8/29/2015

I Am Indispensable


When I was still green in the workplace, wise people I looked up to would always advise me,  “Nobody is indispensable.”

They were teaching me not to think too highly of myself or act like a diva, because there is always someone out there who can take my place. It was a sure-fire way of bursting one’s bubble.

After I became a boss myself, I would parrot those words for swell-headed juniors.

Today, however, 15 years after leaving the workplace for good, my mind just made a u-turn, “I am indispensable.”

This was while our pastor was delivering the message about a parable familiar to many, "The Lost Sheep."

The shepherd had 100 sheep. One day, one was lost. He immediately left the 99 and went looking for it. When he found the lost sheep, he carried it on his shoulder and brought it home. He was so happy everyone rejoiced with him. (Matthew 18:10-14)

Why would the shepherd bother looking for just one ordinary sheep? He had 99 anyway, so minus one should not have made any difference. Or, he could have easily bought a new sheep. But no, he went out looking for the lost one—and didn’t stop till he found it.

Why?

Because that’s the kind of Shepherd our God is. He doesn't wait for anyone to call for help; He knows when one is lost and initiates the search.

Why?

Because standards of the world are different from God’s. His lost sheep is precious, there is not one like it. It is indispensable!

God tells us through this parable that every person created by Him is special and irreplaceable. He looks for us when we stray so we could complete His family.

"He is a seeking God," our pastor stressed. The shepherd wanted the lost sheep back because it belonged in his care and he longed to care for him like he cared for all the others.

That's how God treasures a wretch like me, I mused, tearing up. His grace saves me and takes me safely home.

On the cross, Jesus did His best for me. Have I done my best for Him? Or, have I even tried?

Photo credit: 

8/25/2015

The Day I Don’t Look Like Me

  
Once a year, for two hours, I lose my bangs, my trademark. My whole body is swathed in black, making me look obese.
I literally and figuratively lose myself. But that’s a small price to pay for one special ritual of my life as a part-time college teacher.

On graduation day, my former students—those whom I tried hard to discipline and train in the classroom on ways of their future workplaces—take center stage and I couldn’t be prouder.

Before the ceremonies, they arrive one by one, all dolled up, perfumed, and unrecognizable. Out of their school uniforms, the girls look like beauty queens: accessorized dresses, made-up faces, coiffed hair, and stockinged feet tottering on six-inch heels.  The boys look like young CEOs, dapper in new dark suits, gelled hair, and polished pair of shoes.

And their parents! Likewise in designer party clothes, they don permanent grins as they put hoods on their children and medals on the outstanding ones.

And I muse, These are the people who worked hard, paid through the nose, and, pardon the melodramatic word—sacrificed—so they could enroll their children in a transnational university. They deserve their five minutes of fame and their lifetime of pride for their achievement.     

It’s a yearly ritual, with a similar cast, but with new excitement each time. Applauding my former wards—queuing up on stage, receiving that piece of paper from the Chairman of the Board, President, and Dean, donned in the same costume as their professors—levels our playing field.

Seated in one row, my colleagues and I gasp on cue and we gush into each other’s ears, reminiscing incidents in classrooms of years past.

One day in a year, in my humongous costume that hides my new dress, and cap that hides my old bangs, grace colors my heart with all shades of feel-good emotions for having been a part of these kids’ growing up into formidable human beings—ready to take on the global stage.

8/21/2015

Pamana Shot Dead


I was outraged when I read this news yesterday. And I continue to seethe.

“Three-year-old Philippine Eagle named Pamana [heritage] was found dead two months after she was released into the wild. She sustained a fatal gunshot wound in her right chest, according to the Philippine Eagle Foundation [PEF] Executive Director Dennis Salvador.”


This endangered Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) flew to freedom on June 12 after being cared for and brought back to health at PEF, which found her suffering from two gunshot wounds. There are now only about 400 left of these endangered birds. And every day, they face threats of being killed. They are also losing their homes due to deforestation.

This was the subject of a story written by my third son, JR, when he was in grade school. This same story I unearthed when I began writing full-time in the year 2000. We named the eagle in the story, Malaya (freedom). After JR and I polished it, we sent it to Dennis Salvador, at that time waging a war against illegal hunters.

Aimed at bringing awareness to the rampant killing of this Philippine treasure, and hopefully help stop this merciless act, the book was published by Caltex Philippines, an advocate for the preservation of the environment.

"Fly, Malaya, Fly!" (illustrated by Longlong Pesquira) was launched in Davao City in 2001.    
 

Fifteen years later, today, the awareness has been achieved, I think, but the shooting has not stopped!     
 
This bird, with a wingspan spreading up to seven feet and therefore the largest eagle in the world, is now a critically-endangered species.

People found guilty of killing critically endangered species can face jail sentences of up to 12 years, and fines of up to P1 million (Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act).

Yet, these criminals are running around loose and are on a shooting spree.   

Is there hope?

With PEF, determined to be a steward of God’s flying creations, I want to remain hopeful. My prayer is that after Pamana, no Philippine eagle will be killed ever again—and that we all become good stewards of His every grace.  

Photo of Pamana: From the Province of Davao Oriental FB page


8/18/2015

When Is a Job Done?


In the advertising world, a TV ad is not done till you actually see it on TV.

Even after the ad has been given a standing ovation and approved by client, the creative team can’t rest easy.  Client can still change his mind, “Hold it!” Sometimes, because of competitive moves or budget constraints, the ad sits on the back burner and waits . . . and waits. 

When it is finally aired, those who slaved over the ad heave a sigh of relief and only then can they release that sense of longing held in their chest too long. 

This parallels writing a children’s book. Or almost.

The manuscript is singing and the book layout is raring to begin, but “Hold it!” The artwork is still crawling. So the book does not get “aired” and it goes on the back burner where it waits . . . and waits.  

Hallelujah!

The waiting was finally over for “Coming Home” (the first book in the series called Happy Home) scheduled for launching twice, with “Hold it!” halting it twice as well. 

On July 25 at 2:00, at the Ateneo Rizal Library during the Children’s Book Fair . . . it. was. launched.

Euphoria?

Not quite. Unlike an aired TV ad, the job is far from done with a launched book. I have always believed that unless a Christian author's book is read, there is no ministry to speak of. 

After all the noisy excitement below (storytelling, book signing, hobnobbing with lovely children and their parents), I quietly pray: that “Coming Home” will be read, and each reader will thank the Lord for the grace of family, in a happy home.

That’s when the job is done. And euphoria kicks in.

   

8/14/2015

View of Decades


We met up to see the new condo unit of our friend, Dolly, on the 50th floor. Up in the clouds, we gasped at the breathtaking view beneath and around us.
Looking at our photo later, we gasped even louder at the view of decades before us.

We are a group of friends who happen to live in the same part of the metropolis. So from the time we met each other at our once place of work, then found ourselves away from it, we sort of tried to connect and re-connect.   

Each time, chats and laughter are a marathon.   

But what we hadn’t realized till that day, while staring at our photos with the fantastic view of skyscrapers, was that we were actually viewing a group of BFFs whose ages are separated by decades: 80, 70, 60, 50, 40!

This could only mean that friendship is not dictated by age. The young and the not-so-young can bond just as strongly—if not stronger—as those who were born in the same era. Activities would have to be limited, though, since some are definitely more energetic than others.

We also realized that over the years, we manage to celebrate our milestones together: birthday, non-birthday, bienvenida, despedida, non-venida, new condo, old condo, new house, old house, new book, old book, new hairdo, old hairdo, book launch, whatever.

I am sure that when someday my knees should wobble, and would need not only crutches but grace to help me walk, my friends would still be there.

One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, wrote: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You, too? Thought I was the only one.” 

Can people separated by decades say that to each other?!  

    
"Cheers!"


8/10/2015

The Greatest Play Ever Written (6)


Ehud, the Assassin

That would make a perfect title for a bestselling book thriller adapted into a movie or a Broadway play. Ehud’s story, which comes right out of Judges 3, is action-packed, garnished with gore and greed. 

It happened during the reign of Eglon, king of Moab, who oppressed and coerced the people of Israel into worshipping idols. The Israelites cried out to the Lord for deliverance.

God raised up Ehud, a left-handed judge, who made a double-edged sword a cubit long (about a foot and a half) to kill the king and liberate His people from his rule.

Ehud must have been a charmer, possessing a golden tongue. He sweet-talked the king into believing that he had a “secret message” for him from God. The king ordered his servants to leave. 

Ehud’s “secret message” was his sword, which he plunged into the fat belly of the unsuspecting obese king. The Bible graphically describes this murder scene in verse 22 (NASB), “The handle also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the refuse came out.”

(Modern-day authors of horror and violence can draw inspiration from this verse.)   

Like a seasoned assassin and master of deceit, Ehud deftly locked the doors to keep the guards out, and fled just as deftly. 

When Ehud returned to the people of Israel, he blew a trumpet of victory and told them that the Lord had given Moab into their hands. They wasted no time in striking down about 10 thousand Moabites, all able-bodied and strong—not one was spared.

And the land had peace for 80 years.

As an audience of this powerful play, I have learned that our God hears the cries of His people and rescues us in times of need.

Through Ehud, God’s grace freed the people of Israel from abuse at the hands of the Moabites.

God doesn't discriminate in choosing people to accomplish His will. Ehud was left-handed, considered a disability in the ancient world, yet God used him to win a major victory for His people.

Ehud, the assassin, became Ehud, the redeemer.

(Note: This is the sixth in a series of eight posts on The Greatest Play Ever Written.)


8/06/2015

A Fascinating Fan


The text message surprised me. It came from a name (let’s call her Eve) I could hardly recall. But her words were intriguing. Anything that has to do with my books gets my attention.

“My only grandson, Rafa, is a fan of your children’s books. He wants to meet Grace D. Chong [how I'm called by my young readers].” Eve also reminded me we stayed in the same dorm in college.

That was a million years ago; how on earth could she remember? I thought.

We set a time and place; I try not to pass up any opportunity to meet my young readers.

Seeing Eve again brought back memories. She was with a young, handsome couple (her son and his wife) and their little boy: Rafa!

He was small, just a toddler, definitely not yet a reader.

“Three years old,” they said, and Rafa buried his face in his father’s shoulder, too shy to say anything, but wore a wide, disarming smile.

Before we could order snacks, Rafa’s dad put on the table my “Oh, Mateo!” books, all well-worn but neatly covered with plastic.

Over tea, coffee, and pastries, Rafa answered every question about the books. He knew all the stories by heart, the characters—even the minor ones—as though he had read them himself over and over again.

Rafa’s parents and Eve have been reading the stories to him since he was old enough to listen. He’s allowed to watch TV or fiddle with a Tablet only on weekends. No wonder he is growing up loving books. With a kid like Rafa, my dream of seeing a generation of readers during my lifetime may yet come true!

I wrote a short note on each of his books (I was told later that he wanted his mom to read all the messages) while he mentioned snippets of the stories.

As I was signing his books, Rafa rushed to give my arm unrestrained squeezing, then ran back to his dad quickly.

I gave him a copy of “Coming Home,” the first in a new series called “Happy Home,” which has yet to be formally launched. Immediately, he asked his mom to read it to him.

As he listened, his eyes twinkled, as though relishing every word, like a political analyst listening to a presidential SONA.

To say it was an enchanting afternoon with a tiny fascinating fan would be a lie. For an author, it was the ultimate high—like grace from the sky.

So why do I write for children?

Why do I breathe?


8/02/2015

The Greatest Play Ever Written (5)


In modern history, there are several monarchs or leaders whose reign did not last very long. The shortest rule ever recorded is that of Luís Filipe, King of Portugal, February 1, 1908.

When he was still Crown Prince Filipe, he and his father, King Carlos, were both shot by a revolutionary assassin during a royal tour. The King was killed instantly, and that automatically made Luis Filipe a king, according to monarchial logic.

En route to the hospital however, Luis Filipe also died due to massive blood loss. He was a king for a period of less than 30 minutes!

In our Biblical history, which I like to call the greatest play ever written, the shortest-reigning king was Zimri—referred to as “briefly, brightly king.”   


In 1 Kings 16:8-20, scenes show how this anti-hero quickly rose and quickly fell:      

Elah, the son of Baashaa, and the current king of Israel, was an evil king—he committed sins against the Lord by worshipping idols and influencing all of the people of Israel to do the same.  This angered the Lord. 

One of King Elah's officials was Zimri, who was in command of half of the kingdom's chariots.  He plotted against the king. So while King Elah was happily drinking in the home of his palace administrator, Zimri barged in, struck him down, and killed him. 

With Elah's death, Zimri proclaimed himself king.  As soon as he enthroned himself, he killed off Baasha, the father of King Elah, including his whole family and close friends. He spared no single male.

After seven days, the soldiers encamped elsewhere had heard about Zimri killing the king. They proclaimed Omri, the commander of the army, king over Israel. Then Omri and his army laid siege to the city of Tirzah, the seat of the kingdom. When Zimri saw that the city was taken, he was unwilling to surrender, nor cede his power and position. Instead, he went inside the royal palace and set it on fire—himself in it. 

Doesn’t Omri remind you of leaders past and present who are blind to grace? Because of insatiable greed, they would do anything to come into power and hang on to it, even it will lead them to ruin.   

“A greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.” Proverbs 28:25 (ESV)

(Note: This is the fifth in a series of eight posts on "The Greatest Play Ever Written.")