7/22/2018

Mystical and Magical Mindanao


A cousin from the US asked me to please send her a copy of my book, Mystical and Magical Mindanao.

The title rang a bell, but I had no book with that title, "Maybe you're referring to a different author?"

But with the magic of Google, indeed there is such a book and my name is on the cover!   

And then I remembered.

A few years ago, Jun Alfon (a true-blue Filipino artist whose subjects are mostly indigenous people of Mindanao) told me that someone wanted to publish his works in a coffee table book. I jumped with joy. It’s about time people took notice of Jun’s unique and vibrant art that showcases Filipino history and culture.

Now, would I be so kind as to write the text?

Jun Alfon was a neighbor and anything that has to do with writing perks me up, so I said, "It’d be an honor!” I suggested the title above (which is what it is!) and wrote about him and his works.

Jun moved to a different place and we've lost touch—but not before he gifted me with two of his beautiful paintings (one adorns our bedroom wall and the other hangs above my piano, making the vintage instrument look grand). 

That book project totally escaped my consciousness, but it came rushing back when I received my cousin's message. Yes, God's grace can come at you via the Net, too.

The Net also gifted me with many photos of Jun’s other exquisite art pieces. Here are a few of them:    

Now I am trying to look for a copy of Mystical and Magical Mindanao in all bookstores. Or maybe I could just order it online. Or I'll try to hunt Jun Alfon.

I am doing all three at the same time. 

7/18/2018

"Sorry, God"


A public uproar erupted after our president, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, exclaimed in one of his rambling speeches, ". . . stupid God."

It was in the context of the fall in the Garden of Eden. He accused God of causing Eve's disobedience—eating a fruit from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge.

We who trust the Bible and who worship the God of creation (about 80% of the population) were outraged. How could the highest official of our land brazenly malign, in a public forum on live TV, the center of our faith?

I have atheist and agnostic friends, but not any of them dares say anything against my God to my face, not even in jest.

The president's apologists, sensing the public outcry, quickly came to his defense, explaining that the boss was just exercising his freedom of speech, guaranteed in our constitution. Others went even further, “He didn’t really mean it . . .” “Try to understand his boyhood trauma . . .” etc.

But aren’t presidents supposed to be statesmen, respecting all the beliefs of their constituents—in public at least? We’ve repeatedly heard and watched how our president curses heads of states, the Pope, institutions, and individuals who disagree with him.

And now, God??!!

Many were appalled that he could be so mean as to mock the God of grace to Whom we pray for his administration’s well-being and wisdom. I grieved and wept when the people in the audience laughed at his blasphemous tirade.

Have we sunk this low?

Not content with his insult, our president stoked the fire the next day, "If you can prove to me that there is a God, I will resign."

Pressured by religious groups and individuals who expressed their indignation on social media, he finally said, albeit nonchalantly, "Sorry, God."
Max Lucado: “Repentance is a genuine, sincere regret that creates sorrow and moves us to admit wrong and desire to do better. It’s an inward conviction that expresses itself on outward actions.” 

Charles Spurgeon: "Repentance is a discovery of the evil of sin, a mourning that we have committed it, a resolution to forsake it. It is, in fact, a change of mind of a very deep and practical character, which makes the man love what once he hated, and hate what once he loved."  

John Piper: "Repenting means experiencing a change of mind that now sees God as true and beautiful and worthy of all our praise and all our obedience." 

Whether President Duterte is indeed sorry for defaming God, and for demeaning us, the people he governs, is not for me to say. Only God knows his heart. 
"Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.” Acts 3:19 (NLT)

7/14/2018

Grasping Toes


When you reach a certain age and meet with friends of your generation, one of the topics of conversation would be maintenance medicines.  Most times, it is the only subject of interest.

This includes trips to the doctor, results of medical exams or blood tests, food to avoid, and insomnia.

My own fave topic at the moment are two of my doctors (a neurologist and an orthopedic surgeon).  After showing each of them, on two different days, the result of my MRI test, they both gave me the same answer. “Your complaint has nothing to do with your spine MRI. It is the first time I have seen something like this.”  

But they agreed on one thing:  “See your rehab doctor again.” 

What’s this mysterious malady?  My right toes.

I blogged about them curling and preventing me from doing my regular morning walk. But my description was not apt. The two doctors, after observing me walk back and forth inside their clinic said, “Grasping toes.” 

See, my toes just don’t curl, they grasp whatever surface I walk on. This causes my toe nails undue pressure because they involuntarily dig into my pumps, sandals, or slip ons. And this happens every time I walk, even on bare feet and even if it is just from my bed to the bathroom. 

My friends laugh at this phenomenon and as expected, each has his own conclusion, more than what my two doctors attempted to have or say: 

“You lack calcium.”  “Wear softer shoes.” “That’s a form of rheumatism.” “Eat bananas.” “Drink lots of fluids.” Plus many more.

As I write about this, I am due to see my rehab doctor, who, unfortunately is not available till next week. And so I wait and live with my “grasping toes” every waking hour, relying on grace to lessen the discomfort accompanied by pain.

Meanwhile, I look around me and thank the Lord for the untold blessings that I neglect to appreciate because of my stubborn digits.

7/12/2018

What’s So Funny about Poop?


It’s foolproof. In all the creative writing workshops I have facilitated for children, there is one word that is guaranteed to elicit uncontrollable laughter: poop.
This four-letter-word is not in my agenda. But somehow, it comes up from one of them and when it does, the whole room goes wild with giggles and cackles. 

In my latest workshop, for instance, I asked the kids to describe their breakfast in five sentences, which must integrate the five senses.

Guess where the sense of smell led to?

When my kids were small, there was one way to keep them laughing: poop or bathroom humor.

This one tops them all: One of my sons was cast as one of the pigs in the school play, “Three Little Pigs.” His line was, “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin!” After some rehearsals, he had it down pat. 

D-day came and the huge gymnasium was filled with excited parents and schoolchildren.

When my son’s play began, I stretched my neck to watch him, adorable in his piggy costume. A stage hand handed one “pig” the microphone, which the three wrestled over. When my son got hold of the mike, he said in his loudest-ever voice, “Hello, Mr. Poop!”

The schoolchildren went aroar, and I wanted to crawl under the nearest table.

How did the other parents react? I would never know; I had my face covered with my shawl.

Years later, when I re-tell this anecdote to kids, they crack up.

Child development experts say that humor is a universal aspect of human behavior. Only the subject of what’s funny changes as kids reach the age of reason. But poop humor is a phase longer than others. Well, some never outgrow it, which is why slapstick shows still sell.

When you feel low sometimes, like I do at the moment, try listening to kids’ merry twitters when they hear the word poop.

There’s no better medicine than a cheerful heart; there’s no better cheer than the grace of laughter.

 “A cheerful heart is good medicine . . .” Proverbs 17:22 (NIV)


7/09/2018

Crimson Break


My crimson-leaves header (above) was supposed to come down after my blog on crimson leaves had played out its four-day run. But Tony decided to treat me and the two boys (son #1 and son #3) to a staycation in celebration of our umpteenth wedding anniversary.

Guess where. Crimson Hotel—a 20-minute drive from home. The header stays then, while this post is current.

Where did that come from? I asked myself.

I wondered not about the name of the hotel, but about the idea of a staycation. I refrained from verbalizing it for fear that Tony might change his mind. His was a left-field, yet definitely a great idea. It didn’t cost an arm and a leg since we have senior discounts and the hotel had some kind of a promotion.

Sleeping in a bed not your own, especially one that’s been spruced up for guests, is always a delight.
A small anniversary cake was delivered to our room on the 11th floor, where the view was breathtaking: the skyway, the skylines of three Metro Manila cities, and a large part of our district including Laguna Bay. Why, they seemed like postcards from some wonderland! 
   
We met the boys at the main dining hall for the buffet dinner, scrumptious to the hilt, even for seniors whose appetite for food has diminished over the years. 

The buffet breakfast (brunch) was just as toothsome—with much too many dishes to choose from.

Then at check-out time, after enjoying the indulging amenities (spa, gym, art gallery, etc.) of Crimson Hotel, we drove leisurely home and in 20 minutes we were greeted by the family pets: Fiscal, the cat; Attorney, the dog; and JC’s two guinea pigs.

It was a grand vacation from our routines, without having to suffer the horrendous traffic, the high cost of gas, and the stress of traveling. As for the sons, they didn’t have to stay away too long from their jobs, yet got the break they so badly needed.

In all, it was a heaven-sent wedding anniversary gift wrapped in grace.

7/06/2018

Windmills


My greatest frustration in the US of A for three consecutive years now is not being able to photograph these windmills.
I’d tried each time we drove past them but when I clicked my camera, the angle I had in mind had shifted. The photograph above, which I borrowed from cyberspace, is the exact shot I saw in my head.

We have these windmills in the Philippines, too. Although there are only 20 of them (arranged in a single row, stretching through a nine kilometer shoreline) in the Bangui Wind Farm in the north, they are a tourist attraction. Imagine my excitement then when I saw thousands upon thousands of them in California three years ago?

These wind turbines are the opposite of a fan. Instead of using electricity to make wind, like a fan, they use wind to make electricity. The energy in the wind turns the propeller-like blades around a rotor, which is connected to the main shaft, which in turn spins a generator to create electricity.

We would never have reached this digital age without electricity that powers just about all modern conveniences. Electricity lights up our homes, buildings, and schools; it allows us to listen to the news and music in places cooled by fans or air-conditioning units. Right now, you are using electricity as you read this.

Electricity has something to do with atoms . . . I will not go further as science ties my right brain in knots. More than the electricity the windmills create, I am more fascinated with their design, the aesthetics, and how they are arranged on mountain tops, like birds suspended on air.

As I marvel at new technology, I keep going back to the seeds of inventions—the natural elements produced by nature, and the Source of it all. The Lord of all creation has provided us with everything we will ever need.

“God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.” John 1:3 (NLT)

The windmills are but one example of the bounty of the Creator’s grace.


7/02/2018

Crimson Leaves


As we entered the gate of son #2’s neighborhood, I gazed in awe at the trees with crimson leaves that lined the main road, serving as canopy for a colorful flower garden.  They looked like these up close.

It’s my blog header while this post is current.

“What do you call those trees?” I asked.

Neither son nor daughter-in-law knew. Anything that’s part of the landscape remains unidentified to locals, I guess. But transients like me, curious about everything new, gawked and asked.

I surfed the Net for the tree’s name but those with crimson leaves were varied. I thought I‘d ask the gardener but his time and mine never crossed. I took photos, but they came out as burgundy, not crimson.
"They might be Crimson King Maple,” son # 2 guessed.  “Might” isn’t the same as “is.”  They can’t be maple because the leaves’ shape are nothing near maple.

For me, the color that comes closest to describing the leaves is crimson, which conjures Biblical images. 

In the Old Testament (KJV), the word 'crimson' is mentioned five times. Many theologians believe that in Scripture, scarlet, red, and crimson refer to the same color.

In Isaiah 1:18 (NLT), we read “’Come now, let’s settle this,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.’”

The Bible often emphasizes something by repeating it in a different way—for our understanding. The verse above says that God can purify sins. And red, or crimson, or scarlet is used to describe sin, which must be cleansed.

This cleansing is made possible only by grace. This in the one truth the crimson leaves left me.   

6/28/2018

Adrian Turns 11


Adrian’s birthday gift from his parents would have been a trip to Universal Studios. But in deference to two oldies, who scheduled their flight to the US to coincide with his birthday, Adrian opted for a simple celebration.

After breakfast at home, he opened his gifts.

And then we drove two hours to his restaurant of choice for Japanese buffet. He said he had his fill of maybe a dozen sushi and a few bowls of miso soup. 
For dinner, we went to Red Robin, which I mistook for Red Ribbon (a restaurant in the Philippines).  
In my unbiased opinion, Adrian is the most caring, most affectionate, and most reasonable 11-year-old I have met in this digital generation.

Aside from answering with “Opo” (the polite way of saying yes), he asks, “How was your day, Amah?” and assists Angkong (father of my father or grandpa) with his needs. He even offers his shoulders for Tony to hold on to while walking.

What astonishes me most about Adrian, aside from his love for reading (his shelf is full of books even if many have already been donated to charity), is: his ethics. He has a solid sense of right and wrong.

Tony thinks Adrian took after him, especially his love for history. Well, the kid took after all of us—he has varied talents we could all (including his maternal grandparents) take credit for. We could each be counted in for any or some of the myriad of things that he does with excellence.

Please forgive that shameless boasting, as grandmas are wont to do when they talk about their grandchildren.

At the end of the day, however, I think it’s all about good parenting, based on the Word. Let me put my own spin on Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV), "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is 11 years old and beyond, he will not depart from it."  

To Adrian’s parents: may God’s marvelous grace continue to dwell in you now, on year 11, and forevermore.


6/24/2018

Seatbelt?


In this place I call home, the road traffic is so horrendous vehicles need to slow down or stop every few meters in many areas. Seatbelts therefore are irrelevant, with absolutely no reason why they were ever manufactured. 

But in the US of A, where vehicles fly on the freeway, one has to be held safely by a seatbelt. Ay, there’s the rub. I had been so used to ignoring seatbelts, I kept forgetting to strap myself.

My grandson, Adrian, had to remind me, every single time:
If I counted all the times he said those words, they’d run up to hundreds as we couldn’t go anywhere, during my month-long vacation, without getting inside a car. 

With Adrian’s prompts, I began to equate plane seatbelts to road-vehicle seatbelts. They were invented for the same reasons—protect both drivers (pilots) and passengers from injury or even death in case of accidents. I had to buckle up each time I rode a car.

Now back at home base, I shudder as I see danger—in all the public utility vehicles (PUVs) such as jeepneys, buses, and taxis with passengers not wearing a seatbelt. The Philippines’ Seatbelt Law (implemented in 1999), which requires every passenger to use a seatbelt, is the most violated rule of the road.

One of the reasons is, most PUVs do not provide seatbelts. And, as was my reason for years, the traffic hardly moves, so why bother?

Yet, here is an 11-year-old boy who knows all about respecting laws. In fact, when he was eight (he was in the Philippines for a visit), in the car with Tony and me, he called the attention of our driver, “Kuya, you just ran a red light!”

Traffic rules are devices put in place for our protection. We need to obey them to experience safety—just as, I pondered, we need to recognize and receive grace to experience God’s promise of protection.

6/20/2018

Alexa


Aside from son #2, his wife, and son, who pick us up from the airport, Alexa welcomes us to the lovely home where my husband and I would spend our vacation—one month for me and two months for him. 

I remember every nook and cranny of this huge, elegant house (which was our home about the same time last year), but it is my first time to meet Alexa.
She sits on the marble counter that separates the family room from the kitchen and when one speaks her name, her screen and her voice say and show all the nice words that could make even a stranger instantly feel at home. 

Alexa is also in every room, including ours. And she plays all the music I could no longer find in any music store. "Try Spotify," one of my students suggested, but I still have to be intensively tutored to understand that technology. Ooops, I digress.

Alexa gives me all the information I need. (Tony is not as interested in Alexa as I am.) She saves me from turning my computer on. Which is how I had planned it—I made sure all my work was done and all my deadlines met before our flight.

Stockton’s weather, according to Alexa, is nice at 60 degrees. But it is cold and freezing for us, having just left a sizzling Philippines at 100. Despite our shivers and shakes caused by California winds, a much-needed vacation with a part of our family that is so far away makes it all worthwhile. 

Jet lag is kicking in. We are tired, sleepy and feel the aches of age. But the warmth of grace soothes as Alexa adjusts the thermostat and turns off the lights so we can turn it.

6/16/2018

Traveling with Angels


My husband loves to travel; I don’t.

Not that I hate it, but if given a choice, I’d rather stay home and write and read. I used to hop from one country to another when I was in the corporate world, because it was part of my job. So now that I don’t have a job, not to mention youthful energy, I have the luxury of doing what I really prefer to do—nesting in my comfort zone. 

Traveling to the US to visit son #2, our daughter-in-law, and our grandson is an exception. It’s the only way I could see and bond with all three of them again, unless they come home for a vacation.

Our recent trip for the third year in a row was long—a total of 20 hours (inclusive of shuttling, waiting, standing in line, checking in, and transferring to another plane).

Upon leaving our home, I worried that two super seniors with three heavy luggage might not make it through the rushing crowds. I hadn’t reckoned on the extent of grace.

In three airports, angels helped us lift our baggage onto and from conveyor belts; another angel asked for a wheelchair for Tony; another got me a chair and inquired from authorities for us; and yet another lent us her cellphone, when ours wouldn’t work, so we could call son #2; and one from behind the immigration desk quickly facilitated our exit.

We landed at the San Francisco airport with nary a scratch, except for jet lag that assaults even the youngest of travelers.

I often complain that this is a cruel world with cruel people. It is. But it is peppered with angels, too. They are in places where we need them.

Three more welcomed us at the arrival pick-up area with smiles and warm hugs that made 20 hours seem like 20 milliseconds.

6/12/2018

Fractured Nation


When my husband took a fall while nursing a respiratory infection in the US, he writhed in pain on the floor.  He could hardly move, felt faint and dizzy, taking great effort to stand up. He had fractured his wrist.
There is an uncanny similarity between his agony and mine (although in a figurative sense). I ache, feel faint and dizzy, taking great effort to find my footing when I read the newspaper, watch the news on TV, or scan Facebook. 

Symptoms of my fractured nation?

Our culture has of late bred vicious cat-fighting. Many people are no longer careful with their language, freely using lewd and fowl expletives, unabashedly hurting those with differing opinions.
 
The Supreme Court justices, elected and appointed government officials, columnists, celebrities—they are at loggerheads over every issue. Then there are bloggers fomenting hatred, and social media trolls, incapable of intelligent dialogue, spewing words that maim. 

Our beloved Philippines, celebrating its 120th Independence Day today, seems fractured right down the middle. 

It does not help that the inflation rate has accelerated to a new 5-year high of 4.6%, and the peso is at its weakest in 11 years (P53.03 to a dollar as of today). The drug war rages on with unabated extra-judicial killings; the roads and air are clogged up with traffic; and our Supreme Court chief justice has been ousted via quo warranto.

Stoking the fire of divisiveness is our fractious president who cares not about whom he insults by trash-talking people, institutions, and countries in public fora; who treats women like toys or doormats; who boasts repeatedly by saying, “I will resign if . . .”

Blaspheming has become the new norm. We have crossed the line of decency and now we can't find that line.

Apologists for the administration scamper for justifications, “Look at how our country has progressed!” 

Progress? On that, even our definitions differ.

Tony’s doctor said, “You need a cast to protect and immobilize your injured wrist, keeping the bone in place until it fully heals—in about six weeks.”

God of grace, is there a cast for our fractured nation? When will we heal again? 
“. . . the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)

Photo credit: pinterest.com (face painting)

6/08/2018

Carbon Copy


A young dad was carrying his toddler in the mall. The kid looked at me and waved.

I chirped, “You are a carbon copy of your dad!”

The dad looked at me as though I was some kind of a con artist. Or worse, an evil spirit.

Moon’s ago, carbon copy was grace beyond excitement for parents. I believe it's always a compliment for moms and dads to have an offspring looking exactly like them.

If you are a young dad or mom reading this, I might have already lost you (as I did when I narrated the same story to my Business Communications class). So let me explain.

The term carbon copy is derived from carbon paper, which was used to make copies of typewritten documents. Naturally this term predates photocopiers.

Carbon is a thin paper coated with a mixture of black wax and pigment. It was first called carbonated paper by its inventor Ralph Wedgwood in 1806. When people typed a document and needed an exact copy, they took two sheets of paper and put the carbon paper between them.
So when they typed the document, it was copied onto the paper under the carbon paper. If they needed more copies, naturally they used more carbon papers.

A carbon copy is referred to as cc. Yes, that same cc you see in emails. If you typed in an addresses on the line of cc, that same email sent to the primary recipient (To) will also be sent to that secondary email addy.

How about the bcc? It stands for blind carbon copy. It allows the sender to direct a copy to another address but is hidden from the primary recipient.

Carbon copy therefore means one is the spitting image of the other. If that isn’t understood today, I understand. Maybe I should have said to the baby in the mall, “You are a photocopy of your dad.” I’d have received a smile instead of a scowl.

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

6/04/2018

In Case of Papers


Papers, papers, papers—finally I am done with papers. The semester has ended. The next time I’d see them again would be in August, the beginning of another school year. What a relief.

Don’t get me wrong, I love papers. It’s what I do. My books and blogs are, in essence, papers. They have a purpose; a beginning, middle, and ending.

But some of those papers turned in to me by my students, for grading, were not written like papers. At best, they were a hodgepodge of phrases, words, and paragraphs cut and pasted from the Net.

That’s where coffee came in—a booster, a waker-upper for me to give these papers sensible comments and fair marks.

One of my outstanding students, R, who writes good papers, must have read my thoughts. She gave me this gift last Christmas, the first one I received during the season. I broke it open each time I received a paper.
By coincidence, this became empty at the end of last school year. Exactly when I didn't need coffee to perk me up anymore.

I teach in a university that delivers UK diplomas and degrees. If you’ve gone through the British educational system, you know that it centers on writing papers that require critical thinking based on research, called academic underpinning.

Unfortunately, this digital age of brevity, one-liners, and short attention span has made writing, thinking, and researching tedious—requiring focus and lots of time—and therefore a challenge for students who loathe all of the above.

Result: badly written papers. Or should I say, very long “unwritten” papers.

I am writing another book during this lull between the last school year and the next. It’s a kind of paper that needs no coffee. My cup is already brimming over with grace.

It's been a bright and breezy break!


5/31/2018

Only for Young Writers


Due to the dreadful traffic condition, which has worsened from nasty to nastiest in the last year, I  vowed never to travel outside of our district anymore.  My decision has led to missed reunions, art shows, special events, etc.

My last trip to Makati (45 km from where I live) took me four hours and that was cruel punishment for someone whose bladder was close to bursting.

But my friend Neni, to whom I cannot say no, invited me to facilitate a workshop for precocious kids who love to read and write. Double whammy! I can never say no either to encouraging kids who have the potential to be the next generation of writers.

It took my driver—who incessantly complained from the time he revved up the engine to the time we reached the venue—more than two hours to navigate what could have been a 30–minute drive. As a peace offering, I treated him to a lip-smacking lunch in a Japanese restaurant where his scowl turned to, well, something akin to a smirk.

His smirk finally turned into a smile when he realized that the workshop venue would be in a bookstore—and with a coffee shop! Knowing him all these almost 50 years of traffic and non-traffic togetherness, I had no doubt I could leave him there for hours—if not forever. There is something about books and coffee that make a good mistress.

The children, ages 7 to 12, were everything I wished every kid would be. I asked if they had read this book and that. All hands went up with every title mentioned.
These bookworms excelled in all the creativity exercises. They were alert (I never once lost their attention) and wrote with gusto. 
“Writers see old, tired things with fresh, new eyes," I said. In a blink, they went to work. Reading their pieces later, I knew we were on the same page.
On our drive home, the traffic was even worse. It was the perfect time for passenger me to complain or even curse (forgive me, Lord). But looking back to the one-and-a-half hours I spent with the kids, whose bright writing future awaits, I could only think of grace.

I’d do it again—but only for young writers.


5/27/2018

Seasons of Sleep


Sleep-deprived is how I’d describe me after last night’s tossing-and-turning episode at three in the morning till it was time to get up. This isn’t unusual; I get these kinds of nights often these days.

Once long ago, I could sleep anywhere, anytime, in any position. That was when I was still in the stress-filled workplace. Sleep was my panacea.

Between client meetings, as soon as I had stepped inside the car, my eyelids would shut off the world and I’d be in dreamland until the client’s parking lot—fresh and ready for another word-and-psyche war.
    
On the drive home late at night, after a long day of production meetings and ad shoots, I would immediately snooze away the one-hour trip. 

Behind my desk, after I had discussed a storyboard with a concept team, I’d cat nap before the next team entered my office door. 

No wonder I survived the corporate pressure cooker for 20 years! 

In contrast, here I am today enjoying the things I had no time for—writing, blogging, reading, teaching some, and idling some—at my own time and I could not get the same quality of sleep that used to come unbidden.

“You don’t need that much sleep anymore, Mom!” son #3 says to stop my incessant whining. 

He means, of course, you’re old.

And, of course, I am. It’s been years since I left the workplace and there have been changes, changes as many and as much as the grace that comes with them.

So why complain? Well, a friend happened to upload one of my old blogs, written a decade ago, and it is about the joy of sleep, storied sleep.

This made me wonder, what happened?

I looked up another old post,  “A Thousand Sleepless Nights,” and that shut me up—for now.  

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens . . .” Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NIV)

Photo credit: (top) 


5/23/2018

Forty Days


It's been two months after Easter, and our pastor is still at it—preaching about Christ's resurrection. For good reasons. The most important of which is, “Resurrection is not a one-day celebration. It should continuously take place in us as we walk through life.”

Instead of ascending immediately to heaven after His resurrection, Jesus stayed on earth for 40 days.
During these important times, He demonstrated to His followers that the greatest miracle on earth had taken place. 

Jesus is alive!

After Jesus’ death on the cross and his body was sealed in a tomb, they grieved, totally devastated. Desperate and fearful, many of them went into hiding. They had believed Jesus was the promised Messiah – but now He was gone.

They had totally forgotten His promise that He would return from the grave.

Jesus had to appear before various groups to prove beyond any doubt that he had been raised from the dead by God's power. Although He appeared to them in the same form that they had seen, He was no longer trapped in that earthly body.

He exhibited to all that He was already omnipotent (all powerful with no limitations), omniscient (all knowing), and omnipresent (He could be everywhere at the same time).  So He appeared here and there, knowing exactly what was happening, and had been able to enter any place, even a room locked from the inside. 

By appearing to His disciples and believers, He was preparing them for the task of evangelism, of the Great Commission—of telling others about what they had witnessed: That Jesus had conquered death, He is alive, and that by grace, we, too, will resurrect from our earthly death if we believe in Him.

 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 (ESV)

Photo credit

5/19/2018

Et tu, Supreme Court?


One word is missing from this old phrase dating back to 1707: judge, jury, and executioner.  Please add: accuser.

That’s what the Supreme Court of my beloved Philippines has become: accuser, judge, jury, and executioner. The judges ousted Maria Lourdes Sereno, the Chief Justice (CJ), via quo warranto* (QW) in vote of 8-6.

The role of the Supreme Court, the last time I looked, is judge—final judge in all cases involving laws of Congress, and the highest law of all, the Constitution.

Accuser?

Some of the judges, on live TV, testified against the CJ in a house impeachment hearing. It was my first time to see Supreme Court justices up close so I was riveted to the boob tube. From the replays, which I again watched closely, it was obvious that some of them had personal gripes against the CJ.

Judge?

The CJ therefore asked that these judges, who appeared on air, to inhibit themselves from the voting in the QW. They did not. These same accusers acted as judges, and predictably, they voted in favor of the ouster petition. Judges, as universally defined, are impartial decision-makers in the pursuit of justice.

Jury?

Same as judge, since the Philippines has no jury system. 

Executioner?

Universally, again, an executioner is defined as an official who carries out a sentence of death on a legally condemned person. The Supreme Court judges legally condemned the CJ, and carried out their sentence of death by ousting her.

From the point of view of ordinary citizens—who oppose the manner in which the CJ was ousted—the death sentence was on the whole judiciary, because it was executed by the country’s highest judicial court. 
In a world of betrayal and bitterness among ordinary citizens, I can only ask “Et tu, Supreme Court?”

A pall of doom has been cast upon our democratic system. As a believer of grace, however, I have absolute faith in the justice of the one true Judge.

“For the LORD is our judge, The LORD is our lawgiver, The LORD is our king; He will save us . . .” Isaiah 33:22  (NLT)

*QW can be filed against a “person who usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds or exercises a public office, position or franchise.”


5/15/2018

The Lost Mystique


Being a non-lawyer, I had somewhere in my subconscious that judges of the Supreme Court were isolated from the rest of mankind. It was not important to know who they were.

Their position required them to be cautious in their appearances and behavior in society—avoiding any impression of indecorum. 

They were clothed in mystique. They were not supposed to support any cause nor take sides. 

In recent months, however, they suddenly stripped themselves naked of this mysterious aura.  They took sides, one even displaying personal bitterness.

We met them on national television, live (replayed many times over). And what I saw were mortals, just like you and me, prone to raving and ranting. My jaw dropped when, on close up, Associate Justice Teresita de Castro spew controlled vitriol during the legislative hearing on the impeachment complaints against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno (CJ). The camera caught her and Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez exchanging whispers.

I suddenly realized that these revered beings are like regular social media netizens who can let it all hang out, and freely rant and rave, albeit with restrained language and demeanor.

There have been talks that in the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court some are being paid by gods-that-be and therefore their decisions are predictable. I filed those rumors in the trash bin of my heart.

But more. Social media was abuzz again when Rep. Vilma Santos (a popular movie star on the side) said OMG! This was during the annual meeting of Philippine Women Judges Association where CJ (on indefinite leave) was the invited speaker, after which Santos would speak. But because the CJ touched on the impeachment case against her during her talk, de Castro, president of the association, beat Santos to the podium and rebuked the CJ publicly.

OMG indeed.

This caused many netizens to baptize de Castro as “Pambansang Ampalaya” (The National Bitter Gourd).

And more! The CJ asked that de Castro and the five other judges, who had appeared on TV accusing CJ of misdemeanor, inhibit from voting in the Quo Warranto (QW) case. Nobody inhibited. Hence the vote of 8-6 granting the QW petition to oust the CJ.

Immediately, countless memes such as this flooded the Net:
Other memes showed this photo of all judges who voted for and against the CJ’s ouster.

So now we can put faces to the names we only used to peripherally remember. Now we can recognize them on the streets, in the mall, or any place at all. Now, we can track their failings and feelings. Now I know that one of them owns the mansions I pass by almost daily.

The mystique is lost, and respect for the Supreme Court, diminished.

There is indignation—and celebration. People have taken sides; there is war. We are passing through the rivers as a divided nation. Will the grace of peace unite us ever again?   

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you . . .” Isaiah 43:2

5/11/2018

Supremely Sad


While I am 12,000 miles away from Motherland, something supremely sad happened in the country that is my home.

The Philippines’ Chief Justice, Maria Lourdes Sereno, was ousted in a vote of 8-6. The ruling of the supreme court judges: “She is found disqualified from, and hereby adjudged guilty of unlawfully holding and exercising, the office of the chief justice.”

Brief background: A quo warranto (QW) petition was filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida with the intent of ousting Sereno. QW petition is defined in the Rules of Court . . . It can be filed against a “person who usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds or exercises a public office, position or franchise.” 

On March 5, 2018, Calida accused Sereno of “failing to meet the integrity test when she only filed three of her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth [SALN] in 2012.”

(Contrary to this, these particular SALN were not required by the Judicial and Bar Council [JBC], the body that screens candidates for judicial posts.)

The Rules of Court further says that a QW proceeding may be commenced within one year after the cause of ouster. But only two months after Calida filed the petition, the Chief Justice was ousted today, Friday, May 11.

There are many dissenting opinions penned by justices, lawyers, and legal organizations. There have been protests and prayer vigils among Christians, pleading for God not to allow this to happen.     


Yet it happened. While I do not question God’s sovereignty, my heart bleeds.

I will not go into details, for fear of hemorrhage, as I recall all that had happened—and will continue to happen—in “Pilipinas kong mahal” (my beloved Philippines).  This has been an extremely divisive issue, tearing apart further an already uncertain nation.

But I am certain that our God of grace will still hand down His own verdict at His own perfect time.

Meanwhile . . .

I will follow what was blatantly dishonored by Calida and the eight supreme court justices: Romans 13:1 (NLT), "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." 

Middle photo: by Bullit Marquez/Associated Press

5/07/2018

Perks


Perks are those special benefits—in addition to the big money one is paid—that comes with the job. The more important the position is, the more impressive those freebies are.

But what if you are no longer employed and therefore have been stripped of any title that commands a high basic pay and an impressive coterie of people under your control?

Will perks still apply?

Sure they do.

From the day I chose to be an author, a complete turnabout from the corporate world which consumed me, I knew I was no longer entitled to perks. For one, there is no pay to speak of.

But receiving affirming letters and hearing oral testimonies—of how God has used my books to encourage a troubled someone, or uplift a grieving spirit, or heal a broken heart—have become my basic pay, much more than I ever thought possible.

Beyond that, do I still deserve perks?

No, but I get them anyway. Here' one of them:
This was sent from the US by someone I have not met, so it is more than a perk. It is a windfall. 

It is grace. 

5/03/2018

The Other Cheek


My friend G nags me no end about writing a book on forgiveness. “I have an interesting story for you,” she dangles a carrot in front of me. “I have friends who have other heart-rending stories,” she dangles more carrots.

This has been going on for five years.  But each year, I'd write a book on another subject. She’s probably wondering why I have not considered it, forgiveness being a brave act every person on earth agonizes over.

I have considered it. In fact, I have been chewing it in my head since that day G broached the idea. However, I could not put a finger on what it is exactly. Is it saying “I forgive you” to someone who has deeply hurt you? Or is it moving on and ignoring it with these idiomatic attitudes? 

“Swallow the bitter pill.”
“Sweep it under the rug.”
“Leave him/her ‘out of the picture.’” 
“Treat it like an ‘elephant in the room.’”

Forgiveness was demonstrated to us on the cross, and it is inimitable. Only the Son of God  could say to betrayers, sadists, punishers, executioners, jeerers, haters, and corrupt judges, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

So how can humans do even a semblance of this selfless act?

The Bible has the answer: Turn the other cheek. “But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.” Matthew 5:39
This metaphor nailed it for me. Forgiveness can be humanly demonstrable.

Let me cite Q, a battered wife. Through her married life (25 years), her husband humiliated her by openly flaunting his girlfriends to the world, unmindful of her feelings. One day he left her and lived with a string of beautiful mistresses, one after the other.

Now with his nth mistress, he fell ill, diagnosed with a degenerative disease that needed full-time caring. Guess who offered to give him exactly that? Not any of his mistresses, but Q. She nursed him through his sickness, without rebuke nor reproach for what he had put her through. 

On his deathbed three years later, he sobbed, “Will you ever forgive me?”

“I already have.”

He slapped Q on her right cheek and yet she offered the other.

Her friends sneered, “Martyr complex.”

Q thought otherwise. She saw the essence of forgiveness: offering the other cheek.

This forgiveness story ended the way my childhood books did. And Q “lived happily ever after.”  A life of  peace, soaked in grace.


4/29/2018

Signing and Signing Off


On my fourth and last day in Cagayan de Oro, adrenaline shot through the roof. It had  been soaring since day one.

Our initial stop was Little Me Academy, where grade school kids sat on the floor and listened to the story of "Dump Truck in My Heart" with so much zeal I thought the storytelling would never end.
It’s during book signing, after the storytelling, that I get to personally interact with my young readers. They ask questions, give off-the-cuff remarks, and won’t let you go.
 

But we had to leave Little Me Academy for lunch at a boodle-fight place. The questions continued over crabs and shrimps, "Any tips for aspiring writers?" 

With barely enough time to digest the sea treasures, we rushed to the final event, Meet and Greet, organized by the Private School and School Administrators of the Philippines (PRISSAAP).

The crowd of about 200 was just too eclectic for comfort—parents, yayas, grade school kids, high school students, teachers, and school owners.   

My face blanched. Advertising taught me to focus on a monadic target audience. How was I to connect with an amalgam of ages before me?  "Dump Truck in My Heart" is for ages 8-12. It is not linear and has several flashbacks.

I decided to simply narrate it in chronology, adding elements here and there to make the plot clearer and the theme, lighter.

So what happened?

After the story, the kids of varying ages threw at me spontaneous comments:

“My lola is also in heaven!”

“A dump truck is too heavy. I don’t want it in my heart.”

“I cried in the beginning, but the ending is happy.” 

“I will put balloons in my heart, not dump truck.”

“My lola will never leave me even if she dies. She will stay in my heart.”

Despite my misgivings, they got the message: “For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die.” Isaiah 57:2


The book signing could go on for hours, but the airport was one hour away (barring traffic) and I had a plane to catch.

Signing is hard to ignore and signing off is even harder to do. But grace breezed me through both; I got to the airport in good time. 
 

4/25/2018

Bilingual Message


“Please send the manuscript of your Sunday message for Cagayan de Oro,” Lynnie, Marketing Specialist of OMFLit (Viz-Min) messaged me. “That same message will be for two services.”

I found it odd that she needed it two weeks in advance.  But a dutiful soldier does not question why—Lynnie never makes unreasonable requests.

That Sunday came and as soon as I set foot in church, the pastor met me and explained that I would be speaking in two languages—one in English for the first service, and the other in Chinese for the second service.

“But I can’t speak Chinese!” I panicked. 

“No worries,” he replied, your message has already been translated to Chinese. Simply read your manuscript in English. Then he introduced me to the translator—a scholarly, formidable-looking lady who double-checked with me my Bible verses.

Ah so. That was why my manuscript had to be sent in advance. 

The English message for the first service was as I prepared it—to the minute and to the letter. Now, what about the second service? My speaking time would be doubled with the translation.

“Would it be okay if I skipped some parts?” I hesitated to ask, but asked anyway. 

“Okay,” she said, “I know your message by heart; I will adjust.” 

Whew!

I began my talk with an adlib, “My husband sends his greetings. He's the guy who speaks fluent Fookien. Unfortunately, I am the author. He is simply the wings behind the author.”

The translator picked it up and when she paused, there was loud laughter. 

Such are the blessings that enrich an author’s journey. No two book tours are ever alike. Every single experience is a rich source of grace that keeps the writing more exciting and challenging—book after book after book. 

4/21/2018

Empty Jars, Empty Net


If I had wondered about Jesus’ first miracle on earth, I wondered even more about His last miracle before He ascended to heaven.

Why would his last act be about an empty fishnet?

It was the same question I asked about the first miracle: Why would the first act be about empty wine jars?

From the pulpit last Sunday, two weeks after Resurrection Day, I heard our pastor say, “Both are about emptiness. Nothingness.”
Silently I added, They are like our bookends that keep us in place and upright. 

"The details in the Gospels, particularly in these two miracles, are actually about the details of our own lives," he explained.

There are times, many times, when we feel like our life has run dry, empty like those jars and fishnet.  I could not count the times I grieved over the loss of a loved one, or when I felt betrayed by someone I had trusted, or when I was distressed over some sudden, unexpected turn of events.

These are the points when God’s grace comes and fills us up again. From total emptiness in the beginning of our time—“The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters.” Genesis 1:2 (NLT)—God showed us Who He is and what He can do. 

All through the pages of the Bible, He demonstrates how He fills up people’s empty lives. And then on Resurrection Day, at the rising of the sun, we read about the rising of the Son, leaving the cross empty: the ultimate symbol of a new life and new beginnings.

“Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” Psalm 126:2 (ESV)

Top photo credit 

4/17/2018

First Breakfast


While preparing to share in the Passover, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. By this humble act, He showed them how to love one another. (Aside: it’s unthinkable, by any stretch of the imagination, how any head of anything today could do the same for his people.)

Then at the dining table with His disciples, He said, "I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won't eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God." (Luke 22:15-16, NLT)

That was His last supper with them before His crucifixion. It was a highly symbolic act—His body broken (bread) and His blood shed (wine)—to prepare them for His departure. 

To His disciples, it was a sad farewell. They would never have a meal with Him again, not on this earth. 

But just two weeks after His resurrection, Jesus appeared on the shore waiting for them, coming back from a long dark night of fishing, but catching nothing. (John 21:1-19)

Jesus told them to cast their nets again and they caught such a large number of fish they had a hard time hauling all in! It was the break of dawn, a fresh, new day.
By this time, Jesus had done another humble act. He made a fire of burning coals with fish on it, and some bread. Their breakfast!

He said, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught . . . Come and have breakfast.” Jesus took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

“Come.” It is hope within easy reach.

Anyone does not have to end with the last supper; we are invited to begin anew with the first breakfast.  The meaning of the last super “has been fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

And the resurrection of Jesus is our new beginning, the dawn of our new day, our first breakfast—so  we can leave our old sinful selves and live again.

Can grace be any grander?


4/13/2018

The Best Parenting Book


"This is where the parenting seminar will be held tomorrow afternoon," said the pastor of the school sponsoring the event.

What I saw was a gym with many chairs, arranged facing the stage. And that intimidating podium! "No podium for me," I stressed. "I am more comfortable walking around."

But with almost 300 parents with some millennials and Gen Z-ers from different churches, I was prevailed upon to go up the stage. Walking around just wouldn't work.

One hour into the seminar, I divided the crowd into 10 groups for the workshop, a must-do in all the seminars I facilitate.    



All groups were active, complete with discussions, questions, some arguments, and agreements. The reporting by the leaders earned us more knowledge about the topic: Understanding Your Millennial and Gen Z Child (based on my book "Present!" written for millennials).

From the post evaluation, I think we all came out of the seminar more aware of how the young generation today and the generation after it differ from their parents.  “When I was your age . . ." doesn’t work anymore; their brains are wired differently!

We went back to Scripture, to what it says about understanding and bringing up the children God entrusted us with.

In sum, our net take away was: we are swamped with parenting books today. But we must always go back to Scripture. It is the best parenting book ever written, with the same truth yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

And it begins with, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."  Proverbs 22:6 (ESV)

P.S.

Post-seminar fun: