11/30/2008

The Shocking Launch Lounge


Returning to the scene of the Gifts of Grace Book 3 launching, I am shocked anew. Gone is the beautiful Executive Lounge where about 200 people celebrated the new book on grace.

It's back to where it was 48 hours before the event! Empty, dusty, work in progress. The gaggle of construction workers are also back with a vengeance. I click my camera to record the images my eyes can't believe.


“What happened to my venue?!” I shriek, turning to my friend Lita, the building owner/developer, who flashes her laser pen on the crevices up the ceiling and down the floor, twirling it around every corner.

“Oh,” she replies sweetly, “that was temporary, Grace. I just put it up for your book launching.”

“What?!”

The female version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde barks orders to about 20 burly architects and engineers who follow us around with pad and pen as we go up and down floors during one of her surprise inspection of the construction.

“Install those mirrors tomorrow morning!” “Follow up the tile supplier!” “Security has been lax!”

“Yes, ma’am,” they say, as their names are called. I hear slurred excuses for delays.

“No excuses!” she groans, catching on.

“That’s where the grand piano will be, Grace,” she coos.

"Wow." All I see is an indentation on the wall.

“And up there will be the oil paintings of dancers. It will be beautiful!” she adds.

“Oh, I’m sure, b-b-b-ut,” I can't get over my launch venue—where I cried and laughed with thanksgiving—getting whammed just like that.

To her, that was last week, over and out. Today is another day.

Getting back to cool, clean fairyland that is her office, I give her this, with my scrawled note of thanks.


(Back copy reads: "You are receiving this card from someone whose life you have touched, as inspired by Grace D. Chong's book, Gifts of Grace. OMF Literature Inc.)

This is three postcards in one given away by OMF during the book launching. I also give her a small album of photos taken at the now-gone beautiful lounge of the launch.

“For documentation,” I try to sound all-business because she hates mush. “Thank you for everything,” I say with rehearsed nonchalance.

“Pooh!” she waves me off, and serves a scrumptious strawberry shortcake from her fridge. She calls out to her staff to help us finish off the sugar bomber.

11/26/2008

An Avalanche of Grace:

Gifts of Grace Book 3 Launching

“When the heart is full, the mouth cannot speak,” the saying goes. My own version is, “When the heart is full, the mouth can certainly speak.”

I’ve been speaking of nothing but the Gifts of Grace Book 3 launching to friends and foe, or to anyone within earshot, the last few days.

I have reasons to do so. Nov. 21 was a day the Lord drenched us with grace—for all to see!


Truth to tell, I had been anxious about this launch.

Months earlier, a friend volunteered to host it (“On me,” she said) in her still-being-built building. Although the idea was grand, and the building promises to be one of the most beautiful ever erected, I didn’t want to put any pressure on her. I’ve always said that a simple fare of pansit (noodles) and puto (rice cake) in a function room would be perfect for a book on grace. She wouldn’t hear of it. Immediately, she conducted a series of food tasting sessions and had her whole staff do the preps (she is meticulous to the bone).

The OMFLit marketing staff went to work simultaneously. Forty-eight hours before the launch, at our last pre-production meeting, we visited the venue: the Executive Lounge of the Marajo Tower, Global City. It was still dust and rubble! Trusses and rough walls were all we could see.

“It will be ready,” my friend insisted. And she pointed to the herd of busy workers. I reminded myself of my own herd of busy prayer partners, both at OMF and in my home church.

Only 56 people confirmed to come, out of the 150 invited. Well, I said, 56 is a good number.

Nov. 21 came and from dawn till lunchtime, I did nothing but pray. Tony and I went to the venue one hour ahead of schedule.

My eyes popped. The place was transformed into um . . . er . . . uh . . . one word came to mind: heaven. It was how I felt. There were walls, lights, carpets, tables, tapestries, paintings, a piano, multi-media equipment, buffet tables, and a hundred blue and white angels. The place was exquisite—warm and welcoming.

And I needn’t have worried about guests. They came, probably 95% of them, bringing along even friends of friends. The place was bursting at the seams—with people (from the ad industry, Rotary, church, school, and all other groups I ever belonged to), family, food, music, plus the euphoria one feels in receiving grace.

Concerned friends have warned me never to mention real names on blogs so I won’t. I can’t help but say, though, that the surprises came one after the other:

The invocation, “Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi” by a famed tenor, accompanied by another famed concert pianist, and the opening remarks by OMF’s CEO, set the tone.

Tony gave me flowers!? The last time he did was in . . . it has been so long I can’t remember.

Three friends read from all three books; OMF’s ManCom unveiled the books; a moving slide show played while the tenor sang “Let them see Christ in Me.” The program was perfect.

But it wouldn’t end there—there was more to perfection. The creative OMF staff always comes up with off-the-wall, unexpected ideas.

JR read an essay he was asked to write behind my back entitled, “My Mother Grace.” It was so hilarious the whole room went crazy; the raucous laughter from beginning to end was deafening, leaving our eyes moist from too much roaring. And there was more.

After the reading, JR presented me with a replica of my Gifts of Grace Book 3 (but with my photos on the cover). “The only one-chapter book ever published,” he said.

God does not answer prayers in ways we think He will. Sometimes He surprises, sometimes He overwhelms, and sometimes He touches people’s hearts in ways unfathomable by the human mind.

For the launching of Gifts of Grace Book 3, He chose to drop an avalanche of grace from heaven. What a mighty God I serve.            
 

11/24/2008

I Have Turned Two!


I was all set to blog about my Gifts of Grace 3 book launching when it suddenly dawned on me that today is my 2nd blogging anniversary.

At this very hour, I complete my second year. Reviewing my past posts, I am surprised that I have been blogging consistently—an average of one every four days. The only times I lapsed were when I was out of town or abroad. Not bad for a grandma, huh?

Well, it helped that I chose blogger.com. It is simple enough for simple me to manage; it allows me to concentrate on blogging, instead of uploading photos and the like. I've said it often enough that if there's anything I like doing tenaciously for hours on end, it's writing.

To celebrate my 2nd year, I am re-posting my very first entry, Why Leaves of Grace? as a word cloud.


You don't want to read it again, do you? In case you do (I can be delusional), click here.

My friend Socky introduced me to word clouds through her site. I was instantly hooked and before long, I was doing my own word clouds. I saved the one that I liked most and it seems like today is the best time to share it with you.

I also would like to show you my visitors' map for one year (maps are wiped clean after 12 months and begun again).      
                             

The bigger the dot, the more frequent the visit. This map is the other reason I am glued to blogging. To date: 110 countries have come a-visiting. My statistics are modest—37,376 hits (peaking on Fridays and when the blog’s about three topics: food, Adrian, and our dog), but that’s 1000% more than the readers of my books. I still have to figure out why.

To all my dear friends on blogosphere, thank you for dropping by. You have all been an e-conduit of grace.

11/22/2008

Flowers for or of?


The launching of the third book in the Gifts of Grace Series (published by OMF Literature) happened last night at the Executive Lounge of the Marajo Tower.

I still can’t think of how to record every single miracle that happened due to lack of sleep. I will, after I have napped long enough—that would be in two or three days (?)

For now, I’ll talk about the flowers, the gay profusion of colorful flowers!
The greeting cards read, Flowers for Grace. But I am changing the preposition to of. (Flowers of grace.)

The series of books is after all about His grace, not about me.

Psalm 115:1 “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory, for the sake of Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness!”

The launching was too marvelous for words (at the moment). It was above and beyond what I imagined it to be. Little faith?

Well, as my friend Yna said in jest, "Your name is Grace, not Faith."

To God be all the glory!

11/18/2008

Pursuing God's Agenda


(In two days, my "Gifts of Grace Book 3" will be formally launched; "Gifts of Grace Books 1 and 2" will be re-launched. How do I feel? This article which I wrote for Evangelicals Today, the official magazine of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, says it all.)









“I don’t believe in writer’s block,” I’d tell young writers whom I encourage to write. “If you want to write, you must write—every day. If you feel like you have nothing to write about, write about why you think you are stumped.”

Up here in cool Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I’m one of the resource speakers for new Christian writers, I am eating those words.

I sat staring on my computer screen for an hour earlier and no word came. Overwhelmed by this new place? Worried about the workshop? Blog instead?

Then I realized that what stumps me is when I am asked to expound on the scriptures. Philippians 3:7-11, I was told. I have always felt inadequate to do that. I am neither a theologian nor a Bible scholar. And I’ve always been wary about preaching.

What qualifies me then as a Christian writer? One who has written to date devotionals for children, books on Christian values, and books for adults on grace? Why am I here, attending the first Asia Christian Writer’s Conference?

I can only write from and within the realm of my experience—snippets of my life, my darkness and light, my brokenness and wholeness.

But reading the above verses, I realize the words are deeply personal. Paul speaks of following God and turning away from what he thought were important. He says that nothing else is more important than the Word, and being servants of Jesus. I am throwing away everything I used to take credit for, Paul says.

Why, it sounds like the story of my career—that which I left behind and the new assignment I embraced since the year 2000. Everything I once thought defined me is gone from my life.

The corporate world gave me no choices. I either had to toe the corporate line or get out. I toed the line for over 20 years, up until I pursued my ancient dream—writing.

Often asked in my book talks how I became a published writer, I would tell this story:

The multi-national advertising agency where I was EVP started merging with another biggie. And we in management were being lured into early retirement with a juicy offer. I balked.

About this time, two of my young writers, knowing how I loved writing, prodded me to join the Palanca awards. They gave me a copy of the contest rules. I was charmed by the Short Story for Children category. Between meetings and at night, I worked on a story; turned it in as my entry. Months later, I froze for eternity when I was told I won first prize.

That made me turn the corner. “There is life after advertising.”

After advertising, there was no “life”—no rush and no deadlines. So I kept busy by writing and writing, and rewriting the manuscripts I had written as a closet writer for years.

Came the International Book Fair which I now had the luxury of visiting. One of the hundreds of booths was OMF Literature’s. There I found a copy of its brochure. My eyes spotted item one in Prayer Concerns: Praying for young and fresh writers.

I am not young but I am definitely fresh, I chuckled. So the next day I sent OMF some manuscripts. From that day forward, I have been writing—no longer about shampoos, toothpastes, refrigerators, or other consumer goods—but about God’s grace.

It was never in my agenda to become a full-time writer. It wasn’t in my agenda to turn my back on the career that trained me to communicate to various markets.

It wasn’t in my agenda to be in Chiang Mai, teaching would-be writers all I know about writing, so they—in their own way—may unleash words that will bring light to the stronghold of darkness.

I never imagined I’d one day partner with a Christian publisher to pursue God’s agenda. But I might have taken a cue from Paul. I have gone miles away from the things I used to take credit for.

Concerned about the unity of the Christians in Philippi, Paul spoke of his travails in prison, challenging them to seize the high privilege of working together to serve Christ.

Paul was Paul, and nobody could ever duplicate the great things he had done for Jesus. But he empowers and pushes. Reading his letter, I stand in awe at the vast amount of grace Jesus poured upon Paul’s life—and to those who stay united to lift up God’s name.

Clearly, I want to unite with all Christian writers in Asia, and around the globe, to experience the gift of grace that comes with embracing Christ, and being embraced by Him.

11/14/2008

A Dog Is a Dog Is a Dog


Since the death of our last dog Brady (a Labrador), and the death of our dog before him—Gordy (a Dalmatian)—we had no desire to have any other dog. We feared going through another period of grief. Our dogs before them (German Shepherds all) had died of old age.

We have been dog-less for over a year. Well, pure-bred dogs can’t be bought from the store. Okay, we have not been looking hard enough.

Then the early morning knock at our gate:

“Would you like a dog?” One of our neighbors asks, holding a brown puppy not much bigger than a rat. “Our pet dog gave birth to six puppies two months ago and every one, but this one, has already been adopted. She’s yours if you want her. Oh, she’s unlike your other dogs before—this one’s a mutt.”

That much I know. Every morning when I go for my daily walk, this mutt’s mother runs out of their gate and follows me, barking incessantly, till I turn the corner to another block. I have learned to suffer her presence and noises. And now we are being offered to adopt her puppy?! And the runt of the litter!

The puppy looks at me with soulful eyes and raises one little paw.
















“Yes!” I yelp, deciding for the household. The household wakes up and upon seeing the runt, and being told of the adoption, they grin and race to cuddle her.

Naming our new pet dog is quick. We all agree on “Attorney.” Why not? A mutt is as respectable as any other pure-bred dog.

Our Attorney—like the over 150 dog breeds and millions of mongrels in the world—is God’s creation, and therefore another drop in our daily rainfall of grace from the heavens.



11/10/2008

My 200th Song:

Change has come to this site

Avid bloggers like me (that’s how people think I am these days) have the compulsion to celebrate tiny milestones. I say “tiny” because they’re not as earthshaking or historical as President-elect Barrack Obama’s victory in the US polls.

This is my 200th post.

There will be no violins or champagne. But, just like in America, change has come to this site. If you’ve been a frequent or an occasional guest, you’ll notice the new header. Fresher leaves! My old one comes down.


I am replacing it with this:
Blogging has been a big blessing for me. When I am tired, I blog. When I am stressed, I blog. When I am bored, I blog. When I am busy, I blog. When I am angry, I blog. When I am happy, I blog. When I celebrate, I blog. After publishing one post, I feel renewed and soaked in grace.

If you think that all I do is blog, well, you haven’t seen my tiny notebook.

The one I carry in my purse all the time; the one where I jot down practically every thought; the one where my un-posted blogs are—“cast-off blogs” I call them.

As part of my celebration, I am allowing myself a “tiny” discourse on blogging.

I believe the beauty of blogging is—choice. That’s a euphemism for censorship. Because you have the potential of being read by anyone—of a different persuasion, interest, creed, opinion, or thought—you write gingerly, you hedge, you keep private things private, you self-censor.I used to think that blogging is baring oneself. But after reading hundreds of sites, I now know that isn’t true. Writing in a little notebook is.

With a pen in hand, you write down your lowliest angst, deadliest fears, bitterest opinions, harshest criticisms, boldest predictions, silliest indecisions, deepest frustrations, and loftiest dreams. Never mind if they’re in unfinished sentences and fragmented phrases, or in inspired prose and energized verses.


Only the writer and a forgiving God know about what is written in the privacy of a journal.

Blogging is the glossy, techno part of a private journal. It is a lot like writing a book. The author tackles only what the book title says for the world to read. The only difference is, in blogging you’re on your own. You are your own editor, layout artist, and typesetter; you are your own publisher. As publisher-editor-writer in one, you self-edit and self-guide.

A decision I made when I started blogging was to keep to “Leaves of Grace.” Any state of un-grace or disgrace stay in my little notebook. Those are between me and the grace Giver. Those are my private prayers needing assurance and comfort and strength and mercy.

Lest I be accused of duplicity, may I quote my covenant with myself and my Creator in my very first post:

“. . . every letter, punctuation mark, and word that come together in a cohesive paragraph, will eventually sit proudly in a leaf... and then, leaves.

“These are leaves of grace.


“. . . as you e-flip through my leaves, you'll find nothing but songs of grace.”


Yes, this is my 200th song. Nothing’s really changed except the fresh, new header!

11/06/2008

Voices from the Next Room



What can this tiny phone gadget do?

It allows me to talk to my cousin Minna and Auntie Pat in New York—and friends Lucy in California and Amor in Michigan—for hours on end. Toll free.

They are like voices coming from the next room. Our chats range from our health woes to what has happened to this and that, or anything under the sun (Philippines) or the moon (USA), or vice versa.

It also allows me to listen to Adrian say his new words.


Adrian’s mom: “How does a lion sound?”

Adrian: “Rrrrrrrr.”

Adrian’s mom: “How does a dinosaur sound?”

Adrian: “Rrrrrrrrr.”

Adrian’s mom: “How does a dog sound?”

Adrian: “Rrrrrrrrr.”

Those wonderful sounds, courtesy of this thingamajig, are like caffeine that keeps one wide awake while working.

Vonage was sent to us from the US by Adrian’s parents through a nephew. Tony didn’t really want it. Let me rephrase that—he didn’t think it was necessary. Neither did the boys. When they wish to speak to someone somewhere in the world, they use the VOIPs available in the net. “In this day of computers, there is hardly any need for the phone,” they said.

But the Vonage had arrived, and I saw in it countless possibilities. So I did what I couldn’t do before it came to our lives. I called Minna and Auntie Pat and Lucy and Amor and of course, the gift givers, JB and Gianina, with the big bonus of talking to Adrian who will, in no time, progress from sounds to words. I was in no hurry to hang up. Neither were they.

Week after week, I glance at this thingy and still can’t get over the thought that I can lift the phone anytime, talk to loved ones in some place yonder, and fret not about phone bills.

It is a gadget of grace.

11/02/2008

The Shoes, the Bag, and Black Coffee



When I left the workplace and embraced writing, I vowed to spend less. Okay, much, much less. I repeated to moi my frequent admonition to my kids, “We’ll scrimp on everything but food and books."

For my personal things, I deliberately stayed away from expensive shops and visited only flea markets.

But came the ides of March. In a show window, a beautiful, beige fabric bag (purse) with matching shoes caught my eye. I drooled. Somehow, the gravity shifted from under me to inside the store. The saleslady said, “Ma’am, they’re on special sale—20% off.” Hmmm . . . It would still cost me an arm and a leg, but I closed my eyes and mumbled the famous last words, “Just this once.”

I ignored the verse I had memorized to help me ward off the shopping bug: Matthew 6:19-20, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal."

I took care of these beige items like the devout would the Holy Grail. I’d wear them only on special occasions.

Today:

Tony and I bring JR to a very early seminar at TESDA.

“After dropping off JR, let’s have breakfast somewhere,” Tony says. It promises to be a special, relaxing day after weeks of running around. It deserves a special bag and shoes.

I carefully place my bag on the seat beside me so I can watch it as I eat while Tony reads the morning paper. Then the rock of my life turns the page—and wham! His hand hits his coffee cup and the coffee spills down the table to my special bag!

In seconds, my treasure gets bathed in black coffee. I jerk it up. And the pool of black coffee drips down to one shoe! I have no energy to cry. Or even gasp.

The waiter immediately replaces the coffee. And my voice resurrects, “Will he replace my shoes and bag too?”

I wiggle my toes in my wet shoe and carry my dripping bag, both properly stained, to Tony’s office where I wash them with soap and water. Tony offers a box of the miracle product, baking soda. But a miracle doesn’t take place.

My shoe and bag story doesn’t end happily ever after.

I recite from memory the verse above and replace the words moth, rust and thieves with black coffee.

Live and learn, they say.

Live by grace, I say.