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)


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


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?


No Gadgets (Part 2)

These scenes—in malls, coffee shops, and homes—are oh-too-familiar today:     

They are, it seems, a reflection of the behavior of their parents, who are just as hooked on gadgets.

Many government agencies are now issuing precautions about the side effects of handheld devices. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics both state that infants (0-2 years) should not be exposed to handheld technology gadgets. Children aged 3-5 years should be limited to just one hour per day of gadget use, while 6-18 years should be restricted to 2 hours per day.

However, parents insist of giving their tots gadgets because they are a sure-fire way of pacifying  demanding kids. 

Continuing from yesterday’s post, here are more dangers, as culled from research, spawned by early use of gadgets:  

Mental Diseases - Technology overuse (gaming consoles, mobile phones, tablets, etc.) will always be a risk factor for child depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, attention deficit, autism, bipolar issues, psychosis and other problematic behaviors. Gadgets restrict the child’s mind and physical movement which delays his mental and physical development.

Violence - Kids learn to be aggressive—as exhibited in tantrums. As they grow older, they are more likely to confront and disobey their elders and authorities. 

Radiation Exposure - The World Health Organization (2011) reported that “cellphones and other wireless devices are considered category 2B risk because of their radiation emission,” harmful to health and are classified as “possible carcinogens.”

Lack of communication Skills - Reduced socializing breeds kids who cannot express themselves clearly and politely—and don’t know how to listen or empathize. 

Sleep Deficiency - Because of the thrill kids experience from electronic games and tablets, they prefer to stay up and miss out on their needed rest.

No Exposure to Nature - Instead of going out and learning the ways of the world, appreciating God’s creation—animals, plants, lakes, sky, mountains, and beaches—kids stay cocooned in their own digital world.   

Damaged Eyesight - Ophthalmologists say that good eyesight depends upon staring at things of varying distances, spaces, movements, and shapes. 

Addiction - New research now reveal that gadget addiction is even more dangerous than drug addiction. Although gadget addiction is not recognized as an official disorder by medical classification, many therapists today treat gadget-addicted patients with the same methods they would use to treat other addictions.

“It’s worse than alcohol or drug abuse because it’s much more engaging and there’s no stigma behind it,” said Nathan Driskell, a therapist in the US. 

I am no longer parenting young children, but as an author of children’s books, and one who grew up reading the printed page (e-books were not invented yet), I agree with this research result (abridged):

“Screens and e-readers interfere with two important aspects of navigating texts: 1) serendipity;   2) a sense of control.” 

I enjoy flipping to a previous page when a sentence brings back a memory. Often I skim ahead or read the ending and imagine how the author filled up the in-betweens. 

My Bibles have marginal notes and I underline the word grace, grateful for where it is taking me. And, don’t laugh, I have the opportunity to lovingly cover my books with plastic as though they were pricey gems.

Well, they are. 


No Gadgets (Part 1)

I will celebrate if all you remember from this seminar is this: No gadgets for kids who could not yet read.

This was to encourage the parents of millennials and Gen Z (in Cagayan de Oro, an hour flight away from home) in the audience to read books to their young children, so they will learn to love reading and prefer books over gadgets when they are ready to read the printed page.   

According to child development experts, kids who are reared on handheld gadgets are passive participants—being fed with other people's ideas. But children who read books enter a world of creativity, unbounded by time and space.  The phrase “critical thinking skills” required of adults is really about imagination, developed at an early age through reading.

Like a mean joke, this scenario met me on my flight home. My seatmates were a young tot and his smartly dressed mom. As soon as she strapped her kid to his seat, she gave him a smart phone.

Then she got busy with her own. Despite the repeated announcement for passengers to turn off all electronics, mother and son kept at theirs, raptly immersed in their own cyber world.

The boy squeaked, "Awk!" (He still could not talk and had his feeding bottle beside him).

His mother immediately replied, knowing exactly what he wanted, "No internet, son, so no You Tube."

I was devastated, remembering the just-concluded successful seminar.

When the mother looked up from her gadget, I chirped with the friendliest voice I could muster, "He's so young and already he could manipulate a phone so deftly."

Proudly she replied, "Oh, yes, we started him on it before he turned two. Children are different these days!"

These days, gadgets are the new yaya (baby sitter). They could do what a human being could never manage:  make even the brattiest of kids sit still. It’s a pacifier, stopping kids from whining or acting up.   

Research results on how gadgets have affected kids are alarming: they have changed the stages of natural growing-up; they have replaced toys, playgrounds, storybooks, exercises, and communication. 

Here are some specific dangers (abridged from various findings) among children: 

Drastic Brain Development - The brain’s size triples at toddler stage and develops until a child’s adult years. Gadgets may negatively interfere with this natural growth. 

Obesity - Kids inertly playing with gadgets don’t burn calories, which may lead to obesity that could cause complications such as diabetes, heart attack, and stroke.

Grace deprivation - God’s grace is in the little and big things that are strewn in a myriad of places and people which must touch a kid’s life. Gadgets limit his time and space, depriving him of this wondrous gift from above.

To be continued . . .


Crying Lady

We cry for different reasons. One would be over regrets. Had we been braver, more daring, more rash, we think we could have gone to the place where our heart was set on going.

This was exactly what a little old lady, her eyes moist, told me.  
She was one of the 400+ people in the audience when I spoke about “What it takes to be a winner.” I narrated how much I had always dreamed of being a writer, but the snags and detours I took were far too many, till I got here late in life.

“Eighteen years later, today,” I stressed, “I have written 54 books—with 15 awards and 15 rejected manuscripts. One rejection letter said, ‘Do not attempt to rewrite and re-submit.’ I have failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I keep writing.”

She waited to talk to me, sitting alone with her teen-aged grandson watching her from a distance. She rose to hug me, very tightly, and whispered, “That was beautiful.  I, too, had always dreamed of being a writer but never got published.”

“It isn’t too late,” I assured her. “Send me one of your manuscripts and I’ll see what I can do.” I was thinking of publishing it online—on my blogsite—right away.

“But they are all handwritten, and they are all the copies I have.”

“You can ask your grandson to either photocopy one or type it and send to me via e-mail,”

“What is e-mail?” she wrinkled her ash-gray brows.

Dreams can be overtaken by time and technology. And only if we let them remain in the past can we be content with where we are.  I had unwittingly unearthed a passion she had kept in her heart all these years; I did not mean to.

“Being published isn’t the be-all and end-all of writers,” I explained. "We write because we love to and enjoy it. Other people need not read the words from our heart. But you could leave those pieces as a legacy to your grandchildren.”

We hugged one more time, and as she walked slowly away, I remembered Moses. He expected to step into the Promised Land, but the Lord thwarted that thought, “Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!” (Numbers 20:12)

I am not drawing a parallelism between the old lady and Moses.  I simply mean, we don’t know why some dreams are fulfilled and some aren’t, even if we work hard toward achieving them.  And it is not wise to question “why?”

We just need to keep the faith and lean on His grace.


Do We Know How to Love?

February, the heart month, ends today. 

I had wanted to blog about love on the 14th, but Valentine's Day sneaked out on me while I was onto other pursuits.

These verses always leave me in agony:

“We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” 1 John 19:21 (NIV)

The love we have for others, especially for those who have wronged us, is nothing compared to how he demonstrated His love by laying down His life for every single one who wronged Him. Would we do the same even for those whom we claim we love?

Hatred is so palpable with the advent of technology. Many cyber messages are greatly appalling—the tirades, the rants, the outbursts, the sarcasm, the curses, etc. How can hatred be on such a grand scale?

Flowers, chocolates and love notes went around this month as well. But those do not compare with the extreme sacrifice made on the cross.

So do we really know how to love?  Do we really love God as we profess?

Loving others is a hard, extremely hard, climb. It takes effort to try . . . and try . . . and try.

And it is in the trying where we need grace . . . and grace . . . and grace.


Face-off: Parents vs. Children

My book tour in Iloilo was more daunting than I feared.

After three schools for Dump Truck in My Heart on the first day, I came face-to-face with parents and their Gen-Y and Gen-Z kids the next day to discuss my book, Present! The secret to being in the here and now.   

It turned out to be a face-off: parents vs. children. Not the kind where one side is bruised and the other, fallen, but the kind where the result is more than a draw. 

“I am not your ideal parent who is an authority in parenting,” I began my talk. “I was a flawed mom, too busy with my career. It was grace that took my place and made me feel like I did something right.”

The audience laughed. Now, how was I to straddle between two polar views?
Taking off from Present!, I explained why I wrote it for millennial readers after thorough research on this puzzling generation. While I was summarizing the characteristics of Gen-Y, the millennials in the audience, as well as the few Gen-Z’s, nodded their heads vigorously; their parents knitted their brows.

In the workshop, each group was tasked to have a consensus on what is the best parenting principle. And in the sharing, the line was drawn.

The young ones expressed what they thought about parenting—how it should understand the new generations because they are different from those who never had the word “digital” in their vocabulary. The parents expressed their frustration over said technological “bad” influences, to which they have no control. 

We went back to Scripture, where the Lord outlined parenting principles, starting from the basic, "Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” Proverbs 22:6 (NLT)

To the early Israelites the Lord said, “So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” Deuteronomy 11:18-19

In over two hours, the close to 100 people in the seminar had a meeting of minds, bound tightly by the Word. Daunting it might have been in the process, but the result was surprisingly of a different kind. More than a draw, we collectively came out with this net take-away:

Parenting books abound today. But in the end, the only parenting book that matters is the Word—then, now, and forever.  


Iloilo: Double Deja Vu

Coming home from a book tour in Iloilo almost seven years ago, I began my blog with, “Iloilo is now a bustling metropolis, which was a pleasant surprise for me.”

I’d write these same words now and they’d still be true, and doubly so. The bustling Metropolis is even more bustling. The old airport where I arrived and departed has transformed into a modern complex—parks, buildings, restos, and art galleries.  The farms that edged new buildings have morphed into hotels, boutiques, and other global enterprises one finds in Manila.

Only one thing has not changed—the people. Warm, wholehearted, welcoming—exactly the way I remember them. In every event where I was invited, I got the same uplifting treatment, doubled even.

Book tours like this are mounted by my publisher, OMF Literature. They’re junctures for me to meet my readers and for them to put a face on the words that I write.  This time around, the tour was for "Dump Truck in My Heart" (kids) and Present! (Gen Y and their parents). The schedule is packed to the brim, the better to reach as many readers as possible. 

OMF sent me an angel (again!) from Cebu named Lynnie, who has five heads, a dozen hands, and a heart as big as Earth to see to all the details, without missing a beat. She, too, had an angel (again!) named Christine, Iloilo-based, who brought along her adorable, four-month-old cherub, Matthew, to one of our brief breaks.  What could be a better team!

My four-day trip took us to children in five schools, and to adults via a seminar, two church messages, and a women’s fellowship. All told, in nine events, I met close to two thousand new friends.

One blog post can’t begin to describe the overwhelming grace that swamped and seeped through all the places where we needed it.

A few of our first-day photos . . .  

First stop: Iloilo Integrated School (IIS)

Second stop: Precious Gems Christian Academy (PGCA)

 Third stop: Central Philippine University (CPU) 

The photo below capped our long but wondrous day with some of the most affectionate children of Iloilo. Book lovers all! 
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17 (ESV)


Shopping Binges

Just when I am agonizing over a recent malady that stopped my walking exercise at dawn, I read this post by my dear friend Manny on my FB wall. Oh, those foolish, wondrous “that’s nice” days!

“No one but no one could hold a candle to the shopping duo of Grace and Amor*! Those two would tag-team amid a flutter of classy English, the un-pretentious kolehiya kind and I witnessed this somewhat weird ballet, this mad dash from the clothes racks to the fitting rooms & back again, first hand during a lull at a TVC shoot. The production house told us to leave for a while as the next set up would take at least three hours.

“’I could think of a million things to do in three hours," said Amor. "Me too! Manny come with us,’ Grace piped in.

“We arrived at Rustan's and I could see their eyes twinkling as they imagined the possibilities. Inside Amor would be her critique about which scarf goes with which blouse, while Grace, with her patented "that's nice," would quickly agree at Amor's choice.

“It really depended on how Grace said this two-syllable phrase. If she said "that's nice" with her eyes opening wider than usual, coupled with a bigger than usual smile, then buy the darn thing.
If she said it with panic in her eyes, her smile frozen midway, that was bad. You  must quickly banish that sordid thing or hand it over to dis crass, new money hag with a 'this would look good on you' marching order.

“As usual I would be sitting on a couch. Unlike today, shops then cared about tired, unwilling husbands chained by the wrists, taken as prisoners and made to wait as Lady Godiva attacks the marketplace with nothing on but her wit and uncanny ability to mix n' match clothing!

"Which of course I wasn't like those husbands. I enjoyed watching them—in fact, their thought and selection process—that before you knew it we had been there for over five hours and they were far from finished with their shopping!

“Good thing in those days, before cellphones and iPads. I brought a paperback novel, the 300+ pages kind.”

Ahhh, the many seasons of grace!

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven . . . God has made everything beautiful for its own time.”  Ecclesiastes 3: 1, 11 (NLT)

*my boss


Wave Walking Goodbye

In all of 17 years, since I walked away from the paid workforce, I turned to free walking in and around our neighborhood at dawn. It was an exercise prescribed by my cardiologist to solve some health issues.

I called it my walk of grace, spending the hour counting my blessings and thanking the Giver for them.

I took this daily hour seriously—every day in the first 10 years, then every other day in the last seven. I was still enjoying these morning walks till August last year, when I was disabled by a throat infection that kept me in bed for a week. I waited another two weeks to get my energy back before walking again.

But then, while walking, something strange happened.

The toes of my right foot curled involuntarily, causing me pain and making me stop. (Try digging your toes into your shoes and walk—you’ll know what I mean.)

I blamed it on the dull pain across my right hip, lessened by physical therapy (PT) sessions two years ago, but which came back while I recuperated from the debilitating throat infection.
Not one to give up easily, I tried walking again the next day—this time in the mall where I don’t notice my strides while gaping at merchandise.  But ouch, I couldn’t ignore the pain caused by my curling toes.

That did it. I stopped all kinds of walking and consulted the rehab doctor.

She made me go through eight excruciating PT sessions, which lessened the pain. Yet the curling toes (they look normal when not in use) have been stubborn.

Her verdict:  “Your toes are compensating for some weakness in your hip somewhere. Have six more PT sessions then if you still feel pain, go through an MRI so we could pinpoint the cause.”

My six additional PT sessions are almost over, and the pain in my hip is totally gone. But my curling toes, extremely stubborn, want me to wave walking goodbye.

Should I?


Is White Chocolate Chocolate?

Fast facts about chocolates from several sites on the Net: 

Approximately one billion people in the world eat chocolate every day.

Nine out of ten people love chocolate.

Fifty percent of people in the globe cannot live without chocolate.

Those facts make me odd. I am not a fan of chocolate. 

Although I eat chocolate, I don’t go out of my way to buy it, because I can live without this global favorite. What I love though—with a passion—is white chocolate, which is not chocolate. 

So why is it called chocolate?

It doesn’t look like chocolate or smell like chocolate, and it doesn’t even taste like chocolate. It contains no chocolate solids. It is usually made from a blend of cocoa butter, milk solids, sugar, milk fat and lecithin—a fatty emulsifier that holds it all together.

Nonetheless, I love this chocolate impostor.

I got a windfall, and what a windfall, of white chocolates last Christmas. My brother who resides in Australia came home for a vacation and in his bags were oodles of Australian chocolates. He gave my sons, who adore the stuff, enough to last them months. So I asked if he happened to have white chocolates.

He did. And I got them all (or most of them anyway).   

What’s so good about white chocolate? Let me ask back that question, “What’s so good about chocolate?”

My mind tells me this is a perfect illustration of that well-known adage (first recorded in 1576) that has become an English idiom, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.”

And it is exactly what’s happening in our country today. Many Filipinos think that President Duterte is the best-ever head of the land; others think he is the worst ever. One side can never convince the other, so the status quo remains: a nation gravely divided.

Now what of this? “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.” Luke 11:17-18 (NIV)

Despite our taste differences—chocolate vs. white chocolate—may we never tire in praying for God’s grace to enlighten our minds about what is right according to His precepts.  



In many official forms today, people are given gender choices: Mister, Miss, Mrs., Ms. plus that ambiguous word “Other,” about which I have always wondered. I know it to be a gender-neutral honorific but who actually ticks it off?

I need never wonder again.

According to Merriam-Webster, "Other" refers to those who do not identify themselves as belonging to a particular gender—or those who don’t want to be identified by gender.

Can you guess what this world-famous dictionary did to acknowledge "Other?" While we weren’t looking, it added an honorific just for him/her/whomever. 

Pronounced as mix, this new word has been in the Merriam-Webster Unabridged since April 2016 and added to their online dictionary last September 2017.

While the word isn’t used as an official title globally yet, it is already recognized and adopted in the UK and soon other parts of the world may follow suit. Men and women can then freely use it.

And men and women will completely be mixed up. No more shall there be bad and good, rude and polite, correct and incorrect, man and woman, black and white—just all shades in between.

2018 will be cluttered and mixed-up with new words and new identities, reminiscent of our famous Filipino dessert called “halo-halo” (transliterated as mix-mix).

In one tall glass are many kinds of fruits and some vegetables in various colors and shapes with bits and pieces of native cakes thrown it, plus milk and sugar mixed in crushed ice and ice-cream.

More and more people will demand for ways to acknowledge themselves, their individuality, their  me-ness.

This is not at all surprising; it is not going to get better. Apostle Paul warned Timothy, “. . . that in the last days there will be very difficult times.  For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred.”  1Timothy 3:1-2 (NLT)

By grace, we can keep the faith.  


The Unspoken Word: Aging

People often say to me, "You don’t look your age." I don't quite know how to react—smile or smirk. I am sure they mean well and want to make me feel good, but somehow, there's a disconnect somewhere.  

I feel my age. Every single year of it. I feel it in my bones, in my muscles, in my eyes, in my ears, in my gums, on my scalp and on my skin—in every place of me.   

Does that mean my body parts have aged before my looks?

Sheila Nevins (aged 78), an American television producer and the President of HBO Documentary Films, calls this "compliment" to women of a certain age as fairy tale. In fact, she wrote a satirical and hilarious book about women in this late life stage. She titled it: "You Don't Look Your Age and Other Fairy Tales."

When (or if) I get to be her age and still writing or training young writers in workshops and seminars, I will probably be hearing more "You don't look your age."

Our late househelp Manang Vi, whose oral bluntness was unrivaled, had doused my delight, "When people say that to you, they're wrong."

I replied, "You mean, they're lying?"

She said, "No. They just don't know what they're saying."

God bless her soul.

There's a statement that I wish people would say instead, "You're aging with grace." But there’s a stigma attached to the word "aging." You don't dare speak it to other people's lined face, unless you are a physician specializing in geriatrics.

The word grace does not come naturally in conversations, either—unless you are in Sunday school or a prayer meeting. 

But since “You don’t look your age” seems to be the “in” thing to say to people whose looks have obviously transformed from a fresh plum to a dried prune through the years, I should be grateful.    

Whatever changes my body (or mind) has gone and will go through, the only One that matters remains unchanged.

"I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you." I Isaiah 46:4 (NLT)


Ang Pao

That little red envelope with gold Chinese characters is known by different names in different places: ang pao, ang pow, ang pae, tae ea, lai see, ang-pau, or hongboao.

Let me simply call it ang pao.    

I must have lived a pretty cloistered existence before I got married, because I never knew of ang pao till my wedding—to a true-blue Filipino, in mind and in deed, of pure Chinese parentage. I was given a bulging one by my new in-laws. And to my surprise, it contained cash. All along I thought envelopes came with letters.

Then when son #1 was born, my in-laws handed me another one of these red carriers of treasure, “For our grandson.”

Ang pao had since become a part of my children’s birthdays, Christmases, holidays, and all occasions we celebrated as a family. Not only did I associate it with cash, I also linked it with my sons’ unbridled joy when receiving one from Angkong and Amah.

My in-laws are gone now, but I have made ang pao a part of my gift-giving. When I run out of gift ideas, I give cash in an ang pao. Okay, I also want it known I am partly Chinese.

“You don’t know its history,” son #3 rebuked me one day. “You could be carrying on a pagan ritual. Do you even know what those golden characters say?”

Well, the people I give ang pao to (Filipinos) don’t know what they mean either. Also, what harm could little red envelopes do?  So I went on my merry way.

But last Christmas I was short on ang pao while wrapping my Christmas gifts. So I rushed to the mall. Alas, I went from store to store and found none. “Out of stock po,” said the sales people.

I suddenly realized how popular ang pao is! That got me curious about its whys and wherefores, and so here's one legend that my research yielded . . .

During the Sung Dynasty in China, a village called Chang-Chieu was terrorized by a huge demon. No warrior could defeat it. However, a young orphan with a magical sword inherited from his ancestors dared fight the demon and killed it. The village elders presented the brave young man with a red envelope filled with money for his courage. Since then, ang pao has become a symbol of Chinese celebration. 

Like any beautifully wrapped gift, ang pao brings grace. And that is a beautiful thing.


When Your Wine Runs Out

Why would Jesus choose turning water into wine, in a wedding, as his first miracle?!

I’ve struggled with that question for years, especially because today, intoxication (drinking too much wine) is frowned upon. With technology, I’ve researched the subject and got an overwhelming volume of answers that can’t be understood unless simplified. I never got around to distilling them—for me to live by.

Up until last Sunday when our pastor preached about it.

And now, I see it clearly. I am distilling it (as I did for 20 years with 30-second ads from volumes of information) here so I will always remember.  

Back in Jesus’ day, people were hard workers with so little time to have fun. A wedding feast was therefore a big deal; it stretched to a week.

Such was the wedding in Cana to which Jesus was invited.  Wine was an essential element in the celebration; it was a source of joy, hope, and rest. But into the third day, the wine had ran out. What a catastrophe! The hosts would be shamed, the guests would be disappointed, and the feast would be a flop.

Worried, Jesus’ mother (John 2:1-11), tells her son about the problem. Jesus answered, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come!”

And yet, He turns water into wine enough to last the festivities.

The feast symbolizes the celebration of our new life in Christ. Just as wine was the customary drink at weddings, and just as a man and woman are joined in marriage, so are we with Christ after our life on earth ends.
Being united with Jesus in the Great Beyond will be a feast where joy, hope, and rest will never run out.

Remember the last supper? Jesus said (Matthew 26:28), “. . . this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.”

Yes, wine was generously poured in miraculous grace—from a wedding in Cana to the last supper.

In this analogy, modern man often runs out of wine (for various reasons). We feel empty, spiritually dry and depleted, becoming weak and tired. But, if we we have so much of Christ in us, we will never run out.
“What happens when your wine runs out?” asked our pastor. “It’s when a miracle takes place.”

Jesus will turn your water (troubles) into wine! When Jesus says to Mary, “Don’t worry about the wine; my hour has not yet come,” He means that our real need cannot be met by more wine (our material cravings on earth).

It could only be met when Jesus’ hour comes: when His body is broken for us and His blood is shed for us on a cross.

This miracle is not about alcohol consumption at all.

It is about our present: Jesus turns our struggles into wine and meets the deepest needs of our heart.

It's about our future:  In the afterlife, we will enjoy a grand feast with Him.  


Love of Land

My parents' farms in our home province never grew on me. Not even with the happy memories of my growing up years with four siblings: we would watch crops being harvested, roll on haystacks or run around fields, and feast on newly roasted corn.

After my parents passed on and I had a family of my own, I washed my hands off those lands even if the onus fell on me, being the eldest. For one, I can’t grow anything, not even weeds I plant on purpose.

I abdicated and told my younger sister (who has gone back to live in our old home), I would go along with whatever she decides. But now, she is getting on in age, too, and is busy with church pursuits.

Thankfully, our youngest brother, Dave, has taken up the cudgels and recently supervised with his wife the planting of corn in one parcel and rice in another. He documented for us the corn growth process through photos and e-messages that my mind punctuated with exclamation points.

And now comes grace galore. It is harvest time!     

And I suddenly miss roasting and eating newly harvested corn (but not the land).

Only someone like Dave who treasures the great outdoors can watch any crop grow from sowing to reaping.

He would have done our parents proud.

As he awaits his rice harvest, I wrote Dave that whatever share I have from the produce (two other siblings echoed my sentiments) would go to the local church fund (Project Nehemiah it is called) so the parsonage could be built on another land that my grandparents bequeathed for the sole purpose of serving the Lord, Who in fact and in truth, owns every land anybody will ever till or “own.”

“For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land . . . where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing . . .” Deuteronomy 8: 7-9 (NIV)       


No Kyok

Ever heard of the word kyok before? Most likely not. It is archaic and not found in any dictionary. Yet members of our clan say it all the time, even if we don’t know exactly how it’s spelled.  
Kyok is a word that defined the attitude of six generations of us (huge now at over 400 members scattered all over the world), and shaped the way we perform today.

It was our grandfather's (lolo) command word during our family reunions, where the highlight was a talent show or program of sorts. He and our grandmother would place before the stage a batia (another archaic word that means, huge metal basin made from an old drum or large tin can, used for washing clothes).

Then they would sit in the front row with a bagful of coins.

As their children and grandchildren performed (dance, song, declamation, whatever), they would throw into the batia coins that clinked and clanged, encouraging the performers to do their best. 

Nobody was spared from performing. Lolo, with his autocratic Hispanic posture, would declare in Ilocano, "Awan ti kyok!" (Rough translation, “No kyok!”) Kyok means, cowardice to perform.  "No kyok” therefore translated to, “Perform or else!'  It didn't matter if your performance was not the best; what mattered was, you did your best, if only because you did it.

This led me to believe that business' just-do-it principle was inspired by my grandfather's "No kyok!”

The just-do-it corporate attitude, as defined in management books, means, "Start your work immediately, and get things done. Do not waste time doing unnecessary research or learning unnecessary skills. Do not squander time being shy and lazy, or indulging in wishful thinking."

Taking this further, "If you want to succeed in life, you have to work hard and create things using your talent. If you kyok, and do not take action when you should, you'll never succeed—your batia will be empty.” 

My grandparents being Christians lived this value from Philippians 4:13 (NLT), "For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength."

Such was the mindset of all the 206 reunionites (or clanistas) of all ages who attended our end-year-beginning-year 73rd reunion—not only on talent night, but also in all activities.

Chaired by a sub-clan whose members mostly live abroad, the reunion’s battle cry was still "No kyok!" And the batia (a modern version, since the old form has become extinct) clinked and clanged even more outrageously.   

It's amazing how this attitude, including the batia, lives on in us to this day. These photos show it all:

What grace is mine that I belong to this no-kyok clan! 

Group photo by nephew Egay
All others (collage) by nephew Pastor Jeff


Getting to Know You

All the exhilarating essentials that make our clan look forward to our annual reunion was in place, except for one additional bonanza. Our 73rd reunion was hosted by the sub-clan whose over 30 members live in the US. And majority of them flew in to attend it!

This three-day-two-night event was planned entirely abroad. Except for some assistance from a local executive committee, everything—from the theme, logo, advertising, activities to communications—originated from across the miles. Social media made it all possible; it bridged all gaps.

It was Broadway time.

"Getting to Know You" from The King and I musicale served as a most fitting theme since many of the reunionites (or clanistas as we call ourselves) have not met the hosts for years, or at all.

Broadway it was, too, because one of our nieces is a Broadway star, who has played many major roles in different musicales over the years. Ali Ewoldt currently plays Christine Daae—the first Asian-American to be cast thus—in the long-running Phantom of the Opera

(Photo from Rodney Ingram's website)
We have a newsletter, edited by son #1, which details all activities, but because it has limited pages, it could not document all the untold grace through kin who came from all parts of the world.  Each one, therefore has his own heart newsletter, and this one’s mine.

The riot began at registration (total 206, an unprecedented number) when cousins, nieces, nephews, grannies, aunts and uncles—ages one year to 89—saw each other again. I, for one, could not believe that the cousins of my childhood were just a hug away, and my soul clock yo-yoed between the happy past and the happier present.

Ours is a competitive, no-kyok (this word deserves a separate post; for now, I’ll simply define kyok as, “Perform or else!”) clan and so everyone gave his all in the games, sports, talent night, videoke, etc. 

(The yellow team, to which I didn't belong, was the over-all champion in all events.)
(Top photo: Ali Ewoldt performing with her sub-clan.)
A solemn memorial/thanksgiving service officially opened the reunion, after which every good and noisy thing erupted. Divided into teams, our version of the Olympics began.

We have grown too big to fit our traditional love-circle into any hall. So we made do with a squiggly shape to re-enact for the 73rd time the “The Tie That Binds” (our hymnal battle cry) to say goodbye to 2017 and welcome 2018.

Holding on together, we sang old favorites and after a thanksgiving prayer by our resident pastor, our oldest clanista started the electric handshake and then, 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

And I sang . . .

Suddenly I 'm bright and breezy,
Because of all the beautiful and new
Things I'm learning about you (all 200 plus of you!)
Day by day.   

Photos by nephews Egay and Noel