Gathering of Women

My mother was an active member of the women’s group in our church. I grew up often seeing her excitedly packing her bag for conferences here and there, and coming home a day or two later, overflowing with happy narratives of new knowledge and experiences. 

It was no surprise then that she was elected an officer of the national women's organization ad perpetuum.  If they had a prize for perfect attendance, she’d have won it hands down, too. 

I am less of a social being; unlike her, I am no conference goer. From my recollection, I had attended one or two sporadically, but only for half a day.

It was therefore a novel adventure for me when I was prevailed upon by nine other women in our church to attend one recently—all of three days in Bacolod City, an hour flight away.  

I had never seen so many women in my life, packed in one ballroom—1750 plus!  

We were seated so close to each other you could hear someone sigh, burp, or clear her throat. The better to feel the shared excitement of worshiping together while listening to inspired speakers! These women came from all parts of the Philippines, speaking different dialects—but one in faith. 

Being with them, praising the same God and uplifting one another, made the whole conference wonderfully undefinable, but can be concretely summarized as: grace of encouragement.  

An added bonus was a chance to meet some of my book readers at the OMF Lit book table.

After the conference, as I bonded with my church mates (more like faith sisters and bosom buddies) in visiting tourist spots and eating local food, I remembered my mom. No wonder she attended all the gathering of church women in her time!

“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11


Exceptional Kids

Teachers today mourn the fact that students do not read anymore. These digital netizens simply skim over internet soundbites, FB messages, watch vlogs, MTVs, and videos of their choice.  Therefore, they struggle writing a decent sentence with a coherent idea.

Well, yes, but there are exceptions to that observation. And those exceptions are exceptional!

I had 19 of them in one room one day this month—children aged 8 to 12, who voraciously read and love to write. They were gathered by HIYAS, OMF Literature’s imprint for children’s books, for a creative writing workshop, which I was privileged to facilitate.

From 9 AM to 12 noon, they were attentive and enthusiastic, doing all the exercises with gusto. They were quick thinkers, too, writing ideas within the short minutes given them. Asked to each read a storybook, they tackled the pages immediately.

You can easily tell a reader from a non-reader. Upon seeing a book, the reader’s eyes twinkle before he  grabs and reads the first page—not stopping till he gets to the back cover, lapping up even the blurb. In contrast, the non-reader's eyes meander; he sets the book aside and manages to do everything but read it.

(I took my grandson, Adrian, to a book store when he was here for vacation. He ran past the toys and went straight to the book section. After about half an hour scanning through many books, he started to cajole me into buying him one. He need not have uttered one word, I bought him two.)

At the OMF Lit creative writing workshop, I was reminded of Adrian 19 times. Here were children who behaved for three straight hours, pausing only to eat a sandwich and drink some juice. But even while having snacks, they were either reading the books strewn on the table or writing.

One day, some of these reading children will be authors. Those who will choose other careers will remain readers.

For a teacher, meeting exceptional kids is exceptional grace.


Listen with Your Heart

Five years ago, I blogged about the 24/7 noise inside my ears—tinnitus—a symptom that my hearing was slowly going.  

The noise is still there. Whether it has worsened or I have grown used to it, I do not know. What I do know is that, sometimes, when I answer someone's question, he/she does two acts in succession: laugh, then shout.

Neither act is very encouraging. You have to be prepared to welcome both with a smile or a shrug.  

Hearing loss, people call it. 

"Faulty word recognition," was what the audiologist in the US, called it. I could hear the sound but couldn't figure out the word.

"Repeat after me," she said. "Gratitude." 

Moi: "Very rude."

Audiologist: "Extender." 

Moi: "Stand there."

Audiologist: “Shameful.”

Moi: "Stay cool." 


People who are hearing impaired are missing out on the words of the world. There is no cure for this degenerative malady.

But there is help—from a pair of hearing aids. Among those that I tried on in the US and here, the best ones reduced the tinnitus and environment sounds, and made me recognize spoken words. They ushered me into a whole new world!

Trouble is, these digital gizmos cost the moon and stars.

I was quoted an outrageously indecent amount for one pair that would still need change of batteries every week and regular maintenance such as electronic adjustments, forever and ever.

If anyone had that amount, I thought, she could enroll ten needy children in school for one year. A poor family of five could live on it for two years.

These thoughts brought me back to what my best cousin wrote in the comment box of my blog five years ago, “It is amazing how, even with that tini-tinni 24/7 annoyance, you have managed to listen with your heart, cuz. Always.”

My resolve therefore: Since this condition is non-life-threatening, I can live with this noise. And pretty soon, with our Father's generous grace, I can shrug off people laughing and shouting, too.

I will continue listening with my heart. 


Nameless Friends

A recent trip to Singapore with my husband earned us countless but nameless friends.

As Tony and I leisurely roamed the streets, visited interesting spots, and dined in restaurants of the world’s only island-city state, he with his cane and I with my scarf, idly talked about what we didn’t see the last time we were there.

That’s when it happened. 

Filipinos within hearing distance (shoppers, idlers, waiters, salespeople) smiled, came closer, and like old friends, engaged us in conversations about their family and why they came to Singapore. They asked which part of the Philippines we are from and for how long was our visit there. 

What they didn’t ask were our names, neither did we ask theirs—perhaps mutually thinking our paths would never cross again. 

The Filipino diaspora, which has transported our countrymen to probably all parts of the world, cannot—and will not—sublimate one’s longing for home. Talking to someone who speaks the same language in a foreign land somehow makes home a little closer.

I liken these shop talks with these strangers-turned-friends to grace thrown in, like a spice in a brew that perks up what would have been a flat and bland face-off between two people who have had these same-old, same-old exchanges for over four decades. 

There are approximately 200,000 Filipinos working and residing in Singapore today. What a blessing for Tony and me to have befriended a fraction of them!


My 1000th Blog Post

What’s so historically significant about the number 1000? None.

What I readily think of, however, when I hear the number 1000 is found 1 Peter 3:8 (NLT): ". . . a day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day."

In my simplistic logic, this is why it often takes a mighty long time for God to answer my prayers. I only have a lifetime of, should He allow it, 80+ years, while God has eternity.

But I digress.

I feel I need to celebrate my 1000th post as I upload it now, because I never thought I'd reach this number. When I started blogging on 24 November 2016, I vowed to have a rhythm of one entry every four days—till my mind could no longer manage to string words in coherent sentences or my hands could no longer type those thoughts on my keyboard, whichever comes first. 

My vow remains steadfast and so do my mind, hands, and even eyesight. I can't say the same for my hearing, but then again, I digress.

The fact is, this is my 1000th blog post, and I am celebrating!

Aside from changing my header, I am singing a song of thanksgiving to God for this glorious grace—He has brought me this far despite my myopic and okay, pessimistic, view of my earthly faculties and mortality. 

I think I just might sneak toward the fridge and gobble up that chocolate bar waiting with a thought balloon, "Eat Me!" Or I could call my amigas and treat each of them to a cup of chamomile tea.

“The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” Psalm 28:7 (NLT)


Creative Writing Workshop for Kids

For some years now, I have been conducting creative writing workshops initiated by organizations here and abroad, and just recently, by my publisher.  In those workshops (mostly for children), many budding writers have been discovered and a number of their stories have been published.

It is always a thrill—and a refreshing time of grace—to work with children who brim with enthusiasm and, unlike adults, write without fear. Not only are they bold, they are also extremely imaginative.

My friends with children who voraciously read and are raring to write (some even keep journals) have been urging me to conduct one in this area. They want their kids to be encouraged and inspired in a class with fellow budding writers. 

Okay, why not? The time has come.  

Let’s see . . . parents who are interested in enrolling their kids in this Creative Writing Workshop on July 2, 1 to 5 PM, please call: 836-0313 and ask for Leone or JC for reservation. You may also text 0916-26400-22 (Globe); 0928-7173167 (Smart).   

We can, however, accommodate only 15 (ages 8 to 12).  So it has to be on a first-come-first-served basis.


ASEAN Grand Prize (Part 2)

Two hours before the awarding ceremony dubbed “Celebrating Our Stars,” I was all dolled up, enduring the punishing pinch of my girdle and hose.

“Why the rush?” Tony asked. Well, he knew better than to stall. Not even wild horses could stop me then. 

At the venue, we caught the proverbial worm. The organizers were still arranging the chairs and installing the sound system. 

The program was simple, almost austere—and finished in no time. When I was called on stage, I must have sprinted, so fast that Tony, with his aching right knee, had not been able to take a decent picture of me receiving my precious award. The photos in this post are the best he could manage.

My next act was to claim my prize money at a designated table. I was given an envelope with my name on it. I hurriedly put it in my purse, signed a receipt, then off I went to the buffet table.

After dinner, I looked in my purse for . . . “OMG!” I cried, breaking out in cold sweat. “My envelope is gone!”

Tony rummaged through my very small purse, but there was nothing there except my lipstick.

“Ask for help from the person-in-charge,” my cool-headed photographer suggested.

I did, but not before I had asked for grace in a most ardent and urgent prayer.

“Stay there,” the organizer told me.

After about five minutes, which seemed like eternity, he came back with an envelope. It had my name on it!

“You must have dropped it,” he said. “Someone had picked it up and gave it to one of my staff.”

I gave him a grateful and relieved hug.

In other places in the world, I thought, this envelope could have been lost. But this was Singapore and my cash prize was intact to the last dollar. 

I was taught an old lesson at that moment. It’s a lesson I keep re-learning: mind your every action, just as you mind your every word.

As an author, I painstakingly mind every written word, but with every unwritten action . . .  

“Why the rush?”

Why indeed.


ASEAN Grand Prize (Part 1)


Thus screamed, in all caps, the subject-line of one of my unread email messages. 

I receive emails of this nature often and they are, you guessed it, all scams.

It took two days before I opened the email. I intended to cursory read the content before dumping it. But to my complete surprise, it was real!

Indeed, Beth (the illustrator of all 15 books of the Oh, Mateo! series) and I won a grand prize for this No. 6 book, “Look for the Star,” published by OMF Lit under its Children's book imprint, Hiyas, and we were being invited to go to Singapore to receive the award.
My jaw dropped and stayed there for what seemed like hours. I visited the website of the organizer and yes, it is a legitimate award, a prestigious one, which sifts through  published children’s storybooks in all of Asia and declares the winners.

I bowed my head to thank the Lord for this fortuitous good news.

“Look for the Star” is a story of a wayward, stowaway boy, led back home by a larger-than-life star handmade by his parents, who never gave up on him through the years.

It was inspired by the unconditional love that God shines upon anyone who acknowledges and believes in Him. It shines even brighter when, taking the metaphor further, the road is pitch dark and we don’t know which way to go. 

For this unexpected grace, however, I (unfortunately, Beth couldn't make it) knew exactly which way to go, “Singapore, here I come!”

“. . . ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12 (ESV)