Going . . . Going . . . Gone

This three-word phrase came to me as I woke up early this morning. And I feel the need to write about it.

Today, the nine-year-old administration will be gone. President Noynoy will take over as the duly elected, by landslide, President of the Philippines after he takes his oath, not before the Chief Justice of the Philippines (recently named by the outgoing president in what many believe as a midnight appointment) but before a lady associate justice, the lone dissenter in the hurried and controversial appointment of the Chief Justice.

This signals a change in a big way. We are entering a new era of hope. With our collective prayers for grace, this country can get back on its feet again, wobbly at the moment, but will walk again, and heal again.

To mark this change, I am replacing my old header with a new one. So my old header is going. . . going. . . and after today, gone.

Meet my new header: I took a shot of our yellow bells, the first things one sees as he approaches our home. These lovely blossoms are a welcome sight after a tiring day elsewhere. But they, too, will soon be gone.

In the summer, they bloom and brighten up those who pass them by, but the rains have come. Somehow, yellow bells thrive under the heat of the sun, but wilt under the rain. My new header will see them blooming even if they don't.

And God, in His infinite mercy, will shine His blessings upon this nation—so that, like my yellow bells in the next summer, we as a people will bloom once more.

P.S. five days later . . . my sister wrote to ask me whether these flowers are really yellow bells (?) or hibiscus (?) Well, I've always called them yellow bells, my very own yellow bells. 


Unshaken Father

Father’s Day, as many of us already know, was started by Sonora Dodd of Washington, USA in 1910. She lost her mom at a very young age and it was her father who took care of her and her five other siblings. After listening to a sermon in church on Mother's day, she worked at having one day in one year also declared as Father's Day.

As we celebrate Father’s Day this month, I ponder the word “father.” It has evolved and mutated from what it originally was. In the old days, a child lived with a father he was born to.

Today, a child may live with his stepfather; orphans may live with a relative who acts as their father; an adopted child may live with an adoptive father; and many more permutations.

A father’s role is no longer fixed on the birth father. It is on someone who is willing to be a father. It is in this light that I want to share with you stories of three fathers I admire greatly: Butch, Joe, and Paul.

Butch. He is a successful production designer and a bachelor. Years ago, a baby was left at his doorstep with a note, “I am so poor I cannot take care of my baby. Please take care of him for me.”

Butch says that was the happiest day of his life. After profusely thanking the Lord for this unexpected blessing, he went about being a father to the child whom he named Eman. He read parenting books, consulted with real fathers, and most of all, he taught Eman to love God.

Eman has been a consistent honor student and will soon enter college to pursue a career.

Joe. He left for the US to marry his American girlfriend. Unfortunately, they never had any children. One summer, when Joe came to the Philippines for a vacation, he met Sandra (aged seven), daughter of his distant cousin who was addicted to alcohol and jobless.

When Joe got back to the US, he regularly sent Sandra money for her education and other needs. He likewise often wrote her—encouraging her to dream and to always love her father no matter how he is. Sandra is now a nurse and working in a US hospital. She supports her father and regularly writes him about how much she loves him.

Her father has stopped drinking and serves as a janitor in the village church.

Paul. Although he was not related to Timothy by blood, he referred to Timothy as “my true child, my beloved child, my dearest son.” His letters to Timothy are now two chapters in our Bible.

Paul has said so many encouraging words to Timothy but this particular verse always touches me: “Kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us the spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” 2 Timothy 1: 6-7

What do these fathers—Butch, Joe, and Paul—have in common?

Unshaken love for their children. It is the same unshaken love we have been promised by our heavenly Father in Isaiah 54:10: “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed," says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

I looked up other Bible translations and here’s what I found:

- My steadfast love shall not depart from you. (New KJV)
- My unfailing love for you will not be shaken. (English Standard)
- I will remain loyal to you. (New Living)
- My loving kindness will not be removed from you. (NEB)
- My love for you will never end. (MSG)
- My kindness shall not depart from thee. (King James)

My own translation: “No matter how many times you have wronged me, I still love you. You disowned me, but I bled and died for you. Through storms and tsunamis and earthquakes, my love for you is unshaken.”

Everyone therefore—orphans, adopted children, children abused by their father, and children of fathers who have left the home—has a Father.

This, to me, is what Father’s Day is all about. It’s about all the fathers out there who are trying hard to emulate the unshaken love of the Father of all.

Can any ending be happier?

(This is a reprint of my regular column “Happy Endings” in "Moms and Kids" magazine. It is my own celebration of the grace of our unshaken Father upon fathers on terra firma.)


Overheard on Father's Day

Around the dining table, while munching on this cake from JB and Gianina, specially ordered from the US, Tony drones his yearly statement: "Father's Day is a marketing ploy."

"Year after year you keep saying that," JR retorted.

A dyed-in-the-wool marketing man, Tony replies, "It's true."

"Well, it's a good marketing ploy," JR replies. "It give us—your children—one opportunity to honor you."

"You can do that any time of the year."

"Yes, we can, but we forget. Father's Day reminds us, in a big way, of such worthy endeavor."


"You get treated to a free meal for once and receive a cake like this," JR said, taking another slice.


Later in church, JR was the worship leader, and before calling on the fathers to stand up to be prayed for by the congregation, he said:

"Sons and fathers are not very overt about their feelings to each other. Maybe it has something to do with gender, but not too many sons say, 'I love you' to their fathers—nor fathers to their sons—as often as daughters do. So let's take this opportunity to honor the fathers among us.

"Through this simple ceremony of praying for them and giving them tokens of appreciation, we communicate how much we do love our father—for everything he does for us, and for standing true to being the gift of our Father in heaven to his children.

"My father says Father's Day is a marketing ploy. Well, ploy or not, am I glad marketing men thought of inventing it." 

We raised our hands and prayed over all the fathers, and asked God to to help them model, and live, the special grace of fatherhood not only on Father's Day but all through the year.


Pages of a Magazine

What am I doing in two pages of Working Mom, a glossy magazine? (May 2010 issue)

"Behind the scenes" is a place I enjoy and would rather be. I took up Theater Arts, major in directing. I was in the creative department all my years in advertising. On the side, I wrote articles for newspapers and magazines. In all these roles, I was never in front of the audience nor the camera.

Now, what would make me do a turnabout?

I got a phone call from the editor saying excitedly that I was going to be featured as one unusual mom, doing unusual things. That got me thinking for a second. Today, I am mostly writing books, and occasionally teaching in college. What is so unusual about that?

Well, she explained, it was the transition from then to now. I got out of a glamorous career and decided to do something so different it begged for a totally different lifestyle (or the lack of it, as I now work at home sans make-up and power clothes).

I said okay (it seemed like a perfect venue to talk about my books), and forgot all about it.

Then one day, the doorbell rang. From a huge van came down four people. They turned out to be a writer (to do the interview), a photographer (to make me say "cheese"), a make-up artist (to do me over), and an all-around production assistant (PA). They were all sincerely nice and extremely efficient.

"Do whatever you have to do," I said, making it easy for them. I had worked with prima donnas and I know all about reining in one's rage.

The PA turned my house and garden upside down. The photographer plugged in all his huge lighting gadgets and chose my outfits. The make-up artist slapped and splashed goo and gunk all over my eyes, nose, cheeks, chin. All this happened simultaneously while the writer asked me questions, the answers to which I had to dig in my mind since they happened a hundred years ago.

They made all the decisions with nary a peep from me. If I were still behind the scenes and I had to feature someone like docile me, it would be a dream. I wanted it to be a dream for this magazine team.

Maybe it was. Everything was done their way in a record one hour, including snacks and tete-a-tete.

Three months later, I got a text message from the editor saying the issue was out in the stands. I also got dozens of text messages from friends saying they had read the feature, entitled "Amazing Grace," at their beauty parlors. When I got my copy, I gasped.

JR said my photos look like Vicky Belo did a major work on me.

Manang Vi laughed, "Those look like someone else!"

"Who?" I needed to know.

"Anybody but you."

Now you know why "behind the scenes" is where I should stay.

(Seriously, this lighthearted post should not in any way diminish the admirable work the Working Mom team put in—the two-page article made me look better than I think I am—and the grace I received, and continue to receive, through these magazine pages.) 


Adrian on My Mind

This little three-year-old tyke is still on my mind, almost one month after he and his parents flew back to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

We had him for nine days (four days and three nights, all to ourselves) and what footprints he left behind! I could still hear the pitter-patter of little feet; squeals of delight; shrieks of giggles; hissing of Ironman; swishing of Spiderman; soaring of Superman; and one-liners in Midwest twang.

While his parents were on vacation in Batanes, Adrian was the center of our world. Tony took a three-day leave from work and I locked my computer. At first we were anxious—what if he cried non-stop looking for his parents?​ What if he got sick? What if, what if?

We need not have worried. He was a big little man. It was as though we had an adult guest, not a baby. He'd wake up with big smiles, climb out of his crib and walk around the house greeting everyone, "Good morning!" Then he'd run to the garden where Attorney's cage is and chirp, "Good morning, Attorney!" He made no demands; just asked questions.

"Are you taking me to a toy store?"

"Yes, Adrian."

"Are we going to the carnival?"

"Yes, Adrian."

"May I have some ice cream? Watch TV please? Can we go pasyal? Carry me? Can I wear my Spiderman costume?"

"Yes. Yes.Yes."

We left "no" in the freezer.

Then one morning, while having noodles in the terrace, he asked nonchalantly, without looking at me, "Where is my papa and mama?"

"In the office," was my quick reply. It was a script written by his parents.

And then, even more nonchalantly, he asked, "Are they coming back?"

"Of course," I shrugged.

"I'll hug them then," he said and took another spoonful of noodles. He never asked again, but he repeatedly asked for noodles.

Once, Tony spoke to JR and me in Filipino so Adrian wouldn't understand (he was busy watching Elmo on TV). "Have you heard how Adrian says, Grand Rapids? Exactly how Americans say it: Grend Re-pids! Just listen to him." Tony then asked Adrian, "Hey Adrian, where do you live?"

Adrian smiled mischievously and said, "Peelipins." Exactly how Filipinos say it.

To this day, Tony and I wonder about those three nights and four days with our solo guest. Who was regaling whom?

Confident, considerate, affectionate, and careful not to give any trouble, he neither whined nor cried. He ate, he napped, he conversed, he asked to be taken to the toilet, listened to our bedtime stories, and went to bed on time.

He even conducted a meeting among Tony's staff in the office, casting each one in a superhero role. When everyone was seated around the conference table, he announced, "Super friends, you are all invited to my birthday party! When I am four."

When he turns four, he will be back. I wonder what surprises of grace our Father will throw our way when Adrian comes again.

Till then, God carries him in His loving arms. Till then, Adrian is on my mind.


Noynoy: A Fresh, New Day

Yesterday was historic. And euphoric.

Still in my complete "professor" gear at 10 minutes before 5 PM, I sat before the TV set, and was riveted to the man who would be our leader for the next six years. He was answering tough questions from the media in his first news conference. He didn't miss a beat; he answered all questions immediately and directly, citing statistics where necessary.

He was spontaneous, transparent, earnest, straightforward—and in control. This wasn't the Noynoy his mudslingers painted him to be during the campaign.

(Tony and I walked over to Noynoy's house [a very short block away from my brother's] just before the elections. It didn't look like the house of a future president. No guards, no fuss, just makeshift posters and streamers made by neighbors.)

By 5:30 PM, watching Noynoy's proclamation replayed over and over again, I heaved a loud sigh of relief. We will be in good hands.

A fresh, new day for all of us.

Our new president, in his own words, acknowledged his dependence on a sovereign God, whose grace has and will sustain P-Noy even in his darkest hours.

Hail to the chief!


Batanes, Part 3

Our third day in Batanes took us from Basco, the capital of Batanes, to another island, Sabtang. We woke up at dawn for an early boat ride with about 20 other tourists.

In Sabtang, we climbed up the highest mountain then went down to the lowest white beach. In half a day we discovered and received more grace than we ever thought possible.

By this time I couldn't recognize myself, tanned from head to foot. At two Ivatan communities, we marveled at pathways and houses made of shells and lime stones. I tried on a vacul, which I purchased without blinking or haggling.

Lunch was lobster and other native dishes, washed down with coconut juice. (Click to find out how these dishes are cooked.) It took sometime before our boat was ready to go back to Basco and so we napped, sung to sleep by the lullaby of the sea breeze. We had to wait for the tide to rise a bit.

As we sailed from one island to the another, somewhere out in the big, blue yonder—between the sky and the sea, embraced by the sun—I felt the Force, the Power, making me sing over and over again, "How great Thou art, how great Thou art!"

An exclamation point to another grand adventure was the sunset. It was followed by our last supper at the Ivatan Pension Restaurant for more local cuisine. On the fourth day, we said good-bye to what my most traveled friend, Boy P., claims, "The most beautiful place on earth."


Batanes, Part 2

There was no bad news in Batanes. We couldn't find a copy of a newspaper—not when we were there anyway.

Our hotel receptionist said newspapers are ordered and reserved by the locals. Well, we didn't want any bad news ruining our idyllic four days.

Most of the news and features were coming from Taiwan on cable TV. And we missed the finals of American Idol, season 9.

But immense was the measure of our Father's grace in the stunning sights, which are better told by over 1,000 photos taken by Tony, JC, and me. Sharing with you a few of these shots:


Batanes, Part 1

I thought I had Eden down pat in my imagination, until our little plane, whirring like a giant electric fan begging for oil, landed on Batanes, the northernmost and the smallest province of the Philippines—both in population (16,000) and land area.

I had imagined paradise to be flat land, and walled with all manner of trees, foliage and flowers. It isn't—it is so much more.

Eden perks up and sates all five senses—deep green from side to side, with mountains and hills of different heights jutting in and out of South China Sea; deep blue above and below, with sculptures of clouds, rocks, sand, and boulders; and 3-D paintings of seascapes and landscapes.

As one gets a whiff of rain, breeze, and salt, one is treated to split-second magic when the ocean waves become fragile green glass before they break into millions of bubbles forming pristine white froth.

"Even the photos of the most amateurish photographer will look like postcards," JC remarked as he clicked away with his cellphone.

And the irony of it all—even the best photographs of a professional photographer can't do justice to the breathtaking spectacle of beautiful Batanes.

The only living things missing were Adam, Eve, and the varied animals of creation. For God's signature was everywhere—in every blade of grass, every petal of wild flowers, every pebble on the ground, every fruit on trees, and every drop of rain. We could hear His love in the songs of birds, bleats of goats, mows of cows, and roars of waves.

God's presence was palpable in very cave, hill, mountain, valley, and cliff He landscaped Himself. The boulder beach, the rolling hills, Marlboro country, stone structures, and relics of a past era nestled in nature—they were awesome. We were soaked both in the rain (the first in Batanes this year) and in the wonder of our Father's world.

"When God dispensed His grace of grandeur, you caught most of it," gushed one of our tour mates to our guide.

"Yes," she said, flashing that friendly smile we saw in every local, as she brought us to another place more grandiose than the last.