7/29/2007

Living with Thieves


Car window crushed to smithereens. New laptop lost. Briefcase gone. Important files, documents, manuscripts, lists, records, checks—a large chunk of our working lives—poof!


If you’ve been robbed of these valuables, in this manner, like my husband and I were recently, you must know how it feels to be violated and devastated.

Why must there be thieves among us? I ask myself. Well, why must there be murderers, rapists, idolaters, sadists, grafters, smugglers, drug dealers? From Bible times, criminals of all colors have been prowling the earth, poised to pounce on the next helpless victim.

After that tragic night, I kept quizzing myself on the possible reasons why the thieves, who carted away all our work ammo, did what they did:

a. They are too poor, they need the money.
b. They are heartless; they enjoy inflicting pain upon others.
c. To get even with those who have what they don’t have.
d. To teach careless people a lesson.
e. To earn the easy way.

Analysis paralysis. There is no way one can explain people’s minds. Each human being has been given by the Creator a free will to obey or disobey His word. After this dreadful incident, we were deluged with advice from well-meaning friends:

“Never leave your valuables inside your car; too much temptation.”

“Always have back-up files left at home.”

“Check on your car every once in a while.”

“Avoid parking in a secluded area.”

“Don’t take any valuables out of your house.”

“Take a cab to where you’re going and leave your car where it is safe.”

Etcetera, etcetera.

True, one can never be too careful. But why must fear rule our lives? We can’t all have unbreakable glass windows, hire bodyguards, install alarm and gadgets over our bodies and belongings, or keep watch over our valuables 24/7.

If we did, the thieves among us can still find us when our guards are down. What made the experience even worse was what happened the following day. My husband Tony went to the police station to report the crime. The policeman on duty asked him, “So what do you want us to do?”

For the first time in his life, Tony was at a loss for words.

So, moving forward and continue living in a world littered with thieves and other unscrupulous creatures, there is no other way but to accept this state of affairs.

This is hardest part of Christianity—to live with cruelty, ugliness, and apathy in others especially if we are the victims. Our ability to accept one another can only come from a Source outside of ourselves, and bigger than all of us.

We can only cope with dysfunctions because we know that God first loved us. One of the most incredible passages in Scripture is Romans 5:6-8: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

With His infinite power, God knows the extent of man’s moral and spiritual ugliness. But He didn't wait until we became beautiful and spotless before He loved us. While we were wallowing in sin, Jesus died for us. Oh, what grace.

Although a victim of savage thievery and police apathy, I feel that as a member of the family of God, I have to bravely face this dangerous world and continually pray for acceptance of the existence of wrong, never ceasing to do what I can, using my gifts, to make this world a little less fearsome.

I agonize over thieves and all the evil I encounter. But I also find in my heart a refreshing confidence. I know that in the end, in His time, God will right every wrong, will make everything beautiful—and justice will prevail.

Now, I wonder. Despite the anguish over what happened, why do I feel sunshine in my soul?


 

7/25/2007

What are Weddings Made of?


In the merry month of June I attended two weddings. Although poles apart, they will both be remembered for years to come—for reasons that represent both ends of the spectrum.


The first one had over a thousand guests and over a million peso budget, if one were to make a quick guesstimate of the limos that ferried bejeweled guests from the church to the reception; five glitzy Audio-visual presentations; flowers flown in from Holland; couture gowns; celebrity performers; vintage wine and champagne from France; an 18-course lauriat; articulate wedding organizers; a cake that reached the ceiling; and party favors costing as much as the dinner. The program was flawlessly generic—and ten times more lavish. I sat with guests I never met in my life (they were clients flown in from various parts of the globe) and will probably never meet again.

The second one was intimate, creative, unrehearsed, and anchored on the Author of love.

The Minister’s charge: “You are making a double dedication—to God and to each other, in a lasting and indivisible union that shall endure for the remaining years of your lives.

“Consider that your promises to each other are made in the presence of a God who remembers your pledges and who holds you responsible for performing them. They must be kept inviolable before Him.

“Keep in mind that each of you is the object of Christ’s redemption and should be valued accordingly. . . Esteem each other as God’s gift for mutual aid, comfort, and joy, and as a repository of complete confidence and trust. . .

“Make your home a place where you will have a refuge from the storms of life not only for yourselves but also for others who may be your guests. Let it be a haven for the weary . . . and a convincing testimony to a cynical world.”

An artist, Nixon and his groomsmen were in black, hand painted denim jackets and black rubber shoes! Joan, a book editor, who once worked in a museum in Manila, wore a white gown that was partly hand painted in red, matching the graphics painted on the men’s apparel, and even on the red invitation.

A baby boy, not yet one year old, who “took twelve years to arrive, just in time to be the ring bearer,” lay in a dressed-up swivel chair with the ring cushion, and pushed to the altar by his dad. He was wide-eyed all through the ceremony and smiled to the cameramen and doting bridal entourage.

The music was provided by office mates and family, and the ministers are long-time family friends. The guests knew each other by face or by name, and will meet each other again at some point in time.

Laughter was abundant, as were tears. When the bride walked down the aisle to a jaunty gospel song, the joyful mood peaked. Contrasting with the modern, artistic touches, the backdrop of the ceremony is the oldest Protestant Church in the Philippines, founded in 1899 to minister to the thousands of American soldiers and civilians residing in Manila.

The reception was held, naturally, in a house of art—the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Instead of numbers, each table had an artist’s name assigned to it. Awaiting each guest was a postcard featuring the table’s artist and on it, we were requested to write a message to the couple.

Nothing was generic; every single element was stamped with the couple’s common interests, love for each other and for those who have touched both their lives. Stories of how their love blossomed, as part of the reception program, came from a minister, bosses, college friends, and family.

Their one message: it has been, from the very beginning, a grace-filled relationship because it sought the guidance of God.

The couple’s prayer and ours—those who were privileged to witness it all—Ephesians 3: 16 to 21:

“We pray that out of the Father’s glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts, through faith. And we pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

I will look back to this second wedding as a model for my own marriage’s golden milestone—a renewal of vows—should the Lord choose to grant my husband and me the years, and grace, to reach it.


(Top photo by Getty Images)

7/20/2007

Birthday Song


“You sing to yourself on your birthday?!” a wide-eyed little boy asked, baring his disbelief, after I had read one of my books to about 200 kids in his school. His question sounded like he was hoping for a “no” answer.

Yeah, why would anyone sing to himself on his birthday?!












I tried hard not to laugh. He was serious. His tears were bravely held in check. He had that look I used to see on my children, when they were his age, each time their pet puppy got sick.

He was referring to the July 20 page in my devotional book for children, “What’s for Breakfast Volume 2.” It’s entitled “A Song for Me.” I wrote. . .

“This morning, I woke up before everyone did. I quietly went in the bathroom, locked the door, and sang aloud:

“Happy Birthday to me
Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday dear Grace
Happy birthday to me!

“Go ahead, laugh. This is a happy occasion—my birthday. I wanted to sing first thing in the morning because I was so happy that the Lord has given me another year. (And also—between you and me—in case my children forgot to sing, I had already done it!)”

It was meant to be funny. To my dismay, this five-year-old kid thought it wasn’t. He asked further, “People forget your birthday?!”

And it dawned on me, again, as it does each time I come face-to-face with some of my young readers, that children count birthdays as one of the world's most important occasions. It is a crime for anyone to forget them.

One of my friends’ favorite sob story, whenever we see each other in a children’s party is, "My parents never once threw me a birthday party when I was growing up."

Today, as I celebrate one more birthday, that little boy enters my mind.

I wanted him to know I had not meant to put him through so much anguish by writing about that birthday song for me. So I told him to look closely at my face and I gave him my biggest smile.

I said, “That’s how I looked when I was singing to myself. I was very happy. It’s okay even if people forget our birthday. What’s important is, the birthday celebrant remembers it. And Jesus knows each and every person’s birthday.”

He returned my smile with a bigger one.

What that little boy doesn’t know is, early this morning when I woke up for my walk, I totally forgot it was my birthday. It wasn’t even a part of my thanksgiving prayer.

But when I got home and turned on the light, I saw two home-made posters tucked on the door and the dining table lamp.

It says, “Happy birthday, Mommy—our gift of grace." And beneath it is written, "Proverbs 31:30, "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

That verse is now my birthday song and I praise the One who defined beauty for this aging and aged birthday woman.

7/15/2007

A Son Says "Thank You"


“Thank you, mom,” JR (my youngest son) said, like a sudden shower on a sunny summer's day; for hours he had been quietly bent over his law books.

I had not done any parenting in the last month. I was busy with my own packed schedule and deadlines to care about anything else. If at all, was he thanking me for leaving him pretty much alone without my usual, “How have you been?” “Doing okay in school?” “What’s up?”

These are questions which, according to a parenting book I just read, a mother should avoid asking her children. They are too busy, too tired, and too stressed with schooling and growing up to think of intelligent answers that come close to satisfying mom.

“What are you thanking me for?!” I asked, but he had gone to the piano and started playing “Music of the Night,” my husband’s favorite daily vocal exercise, and which, despite much practice, I can never play as well as JR can.
















JR is a law student and not a piano virtuoso; he isn’t practicing for a public recital either. But when he plays, his piece can always summon a smile—from me. In my unbiased opinion, he treasures every note and enshrines them into a melody.

When he finished the piece, I asked him to play it again. He closed the piano and moved back to the Revised Penal Code and pored over its pages as though the musical rendition was just a hiccup.

Now that’s a grateful child, I said to myself. He was just thanking me and now he wasn’t listening to me.

I waited one long hour to ask him again. “JR, what were you thanking me for?”

“You said I’d thank you,” he replied.

“What was that again?”

“‘Someday you’ll thank me,’ that was what you kept saying, mom!” he said, his face stoic.

“I said that?! When?”












“Whenever I would complain about having piano lessons,” he said, with unchanging facial non-expression.

Ah, that! JR was very keen on playing the piano in the beginning. But as his piano teacher regularly came every week, JR thought it was getting in the way of playtime.

“Can I quit now?” He would often ask.

And my answer was always, “Not now. You really have a pianist’s touch, you’re doing so well. Keep going. Someday you’ll thank me for it.”

Someday was one hour ago.

I’ve always thought that “Someday you’ll thank me” is an expression, not a prediction. But on rare occasions such as this when this prediction is fulfilled, it becomes an affirmation—it’s like . . . after having broken a world record, one is awarded recognition in the form of a medal, gold no less.

Motherhood is such a daunting and difficult role, a mommy never knows for sure when she is doing right or wrong. She is often pulled in opposite directions and the middle point or “just right” varies with every child.

A simple “thank you” said from out of nowhere—in JR’s case, from heavy-duty reading—is like a medal that glitters and proclaims, you did the right thing.

To those of you who have not reached parenthood, this may be funny. How can one simple “thank you” be a source of extreme exhilaration? Well, why not try thanking your mom (or dad) for something she/he did for you years ago?

It gives meaning and a sense of fulfillment to our mandate, found in the popular verse, Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” It is grace.

I am not speaking of JR’s ability to play the piano (most other people can do much better) but his ability to be grateful—and coming forward to say it (minus the fanfare and gooey mush, of course). It’s all about having taught children something that matters.

“Affirm your child,” parenting books remind us. How about a book that reminds children, “Affirm your parents”? If it weren’t too self-serving, I’d volunteer to write it.

Are you laughing with me or at me?

7/12/2007

Pink's Gone, Green's Back


Nothing against pink, but I feel green is closer to what I think I am and how I feel.

When I started this website, my friend, Ggie, who’s also art director for some of my books, sent me color swatches to guide me in my choices of colors and fonts that would go with my shade of green.


I did not verbalize it, but she knew I was struggling with design ideas and, not being an honest-to-goodness graphic artist like she is, I didn’t know how to execute them. So she gave me professional help gratis et amore.

The only thing I started with was the color green. The rest of the layout was done with Ggie’s help. While experimenting with my header, she sent me two designs to choose from (banana leaves above and palm leaves in my hard disc). I like both and I am keeping one in reserve for when I feel like this look needs changing.

So back to my old, green look. Many thanks to Sylvia for lending me her color pink for three days; and of course, a million thanks to Ggie who made me see what I like and made it available for my use.

What would I do without friends? They must be God’s favorite channels of grace.



7/08/2007

Lady in Pink













If you’ve visited my site a few times before now, you know something’s amiss. My colors are different. Gone are the hues of fall that I am most partial to.

I’m all pink! Even my blog title is set on pink leaves.

Have I turned into a pink fan? Not really. Although I like pink on occasion, it was never in my mind to have a pink website. So why am I pink?

I am trying to put myself in my friend Sylvia’s pink shoes. She is a pink lady—from head to toe, every day of her life. Although I have always seen her in pink (all shades, tints, and hues), I didn’t know how much she was into it till last week!

We were having dinner prior to a rehearsal of a dance number we were to perform for a big Rotary bash, and we showed each other’s cell phone photos.

A lot of her photos were of her latest tour abroad. When I saw her luggage and balikbayan boxes, I cried, “Your suitcases and balikbayan box covers are in pink! Everything about you is pink!” What an accurate observation. Duh.

“Why, what colors should I be in?” she asked, surprised I even asked.

“I thought you simply liked to wear pink! I didn’t know you really love pink!”

She opened her bag (in three shades of pink) and showed me her make-up case, coin purse, wallet, and cell phone pouch. Guess what their color was? You can name it in one note.

“Why do you like pink so much?” This I needed to know.

She gave me a look that asked, “Why is the sky blue?”

“When did this, this love affair with pink start?”

“A long, long time ago,” she replied. “I used to wear all colors, too. But they never felt right. Whenever I wore pink, I felt really comfortable, I was me. So I started wearing pink and stopped wearing all other colors.”

It makes sense.

“It must be your favorite color,” I remarked. Duh.

Then she told me anecdotes about how pink always saved her day. In one of her travels to Europe, fellow passengers were apprehensive about the extremely strict and serious immigration officers in their port of entry. And surely they were.

But when Sylvia got to them with her all-pink outfit and luggage, they broke into big smiles and chorused, “Hey, lady, pink must be your favorite color!”

As Sylvia and I went on with our colorful chat, I remembered a book I read sometime ago, but which I didn’t believe, on the dynamics of colors. In one of the chapters, it talked about how the pink color evokes peace—it can calm down the hottest of tempers. An experiment was conducted in one prison cell. The walls were painted pink and the most rowdy and warring criminals were put inside the room. Within eight hours, their behavior changed and they calmed down.

Now where did I keep that book? I have to read it again in the context of Sylvia's penchant for pink.

That’s why I decided to experiment, until my next post, with the color pink myself. Aside from it being a tribute to Sylvia, I want to see what sort of mood it will give me. Does this pink site—titled Leaves of Grace—make me feel, uh, right? Does pink jibe with the concept for which this blogsite was created?

Mired in the complications of daily living, truth to tell, we all need our comfort zones: jobs, or friends, or places, or things, or colors. I can rattle off a few of mine and I am sure you can, too. Must I be surprised about Sylvia's pink?

In one of my books, “God’s Favorite Color,” I asked my young readers what God’s favorite color might be. Is it blue? He made the sky, ocean, and some kids’ eyes blue. In the same breath, He made our tongues, and some pigs and kittens pink. Is it pink?

How awesome that He made rainbows, too. The book ends with:

All the colors, even those without a name,
God gave them all, their beauty all the same.

They come together in a lovely rainbow,
That wonderful arch we’ve come to know.

Yes, all the colors, even those without a name,
God gave them all, their beauty all the same.


His grace does come in all colors. In Sylvia’s case, it comes in pink.

7/04/2007

A Scary Story


It’s been almost three years since that spine-tingling episode (horror genre in my mind) turned my placid existence upside down, but whenever I remember it, I cringe still, big time.

I was invited to speak in a forum on “Creativity” at the Litt world 2004 (a biennial gathering of book publishers, editors, and writers from all over the world). I had never attended any gathering that had to do with book writing in my life before.

“No, I can’t,” I said, rightfully spooked. I wasn’t ready for an occasion that big. I was a neophyte author and was feeling dismally inadequate.

“Oh, but your whole career centered on creative work," Yna, the publications director of my publishing house, insisted. True, as Creative Director for many years, the topic “creativity” always turns my mourning into dancing.

“That was different! That was advertising, not creative writing,” I insisted, dreading the onslaught of many seasoned authors in the five-day affair.

“Say, yes, nothing to it,” she insisted. “Just speak about your experiences in the workplace.”

“Who are the other people in the panel?” I asked.

“Oh, a Russian author and an American author,” she replied nonchalantly, dismissing my anxiety and reciting a litany of reasons why I should say, yes.”

“Yes.”

There. That settled that.

Two weeks before the affair, Yna sent me the printed program. I blanched and stopped breathing, suddenly needing a tank of oxygen and blood transfusion.

The American author she was referring to was . . . Philip Yancey! The Philip Yancey, one of my favorite authors, who has written more than a dozen books (translated into more than a dozen languages), all of them bestsellers and award winners.

I had a sudden lapse of sanity and concentration. You know that feeling when the movie screen turns dark, with a tiny light coming from the moon, while the eerie music screeches on and some unknown character  lurking below is about to leap at you? Yna had withheld the information from me, guessing rightly that I would decline had I known. But all my excuses to wiggle out of it at this point fell under this category: lame. (In my mind, the screechy music looped, playing on and on.)

Came the day of the forum, I donned a winter attire (in tropical Philippines) because I was feeling unusually cold. Sitting across the formidable author on stage, I checked out my tongue. It was still there, so I put it to use. But what it said I don’t remember.

After the forum, people lined up to have the man of the hour sign his newest book, “Rumors of Another World,” on sale during his visit. I was in line cradling all of his books, my collection over the years. When my turn came, I put all the books on his table, and suddenly it was Easter in my soul—coming eyeball-to-eyeball with the man whom God has used to explain to me, in a book language I can understand, the doubts I have in my head.

“Are those all yours?!” he asked, raising his graying brows.

“All mine,” I replied, and all the colors around me brightened.

“Where did you get this one?” he wondered, opening and signing the oldest of the lot. “I don’t think I have a copy of it left.”

“Well, I am not giving it to you,” I said, stabbing at failed humor.

He laughed and asked further, “Which of my books is your favorite?”

“What’s So Amazing about Grace?” I replied. In it I discovered God’s abounding and overwhelming magnitude everywhere.

“Of course, I should have known that—your name is Grace,” he said, laughing harder.

“He knows my name!” I whispered to the man behind me.

“He should! You have your name tag on,” he deadpanned. “You were on the same stage, for Pete’s sake,” he reminded me.

(Three panelists, one moderator, and one translator)
During the photo-op with his fans, Philip Yancey, with his signature big hair and quiet presence, smiled to the camera. I couldn’t. I was indubitably author struck. (The horror flick in my mind had ended.)

Images of the panel discussion with him a few hours back were now tap-dancing in my head. And the photo captured it for all to see. (He had this same photo on his website for sometime!)

What’s so amazing about grace? It put me on stage, and at the same hour, with Philip Yancey, discussing the topic that drives me, and I lived to tell the scary story.