4/09/2021

Let Sleeping Dogs (and Cat) Lie

 

Every morning at six, since the pandemic started over a year ago, I wake up to this sight at our terrace. Same spot (despite the wide space around the house), different positions. Morning grace. 

I tiptoe so as not to wake them up. After all, they must have spent the whole night guarding our home and us from danger. 

Seeing them sleeping soundly, I remember the still popular old proverb that goes back to the 13th century. It actually alludes to waking up a fierce watchdog and causing trouble. 

Meaning?  

- leave a situation alone because disturbing it might cause trouble

- do not make a fuss to avert disagreement

- avoid bringing up memories of a bad situation that people have already forgotten

Our mother-and-son dogs, Attorney and Judge, do not mind being awakened. They are the opposite of this proverb. They are wonderfully affectionate and always enjoy a prolonged petting. If anyone in the household wakes them up, they wag their tails and immediately give obvious signals that translate to, “Please, pet me quick!” 

After which, they nap again. 

And then there is our cat, Fiscal. It is always asleep as well and when awakened, meows, begging to be carried by son #3 and taken inside the house for sightseeing.

Why is there so much sleeping these days? 

Why not? Their family (us) is forever at home—lolling about mostly. Unlike in the old days, prior to the coronavirus attack, all humans would be out at work or elsewhere and coming home would bring excessive excitement to our dogs-and-cat welcoming committee. Often, we’d take them out for a walk or let them out with their kind in the neighborhood.  

But the Covid-19 changed all that. 

And so they sleep—for lack of other things to do.   

And so we let sleeping dogs (and cat) lie.   


4/05/2021

Awash with Cash


"Poor country." " Developing nation." "Third world." "Republic with poverty rate higher and more persistent than any country in Southeast Asia." 

Those words that economists use to describe our beloved Philippines are devastating. But facts are facts. And so we acknowledge our sorry state of affairs.  

Imagine my shock when I read one issue of last month’s newspaper. It came with a seven-full-page listing of our lawmakers’ salaries and expenses. My advertising mind immediately totaled the cost of the pages—more than P5 million in ad rates. Reading the items, audited and signed by one Isaiash C. Reynoso (OIC – supervising Auditor), I almost had a seizure! We are supposed to be poor.   

But if this is how our lawmakers spend the taxpayers’ money, why, we’re awash with cash!  I wished it were an April Fool's Day joke.   

There are 243 representatives and 24 senators, and not one of them receive an annual salary below P1 million! Their other expenses? 

    • Foreign travel 

    • Local Travel 

    • Contractual consultants 

    • Representation 

    • Chairmanship allowance 

    • Public Affairs fund 

    • Central office staff

    • Equipment, Furniture, and fixtures 

    • Extraordinary and Miscellaneous expenses

    • Meetings and conferences 

    • Supplies and materials

    • Rental of motor vehicles and equipment 

I am bad with figures; I can’t crunch numbers accurately, but common sense tells me that these run into billions of pesos. 

And for what? Only for crafting laws that many of them, especially those who have lost their conscience on the road to perdition, violate anyway (and get away with it). 

With all that cash, I can’t imagine why 44% (World Bank figure) of our population live in shanties without toilets, make-shift homes packed with adults and children suffering from incest, rape, malnutrition, and unhealthy environment. Well, those are why we are still classified as a poor country. 

Words fail me. 

May the Lord of all grace fill our heart with compassion, and rid our life of greed for cash. 

“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10 NLT) 

Photo credits: top photo; bottom photo 

4/01/2021

A Pandemic High


Coinciding with the highest one-day tally of coronavirus cases in the country (almost 10,000) was an equally high level of excitement in our household. 

It was the day son #3 defended his dissertation for Doctor of Juridical Science. It was held online, open to the public, but I decided to avoid watching to preserve my composure. Tony wasn’t vocal (never vocal) about his reason for staying away.  

At our perch in the terrace, we could hear son #3’s voice and the voices of the panel of distinguished justices and college of law deans. It seemed longer than two hours, but as soon as it was over, JR nonchalantly announced, “It went well. I was awarded Magna Cum Laude distinction.”  

“Say that again? Say that again?!” I shrieked. 

Tony and I went into an exceptional high, way above cloud nine, while still nailed to the ground.   

In minutes, the dean of JR’s school uploaded on social media the result of the defense of the paper, "Convergent Streams: The Common Law and Civil Law Traditions, the Magisterium, and Sola Scriptura."  

“What does that mean?” Tony wondered.

“Nobody has to understand,” JR replied with a straight face. “That’s how dissertations should be.”  

He narrated that about the only negative comment he received was, “Some parts are too literary.” 
(JR is a two-time Palanca awardee. I know how difficult it is to abandon one’s love for literature.)  

In the comment thread of the above post came this accolade from one of the panelists:  “Dr. JR, your treatise is far more comprehensive than any thesis some of our seminarians have done in our formation as priests. You contributed not only in the field of civil, but of canon, theology and history as well . . . Your book deserves a space in all seminary libraries in the Philippines.”  

“Ah, so!” Tony remarked, like the light suddenly turned on. “The paper is about how human laws and God’s laws meet.”   

Whatever, I said silently. This mom ignores details when grace suddenly shines through the darkness of a one-year old pandemic.  

“If not for the pandemic, I would never have had the time to finish that paper,” JR said, as though rebuking my thoughts.  

Ulk. That sounds like an April Fool’s Day joke.    


3/28/2021

Your Money’s Worth

 

Once upon a time, a brilliant idea came upon my husband. That fairy-tale-opening phrase is an apt beginning for this story . . .   

His medium-sized advertising agency was thriving, and I was earning well as EVP in a multinational ad agency, yet he had this brilliant idea to make it big as a retail king, ala the owner of SM and other big store chains.

He found a number of apparel suppliers of seconds and production overruns that had tons of rejects from big department stores. After negotiating for a space in a new neighborhood mall, the owner of which was his client, he decided to sell the goods he could get for a song, at rock-bottom prices.  

My meager contributions to the project were my excitement, its name and the logo, which one of my art directors designed—for the love of Grace. 

“Your Money’s Worth.” 

Both busy full-time, we hired people to man the store and see to the day-to-day operations. We would go there after office hours and bask in the sight of a crowd of bargain seekers. 

They’d grab items, priced in big stores for P250, sold for only P25 in ours. Soon, wholesale buyers, such as store owners in the provinces, would regularly flock to the shop.  

Just over a year later, however, the suppliers suddenly refused to sell to Tony,  with the excuse that stocks were scarce. They never revealed the real reason why this happened, but my husband suspects to this day that SM, who sold the “perfect” goods, found out about the idea and bought all the imperfect ones as well for its own.  

Tony’s vision of becoming a retail king was quashed before it could take off. 

Was it a coincidence that SM set up its own “Your Money’s Worth” and called it Surplus Store, a few meters outside its main department store? Although the prices are not as cheap as our old shop’s, it is booming and has made the big retail king who owns the department store a bigger retail king.

Whenever I see our old store sign, which we have kept as a corner décor in our home, I tell Tony, “You were ahead of your time.” 

Immodestly he replies, “Always.” 

A fairy tale it was. The end.  

"We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps." (Proverbs 16:9 NLT)


3/24/2021

GUEST BLOG: Cars, Cars, Cars


(For the first time in 15 blogging years, I am sharing a guest post, originally published in Storyworth. The writer has not given me his permission, but I am sure he will. He was my first boss, and eventually, my husband. With feminism going strong, there is a debate on who is boss. Wink, wink. Seriously, I am posting this because I share his core values.)  

Being a practical person, I’ve never been fussy about my lifestyle, and cars.  Probably because of my Chinese roots, I’ve always looked at things from a functional point of view. For me, a car is for utility, a conveyance that can give me mobility. Period.   

Unlike some of my colleagues when I was just starting out in a multinational ad agency, I never craved for flashy or expensive cars. Aside from the fact that I could not afford them, I’ve never felt the need to keep up with my friends who show off expensive things for image. 

I’ve always liked casual. So the first car I ever owned was a second-hand Renault R-6 from France. This was in the late 60s when people were sporting big American cars such as Chevy,  Rambler, and Ford. Mine was a small but sturdy car that could get me to Baguio City and back to Manila on a full tank, which cost about 35 pesos!

Being a compact car, the R-6 was a mechanical wonder. It hardly required maintenance because it had few parts that needed changing. All the care it needed was regular oil-change. It served me well in my bachelorhood as it brought me safely to Umingan, a three-hour drive over rugged roads from my home in Quezon City to visit future in-laws and asked for the hand of their daughter in absentia, because Grace was then still finishing her studies in the USA.

The R-6 served me well into married life. But the drive to Umingan was becoming more challenging because it seemed that the rugged one-hour stretch from the main highway into the old lazy town was becoming more rugged with stones flying all around and into the car which had no air-conditioning. When our first son was born, I told my wife I needed a better car with air-conditioning because I didn’t want my first born to be inhaling all that dust every time went to Umingan, which happened once every month.

It was then that I bought a used Toyota Corona. It had air-conditioning and a small refrigerator in its trunk. It would have been an ideal car because it was fuel efficient and was roomy enough for a small family of three plus one yaya. Our trips to Umingan became more comfortable and tolerable despite the deteriorating road condition. 

But alas, one day it was bumped from behind by a truck. The truck owner happened to be a friend and not wanting to incur my ire, offered to exchange cars – my Corona for his brand-new Dodge Colt. I agreed and this time I had changed cars without intending to.   I soon found out that the Dodge Colt, with its overhead cam drive, was expensive to maintain.  Aside from this, it was a gasoline guzzler. This naturally made me suspicious why my so-called “friend” offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse. Bah!

This left me no choice but to shop around for another car. This time, I looked for a brand new car just about the size of my old Toyota and as fuel-efficient. This was how I landed my first brand new car, a Mitsubishi Lancer. 

I’ve since been changing cars or adding new ones into our garage. 

Guest blogger: Tony Chong


3/23/2021

Flash Post


Urban dictionary defines “flash post” as something uploaded on social media that is quickly deleted if the person posting it does not get any "likes" or positive comments. 

This “flash post” (my first on this blogsite) is the opposite. It got a mind-boggling 653 thumbs-up, heart, and laughing emojis!  

I say mind-boggling because I never got this many well-wishers—not even when I posted about my Life Achievement Award in Children’s Literature, a bestowal beyond my belief! Surely this recognition is so much bigger than the Duterte administration’s spox refusing to reveal his Covid-19 test result after he had already announced he caught the virus?!   

It’s a mystery. Why would someone occupying a high government position of responsibility keep his test result a secret?   

We can only guess. And so I guessed, and 653 (and counting) people agreed with my guess when I took a screenshot of the post.  

So why am I rushing (it will be deleted after 24 hours) when it got tons of positive replies? Well, the news report reeks of disgrace—an attitude that has to be called out, but also called off quickly. 

Back to writing about grace. 


3/20/2021

Days Are Long

 

In the summer, days are long. (Like this photo collage I learned to create for the first time.) 

When the North Pole of the Earth is tilted toward the Sun, we in the Philippines receive more sunlight. The sun rises earlier in the morning and sets later at night. 

Summer or not, however, days have been long for more than a year now, and it has nothing to do with the sun. It has everything to do with the coronavirus pandemic that immobilized us in our homes. 

We’ve been blessed with sooooo much extra time that was, pre-Covid 19, spent on dressing up, preparing our bags/brief case, traveling to and from wherever, grabbing a cab or squeezing into a bus or jeepney, traffic snarls, queuing for services or food, waiting for people to show up for appointments, walking from one place to another, etc.   

These activities and hours spent on them are gone. What does one do with a long day? 

A lot. 

“More” has never had so much meaning for me. More time to write, to read, to nap, to do crossword puzzles, to watch and enjoy nature, to pray, and to get in touch with family and friends over the phone and through the Internet. 

And the biggest bonus for me—more time to learn and play around with technology, which has been my stress point for years because of lack of time to fiddle with apps and the keyboard. 

One of these is image editing. 

While watching a replay of the launch of Memories of Grace,  I accidentally hit a key that paused the video. And after hitting another key, my image was frozen. I did this a few times and what do you know?  

I was rewarded with multiple head shots—more than I ever had in my lifetime! 

Now I don’t need to reply, “Sorry, but I don’t have a recent photo of myself.” 

Here they are: multiple grace—the Grace that is my name, and the grace that is always dropped from above exactly when I need it. 

I can now give my photos a new look (this one’s supposed to symbolize every long day) that has eluded my blogsite for 14 years.     

"This 

is the day 

that the Lord 

has made; 

let us rejoice 

and be glad in it."  

Psalm (118:24 ESV)


3/16/2021

My Childhood Bedroom

 

In our nipa hut (bahay-kubo), which stood in the compound that included our church and my grandparents’ house, I shared a bedroom with all my four younger siblings, and our househelp, Manang Ibay. 

Yup, the house I remember when I was little was a hut. My description may not be accurate as I didn’t pay attention to details, but I am sure it was made of materials people refer to as a nipa hut. 

One had to take six steps of wooden stairs to the porch that opened to the living room, with bamboo slats for floor and nipa for walls. The thatched roof was made of anahaw, a local plant.  

That hut had another bedroom for my parents, a dining room cum kitchen, plus a roofless space called bangsal, which my sister called “bathroom under the stars.” It was for bathing, washing clothes, and storing water that had to be manually pumped. Under it was a haven for our pigs and alternative coop for our chickens. 

A few years later, however, my parents decided to replace the hut with a two-story, concrete-and-wood house. At that time I was away in the city for high school. When I went home during the summer break, the new house was half-way up. Because I was turning 13 in another year, my parents surprised me with a room of my own. 

It was small, with just enough space for a slim bed and an aparador (clothes bureau) with a slender mirror. But it had a wall where I could hang three framed photos, and two huge windows where I could look down and see the pigs, chickens, and our water pump, or look up to behold a tall coconut tree and the sky above it. 

Before my room could warm up to me, however, a husband-and-wife American missionaries, who were on a long journey, came by to say “hello.” My parents, solicitous and caring to faith brethren and God’s workers, convinced them to stay the night, so they’d be rested to continue traveling the next day. 

They offered my bedroom. 

That was the day my bedroom transformed into a guest room, a most logical place for stranded pastors and church workers to rest—and where delegates to a church conference would feel most comfortable. 

Me? I didn’t mind sleeping in the double-deck beds in my siblings’ bedroom.  

Then one day, our church decided to welcome a deaconess (a lady church worker, who had just graduated from the seminary, to lead the youth group for the year.) She was from a faraway town, so she needed a permanent lodging while she performed her assignment. 

Guess what place was offered her? 

She moved into my bedroom; I had to empty my aparador and migrate my clothes to my siblings’ bedroom. My photos on the wall stayed, however, as though staking their claim to the place. 

My bedroom, to my mind, was just on lease (for free) to someone who had an important ministry. Pretty soon I went to college and stayed in a dormitory (for four years). Whenever I went home for vacation, I would visit my bedroom, occupied by another guest (a church worker, no less), and find my photos on the wall smiling back at me.  

So what was my childhood bedroom like? 

It was a sanctuary for the stranded, for church guests, for God’s servants who needed to rest their head for the night, so they can continue laboring for the Lord through the day. 

Looking back now, years and years later, I would answer that same question with words borrowed from the Bible, “Not mine, but Thine” Lord. 

(Note: This article was originally published in Storyworth; photos were borrowed from the Net to represent my bedroom view; only professional photographers owned cameras then.)  

3/12/2021

Abandoned Rooms


These photos were posted by a colleague and friend, Ailene, on social media. As soon as I saw them, my heart was smashed to smithereens. 

These were my twice-a-week classrooms, where I bantered, joked, chatted, and learned with my students for years before the pandemic crushed everything that physical interactions stood for. 

I remember the last day I was in these rooms . . . 

Classes were abruptly suspended, until further notice, because of a government advisory that the coronavirus has entered our shores. We all didn’t realize that such ordinary and normal day would be the beginning of extraordinary and abnormal changes in all our lives. 

Had I known that it would be my last day with my students, I would have at least hugged each one or gave them my one-liner to which they would let out a huge guffaw, “Now, listen, don’t do anything I won’t do!” 

They would retort: 

“Miss, that’s like saying ‘Go into a coma!’” 

“Kill me with a knife, not with boredom, Miss.” 

“Then I might as well go back to my mother’s womb!” 

“Miss, don’t be cruel!” 

Those rascals! 

That was exactly one year ago, today. I don’t know how much longer until I could step into these classrooms again. I pray it would be soon—before my last batch of students would all have children of their own and will totally forget about these places of grace.  

Empty rooms are one thing—they could be filled up anytime. But abandoned rooms? They stay vacant till there is a safe reason for them to be occupied again. 

“Abandoned” must have been how the disciples initially felt when Jesus was about to ascend to heaven. 

But He promised them, “. . . you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22 ESV) 


3/08/2021

Humorous Memes

 

Born only in 1976, the word meme (coined by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene) has become so popular that almost every netizen knows what it is or can even do one himself. 

It was Dawkin’s attempt to “explain how ideas replicate, mutate, and evolve [memetics].”  

Today, we all understand meme as a humorous anything: photo with a caption, a short video, witty phrase, etc. that is posted and re-posted (often with slight variations) rapidly on the Internet. Many become viral. 

Although meme is fairly new, its origin is old: mimema, a Greek word meaning “imitated.” 

Some of the funny memes are satires about what the pandemic has dumped on us; they make me enjoy the grace of laughter. 

This series, for those who are familiar with American celebrities, dramatizes—by using two famous names in one photo—what has happened to our demeanor as we drudge through the pandemic mud, or even just to survive. This other meme (below) focuses on our land—how the meme creator sees our president, who goes online once a week for his Covid-19 report to the nation, and perhaps what he does the rest of the week. 

It features a familiar photo of the president sleeping under a mosquito net, uploaded by people close to him to show what a simple life he leads. But the meme creator has found a way to make it funny and to editorialize on the president’s work ethics. 

“Humor can be one of of our best survival tools.” Allen Klein 


3/04/2021

Chatting about Reading


There’s nothing more nerve-wracking than a video chat—live. 

I have to be totally focused and erectly seated within camera range because any sudden movement can push me off screen or distract the audience. I also have to be extra attentive to my chat-mate’s questions or the audience would click away from mindless non-sequiturs. 

Here’s the chat that vanished all those fears. 

  

It's called the National Library of the Philippines (NLP) Book Cart Project, aimed at encouraging  children to read, and hosted by Ate Melai, a well-loved and outstanding storyteller. 

She had invited me to some other NLP activities in the past. Unfortunately, these overlapped with my other events. 

The pandemic has souped up everything—as though flying in a Lockheed SR-71 plane or a race car at full speed. Without having to leave my workroom, I could participate in virtual events on books and reading anywhere in the globe. 

The interesting thing about a chat is that it is non-linear. There are no rules. It frees chatters from the constraints of any crisis. You can begin with the end and end with the beginning. On and on, we talked about the 13 W’s. Thirteen? Well, there are more actually, if you include whenever, whichever, wherever, whereupon, and whatchamacallit.  

She asked me about Mateo, the main character of my Oh, Mateo! series of 16 books, and I had a chance to show her the three Mateos of my life: (from right to left) my dad, my brother and his son, whose endearing qualities as a growing boy found their way into many of the stories.   

And then Ate Melai told the story of “Gone?” in Filipino (as translated by Dr. Luis Gatmaitan), complete with gestures only she can do. I guess a book for younger kids such as this needs histrionics that I have yet to learn. 

It was a one-and-half hour of laughter and fun—not nerve-wracking as I unfairly assumed.

In fact, it was  liberating grace that left me with this thought: being cloistered at home (almost a year now!) unlocks a world of possibilities.  


2/28/2021

All You Need Is Love

 

“What did Uncle Bruno give you on Valentine’s day?” Little Lannie asked. 

“Love,” her Aunt Joan replied. 

“No flowers?” Lannie insisted. 

“Love,” Aunt Joan repeated, laughing. 

“Not even chocolates?” Lannie was incredulous.

“Dearie, why do husbands have to give their wives flowers and chocolates? 

“Because it’s Valentine’s Day. They say it’s the day of love!” 

“Say that last word again, dearie.” 

“. . . Love?” Lannie was confused. 

Special days created by marketing men naturally require consumers to buy goods. And on Valentine’s day, flowers and chocolates should sell. “Say it with flowers” is one such slogan that has created demand for what now seems to be the “symbols” of Valentine’s day. 

The Bible does not say anything about a husband giving his wife flowers or chocolates to show he loves her. We read something more important. 

Ephesians 5:25-33 (NLT) says that husbands must love their wives “. . . just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her.”                             

Scripture further tells us (v. 33) that "each man must love his wife as he loves himself . . .” 

After God created Eve from Adam’s ribs (Genesis 2:23-24), He brought her to Adam, who exclaimed, “At Last! This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh!’” The Lord called her woman because she was taken from man. This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. 

Aunt Joan explained, “Between a husband and wife, all we need is love. When you are older, Lannie, you will understand what that means.”  

Reflect and pray: 

Since I am not obliged to give (or receive) flowers on Valentine’s day, how can I make the “day of love” significant between me and my spouse?  

ooo 

2/24/2021

Peace Lily


A plant mom I am not, so I don’t qualify as a plantita. This post is only about one plant, which caught my eye while staying home all hours of the day and night, 11 months now, and counting.   

“Wow, what stunning white flowers!” I exclaimed when I saw them blooming, contrasting with their dark green foliage, from about five flower pots.      

“We had one pot that bloomed now and then for the longest time,” Tony retorted. 

We did? I thought. I never noticed it. 

“How come there are so many of them?” I asked. 

Mother Teresa (a true-blue plantita), who was pruning the tree nearby replied, “I planted the new sprouts in several pots and now they are all blooming!” 

“What’s it called?” I asked, feeling like an alien that just landed on earth.  

“Peace Lily,” she said. 

Peace Lily! I’ve always loved and captured on canvas Calla Lilly. I didn’t know there was another lily that is just as interesting! I ran to my laptop and looked it up.  

There are several legends on how the name came about, but here are those that make the most sense to me. Peace comes from the Greek words spath (spoon) and phyl (leaves). 

It is known as a bringer of peace. The white spath represents a white flag which is internationally known as a truce signal. 

Peace Lily reminded me of God’s promise to Israel, when the nation had turned to worshiping idols, “I will be to Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven. It will blossom like the lily . . .” (Hosea 14:5 NIV) 

This is equally promised to us who have been showered with grace in Christ. For He chose us from the pit of sin so we could be saved, redeemed, glorified in Him.

We will blossom like the lily and shall have eternal peace!   


2/20/2021

Bruised and Blemished

 

Piles of news, blogs, articles, and posts have been written about Ravi Zacharias: how he lived a predator's life of lies and duplicity, and how he caused indignation among Christians.  

I wept, gravely wept, when I read the 12-page report—commissioned by the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) board after his death—of his sexual misconduct.  

I grieved not for him, because in life he had it all: money and power. He basked in the glory of being  hailed as the smartest apologist, lionized by followers worldwide, esteemed by famed theologians and heads of state, and adored by a staff that thought of him as lily white. In death, he will have his day in God’s court. 

My heart broke over the trail of hundreds of helpless women, whose naked  photos he collected and hid, and whom he abused during massages (with some allegations of rape), leaving their body and soul bruised and blemished. 

He beguiled them with ministry funds (some for housing, schooling, and monthly support) and spiritual conversations that began or ended with prayers. 

Miller & Martin attorneys Lynsey Barron and William Eiselstein investigated, interviewed people, examined phones Ravi used, and reported, “We uncovered sufficient evidence to conclude that Mr. Zacharias engaged in sexual misconduct.” 

Nobody came to the rescue of these abused women, because Ravi concealed his slimy misbehavior from family, friends, colleagues, and donors. On rumors, Ravi machinated the public into thinking he was innocent, while invoking God’s name.   

But nothing and no one can destroy God’s church, not even “the gates of hell [Matthew 16:18]." 

The now downsized RZIM board gives hope to Christians feeling guilty over their loyalty to one man and turning a blind eye to his indiscretions:    

“We are seeking the Lord’s will regarding the future of this ministry … We will be spending focused time praying and fasting as we discern how God is leading us.”

RZIM’s steps forward*:   

Repentance:  

“We are committed to the ongoing process of repentance . . . for what Ravi did and for all of the ways that we have fallen short, we are so sorry. We have no right to forgiveness and that even if forgiveness is possible, it may take time.”

Restitution: 

“ . . .We will help the victims of Ravi’s abuse, and we want to thoroughly understand what has taken place . . . so that we can do everything we can to make sure nothing like this happens again. 

“ . . . victim-advocate Rachael Denhollander will serve as a confidential liaison with survivors and to help guide the process of care, justice, and restitution for those who have been victimized." 

Commitment:

“ . . . Guidepost Solutions, a management/compliance consulting firm will conduct  a thorough evaluation of RZIM, including its structures, culture, policies, processes, finances, and practices. 

“ . . . writing this statement has made us profoundly aware that even what we say now is vastly insufficient and merely a starting point for all that needs to be . . . done.  

“Jesus . . . our only Savior worthy of ultimate trust and worship . . . is fully committed to truth and to justice, and he unqualifiedly stands with the victims." 

Amen. 

I believe in my heart that the healing grace of Jesus is upon those whom Ravi bruised and blemished. 

*https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2021/february/ravi-zacharias-rzim-investigation-sexual-abuse-sexting-rape.html

Photo credits: black and white photos, borrowed from the Net 

2/17/2021

The Colors of Quarantine


In mid March 2020, when the lockdown was imposed due to Covid-19, I felt exactly that—locked down. Quickly, however, I realized that there is no such thing as lockdown. My mind was free, has always been free, to roam wherever I took it. 

Technology has even made the mind-roaming quicker. After learning a few additional digital “skills” from young gurus (in-house and online), I am now a wider wanderer:  

With eyes that have grown bigger. 

I now see, actually see, my surroundings, particularly our garden and our terrace, where Tony and I spend most of our time.  I look down, up, around, and I behold all colors. 

Bees are swarming over flowers . . . the branches of trees are swaying with the breeze and birds . . . the grass is damp in the morning . . . weeds are peeping between pebbles strewn under flower pots . . . the clouds waltz or bop . . . the stars twinkle at night . . . our dogs, Fiscal and Attorney, put their heads on our lap so we could pet them, then they run around like crazy and bark when they hear sounds outside the walls . . . our cat, Fiscal, waits for son #3 to carry her for a tour inside the house a few times during the day . . . the rain, sometimes harsh and sometimes gentle, leave their droplets on the garden set . . . plus many more. 

This palette of grace around our home has always been there. It took a quarantine for me to see all the hues, shades, tinges, tones, and tints.  

"O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your possessions—" (Psalm 104:24 NKJV)     


2/15/2021

This Must Be a Wow: 1,111,111

 

Before I take down this header, let me upload a screenshot of that lovely day this month when my blog site clocked the same number one, seven times! 


Surely (for me, at least), one million one hundred eleven thousand and one hundred eleven page hits in almost 15 years, coming from a page hit of only one (mine), is a wow.  

While I am delighted that I can document same-number page hits, I know that the next one (2,222,222) will no longer happen in my lifetime, unless there will come a sudden surge of traffic, which is unlikely.  That would be asking too much from the Giver of breath, Who has been extremely generous to underserving me. 

What 1,111,111 means is that I never found grace wanting. It comes with every post: the thought that sparked it, the words that put it together, and the strength to click on the keyboard with joy, joy, joy. 

It may be ironic to rejoice as our country is reeling from the worst economic downturn since 1947; still negotiating with pharmaceuticals for anti-Covid-19 vaccine while other countries have gone full-blast; trying to curtail our freedom through an impending anti-terrorism law; and experiencing widespread hunger and unemployment, fomented by abusive people in power.  

But I choose to keep the faith. 

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Romans 12:12 (ESV)  


2/12/2021

Is Accountability Dead?


During the Christmas season, many people said that Christmas is dead because of the pandemic. 

My past posts reflected on this: Christmas is alive, and long after this crisis is solved, and the world shall come upon another crisis, Christmas is.

What seems to have died—many times over—in this country during the pandemic is accountability. And it was not caused by the virus. It was caused by arrogance, and the evil thought of “I can get away with it.”  

In 1995, then President Fidel V. Ramos issued Executive order No. 226 that institutionalized “command responsibility” in all government offices, particularly at all levels of command in the Philippine National Police (PNP) and other law enforcement agencies.  

Parts of the document read: “WHEREAS, a supervisor/commander is duty-bound and, as such, is expected to closely monitor, supervise, direct, coordinate, and control the overall activities of his subordinates within his area of jurisdiction, and can be held administratively accountable for neglect of duty in taking appropriate action to discipline his men . . . 

“SECTION 1.  Any government official . . . or officer of the Philippine National Police or that of any other law enforcement agency shall be held accountable for “Neglect of Duty” under the doctrine of “command responsibility” if he has knowledge that a crime or offense shall be committed, is being committed, or has been committed by his subordinates, or by others within his area of responsibility and, despite such knowledge, he did not take preventive or corrective action either before, during, or immediately after its commission . . .” 

The uniformed men of the Honorable General Debold Sinas, then Metro Manila PNP chief, blatantly threw him a birthday party (mananita), without masks and without social distancing. They imbibed prohibited alcoholic drinks. Beyond this, there are many cases of unresolved killings hounding him. 

Under the Executive Order above, he should be held accountable, right?  He was promoted instead. He is now the PNP chief.  

Recurring death? 

For years, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) had been trying to modernize toll collection on the expressways, but the system was never perfected. When toll collectors caught the new coronavirus, the DOTr shifted to electronic toll collection mandatory starting Dec. 1, even though the tollway operators did not have fail-proof systems.

Result: horrendous traffic stand-still on the expressways as RFID tags and sensors failed to work. 

The DOTr secretary, the Honorable Arthur Tugade, blamed and berated the toll operators, and washed his hands off the issue. Can accountability be delegated? 

And then there’s Honorable Francisco Duque, Secretary of Health, accused of “dropping the ball” . . . and Honorable Gen. Ricardo C. Morales, Chief of Philheath, accused of pocketing P15 billion . . . Honorable Senator Koko Pimental violating protocol . . . and Honorable Allan Peter Cayetano, accused of unliquidated P2 billion SEA games fund . . . and Honorable Brig. Gen. Jesus P. Durante III using smuggled vaccines for his men . . . and . . .

The names of honorables thinking, I can get away with it is endless. Let me end the list here, or my veins would burst while grieving over accountability.          

Management books tell us that leadership defines culture, and if a leader wants to create a culture of accountability, then it starts with him by modeling behaviors that he wants in an organization, because he is accountable for its failures and successes.  

Will accountability resurrect at another time? This has been my prayer before God's throne of Grace. 

“How long, O LORD, must I call for help?” (Habakkuk 1:2 NLT) 

 

2/08/2021

Virtual Book Launch (Part 2):

Memories of Grace


Review of Memories of Grace by Nor Gonzales on 27 November 2020.

There are three things that I like about the book. 

(continued from last post

Second, the emotions, the empathy, the excitement that each of the 180 devotional pieces evokes.  Grace has a gift of feelings.  On some pages, I felt vulnerable - I felt lonely, depressed, anxious, confused, angry, exhausted.  But there are more pages where I felt energized, entertained, hopeful, happy, thrilled, thankful, jubilant and joyful.  Sometimes the verses and the stories cited are cries for help -- a lament, while some verses are prayers of praise and thanksgiving. Reading through these made me feel that God sees through my heart and that all feelings are known to our God who has known us even while we were in our mother’s womb.  And I don’t have to mask these with anything. 

Third, the relevance to the times.  Covid 19 tops that list and she said it from the first page of her book. Perhaps, years from now, Memories of Grace could pass off as a “history book” that accurately portrays and documents the feelings that accompanied the invasion of Covid 19.  For through the stories and the reflections, one could feel the effects of Covid 19 on our psyche and emotions.  The book is also one that touches on political and social realities.  May sundot sa injustices, sa abuses, sa corruption, sa inefficiencies, how the poor and the marginalized may have felt throughout this pandemic.  She even tried to reflect on development issues, like poverty, functional illiteracy, and economic growth. How did she do it? Go and figure out for yourselves. Buy the book.

In doing so, I believe that Grace, as a Christian trying to live and love like Christ, has also exercised her prophetic role by using these daily reflections to denounce what is evil—all in the light of a world needing bountiful grace.  For to be a Christian does not mean waiting for the world to end because we are assured of a place in heaven. As a Christian, we are to bring heaven to where we are. That was a challenge to me, as a reader -- how to bring Shalom? Surely, that needs a lot of grace. 

And so I would like to end this review by quoting a part of the Prologue: 

“God’s mighty works through our once colorful life are memories of grace. Only by remembering can we move forward and realize: There need not be despair, because His grace has never left nor failed us- not then, not now.”  

Congratulations to Grace Chong, Jon de Vera, book cover designer and Marianne Ventura, page designer. 

Pahabol (P.S. in English): There is just one thing that I thought was missing. The book, with all 180 daily devotions seems to be bitin. It is good for only half a year, so perhaps, this should pave the way for a Part 2 of the devotional. 

* * * 

It is humbling to hear such praise from someone so accomplished in communications; thank you, Nor, for your kind words. I am grateful to OMF Lit for making this virtual book launch possible against all odds. 

I wrote a total of 365 devotions, but because of costs and circumstances caused by the pandemic, the Editorial Board reduced it to 180. The remaining unpublished devos will be uploaded here from time to time. 

For the success of this online event, I give back all the glory to God and God alone.  

“Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 115:1 NIV). 


2/04/2021

Virtual Book Launch (Part 1):

Memories of Grace 


My book launches were either held in a private venue or at the open-to-the public Manila International Book Fair. In both places, I had been privileged to chat with readers, hug them or shake their hands, sign their books, and pose in hundreds of photos with their mobile phones.   

Those images would later populate many walls on Facebook.

The pandemic stole those treasures away. My one and only book launch in 2020 was done virtually.  One other book launching was canceled due to unforeseen kinks.  

And so Memories of Grace (Devotions for your golden years), was virtually launched on 27 November. What replaced all of the precious moments above was a book review, which to me was a tribute, not so much to the author, but to the Source of all wisdom. 

That was unexpected grace.  

God sent this grace through someone steeped in communications: Nor Gonzales. OMF Lit's Yna Reyes  described Nor as both a reader and a writer, a communications professional on development issues and programs. She was a senior communications officer at the World Bank, and now teaches a graduate course in communications at the UP. 

Let me share with you her uplifting and heartwarming review, which affirms my resolve to keep writing till the sun sets on me.  

It is my great honor to give a review of the latest book of Grace Chong, one who has been truly using her retirement years to productive use.  With 60 published books, 6 Palanca awards, Gawad Balagtas Award, Samsung Kids Time Award, National Book awards, and Catholic Mass Media Awards, she has truly redefined the word “retirement”.  Based on her achievements, it seems that retirement now means more influence, more territories to cover, more work but of course, more fun! 

I am not sure what has made me earn the honor, except perhaps, that I belong to the target age group of her latest book.  

While I fit the profile of a potential reader of this devotional book, let me say outright that this devotional book is not for senior citizens only.  If you are a son, a daughter, a grandchild, a nephew or niece, an in-law, a student, or just a friend, you will find that many of the stories embedded in the devotionals are also about you as you relate to your parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties, teacher, neighbor, or friend of your parents or grandparents.  Well, if you have not been relating to anyone of them, then I think, YOU of all people, should read this book. 

There are three things that I like about the book.  

First, each page is short and sweet. The Bible verses are light, easy to read and easily connected to the story of the day.  Thanks to Grace’s flair for writing, everything is 300 words or less per page.  That must not be easy. Striving to be a writer myself, I know how it is to agonize to trim down your thoughts from a long draft to a few words. But Grace is like an excellent cook, she can put all the ingredients in one pot, in the right proportion, and make sure that nothing spills, even when the mix boils.  So off to the pot is the relevant story, the Word – sometimes embedded in the story or sometimes in a distinct paragraph, and then the reflection and prayer. 

(to be continued next post)  

 

1/31/2021

Final Act, Scene IV

 

My latest chronological Bible (CSB’s Day-by-Day), the Christmas 2020 gift from son #1, is now my favorite among all my chronological Bibles. 

Scripture is divided into Acts and Scenes, like a powerful stage play with a beginning and an ending.  

It takes a lifetime or two to completely inter-relate and internalize all the details in the Bible, so this version makes it easier—and more exciting—for me. 

The theater is close to my heart. It was a large part of my life in the US, while studying (and being involved in professional stage plays at Goodman theater) at the Art Institute of Chicago for a degree in performing arts. 

The three Acts in CSB’s Day-by-Day: 

Act 1- God’s plan for all people

Act 2: God’s covenant People 

Act 3: God’s New Covenant People (New Testament) 

George Guthrie wrote in the Introduction, “What many people don’t realize is that the Bible’s sixty-six books weave together an amazing, cohesive  story, a Grand Story that God has written on the world, and, believe it or not, you and I are a part of that story.” 

As is my habit (so shoot me!) in reading any book, I pore over the beginning then skim through the ending. 

Whoa! We are now in Scene IV, just before the final Scene when our Savior comes again! This made me rejoice—determined to devour this Book in 2021.   

* * *

Backstory: On one Christmas day over 10 years ago, son #1 gifted me with my first chronological Bible. He must have noticed how much I loved it, he gave me another translation the next year . . . and the next . . . It has become a beautiful tradition, which I look forward to. 

He usually writes a note on the first page. This one’s on my CSB’s Day-by-Day.  

 

Yes, as Scene IV plays out, “Let us be found laboring.” 


1/27/2021

Luck Is a Four-letter Word


My header, while this post is current, features the four-leaf clover, which my playmates and I would look for in our schoolyard at the beginning of each year. 

It was not an easy search, which made the activity more fun. We were told that if you found one, you would have good luck all through the year.   

That I believed, until my grandmother heard us giggling about our find.  

"There is no such thing as luck!" she stressed in Ilocano. 

I do not remember her exact words, but to me this was clear, “All good things come from God.” She cited a verse, which I finally found and understood when I was older,  remembering her words. 

“. . . from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace." (John 1:16) 

In truth, only God determines how this life is played out; there is no luck. And yet, many people cling on to luck via inanimate objects. Perhaps you are familiar with these images (right).   

As my faith grew, I chose to be a mouthpiece of my grandma to children as young as I was then. Believer in Christ ought not to believe in lady luck, promote lucky ideas, have lucky rabbits feet, look for four-leaf clovers, buy round fruits on New Year, have a horseshoe hanging around his neck, re-arrange his furniture to avert bad luck—none of those.  

According to Paul, living by faith is the way to go after meeting the risen Christ on the Damascus Road. Instead of relying on rites and laws to gain God’s approval, he turned around and depended on faith. 

Luck relates to chance, and the Bible teaches us that things do not happen by chance. I believe that everything entering my life comes from God directly or is filtered through His permissive will. 

It does not matter if I understand why or how. Because that is precisely what faith is, “. . . the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).” 

During this faith-stretching pandemic, a trial He allowed, good has been erupting. And luck has nothing to do with it. 

By faith I understand that the universe was formed at God's command; our troubles are not bad luck. Let me echo what someone wrote in one of my readings, “I don’t believe in good luck. I believe in a good God.” 

This period of quarantine has given me more time to write about this goodness.  Looking back to the years since my grandmother woke me up to the truth, I tear up, because I see God’s miracles, not streaks of good luck.  

Let me take the header down here, for the record. 

1/23/2021

Book Review: Hope Bearer

 

With so much free time while in quarantine, I savored Hope Bearer (Lessons of Hope and Courage in times of Crisis and Change) in two straight days. I was drawn to it like a moth to light. 

Church Strengthening Ministry, Inc. (CSMI), publisher, designed the book for adults who are (children’s Sunday School teachers) and can be (parents or any adult in a household with kids ages 4-12) involved in children’s ministry. 

I am both, although not to kids in this age range anymore. But the book illumined my mind, and taught me how to answer the questions children are asking either silently or aloud today: “Why is everything so different?” “Why am I afraid and sad?” “Why can’t I go out?” “When will everything go back to how it was?” 

CSMI’s Hope Bearer, divided into 10 units with a total of 30 lessons, provides answers that can be delivered to young readers in easy steps. It is a rich resource and a sharp tool for teaching-and-bonding moments.   

It was in Sunday school where I met Jesus, Who sacrificed His life to save me. There, the light was turned on for me to seek His radiance through prayers wherever I was. That’s why I believe Sunday school is vital in every kid’s life.   

In the middle of March last year, however, an unseen but dangerous virus took Sunday school away. The world turned pitch-black. Suddenly, kids are isolated in their homes, away from their teachers, friends, school, and church. 

Adults have coping mechanisms borne out of experience, but do kids? 

Hope bearer was created to bring back the ray of light that glows for kids caught between shadows of uncertainty and insecurity. 

The lessons come with questions, exercises, and activities that lead kids where to look and what to discover, eventually storing these things in their heart. The book enables us to behold our great God, and with Him, no space is unlit.  

What charms me most about Hope Bearer is its usage flexibility: online, home-based, face-to-face or a blending of all. 

The book’s easy-to-follow curriculum includes: doable crafts, singable tunes, practical applications, relevant online links, and uplifting principles of Scripture, which point to the Source of hope and Hope Himself: our loving God. 

I pray for Hope Bearer to reach every household and church during this global crisis. It equips us (parents, siblings, grandparents, and teachers) to continue conducting children’s Sunday school—to keep the ray of light shining upon and wrapping kids in a world gone dim. 


1/19/2021

Holding On—Together


Since the year 1988, when If We Hold on Together* was first performed by Diana Ross for a movie, our subclan has been repeatedly singing the tune as our group presentation for our yearly big clan reunion.   

Somehow, we never got it right—not the lyrics, anyway. Each one always had the words on a piece of paper (or phone) surreptitiously glanced at during the performance. 

By fair means or foul, it became our signature song on every occasion we were together.  We even sang it at my son #2’s wedding, never mind the miscues and unreached notes.  

In a couple of reunions, we had the audacity to play the melody on angklung.  

For three decades, despite the imperfections, we have been rewarded with a lusty applause after the last note, like getting an “A” for effort. Or perhaps the poignant lyrics deliver the message of togetherness, a rarity among families in our world today.  

“If we hold on together        
I know our dreams will never die
Dreams see us through to forever
Where clouds roll by
For you and I”

Then came our 76th clan reunion amidst the coronavirus pandemic, on 1 January (Philippines) and December 31 (other parts of the globe). Virtual it had to be, but the Execom still required each subclan to have a group presentation. 

Guess what we did.   

From four different countries and 11 households, our subclan recorded the same song we’ve performed for three decades to a soundtrack sent by our young techies.  

Ah, the miracle of technology. With clever editing, the video got more than a lusty applause from the chat box. 

For the first time, I shed tears while paying close attention to the lyrics.  

Not because of the grammatical lapse (which I noticed for the first time, too, but will be discussed in a separate post), but because . . .  

At no time has holding on together been more meaningful for me than now that we are all physically apart. Togetherness has nothing to do with time and distance. And this special feeling, spoken by tears, is grace received that can only be expressed in silence. 

*Written by James Horner and Will Jennings as theme song for the film The Land Before Time 

Photo credit: top (Pinterests.ph)

1/15/2021

A Year of Minimalism


In our home, the year 2020 was a year of minimalism—not in terms of worry and fear—but in terms of trappings of the consumer culture that has engulfed the world. 

I had been sparing. Instead of splurging on things that I thought gave my family joy, I distanced myself from them with careful restraint. Minimalism was the rhythm of my year.

Our Christmas trimmings were unearthed from an old box in our storeroom by Mother Teresa as I was not inclined to do anything I had done in past years: themed décor all over our house, indoor and outdoor (c/o Tony).   

Minimalism in this sense freed me from the stress that society imposes upon the season—shopping, gift wrapping, decorating, not to mention battling the dreadful holiday traffic to get to where you should be. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with all of the above. What’s wrong is that I gave too much meaning to them, neglecting what’s essentially important with the time I have left on earth: and that is to focus on the birth of Hope.   

These verses from my MSG Bible explained it for me:  

“. . . time is of the essence. There is no time to waste, so don’t complicate your lives unnecessarily. Keep it simple—in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things—your daily routines of shopping, and so on. Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This world as you see it is on its way out.” (1 Corinthians 7:30-31) 

This was fleshed out during the yearly party that I never miss to attend —the Christian Writer’s Fellowship Christmas get-together. This year, I didn’t have to dress up, suffer traffic woes, nor worry whether I’d be there on time to hear the message (A Thrill of Hope by Josil Gonzales, founding chairman) and fellowship with kindred spirits who serve the Lord through words. 

It was attended by friends from around the world!                     

A tradition that had to be modified because of safety protocols was the exchange of books. Each was encouraged to write on FB about the book he was ready to share with someone. The grace of this arrangement is, not just one, but all, will receive the book! 

A year of minimalism 2020 was, but more meaningful than what the world normally allows. 


1/11/2021

Let the Chaos Begin

 

Those words, said in jest by Teo, anchorman of our 76th Clan reunion on ZOOM on 1 January 2021 have never felt more right and more beautiful!  

He meant we could unmute, open mic, and talk (or shout in excitement) to whomever we chose on screen. 

"Chaos” translates to kunol-kunol (Ilocano term for bonding or idle chat), the part of our annual reunion that I love best, since I no longer have the proper joints and bones to participate in sports and games.  
  
One page out of eight

A grace event, nothing less, is what I call this 76th reunion, considering the dark hole we had been sucked into for most of 2020. I thought we’d stop at 75 (our golden jubilee) as soon as the crisis erupted last year. 

I was wrong.

The Execom, composed of younger members, and therefore tech savvy, of each sub-clan made it happen—complete with all the elements that had made all 75 reunions a riot and something to look forward to year after year. 

It opened with a thanksgiving and memorial service that looked back to all our blessings, including the love shared with those who have gone home to Jesus.    

 

A pastor in our clan delivered a powerful message about the God who binds us together, and the virtual choir sang our favorite hymns. We listened to a soundtrack of our voices singing the Lutkin Benediction in one past reunion.

Offertory for Project Nehemiah of the Umingan church

Virtual choir

The chat box got busy: 

“Goosebumps!”

“Awesome!” 

“Thank you, Lord!” 

This 76th is different not only because it was virtual, but many members from all parts of the world—including those who have not come home in ages—attended without spending time for preps and travel. It shattered all attendance records.  

All sub-clan presentations were recorded. The eloquent live liturgist and emcees worked hard at continuity, still, the three-hour event came with pixels, lagging, dead air, and all technical glitches you can think of. 

I'd say those were inconsequential. When you’re with the people the Lord gave you to grow up with, and who influenced your total being, everything but the hugging is perfect. 

In fact, those digital flaws were moments when Teo announced, “Continue with the chaos.”

We held hands in our heart for our family circle; sang Blest be the tie that binds; did a countdown, 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 (based on a clock in some part of the globe), and shouted Happy New Year!” 

Again came the chaos.