Singing in Tongues

You’ve sung “Amazing Grace” before, I know. Written by John Newton way back in 1776, it is the world’s most familiar hymn today—partially because famous singers like Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Joan Baez and many more have recorded it. And mainly because the lyrics have a profound message for those who want to turn their wretched lives around.

You’ve probably heard it sung in many different languages as well.

But have you heard the hymn sung by 14 different nationalities all at the same time? In one room?

I have.

There were 14 countries represented in the recent conference which I attended. Although most of us spoke English, we were encouraged to lead prayers in our own language. And so when we sang “Amazing Grace” we did so in our own tongue.

Awe inspiring.

Imagine a 45-voice choir singing a tune so familiar, but in accents so disparate and strange. Yet you feel as though the words are coming from your own mind; your own voice is praying aloud, and your own soul is connecting to the same Source of divine grace.

Based on 1 Chronicles 17:16-17, the lyrics are a prayer of King David in which he marvels at God's choosing him and his house.

Then the same lyrics in the same tune are a prayer over 3,000 years later in a function room occupied by about 45 people somewhere in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The experience taught me that       many different languages we may have, but when we speak to the One who made races, tribes, nations, and people different from each other, He hears only one language—that which is spoken by our heart.


While I Was Away

I was gone for eight days and on those days (above) I had no time to watch television; neither could I read Thai newspapers. It was like being in limbo, not knowing what was happening in beloved motherland.

“So tell me all about the news I missed,” I asked Ate Vi, my long-time househelp who can put newscasters to shame.

“Oh, those Filipino generals!” she said, smirking. “They were on their way home from Russia with their wives and brought our country great shame! One of them had in his possession, undeclared, over six million pesos (105,000 euros) in cash. They were detained by top Russian police.”

“Not possible,” I said. “How could they have spirited out that huge amount of money? I had just gone through our airport twice and I was frisked thoroughly. I was asked how much dollars I had ($202). I was told to take off my shoes, and even my little notebook had to go through the x-ray machine! I signed a custom’s declaration, attesting I had no more than $10,000."

“Well, you are a law-abiding citizen,” she said.

“And those generals aren’t? They are the defenders of our constitution,” I countered, saddened by her story.

“Money and power corrupt,” she said tersely. “You have neither.”

Ate Vi’s tells it like it is.

“One other thing,” she added. “Our president gleefully announced that the IMF was giving us a ten-billion-dollar aid. IMF denied it.”

“My president wouldn’t lie,” I said, getting sadder and sadder.

“Well, believe what you want. Stay na├»ve,” she said and left for the kitchen.

I will review old copies of our newspapers, hoping she misread the news. But Ate Vi tells the truth. People with money and power don’t get punished for their excesses and abuses. They get investigated for a week or two then nada.

Well, justice, as we know it, will not come in this lifetime. No wonder a growing number of people in this country are finding it more and more difficult to be optimistic.

That’s saddest of all.

But I believe that all the money and power that corrupt the revered leaders of our land will all turn to nada. Only divine grace gives us hope.

When the Lord returns, justice will be meted out; and by His grace, God’s people will bask in nothing but righteousness—and will never feel sad again.


Last Trip abroad?

This is going to be my last trip out of the country, I told myself as I packed for my eight-day trip to attend the Asia Christian Writers Conference in Chang Mai.

I had just recovered from two successive illnesses, throat infection and UTI, both debilitating, confining me at home for what seemed like years. They were traumatic! The thought of getting sick abroad spooked me.

I spoke aloud (within Tony’s hearing distance) that I needed travel insurance in case I fell ill in faraway Thailand. He laughed, of course, but encouraged maybe by being my beneficiary, he got me one.

With friends Ramon, Chair of MAI Asia (sponsor of the event), and Tito Dok, multi-awarded children’s book writer, I lugged my overweight bag in three airports: our own NAIA, Bangkok’s and finally Chiang Mai’s.

I imagined the place to be as cool as Baguio so I packed five thick coats, plus heavy pants and blouses. I also threw in a copy each of my books to show and give fellow writers. Those were, yes, over 20 kilos! I had heard about traveling light but I have senior moments.

I slept through all the hassle and delayed flights, except when Tito Dok took pictures and asked Ramon and me to pose before every conceivable matter or moving object. I’ve met photography buffs in my life but Tito Dok beats them all by a thousand mile. I didn’t have to bang my head for forgetting to charge my own camera.

Arriving at Suan Bua Resort, I was totally charmed—by every noun known in English: place, people, thing, categorized into common, proper, abstract, collective, etc. I should come back here with my boys . . .

I itched to post one blog after another but internet connection was non-existent. Journal writing, I thought, is different from blogging. Keyboard clicking and wrist flicking somehow capture peak, fleeting moments better.

Looking at it another way, though, the unconnection was unexpected grace. It allowed my fellow writers and me to soak in moments. We had time to look in each other's eyes and see the stories behind them.

Stories, powerful stories, would turn into verses or prose in novels, magazine articles, devotionals, children’s story books—and many more types of writing—telling of God’s righteousness; of His grace that saved Christian writers’ (and mankind’s) soul.

(P.S. Now that I am home, my insurance policy turned out to be an unnecessary expense, and not having enough faith.)


Unconnected in Chiang Mai

“I'm breaking out in cold sweat. My hands are trembling. My heart is racing. I am puffing and panting even while doing nothing. And I feel like I am going to pass out.”

These are what characterize withdrawal syndrome, according to someone I know who has battled an addiction successfully.

If I were not in fresh, airy Chang Mai, Thailand the past five days, I should be feeling these symptoms as well. There has been no internet connection and I feel like I had been cut off from my lifeline, the net, particularly Leaves of Grace.

And there's this article due for submission. I couldn't shoot it out.

But just now, while waiting for the van that will take us to the airport for Bangkok, I turn on my lap top, and bang. Connection! Ooops, the characters are in Thai.

Let’s see if I can post this one with my first photo at the Chiang Mai airport . . .     



Ha-Ha-Hah! Ha-Ha-Hah!

You’re a caricaturist,” my new friend, Sam, said after reading my just re-launched book, Gifts of Grace Book 1.

“I am?” I blanched, unsure whether it was a compliment or a criticism. It was a word not once used to describe me.

“Ha-ha-ha-hah!” he laughed as though someone was tickling him.

“Ha-ha-ha-hah!” I echoed, snared by his contagious laughter. I am an easy prey—when someone laughs, I laugh; when someone cries I cry.

“Your son, JC, ha-ha-ha! The way you described him as a logo, ha-ha-ha! What a riot!”

“Oh, that,” I said, remembering my thoughts when I wrote it. “Ha-ha-hah!”

“And your husband, Tony, ha-ha-hah! You know, when I met you at our faculty meeting last month, I thought you were prim and proper. Ha-ha-hah! I didn’t know you are so funny, ha-ha-hah!”

(Sam is a new member of the faculty of the university where I teach part-time.)

“Ha-ha-hah!” he roared as he recalled one scene after another. Not much later we both had tears in our eyes. He was wiping his with a white handkerchief. I was wiping mine with my sleeves.

“You are amazing, Grace! You have a way with words. Ha-ha-hah! How do you do it?”

“Ha-ha-hah!” Now we were both in a laughing fit that couldn’t be stopped, not even by the Security Guard who shushed us by the door of the faculty room where we were waiting for our class hours. The exhilaration I felt as I wrote Gifts of Grace Book 1, eight years ago, swirled over me like tsunami.

“You take one facet of a person, and make it larger than life! Ha-ha-hah!” Sam sputtered between gales of laughter.

Caricaturist. It suddenly seemed like a rave review, and a word of privilege and honor.

And laughter is grace that comes even when the newspaper headlines read: World markets plunge.


The Colors I Eat

Colors perk me up. They liven up even the bluest of days. But like anything on terra firma, colors are relative.

Brown, for instance, looks good on vases, floors, shoes, and tree trunks.

Green, on the other hand, looks good on leaves, grass, clothes, and accessories.

But on food?!

I recently had dinuguan (blood stew) in the ickiest of browns. But, but. It was the best dinuguan I ever had in my life.

The pork was crunchy (very crunchy!) even if it was swimming in, yeah, icky brown sauce. Yes, it’s unlike any dinuguan I ever tasted. The place which serves it is called Kanin Club (kanin is boiled rice).

Fortunately, one branch happens to be in our neighborhood. To dine there, you have to make an early reservation because the place is always packed with gourmands. Many don’t mind waiting (I don’t) in the lawn outside for their turn to be seated.

Two friends invited me to Flavors of China in a mall on my birthday. They said the spinach soup in that place is super scrumptious. They did not lie. The soup came in yucky green but it was truly divine.

These two dishes remind me of the turkey we had at home one Christmas. Tony was the chef (this was before JR took over) and as such, he liked to improvise. He threw away recipe books and relied on his “ear” for cooking.

What do you know? We had a purple turkey! Instead of white wine, he generously poured red wine over the bird. I refrained from taking any photo.

It wasn’t bad, the turkey that is. But the color was.

“Christmas is supposed to be a colorful occasion,” Tony deadpanned.

Someday I may find an indigo lumpia (egg foo young), fuchsia fried chicken, or a aquamarine milk shake. And they’ll be oooh-la-lah!


Severe September

“Now I have no excuse to be grumpy, bossy and self-centered,” JR says on the evening of September’s last Sunday.

His lids are droopy, his skin sallow, and his body stooped, but he is never more relaxed and nice and kind—a look alien to us in the past four months while he reviewed for the bar exams.

The bar took all of his September Sundays—and ours, too. He pored over his law books, while we (kith and kin) prayed for him night and day. We never (or so we tried) as much as tell him any news that might distract his focus.

And now it is all over. We welcome him back. And the long wait for the results begins.

Every Sunday afternoon, the mood on Taft Ave. (La Salle is the venue of The Bar), cordoned off from vehicles, is festive and delightfully chaotic. Professors, students, relatives of the bar takers are there in droves, chanting and cheering the harassed, spent examinees as they emerge from the exam rooms. Whoever started this age-old tradition called Bar Op (operations) must be awarded a medal for creativity.

The night before that, the bar candidates are served hand and foot by their schoolmates and concerned friends in the hotels where they are billeted. In Ateneo’s case, it’s Sofitel Philippine Plaza. Then on the morning of the bar, the examinees are pampered with breakfast, last-minute legal opinions summarized on paper, and sent off in a special bus with prayers, blessings, and words of encouragement.

Back on Taft Ave. on that last Sunday afternoon: bands played, balloons danced, hands clapped, cameras flashed, banners waved, and people leaped and laughed. Waiting for JR on the sidelines, squashed between energized people of all kinds, I find God’s grace—sustaining all of those around us and those bar tortured souls before us.

“There’s JR,” JC nudges me. I look around to remind Tony to take his picture but he is lost in the crowd.

JR walks slowly with the rest of his compatriots, relief written all over his face. He animatedly talks to a similarly relieved, and refreshingly cute, girl to his left. He doesn’t look around. Like the rest of the examinees walking with him to the exit, he is in no hurry to go anywhere. He simply strolls. Again I find ample grace to savor the moment.

Severe September it might have been, but God’s merciful grace ended it all with anticipation of many good nights’ sleep, serene days, more smiles, and being our simple selves once again.