3/28/2018

The Joy of Waiting


My brother Dave, who works in American Samoa, likes to surprise us. He never announces his visits to the Philippines. He says he doesn’t want anybody waiting for him—“When I’m here, I’m here.” Because his visits are unpredictable, we usually aren’t’ ready to spend as much time with him as we wish.

Dave’s unannounced visits, in a way, make me think about the second coming of Jesus. Over the years, there have been so many predictions about it. Religious groups have preached repentance to their flocks because their leaders have said that Jesus is coming back on such and such a date.

Not one of those predictions has come true. We are all still waiting.

Nobody truly knows when Jesus is coming again. The Bible tells us that it will be when we least expect it. “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (I Thessalonians 5: 2).” It may be today, or tonight, or tomorrow morning, or 15 years from now.

The exact time of His coming again shouldn’t really bother us. What we should be asking ourselves is, “Will we be ready when that day comes?”

There’s a world of difference between thinking He WILL come today and He MAY come today. “May” is a motivation for us to be ready as though the exact time is now.

Dear Jesus, You may come today or anytime. I want to be ready when that happens. Help me to keep trying. Amen.

(This is an excerpt from Grace Found Me, available at OMF Lit and Passages Bookshops, PCBS, National Bookstore, and OMF’s online bookstore.) 
 


Above: These four photos were uploaded to FB by my FB friends. I took the liberty of  borrowing them for this post. Thank you for taking time to read and pose with Grace Found Me. Below: Grabbed from the the website of omflit.com 


 

3/24/2018

Of Last Days and Last Flights


Last days in book tours are rushed affairs: pack, check-out, eat a hurried breakfast, then head to the first event.     

  Above: Living Arrows School 
Gold School (from left, Lynnie of OMF Lit, Me, and school owners) 
After that, a quick lunch is all you can afford, because the next event awaits. (Photo ops, however, are non-negotiable They have to be squeezed in.)  

By this time you'll be panting. Then in a taxi to the airport, you wish the driver would go faster because your flight (the last out of Iloilo) is less than an hour away. Ugh, traffic snarl.

Airport, finally. There are a few minutes left to buy the expected pasalubong.  Suddenly the PA system blares your name: “Grace Chong, please proceed to Gate 4 for boarding."  This is repeated a few times, the next more urgent than the last. You run as fast your flogged body and bad toes could manage.  

As you limp into the plane, people gawk as though seeing someone from Saturn. Blushing, you strap your seat belt on and whisper, Whew!  You close your eyes, take a deep breath, and thank your Enabler for making you catch your flight and for all the etceteras and etceteras of the four-day book saga, focused on proclaiming His grace.    

Up in the firmament, after being allowed to recline your seat, you turn on your cellphone, click on Gallery, and as you scroll down, down, down, you smile at each shot, and say under your breath, Memories are made of this.  

Then your soothed body and mind bring you back to why you are there and Who brought you there.

"I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles. Your awe-inspiring deeds will be on every tongue; I will proclaim your greatness. Everyone will share the story of your wonderful goodness; they will sing with joy about your righteousness." Psalm 145:4-7 (NLT)


3/20/2018

WOW


After delivering the Word at church—two services in a row in Iloilo city—I badly needed to drink a glass of water to wash down choked nerves. (I confess, despite having spoken before different audiences in many places for years, I never got over the jitters, and probably never will.) 

Not only was I given a glass of water, I was served authentic Chinese food in a restaurant by 20 women of WOW—Women of the Word—of Calvary Chapel. Straightaway, I felt like I was one of them, not a guest from out of town. The encounter was free and easy, just bits and pieces of this and that, our ministries, how we began and how we want to go on.

We shared snapshots of our lives, our failures, our successes, our common faith and of the enormous grace that comes with it. 

The evening was so relaxing, with plenty of banter and laughter, we didn’t realize we had exceeded our allotted time. And so we said our goodbyes.   

I realized I may never see them again—not in this life. But definitely, we will continue our conversations, which will no longer be time bound, in a place reserved for all of us, where goodbyes shall be no more. 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34 (NIV)

3/16/2018

Bigger Fonts


The majestic and imposing church, built beginning in 1949 in Iloilo City, loomed large before me. 

My stomach churned.

I have spoken in many churches before, but not in one as huge as this. My slides were not for a gymnasium-sized venue and I was now anxious they could not be read. I did not dwell on my worries too long, though; the ushers welcomed me warmly and ushered me inside the church.

It was, as expected, commodious indoors. The ceiling reached the heavens and although there were several projectors for every area, the endless rows of pews were overwhelming.

Contemplative yet contemporary would be how I’d describe the service—similar to my home church’s. The choir's angelic voices, together with the praise and worship team's edgy vocals (combining organ and modern band instruments) felt like I was in the music section of heaven—and the Lord's presence was in and with me.

"Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?" Psalm 139:7 (NLT)

Behind the pulpit, I clicked on my first slide, "What it takes to be a winner." Then my next slides seemed so miniscule, unreadable from the speaker's monitor. I winged it all the way and prayed that the audience would follow me through.

They must have. After the service, many thanked me for sharing my journey as a writer on God's grace.

Over lunch with the senior pastor, he said, "For the next service this PM, try to increase your font size to a minimum of 60, so you won't have a hard time reading the monitor." He noticed!

Back in the hotel, I rushed to revise my slides. And for the next service, I was faithful to my script, finishing on time to enjoy the music of Dr. Aaron Alfred Lee, world-famous keyboardist/pianist/composer.

As a teacher in communications, I always remind my students to do a venue check before finalizing their presentation slides. I broke my own rule, taking for granted I knew all about church sizes.

Baptist Center Church, according its website, is probably one of the biggest places of worship (protestant) in the Philippines—and the oldest, too. It was a blessing for me to have stepped inside it and speak behind its pulpit.

Photo credit: BCC facade

3/12/2018

Eight: A Miracle Number


From now, I will hold the number eight in high esteem. It created a miracle.

How it began

Our university president (to whom I could never say “no”) requested me to be The Bridge's (student publication) adviser for the third year in a row.  The qualifying exam reaped tons of entries, but I handpicked only the best 12. Two more volunteered to be photographers, bringing the number to 14.

Passion for campus journalism was palpable during our first meeting; there were sparks in the students’ eyes.       

Then the work piled up, got complicated, and the deadline neared. One quit. Then another followed . . . and another . . . and another. (Once upon a time, commitment was a virtue. People never quit, unless they were dead or dying.) Before I could blink, only eight was left.

How it continued

More than a challenge it was, like actually acting out our theme, "Breaking Borders." The remaining eight decided on a magazine, instead of the usual newspaper. They conducted a poll. They worked out exchange deals with suppliers. They secured copyright permits. (Yes, millennials couldn’t be boxed in.) And the edition was to be the university’s special 20th anniversary issue, for launching at a certain date. Too close for comfort.

Grace needed here.

Under ordinary circumstances, among lesser mortals, this would be panic time. But the eight pressed on: writing, editing, interviewing, lay-outing, coordinating, etc. And how about the photo shoot and press work?


More grace needed here.

Timely help and morale boost came from the angels at the Office of Student Affairs. They and our president wrote us encouraging notes. 

Still grace needed here.

At crunch time, ironically on Valentine’s Day, one editor volunteered to be at the press. She was trapped there from morn till eve.

One day later, the press gave an ultimatum, “A person of authority has to sign the proofs so we could  beat the deadline.” That had to be me.

Grace came beyond measure: Our president, her heart made of gold, threw in her full support by keeping me company, bringing along our IT to see to details.
 
How it ended 

It was celebration of our 20th year as an institution that has been breaking borders since day one! A flood of individual and collective appreciation swirled in from the student body. The Bridge is their voice; they are in it; they own it. 

Behind it all are the enduring eight editorial board members (future leaders, no doubt) who broke borders to make it happen. Their first names: Rafayel, Fatima, Shiandra, Allie, Kat,  Sonia, Paolo, and Pau. Their middle name: commitment
 
If that isn’t a miracle, what is?


3/10/2018

No Gadgets (Part 2)


These scenes—in malls, coffee shops, and homes—are oh-too-familiar today:   

They are, it seems, a reflection of the behavior of their parents, who are just as hooked on gadgets.

Many government agencies are now issuing precautions about the side effects of handheld devices. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics both state that infants (0-2 years) should not be exposed to handheld technology gadgets. Children aged 3-5 years should be limited to just one hour per day of gadget use, while 6-8 years should be restricted to 2 hours per day.

However, parents insist on giving their tots gadgets because they are a sure-fire way of pacifying  demanding kids.

Continuing from yesterday’s post, here are more dangers, as culled from research, spawned by early use of gadgets:

Mental Diseases - Technology overuse (gaming consoles, mobile phones, tablets, etc.) will always be a risk factor for child depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, attention deficit, autism, bipolar issues, psychosis and other problematic behaviors. Gadgets restrict the child’s mind and physical movement which delays his mental and physical development.

Violence - Kids learn to be aggressive—as exhibited in tantrums. As they grow older, they are more likely to confront and disobey their elders and authorities. 

Radiation Exposure - The World Health Organization (2011) reported that “cellphones and other wireless devices are considered category 2B risk because of their radiation emission,” harmful to health and are classified as “possible carcinogens.”

Lack of communication Skills - Reduced socializing breeds kids who cannot express themselves clearly and politely—and don’t know how to listen or empathize. 

Sleep Deficiency - Because of the thrill kids experience from electronic games and tablets, they prefer to stay up and miss out on their needed rest.

No Exposure to Nature - Instead of going out and learning the ways of the world, appreciating God’s creation—animals, plants, lakes, sky, mountains, and beaches—kids stay cocooned in their own digital world.   

Damaged Eyesight - Ophthalmologists say that good eyesight depends upon staring at things of varying distances, spaces, movements, and shapes. 

Addiction - New research now reveal that gadget addiction is even more dangerous than drug addiction. Although gadget addiction is not recognized as an official disorder by medical classification, many therapists today treat gadget-addicted patients with the same methods they would use to treat other addictions.

“It’s worse than alcohol or drug abuse because it’s much more engaging and there’s no stigma behind it,” said Nathan Driskell, a therapist in the US. 

I am no longer parenting young children, but as an author of children’s books, and one who grew up reading the printed page (e-books were not invented yet), I agree with this research result (abridged):

“Screens and e-readers interfere with two important aspects of navigating texts: 1) serendipity;   2) a sense of control.” 

I enjoy flipping to a previous page when a sentence brings back a memory. Often I skim ahead or read the ending and imagine how the author filled up the in-betweens. 

My Bibles have marginal notes and I underline the word grace, grateful for where it is taking me. And, don’t laugh, I have the opportunity to lovingly cover my books with plastic as though they were pricey gems.

Well, they are. 

3/08/2018

No Gadgets (Part 1)


I will celebrate if all you remember from this seminar is this: No gadgets for kids who could not yet read.

This was to encourage the parents of millennials and Gen Z (in Cagayan de Oro, an hour flight away from home) in the audience to read books to their young children, so they will learn to love reading and prefer books over gadgets when they are ready to read the printed page.   

According to child development experts, kids who are reared on handheld gadgets are passive participants—being fed with other people's ideas. But children who read books enter a world of creativity, unbounded by time and space.  The phrase “critical thinking skills” required of adults is really about imagination, developed at an early age through reading.

Like a mean joke, this scenario met me on my flight home. My seatmates were a young tot and his smartly dressed mom. As soon as she strapped her kid to his seat, she gave him a smart phone.

Then she got busy with her own. Despite the repeated announcement for passengers to turn off all electronics, mother and son kept at theirs, raptly immersed in their own cyber world.

The boy squeaked, "Awk!" (He still could not talk and had his feeding bottle beside him).

His mother immediately replied, knowing exactly what he wanted, "No internet, son, so no You Tube."

I was devastated, remembering the just-concluded successful seminar.

When the mother looked up from her gadget, I chirped with the friendliest voice I could muster, "He's so young and already he could manipulate a phone so deftly."

Proudly she replied, "Oh, yes, we started him on it before he turned two. Children are different these days!"

These days, gadgets are the new yaya (baby sitter). They could do what a human being could never manage:  make even the brattiest of kids sit still. It’s a pacifier, stopping kids from whining or acting up.   

Research results on how gadgets have affected kids are alarming: they have changed the stages of natural growing-up; they have replaced toys, playgrounds, storybooks, exercises, and communication. 

Here are some specific dangers (abridged from various findings) among children: 

Drastic Brain Development - The brain’s size triples at toddler stage and develops until a child’s adult years. Gadgets may negatively interfere with this natural growth. 

Obesity - Kids inertly playing with gadgets don’t burn calories, which may lead to obesity that could cause complications such as diabetes, heart attack, and stroke.

Grace deprivation - God’s grace is in the little and big things that are strewn in a myriad of places and people which must touch a kid’s life. Gadgets limit his time and space, depriving him of this wondrous gift from above.

To be continued . . .

3/04/2018

Crying Lady


We cry for different reasons. One would be over regrets. Had we been braver, more daring, more rash, we think we could have gone to the place where our heart was set on going.

This was exactly what a little old lady, her eyes moist, told me.  
She was one of the 400+ people in the audience when I spoke about “What it takes to be a winner.” I narrated how much I had always dreamed of being a writer, but the snags and detours I took were far too many, till I got here late in life.

“Eighteen years later, today,” I stressed, “I have written 54 books—with 15 awards and 15 rejected manuscripts. One rejection letter said, ‘Do not attempt to rewrite and re-submit.’ I have failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I keep writing.”

She waited to talk to me, sitting alone with her teen-aged grandson watching her from a distance. She rose to hug me, very tightly, and whispered, “That was beautiful.  I, too, had always dreamed of being a writer but never got published.”

“It isn’t too late,” I assured her. “Send me one of your manuscripts and I’ll see what I can do.” I was thinking of publishing it online—on my blogsite—right away.

“But they are all handwritten, and they are all the copies I have.”

“You can ask your grandson to either photocopy one or type it and send to me via e-mail,”

“What is e-mail?” she wrinkled her ash-gray brows.

Dreams can be overtaken by time and technology. And only if we let them remain in the past can we be content with where we are.  I had unwittingly unearthed a passion she had kept in her heart all these years; I did not mean to.

“Being published isn’t the be-all and end-all of writers,” I explained. "We write because we love to and enjoy it. Other people need not read the words from our heart. But you could leave those pieces as a legacy to your grandchildren.”

We hugged one more time, and as she walked slowly away, I remembered Moses. He expected to step into the Promised Land, but the Lord thwarted that thought, “Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!” (Numbers 20:12)

I am not drawing a parallelism between the old lady and Moses.  I simply mean, we don’t know why some dreams are fulfilled and some aren’t, even if we work hard toward achieving them.  And it is not wise to question “why?”

We just need to keep the faith and lean on His grace.