Family Bonding

We’ve gone where the world has gone! To that dark pit where gizmos have taken the place of face-to-face encounters:

Make no mistake about it, here we are all deep into great conversations, but not with each other. When have doodads taken over our lives?

This is the theme of my new book entitled Present! While writing it, I analyzed, bit by bit, the pitfalls of being attached to a digital thingy, based on a slew of research materials. But after sending the finished manuscript to my editor, I find myself falling into the trap and modeling it.

I’m afraid my credibility may have dripped down the sewer.

After the book shall have been edited, I will read it again—not as the writer but as a reader. I think I need that book more than anybody at this point.

Ancient Roman philosopher, Marcus Tullius Cicero, couldn’t have known about technology taking over our lives today when he said, “Silence is one of the great arts of conversation.” He never reckoned with this kind of family bonding. 

Going back to Present! I am now in the midst of the next publishing stage: waiting.

After hibernating the manuscript, waiting—the longest step in the long book-writing process—for the edited manuscript can take forever. I am biting my nails as I look forward to the step after waiting: printing.

Right now I need a drink; I thirst for the calming grace of patience.  


In the Same Boat

This idiom was first used by the ancient Greeks, referring to the risks shared by all passengers in a small boat at sea. Through time, the meaning came to include all people in similar, unpleasant circumstances at sea, on land, or in the air.

Let me go back to its origin to distil the complicated concept of life storms.  

These are problems that assault us, making us feel as though we’re sinking, drowning, being beaten by the swirling waters and turbulent tides in the deep blue sea.
In such situations, we desperately call out to God for help.

When the problem continues to rip us apart, we ask, "Are you sleeping, Jesus?"

Jesus was indeed sleeping!  

In a boat with His disciples, Jesus was asleep, unmindful of the dangers that lurked around them.

"But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water . . . The disciples woke him up, shouting, 'Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown? 

“When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, 'Silence! Be still!'  Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm.

“Then he asked them, 'Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?'”

If you were in the same boat, wouldn't you be afraid, too? The possibility of drowning and dying is terrifying. 

But ah, Jesus was in the same boat, too!  The same boat being battered by waves and wind.

How easily we forget that when we suffer through harrowing experiences, He is with us. He will not allow us to sink; He calms the waves and wind.

But in truth, the real storm is not what's outside of us, but what is within us—fear. It’s gnawing fear that makes the situation seem worse; it’s our inner turmoil that needs calming.   

Jesus asks, "Do you still have no faith?"

Jesus is in the same boat. And if He is, should we be fearful? Should we even worry?

May His grace continue to steady and strengthen our fledgling faith. 

(Quoted verses: Mark 4:37-40 NLT)

Photo credit: Painting by Ludolf Bakhuizen, 1695



I've been blessed with two wise, thinking bosses, from whom I have learned a lot.  (I omit from this post the creative, unstructured ones who honed my right brain.) 

The first, Abaja, often turned on the light for me when I was still in the corporate world. Much of how my left brain behaves today I credit to him.

The second, Leo, is also a switchman. He regularly clicks the “on” of my academic light bulb.

He opened my eyes to the word kenosis. “Emptying,” he said.

We were talking about problem students—those whose plates are full with too many issues, all big in their mind, and therefore have no space even for a small serving of classroom lessons.

“Only when one’s mind is emptied of issues can he listen again,” he said. Those were not Leo's exact words, but that was the lesson I chose to learn.

This flashed back to my first guru. Before he retired he said, “I don't want to be somebody anymore. I just want to be nobody.”  From his FB posts, I have no doubt that emptying has done him wonders. 

Christians believe that self-emptying is the ethic of Jesus. He waived all privileges in His place of glory so He could be with us, like us, on earth. This self-sacrifice was for the redemption and salvation of all humanity.

Apostle Paul in fact urged the Philippians to imitate Christ's self-emptying. He issued a call for humility and for Christians to imitate Christ. “. . . he gave up his divine privileges; took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” Philippians 2:7-8 (NLT)

Uncanny how two bosses from two different worlds speak of kenosis—one in a corporate arena; the other, in an academic hub.  

Is it at all possible for modern man to be Christ-like and empty himself of worldly trappings and desires?

Only by grace.


The Book, the Play, the Joy

The book: 

Originally written in English, No Lipstick for Mother won first prize in the Palanca Awards 2005.  It was re-told in Filipino by my friend, Dr. Luis P. Gatmaitan, a Palanca hall-of-fame awardee and a well-loved children’s book author. 
Both book versions (illustrated by Kora Dandan-Albano) have since delighted hundreds, hopefully thousands by now, of young readers here and abroad.

I wrote it to empower women. It focuses on the outer beauty that the world acknowledges (symbolized by lipstick) versus the unfading inner beauty God wants women to cherish.

March being National Women’s Month in the Philippines, I thought it might be relevant to re-visit the book.    

The Play:

No Lipstick for Mother is now also a stage play!

Not in English, not in Filipino, but in Cebuano.

It was produced in Cebu by Childlink Learning Center and Childlink High School Inc. Directed by no less than the school’s directress, Maria Theresa F. Tio, the play delighted young and old audiences alike.

I wish I had watched it. But Manila and Cebu are a flight apart. If only I had been able to conjure a magic carpet, I’d have turned myself into Aladdin. 

The Joy: 

Photos of the play arrived via email—images I would keep and treasure as priceless and precious possessions.

As soon as I saw them, I rose from my computer chair and gave the cast and crew a standing ovation.

Literature and drama are two different art forms. But what thrills me most about the book is that the story lent itself well to 3-D movements and songs, and that, aside from readers, it had been able to send the message to a live audience. 

Before March ends, may all my cyber friends be granted the grace of joy in celebrating National Women's Month.

"Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.” 1 Peter 3:3-4 (NLT) 


Serpent vs. Serpent

While reading my chronological Bible, I found a strange story that made me sit up, ponder and wonder. It’s found in Numbers 21:4-9.

The people of Israel complained again (for the umpteenth time) and God again (!) punished them.  Even after being severely punished over and over by God for past disobedience, they never learned their lesson.

This time, the Lord sent fiery serpents that bit people to their death.  

And as he did many times before, Moses begged the Lord to spare the people. God, in his infinite patience, again relented. He provided a very specific, odd remedy to save them.

God instructed Moses to make a fake fiery serpent made of bronze and set it on a pole. He said that anyone who looked at it will live.

Moses did just that.

Now, why would God use a serpent to save the people from the serpent? Why would He tell Moses to make an image of the very thing that was killing his people?

This must have been the same questions asked by some of the stubborn Israelites who simply refused to look—and died. 

But those who looked upon the bronze serpent with the eyes of faith lived, even as the serpent’s venom was already draining life from their bodies.

Many years later, however, the reigning king, Hezekiah, destroyed the bronze serpent after consultation with God. Why?

Over time, it morphed into an object of idolatrous worship—it had become a god. People burned incense before it and worshiped it, instead of God.  What was meant to be good was turned into evil.

That is the story of our lives.

In the beginning, Adam and Eve were given a paradise. But they believed a serpent more than God. Again and again, despite umpteenth chances, man keeps falling into evil ways.

That’s why over two thousand years ago, God gave sinful men the ultimate Grace on a cross: His only Son became sin so that through Him we will have a chance to be in paradise with God. 

Those who gaze upon that cross with the eyes of faith will be healed from the scourge of sin and live with Jesus forever.    

"God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God.”  Ephesians 2:8 (NLT)

Photo: Moses and the Brazen Serpent, 1898, Augustus John (1878–1961), Oil on canvas



Deposit it inside a drawer for hibernation . . . 
That's what I just did with the manuscript of my latest book.

This is the step in my writing that I take very seriously. This is also the time when I spend my time doing nothing except celebrating. Hence, as has been my ritual on this blogsite when I celebrate, my header changes:

From here . . .

To here . . .

Am I making sense?

Not at all, not to anyone.

This one's all about my personal writing process, which some people may find odd. 

After furiously writing for months—writing, re-writing, revising, re-revising, editing, re-editing, printing the draft, tearing it up, re-printing, editing again—I finally come to a version I am comfortable with. But before I send it to my editor, I send it to a drawer to hibernate for at least two weeks.

During such time, I forget about it.

After the silent two weeks, I read it again.

And I see them! Them are those errors or lapses that escaped me. How did I ever miss them? Duh. 

They glare at me saying, "Work, work, work some more!"

And I obey. I tweak and twist, push and pull all day, all night.  

Then off to my editor the manuscript goes, right on time for my deadline.

There are many more steps and more months before the manuscript becomes a book, if it all, but that's another saga I will blog about some other time.

Meanwhile, let me dwell in the grace of my manuscript's hibernation.

"With all my heart I will praise you, O Lord my God. I will give glory to your name forever . . ."  Psalm 86:12 (NLT)

By the way, in case you’re interested, my book's working title is "Present!"


Big Best Breakfast

Have you been treated to a blast of blessings all at once?

I was. And I asked myself, What did I do to deserve this? 

Amidst months of busy, busy days, over the weekend Tony and I traveled to the place where I grew up, bringing along with us my best cuzzin Minna who was visiting from New York after a long while.   

The landscape has changed, like it always does when I make those rare trips home.  The new highway cut our traveling time down to half; instead of lean-tos, new Manila-like shops lined the streets. The dirt bends and the trees of my youth have aged beyond recognition. 

Yet, the fervor of family get-togethers remained the same. My siblings and their spouses, who likewise all went home for this impromptu cuzzin-welcome, met us with warm how-wonderful-to-see-you-again hugs, coupled with digital clicks.

We had grand activities like visiting a mountain resort and kunol-kunol (translation: chats with disjointed sentences and laughter on any topic that comes to mind), but none more magnificent than the big best breakfast that extended up to lunch before we said our good-byes. 

My brother Dave and his wife, Gladys, live in a manor with an herb garden for a backyard. There we spent the night and in the morning, we were surprised by an all-natural breakfast, with a platter of omelets courtesy of their duck farm—prepared with TLC by the two of them.

“Eat, eat,” I ordered our special guest, Minna, who, like me, was dazed by the array of food.

“My heart is full,” she said, digging in. 

Grace is like that. It feels your heart, my heart, even if I didn’t do anything to deserve it.


How Intelligent Are You?

Intelligence is an extremely complex subject. 
There are IQ tests that measure intelligence, but debates are raging over their flaws.

In fact, Guinness retired the "Highest IQ" category in 1990 after concluding IQ tests are too unreliable to designate a single record holder.

But I am writing about two of those found with the highest IQs because I find them fascinating:  

One is a Korean named Kim Ung-yong, born in 1963, with an IQ of 210.

He started speaking at the age of six months and was able to read Japanese, Korean, German, English and many other languages by his third birthday.

At age four, he had memorized about 2000 words in both English and German. At age eight, he was invited by America’s NASA and conducted research work for 10 years. He also received a Ph.D in Physics at Colorado State University a few years later.

But at age 13, Kim was burnt out and returned to his homeland. He shocked everyone by choosing an ordinary office work. Apparently, people expected him to reach the moon. But he says, “I have found my bliss.”  

The other genius, James William Sidis, an American (1898-1944), was credited to have an IQ of 250-300. At age two, he could read English; at age four, he was typing original work in French. A year later, he had devised a formula to accurately name the day of the week for any given date. At eight, he projected a new logarithms table based on the number twelve.

James entered Harvard at age 12 and graduated cum laude.  By this time, he could speak and read fluently French, German, Russian, Greek, Latin, Armenian and Turkish.

At some point in his life, however, James said, “I am tired of thinking.” He took on obscure mechanical jobs that paid just enough for his subsistence.

The lives of these two geniuses show us that intelligence, like everything else we own on earth, does not bring on happiness or success. 

The road to eternal joy and pleasures is Jesus, the Grace birthed for us in a lowly manger thousands of years ago. Without Grace, all that we have on earth burns out. 

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”  Psalm 16:11

Photo credit: smitsonianmag.com