1/21/2019

The Land Not Our Own

My only sister Aie and I get into discourses on anything and everything whenever we have a chance to be together. A chance came at the end of last year when she took a rare “leave” from her church work in the place of worship put up by our forefathers. 

She has taken on many jobs—preparing Sunday school materials, conducting the choir, helping with the youth ministry, preparing the weekly liturgy, some janitorial work where needed, assisting with fund raising to rebuild the decayed parsonage (Project Nehemiah), assisting the pastor, etc.

“A bit daunting for a senior,” I grimaced.

“They’re for the Lord, and I enjoy doing them,” she replied with no intention of shaming her manang (older sister).

I was chastened just the same.

“So what happens to your pieces of land?” I asked. She and her late best friend, Daisy, purchased two in different areas. “You have no time left for them.”

Thirty years ago, she and Daisy planted many trees on both. Today, the branches of one mahogany tree will be used for the construction of the parsonage.

“You can’t leave lands idle—they need nurturing,” I pushed.

Silence.

“Assign someone in your place,” I nagged.

Silence.

“Dave has done wonders with GraNaMED [the acronym created by our parents for the land they left us. It combines our names—five siblings]."   

Using his engineering savvy from two degrees, Dave personally took on GraNaMED two years ago after he retired from corporate work abroad. He has multiplied the produce, laggard for decades under two tenants. Now the land teems with life—rice, corn, all kind of vegetables, etc.   

“Dave has your passion for land and the only one who makes time to develop it, hands-on. Why not leave yours to him?” 

My thought balloon: The land is God’s, not ours, not even with a Title to show for it. By grand design, the land outlives us, the way it outlived Abraham and our Bible heroes to whom they were earlier bequeathed. We should, therefore, be good hands-on stewards of the land we can never own, so that it will continue to serve the generations to come.

“Decide soon,” I repeated.

Meanwhile, I will continue tilling my own land: pages of books that speak of the grace of our Master Landlord.   

(My header is a photo of the corn that Dave planted on GraNaMED. It will stay current only for four days, the duration of this post.)  

1/18/2019

Circle of Life


Inspired by the Disney movie, Lion King, the hosts (nicknamed Ruth sub-clan) of our 74th annual clan reunion at the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019 chose one of the film’s songs as the theme, Circle of Life.

In the movie, this symbolic phrase refers to the series of events that unfolds on earth, then repeats itself again and again: from beginning to end, from cradle to grave, from birth to death. Simba grows up, learns about life, and becomes the Lion King—and then his son will likewise grow up, learn about life, and become the Lion King.

In the Bible, animals and people exist together and both go through the circle of life. Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 (NLT) reads, “ For people and animals share the same fate—both breathe and both must die . . . Both go to the same place—they came from dust and they return to dust.” 

With this theme, how does one honor the clan members who have gone home to Jesus? We found an old hymn, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” written in 1907 by Ada R. Habershon (music by Charles H. Gabriel). The lyrics hope for the circle to remain unbroken—that we who are left behind will follow in their footsteps and emulate their great faith so that one day, we will all be together in the great beyond for a grand reunion.  We used this hymn in a slide presentation remembering and thanking the Lord for our forebears during the memorial/thanksgiving service.

Will the Circle Be Unbroken? 

One by one their seats were emptied.
One by one they went away.
Now the family is parted.
Will it be complete one day?

The photos below tell the story of our clan’s circle of life—how its members have celebrated the grace of family, pioneered by my maternal grandparents 74 years ago. 

First family reunion, 1945  
Our grandparents with their 9 children, my mom among them
In 2018, we breached the 400 mark, with majority of clan members scattered all over the world. But a good number—150 to 200—make time to attend the reunion every year. 

Half of the family circle to end 2018 and begin 2019
74th clan reunion attendees 

1/15/2019

Christmas Crafts


After finally convincing myself of the irrelevance of Christmas trees in December 2016, I threw away our old tree, except for two branches. These went into my centerpiece, a tall flower vase, in the living room. Old and dusty pink petals from silk flowers broke the monotony of green pine needles.

But habits and cravings die hard.

I’ve always been fascinated with crafts and love doing them. The Christmas season had been my time to indulge myself by creating thingies for my Christmas tree.

Since the tree had long gone into the garbage can, I carted the two tree branches left from the storage again, sat them inside my tall vase. This time I tackled origami, folding tiny paper butterflies to make  the tree branches look like they’ve been swarmed by these flying wonders of nature.

I also retrieved from a drawer the colorful turkey platter—since the turkey tradition is also gone for good—to the terrace to have a semblance of décor, which I didn't even attempt to have. In seconds, it was appropriated by our cat, Fiscal, who must have thought I brought it out especially for her.

Come to think of it, It seems like a cat, not a turkey, belongs there.

No tree, no turkey, no special décor. No distractions. Just a soundless time spent on crafts to soundly reflect on Christmas, the birth of Grace, as the Gift for all mankind.     

1/13/2019

Someone Else’s Turkey


Two Christmas celebrations ago, we ended our tradition of preparing our own turkey dinner.

Son #3, who inherited the task from Tony years ago said, “I can’t do it alone.” Not without Manang  Vi, whom we asked to rest due to unexplained ailments (she loathed seeing a doctor) before Christmas 2016.  We ordered one from somewhere and tried to enjoy it as much as we relished our turkeys all the years before that.

It was not the same.

One year later, just before Christmas 2017, we lost Manang Vi forever. I guess, along with her passing, we passed up the tradition of having turkey on our own dinner table, ever. Son #3 suggested we have the bird in a hotel nearby.

And so we did.

Came 2018, and son #3 (the turkey point-person) had this brilliant Christmas gift idea for Tony, me, and son #1. “I’ll treat you to a staycation in the same  hotel that serves turkey for dinner.”

And so he did.

Yes, the dinner at 6:30 PM included a turkey, someone else’s turkey. It didn’t come with memories of raucous and laborious preparations, but it served as a neat photo background.   


“Isn’t this a great idea?” Son #3 wanted affirmation around our dinner table. “No pots, pans, and plates to wash; no kitchen mess; no left overs; no fuss.”

By 8:00 PM, the rich buffet for the first batch of diners ended. We took the elevator to Tony’s and my room, exchanged gifts for about 10 minutes, some photo ops (through my prodding).

And off the boys went to their own room.

In the silence, I took the chance to meditate on God’s Word, c/o JC’s Christmas gift—and thank Him for JR’s staycation treat, for giving Tony respite from what has been ailing him the past months, and for the gift of family, friends, and life itself.   

The Message 100, page 1383, reads:

The story of Jesus doesn’t begin with Jesus. God had been at work for a long time. Salvation, which is the main business of Jesus, is an old business. Jesus is the coming together in final form of themes and energies and movements that had been set in motion before the foundation of the World. (Eugene H. Peterson)

John 1:1-5 . . .

"The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
in readiness for God from day one.

"Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!—
came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out."

And all thoughts about turkeys and such came to pass.

1/09/2019

Births on Christmas Eve


Attorney, our five-year-old dog, suddenly decided to give birth around mid-morning on the 24th of December. It’s a first for her, so she was edgy and nervous.

When the first puppy was birthed, all soaked and wrapped in a thin, translucent filament, Atty. was clueless about what to do. Son #3, JR, who is the rightful master of Atty., had to make like the obstetrician/veterinarian to help our first-timer do her job.
She even went hiding in the bushes, before she birthed the next two a couple of hours later—perhaps to be alone. Still, Atty. wasn’t the mother she was meant to be; she whimpered and whined with discomfort.  

It was at this point that Tony, sons #1 and #3 and I had to leave because we were booked in a nearby hotel for our Christmas dinner and overnight stay.

Coming home the next day, Dec. 25, we were told by Korina, our chirpy-and-treasure-of-a-househelp, that Atty. birthed two more just before midnight. And at last, JR's dog was free! Back to her old, peppy self—wagging her tail and wiggling all over her master.
Sans Motherhood 101, Atty. learned how it is to be a mom in those 12 hours and now the five puppies are quiet, being fed by her with no fuss, and hopefully, they are all content.
How awesome it is to witness the way grace wonderfully fashions nature! 

1/05/2019

Tips for Word People at Christmas


Social media can sometimes do wondrous things. 

My friends’ posts about our OMF Lit Christian Writers’ Fellowship (CWF) Exchange Books Christmas Party were read by other friends in the US. One requested for a copy of my message—to share with other writers in the world.

I sent it faster than I could blink; I seize every opportunity to encourage others to write about The Word.

Media Associates International chose 777 words from the 2,400-word message. I am delighted to share it with you, my Leaves of Grace friends.
Tips for Word People at Christmas
By Grace D. Chong, the Philippines

For over 20 years, I worked in a company that arranged words in garden-fresh, creative ways to sell products—I was a creative director.  Every day I’d work with creative writers, art directors, and producers to develop commercials for products and services from A to Z, literally. A for airline, B for bank, C for clothing, D for detergent bars to MSG, pizza, soaps, to a zoo. It was an endless wordsmithing—re-arranging words, words, words.

Words were my staple for breakfast, lunch, supper, and meriendas (snacks) too. I breathed words every hour of my life. And I counted every one of those words. To sell a brand, we had to distill a lifetime worth of research on consumer insight into a 30-second commercial—which is no more than 40 words.

But one day, I, a wordsmith of the world, by divine intervention, suddenly had an epiphany moment. I turned the corner and faced words of a different kind—The WORD. I left writing words for a living; from that day forward, I started writing about how grace found me. My view of ordinary and mundane things, as though by magic, has turned extraordinary and surprising.

When you decided to be a writer, you transformed into WORD PEOPLE as well. We may have come from different wombs, different eras, and different experiences, but we are all now WORD people—you and I. Our one goal is to produce and market that one special commodity, or in Marketing, “product.” And that product is The WORD.

This product was launched on CHRISTMAS. It was on this symbolic day that the world witnessed an astonishing self-humbling: God almighty made Himself in the likeness of man. The greatest act of grace.

Jesus Christ became flesh in a manger. Through this human birthing, God revealed this truth: only through Jesus can man go on living in a glorious eternal home. No WORD PERSON of this world can ever fathom or write enough about this astounding act of grace delivered on Christmas day.

Grace remains the greatest mystery of all time.  In fact, His birth was not explained. The angel simply said, ” . . . Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2:10 KJV)

But Scripture, THE WORD, gives us wonderful clues—clues like believing in our Savior, born on Christmas, also births a new spirit in us.  “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name . . .” John 1:12 (KJV)

Like in a manufacturing firm, we wordsmiths develop this product by using our individual voices for various demographics: preschool kids, grade school children, Gen Z’s, millennials, working people, middle managers, Baby Boomers, church workers and retired seniors.

But Ernest Hemingway said this of writers, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” If I may add, since Christian writers have a master goal, we must try to be masters of our craft—because we write about the Master of all.

How? I read up on tips from various published authors on how to be a better writer, and I am surprised that I share with them these seven attitudes:

Be simple. Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”  The Bible is for all ages to understand.

Be clear. The difference between a writer and someone who writes is that a writer enlightens the reader, while someone who writes confuses the reader.

Be excited. Nothing should bore nor stump you when arranging words.

Be perceptive. More than having a rich vocabulary, word people must know the nuances of meaning that distinguish, say, “scriptural” and “Biblical.” Or the difference between a relevant idiom and an empty cliché.

Be open. Let’s handle criticism professionally. Editors always criticize draft copy. If the editors feel they must walk on eggshells when dealing with writers about edits, productivity suffers mightily.

Be precise. The devil is in the details of grammar, punctuation and syntax. From a careless writer, readers see a careless author.  We must not let editors do all the clean-up work for us.

Be your own editor. There is always something—a word, a phrase—that could have been said better after the book has been published.

WORD people—we all are, we are one in our goal of turning readers to THE WORD.

And this is what makes Christian publishers unique, different from all publishers. Our raw materials, for the only product we produce and sell, come from only one Supplier—the Supplier of Truth, which is The WORD, birthed on Christmas.

Merry Christmas!


1/01/2019

What Roads to Take

Where am I going this New Year 2019? 

I don't know. But I hang on to God's promise found in Isaiah 42:12-16. Let me quote from this Bible translation, The Message 100, a Christmas present from son #1. 
“I’ve been quiet long enough. I’ve held back, biting my tongue. But now I’m letting loose, letting go, like a woman who’s having a baby—stripping the hills bare, withering the wildflowers, drying up the rivers, turning lakes into mudflats. 

“But I’ll take the hand of those who don’t know the way, who can’t see where they’re going. I’ll be a personal guide to them, directing them through unknown country. I’ll be right there to show them what roads to take, make sure they don’t fall into the ditch. These are the things I’ll be doing for them—sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute.”

Thousands of new years later, the promise still holdsfor you and me. Each of our roads will be strewn with grace every square inch of the way.

Happy New Year!

12/31/2018

What Next, Santa?

After Christmas, and at the end of the year, Santa Claus bows down to the Reason for the season, and bows out—to appear again next year when December comes.

This being my last post for 2018, I wish to thank portrait artist Gaye Frances Willard for this poignant and worshipful painting entitled “Every Knee Shall Bow,” uploaded and shared on the Net many times over all through the Christmas season. For me, this is one of the most gripping images exchanged this year.

May she find grace in all her canvases and paint brushes.

(From her website: "This painting is being offered as a signed and numbered limited edition print. This is one of the most heartwarming paintings of Christ in the manger with a kneeling Santa available anywhere.")

As midnight strikes tonight, another year will swing in. May we end our 2018 contemplating these Bible verses:

“Turn to me and be saved. All the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’ Isaiah 45:22-23 (KJV)

12/28/2018

The Christmas Party I don’t Miss


Christmas parties seem to multiply every year.

This December, I got invited to a dozen. Yes, 12. Instead of just one party for one organization, smaller groups now throw their own. Take our school, for instance. I remember attending just one party in past years. This year, there was one for the students and their teachers, one for our department, one for another department, one with the Board of Directors, one for an outreach program, etc.

It was no different in my home church: women's group, young couples' group, youth group, men's group, etc.

In the office where I used to work, there was a get-together out of town, one up north, one down south, etc.

I begged off from most of them, but there was one I didn’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t miss: The Christian Writers’  Fellowship (CWF) of OMF Lit. It was announced early:
But even without this assignment (the 3rd variation of the same speech Turn to the Word), I would never miss it for the world. Here, grace overflows. Word people of The Word worship and fellowship as one.   
Then the evening’s highlight: exchange books

This year, several budding authors attended the party for the first time. They surprised their older counterparts with the spoken word, emotive poetry read from their phones.

The exchange books was a riot, as usual. Each one gave an intro of the book he was parting with—usually dramatic or hysterical—and drew a name from a box. Mine was a gift from my cousin Lorna (below left). I hesitated letting it go, but the urgent message had to be shared. It went to my editor, Joan, who exclaimed, “Yey, I love Lutzer!” 


I got The Writer's Mentor (above right) from a poet/editor, Michelle.

Now all ecstatic over the books we received, we wolfed down the food and dove into conversations about—one guess—books.


12/25/2018

Unspeakable Gift


December 25. Today, Christians all over the world celebrate Christmas, or the birth of Christ.

But the date is inconsequential, really. It could be on the 12th of September or the 29th of February, or any day. Nothing changes the fact that one day long ago, the King of all creation gave man a Gift nobody could ever fathom nor deserve.

On Christmas, in a lowly manger, God became a mere mortal, so that 33 years later, He would die on the cross in place of sinful me—to have the chance to live with Him for eternity.

He did this in such an incredibly humble manner that is contrary to what He owns and can do. 
Since it is not about the date, it is not about the trimmings we fuss over either: not the angels, the shepherds, the magi plus all the things invented by modern man—the trees, wreaths, blinking lights, wrapped gifts, Santa Clauses, parties and reunions that define revelry.

Many songs (such as the one below sung by the Ball Brothers and the Go Fish band) and books have been written to describe Christmas, but it remains—to this day—an unspeakable Gift.

It’s about the Cross

It's not just about the manger 
Where the Baby lay 
It's not all about the angels 
Who sang for Him that day 
It's not all about the shepherds 
Or the bright and shining star 
It's not all about the wise men 
Who traveled from afar 

Chorus: 

It's about the cross 
It's about my sin 
It's about how Jesus came to be born once 
So that we could be born again 
It's about the stone 
That was rolled away 
So that you and I could have real life someday 
It's about the cross 

It's not just about the good things 
in this life I've done 
It's not all about the treasures 
or the trophies that I've have won 
It's not about the righteous that I find within 
It's all about the precious blood 
that saved me from my sin 

The beginning of the story is wonderful and great 
But it's the ending that can save you 
and that's why we celebrate 
It's about the cross 
It's about my sin 
It's about how Jesus came to be born once 
So that we could be born again 

It's about God's Son 
Nailed to a tree 
It's about every drop of blood that flowed from 
Him when it should have been me 
It's about the stone that was rolled away 
So that you and I could have real life someday 
So that you and I could have real life someday 
It's about the cross 
It's about the cross 
It's about the cross 

“Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” 2 Corinthians 9:14 (KJV)

12/22/2018

Who Is a Bully?


Three separate videos showing the same kid in Ateneo junior high, bullying three different kids, have gone viral on the Net over the last three days. These have sparked national outrage on social media.

Traditional media (newspapers, radio, and TV) have joined the fray by making this issue banner headlines and topic of editorials.

Except for child rights advocates, majority of netizens have hurled this child bully insults and angry tirades—some crying for the harshest of punishment such as expulsion from school, “beating him senseless” and “not letting him off the hook alive.” 

Vitriol and venom have stained our land.

Days earlier, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle (of the Catholic Church), in his homily to mark the Christmas season, condemned the abuse of power. He also proposed that the powerful—the country’s elected officials—to desist from being bullies.

He did not name names, but our president felt alluded to.

The next day, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, who habitually curses, belittles, and ridicules lesser mortals (or even higher mortals in the hierarchy of man, such as the Pope, the US president, and the International Criminal Court) behind the podium, often in the guise of jokes, hit back, “When did I ever scare or bully people?”

When indeed?

The dictionary defines bully as:

(noun) a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker. Synonyms: persecutor, oppressor, tyrant, tormentor, intimidator

(verb) using superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

Our Philippine law classifies bullying into five basic forms: physical, verbal, relational aggression, cyber-bullying, and sexual bullying.

Physical bullying is easy to identify. This usually involves hitting, kicking, destroying . . . which were graphically shown in the three videos.

Verbal bullying is “name-calling, insulting, threatening, intimidating, and also racist remarks and sexist comments.” This, too, is easy to identify as there are videos that record actions and words.

An Ateneo kid, not having yet reached the age of reason, gets chastised by a whole nation (that includes me) for hitting three other kids.

A big man, the size of a country president, gets admired for his “strong feelings” and for hitting with cuss words whomever catches his ire, giving shoot-to-kill orders, accusing people without proof, and hurting further an already fractious country. 

Who then is a bully? Let me recast that question: Who is the bigger (biggest) bully? And why is he not getting the same ire of a nation whom he bullies and divides every chance he gets? 

Selective judgment?
Deep breath here.

Despite all the bullying, let’s celebrate the birth of Hope.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10 NIV

Photo credit: Hiyas FB page 

12/19/2018

It’s (Not) the Same Banana


“Same Message, Different Words” would have been the accurate title of this post. But banana is more edgy, and at my age, I refuse to be called an old fuddy-duddy.

I refer to my Word People message which I delivered (and uploaded in three parts here) at the OMF Lit’s Book Dedication event prior to the Manila International Book Fair.

Shortly after that, I received another call from Yna, Publications Director of OMF, requesting me to reprise the message for the OMF Lit's corporation meeting, which gather corporation members and Board of Trustees.

That seemed quite easy, but is a no-no in advertising. Words have to be tailor-fitted to an audience.

The first event’s audience was different from these take-two attendees—they being eagles: formidable, seasoned men and women at the helm of their various workplaces, and whose mere presence leaves one shaking in her boots. 

So although I tackled the same topic, I had to recast the whole message—like starting from zero.

I am not complaining; I am actually grateful that an exercise such this makes a writer more careful with the crafting of her words.  It’s similar to a gym workout where the body becomes healthier and more pliable.

A healthy and pliable mind is key when writing books for different markets, which I like to do. In the 18 years since my first published book, I have written for various demographics—from pre-school toddlers, to grade school kids, to teenagers, to young adults, to single women, to working people, to parents, and to retirees.

This was therefore a grace assignment thrown my way to hone the writing. And, I guess, the speaking too.

Yup, the same message for different audiences is (not) the same banana.

12/16/2018

Kunol-Kunol


This term comes alive during our yearly clan reunion. It is a part of our program of activities.

What does kunol-kunol mean? To us, it is simply a time for bonding, doing nothing but talking about something and everything with a person or a group. No agenda, no expected output, no plan of action.

All along I thought that it is a legitimate word in Ilocano, the language of my forefathers. But it is not found in the Ilocano dictionary. Which means, we invented the term?! I wish I knew its etymology because kunol-kunol has been a large part of my growing up—my children’s and now of the grandchildren’s of my generation.

If it is a do-nothing activity, why has kunol-kunol been a vital part of our reunion? I think the answer lies in what some psychologists tell us: “Attachment is a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space.”

One book I read says this of human bonding—the development of a close, interpersonal relationship between two or more people. It takes place between family members or friends . . . whenever people spend time together.

Bingo! In our clan, it’s three days and two nights at the end and beginning of each year.

As we pack our suitcases again for this clan reunion (the theme this year is “Circle of Life”), where we find God’s grace in each other, we look forward to activities such as worship, first of all; fun and games; singing and dancing; presentations and tossing of coins for performers; and yes, that omnipresent kunol-kunol all of 74 years!

12/13/2018

A Hospital Room with a View


For the third time in three months, we rushed my husband, Tony, to the hospital due to the same heart problem: breathing difficulty.

An alert medical team immediately strapped him to wires and what-nots and had him go through a barrage of tests. Finally, we were ushered to a “suite” which would be our home during treatments. 

It is a far cry from your hotel-kind-of-suite, but that’s what they call our hospital room which overlooks an unending traffic snarl below and the university where I teach on eye level not far away. And there’s occasional Wi-Fi, which enables us to video chat with Adrian.

On day two, the air conditioner conked out and we were temporarily moved to another room, Tony’s contraptions in tow. During the hour that took the cooler working again, the maintenance men told this snippet of a story: our "suite” was “where  a rich, old lady was confined [with her maids, private nurses in shifts] for one whole year till she passed on. That’s why the air conditioner had not been cleaned as scheduled.” No wonder it blinked.

It is a room with a view; it is an eye witness to the health sagas of its guests, including ours. It watched the difficult journey of someone who bravely struggled with her sickness till the day her body gave up.

If only the room could talk, the writer in me would love to ask the whos, whys, wheres, whens, and whats of this yearlong hospital stay.

The medical teams have no time for a Q and A; they only attend to vital matters such as patients’ meds and care—not to a room with a view.

As I try to work on my next book on day three, while watching Tony finally able to breathe normally and sleep, I converse with God.
I thank Him for His favors (doctors, nurses, med techs, maintenance men, etc.), His grace, and even for the many mysterious things around me that I can neither explain nor understand. I thank Him for humoring me to express my views on important and trivial issues, such as our antiseptic temporary dwelling space. 

I pray we leave this room soon, life-saving and fascinating though it may be. I so miss my workplace, the little cozy room where I have my Bibles, my books, my files, my notes, myself. 

12/11/2018

Panorama of Human Misery


In developing countries like the Philippines, a high percentage of our population live in poverty.

We call them informal settlers; they build makeshift sheds on lands they don’t own.

There is no definite number of how many people in these places go hungry every day, but their shabby shacks on the fringes of middle-class neighborhoods tell all.       

In contrast, I’ve always viewed America as a land where food overflows, often wasted, and therefore nobody ever goes hungry.

I was wrong.

In California, a nephew and a niece took us on a tour of downtown Los Angeles (LA). Glitzy Hollywood was on top of the list, but on our way there, we passed through sidewalks upon sidewalks of filthy and haphazardly constructed tents. Called Skid Row, here’s where the homeless dwell in hunger, in destitute living conditions, not unlike our informal settlers. 

My heart broke.

In the early 1900s, the place was called “Hobo Corner,” because the place swarmed with tramps, grubby dirty and drunk. Many of them arrived from various states by train and now populate LA because the weather has no winter snow that needs heater to stay alive.

I discovered further that 15% of people in America are vagrants. In LA, the Police Department has been clearing Skid Row of dregs by arresting these down-and-outs, because they are a threat to the environment, sanitation, and aesthetics.

In the Philippines, according to The World Bank, slum dwellers cover 54% of population. Their areas are often burned by unknown culprits. 

LA’s homeless are individuals, while the Philippines’ poor are families. But where they both live continue to be a nagging image of our decaying national landscapes. Despite efforts by religious and civic groups, concerned individuals, and the government, we who enjoy three square meals a day and roof over our heads are assaulted daily by this panorama of human misery.

Believers of God’s bountiful grace have work to do. In my home church, many of our projects are skewed toward the children and the aged in the slums. We work at showing them how to look to the face of our Redeemer, where transformation begins.

“Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.” Psalm 105:4 (NIV) 

Photo credit (top): BBC News

12/07/2018

Where My Books Are


My heartbeat skips when I see my books in unexpected places. This one's at a coffee shop in a mall. 

And my heart jumps on a trampoline when I see my books in little people’s hands—posted at random on FB, like grace popping in unannounced.         

These are the places where I wish I’d see my books more often.

I’ve expressed this a gazillion times, but I will say it again: a book author is no author unless read. 

My unending dream then: As I continue to write more books, more and more kids would chance upon them, pick up the values I wove into every story, make them a part of their growing-up phase, and live them out in their adult years.

“. . . Jesus called a child to come and stand in front of them, and said, 'I assure you that unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven. The greatest in the Kingdom of heaven is the one who humbles himself and becomes like this child.' 

"'And whoever welcomes in my name one such child as this, welcomes me. If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose his faith in me, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone tied around his neck and be drowned in the deep sea.'" (Matthew 18:3-6 GNT) 

12/03/2018

Cut, Cut, Cut!


Five years ago, our church and village officers spearheaded a tree planting on the open space lot beside our place of worship. At that time, I was chairman of the board that administratively oversaw the premises of the church. I felt privileged to have been a part of this noble project for the environment.

In fact, I was blessed with the chance to plant one of over a dozen hardwoods: neem, mahogany, narra, etc.    

Year 2013
Every Sunday from then on, before and after going to church, I would gaze at those trees, especially the one I planted (above), as though I birthed that stately grace of God myself. As they swayed gracefully with the wind, I could actually feel and see their growth inch by inch.

In five years, they have grown really tall, almost dwarfing our church. What joy they gave the passers-by!

Yesterday, however, I got the shock of my life. As had been my weekly habit, I looked toward the area where those trees stood before entering the church. My tree and its many neighbors disappeared!

Rather, only their stumps remained. They were injured and disfigured, lying on the ground like discards. 

December 2018 (Arrow pointing to the tree I planted)
The last time I checked, we have this law, Republic Act No.3571 that specifically “. . .prohibits the cutting, destroying or injuring of planted or growing trees, flowering plants and shrubs or plants of scenic value along public roads, in plazas, parks, school premises or in any other public ground.”

Those trees, which riveted my eyes Sunday after Sunday were cut, cut, cut! Those saplings, lovingly planted by a group of concerned church members and residents one early morning in 2013, were mercilessly chopped off.

My heart bled. You know the pain you feel when your pet has been maltreated and in danger of dying? The only difference is that, these were more than one pet!

Trees are God’s creation, growing and looking up to the heavens—to protect man from earthly catastrophes. Can someone explain why some people would be so cruel to cut them? 

11/29/2018

Expect the Unexpected


“Think out of the box,” was our daily refrain in advertising. Fresh ideas were key in the creative department. And “Expect the unexpected” was one of our buzzwords.

This, however, does not only hold true for ad people. It is real life, actually. Unexpected things can surprise us anytime, even if you go on a sabbatical, when things are free and easy.

As soon as hubby and I had landed in America for a vacation, he had tummy trouble for two days, which might have weakened his immune system. Then he started having a terrible cough, which antibiotics or humidifier could not cure. Within this time, he took a sudden fall in our bedroom and fractured his wrist.
Not any of these twists and turns were expected. With his left hand in a cast (for 6 to 8 weeks), this stubbornly independent macho-man needed an assistant with every move.   

That’s not how creativity (in advertising) was defined. But in all, with his condition that suddenly required a sedate pace, we changed gears and leisurely visited unexpected places—exotic restos in neighboring cities, book stores, kin within the state, parks, and the library.
We stayed home on most days, spending time reading and with beloved grandson, Adrian.  
All the expected, preset active adventures had to be cancelled.

In these calm and quiet places, we found the grace of rest and refreshment, which is what a sabbatical should be.

True, we can plan and plan and plan, but . . .

“And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, ‘Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year . . . You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, ‘If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.’” James 4:13-14 (MSG)

11/25/2018

Where the Write Things Are


My longest trip this month was for a creative writing workshop for kids ages nine to 12. Distance is now relative—what used to be near (20-minute drive) is now far (two hours) because of the almost hopeless traffic condition from my place to any area outside our city.

My two-hour drive to the venue plus another two going home were what cost me to be with these kiddos who love to read and write. Yes, one must travel long to meet kids such as these at a place called Writers' Hang Out (of Where the Write Things Are) in nearby Bonifacio Global City. 

One of the children was in my workshop about six month's ago. She was even more  delightful as she was then—more confident, more prolific, and spoke like an adult. She said she keeps a regular journal and has written many stories. The rest, whom I met for the first time—voracious readers all—were just as quick on the draw.

I asked them to introduce themselves using a metaphor. I need not have bothered explaining what that figure of speech was. They wrote their introductions with speed—some doing not just one but four! And when they read aloud their ingeniously written pieces, pandemonium broke loose. They giggled and tittered.

My creativity exercise was naming the two beanie babies (a mammoth and a frog) I brought along. I asked, “What names would you give these moppets if they were characters in your story.” Their answers, with interesting rationales, showed epic creativity.   


A one-and-a-half-hour workshop is too short for anyone to write a story, but their responses to the writing exercises are gemstones waiting to be polished. 

You need not travel long to receive grace. But sometimes an author must.