Spot the Book Lover

Book lovers are not many in this country. But you can easily spot one anywhere.

At a book store, she is riveted to a page, oblivious to the noise or commotion around her. 

In a coffee shop, his one hand reaches for his mug, while his eyes hungrily feast on an open book held by his other hand. 

At a book sale, he quickly scans all the titles with covetous eyes, while clutching two or three chosen titles close to his chest. 

Seated on a public bench or anything that resembles a chair (building stairways, maybe), she stares at her e-book reader, while waiting for . . . whomever. 

In any queue, she sports no bored look; she has that furrowed brow or a half smile, depending on what page of her book she’s on.

Knowing his gift is a book, a kid tears the gift wrapper and starts reading. 

Spying a book on a messy table, she reaches out for it, flips a page, and she’s done in.

In her home, her knick-knacks are book ends. His shelves spill over with books even in the dining room.

My friend Glo and I recently attended OMF Lit’s corporation meeting, which happens once a year, and which we both never miss, knowing we’d be given a bag of free books as appreciation for our attendance.  

In the car on our way home, we dug into our paper bag, chose a book, and started reading.

Even through the Ayala tunnel, which was pitch-black, we lifted our books into positions where we could catch the light of other vehicles. We used our cellphones to enhance the lighting. This was us all the way—through bad traffic and whatever else.

In my circles, many of my friends love books. Tony reads one a week. It’s one of life’s non-guilty pleasures.

Book lover. Spot her anywhere; find a kindred spirit in him. Look at how grace makes her eyes sparkle; watch how grace illumines his face.

It is my prayer that the path of all book lovers be lit by words, especially God’s, in the greatest book ever written, the Bible.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105 


Slave to Batteries

Wrist watches in ancient days (my time) had no batteries. We manually wound them in the morning and they kept going all day.

Then came those mechanical watches that need no winding. The natural motion of the wearer's arm provides energy to run the watch. 

But horror of horrors, in the '70s, battery-powered watches tick-tocked their way in, too. They were touted to be more accurate than other watches. And modern man, being more time conscious than ever before, latched on to this new technology, which has since become the benchmark of wrist watches.  

Designers joined the fray and have been coming up, ad nauseum, with designs limited only by one's imagination.

Now, here’s the thing. My predisposition towards resisting the usual was swept by the tide.

So if you're into uniquely-designed watches like I am, you become a victim of battery-powered watches, now sold practically anywhere (including flea markets) at much lower costs than the functional, mechanical ones.

I now have a drawer-full of bracelet-like, one-of-a-kind watches (received as gifts or bought on a whim) and it seems like I am in a watch shop every week for new batteries.

In my Marketing Communication class today, I discussed needs, wants, and demands. It seemed as though the lecture was for me, not for my students. My wrist watch need has morphed into want, and worse, into demand.

I have been sucked into a deep hole, enslaved by batteries. 

My single thought at this moment: sell all my watches at our forthcoming church's fund-raising garage sale.

With my slew of watches gone, I will save every centavo I shall have spent on batteries, and with my savings, I will buy myself one plain, mechanical watch that will last me all the remaining years of my life. 

It's a bright, brilliant thought that can only be accomplished with iron will, steeled by grace. 

“And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’” Luke 12:15 


Gender-sensitive Books

Gender sensitivity, per se, is easy to understand. It is the ability to recognize issues and problems in the way societies look at gender. It is a pressing issue in places that still treat women inferior to men.

I was invited to speak on this topic by Zonta International. My talk was well-received, and modesty aside, applauded.

This emboldened me to accept an invitation to speak before high school students, their teachers, and some advocates for women. Being an author, I was to focus on the impact of books on gender sensitivity.  

In my message, I established parameters: I’d speak only of two genders because I have no opinion on anything outside of those. I avoided getting into issues of the LGBT group, which is using gender sensitivity to leverage their position.

I spoke of the creation and gender bias against women in books. Citing research data and book classics, I said that women still have a long way to go in being viewed as the heroine. Men are typecast in that role and readers in general have accepted this status quo. 

I also emphasized that my favorite book, the Bible, makes no distinction between men and women in using God-given talents. “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith . . .” Romans 12: 6 (ESV)

Was I nonplussed in the Q and A portion when I received written questions (9 out of 10) that dwelt on LGBT, such as:

“How can I stop myself from being gay?”

“Why do you say that there are only two genders, when there are gays and lesbians.”

“What happens when a boy says he is a girl?”

Gender sensitivity is not easy to understand after all.

Trying not to sound frustrated or evasive, I reiterated that I limited my talk to the two genders because I have no opinion nor expertise on anything beyond them. I also said, gay or lesbian is not a gender, they are sexual preferences. 

Amidst my discomfort, the 10th sheet of paper came to me hurriedly through one of the teachers: “What makes you write such wonderful books?”  

 Obviously, it was to sidetrack the other 9 questions and to relieve me of my unease. As I have always experienced, grace takes up the cudgels for us at crunch time. 


Help Me

When someone you don’t know personally calls for help, what would you do?

One of my FB friends (let’s call her Precious), whom I have never met, posted this message on her homepage: help me 
My gut reaction was to reply, asking what was wrong so I could help in whatever way. But I have far too many friends on FB. (I accept all friend requests when he/she is already a friend of a friend.) Majority of them are actually strangers.

So I decided to leave Precious’ message unanswered, but I did what I could do best under the circumstances: prayed that the Lord be with her and help her.

After that message came a succession of other messages, all with her urgent call for help:

Is there someone out there?

Does anybody care?

If you read this, please text me

I can’t take it anymore

Is this the end?

I need someone . . .

There was a sputtering of replies from among her 22 FB friends, asking what was wrong. But time seemed to be running out, so I dared reply to all of Precious' pleas. My short messages were worded differently, but the gist centered on this verse:  “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NLT)

I shared my dread over Precious’ condition with my faith-sister Doreen, who felt as I felt, and decided to pray for her as well.

Three days went by and there were no more messages on her wall.

On the fourth day, my heart leaped when I read these words:

Thank you, Ma'am Grace.  Okay na po ako. May pinagdaanan kasi akong mabigat na problema. Pero, kaya ko na. (Am okay now. Went through a big problem, but I think I am over it.)

I take no credit whatsoever for Precious’ renewed strength. All I had were words, borrowed from God’s.

But the Lord’s presence and grace embraced her, cradled her, comforted her, and assured her everything would be okay.


A Beautiful Good-bye

Once there were two sisters, Nicki and Linda (not their real names), who were related neither by blood nor genes.

Nicki was the wealthy employer, well-known as the glamorous queen; Linda was the ordinary employee, unknown and unaffected.

Linda’s job required her to travel with her boss to all the world’s richest cities, where dining in exclusive places and feasting on Beverly Hills’ priciest crabs were daily fare.   

Along the way, they became friends. And further down the road, they became sisters.

What is a sister? Barbara Alpert, an author, says, “She is your mirror, shining back at you with a world of possibilities. She is your witness, who sees you at your worst and best, and loves you anyway.  She is . . . someone who knows when you are smiling, even in the dark. She is your teacher, your defense attorney, your personal press agent, even your shrink.”

Nicki, always dressed to the nines, lived in a manor, reigning over a vast network of resources; Linda, always clad in functional clothes, lived in a modest home, nothing more.

But they both supported each other and each other’s families, with a tacit pact to be traveling companions forever. In those travels, they’d tour many places of worship, but maintained their common faith in a loving God and prayed together.  

Suddenly, one day, Linda was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Nicki frequented the hospital, giving comfort; bringing flowers, food, cash, her staff—and a Bible, which Linda pored over every day.

“Hang in there,” Nicki would say, suggesting to take her to the Holy Land. She also planned on moving Linda to the best hospital with the best doctors.

But Linda demurred, not wanting to impose further and knowing it was downhill from there. It was; although the suffering stretched to months, which she spent in the humble structure she called home.

Nicki continued to be the most frequent guest, sometimes alone, sometimes with an entourage, and always with prayers for Linda. Between visits, Nicki would send an oxygen tank, dextrose pole, and speakers for Linda’s phone so she could listen to praise music. Even at midnight, Nicki’s driver or assistant would pop in to bring anything Linda might need.

On Nicki’s last visit . . .
Nicki (sobbing): Are you tired?

Linda: Yes, I'm tired.

Nicki: Why don't you rest? You keep saying you're tired, but you don't want to rest. If you have hurt someone, you can say sorry, and if somebody has hurt you, let go . . . when you get to heaven, please pray for me.

Linda: Yes, I will pray for you, I’ve always wanted you to be happy.

Nicki: Oh, thank you . . . I am, uh, leaving for Paris tomorrow.

Linda: When will you be back?

Nicki: In three weeks.

Linda: When you come back, I might not be here anymore. 

When Nicki came back, Linda had left for our Father’s home.

What is a sister? Jodi Picoult, another author, asks, “If you have a sister and she dies, do you stop saying you have one? Or are you always a sister, even when the other half of the equation is gone?”

Always a sister, Nicki is wont to say (she, the glamorous queen who stepped down from her throne for Linda; she, with a big heart that found its match in Linda’s). Because a sister is grace—till the world is no more.  

“A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” Proverbs 17:17  


Surprising Grace

My regular blood chemistry test was due two months ago. I kept postponing it because, aside from being terrified of needles and blood, I dread the results.

Something had always been amiss, like a decimal point or two. These could make you go bonkers—more meds, more needle pricks, more exercises, less food.

In those two months of postponement, I prayed and prayed for good results. So finally, I gathered enough boldness to do it or I’d get a gentle tut-tutting from my doctor.

When the piece of paper bearing the results was handed to me, I closed my eyes, trying to muster enough courage to look at my numbers. Very, very slowly I opened one eye and . . .

For the first time in three years, or more, every decimal point was within normal values. N-O-R-M-A-L.

What, a, surprise!  

I was so ecstatic I told my friend Doreen, the first person I saw in church, about my blood-test epic.  

With knitted brows she asked, “You said you prayed and prayed for it, and yet you’re surprised?”  

Ooops. I prayed and prayed because I was afraid. Yet why would God’s grace surprise me?

The Bible reminds us that Jesus calms the storms in our lives and we should never be afraid.    

“ . . . ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” Matthew 8:26 (NIV)


Kit-and-Caboodle Book Launching

“My, you have the whole kit and caboodle in your luggage! No wonder it weighs a ton,” my aunt, an American, exclaimed when I met her for the first time in Chicago.

I have never heard of, nor used, those words before. But they fascinated and charmed me. Too shy to ask what they meant, I had to find out for myself.  

Later I learned that it is an old idiom that means, “the whole thing.”  A kit is what a soldier would put in his tool-bag. Caboodle is an archaic term meaning group or collection.

Since I lived with her and my uncle for five years, my English syntax became idiomatic, too. I’d find opportunities to say kit and caboodle like a local.

Now residing in the Philippines, I have not used the idiom in decades, but it suddenly popped in my mind when the publisher of my latest book, Grace@Work, announced that it will be launched with almost 30 other new titles (for disparate target markets). 

Having been fed, for two decades, with the marketing/advertising principle to launching only one brand at a time for maximum awareness, I felt disoriented. But I am no longer a resident of that corporate world, so maybe the principles outside are different.    

Here are photos of the kit-and-caboodle book launching (to quell the unease in my head, I renamed the event thanksgiving)—cancelled during the Manila International Book Fair because of the one-day floods in Metro Manila. It finally happened on September 25.     
Surely it was an omnibus affair, dubbed "Words for Every Season," attended by the authors, their guests, the publishing board and staff, suppliers, partners, bloggers, readers, and the media. It was the launching pad of all OMFLit's front list for various audiences—children to seniors—and seasons.

I would liken it to the way the Lord blesses us—with faith in our Savior, Jesus, we receive not piecemeal grace, but the whole kit and caboodle.  

“Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks. For we know it is made acceptable by the word of God and prayer.” 1 Timothy 4:4-5 (NLT)


Book-Signing Blitz

For marketing practitioners, one ideal place for a book-signing blitz is Cebu City. Everything is five minutes away; you have the luxury of getting to several places in one day.  

We did just that over the weekend.

Mounted by my publisher, OMF Lit (Cebu branch), our book tour in two and a half days (the remaining half of my three days there was for a seminar, which deserves a separate post) covered three schools, two book stores (twice), and two book tables after two church services.  

Hectic, yes, but the rewards outweighed the punishing pace. Whose heart won’t melt with candid remarks such as these?

From kids: 

“Mateo struck me all the time! Do you have a new one that will struck [sic] me some more?”

“I learned from ‘No Lipstick for Mother’ never to be afraid of my mom.”

“You have no new devotional?! Are you too, uh, lazy to write another one?” 

“My favorite page in ‘Super Devos’ is page 1 to page 365. I like, I like, I like.” (She flips every page.)

“My name is Alysha, and you haven’t written about me yet.”

From adults: 

“‘Grace found Me’ was my companion every day for a year. Now it’s going to be ‘Grace@Work.’” (A lady in her 50’s) 

“Please sign 26 copies of ‘Grace@Work’ for the teachers in my school. Would you write something encouraging for each one?” (A young lady school administrator) 

“I need ‘Grace@Work’ to help me deal with stress.” (A gentleman engineer who works in Dubai) 

“It’s a gift for a friend of mine, but her birthday isn’t till next month, so I will have time to read it first.” (A female yuppie)

I replied, “Grace@Work’ is a devotional. You need to read only one a day so you can reflect on it.”   

“Oh, then I need to get myself one," she said, quickly taking a copy from the shelf.

There are more, all written in my memory. The term that people steeped in marketing use is book-signing blitz, but for me, it really was a blitz of grace.

"May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord." 2 Peter 1:2 (NLT)