12/29/2011

Wait Till the Darkness Is Over


Year 2011 is almost done; let us end it with hope.

The kind of hope that when we look up, even in darkness, we see a castle in the clouds.

The kind of hope that despite all the disasters and death around us, the darkness will be over. 

The kind of hope that is so eloquently woven in a Christmas song that children today may  not know, Whispering Hope. In my youth, it was one of the most sung hymns in house-to-house caroling. In amateur singing contests, it was the choice piece of many contestants.

But even I have not thought of it for a long time, until last Sunday when I heard it over the car radio.  I sang along and for the first time, I heard the lyrics clearly.  Beautiful phrases:

Soft as the voice of an angel . . . 

Wait till the darkness is over,

Wait till the tempest is gone.

Hope for the sunshine tomorrow,

After the shower is gone. 


 It was written in 1868 by  Septimus Winner, a prolific songwriter (Ten Little Injuns, Listen to the Mockingbird) who released much of his work under the pseudonym, Alice Hawthorne. 

The text of Whispering Hope appears to be based on the scriptures:

Hebrews 6:19: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain . . .”

1Thessaloninans 5:8, “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.”

Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us . . .”  

Yes, the darkness will be over. Lord, please grant us grace to wait with peace and patience.

12/25/2011

Gifts of Grace and Hope

Christmas 2011

Have you ever heard a conversation as strange as this before?

Husband (to wife): I still haven't bought you a gift.

Wife: I still haven't bought you a gift either. 

Silence.

Husband: What if—

Wife (finishing her husband's sentence):—you don't give me any, then I need not give you one. 

Husband (smiling): Deal.

Wife: Deal.

That conversation isn't strange, it's true. It was between Tony and me a week ago. And opening no gift from him and laughing about it now, I come across this FB entry of my friend Sito.

Question: Did you get everything you want this Christmas?

Answer: No. But then it is not my birthday. Did you give the celebrant what He wants this Christmas?


ooo

No matter how hard we try to remind ourselves that Christmas is not about us, we lapse. Let me write this on a Post-it: Christmas is about the birth of a Savior, who left His heavenly riches to become poor because of His love for us.  
ooo


This holy birth is what the world celebrates on December 25. And this was how the members of my small family—those of us who were able to be physically together at this time—celebrated it:
 
(Our 6.2-kilo turkey came out nice and brown this year, and tasted just as good.)
(It took a day and a half for Ate Vi and JR to prepare this special bird.)
(Hats off, or on, to the chef!)
(Top right photo: Ate Vi receives her gifts from each member of her second family.)
(Photo op with the dining table centerpiece.)
(Tee from Vietnam and Prince Valiant Collection 4)
We remembered, and continue to remember that all the trimmings that come with Christmas every year are a celebration of the gifts of grace and hope to have eternal joy with the Word—who became Flesh on a glorious Christmas day—after our life on earth shall have ended.

12/24/2011

Mary Christmas, Merry Christmas!

Two dear friends led me to think deeply about Mary this Christmas.

First, Yay.  She cried, “Yay!” when she found a book with an accompanying music CD at the second-hand bookstore where we had been browsing (heavy-duty reading, actually) books after books for almost an hour.  Glancing at the cover, I immediately hummed, “Mary Did You Know?”

The tune and lyrics of this song, written by Mark Lowry and put to music by Buddy Greene in 1984, touched me greatly when I heard it sung in our church the first time years ago. It never fails to move me still every time I hear it: 

“ . . . Mary did you know that your baby Boy has come to make you new? This Child that you've delivered will soon deliver you. 

“. . . Mary did you know that your baby Boy is Lord of all creation?” 


In Luke 1:46-47, Mary said,“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . .” 

Second, Josil. He was the devotion speaker at the Christmas party of the OMFLit Christian Writers Fellowship and his message centered on the nativity scene, particularly Mary's reaction to what has happened.

Luke 2: 18 and 19: “ . . . and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Amidst the excitement, amazement, and joy, Mary stayed quiet and reflected in her heart the meaning of it all.

May we be like Mary as we prepare for our Christmas celebration today and have a Mary Christmas. Amidst the merriment—frantic excitement, frenzied amazement, and feverish joy—all around us right now, I pray we find time on Christmas eve to stay silent for a few special moments and ponder the greatest Gift ever given to man: the grace of salvation.

The Lord of all burst forth on earth on that early Christmas morn to deliver Mary, all mothers, all fathers, all sons and daughters, and all of creation.

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!


12/22/2011

Student Woes


Schools are on Christmas break, so teachers/professors have time to huddle. Guess what they talk about?

You can name that tune in one note: student woes. 

The consensus is, a teacher needs patience unlimited. Let me share some of the tales I either experienced myself or heard from my peers. I am surprised at how similar these stories  are, with slight variations.
ooo

A student rushes to the exam room two hours late, “My alarm clock was set for PM not AM!”
ooo

Student: My computer got a virus. Can I submit my assignment tomorrow?

Teacher: I won't be here tomorrow and the rest of the week. 

Student: Next week then?
ooo

A student begs and begs the teacher to allow open notes the following exam day.  The teacher relents. 

Exam day:

Student: I left my pen at home, can you lend me yours? And oh, can you please explain what this question is all about? 

Teacher: “Look it up in your book, it's one whole chapter." 

Student: “Sorry, I left my book at home, too.”
ooo

Teacher: As I repeatedly stressed for several sessions now, today is the deadliest deadline for your term papers.  

Student: “I am done, I just haven't printed it yet.”

Teacher: So you don't have it with you TODAY.    

Student: I have it all in my flash drive TODAY. I'll turn it in tomorrow after printing it.
ooo

Student: Why did I get such a low grade?

Teacher: Ask yourself.

Student: I did, but I didn't know the answer. So I am asking you.
ooo

Me: I can't teach you all about good writing in one semester. Reading will teach you that.

Student: I hate reading.

Me: That's the worst statement I have ever heard in my life.

Student: Why?

Me. Try saying that to another author.
ooo

The horror tales go on and on. So why stick around and teach?

I believe teachers are given such woes to teach us patience. This will arm us against the onslaught of non sequitur logic in our day-to-day walk with fellow mortals. Besides, without student woes, what would teachers huddle about? 

Seriously, teaching has its moments, and they far outweigh the woes. The students who make it big in the world after graduation are more than enough rewards for teachers. We have many of those!

We even have a Miss World runner-up who impressed judges with her intelligence and poise.

One graduate sent me a text message on Teacher's Day: “Thank you for knowing I could write before I did. With your guidance, I have just been hired as a writer in a multinational corporation and am toying with the idea of writing my first book!”
ooo

Oh, yes, the grace of teaching turns student woes to student wows!

12/18/2011

"Philippine Collegian" Nostalgia


A childhood family friend, Vic, who has remained a pal through the years, emailed me this caricature by Ely Santiago (well-respected caricaturist, painter, and social commentator until his demise in 1993).

It made me grin for very long minutes and remember those wonder years when I was in college, a staff member of Philippine Collegian, the official student publication of the University of the Philippines (UP).  

That's me wearing a weird wavy page-boy hairdo beside our editor, Lito Imperio, at the helm, among section editors and writers.

Peering closely at the thinner, younger versions of ourselves, I can recognize only a few faces now and what they did for the publication—it's been several millennia! But I remember vividly those weekly night-to-dawn press work somewhere. 

The crammers among us would bang away on vintage typewriters while I'd fall asleep sitting down, waiting patiently for the proof of my page fresh from the rotogravure (computer denizens, google the word if you don't know what it means!).      

Then the boys, gentlemen of the first order, would bring me back to my dorm in a cab at around four or five in the morning.

Those were the crude, creative days before computers and cellphones, so the work took 20 times longer—and 20 times more exciting.

Vic has also emailed me in the last few weeks recent photos of these talented writing bunch—now with balding and graying hair—in various reunions. Along with the photos was a rundown on what they had been up to. Yes, they have regularly kept in touch! Sadly, two had disappeared in the latest shots due to lost battles with fatal ailments.

After UP, the road forked, and I journeyed on a different route. That's why I am delighted to get to know, the second time around, these friends of long ago.

Soo Inn Tan, another friend from a totally different writing circle, said this in his latest essay, "Nostalgia is an attempt to reconstruct an idealized past.” 

Well,  that's precisely why this phrase has become a cliché, "the good old days." We want to keep thoughts of the past forever good. 

"Will you come to the next get-together?" Vic asked.

"Why, yes."

For sure, I'll find plenty of good there, plenty of grace, as I did in the UP Philippine Collegian long ago.


12/14/2011

Joy to the World


Joy to the World is NOT a Christmas carol.

That got you, didn't it? It shocked me, too.

Among the many Christmas carols we sing this merry season, Joy to the World stands out as a favorite, or the most popular of them all.
 
In many places, in fact, this is sung with everyone being asked to rise, ending the event on a high, joyful note.

Growing up, I have always thought that it was composed as a Christmas song—to welcome the birth of Christ.

Recently, however, I found out that the English hymn writer who wrote it, Isaac Watts (1674-1748), based the song on Psalm 98 in the Bible. Let me quote here verses 7, 8, and 9:

Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!

Let the earth and all living things join in.

Let the rivers clap their hands in glee!

Let the hills sing out their songs of joy before the Lord.

For the Lord is coming to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with justice.

Psalm 98 is about the second coming of Christ, not his birth. So the hymn Joy to the World is all about being joyful that Christ is coming back to earth to render justice to all people.

The song was first published in 1719 in Watts' collection—The Psalms of David.

Watts, a pastor, wrote many hymns and carols and was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree by the the University of Edinburgh in 1728. He penned the words of Joy to the World as a hymn praising Christ's triumphant return at the end of the age, rather than a Christmas song celebrating his first coming as a baby born to Joseph and Mary in a stable.

The music was adapted and arranged to Watts' lyrics by Lowell Mason in 1839 from an older, extremely popular melody, Handel's Messiah by George Frederick Handel (1685-1759), also often sung on Christmas.

After knowing all these facts, I looked up again the lyrics of Joy to the World. And true enough, they are about the joy we will feel when Jesus comes again!

For me, however, it does not really matter whether the song is for Christ coming to the world the first time or the second time. It is a triumphant song that expresses joy, fitting for the grandest birth of all.

So please join me as I sing the second and last stanza, and remember that over 2,000 years ago, a Baby was born in a lowly manger and all the world rejoiced.

Joy to the world, the Saviour reigns
Let Saints their songs employ
While fields and floods
Rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, Repeat, the sounding joy

Rejoice! Rejoice in the Most High,
While Israel spreads abroad
Like stars that glitter in the sky,
And ever worship God,
And ever worship God,
And ever, and ever worship God.

By His grace, may the world have joy, joy, joy this Christmas!

My tree this year (unlit and lit; details below)

12/10/2011

My Author Story


How did I become an author? What or how much of me did it take to get there?

These were the questions I needed to answer in my talk at the Project Author Seminar of Salt and Light Ventures at the AIM conference hall.

Answering those two questions in book talks and casual encounters with readers has been no big deal. All I have time to say is an abridged version of how indeed did I end up being an author, when all my life I was an ad gal.

But to speak for 45 long minutes—now, that had to be a tell-all, including all the "lurid" details. This I only realized when I was beginning to write my talk.  But there was no turning back!  I couldn't say no to the organizer's Chairman and CEO, my friend Ardy, who has been trying to arrange a meeting with me for a year now, but, well, you know how dates can be so ephemeral in this chaotic age, and so the appointment never happened.

I had to retrace my steps from the day I decided to have my manuscripts published. Then I discovered I had already been writing about those in bits and pieces in my book-in-progress on retirement, which I am currently fine-tuning before turning it over to my editor.
.
The book and the talk, they somehow dovetailed by coincidence, if not by divine providence.

As it happened, the talk was a preview of the book. And judging from the audience response, I ought to have at least a few guaranteed readers when the book goes to press. The feedback I got was totally and delightfully unexpected.

"I definitely will write my own story of grace NOW," someone said after my talk.

"Can't dilly-dally any longer. I need to take my manuscripts seriously soon," another one said.

"Now I know exactly what to write about—and I will go for it!" said a young gentleman.

"I've been mulling over these topics," a soft-spoken lady told me, showing me her notes. "Now I am confident I am in the right track."

I also got several private and wall messages on FB and email saying how my author story made them rev up their idling writing engine.

I had prayed that my talk would encourage the attendees to throw caution (and fear) to the wind and follow their heart: write.

That hope is now a certainty. If only 50% of the 40 who attended the seminar had been emboldened to have their thoughts published in print or on e-pages, then every second of the 45 minutes would have been worth it!

And oh, my author story is nothing spectacular compared to other authors'. My answer to both questions: it is a simple story of grace.

12/06/2011

Iloilo Hello (Part 2)


Blitzkrieg isn't a very wholesome term, but that's the word that pops out when I remember my Iloilo trip. It was like storming five places in rapid succession.  

Book blitz it was, and I pray that the people whom I reached are a little better because of it. I am definitely better—more encouraged to reach and meet as many readers as I could.  Bonding with them, feeling their palms, made me realize that a writer and readers are one. 

In all three schools, I talked twice—first for the younger kids and second for the older ones. I actually asked for it.  Initially, one school had all the children (pre-school to high school) assembled in one hall. I thought that talking to all would be like talking to none.   

Division done, connection made—on to book signing. Kids make heart wrenching remarks and ask mind boggling questions.

Next stop: adults.

They are a totally different breed. Unlike children, they hold back and censor their thoughts, but just as warm. The seminar for singles drew a crowd of over 150, a few of whom are Compassion college scholars studying in Iloilo; it was great to see about a dozen of them there. The Q and A matched my whole talk in length.

The teachers' seminar made me marvel anew at these noble professionals who love spending time—beyond what is required—with children. One of the attendees, a white-haired senior citizen, said she will never retire.

All book talks and seminars done on day three, I retreated to my room to pack. One last talk in a church the next day and then to the airport. 

“Tired?” Angel 1, Lynnie, asked.

“Never,” I said, winking at Angel 2, Christine.

They both hied off to the mall and brought me home a packed dinner.

One hour later, my tummy was churning and burning, which I thought a good sleep would cure.  

But at two in the morning, I woke up woozy, as though my stomach moved to my neck.  I almost didn't make it to the bathroom.  I wretched and wretched and wretched, and out came my dinner in spattering installments.  After more wretching, debasing the pristine bathroom in the process, I felt like I ran around our village a hundred times, totally spent.

Me: Lord, are you telling me to rest?

God:

Me:  Lord, is this my last day on earth?

God:

Me: Will you enable me to do my talk tomorrow?


God:

Cleaning up my mess, careful not to wake up Angel 1, Lynnie, took all the energy I had left. All zonked out, I barely crawled back to bed.  

At seven AM, only half of me woke up, towing my luggage with my Angels 1 and 2 to church. I did my talk and signed books before the three of us rushed to the airport.  

After strapping on my seat belt, I went out like a light, nudged only by my seatmate when it was time to deplane.

Home at last; some soup, then off to bed—all of 12 hours.

Waking up still weak to a new day, I was able to do the chores I had left behind. God had answered my questions the night before! 

God: Yes, I am telling you to rest; blitzkrieg is over. 

God:
No, this is not your last day on earth; not yet.   

God:
Yes, I will enable you to talk in church; and you will. 

Can grace ever be explained?

12/02/2011

Iloilo Hello (Part 1)


Iloilo is now a bustling metropolis, which was a pleasant surprise for me.

You know when a place has become totally modern and urban—traffic build-up isn't very far behind. I was there four years go and everything was five minutes away. This time around, we got caught in traffic while rushing to catch an early event.

Well, the traffic wasn't that bad really, not the kind we get in Manila on rush hour, but when you're on a marathon schedule, every tiny snag seems big.

The traffic build-up I am referring to is probably more about the bottleneck in my mind. I badly want to blog about all the exciting activities, but I came home to a work backlog that allows me only so much time and so much space. 

My four-day Iloilo trip was much like all the trips I take to all parts of the country—book tour.  But this one was jointly arranged by Philippine Christian Bookstore (PCBS) and OMF Lit. I was to visit three schools (two sessions in each, with different age groups) and speak in two seminars (one for teachers and one for singles).

Lots of talks, lots of book signing, lots of new friends, and lots of photos to show for them.

The children were as sweet as my favorite biscocho. And the teachers were as warm as the yummy kadyos (cooked with native chicken) I was treated to. Burp.

Two ladies and dear friends took care of everything for me: Lynnie of Cebu and Christine of Iloilo. If you look up the meaning of angel in the dictionary, you'll find their names in bold.  PCBS and OMF Lit, thank you.  

To say I had fun in Iloilo would be a lie. I had grace, grace, grace far beyond fun and one blog.

(Part 2 in a day or so)

11/28/2011

Incomplete Rainbow

Seeing this photo, uploaded by a friend on Facebook, a thought hit me in my gut. This arc is not incomplete.  It is I who do not see the whole splendor of it. 

A rainbow is a perfect arc, with all the colors one can ever imagine. But sometimes we can't see all of it because clouds that crowd our lives block our vision.

I liken the arc to the truth, which we fail to see because we are short on faith. (I am trying hard not to sound like a theologian here because I am not; I can only speak, like I do in the books I write, from my heart.)  

Faith is not a mental or emotional delusion, it comes to us through grace. In Romans  10:17 (NLT), we read:  “So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.” 

Just because I have great faith today doesn’t mean I have it the same way tomorrow, or forever after.  Faith is something one has to pray for, work on, and work at having—by  reflecting on God's Word every day of one's  life. 

A.W. Tozer said, “. . . it is not enough that we believe; we must believe the right thing about the right One.”

And what is the right thing about the right One?

It is spelled out in probably the best known verse in the Bible,  “For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16 (NLT)

Without the Savior's grace, nothing is.  His promises hold in good and bad times. Believing in (being convinced and certain) and embracing this truth is faith.

The catch is, every day we experience disappointments and are saddled with all sorts of problems; we discover new, exciting ideas on the internet; we read new books that cite and paraphrase the Bible with beautiful reasoning that seems so right. Before long, we depart further and further away from the truth—and behold an incomplete rainbow.

How do we keep faith? How do we get to see the complete arc?  

Paul said that he "kept the faith." He did that by preaching the Word in season and out of season; his life was focused on the Gospel of Jesus to the very end.

We keep the faith when we are hearing the word of God and repeating it back to Him. Yes, as we talk about what Jesus has done for us, we keep faith.

Rom. 10: 9 (NLT), “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

May the blessing of faith enable us to see the complete rainbow.

11/23/2011

Five Years and Counting


This site is turning five tomorrow, but I am blogging about it now because I need to catch some sleep for my early flight to Iloilo for book talks.  

That's how long I have kept this blogsite.

In the beginning I thought I'd quit early in the game, but the thrill of writing one's thoughts on blogosphere, getting feedback from readers, and seeing the hit meter grow every hour kicked in. And now I want to keep slogging away. 

I took on the theme "grace" because at that time I was writing my third  "Gifts of Grace" book.  I was reflecting on, analyzing, and studying grace with such ferocious focus that, really, it was not a choice. It was my only choice.

If there is one word I can never write enough about, it is grace. It is what keeps this e-leaf evergreen.

"How very quickly you see grace in everything," my friend Tere remarked after reading one of my posts.

"Anyone can see grace very quickly—all he needs is look," I replied.

"Huh?"

For five years, I swam in the excitement of numbers.  Today, this is where I am:

- 112,050 hits from 154 countries;  
- 500 reviews; 
- 1530 comments; 
- 506 posts;
- 12 change of headers (signifying milestones);
- and 98 followers.


How much more grace does one inconsequential blogger want?

This calls for a new header!
Out with the old:     


  

11/19/2011

Spell Sphygmomanometer


My computer can't spell the word. It has the jagged red line right under it!

Well, sphygmomanometer isn't a very popular word. If you're unfamiliar with it, then you either hate using seven-syllable words or too young to have high blood pressure. 

This word is a contraption that measures one's blood pressure.  I never paid much attention to it myself, not until I was recently told by my doctor to monitor my blood pressure. So between doctor visits, I had to keep looking for someone who had one.  The search could take long—not too many people has even heard of the gizmo. 

So JB brings an idiot-proof digital one for his dad and me on his last visit.

Opening the box,  Tony and I alternately read the how-to-use leaflet. We are confident that with both our respectable IQs together, we should be able to make this never-before-seen modern gadget work.

The face of the sphygmo (nickname for this complicated word) has an initial reading of 135/85.

Connect the cable to the devise (check). Plug the same cable to the socket (check).  Put the band around your arm (check). Push the “start” button (check). 

The arm band inflates and deflates and then clicks off. Blood pressure? 135/85. A few more tries on me and then on Tony. Same reading: 135/85.

“This is a lemon!” Tony exclaims. 

“JB should return it to the store!” I concur. 

“He should get a replacement!” Tony adds. 

“Or have his money refunded!” I say, reinforcing the issue.  

When JB comes home that night, we whine about the faulty sphygmomanometer.  “Both our blood pressure always came down to the same figures: 135/85!” we say in a duet.

JB unpacks the thingy, then patiently explains, making sure we both understand, “This here is a sticker, see?  First, you have to peel it off.”

What?! 135/85 is a sticker?! A sticker?! A sticker?!  I repeat in my mind.  Tony's face tells me his mind is echoing mine.  

Then our son, the doctor, who learned his ABCs from and shares his DNA with his parents, takes our blood pressure, then his.

I pay no attention to the results. I am more concerned over my new, more serious malady: Hypo-IQ.

When did it come about? How did it happen?  Why were there no symptoms? Is there a cure? Is it terminal?

This digital age is driving analog people like us nuts. Oh, that we may be granted with an intensive dose of daily digi-grace!

Now, please excuse me while I go check my blood pressure.

11/15/2011

Discomfort Zone


“You were made for the discomfort zone.  It engages you,  keeps you sharp, and makes you grow,” thus said Curt Rosengren in his article in Motto Media.

He was of course referring to young, upwardly mobile career people, not to a Methuselah like me. 

As a career person, I had no comfort zone.  Advertising kept me on my toes and the new day was just as uncomfortable as the old one. “You are only as good as your last job,” was an adage that drove us. And a new job came even before the last one could end.   

I finally found my comfort zone when I quit that job, which held me captive for years. Now, on my computer keyboard I could get lost for hours, skip meals and sleep. Comfort zone is a nice place to rest, get your footing, examine your heart, and bare your soul. I could stay there till kingdom come.

But came October—Missions month in church, to culminate in a group worship/celebration with eight other churches. The theme was local missions. Each church was tasked to perform something on its assigned ethnic group. Ours was Tausug and in the council meeting of elders, it was decided that the women's group would present a dance number: malong dance. (Malong is a tube skirt made of multi-colored cotton cloth similar to the sarong.)

Guess who had to be in it?

I had not danced in years.  The last time was a Fox Trot number six years ago in a Rotary function.  That was not too bad, I had danced  Fox Trot in my youth and all it took was chutzpah to dance it again. 

So on day one of the malong dance rehearsals, fellow Methuselahs whined every second on practically everything. There were five things to remember all at once: the steps, the counting, the music, the malong folding, and the hand  movements. A good thing our dance instructor, April, was patience personified. She smiled through it all. 

It took three rehearsals for the five-minute number. And when d-day came, I was reduced to a quivering mound of jelly—a panic attack not unlike those I went through in the ad world. “My heart went down to my toes,” I told our Pastor who laughed his hardest in years.

The long, loud applause told us it was excellent; the photos tell us a different story:
 
Yet the whole experience—discomfort zone it might have been—was a dance of grace.

We were one with our brothers and sisters in Tausug land.

May we reach them through our missionaries, strengthened by our individual and community prayers, so that this ethnic group of men and women in Mindanao (about one million of them) will discover the glory of God's grace.

11/11/2011

111,111


Since this is the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 2011, I am reminded of a friend's text message a month ago.  She gave me many facts about this date, which I vaguely remember.

The only one I could recall is, if you add your age today to the year you were born, you get 2011.

But of course.  Try doing that every year, and the sum is that same year.

She ended her message with, "Pass this on to 11 more people within 11 minutes and you will experience good fortune 11 times in the next 11 days."

Chain texts and chain letters leave me cold. They are the antithesis of my faith and what "Leaves of Grace" is all about. This I believe: all good things could only come from the Father of heavenly lights. Not from numbers, tarot cards, palms, luck, horoscope, colors, and many others that are credited for good fortune.

Everything that keeps us living a blessed life is grace.

What interested me about the message, however, was the number 11. Looking at my statistics today, this number jumped at me—111,111!

Now, that deserves a celebration, and therefore a change of header! My past header comes down:

My new header goes up:
How is it possible that a modest, ordinary blogsite that speaks of ordinary things could have 111,111 hits in less than five years?

Let me say it again (for the 111,111th time), sola gracia.  

11/10/2011

Two Sets of Laughter


Dateline: HongKong

In a multi-racial conference, such as the Publishing Forum 2011 of Media Associates International (MAI), which I am attending, there are always two sets of laughter.   

The first set comes from one part of the room immediately after a speaker has made a funny remark. The second set comes from the rest of the room only after the interpreter has translated what he said.

“The Tower of Babel is to be blamed for this,” I joke Aleks, seated beside me.  

“The Tower of Babel is to be praised for this,” he jokes back, snickering. He, too, is as  fascinated as I am with this double soundtrack, akin to delayed telecasts.   

(A quick Bible background: At one time, all the people of the world spoke the same language, but when they began to build a great city with a tower that tried to reach the sky to make them famous, the Lord made the people speak different languages so they won't be able to understand each other and therefore can't do more than they were doing.)

Genesis 1:8-9 (NLT) says, “In that way, the Lord scattered them all over the world, and they stopped building the city. That is why the city was called Babel, because that is where the Lord confused the people with different languages. 

Speaking in different tongues in one conference hall seems difficult for everyone to understand each other. But when you share the same faith and all believe in the saving grace of Jesus, there is understanding deeper than what our ears could hear. Our heart would  feel what our mouths could barely say.

Breaking bread and praying with fellow believers for four consecutive days now, have been grace beyond comprehension. And hearing two sets of laughter each time, well, that's grace overwhelming.

Despite the sudden dip in temperature (freezing cold wind has assaulted us!), the warmth of fellowship remains.
 


11/07/2011

Economics of the Poor


Am now in HongKong where I will facilitate a workshop for editors and writers in the Publishing Forum 2011 of Media Associates International (MAI), an organization that "helps local Christians create life-giving literature in the world’s hard places."

Participants are from Myanmar, China, HongKong, Thailand, Cambodia, Mongolia,  Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, India, UK, and the Philippines.

HongKong, as we all know, is a shopper's paradise. There are just too many whatchamacallits that seduce, “Take me.” Well, I am keeping my eyes off them.

When I was packing my bag two days ago, Tony was handing me two $100 bills. “You might need these."

The urge to grab the greenbacks came and went too briefly. “Thank you, but if I take those, I will be tempted to shop and spend them all.”

He readily put the tempters back in his wallet.

“Economics of the poor—in cash, not in spirit,” I told him. “You have nothing to spend, you don't spend.” For the first time in my life I budgeted only $100 as pocket money for a six-day stay in HK.

He argued no further.

In the old days, when I was in the corporate world, HK was a weekend destination on a whim with friends, or an all-expense-paid conference site for the company.

“Simplify,” has been my credo since I left that place where I was paid handsomely and given generous fringe benefits for traveling in style. 

Today, I try to singly focus on writing and activities that support it. It's a no-frills job, which I love and enjoy, and I can't let old habits and excesses distract me.

By no means am I living a monastic life. I rather call it basic lifestyle. With basic needs daily given by grace, one should be at peace.

A Rolex and a Seiko, I discovered, tell the same accurate time. A bag bought from a designer boutique and a bag bought from a roadside booth, can carry the same things one needs while on the road. 

Do I miss the frills of old?

No. What I miss is the thrill of accepting an extra $200 to spend as I please.  

Could it be age?

My friend M, who is six years my senior, has a roomful of bling-bling, and the thrill of buying the next one is palpable a mile away. She once told me, “Items in HK are so cheap! After I had bought all I wanted, I still had $500 left!”

“You can entrust your $500 to me and I will give it to MAI.”

She slapped my arm and tittered, “Grace, you're so funny!”

11/04/2011

Splurging on "Like"


If the “like” on FB had a price tag, I'd be spending a lot of money daily on the one page that keeps me riveted (“addicted,” my friend Boyp calls this new phenomenon) and sufficiently awed: “Come Visit My Philippines” (CVMP) 

There are just too many breathtaking photos of our country that lure your fingers into clicking “like” practically every second.  

What started "Come Visit My Philippines?"

An idea.

But an idea so big the page has grown in just a month to over 25,000 members, who have posted almost 7,000 stunning photos of and about the Philippines!

Mon Jimenez, our new Tourism Secretary, said upon accepting his new role, “Tourism is the people’s business . . . so if you believe that as I do, help me achieve that.”  He likewise exhorted all Filipinos, “Believe in the beauty of your country. You deserve a visit from the world.” 

Hearing Mon, friends Bessie Padilla and Alex Baguio (both photography buffs) started uploading their photos on their individual walls. They wanted to show the world that they “believe in the beauty of their country.” 

The overwhelming response was unprecedented.  Promptly, another friend, Francois Medina, joined the two to start an FB page for Filipinos who share their pride of country. 

Thus, “Come Visit My Philippines” was born. The guidelines are simple: post a photo (anything Pinoy); briefly describe it; and punctuate it with the tagline, “Come Visit My Philippines.”

Because of the exponential growth of membership, more friends have been invited to help as administrators.

I have not posted one photo yet, because each time I prepare do so, I gawk at the mind-blowing masterpieces of others, and I spend an inordinate amount of time imagining the places where they were shot—taking all attention away from mine.

Here are a few which I randomly chose from thousands of spectacular photos on the page. These cut-and-paste collages are not as fascinating as the original ones, so please go to the FB-CVMP page and marvel at the individual photos as posted by the owners.

But oh, if you aren't a member yet, ask a friend who is. Adding your name will take only a second. I must warn you, though, you will be splurging on “like!”  

P.S.
Let me thank my wandering friend, Boyp, who travels around the country as often as he blinks, for inviting me to enjoy the magnificent vista of grace bestowed upon the Philippines on CVMP!

11/01/2011

A Father Remembers


Today, as a tradition in our country, most Filipinos will trek to the cemetery to visit the graves of their loved ones.  Many of them may already be there since the break of dawn. 

I will not be one of them.

My reasons are neither the traffic nor the hassle to stay under the heat of the sun in a memorial park packed with the whole of humanity. 

When my newly born son, Adriano, was buried by my husband, a couple of relatives, and a pastor-friend at the cemetery, while I stayed in my hospital bed nursing my grief, I knew that my little boy would never be lying in dirt six feet under the ground, he would always be in my heart. 

I went to visit his grave a few times, albeit perfunctorily, with my husband and three other sons as a rite of remembering.  But those were just a part of another lovely family outing. 

I kept the attitude when years later, my dad then my mom were laid to rest in my hometown in a plot they bought years earlier. On November 1, every year, my siblings trek to that plot while I stay home in Manila pondering the grace I continue to receive through memories of them, in black and white.

The only way I know how to deal with death is write about it.

All of Tony's family also passed away one after the other (dad, mom, brother and sister) and again, I chose to swim in memories by writing about them—in my books, blog, journal, and diary.    

There are many other loved ones—close aunts, uncles, friends, kith and kin—to whom I said good-bye as they were interred in their graves, but never visited again.

Tony is of a different mind.  He has his own way of remembering.

Every year, sensing perhaps that I do not share his thoughts, goes alone to visit the tomb of our son—two days before November 1.  I request him to take a shot of the tomb, for reasons I can't explain. He humors me. While there, he also takes photos of our close friends' tombs.

Not one of these photos ever shows a flower or a candle—traditional gifts to the departed.  So in a way, he is different from others, too.

Once a year, on a different date, Tony also makes time to visit his family—all four of them—in one crypt in a Chinese Temple.  He tells me he does paypay,  a common Chinese practice of lighting a few sticks of incense and swaying them like a fan with both hands.  He doesn't understand what it means, but he does it anyway.  

People differ in how they view this day. While many feel the need to go to the cemetery, some stay home.   

Two quotes come to me now as I imagine all the people in all cemeteries nationwide honoring their dead. One is the poem, “Do not stand at my grave and cry,” attributed to several authors.  Here are the first two and last two lines:

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

And the other was coincidentally quoted by my friend, Cherry, on her Facebook wall.  It was what a mother, who lay dying, said to her son, St. Augustine: "Lay this body anywhere, let not the care for it trouble you at all. This only I ask, that you will remember me at the Lord’s altar, wherever you be.”

My thoughts of my own son today: I do not need to go to your graveside to remember, you're in my middle and there I visit you all the time.

But Tony, despite his busy schedule, travels the far distance to visit our Adrian's grave. Perhaps it's a father thing, a father's way of grieving—and healing.

(Photo by the graveyard maintenance man)

10/29/2011

A Short Life Well Lived


Why would God allow a 15-year-old boy to die?  

This was the question in our mind when Ronell, my grandnephew, died of Leukemia after only a month from diagnosis of the dreaded disease. 

A whole family, a whole clan, a whole country, a whole world prayed, “Lord, please  heal Ronell.”

The news of Ronell's sickness went viral after it was announced by an uncle on Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail. The message called for help—prayers, blood, and funds, in that order.  And people from all walks of life rushed to the hospital, financial help poured, netizens from many countries twitted and sent messages of comfort and concern.

Despite the worldwide chorus of prayers, God chose not to heal Ronell.  He took him instead.   

Why???

At his wake, I hugged and asked Ronell's older brother, “Are you okay?”

“No, I am not okay,” he murmured.

It will take sometime before he and we will be okay.  But his mom and dad put on a brave face as they thanked the hordes of people that packed the chapel, many of whom volunteered to speak during the necrological service: 

“Ronell made me realize how important God is in our lives. He brought his Bible to school to tell me about the Savior.”

“I was never close to my parents, but from Ronell I learned the importance of family—and God.” 

“He became a surrogate brother to my only son, who is so finicky about the people he goes with.”

“Always thoughtful, always gracious, always generous with his time in helping me and others.”

“He made me laugh, made me feel that everything was okay with the world because of God.” 

“He never whined, not even when in pain.”

From the Pastor, who delivered the Memorial Service sermon, “Ronell, weak and drained in the hospital ICU, asked me if God really forgives sinners.  When I said yes, his mouth twitched into a smile, despite his pain.  That was a most beautiful moment.”

From an uncle, “I used to be reluctant in sharing God's word with friends.  But after knowing what Ronell had been doing, young as he was, I am now emboldened to speak about salvation with anyone—even strangers.”

During his brief journey on earth, grace shone through Ronell and changed many lives—of friends, family, and strangers.

Someone said, “God spared Ronell from the landmines of evil forces on earth.”      

It's all too clear—our heavenly Father plucked Ronell from his mortal coil to the peaceful place where He lives, because the boy we loved belongs there. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Not in the future.

Now.

Second stanza of the gospel song, The Greatness of Our God (Hillsong)

10/25/2011

Death of Latte . . . and Gadhafi


Our own rodent, Latte—one of JC's two guinea pigs—died about the same time Gadhafi did. 

Brown like coffee with milk, and just as delightful, Latte suddenly refused her staple grass and after a couple of hours, she stopped breathing. 

JC put her in a box and our househelper dug her grave, again—like all our other pets—beside all the flowers in our garden.  Today we (I say, we, because although they're technically JC's, we love them just as much) only have one rodent, Earl Gray, who, we wish, will stay healthy. 

I am drawn to the stark contrast of people's emotions between an insignificant rodent and an infamous strongman.   

Gadhafi was a feared leader who died like a rat in a sewer.  Latte was a precious  rodent who died like a treasure in a home.   

In a family of writing enthusiasts (husband, wife and sons), it isn't unusual to find pieces on God's grace written about something or other lying around. This time, JC wrote one about Latte.  Sharing it with you . . .

You always were the brave one. Even before I bought you, there you were in that small cramped cage with your brothers, looking at me in the eye. Dehydrated and weak, your tiny feet sore from walking on that wire floor meant for birds, you reached out while I took a video of you.

You annoyed me to no end, blocking me every step of the way, every time I spot-cleaned your cage. Bigger isn’t always braver. You always swiped food from your much larger brother’s mouth every meal time. You never failed to push him aside each time he was at the water bottle.

You figuratively and literally stood tall for both of you, wheeking for food or attention. Truly, you were always more vocal, unafraid to speak your mind. EG has recently taken up the cudgels for you, but it’s just not the same.

Loud and brave, that was you. The one thing you were deathly afraid of was being picked up. You’ve always been skittish and uncooperative every time I tried to do that, but during your last week, you finally let me pet you without running away. Tough on the outside, there was a side of you that others hardly saw. You loved chin-rubs, and always looked like you were in a trance while I did that, thoroughly enjoying yourself.

It was a relatively busy and stressful week for me, and God gave you a little more strength to not show what you were really feeling, till the last moments, since that would have stressed me out. Even then, you bravely showed your trademark spunk, defiantly boxing the air and wheeking as you lay there.

Somehow, I knew you didn’t have long when I finally managed to carry you from your cage unaided, without so much a fight.

I thank the Lord for lending you for a little over a month. It reminded me that if a small, frail creature like you meant a lot to a sinful, finite being like me, how much more I, created in God’s own image, mean so much more to Him?

Goodbye Latte. We’ll miss you. 


Latte (left) and Earl Gray

10/22/2011

Gadhafi Did Not Die Like a Dog


"He died like a dog,” many newspapers wrote on how the former strongman—one of the most vilified leaders in recent history—died.

I say he didn't die like a dog; our dogs die better.

About half a dozen of our dogs over the years were buried deep in our garden under tall trees and beside flowering hedges. Our Vet put them to sleep, and we stayed silent as we awaited their last breath.  Then we thanked God for their lives and for the joy they brought us.

This has been the ritual of dying for our—and I guess most pet lovers'—dogs.  We do not parade them around town, bloodied, half naked, gasping for air, while we gloat and shout a slew of curses.  

Gadhafi didn't die like a sewer rodent, either.  Rodents die better. (JC wrote a beautiful piece on  this, which I am tempted to include here—on second thought, it deserves a solo post next time.) 

Did Gadhafi deserve the way he died? After all, he did the same thing, or worse, to many of his own people.

Well, did my 15-year-old grandnephew, Ronell, deserve the way he died?  He suffered extreme pain, strapped to a dozen tubes, endured numerous blood transfusions, and was sapped with energy every day till the last fateful hour.

Did our loved ones—like my dad who fought an agonizing battle against cancer for four years—deserve the way they died?

Did those criminals, burned in electric chair, or those accused with treason, beheaded in public view, deserve the way they died?

Did those 19 young soldiers, killed by MILF in a fierce battle, deserve the way they died? 

And to go on, did Marcos, who lived with debilitating Lupus for years, deserve the way he died? Or did Ninoy, whose life was snuffed out as soon as he set foot on his homeland, deserve they way he died? 

Then the ultimate death that changed our world and all our lives, did Jesus deserve the way He died?

Except for the death of Jesus, which is so clear in the Scriptures why sinners killed Him in that manner, we can only speculate on ordinary mortals' way of dying.

Gadhafi's was just one in billions of earthly passing that had, has, and will come to every man. 

We will not know the whys and the wherefores of death, but when we entrust our life to the sovereign God, believe in His power over every powerful dictator and powerless citizen the world over, He gives us grace to accept why death happens the way it does.