Outrageous Opulence

Much has been said about our new president (P-Noy) buying a second-hand Porsche with his own money.  The media endlessly castigated him for such an extravagant purchase in a poor, third-world country with majority of its people wallowing in poverty.  

I suspended judgment on this issue. 

Then . . . an early flight takes me to a two-day conference in Tacloban City, Leyte, a lovely place I had often read about but never visited.  Like an extra dollop of grace, I had the whole afternoon free.      

My hosts drive me and my roommate Yay to the famous Sto. Nino Shrine and Heritage Museum, built for (by?) Imelda as her family's vacation house when she was First Lady.

My eyes pop with every step I take.   If this is the place where, according to our guide, Imelda spent only one night, I couldn't imagine how the other 28 vacation homes of the Marcoses are like.

The entrance fee is P200 for five people.  Because it is closing time, we are toured through only half of the estate/palace.  But this half hour walk tells me enough.

More than a dozen bedrooms just for guests are decked with canopied or four-poster beds, intricately carved cedar cabinets, antiques, and pricey knick-knacks from all over the world; carpeted or wood tiled; and heavily draped.

Along the way, I gasp at a sculpture of Imelda's face (on one side) and her husband on the other; Imelda's photos in all the rooms; original paintings by great masters; an ivory collection; huge chandeliers and larger-than-life murals; mosaics; walls lined with hand-embroidered, hand-painted pina cloth and Gucci leather woven like colossal mats; jars from China, infinity mirrors from Vienna—they're . . . oh, even a writer can run out of words.

The ex-president's room is separate from Imelda's.  Both are larger than my whole house (inclusive of my garden and garage).  The ballroom is bigger than our community's basketball court, the dining room is more spacious (with higher ceiling) than our village church.

We are not shown the Olympic-size swimming pool nor the other rooms on the opposite side of where we are. 

So this is only half the story. 

How do I describe it all? Outrageously opulent.  Let's try another alliteration: excessively extravagant.  And another: shamelessly shocking. Maybe ten, twenty, thirty times more expensive than a second-hand Porsche.

These Bible verses claw at my mind as we leave the musty, decaying premises: 

Matthew 6:19-20, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal." (NIV)  

And I thank God for the relief of not having to worry about moths and vermin and thieves.  


Wow, Davao!

I was in Davao sometime in May last year for the OMF Lit's "She Day" to speak before 600 women.  Eight months later, today, here I am here again—for exactly the same reason: the privilege of being invited to talk about the work that I do.

Although the audiences are totally different, the level of my excitement is the same.  I only have one word for Davao and everything in it—wow.

The vast, open spaces from the airport; the wide, clean roads; and the warm, friendly people (whether you have met them before or not);  the pomelo and marang; and the bling-blings on Uyanguren Rd., they make for one big wow. 

I am oversimplifying.  There is so much more to Davao than sweeping generalizations.  

Here, wherever I turn, I bump into God's angels.  This time around, they are officers and members of ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International), who organized this 2011 Conference on Early Education, and the teachers and administrators of member schools.

I have been tasked to speak on three different topics in two days, but all revolve around my life and passion today: writing.

Interacting with teachers and school administrators of early education is something new to me.  They have wings ordinary mortals don't possess. They hover over kids and make sure these kids walk on the right road.  Their concerns are nobler—nurturing, guiding and caring.  

This 2011 Early Education two-day conference was actually held in Quezon City last week.  It is being replicated in Davao, and also in Tacloban three days from now.  Three talks in three places sucessively!

It's been quite hectic (and draining), but nothing that a cup of coffee can't cure.  Trouble was, I only take decaf and verbalized it. My host and good friend Gay immediately sent someone to buy me decaf—a bottle so huge it would last me a lifetime! 

My survival kit? 

Aside from Gay's decaf coffee and marang, we (my roommate Yay and I) got a fill of the Word during the Sunday Vespers Service in a church close to where we are billeted. A bonus surprise was that the Pastor's two daughters are avid readers of Super Devo—and so we had to document that in a photo quickly. 

Over and above those, is what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9 about what God said to him when he complained of weakness: "But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me."

All of the above (with photos below), I was blessed with in Davao. Wow.

(Clockwise from top) Marang, venue, the Pastor's family, my survival kit
Conference, first day
Conference, second day


And Then There Were Three

First, the twins—Maika and Nikka, 7 years old, first grade.  They come every Saturday afternoon at four for tutoring by the man of the house, whose lion-like manners belie his lamb-like heart. 

Now it's the twins plus another tutee, aged 10, fifth grade.  Her name is Neneng.

This ten-year-old and the twins are neither related nor know each other.  They met at home for the first time one Saturday afternoon two weeks ago. 

Neneng is the daughter of the lady we recently hired to help us with household chores once a week.  While her mother worked,  Neneng watched TV. 

The lion-lamb took an old Walt Disney book from the shelf and said, "Reading is better than watching TV.  Here, read chidlren's classics—every child should know them."    

Neneng reluctantly turned off the TV and started reading.  But the reading advocate wouldn't leave her alone.  "Read aloud," he roared.  

She did, with much difficulty. For a fifth grader, she was struggling—mispronouncing simple words and syllabicating longer words. We were appalled. 

That was the roarer's cue to sit down and pronounce for her "difficult" words, explaining what they meant in the process.

Not a minute too soon, the reading exercise turned into a full-blown tutoring session.

What has become of our public school system—don't they teach kids to read anymore?  Or is it lack of exposure?  Or simply lack of libraries?  Or parents' negligence?

To my mind, 10-year-olds are supposed to be reading children's books with aplomb. I remember buying Hardy Boys,  then The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and other children's classics for my sons when they were in first grade.    

What happened? 

As lawyers like to say, there are many mitigating circumstances. And so the tutoring continues.  I hear three kids reading aloud, and being asked questions about what they had just read. 

By God's enabling grace, the book lovers' club will have three more members—a pair of twins and a ten-year-old—in the days to come.



You know exactly where I am in my chronological Bible when I ask, "Why?" 

Book of Job. 

Job asked God over and over again—in anger, in supplication, in frustration, in indignation—"Why?" He was a righteous man, and God delighted in him, and yet the Lord allowed satan to flood Job with every possible suffering any man could hardly swim through, short of dying.

He lost his wife, his children, his loved ones. "Why?"
He lost his ranches, vast lands, all assets. "Why?"
He lost his name and influence. "Why?"
He lost his health and got all imaginable dread diseases: depression, bad breath, anorexia, skin sores, malnutrition, etc. "Why?" 

So Job pressed relentlessly for divine vindication, asserting his innocence of wrong, and totally rejecting the common view that suffering is the result of sin. 

Having become a pariah in a place where once he held power, he was lengthily and castigated by his moralist fair-weather friends. 

Yet, Job never ceased  wrestling with God, asking for an audience to present his case.  As we know it, that was an unwise request—nobody could prove God wrong. God never makes mistakes. 

When Job and his friends had finally out-talked themselves, God spoke.  He asked Job question after question about all the mysteries of creation which even the wisest man could never begin to fathom.

God's speech invited Job to simply trust in His divine omniscience and power. And so  Job conceded that he can never, ever, understand God's ways.  No man can.

God blessed Job twice more than everything Job ever owned.  In his "second life," Job was given a new family, new riches, new power, good health, and a long life. God not only forgave Job for wrestling with Him, He blessed Job beyond telling. 

It was not a reward for Job's faithfulness, it was a gesture of grace.

The Book of Job ends without an answer to his "Why?"

Why? Because God does not need to explain Himself.

But from Job's direct experience of God's mysteries, he and his friends learned the greatest lesson that I hope to also truly understand as I repeatedly ask "Why?" when I experience pain:

We must love God not because we will be benefited, but because He is who He is—God.


Am I Grateful?

Many parents spend time teaching and training their little children to say, "Thank you." Children forget, and so we want to make them remember.

In our turbo-paced, electronics-driven lives today, it is just as easy for adults to be ungrateful, or forget to be grateful.

Have I thanked God for waking me up to a new day?
Have I thanked a friend for coming to my rescue?  
Have I thanked a colleague for inspiring me? 

I believe that like everything on the path to excellence, gratitude has to be deliberate.  It has to be a choice.

We can choose to wait for something great to come—good health, a promotion, an award, sudden wealth, a rare stress-free day—and be grateful.  Or we can choose to be grateful at all times, no matter what the circumstances are, and enjoy how God assists us in everything we do in life.

To adopt a day-by-day "attitude of gratitude" is a choice that differentiates those who wallow in discontent and those who bask in pleasure over what they have.

If we are grateful for what we have been blessed with, no matter how little compared  to others, the world as God created it will give us more reasons for which to be grateful.   We begin to see the innate goodness in people and circumstances.

On the other hand, if we are bitter about something we suffered through, or about someone who betrayed us, the world as man defiled it, will conspire to give us more to resent.

The act of being grateful proves our faith in a loving God, as we read in many verses in the Book of Psalm, one of which is 69:30—"I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving."

For me, being in a state of gratefulness is being in a state of grace. In this condition, we are made aware of the most important aspect of creation . . . being grateful for who we are and what we can become. 

There have been so many research studies on "How to Discover the Key to Happiness."   The first question the research usually wants to answer is, "Am I happy?" 

Christians suggest that the question be changed to, "Am I grateful?" 

Yes, science continues to prove the theory that Christians already know and practice—"That happiness is not what makes us grateful; it's gratefulness that makes us happy."

This much I have learned through the years: it is not events and circumstances that occur during one's life that determine whether or not one is happy;  it is not wealth and recognition that spell happiness for a person.  It is the conscious and willful choice to be grateful to others for the good that they do, to God for all that we have—and to value the opportunity to simply experience life. 

Maybe we should begin each day with a list of things we need to be grateful for.  On  top of the list is the year that was—including those that kept us grieving and groaning. Because the more we realize how indebted we are to God, the more grateful we will be for anything that we receive.

So when is the perfect time to be grateful? Now.  

(Excerpted from my talk, "Gratitude is a Choice")  

Thank you for taking time to read this.


The Artists I Love

Much of my passion for visual arts I imbibed, and inherited as a treasured legacy, from the deeply passionate artists I worked with in the ad agency where I was a writer and creative director  for over two decades.

They who, with only pencils, could make objects move—dance, laugh, sing, cry, comb hair, and wash clothes—in tiny little frames called storyboard, taught me that colors, textures, shapes can come to life. Their language is not words, but images, original images which soar and dip, often more eloquent than paragraphs.   

After I left the workplace, I missed their daily creation of visual concepts that sold products and services. These are gifted authentic people with extraordinary hands that worked with a drawing pencil, not a computer mouse.  There were quite a number of them in those years—some came and went,  some stayed longer than I did, and some left when I left ten years ago.

When one of them broached on FB a get-together, the idea snowballed.  “Ro,” who has since become an entrepreneur in a related field, volunteered to host it. Some couldn't be reached anymore, but those who were on FB got excited, including me.  

Strictly speaking, I am not one of them; I belong to a group called copy-based (those who take care of the words), while they are art-based (those who take care of the visuals). But I was once the boss of the art department and so that qualified me to belong. 

Ten showed up!

 It was a rare collective event made up of individuals with different quirks and idiosyncrasies.  They each had a lot to say about the cover designs of my books. Hah!

What do artists talk about when they meet?  A little of family, a little of events, a little of the past, and a whole lot of art.  “A” had some paintings ready for delivery—he brought those in and my lungs went on spasmodic exercise—oooh, aaah, oooh, aaah.

This artist has had art exhibits in the USA
“J” “D” “B” “N” had paintings in their cellphones and those gadgets went around the table as  my lung exercise went on full swing.

“Every artist around this table must paint!” I said, forgetting I no longer called the shots. 

“Fulfilling but not rewarding,” was how “Ra” summarized his love affair with painting. 

He is right.  I could count with my fingers the Filipino painters who have been rewarded with fame and fortune for the work of their hands.  Majority are still simply and quietly venting their craft and passion in a little corner of their homes unmindful of  riches and recognition. 

For what is talent? I believe it a special grace to special people so that they they could give honor to the Giver and not themselves. 

To the artists I love—if fame or fortune (or both) has come, or not—may you stay the way you are.


Generous Gift of Family

You could say my life is too predictable.

As the old year ends and the new year begins, you know exactly where to find me: the reunion of the clan on my mother's side, going strong annually for 66 years.  My family declines all invitations to other functions just to attend this gathering.

There I take stock of the importance of relationships and of why the Lord gifted us with a family.  And there I have an unforgettable time bonding with old and new members (newborns and just added in-laws). 

This year, the event was a tribute to the Neoriginals (third generation of 45 cousins, to which I belong).  It was chaired and managed by the Gen-Next (fourth generation).  

These kids know all about gratitude and respect, values which were, I like to think,  passed on by those who came before them.  In fact, for the Memorial/Thanksgiving  Service just before the clock struck 12 on New Year's eve, they chose the  theme "Faith passed on."

Neoriginals and their spouses
The 66th reunion opened with a heart-stopping, eye-popping photo exhibit showcasing pictures of us, the Neoriginals.  It was complete with ribbon cutting, a short program, and cocktails, reminding me of my own book launches.


Year 2011: I Resolve . . .

My friend Lucy always manages to make me laugh. She posted on our group account on FB: “May we all forget our New Year's resolutions even before making them!”

She is being funny but her words ring true.  It's so easy to forget our New Year's resolutions after we've made them.  So why bother? 

Well, I made one, just one, resolution in the year 2009. And surprise, I actually fulfilled it! It was to read the