Adrian, the smart little boy who happens to be my one and only grandson, blew into town, blessing us with the privilege of doting on him for two weeks. Now, that's what I'd call a windfall!   

He calls me Amah (Chinese honorific for mom of my dad). And because I follow and take pictures of him wherever he goes, he also calls me Amahrazzi. He could be right; I charged my camera battery more than a thousand times during the 14 days he spent with us.

My husband and two sons in the country had to cram into those precious days everything we wanted to do with this tiny dynamo in one year and eight months—the length of time we haven’t seen him.

All told, we went to four museums, three amusement parks, a zoo, countless restaurants, game centers, and took him through a few cultural heritage tours to get to know more about his native land.

He also spent time feeding JC's guinea pigs; talking to Attorney, the dog; painting; playing Rambo and Indiana Jones with JR’s driver and Ate Vi—TV some, reading lots.  

Only eight years old, he knows more than many adults about the Philippines. He uses words like “simulated” and “privacy” and I didn’t have to bother explaining anything. “Amah, I know what diorama is.”

He asks difficult questions. So we try to give him correct and complete answers, an SOP with his parents. Sadly, he has outgrown my storybooks (for ages 8-12); he’s now into thick books written by the likes of James Patterson. But he humored me by listening to my stories at bedtime after saying his prayer.  

Even an Amahrazzi can’t get enough photos of this super-active tyke, our boss. So I decided to simply store those images in my memory bank, for as long as it holds (before succumbing to the scourge of aging, dementia).

He has gone back “home” with his parents, who make him toe the line. For someone who is growing up in America, where freedom reigns and rings, Adrian does not talk back to his dad, mom, and elders, and he is good-natured, disciplined, full of humor, and shows pakikisama (translation: affability).   

He is no pushover, though. He speaks his mind, but doesn’t go beyond limits. 

When I asked him about Sunday School, he said, “Papa and mama are still looking for a church.” They had just moved to a new state before flying to the Philippines.

I am sure that God, in his infinite mercy and grace, will lead him to a place of worship where he will find faith friends with whom he can learn about His great love for His children. 

Our prayers go with you and your parents, Adrian! Ti Dios aluadan na ka. (Translation: the Lord bless you and keep you.)


The Greatest Play Ever Written (4)

After three posts on nondescript Bible characters, let's shine the spotlight on one major player: Thomas.

A very compelling scene in the New Testament was when Jesus, after his crucifixion, appeared alive and glorified to His disciples to comfort them and proclaim to them the good news of His victory over death. (John 20:19-29)

Thomas was not there. After being told by the others about Jesus' resurrection and personal visit, Thomas doubted.  He wanted physical proof of the risen Lord for him to believe! 

This scene is re-enacted every day among non-believers. The list of celebrity atheists, for instance, is long. The list grows exponentially if we include the elite intelligentsia and the scientists, who probe or conduct experiments to validate hypotheses. They vehemently deny the existence of God because they have not seen Him.  

To see is to believe.

So many doubting Thomases walk this earth, it is alarming. What's equally alarming is that Christians suffer doubt, too, sometimes. Here's where Thomas serves as our mirror. He provides both instruction and encouragement.

Thomas experienced doubt in the face of the heartbreaking loss of the One he loved. His faith weakened.

When we face a massive loss or a crisis (heartbreak, life-threatening disease, death of someone dear to us, and grief), and our faith weakens, too, may we be comforted with the thought that Christ knows what we are going through.

Jesus did not have to prove anything, nor was obligated to Thomas. After all, they had spent three years working together. Thomas saw with his own eyes all of His miracles; he heard with his own ears Jesus' prophecies about His death and resurrection. Furthermore, Thomas received the news from the other disciples about Jesus' return. These should have been enough proofs.

But no. He had to see to believe.

Why did Jesus accommodate Thomas? He knew his weakness, just as He knows our human frailty.    

Once Thomas saw the scars, he proclaimed in faith, “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28). Jesus commended him for his faith, although that faith was based on sight.

Jesus further encourages us in John 20:29, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." He meant that in His physical absence, He would send the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who would live within believers from then on, enabling us to believe that which we do not see with our eyes.

So how do we keep from doubting as Thomas did? “Pray and read,” our pastor stressed in his message one Sunday. "Times of doubt will become less frequent if we talk to God in prayer and feed our faith with His Word."

The cast of characters in the Bible is, no doubt whatsoever, a cast of grace.

Note: This is the fourth in a series of eight posts on “The Greatest Play Ever Written.” 


Why I Write for Children

(This post was originally written for the OMFLit blog page to celebrate National Children's Book Day, today. I am re-posting it here for my cyber friends.)

Many people think that writing for children is easier than writing for adults. It is not.

I’ve been writing a story on patriotism for years, but failing. To adults, patriotism is love for country, but how do you translate that to kids?

I believe children’s book authors should reduce complex, abstract concepts into simple, concrete images that children can embrace and not misread.

Storybooks for children are deceptively simple. But one needs keener sensitivity and wilder imagination to write them. It takes me an infinitely longer time to write a children’s story than an essay for adults of the same length.

So why insist on writing for children when I can choose writing only “real” books?

Years ago, before leaving the corporate world, I joined the Palanca Awards. Among the competition categories was “Short Story for Children” which required inculcating family and Filipino values in readers aged 8 to 12. That hooked me.

If I were to write for children at all, I mused, I should not simply spin daydreams. The mom in me, too busy to read even one storybook to my three sons when they were little, vowed to write the books I wish I had read to them: stories where they would find tools to love God and His wonderful creation.


Beyond that, I was moved to dip into and share the myriad of bittersweet experiences I had as a child and as a mom. They bounced off my head, and I wrote my first storybook that won my first Palanca award, first prize.

Fifteen years later . . .

The first book in “Happy Home” series—Coming Home—will be launched this July, during the National Children’s Book Day. The series is published by Hiyas, the children’s book imprint of OMF Literature.

Happy Home series revolves around the Zambrano family.  A family is a special household of different people who model what Jesus said, “Love each other as I have loved you.”  No problem is too big nor too small.  A father, a mother, three children (two by blood and one adopted) and a loyal househelp: They worship a loving God and are happy together!

It took me almost a year to write the books in the Happy Home series, and took even longer to polish. Vividly illustrated by Leo Kempis-Ang, these books—and those still to come—hope to make kids value their own family.

If one child can catch that lifelesson, I couldn’t be more blessed.

(This was scheduled for launching at the International Book Fair in September last year, but due to some snags, it was moved to December 20. Another roadblock delayed it. Finally, finally, it's here! Grace defies schedules—it can come anytime and we are grateful, always.)


The Greatest Play Ever Written (3)

Oddballs playing cameo roles are thrown in the Bible here and there. What is their significance? If at all. 

These character actors are woven in and out of small scenes, with fleeting walk-on parts on the stage’s apron, or treated like props of major actors.

We’ve watched hot-tempered Korah, the rebel leader; Alishama, the serious scribe; and now, let’s look closely at an entirely different creature—humongous King Og.

King Og of Bashan was the last survivor of the Rephaim (Hebrew for giants).  Meaning, there were giants like him but they had all perished in wars against the Israelites.

How big was he? Definitely much bigger than Goliath, whom we meet much later during David’s time.

Og’s bed was made of iron and was more than thirteen feet long and six feet wide. Today, he’d make a great basketball player.

We meet Og in the Bible just after the powerful Amorite King Sihon of Heshbon was ruined by the Israelites.  Og was not cowed. He knew he was even more powerful and desired no peace. He trusted his own strength, which hardened his heart. Not even the slaying of all the other giants of Bashan weakened his spirit.

Formidable as he was with his bulk and size, Og led out his whole army to meet the Israelites in battle.

This was the scene that confronted Moses. But the Lord told Him in Deuteronomy 3: 2 (NLT), “'Do not be afraid of him, for I have given you victory over Og and his entire army, and I will give you all his land . . .” ” 

And so Og was killed, his whole kingdom totally captured; his walled cities, fortified towns, and locked gates wholly destroyed. The Israelites kept all his livestock and everything else of value.

Og, "whose height was like the height of the cedars, whose strength was like the oaks,” became his conquerors’ monument of greatness, and their work was done.

It had to be an Og, a ferocious giant, to show believers through all generations that no enemy is too big to vanquish if God is with us.

No sin is too big for God’s grace to turn into nothing. Just believe; just receive.

Note: This is the third in a series of eight posts on "The Greatest Play Ever Written.


The Greatest Play Ever Written (2)

Elishama who?!

He is another one of those cryptic characters in the great God-breathed play, the Bible. The thing that makes Elishama noteworthy is not really because he is noteworthy—his role is extremely minor.

In fact, we do not know much about Elishama, who was a scribe/secretary mentioned briefly in Scripture (Jeremiah 36:12). I tried to research on who he was, but found nothing.

What makes this vague Bible character noteworthy is the extra-biblical evidence that have recently been found of him—and therefore, the historical reliability of Scripture.

From biblehistory.net I gleaned this:

In 1975, 44 miles outside Jerusalem, 250 clay seals were found. “These small lumps of clay that are impressed with a seal, in ancient times served as an official signature for an individual. The clay seals were then attached to documents to identify the sender. Amazingly, among the seals that were found were the names of three Biblical figures mentioned in the 36th chapter of the book of Jeremiah.” 

Printed on one of the seals is, “Elishama, servant of the king.” 

What other concrete proof do we need that Elishama was really a scribe in the exact time, setting, and situation that the Bible describes? Lawyers would call this hard evidence. Scripture is indeed God-breathed, even down to the smallest detail and minor characters!

God makes His presence felt in incalculable ways and through inexhaustible grace. That Elishama actually existed is just one of them.

Note: This is the second in a series of eight posts on “The Greatest Play Ever Written.”


The Greatest Play Ever Written (1)

What delights me most about my chronological Bible (Christmas gift from JC) is that it is arranged like it were a play, beginning with Act 1, Scene 1.

It brings back memories of my years at the Art Institute of Chicago as a student in performing arts. It makes me look at each Bible persona as a character, with a role to play, no matter how small, that brings the story to the last act and finally, the ending.

All characters were written in by the Playwright to represent real-life characters relevant through all generations.
One of these characters is Korah.

I glossed over this obscure man in my regular Bible. But on stage, he comes on strong.

Korah was a rubble rouser, like the loud-voiced oppositionists who find everything wrong with their leaders in government.

Korah raised up a mob of Israelites to oppose Moses’ leadership—he questioned why Moses was God's only spokesperson.

Guess what happened next. God caused a massive but localized earthquake that caused Korah and his underlings to fall off from the face of the earth.   

“The earth opened its mouth and swallowed the men, along with their households and all their followers who were standing with them, and everything they owned.” Numbers 16:32 (NLT) 

This scenario won’t happen to the Korahs on earth today, but his is a hopeful story. It points us to the end of characters who oppose God's anointed.

If you were a play director, whom would you cast as Korah in this modern world?

Many come to mind. Just think of all the rebel leaders in countries that deposed their elected officers, or those who cry, "Impeach, impeach!" 

The intent of the master Playwright in including characters in cameo roles boggles the mind. He never missed out on details—those tiny touches that bring the epic play into our consciousness, relevant to the core.

Christians know the ending of this play. It is both tragic and triumphant. It’s tragic for those who don't believe in Christ as the only way to life everlasting.

It’s triumphant, ending happily ever after, for those who have accepted, and will accept, the grace of forgiveness from our Lord Jesus, and believe in Him as their Savior before they leave this earth or before He comes again. 

Note: This is the first in a series of eight posts on “The Greatest Play Ever Written.” 


The Basic Bible Message

"The Bible is nothing but a compilation of speculations, inconsistencies, long-winded stories, and unproven theories written by mortals,” an unbeliever said with derision.

In one blow, he tried to ruin God’s Word—the foundation of my faith. 

For those who do not believe in Scripture as God-breathed, the message is actually very simple. But it is interestingly told in stories upon stories, in 66 books, about betrayal and loyalty, failures and successes, joy and grief, through the most unlikely characters that span many generations until the coming of the Messiah.  

In one sentence, this is the basic Bible message:

Man was completely ruined in sin, and therefore cannot save himself; only by the power of God’s grace, through Jesus, can he be saved.“And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Acts 2:21 (NIV)

It is a humbling message that the human mind, especially one exposed to volumes of theories and ideologies, would not naturally think up.

When left to himself, man invents an ideology he can prove and believe in. Most of these ideologies espouse that man is not completely sinful and that he can somehow, in some way, save himself—and that there is no such thing as heaven or hell. These are proud thoughts of human beings. We don't naturally, in humility, admit our failings. 

This I believe: the authors of the Bible were controlled not by their own spirits but by God's Holy Spirit. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)

Only through this same Holy Spirit can anyone understand the Bible for what it truly is.

But then, again, if a person does not believe in the basic message of the Bible, all arguments are moot.

Lord, in a world of open ideas, help your children to keep the faith. Amen.


Rose’s Rainbow

My friend Rose loves music—so much that she can sing, play the keyboard, and compose songs in a wink. She conducts the choir in her home church and she wrote and put to music our university hymn.

One day last week, I showed her the photo of my latest painting while she hummed a tune. Suddenly, she said, “Grace, would you paint me a rainbow with notes on it?”

It is a drastic departure from the series I am working on—flowers and butterflies. But I asked, “When is your birthday?”

I couldn’t refuse a friend, especially one who was singing hosannas to my handiwork. In a moment of madness I promised, “I’ll do one in time for your special day.”

She belted out a song of grace. 

A week later, the news about the SCOTUS legalizing same-sex marriage was the biggest topic in all the world. On FB and social media, the rainbow became an icon. My gay friends and everyone sympathetic to the Supreme Court decision changed their profile photos to one with a rainbow.

The very next day, as soon as I saw Rose, I told her, “I have to apologize. I cannot paint your rainbow.” 

Thinking I had other things to do, she said, “That’s okay, do it when you’re less busy.”

“No, Rose, I cannot paint a rainbow at this time when people equate it with the same-sex marriage issue,” I replied, slowly explaining to her my stand.

In the Bible, the rainbow is the beautiful sign of God’s covenant with Noah and every living creature “. . . that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth [Genesis 9:8-15].”

At the moment, however, it has taken a different turn. I will not paint a rainbow, not while the sign has been skewed and, pardon the word, bastardized.     

“Oh, please don’t!” she said almost in hysterics, sharing my sentiments. Regaining her composure, she smiled, “Paint me a rose instead.”

I will start painting Rose’s rose tomorrow—it will have a butterfly in it. And possibly a musical note or two.

But no rainbow.

“Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman, ' for she was taken out of man." For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”  Genesis 2:22-24


The Boss Is in Town!

My one and only grandchild, Adrian, has planed in from the US. I can't imagine a more exciting month! It's grace beyond telling.

All of eight years, he'll turn our world delightfully upside down. Everything and everyone take a back seat while he's around.   

"Children are a gift from the Lordthey are a reward from him. Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands." Psalm 127:3-4 (NLT)