Present! A Present

Midway into writing a funny book about the workplace, I was given a “pressing, priority project titled Present!” by my publisher, OMFLit.

“Meet Stef,” said Yna, publications director. “She has proposed a book on millennials, and we think you should write it. She’ll be your editor.”

She is no more than a baby! I thought. Preppy and pretty, and yes, a millennial, Stef smiled, sans the guile battle-scarred people have mastered over the years. 

When I came to, I dumped the book I was working on and started writing Present!

Stef proved to be much wiser than her age, and I worried whether I was the right author, being light years away from her generation. But, Hey, I chided myself, you hobnob with millennials  twice a week—in a university on a Tuesday and in church on a Sunday.

As what usually happens when I’m in a writing frenzy, the ride toward the finish line is obstructed by roadblocks and detours. I got hospitalized, my computer acted up, and you-wouldn’t-want-to-know. 

Somewhere between pre-printing and pre-launching, Stef got hospitalized, too. Other you-wouldn’t-want-to-know jams arose as well.

But, ahhh, the printed book arrived just before my last day of class for the term. As I bade my students goodbye, I told them about the book and flashed my last slide on screen:

Awwww, they chorused.

That dedication page sums up how the world is scrambling to understand this tech-savvy Gen Y, whose digital world has changed the rules of the games played by all generations before them.

Present! was present at the right time and the right place. Perfect, 100% grace. 

The launching coincided with the 40th anniversary banquet of my home church, so I was absent at that event. Instead, God made it possible for me to be present at the 36th Manila International Book Fair where Present! was presented to the public as a present for the first time.

How was it like writing the book? I ended it thus:

“Through it all, I grew younger and older at the same time, making me feel ageless and generation-less in the process. I thought that maybe, just maybe, the Lord gave me a glimpse of eternity?”

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28 (NLT)


In One Word, Rules

What does grammar mean in one word?


That is how I try to simplify my introduction to the English Language in my Business Communications class or any Business English class I handle. Many will disagree and say that no language has rules since languages started out without them.

But because clarity is key in business, and English is the international business language, people have to follow sets of rules to be able to understand each other and work together. 

Grammar is actually the structure and system of a language, considered to consist of syntax. Although all languages evolve over time (try reading Shakespeare and Steinbeck side-by-side), there are universally accepted rules to facilitate communication.

There must be over a million rules, and many more are exception to those rules. So how can anyone remember all of them?

This is when I say to my class, “Grammar is not memorization; it is familiarization.

“And familiarization requires reading. So reading and grammar are like chopsticks. You can’t use one without the other.”


“The best writers in the world became the way they are because they read,” I add. “They may not be able to mouth the rules, but they follow them because they are familiar with them.”

More groans.

Then I quote someone they all know (I hope!), Edgar Allan Poe: “A man's grammar, like Caesar's wife, should not only be pure, but above suspicion of impurity.”

This is my simple spiel semester after semester about grammar and reading. By grace, I am able to repeat it, like a fresh idea that has come out of my mouth for the very first time.    

 photo credit: www.rvrma.org


Spelling Disease

A madness among young parents, which is contagious like a disease, has become endemic on our shores.   

They bestow upon their newborn a name so unique only they can spell it. Not content with that, they add a second name (or a third) that is just as difficult to spell.

This has become a major problem for institutions who issue certificates, passports, IDs, and other legal documents.

In our medical transcription school, for instance, we need some government bureaus to issue certificates to our graduates. And it never fails—unusual names are misspelled. So we need to get the certificates re-done, going through the long process over and over again. Sometimes it takes up to four revisions before their names are spelled the way their parents want it.

One example is Jennifer. It is normally spelled with two N's and one F. But our student's parents decided that it should be spelled with one N and two F's.

Another example is Katerhinne, with a second name that is the acronym of two sets of grandparents. I will not even attempt to spell that. The first name is confusing enough.
Take the name James. It should be quite easy to spell, but some spell it as Jhames, some Jaymes, some Jaimmes, and some Jaymz.  Go figure.

I am helping curb this disease. 

Whenever I am asked to be a sponsor in a wedding (in this country, a sponsor is called a ninang or ninong, terms of endearment that come with a moral obligation—becoming  the couple's second parents, to whom they may run for advice), I go to work.

I invite the betrothed couple to dinner, where I give a most profound advice (not those love-each-other-till-kingdom-come; or, patch-up-differences-before-going-to-bed; or, be-each-other's-best- friend, etc.)

"Give your child a name that anyone can spell.” And as a P.S. I beg, "Please give him or her only one name."

Politely they laugh, but surely thinking I am encroaching upon their parental rights. Well, tough luck. They have given me parental rights, too, as their second parent!

To my cyber friends, if you are about to be a parent and are reading this, a unique, hard-to-spell name for your future child will give you nightmares so severe you'll forever regret naming him thus.

I thank my parents for naming me Grace, spelled the way it should be. It’s been mispronounced, yes, but never misspelled.

Just as God's grace is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.


The Greatest Play Ever Written (7)

Much talk has been devoted on Senator Grace Poe, a foundling. She and her supporters have taken advantage of the poignant story of her origins to gain voters' sympathy. And now she has announced her desire to be the next president of the Philippines.

In ancient times, God used a foundling to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt: Moses. 

Let’s zoom in on the woman who found him, who stood between him and death—the mother without a name. She is simply called the Pharoah’s daughter.

This unidentified female, whose name nobody knows, was the only mother Moses really knew. The Bible preserves her anonymity even though she was instrumental to the fate of the Israelite nation.

What kind of a woman would save a baby from a terrible death and care for him although he was a Hebrew? 

An Egyptian, she was an idolater who worshiped the sun. Yet in mothering Moses, she was above the pagan plane—even above the cruelty of her pagan father. At the risk of losing her favor with the Pharaoh who had decreed the killing of all male Hebrew babies, she felt compassion for the baby she found in the bulrushes.

Imagine that beautiful scene . . . 

When the Pharaoh’s daughter was presented with the baby in the basket, the babe bawled, and she must have felt concern for the baby’s welfare and secured as his nurse, until he was weaned, the baby’s real mother, Jochabed.

Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the river at the hour that she did. In God’s play, she, a pagan princess, would save and deliver the child who would become one of the Bible’s greatest heroes.

For 40 years, this princess-without-a-name cared for and educated Moses, giving him all the privileges of a son of the royal court, surrounded with wealth and luxury.

His education would later help Moses write the first five books of the Bible and the Mosaic law. In his education, we have evidence of God’s hand in the shaping of the future of Israel’s great leader.

Like any mother, she must have grieved when Moses killed an Egyptian. Because after that, she could no longer protect her son, who had to flee Egypt to save his life.

We wonder, did they ever see each other again? Was she still alive when, 40 years later, Moses returned to Egypt as the mighty deliverer of the Israelite nation?  We will never know.

All we know, as cast by God in the greatest play ever written, is that she was a kindhearted Egyptian princess, a noble and tender woman who was God’s vessel of grace in a cruel time.

(Note: This is the 7th in a series of eight blog posts on The Greatest Play Ever Written.)

photo credit: from the movie Ten Commandments


Disturbing Films, Disturbing World

Reality hits you hard between the eyes when you watch Philippine indie films. They depict life as raw as it can get, not the life I choose to see—or the life within the four corners of the organized church.

Evil is out there; it is around us. No matter how we delude ourselves into believing there is innate good in people, there is, even more so, innate bad in people.

After The Fall in that idyllic garden, man’s nature has been—to use an overused phrase—between the devil and the deep blue sea.

At the Cinemalaya Festival, this beastly nature is dramatized, and this is what I make time to watch once a year. As an author, I can’t sterilize nor sensitize myself from the fallen world, where I write about grace.

Cinemalaya 2015, for one whole day (from 10 Am to 11 PM), offered me and my friends one full-length film, 21 shorts (all gritty), and two documentaries.
In this dark world where Jesus was born into, He offered light through His life, death, and resurrection.

The themes of all 24 well-crafted films revolved around homosexuality, idolatry, mental illness, theft, treachery, assassination, and drug addiction, most of them ending sadly ever after. To my relief, the full-length film, ended on a hopeful note and the two documentaries inspired:

Titser (Mukha): A Biology graduate from a prestigious university, who was set to become a doctor, decides instead to be a public school teacher in a depressed area.

The Boy Who Cried Books: A young man, with bipolar disorder, sells books on the sidewalk to earn for a college education. This one particularly touched me because the main character’s wares were books, the center of my working life today.

In our world—painted powerfully by the Indies—the good news of the gospel is the only hope.  Christian authors and Bible-believing Christians need to share this hope in joint and distinct voices to be heard.  

Lord, help us to find our voices and make it heard in this disturbed and disturbing world. Amen. 


Sunny with a Chance of Rain

This weather forecast comes with a forewarning. 

I would often hear it in the spring when I was living in the US. Although the day would be sunny, there was no escaping the rainfall. So I’d grab an umbrella before heading off to school. 
Life isn’t like a weather forecast. It doesn’t forewarn. We bask in the rays of a glorious sun, then rain suddenly pours—anytime. Therefore, you aren’t prepared with an umbrella to keep you from getting soaked.

But life is exactly that—it is sunny with a chance of rain.

We’re finally home from the hospital where Tony was confined for five days due to a stroke. Looking back and reflecting on it, there was zero forewarning.

After leaving his office that day, doing errands along the way, he came home and asked the driver to go home as well. Then as soon as I was ready, he drove me to church for a prayer meeting.

Less than half an hour later, he called saying he was having signs of a stroke. The rain fell; end of our sunny day.

I know that in a world with free will, we make our own choices, and we can’t get around the fact that troubles come. However, God has a perfect will for us that includes all kinds of protection and grace—like umbrella from life’s rains.

Now in our own bed, Tony thought aloud, “My doctor's order of take-it-easy-for-another-five days is more of prevention. Even if everything seems fine, there’s a chance for another stroke.”

“Like a sunny day with a chance of rain,” I replied.

I recall what our pastor at the prayer meeting was saying before I received Tony’s fateful phone call. 

Pastor: “Anything we receive that takes us away from God is a curse. Inversely, anything we receive that draws us closer to Him is a blessing.”

Our hospital residence wasn’t exactly Shangrila-suite, but called a suite just the same, with functional amenities.

And to our surprise, after all discounts and privileges, our “staycation” cost no more than a family-size pizza!

God had been our Umbrella when it rained. And He will be, when (not if) it rains again.

"The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life." Psalm 121:7 (NLT)

photo credit: vatuma.com


Alien Hand

My husband had just dropped me off in church for a prayer meeting. While I was intently listening to our pastor’s exhortation, he called.

In his usual monotone he said, "Call our driver. He has to take me to the hospital because I am having signs of a stroke."

I died.

I didn’t have to call our driver. In a prayer meeting, there are more than enough driver volunteers. At the Emergency Room, I listened as Tony described to the doctor what happened.

“My left hand was doing things I didn’t ask it to. It seemed like an alien hand. But after a few seconds, I realized it was mine and my right hand reined it in. I called my Neuro doctor-friend, who advised me to go the nearest hospital immediately because it seemed like a stroke.”

Alien Hand Syndrome. That began our five-day saga in this hospital. It was a stroke, although a transient one. No visible permanent damage, but the doctor wants to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. Some injections, some IV drips, some pills, a CT Scan, and strict bed rest for five days.

Plus lots of griping. Tony was booked to fly to Xiamen today to visit his roots. I could taste his intense disappointment. My heart crumbled.

But calls, text messages, and prayers from our sons, kin, and friends are gluing my heart whole again. Second son, a physician in the US, made calls to Tony’s doctor.

Nobody can ask for more grace.

There were two other instances when I also died after receiving Tony’s phone call.

One, in 1993, he said he had checked himself in the hospital for immediate surgery because of stage 3 colon cancer.

Two, in 2002, he said he had to undergo heart bypass because his andiogram result showed blocked arteries.

And now three, a stroke.

But tomorrow, after his last shots and IV drip, we shall be discharged from this place where we learned what ailed him—Alien Hand.

Famously known as Dr. Strangelove Syndrome, from the old movie entitled Dr. Strangelove, Alien Hand is a neurological disorder where the affected person’s own hand has its own free will or mind of its own. It is also a phenomenon that can result from a brain surgery or a stroke.

I believe it was a divine sign for him to call a friend, and rushing him to the hospital, where we have been residents these five days, was the right thing to do at the right time.

Let’s just say this is my 3rd earthly resurrection, filling my heart with joy and thanksgiving. Three  preludes to my heavenly one.

". . .I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying." John 11:25 (NLT)


My Most-Liked Photo

Last summer, I was into painting.

I still am, but not as much as I was in the last two months. My real life has taken over once again.

The summer of 2015 was a fluke. Life came to a halt. I was on a waiting mode—waiting for classes to begin, for my manuscripts to come back from my editor, for my new books to be launched, and coincidentally, I purposely freed up my schedule so I could spend all my time with my grandson, Adrian, who was scheduled to come home for a visit from the US.

Painting was timely grace to keep my adrenaline pumping or I’d go insane.

I’ll never be a Leonardo da Vinci, I thought, but dreams are free, so I might as well splurge!  

One of the art museums to where Tony and I took our Adrian was interactive. The many interesting art pieces are what photography buffs might call “to die for.” But Adrian took my camera and was all over the place, making us pose here and there, and clicking away. “Don’t move, Amah!”

Among all the shots he took of me and Tony, my most-liked photo, which I am sure defines me, is this:
I uploaded it to Facebook and to my surprise, the number of “like” from friends and foe kept rising by the second. It is my most-liked photo to date, bar none.

Mona Lisa, the most recognized, most written about, most sung about, most talked about, most parodied painting in the world, never fails!

Everything, however, is wrong about the photo. The real Mona Lisa painting is much smaller at only 30 inches x 21 inches. Still, when I saw it at the Musée du Louvre in Paris sometime ago, it took my breath away. Alas, it was cordoned off from fans and gawkers.

But Adrian’s shot of a Mona Lisa rip-off and me, makes my dream come true. I need not grow up to be a Leonardo da Vinci!

Here's the real deal, though—how the painting actually looks. It comes with a matching blooper stinger—toink.