Ang Pao

That little red envelope with gold Chinese characters is known by different names in different places: ang pao, ang pow, ang pae, tae ea, lai see, ang-pau, or hongboao.

Let me simply call it ang pao.    

I must have lived a pretty cloistered existence before I got married, because I never knew of ang pao till my wedding—to a true-blue Filipino, in mind and in deed, of pure Chinese parentage. I was given a bulging one by my new in-laws. And to my surprise, it contained cash. All along I thought envelopes came with letters.

Then when son #1 was born, my in-laws handed me another one of these red carriers of treasure, “For our grandson.”

Ang pao had since become a part of my children’s birthdays, Christmases, holidays, and all occasions we celebrated as a family. Not only did I associate it with cash, I also linked it with my sons’ unbridled joy when receiving one from Angkong and Amah.

My in-laws are gone now, but I have made ang pao a part of my gift-giving. When I run out of gift ideas, I give cash in an ang pao. Okay, I also want it known I am partly Chinese.

“You don’t know its history,” son #3 rebuked me one day. “You could be carrying on a pagan ritual. Do you even know what those golden characters say?”

Well, the people I give ang pao to (Filipinos) don’t know what they mean either. Also, what harm could little red envelopes do?  So I went on my merry way.

But last Christmas I was short on ang pao while wrapping my Christmas gifts. So I rushed to the mall. Alas, I went from store to store and found none. “Out of stock po,” said the sales people.

I suddenly realized how popular ang pao is! That got me curious about its whys and wherefores, and so here's one legend that my research yielded . . .

During the Sung Dynasty in China, a village called Chang-Chieu was terrorized by a huge demon. No warrior could defeat it. However, a young orphan with a magical sword inherited from his ancestors dared fight the demon and killed it. The village elders presented the brave young man with a red envelope filled with money for his courage. Since then, ang pao has become a symbol of Chinese celebration. 

Like any beautifully wrapped gift, ang pao brings grace. And that is a beautiful thing.


When Your Wine Runs Out

Why would Jesus choose turning water into wine, in a wedding, as his first miracle?!

I’ve struggled with that question for years, especially because today, intoxication (drinking too much wine) is frowned upon. With technology, I’ve researched the subject and got an overwhelming volume of answers that can’t be understood unless simplified. I never got around to distilling them—for me to live by.

Up until last Sunday when our pastor preached about it.

And now, I see it clearly. I am distilling it (as I did for 20 years with 30-second ads from volumes of information) here so I will always remember.  

Back in Jesus’ day, people were hard workers with so little time to have fun. A wedding feast was therefore a big deal; it stretched to a week.

Such was the wedding in Cana to which Jesus was invited.  Wine was an essential element in the celebration; it was a source of joy, hope, and rest. But into the third day, the wine had ran out. What a catastrophe! The hosts would be shamed, the guests would be disappointed, and the feast would be a flop.

Worried, Jesus’ mother (John 2:1-11), tells her son about the problem. Jesus answered, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come!”

And yet, He turns water into wine enough to last the festivities.

The feast symbolizes the celebration of our new life in Christ. Just as wine was the customary drink at weddings, and just as a man and woman are joined in marriage, so are we with Christ after our life on earth ends.
Being united with Jesus in the Great Beyond will be a feast where joy, hope, and rest will never run out.

Remember the last supper? Jesus said (Matthew 26:28), “. . . this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.”

Yes, wine was generously poured in miraculous grace—from a wedding in Cana to the last supper.

In this analogy, modern man often runs out of wine (for various reasons). We feel empty, spiritually dry and depleted, becoming weak and tired. But, if we we have so much of Christ in us, we will never run out.
“What happens when your wine runs out?” asked our pastor. “It’s when a miracle takes place.”

Jesus will turn your water (troubles) into wine! When Jesus says to Mary, “Don’t worry about the wine; my hour has not yet come,” He means that our real need cannot be met by more wine (our material cravings on earth).

It could only be met when Jesus’ hour comes: when His body is broken for us and His blood is shed for us on a cross.

This miracle is not about alcohol consumption at all.

It is about our present: Jesus turns our struggles into wine and meets the deepest needs of our heart.

It's about our future:  In the afterlife, we will enjoy a grand feast with Him.  


Love of Land

My parents' farms in our home province never grew on me. Not even with the happy memories of my growing up years with four siblings: we would watch crops being harvested, roll on haystacks or run around fields, and feast on newly roasted corn.

After my parents passed on and I had a family of my own, I washed my hands off those lands even if the onus fell on me, being the eldest. For one, I can’t grow anything, not even weeds I plant on purpose.

I abdicated and told my younger sister (who has gone back to live in our old home), I would go along with whatever she decides. But now, she is getting on in age, too, and is busy with church pursuits.

Thankfully, our youngest brother, Dave, has taken up the cudgels and recently supervised with his wife the planting of corn in one parcel and rice in another. He documented for us the corn growth process through photos and e-messages that my mind punctuated with exclamation points.

And now comes grace galore. It is harvest time!     

And I suddenly miss roasting and eating newly harvested corn (but not the land).

Only someone like Dave who treasures the great outdoors can watch any crop grow from sowing to reaping.

He would have done our parents proud.

As he awaits his rice harvest, I wrote Dave that whatever share I have from the produce (two other siblings echoed my sentiments) would go to the local church fund (Project Nehemiah it is called) so the parsonage could be built on another land that my grandparents bequeathed for the sole purpose of serving the Lord, Who in fact and in truth, owns every land anybody will ever till or “own.”

“For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land . . . where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing . . .” Deuteronomy 8: 7-9 (NIV)       


No Kyok

Ever heard of the word kyok before? Most likely not. It is archaic and not found in any dictionary. Yet members of our clan say it all the time, even if we don’t know exactly how it’s spelled.  
Kyok is a word that defined the attitude of six generations of us (huge now at over 400 members scattered all over the world), and shaped the way we perform today.

It was our grandfather's (lolo) command word during our family reunions, where the highlight was a talent show or program of sorts. He and our grandmother would place before the stage a batia (another archaic word that means, huge metal basin made from an old drum or large tin can, used for washing clothes).

Then they would sit in the front row with a bagful of coins.

As their children and grandchildren performed (dance, song, declamation, whatever), they would throw into the batia coins that clinked and clanged, encouraging the performers to do their best. 

Nobody was spared from performing. Lolo, with his autocratic Hispanic posture, would declare in Ilocano, "Awan ti kyok!" (Rough translation, “No kyok!”) Kyok means, cowardice to perform.  "No kyok” therefore translated to, “Perform or else!'  It didn't matter if your performance was not the best; what mattered was, you did your best, if only because you did it.

This led me to believe that business' just-do-it principle was inspired by my grandfather's "No kyok!”

The just-do-it corporate attitude, as defined in management books, means, "Start your work immediately, and get things done. Do not waste time doing unnecessary research or learning unnecessary skills. Do not squander time being shy and lazy, or indulging in wishful thinking."

Taking this further, "If you want to succeed in life, you have to work hard and create things using your talent. If you kyok, and do not take action when you should, you'll never succeed—your batia will be empty.” 

My grandparents being Christians lived this value from Philippians 4:13 (NLT), "For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength."

Such was the mindset of all the 206 reunionites (or clanistas) of all ages who attended our end-year-beginning-year 73rd reunion—not only on talent night, but also in all activities.

Chaired by a sub-clan whose members mostly live abroad, the reunion’s battle cry was still "No kyok!" And the batia (a modern version, since the old form has become extinct) clinked and clanged even more outrageously.   

It's amazing how this attitude, including the batia, lives on in us to this day. These photos show it all:

What grace is mine that I belong to this no-kyok clan! 

Group photo by nephew Egay
All others (collage) by nephew Pastor Jeff


Getting to Know You

All the exhilarating essentials that make our clan look forward to our annual reunion was in place, except for one additional bonanza. Our 73rd reunion was hosted by the sub-clan whose over 30 members live in the US. And majority of them flew in to attend it!

This three-day-two-night event was planned entirely abroad. Except for some assistance from a local executive committee, everything—from the theme, logo, advertising, activities to communications—originated from across the miles. Social media made it all possible; it bridged all gaps.

It was Broadway time.

"Getting to Know You" from The King and I musicale served as a most fitting theme since many of the reunionites (or clanistas as we call ourselves) have not met the hosts for years, or at all.

Broadway it was, too, because one of our nieces is a Broadway star, who has played many major roles in different musicales over the years. Ali Ewoldt currently plays Christine Daae—the first Asian-American to be cast thus—in the long-running Phantom of the Opera

(Photo from Rodney Ingram's website)
We have a newsletter, edited by son #1, which details all activities, but because it has limited pages, it could not document all the untold grace through kin who came from all parts of the world.  Each one, therefore has his own heart newsletter, and this one’s mine.

The riot began at registration (total 206, an unprecedented number) when cousins, nieces, nephews, grannies, aunts and uncles—ages one year to 89—saw each other again. I, for one, could not believe that the cousins of my childhood were just a hug away, and my soul clock yo-yoed between the happy past and the happier present.

Ours is a competitive, no-kyok (this word deserves a separate post; for now, I’ll simply define kyok as, “Perform or else!”) clan and so everyone gave his all in the games, sports, talent night, videoke, etc. 

(The yellow team, to which I didn't belong, was the over-all champion in all events.)
(Top photo: Ali Ewoldt performing with her sub-clan.)
A solemn memorial/thanksgiving service officially opened the reunion, after which every good and noisy thing erupted. Divided into teams, our version of the Olympics began.

We have grown too big to fit our traditional love-circle into any hall. So we made do with a squiggly shape to re-enact for the 73rd time the “The Tie That Binds” (our hymnal battle cry) to say goodbye to 2017 and welcome 2018.

Holding on together, we sang old favorites and after a thanksgiving prayer by our resident pastor, our oldest clanista started the electric handshake and then, 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

And I sang . . .

Suddenly I 'm bright and breezy,
Because of all the beautiful and new
Things I'm learning about you (all 200 plus of you!)
Day by day.   

Photos by nephews Egay and Noel



I’ve waited for this number for some time. If only I could catch it, I wished, I’d take a screen shot. Why ever not? It comes only once in a blog moon.

I am referring to my blog hits. When I reached the half a million mark early this year, I had this hopeful thought to reach this six-digit number five.

Then on Christmas eve, while waiting for the clock to strike 12, I visited Leaves of Grace, and was surprised to see my blog hits almost reaching 555,555. I kept returning to the page on my computer screen—between gift unwrapping and reading my new Bible devotional on Grace, a Christmas present from son #1.

And there! My 555,555 suddenly came. Click, click, click—before it could change.
A mundane thought: The next time I’d have uniform numbers would be more than a hundred thousand hits from now. Wouldn’t it be great if I took a screenshot of 666,666? 

Nah, those numbers have too pregnant a meaning.

While reading Dr. Roger Barrier’s (author and retired pastor) explanation of what the book of Revelation says about the number 666, I have second thoughts about celebrating it. If you’ve been reading about the last days, we are told about an Antichrist which is closely associated with the number.

Of course, our limited knowledge cannot fathom what that number really means. The Bible is, after all, both historical and prophetic. So since we are now living in dangerous, chilling times, I’d rather not celebrate it.

In fact, numbers shouldn’t a blogsite make. These e-leaves will continue to write about grace till it reaches its ultimate number on planet Earth.

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 (NIV)



Fake news abound today. What’s worse in our country is that the most notorious fake-news peddlers are columnists who occupy high positions in government.

Amidst this scenario of falsehood, fabrication, and filth, a brave purveyor of truth shines  through: PAB.

She dares condemn the lies of the powerful and mighty in her Pinoy Ako Blog (PAB). With every controversial issue she writes about, PAB presents proof (equivalent to in-text citations in academe or supporting documents in court) to underpin her statements and calls it resibo (official receipt).

Thanks to PAB, I now have the exact word to prove that the news below isn’t fake.

I keep bragging to friends that one of my nieces is a Broadway star, the current Christine Baae in Phantom of the Opera, no less. But nobody takes me seriously. They think it’s a joke. 

Well, Ali Ewoldt recently came to the Philippines to attend our three-day clan reunion, where she awed us with choice songs from her various Broadway roles. With mouths agape, and jaws locked in mid-air, we watched and listened. Tear-drenched eyes with matching goosebumps filled the hall. Such soulful, soaring soprano voice!

That's Ali and I. If you think that’s not moi . . . 


(From left) son #1, son #3, moi, and Tony, all made-up for our family presentation.


Ali’s signature and my name. Only family calls me Grace May.

I first met Ali when she was just toddler, in one of my rare trips to New York. At that early age, she already showed promise in music and acting. Years later, I read about her in the news. And then I get to see her again in person—not as a toddler but as an unassuming celebrity.



Bravo, Ali! Keep using the grace of singing that brings joy to music lovers in various parts of the world.

“In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well . . .” Romans 12:6


Mateo Wins Big

In the context of the New Year, I am writing about Christmas.

Every December, the University of the Philippines (UP) campus in Diliman erupts with lights, colors, and fireworks at what people have known as the annual Lantern Parade, a tradition which began in 1922.

Then it was a simple homage to an old Christmas tradition at the UP Manila campus, but has evolved into a spectacular event with remarkable creations (lanterns, floats, music and costumes) that are mostly commentaries of the social and political landscape of the country.

Once when I was still a student, I was honored to be chosen as its emcee. That’s why the UP Lantern Parade brings warm memories.

But the festive event suddenly became even more meaningful for me this year because of Mateo.

“Mateo?! Mateo of the ‘Oh, Mateo!’ series?!”
“Yes, that Mateo."

At this point, I will let AT and GMA News tell the story:

“At the tail end of the 2017 Lantern Parade were the works of the students from the College of Fine Arts, who compete in their own category. Their creations were a celebration of human rights, especially rights that every child enjoys at birth.

“The students visualized a child's right to life, right to be safe from harm, right to education, and right to information among other things.

“Second year students who presented right to self-expression won first place!" (Exclamation point mine)

Mateo was the students’ top-of-mind choice to: “Speak Right, Speak Love.”

I could only guess why. These students (aged 16 and 17 today) must have been reading the “Oh, Mateo!” series while learning to read and growing up.

Mateo is an eight-year-old, adventurous Christian boy whose mother died when he was a baby. His father, a hardworking farmer in a small town, is bringing him up single-handedly.   

Together with OMF, my publisher, I envisioned Mateo to symbolize children reared on good values such as RESPECT (for elders, peers, nature, rights of others), HARD-WORK (in school, at home, in the neighborhood), and HONESTY (with money, possessions, words, feelings). Award-winning art director, Beth Parrocha-Doctolero, gave Mateo a unique, lovable image, and she went on to illustrate all 15 books of the series. 

This winning float therefore affirms Mateo, what he stands for. He won not only in the competition, but won big in the heart of children.  

Every new year, as kids grow up and outgrow the “Oh, Mateo!” series, I pray that they will never outgrow the Christian values they learned through him. And that new, younger readers will find a friend in Mateo.

Happy New Year!