1/29/2016

Enabling Grace


My friend, Vee, a ballet teacher, sent me a photo (below) with this message:

"I asked two early birds to read the January 21 entry of your 'What’s for Breakfast Vol. 1' book. They were so interested and both prayed to receive Christ—I was so elated! Keep writing, Ms. Grace. Your books reach the souls of little kids."    

Here's the January 21 devotional entry read by the tiny ballerinas:

Oh, No! Brown-out!

You are watching your favorite TV show.  The suspense is making you bite your nails. You can’t wait for the ending and suddenly, pooof! The pictures disappear and it’s dark all over. Oh, no!

Everyone at home gropes for a candle so you could at least see each other. Grrrr, you say, utterly frustrated and angry.

Without light, we can’t see.

That’s how it is if we don’t have Jesus in our lives. We would be in total darkness—groping, feeling sad, bad, and mad. We wouldn’t know what to do.

Jesus lights up our lives. Through Him we are joyful because He helps to know exactly how to do things right.

Tonight, before you go to sleep, switch off all the lights. In the dark, see if you can find where your pencil is.

Prayer: 

Shine on me, Jesus, shine!
Light up this life of mine.
Make me see Your brightness
Lead me out of the darkness. Amen.

“I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12  


 A story such as Vee's urges me to keep me writing . . . and praying for grace to enable me to do so.


1/25/2016

Dear Diary


Many things in my lifetime have changed. This makes me often ask, “Why did that happen?”

Diary, for instance. In my day, we kept our diary under lock and key. We felt bad when people read it.

Today, many people make Facebook their diary—posting everything that in days of yore was kept secret—and feel bad when people don’t read it.

I was a veritable diarist. It must have in those diaries where I developed my insatiable desire for writing. But when I got married, I burned them all—perhaps to start a new chapter in my life (or start on a clean slate).

What I didn’t realize was, I would still be keeping diaries, tiny they may be, till today:   

Reading them, however, I see nothing but events, things purchased, and milestones—daily listings of grace. That’s probably why I still write them year after year and allow no one but me to read them.

Sometime along my life journey, I went into book writing and those books have become my diaries. In addition to those books, you are reading my blog. I also keep a small notebook where I write my thoughts and ideas, like a journal of sorts, but that is for another post.

The courage to write a book or a blog is not the same as the courage to write in a diary. I’d spill out everything in a diary, but I am prudent in writing a book/blog. Because there is one big difference. A diary has a reader of one—the writer. A book or a blog has readers other than the writer.

That’s why when I read FB posts that bare innermost feelings, avowals of love or hatred for someone, lurid details of one’s warts or horrible day, rants about this and that, I cringe and stop reading.

Call me old-fashioned (or old, period), but I feel that personal posts are meant only for diaries (or private journals). Yet this cliché stares me down, “Times have changed.”

1/21/2016

Book-Signing Treats


My books take me to different places, where I get to experience something new every single time.

“Meet and Greet the Author” is how my book-signing engagements are usually called. But when children are my audience, I call it “Meet and Greet the Readers.” How they interact with each other and with me enrich my arsenal of learning on kids, which I need as I continue writing storybooks and devotionals for them.  

One such event was at St. Edward’s, a new grade school in a new subdivision that sprouted in the middle of acres and acres of what was once an agricultural land. It took us hours to find it.   

Ah, but the rewards outplayed the inconvenience.

As the storyteller of one of my books leaped and emoted onstage, the seven-and-eight year-old kids sat in wide-eyed wonder, alternately giggling and wiggling. It was a treat to watch their unrestrained reactions.

This scene was re-enacted—a double treat for me—for the nine-and-ten-year-old students, who took over the gym as the first batch piled out.   

Then during the book-signing, which had both batches in an orderly queue, I had the pleasure of receiving grins and smiles. Some went as far as pinching my arms and touching my face, bussing me on the cheek and giving me a hug. A few stayed around for photo ops.

The warm, spirited chat with the school principal, a confessed closet writer, and his staff over pizza, capped the day.

God’s grace can overflow and overwhelm.

"Children are a blessing and a gift from the Lord." Psalm 127:3 (CEV)


1/17/2016

An Extraordinary Gift Exchange


It’s only the beginning of 2016 and already, the past year seems ancient. Since we refer to 2015 as last year, what happened last month sounds like stale news.

But, really, Christmas was just three weeks ago, so I am going to write about a particular Christmas party that I look forward to every year, and which I look back to with fondness even after the New Year has snugly set in. 

I speak of our OMFLit Christian Writers’ Fellowship (CWF) Christmas get-together we call “pot-bless” (more popularly known as potluck). Each attendee brings something to drink or munch on to the dinner table.

It begins with worship through songs, prayers, reflections, and a message. Then “whatever” ensues:  games, raffles, food, chats, jokes, photo ops—nothing rigid, nothing fancy, nothing predictable, just spontaneous stuff that keeps everyone bantering about the one thing he/she loves: books.  

Then the gift exchange or exchange gift drives everyone to maximum excitement. Yes, books! When you come to this party, you have to bring a book that you treasure and wish you’d keep forever—but would be glad to share with a kindred spirit.

Last year (three weeks ago) I chose a book that is so-not-me: a Philippine history book. I have little interest in history, but I happened to grab one of the many books of my husband (a history buff), and it grabbed me. I thought it might bless another writer, too, so I decided on making it my exchange gift.

Unfortunately, typical of me, I failed to bring it to the party. That desperate situation called for a desperate move: I rushed to the OMF Lit Bookshop and bought a copy of one of my books.

We drew names and successively, we were supposed to explain our book choice. I confessed. In a group such as this, you can be truthful and not be lynched for your idiocy—or senility. 

The recipient of my gift (my book) grinned and said, “I want my history book!”

Oh, dear. Naturally, lusty laughter drowned him out. 

From him, I got the perfect book: Weird by Craig Groeschel. I had coveted it after reading his The Christian Atheist, but if you are a book freak in a bookstore, books electrify you, and when you come to, you have enough pile in your arms, but not enough cash.   

That’s why the CWF Christmas party, from the first hour to the last, is exchange grace, or grace exchange.

It's only 11 months to the next one.


1/13/2016

Towel Folding Art


Creativity is boundless. It can happen any time, anywhere, on anything. I am always fascinated by how people can create something extraordinary out of the ordinary.

Towels, for instance.

When I saw the towel in our hotel room, it took all of my attention. A duck!

I ignored the food and drink freebies and stared at the duck. I asked Tony to take my photo with it, then I slowly unfolded the source of my fascination to see how it was done. They were two towels in one.  

Towel folding art or towel origami, as some people may call it, has its origin in carnival cruise lines to amuse the guests. Today, you find it in many hotels, especially the high-end ones. It takes some doing and therefore eats up a lot of manhours.
 
With digital technology, new art forms have evolved. But the old, traditional ones—those that need nothing but the artist’s hands and imagination—can wow. And how!

In our busy lives (my two unmarried sons have gruelling jobs and social lives of their own, and my husband refuses to be a stay-home retiree), we try to find a reason to be together. We found one over the weekend (birthday of son #1) and had a staycation in a neighborhood boutique hotel on promo rates.

I asked my boys what sort of towel they had in their room.

Their reply, "White." 

"Oh."

It was a 24-hour grace. But the icing on my cake was a duck towel.


1/09/2016

A Refreshing Sight


Every so often, the Lord wakes me up to a joyful surprise.

One early morning, when I opened my Facebook page, this photo uploaded by my friend Anne made me gasp. Her nephews are intently reading two of my devotional books.

The caption reads, “This is a stolen shot; they didn’t pose for this.”

It made my day.

Another friend, Lucy, who has never met Anne, commented on the photo: “What a refreshing sight! No cellphones! There's hope for the youth!”

My day got even better.

In my latest book “Present!” I wrote pages upon pages about young people preoccupied with electronic gadgets, hardly ever having time to read books anymore. I had validated this sad fact through interviews and a Focus Group Discussion. This translates to fewer readers of the Scripture, which every Christian must read and re-read to grow.

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 (NLT)

The above photo, then, is indeed a refreshing sight. I like to think (wish may be a better word) that it is replicated in many homes. A grace moment like this encourages authors like me to keep writing.

Majority of millennials may have turned to cellphones and gadgets and have abandoned reading the printed page, but before me is a photo of two boys, a proof that many others still reach out for earnestly written words to feed their soul.



1/05/2016

That First Sunday


The second book in the Happy Home series, “That First Sunday,” got off the press too close to Christmas day. It was supposed to have been launched at the Book Fair in September.

This is one of my books that went far, far beyond what biologists call the human gestation period of nine long months.

No matter. It’s out now and I am delighted that at least a hundred kids are reading and, I pray, learning from it. One hundred was, more or less, the number of copies that I gave away as Christmas presents to all the children in my circle.

The book lovers among them read the book immediately after saying “Thank you” and immediately, too, I saw how their faces lit up while flipping through the pages. And suddenly, the pain caused by the problems that snagged the book’s production vanished.

“Coming Home,” the first in the series (beautifully rendered and illustrated by Leo Kempis Ang), introduces the members of the Zambrano family, whose love for God and each other helps them overcome problems that could ruin relationships.

“What inspired you to write the series?” asked my editor, Joan.

In a word, family. My grandparents on my mother’s side, were two of the pioneering Christians in a little town. Growing up I saw, ringside view (we were next-door neighbors), and during family reunions, how they planted values in their children—not through words but through their lives. Those values were likewise passed on to us, their grandchildren.

What are those values?

God first. Sabbath day is sacred. Live a life of gratitude. Christ is the center of your life. Read your Bible. Sing hymns. If you’re married, your loyalty is with your husband first, not your parents. Support the weak. Give of yourself, of your time, of your resources to others in need. Adopt a stray. Serve in church. Your home church is your family, too. Live simply.

Now that I am writing those down, I can think of many, many more, but space constrains me. 

“What do you hope children will learn from the series?” Joan followed up her question.   

All those that inspired the writing of the series (above).

As you read through “That First Sunday,” note that every character in the Zambrano family, no matter how old, values relationship (not necessarily by blood) that honors the One Who, with endless patience and amazing grace, said, “This is my commandment: "Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” John 15:12 (NLT)

All the characters, then, are based on real-life people whom the Lord allowed to touch my life. Taking creative license, I changed names, mixed and matched events, abbreviated timelines, but they all sprang from actual encounters and values learned in my childhood.

By fleshing out the characters—what they represent in children's lives—and relating them to actual experiences, parents and teachers can use "That First Sunday" as a teaching tool while having fun.   

Take a peek at “That First Sunday” and try to re-live a similar experience, feeling the warmth of family and a sense of belonging. 

1/02/2016

A Header of Hope


The year 2016 is crucial for the Philippines. We will have our presidential elections in May, five months from now.

Personally, I have been praying for sincere, incorruptible leaders who will serve the country and its people the best way they know how. I know many others are praying as well.

We don’t know what the outcome will be. But we have hope that the Lord will answer our prayers His way.

“And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you.” Psalm 39:7 (NLT)

I am putting up a header of hope . . .
. . . in lieu of my old one:

1/01/2016

New Questions, One Old Answer


Over 2,000 years ago, the Lord revealed to prophet Habakkuk that sinful Judah would be invaded by the evil Chaldeans.

Habakkuk, therefore, rightfully predicted the ruin of Judah, and later, also the doom of the Chaldeans. But he said there was hope for individuals to preserve their life—by faith. He said in Habakkuk 2:4 (NKJV), “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.” 
 
The reward promised to those who would patiently wait on God is life, the grace of deliverance from destruction.

Many generations later, Apostle Paul echoed Habakkuk to the Romans, (Chapter 1: 17), “. . . in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’”

Habakkuk and Paul both remind us that when we have doubts about God’s ways, we must not be impatient. After pouring out our complaints and requests before Him, we must observe His answers by His Word, His Spirit, and providences.

God will not disappoint our expectations if we wait to hear what He will say to us. Though the promise is deferred, it will come—to abundantly reward us for waiting.

Those who distrust God's timing will not walk right with Him. But the just or the righteous shall live by faith in these precious promises, even if their delivery is not forthcoming. Only those who live by faith shall be happy here and forever.

2015 ushers in new, tough questions:

What if the global warming worsened and killed more people and crops?

“The just shall live by faith.” 

What if the evil came to power after the elections?

“The just shall live by faith.”

What if China claimed all of the Philippines’ shores? 

"The just shall live by faith.”
 
What if someone I love betrayed me? 

“The just shall live by faith.”

To a non-believer, this one old answer may be the ultimate cop out: hanging on by faith? 

Yes. A child of God lives by faith. Even if he goes through a grinding mill or thrown into a snake pit, he will always live by faith.

Habakkuk thousands of years ago expressed this distinctly, and so did Paul, hundreds of years later: Faith alone will receive the righteousness of God, the Giver of faith.

Happy New Year!