Free Road Trip to Pampanga

We traveled three and a half hours to have lunch in Pampanga.  By any standard, that's a very long trek (especially during this heavy-traffic season),  just for a meal.  But we could be stubborn.  

Two years ago, we did the same exact thing—to celebrate one occasion which I forget.

What's different about this trip was, JR paid for all the bills, including the toll fees and gas. A free ride is a wonderful thing!

The Province of Pampanga is more popularly known as the culinary capital of the Philippines. It was the capital of the Philippine archipelago from 1762-1764 during the British invasion of Manila and the first Spanish province in 1571. It was originally called "La Pampanga" (Pampang means river bank) by the Spaniards because they found the early settlers there living near the river banks.


Christmas 2010

Pink hair and P-noy
All-silver tree and vase
There was that one Christmas when I prevailed upon my sister Aie to stay for dinner.  This year, she is celebrating Christmas in Australia with my brother Earl and family.


The Truth about Christmas

Replace Merry Christmas with Happy Holidays?! 

This pressure in western countries seems to be heating up. Of the many greetings I received this year, half omitted the word Christmas. The argument bandied about is that, Christmas is no longer politically correct.

Is political correctness winning over truth?

The truth is, Christmas symbolizes the day the world witnessed an astonishing self-humbling: God almighty made Himself in the likeness of man. The greatest act of grace.

Jesus Christ totally surrendered His will to the will of His heavenly Father. He became flesh in a manger, lived and worked in humble surroundings, and died between two criminals.

Through this human birthing, God revealed this truth: only through Jesus can man go on living in a glorious eternal home.

How can December 25 (or the day the shepherds heard from heaven), then, not be anything but Christmas?

In my new book, Grace Found Me, I wrote about real people mired in insurmountable circumstances. But always, in time, grace came to teach, save, nurture, heal, and comfort. Yes, through the potholed road of life, God's grace finds you and me again and again.

Who can fathom this act of grace delivered on Christmas day?

No one. Grace remains the greatest mystery of all time. We are not called to explain grace but to believe, seize, share, and be grateful for it; and to enjoy the hope of being with Him forever when He calls us home.  

In fact, His birth was not explained. The angel simply said, " . . . Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." Luke 2:10 (KJV)

To take Christ out of Christmas leaves it meaningless.  

But believing in Jesus, born on Christmas, our Savior, births a new spirit in us. "But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name . . ." John 1:12 (KJV)

Merry Christmas!


A Little Boy Named Altair

Out of a roomful of almost 80 pre-school kids, enthusiastically singing a praise action song, a little boy about five years old caught my eye.  In the middle row, he looked in my direction and waved, as though he had known me for years.  Then, just as instantly, he went back to singing with gusto.

I was introduced as the author of the children's books that they read in school.  And that I was going to talk about those books.

“How old are you?” I asked as an opener.  They said four, five, and six—all at the same time.  But the boy  in the middle row stood up and said with the widest grin and loudest voice, “I am five!”

I told them about how I write books for them; and when I asked for a volunteer who might want to read a page of my “Super Devos,” all 80 hands were raised. But the teacher chose a girl to do the job. I got all the responses I wanted.

It was a very spirited group, all dressed up for a Christmas class party after the session with me. 


Cebu: Thank You x One Million

My longest stay in Cebu just ended—four long, bustling days.  My luggage is unpacked but not my mind and heart.

My pen literally ran out of ink and my reading glasses fell apart.

The almost 400 photos I took do not begin to tell the joy and buzz that crammed my nights and days. Cebu in December is always busy.  Half of the plane was occupied by tourists from other lands.  And the Mactan Airport was so crowded it took thirty minutes before I could hail a cab, and another hour to get to my hotel. 

OMF Lit mirrored the busy city.  Text messages from Lynnie, a dear friend and host extraordinaire, welcomed me, giving precise instructions on what to do next.  After depositing my luggage in my room, I went straight to work, crossing the street to the  Book Fair dubbed "Inspire Cebu!" in the mall, and started signing books, most especially the newly airlifted "Grace Found Me," and meeting new friends till late at night.

The OMF Lit staff—Eresh, Ramil, Noel, Allan, Bon-bon, Nanette, et. al.—looked as though they had each gulped a bottle of uppers.  What passion and energy!

At the "Inspire Cebu!"Book Fair
The pace of the second day was just as fast, but on top of the signing,  a talk and storytelling of  my latest “Oh, Mateo!” book, Angel with One Foot, to over 700 students were thrown in.  More, more new friends.

Reading Super Devos; with the school head


Fairytale Wedding in December

Statistics show that December is the most popular month for weddings. I am an eyewitness to that. Aside from all the Christmas parties and reunions in December, I am invited to several weddings.

December is ideal for dress-up wedding rituals.  The weather is cool and breezy, quite romantic.  You and your make-up don't wilt and melt  as you don your dressiest frock and highest heels.  

One such wedding was that of a friend's son in a fairytale venue that looked and built more like a movie set than a lasting structure. Every angle was adorned for the lenses—gilded columns, vines intertwined,  art deco see-through ceiling, a singing brook under a rococo bridge, swatches after swathes of billowy cloth overhead, chariots and poodles, and greens.

Eclectic and photogenic, it had all the elements of romance thrown in. I think the designer wanted  to elicit this question from whoever is looking at the pictures, “Where and when was this?”  It's a place that could be anywhere but here and now.

The ride to everland
Trying on the ride for size

The dog in everland
Friends of the groom's parents
Because the motif was Christmas, I felt like I was surrounded by walking poinsettias—the entourage was in red.  And there were words of good wishes, laughter, tears of joy, and a vow to be together for better or for worse.
"For better or for worse” is a promise that not everybody can fulfill.  Which is why I pray that God's sustaining grace will always find this young couple—so happy and so in love—as they grow up and grow old together.


How about Joseph?

During the yuletide season, not too many words are devoted to Joseph as much as there are to Mary.  Even in movies showing the nativity, Joseph seems to be relegated to the background. 

When we talk of our faith, Joseph might not be one of our Biblical examples.  Now, as we celebrate Christmas and find the manger in our midst, let us zoom in on Joseph.
The custom in those early days was for parents to arrange the marriages of their children. They negotiated while their children quietly waited for their elders' decisions behind the scene. 

Mary confided to Joseph about an angel who announced that she would have a child who (Luke 1:32) “. . . will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David . . .”  

In Matthew, we read that Joseph was a "righteous man," but he found Mary's story too hot to handle. You see, if anyone found out that Mary was pregnant, she would be stoned to death. Joseph mulled over a quiet divorce after marriage.

But God intervened. As Joseph was sleeping, an angel from God spoke to him, (Matthew 1:20) “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” 

Joseph listened and listened well. He was faithful to God's call.

Dear God, help me to emulate Joseph's faithfulness.  May I remain faithful to You this season and all year through.

(The above is one of the December daily thoughts in my new book, "Grace Found Me," which came off the press this week. You might want to look it up. In another week, it will be available in major bookstores nationwide.)


Grace Found Me!

It's here! "Grace Found Me" (365 Thoughts for Busy Women), my latest book, has been delivered—exactly nine long months from the day the manuscript was completed.

A writer is like a mother-in-waiting, praying for the day the stork flies down to bring in the baby.

What's the book about? The Author's Note explains it all:


How Not to Get a US Visa

I never had problems getting a visa, but horror stories about being denied by the US Embassy was discouraging. So be it, I had no reason to go back to the US again.

Then JB and Gianina had Adrian—that little wallop of a kid who leads us around by the nose. “Come to Michigan and have more time with Adrian,” JB would invite his father and me each time he and his family came home for a vacation.

JB sure knew the magic word.

So I made a decision to apply for a new US Visa, cajoling Tony to do likewise, but he said he is through with things like that—meaning, he has lost his good humor.

It took one month to finish my application on-line. And another three to summon some energy to make an appointment for interview.

Friends advised showing this and that document, which would have covered my whole life. JB said bring photos of you and Adrian. I listened to JB and to myself. Somehow, I felt compelled to bring five of my books.

Wearing my faux pearls, I marched to the US embassy with Adrian's photos and five books, no documents.

There I made instant friends. Two lovely young ladies were to my right and another two to my left, all anxious and nervous.

Sitting on orange chairs then on blue then on black (as the queue moved), I watched hopefuls turn around from a row of glass-covered booths with their passports and sad, sour faces. Denied, denied, denied, denied, denied.

I immediately wrote in my mind an email to JB and Gianina: Sorry, I'd have wanted to come but . . .

“Hello!” the consul, with blonde hair, and not much older than my eldest son, chirped. “Have you been to the US before?”

“Many times, I went to school there,” I replied.

“Oh? Where?”

“Columbia and Chicago Art Institute.”

“Why do you want to go to the States again?”

“To visit Adrian, my three-year-old grandson. He's adorable!”

“Adrian's father, what does he do?” he was nosy.

“He's a physician in Grand Rapids,” I replied.

“And what do you do?” he probed.

“I am an author. Wanna' see some of my books?” I grinned.

His eyes lit up. “Yes, please.”

Hmmm, a closet writer, I thought, and fanned all five proudly. He pointed to Gifts of Grace 3, which I slotted into his teeny window. He read the back cover.

Knows his blurbs, I murmured.

He then tackled the inside pages and started reading . . . and reading . . . flipping the page . . . and reading . . . chuckling . . . and reading . . .

Finishing the whole book? I wanted to ask, but knew better.

Finally he looked up, “Is your husband traveling with you?”

“Nope! He has no patience for the Visa application process,” I said. Oooops, that wasn't a very nice thing to say.

He laughed.

“How long do you intend to stay there?”

Now, that question unnerved me. I wasn't sure, I have not decided. “Ahhhhgh . . .” I babbled, all spaced out. Oooops, I just dug my grave.

“That's good enough for me!” he laughed again, throwing my passport in his drawer and closing it with a thud.

Before I could ask, “That's it?!” he said in earnest, “God bless you, Ma'am.”

Ma'am? Walking out of there, I said a little prayer, May God's grace be upon you, Mr. Whatever-your-name-is. 
(My passport with my 10-year US Visa arrived via courier 2 1/2 days later.) 


Dear Uncle Bert

Your grandchildren, numbering over 20 now, consider you a hero. They were all inconsolable when you were rushed to the hospital—where you breathed your last less than 72 hours later.  

I consider you a hero, too, plus more. 

You were one of 75,000 Filipino, American, and Chinese prisoners of war, who were hauled and dehumanized by the enemy, forcibly marched for five to six days with no food nor a single sip of water in the WW2 Bataan Death March in 1942. You lived to tell us the gruesome, albeit miraculous, story.

God,” you'd say over and over again, “never left my side.”

And so God was with you for 92 grace-packed years.

In some of those years, I was privileged to celebrate most of my New Years with you in our clan reunion.

In some of those years, I had been able to tell you my own little stories, which paled in comparison with yours, but you listened anyway.

In some of those years, I saw you play a no mean chess game with nephews and emerging the champion.

In some of those years, you were a frequent guest (more frequent than I could manage to go home) of my parents in the province, your hometown. You'd take public transportation from Manila just to be there to pay your land taxes, on Halloween, and on any other occasion that made you re-live your childhood.

In some of those years, I delighted at seeing you and my mom—your younger sister and fan—chat for hours and gush over Alvin Patrimonio's latest basketball game. You relished being the grandfather of undoubtedly the best basketball player of all time.

In some of those years, I witnessed how your six living children and their spouses loved and took care of you even if they already have children of their own.

In some of those years, I marveled at how a soft-spoken uncle would be so honored and cherished by noisy nieces and nephews.

In some of those years, you were widowed twice in a row—and had the rare privilege of marrying two of the most caring women I ever met.

In some of those years, you took a third wife, “Because I could be lonely,” you said. Now she, along with all of us, are in deep grief because you left us (not really too soon; God blessed you with an unusually long, healthy life) before we could celebrate the coming of 2011, in the clan reunion you so looked forward to since the last one.

Your two remaining sisters (out of nine siblings), both with fading or faded memories in the US, will never know you're gone—which is just as well. They are now gently cushioned from the gloom of missing you.

But because they share your faith, our faith in the one true Savior, Jesus, somewhere in a special part of Auntie Pure's and Auntie Pat's mind, they are confident, as I am, that you survived the Bataan Death March so your long life would be a powerful testimony of indestructible hope—to be a part of the Heaven Life March with all the angels forever.

Good-bye my hero, plus more. 
(Photo from Cyrene's FB profile page)


Ode to Insects

“No way!” my aunt Mary (an American) would reply when asked if she planned on visiting the Philippines.

She was actually a very nice lady—kind and generous.  I know, I lived with her and my uncle Joe (a Filipino) all of five years in Chicago.  She was the first chapter of my very first Gifts of Grace book.  

But Aunt Mary had some kind of an insect phobia: entomophobia, I believe it's called.

She knew that tropical countries like the Philippines has lots of insects—representing over 90% of the variety of life forms on earth. Her phobia worsened because my uncle often teased her, “We eat insects over there. You should try some.”

Aunt Mary is gone now, but whenever I see or EAT insects, I remember her fondly.

Before you start saying, “No way” like Aunt Mary did, let me tell you about my favorite insects. 

(1) Bees.  You know all about honey, don't you?  This lovely rich golden liquid is the marvelous product of honey bees. Delicious and a healthy alternative to sugar, the  honey's unique composition makes it an antimicrobial agent and antioxidant.

There is this bee farm in Cavite where we usually buy our personal care products—shampoo, soap, conditioner, balm—made of beeswax.

(2) Mole crickets.

They are 1-2 inches long, with large beady eyes and shovel-like forelimbs. Although they can fly, they are nocturnal, spending nearly all their lives underground. 

But when crisp-fried to perfection, they are yummy.  Fried Camaru is a delicacy in Pampanga and served in many restaurants, Everybody's Cafe among them. 

There are hundreds of insect delicacies all over the world. I'd try them if I had the chance. My adventurous streak I inherited from my late father—an Ilocano.  He had a long bragging list of all the animals and insects he had eaten.  

I have always believed that insects are the miniature miracles of creation. The Bible mentions many of them—ant, bee, beetle, caterpillar, flea, fly, grasshopper, locust, worm, etc. 

They teach us life-changing lessons. We've been told, for instance, how hard-working and forward-looking ants are; how a lowly worm can metamorphose into a beautiful butterfly.  

Indeed, God has created these tiny wonders with attention to the finest of details. 

"And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good." Genesis 1:25 (KJV)


Celebrating my 4th Year:

on the Net and in the World

I imagined my books to be in bookstores, homes, schools—wishfully around the globe somewhere—but never in the New York subway.  And yet, there it was!

This photo was sent to me via email and I've treasured it since.  The same way I treasure  all the little surprises from the Net.   

I created this site exactly four years ago, today.  From then on, I have unearthed treasures here and there on blogosphere. One was a blog I stumbled upon while I was googling my name:  

My Favorite Authors:

Grace D. Chong—She's a local author in the Philippines and I really love her works. She wrote the "Oh Mateo!" Series, "Hello God!" Prayer books for kids, and "The Magic of Apo Mayor."

Yes, I know I'm too old for these books but I really cherish her works.

J.K. Rowling—Hello?! Do I have to say more? She's absolutely, positively amazing!

C.S. Lewis—He's practically a legend at his game! All his works are written greatly.

Lemony Snicket—He specializes in the drama category and is a real master. He may write about gloomy stuff but he rocks!!

The blogger lumped me with the great authors I drool over and read! 

Then I also found my book Gift of Grace 1 being auctioned on eBay for P150 plus P50 shipping charge (the book is retailed at only P195 in book stores). It was described as brand new.  Which means, the owner had not read it and already he/she was selling it (?!) I had in mind to buy my precious book just to make sure someone did, but, someone beat me to it.  Sigh of relief.    

Yes, grace finds me in cyberspace. 

And to celebrate my 4th blogging anniversary, I have wordled my post on my 3rd anniversary entitled, I have turned Yellow.  It looks much better than this photo in my monitor.

I am likewise taking down my header (1st photo below) and replacing it with a new one (2nd photo). 

Although my numbers remain modest, I am overwhelmed and grateful for the joy of posting a leaf on grace every four days or less: 405 posts; 81,800 hits from 141 countries; 52 followers; 400 reviews; and hundreds of uplifting messages from friends, old and new.   

O give thanks unto the LORD; for He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever.  1 Chronicles 16:34 (KJV)


Scary Sign

My hair stood on ends when I read this sign along EDSA. I've never seen a traffic sign more explicit.

(English translation: Don't cross, someone died here.)

Whoever thought of this sign sure knows how pig-headed pedestrians can be. 

Then I almost screamed when I saw a man darting across.  Yes, mindlessly and foolishly crossing the busy highway—despite the sign!

My brain and hands went numb so I couldn't click my camera quickly enough to catch him.

We are not the only people who never learn.  We read in our Bible that God's people violated God's laws over and over again, book after book. Despite epic lessons learned,  people just kept sinning, straying away, disobeying commands, rules, or even threats. 

And yet, the grace of forgiveness on the cross came to us free. Available 24/7 to whomever comes clean and asks for it.  

My prayer is that we don't die in the process of crossing.  By then it will be too late.

(Uh, oh.  What a creepy post I just wrote!  Well, the man who defied the chilling sign on EDSA is a creepy reminder of how we can be lost forever.)  

“Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 18:5)


All's Well in Michigan

Please don't let these photos start you running to the nearest police station.

Adrian is not a victim of child abuse. He is a victim of thespian genes. His Amah has a degree in Theater Arts, and his parents are drama enthusiasts.

All it takes is a quick click from his mom's (now a photographer par excellence) camera and he's into winning an acting award in best performance.

Below is the father he takes after; another magnum opus by his mother.

Hilarious photos such as these, from across the Pacific Ocean, bridge space and bring grace. They show us that all's well in Michigan.


Simple Joys

This happened a few years ago, but when I remember it today, I can see similarities between then and now.

I decided to treat my mother and her three sisters to a road trip when they came to the city. Two were in their 70's and two in their 80's. Their eldest sister (right) was already ailing at that time, otherwise she would have come, too.

So to Tagaytay we went. All through the trip, they were gushing about this and that, non-stop.

“Oh, look at those flowers, how beautiful!”

“The sky is so clear, it's a wonderful day!”

“The view is spectacular!”

“See those intricately carved furniture?”

“Wow, I've never seen so many pineapples in my life!”

“Lord, how great Thou art!”

For lunch I took them to Gourmet's Cafe. After glimpsing the prices on the menu, they said:

“Oh, I am a small eater, I'll just share whatever you order.”

“Let's not order food we can't finish!”

“At this age, we should watch our diet!”

My mother whispered in my ear, “You should have brought us to a cheaper restaurant.” I ended up ordering for everyone, otherwise they'd have settled for the cheapest dish to be shared by all four of them. Not a morsel was left on every plate; we were all big eaters after all!

Easy-to-please, they all were. They relished simple joys. Being with each other and seeing a new place together was like seeing the Hope diamond up close. After taking photos of Taal Volcano and excitedly gawking at the many nurseries along the road, we headed home.

Although exhausted from the long trip, they were just as profuse in their appreciation of everything we passed by. They were also punctuating every interjection with hymns of thanksgiving. And they each gave my driver a tip.

Two are gone now, and two have Alzheimer's—with only the shell of their old selves left. But my memory of them comes alive when I find myself gushing and enjoying the little things I see everyday.

Just last week, I thanked God for the grace of a day like no other—simply going over the proofs of my latest book, “Grace found Me.”

From morning till night, all I did was go through each word, each punctuation mark, looking for errors, misprints—page after page; and munching on Vargas Biscotti (a good substitute for my favorite Bacolod Haus Biscocho which isn't available in my neighborhood) I recently discovered in a booth tucked away in a supermarket.

When the day ended, I felt as though I was one of the old ladies whom I took to Tagaytay on a road trip. It was exciting every page of the way. Every chapter was an adventure.

And it was uncanny to realize how five women of God, who hovered around when I was growing up, influenced the way I look at life today.


A Funny Thing Happened

One of life's best moments is when when you're laughing yourself silly, with only inane thoughts (or no thoughts at all) occupying your brain.

Unfortunately, these moments don't happen very often, not at this multi-media age when so many things are exploding all around you all at the same time. The brain is always busy editing, trying to figure out which need to be trashed and which need to be treasured.

I was blessed with one such moment (four hours to be exact) when all I did was snap, crackle, and pop. For once, I did not pause to ask myself, “What lesson is this teaching me?”

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the play by Stephen sondheim, was grace beyond tears of laughter. Written in an era before political correctness, this bawdy, naughty comedy—which had won many awards since it was produced on Broadway and re-staged in many places—makes no apologies for not having any intellectual weight.

Its sole purpose is to elicit the shallowest, but the best, of laughter.

I have JR to thank for this. He bought the tickets that took the two of us all the way up to the balcony where the stage looks like a peephole and the actors, like ants, “So if the play turns out to be blah, there won't be regrets.”

There were no regrets.

Before we entered the Insular Life Theater for the last staging of the musical comedy by Theater Down South, directed by Michael Williams, I vowed to refrain from wearing my severe stage savant hat. Yes, no expectations, no regrets.

What I was gifted with were marvelous moments of laughter, unadulterated guffaws that persisted all through the two-act play, and even one hour after that. I'd have gone on and on had it not been way past my bedtime.

Try seizing a moment when you do nothing but laugh out loud. It's actually more than marvelous. It's detoxifying.


Ordeal or No Deal?

My sister e-mailed me this old photo. Everyone, including me (in stripes), looks cool. But the back story is hot.

Once a year, my mother would require my siblings and me to go through the ordeal (o-r-d-e-a-l) of donning our Sunday best in the dead heat of summer, July 2.

Yes, my parents' wedding anniversary also had to be our family-picture-taking day. So while beads of sweat trickled down my back and brows, I had to put on my best dress (usually itchy, especially when petticoats were in vogue, and heavy) and smile for the camera like it was the coolest time of the year.

I never knew what my siblings’ thoughts were—we never discussed them—but I sure knew mine.

I used to dread that day. Worse, our clothes had to be pressed and so they bore the heat of the iron in addition to the oppressive air. It was like being fried in your own body lard.
Immediately after the photo session, I'd hurriedly take off and dump my soaked dress in the hamper, and run to the bathroom to take a shower. What a relief!

History repeats itself.

Once a year, I used to find myself coaxing my sons into going through the same ordeal on July 4, my mind deliberately forgetting what I went through while growing up. After a few unsuccessful tries, however, I gave up. In my time, kids never said “no” to their mother. Times have changed.

Fortunately, in the last six years, digicam came into my life. It does what couldn't be done in my youth, year-round.

A willing, smiling waiter is always on hand to take our family picture while we're still glued to the table. Nobody has to wear anything itchy. He just has to be there (not for the photo, but for the food). And food is 100% guarantee he will be there.

The family is never complete because three are in the US, but ¾ family photo is better than none at all. So I get my complete family photos once in year (those in the US come to visit once a year) and the ¾ family photo is taken on any occasion that there is food.

No more ordeal. Just a brief “cheese” pause while enjoying the grace of family and food.


A Novelist Named Keila

Earlier today I was FB hopping and I chanced upon the page of Keila Ochoa Harris, a young novelist from Mexico.

All her posts are in Spanish so I understand only 5%, or less (despite my 21 units of Spanish in UP).

Once, she was my roommate in Thailand when we were both invited as coaches in a writers' conference.

“I couldn't have chosen a better roommate," I told her, meaning it.

She laughed and said something which I totally missed because I was listening to her accent more than to her words. She sounded like Selma Hayek or Penelope Cruz, two of my favorite Hispanic actresses. Keila's speech pattern had their same musical lilt. And I told her so.

"Penelope Cruz is from Spain; Selma is the one from Mexico," she clarified, laughing.

I couldn’t tell the difference. Just as I mistake Aussies for Brits by the way they ignore their final r's.

Keila is at least, uh, a century younger than I am. And already she has five published novels! Written in her native tongue, these books are internationally distributed in Spanish-speaking countries. When she reaches my age, at her writing speed, her books would fill a bookstore.
Keila is as passionate about writing as teaching. “I’ve been a teacher all my life,” she replied when I asked how she felt about being a writing coach in the conference's novel track. If I weren't assigned another group to coach, I’d have attended her sessions.

(Just an aside: in my salad days, when I was daring and reckless, I wrote a romance novel and let my aging aunt read the manuscript. She began at 9 in the morning and missed lunch. She stirred only at around 3 PM after finishing the last page. She had a wide smile on her face. I was ecstatic. I knew I had a bestseller in the making. So I sent it to a big international publisher, and the reply I got totally devastated me. It was a rejection slip . . . “don't attempt to rewrite it.” Dejected, I hid my draft in the store room. When I found it again, after gaining wisdom from countless missteps, I turned redder than a steamed crab. It was dreadful. Immediately, I dumped it in the trash can. Gone.)

Apart from love for writing, Keila and I had something in common: love for sleep. As soon as we got back to our room from a tiring day, we both hit the hay. Then we were up early in the morning. “The grace of sleep,” we called it.

"I can't function without enough sleep," she said. Those words could have well been mine.

I have not kept in touch with Keila, but I remember her fondly after a good night's rest, or each time I attempt a novel and—fail.

So I read someone's novel instead, savor it, and forever wonder how on earth did he/she do it?


Old Treasure on a Shelf

There were treasures and treasures at the recent book fair. But treasures cost and so the hunt halted abruptly for me.

The hunt ended with a bang for JC. He discovered the book that caused him to have goose bumps just by taking it down the shelf—the 1560 Geneva Bible!

It cost him an arm and a leg but he bought it anyway. For years, he'd been wanting to buy one, and thanks to book fairs, it came within spitting distance, urging, “Here I am now, buy me.”

When JC let me hold his purchase at home, it was my turn to have goose bumps. My gut reaction was, “Let me pay for it and give it to you on Christmas as your present.”

That would give me a chance to partly read it; Christmas is two months away.

It isn't an easy read, though; it's more challenging than its successor 51 years later, the KJV. The spelling of words and fonts are way beyond my limited vision and comprehension.

Just to jog your memory, the Geneva Bible was the first Bible translated to English from the original Greek and Hebrew Biblical texts. It was also the first Bible to divide the scriptures into numbered verses. Its extensive marginal notes (one third the length of the whole Bible!) interpreted the scriptures for the common people.

The notes infuriated King James I, who made it a crime to own one. He particularly raged about the notes perceived to be against the monarchy. He then introduced the King James Version (that drew largely from the Geneva Bible, minus the marginal notes).

The Geneva Bible is considered by many as the first study Bible and the most historically significant English translation. In the 16th century, it was used by literary giants: William Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell, John Milton, John Knox, John Donne, and John Bunyan. It was one of the Bibles taken to America by the pilgrims on the Mayflower.

Cradling in my arms the treasure that is God's Word, its essence unchanged for thousands of years, I felt like I was holding the very Bible that early Christians read with fervor despite threats of being punished as common criminals.

The Word can be read today in over 450 English versions. It is my prayer that many will appreciate how it came to us through historical detours, read it with reverence, and discover the grace waiting to be mined from every chapter.


Double Delight

That sounds like an ice-cream flavor.

Not really, but close. This is not about ice-cream but about two delightfully sweet little people . . .

Every Saturday at four PM, you know exactly where to find Tony—at home. Whatever he might be doing, wherever he might be before the hour, he makes sure he's home by four.

That's the schedule of the twins to come for their one-and-a-half-hour study session with, yes, Tony.

The twins are Maika and Nikka, seven years old. They live in an abandoned house not too far from ours.

Tony used to see them playing down the street in the morning when he did his morning walk. Last summer, he encouraged them to attend DVBS in our church by providing their tricycle fare for all of six days. Then one day, he happened to ask how old they were.

They said, seven.

"Where do you go to school?" he asked.

"We don't go to school."

"Why not? You're seven; you're supposed to be in first grade."


"Every child of school age should be in school," my husband grumbled in his grumpiest mood when he came home.

"There's a public school in the neighborhood," I replied.

"The school in church, is it open to grade school?" he asked.

"Yes, but it isn't free. And there are uniforms and books and other expenses," I said. "Their parents won't be able to afford it."

The next thing I knew, he talked to the twins' mother and told her about enrolling the girls in our church's school. But there was one big question—qualification. The twins hadn't gone to pre-school and couldn't tackle first grade work, "Unless," the school head said, "they go through a whole month of rigid tutorials before enrollment."

They did, courtesy of my roommate, the grumbler, "Every child should have a future!"

The little girls didn't know an A from a Z, nor a triangle from a circle, nor an elephant from a whale. But their tutor said, "They have unrestrained enthusiasm and are always bubbling over with excitement!"

After one month of tutoring, they could recite and recognize the alphabet, all shapes and colors, and were raring to start school.

Two months after classes started, the girls knew how to read in Filipino, although very slowly. They still couldn't understand a word of English, the medium of instruction. The grumbler bought DVDs of Sesame Street and other educational programs. Under his breath, he grumbled some more, "My grandson, Adrian, knows all the dinosaurs and superheroes and uses 'privacy' in a sentence."

Last Saturday, they arrived saying, "Good afternoon!" and "Thank You!" after being served snacks. They shrieked with glee as they read a whole sentence and learned a new English word.

"They are still behind," their teacher reported, "but they are a million times better than when I met them the first time."

Maika and Nikka, doubly delighting us with their spunk and sweetness, will get there. I know it in my gut and heart. God's grace never fails.


Alternative to Serenity:


Discovering and visiting new beverage places is probably one of JC's many favorite activities.

A friend of a friend invited him to this shop that served nothing but tea and aptly called Serenity, which I mistook for serendipity, considering how it was discovered.

This branch is in BF Homes Paranaque, a subdivision not too far from ours. Serenitea Cha Kitchen claims to be the first tea shop to use customized espresso machine for tea. It gives many, many choices of cold or hot tea mixes in a myriad of flavors, with a chart of how one wants his sugar level—from very sweet to barely sweet.

On my first visit there, I chose frozen strawberry milk tea. It was heavenly! Note to self: will come back next week.

Alas, next week was my visit to the doctor for my tummy ailment which comes and goes. She gave me a two-week dose of medicine which came with this order: “For two weeks, while on medication, avoid spicy and sour foods, coffee, tea, and milk.”

“That means, after two weeks, I can take them again . . .” I said.

“That means after two weeks, you come back to see me,” she replied.

And so that is the state of my stomach affairs. I need 14 days so my system can have the serenity it needs and after that, I hope to have the Serenitea I want.

These two weeks, while on medication, may God grant me an equal dose of grace to heal and feel better again.


Have a Little Faith

The book, which I couldn't put down and couldn't blog about on Tuesday evening because of supper hour, is Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom.

When I saw it in bookstores months ago, I planned on buying it—as soon as it is in soft cover. In this country, hardbound books are prohibitive (to people like me anyway). I have become an Albom fan since Tuesdays with Morrie.

At the book fair, there was a softbound edition. But I already had purchased too many books, way beyond my measly budget, so I hooked my chance on my friend, Eli, who was leaving for her yearly sabbatical in the US, and who buys me books, every single time, from a dollar shop.

I gave Eli a list of three books. “Only if they cost a dollar each,” I said.

In two weeks she was back with three books!

As usual, she refused to take my money. “Grace, I quickly read them all, so those are my books which I am bequeathing to you.” In that case then, nobody ever refuses a bequest.


Have a Little Faith stirred in me the deep thoughts and feelings I visit when questions leap and tumble in my brain. Albom has a way of wrenching human emotions and un-wrenching them all at once. He feels deeply about people and a whole range of those heart rumblings he shares through simple, uncomplicated words.

He also has an uncanny way of piecing various story lines together, like solving a jig-saw puzzle, making each piece interconnect, never to separate again.

He recognizes mentors in ordinary and extraordinary people (gifts of grace, I call them), and seeks them out, never letting go nor getting off.

And most of all, in this book, he made me understand what one goes through in a faith struggle, and how he is redeemed through those he adopts as life gurus, who do not teach faith, but live it.

He ends the book with, “I am in love with hope.”

So am I.


The Secret of Happiness

Focus and do some serious writing!

I admonished myself early yesterday morning. So finally I started writing my next book. It's about finding your own true love.



But first, I prayed for grace—to pump adrenaline into my alarmingly lethargic Monday system. And, presto, for eight hours straight, I thrashed my computer keyboard like I never did before, breaking only for a brief lunch.

Before supper, I had a ten-page first draft of the first chapter.

This first draft has to undergo thrashing, too. Today would have been the first of the many days that it would go through beating and bruising, but I made the mistake of picking up one of my new books.

“Reading and writing, they go together,” I would often say in my talks. I followed my own advice today, and reading took every single hour I would have spent on my first-chapter draft, or writing the next chapter.

I will blog about the book—one of the most engaging and stirring I have ever read—when I have more time. Right now, I am being called to the dining table for supper. Let me just summarize page 102.

“What is the secret of happiness?”

“Be satisfied.”

“That's it?”

“Be thankful.”

“That's it?”

“For what you have. For the love you receive. And for what God has given you.”

“That's it?”

“That's it.”


Behold the Rainbow

I have seen many, many rainbows in my life. And always, they leave me spellbound. That astounding arch, with all the colors I love, takes my breath away.

Poring over a coffee table book in-the-making last week, I was oblivious to the world. But Elmer, the person I was discussing the book with, abruptly stood up, and went straight to the window.

Then I saw it, too!

The rainbow in all its splendor across the skyline of the Global City. Knowing that rainbows don't stay long, I hurriedly took my camera from my purse and wished it would capture the grandeur that my eyes saw and my heart felt.

It didn't, not even with over 50 shots from all angles in various settings.

Let me then turn to William Wordsworth who has the words for me:

“My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!”

I also once wrote a poem about the multi-colored arch in my children's book, God's Favorite Color:  

All the colors, even those without a name,
God gave them all, their beauty all the same.

They come together in a lovely rainbow,
that wonderful arch we have come to know.

Yes, all the colors, even those without a name,
God gave them all, their beauty all the same.

Thank you, Lord, for the rainbow; and the grace for me to behold it.


Earrings for a Painting

“How many paintings have you done so far?” I am asked by those who see a few of my paintings on the wall.

I don't know; I lost count.

If this sounds like I've done so many paintings, well, modesty aside, it's true. “Many”means, more than I thought possible. There was that one year, 2003, when the painting bug bit me. Hard.

I had just lost my mom, and Tony was recuperating from a life-threatening quadruple bypass surgery.

God helped me cope by sending images of flowers, flowers, and more flowers in my daydreams. I wanted nothing more than to capture those beautiful creation on canvas.

I was writing too, of course, but I was never more furiously obsessed with painting. And half of my joy was giving them away as fast as I could finish them.

Several months later, Tony's only sister passed on, and my mom-in-law fell gravely ill with grief. One of her old friends specially came to our home to cheer her up. She spoke Chinese so she and I could only exchange gestures and nods, not words. Before she left, I took down one painting from the wall and gave it to her. It seemed like the only right thing to do. Her eyes misted, and so did mine.

Just 33 days after, my mom-in-law went the way of the only daughter she loved. The old lady came again for the wake. Before she left, she cupped my palm with hers and pressed in it a small white box.

Inside the teeny box was this pair of gold cameo earrings, which looks better worn than photographed (actual size).

Between a painting and a pair of gold earrings in our shared grief, grace was, enabling misty eyes to express more than words ever could.

(After two years of unbridled excitement to paint, I stopped. Today, I have only seven flowers-on-canvas left, which, if I ever get around to writing my will, should go to JC, JB and Gianina, JR, and Adrian, and whoever among my siblings and friends may want the remaining two, after I am gone. I will bequeath to them a few more—when I am able to borrow some time from my writing. But this is more of a wish than a plan.)