Gift Exchange

Why do people give gifts on Christmas?

Many speculate that the three wise men who traveled hundreds of miles to pay Jesus homage with gifts started it all.  When they finally “saw the child and his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11 (NLT.)

I personally believe we give gifts on Christmas because Jesus gave Himself as a Gift to all. In our own little ways, we want to emulate that unparalleled gift-giving.

Unfortunately, gift exchange today has become so commercialized, even taxing. Yet give gifts we “must” and spend weeks shopping, wrapping, and tagging.

We simplified all that at our OMF Lit’s Christian Writers’ Fellowship (CWF) Christmas party:  “Bring a book you love to be exchanged with someone’s.”
Days before the party, I kept changing my mind about which book to give away. If you love books as the CWF members do, you know that one of the most difficult things to do is to part with a book you love.

Sure enough, the words spoken at the party were about (each had to explain the book he was sending off), with apologies to Shakespeare, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

“I bought many copies of this book because I wanted family and friends to read it. And now this is my last copy and . . .”

“This book was such a blessing to me. I’d love to keep it forever but . . .”

“I love this book so much, it makes me cry even if I read and re-read it. But it’s about time someone else is given the chance to cry . . .”

“This is my favorite book, but I discovered there are still copies at a book store so I am giving it away.”

“Before I became a Christian, I read lots of apologetics. Now I know the truth so I am giving one away.”

There are many more quotable quotes but I got so excited when I received my book, I missed taking down more notes.    

Good-bye . . . (left) and Hello! (right)

What a meaningful Christmas gift (I mean, book) exchange!


Red Leaves

Over coffee, between the Sunday worship and Sunday school, our two pastors and I had some kind of a speculative discourse (some people call it idle talk).

“Do you think we would all look the same in our glorified bodies in heaven?” I asked.

“Definitely not,” they stressed.

“Just look at how diverse creation is,” one explained

“Yeah, not even identical twins look exactly alike,” the other added.

I brooded over those thoughts as I changed my header for this blogsite. When I think leaves, I think only green (in different hues and shades)—even if I had gazed at and oohed over many autumn leaves.

Of course leaves come in different colors! We studied in grade school the three pigments that color leaves: chlorophyll (green) carotenoid (yellow, orange, and brown) anthocyanin (red).

And because it is Christmas, we see poinsettias—red leaves—adorning shops, homes, and other public places.

The Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), which is indigenous to Mexico, derived its name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico, who later brought the plant to the US in 1825.

The plant’s leaves are actually all green initially. But because it is so sun sensitive, it cannot produce chlorophyll when it is deprived of enough light.  In a state of darkness, the only color that it can produce is red.

If you have a Poinsettia plant, bring it to a dark place. Soon it will oblige you and, through a process called photoperiodism, it will give you nothing but red leaves.

There are many other plants with red leaves such as those in my collage.

Our Creator’s creativity is boundless. Just look at all the unlimited shapes, sizes, and colors of anything visible or even under a microscope.

If even leaves aren’t colored the same, then glorified bodies will be more varied than we could ever imagine.

“O LORD, what great works you do! And how deep are your thoughts.” Psalm 92:5 (NLT)

Merry Christmas!


Cold Turkey

This idiom means, “Stop doing or using something abruptly and completely.”

It held true for my family on Christmas eve, last night. We stopped our traditional roast-turkey dinner at home, cold turkey.

I remember each annual roast turkey prepared by Tony in the old days (when my three boys were still growing up). Then Manang Vi, our long-time househelp, and son #3 in the years that followed (when son #2 had started his own family abroad) took over—up until last year when we opted for a ready-made bird ordered online. It was because Manang Vi had retired and son #3 was helpless without her.

The prospect of another pre-ordered turkey this year was unappealing. So we agreed to dine on some chef’s turkey in a nearby hotel.     

(Upper left and right) The boys give the bird a once-over. 
Gift unwrapping (left); a tree I didn't have to trim this year.
It wasn’t nearly as good as our home-cooked turkey year after year. Not because of its taste (it was tender and yummy), but because it didn’t create for us memories—recorded on countless photos—of planning, of shopping, and of anticipating how it would finally turn out.    
I feel wistful, as I guess people often do when the many Christmases they have celebrated with family wax and wane with the tides of time.

But I also feel joyful, as I reflect on that first Christmas when Christ was born to save those who believe.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God . . .” Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)


CHRISTMAS: The soil of humility

(I was tasked to be the devotional speaker at our OMF Christian Writers' Fellowship [CWF] Christmas party last week. Some of those who failed to attend have requested that I post my reflections. Sharing with you the abridged version.)        

When I reached the age of reason, the first thing that would come to my mind on and about Christmas was: HUMILITY. I’d imagine the circumstances of Jesus’ birth—no room in the inn, manger, shepherds, etc. 

Why would the Greatest of all, the Owner of all, the Wisest of all, and the One who needs nothing else would come to an earth filled with evil men and be birthed as One of them?

Incredible. But such is humility—inconceivable, mind-blowing, and hardly achievable by mortals with a sinful heart. Tim Keller wrote in Christianity Today, “Humility is so shy. If you begin talking about it, it leaves.”

And here I am talking about it tonight. It’s almost Christmas after all, and if we can put a date on when humility was birthed or came into our consciousness, it was on Christmas.

The word humility is from the Latin word humilis, meaning “low, lowly.”  It literally means “on the ground,” from humus (earth). As humans, we are “lowly creatures of earth.”

But do we see ourselves that way? The way we really are? Meaning, are we humble? Are you? Am I?

Our pastor said in one of his sermons, “If you say—or even just think that you are humble—you are not.”

And yet, humility is crucial for you and me as Christian writers.  Because we can only receive Christ through meekness and humility, upon which we hinge all our writings. Matthew 5:3 says, “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him.” In verse 5, “God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.”     
Now knowing how BIG God is in relation to our humanity, how can we not feel small?

Philippians 2:6-8 spells it out for us: “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he 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.”

Can we even come close to such humility?

Jesus’ humility was a planned, conscious act.

Let me digress a bit and mention a planned, conscious act as an illustration that is closest to my circle. I personally think that some of the humblest human beings on earth—and that is not just to make them feel good—are the book editors.


Invisible People

In making our Christmas gift list, many of us suddenly remember all the people we ignored (those whose eyes we never met; whose voices we never heard; and whose names we didn’t bother to ask) all through the year. Swiftly, we (I am actually talking to myself here) add them to our list. 

This list—perhaps due to guilt or an itch to give because it’s the season of giving—includes the invisible people around the neighborhood and in the places we go to or pass through regularly.

On Christmas, we acknowledge their existence and at last, they become visible.  

And who are they? Those who make our lives better all year through: the street cleaners, the garbage men, the traffic policemen, the janitors in our offices, the messengers, and security guards, to name a few. Listing them is like atoning a one-year-old sin of omission.

I read somewhere about a homeless guy who really thought he was invisible. He roamed the streets night and day. But nobody, not one, ever glanced his way or exchanged a word with him. One day, however, a little boy gave him a Christian pamphlet.

Stunned, the man asked, “This kid can see me?! How is that possible? I am invisible!”

This may not be a true story, but it illustrates how unnoticed people feel about themselves.

Sometime ago, as I was labelling my Christmas gifts for the invisible people who figured in my places of work, I couldn’t write one name. Not only did I feel mortified, I felt like I dishonored them. After I had researched and finally written down all their names, I personally handed each one my gift, calling him/her by name for the first time.

“Merry Christmas, Burnok/Mayet/Erning, etc.” The smiles they gave me in return were priceless grace, as though raising the cost of the gifts I had wrapped for them to the price of gold. 

A bit late for me to learn a lesson, but since then I have tried to know better the people I deal with regularly by first, knowing their names, and second, making a connection. A simple “Hi, Maria!" or, “How are you doing, Mario?” can lift her/his spirits.

Such is one of the countless life lessons I have learned from Christmas to Christmas.  

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 (NIV)

Photo credit


A Tradition Ends

Our family tradition of putting up a tree every Christmas has come to an end.

It was a tradition I began when I Tony and I had our son #1 in the 70s.  It seemed like the right thing to do, a creative expression of sorts. Year after year, I would have a different motif which took me the whole year to dream up and the whole day to put up.

I know all about its pagan origins and why it is not necessary to celebrate the birth of our Messiah, but I enjoyed the activity.   Perhaps because my long-time househelp, Manang Vi, would nag me about our yearly and all-day ritual.

This year, however, there is no Manang Vi. She passed on last month, and it feels like we have lost not only a tree enthusiast but a family member who shared our traditions. 

“I don’t think I will put up a tree this Christmas,” I thought aloud.

“Good idea,” Tony immediately replied, solving my indecision.

I skipped telling son #1 and son #3, because from my observation over the years (since they reached the age of enlightenment), they are no longer Christmas tree fans.

Another good idea was the announcement by our church’s youth pastor: “We are raising funds for the December Youth Camp out of town. If you want to get rid of your junks, we’d be glad to pick them up.”

It was an ideal time to visit our storeroom, which had been under the exclusive jurisdiction of Manang Vi.


I needed a face mask to protect me from years of dust covering old suitcases, golf clubs, bowling balls, paintings, baskets, knick-knacks, plaques, equipment, trophies, plus all other unrecognizable doodads—and my Christmas tree and heaps of Christmas decors!

With the help of Bonna, Manang Vi’s former adjutant, and who is now trying super hard to fill in Super V’s shoes; and Sammy, driver of son #3, I packed 75% of the storeroom’s denizens for our church's youth fund drive. After thorough cleaning, the once jam-packed room might have said, “What a relief!”

What to do with the Christmas tree and old decors? Plenty. Just twist, cut, shred, combine, separate, and mutilate—with no theme in mind.

Expenses for the decor: zippo.

Fund for the youth: almost there.

Grace for the home: much more than we deserve.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)


Young Writers Radiate (Day 2)

Day 2 of “Radiate: Young Writers’ Workshop” was held exactly a week after the first.

By this time, the 22 participants had already written their second essay, which—after some tweaking or editing—would be included in the book project we were preparing for.

We (CSM editorial team and I) spent a large part of the day on feed-backing: evaluating and discussing their second work, while referring to the basic writing principals we learned on day 1.

Some of the essays made me tear up, some made me laugh. The harvest was plentiful.

We agreed on the importance of journaling, every day. Writing for the Lord is not a sporadic when-I-have-time activity. It takes more than a laptop, or pen and paper, or a special time reserved just for writing—it takes all of oneself.
We analyzed why a writer needs to re-write and re-write after his/her first draft.

We assessed our general writing output: why good enough is not nearly good enough.

As we bade good-bye—to meet again at the book launching, for sure—we promised ourselves to continue honing the gift of writing entrusted to all 22 + 1 (me) during the two-day CSM workshop. And that we should always reflect the radiance of God’s marvelous grace in every word we write.  

"Writing should be for God's glory alone."
"Your words should help heal and inspire others."
"Make the reader see and feel exactly what you mean."
"From today, start writing your own story of grace."  
"This is the beginning of an amazing journey."


Young Writers Radiate (Day 1)

As far back as February this year, this training/workshop—held recently, nine months later—was  already announced by Church Strengthening Ministry (CSM) Publishing:

“Offering millennials an opportunity to speak to their generation, Radiate is a writing workshop created intentionally for young writers in English who are interested in being trained to write for publishing and are passionate about the ministry of the written word.

“Radiate aims to reflect God’s glory through the prism of life experiences of this younger generation. It aims to hone the potential of aspiring writers and to encourage them to boldly tell their stories of faith to inspire others and draw them closer to God.”

The early announcement was necessary because the workshop required a screening. Would-be participants had to write a 500-word essay on why they want to write.

Twenty two were chosen to attend the training held on two successive Saturdays.

Some of them had already written for their school paper, but majority still had to write their first published work.

Before I clicked on my first slide, it was apparent that everyone was on the same wavelength. The enthusiasm was so palpable, I knew I was among kindred souls who were likewise birthed with the passion for writing. It was a moment of grace; I couldn’t wish for a more radiant group.

The day (9 to 4 PM) went by quickly, too quickly.

Millennials, according to research, could not listen, concentrate and do exercises on a topic for hours, but this group of 22 proved this empirical datum wrong. The photo collages below try to tell the story of that adrenaline-charged Saturday, but fail. No camera could capture the outward radiance that springs from intense feelings deep within.  
"Let's engage our readers with stories."
"Content, content, content. Fancy turn of phrases come later."
"What do we want readers to think after reading our piece?"
"We are not preachers. We are writers baring our soul."


Nine Days in November

Everything unusual and unexpected seemed to happen in those nine days last month, November 2017.
Earlier, classes were suspended almost every week due to typhoons. Then classes were suspended again for three days because of All Saint’s Day. Then classes were suspended again because of the ASEAN summit.

Some things had to give.

Since very few working days were left in the month, every one of my activities were crammed in those nine days: make-up classes, a series of seminars (scheduled since March), on top of regular classes and activities. All these needed slides, readings, presence, participation, and various preparations. I had to turn down an opportunity to have a book talk in the Middle East because there was just too much on my plate.

“Lord, please help me get through these nine days,” I begged daily for mighty grace.

The nine days didn’t go like a breeze (I spent more time worrying and painting scenarios of dismal consequences rather than concentrating on my activities), but—to borrow an old idiom—I was none the worse for wear.

After the ninth day, I soaked in the bath and treated myself to a nine-hour sleep. But not before I rebuked myself and asked forgiveness for forgetting about this verse:  



In Hebrew, Jedidiah means beloved of the Lord.

It was the name given by God to baby Solomon. “She [Bathsheba] gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The LORD loved him; and because the LORD loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah.” 2 Samuel 12:24-25 (NIV)

I had never met in my life anyone named Jedidiah—till last Sunday, in a church where I was invited to speak to: first, the children’s Sunday school (ages 6-10); and second, the kiddie choir (same age group).

One of the teachers introduced him to me and he shook my hand like an adult would—with a firm grip. He also looked me straight in the eye, “Hello!”

I couldn’t pronounce his name properly, because Jedidiah was far removed from my vocabulary.  So I uttered a quick, “Do you like to read?” 

“Yes,” he said, “a lot.”
While I was speaking before the Sunday school class, Jedidiah listened to my every word and finished my sentences. Each time I asked a sporadic question, his hand was the first to come up.   

A book signing time ended our session. When he had his book (Twin Blessings) signed, the spelling of Jedidiah stumped me. Patiently, he spelled it for me and said, “The last two syllables are pronounced like Obadiah.”

“Oh,” I said, properly mentored. “I promise you, once you start reading this book, you can’t stop.”

“That’s what every book does,” he replied.

“Oh, but this one’s different. It is a devotional, so you should read only one each day and think it through. But because the story is continuing, you might be tempted to keep reading.”

His toothy grin turned his eyes into slits.  

On my way to the choir room for my next speaking session, I saw Jedidah in the lobby. He was reading his book, oblivious to the crowd.     

And guess what? When the choir started rehearsing, Jedidiah rushed in with his book. He was a member of the choir, too! Between songs, he would go back to his book and continue reading.
His face lit up when the choir conductress gave each one a copy of “Quiet Time with Mateo” after the short practice of Christmas songs.

A reader after my own heart, I mused.

The conductress then introduced me, “Ms. Grace, the author of that book, will now lead us in a group quiet time.”

I turned to a page of “Quiet Time with Mateo” and read with them a story and a Bible verse, after which we all bowed our heads in prayer.    

They each had me sign their books. This time I didn’t ask how to spell Jedidiah. 

On my drive home, I rolled the name Jedidiah in my tongue. Reflecting on it, I thought that those two groups of children, plus all the little ones in the world, are actually all Jedidiahs—God’s beloved.

I wished they would all grow up to read books that honor Him.


Eleven Wonder Years

Wonder is one of those versatile English words that can be used as a noun, a verb, and an adjective.

As I celebrate the 11th anniversary of Leaves of Grace, I use wonder in the context of all three.  

It’s been a wonder how I could have lasted this long. Every blog is a wonder—I do what I like most doing: writing. At no point in time did I wonder about the point of blogging. Therefore, the most apt adjective to describe my 11 years is wonder.

“You have hundreds of thousands of hits,” said Tony. “How many do you think really read your blogs?”

I have asked that question in my mind a few times, but I always come up with the same answer. “It doesn’t really matter. At least I know of one who reads them. Me.” After all, the etymology of blogging is journaling online. Journals are essentially done by the journaler for the journaler.

One other question friends keep asking is, "How much do you earn from your blogsite?"

"Zero money; googol of joy." 

Nonetheless, it gives me a sense of wonder to look at numbers. I have uploaded 100 more posts from the 10-year total of 1,044 recorded last year. In 11 years, I have had 56 change of headers (and no change of format), and now I have hits from all countries in the world. My page-view counter tells me . . . never mind, maybe Tony is right, most of those are accidental or random hits. I will view those numbers simply as feel-good images.

“There is always something about His grace to write about,” I wrote this time last year. That belief will stay with me till the day I leave for my Eternal Home. 

Coincidentally, November is thanksgiving month in many western Christian churches (and today happens to be Thanksgiving Day in the US). It is a time of hopeful waiting for the coming of Jesus (celebrated on Christmas). The Latin word thanksgivingus means "coming" as translated from the Greek word parousia, often referred to as the second coming of Christ.

I am singing the refrain of this old thanksgiving hymn by Seth and Bessie Sykes (1940), as I wrap up my 11th year:

Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul
Thank you, Lord, for making me whole
Thank you, Lord, for giving to me
Thy great salvation so rich and free


Athleisure, et. al.

One of my colleagues, Ayet, a Marketing professor asked, “Is at leisure one word or two words?”

“Two words, of course,” I replied, with a thought balloon, You didn’t know?!

It turned out that it was I who didn’t know. Tut-tut, you're slipping, I berated my unenlightened self.

She meant, athleisure—a term I heard of only then. How could have I not known that weird word? 

With the help of a quick digital research, I discovered that “athleisure was first used in 1976 on an advertisement for trainers, but its sudden rise saw the word officially enter the US Merriam Webster dictionary in April, 2016. It is defined as casual clothing to be worn for exercising and for general use.”

I came from an era when sleepwear was for sleeping and lounge wear was for lounging.  

But in this digital age, weird concepts, and therefore words, are born every minute. Creative people coin or invent them. Whenever I hear one for the first time, I say, “Duh.” Now I find myself saying “duh” with more frequency than ever before. A word, however, is not a bonafide word until it makes it into a legitimate dictionary.

How does a word get into a dictionary?

Frequency of usage. When it is widely used by people and often cited in an extensive range of publications—for a significant period of time—the dictionary editors research how the word is expressed in context to find its basic meaning. This process used to take years, but with global connectivity, the journey to a dictionary has been drastically shortened.

And because language is alive and is evolving, old words in the dictionary now have new meanings: cloud, scroll, and tablet to name a few.

Happily, one of the oldest words in the Bible is grace. To Christians, its meaning remains unchanged. 

The year has not yet ended and already more than 1,000 words have been added to Merriam-Webster and Oxford English Dictionary. 

Some of the new words I learned before I heard of athleisure were: NBD, awesomesauce, lookbook, and agender.

If you still don’t know what they mean, you may say “duh” but look them up quickly and be a hipster.


The Itch to Give

The Christmas season brings out in many people the obligation to give.  

This thought visited me every year and I’d always assumed it was either one of two reasons, or both:

One, malls and stores display inviting wares on sale that cover the gamut of needs and wants of everyone you know; two, it feels like people—including those you hardly say “hello” to all through the year—seem to expect it.

But I happen to be reading Charles R. Swindoll’s “Grace Awakening” (a present from a balikbayan friend). In one chapter, the author expounds on the itch to give on Christmas so powerfully, I re-processed my thought.

Looking back, I had not been obligated at all. I gave as many Christmas gifts as I could (my list is super long) not because I needed to, but because I wanted to.

And that makes a world of difference.

He writes, “Christmas scratches the itch of grace deep within us. It provides us the opportunity each year to deliberately get out of ourselves and do something tangible for someone else with no . . . interest in being ‘paid back.’”

My list, and probably yours, too, includes: janitors, mailmen, delivery guys, traffic officers, beauticians, hardware store salesman, street sweepers—people who have touched our lives during the year. As you imagine their smiles in unwrapping their gifts, you know they feel blessed, perhaps more than how you feel when unwrapping your own.

Swindoll adds, “Christmas [like no other annual celebration] prompts us to demonstrate true grace.” He asks, “What makes giving so wonderfully addictive?”

In sum, we have the itch to give on Christmas because we want to model the grace of Christ, who left His heavenly riches to give Himself to inconsequential us. 

Are you making your Christmas gift list yet? I am sure it’s going to be super long.



Pajama Glam

My sleepwear is a collection of loose old rags. The shabbier, the better—for dreamin'.    

G, my daughter-in-law, must have noticed my pieces of tatters when my husband spent our vacation in son #2’s home last summer. Whether she was aghast or amused, she didn’t show it. But the next thing I knew, she bought me the most beautiful pajama set.

“Oooh,” I gushed. “These are for office wear, not for snoring!”

She laughed, "Nooo." 

“Watch me,” I threatened her.

It was the opposite of shabby, but surprisingly, it was oh-so-comfortable.

When we got back home, I had my beautiful PJ’s washed and ironed, and on the first day of class, I wore it to school with my blazer. But first, I requested Tony to take my photo wearing my OOTD and sent it to G via Messenger.

In school, my co-teachers (the ladies) cooed:

“Your outfit is sooo cool.”

“You're glam personified, Grace.”

“America has done you good. You look better than ever!”

My students (the girls) babbled and burbled:

“Miss, you look so fashionable.”

“Wow, Miss, love your OOTD!”

G messaged me after receiving my photo. “Oh, gosh, you were right, Mommy, it doesn’t look like sleepwear at all.”

I’ll let you in on a secret. This is not the first time I did this. Once I saw a housedress (duster, we call it in the Philippines) with graphic paisley prints. It was so dirt cheap I bought it without thinking. The next week, I wore it to school beneath my blazer. It was the most comfortable dress I ever had and I felt like a million dollars.

But what do you know? I googled “sleepwear as office wear” and found hundreds of photos!

And I thought I was unique.

Well, as Margaret Wolfe Hungerford said in her book Molly Bawn (1878), “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”    


Reading between the Lines

I asked three millennials what "read between the lines" means:  

(1) "Narrating the scenario?"

(2) "Understanding something better?"

(3) "Sorry, Ms., nothing comes to my head."

When I requested #1 and #2 to explain their answers, they had run out of words. There was nothing to ask #3.

Author Shannon L. Adler wrote, "The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't being said. The art of reading between the lines is a life-long quest of the wise."

I am afraid to say this, but we are losing (or have lost) the art of reading between the lines.   

With it, we have lost all understanding of other literary devices such as sarcasm, hyperbole, symbolism, etc.

We are in an in-you-face era where everything is taken at its face value. Cut-and-paste, sans critical thinking.

We are also in an era where cursing, lewd jokes, and rudeness are virtues, especially if uttered by officials in positions of power. 

Our president, for instance, curses at whomever has caused his ire. He also likes cracking lewd/gender-biased jokes, and eschews tactful language in all his speeches (formal or informal occasions). When I complain, I get these admonitions from his fans:  

"That’s trivia, look at his accomplishments.” 

"Those words are nothing, look into his heart." 

"He is the only president who is real; real talk.”

Whatever happened to GMRC (Good Manners and Right Conduct) that we teach our children at home and in school?

Whatever happened to role modelling?

One of my advocacies is children's literature. That's why I care about what children learn from adults, especially from our leaders.

Or do I sound like I am still living in ancient times when "yesses" and "nos" were read between the lines?

But let’s go even farther back—thousands of years ago. Jesus talked in parables to teach people lessons. Listeners read between the lines.

So, okay, today—if we insist on saying it like it is, without the folly of in-your-face foul language, Apostle Paul had these words to the Ephesians, chapter 4:29 (ESV):

"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Can we get more forthright than that? 


Prose or Poetry

Once, long ago, I dabbled in poetry.  I must have been quite good at it, my UP professor in  literature  said, “Keep writing!” 

I did keep writing, but not in verse. I found more romance in prose—or maybe I discovered I could express my thoughts more profoundly in sentences and paragraphs. And poetry never figured in my writing life again.  

Up until this term. 

A colleague in the university where I teach is a hard-core business management professor. But deep inside him hides an artist. Aside from being a concert pianist, he writes poetry. He is light years my junior, but I am drawn to his chatter because they are mostly about literature, particularly writing. 

During one of our budget meetings, he wrote a haiku on a small piece of paper which he surreptitiously passed on to me. Truth be told, I have not looked into haiku for years. So this one took me back to that once-long-ago. 

Then last week, he wrote a sonnet, or was it a quatrain?  Then the next day, he was talking about cinquaint. 

Poetry must have made a comeback in my middle so audaciously, I woke up early this morning, rushing to my keyboard and writing my first poems in years—two cinquaints on the one word which I have written about in prose, in over 50 published books to date:

So will I take up writing verse again?

Hmmm . . .


Book Blitz at Brent

The word Brent evokes warm memories.  It reminds me of my cousins Faith, Hope, and Charity, who all attended the exclusive Brent School Baguio while I lived with their family for a year. They outshone other kids in other schools.  

Then it was the school—most expensive, with well-equipped classrooms sprawled on a wide rolling terrain and an international curriculum.

Brent has since grown and is now also in Metro Manila, where alumna Faith worked for many years. I never understood what she did there, but with her long years of experience as professor at UP and a Ph.D., it must have been something important. 

So when I got invited recently to the international school’s Booklatan 2017 (presentations from Filipino authors/illustrators/storytellers to promote Filipino arts and literature), I called up Faith. She encouraged me to go. 

My morning at Brent turned out to be a book blitz. With the Hiyas Team (book publisher), Domz Agsaway, illustrator of our newly launched “Dump Truck in My heart,” and I presented to over 200 students in three successive sessions (grades 3, 4, and 5). 

After a storytelling by Yna of OMFLit, Domz and I answered a battery (the kids had more queries than we had time to answer them all) of tough questions. After which came the usually festive book signing and photo ops.

But it was the interaction (I call this my goodie truck) with the eloquent kids that will be parked permanently in my heart.  

“Were you experiencing some kind of grief when you wrote the book?”

“When the dump truck drives away, won’t it take all the happy memories, too?”

“What thoughts did you have when you illustrated the book?”

My deepest gratitude goes to the gracious grade school principal, Ms. Mitch; librarian, Ms. Teri; teachers’ aides, and library staff, for making our morning at Brent International School Manila a book blitz of grace.

Unlike a dump truck, Brent's goodie truck in my heart will never drive away. 


Dios ti Agngina, Manang Vi

This Ilocano phrase, when literally translated, asks for the Lord’s grace in saying “thank you,” with a prayer that the person being thanked is blessed a thousandfold.

We say Dios ti agngina, Manang* Vi, our househelp of many years—she who watched our three mischievous little boys grow up into responsible young men; she who had served all my siblings and their families when they came to visit.

She was a member of the family, and we feel deeply indebted to her.

Manang Vi passed on yesterday, just days after her 70th birthday, in her hometown. After supper she said, “I want to sleep now.” She never woke up.

It was about this time last year when she left us for good. Before then, she’d been worrying over her sister, Francing, who suffered from terminal cancer. She would regularly send money to the province for medication and called the shots over the phone. Unfortunately, Francing didn’t make it.

She went home for Francing's funeral and when she came back, she was never the same again. She would stare into space, feel all sorts of aches, and worse, she was testy with everyone.

On her last Christmas with us
I had to talk to her, “You don’t smile anymore. Sometimes we don’t know how to –“  

She snapped, “How can I smile when I am not feeling well!”

I took the chance to tell her what we’ve been afraid to say years earlier (since she turned 65), “Maybe you need to take a rest; you’ve been working all your life and--”

“No,” she said curtly. But days later, her sister came to pick her up. Her retirement money had been advanced years before, because she wanted to put up a business. But we felt we still owed her, and pooled our resources (Tony and I are now both retired) to send her off with a decent farewell gift. 

My sister, brother and sister-in-law would visit her once in a while since my family lives so far away. They would bring a pastor to pray for her. “She doesn’t look good,” they’d tell us.   

Son #3 made time to visit her, too, and his prognosis was the same.

What grieves me now is the phone call that her family cannot afford the down payment for funeral services. She had money—she’d been able to buy a farm, build a house, and send her nieces and nephews to school. Often, I would tease her, “Hey, Miss Moneybags, save some money for your funeral expenses.” Did she ever listen?

But now is not the time for questions. She had always been there for us; we will be there—as we pool our resources one last time—for her.   
Rest now, Manang Vi. “You have fought the good fight, you have finished the race, and you have remained faithful.” 2 Timothy 4:7 (NLT)

Dios ti agngina.

*an Ilocano honorific for older sister; Ate in Filipno



Unlikely Winner

It’s a common belief that students who have the money—and therefore have access to better schools, gadgets, expensive books and activities such as workshops and travels—will outperform those who have nothing.  

Carol, who graduated valedictorian in our church's school, proved this wrong.   

A slum dweller, Carol was a beneficiary of the church's outreach program, called the "afternoon class." It is a free, abbreviated grade school curriculum for indigent children who pass the entrance exam.

Carol excelled above everyone, including those in the paying sections. She was also an earnest learner, joining all school contests and activities, such as one of my creative writing workshops for children.   

Months later, our pastor surprised me, "One of your workshop kids, Carol, won the writing contest among all private school students in the city!” 

My heart soared. I asked our pastor to tell me more about Carol; only then did I know about her background.

Here was a kid who walked to and from school, perhaps malnourished, clothed and shod in hand-me-downs, and survived on irregular meals, besting all contestants in a writing competition!

It would be so easy for me, who taught her the basics of good writing; her teachers, who nurtured her talents in class; her donors, who financed her school needs in the "afternoon class;" or her parents, who birthed her, to claim the credit for her success. 

But wait.

Scripture says, "For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen." Romans 11:36

Only God can endow anyone with anything that can help children like Carol to fulfill their God-given purpose in life. May God alone be praised.  

Photo credit


MIBF 39: Crowded and Congested

People, people, people everywhere.

Old and young, toddlers and retirees, students and teachers lined up for hours to enter the MIBF venue on the event’s last day. The guards turned all exits into entrances just to accommodate everyone who forced their way in.

I had to leave our 42nd anniversary celebration in church immediately after a quick lunch to catch my 3:30 PM schedule for “Grace under Pressure” book signing at the CSM booth.

How I got in was magic, made possible by an official MIBF ID. One after the other, I received text messages from friends, who had earlier set a date with me, that they turned around, “Can’t swim in the sea of people!” 

Since it was still too early for my book signing, I dawdled in the Hiyas booth, where I met readers of all kinds and friends.

The air-conditioning was almost non-existent and to go from one place to another, you’d have to walk like a Chinese Amah with bound feet, or you’d crush into someone before, behind, or beside you.  Were it not for the joy I feel when surrounded with books and book lovers, I’d have whined.

I almost didn’t make it to the CSM booth in time because of the crowd. But once there, seeing and chatting with old and new friends, time stopped. The 30-minute schedule whizzed by and I overstayed by another 30. 

It took two hours for my driver to find me and help me with my purchases. A person of lesser mettle (or someone who does not love books as much as those who bore the inconveniences) would have passed up that last day or passed out. 

The unprecedented turnout on MIBF’s last day only meant one thing: more and more people are reading. And that falls under the category, “Wow!"