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.  


Tea Party

and Writing Workshop

I had barely breathed enough Philippine air—jet-lagged to the bone—when I rushed to facilitate what was dubbed as “Tea Party and Writing Workshop for a Children’s Cause,” less than 24 hours after flying in.  

It was a commitment I made before I left for the US, prior to finalizing my flight schedules. It couldn’t be canceled because about 40 attendees had already confirmed.

Strength, Lord, strength, was my recurrent plea.

Strength He gave me, generously. 

The event was to push-start the project of PCMN and OMF Lit to publish a devotional for adults who work with children. The day-long affair gathered a mixture of professors, grade school teachers, youth pastors, NGO volunteers for children’s projects, children’s book writers, and church VBS and Sunday school volunteers.

There was bottomless tea alright. It bred bottomless ideas and enthusiasm.

The idea is to come up with 365 daily devotions, with every writer contributing at least five. More than ever, there is a need to equip, affirm, and encourage workers for children because these are perilous times.

Many kids today are: abused and exploited (one in five have experienced violence in various forms); stressed and are digital natives; exposed to dangerous information on cyberspace; lacking in basic life skills and values. And many of them still don’t know Jesus.

This devotional is envisioned help advocates for children grow more sensitive to these little ones’ needs and be role models to them. 

A pipe dream?

Not with the Lord’s grace in empowering all contributing writers.

This devotional will be launched at the next Manila International Book Fair in 2018. If you are reading this and are itching to write, please join us. Our writing guidelines are on our FB page.

The tea party in photos:

Yes, I lasted the day, with enough strength to survive the two-hour, bumper-to-bumper traffic on our drive home.

Thank you, Lord.


35 Blogs of Memories

“What is your greatest fear?”

That was the question asked us in our Sunday school class (women’s group). 

I have actually too many tiny fears, which is a shame, because the God I believe in, and Whose grace saved me, repeatedly says: 

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

 “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:19

“The LORD is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1

“My biggest fear is: Alzheimer’s disease. It seems to run in my mom’s family; three of her sisters had it.” There, I blurted it out to my Sunday school classmates.

I explained, "Because of this fear, I document memories—through my blog posts. Silly, but in my mind, I feel that if I write about my memories, they’d stay forever."

“But that is precisely what Alzheimer’s does!” they exclaimed. “It erases everything—documented or undocumented memories.” 

We got a good laugh over the absurdity of it all. 

With a quick change of mindset, I thought, Yeah, it’s not fear of the A-disease that made me write 35 posts about my 35 days in the US.
It was pleasure. Being with my one and only grandson and his parents that long—away from my daily grind at home—was pure, perfect pleasure.  

“Wow! Thirty-five blog posts for memories of 35 days!” one of my blog readers exclaimed when after two months, she was still reading about my and my husband’s US vacation.

“It could have been more,” I replied, “had I not been reminded by my editor of my book deadlines.” 

So what is my greatest fear?

What fear?

“. . . perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” 1 John 4:18


Only Bigger

Every restaurant to where Tony and I were treated in the US had servings so big, we always had to request for a take-home box.

On our third day of eating out, we caught on and wised up. We agreed to have a single order to be split in half. Good decision—no more left-overs. If any, it was not indecently wasteful. This arrangement was definitely nifty and thrifty.

We sometimes dined in restaurants with chains or branches in the Philippines. The menu—food, packaging, and presentation—were the same as those at home, only bigger.  Be they hamburger, fried chicken, noodles, skewered meat (barbecue), or ice cream, the servings were the same, again, only bigger.

Deserts such as bananas, strawberries, mangoes, oranges, and all the fruits we grow at home were also in America, only bigger.

Once I needed a sachet of petroleum jelly for a lesion on my foot. I looked for one in store shelves but could only find them in big bottles.

America does not carry tingi packaging specially made for Filipino needs and lifestyle.

Coming home after 35 days, I noticed that the flora (roses, birds of paradise, orchids, poppies, peonies, etc.) I gushed over in America have existed here all along. The same goes true for the trees, roads, shops, malls, trees, linens, personal care products, and everything else.

They only differ in size: in America, everything is bigger.

As I compared sizes between there and here, something serendipitous happened to me: I grew bigger eyes!

Suddenly, my pair of orbs could see everything we also have, which I glossed over before.

“Look, how lovely those trees are!” I exclaimed on our way home from the airport.

“Mom,” son #3 almost sneered, “this is your usual route.”

Traveling can both enfeeble and sharpen the mind. What I thought were bigger blessings somewhere are actually the same blessings right here.

Bigger is not necessarily better. Smaller is not necessarily poorer.

I rubbed my eyes; they’re the same pair that came with my birth, now only bigger.



This card game for one, which my grandmother taught me to play when I was a little girl, seemed like my only option between short dozes up on the plane that took 14 hours to fly me home from the US.

It also symbolized how I felt—alone.        

Tony, as planned, stayed behind to see more friends and places, and be with son #2’s family longer. I had to come home earlier because of duties I said “yes” to long before our trip.

I was seated with a millennial who had on her ear phone from the time she strapped herself until we were allowed to disembark. She never looked in my direction except when she went to the bathroom.

My conversations were with the steward or stewardess.

“May I have a glass of water, please?”

“I prefer the beef with noodles.”

“Can you help me with my overhead lamp?”

As an author, I am always alone, prefer to be alone with my computer. But on a plane?! For 14 hours?!

My five-week stay in the US was packed with chatty people, lively activities, and the grace of family—enough memory bytes that would last until such time that my mind will be unhinged.

I suddenly missed my traveling companion, who, although not exactly created for exhaustive tete-a-tetes, at least gave oral reactions to my endless prattles: “Uh-huh.” I guess so.” You’re right.” “Maybe.” “More or less.”

A book, a laptop, and crossword puzzles—my boredom busters—were unfortunately ensconced in my carry-all up on the overhead bin two meters away. It would have been inconsiderate to bother sleeping passengers just to bring it down and bring it up again.

So, Solitaire!

I must have played over a hundred games and won nada. I had lost my touch. 

Peter Pan’s, “Think happy thoughts and you’ll fly!” came to mind. But, I was already flying!

When finally the pilot announced, “Cabin crew, please take your seats for landing,” I knew I was a hair’s breadth away from the land of my birth.

I said good-bye to Solitaire, and looked up to thank the Lord for a safe, uneventful flight.  


Mrs. B

B is for beautiful.

That’s how Auntie Hedy was called by everyone in our household and in the household of my late mother-in-law (Amah of my boys).  Just one look at her, and you’d know why.

She was a frequent visitor of Amah because they were BFFs, the term kids use today.  I always knew when she was around because Ate Vi, our long-time househelp, would squeal in an excited voice, “Mrs. B is at Amah’s!”

She always brought along yummy dishes, which she prepared herself, and would stay for hours so she and Amah could chat about . . . well, I only understand some words of Chinese so I never really knew why they laughed and talked non-stop.  

When Amah died ten years ago, Mrs. B was in our home, seeing to every detail. She helped with the funeral arrangements and always, she had food to feed everyone. 

Just last year in the US, she went the way of Amah. We could not be with her on her last days as she was for my mom-in-law, so Tony and I tried to make up for it (even if no gesture could ever make up for all she’d done for her BFF and what we had not done for her) in one small way.  

We visited her resting place.   

It was in a beautiful temple up the top of a hill, where one could feel through the breeze the presence of our Creator while viewing the magnificence of many parts of California.

At her grave site, I silently thanked the Lord for the long life he gave Mrs. B, and for sharing her with us.

Yes, Auntie Hedy not only stood for Mrs. B., but for Bountiful . . . bountiful grace unselfishly blown in from the heavens.


Rising Above

For one whole month, I missed worshiping in our home church.

But one does not have to be starved with spiritual food just because she is away from home. The home church of our #2 son and his family in the US nourished us and it became our home church, too, albeit temporarily.

It was an opportune time. The theme was “Rising Above,” a call to action that is both encouraging and challenging.

It spoke to me: Break free from the doldrums of comfort zones; aspire for what is lofty to honor the God from Whom all blessings flow. 

We attended the contemporary service, which was like being at home: announcements, gospel songs, scripture reading, message, and more worship songs. But the similarity ends there.

Our church is only 41 years old. That church has a long history dating back to the 1800s.

What this church has that particularly made my heart jump was a baptistery, still a pipe dream in our village church.
We’ve discussed it but, there is this “small” impediment such as funds. So we make do; baptism is done in a swimming pool with only a small group of witnesses, unlike inside a church where all faith brethren participate in this important rite as part of worship.  
Baptism is a key step in a believer's walk with Jesus. It is when he/she makes a public confession of his/her faith. In the Bible, Jesus led the way in example of baptism.

“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” Mark 1:9-11 (NIV)

During one of those rising-above Sundays, over a dozen millennials were baptized. It was a moving, hair-raising hallelujah moment. As each person emerged from the water, we in the pews broke into a loud and prolonged applause. I heard a voice in my head, You are my son whom I love . . .

Someday, we will rise above petty problems such as cash. Our own church’s baptistery, by God’s surprising grace, may yet happen so that every public confession of faith will be witnessed by all.


I Believe I Can Fly

My friends in church know that my favorite part of the chicken is the neck. Each time we have a potluck fellowship, which is often, they would give me all the necks. 

Sometimes I gather as many as a dozen and I would be up to my neck with necks. Marvelous! 

This was up until I went for my next medical work-up. My cholesterol shot through the rafters. After making me confess what my diet consisted of and what my favorite foods were, my doctor said, “Enough of chicken neck!”

I found out later that one neck with skin is the biggest source of cholesterol in a chicken—all 159 calories of it—that will take 36 minutes of walking to burn!

What now?

I decided to switch to wings. One piece has only 99 calories and will take 20 minutes to burn. Well, I thought, I walk one hour a day so that should take care of wings.

About this time, my husband and I visited our grandson, Adrian, in California. When one day the little one chose to dine at Wing Zone, my pulse sprinted. Grace in food baskets—all the wings one could eat!
I had enough wings to make me fly that day.

Now that I am back home, I should remember to tell my friends that I have switched from necks to  wings. Since wings come in pairs, I should be getting 24 instead of a dozen in our next potluck fellowship.

“I believe I can fly,” is an apt song to sing at this point.

(I am poor in Math, so I could not compute how many calories two dozens of wings would add up to.) 


Tiger Lily

“They call me a tiger because I am strict, a disciplinarian,” laughed Auntie Lily, in her self-deprecating humor.

She is not really my auntie; she’s Tony’s favorite cousin, four years his senior, but since everyone calls her Auntie Lily then so be it.
Over the years, her huge, rambling house in LA has been home to many of her nephews and nieces from the Philippines, who had opted to study in the US.

“I would see to their needs, drive them to school, and cook them their meals. All of them, together with my two growing children, had to obey my rules or there would be chaos.”

Now with families and homes of their own, her former wards speak warmly of her and hold her in high esteem, calling her their second mom.

Fact is, Auntie Lily is everything but a tiger.

She is all steel outside, but all heart inside. Her house is now an empty nest, a commodious empty nest, where she and her husband (a retired surgeon) dabble in their hobbies and are aging gracefully.

They welcomed Tony and me to their home, as they did last year, for a wonderful week full of fun and food. We feasted on lauriat after lauriat, grace galore, whether at home or in a restaurant. Auntie Lily and Tony would reminisce the good old days when they were playmates and when Tony was perpetually punished for being the naughty one.

Her husband, who does great Chinese paintings and who reads three books at a time, was a kindred spirit.

I took photos of their huge mansion and garden (about only one tenth is trod on daily). These hardly capture their graciousness, which makes this home so livable and lovable. 


Stay Out of Jail

What motivates one to commit a crime?

Whenever I read about hardened convicts who commit crimes and are sent to jail, unmindful of the harm they had inflicted upon man and society, I am stumped.

Son #1 has this simplistic answer: they have no conscience.

I asked this question again when daughter-in-law, G, graciously took Tony and me to the infamous Alcatraz, also called The Rock, in San Francisco.

She’d been there a few times, but for us, she took the trip again.  I was there, too, once long ago, but not Tony.

So we headed to the once-impenetrable prison island, but closed in 1963, when three prisoners escaped through an elaborate route that took the guards by surprise. They were never caught nor found. Many believed they had died. But as late as 2015, there were reports that they survived the escape and may still be alive.

Today, there are earphones that enable guests to listen to the history of the place, highlighted by interviews and actual re-enactment of escape attempts, complete with sound effects.

This made me realize how dangerous it must have been for the wardens to supervise hardened criminals, whose devious minds were preoccupied with escaping or causing trouble.

The riots and escape attempts have been documented or romanticized in many movies and books. G bought me one in the gift shop, because author/historian Jolene Babyak was there in person, book signing. Her bio says she grew up in Alcatraz as her father was one of the associate wardens of the penitentiary. I turned into a fan.

“Breaking the Rock” is well researched—an exciting read. A bit pricey, as new books usually are anywhere in the world, but with the author’s signature, I feel it is worth more than its cost.

Visiting the penitentiary gives one the creeps, especially if you let your imagination run wild. It is not a happy place. It’s more like an ugly scar of a gaping wound that took years to heal. 

If I may add to son #1’s comment . . . the inhabitants of those cells looked the other way and ignored the grace that would have kept them out of jail.