Dirty Finger

We trekked to the polls—husband, two sons, and siak (Ilocano term for “me”). I have a dirty finger to prove it.   

 If you're unfamiliar with Philipine elections . . . after casting one's vote, the election officials pour a drop of indelible ink (which washes off after two weeks or so) onto your point finger to prevent multiple voting.

On election day such as this, I remember my father. He drummed into my and my siblings’ head that, “voting is our birthright as citizens of this country.”

Since voting runs in my blood, I might have passed it on to my children. Or they might have inherited it from my husband who believes that the primary duties of citizens are to pay their taxes and vote.

This election time, we voted in barangay (community) officials—the people who make our small community a safer and healthier place to live in.

For me, it was an exercise as important as presidential elections. We were electing the people we hobnob with every day. Just a phone call away, they will help solve our day-to-day problems (garbage, vandalism, robbery), and maintain our equanimity.

The windows of heaven poured down the blessings of heavy rainfall the night before. But on cue, the downpour stopped when the polls opened. Naturally, we walked on mud and sludge.

On our short drive home, we had dirty feet and dirty fingers. It was perfect. It was another day of grace.


Unimaginable Grief

Just when I was about to drift off to dreamland, after a restful, wonderful respite from stress with my siblings and their families at a resort south of Manila, I was roused by my husband who was informed of very tragic news from the US:

My nephew, Derick, figured in a fatal car accident—a head-on collision on the expressway. He was 29 and single.

The accident was flashed in all the major newspapers and on TV in that part of the US. It was shocking news. He rammed into another car with four passengers—all of them dead.

The suddenness and magnitude of the event stun all of us in our clan. Earlier, in our family reunion, we talked about an ailing cousin who is in her late 70’s. We were concerned about what would happen in the next few months.

But this accident—it is so . . . unexpected. Unimaginable.

Upon insistence of my sister through successive and frantic phone calls to kith and kin nearing midnight, I called my nephew’s mom—my cousin Hilda. I was afraid to call because I couldn’t summon the right words to lighten her grief. She was distraught and beyond. But I didn’t need to say much. In between sobs and wails, she did all the talking. And all I could whisper was a series of “I know.”

In truth and in fact, I know. I know how she feels. Being a mom myself, I could feel the depth of her grief. At this time, she doesn’t need words--not from me or anyone. She simply needs to talk and to be reassured that she is not alone in her anguish. She isn’t.

We, her family, are with her, with her husband, and with her one other son in a circle of love and prayer across the globe. And as you read this, please be with us in prayer, as well, for the strength and comfort of Hilda and her family.

On my knees, I pray for extensive and intensive grace: to make me unequivocally trust in—not necessarily understand—Him; why things are the way they are. Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”


Frenzied Friday

The clock is quickly ticking and I can't seem to get it right.

Page after page, nothing is flowing as well as it should. Too many things going on at the same time.

 I have a talk in a few hours and my manuscript is halfway done. I have to beat a deadline for my magazine column but I simply can't squeeze enough time to craft it. Then there's the folio I need to send out and it isn't as good as I imagined it to be.

Focus, focus, focus.

One step at a time.

"Prioritize," I always tell my students, and now I am saying it to myself.

I can't blog when my mind is in all directions all at once.

What a frenzied Friday. Gotta find that old hymn: "Grace, grace, God's grace, grace that will pardon and cleanse within; grace, grace, God's grace, grace that is greater than all our sin."

Tomorrow will be better.


Old Circles

Two reunions are simultaneously being organized by my long-time friends from high school and more-recent friends from college. The organizers have set up e-groups for easier communication.   

Almost every day, I read a message from someone whose name is oh-so-familiar but whose face I could hardly recall. But Images of days long gone come flashing back.

I look at what I am doing today and what I did in those days and there seems to be no straight path to how I got here.

“Plan for your future,” we parents often tell our children. “You should know what you want and work hard to get it.”

I recall much of what happened in the past but I don’t recall having any game plan. I have always wanted to write but that was not what I pursued. I took up a post graduate course because it seemed like the in thing to do. After that—well, one thing led to another. There were kids to attend to, a family to keep together, and a career that held challenges.

It has all been a series of when . . .

When my husband got me a job in advertising (he must have read boredom all over me) before the babies started coming, I had no idea what advertising was all about. But I stayed there for over 20 years.

When I got out of advertising, I didn’t know what to do next, except to continue with the passion that had laid dormant all those years—writing.

When I started writing, I was clueless on what to do with my manuscripts.

When I write (a story, an essay, or whatever I feel like writing), I am not sure whether it is going to be published or not. A good thing there is this blogsite.

These are days for looking-back-to-old-circles-of-friends—reunion time and reflection time. I am discovering caches of memories between then and now.

What amazes me is this realization: I-did-not-make-things-happen. They happened because I followed what seemed to be the right choices among those that were shown my way in every stage of my life.

It has always been the Force far greater than my finite mind that made things possible for me to travel from point A to point B to point C and to the point where I am today.

It has always been grace at work. Simply put, I have always been grace dependent. And I will be, until the circle of God's children meet for the greatest reunion in eternity.


Inside and Outside

Over the weekend I was invited to one of the branches of National Bookstore for book signing. At the event, Jay, an engaging storyteller from Alitaptap (firefly), an organization of storytellers, read the book "Teo's cockatoo" to the children, after which the participants competed in a coloring contest.

About 25 kids, accompanied by their yayas (sitters) and mothers, enjoyed the activities—judging by their noise. They were excited over their signed books and other purchases.

From one corner of my eye I saw a little boy in a black t-shirt craning his neck and peeking from the outside, through the glass frontage. The activities were for free—he could have easily come in and joined the rest of the kids. I wondered why he didn’t.

After all the kids had left, I lolled around. It was nice and cool inside the bookstore. The air conditioning was in full blast and the activity area was spruced up for the occasion.

Getting out of the bookstore, I was assaulted by warm, humid air. It was unbelievably hot, a reminder of the gloom of global warming. Walking towards my husband, I was nudged from behind. Why, it was the boy in black looking in through the glass!

He was carrying a plastic container with a few pieces of suman (native rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves). Sweaty from the heat of the afternoon sun, he said, “These suman are good. Would you like to buy one?” Since there were just a few pieces left, I thought he might have had a good sale that day.

My husband, who always says, “no child should ever be made to work for a living,” beat me to the draw. He bought not one, but all. But not before I could take the boy’s photo. He was excited to pose for me with his suman, which would become ours soon after that.

I couldn’t quite put a finger to what I felt. Inside the air conditioned bookstore were children who bought a lot of my books. Outside, in the sweltering heat, was a boy who can never afford one—and has probably never even read a children’s book.

I talked to myself, which is what happens when I want to make myself feel better, “You can’t write books for all children, you know.”

“Why not?”

There has to be an answer to my own question.


Flowers in My Neighborhood

This post is all about flora. So what is this fauna critter doing here?

Those beady eyes staring at you saw everything my own eyes saw: the beautiful flowers in my neighborhood:

I decided to break my own rule one day at dawn and not walk as briskly as I have been doing the past seven years. Yes, it’s been that long since I took up walking—the best advise any doctor ever gave me. I wanted to finally—now that I have a lightweight digicam—capture in perpetuity the flowers which make brisk walking such a breathtaking experience.

The houses in my neighborhood, beginning with mine, are modest and have low fences. From the road, one can see people puttering around their gardens at the break of a new day. They always manage to say a nice thing or two, aside from “Good morning.”

There is always a profusion of varied flowers in all colors and hues because I suspect the love for flora is catching.

“The seedling you gave me now has four buds.”

“Good, tomorrow, they will bloom!”

I began my walk later than my usual 5 AM. I wanted a hint of the morning sun which always makes the flowers spring into life before one’s still-sleepy eyes.

As I aimed my camera at my first subject, the dog in the photo above suddenly appeared out of nowhere and posed in front of me, as though it wanted to be my first subject. I ignored this mysterious mutt, of course. I needed to focus. And this wasn’t a day for fauna.

But it literally dogged me, from garden to garden. It stopped when I stopped. It looked where I looked. And it walked where I walked. By the time I got to my last shot, it was still there. “I’m done, you may go now.” But it just stood there, looking up at me, unblinking. I blinked, and took its photo. It left me alone after that and quickly—too quickly—went on its way.

By this time, the whole neighborhood of garden people was awake, singing its morning greetings, while the flowers’ vivid colors glinted with the sun and danced with the wind.

So early in the morning and already, grace was all a-bloom!


Delete God

I was deeply disturbed by a news report I read a few weeks ago. I tried writing about it but got stuck in midstream.                                                

“SAN FRANCISCO —A federal judge ruled Wednesday that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools was unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that the pledge's reference to one nation ‘under God’ violates school children's right to be ‘free from a coercive requirement to affirm God.’ The judge has granted legal standing to two families represented by an atheist. . .”

Weeks later, more chilling news:

“Some Boulder High School students protested Thursday over having to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of each school day. More than 50 students took part in the morning protest in the school courtyard. The students are upset that the pledge includes the words 'under God.'

"An alternate pledge written by senior Emma Martens was read to the crowd of students in the courtyard. Her pledge says, 'I pledge allegiance to the flag and my constitutional rights with which it comes. And to the diversity, in which our nation stands, one nation, part of one planet, with liberty, freedom, choice and justice for all.'

"The courtyard protest was held at 8:30 a.m., the same time the Pledge of Allegiance was read over the school's loudspeakers."

Slowly but surely, God is being deleted from US Society. This same society has initiated the usage of “Happy Holidays” (which has become politically correct) instead of “Merry Christmas.” Delete the reason for the celebration?

Reviewing my Bible, Psalm 14:1 (ESV) reads, “. . . The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.”

Leafing through to the New Testament, Romans 14:11, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God."

But then, I can’t use the Bible as an argument, can I? If one doesn’t believe in the Bible as the Word of God, then the hypothesis is moot.

Growing up, I was always reminded by my parents to never get into an argument over two topics: politics and religion. “Nobody wins.” Well, this isn’t about winning, and not about religion either. It is about belief in God—faith. And the reward is life eternal by grace alone.

It cannot be argued.

(Photos by Getty Images)


My Favorite Place

The trouble with having a new toy is you can’t stop yourself from playing with it. I have deadlines to meet and meetings to attend but here I am, taking shots of everything in sight with my black Kodak.

When My uncle Joe from the US sent me a talking doll, I was beside myself with excitement. I was only four years old but I could remember how it felt seeing the pink plastic creature with blonde hair and blue eyes for the first time.

My only other dolls before this stateside marvel arrived were paper dolls drawn on and cut from cardboard. Sure, they had all the clothes any doll could ever wear (drawn and colored on lined grade school pad), but there was nothing like a 3-D doll that cried, “Mama” when you pulled a string at the back of its head.

Then another doll arrived a few months later. It was bigger, blonder, prettier, and could walk! Poor talking doll was forgotten in a dark, musty closet.

Man wasn’t born to be content. We have to learn it, as Paul did, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Philippians 4:11 (ESV).

In this age where obsolescence is the order of the hour, newer and more advanced doodads lure us from store windows every day. I wish to resist them. And I pray I will. But today, I am giving in to my vulnerable moment.

Some of my shots are of my workplace (a few steps away from the dining and living rooms)—where I’d rather be, more than any plush place in the world. My monitor has my blogsite. As soon as I post this, the look will change.

Behind me are some of my books which, if you look closely, are shiny and bright. They’re not new, they’re just covered with plastic—a habit some people spurn (or laugh at) but which is my obscure way of protecting my precious ones from the world’s unscrupulous elements.

Above my computer screen is a shelf that has some of my Bibles in various translations.

I say “some” because a few are strewn all over the house, the better for me to read them whenever I need to. The KJV remains to be my favorite but I need the others to give me a total perspective. I have a very small one (ESV) in my suitcase for my travels. It’s ready to bring along in case I forget to pack one.

To my right are my Childcraft set and World Book Enclyclopedia plus my first son's books on programming.

As a Linux (UBUNTU) advocate, he keeps in step with the latest of this amazing shareware (is that what they call it?).

Despite the ugly cables and unsightly mess of my own doing, this is the place I inhabit most of my sane and insane moments. Here, the pencil sketches in my mind become words and the gear of writing passion is set in motion. This is where I weather emotional storms and where I am backed into a corner, pressed for answers to my own questions.

This is the place where I am being taught to be content and where my paper and e-leaves are being filled with stories of grace.


Finding the Right Buttons

Just when I am beginning to get the hang of it, the digicam my second son, JB, passed on to me acts up. Due to poor handling, my mind says. The tiny buttons have often been pressed and pushed in the wrong directions and they could only take so much.

Being a word person, I have problems with symbols, tiny ones at that!

Lately I’ve aimed the camera at beautiful moments and all it has been giving me back are dimly lit photos with fine pink streaks.

Finding a replacement is a task more difficult than finding the old camera’s little buttons. The handy ones which I require to carry in my bag wherever I go are way too complicated and too expensive.

Until one afternoon . . . I take my friend Ggie (as art director, she is into serious photography) to the camera shop to help me make a decision which has been taking too long in coming. She points to the prettiest of the lot—an all-black sleek beauty. Wide angle lens, 7.1 mega pixels, dual lens, at a price higher than my budget.

The saleslady lets me handle it. The first and only thing that strikes me is: it has no teeny-weeny, confusing icons. Instead, all knobs are labeled—yes, in words! Delete. Review. Menu. Share. Battery. Etc. In a flash, I decide to take it home. To demonstrate how good it performs, the saleslady takes a shot of me and Ggie.

I look at the photo and it captures my thoughts: Wow, at last, this here is a camera that’s really user friendly.

Go ahead, say it: Idiot proof.