Soap with a Role

My love affair with bath soaps persisted as son #2, his dad, and I continued on our road trip. From Hilton Hotel in San Diego, we hopped to Bakersfield, a city nestled in the southern Central Valley of California. It was our halfway stop toward home in Stockton.

This time, our overnight resting place was Marriott Hotel. Here, as I researched on odd bar soaps, I stumbled upon (perhaps because of guilt) a soap with a role:

Me: Are you taunting me?

Soap: Writer’s Block!

Me: I refuse to have writer’s block. It’s just that I haven’t had time to write because my husband  and I are having too much fun bonding with son #2 and on a long road trip, there are just too many distractions and so little time.

Soap: Writer’s Block!

Truth to tell, I came to the US with the printed manuscript of my latest book. While packing all 12 chapters (so far tweaked and almost as good as finished) with my laptop, I told myself that it would be a cinch to write in California where the climate is cooler. 

But I still had a 13th and last chapter to polish before finally sending it to my editor. Every time I attempted to work, however, something came up—like an invitation to try out a new restaurant, visit a museum or a historical site, go to the library, etc. etc. And now, because of all the hotel hopping necessary, I was preoccupied with bath soaps?!

And a special one to taunt me?!

The deadline given by my publisher was end of May. I had only a few days left. But I refused to listen to the voice breathing inside my mind, Beg for a deadline extension. 

So I shooed away my bar-soap-with-a-role-to-taunt-me fixation and eschewed my trivial thoughts. Odd or ordinary in shape, structure, or name, a bar soap is a bar soap is a bar soap.

Next stop (two hours from Bakersfield) would be San Miguel de Tolosa mission.

Meanwhile, I curled up under the all-white comforter for a restful sleep and I woke up refreshed, grateful for the grace the new day would bring.

“I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the LORD was watching over me." Psalm 3:5 (NLT)



In California, everything about Carlsbad is good. Extremely good.

Well, except for the weather (15°C at this time of the year, Spring). To someone used to an average of 36° in the Philippines, this is very brrr cold.

Carlsbad is a seaside resort city occupying a seven-mile stretch of Pacific coastline in northern San Diego County, California.

It is also where Legoland is.

A virtual oooh-and-ahhh paradise for an adult like me (who in childhood thought Lego was the ultimate toy and joy, in the same league as jig-saw puzzle) and children like Adrian, our only grandson whom we love to (gazillion of Lego) pieces.

There we celebrated his 10th birthday.

Imagine all the animals and flowers (big and small), buildings, people of various persuasions in the world, all interesting movie characters, and anything you could imagine shaped with Lego bricks!

I couldn’t click my camera fast enough. Even if I did in freezing weather, I had no gigabytes left to store all the photos and grace that emerged with every shot.

Here are some of them:
I am in awe of Lego artists.

They remind and make me wonder how the Lord knitted all the billions of inward and outward pieces that comprise one breathing and living human being.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:13-14 (ESV)


Soap with a Sole

I thought I had seen the oddest when I blogged about the soap with a hole. What do you know?

From Legoland Hotel in Carlsbad, we hopped to Hilton Hotel in San Diego. There I was greeted in the bathroom by a soap that bears a strong resemblance to the non-slip sole of my sneakers.

Why would a soap bar have a sole?

Just like sneakers, this bar soap’s equipped with non-slip embossed dots. They give you a good grip while washing your hands or taking a shower. If wet and placed in the soap dish, the water drains quickly, preventing the bar from being soaked and melting.

It’s some kind of soap engineering to solve a consumer problem. What will they think of next? (smile emoticon here) When you’re on a rare, month-long vacation, you are licensed to be think and act hollow and shallow—but deeply grateful.

I find myself blogging about soaps and other little thingies I ordinarily don’t pay attention to on a busy, stressful day (when sometimes I intend to pick up my phone but pick up a book or a plate instead). 

Isn’t that what busyness does? It makes you ignore the grace that comes in small packages.

“Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks. For we know it is made acceptable by the word of God and prayer.”  Timothy 4:4-5 (NLT)


Santa Gracia

Son #2 took a break from his patients and patiently took his dad and me on what his GPS said was a seven-hour road trip to Carlsbad, California.

Knowing his dad to be a history buff, he said we’d drop by the San Luis Obispo de Tolosa mission (founded 1772) along the way. It was going to be our second tour of an old Spanish mission, the first being San Juan Bautista (founded in 1797) during our vacation in California about this time last year.

The red clay roof tiles we see all over California today were first made at the San Luis Obispo mission. Going through the photos and artifacts in the museum, we went back over 200 years.

This was how Christianity was brought to California and how the American Indians were converted and therefore called Mission Indians.

The tour took an hour, with plenty enough time to get to Carlsbad before supper.

But we were assaulted by bad traffic in some areas.  The better for me to enjoy the breathtaking scenery: beaches, forests, valleys, plains, deserts, farms, landscaped cities, and mountains so high we were up in the clouds, making one think of having reached heaven.

We passed along many santa places: Santa Barbara, Santa Paula, Santa Clara, Santa Fe, Santa Monica, Santa Ana, Santa Gertrudez, and because we were still a long way to our destination, I counted myself in—Santa Gracia.

And why not? I mulled over the Bible’s definition of saints.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 2-3 KJV), “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ."

Indeed all female believers are santas, just as male believers are santos.  

All told, our road trip took 14 hours instead of seven—more than the length of a plane ride from the Philippines to San Francisco.

Although the travel was overly long, the joy was overly longer.


Soap with a Hole

It looked a bit weird at first.  What's this doing in our bathroom? I thought it might have been a bone of some strange animal I have yet to meet. But it was sitting on a soap dish in our room at Legoland Hotel in Carlsbad, California.

On closer look, you can sniff its fresh scent. It actually is a bath soap! Curious, I looked for the box and there I read the rationale for its strange shape.    

It's ergonomically shaped to reduce waste—to eliminate that unused, leftover sliver at the center of a traditional soap bar we have bathed/washed with for years. Ingenious!

While travelling with my husband, big and little things never cease to fascinate me. Even while still packing our luggage for our vacation in the US, I vowed to treat each day like the first day of my life: look out for new things and re-visit old ones with new eyes.

First days are always the most unforgettable; they stay in your memory for life—like a stunning, in-your-face encounter with grace that makes you endlessly grateful.

"Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)



Art on Resurrection Sunday

Celebrating Resurrection Sunday with a solemn worship service at dawn—followed by a fellowship breakfast, then a painting session—has been a tradition in our church for a few years.

The art session is usually done on one side of the church’s sprawling lawn. About 50 children, men, and women participate—the rest walk around chatting, gawking and gushing over the progress of each canvas.  Many (or all) of us are amateurs who probably touch brush and canvas only this one day of the year.

But it is always an exhilarating experience. We try to replicate God’s creation the way we individually see it, and in our own minds, we are successful.

This one’s mine this year. I didn’t do it with the group as I forgot my apron at home (I am a sloppy "painter"), but I took the rest of the day romancing it at my painting space by our terrace. It’s a futile attempt at abstract painting and a stubborn fascination with flowers and butterfly.       

But ah, many of those who behold it say, “Wow!” My husband says, “. . .”

So, yeah, I’ll take the “Wow!” Thank you.

The “Wow!” rightfully belongs to the original flowers and butterflies created by the One Who resurrected three days after dying on the cross for us, but His grace allows me to borrow it once a year.

Wow, it was a joyful Sunday!

"He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.” Luke 24:6-7 (NLT)


Turning 80

Eighty is considered a very old age in these modern times. Many people in their 80s are practically doing nothing, suffering from ailments, and depending on caregivers to take them around.

This wasn’t so in Bible times. The good Book is littered with old, active people doing rigorous jobs for God—Moses and Noah are just some of them.

I wish it were the same for my friend Ate Miriam. On her 80th birthday, her children threw her a big party with her old-time friends as guests. That night, she was totally made up, dressed to the nines, and looked her best.

Eight of us were requested to pray for her. In my prayer, I thanked the Lord for her once-vigorous life—encouraging times when she modeled for us how to serve God.

I say vigorous because she always found the energy to do something for our faith brethren. Every Sunday, she would donate and cook the snacks for Sunday school students. She drove the women’s group around the village for visitation of members. She was never absent in prayer meetings and other church activities.

And every time she had extra cash, she would either treat out the pastoral staff or ask each one what he needed. She also was an indefatigable donor of church needs—pews, equipment, etc.

Ate Miriam’s biggest dream was for her grandson Moses to become a pastor and to hear him preach from our church’s pulpit.

Alas, before Moses could graduate from Bible School, dementia assaulted her astute mind. Moses is now a full-fledged pastor and a powerful speaker, but sometimes—in her prayers—she would seek God’s favor to please help Moses become a pastor.  

We remind her that her beloved grandson is now serving the Lord full-time and she brightens up. 

A day after her 80th party, she saw her big birthday poster on her wall. She asked, “When is my birthday?”

She no longer recognizes many of her kin and friends. By grace, she still remembers me; I dread the day she won’t anymore.

But I look forward to that glorious time when she and I, plus the rest of those whose names and faces she has forgotten, will meet again. In that future time, her mind will be as keen as ever—in a world without end. 

". . . He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ . . ." Philippians 1:6 (NKJV) 




I got into advertising (my career for over 20 years) not by choice.

Uprooted from home base for almost five years (I was in the US for school, then work), I came back to everything new. Tony and I got married within the month, and took residence in Manila.

A totally different world! I had a new surname, a new home in a city, new neighbors, a new roommate, and new responsibilities.   

My new husband envisioned me to be a full-time housewife, waiting for him to come home from work, with the house all tidied up, and the food warmed.

I was a miscast.

Seeing me so bored after two months, he suggested that I applied for a teaching job. So I sent out a dozen resumes to different schools. Not one replied.

On our 5th month, I was a certified kitchen fiasco. Housework refrigerated my brain. 

So then he had this brilliant idea, "You love to write, right?"


He said he’d recommend me to Lyle Little, the American CEO of then the largest ad agency in the world. Grace, I said silently. 

Lyle made me go through a battery of tests, after which I was hired. More grace.

I had no idea what the job entailed, except that it had something to do with writing.    

On my first day, my boss asked me to write a five-minute story about a fertilizer. After poring over piles of references, I had a story. 

"Excellent!” my boss said. “Now, prune it down to two minutes without losing your creativity and the information.”  

"You're kidding me!" I laughed.

"Nope, that's copy writing," he grinned.

After another hour, I had my magnum opus. Why, I actually enjoyed the exercise! 

"Excellent!" my boss said it again. "Now, chop it down further into a 30-second radio commercial."

"Thirty seconds?!" I screeched, thinking it was mission impossible. But I was excited to try it.    

"Excellent!" he said for the third time.

On day one, I got my job description down pat.      

Albert Einstein was right when he said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

That, in essence, was my first lesson in advertising.

Then, after leaving advertising, that was my first rule in writing books about grace. 


Oh, Math!

One of the editors I work with, Beng, posted on social media about waking up from a nightmare: being unable to solve a Math problem!

That could have been my post. Math always brought me nightmares—whether I was awake or asleep.      

In college, I was in danger of failing my Math 101. I had to do something fast. I asked a Math major, my dorm mate, to please tutor me. She said, "Okay, but you'll have to pay me per hour."

It was a gargantuan problem. I did not have extra money and I couldn’t tell my parents about it. So I decided to skip snacks for a week and to walk, instead of ride, to every place in our huge campus so I could save my transportation budget.

Since I was paying my tutor an hourly rate, I forced myself to learn quickly.

I passed! My barely passing mark, however, brought my average grade down. Well, small price to pay for not failing.

My brain shut off whenever I encountered anything that had to do with numbers. I couldn't balance my checkbook and I shunned from making counting (even money) my problem. 

Like a big joke, I was elected treasurer in our small church. I couldn't make my Math-impaired system an excuse. So Sunday after Sunday, I’d struggle with numbers. A good thing it was just plus (offerings and tithes) and minus (expenses). Sixteen years later, the church grew so big the job became complicated—SSS, Pag-ibig, Philhealth, petty cash, vouchers, etc. came into the picture.

I was a candidate for mental exhaustion. So I begged an accountant friend to take over. After turning over the cash left with me, my accountant friend said, "You have an overage of P4,300.16 [she counted to the last centavo!].”

That was an accrual of all the cash I put in for fear or shortage. 

How did I ever manage those 16 years? With oodles of grace, no less. As I tried to be a good steward of the Lord's money, I learned to be a good steward of my own. Now I can balance my checkbook.

Sometimes my brain still shuts off when numbers are discussed, but am I blessed that they’re out of my hands, as I now work with words full time. 

(In the university where I teach, our grades are in letters, not numbers. Whew!)


Packing: An Epic Production

I have been busy packing for a month-long trip in the last two months. Yes, packing takes me that long. It's always like an epic movie production.

First, I pile all the things I think I need inside my luggage. Of course it bursts and belches. So then I take one away one day and take another one away the next day and the next, till everything is sitting comfortably in all the compartments.

Naturally, I am still taking things away one after the other, as the days run out on me.

Most of all, I need to ask the Lord to pack in grace for me. I can’t travel without it.

"You'll travel safely, you'll neither tire nor trip. You'll take afternoon naps without a worry, you'll enjoy a good night's sleep. No need to panic over alarms or surprises, or predictions that doomsday's just around the corner, because God will be right there with you; he'll keep you safe and sound." Proverbs 3:23-26 (MSG)


Happy Resurrection Sunday

If I followed my blog rhythm, my next post wouldn't be due until two days from now. However, this day is too important to pass up.

This is the day we remember and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, three days after he died on the cross for us.

Happy Resurrection Sunday!

On this special occasion, worship is the first order of our day. We are up by 4 AM, and before the sun rises, we are singing our first worship song with our faith brethren in church.

This year, our pastor focused on the empty tomb and what it means. Scriptures say (Matthew 28:6-8), “He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.  And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead . . .” 

Four action words are in those verses:

•    Come

•    See

•    Go

•    Tell 

These verbs are significant because they are what Jesus' resurrection is all about—so mankind can conquer death as well. Come to Him. See that He has risen. Now, go and tell everyone the good news—we, too will have our own resurrection day after we’ve turned to dust.

And then, forever.

Grace that never ends . . .   


A Teacher’s Lament

The school year 2016-2017 has ended. While encoding my final grades, I felt happy and sad at the same time. 

Out of 25 students, seven got excellent grades. That’s a remarkable 28%. I was expecting eight, which would have jacked up my percentage to a high 32%, but one had a plagiarism issue, so I slid him down to Fail.  

This failing mark saddened me, because the student’s (let’s call him Anton) performance all through the term had been exemplary.  He is a good writer, a deep thinker, and articulate.

But stealing someone's words is non-negotiable. This was discussed in class ad infinitum especially because they were writing academic papers.

In Anton’s case, it shouldn’t have happened. His paper was written, organized, and researched well (and properly referenced), except for one short paragraph that he lifted en toto from another classmate’s work, submitted three days earlier. 

(The peril of having a writer for a teacher is that in checking papers, I read every word, and notice every misplaced punctuation mark. That short, copied paragraph did not escape me.)

Our university’s policy on plagiarism among students is to sanction both—the copier and the source. But before that, I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I talked to Anton the next day, and asked him to explain the errant paragraph.

Immediately contrite, he owned up to copying it. “X lent me her paper and I didn’t have enough time to flesh out one topic, so . . .” he sputtered. 

“Both of you will fail,” I said.

“Please, Miss Chong,” he begged. “Please do not penalize her. She doesn’t know I copied from her paper. She lent it to me with the best of intentions. I could never face her again if she found out.”

“Anton’s grade then is an F,” I intoned stoically, my heart bursting into smithereens.  

“I know, Miss, no excuses. I deserve it."


"But, er, Miss, would you give me a s-second chance? I will revise my paper just to get a Pass," he said with great difficulty.  

What you did was totally senseless! I would have wanted to scream but that would be digging it in. He is an intelligent, persevering young man; I only wished he had learned his lesson. 

He did. Before he left the room, I received encouraging grace through his whispered words, I will never do it again, Miss; I promise. 

I called him back and handed him his paper, "You have 24 hours to revise it."  

He smiled.