The Mosquito That Won't Go Away

The “pesky little mosquito” that first appeared before my right eye six months ago—and which scared me to death because if I lost my eyesight I won’t be able to do the things I love most doing: reading and writing and painting and beading and solving crosswords and oh, so many things!—is still there.       

My ophthalmologist said floaters stay on for a long time, although she couldn’t specify the exact length. The prescription eye-drops she gave me is not working. Well, she did say that no medication has yet been invented to make them go away instantly. But, she was reassuring, it’s nothing to be worried about. "You will not die."

“Is it a part of aging?” I had to ask what she was too polite to verbalize loud enough for me to hear. She turned mute.

If I paid the tiny black thing a lot of attention, though, it hovers still.

But it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. In fact, it doesn’t bother me at all anymore. There are days when I don’t even know it’s there.

I guess, like everything in life, it’s all a matter of mindset—of getting used to anything. If you don’t think of something as bothersome, it won’t bother you.

Our Pastor said something about this in our latest Bible lesson. If you entertain bad thoughts, they become words. Words become actions. Actions become habits. Habits become character.

“Pesky little mosquito?” Why am I even writing about it?


Has It Been a Year?!

My old header comes down:

My new header goes up—to mark the beginning of another year: 
Today I complete 365 days of blogging with this 100th post. It’s been 12 months of adventure—laughter and anguish, triumphs and losses, anger and forgiveness. The year has been about discovery; and reflecting on it.

And stripping, my friend Aleks may add.

It didn’t start out that way. All I ever needed was a journal on which I could monitor my written works and write down nagging thoughts on my current work or initial thoughts for future ones.

I have a small, nondescript notebook which I carry around. But reading my jottings has become exhausting. I could hardly read my own squiggles—more due to impatience rather than failing eyesight or poor handwriting. On a small notebook, I see how often I changed my mind or altered my thoughts through confusing arrows, erasures, exes, and crosses.

But on a blog? Once you’re on-line, things happen. You travel to far away places in blogosphere and come back in seconds, at will—deleting, rewriting, revising, editing, adding, re-thinking, and all the many quirky little things you can do on the computer, in minutes.

What charms me most about blogging is that, unlike writing a book where I am totally immersed and consumed 24/7, writing a post allows me to come and go—with all the freedom to go from mundane to profound; to write one paragraph or ten, 50 words or 5,000, in between trips to the bathroom or the mall or to Adboard meetings or to my speaking engagements and book signing, or to the university where I teach.

I thank the two young men who pushed me into blogging, first son JC and third son JR, who, I doubt, have sustained the interest to read beyond my earliest post. Little do they know that their mother has taken off to many cyber trips and entertained thousands of friends on home base right under their noses.

My numbers are modest, but for someone who became a proud grandma while blogging, they are more like googols: close to 12,000 hits, more than a thousand profile views, and almost two thousand reviews, comments, and emails from guests representing 71 countries.

Each of those is a story of grace.

Let me quote one: “I feel privileged to have discovered your remarkable blog. I enjoyed your great writing, deep and fresh insights, your flower photos, and blogs about the Philippines. Great colors and fantastic design! What I can relate most to is your belief in God's amazing grace!”

Indeed, it’s been a year of God’s amazing grace. In thanksgiving, won’t you sing with me?

Amazing Grace
(by John Newton)

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.


So Much for Customer Care

This was how I felt (and most certainly looked) like for almost two hours while I was in my bank today:       

Now, imagine some other thirty people before and after me looking and feeling exactly the same way.

I don’t like myself very much when this happens.

But it does happen, whenever I go to Banco de Oro. There is a long queue of similar-looking depositors for, at the very least, one hour, blubbering and blustering, but they stay in line anyway. There are no chairs, no welcoming smile, just gestapo-like guards, a chilly atmosphere, and a long line of people waiting endlessly for their turn to be served by two apathetic tellers.

You’d think that a bank with this type of non-service would be abandoned by depositors and the tellers be left counting their fingers instead of money. But no, this gargantuan bank is now probably the biggest in the country, having bought out one of the bigger banks recently.

This defies everything I teach in my Customer Care and Service class. The growing number of textbooks being written on the subject says this clearly: with globalization, the only way to survive in business, and to rise above competitors, is to be customer-oriented.

One must give the customer the caring he deserves from end to end. Starting with product development, the customer’s welfare must be paramount—until he has experienced the product, so that he will come back for more, again and again. The books also have many case studies on successful customer-oriented companies.

The customer is king. Not King-kong.

Yet, why do people—me included—stay with this bank?

It’s the only bank open till seven at night every day, from Monday to Saturday. This unique service guarantees the bank a bulk of customers—seething though they maybe. I guess there has to be a trade-off somewhere: longer hours sans customer care vs. shorter hours with topnotch customer care.  

The textbooks tell me unique service and customer care ought to go together. But that would be expecting too much, or open to debate for which—after my legs have gone into rigor mortis for two hours—I have no more energy.

What does it take to persevere? Grace from above.


The Lost Cell Phone

At this very hour, someone’s cell phone is being stolen. Cell phone thieves roam the earth; when one loses his cell phone, he loses it for eternity.

These thieves are so adept at it a victim usually can’t tell how it happened.

Aie, my sister, was one such victim—at a time of great loss, in a funeral parlor in our hometown. She was taking charge of my late cousin Letty’s hurried wake. It was a death so unexpected members of the family in Manila were still being informed. Thanks to her cell phone, Aie was wired to the world.

After a few initial calls and a few minutes of pause for composure, she reached for her cell phone again. It was gone!

There were very few people in that place in the wee hours of the morning—just an ambulant peanut vendor, from whom she bought a handful, an embalmer and his assistant.

Aie went on a prayer marathon while she communicated with us via the next best, but infinitely slower, routes—email and landline. It was a most unfortunate time to lose something so essential; just when help was most needed.

We prayed with her, and at the next possible hour, we left Manila to attend the wake.

While having dinner in our ancestral home, two boys and the embalmer’s assistant knocked on our door. They came to return Aie’s cell phone!

Their story was incomprehensible and incoherent. Their aunt, the peanut vendor, initially took it, they said. Then they happened to find it. The embalmer was likewise claiming he had been texting the number, pleading for the return of the sim pack, etc.

Aie was so happy she gave each of the boys reward money and a thousand “thank you.” We all shared her joy and played sleuth, analyzing why anyone would return a cellphone, and how it could have happened—from the time it was stolen to the time it was returned. It was a lusty discussion between my siblings and me.

“You inadvertently left it and the peanut vendor took it and . . .”

“The boys might have snatched it while you were not looking, then . . .”

“Their conscience bothered them so . . .”

“They were intimidated by the text messages . . .”

My youngest son JR who was quietly listening to our chatters said in a small, still voice, “It was a simple case of answered prayers.”

We were silenced—by a young man one tenth of our aggregate ages.

Even as believers of grace, we often like to trace the logic and science behind human behavior. We forget, I forget, that as we pray, the answer comes not in the way we expect it to come. The God of grace is the God of surprises.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9


The Pregnant Lady

A story is told that in the old days when the wide, paved highways today were still narrow, dirt roads, it took forever to get to Umingan, my hometown.

“Are we there yet?” hundreds of impatient bus passengers would ask, in regular intervals, no one in particular.

“Almost. Just watch out for the Pregnant Lady,” was their answer to their own question.

Then many years later (coming home to Umingan from anywhere), when roads were a bit improved, I would still crane my neck toward northeast, hoping that the Pregnant Lady would soon appear. She did not disappoint. She would be there in all her restful glory.

And I would chirp what people said before me, “Almost there!”

The pregnant lady is actually Mount Amurong, according to many people. (I googled it just now; it’s not listed anywhere.) Whoever baptized her Pregnant Lady, well, your guess is as good as mine. But no other name comes to mind—she does look like a reclining pregnant lady!

Now that the roads are fully cemented and the traveling time from Manila to our town, Umingan, has been cut in half or more, it is no longer necessary to watch out for the Pregnant Lady. She has become just a blur as you zoom by. Before you know it, you’re home.

But for me, the Pregnant Lady speaks volumes. It reminds me of my many “coming-home” and the excitement of “being almost there.” It tells me that I am, once again, revisiting my childhood, a niche in my heart that holds so many unique memories my three sons (who were all born and bred in Manila) cannot begin to understand.

They’re memories that alternately bring a grin on my face and a lump in my throat.

Which is probably why I re-live those happy thoughts in my book series, Oh Mateo! The Umingan scenes and people in those stories (12 books at last count) are real, although most of them have been deleted by “progress” or migration or death.

The trees I used to climb, the rice paddies I leaped over, the farm huts we napped in at harvest time, and the carabao carts we rode on—they’re gone now. The rivers, which were our swimming pools, are either dried up or have become garbage dumps.

But the Pregnant Lady, she is as she was—unmoving, unchanging. She will always be a monument of all that I was as a child, and of how grace has sustained me—then and now.


Good-bye Manang Letty . . .

We were on the road on Monday; rather, we were traveling on 3/4 of the road to and from Umingan, the small town where I grew up. It is harvest time and, as far back as I can remember, 1/4 of the highway is used by the farmers in the province of Pangasinan to dry their rice grains.

It was a very important long trip—we went to say our final good-byes to my cousin, Manang Letty, 77.

It’s been a month of so much sadness and so many good-byes. But we rest in the comfort of our Father’s grace, slowly easing us out of our grief and making us move on, one day at a time.

Manang Letty loomed large in my growing up years.

She was a respected teacher in the grade school fronting our house, a community leader, a most-sought-after ghost writer and emcee for many school and town activities, and eventually—after her retirement—a lay pastor in the local church.

Always very funny, she played what seemed to be a big joke on me when I was eleven. She made me the godmother (probably the youngest to ever be given such formidable role) of her older child, Melvin. Well, it wasn’t a joke; it was a privilege and a responsibility, which to this day I take very seriously.

Always very creative, she’d don the most outlandish costumes and perform the most unusual numbers during talent nights in our family reunions.

Manang Letty knew her music well, too—some cousins would describe her voice as that of an angel in her younger years. I’d describe her as a perpetual choir conductress extraordinaire, making even atonal people like me sing on key.

Many people at the wake said she knew her time was up. In the conferences that she attended, she was assigning people what to do at her funeral. To her nieces, she mentioned not being here for Christmas. And to her children, she’d joke, “Your papa is calling me to be with him.”

But no one believed she’d go away so soon. She was on the go, not bedridden. But, then, nobody knows God’s timetable.

It was another hurried good-bye, so soon after we did one for my nephew Direck. But good-byes no matter how short or long-winded are, well, good-byes.

Good-bye, Manang Letty—for now. Again, nobody knows when our next reunion would be. All I know is, it will be in God’s own perfect will and time.


Mute Monday



The Looooong Weekend

Halloween (All Souls’ and All Saints’ Days) is a big thing in this country; so big our president declared two working days to devote to it. In addition to these two days were a Saturday and a Sunday, which gave everyone a four-day holiday.

Before this, Monday was also declared another non-working holiday, leaving us only two days during the week in which to work. This now qualifies us to be in the upper tier of countries with the most number of non-working days.

I don’t want to get started on how businesses lose revenue when work is stopped and how daily earners lose so much more. The authorities know that.

I am tempted to write about why I am queasy and uneasy about lionizing and giving undue importance to ghouls and vampires, ghosts and evil spirits, cadavers and satan, but that would be a discourse far longer than the longest weekend.

Let me just tell you one story about a group of children who didn’t go on “trick or treat,” neither did they stop working during the holidays. They used their time to help the living.

The living are us—my husband and two boys.

On our way to visiting ailing relatives on the farthest side of town, we dropped by Holy Cross, where my son Adriano was buried. The memorial park, two days after All Saints’ Day was filthy. Rotting flowers, left-over foods, melted candles, heaps of plastic bags filled with garbage, dried leaves, and stray dogs welcomed us.

The slab of marble that marks our child’s remains was just as filthy, badly needing cleaning. So much for the promised perpetual care in the memorial park contract.

A young boy holding a broom and cleaning rag was nearby. We asked him if he could clean the marble for us. He quoted a reasonable price and went to work. He started by cutting the grass really close to the ground. Then three of his siblings rushed over to help him. Under the heat of the noonday sun, they helped each other to wash down the grime from the marble, and repainted the etched lettering. The whole exercise took one whole hour.     

In between chores, I chatted with them. They were very conversant, confident, and committed to what they were doing. Rodel, the youngest (aged 10) said he and his nine siblings do this every year. They also have some clients who let them clean the tombs every month.

Nearby was a make-shift store selling footlong hotdog sandwiches, chips, and beverages. “That’s our mother’s,” they said. Their mother was moving about, cooking the snacks, serving the few people who, like us, were in that cemetery three days too late. In between, she would wash dishes, sweep the dried leaves strewn around. She was constantly moving.

So were her children. What impressed me most was the way they did their job—like real pros. They worked as a team without pausing in between. They even offered me a plastic chair to sit on while they finished their job.

My son JR kept whispering, “That’s honest living, mom. Make sure you give them a generous tip.”

My husband said, “The outstanding mothers this society honors always come from the upper crust of society. The committee in charge should scour the slums and cemeteries. There is one right here.”

Our side trip to the memorial park was certainly another gift of grace—through a group of children whose mother brought them up to show the living what it means to really live abundantly.


Amazing Glaze

Amazing Glaze is not a misspelling, it’s a doughnut. It’s the only kind of doughnut I order when my family and I take our coffee in a place called “Gonuts Donuts.”

It’s sugar free! I am a good patient, I am careful about my glucose intake.

This doughnut’s glaze is as amazing as its name. It’s very sweet, minus the sugar and the feeling of being deprived.

Amazing glaze is amazing grace.

“In everything give thanks . . .” 1 Thessalonians 5:18


My Boss Mr. Sev

(Former Chairman of the Board and President, Dentsu,Young and Rubicam-Alcantara; former Governor of Catanduanes; former Board Member, Colgate-Palmolive Philippines Sports Foundation; Former Board Member, Philippine Band of Mercy; one of the pillars and mavericks of the Philippine advertising industry; and my former boss passed away on October 31, 2007. Below was my message at the Necrological Service. )

Paying homage to Mr. Sev or SCA, as we fondly called him, is an extremely difficult task. You don’t know where to begin and where to end. He was a such a big, multi-faceted man that lauding his magnanimity and successes would be next to impossible.

I consider myself blessed that I had already paid him a tribute—five years ago, when he was still strong enough to hear it.

After I left DYR-Alcantara, I decided to spend the rest of my life writing. In my very first inspirational book, it seemed so natural for me to write about him—how much influence he had over my career and how he figured in my life in a very unique way.

I say unique because of all the members of the staff, I was the only one with the same birthday as his. Well, we were born many years apart, but we were born on the same day, July 20.

At my book launch, he was invited by my publisher to grace the occasion—without my knowledge. He was in Virac at that time but he flew all the way to Manila to surprise me.

So in all the 20 years I was with DYR-Alcantara, I shared all his birthday parties. Rather, he shared them with me. The staff looked forward, every year, to surprising him with a party better than the last. Lest I spend all night talking about how we conspired to surprise him, let me just share with you an excerpt from my book “Gifts of Grace.”

“Those birthday parties were special, not because of their grandness (yes, they were grand!) but because of what they awakened in all of us. Two words, team spirit. That sense of community which made us work together as one. People of different ages, mindsets, schedules, positions, all worked hand-in-hand, on equal terms, once a year, for a special project for one special boss.

“On that big day, we were all in the same costume theme, eating the same food, drinking the same champagne, dancing to the same music, laughing at the same jokes, and enjoying the same party prepared by all. It was like being seated in a huge round table—no corners, no heads, no bosses.

“And it was all possible because one man was big-hearted enough to allow it. Mr. Sev was as much the giver as we were. Reflecting on those parties now, I clearly see a kindly man walking about in a deadpan manner through all the feverish preparations. I see his face lighting up in "surprise" at every party. He gamely played along because he knew.

“He knew that we didn't do it only for him, but for the spirit it drew from all of us.

“In this silent hour, I thank the Author of birthdays for this team spirit that came alive every July 20 in the last 20 years. I thank God especially for a man called Mr. Sev or SCA who gallantly gave of himself to be the impetus for this astonishing sense of community, and whose magical birthdays made me feel the magic of mine.”

So long, Mr. Sev . . . till we celebrate our birthday again in that place where everything is forever.  
(Photos above were taken at the launching of "Gifts of Grace" Book 1)


We Will Remember Derick

Why my nephew, Derick, was driving westbound on an eastbound lane on Eisenhower Avenue, Chicago that fateful night, we may now never know.

That fatal accident claimed five lives.

An email from a cousin has this to say, "The toxicology tests were all negative: no drugs or alcohol were found. It was obvious from the huge attendance at the wake (both nights), that Derick was loved and admired by many people. He had many grieving friends from high school, college, and work (including many of his patients).

"The funeral home had to put together 3 individual chapels to accommodate the crowd which still spilled over into the hallway. There was an overflow of beautiful flower arrangements and huge wreaths."

Whatever made him drive the wrong way, well, everything we say will now be just conjectures.

What I know of Derick, aged 29, was he had been a responsible, well-bred, and pleasant kid whom his parents and his older brother, Harold, were so proud of. He was a licensed Physical Therapist and was just promoted to a new position before the tragedy happened.

Meanwhile, although we grieve his passing, we leave our cares at the feet of our Maker.

In his memory, his closest friends put up a blogsite with URL below. May I invite you to visit it?


Trash It!

There has been too much on my plate lately.

I have papers to check, articles to write, and speeches to craft. My book manuscripts need reviewing and finishing. Not to mention our grief over the terrible way in which my 29-year-old nephew’s life was snuffed out; and now the demise of my former big boss who was a big presence in my first career.

What do I do?

I clean up my computer’s innards. I check each and every folder and find duplicate photos and manuscripts. I trash them. I check some more and discover old heavy files that I no longer need. I trash those, too. I uncover many different versions of the same power point presentation, drafts of speeches, forgotten stories, unsent letters, and discontinued projects.

Trash, trash, trash.                

Four gigs of garbage gone. I feel good. I feel clean. But it has been two hours of my time—time I would have put to better use by working on my priority A-list.

This got me pondering about how much garbage I carry around, weighing me down—a long-time grudge, unvoiced anger towards someone, an itch to change circumstances beyond my control, a feeling of unease from unanswered questions, and pain over the loss of loved ones. These don’t go away because they’re allowed to fester in the gut.

I guess that’s why trashing useless files seem so right. Amidst important chores, I need to take time to do it—like a catharsis of sorts.

Above my monitor are my Bibles, daily reminders of how a grace-dependent life must be led.

Psalms 55:22, written thousands of years before computer was even an idea, says exactly what one must do when the weighed-down heart needs to be cleared of dross. “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you. He will never let the righteous to be moved.”