The Day I Saw Jesus

“The Day I saw Jesus” is a title I borrowed from my friend, Sito Silva, for three entries in my still unpublished book, What’s for Breakfast?3, the third in a series of one-year daily devotions for children. These entries are about the compassion of Christ.

Compassion is the word that moved me most when we celebrated Christmas. The acts of kindness, especially to those who have less in life, shown by groups and individuals, were so palpable one had to be in a coma not to feel it.

I was with a group of ladies (Rotary Anns of Makati Central) that spent one morning at Ward 5 of the Philippine General Hospital with little children going through rehabilitation therapy: cancer patients, fire victims, genetically deformed, and handicapped learners.

Aside from suffering, one thing they have in common is poverty. They are indigents who could never afford medical assistance unless provided free.

A week before this visit, our group was given a wish list from these children. Each had something written opposite his name–a gift he wanted for Christmas. The wishes were nothing extraordinary: just a toy or a book. An advocate of reading, I took the chance to share with them my books.

The sparkle in their eyes when they received those gifts could melt even steel. The scenes were so poignant—kids in turbans, crutches, slings, casts, wheel chairs agog and agape—I bit my lips when my eyes moistened.

That didn’t help so I diverted my mind to events that had recently made me ecstatic—buying the pricey blouse I had coveted, on sale at 75% discount, and winning a door prize of an all-expense trip to Boracay.

They were reduced to insignificance and I couldn’t summon a smile but something else came unbidden—a feeling of undue privilege for being given the chance to emulate Jesus’ compassion, even for just one morning in celebration of His birth.

I sat unmoving, watching the other Anns—who cancelled parties and appointments—touch and hug the children while handing them their wished-for gifts. In those slomo moments, I saw my bejeweled friends mirror His compassion.

And I glimpsed Jesus. Not in the same magnitude as I read in Matthew 14:14, “When He went ashore he saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them and healed their sick,” but with the same spirit.

Now here is a similar day from a leaf of Sito’s journal—into which he allowed his friends to peek, and which I will try to summarize: One day Sito and his wife were in a fast food shop. A man in rags—as though he hadn’t bathed in years—came in. The diners covered their noses, the waiters stared, and the guards scratched their heads.

Carrying a small empty bottle, the man walked with a sense of purpose. People rudely stared, but he walked with dignity and went straight to the water fountain, filling his bottle with water. Then he went right back to the door.

“From the corner of my eye,” Sito wrote, “I saw a thin little boy, his hair matted with dirt, looking very hungry. The man put his arms around the boy and gave him the water to drink.

“The man risked being laughed at, or shooed away, just so he could give the little boy cold water. It was then that I cried. The poor man’s image offering the little boy water to drink was set in my mind forever. There was this strong feeling within me. Then I knew I saw Jesus!”

And one other day . . .

I could not remember what the TV ad was selling, but I will never forget what it was about.

A man was walking on a sidewalk when he saw a beggar. Looking closely at the beggar’s face, he saw Jesus.

He dug into his pocket and put cash onto the beggar’s palm.

The beggar, on the other hand, looked closely at the man putting money onto his palm and he saw Jesus.

Over two thousands years after He has gone back to heaven, His Holy Spirit makes us feel His presence in our lives and His compassion through acts of kindness.

And one more day . . .
In his book Just for Today, Dr. Harold Sala wrote about the cigarette boys of Manila. For brevity, here’s my abridged version:

“They dash between the cars, jeepneys, and buses to sell cigarettes, candies, and gums. One boy was struck by a vehicle and the contents of his display board were scattered on the pavement.

“A man stepped quickly from the crowd of onlookers, helped the boy to his feet, and began to pick up the fallen wares.

“Dazed and not sure what to say, the boy looked at the man’s face and blurted out, ‘Are you Jesus?’

EVERY GOOD THING we see people do and say to others reflect the compassion of Jesus, if just for fleeting moments. They are snippets--and reminders--of what He was and did His whole life till the day He died for all.

These moments of compassion nudge us into following His example every day, not just one morning in PGH, or by giving alms to a beggar, or offering a cool drink to a thirsty boy.

I have been reflecting on these special days as the year 2006 ends. Have others seen this compassion through me? Have they seen it often enough?

By His grace, I will find more such days in the year 2007 and be constantly reminded that compassion is not just an occasional act of kindness but a way of  life.


Are we talking about CHRISTMAS?

A slew of sermons, books, and articles about Christmas has been written, and is still being written. I had not intended to write one more dissertation on why the world celebrates it.

But I am bothered by casual comments from the man-on-the-street and even high-profile media men. Although said nonchalantly, with probably no guile or malice, they are nevertheless disturbing. I dread that one day, or already, others who hear them are subtly influenced and before long, these comments become “truths. 

“Christmas is for children.”

“I don’t feel the Christmas spirit.”

“So many calamities – what a terrible Christmas!”

“No bonus this year, it’s going to be a sad Christmas.”

“My son can’t come home, our Christmas won’t be complete.”

“Christmas is so expensive.”

“Let’s go caroling this Christmas and raise funds for our project.”

“The true meaning of Christmas is giving.

Are we talking about Christmas? Let me rephrase that. Is it really Christmas we’re talking about?

As a little girl, and now as an adult, the most often memorized Bible verse I’d hear is John 3:16, “ For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV) 

This begun, and was made true, on that first Christmas over two thousand years ago. This is the essence of my faith, and of those who believe in this truth. This is Christmas.

It is not only for children—it is also for you, for me, the aged and the aging.

The Christmas spirit isn’t felt, it is lived by God’s children. It is in our hearts all our breathing, waking moments.  

Doom sans boon, affliction sans fortune, calamity sans windfall have nothing to do with the substance of Christmas—surely, not from wonderful news to terrible views. 

Bonus and 13th month pay do not a Christmas make. With or without them, Christmas is.
Together with or apart from the members of our family, we can celebrate Christmas. Nothing or no one makes it incomplete. 

Christmas was not expensive, just a joyous occasion for mankind. It happened in a lowly manger, first visited by insignificant shepherds, with no blinking lights, decorated trees, sumptuous foods, shopping sprees, greeting cards, Santa Claus, or family reunions. 

Caroling is fairly recent, beginning only in the 12th century. Before then, no carolers went around—not in Jesus’ time—asking for money to build a church or finance a project for the poor.
The true meaning of Christmas is not being generous to one and all, giving gifts to as many people as we can. It is the one glorious giving of a Savior to man by God. 

Today, when modern man says “Christmas,” is he talking about Christmas or the occasion redefined by marketers and mass media? Can he even see the difference? 

My family and I have been celebrating Christmas with what we call “turkey dinner.” Once long ago, when my three sons were babies, my brother-in-law Aboy+ gifted us with a live turkey. He said it would make a nice Christmas dinner. And how, it did! He had since passed on, but we have made a tradition out of painstakingly preparing the bird, now bought from the supermarket.

Last year's turkey
This year's bird is still being prepared by youngest son JR in time for 12 midnight
It makes for a good family bonding—choosing the right meat weight, buying the ingredients for stuffing, searching for the side dishes and beverages, and feasting on it around a table decked in red and green.

It felt good, great, to have one activity to keep the family together at least once a year. But one day too soon, one son got married, left for abroad, and our Christmas celebration wasn’t as it always was. I ached for those years when we were complete, all together, for our turkey dinner. “A tear fell,” the old song whined.

Then God’s merciful grace, perfectly timed, opened my eyes to see the difference—a broken tradition is not a broken Christmas. The cast of characters in a different play on a new stage define only what we feel about ourselves, not about Christmas. 

I saw future scenarios or tableaus in my mind: only my husband and I, stooped and wrinkled, not knowing whether the undernourished turkey before us is over or undercooked… a big group—dominated by grandchildren of varying ages—feasting noisily (some whining and some bawling) on the plumpest, biggest turkey… no turkey at all, just a simple fare of pinakbet, because importation has been banned due to a turkey flu epidemic… whatever, whenever, however, whoever. The sound of laughter slowly crept from the back of my throat.  

When or should my eyesight blur again, I pray that God’s grace may always come in time to make me see clearly what Christmas is all about: the gift of a begotten Son born of God’s great love for me. May this same amazing grace be received by you and your family this Christmas. 

Let’s celebrate the coming of our King! 

(The first photo above shows our Christmas tree this year, trimmed with old-fashioned "parol")


It's been a month!

If there's anything I am famous for, it's forgetting birthdays and anniversaries, including mine. Now, why would I remember that today, December 23, is my first-month blog anniversary?

"To blog or not to blog" was, for me, a mighty-achy decision, not so unlike deciding whether to marry or not to marry (a good thing my husband doesn't read blogs—doesn't know it from Adam—or I'll get diced, minced, and pureed).

November 23 was d-day. When I uploaded my first entry, it was like giving birth minus the anesthesia.

And today, this exact same hour, I have 13 entries, more than two dozen photos, over 500 guests/hits, and a reasonable number of friends re-emerging in my e-mail after vanishing for ages.

"I enjoyed your blog a lot but I don't know how to put my comment in there."

See what I mean? My friends can't text, can't comment in blogs, and can't understand why on earth I am into something so remotely distant from the world we know.

"That's like selling 500 copies of your books," my sons argue, representing the feistier generation. If they weren't twice my size, I'd thwack them good for twirling their mother round their oversized fingers.

But to be honest, to be really, really honest, it was a month of feeling good. It's almost like writing a book—except that there are no deadlines, no publisher, no editors (I more than make up for this with ruthless self flagellation), no printing schedule, and no book designer. Just type and go, re-type and speed away.

One month later, I ask, "What was that?!"

Why, a whole month worth of grace, cyber-leaves of grace, generously given and gratefully received. And another opportunity to write about this grace so sufficient it sustains me.

In two days it will be Christmas, and from today till then, I raise my head up to the Giver—the birthday Celebrant Himself—and thank Him for His unstinted generosity.


On Friendship: Saturday E-mail

Re-reading a book of poems on friendship, while listening to music (erroneously classified as Oldies in audio shops!), I wax nostalgic finding Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The Arrow and the Song. I had not thought of it for ages, but I am surprised I remember four lines of it still, with eyes closed, as I did in high school. 

I breathed a song into the air,

It fell to earth I knew not where;

And the song from beginning to end,

I found again in the heart of a friend.

And I think of my longtime friend, Lucy. When the Saturday sun rises in the Philippines, twelve hours later it also dawns in Palm Springs, California which is exactly half a day behind us. Lucy goes home from work to take her day-off and checks her e-mail. If I didn't write her within these hours, she won't read and reply to my e-mail till next Saturday.

My e-mails to Lucy are an editor's nightmare. I disregard paragraphs, spelling, punctuation marks, style, and syntax. I write in phrases, with lots of interjections, and unfinished sentences in two languages.
They're my weekly songs which I would breathe into the air had not man invented cyberspace. They're songs that openly speak of seven-day hopes and hypes, travails and triumphs, books and looks, fears and tears, writing and . . . writing. Lucy was an author before I became one. 

"Successful debut novels!" she writes back, and peppers her message with unheard of names . . . "I know this Much is True, second novel by Wally Lamb, very sensitive, powerfully written, as good as his debut novel . . . this lovely blouse on sale miraculously came in my size . . . your bone density exam okay? . . . Mabel's and Maru's much-hoped-for-and-most-awaited-by-friends (adjectival phrase, mine) wedding at sunset al fresco was perfect, except for me coming in late . . ."  

I dab more orange and yellow onto my wedding present to Mabel and Maru (two calla lilies at sunset) before I rush to the bookstore for "I Know This Much is True," as though I have run out of books. In a coffee shop, over tea and sugar-free cheesecake, I scan my purchase. 

The next Saturday, I write Lucy about how I overstayed in that place for hours, reading the first and last 100 pages, and re-learning that mongrels make good dogs; how I tried fitting blouses on sale but couldn't; how I must quickly have the painting framed.

Writing Lucy is a lot like keeping a diary, only better. I take stock of what I have done with my life for one week. And always, like David, I want to "Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy." Psalm 33:3. 

Two questions always stump me. The answers are in my brain somewhere—if only I could wade through the overload of data quickly. 1) On books: What are your favorites? 2) On thanksgiving: What blessings have you received? 

An unstructured reader I am, most times. I have indefinite reading time, I don't speed read, I never finish a book. By finish, I don't mean reading a book from cover to cover, which I do. It's, uh... amid writing, or painting, or whatever I am busy doing, I open a book (newly bought or kept for years), and soak in the words, the unwritten subtexts, and the author's unspoken thoughts. Then I put the book aside, some place where I can easily access it for reading yet once, or twice, or ad infinitum, again. At any time, I have four to five books (of different genre) open all at once.

As for thanksgiving, blessings come nonstop—millions in a fraction of a second—that it is difficult to choose which could be shared during our church's Praises and Testimonies.

Writing my Saturday e-mail makes me decode, then quickly encode, my inbox of weekly comings-and-goings into both heart and soul. And in fragmented sentences, like my own, Lucy validates them; and I am less stumped than I thought I was.

These are some of my boundless, endless songs of grace. They waft back on a Saturday from across the seas, sent by the Creator through cyberspace.  

(In photo: Lucy, the latecomer, and Mabel, the late bloomer—tearful, blissful, beautiful!) 



A column by Jullie Yap Daza in the November issue of "Sense and Style Magazine "

"Some gifts are easier to choose than others . . .  The book I recommend, highly, highly, with no reservations whatsoever, for children on thanksgiving Day, on their birthday, on Christmas eve, is the "The Boy Who Had Five Lolas," written by Grace D. Chong and illustrated by May M. Tobias.

"It's an endearing story that adults will also enjoy reading the louder the better, complete with onomatopoeic sounds and sound effects. First prize winner of the Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature a few years ago, the book tells a heartwarming tale of family affection in a Philippine setting that is as familiar as it is relevant--no snow, no golden-haired princes, no talking frogs--without sacrificing whimsicality.

"When my daughter Pat-P was asked to read a story to her daughter's kindergarten class at ICA (Immaculate Conception Academy), I heartily endorsed Mrs. Chong's book. To put Gabbie's classmates in the proper mood, Mama Pat-P donned a shawl and wore eyeglasses without lenses. I don't know if she was able to bring a rocking chair to the classroom! But I do know that even her voice cooperated with the project because she had a sore throat that day and she came out sounding like a lola.

"And how did the little girls like her performance? They must have loved it, she said, because they didn't yawn, cry, fall asleep, or fidget in their chairs. If at all, a few of them played with the storyteller's shawl, tugging at the silvery blue yarn or twirling its tassels."

(Thank you, Ms. Jullie Yap Daza, for the endorsement. The book was inspired by real five lolas, above:  my mom [center] and her four sisters. This old, rare photo was lent to me by my cousin Minna who discovered it last month in her mom Pat's old album. In the book, I used their real names and painted their characters as I perceived them. From left, Ruth+, Pat, Chitang+, Puring, and Pacing+. Writing this book was my way of thanking them for the values they taught me, and their other "grandchildren," through our growing-up years.)


Grease Me

It never fails—Pinoys laugh at someone who mispronounces a word like buffet, as though he committed a crime. What we don't realize is, we are all guilty of the charge.

We mispronounce everyday words: We say bug when we mean bag. We say mom for ma'am; dah-di for daddy; geef for gift. Can we really say the word pronunciation correctly?  

I don't remember laughing at mispronunciations. It has nothing to do with being holy. It has to do with circumstances.

In Pangasinan where I grew up, my name Grace May is Grease Me. Then in my phonetics class, I learned that the Filipino language has only five vowel sounds: A, E, I, O, U. English has twelve, with the letter "A" alone having four sounds. Which is probably why we, as a people, mispronounce English vowels without knowing it.

For me, words are not about pronunciation, but about essence. Dah-di is always my or someone's father; I hear respect when I am called mom instead of ma'am, by people other than my children. Geef is something given and received, even if it is not pronounced gift. And bug is that indispensable woman's security blanket, bag, where our marketing money, receipts, and credit cards are kept.

Grease Me when addressed to me is my name, Grace May.  

In UP, college friends shortened Grace May to Grace and pronounced it as spelled. It has been that way since. Except when I go home to Pangasinan or meet friends from other regions. Then I am Grease, Gris, Gres, Gresh, or Gays. And it doesn't make any difference. It doesn't alter my soul or our relationship. It is my name.  

Grace is a name for which I will forever be grateful. A name I am careful and try hard not to sully as it is a very important word in the Christian world. A word so important philosophers, writers, psychoanalysts, and theologians have been trying to define and dissect its essence for generations. 

One often quoted is M. Scott Peck in the Road Less Traveled, "(Grace is a)… powerful force originating outside of human consciousness which nurtures the spiritual growth of human beings." Peck stresses that although this force called grace is real, it cannot be measured.  

My favorite definition, and which comes closest to my understanding, is what I heard as a little girl from our Ilocano pastor in our small-town chapel, "Unmirited geef from God." (Unmerited gift from God).

I asked him what that gift might be.

"Ibryting and inyting good!" (Everything and anything good!)

"That's too many!" I said unbelieving.

"Countliss," he answered.

When I woke up next morning, the sun was shining, it was a holiday—my sister and I could play all we want, our mom would buy us bibingka from the market, and... Countless good things, I thought.

Fast forward to half a century later. Countless grace indeed from "...Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think...." (Ephesians 3:20). 

It has been thirteen years since my husband's colon cancer surgery, twelve years since his heart attack, and four years since his quadruple coronary bypass.

Early mornings, he nips the rose blossoms from our garden for our breakfast vase; the sun shines; the rain drenches us; artist friends gift me with their paintings; my three grown-up sons, healthy and brusque, are minding their own business; despite a frozen shoulder, I can play on the piano, by memory still, How Great Thou Art; I have ample time to write about the word grace, and...

Hey, who's counting?  

As the word continues to be dissected, its definitions will multiply. But so will the stories of God's grace—even more rapidly. In whatever words these powerful stories will be told—or pronounced—their essence will be the same.


The Paints Have Not Dried Up

(Annie and Amah, the only sister and mother of my husband, respectively, were inseparable in life. When Annie died, nobody was surprised when Amah followed one month later.)

April 5, 2006: Yesterday, after over two years, I took out my brushes, dusted them well, and with dread, I slowly uncapped my paints to see whether they have dried up.

They haven’t!

Has it been that long, when I started painting my two white daisies, shortly after Annie's sudden death in February 2004?

I took my apron out of a plastic bag and what do you know, I found a receipt and P390, the change for a can of white latex paint I had bought for my two daisies.

I had wanted an image that would show Annie’s and Amah’s relationship—one that interconnected and enmeshed—the edges blurred, not seeing where one ended and the other begun, as though they were one from bud to full bloom.

They were together from the day Annie was born and there was not a day they were apart, except when Annie was still going to school and working as an executive secretary at Far East Bank.  Annie wanted to see to Amah’s every need, be by her side, for better or for worse and so, turning away from her own future, she quit her job and took care of Amah full time. It was a mother-daughter relationship I was privileged to see up close, for real, not from some written fiction, once in my lifetime.

But life isn't what we think it ought to be. Annie, the caregiver, went ahead of her "ward" who was, predictably and rightfully, inconsolable. Although nobody verbalized it, people knew that Amah couldn't live without Annie. She would tell everyone she wanted to go and join her only daughter. She did—exactly 33 days later.

Nothing could hold her back. Not even our constant affirmation of love or Tony’s mock admonition, “I am your child, too!”
Two white daisies—on a canvas. I was tippling some highlights and squiggling shadows when from Amah’s room came a series of gasps. I dropped my brushes and rushed her to the hospital, where we lost her a few hours later.

I had not touched the painting since. I could not complete it because the pain and the hole they left in our lives were not yet behind me. There were so many “what ifs,” things within my control that could have been done to make them stay longer and live a little happier.

The unfinished canvas hung by the grills in the terrace, a daily reminder of “what ifs” and the onus of grief and guilt.

More than two years now, and by God’s amazing grace, the pain has dulled and things have moved along.

My computer, either a lemon or the exact worth of my scrimping (not Intel inside), had been almost useless the past months. Without the air conditioning on, it hung! It did not act up, it just stopped like an offended, onion-skinned being who gave you the silent treatment.

Not a way for an author to go. And so while I was away on a book talk in Cebu I decided to have my computer see the tech doctor. A bad time, too, because my in-house IT, JC, was up in Baguio and won’t be back for another three weeks. But if I postponed it one more time, I’d never be able to meet deadlines.

It cost me P7,500 and a week of non-writing, but it gave me the chance to look into my paints and brushes once again!

April 5, 2006, I speckled and splashed over the daisies and in four hours, at the edge of the canvas I signed my name.

The joy of painting other canvases was mine for one day, two days, three days, going on fourth when my computer materialized, now in tip-top shape.

So on to writing, which takes precedence over painting.

I believe—through the books I have written and the book talks I have been invited to—that writing is my assignment from above and I need, I want, to spend my time on it, put everything on hold and then immerse in it my whole mind and soul.

“What’s for Breakfast?3” has been scheduled for launching in November this year. Which means, I need to complete the manuscripts by end August. That doesn’t give me very much time. So now I have to shelve my brushes and paints once again, but not for the same reason I did more than two years ago.

I praise and thank God for the gifts of painting and writing (a degree higher in the joy thermostat) for us to enjoy.

The paints will not dry up—as I intend to uncap them every now and then when the writing mind and heart need replenishing.


They Came Too Early

(Yesterday, December 2, was Author's Day at the OMF LIt Bookstore.)

On my way up to the second floor (more than half an hour ahead of schedule), a little girl about 9 years old standing by the entrance scampered away as soon as she saw me. I thought I might have scared her because I looked emaciated, a telling result of my ongoing bout with gastro enteritis since the previous day.

"She's here! She's here!" she told her mom. Before I could sit behind my book table, she came hand-in-hand with her little sister, 2. Mia and Chelsea lit up the first bright lamp of my day.

From the corner of my eye, I glimpsed Maya, Ed, and their lovely daughter, Therese. I shrieked with delight and surprise—another bright lamp turned on.

Therese, aside from telling me she reads "What's for Breakfast?" every single day, wrote for me her full name, Ma. Luisa Teresita Alba Suarez Ordono Estrada, Jr. I wondered if it was a bit much to expect from a kid of 9, but Therese did it with pride and flourish.

These were just some of my many reasons for smiling the rest of the hours . . . and for writing incessantly—the rest of my days.


The Summer in Our Hearts

(Yesterday, we awaitedwith fearthe killer typhoon, Reming, to batter the billboards and such. It didn't. It veered away from Manila, but we prayed for those whose paths she crossed instead. The whole day was nevertheless somber, the skies were gray and the sun was nowhere in sight. But sunshine, especially with the family, is always in the heart. My sons JC, JR, and niece Teena took the chance to go malling and feasted on vegetarian pizza. The day reminded me of another time, which I wrote about in an e-column sometime ago.)

Now that the weather has changed from sunny to rainy—stormy even—I pine for that wonderful place with the sun, moon and stars for its chandelier; the wind for its air conditioner; and the sand for its carpet. It was built for us by the Creator so we may use it to help build our family life: the beach.

Heaven on earth is how many people describe it. They may be right. I love everything about it. Well, except for my ghastly tan. (It's a genetic condition, my sons insist, so I musn't blame it on the beach.)

But no matter how wonderful, the beach can't be everything to everyone. Not for errant boys—"You're grounded. Go to the beach and stay there!" Or, "Young man, we need to talk. Come to the beach at once!"

It's not a place for sulking; it's a place for feeling good. In the summer, we take our family there so our children can romp freely. No wonder they grow up preferring beaches over school.

For all of life's rainfalls and storms, God has provided our hearts with a built-in beach where we can bask in the sunshine of His grace.

Take that one rare day my eldest son, JC, and I had a leisurely chat. I say rare because my three children are boys and boys don't talk except when I pick up the phone. They holler from somewhere, "Mom, I'm on the line!" Or when I zap the TV to Hallmark. "Yuk, mushy channel." 

Anyway, one Saturday morning, I asked JC to drive me to the mall. He didn't say no but he didn't move either. "We could do lunch," I said. In our family, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. In two seconds flat he was dressed and shod.

In between the entree and dessert came a windfall: a two-way exchange. The topic was JC's book of the hour: The Message, the Bible in contemporary English by Eugene H. Peterson. Still unavailable in Philippine bookstores, JC's copy was ordered through the internet. He talked more than I did, and with more spirit than I had. His point, "It was written in today's street lingo, evoking God's presence even when He is not in our minds."

Adrenaline made me extol my preferred King James Version, its poetry and elegance. Something I hadn't done since my literature class long before JC was conceived. After an hour, we left the restaurant but not the topic. The Bible could make me run on and on even if someone . . .

Someone was running after us, "Ma'am!" He sounded like he'd been robbed. He held a tiny silver tray with a receipt on it. "Please pay for your lunch!"

My spirit left my body out of shame. Talking about the book of books turned us into crooks. I instantly handed the waiter a bill. "Keep the change!"

The rude interruption ended our conversation, which was too good to be true anyway. JC zipped his lips back to normal after saying, "Mom, your tip was more than the bill." Punctuated with the look of nothing.

"I can read your mind. You want to laugh because your Ilocano mom who refrigerates used tea bags tipped generously," I said. "Okay, too generously."

He laughed.

I told my husband and my two other sons the story before JC could tell them his version. I underplayed the part about the waiter's tip. Still, they cackled, the way they do when we're at the beach together.
God has blessed us with a family with whom we can share laughter in the summer of our hearts.

He said to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 (from my KJV)—"...in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." From JC's The Message"...all the families of the earth will be blessed through you."

The weather may not be constant. But His grace is.

(Photos of Kosta Alcantarathe beach resort of Gov. Sev Alcantara and familyin Virac, Catanduanes: by my friend, Mabel Sotto)


Saving Money is Expensive

(While I was putting up our Christmas tree last week, I couldn't help but squirmand laughat the story behind it. I wrote about it in my e-column in 2002. Let me share it with you.)

"Sale" is a marketing tool. That I know by heart as an advertising person almost all my working life. Where there is a "sale" there I am, too. My excuse—to save money.

When Traditions--a pricey gift and décor store—put up its Christmas display about three years ago, I spent hours gawking at one of its trees: a ten-foot simulated pine. Stunning, it carried no color but white. From top to bottom, every inch was trimmed with ethereal angels in white gowns. Peering at the angels, I noted the details
no two were alike.
Each was playing a different musical instrument with a different smile and pose.

"There are fifty different angels," the saleslady said. Each one cost P100. Which means, to buy all fifty (perfect for a small tree), one would have to shell out a whopping P5,000! Nope, too expensive; and I already had more than enough trimmings.

But at home, when I glanced at my (the male members of my family let me be) little tree decked with colorful balls, I would imagine the tree with a host of angels in white. Someday...

Someday came on December 26. The price of the angels (the very same ones which I coveted for months) was slashed by 80%! From P100, it was down to an incredible P20! I decided on the spot. I could save money for next Christmas
just twelve months away. For only P1,000, I could have not just ten but a whole set of fifty. A steal. Even without a calculator I instantly computed a savings of P4,000! "Wise woman," I patted my own back.

I carefully put them in a box and kept the expensive merchandise out of harm's way.

Zap to next year's Christmas season. Taking the box of angels from its perch, I sang. Unwrapping them, I wailed. Their white gowns had turned into varying shades of yellow and their gold-trimmed instruments were chipping away. There were also little black things resembling tiny seeds all over. "Cockroach dung," my househelp said.

I flew to the dry cleaners where I was charged P10 for each, P500 for the lot. After they were cleaned, the clothes were not in their original pristine white. "Ecru is classier than white," the salesman avowed.

And the peeling paint? Well, now was my chance to be a painter. The gold paint came in a one-liter can costing P100. I needed a paint brush worth P20. After three days I finally hung them up my tree. One after another, a branch snapped and broke its hinges to oblivion. My refurbished angels were too heavy for a tiny tree! I dashed to SM for a sturdy seven-foot evergreen at P3,000. 

With a bigger tree, I needed to augment my blinking lights. I bought ten sets for P600. I also paid a newspaper boy P100 to throw away the heap which was once my tree.

When finally my new evergreen had the angels and lights, it didn't look nearly as good as Tradition's. I followed my son's advice to install a spotlight (P750) as they do in stores. It's still not perfect. As a last resort, I asked an artist friend's opinion, "You need more angels to cover all the gaps and more...."


Yup, I've always known that to save money, I must buy only what I need, not buy what I covet on "sale." What gives? Knowing is one thing, having self control is another. Here's where I consistently need God's word: 1 Corinthians 12:31—But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way. And where I constantly crave His grace.

copyright © 2002 by Grace D. Chong


Delayed Departure

(A five-year-old boy died of cancer one month from diagnosis. He was just one of the many people who die unexpectedly. On the other hand, my Uncle Billy, who led a very unhealthy lifestyle, defied death. Why?)

“His eyesight, I suspect, is failing. My prying, curious eyes peer at his own a bit too closely but he doesn't blink. Recently stooped, he is smaller than he already was, the vestiges of once sturdy arms fading. In their place is a promise of twin reeds, scaly and shriveled. The thick, durable fingers of old are almost transparent, with veins and bones like roots intertwined.”

Thus begun the unfinished essay I wrote about my uncle Bill, one of those who doted on me in America in my youth. His sharp wit, undiminished by his almost one hundred years of charmed life, made excellent copy. But I quit writing it because, who would want to read about a very, very old man, unknown to everyone but me?

Well, maybe health buffs, habitual dieters, or even doctors would.

Up until ten years ago when he came back to the Philippines for good (after over 60 years in the US), he was a walking cliché. He smoked like a chimney (three packs of non-filter cigarettes a day). He drunk like a fish (every lethal liquid). He loved wine, women and song (poker for two straight nights in a smoke-filled room blaring with loud casino music and and cusses). He lived it up (high-fat, high-cholesterol diet of bacon, ham, eggs, pork chops and pizza). He had sweet tooth (four heaping teaspoons of sugar in his coffee).

By medical statistics, he should have died of either lung cancer, kidney and liver failure, cardiac arrest, massive stroke, or diabetes years back.

But at 97, his vital organs were intact, defying laws of human nature and turning health facts into myths. He still read two newspapers, finishing the crosswords in one sitting; devoured the Bible; quoted Shakespeare; and wrote letters in ornate penmanship on unlined stationery. His body was slower, but his spirit was like the song, "Alive, alert, awake, enthusiastic," outliving everyone in his family.

He drawled in an American twang he couldn't shake off, "My flight to heaven has been too long in comin'!” When he sought back his home country ten years ago, he also sought back God -- like a dusty old book shelved, discovered, and read again.

And he was a cliché no more. "That's all in the past now, you're lookin' at a new old bull!” He settled in a beach house in far-away Bolinao, Pangasinan, where his lifestyle was diametrically opposed to what it once was. But, can one decade of clean living repair the damage wrought by over six decades of physical abuse?

Well, how many people ever make it to 97? Not many. Not even those who live fumigated lives, as medical journals show. But uncle Billy did. I've asked my doctor friends why. They could only reply, "God's ways are not our ways."

In Ecclesiastes 8:7, the teacher wrote, “Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come?”

Now, how many people are ready to fly out? Again, not many. But uncle Billy was. Whenever my family and I would visit him (on halloween to keep a long-standing joke running: visit the living, not the dead), I'd begin with a terribly inane, "So how have you been?"

Like a recording he'd reply, “Eagerly awaitin' my flight out. But God keeps delayin' my departure. I'm ready when He is.”

He would add, “Next time you come I won't be here."

I'd reply, “The old man who cried wolf! You threatened us last year and the year before last.” But I begged God, By Your grace, he'll say it still next year... and the next...”

Uncle Billy's statement was right that last time. One month after our visit on halloween, in his sleep at age 97, he took his much-awaited flight to our permanent home.

I rushed back to visit him, praying I'd hear his twang one last time, but he had left.


Should Grandmas Blog?

No, I am not yet a grandma. Not officially anyway. 

But you might as well call me one now since my age is eons off the blog generation. Also, sometime soonfollowing the example of my younger granny friendsI should be one. My second of three sons has promised he would catapult me to that distinction. 
So why am I blogging? Have I gone nuts?

I am not young, I am not a techie, I loathe (maybe that word is a bit strong; let me change it to "dislike") what I read in some young people's blogs, I am very private (add very ho-hum), and I am already a published author.

Well, I listen to the young. Though I sometimes feel their perspective can be appalling (compared to those in ancient time when the women were ladies and the men, gentlemen), they often make sense.

My eldest and youngest sons pushed me into blogging.

"Blog is a web page." (Which I had planned on having.)

"You can write all you want." (Which I do anyway.) 

"You can comment on young people's blogs. (Which I like doing, verbally.) 

"You can openly advocate values." (Which I concentrate on in my children's books.)

"You can publish on-line your unpublished books." (Which I dream of, night and day.)

"You can get immediate feedback on the manuscripts you're iffy about." (Which I saddle them with.)

"You will have more readers of your books because blogs are international." (Which I thought incredible since I live in a republic where people consider reading as non-essential.)

"All that for

The last argument did it. A true-blue Ilocana, I am a sucker for sales promotions.

Ta-da, a grandma blogger! 

(First grandson's first photo)
Ooops. One nagging fear: my baby-boomer friends can't text and they have no emails. Or if they do, they ask their children or their secretary to open it for them—once a month, at most. Who will read me?

At best, my husband will, out of love professed on wedding day.

At worst, eldest and youngest son will, if only to prove that their idea of a blog will work even for grandmas.

Why Leaves of Grace?

For book authors, leaves are the off-shoot of days and nights of incessant banging on the keyboard, unmindful of discomforts, or scribbling on any surface, and transforming images and thoughts into concrete words—so they may be shared with those who equally love the printed page.

Every letter, space, and punctuation mark that come together in cohesive paragraphs, will eventually find their way into a book leaf . . . and then, leaves.
It's a process I fell in love with years ago, and which I continue to enjoy. This love and joy of writing can only come from the One without Whose grace nothing is or will ever be.

In like manner, nature's wonders, mostly in all shades of green—and also called leaves—sprout from the ground or hang from twigs and stems to remind us of this grace.

As the world totters between printed and cyber pages in this digital age, I thought I'd join the adventure.

I'll turn my computer screen into e-leaves that you may flip (or click) through. This blogsite, from today, will log the seemingly small, ordinary things that demonstrate how the Author of life bestows unceasing grace even upon an insignificant, inconsequential, and ordinary mortal like me.

It is my hope that you find many things in your own life to reflect on, and acknowledge, with gratitude, the Source of them all.  

"And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace." John 1:16 (KJV)