9/20/2018

A Different Devotional:

Encouraging Workers for Children

This new, one-of-a-kind book is not only a devotional, it is a partnership—from every possible angle you may look at it.
It’s a partnership between Philippine Children’s Ministry Network (PCMN), who birthed the idea, and OMF Lit, publisher. This partnership extends to the 36 contributors of different persuasions and serving in varied ministries for children.  

In all honesty, I was a bit wary when Ms. Fe of PCMN broached the idea, but Ms. Yna of OMF Lit wore her it-can-be-done smile all through our first meeting. I thought of logistics: choosing the entries, classifying them into topics or verses, editing, coordinating, and meeting deadlines. A nightmare! Working with one author is complicated enough—but with multiple writers?!

I was happy to help, but I could only do so much. Yet, they rolled out the project with a writing workshop. Michelle of OMF Lit was to be the point person, with the help of the publication staff, who, I suspect, did not know what hit them. They had to work extra hard and extra long for the book to be launched even earlier than its original schedule.

PCMN likewise had to solicit the endorsement of partner organizations, whose officers wrote blurbs and reviews that became integral parts of the devotional. 

This project began as a dream, a wishful thought by Ms. Fe, a long-time advocate for abused children—many of whom have not met Jesus—in hard areas. She knows how demanding it is for workers to trudge through dirt roads and roadblocks. A devotional written by kindred spirits would help keep them going.   

As I wrote my entries and reviewed many others, I realized the heavy load each advocate for children must bear every day. We need nourishment, help that can only stem from the Word.

There were many entries, but we had to focus on the vision: a devotional for those who dedicate most of their precious hours to serving little ones not their own.

Less than a year later, on August 14 this year, Encouraging Workers for Children: A Devotional was launched amidst an SRO crowd and SRO grace. The hall was packed with fellow advocates for children, representing different organizations—all in partnership to build each other up. 

"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)

9/16/2018

Grace Found in Gone?

At the launching of Gone? on the first day of the Manila International Book Fair, I was gifted with so many surprises, I won’t be able to write about them all. 

There were kids, of course, but there were grannies, too. Each group had the same kind of excitement over the book. The kiddies loved it for themselves. The grannies loved it for their grandchildren.

In was in the conversations, which I prefer to call encounters, that Koi Carreon (illustrator) and I were swamped with hordes of guests in all sizes and piles of books to sign. Grace galore.

Koi is an award-winning illustrator for adult readers, and for the first time, I am delighted that he tried his hand at a children’s book. I can’t speak for him, but I believe he found as much grace as I have.

One kid could almost memorize the whole book (it was read to her the day before), including the turn of phrases.

Another kid wanted to know more about it but not too much, not the ending anyway. One more kid narrated how he lost things and never found them.

Yet another said, “I never lost anything!”

To which his mom replied, “Sure you have—so many things.”

“Oh yeah [giggles], my hat . . . and my . . .”

The title of the book is Gone? yet I found more than I thought I could in the short two hours spent with kiddies and grannies. And I hope nothing from those hours will ever be gone from my memory bank.

These photos will help me remember . . . how the Hiyas staff conceptualized and built the pretty, outstanding booth; how their smiles and words of welcome to every guest hid their tired eyes begging for sleep; how they explained to those who dropped by each book; and how they saw to my needs before I could even say them.


9/12/2018

The Real Thief: Tackling CICL


The acronym CICL stands for Children in Conflict with the Law.

Lawmakers in the country have been considering lowering the age (18) that defines and classifies a child. This has to do with the alarming rise in CICL cases. From 2012-2105 alone, “children alleged as, accused of, and adjudged as, having committed an offense under Philippines laws” have reached a disturbing number of 40,000!

Organizations for children at risk are lobbying for the retention of age 18. They argue that children below 18 need guidance; they still lack decision-making skills. Minors who are caught committing crimes “have the right to treatment that promotes their sense of dignity and worth, aiming at rebuilding their lives and their reintegration into society.”

Although the government runs Bahay Pag-Asa (BPA), a center for CIBL, the funding is often short to maintain decent living conditions for these children. 

"The Real Thief" (#4 book in the Happy Home series) shows how a minor is pushed into committing a crime by an unscrupulous adult who brazenly abuses the law that spares children from prosecution.

Writing this book was an uphill climb. The workers for children I interviewed warned me not to have any scene spooking kids, nor any scene making the arresting officers look like devils, nor any scene showing the police station as a war zone.

Wearing kid gloves, I inched my way into CICL—internalizing Articles 37 and 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989): “Placing CICL in a closed facility should be a measure of last resort, to be avoided whenever possible . . . no imposition of the death penalty and sentences of life imprisonment for offences committed by persons under the age of 18.”

Finally, when the manuscript was given the go-signal by my interviewees, which included a lawyer-advocate for children’s rights, Leo Kempis Ang, talented illustrator of the Happy Home series, was busy finishing an equally noble pursuit. I used the waiting time to polish and re-polish the text. 

Two years later, by sheer grace, here it is: "The Real Thief," specially created for our young reader’s understanding. We invite adults, who may chance upon the book, to advocate for children in whatever way possible, so that minors may not transfigure into CICL. 

(Leo and I will be at the Manila International Book Fair, SMX MOA, OMF Lit Aisle I, 1:30 to 3:00 PM today, to meet and have fun with our readers. Please join us.)   

9/08/2018

No Means No: The Backstory

 
My only brother-in-law (Tony's younger brother), who was my dear friend and whom I admired for his intelligence and creativity, overdosed on drugs. He died at the age of 30. 

I briefly wrote about this tragic event in my book "Grace under Pressure." It caught the attention of the VP of Publications, and the next thing I knew, she was asking me to write a book on drug abuse. It is urgent, she explained, because it is the president's pet project. We need a book that can help people resist or crush the scourge of illegal substances.

Understanding the drug menace is borderline impossible. I didn't know where to begin. I started by interviewing people at random: psychologists, medical doctors, parents of drug users, drug users, rehab volunteers, youth pastors, pastors involved in rehab, lapsed and recovering users, and finally, the officers tasked by the president to take charge of the war against drug: the Philippine National Police.

Now bursting with scribbles of both my thoughts and my interviewees', my notebook bled from heartaches, guilt, and what-should-have-been.

In the end, I realized that, unless grace suddenly releases a user from the grip of drugs, addiction cannot be solved. Not even with the relentless brutal killing of carriers and users in our country today.

One of the PNP officers I talked to was emphatic, "The one and only way you can stop drugs from victimizing people is to stop the threat from closing in.” It's akin to erecting an impenetrable steel barrier as protection, because once these substances flow into the victim’s veins, he could be hooked for good, and the success of rehab centers is dismal.

"Have you given up, Sir?" I asked.

"Never," he said. "But those are the facts."

A drug barrier is built in the home, not in jails or rehab centers, by parents—not by the police or the government. And the construction should begin early: when the kids are old enough to understand gestures and listen to words.

Illegal drugs alter the brain, the psychologists and medical doctors I talked to stressed. A drug addict is no longer the person he was.

Ergo, before he malforms, he has to be kept as he was created, as he was meant to be by the Creator—right in the home. Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV), “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."

This nugget of wisdom is just one of many that parents can use to build a fortress for their children. The best parenting book ever written, the Bible, has all the principles we need to drug-proof our children.

In No Means No, after a barrage of research, I went back to Scripture. I mined these principles, and demonstrated them through experiences shared by various people who so generously opened their hearts—for readers to be encouraged and blessed.    
(No Means No will be launched at the Manila International Book Fair on 13 September 2018, 4 PM, MOA SMX.)

9/04/2018

I Am Going to Hollywood!


During the American Idol auditions, finalists jump and whoop, “I am going to Hollywood!” Glamorous Hollywood is where their dreams are made.

I facetiously hooted the same words when a nephew and a niece said they would take Tony and me to Hollywood. Bong was our patient driver and OD was our tour guide-cum-photographer. We’ve been to LA a few times, but never downtown.

Hollywood did not disappoint.
Like true-blue tourists, we set foot on the Walk of Fame and gawked at enterprising people costumed as super-heroes posing for a few bucks with adventurous tourists. Fortunately, we are classified under non-adventurous. 

The first thing I did was take a shot of my foot on Ryan Seacrest’s star—the guy whose ears hear “I am going to Hollywood” first-hand, and took shots of landmark theaters like Grauman’s Chinese Theater, El Capitan, Dolby—the works. And to cap the tour, we were taken to the West Griffith Observatory where we had our must-have shot with the Hollywood sign as background (above).
Both Bong and OD urged us to walk here and there, see this and that, but Tony’s knees and fractured wrist, plus my grasping toes and spine, aggravated by the freezing temperature, demurred. Let’s just say, it was a geriatric tour, albeit a magnificent one.         
 
Then, like additional manna from heaven, a few more cousins, nieces, and nephews happened to be in downtown LA, too. They invited us to dinner at—one guess—Chinatown. 

In all, grace, marvelous grace, took us to Hollywood. But beyond that, it enabled us to bond with dearest kin we rarely see. I sang all the way home.

“I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.” Psalm 69:30

8/31/2018

Are You a Person of Priority?


An odd question, I thought.

I never heard of the phrase “person of priority” before. But as the pastor of son #2’s church in the US continued to speak, it sank in. In fact, it is something every Christian should aspire to be.
He was referring to Mary and Martha when Jesus visited their home. While Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet to listen, Martha was too eager to serve and therefore distracted by details—like forgetting to gas up when running on empty. 

“. . .‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ 

“‘Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:40-42 (NIV)

In like manner, busyness over so many things distracts us from looking up to His throne of grace, which should be our top priority. Busyness (don’t I know it!) brings out the worst in us. Resembling Martha, we become self-absorbed, stressed, resentful, anxious, and troubled.

Mary, a person of priority, embodied David’s words in Psalm 27:4, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” 

Are you a person of priority? Am I?

It’s a question I often ask myself, and which I am trying, with great effort, to answer positively now and all the days of my life.

8/27/2018

Reflecting Love


Sparkling on every table—one for each guest at the Mother’s Day celebration of son #2’s church in California—were these prism-like gems reflecting a spectrum of colors. It was tied to a rolled piece of paper with the words, “Reflecting Love.”
It was an apt symbol for the speaker’s love theme, based on 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible’s love chapter. 

She spoke of how motherhood is a reflection of God’s love in every home. From giving birth to a child, then nurturing, guiding, and instructing him till he is all grown up, a mother will always consider her child her baby—and will forever love him unconditionally with all her heart. Truly a reflection of our Father’s love.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love,” the Lord said to the people Israel. (Jeremiah 31:3 NLT)

As I listened, my mind wandered to Moses, whose shining face literally reflected God’s love. “When Moses came down Mount Sinai carrying the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, he wasn’t aware that his face had become radiant because he had spoken to the Lord.” Exodus 34:29 (NLT)

Is it possible for us to also have the radiant face of Moses?

According to Scripture, yes. Over time, as our personal relationship with God gets deeper and closer, we will be transformed and this will show on our face—how we deal with problems and people. Well, our face may not literally glow as did Moses’ shining face, but our transformation can reflect His love.

And as we reflect that love, we can draw others to Him, because the grace of His presence can be seen in and through us—like it did with Moses.

8/23/2018

The Road to Grace


That’s the title of one of two books by Richard Paul Evans that I borrowed from the city library while vacationing in California. I usually choose to read his books during my free time (away from home and routine) because of their spiritual undertones that make a reader like me reflect on life. 
Evans, a multi-awarded author, is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than twenty-five novels. The Road to Grace is the 3rd in his The Walk series. 

This book was a quick and riveting read that took me, while sitting on a comfortable sofa, to historical places vividly described with local color.

The protagonist, Alan, who lost his wife, business, friends, and everything he ever loved, decides to walk to the farthest place he could find on the map. It is during his tiring travels that, according to Evans himself, Alan “evolves as a person, spiritually maturing as he learns more about forgiveness and grace.”

How far do you take bitterness? This, for me, is the crux of the story. At what point in life do you unburden yourself of anger?

People are constantly looking for grace, but Alan says, “If we open our eyes, we can see the abundance of it.”

Sometimes with tears in my eyes, I read Lost December. It is Evans’ Christmas-themed retelling of the parable of the prodigal son—perhaps the most poignant story of forgiveness and second chances.

It brought me back to the very first book I ever read by Evans, The Miracle of the Christmas Box, which was sent to me by my friend, Lucy, from Palm Springs. But, uh, it was not really his first book, but simply the intriguing backstory of  The Christmas Box. Now, I wasn't going to pass up reading that first book, was I?  How I did was a story in itself.

In addition to time spent writing heaps of blog posts (my latest three books No Means No; The Real Thief; and Gone? were already finished, ready to go to press before our spring vacation in sunny California), I was blessed with ample time for reading.

Those were certainly some of my own countless roads to grace! 

8/21/2018

Remembering Ninoy

Today, August 31, 2018, we commemorate the 35th anniversary of the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, he who said, "The Filipino is worth dying for."  We thank God for sharing this hero's life with us.  
Such grace it was to be a part of his stunning funeral three decades and 5 years ago! 

Photo credit (bottom): Inquirer News

8/19/2018

Bicycle Head


Still reeling from the 16-hour travel from the Philippines to Northern California, I couldn’t keep my eyes open as daughter in-law G drove us to our temporary nest for a month. But my eyeballs popped out when I saw this:
Right smack in a busy intersection was a mendicant with a difference. For a moment I thought I was in the circus. He was balancing his bicycle on his head and around his neck was a sign: “Just Hungry, Need Help.”  

Some vehicles stopped and the passengers handed him some money. Is this America?! I asked myself,  The land of milk and honey?! 

I was wide awake after that.

In the next few days, during our drive around the city, we’d see the same guy again and again. Able-bodied and relatively young, he could easily look for a job, which are aplenty in the US of A.

Ay, there’s the rub. He is not lazy, he does his difficult stance in the midst of traffic, through the freezing winter air, or under the heat of the summer sun, day in and day out. But he would not be able to hold a job; he’s mentally ill.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately one in five adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year. Approximately one in 25 adults—9.8 million, or 4.0%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.

Why do people have mental illness?

It’s like asking, why do I get backaches and heartburn? Why does Tony have heart and blood pressure problems?

We experience these things because we dwell in bodies which have been marred by sin. Our body parts waste away, some become hubs of dread diseases. In this fallen world, our organs could fall apart and fail us anytime. And the man with his bike on his head happens to have a warped brain.

What can we do?

Paul addresses this in 2 Corinthians 4:16 (ESV), “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”

That, if we put our trust in the Savior, whose merciful grace renews our inner selves every single day.

8/15/2018

Stranger in Heaven


We were in the US when the shooting in a Texas high school happened (two months ago). Nine students and one teacher were murdered by a 17-year-old boy.

It was chilling, but no longer surprising. The newspapers reported, “It is the 22nd US school shooting since the beginning of the year, and the third instance in eight days in which a gunman was on a school campus.” This made me ponder how easily life is lost.

I am afraid for my grandson, Adrian, who goes to school in America. If only I could do something to protect him. 

His mom narrated a similar incident in Adrian's school that left everyone frozen in fear: Two teenagers were seen walking on campus. The guard tired to shoo them away but they wouldn’t budge. So the school authorities decided to padlock all the students inside the school for their safety, while investigation was conducted.

Inside the classrooms, the kids were terrified. They were in various stages of panic. Many were crying, one of whom was Adrian. He would explain to a friend later why he cried.

“I knew we were going to die, and I was worried that I didn’t know anyone in heaven!” he said, realizing that his parents would be left behind on earth and he’d be a stranger there. He didn't assume his classmates would be there, too. 
This anecdote made me heave a sigh of relief, laugh, and grateful. Young as he is at age 11, he knows, without any doubt, where he’s going when he leaves Earth. As a believer in the saving grace of Jesus, he is positive he will be in heaven. 

What an assurance to an anxious grandparent!

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God . . .” John 1:12 (ESV)


8/11/2018

Between Black and White


From the Orange County Airport (a.k.a. John Wayne Airport), Tony and I took an Uber to his cousin’s place, where we’d be visiting for four days.

Along the way, the driver—a big, white man with a basso voice—sang President Trump praises. In the same breath, he said, “Obama will go to jail, just you wait and see.” Then he went on and on about how bad the black president was, and how the white president is doing everything he can for America.

When you come across people who are obsessively passionate about their beliefs and which side they are on, it'd be better to keep your mouth shut or you'd be flogged, or killed. 

All we could mutter were, “Really?” “Is that right?” “What do you know?” “Oh, dear.” And all the safe, non-committal phrases the lexicon ever invented.

In a two-party system like America's, people are either black or white (especially after the tenure of its first and only black president).
What baffles me now is, in our country—with a multi-party system—people are divided right down the middle, too. You are either pro-Duterte (our current president) or against. No matter what happens or what issues prop up, people stick to their guns, resolute in their opinion that he is the best-ever, or worst-ever president. 

My prayer is that believers would be able to discern the differences between black and white, and not to blindly take sides. I pray for grace to enlighten us in evaluating the issues, for or against, and their consequences to the country and our people.

The good Book is clear on which way we should go.

While believers are enjoined to pray for and follow authority, we must not condone what is wrong. We should speak up and do something, where he can, when something goes against God's Word, because that is our mandate.

They say that what is right is wrong and what is wrong is right; that black is white and white is black; bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. Woe to those who are wise and shrewd in their own eyes!  Isaiah 5:20-21 (TLB)

8/07/2018

Mother's Day 2018


By this time, almost a week in California, I still had not conquered jet lag. Age?

At 3 AM (6 PM in the Philippines, a day after Mother’s Day), I was staring at the ceiling, my eyes unwilling to close. So I visited the Net to check my messages. Most of the posts were how the day was celebrated, complete with photos of ecstatic mommies being treated out and cuddling their presents.

My FB timeline yielded this photo (left) from son #1, which caused me to laugh so loud Tony woke up alarmed. I hardly recognized me. When I did, it brought back beautiful memories of times past when I was a young mom enjoying my first son (shortly after this photo was taken, we were blessed with son #2).
 
The photo on the right was son #3’s version of the traditional roses. Mother’s Day celebration had begun.

Before breakfast, son #2 presented me with boxes of blank gift cards, which are my favorite gifts of all—next to books, of course. Why? Any writing surface is heaven-sent. 

Grandson #1, and only one, presented his mom with roses.

Then off to church, where mothers were rhapsodized and prayed over. 

At the church's foyer were photo booths set up specially for moms. Beloved grandson, Adrian, suggested that son #2 and I would have our photos taken together, while he did the same with his mom.

Here you go:
Lunch, fun, and bonding—with the part of our family we see only once a year—followed in an Italian restaurant. 

In all, it was indeed mom’s day, but it was also dad’s, children’s, and grand children’s day.

Like all the days of our lives, it was a special grace day. 

8/03/2018

Borderless Grace


Mother’s Day this year arrived while Tony and I were away—in California visiting son #2 and family.

No big deal really. As I’ve written often enough, my family does not often communally celebrate national or international events on the day they happen. Sometimes we celebrate it a week before or after. If we forget, we do it one day in the year, if at all.

Celebration for me, for us, is praise and gratitude to God for a milestone or other, and this can take place in one’s heart, minus the bells and whistles. We must be simple folks.

In California this year, the women’s group of my son’s home church had a special gathering on the eve of Mother's Day.  My daughter-in-law, G, an active member of the group, invited me to attend. I was ready to be pleasantly surprised.

And I was.

We were the only Filipinos in the crowd of about 140, but around our table were two American ladies who resided and went to school in the Philippines while their father served as a missionary there. Small world. One of the Christian writers (an American), with whom I share a publisher, is their close family friend.

Special prizes for games, trivia questions, and other stuff got us all laughing. Then the emcee asked, “We have a prize for someone who came from the farthest place.”

Someone raised her hand, “Arizona.”

G nudged me, “Mommy, stand up!”

The emcee asked, “Where are you from?”

“Philippines.” Guess who got the applause and prize? 
We had quiche, croissant, cheese, fruits, and some other western staples. A gift for each one was a paper teapot with tea bags in it. And as I met new friends, I thought of my own women’s group in my church back home, probably sharing pancit, lumpia and kakanin, an all-Filipino fare.  

These all-American mothers in California and the all-Filipino mothers in the place where I live mount events differently. But we have one thing in common: faith in one God, whose borderless grace crosses all barriers of race, language, and coastline.

“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” Acts 17:26 (NIV)

7/30/2018

Lodi


On social media in the Philippines, the word "lodi” is a popular interjection, a fad at the moment. It is actually "idol" spelled in reverse. It is used as an exclamation or an ovation punctuated by, “Wow!” 

That’s exactly how I’d describe Lodi (pronounced lo-dye), my second favorite city in the US, the other being the place where son #2, his wife, and son live.
Lodi is best known for being a center of wine-grape production that earned its nickname, Wine Country. But there are many other plantations there as well. Driving to the center of the city, you behold endless farms and ranches—as far as the eye can see.

The city’s commercial area is quaint, reminiscent of the places of old America, described in many novels. If you are a wine lover, you can go to a wine store and have a taste, with diced or sliced cheese.

During weekdays, the tree-lined roads are almost deserted, a perfect setting for a sentimental homecoming of a long, lost love; or where one finds grace swirling with the wind in wide open spaces.

Lodi makes you wax poetic.
Or perhaps, I am just a small-town girl at heart. And Lodi makes me re-experience the days when the air was cleaner, the sky was bluer, and the people, kinder. 

“And I'll stride freely through wide open spaces as I look for your truth and your wisdom; Then I'll tell the world what I find, speak out boldly in public, unembarrassed.” Psalm 119:45-46 (MSG)

7/26/2018

Drawing Diva in 30 Days?


I had worked with over 100 artists in my job as creative director in a multi-national ad agency.

They were a strange lot—and I mean that in a most endearing way. Their talents and the excellent work we produced together more than made up for their mood swings, temper, and reticence to communicate with words.

To this day, I hold advertising artists in high esteem (that was before digital art took over and now every Tom, Dick, and Harry can do some kind of "art").

I was and will always be in awe of their gift. When I left advertising, I thought I'd never see the likes of them again.

Till I took up writing children's book.

One of my first published books, "The Boy who Had Five Lolas” (a Palanca award-winning piece) was going to be illustrated by May Tobias, according to Bookmark, the publisher. So I set out to meet May. I was delighted to find out she was also an ad gal!

Her initial sketches breathed life into the characters in ways I never imagined. I turned into a fan since that first meet-up in a coffee shop.

Through the years, we'd “see” each other on FB, where I read about her writing activities and art adventures. One day she messages me, asking for a testimonial for her soon-to-be-launched art book, "Doodles and Daydreams."

It's a how-to book for hobbyists and crafters, who wish they could draw but think they can’t. "I want to prove them wrong . . . they can learn to draw in as little as 30 days with my exercises and practical, easy-to-follow tips,"  May writes.

Months later, she sends me a copy of the newly launched book via courier and once again, May wows me.

An unexpected bonus—my words are a part of the cover and back cover.       

It felt like Grace was delivered at my doorstep.

Scanning the pages, I want to shout out loud to fellow art lovers who have been struggling to draw: This book is guaranteed to turn you into a drawing diva in 30 days! 

That should include me. 


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)