A Governor Named Grace

need not introduce Governor Padaca of Isabela, do I? 

She is the famous, gracious lady who walks with a pair of crutches. At age three, she contracted polio which shrunk and weakened both her feet.


She is one of the 13 People with Disability (PWD) whose poignant life stories grace the pages of my book, “Flying on Broken Wings.”

I wrote in part:

“Tons of articles have already been written about Ma. Gracia Cielo Magno Padaca or Gov. Grace, here and abroad. Her life story has been dramatized on radio and television, with famous actors in the cast. We all know that she is the modern-day David who—with no campaign money, political pedigree, or logistics—slew the behemoth Goliath in the political arena, dislodging the entrenched dynasty that had ruled Isabela for over three decades. Many more are being written as she continues her odyssey into the road less traveled: good governance.”

More importantly, as she allowed me to peek into her heart, I discovered that she is a woman of God.

She shared her story of transformation to the members of the home church of Bezalie, Executive Director of New Day Publishers. After her talk, the well-loved Governor was mobbed by the congregation, asking her to autograph her chapter in my book.

She gamely obliged. And one special act that touched those who were with her was what she did for one of the ladies. Holding a sheet of paper, the lady asked the Governor to autograph it—she had no money to buy a book. Immediately Governor Grace, who is a walking testimony of her name, bought one, autographed it, and gave it to the lady.

On broken wings, this remarkable PWD has taken flight, and is inspiring others to do the same.

Wish all public servants in this country were made of this.   
(Topmost photo from http://philstar.com)


The Last Lecture

My friend Lita is such an irrational (“accomplished” is her term) shopper she buys a dozen of everything she fancies. Predictably, she bought a dozen of this book which she stresses to her staff, “everyone must read!” She lends me one.
I had read rave reviews of this best-selling book, and watched on video the author, Randy Pausch (a young and well-loved computer science professor), when he delivered his last lecture titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” at Carnegie Mellon University two years ago. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in its last stages.

His talk was part of a series of lectures of top academics for a hypothetical "final talk" on what to impart to the world if it was their last chance. It was literally Randy Pausch’s last chance, and although he was unsure at first, he accepted it for a very important reason: he wanted to leave his thoughts as a legacy to his children.

The principles discussed in that last talk are what the book “the Last Lecture” is all about.

“We must never take our lives for granted!” Lita says, like delivering her own last lecture. “Let’s make it meaningful for others, especially our children.” Though her three children are all adults, Lita dotes on them, and by her deeds, you can tell she is fiercely protective of them.

I start reading the book in the car on my long way home. I take only a short break for dinner and continue reading. Before the night is over, I finish the book. Whatever is left of the night I spend praying, seeing clearly in my heart’s eye the grace that was strewn my way to make some of my own childhood dreams become realities.

Randy Pausch died one year after his last talk; and Lita, several days after she lent me this book, went to China for one of her shopping trips—there she had aneurysm. But by divine intervention, she was flown home safely, straight to ICU, where she recovered fully after a month.

Today, whenever I think of Randy Pausch’s reason for accepting the invitation to deliver his last lecture, my eyes mist.

And when I listen to Lita’s “lecture” about serving others with our lives, I am reminded of the precariousness of our earthly existence—how it can be snuffed out quickly—but for God’s unfathomable grace.


On to 118,000 Words

If I were an accountant, I’d be a bean counter. But I am a book author, I work with words—so I am a word counter.

“You count words?! Now, how silly is that?” you might ask.

Well, I had been counting words for over 20 years, I can’t stop now.

As a creative writer in an ad agency, I was careful with words. Ad writers are to words, as the royal guards are to the crown jewels. Our ads were mostly 30 seconds long, so they would take no more than 50 words. Beyond that, we’d be mutilated and maimed by our clients.

You see, the cost of a 30-second ad can buy you a car, or a house, or a palace, depending on how glitzy you want it. From ad creation to execution to production to airing, it’s money, money, money. If your ad went beyond the 30-second limit, the TV network would either cut it or charge you double.

“Count your words, count your words!” I would later castigate my young writers who dreamt of becoming poets after earning enough money in advertising.

And so word-counting is, let’s just say, a habit I can’t kick or lick. It runs in my veins.

When once my publisher asked me to write about myself, I asked, “How many words?”

She looked at me with such incredulity, I forgot to laugh.

And so I am counting words once again. I have started writing a new book, which when finished, will have no less than 118,000 words! It will be the longest book I shall have written. And nothing delights me more than the joy of choosing, at least 118,000 times, the right word to string with the carefully chosen others.

Why have I decided on the number of words when I am just beginning?

The book is a daily devotional for busy women, and if I were to keep each devotion at a compelling, readable length, I need to clear out my mind of stray thoughts that, like unwanted and unwieldy weeds, grow with reckless abandon.

These days, the moment I wake up, despite tummy torment, I covet the long and steady stream of grace that God will continually grant me as I write towards the length of 118,000 words in my manuscript.


Adrian vs. the Big Black Horse

Adrian and his mom, Gianina, have a vast, unusually vast, playground for a backyard. It's called Meijer Gardens. It's actually a few miles out of the way but they go there so often it might well be their own backyard.

And each time they get home, we get a boon of lovely pictures that tell the story. Gianina is now into photography and her favorite subject is—one guess, Adrian. Her most ardent fan (a self-proclaimed photographer with no particular favorite subject) is moi, Adrian’s Amah.

I couldn’t wait to receive surprising shots such as these.

"Virtual grandmothering" may not be as complete as being there, but it has its rewards. It allows your mind to go on overdrive and, as you well know, imagination is the creative pursuit of all writers.

The mind can often conjure an image more interesting and powerful than the original.

Black and white photos, like grace, stir the beams of light upon the prism of an Amah’s heart.


Prayer as a Lifestyle

As we were taking a beating from typhoon Ondoy, I immediately posted on Facebook the first thing that came to my mind, “Let’s pray without ceasing.”

Indeed, over the last three weeks—going on four—I have found myself doing exactly what Paul said in IThessalonians 5:17. My prayer time has been on fully charged, heavy-duty batteries; it just keeps going and going.

Many of our loved ones lost everything they ever saved for. Although we have been spared, we share their despair. We agonize over the daily sights and sounds of unparalleled devastation on TV.

I have not been alone. Most of the text messages, e-mails, and FB posts I’ve received from the time of Ondoy to Pepeng have the word “prayer.” Even on media and among hard-nosed businessmen, we hear the words, “Let us pray . . .” Prayer has become like a mantra.

In between those two terrifying typhoons, I got sick. Not ill enough to be wrestled away from writing, but I have never felt so blah in my life.

I call it tummy torment, which keeps me sleepless and restless at night. My medical test results have not come in. The anxiety of not knowing what’s wrong makes one even sicker.

On top of these is the sporadic news on Pepeng, due to the absence of electricity in stricken areas. The furious floods that rampaged over our province, Pangasinan, where I grew up, and where my parents’ house still stands, drowned half of the 45 towns; killed people, mostly children; washed away crops, homes, and dreams. And there are talks that an overflowing artificial dam will be released soon!

Our home church, still being refurbished as funds trickle in, and to where we sent all of my son’s musical instruments (drum set, amps, electric guitar, keyboard, etc.) is caked with mud.

For a year now, my siblings and I have been begging friends to donate their old books so we could convert our parents’ house into a public library, as a gift to the people of our town. There was generous response; books came from friends and kin here and abroad. Now those printed treasures are mired in stinky slime.

Our old piano, on which my sister and I learned our do-re-mi, and our late mother played hymns and kundimans, is gone forever.

Yes, we’ve all been praying because of . . .

Helplessness. We’ve done our best, but our best couldn’t begin to answer all our problems. Prayer acknowledges God’s power, way beyond our own.

Focus. We need to drag our mind away from all the misfortune, deaths and destruction. Prayer looks up; it keeps both mind and heart totally tuned in to God, begging for a respite from the incessant blasting of nature, worsened by man’s disregard for the environment.

But as a believer of grace, I think prayer should transcend helplessness and focus. As I have personally experienced over the last three weeks, prayer has become a lifestyle—my core, my middle—way beyond feeling helpless or needing focus.

I think that was what Paul meant when he said, “Pray without ceasing.” Every breath we take is a communion with God, in our conscious and subconscious mind. Every joy, pain, celebration, mourning, or step toward any direction is laid down at His feet. Somewhere along the way, when we least expect it, He generously gives us grace.

Prayer as a lifestyle means, every thought about others and of oneself is of God. It is something we cannot do without. It’s like water and light, which Jesus likened Himself to. Without both, we cannot live.

All told, prayer as a lifestyle allows us to get to know God in totality, in a vast personal way that can only be experienced, not explained.

Most of all, prayer makes us distinguish between what we want and what He wants—for us.

“Pray without ceasing,” Paul said. I say, Amen.


Flying?! Try Swimming

Poring over the photos of my just-launched book, Flying on Broken Wings, after the Ondoy typhoon, I see swimming instead of flying.     

I am trying to crack a joke here. In the aftermath of the deathly deluge, which has maimed and crippled many parts of the country, one has to find some humor and take things with a bit of levity.

My publisher, New Day, was one of the countless victims. I need not describe what happened. The photos show how computers, sales invoices, important records, manuscripts, documents, telephones, furnishings were rendered totally useless. Somewhere in the debris and mud are copies of my book, swimming on wings not only broken but soaking and dripping.

It’s as though New Day Publishers has been wiped clean and has to start all over again. I couldn’t find good enough words to say to Bezalie, Executive Director of the publishing house.

It’s heartbreaking, and in these scenes, it is difficult to find grace. It feels like it has been withheld, and nothing is forthcoming. Especially when we read that shuddering part of the Bible when God said to the sinful people of the earth—“For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die.” (Genesis 6:17)

We have not died, we have not joined the doom of the people in olden times, and above the great flood of waters, we see an overflow of goodness and acts of kindness all around. I have never seen such an outpouring of help from many quarters—young and old people alike—and on such a massive scale. As of this writing, the avalanche of relief operations has not abated.

It is my belief that grace flies in, or swims with us, when we ask for it.

As for New Day Publishers—like its name, there will be a dawning of a new day, more beautiful and more promising than the last.


Meet My Blackie

This lilliputian, Asus Eee1005HA, not much larger than my Bible, cell phone, and mug, has made my writing life more consistent—even when I am out of home base, where my workroom is, and away from my longtime trusty desktop.            

Blackie (I would have wanted Pinkie, but it wasn’t pink enough; black is as black as it can get) weighs only one pound. So aching shoulder notwithstanding, I can carry it with minimum effort wherever I go—including the waiting room of my doctor’s clinic. It fits right in my tote bags. And the greater news is, the battery lasts up to 10.5 hours so I need not lug along the cables.

I hadn’t budgeted for a new laptop. But my sister Aie’s conked out, and when I heard her say she'll just go to the Internet CafĂ© for her e-needs, I was distraught.

Aie is in full-time ministry; and she is a channel of grace in remote parts of the country and the world, or wherever she goes—she needs a laptop more than I do. It was the easiest decision I ever made—handing her over mine.

Then our resident IT, JC, said there is a tiny netbook that won’t cost me an arm and a leg (meaning, all I need is forgo my daily snacks), which I could buy on installment with zero interest. It also answers my list for an ideal, spare, out-of-home computer.

Blackie, you’re on.

(Addendum: Blackie was certainly on yesterday in church. When I got there half hour too early, our Pastor was frantically looking for the church laptop. Earlier, he said, a well-dressed lady had inquired about service schedules. But now, there was no trace of her, nor of the laptop! Blackie took the job on. Nothing—not theft, not storm—could diminish the fervor of worship.)


Two Harrowing Hospital Days

“Go see a gastroenterologist!” my friends nagged. But you know how lightly we take—or deny—things of great importance.

I’ve been having these recurring tummy troubles for months—flatulence, gas pains, general discomfort, which were robbing me of sleep. But I attributed them to busyness or a series of unfortunate events—including the death of my friend Mila and the typhoon that inundated hundreds of thousands in the Philippines—which caused stress and therefore, tummy troubles.

The symptoms, however, were stubborn; so I blinked and heeded my friends’ nagging.

“I wouldn’t prescribe anything until I know what’s wrong,” the gastroenterologist said. “I advise you to immediately undergo endoscopy and colonoscopy." Big terms which so scared me, I lost more sleep. He didn’t say this, but I read it all over his face (or mine), “Something could be terribly wrong.”

Harrowing Day 1:

Emergency room—there I was interviewed by three doctors and a nurse separately, with the same questions. I wondered why they couldn’t read each other’s notes! Then on to a cubicle where I could hear hurried footsteps and moans of woes. I looked up to the lights. Down to my slippers. And all around, to blue shiny curtains.

Here, white-clad vampires sucked my blood with needles; clamped my wrists and ankles, and read zig-zag lines on long, thin papers spewed by a tiny machine.

Then in my room, more white-clad pollsters filed in, with the same questions. I could have saved myself trouble by recording all my answers. A voodooist in white also came, mistaking me for a doll and piercing me with another needle attached to a bottle of clear liquid. Short of force-feeding me, she watched me drink 240 ml of laxative, which kept me racing with maximum speed to the toilet all afternoon and all night, till I felt like a prune.

Harrowing Day 2:

On a cold, narrow bed with rollers, my blood pressure was taken at too-short intervals, then I was wheeled by a masked man through a long hallway and into the Operating Room, where I was pierced anew on the arm by a voodooist, making my mind fuzzy, half aware of all the on-going surgeries in an endless line of ORs on both sides.

“I will put you to sleep now,” the anesthesiologist told me when I reached my assigned OR.

“Okay, but be sure to wake me up,” I countered.

Sure enough, the next thing I heard was his voice, “Wake up Ms. Chong, the procedures are over.”

“I have talked to your husband,” another voice came through from somewhere. I was too sleepy to care what he told Tony. But he rambled on and on anyway.

Back to my room, my husband's  face—or what seemed like it—was grim. I was deep in stupor and all I wanted was to sleep some more.

When the fog of sedative was gone hours later, I woke up ravenous enough to eat a horse, or two. Tony began to tell me what the doctor said. Instantly my subconscious came to the fore and I remembered what he had said after the procedures in the OR.

“You have ulcers and diverticulosis, both can be cured in time.”

Tony confirmed this. And I bowed my head in thanksgiving for the generous globs of grace that I, my friends, and loved ones had prayed for before I checked in the hospital.

Suddenly, the people in white crowding my room morphed into angels—taking the needle off my wrist, giving me instructions on what to do, and handing me a wad of prescriptions.

Despite the desire to keep sleeping, pain, and exhaustion from all the needles, laxative, a slew of tests, and unending interviews, I summoned enough effort to text all my prayer partners, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!”


Behind the Wedding Scenes

Just two weeks before the onslaught of Ondoy, the killer typhoon, we attended a beautiful wedding in a beautiful nature park complex. It would be, alas, ravaged by the flood of epic proportions.

It was the wedding of my nephew, Jo, and the lovely lady who happens to be our medical transcription school’s office manager.

Because we are with Ched every working day, we were sort of privy to the wedding preps and jitters.

What we hadn’t counted on was, Jo’s dad had a heart attack two months before the wedding. He was rushed to the ICU and flatlined! Although he was revived, the prognosis was bad—he needed a triple bypass surgery at the soonest possible time. His eldest son rushed home from the US.

Jo worried that his father might not make it to the date of his wedding. But with prayers, and more prayers, Jo and his siblings were led to a doctor of Cellular & Biochemical Medicine. Instead of surgery, which was dangerous because of the patient’s serious diabetic condition, the doctor prescribed an unconventional (a bit bizarre to many) diet.

Slowly, the patient regained his strength, and to everyone’s surprise, he was able to attend the wedding!

While there, he performed all his ceremonial duties as the father of the groom with verve. He was visibly amused, as I was, when John Denver of the Philippines, suddenly appeared at the reception—and performed songs so like the original, I thought we were listening to a CD.

The guests who saw Jo’s dad couldn’t believe what he had gone through two months earlier. But the prayer warriors knew better.

The One who can quiet a storm, part the sea, and perform a miracle at a wedding in Cana, performed another wedding miracle by giving a dying man a new lease on life. And those of us who believe in Him are once more affirmed by the wonders of his healing grace.                     

(Above: John Denver's voice repository and me.)


Ondoy's Wrath

Typhoon Ketsana (or Ondoy in the Philippines) unleashed a fury so violent we are still reeling from the aftermath, five days later.     

This video eloquently captures the devastation wrought by Ondoy. And the above photo shows how people risked their lives to save it.

But in the rubble and mud of suffering are gems with millions of facets as bright as the sun's to shine upon a new day.

Over the din of thousands of volunteer efforts and the onrushing of God’s grace through donations from concerned people and organizations here and abroad, Tony received this one-line text message from a friend:

“We lost everything, except our lives and our faith."

I pray that despite the pain and loss, those of us whose lives were spared will keep the faith.