Have I Done My Best?

I never finish a book. Not even if I had all the time in the world. 

Whenever I re-read any of my published books, there is always a turn of phrase or a group of words that I wish I had written differently—to express the idea better.

My new book on retirement (13 chapters in all) is due tomorrow.

October was my first deadline so I completed the manuscript then.  But for some reason or another—editor's schedules, for one—it was postponed to the first week of January. Between October and the new deadline, I revised and re-wrote it for the nth time. 

Then came another postponement: last day of January—tomorrow.  

Guess what I have been doing? Tweaking and twisting again and again, and printing every revised chapter over and over, in case I missed some errors on the monitor. I have so far used up two reams of bond paper and two black-and-white printing ink. 

But I keep celebrating, too. There has not been a day that I didn't thank God for the grace of guidance in choosing my words. Every other day I treat myself to either roasted chestnuts (they'd be gone anytime now that Chinese New Year is over), or a saucer of pomegranate seeds covered with dark chocolate (a gift from my cousin Minna), or a cup of Earl Grey tea (a gift from Beng, my editor).

When do I say, “Enough!”?  When my editor says, “Please send the manuscript NOW.” 

In the workplace, my former boss used to stress, “The work is never done.” One must always find ways to improve it.

In my own workplace, the work is really never done.  I believe that those who have committed themselves to a ministry must always ask themselves, “Have I done My Best?” 

As I now fiddle with my manuscript some more before tomorrow's deadline, I sing the hymn “Have I done My Best for Jesus?” that asks the same questions I ask myself when I write:

“I wonder, have I giv'n my best to Jesus
Who died upon the cruel tree?
To think of His great sacrifice at Calv'ry
I know the Lord expects the best from me.


How many are the lost that I have lifted?
How many are the chained I helped to free?
I wonder, have I done my best for Jesus,
when He has done so much for me?  


How to Celebrate Chinese New Year

Tony and JC looked forward to and got ready for a Chinese lauriat. Meaning, light lunch and no snacks. But when we got to the venue, their hope was quashed.

It was an elegant European-inspired boutique hotel, with no touch of Chinese whatsoever. The huge dining table, however, had New Year symbols like pineapples, oranges, and bamboo, so maybe, just maybe, there was still a chance of getting a lauriat.

The three of us were invited by Tony's nephew, H, a food connoisseur and a restaurateur. He hosted the dinner for his family and some kin (us), a total of 17. What a thoughtful, generous soul!  Unlike my blood family which is loud and rough, H's family is genteel and quiet.

Seven waiters hovered over us and got our choices for the main course, "Lobster or Beef?" That done, they gave each of us our dinner list and the first course was served. By this time we knew it was going to be French all the way.

Bon apetit!
Appetizers: Caviar tempura, Tuna tataki with yuzo miso and jalapeno salsa, Sable au parmesan with squash flan
Poached oysters in 3 ways: mignonette granite; with pommery mustard cream and gelee; with white wine-saffron sauce

All you could hear was the clinking of dinnerware and intermittent soft conversations, and my "oooh and aaah"  over the impeccable food presentations and exquisite melt-in-your mouth dream flavors, and the shameless flashing of my camera.

Lobster Quenelle with light crustacean bisque, fried tarragon leaves
Cold salad of crab with avocado, green apple and curry oil
Coddled egg with truffled brown butter, asparagus, prosciutto & chips
Green apple and key lime sorbet
Pan seared duck foie gras with haricots verts and orange-walnut emulsion
Roasted rib-eye of beef with potato puree, glazed root vegetables and black truffle rugout
Fresh strawberry salad with mint and home-made balsamic vinegar ice cream
Tarte Tatin, Gorgonzola Dolce and pecan brittle
Tea: French Earl Grey!

To say everything was G.R.E.A.T. would be inaccurate. With his cellphone, JC was able to show Tony and me all the cyber rave reviews on the food being served and on the two private chefs who were hired for the occasion.

Even with my Ilocano palate (and plebeian taste), I did relish every morsel of every masterpiece. Tony and JC suddenly forgot all about their craving for Chinese lauriat.

My point-and-shoot camera couldn't do justice to the grace that came with every change of dinnerware and silverware, but the photos above will always remind me of that unusually quiet and lovely night when the Chinese world celebrated with noisy revelry, while we enjoyed a relaxed dinner of probably the finest French cuisine I have ever had anywhere.

No doubt H paid a handsome bundle for the 11-course luxurious dinner, but my thinking is, you can't put a price tag on what you feel is the best way to enjoy the company of your family on an occasion as important as welcoming the new year.

Chefs par excellence: Chris Bautista, executive chef at Gourdo's and Farah Tolentino-Ylagan, chef of staff of Le Canard d'Or (considered by foodies as Manila's master of foie gras) are friends who share a deep passion for cooking.  They were both trained in classical French techniques during their long stay in Paris.

"Which was your favorite?" the duo asked.

"Everything!" I said.  It was the truth, but really, the foie gras took my breath away.

So how do you celebrate Chinese New Year? Go French!

Bonne année et bonne santé! (translation: Happy New Year!)

Mille fois merci, Lord.


Heaven is for Real

“Heaven is a place. It is not a state of mind,” our pastor stressed in his sermon. “The Bible says so.”

To Bible-believing Christians, there is no question that heaven is indeed a place. No matter what others say about heaven—bliss in one's heart or peace in one's mind, yada, yada—I know that those who have entrusted their lives to Jesus will go to that beautiful, breathtaking place someday.

I have read a few books that detail a short glimpse or tour of the afterlife, and I have actually talked to a child who claimed to have gone to heaven and back, but my belief in the heaven that the Bible describes remains unchanged. 

Currently on the New York Times bestsellers list is a book entitled “Heaven is for Real” by pastor Todd Burpo.  He tells the story of his son Colton who at age 4 (the age of Adrian, my grandson) visited heaven while he was undergoing a life-threatening surgery.

Most of Colton’s experiences are validated by a Bible verse. As a writer myself, I was curious as to how the author could put a story together which came in bits and pieces from the mouth of a growing boy for a period of 6 to 7 years.  I couldn't put the book down.  

What riveted me most was the part where Colton's sister (miscarried at two months) happily hugged Colton who had no idea who she was.  The Bible is silent on what happens to babies who die at birth.  But I have always believed that God's grace has something wonderful planned for all his creation, which includes my son Adrian who died 14 hours after birth years ago. Colton has painted for me one healing scenario. 

So what's the point of the book? Well, it is to convince readers that heaven exists. 

That's where book reviewer/blogger/pastor Tim Challies has a problem. Colton went to heaven and “his experience now validates heaven's existence?!”

He suggests that we go back to the Scriptures.  “ . . . the Bible gives us no indication whatsoever that God will work in this way and that He will call one of us to heaven and then cause us to return. It is for man to die once and then the resurrection. To allow a man (or a boy) to experience heaven and then to bring him back would not be grace but cruelty.”

The trouble with a book like this is that, he adds, “through their experience we now find confidence that what God says is true.”  It should be the other way around. A testimony of a child cannot, and must not, replace Bible truths.

After mulling this over, I am reminded that these are indeed the last days. Many new teachings that come in many guises can distract us from “keeping watch.”


Grace in a Bottle

Believe it or not.  Without electricity, a soda plastic bottle can light up a house like a real light bulb! 


Just pick up a 1.5 liter plastic clear soda bottle, fill it with distilled water and a small amount of bleach (to prevent germs or dark contaminants from developing), fit the bottle in a small metal sheet, then put it in a hole on the roof. The bottle will absorb the sunlight and, like a 60-watt bulb, will brighten up the room!

The power comes solely from the sun. So when the sun is up, the bottle lights up.It shines brightest at noon.

Tony explained this to me between amazed gasps (mine) and gulps (still mine). "The solar bulb technology was developed by Illac Diaz who was part of a group of students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which came up with the device. Illac eventually made this readily available through his MyShelter Foundation."

To mark Rotary-at-Work Day in November, 61 Rotary Clubs in District 3830 (Makati, Paranaque, Las Pinas, Taguig, Muntinlupa, and Pateros) brought solar bulbs to more than 10,000 low-income homes in Metro Manila.

"We distributed/installed more than 11,300 bulbs, which hopefully will make it to the Guinness Book of Records," Tony wished.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (God bless you, dear soldiers) helped assemble the ‘bulbs’ and delivered the finished products to the concerned communities.

Now more families can see better in the dark little rooms they call home, without having to shell out extra money for a light bulb and electricity.

God uses groups (Rotary Club, AFP) and people (Illac Diaz and co.) to bottle His grace, then He lets it shine upon those who need it most.


Earl Grey Day

Earl Grey, JC's male guinea pig, just became a father to three adorable pups!

His wife, Chai, has been kept busy breastfeeding them.

We'd been on tenterhooks anticipating Chai's day of delivery. “Anytime now,” JC kept saying. But he was a bit concerned that there might be trouble. Chai got pregnant too young, too soon. “In cases like this, either the mother or the pups don't make it.”

So every now and then I'd go and take a peek at their cage. I thought that giving birth to pups was going to be something long and  laborious (pun not intended) and I might be able to help—I wasn't sure how.

But early in the morning, JC said, “Mom, come look!” Three little chocolate-nougat  chunks were darting in and out of their house and toys—so quickly you have to be alert to know where they are. They took after their tea-colored mom, Chai, who was leaping  around, too, as though nothing significant just happened.

Earl Grey's family
Not one is gray like his/her dad. 

Then later in the afternoon, I got a bag of goodies from my friend (and editor) Beng who just arrived from the US. Inside was a pack of Earl Gray tea (complete with a teacup)!

What do you know? Two Earl Greys in a row! 

Earl Grey Day is not a holiday in the national calendar, but it is a red-letter day of grace, double grace, in mine. So tonight, I will drink a cup of Earl Grey to celebrate Earl Grey's new fatherhood status and Chai's successful dart to motherhood.

I'd invite JC and Tony for a tea toast,  but they're not great tea fans, just odd coffee people.


Go Ahead, Drink and Drive

This road sign, posted by my friend Adie on his FB wall, made me ponder and wonder about how the human mind works.

We know what we need NOT do, but we do it anyway.  We know the consequences of what we do wrong, but we do it anyway.

We all have this sign installed along the road of our conscience, but we ignore it sometimes, or completely.

Me to me: Go ahead—

Worry, and you'll get sick and feel awful.

Rush, and you'll regret your actions.

Fume, and you'll say hurtful things in anger.

Loaf around, and you'll amount to nothing.

Judge, and you'll likewise be judged.

Gossip, and you'll destroy people's reputation.

Hoard, and you'll never know when enough is enough.

Pamper and reward yourself, and you'll forget about your neighbors.

Worship at the altar of your worldly treasures, and you'll forget about the God who gave it all.

The scriptures couldn't be clearer: Romans 6:22-23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

The wages of sin are the jail, the hospital, the morgue, plus the direst of consequences you can think of: death. 

And eternal life?

Right now, while we still have the faculties to drive down the road of our conscience, we need grace to help us take stock of the road signs and go through the route of Jesus, which ends (or begins) in life everlasting.


Circle of Love

My family and I are somewhere in this circle of 140 people made up of siblings and cousins; aunts and uncles; lolos and lolas; and in-laws.   

Many will say this is a friendship circle, as it is better known in camps and jamborees, but I prefer to call it circle of love, especially because our reunion theme was, Love Actually. 

This is reprised every year in the clan to which I belong (my mother's side) as a ritual of leaving the old year and meeting the new one.

Fifteen minutes before midnight, we gather (babies are roused from their sleep, oldies are escorted in, and kiddies are herded from where they are galloping around) to form this circle.

It is the highlight of our three-day reunion, now on its 67th year. One may skip any of the activities but never this one.

While holding hands (folded right over left), we sing at least four songs: Dundungwen Kanto (an Ilocano serenade), to remind us of our roots; Let Me Call You Sweetheart (an old love song), to remind us of our forbears; Auld Lang Syne, to be in tune with the rest of the world; and Bless Be the Tie that Binds, to honor the One who keeps us together. 

In other countries, this is replicated by clan members who can't be with us.

On this 67th year we surprised ourselves by singing spontaneously, “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” (Lutkin's Sevenfold Amen), in a perfect four-voice harmony, just after the pastor among us said the prayer of thanksgiving.

“This is the only clan I know,” someone whispered, “who can sing this benediction at a drop of a hat, beautifully, without any rehearsal.”

Well, we grew up singing it in the church choir.

There is debate on when this circle of love started, but I don't remember nor know any other way of welcoming the new year. Friends have exciting stories about how their New Year celebration went, but for me, this simple, familial tradition matches none.

The circle of love is symbolic of how we uphold each other in grief, and how we celebrate together in joy.

How heartwarming to end and begin every year with family—people who worship the same loving Savior and have the same blood running in your veins! 

Before we break out of the circle to form a rowdy and energetic human train, the oldest in the clan starts off the electric trail with one hand. He squeezes the next person's hand—and that person likewise does the same—until everyone in the circle is properly electrified.

Then comes a deafening countdown: 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, Happy New Year!  Now, quickly go under your right arm, turn around, and . . . whee!
Can grace be more electrifying?

(Circle photos are by Noel; clan official photo by Dannie)


Uncommon Common Year

Happy New Year! To mark the beginning of 2012, I am putting up a new header that mimics fireworks.

My old one comes down with the old year.

This year is another common year. Meaning, it is an ordinary year of 365 days, not a leap year. But I feel it will be an uncommon year, and an extraordinary one.

So many things are happening simultaneously all over the world: disasters, government upheavals, economic downturns, civil wars, moral degeneration, idol worship, and many more.  And it isn't going to get better.

In many evangelical churches, the sermon is mostly about the end times. There are just too many signs about God's second coming that are difficult to ignore. It seems to be the beginning of the end.

The six signs of the end of age given by Jesus in the book of Matthew alone are being fulfilled at a very fast rate daily.  In Matthew24:3 Jesus was asked, "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?"  Jesus replied:  

1.  False prophets and christs
Matthew 24:5 "For many will come in my name, saying, I am christ, and will mislead many."

Matthew 24:11 "And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many."

We've heard of many prophesies about the end of the world, and also of cult leaders claiming to be the messiah. 

2.  Famines and earthquakes
Matthew 24:7 "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes."

A large portion of the world's 5 billion people are suffering in hunger.  And a  staggering number of seismic events occur around the world daily, more than those from 1890 to 1900.

3. Wars
Matthew 24:6 "And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end."

We simply have to turn on our TV sets or goggle news websites and we hear of  wars and impending wars in many places of the world killing thousands of people. 

5.  Tribulations
Matthew 24:8-9 "But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.  Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of my name."

Christians are suffering from ridicule, hatred, or discrimination in many parts of the world today. 

6.  The gospel preached throughout the world
Matthew 24:14 "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come."

Media has made it possible for the gospel to be preached around the globe. And at no time has there been more Bible translations than today; the Bible continues to be the best-selling book of all time. Missionaries are traveling to places unreached by media to preach about the good news of salvation.

Nobody knows when the end of age will come; it can come this uncommon year or any common year thereafter. But to those who believe in the saving grace of Jesus, we are encouraged to "keep watch."

A great way to keep watch is to live like today were our last.

But we can't do that without grace. My prayer, then, is that we may all be blessed with a grace-focused, grace-centered, grace-aligned, and grace-filled year!