Low Blow

Boxing/wrestling aficionados or not, we all know what low blow means. It is an illegal strike below the opponent’s waist—unsportsmanlike and unfair.             
The phrase has since entered our lingo as being cruel and callous. It cuts like a knife; it hurts.

That’s what we witness during political campaigns, and what we are witnessing—long after the elections are over—from our highest official of the land. And media blows it up, making it the banner headline, relegating bigger issues in the background.

Low blows are on TV for us to watch, and in newspapers and the Internet for us to read. 

In his war against drugs (for which he gave himself a six-month deadline), our president takes to the podium and strikes a low blow against those suspected of the crime and those who oppose his tactics—including the international community.

His shame-and-name strategy to wipe out drugs has cut like a well-honed knife among people in practically all branches of government.

I am not one to judge the wisdom or style of our newly elected president. Those who adore and voted for him say he is right and this is all part of his brilliant strategy. “Change has come.” 

Along the way, however, without solid proof or due process, reputations are damaged, hearts are broken, lives are snuffed out, and I don’t know what harm or good this is doing to our children (the little ones for whom I write about grace, for whom I carefully choose my words).  

One friend, a die-hard apologist for the president snapped at me, “Oh, come on. If children have been raised well by their parents, these kids shouldn’t be affected by cursing and low blows. Besides, those offenders have been warned, so they deserve it!”

I wept. That, too, was a low blow.


Everything Okay?

Tattoos go back thousands of years.

Humans have marked their bodies since ancient times. Tattoos then served many purposes: amulets, status symbols, signs of love and beliefs, adornments and punishment.

In the Philippines, as I remember, only hoodlums and criminals had tattoos, graphic signs of “bad.” People would speak in whispered derision or fear when they saw people (mostly men) with tattoos.

This photo from a newspaper reminded me of those days—convicts in a jail were stripped bare for illegal-drugs inspection. This is not a photo of “then.” This is a photo of “now.”

Tattoo is more in now than ever before. In fact, it is now a part of life.

In addition to convicts and would-be convicts, all strata of society are enamored with tattoos—from high-schoolers, to millennials, to celebrities. The designs may be different (finer, more colorful and artistic today) but they are called the same name: tattoo.          

Aside from tattoos, I can cite a myriad of things that were once not-okay but have become okay.

In fashion, one couldn’t wear pearls or lace with jeans. Neither could one wear dresses without hose or a slip. Just look around any day, everything is okay—short hemline, uneven hemline, or sheer hemline matched with denims, slippers, or rubber shoes.  

In parenting, a child couldn’t talk back to his parents. Today, children are encouraged to speak their minds and they feel entitled to equal respect.  Laws are such that capital punishment is now illegal.

What were once wrong are now "right." Lying, name-calling, cursing, accusing, ranting, shaming, and killing are a daily fare on the Internet, especially social media. I can’t name all that has become a norm—from what used to be wrong—due to my self-imposed blog word count.  

But I am afraid, deathly afraid, that soon, we may no longer see the difference between what’s wrong and what’s right. The yardstick for what’s okay has radically changed.

Isaiah 5:20 (ESV) warns and reminds me and anyone who shares my faith: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

The grace to see the difference is what we seek, because not everything is okay.


Lola Dusing

Have you met a nonagenarian?

I haven’t. The octogenarians I knew went to glory before they could reach the awesome age of 90.

But one day, Ching (a faith sister) introduced me to her grandmother, Lola Dusing, all of 95—not in a face-to-face meeting, but through my books.

Ching said the old lady, a faithful woman of God, loves to read and she especially enjoyed my “Flying on Broken Wings.”

“She still reads at 95?!” I was surprised.

“Without reading glasses,” Ching laughed. She was going to visit Lola Dusing in Mindanao and wanted to bring her one of my books.


After reviewing my titles, Ching decided on “Circle of Compassion.” 

A few days later, I received messages from Ching, “Lola Dusing loves the book!” “She likes your writing style.” “She has a special present for you."

Can words be more energizing? I have been spoiled receiving messages and gifts from kids over the years, but from a 95-year-old?!

Her gift was something I never expected to receive:   

It’s entirely hand-sewn, every piece of cloth (in various shapes and sizes) carefully stitched together—certainly a labor of love. It's the most valuable table cloth I could ever own!

God sometimes gives some people many, many years in which to feel His presence and enjoy His blessings—Lola Dusing is one of them. And I am now privileged to count her as one of my readers and gifts of grace.  

Lola Dusing with two more of her grandchildren 


Divine Detour

Hurrying to one book-signing event, I bumped into an old friend, Conrad. He was on a short break from a writing workshop.

"I want to be an author like you," he said. "Let me be a copycat," he joked.

"Go for it!" I encouraged him. Conrad and I were both creative writers in competing ad agencies years ago. Friendly competitors we called ourselves outside of our individual offices.   

"You look happy," he said as we hugged.

"Very!" I told him. "There's nothing I'd rather do!" 

"You should have left advertising sooner then," he replied.

"Yeah, I should have," I replied. "But, then . . . there would not have been enough insight or issues to write about."

"Right," he agreed. "No wounds, cuts, or bruises." 

We laughed, having both known the incessant trauma inflicted upon admen by deadly deadlines, unrealistic expectations of clients, fierce competitors, and the punishing pressure to keep coming up with something fresh.   

That thought of pursuing writing sooner stayed with me.

I seriously took up creative writing very late in life—in fact, it came at the end of a career and motherhood that drained me of energy and chutzpah. My career had reached a plateau and motherhood had become irrelevant because my children had grown up.  

It was like making a detour to the main road, where I am today.      
I took that long, sometimes-bumpy-often-shaky, inconvenient way around that drove me off the short path. But the thing about a detour is, you see new vistas you never saw before, sceneries totally different from those on the highway.

After that short chat with Conrad, I realized that my detour prepared me for this writing ministry, where I am able to see grace more clearly than I ever did.

Was the delay, then, a divine detour?

I believe it was. Because now I have finally reached the place where I want to be for as long as I am allowed to travel on mother Earth.

You may have made detours, too, because new roads were being built or old ones were being fixed. And if you have, you know that detours can be long or longer, with vistas that are either ghastly or lovely. 

But always, a divine detour leads us to eternal gratitude for and perpetual appreciation of the main road.


Playing Hide-and-Seek with Patience

Patience: a word derived from the Latin verb patior that means, to suffer. Ergo, patience is the inner strength to bear what gets our goat with composure, instead of anger.

More than any other virtue, patience is what I’ve tackled most in my writings. It’s because it comes and goes with me—like playing hide and seek. In one of my books I wrote, “I was born with a wart: impatience.”

When things do not come up to my standards or sense of urgency, I suffer inside—okay, seethe. In recent days on TV and the newspapers, we’ve witnessed how impatience can translate to road rage and kill!

What I have learned over the years (through the process of aging) is to mask it. But masking and exterminating are two different things.

Patience, for a Christian, is supposed to be rooted in faith in our savior, Jesus. In His life, He demonstrated patience for us. He went through humiliation, betrayal, suffering, and finally death on the cross—without anger, not a tinge, to seek vengeance.

As I reflect on my illusive patience for the millionth time, I seek to have a glimpse of the deeper meaning of every day circumstances—that things are not always what they seem, or how I want them to happen.

I now ponder this verse for the nth time, too, personally highlighting patience, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, PATIENCE, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control . . .” Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

This fruit is what every Christian covets.  

The first cyber poster below talked to me, so I borrowed it and added my own second poster. Both are for my benefit.  
Am I succeeding? With dollops of daily grace, I am—most of the time now. That is far better than none-of-the-time, which took the lion's share of my persona in years past. 

It’s probably why the Lord continues to allow me to closely interact with millennials—in both my writing and teaching—for 16 years now. Nobody can try your patience more than they can! 

In response, their emoji would be this:


Movie Review: Pamilya Ordinaryo

The dirt, grime, and filth are so real you can feel them on your skin and in your soul.

On the other side of the world that we, the educated/working class, don’t see or close our eyes to, live two people so steeped in reality they have no space in their lives for the abstract—such as opinions or dreams.

They only struggle to survive, day after day, receiving or deflecting whatever comes. They are deprived of morals and vocabulary, the subtle nuances of language and emotions. So they curse when they’re angry, sad, or frustrated—about the only feelings they are familiar with. And because joy simply trickles in, they have no words to express it.  

Pamilya Ordinaryo robbed me of sleep the night after watching it at the Cinemalaya (Philippine Independent Film Festival) 12, especially because the director and writer, Eduardo Roy, Jr., chose teenage parents (ages 16 and 17), still children in my circle, to show us life at its rawest.   

Rugby-sniffing Ariel (Ronwaldo Martin) and Jane (Hasmine Killip) live on a scungy sidewalk with discarded cardboard for bed and stolen discards for furnishings. Where they poo or pee is not shown, but the answers are lodged in our mind.   

They have a less-than-a month-old baby, Arjan (a coined name after theirs), who gets stolen by a gay man, one of those alley prowlers who prey on the weak and the poor.

The rest of the well-crafted movie follows Ariel and Jane in their difficult quest to recover the only thing they ever owned. They are thrown into mainstream society, but are never welcomed. Here, where they don’t belong, they are soiled further. Apathy, scam, rape—adeptly portrayed sans melodrama—drive the hopelessness into the pits.     

I had hoped for redemptive grace in the end, a short sigh of relief, but that hope was dashed when the scene shows Ariel and Jane escaping from captors in a moving bus—probably headed to nowhere, the place that awaits them—among passengers as stoic as they are, lost in their own thoughts.

In that ultimate scene, you sort of wait for what would happen next. But it ends, depicting what has become of humanity.  

It is one of the more powerful indie films I have had the chance to watch this year. Not only because of the authenticity of the scenes, dialogues, silences (through the CCTV device), and actors, but because it is too intrusive to ignore.

Kudos to the other members of the cast for their noteworthy performances: Maria Isabel Lopez, Sue Prado, Ruby Ruiz, Moira Lang, Karl Medina, Erlinda Villalobos, Domingo Cobarrubias, Paolo Rodriguez, John Bon Andrew Lentejas, John Vincent Servilla, Rian Magtaan, Myla Monido, Alora Sasam, and Ruth Alferez.


Kids' Choice Awards

Before sending any children’s book manuscript to my publisher for finalization, I usually request four to five kids to read and critique it.  Their comments I seriously listen to—and work those elements into the story.

I believe that because they are my readers, they are my primary concern.

That’s why when I was told that one of my books, Coming Home, was one of nine finalists chosen by a group of kid judges (ages 8-13) at the National Children’s Book Awards (NCBA), I could not contain my joy.

Among all the awards my books have received over the years, this recent citation stands above the rest—a special grace. It reads: 

“Coming Home was chosen as a book in the Top 9 because of its touching story about an orphan boy coming to terms with living with his new family. The story is seen from the younger children's perspective and it definitely shows just how lucky millions of kids are. The moral and the plot come together in a way that is both educational and lovable.” 

The National Book Development Board (NBDB) and the Philippine Board of Books for the Young (PBBY) started awarding the NCBA during the celebration of National Children’s Book Day (NCBD) in 2010 “to honor significant children's books, created through the perfect marriage of text and illustrations.”

Launched after Coming Home, the second book in the Happy Home series—That First Sunday—was likewise featured at the Book Fair, which was part of the celebration of NCBD in July every year.
 The excitement that always comes with speaking about books before an audience, plus meeting new and old friends there, have been recorded in the photos below:   



Uncle Bob

Uncle Bob passed on as he moved in life—quickly.   

After a massive heart attack, he was cremated and buried before the beginning of what Chinese culture calls the Ghost Month, the 7th lunar month of the year, or August 3-31 in 2016.

He was gone too fast, way too fast; we regret not having had the chance to say goodbye or see him one last time. But that is not to say we can’t grieve his passing, because we do.

Two to three times a year, Uncle Bob would break bread with Tony and me. Those events were usually celebratory and therefore over authentic Chinese lauriat—Lunar New Year, Mooncake Festival, and someone’s birthday/anniversary on Tony’s side of the family.

One could tell when Uncle Bob had arrived. He would briskly come and greet us, with anecdotes to narrate. Around a table of usually quiet diners, his voice would prevail. But that is not the only thing that made Uncle Bob a bigger-than-life character for me.

He was a—let me invent a word that is not in the dictionary—carer.  He selflessly cared so much for others he would serve them in big-little ways. He would immediately stand up from where he sat to assist an elderly cousin all the way to the bathroom (as often as necessary), or pile dishes he thought were good on someone’s plate, or patiently guide and see to his wife’s needs who has recently been showing signs of dementia, plus many more acts of caring.  

Conversations about health had him saying, “My medical exams are always perfect, and I eat anything.” This octogenarian was on no maintenance pills and had zero problem with his weight. He was lean, almost scrawny, and lithe.

There is no telling, however, how long or short our life on earth is or will be. Uncle Bob was feasting with us, with gusto, flitting back and forth between buffet dishes at the Shangri-la Hotel just two months ago.

To uncle Bob’s wife, children and grandchildren, let me just say, I am grateful beyond words for the privilege—through Tony—of knowing a quick-witted, fast-acting carer, and of being a part of his circle.


Advocating Short Paragraphs

“I advocate short paragraphs,” I told my class in Business English, after reviewing their term papers.

My obvious rationale: 

Paragraphing helps readers to process ideas into meaningful chunks of thought—where one point ends and where another begins.

In sum, a paragraph is a section in a piece of writing that begins on a new line and can be as short as one sentence and as long as 10 sentences. No more than that.

"What?!" one student, who turned in a three-page paper with a single paragraph, almost lunged at me.

"ONE sentence?! A sentence couldn't possibly be a paragraph?!"

"Why not?" I tried nonchalance, while groping for some grace of patience.

"All my life I've been taught that a paragraph is a collection of sentences, not ONE sentence!" His mouth was agape—as though he just heard an earth-shaking news.

I flashed on screen a page from the book they were assigned to read. On it was this one-sentence paragraph:

"It is such a secret place, the land of tears."

His head danced the hula. Undeniably, he didn't read the book.

And that's the crux of my problem with millennials today. In writing assignments, many turn in papers with paragraphs as long as the River Nile, and run-on sentences that are not far behind.

"Give your readers a break," I pleaded. "Give them time to digest one thought before you introduce a new one. Long paragraphs give readers too much information to manage all at once. Readers need planned pauses, especially when reading complex papers/articles/stories. Hit the enter button!"
"So how long should an ideal paragraph be?" he pushed.

"As long or as short as you want it—to meet your objective. It can unfold for one page or consist of one word, or even one letter."

"ONE letter?!" This time he stood up, like spoiling for a fight.

I wrote on the white board:

I . . .

“This one-letter paragraph in a story is said by a character who was interrupted by something or someone. The next words are in another line below it," I explained, my patience now in place.

He sat down, wordless.

"The rule of thumb," I stressed, “is that each paragraph should focus on only one idea or concept or emotion. When you shift to a new idea, shift to a new paragraph. Make the enter button your friend!”

Everyone in the classroom nodded, except the petulant one. Question marks crowded his confused demeanor. His mouth moved but I heard nothing, not a peep.

"Our reference book," I grinned at nobody in particular, "answers all questions about paragraphs. Try reading it.”
For this advocacy (or argument victory), let me change my header.