Dinner with Eddie Garcia

Am I dreaming?

The Eddie Garcia, best actor of the 55th Asia Pacific Festival and the only hall-of-fame Famas awardee for three categories, materialized in front of me, spoke in basso profundo, and we would have dinner together.

It was for real. 

He was actually one of the few invited guests to a Christmas dinner (the first we attended this year) that my friend ALB hosted in her spectacular home. A more apt description of that structure with luxurious interior in an inclusive enclave in Makati is: royal palace. 

Through the years, miles and miles of news have been written about Eddie Garcia (now in his 80s), he who has won more awards than any other Filipino actor, and whose name is synonymous to great character acting—all of them well deserved.


Weeping Mothers on Christmas

Innocent children slaughtered. 

This gruesome news shook the world in recent days. A lone gunman massacred 20 schoolchildren in the affluent town of Newtown, Connecticut, considered a very peaceful and safe place in the US.

This was exactly what happened in the small town of Bethlehem in the year that Jesus was born. The first Christmas was not festive nor luxurious as it is today. It was awfully dark. The woeful sound of weeping mothers competed with the gusty sound of the winter wind.

Our Biblical history tells us that the magi went to Judea in search of the newborn King of the Jews, having "seen his star in the east." They were directed to the small village of Bethlehem, and King Herod asked them to let him know who this King was when they found  him.


Beginning of the World

The first Christmas was the beginning of a world saved from sin. Hope was born, and every man—no matter how deeply mired in sin—can now receive the free gift of forgiveness and be a child of God through Christ.

Jesus said in Luke 4:18 (NLT), “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free . . .”

Now we can see. We've been released, we've been set free.

Warm Christmas greetings from a family scattered in the year 2012. Our card this year tells the story of the grace that came our way through various milestones in various parts of the world.
"Merry Christmas," says Attorney . . .
. . . and so do Earl Grey, Chai and brood


End of the World

The rumor had been rife; it persisted for days.

Many people believed it—to their peril and embarrassment. It occupied huge spaces and frequent mentions in social networking sites and newspapers: The world will end on 21 December 2012.

That was yesterday in our part of the world. That's today across the seas.


The Trouble with Christmas Gifts

The greatest Gift—and the only one that should matter on Christmas—is the birth of Grace. God made Himself poor so that we may be rich and have eternal life.

If we played by man-made rules, Christmas gifts could really get us into trouble.

A neighbor was so furious because she spent time choosing a beautiful towel for her exchange gift at a Christmas party. What did she get in return? A cracked mug. “I will never participate in any exchange gift again!” she swore.


What More for Manny Pacquiao?

The phrase “four-letter word” refers to words with four letters that are considered profane or vulgar. It is a euphemism for the many English swear words which are four-character monosyllables.

Among all these four-letter words, I believe that the worst of them all is . . . more.

More has caused the downfall of great men in history. It was the cause of the first-ever sin committed by Eve in the garden of Eden. She wanted more than what she already had in paradise.

More is the core of every addiction (drugs, gambling, alcohol). It means, not being able to stop.


Do, Not Try

Unlike my friend Malou who can echo, word for word, other people's speeches just by listening to them, and knows all her friends' cellphone numbers from memory (she doesn't use her directory), I am a synthesizer.

In my own words, I jot down ideas and concepts I hear, simplifying them as I see fit along the way. That means I am also a simplifier. 

One part of the sermon I heard last Sunday made me squirm in my seat. I want to share a part of it  with you by synthesizing and simplifying it (the words, not the content), especially because I think it was grace particularly meant for me.

Pastor: Are you a grumbler? A griper? A growler? A whiner?


Clearest Words of Grace

To escape the horrifying headline news on the deadliest calamity that ever hit Mindanao wrought by Typhoon Pablo (over 500 deaths to date), I turned the day's newspaper to the inside pages and got mesmerized by the Lifestyle section.

Splashed on several pages were tall, beautiful ladies and dashing young men garbed in the latest fashion. I drooled over how they carried their clothes, bags, shoes and accessories with flair.

My thought balloons: 

Ooooh, I wish I were one inch taller . . .

Ooooh, I wish I were as well-dressed . . . 

Ooooh, I wish I had those accessories . . .


Hit and Miss

A blogger's all-time natural high is caused by her number of hits, even if the hitters miss reading a word of her blog.

I've been quite happy, extremely happy, when my average of 30 hits per day suddenly surged to 200 since May this year. I can't explain the unusual spurt. But I won't question it either.


AIDS Begone!

Not too many people know this fact: AIDS has reached epidemic proportions in this country. I was shocked when my physician friend, Luis, who has made AIDS prevention his pet advocacy, rattled off statistics I wish I didn't hear.   

He directed me to the AIDS Society of the Philippines website, and while there, I discovered one startling fact after another.

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is the final stage of  HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) disease, which causes severe damage to the immune system. The virus attacks the immune system and leaves the body vulnerable to life-threatening infections and cancers.

Common bacteria, yeast, parasites, and viruses that usually do not cause serious problems in people with healthy immune systems can cause fatal illnesses in those who are found to be HIV positive.


Ice Cream at Christmas

To someone whose blood sugar is always precariously at high-normal levels, ice-cream is taboo. There are sugar-free flavors, but they're a poor copy of the original.

So if you can't eat them, hang them.

These ice cream cones were painstakingly made by three pairs of hands: Ate Vi's, Analou's (her niece and now her adjutant), and mine.

The idea was suggested by my friend G, an art director whose mind traverses the universe and back looking for beautiful things to do and behold. She sent me photos of various kinds of ice-cream, but I chose the model that is easiest to make.



The blank line in a document stares at me. I stare back and wonder how to fill it up properly. 


In a world that runs on labels, it is sometimes complicated to give a definite answer to a simple question. 

If I were asked what my religion was verbally, instead of filling in a blank, I would explain:

“I have no religion. But I have a personal relationship with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  I attend a home church affiliated with other churches so I can fellowship and grow in my knowledge of God with people who share my faith. There, my brethren in Christ help me become closer to God by keeping alive the Scriptures together—and making God's Word be seen in our lives. I belong to this movement of Christ-centered families and individuals wanting to be Christ-like.”


Six Years Is a Long time

Consider the following numbers:

• 2,191 days
• 189,302,400 seconds
• 3,155,040 minutes
• 52,584 hours
• 313 weeks

They define six years. Proudly, I like to think I own them because they show how long Leaves of Grace has been in cyberburbia. Tomorrow I complete my sixth year! I am blogging about it today because I am following my regular blog rhythm.

My old header comes down:

My new header goes up:

There are other numbers that come after the above numbers. You may skip them; I am recording them only to keep track of where I am this year, compared to last year:

151,000 hits (from 111,000)
171 countries (from 154)
614 posts (from 506)
120 followers (from 98)
2037 comments (from 1530)
7 change of headers (from a total of 19)

My numbers increased bountifully and so did grace. Thank you, Lord.

“Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy.” Psalm 100:1-2


Driver and Driver

In "Gifts of Grace" Book 2, I devoted one whole chapter on my drivers—those kindly souls who brought me to and from the office and napped in all the hours in between. They couldn't make it to Mensa, because they were on call to drive me to meetings, client calls, and other business concerns. There were 24 of them in quick succession in a span of three years.

They came and went, courtesy of the HR department, who evaluated employees' performance and screened applicants.

"Hilarious," is the comment I get from readers. One sent me a text message at 4 AM, "I am reading about your drivers and laughing so hard after a long day of TV ad shoot. My neighbors may think I am a candidate for a mental institution!" 

Well, I, too, laughed with every word I wrote. Oh, those were frenzied, manic days!

After jumping off the corporate tightrope, I settled into a placid, sedentary life of writing, glued mostly on a computer chair in one nook at home.  There is no sense in having a driver on standby for my short hop to the university where I teach part-time, once-a-month trip to a book talk, twice-a-year book launching, or occasional coffee or lunch with friends.

I have learned to enjoy the perks of public transportation—tricycle, bus, jeepney, cab, FX—and the extraordinary grace they cart in.

There are very special occasions, however, when I need a car, and therefore a driver. So without the aid of an HR (and the absence of a steady income), I have to hire someone for . . . free.  

This someone is driver #25 and, between you and me, if I still had the luxury of an HR, I'd beg for driver #26.

This current one is in a class all by himself. His mysterious and obsessive rush to get ahead of every vehicle on the road makes my heart skip and my toes curl.

Sometimes, I resort to praying for my life. But if I have to get to where I need to be, intact, I stay quiet.

What brings about the horror, I think, is the fact that with this driver, I need to sit politely awake in the front seat instead of the back where I used to nap, daydream about the next TV concept, do whatever I wanted, and openly verbalize my displeasure over sudden swerves and brakes.  

In this new hallowed front passenger seat, I hear every gear change, every tire screech, every whiz of racing motorcycles zooming straight past me just when my driver is turning right, every silent expletive and grunt in tune with Elvis' rock n' roll or gospel songs.    

I can't take my sweet time with this super-punctual driver either, nor ever change any of our prearranged-or-agreed schedule. He slots me in his busy calendar, honks his horn when I am taking two seconds too long looking for my cellphone or eyeglasses, and tells me where I need to wait, at what exact time, for pick-up.

Although he says nothing when I am delayed for an important reason (like trying on  blouses on sale), nor has expressed anything that resembles complaint, I feel the need to treat him out for keeping him waiting and hungry. Meals or coffee cost.  

Oh, what a ball I had writing about those 24 paid hands!

And now it's as though all 24 of them have conspired against my person, daring me, "Okay, now write about the 25th one." 

Huh? How can I write about the one who shares my home address and who lists me as the principal beneficiary in his insurance policies and bank accounts, and whose driving fee I can never afford? 

Those 24 drivers would now be rolling with laughter. After their abbreviated stints in my employ, I am left with a driver I can't fire, suspend, berate, admonish, ignore, chide, pay, replace, nor name—for life.

They would be right, can anything be more hilarious?

P.S. Oh, I have an occasional driver, my friend G. But she and my driver above are two peas in a pod. The only difference is—G, who is gorgeous with a capital G, can disarm any traffic cop or any other driver on the road.


A Dog's Love

The Second Time Around

When Attorney, our dog, was put to sleep by the Vet a month ago, we didn't give ourselves a period of mourning.

Illness came to her early (she was four years old) and she wasn't able to cross the critical line between life and death. But she brought us joy all those years and guarded our house fiercely from intruders. 

Losing a dog that loved unselfishly can be depressing, and the sooner you get out of the moping stage, the better.

Immediately, we looked around for one to fill the void left by Attorney and it came in a beautiful package that looks so similar to Attorney when she was that age.

The decision, therefore, to name her Attorney came from the real attorney in the house, JR, who was the late Attorney's real master. He said it was the most logical thing to do—and the wisest one, too.

So although Attorney (the first) is gone, another Attorney (the second) has come to love us and whom we will love in return.

Meet the new member of our household, Attorney II—another grace delivered at our doorstep.


Bird Nest on the Roof

It was too late for me to say, "Don't!" The painters had already wrecked and taken down a bird nest from our roof. The once awesome, sturdy nest made of twigs, hay, and feathers was now a sorry sight.

What was left of it was dumped on this bush in our garden. In this condition, the nest was no longer fit for the birds who made it their home. I am sure they will not come back. 

“Sorry, po,” the painters apologized, seeing my long face. “We can't paint the roof properly with a bird nest on it.”

What they ruined was a work of many days and maybe even nights.

Birds build nests to hold their babies and to give these helpless ones a safe shelter, a hideaway from predators, until they are old enough to fly on their own. A bird's building materials depend on what types of supplies it can find: grass, soil, twigs, feathers, rocks, etc.

To build a nest, a bird makes hundreds or thousands of trips to and fro just to gather building supplies piece by piece! Using only its beak, the bird carries these nesting items and constructs the nest by weaving the materials or putting them together using its saliva, or other sticky items like spider webs or mud.

When we think of a bird nest, we usually picture it on tree branches. But birds these days nest in and on many different places because their habitats are being destroyed by unscrupulous nature villains. Now you can find nests on rooftops, eaves, and even under the ground.

Nests come in different shapes and sizes. Sometimes they look like cups or bowls on trees. Some hang like sacks from branches. Some are flat, others are round.  Some nests look like piles of leaves and sticks—just like what was found on our roof!

Birds are indeed some of nature's greatest builders!

All the nests we see around us speak of perseverance and love. They were built painstakingly with so much love. 

I wonder how long it took for the bird on our roof to build that nest that now lies beneath the rotting mess in our garbage can?  It took seconds for the painters to trash it. 

May we never throw grace away in that manner.


Little Angels

On Halloween last week, I saw many children on the streets for “Trick or Treat”dressed and made-up like devils, ghosts, evil spirits, witches, and ugly monsters.

My stomach churned. 

The images in my head of little children have nothing to do with those; they have everything to do with the good and the beautiful. I think of kids as angels—lovable and adorable, God's delightful gifts to one and all.  

Call it a coping or healing mechanism, but when I lost my second son, Adrian, I pictured him as an angel happily playing in that wondrous place where Jesus lives. From that day to this day, over 30 years later, I can't imagine him any other way.

Some parents who dress up their kids in ghoulish costumes say, “Where's your sense of humor? It's just for fun!”

Fun for whom? For the kids? Will they have less fun if they were dressed like the lovely creatures in storybooks and fairy tales?

Children love wearing costumes, that much I know (having reared three boys myself), but parents have the authority to choose or censor or recommend. 

I liken this to choosing which books children should read. Today I have no jurisdiction over what my adult sons read, but when they were little, my husband and I had the responsibility as parents to make sure they read only  those that would make them see the goodness in people and God.

The evil things, well, they eventually learned them on their own just by going through life. But by then, they had strong enough foundation to choose between right and wrong.   

Once I read a book written by the daughter of evangelist Billy Graham. In it she narrated about one dinner where she and her brother were kidding each other about who was the devil. Billy Graham shushed them both. He said, nobody talks about the enemy on the dining table, not even in jest—the devil is no laughing matter.

As a children's book author, I am extra careful about the concepts, the characters, the moments, and the words I write. It is my desire that the children who read my books will learn only good values from them and help them grow up into well-principled and well-grounded adults.

The world has enough advocates of evil and to even add a hint to it—like costumes on Halloween—among innocent children is unconscionable.  

“Holier than thou,” I am not trying to be. I am simply a believer of little angels born purely of grace.


Last Song Syndrome

Insomnia was a malady I couldn't understand. I had absolutely no idea about tossing and turning in bed. 

I could sleep through any crisis, sleep with my eyes half open, sleep sitting down, and sleep standing up. All I needed was something to rest my head on and I would dream on. In fact, I often blogged and bragged about it.

Not anymore. I have been having bouts of occasional and intermittent insomnia. I wake up at all odd hours—12 midnight, 2 or 3 AM to go to the bathroom—and can't go back to sleep for an hour or two,  even if I sang myself a lullaby.

So I sing this song (not too loud, or the husband would kill me) instead—before, during, and after going to sleep, like an LSS:  

“When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.”                                

“No LSS can cure the sleep patterns of the aging,” one of my friends, who is suffering from the same problem, said. “We just have to get used to it.”

I researched this issue and I am more confused than ever. Medical studies show so many reasons for “sleep awakenings.” I can't pinpoint which ones are mine.

And so I sing my LSS and count my blessings—as you and I know, this can take forever. In the beginning of my sleeplessness, I got terribly frustrated. But now I simply go to bed early, too early, to make up for the hours I am up singing my LSS and counting my blessings.

Grace comes around to refresh me in the morning. And I count that as another blessing.


The Tasteful Life

There are very few afternoons like this.

My bi-monthly luncheon friends and I had just wolfed down a tableful of unlimited dimsum at the Chinese restaurant in Shangri-la Hotel; the rest of the afternoon loomed large before us (translation: what now?). So one suggested going to the coffee shop to allow our digestive system to properly work on what we pigged on.

Some coffee, some tea, some mineral water. At exactly 3:00 PM, like a surprise dream while catnapping, a pianist in tuxedo played a hauntingly beautiful kundiman on the keyboard. We all suddenly swooned in chorus and discreetly sang the lyrics, which our generation knows by heart.  “Ikaw lamang ang aking iibigin . . .” (Loose translation: You alone will I love . . .) 

Then from different directions materialized lovely ladies in gown, more than a dozen of them, playing the same kundiman on their violins and flutes, and walking elegantly to swarm, like a host of angels, the stage where the pianist continued to play, now with a cellist, also in tux. The music went on and segued to another tune . . . then another. . . then another . . .          
The musical ensemble on a quiet afternoon reminded me of the days of yore when men were genteel and women were proper—a time of the tasteful life.  

That refined era is gone now, but one afternoon it came back for an hour or so to remind and regale us, like a cool breeze of refreshing grace. 

Postscript: (posted October 31, 10:36 PM)

I didn't think this special afternoon would happen again anytime soon. But it did.

This time, a new friend introduced by two BFFs, whose passion revolves around publishing Christian books, treated all three of us to lunch—in the same hotel and at the same restaurant. Our conversation naturally centered on our common faith, the fullness of grace, and my favorite pursuit: writing.

On our way out, we passed through the coffee shop where the same musical ensemble was playing nostalgic tunes. Will there be another afternoon like this?

Well, grace always surprises. 



The eternal challenge (and joy) in writing for children is painting with words.

Authors like kids to actually see and feel the excitement, the characters and where they are in the story. I grew up on books like those: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, The Secret Garden, Heidi, etc. and tons of fairy tales.
But from the beginning of my writing life, I've said over and over again, “Any book—be it fantasy or adventure that I write has to have a value/s in it, or I don't write at all.” Values . . . that's where the difficulty lies.

Some values are not very visual. One of them is nationalism. I've struggled with the brushes in my mind to try and paint it in various ways, yet I am never content. 

Nationalism is commonly defined as love for one's country.          

Historically, however, nationalism takes on a far greater meaning.  Over the years, large groups of people who share a cultural identity (language, customs, history) have felt the pulling power of nationalistic spirit—something like the belief that one's country is better off as an autonomous state, one that can stand on its own and ward off foreign dominion. 

Now, how can that translate to images that children can see and feel? Are they even ready for the concept?

Some of the pictures that appear in my mind on nationalism are children with their right hand on their chest while singing the national anthem, reciting the “Panatang Makabayan,” enjoying our native foods instead of imported ones, and proudly wearing a shirt with the Philippine map on it.  

I made an attempt in “A Flood of Kindness,” the #14 “Oh, Mateo!” book, where I dramatized love for one's place of birth. But what came through was the value of kindness instead. Nationalism played second fiddle.

I was given a second chance in “Quiet time with Mateo,” 52 weekly devotions for children. For the 11th month, in the chapter entitled “Love of Country,” I wrote four devotions: 1) Pride in One's Country; 2) Caring for Fellowmen; 3) Supporting Local Products; 4) Appreciating Your roots.
My thoughts: I barely scratched the surface; nationalism is such a multi-layered value that needs a series of stories, not just one; it can only be a subliminal theme in a story, not the main one; it shouldn't be belabored to be understood; it can't be forced on anyone, just suggested; it creeps in as one grows up and not learned in childhood. 

Meanwhile, let me go paint other values while my brushes on nationalism stand by and one day, a stroke of grace will illumine my mind on how to use those brushes for the words that create images in a story.

Flag photo


Always Late

“Is that you, Grace?!” she asked, gaping as though she just saw a specter from under the ground.  

“Is that you, Irma?!” I asked, duplicating her reaction.

My friend Irma and I had not seen each other in years! So we retreated to the nearest coffee shop and gabbed away the hours. A re-connection now made, we agreed to meet again the next week before her trip back abroad.

On my way to our meeting place, I wondered whether Irma would be there on time. Long ago, she never was. She always had the most imaginative excuses. I never took her tardiness against her, but I never got used to it either.

Every single time, I would be on time and she would be late. A few times I asked her why she never made it to any event on time. 

Her answer was a template, “Believe me, I don't want to be late! I always give myself enough time to get ready, but the time flies so fast. Before I know it, the allowance I gave myself is not enough.”

“Then give yourself more time,” I would reply, wondering whether her watch or clocks at home had hands.

“I do, but . . .”

Then she'd be late again.

“I hope you won't be late for your wedding,” I would tease her.

She was. Twice.

I try not to give up on any friend, especially not on Irma. So I went to our appointment on time, banking on the Rolex watch she was wearing when I bumped into her.  

But Rolexes (no matter how precisely engineered) are no guarantee for promptness. After all the intervening years (most of them spent in the USA where people are punctual), two husbands and three kids, Irma was late forI should have predicted that quite easily30 minutes, her old record. By the time she joined me, I had downed a doughnut and a cup of tea. 

“I haven't changed, have I?” she said,  her demeanor very contrite.

“And neither have I,” I said.

“You never got used to my sense of time,” she pouted. 

“Should I?” I asked, glancing at her Rolex.  

“No! Don't, or you'll imbibe my bad habit!”

I wanted to ask, You know it's a bad habit, why keep doing it?  But instead I asked, “What are you having?”

“Fun. Friendship. Memories. Grace,” she said. By grace, she didn't mean me. Irma is a fellow follower of Jesus.

“Fun, friendship, and memories coming up!” I said. “Grace would have to come from above.”

“Amen!” she said, breaking into her signature smile. 



Papaya rhymes with Eia, my niece (a well-loved chef in a restaurant in the US), who posted this photo on her FB wall. 

Eia is not really a blood niece, but I call the children of my close friends my nieces and nephews because they are gifts of grace. When my close friends and I meet, these kids hover around and treat me like the aunt who comes from a branch of their own family tree.   

Back to the photo of papaya from the kitchen of Eia.  

For three months in a row before that picture was posted, I had been eating huge slices  of ripe papaya for breakfast, and sometimes for lunch and dinner, too. Yummy yellow!  

They led to my ruin. When I went for my regular blood tests, my doctor was appalled. My sugar level broke all my previous records.

Her furrowed brows showed what she didn't need to ask, Why? 

I was quick to defend myself,  “I haven't been eating too much rice, nor chocolates, as you advised.”

“Tell me what you've been having for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” she intoned. 

When she heard papaya, papaya, papaya, she tut-tutted so loud I thought I'd be guillotined.

“From today,” she said, “you eat only this much papaya in one day,” she gestured with her hands, demonstrating a size too teeny to see or even describe. “Then  have another blood test after a month.”

I lost my tongue and came home ready to drown my disappointment on FB.

Irony of ironies, in full color, in all its luscious, scrumptious best, this papaya photo on Eia's Timeline jumped at me!

I've always been prepared for life's surprises, but never for life's papayas.

But like a good patient, with every effort I could muster, albeit reluctantly, I have stayed away from papaya since. I haven't gone back to see my doctor as she ordered, though. I am afraid she'll say, “I told you so!” about the papaya.

When I finally convince myself to make that still-to-happen clinic visit, I am sure my doctor will make an edict: no more papaya.

Now my thoughts are running along this line: the fruit used by the snake to tempt Eve might have been papaya. And because papaya is the forbidden fruit, all I'd be left doing would be going back to Eia's photo, staring at it and blogging about it. 

Ah, papaya!


Big Words

One of my friends shared the link of my blog, “How Old Are You?” on his FB wall. That post is an abridged version of my talk on how it is to be a writer at retirement age.  Immediately one of his friends posted a message, “Seems to be a Socio-Emotional Selectivity Theory at work here . . .”

Don't let those big words throw you off.  Big words are a part of our world; they explain certain facts or phenomena.

They are usually uttered and bandied about by hot shots in academe or people with a string of degrees to their names. (Sometimes I feel I am a misfit in the academe; I have no theories, nor use big words. An adjective that will never be used to describe my writings is, scholarly.) 

But I happen to know those big words well. We made use of the theory in advertising to understand, communicate, and sell to the mature market. However, we had a surrogate label for it, a much simpler one: reformer mindset.

It simply means—older people mellow.  

Their thoughts are on a different plane: fewer, but more meaningful relationships; altruism; spirituality, with less negative emotions. 

Let me simplify that further: grace seeker.

It's a term as old as the hills. People of faith, then and now, are all on a pilgrimage to seek grace. As we get closer to our destination, we are more . . . selective, as the Socio-Emotional Selectivity Theory postulates. We choose only what counts to deepen our relationship with our Maker, who waits to welcome us home across the earthly finish line.


Prayer Power

Over coffee and croissants, my balikbayan friend shared with me her recent problem with her adult son.

His 15-year marriage was on the rocks, and he jumped into a relationship with another woman—also very married with two children.

"I was distraught so I talked to him about it," P said. "Son, I know this is your business and I should not interfere. But please consider it as parental counsel." 

Her son cut in, "Leave me alone, Mom! I know exactly what you're going to say!"

"I'll say it anyway," P replied. "Fix your own marriage first before you ruin another one." 

Her son marched out angrily, but not before P could say, "Only you can do something about this madness. But I can pray that the Lord may give you the proper perspective to decide what is right.” 

“O, did I pray!" P said, slapping my hand. "I got down on my knees every day and asked God to please open the eyes of my son."

 Months later, P's son came crying (literally) to her.  “You prayers are certainly powerful, Mom! My girlfriend and I just broke up!”

P replied, "Oh, no, dear, my prayers have no power—none whatsoever. Only God has the power to do or change things.” 

Like P's son, I am sometimes deluded by the thought that my prayers are powerful (especially when hordes of my friends are helping me pray for the same thing all at the same time) and can goad God to action and do my bidding.

True, in the Bible, God might have changed the course of some events as a result of someone's prayers, but in the end, it is He alone who makes the decision based on what He wants for us. Whether he gives us exactly what we want done, it is His will alone, not ours. 

King Hezekiah was very sick, almost dying, and prayed for healing,

“. . . say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you.”  2 Kings 20:5

Our assurance: “. . . if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” 1 John 5:14-15

The power is God's alone, and grace comes from Him.  


World Teachers' Day 2012

"Teachers… ultimately determine our collective ability to innovate, to invent, to find solutions for tomorrow. Nothing will ever replace a good teacher. Nothing is more important than supporting them.” Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General

World Teachers’ Day is held on October 5 every year to celebrate the role of teachers in providing quality education at all levels. From the UNESCO website, “. . . it also commemorates the anniversary of the 1966 signature of the UNESCO/ILO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Teachers.”

How nice that this day does not discriminate between full-time educators and teachers who, like me, teach part-time—twice a weekday and once on Sabbath (Sunday School)!  It was as much my day, too.

Flashed on the big screen in my classroom was this UNESCO poster: 

Then during my break time I got this:

So up to the president's office I went and got treated to coffee and cake:

Getting back to the classroom, I received a cupcake (which I shot with my low-tech phone, and can't download or upload because of my low-tech brain) with warm greetings from some of my students:

 And when I got home, on my FB wall were more greetings from more students!

O for overwhelming grace for one teacher's day at work.   

To my cyber friends reading this post, please take a stand for teachers. At least once in the life of anyone, he or she has been inordinately blessed through a teacher.


Everybody Loves

Counting out our common love for food, my family and I have disparate likes—especially in TV shows and books. When Tony watches TV, I sleep. When I watch TV, he reads.

My three sons?  We gave them very limited TV viewing time when they were growing up, so they got hooked on books instead.  

We only have two TV sets at home—one in our master's bedroom and one in the dining room (but this second set is for the exclusive use of Ate Vi and her adjutant). So when the boys want to watch TV, which isn't often, they come to our room. That's when I read or solve crossword puzzles. 

We hardly ever go to the movies together anymore, except to Cinemalaya, but that's for a nobler reason: support the local movie industry.

There is one TV fare, however, which everybody loves: Everybody Loves Raymond. I always laugh the loudest; and nobody goes out of the viewing room when the show is on.

This US sitcom ran for nine long years, from September 13, 1996-May 16, 2005. We had not watched all the episodes, so when they went on DVDs, we ordered nine (one for each season from Amazon), one at a time, as a birthday gift to Tony—even if we knew he knew that we didn't buy it exclusively for him.

The Barone family in the sitcom is often described as odd and dysfunctional. But for me and my house, it is, quite simply, entertainment. The episodes are also often hilariously real, reminiscent of many Filipino families, including ours.   

JR had come home from a rigorous bar exam in the US; I was on a rare break after the back-to-back closing of the school term and book fair.  So we decided on a marathon viewing of the DVDs once again—with Tony and JC joining in after a hard day's work.

Some critics insist that the show is shallow and petty, and possesses no meaningful contribution to society. One wrote, “You don't even know whether they are Republicans or Democrats, what they believe in, or their stand on any issues.”

This neuron-defying critical pedantry does not come to our minds at all when we watch the show. I personally think of the sitcom as nothing but heart and humor, like a sudden R&R after a punishing year of hard labor. It requires no brain surgery.

I've always believed that life can't always be an intellectual discourse, or a deep colloquy, or a cerebral treatise, or a theoretical pedagogy. Our minds and bodies need a respite from the coil of human complexities.

In our home, everybody loves Everybody Loves Raymond not for what it preaches (it doesn't) or espouses (it has none), but for what it is—a family that isn't very affectionate, bickers often and whines sometimes, but stays together, and loves each other, despite  frailties and differences.

That's what charms me about this show—my boys and I are given the chance to enjoy the grace of laughter together, amidst our disparate schedules, personalities, opinions, and tastes.   


The Upper Room

It's only September but carols are already playing on the air, and now I suddenly remember that Christmas. My Auntie Pat was still living and her Alzhemier's had not fully set in.

She came with my mom (her older sister) to our home to spend Christmas and New Year with my family. I had not wrapped anything for her so I asked if there was anything she wanted for Christmas. 


A Treasured Award

The excitement of winning an award always comes in two huge waves—like tsunami invasions.

First, you drown and can't immediately come up for air. That's when someone calls to tell you about the victory. I blogged about that one.

Second, just when you think you're treading and breathing normally again, the next giant wave comes: awards night. 


What Readers Say

Or, 5 Days at the Book Fair 

What I love most about book signing is interacting with readers. They say the nicest, and often, the funniest things.

From morn till night (except on Sunday morning [last day] when I worshiped God in my home church), I chatted with readers at the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF). Priceless hours.


How Old Are You?

(In line with my newly launched book, What, Me Retire? I was invited to the OMF Literature Authors' Fellowship at the MIBF "to encourage  younger writers to keep looking for the 'pearls' in life to write about; to share tips on how they can stay sharp, creative, and relevant.” Here's an abridged version of that talk.)   
Frankly, I don't feel like a senior. I don't feel old, neither do I think old. I was wired in advertising, where I stayed for over 20 years, to always think young. I can groove to the music of Elvis Presley and Justin Bieber or Scotty McCreery. 


Palanca Awards Night 2012

A measly 5% of all entries.  

That's how few there were from writers my age to the Palanca Awards this year. Of the 1077 manuscripts in competition, this percentage translates to only 54 entries.

Sylvia Palanca-Quirino, director general of the Carlos Palanca Foundation, mentioned in her talk that the passing of the torch to the younger generation is happening.     

But . . .

Out of the 47 total Palanca winners, I counted over a dozen white-haired winners at the awarding ceremony. Add them to all the gray hair concealed in taupes, wigs, and commercial dyes, and the number comes up to something still impressive! 


Grand Launch

These two books, published by Church Strengthening Ministry (CSM), will be formally launched today at the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF) at 6 PM. I am now clicking on my excitement button. Ooops, it's been on since yesterday, the opening of the MIBF.

They had been written for tweens (ages 8 to 12), that life stage when kids seem to think they are no longer kids, but still too young to be teens. These in-between years are critical times.


Quiet Time . . .

with Mateo

If you've visited this blog at least once, you must have glanced at my books on the right. You haven't? Please look closely and would you scroll down?

Fourteen of them are part of the “Oh, Mateo!” series.  These are individual books with Mateo as the hero—a smart eight-year old boy from the province of Pangasinan—who figures in one episode after another.

Every year since the beginning of the millennium, a book or two would be launched by Hiyas (an imprint of OMF Literature) at the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF). This year, Hiyas has decided to end the series with book No. 14  (it's the 15th book, actually, if you include the stand-alone “The Magic of Apo Mayor”).

After I had finished writing the last book, “A Flood of Kindness,” and said good-bye to Mateo, Hiyas asked me to look into writing a devotional for the same age range (8-12) with Mateo (still) as the hero.


What, Me Retire?

This book took 12 years to write. 

The actual writing was a little over a year, but my thoughts and feelings—validated through friends and family—took 11 years to stew. 

I can't cook (never cooked a decent dish in my life!), but I had watched my mother-in-law do it and stewing seems best in describing the process I went through to put this book together. 

In the Author's Note, I wrote:

“I am glad I didn't  have to write this book 12 years ago when I was angry, believing I was a dead duck and my life was ruined. Now I see it all clearly, and can confront workplace retirement with levity and humor. 

“To read this book, then, prepare to smile and laugh with me.” 


Where Did That Come From?

Fretting over the most horrific traffic that mid morning, I forgot to check my mobile phone. When I finally did, I was surprised to find it bursting with a number of missed calls. 

They all had the same message from different people at OMF Literature who were similarly rejoicing, “Good news! Your book, GRACE FOUND ME, won the Gintong Aklat Award of the Book Development Association of the Philippines (BDAP). We are all very happy here in Publications when we heard the news!”

It was totally unexpected, like snow in the dead heat of summer.

“Where did that come from?” Beng, editor of the book, asked the question I would have asked myself.

Two years ago, my book, “Flying on Broken Wings” (New Day Publishers) was one of five finalists in the same category. The fireworks in my heart are still there, preserved in perpetuity.


Speak Not

A funny thing happened on my way to speak before a crowd of 800, mostly students, in a big Rotary function. I was to be the second speaker on “Preparing for the Workplace.” After me would be two celebrities—a she (showbiz personality) and a he (congressman). 

As programs go, there were many preliminaries—a beautiful and moving tableau on the evolution of the Filipino flag that segued to the Philippine National Anthem and the invocation; introduction of officers and guests; induction and charging ceremonies; acknowledgments of donors and other people of importance. 

Two hours passed and the emcees finally announced the first speaker. A stickler for time, I knew right then that squeezing four speakers into the remaining two hours would be a miracle. The first speaker took half an hour.

Then when I was all psyched up for my turn, the emcees announced another name—a Rotarian who was not in the program, but who, I was told later, was scheduled to do a rah-rah talk at lunchtime for a forthcoming Rotary event.



The single most important principle I learned from my long stint in advertising is KISS. 

Just a bit of a background: KISS is an acronym for the design principle first verbalized  by Kelly Johnson, “Keep it simple, Stupid!” Through the years, KISS gave birth to many variations: Keep It Simple, Sir; Keep It Simple or be Stupid; Keep it Simple and Straightforward; and Keep it simple and sincere.

The KISS principle: the most complex systems/concepts can readily be understood if they are kept simple. Once a wordsmith in advertising (and a caretaker of words today), my take on KISS then was, “Keep It short and Simple.”

Short—because target audiences (the people for whom we create ads) are busy, uninterested beings who don't have all the time in the world to read, much less be lured by too many words and pictures.

Simple—for exactly the same reason as short. Our target audiences' lives are complicated enough, crammed enough, and confused enough.

When asked, I explain my former job thus: summarizing volumes of research data into 30 seconds of attractive words (45 at the most).

Every word was important, so we had to choose only those that were easiest to understand:
“aim” instead of “contemplate;”
“stun” instead of “discombobulate;”
“crush” instead of “annihilate.” 


Memory Gone Wrong

She was one of my most outstanding students in Business English. Her prose was clear and well crafted, with careful attention to good grammar. Diligent to a tee, she also liked to verbalize her opinions and always brimmed with good ideas.

Pam* got even better as the term progressed. And I was delighted to have contributed to her development.  

That was last year, when she was a freshman student.

One day this school year, I was surprised to see her being walked around like a treasured guest by a group of her former classmates. Holding her hand, they approached me and asked her in Filipino, "Remember Ms. Chong, our Business English teacher?" (Students are not allowed to speak in any language other than English in our campus.) 

Pam covered her mouth and giggled, then said in Filipino, "Sorry, I forgot how to speak English." 

Her friends alternately revealed dizzying and chilling facts of recent events. 

"Pam had a seizure three months ago."

"Doctors found a tumor in her brain."

"She went through a delicate surgery."

"Then she went into a coma."

"Now she has amnesia."

"She can't recall a word of English." 


Mommy, One More time

I thought I had beaten this topic (Mommy) to a pulp, but something just keeps popping up and I keep falling for it. 

Okay, so I am now resigned to being called Mommy by all (except by my peers and elders, the remaining few whose vital organs refuse to be atrophied by advanced age) wherever  I go.

Just when I am getting comfortable with this label, I suddenly earn a new one—Nanay, Mommy in Filipino.

When I heard it the first time last month from a hospital security guard, I searched my brain. What brought this on? It was very early in the morning and I was rushing to have my regular blood chemistry tests. (It had to be at that hour otherwise my all-night fasting would be all for naught.)


Special Sanctuary:

Church of the Risen Lord (CRL)
Eons ago, I cried buckets in this church—tears of fear and joy.

As a 14-year-old college freshman, a promdi (from the province), uninitiated to the ways of city slickers at the University of the Philippines (UP), I felt as though I was thrown into the deep end without any swimming lessons to keep me afloat. 

It was here where I said a thousand and one prayers. 


Not a Goodbye

It was with mixed emotions (a pinch of sadness, a glob of nostalgia, and a dollop of happy remembrances) that I wrote finis to the “Oh, Mateo!” series of storybooks about a brave boy named Mateo.

This extraordinary eight-year-old kid, who lives in Pangasinan, and I went through lots of exciting, and sometimes horrifying, times together for a total of 15 books in 11 years.

All that is now over.   


Cat and Dog

Have you ever wondered why the cat and the dog are perceived by mankind to be mortal enemies? 

Man even invented an idiom—passed on through generations—to dramatize this animosity between the two most popular pets in the world: Fighting like cat and dog! (meaning, to argue violently all the time). We have  translated this into our own Filipino language: Away nang away na parang aso't pusa!

I, too, find myself using this idiom, but then I became an internet denizen and found hundreds of photos such as these:



With the unabated rainfall in the last several days, which has caused massive floods in Metro Manila, our well-ordered schedule has degenerated into chaos.

There is zero internet connection at home, causing communications to go awry; I had to travel all the way to Makati, where I am now, to get wired back to the world. This blog post is eight hours too late! 


Forgotten Episodes

Countless episodes that involve countless people shape our lives; but our brain simply can't remember them all.

There are episodes, however, that leave a permanent imprint in a child's heart. When that  child has grown and unearths one episode for you, you still have no clue as to how or why it happened. And yet you feel unusually thrilled that it happened, and that you were a part of it.   

Today is one such day of unearthing . . . 

I have not seen my niece Mel (daughter of a first cousin) since she was a kid—it has been so long I can't remember the last time we saw each other. She now has her own family  and lives abroad.

Suddenly, my private message balloon pops up while I read my FB wall.

“Hello, auntie . . . do you remember me?”


The Toga

In July every year, I don the most ill-fitting and unflattering outfit in the world—the toga. But it somehow feels right. Perfect, in fact.

At the graduation ceremony of the university where I teach, lecturers are required to wear togas with a hood and cap.  Although the black loose gown is the same for every faculty member, the hoods vary from teacher to teacher.


Answered Prayers

God answers all prayers; no single prayer remains unanswered.  

This thought was as dim as a starless night for me. But as I study the Word and continue to listen to prayer exhortations Wednesday after Wednesday in our prayer meetings, this has become my dawn, the coming of light—toward a clearer day.

Every chance we get, we who believe in prayer earnestly ask for what we want, what we think should belong to us.  We pray for whom we want healed, whom we want touched and stirred, whom we want changed. Our pryers are often about what we want.


Grace Before Meals

First, the photograph grabbed me. Then the caption grabbed me more: Grace before meals.

I echoed to myself what advertising people say when they see a great ad concept, Why didn't I think of that before?


Happy Graceday!

The remarkable thing about Facebook is, everybody remembers your birthday—as in, everyone of your FB friends who are online that day.

Hundreds remembered mine. And I am deeply grateful for having been gifted with hundreds of FB friends.

One of them, Tom, sent a two-word message that said everything I could ever express about my birthday, “Happy graceday!”

Indeed, today is a happy, rainy day of grace—hundreds, thousands, millions, trillions, gazillions of grace. How can one ever thank God enough?

Never. But one experiences so much joy in trying.

Image: birthdaychoice.net


How Should We Pray?

Outside of my home church, I have a circle of friends who don't share my faith. But when we're together, they request me to pray for the food or for someone sick.

“How you pray is something I hope I can do, too,” my friend B told me  after one prayer, “but I can't compose it the way you can.”   

“I don't know how to pray, period,” added M. “I have thoughts, but not the right words—like Grace has.”    

Uh-oh. If my friends think I have the right words and say well-composed prayers, then I have not been praying the way I should—not when I pray aloud anyway.      

I have been taught and I have always known that praying is not having the right words, phraseology, or syntax. Prayers need not be eloquent and well-composed; they should come from the heart. 

How then should we pray?

There are many answers in the Scriptures. Let me quote those that are closest to my understanding:   

 “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18)

“But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. (Jude 1:20) 

“. . . the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 26-27) 

We all really do not know what we ought to pray for. But the Spirit helps us, keeps our hearts and minds in tune with the will of God.

So, what exactly does it mean to pray in the Spirit?

When Jesus went back to heaven, He left His Spirit in every believer's heart. Therefore, praying in the spirit refers not to a particular method of praying—but to a total attitude. Prayer is not an adjunct to our lives; it's fundamental in our relationship with God’s word, God’s Spirit, God’s gift of faith.

Unlike a hotline that is used only when there's an emergency, prayer should be on 24/7, waiting to hear from God's spirit at all times. It’s an open line to God.

Praying in the Spirit is being so in touch with God that you pray what God puts in your heart. Prayer is not about getting things from the Giver; it’s about aligning ourselves with His will. So when the answer comes, whatever if may be, we are ready to accept it.

My friend Ernie said it best, “Praying in the spirit means you are so focused on God that the only thing that matters is what matters to Him.”

In Gethsemane, before He was arrested and made to suffer on the cross, Jesus pleaded to God, “Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

When we pray in the spirit, we don't worry about our words, our syntax, or whatever else we worry about when we lead in a group, because the Spirit will lead us if we allow Him to. And then we experience the presence of God in a powerful way.

Praying in the Spirit, in sum, is letting God lead in our prayers at all times.

Lord, by Your grace, may our every prayer be led by the Your Spirit.


2012 National Children's Book Day

I thank God for His grace of stoking our passion for children's literature. Please celebrate with me National Children's Book Day!

Highest Blog Hits

Don't fall for statistics . . . don't fall for statistics . . . don't fall for statistics . . .

This I repeat to myself whenever I post a blog. I really (really!) want to focus on why I am blogging, and not worry whether only one reads it—Tony, only because I beg him to.

Who am I kidding?

Occasionally I wonder why some blog sites can generate 54,000,000 unique visitors per  month and why mine gets only 4,000.  Then I quickly shake off the errant thought and concentrate on my blog at hand.

But curiosity always gets the better of me and I click on “stats” today.  What it reveals about my all-time top-five blog posts baffles me.

No. 1: “Prayer as a Lifestyle,” October, 2009

No. 2: “Man and Woman,” May 2012

No. 3:  “Shelf Life,” May 2011  

No. 4: “Upside-down Umbrella,” January 2010

No. 5: “Why Leaves of Grace?” my very first blog post, November, 2006

“Why Leaves of Grace?” I like to think that my new visitors want to know why I named my blog Leaves of Grace.

“Upside-down Umbrellas” is literally that. It features the marvelous interior design masterpiece of my friend L using upside-down umbrellas. Maybe people google it because upside-down umbrellas are good omen to the superstitious?

“Shelf Life” introduces one of the many concepts on retirement—a book I have recently finished writing—that explains our dread over the expiry date of our usefulness. Maybe people click it for information on perishable items?  

“Man and Woman” is a very recent post but it climbed up to the No. 2 spot in my hit chart pretty quickly, dislodging many much older posts. It discusses the differences between genders and nurturing them.  Maybe people google the three words for different reasons, and my post is a beneficiary? 

“Prayer as a Lifestyle” is by far the top blog on my hit chart. It's a very old post but still gets over a dozen hits a day. Maybe people are searching for answers and have turned to prayer? Or maybe, like me, they want to deeply understand and live the multi-dimensional essence of prayer?  

For whatever reasons, I am grateful to my blog guests for dropping by to read about the amazing grace that comes to us in our big and small daily chores.

We stand in awe of the God who untiringly dispenses this grace, from sunrise to sunrise.


Jungle on Facebook

To say that Facebook is like a jungle may be accurate. In one reading, as you scroll down “Home,” you get  snapshots of all forms of inhabitants.

In a page, you read messages that reflect people's varied characters, traits, politics, dispositions, spirituality or the lack of it, activities, and status (this is the most volatile of all). 

They represent the depth and breadth of the animal kingdom—from the tamest to the wildest—and all types in between: gentle and ferocious; loving and angry; mushy and gritty; optimistic and pessimistic; orderly and messy; intelligent and dense; profound and inane; sweet and bitter; inspiring and disparaging; generous and greedy; fair and prejudiced; enthusiastic and sarcastic; deep and shallow; spiritual and profane; etc, etc.
As I read the posts, I am alternately inspired and disappointed. And I ask myself these four questions: 

1) Why do we choose to be nasty when it is better to be kind?
2) Why do we choose to be angry when there is so much to be thankful for?
3) Why do we choose to destroy when it is more productive to build?  
4) If we can't write anything good, why write at all?  

These are the same questions I ask myself when I read the dailies. 

Then I turn introspective and go back to our Biblical history: From “The Fall,” the day God sent Adam and Eve out of the peaceful Garden of Eden, everything has been a like a jungle, where vultures and victims co-exist. 

So as not to fall prey to the dangers of ravenous beasts (or becoming like them), and losing ourselves, we need to be armed every day. Ammo can only come from a God who gives us His grace of protection through our conscience and discernment, if we humble ourselves and seek Him out.   

“ . . . whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8 (KJV)

Images: http://slodive.com/inspiration/funny-pictures-of-animals/


Don't Smoke, Please?

Knowing I teach Advertising/Marketing, a friend emailed me a link to images of vintage cigarette ads. 

I did a few ads for a cigarette company in my time (shoot me), and I experimented with smoking in college (shoot me again), but these old ads smack of . . . um, uh . . .

Babies as endorsers?

Doctors/Nurses encouraging smoking?

Santa Claus puffing and huffing?
Women becoming more attractive through cigarettes?

We've come a long way. Today, ad claims are regulated and cigarette advertising is banned in most countries, including the Philippines. Many buildings now prohibit smoking and in many offices, there are limited areas for smokers.

Our own Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has gone into an aggressive anti-smoking campaign. It recently unveiled a mobile smoking cessation clinic: a converted bus deployed in many areas to counsel and suggest lifestyle change to smokers.

At the launching of this bus, a survivor of throat cancer gave a moving testimony about how he lost his voice to smoking.

I have grieved over a dozen close friends who died of lung cancer in the past five years. Four of them were non-smokers, but they were in the company of heavy smokers in their home or place of work. That's why I am thankful that many forms of anti-smoking crusades have sprouted today.   

And yet, the death toll and economic losses from cigarette remain alarming. Ten Filipinos die every hour from illnesses caused by smoking, while the country loses nearly P500 billion annually from healthcare costs and productivity losses, according to an anti-tobacco group.

Fortunately, cigarette advertising has evolved through the years, and these powerful ads today may yet save a friend's life. Grief, without grace, is a bottomless pit.

May we remember the Scriptures' admonition for us to keep our bodies free of toxins (tar and nicotine are but two of these) that snuff out our precious God-given lives.

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV) 

Don't smoke, please?

Photo credits: thechive.com