Fresh Flowers in a Doghouse

Attorney, our pet dog, has something other dogs don't have—or will never have. He has fresh flowers in his doghouse!

What's even more strange and surprising is, he seems to appreciate those flowers by staring at them and leaving them alone.

With only a few steps separating our garden from Attorney's doghouse, somehow, the flowers find their way to our beloved dog's domicile, not just once or twice, but as often as the yellow bells bloom. I think it is no coincidence that the color of the hour is also yellow.

I took photos of the flowers at two different times; I also tried, with extreme difficulty, to include Attorney in the picture but he is camera shy.

Now, who ever says that the idiom "in a doghouse" means being in disfavor?

Attorney has been a pet of grace, and the way he treats the flowers in his shelter makes him so much more endearing to me and my household.                


Monette's Mom

There are simply too many images that cross our paths over our lifetime. And yet, there are some that can never be shaken off from our mind. One of them is Monette’s when she was 10.

It was my son JR’s 8th birthday party; we had invited friends in church.

The first guest who arrived was Monette, who at 10 was so independent she came alone in a tricycle. Like a gut reaction, I prayed silently and ardently right on the sidewalk when I saw her radiant face, “Please, Lord, give Monette’s mom just a few more years. Monette is too young to lose a mother.” Monette’s mom was just diagnosed with breast cancer—at a time when survival rate was low.

The image of that sidewalk encounter is still vivid after 20 years. God gave Monette’s mom all the important years to watch her child blossom into a teen-ager, and then a fine career lady. She was as radiant as Monette on her wedding day. And now Monette awaits the birth of her first child.

On God’s schedule, Monette’s mom left this earth last week and we, her friends in church, although we mourn her passing, are grateful for the abundance of grace that our Maker showered upon her once-threatened life. Her remains will be flown in from Pennsylvania for a two-day wake in our church.

God didn’t give Monette’s mom “just a few more years” as I had begged—but He gifted her with two decades in which she joyfully served Him. Monette’s mom was one of the most passionate students of God’s word I had ever met, and reared her children to love the same God she loved with her life.

My silent prayer 20 years ago was unanswered. The Lord gave Monette’s mom much, much more than I bargained for.

Grace is not for us to decide how much of it should be given our dearest friends. For it is only the Giver who decides, not on our terms, but on His. And how He delights us each time.

Monette’s mom—she saw Monette grow up into the almost-mom that her lovely daughter has become. And now, she is where pain is absent, and where grace comes in bundles of joy for her to relish, forever and ever.

What a blessed life Monette's mom (my dearest friend, Mila) had!

(Photo shows Monette and her mom)


In the Belly of a Fish

Jonah is the name of one of my students this term. Every time I see him I am reminded of the big fish, the vessel that carried Jonah in the Bible to Nineveh, where the Lord was sending him.

Maybe because of Jonah, my student, I’ve been thinking a lot about Jonah, the Bible character, in the past few days.

There are ongoing debates whether the fish was a whale, a shark, or simply a big fish. I’ll leave that to scientists and theologians.

What makes Jonah a very fascinating character for me is his stay inside the belly of a big fish for three days and three nights.

The Bible tells us that while he was in there, Jonah was transformed. He did all the things Christians ought to do: he talked to God; he praised Him; he reflected on his condition; he realized his mistake; he asked for forgiveness for his stubbornness; and he finally obeyed his Master.

The fish then was his sanctuary, his haven, his prayer room, and the holy ground where God made his presence felt.

Here’s where I now draw a crude parallelism. I sort of feel like Jonah when I am in my workroom—a very small place not much bigger than the belly of a big fish. But here, when I write, the room’s smallness makes me feel like I am in a sanctuary, a haven, a prayer room, and a holy ground where God makes His presence felt.

When one is alone, shut off, and protected from the roaring and undulating ocean which is our world, we come face-to-face with ourselves; our aloneness makes our thoughts so much clearer and the rub-a-dub of our heart so much louder, making us keener to discover the grace that tells us where Nineveh is.

Do you have a place where you feel like you are in the belly of a fish? I know you do.


My Friend "Tito Dok"

Tito Dok (translation: Uncle Doctor) is a pediatrician. But that’s not how I came to know him.

He became a good friend because he is a writer (long before I became one)—one for whom I reserve the highest of esteem, and through whom I receive large doses of grace.

Because I came into writing late in my life, he always finds time to give me tips and affirm what I do, probably vicariously experiencing his beginning years as a weaver of stories. In my latest book, I wrote that he is “my rah-rah squad of one.”

Tito Dok is a Palanca Hall of Fame Awardee. Meaning, he has won five first prizes. He was also one of TOYM (Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines) awardees a few years ago, on top of all the slew of other prizes he has received in various writing competitions (his Filipino prose is lyrical and distinctive).

If you need proof, simply google Tito Dok or ask any kid who he is. His over thirty children’s books are delighting kids in all areas of the country.

Tito Dok translated my book, No Lipstick for Mother, into Filipino. I translated his book, Sandosenang Sapatos, into English.

One Saturday afternoon, Tito Dok and I met up to shoot a video for our mutual publisher, Hiyas (an imprint of OMF Literature). One of the scenes was the bookstore where both our books are displayed side by side. A camera bug, Tito Dok took hundreds of photos between takes. Here are my two favorites:

As of this writing, Tito Dok has received yet another prestigious award: Gawad Dangal ng Filipino (translation: Filipino Language Award of Honor).


The Chong Palate

Our running family joke is, “If we didn’t eat so much, we could afford to live in a palace.”

Going over our family group photos over the years, I think it is no exaggeration to say that 90% of them were taken around a dining table. The only way I could get my boys together for a family photo is when they’re seated before dinnerware.

Looking back, it might have started on day one of my marriage. I would not attempt to sugar coat it: I couldn’t cook. I had not cooked in my life, and if Tony had not known that, well, it was too late.

So we either ate out, or suffered what my househelp had concocted from bits and pieces of whatever, or went to my in-laws who always had a grand array of food prepared by a full-time cook!

My father-in-law was into good food in a big way. Despite the glorious food prepared in his kitchen, every Sunday he would bring the whole family to a Chinese restaurant where we had a lauriat. Plus, Tony’s clan always had an excuse to party—again, centered on scrumptious exotic Chinese dishes.

Eating gourmet food seems to be my boys’ passion and panacea. When they’re sad, they eat. When they’re happy, they eat. When they’re celebrating, they eat. When they’re mourning, they eat. When their cousins, uncles and aunties visit, the first words that come from their mouth is, “Let’s eat.” And they’re always on the lookout for good restaurant reviews.

Yes, they can eat through any crisis.

While I am grateful that with food comes grace, I am just as grateful for the grace of my simple Ilocano taste buds, which can sustain me even in global recession. To this day, I can feast on roasted fish, boiled vegetables, and bagoong (local anchovies). But then, there is no Chong blood in my veins.

Gianina calls this love for food, The Chong Palate. She certainly knows what it is all about. Palates are handed down! And Adrian, only two years old, has inherited it big time.


Good-bye Cory

After watching people in yellow, who have lined up for three, four, five hours, and soaking in the rain—some eating whatever they could buy from vendors in lieu of dinner, lunch or breakfast—holding up yellow ribbons, balloons, and hand-made posters expressing their deep gratitude to President Cory and their grief on her passing, there was no excuse good enough for us to miss saying good-bye in the streets where Cory made her call for the restoration of democracy.

That sentence is the longest I have permitted myself to write, ever.

It is matched only by the long funeral march the country watched non-stop on TV for over nine hours, in addition to the two-hour necrological service. In the workplace, that would have meant, employees skipped a lunch hour and two coffee breaks, worked overtime, and grumbled.

There was zero grumbling on August 5. It was a day of sobs, and reminiscences of the late 80's and early 90's, and celebratory Cory! Cory! Cory! with matching laban (fight) hand sign.

There was also zero reason not to be counted. While the rain poured, Tony and I decided to wait for the cort├Ęge at the Manila Memorial Park entrance. But, to our surprise, we got invited in and before we could say thank you, we slogged through slosh and soaked grass, and made our way to the tent where the 200 invited relatives and guests were to be seated, 15 meters away from the tomb.

At that hour, 12:30 PM, there were already over 2,000 people milling about in the area, despite the very strict entry procedures at the gate which remained tightly guarded to keep out the massive crowd that had gathered as early as 5:00 AM, extending many kilometers on both sides of the road. Deja vu.

The funeral convoy wouldn’t arrive till 7:30 PM. But as in EDSA 1, people were patient, warm, sharing their food and water, expressing their respect for fellowmen, as though everyone has been a friend for years. In the same tent were one head of state (Jose Ramos Horta of East Timor, Nobel Peace prize awardee), government officials, journalists, nuns, priests, movie stars, memorial park agents, employees, Juan de la Cruz, an adman and his wife, an author.

As Cory would have wanted it, there was no seating hierarchy. The intermittent rain played no favorites either. All TV cameras were wrapped with plastic and the media vehicles were refuge to the on-camera talents and production crew.

Huge video walls updated us on the progress of the funeral convoy. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking to watch multitudes waiting for a glimpse of the flatbed truck bearing the remains of the reluctant leader who mobilized a nation to unleash its power in changing the circumstances that bound it.

As in life, Cory's last march was at once majestic and basic. After the canon boomed 21 times, and the army, police, marine, and air force marched and saluted the carriage in perfect cadence, a throng, a horde of people, many of them barefooted, surged forward like a dam had suddenly burst. They quickly inundated one area across the place of rites in record speed.

On one side was the discipline of ritual. "Ten-shun!"

On the other was the spontaneity of love. "Cory! Cory! Cory!"

As Tony and I walked away from the tomb, I took a shot of the now-empty flatbed truck occupied by young people flashing the laban sign.

Hundreds more raptly watched a replay of the funeral rites on video walls. And at the gate, there were dozens of all kinds of slippers, lost and left in the mad rush to get in, when the gate was opened for the cortege.

Like her husband's, Cory's tomb is stark. There is no epitaph on the unpretentious resting place. Just her name, the date of her birth and death, and "Cory."

That's more than enough.

When we read or hear the name "Cory," we each draw from that part of our heart where we write epitaphs—words of grace that make us remember, in our own personal way, the rare icons who have made us feel better, oh-so-much-better, about our country.


Thank You Cory

Today you will be laid to rest. My family and I are among the millions who—for various reasons—are unable to come and pay our last respects. Physically absent we may be, we are, in spirit, among those who have braved sun and rain to personally salute your flag-draped box since August 1.

We were five of the millions who marched with you so democracy might be restored. Our youngest son JR, who is now a lawyer, was still a toddler but he distinctly remembers. This is a story that we have not retold for sometime.

But today, those millions—who have lain low and become eerily silent over the last few years—are waking up from stupor and are marching once again with you. This time, with their grown-up children and their children's children, so that we may all show the world how much we value our freedom.

That freedom—which we lost—was found again because you inspired us to seek it.

God’s wondrous grace during such fragile times came through a fragile but resolute widow in yellow, who sacrificed much and suffered all, with selflessness and sincerity found in so few.

We will once again remember to tell the story (and march when necessary), with renewed vigor, so we can demonstrate our courage as a people in defending our God-given rights and freedom.

Thank you Cory, thank you. We thank God for you.


Have You Seen this Poster?

Chances are, you have. Maybe in a bookstore window, or on the wall of a coffee shop or a library, or maybe even on a school bulletin board, or in a printer’s shop. The photo shown above is my very own copy tucked carefully in a special corner at home.

Unlike my van of grace, this poster has maybe, uh, a hundred or so print runs. You see, it is a poster for The National Book Development Board (NBDB), the government agency mandated to develop and support the Philippine book publishing industry, called the Book Publishing Industry Development Act in 1995).

The model: Maricel Laxa-Pangilinan, multi-awarded actress and columnist

The book: Well, you know.

It's a poster of grace.