The God of all grace answered my prayer to get me there on time!

The woes of traffic were soon ancient history when I saw kids from St. Stephen’s School trooping in line to the Hiyas Booth, and Dominic Agsaway, the illustrator, greeting me with a smile.

That was the day Dump Truck in My Heart first moved, very quickly, from the shelves to young readers’ hands—much unlike a three-toed sloth.                        
"Not to us, LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness." Psalm 115: 1 (NIV)



One of the things I terribly miss about working in advertising is diarrhea—of ideas.   

In the creative and accounts departments, all you had to do was to begin your statement with “What if?” and you get a torrent of ideas that surge faster than you could write them down.

It was as though everyone had in his brain disc a grace-rich mine from where he extracts out-of-the-box ideas 24/7.

Why do I miss this so?

Today I teach college students part-time and I often conduct creative writing workshops. Brainstorming is a part of the curriculum/program.

In advertising, brainstorming was (I write in the past tense because I don’t know the state of advertising today) a noisy, garrulous affair. It takes gargantuan guts to say, “Enough!” 

Where I am today, brainstorming is mostly a quiet, stare-at-nowhere, scroll- down-the-phone, google-the-topic, unexciting non-event. Except for a few exceptions, millennials in brainstorming sessions seem to have an ellipse on their foreheads that denotes, Nothing is forthcoming. It's a serious case of constipation, and it makes my heart (or tummy) bleed.

I pray that I may not lose my sanity, snap, and suffer from anemia.
Have ideas suddenly flown out of the window and left us forever? Have they gone into a dark, deep covered pit where they can no longer be found?

Plato said, “Thinking is the talking of the soul with self.”  Is it possible that the young people in this generation, these digital natives, have lost their soul? And self?

Just having fits of nostalgia.  


Judge a Book by Its Cover

That is an axiom in advertising. Packaging plays a big role in product choice.
In like manner, readers do judge a book by its cover. In fact, book covers spell the difference between abysmal and astounding sales. Why do some books fly off the shelf and why do some remain there?

The cover of one of my books, Grace Found Me (365 Thoughts for Busy Women), was changed in time for the Manila International Book Fair.

It was not exactly gathering dust in book shelves, but for some reason, it went out of print. This award-winning book (Gintong Aklat Awards, 2012) occupied a special place in my heart, which ached when it disappeared.

During this time, a friend wanted to purchase a hundred copies for abroad and another wanted it as a give-away at her birthday party.  I combed all bookstores to find it, but found none.

“That only means, it was saleable,” Tony tried to make me feel better.

But more than a year later, at the faculty lounge in the university where I teach, I got an email from Yna, publishing director of OMF Lit. “We need your vote to break the tie between these two cover studies for Grace Found Me.” 

(Left: Study 1; right, Study 2)
It is going to be re-launched! I screamed silently.  

Immediately, I downloaded both designs and did a quick poll among female peers and some students. (Yes, advertising taught me that consumers are the judge, not my gut feeling.) Study 1 (left) won hands down.

I asked, “Which one would you most likely buy?”

Some of the comments were:

“This has a come-on appeal.”

“This gives me a nice feeling.”

“This is happy and fresh!”

It was my personal choice, too—my gut reaction was right! 

Readers loved the old cover (by Jon de Vera) when the book was launched. But because it vanished from the marketplace, it needed to appear again, not as it was, but in an all-new, attractive frock (by Amor Aurelio Alvarez).

Now that we’ve judged the book by its cover, may I invite you to read (and judge) its content? 


Goodbye Time

It’s the end of the first school term. I have just said goodbye to my students.

Last days are sort of sentimental. They say “thank you” and make you feel you have been the best teacher in the world, and that under your wing their lives are changed forever—for the better.
This tugs at the heart even if I know that this scene is replicated in other classrooms with other teachers as well.

In all the years that I have been teaching, nobody seemed to dare ask if we could take a class photo. Maybe I have a detached demeanor (?) But there was that one and only time two years ago when someone tried.

I think I might have dismissed the class a little early because of a speaking and book signing engagement, and there was time for them to dawdle before their next class.

 “Okay,” I said, “make it quick. I need to go somewhere.”

In two seconds flat we had these two shots. I had forgotten all about them until it popped out of my Facebook Memories. 
I peer at each face, and I am surprised that after two years, I still remember all their names—and their grades.

It was an extraordinary class—so extraordinary they even got me to say, “Cheese.”

In another year, they should be marching with their togas and receiving their diplomas. And I would be in the audience praying that their journey into the big, wide world to face the big, bad wolves be a little less intimidating and that they will put to use everything they have learned to achieve what they have set out to do.

And as I am wont to do during graduation ceremonies (the real good-bye time), like a personal ritual, I’d whisper my wish for those graduates, who were once denizens in my classroom, May grace find you wherever you go.


MIBF 2017 Opening day

Several days before the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF), the heavens cried. The heavy rainfall flooded the streets, stalled vehicles, caused massive traffic snarls and cancelled classes in all levels in Metro Manila.

My publishers collectively went on their knees to pray for good weather.

By grace, the sun shone for the first time on the 13th of September, opening day. Although I did not have any book signing or launching scheduled on that day, I hurried to the venue (SMX MOA), raring to see my new books (including an old one, Grace Found Me, with a new cover), caress them for the first time, and offer them to the Lord, for Whom they were written.
It also was my only chance to shop as, from previous experiences, the MIBF gets choked with an overwhelming throng in succeeding days.

I was surprised at the already dense first-day crowd. The queue to the entrance was like a snake curled many times over. I begged the guard to let me in because I had to go to the bathroom badly. He took pity on an old lady and let me in, begrudgingly.  

The first sight of a new book you slaved over for months (sometimes years) is always a crowning moment. It's like a scene in movies where a long-lost love suddenly appears from the horizon and you both run to meet each other—in slow motion and with matching music to dramatize the reunion.

I blinked back tears when I saw "Dump Truck in My Heart" at the OMF Lit Booth and "Grace under Pressure" at the CSM booth. I turned off the noise for a few seconds to thank the Lord for them.

Unscheduled book signing and photo ops happened next. The annual MIBF had raised the curtain.


67th Palanca Awards 2017

Attending a Palanca Awards Night, often held on September 1, has always been an exceptional grace for me. There I get to chat with fellow writers/readers whose passion is literature.

At the awards night this year, the guest speaker was Butch Dalisay, (a highly respected professor and author). He eloquently articulated what I have always thought of the Palanca Awards: “Writing for the truth, writing for honor and glory, writing for the love of language–these are what your being here is all about, what the Palancas have existed for these past 67 years.” 

He added, “This is especially important in these darkening times, when megalomaniacal and murderous despotism threatens societies across the ocean, debases the truth, and cheapens human life.”

This year, however, I had one tiny dread. For the first time in Palanca’s history, there was no winner in the Short Story for Children category, for which I chaired the three-man board of judges.

Although my co-judges and I were confident of our stand, there was still a possibility of censure from some quarters.

True enough, the following day, I read snide remarks on FB about the result of our judging. These spurred a writer of Rappler to message me and ask for the judges’ POV. We welcomed the interview; it gave us a chance to candidly air our side, without being defensive.

After the article was published, we were deluged with overwhelming support. Not one disagreed with our decision.

It’s been four weeks since the Rappler story and I am still getting messages from FB friends and people I have not met:

“I can't believe the judges earned flak for not choosing a winner! It’s as though they’re saying, ‘that’s only a story for children.”

“I totally respect the judges' decision NOT to compromise the standards set for the Short Story for Children category. Lowering your standards would only reinforce other people's impression that writing for children is a breeze.”

“In my book, you did the right thing.”

“That was a bold move. But am so glad you made a statement that needed to be said.”

My fervent wish as an author of children’s book is that writers who plan to write for kids should take the craft seriously, very seriously. Kids deserve the very best, and the Palanca is the perfect venue to show it.

Regrettably, this year, not one made the grade.


Rock of Ages

Silence was all I could hear while writing in the last two years. It began when my CD player, which I played all day, conked out on me.

Finally, last night, I asked Tony to please buy me a new CD player.

He said, “I’d be glad to.” All I had to do was ask.

Son #3 overheard and exclaimed, “CD players are passé. All the types of music you listen to are on the Internet, non-stop!”


Then he gave instructions on how to access hymns, Broadway songs, and oldies.

Early this morning, I did as told, and hey presto! I typed HYMNS and the first one that came on was “Rock of Ages.”
What a coincidence.

It had been one of my father’s favorite hymns and today, 35 years ago (just two days after his 70th birthday), he “drew his fleeting breath, and his eyes closed in death.”  

Written by the Reverend Augustus Toplady in 1763, this hymn would be sung softly by Dad all the time, alternating it with with "The Old Rugged Cross."  He couldn’t carry a tune—a trait I half inherited—but the words rang clear. Let me quote the last stanza: 

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyes shall close in death,
When I rise to worlds unknown,
And behold Thee on Thy throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

Today I remember Daddy and say a prayer of thanksgiving to our Rock of ages for his life.

I also say good-bye to silence while writing. I have music once again—and all the tunes I love—while my computer is on. And I can even change gears anytime.

Wow. Like discovering grace, I learned a new digital “magic” at a most unexpected hour.


Grace under Pressure:

The backstory

“Would you consider writing a book on brokenness?” Joy, Editorial Manager of Church Strengthening Ministry (CSM), asked me as she held her breath.

She didn’t have to hold it too long. I replied in a heartbeat, “One word, yes.”

Joy laughed, “The title we have in mind is ‘Grace under Pressure.’”

Anything with the word “grace” pumps adrenaline into my core. “You’re on,” I said, after which we discussed the details.

When I started writing, however, I could not reconcile the title with brokenness. Nobody ever gets broken when grace comes to the rescue, was the thought that kept me awake at night.

I had two choices, drop the title and write about brokenness, or retain the title and talk about grace coming just before breaking point. 

After much agony, I chose to retain the title, and wrote a “position paper” to present to CSM.

During our round-table discussion (with the editorial team), we sliced, minced, carved, shredded, and pureed the issue until it was crystal clear in our minds that indeed, “Grace under Pressure” is not about brokenness. Yet, pressure is just as crucial and as urgent an issue in our world today. 

So I was given the green light to write “Grace under Pressure.”

It was a bitter-sweet journey that spanned two continents. I began writing the book in the Philippines then continued writing in the US, where my husband and I spent some time.

I say bitter-sweet because as I re-lived my own anguish through the years and other people’s pressures, it felt like going through the grinding mill again—or to use a more appropriate metaphor, like being sealed in a pressure cooker, with a slim chance of escaping. 

But ultimately, and despite everything, I am a believer of and an advocate for happy endings.

I therefore ended the book thus:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed.  We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God.  We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (NLT)

At 3:30 this afternoon, I will be at the CSM Booth at the Manila International Book Fair, SMX MOA, for book signing. Won’t you come and grab a copy?   



Dump Truck in My Heart:

The backstory

The idea for this book, which was inspired by my friend C, was roosting on the back burner for three years.

One day, another friend, L, called asking if I had an unpublished story for children. And would I send it to him? He was doing an anthology of children’s literature and looking for something fresh.

I told him to give me a day to rummage through my files. And I found this! The story revolved around coping with poverty. But this theme was not what he was looking for.    

I knew, however, that the idea had endless possibilities, if only I could sit down to re-work it. With an audacity I don’t normally possess, I called L, “I think I may have what you’re looking for! But I can’t send it to you yet. Can you give me two weeks?”

“I give you one,” he replied.

One week?! The shortest time (and I call that a miracle) I ever took in writing a children’s story was four months. How on earth could I write this in one week?!”

The voice inside my head whispered, You already have a manuscript, which you worked on for almost two years. That, plus one week, would be more than three dozen months. Not a short deadline at all.

I cancelled all my appointments that week, begged off from errands, and did nothing but re-think the idea and pound on my keyboard. I might have missed several meals—and never once glanced at FB. I also lost some sleep, and appreciated the fact that one does not need eight hours of snooze to stay alert.

From coping with poverty to coping with death of a loved one—it was a detour, but I had just lost a dear friend and I was in deep grief, like there was a dump truck parked in my heart.

The verse that kept me sane was, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:4 (NLT)

After I had two (instead of six) kids and two (instead of three) writers read it for their comments or violent reactions, I fine-tuned my 1,300-word story and e-mailed it to my friend. He said he loved it at first read. Whew!

It was published in an anthology of children’s literature (for adult readers). I thought that since I wrote it for children who might be grieving over the loss of someone dear, it should be read by them.

I sent the manuscript to Hiyas, my publisher of children's books. "Could you pare it down to 1,000 words for kids' easier reading?"

Today, at the Manila International Book Fair, at 11 AM, I will be at the Hiyas booth (with Dominic Agsaway, illustrator extraordinaire) interacting with kids and discussing this 1,000-word story with them.

I pray that it will help bring hope that one day, the loss of a loved one will not hurt as much—and the dump truck parked in one's heart will drive away.