9/28/2014

Traveling Alone


“You’re traveling alone?!” my friend Zeny asked, disbelief written on her face. Her tacit sub-text was, at you age?!   

I have always traveled alone for my book tours. For one, I try to be considerate to sponsors/hosts who, I know, are on a budget. For another, nobody (certainly not Tony) would enjoy being lugged around to various events where only authors and readers are involved.    

In fact, as this blog uploads as scheduled, I should be on my last day in Cebu where I have been over the weekend for another book tour—this time, for my latest book, Grace@Work.  

Before this trip, I bumped into my friend Andy, an American missionary in the country, who has just come back from his home leave. He said, “I had a grand reunion with my mother. She lives alone, drives her car, and does everything on her own—at age 86."

Maybe if she were an author, she’d be doing book tours alone, too.

One is really never alone in book events. You meet strangers who quickly become friends along the way. Old friends also get in touch once they know you’re in town.

For this book tour, I met hundreds of new friends and was able to share my faith with many of them. In fact, later this morning, after the church worship in one church, I will be meeting more—particularly Sunday School kids who will listen to some stories from my books.

I am not traveling alone at all; God's presence is palpable. I am traveling with hordes and herds of grace.

Tonight I shall say hello to my bed at home in Manila and say good-bye this afternoon to my huge hotel room booked by my gracious and generous hosts:
"Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand." Psalm 73:23 (ESV)

9/24/2014

Book Fair Mania 2014


The Philippines is not yet a book-reading country—proven in sales and in research. If a book sells 5,000 copies in a year, it is a bestseller.

That’s why I am always delighted when the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF) happens.  In one place, one bumps into fellow book lovers who pack the venue in five days. Patiently, we line up to the cash register in various booths and to have our books signed by authors. We even smile at total strangers because we know they are book comrades. 

Only one of my three books made it to the MIBF this year. There was a big roadblock that prevented the two others (the beginning of another series of children’s books called Happy Home, revolving around a Christian family) from pulling through.  

In God’s own time they will be launched. I believe that an author's writing ministry is never done until she's read. I thank Him for replacing my (and my editor's) initial disappointment with excitement as I trekked to SMX MOA, where I purchased tons of books on which I spent every single centavo of my hard-earned budget!

In between shopping, I was invited to hobnob with my readers on previously published children’s books by signing and posing for the ubiquitous camera. It’s an assigned role I relish; it tells me that my writing has not been for naught.  

I’ll let the photos do the telling.

Day 1:                           
Day 2:                       
Day 3: 
“Rain, rain go away, come again another day.” It wouldn’t. It poured relentlessly from night till night. All roads to the MIBF were impassable.  

Day 4:
My only book that made it to MIBF 2014, Grace@Work (above)
 
Day 5: 
A tummy bug, as deadly as the torrent of rain on Day 3, got to me. I had to cancel my last book signing schedule.  

And now, after another MIBF, I will quietly sit in my corner and do either of two things: read or write. What grace to be able to soak in both!   


9/20/2014

No Read, No Write


Lola Cionang, my maternal grandmother, was unlettered. She had difficulty reading; she could write only a few words and sign her name. But she was wise.   
 
By her example and words, I learned to be punctual (especially in church), considerate, and circumspect in everything I do. She knew her Bible, even if she read it syllable by syllable. She constantly sang hymns (Ilocano) from memory. As a little girl, I pegged her age at 60, the stage when, I thought, people knew it all.

I had often wondered where she got her wisdom, but never got around to asking her.

Now, decades later, I know. She went through a tortuous life—a child bride with nine children, conceived before and during a barbaric world war. She was the perfect foil for my grandfather, a controlling Don with a Spanish temper.

By scrimping, she was able to buy farm lands for their children's education in Manila. Without raising her standard of living, wearing the same baro't saya over and over again, she and my grandfather put up a place of worship for the community, which remains standing to this day. 

Where did all her wisdom come from? In today's lingo, people say, “She's been there, done that.” I say, life with God. She didn't read from books what she learned from her journey. This wise woman lived a life fraught with adversities, but not once did her faith waver in a loving God. 

(The above is a short chapter from my book, Circle of Compassion, published by OMF Lit in 2013. It is available in all book stores and at the ongoing Manila International Book Fair, Sept. 17-21, 2014, SMX MOA.) 
“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” Deuteronomy 4:9 (ESV)


9/19/2014

Trail of Tears


Copious, overflowing tears have been falling from the sky, submerging many parts of the country, including Metro Manila. There has been no let-up since last night. The weather bureau calls it monsoon rains after Typhoon Mario battered our shores. 

People, me included, are rained in; reined in, rather. Today's activities at the Manila International Book Fair (Sept. 17-21) have been cancelled, including the formal launching of Grace@Work.

No matter. Any day, dry or wet, is a great time to honor and praise the Source of overflowing grace.

"Today would have been dad’s 102nd birthday," my sister emailed, "had not the Lord taken him 32 years ago."

In celebration of everything that today is, let me change my header:

From dry leaves to wet leaves . . .

 
“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT)

9/16/2014

Lady D


From tot-hood, Lady D, one of my six, exceptionally smart and pretty nieces (in my unbiased opinion, of course), has always been enamored with ballet. Our early family reunions were peppered with stories of her passion, for which she made time after classes or on weekends.

I thought she’d get over it in college especially because she took up a degree that has nothing to do with body movements. But there, she became a tireless member of the university’s cheer-dance team, which awed us with litheness and contortions defying bones and gravity—undefeated team champion five years in a row. 

After graduation, Lady D, without blinking, followed her heart, and is now twirling, soaring, swaying, and dipping gracefully on land and on air in outlandish, never-land costumes, creating smiles in thousands of children at a Disneyland in Asia.

She’s probably one of the very few people whose single-minded focus on what they want to do in life never wavers.

When asked, my college students today want this, that, them and those—nebulous options in case one fizzles out. 

Not with Lady D. Her one and only choice is working out well.

These photos, grabbed from her FB wall, show her enjoying what she loves best, despite a knee injury last year, which could have rendered her dancing shoes useless forever. With surgery, therapy, a brief rest, and dogged determination, she is back with a vengeance.  

I think of my niece now because, while I gear up for the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF), to where hundreds of little people will troop starting tomorrow, I see her and me as kindred spirits in doing something special for children.   

Lady D does it with dance; I do it with books. But both passions are born of grace, and borne by grace. 

“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” 1 Peter 4:10 (NLT) 

See you all at the MIBF on Sept. 17-21, SMX MOA! Chat with me while I sign my books, the newest of which is Grace@Work:



 

9/12/2014

Sixty Minutes with 60 Kids


There were six of us: four from OMF Literature, a storyteller, and me in a van. Our trip to San Pablo, Laguna took a hurried lunch and two hours on a bumper-to-bumper highway. It took another hour to get the venue ready.

Then the program began—storytelling of The White Shoes, a prize-filled game, and finally, book signing (where I made time to briefly interact with each one).

This book activity, mounted by Expressions Bookstore at Ultimart Mall, brought in about 60 kids and lasted 60 minutes.

It took us longer to get home—a hurried early supper, two and a half hours on the road, with vehicles at a standstill in most stretches, and heavy rain.

"Was it worth all that trouble?" I whined to Tony after emoting and narrating what we had just gone through.

His belligerence surprised me. "More than worth it!" he scowled. "It's not toothpaste you are selling,  where ROI is measured in pesos and cents. Sixty or six kids . . ."

" . . . the ROI is unquantifiable!" I finished—and punctuated—his sentence, not for him, but for me. I caught myself in time, before totally regressing to my workplace obsession of making every minute of my time productive.

Between the two of us, Tony, I believe, should have been the children's book author

Now looking back, and reviewing our photos, the 60 minutes spent with 60 enthusiastic and unusually attentive 6-to-10-year-olds, learning the importance of books, of reading, of listening, of being grateful (especially for the things God has blessed you with, the main message of  The White Shoes), was worth every bit of trouble to and from the place where I was privileged to meet them.

In fact, the time, effort, and logistics splurged on the event were a small price to pay for the values they and I learned in 60 minutes. 

I'll have to see to my propensity for whining. Here's where I pray, and pray hard, for more grace.

"Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him." Psalm 127:3 (NLT)


9/08/2014

Nose Job


The all-female club I belonged to held an essay contest among high school students in all schools in Makati. I invited a writer friend, who also is a surgeon, to head the board of judges.

When he arrived at the venue, he whispered in my ear, Most of your friends got a nose job—from the same plastic surgeon. 

I looked at my friends and indeed, they had the same shape of upturned noses, like they shared the same genes.

The process of altering one's facial (and body) imperfections have become a trend in recent years among moneyed people. No wonder all my co-members in that organization were svelte, pretty, and sported no eyebags nor arm flabs.   

I mulled this over. And the image of a friend in church came to mind. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer over two years ago. Her right arm has tripled in size due to her mastectomy. Because of her arm's weight, her right shoulder droops. 

On Sundays after the worship service, she walks like any healthy being to our Sunday School class. Often she volunteers to share her thoughts, “I thank God for loving me despite my frailties and imperfections.” What a beautiful woman she is!   
***
                                                                
The above is an excerpt from my book “Circle of Compassion” published by OMF Literature in 2013.

The beautiful woman I mentioned was Fely; she was called home by our Savior a few days ago. Her last three months in bed were a saga of agony—for her and her loved ones, who witnessed her untold physical pain. 

“Why would a faithful woman of God, one who served Him with the best years of her life, be subjected to such suffering?” the question in our minds was tearfully verbalized by her only daughter.

This brings us back to Job, a faithful man of God, who suffered even more and asked “Why?” at every turn.

But at her wake and funeral, we were riveted to and inspired by one man—her husband, Pastor Ben. He personified peace, “peace that passeth understanding.”

Among everyone, he should have been the most bereaved. But among everyone, he showed us what grace is.

He demonstrated what living for Jesus should be. And it isn’t about bitterness or grief over earthly death.

Till we meet again, beautiful Fely.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT


9/06/2014

Last Day Ritual


Another semester is over. My students' blazers and mine are going to the cleaners. 
This leaves me two conflicting feelings as I work on final grades: relief and pain. While majority will sail through, some will not.

As a part-time, twice-a-week college teacher (tutor is how our school calls us), I only get to interact with my students during class hours. So I take time to talk to each one on the last day—a personal ritual I have observed over a few years. It is tedious and tiring, but the desire to do it overpowers every discomfort.

In these talks, I assess their major course works and tell them their strengths, silently praying they would be encouraged to fight the battles of college life, and eventually, the global workplace for which our transnational university is gearing and arming them.

They share their back stories, personal issues, and how they are coping. Some are icy, wearing that I-could-not-care-less air in the beginning, but thawing in the end. These talks convince me that all of us have an issue and are just waiting for an ear willing to listen.  

The time for each student is no longer than 10 minutes, but I find these exchanges enriching for both teacher and student. My own should’ves, could’ves, and would’ves are put to rest.

I am deep in conversation with one of them when three students, who have already had their 10 minutes, hover behind me. “Yes?” I ask.

“Miss, may we give you a hug?” one says, beaming. 

I stand up quickly to take the offer, and I am rewarded with three warm hugs.

People say teaching is not just a career, it is a calling and a work of art. I think it is more than that: it is grace.

It is life-changing nourishment for this tutor, coursed through her students.

“Let my teaching fall on you like rain; let my speech settle like dew. Let my words fall like rain on tender grass, like gentle showers on young plants.” Deuteronomy 32:2 (NLT)

9/02/2014

Wheelchair-bound


Wherever I go these days, I seem to see more wheelchair-bound seniors literally being pushed around by able-bodied young people.

Those wheels have not suddenly mushroomed, but my mind now sees them more often, because I think I am a hair’s breadth away from their passengers’ ages.  
 
These seniors have lost their mobility and they are now at the mercy of their pushers. Having written Flying on Broken Wings (Stories of courage in overcoming disability), I know what they are going through.

In fact, I should know better than use the now-viewed-as-negative phrase "wheelchair-bound" since the wheelchair is an enabler, not a binder. But I use it purposely to make a statement. 

“I fear being wheelchair-bound,” I thought aloud.

I got two quick responses from two of my sons, said with deadpan irreverence. 

Son 3:  Mom, by that time you won’t even remember whether you’re sitting down or standing up.  

Son 1:  Mom, a wheelchair and an ergonomic chair function the same way when you type on your computer keyboard, which is what you do all day. 

Son 2 is not around to postulate an argument. He will probably just send me the wheelchair from Pittsburgh.

Fear.

How paralyzing can it be? It’s enough to shove one to a wheelchair prematurely.

I have to remind myself of the Lord’s reminder to the aged and the aging: Isaiah 46:4, “I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.”

Yes, in our twilight years, grace will carry us along—on wheels.