With a stubborn flu virus keeping me in bed for days, I couldn't shine nor zoom, even if I tried. So this post about the children's party I got invited to is awfully late.
The party was actually mine—well, only in the sense that the invitations were issued in my name by Church Strengthening Ministry (CSM), publisher of my two devotionals for children, “Shine” (for girls) and “Zoom” (for boys), launched at the Manila International Book Fair.
“Shine” comes from Matthew 5:16, which is actually my life verse. I quote the KJV version because that's what is stored in my brain's RAM drive: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
“Zoom” comes from Philippians 3:12, “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (NLT)
I don't get invited to children's parties anymore. So you can imagine my excitement to be a part of this one.
It had everything I remember about every children's party in my past life—balloons, a puppet show, storytelling, raffle prizes, games, food, emcees—a celebration of God's goodness.
The kids came with their moms, dads, grandparents, and yayas. Young and old had a riotous time.
After the unveiling of the books, I got a beautiful bouquet of roses and a cool sign pen from CSM, then the chat with the children began. This part of the party included photo ops with every friend who came around.
They don't make parties like this anymore—not in my world, not since I got my senior discount card. The event even had Pastor Reuel and his six-year-old daughter, Mika, thrown in as super emcees.
Grace also came in a neatly wrapped package. It had in it a publishing team that shines and zooms in bringing God closer to kids through these devotionals: Faye and Nadz, illustrators; Daff, project editor; Joy, editorial manager; and Abner, CEO.
Can a recovering flu victim ask for happier memories?
Blue is the color of flu. The bug got to me—and it seems to be the stubborn, thorny variety.
The bed is not exactly the best place to be, but grace doesn't choose the spaces where it goes. I keep finding it there.
Meanwhile, my shop is closed today.
Photo: by Dhara Shah
But in later years, I started reading reviews. Now I read reviews before I buy a book.
After I had become an author myself, I learned to google and discovered that back stories actually make books even more interesting!
So now I am about to write one. It is not my intention to turn off readers who, like I once did, hate back stories.
“The White Shoes” came to me like a flash flood. I was busy threshing out book ideas piled in my head, and I had just decided never again to join any writing competition—it is a stressful preoccupation. (This will be explained in a separate blog post.)
But Rose, my friend and co-teacher, and I were idly chatting one day about our uncomfortable high-heeled shoes in school. She mentioned her friend, Eva, who was so poor she only owned a grubby pair of black shoes. So Eva had to scrounge around for her graduation white shoes.
Deeply affected by the story of Eva's youth, I scribbled on my little notebook some key words. As soon as I got home that night, I fleshed out those words.
From that day, I wrote and re-wrote a story now begging to be told. I took liberties with Eva's shoes—twisted, turned and tangled details—and got my first draft done. (It takes a long time for my writing lamp to burn. Unlike some writers who are able to whip up a story in a day, I agonize over every character, scene, and word, sometimes for months.)
When I finally had the guts to let Rose read my draft (5th or 6th), she sniffled, “I love it!” I wasn't prepared for that reaction; her tears bothered me. I wanted the story light, not mushy or a tear-jerker. I simply wanted children to be grateful for what they are blessed with.
I revised the story many more times and again, showed it to Rose. She smiled through all the pages—but still wiped a tear. One tear, I thought, isn't so bad. Kids are less generous with their tears anyway.
That was also a moment of decision—I sent the manuscript (probably my 56th revision) to the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards 2012. More flash floods, like flash grace, came after that:
It won first prize; it would be published by OMF Lit who chose Sergio Bumatay III as illustrator. I am a fan of Serge, who has, to date, reaped many international awards.
Serge, however, couldn't work on “The White Shoes” till after five months. Joan, my editor, and I decided to wait . . . and wait . . . and wait.
Seven months later, inside the OMF Lit booth at the Manila International Book Fair, I saw for the first time the printed book, in “Kraft” paper, symbolic of shoe boxes. I caressed every page, seeing how much of Serg's heart is in the story:
Eva poignantly looks down all the way till the end when she finally looks up, surrounded by shoes of all kinds, and smiles.
I likewise looked up, surrounded by books of all kinds, and smiled to thank the Source of books and shoes. I prayed that young readers would always be grateful for their blessings.
My dad was not a letter writer.
He delegated the task to my mom who loved writing anything, everything, and anytime to anyone in her circle, especially her children—and in her later years, her grandchildren. If she were alive in this electronic age, she'd be writing a hundred emails a day.
I lived in the US for a few years, and in all those times, dad wrote me only once. I rhapsodized about that letter in an essay published in two newspapers there.
Today would have been his 101st birthday had he lived long enough to celebrate it. But cancer snatched him, at age 70, away from us years ago.
I remember him now because on my birthday last July, my sister Aie gifted me with a letter written by dad on my birthday when I was still single and in Chicago—a letter I never received. Aie said she found it buried among our mom's old file in our old home just recently. (He called me May.)
I believe it was his response to my letter about my decision to get married—to a stranger they had yet to meet—asking for his and mom's blessings.
What I remember vividly is that my mom wrote me a lengthy letter saying how delighted she and dad were about my decision to have a family of my own (“It's about time,” she assured me) and that I had their blessings.
It puzzles me no end why dad decided not to send this letter.
Did he forget to mail it? Was he averse to expressing his feelings? Did he find his letter mushy? Was he against my decision after all? Why even write on a lovely stationery my mother never used? Questions, questions.
Over the years, I have experienced unexpected grace in unexpected circumstances in unexpected forms, which I will treasure to my grave. But this letter tops the heap.
Now I know that my father, who was loathe to show his affection, was once affectionate, never mind if it was only on a letter that was never sent.
For this, let me change my old header and in its place, a new one—in thanksgiving to the our heavenly Father who surprises me with grace beyond retelling.
Daddy, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” Philippians 1:3 (NIV)
Can I do this? I repeatedly asked myself midway through the first draft of the first chapter.
My writing voice, according to my editors and readers, is light and breezy—sometimes funny, sometimes perfunctory, often reflective, but never heavy.
So how can one do the same for the heavy hand of poverty? There is nothing light and breezy about it, neither is it funny nor perfunctory, and one cannot be reflective without feeling and sharing the pain.
Poverty cannot be sugarcoated.
Circle of Compassion is about destitute children, born under the worst living conditions, but who have grown wings through Compassion International (CI), whose ministry is to release children from poverty in Jesus' name.
I had heard all about these stories before as a member of CI's consultative five-member advisory group for the last nine years. But seeing the children's heart in the raw, up close, hearing the details of their growing-up struggles, I was ready to step on the brakes and call it quits.
What's so amazing about grace, however, is that it urges you on and you can't retreat to the pit stop, not even for tire repairs.
Story after story, I felt as though Someone had taken the wheel from me and kept my engine running. He gifted me with people at CI who rigged me up for more. I flew to Cebu to interview a goon-turned-Christian, a drug lord-turned-CI volunteer, a communist-turned-pastor, a social worker-turned-CI leader—they made their way to the book, enriching the children's stories. The draft took on a shape of its own.
After the manuscript went to my editor, I got terribly sick with gastroenteritis that knocked me out for three days, sapped of strength to reach the finish line.
But here it is, in printed form!
It was launched on the first day of the 2013 Manila International Book Fair. The event was attended by the Country Director of CI and some of his department heads. Our photos below tell the story of how, in the writing process, I (held up by the OMF Lit's publication team) was ensconced in God's circle of compassion so I could join the happy occasion to celebrate the work of His hands.
"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” Psalm 19:1 (NIV)
The 2013 MIBF is in full swing. And all my days are packed with punishing schedules and energizing joy.
I haven't had time to shop, but let me post some of the things that made me roll on the floor laughing.
Three 6-year-old kids hovered around just smiling at me, saying nothing. Then one of them probably wanted to break the quiet conversation and whispered in my ear.
Kid: I am almost finished with my book.
Me: Say that again, please? (I whispered back, making sure I heard right.)
Kid: I am writing a book. It's a very good one and I am almost done.
Her friend: What did you tell Grace D. Chong?
Me: It's a secret she can't tell you yet.
More smiles all around.
A little girl runs to me followed by her parents.
Little girl: Hello, Grace D. Chong!
Me: Hi! What's your name?
Little girl: You forgot my name?! she gasped, with matching big incredulous eyes.
Her mom: Honey, she saw you last Book Fair. That was a year ago.
Little girl (to me): You don't know my name?! She wouldn't let me off the hook. I offered my little notebook where I request people to write the name they'd like written on the books I sign.
Me: Here, honey, write your name, I might misspell it.
Little Girl: You can't spell my name?!
Me: Well, I sometimes make mistakes.
Little girl (writing on my notebook): It's B-E-R-N-I-C-E!
Me: Oh, yes, Bernice! Of course!
Little girl: What's my mom's name?
These are some of the grace thrown my way at the Book Fair. I wouldn't trade them for any conversation in the world.
More Book Fair posts as soon as it is over this Sunday. Meanwhile, I have to run.
Whoever created this movie title, “The Good Die Young,” in 1954 would have to be thinking of someone like Kae, our dearest Kae.
Everything about Kae was good. I can say that with authority; she was my student in two college subjects (Advertising and Business English).
It was going to be my checking day. Meaning, I reserved the day to check my students' papers—not at home, but in the posh ambiance of the mall lounge, a sneezing distance away from where I live.
(An aside: that huge shopping mall has been one huge grace. It is now my extension living room, where I can roam around or park myself anytime I please in shorts and tees.)
Every act displayed in public has a back story; we can't take what we see at its face value. Often, if not always, we react to what our peepers witness precisely because we are not privy to what happens behind the scene.
This I have to remind myself, because I forget, or I mistakenly focus on what I see, based on GMRC (Good Manners and Right Conduct), which my generation takes seriously.