“When is your writing moment?” Adie, my new friend—who will soon see her first book published—asks as I am about to down a corn muffin at Kenny Rogers.
Writing moment . . . writing moment . . . I roll the phrase in my mind and the muffin in my mouth. I think of all the times I am hard at work in my computer or when I scrawl a fleeting thought in my little notebook.
“Is it all the time? At special hours? In a certain place?” she follows up her question because I take a mighty long time showing any semblance of intelligence. “Or only when you’re in the mood?”
I mumble, “I don’t know about writing moment. I seem to love to write at all moments.”
“As in, all the time?! Even now?!”
“Even now as I speak,” I say. “I want to write down what you’re saying and why it is affecting me and why I think it is important.”
She gives me that keep-talking-and-make-me-understand look.
“Writing is a never-ending quest for me,” I say, sounding like I'm improvising.
“Yeah, quest. Like looking for something to reach, poke, disprove, study and investigate.”
And then something whacks me and I exclaim, “Writing takes place in your soul!” I laugh because I seem to be horribly pedantic.
Adie is young and wants to be a writer. And all she wants are tips on how to write from someone who, years ago, was starting like her.
“My writing moment is any moment,” I say, trying to come back to earth. “I mean, all moments are writing moments. When I was in advertising, we had fierce deadlines and I had to keep writing to meet them. That attitude is in my bones. The only difference is, today as a book author, I keep writing because I want to keep writing—not because I am racing against deadlines.”
“Well, some moments are better than others. But whatever the moment is, always remember that you can write only because grace enables you to.”
She moves her mouth and it breaks into a smile. I move mine to ask about her oncoming book.
Adie’s text message one hour later is, “Ma’am, thanks. It was a grace-filled meeting.”
Adie is a quick study. In case she reads this post, she’ll know that I was indeed writing at that precise hour when she and I were talking about my writing moment.
I lost this phone a year ago.
I lost another one (or two?) after that so what’s the big deal?
Well, here’s a tale of grace you will never believe, but I’ll tell you anyway.
This time last year, before I turned in, I prepared my bags for school. As my last act every night, I turned off my cell phone (a horrendous habit, Tony kept saying under his breath). The next day, I was so sure I put my cell phone in my bag. But in the car, when I wanted to make a call, it wasn’t there. It wasn’t in my brief case either.
“I could call your number but you won’t be able to hear it because it’s off,” Tony remarked, making the obvious more redundant.
As soon as I got back home, my househelps and I turned the whole house upside down. No phone. So I got a new one and again I lost that one, but that’s a whole new story.
One year later, to the day, my friend Yay (a co-teacher) calls, “I found your old cell phone!”
“Where? How? Why? When?”
“I was going through my cabinet looking for clothes for our church’s rummage sale and I found your phone in a plastic bag with my pink gown.”
“The pink gown you lent me?” I ask. A year ago, I was invited to be a wedding sponsor . . . I needed a pink gown . . . Yay volunteered to lend me her gown so I need not have one made . . . I couldn’t fit into it even after skipping a meal . . . so I returned it the next day . . . the day I lost my cell phone!
“Yes, that gown,” she confirms.
“You mean you never took that gown out of the plastic bag?!”
“Hahaha!” I find it a waste of time to organize my cabinets!” (That’s what makes Yay a great friend, she’s a kindred spirit.)
“I must have put my cell phone in that plastic bag instead of my bag (?)” I say, trying to remember but failing.
“How else could it have landed there? Senior moment, Grace, hahaha! I will leave it in your pigeon hole in school tomorrow,” she replies.
Tomorrow comes and I dash to my pigeon hole. My cell phone isn't there.
I meet Yay in the corridor an hour later. “So where is my old cell phone!”
“Oh, gosh, I forgot all about it! I left it at home.”
Now it’s my turn to laugh, “Senior moment, hahaha!”
Today I suddenly have two cell phones (the prodigal one and the one I inherited from my son), both the cheapest you can find in stores—if you can still find them. I often leave them around, anywhere, but they don't get stolen. One time a waiter ran after me, waving my cell phone, “Ma’am, you left this!”
I drool over those thin, sleek phones with magical functions beyond texting and calling, but two big boys keep count, “How many cell phones have you lost, mom?”
I stay quiet, hoping they don’t find out about those missing reading glasses. Uuuh, but those are other tales of grace.
Living in the US makes you talk about the weather a lot. In Chicago, where I lived for a few years, weather topped the list of conversation topics with friends and strangers. Too windy. Too cold. Too hot. Too much snow. Too wet. Too crazy.
In this country I never once spoke about the weather. Till now.
At the huge outdoor event to swear in Barrack Obama as the new President of the United States today, people will chill. Brrrrr!
Not even the firestorm sparked by Pastor Rick Warren—author of Purpose-Driven Life; openly opposed to same-sex marriage; and Obama's choice to give the invocation—could warm a wintry day.
The world is experiencing one of its coldest seasons ever. I don’t remember this part of the universe being this shivery before. Not in recent memory.
Since the beginning of 2009, I have kept the electric fan and the air-conditioner off. And I find myself bundling up with an old coat once scrunched in a forgotten closet.
My office (the cramped, book-lined corner where I write) has a window that catches the nippy wind from the garden. Since our house sits on a corner lot, no structure obstructs the cool January temperature that dipped to 7.5 degrees centigrade in Baguio a few days ago.
My early morning walks are chilly; I carry an umbrella to ward off the icy morning dew. Not many walkers brave the cold so I find myself alone in the dark. The better to talk and listen to the Creator of weather. It’s quiet and peaceful, I hear Him. I feel His presence. And I can’t think of a better way to start my day.
This idyllic weather isn’t going to last long, though. We’ve been told by Pag-asa that by mid February we will be assaulted by extreme heat.
So while the weather is still hot topic and I can still say brrrr, I am going to bundle up with things that warm my heart—writing and reading, listening to music, solving crosswords, staying home, calling up friends, and filling leaves such as this with odes and thanksgiving for God’s glorious grace.
At the family reunion which I often spoke about in older posts, my grand nephew, Lean, was a joy to behold.
Only five years old, he won hands down in the “Guess the Jelly Bean Flavor” game open to all. He beat all adults and older kids combined.
Rules: close your eyes as a jelly bean is placed on your palm, taste it, then check your answer from a sheet of about 59 flavors.
Lean couldn’t read yet so his mom had to tick the flavors as he named them without hesitation. “Umm, cinnamom.” “Umm, lemon.” “Umm, banana.” “Umm, green apple.” His teammates soon noticed that Lean was getting all the right answers while they could guess nothing. They set a new strategy—wait for Lean’s verdict before they ticked the flavor off their own lists.
I asked him after the game, “Lean, how’d you know it was green apple?”
“It tastes like green apple.”
“How’d you know it was cinnamon?”
“I just know!”
Lean later was seen playing with a little boy who was as dark as Lean was fair. He wasn’t one of the family so we asked around who the boy might be. He was the son of the cook. Very friendly, he came to me and asked, “Can you give me one of those so I could also join the games?” He pointed to the reunion ID (which shows the branch of the family tree you belong to) hanging down my neck.
I lost my tongue. Tony came to rescue and gave him a coloring book and crayons. He shrieked with delight, and then Lean took his hand to play games only they could understand.
“What’s your friend’s name, Lean?” I asked.
“John.” At mealtime, Lean invited John to join him. They were together at all times—a study in contrast. Lean spoke English and John (who was very small for an eight-year-old) spoke Filipino.
Then came bye-bye time. John unfortunately figured in a freak accident. He fell down a ledge and hurt his leg.
Lean lost no time in asking his mom for his box of treasured chocolate crackers and told her he wanted to give it to his friend, John, before going home. This was the moment I captured on camera.
This was the moment I learned the greatest lesson on friendship. Lean, five years old, had just demonstrated grace.
At the end of the school term last December, when I was being given my new teaching load, I decided on an impulse, “I will take a leave next term.”
“Why?” our Dean asked, perplexed.
“Uh, ah, I think I need to rest,” I replied. I wasn’t tired, I wasn’t stressed, I enjoy teaching, but it seemed like the correct and only thing to say. One needs no profound reason to rest, I thought. These days, my life is not governed by strategic and forward planning. I often answer “Why” questions with “Because!”
“But you will definitely teach next term, won’t you?” he asked.
“Yes, one subject in June,” I replied, relieved he asked no more question.
So I looked forward to being idle in 2009. For a change.
I began the year by covering all the books I got for Christmas with plastic. It was my undoing.
As I wrapped each one, I read some of the pages and got irreversibly hooked.
When I started reading my new Chronological Bible, from JC, I went all the way to January 27; when I opened “Spiritual Disciplines Devotional” from my friend Yna, I read up to week four; when I scanned the first page of Mitch Album’s “One More Day” from JR, I couldn’t put it down and finished it through the night; when I flipped through James McBride’s “The Color of Water,” which I won in a raffle at our family reunion, I read till page 200 and will probably finish it today—that is, if I can pry my hands off Eugene Peterson’s “Living the Message.”
I don’t believe in one-book-at-a-time. Not in reading, and not in writing. Not since I left the workplace in the year 2000.
And oh, this is not to count the crossword puzzles I solve while eating green mangoes with bagoong (anchovies, Filipino style), and the long phone chats with my friend Lucy and cousin Minna, one trip to the Spa, occasional swing to the coffee shop with my boys, and of course my writing (though it may seem like I have been goofing off, this is still my priority).
And it is only the 15th day of January!
Then at six PM today, the eighth season of American Idol is scheduled to premiere.
These are the best of times—the best of idle and idol times!
More than ever, I ponder and wonder about grace. Why it is even given to someone so unstructured, so unconstrained, so undeserving?
If our annual family reunion suddenly stopped now—for whatever reason—I wouldn’t know how to greet the New Year. All my life, I’ve said good-bye to the old year and welcomed the new one in a prayer circle with people who share my genes.
This photo of our 64th reunion, taken while the Beatles sang “When I’m sixty four,” shows not the real score. Half of our clan members live abroad. But those who attend year after year still command a respectable number as you can see.
This annual shindig begun in 1945.
In this first family reunion, my maternal grandparents decreed that their nine children should come home to the town of Umingan for a get-together at year’s end. In those days, and for years, my grandparents hosted these reunions. Before they went to glory, they left a piece of rice land— the harvest of which would be spent for this assembly.
But land reform and other complications sneaked in and soon, funding the now-too-expensive three-day reunion has been tough. But no problem has been too big to solve. Young ones and young once put it all together and get an all-time high before, during, and after this gathering.
This year's Chair was my cousin Minna who, although busy in New York, took the reunion's helm and ran it smoothly by remote control!
JR at age 17 wrote an essay about it and won a Palanca Award, first prize.
This event must be pretty special.
Well, family is more than special. It is a gift. It’s a precious present given to us by a gracious God so we may each learn to be a builder—of relationships and friendship. In the process, we share and pass on values that honor Him. John said in chapter 4:7: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
Can 400 people scattered all over the world love one another? Uh, we are all individuals with different quirks. And some are more loveable and loving than others. But our reunion is a yearly step to rise above those quirks and differences.
By worshiping together (this year, a copy of the service was sent to all those who are far away), we focus on the grace lavished on us by Him who made us who we are— diverse personalities belonging to one family.
That can only be the reason why, at 64, our clan reunion is still going, and going, and going.
(Below: the family branch where I belong. There are 11 of us here; 14 are in other continents.)
Even before December hits us, Christians all over the world start looking for a devotional (book or pamphlet) which they can meditate on through the next year. I bought two, and received two more on Christmas.
I had hoped that my new devotional for children, SuperDevos, would make it to the bookstores at the end of November. It didn’t. Due to production glitches, the first small batch got off the press two days before Christmas.
Finally, here it is!
The back page blurb reads, “Do you have to fly, lift cars, and be invisible to be called super? Did you know that you can be super just by obeying your parents, loving God and reading SuperDevos?
“Each of these 365 illustrated devotion in SuperDevos features interesting facts and stories, thoughts about God and the Bible, memory verses and a prayer for every day.
“And just like taking vitamins that can help you grow healthy and strong, reading God’s word and praying every day will help your faith grow stronger!"
Grace sustained me while I wrote and re-wrote this book all of eight months, three years ago. Unfortunately, just when it was being put to bed, publication problems caused it to be shelved indefinitely. My editor, Beng, and I were devastated and sniffled on each other’s shoulder. I nursed a broken heart for months.
But everything happens in God’s own time. And SuperDevos' time has come. My super thanks to Beng, John Michael (book designer and illustrator), and all the hard-working people at OMF who have been involved in the publication of this children's devotional.
My prayer then, as now, is that many children will be energized by this book. I hope my own grandson in Michigan will.
I will send him the first copy I bought from the bookstore to start the year 2009. I hope his mom or dad will read it to him every day till he is able to read on his own.
One of my Christmas presents made me grin broadly. It’s a Bible. Not my usual Bible in another translation. It is called “The One Year Chronological Bible (NLT),” given to me by JC.
The Bible as we know it has many books that happen simultaneously or at different times. But the books are not arranged according to chronology. JC’s gift is arranged in the order of events as they happened—from the creation of the world to all the succeeding years.
What’s even nicer about my new Bible is that it is divided into 365 days! It takes only from 20 to 30 minutes to read these one-day passages. If I read these passages every single day, at year’s end I shall have read the whole Bible from cover to cover!
Together with this Bible is my son’s beautifully-written, four-page letter. JC’s wonderful writing style is so different from mine. Let me quote from it and summarize it my own way so I could share it with you.
Sometime in the (hopefully) distant future . . .
You black out and take your last breath. When you open your eyes you are in heaven. There, a huge, thundering voice calls your name, “Grace. Well done, My good and faithful servant, enter thou into My glory. . .”
“Jesus!” you shout with joy and awe.
“Yes, Grace, you are dead. Well, then again, not anymore. You are alive. I am the resurrection and the life if you recall,” pulling the words from your head.
He gestures to a woman who has been longingly looking from afar.
On earth you would have held back your tears. You manage a soft, "Mama?”
Grandma, whom you’ve been missing a lot since her death, and you hug very tightly. Grandma later introduces you to her friends who are also writers like you are. Some of them are Nahum, Micah, and Habakkuk.
They greet you happily, exclaiming, “Grace, we have read all your books. And we like them a lot! How do you like our books?”
Oh, my! you squirm because, I don't know them nor have I read their books!
You have not read their books?! grandma whispers, appalled. These people were inspired by God to each write a book in the Bible!
Four more writers of the Bible approach. And they are not Matthew, Mark, Luke and John! You turn redder than a ripe tomato and hide your face with shame, realizing, How could I know them?! I only read my favorite parts of the Bible!
So Mom, reading the Bible cover-to-cover isn’t such a bad idea after all. Let’s face it, you’re closer to the grave, er, Heaven, than you are to the womb.
Avoid those potentially, eternally embarrassing scenarios by reading the whole Bible once and for all this 2009!!!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
At the beginning of JC’s letter, when I was reading the part about my mother, my eyes moistened. Then they moistened some more when I got to the part about meeting the writers of the Bible—I literally roared and rolled with laughter.
This, then, is my new-year resolution: read the Bible (new leaves of grace sent through JC) from beginning to end, in chronological order, one day at a time—for 365 days.
Happy New Year!