12/31/2018

What Next, Santa?

After Christmas, and at the end of the year, Santa Claus bows down to the Reason for the season, and bows out—to appear again next year when December comes.

This being my last post for 2018, I wish to thank portrait artist Gaye Frances Willard for this poignant and worshipful painting entitled “Every Knee Shall Bow,” uploaded and shared on the Net many times over all through the Christmas season. For me, this is one of the most gripping images exchanged this year.

May she find grace in all her canvases and paint brushes.

(From her website: "This painting is being offered as a signed and numbered limited edition print. This is one of the most heartwarming paintings of Christ in the manger with a kneeling Santa available anywhere.")

As midnight strikes tonight, another year will swing in. May we end our 2018 contemplating these Bible verses:

“Turn to me and be saved. All the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’ Isaiah 45:22-23 (KJV)

12/28/2018

The Christmas Party I don’t Miss


Christmas parties seem to multiply every year.

This December, I got invited to a dozen. Yes, 12. Instead of just one party for one organization, smaller groups now throw their own. Take our school, for instance. I remember attending just one party in past years. This year, there was one for the students and their teachers, one for our department, one for another department, one with the Board of Directors, one for an outreach program, etc.

It was no different in my home church: women's group, young couples' group, youth group, men's group, etc.

In the office where I used to work, there was a get-together out of town, one up north, one down south, etc.

I begged off from most of them, but there was one I didn’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t miss: The Christian Writers’  Fellowship (CWF) of OMF Lit. It was announced early:
But even without this assignment (the 3rd variation of the same speech Turn to the Word), I would never miss it for the world. Here, grace overflows. Word people of The Word worship and fellowship as one.   
Then the evening’s highlight: exchange books

This year, several budding authors attended the party for the first time. They surprised their older counterparts with the spoken word, emotive poetry read from their phones.

The exchange books was a riot, as usual. Each one gave an intro of the book he was parting with—usually dramatic or hysterical—and drew a name from a box. Mine was a gift from my cousin Lorna (below left). I hesitated letting it go, but the urgent message had to be shared. It went to my editor, Joan, who exclaimed, “Yey, I love Lutzer!” 


I got The Writer's Mentor (above right) from a poet/editor, Michelle.

Now all ecstatic over the books we received, we wolfed down the food and dove into conversations about—one guess—books.


12/25/2018

Unspeakable Gift


December 25. Today, Christians all over the world celebrate Christmas, or the birth of Christ.

But the date is inconsequential, really. It could be on the 12th of September or the 29th of February, or any day. Nothing changes the fact that one day long ago, the King of all creation gave man a Gift nobody could ever fathom nor deserve.

On Christmas, in a lowly manger, God became a mere mortal, so that 33 years later, He would die on the cross in place of sinful me—to have the chance to live with Him for eternity.

He did this in such an incredibly humble manner that is contrary to what He owns and can do. 
Since it is not about the date, it is not about the trimmings we fuss over either: not the angels, the shepherds, the magi plus all the things invented by modern man—the trees, wreaths, blinking lights, wrapped gifts, Santa Clauses, parties and reunions that define revelry.

Many songs (such as the one below sung by the Ball Brothers and the Go Fish band) and books have been written to describe Christmas, but it remains—to this day—an unspeakable Gift.

It’s about the Cross

It's not just about the manger 
Where the Baby lay 
It's not all about the angels 
Who sang for Him that day 
It's not all about the shepherds 
Or the bright and shining star 
It's not all about the wise men 
Who traveled from afar 

Chorus: 

It's about the cross 
It's about my sin 
It's about how Jesus came to be born once 
So that we could be born again 
It's about the stone 
That was rolled away 
So that you and I could have real life someday 
It's about the cross 

It's not just about the good things 
in this life I've done 
It's not all about the treasures 
or the trophies that I've have won 
It's not about the righteous that I find within 
It's all about the precious blood 
that saved me from my sin 

The beginning of the story is wonderful and great 
But it's the ending that can save you 
and that's why we celebrate 
It's about the cross 
It's about my sin 
It's about how Jesus came to be born once 
So that we could be born again 

It's about God's Son 
Nailed to a tree 
It's about every drop of blood that flowed from 
Him when it should have been me 
It's about the stone that was rolled away 
So that you and I could have real life someday 
So that you and I could have real life someday 
It's about the cross 
It's about the cross 
It's about the cross 

“Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” 2 Corinthians 9:14 (KJV)

12/22/2018

Who Is a Bully?


Three separate videos showing the same kid in Ateneo junior high, bullying three different kids, have gone viral on the Net over the last three days. These have sparked national outrage on social media.

Traditional media (newspapers, radio, and TV) have joined the fray by making this issue banner headlines and topic of editorials.

Except for child rights advocates, majority of netizens have hurled this child bully insults and angry tirades—some crying for the harshest of punishment such as expulsion from school, “beating him senseless” and “not letting him off the hook alive.” 

Vitriol and venom have stained our land.

Days earlier, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle (of the Catholic Church), in his homily to mark the Christmas season, condemned the abuse of power. He also proposed that the powerful—the country’s elected officials—to desist from being bullies.

He did not name names, but our president felt alluded to.

The next day, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, who habitually curses, belittles, and ridicules lesser mortals (or even higher mortals in the hierarchy of man, such as the Pope, the US president, and the International Criminal Court) behind the podium, often in the guise of jokes, hit back, “When did I ever scare or bully people?”

When indeed?

The dictionary defines bully as:

(noun) a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker. Synonyms: persecutor, oppressor, tyrant, tormentor, intimidator

(verb) using superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

Our Philippine law classifies bullying into five basic forms: physical, verbal, relational aggression, cyber-bullying, and sexual bullying.

Physical bullying is easy to identify. This usually involves hitting, kicking, destroying . . . which were graphically shown in the three videos.

Verbal bullying is “name-calling, insulting, threatening, intimidating, and also racist remarks and sexist comments.” This, too, is easy to identify as there are videos that record actions and words.

An Ateneo kid, not having yet reached the age of reason, gets chastised by a whole nation (that includes me) for hitting three other kids.

A big man, the size of a country president, gets admired for his “strong feelings” and for hitting with cuss words whomever catches his ire, giving shoot-to-kill orders, accusing people without proof, and hurting further an already fractious country. 

Who then is a bully? Let me recast that question: Who is the bigger (biggest) bully? And why is he not getting the same ire of a nation whom he bullies and divides every chance he gets? 

Selective judgment?
Deep breath here.

Despite all the bullying, let’s celebrate the birth of Hope.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10 NIV

Photo credit: Hiyas FB page 

12/19/2018

It’s (Not) the Same Banana


“Same Message, Different Words” would have been the accurate title of this post. But banana is more edgy, and at my age, I refuse to be called an old fuddy-duddy.

I refer to my Word People message which I delivered (and uploaded in three parts here) at the OMF Lit’s Book Dedication event prior to the Manila International Book Fair.

Shortly after that, I received another call from Yna, Publications Director of OMF, requesting me to reprise the message for the OMF Lit's corporation meeting, which gather corporation members and Board of Trustees.

That seemed quite easy, but is a no-no in advertising. Words have to be tailor-fitted to an audience.

The first event’s audience was different from these take-two attendees—they being eagles: formidable, seasoned men and women at the helm of their various workplaces, and whose mere presence leaves one shaking in her boots. 

So although I tackled the same topic, I had to recast the whole message—like starting from zero.

I am not complaining; I am actually grateful that an exercise such this makes a writer more careful with the crafting of her words.  It’s similar to a gym workout where the body becomes healthier and more pliable.

A healthy and pliable mind is key when writing books for different markets, which I like to do. In the 18 years since my first published book, I have written for various demographics—from pre-school toddlers, to grade school kids, to teenagers, to young adults, to single women, to working people, to parents, and to retirees.

This was therefore a grace assignment thrown my way to hone the writing. And, I guess, the speaking too.

Yup, the same message for different audiences is (not) the same banana.

12/16/2018

Kunol-Kunol


This term comes alive during our yearly clan reunion. It is a part of our program of activities.

What does kunol-kunol mean? To us, it is simply a time for bonding, doing nothing but talking about something and everything with a person or a group. No agenda, no expected output, no plan of action.

All along I thought that it is a legitimate word in Ilocano, the language of my forefathers. But it is not found in the Ilocano dictionary. Which means, we invented the term?! I wish I knew its etymology because kunol-kunol has been a large part of my growing up—my children’s and now of the grandchildren’s of my generation.

If it is a do-nothing activity, why has kunol-kunol been a vital part of our reunion? I think the answer lies in what some psychologists tell us: “Attachment is a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space.”

One book I read says this of human bonding—the development of a close, interpersonal relationship between two or more people. It takes place between family members or friends . . . whenever people spend time together.

Bingo! In our clan, it’s three days and two nights at the end and beginning of each year.

As we pack our suitcases again for this clan reunion (the theme this year is “Circle of Life”), where we find God’s grace in each other, we look forward to activities such as worship, first of all; fun and games; singing and dancing; presentations and tossing of coins for performers; and yes, that omnipresent kunol-kunol all of 74 years!

12/13/2018

A Hospital Room with a View


For the third time in three months, we rushed my husband, Tony, to the hospital due to the same heart problem: breathing difficulty.

An alert medical team immediately strapped him to wires and what-nots and had him go through a barrage of tests. Finally, we were ushered to a “suite” which would be our home during treatments. 

It is a far cry from your hotel-kind-of-suite, but that’s what they call our hospital room which overlooks an unending traffic snarl below and the university where I teach on eye level not far away. And there’s occasional Wi-Fi, which enables us to video chat with Adrian.

On day two, the air conditioner conked out and we were temporarily moved to another room, Tony’s contraptions in tow. During the hour that took the cooler working again, the maintenance men told this snippet of a story: our "suite” was “where  a rich, old lady was confined [with her maids, private nurses in shifts] for one whole year till she passed on. That’s why the air conditioner had not been cleaned as scheduled.” No wonder it blinked.

It is a room with a view; it is an eye witness to the health sagas of its guests, including ours. It watched the difficult journey of someone who bravely struggled with her sickness till the day her body gave up.

If only the room could talk, the writer in me would love to ask the whos, whys, wheres, whens, and whats of this yearlong hospital stay.

The medical teams have no time for a Q and A; they only attend to vital matters such as patients’ meds and care—not to a room with a view.

As I try to work on my next book on day three, while watching Tony finally able to breathe normally and sleep, I converse with God.
I thank Him for His favors (doctors, nurses, med techs, maintenance men, etc.), His grace, and even for the many mysterious things around me that I can neither explain nor understand. I thank Him for humoring me to express my views on important and trivial issues, such as our antiseptic temporary dwelling space. 

I pray we leave this room soon, life-saving and fascinating though it may be. I so miss my workplace, the little cozy room where I have my Bibles, my books, my files, my notes, myself. 

12/11/2018

Panorama of Human Misery


In developing countries like the Philippines, a high percentage of our population live in poverty.

We call them informal settlers; they build makeshift sheds on lands they don’t own.

There is no definite number of how many people in these places go hungry every day, but their shabby shacks on the fringes of middle-class neighborhoods tell all.       

In contrast, I’ve always viewed America as a land where food overflows, often wasted, and therefore nobody ever goes hungry.

I was wrong.

In California, a nephew and a niece took us on a tour of downtown Los Angeles (LA). Glitzy Hollywood was on top of the list, but on our way there, we passed through sidewalks upon sidewalks of filthy and haphazardly constructed tents. Called Skid Row, here’s where the homeless dwell in hunger, in destitute living conditions, not unlike our informal settlers. 

My heart broke.

In the early 1900s, the place was called “Hobo Corner,” because the place swarmed with tramps, grubby dirty and drunk. Many of them arrived from various states by train and now populate LA because the weather has no winter snow that needs heater to stay alive.

I discovered further that 15% of people in America are vagrants. In LA, the Police Department has been clearing Skid Row of dregs by arresting these down-and-outs, because they are a threat to the environment, sanitation, and aesthetics.

In the Philippines, according to The World Bank, slum dwellers cover 54% of population. Their areas are often burned by unknown culprits. 

LA’s homeless are individuals, while the Philippines’ poor are families. But where they both live continue to be a nagging image of our decaying national landscapes. Despite efforts by religious and civic groups, concerned individuals, and the government, we who enjoy three square meals a day and roof over our heads are assaulted daily by this panorama of human misery.

Believers of God’s bountiful grace have work to do. In my home church, many of our projects are skewed toward the children and the aged in the slums. We work at showing them how to look to the face of our Redeemer, where transformation begins.

“Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.” Psalm 105:4 (NIV) 

Photo credit (top): BBC News

12/07/2018

Where My Books Are


My heartbeat skips when I see my books in unexpected places. This one's at a coffee shop in a mall. 

And my heart jumps on a trampoline when I see my books in little people’s hands—posted at random on FB, like grace popping in unannounced.         

These are the places where I wish I’d see my books more often.

I’ve expressed this a gazillion times, but I will say it again: a book author is no author unless read. 

My unending dream then: As I continue to write more books, more and more kids would chance upon them, pick up the values I wove into every story, make them a part of their growing-up phase, and live them out in their adult years.

“. . . Jesus called a child to come and stand in front of them, and said, 'I assure you that unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven. The greatest in the Kingdom of heaven is the one who humbles himself and becomes like this child.' 

"'And whoever welcomes in my name one such child as this, welcomes me. If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose his faith in me, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone tied around his neck and be drowned in the deep sea.'" (Matthew 18:3-6 GNT) 

12/03/2018

Cut, Cut, Cut!


Five years ago, our church and village officers spearheaded a tree planting on the open space lot beside our place of worship. At that time, I was chairman of the board that administratively oversaw the premises of the church. I felt privileged to have been a part of this noble project for the environment.

In fact, I was blessed with the chance to plant one of over a dozen hardwoods: neem, mahogany, narra, etc.    

Year 2013
Every Sunday from then on, before and after going to church, I would gaze at those trees, especially the one I planted (above), as though I birthed that stately grace of God myself. As they swayed gracefully with the wind, I could actually feel and see their growth inch by inch.

In five years, they have grown really tall, almost dwarfing our church. What joy they gave the passers-by!

Yesterday, however, I got the shock of my life. As had been my weekly habit, I looked toward the area where those trees stood before entering the church. My tree and its many neighbors disappeared!

Rather, only their stumps remained. They were injured and disfigured, lying on the ground like discards. 

December 2018 (Arrow pointing to the tree I planted)
The last time I checked, we have this law, Republic Act No.3571 that specifically “. . .prohibits the cutting, destroying or injuring of planted or growing trees, flowering plants and shrubs or plants of scenic value along public roads, in plazas, parks, school premises or in any other public ground.”

Those trees, which riveted my eyes Sunday after Sunday were cut, cut, cut! Those saplings, lovingly planted by a group of concerned church members and residents one early morning in 2013, were mercilessly chopped off.

My heart bled. You know the pain you feel when your pet has been maltreated and in danger of dying? The only difference is that, these were more than one pet!

Trees are God’s creation, growing and looking up to the heavens—to protect man from earthly catastrophes. Can someone explain why some people would be so cruel to cut them? 

11/29/2018

Expect the Unexpected


“Think out of the box,” was our daily refrain in advertising. Fresh ideas were key in the creative department. And “Expect the unexpected” was one of our buzzwords.

This, however, does not only hold true for ad people. It is real life, actually. Unexpected things can surprise us anytime, even if you go on a sabbatical, when things are free and easy.

As soon as hubby and I had landed in America for a vacation, he had tummy trouble for two days, which might have weakened his immune system. Then he started having a terrible cough, which antibiotics or humidifier could not cure. Within this time, he took a sudden fall in our bedroom and fractured his wrist.
Not any of these twists and turns were expected. With his left hand in a cast (for 6 to 8 weeks), this stubbornly independent macho-man needed an assistant with every move.   

That’s not how creativity (in advertising) was defined. But in all, with his condition that suddenly required a sedate pace, we changed gears and leisurely visited unexpected places—exotic restos in neighboring cities, book stores, kin within the state, parks, and the library.
We stayed home on most days, spending time reading and with beloved grandson, Adrian.  
All the expected, preset active adventures had to be cancelled.

In these calm and quiet places, we found the grace of rest and refreshment, which is what a sabbatical should be.

True, we can plan and plan and plan, but . . .

“And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, ‘Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year . . . You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, ‘If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.’” James 4:13-14 (MSG)

11/25/2018

Where the Write Things Are


My longest trip this month was for a creative writing workshop for kids ages nine to 12. Distance is now relative—what used to be near (20-minute drive) is now far (two hours) because of the almost hopeless traffic condition from my place to any area outside our city.

My two-hour drive to the venue plus another two going home were what cost me to be with these kiddos who love to read and write. Yes, one must travel long to meet kids such as these at a place called Writers' Hang Out (of Where the Write Things Are) in nearby Bonifacio Global City. 

One of the children was in my workshop about six month's ago. She was even more  delightful as she was then—more confident, more prolific, and spoke like an adult. She said she keeps a regular journal and has written many stories. The rest, whom I met for the first time—voracious readers all—were just as quick on the draw.

I asked them to introduce themselves using a metaphor. I need not have bothered explaining what that figure of speech was. They wrote their introductions with speed—some doing not just one but four! And when they read aloud their ingeniously written pieces, pandemonium broke loose. They giggled and tittered.

My creativity exercise was naming the two beanie babies (a mammoth and a frog) I brought along. I asked, “What names would you give these moppets if they were characters in your story.” Their answers, with interesting rationales, showed epic creativity.   


A one-and-a-half-hour workshop is too short for anyone to write a story, but their responses to the writing exercises are gemstones waiting to be polished. 

You need not travel long to receive grace. But sometimes an author must.

11/24/2018

A Dozen Years


This post will stay current only for one day. It simply documents this date—my 12th blogsite anniversary—with a photo of 12 eggs in a tray, which is the first image that comes to my mind with the word dozen.

A dozen years, with one short essay hatched every three to four days, is a long time to many people. Not for me. Blogging is writing, and writing is what I love doing most of all.

My numbers are an added grace.  Today, Leaves of Grace has clocked over 685,000 hits, or an average of 56,000 a year. My blog posts now total 1,211 (an average of 102 uploads a year).

You need not look at the figures; they’re there only for me to remember the happy hours I spent on my keyboard typing up a reflection, a concept, a feeling, an issue, an opinion, and an observation about people, things, events, and places that have touched me. 

For all these, I am singing out loud, with a heart full of gratitude, one of my favorite action songs in kiddie Sunday School.

I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart
Where?
Down in my heart!
Where?
Down in my heart!
I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart
Down in my heart to stay

I've got the love of Jesus, love of Jesus
Down in my heart
Where?
Down in my heart!
Where?
Down in my heart!
I've got the love of Jesus, love of Jesus
Down in my heart
Where?
Down in my heart to stay.

11/21/2018

Photo Booths and Photo Books


It's been two months since the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF) and I am still seeing on social media photos of the event. Well, every year, it is undoubtedly the biggest and busiest time for publishers and authors. And there are thousands upon thousands of photos taken to document booths and books.

My romance with book publishing blossomed at one MIBF years ago. I call it romance because the dictionary defines the word as, “a feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life.” It is what I feel when I marvel at this undeserved favor, or grace.   

All through the year, most new titles that are created, chosen, written, edited, and printed are geared toward that much-awaited finish line—the MIBF, where book enthusiasts estimated at over 100,000 converge annually.

What better place is there to launch new books and showcase old ones?

During this five-day affair, the organizers and marketers create interesting nooks and walls (in addition to the publisher's booths), where bookworms can take souvenir photos of themselves while prancing around their happy place.   

Can't wait for the 40th MIBF next year! 

11/17/2018

Do Awards Matter?


The awarding ceremonies, which I was not told about, happened while Tony and I were in the US.

One week after we got back home, I decided to drop by the university where I teach—a stone’s throw away from my doctor’s clinic—to say “hello” to my colleagues in the faculty room. But the place was empty, as the new school year has not begun.

On my way out, I met the HR director. Her face lit up, “Good you’re finally back! Please come to my office.”

From her desk, she picked up two plaques and handed them to me with flourish, “You got two awards at our end-of-school-year event!”
Reading the citations, I muffed my words—an indescribable state of being that renders the mouth immobile; a feeling that urges you to shout with joy but your throat is choked.

“Awards boost the ego,” my ex-boss used to say. But that wasn’t how I felt at all. My ego no longer needs boosting. In the sunset of my years, I’ve trashed my self-importance into a place unseen.  

But why was I ecstatic?

Awards such as these are like arrows that point me in the right direction. Since these were based on my students’ (my main stakeholder) definition of me, I feel that the hours I spent creating ways to make sure they learned had not been for naught.   

These are the same students who, two months earlier voted me as this (published in our university magazine):
It’s uncanny that the title they gave me is the book genre I chose for my adult readers.   

So do awards matter? 

Does grace matter?

Leaving the workplace years back, while I was contemplating on writing a lot and teaching a little, I won my first Palanca award. That was one of my decision points. It affirmed the route I wished to take then, now, and until the Lord says, “Enough.”

And most of all, earthly awards foreshadow the ultimate prize I work and live for.  

“I run toward the goal, so I can win the prize of being called to heaven. This is the prize God offers because of what Christ Jesus has done.” Philippians 3:13 (CEV)


11/13/2018

The Trees of Eden


In California, where my husband and I resided for a month recently, I beheld all sorts of trees, in diverse sizes and colors.

They reminded me of Eden, of this specific verse: “The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Genesis 2:9 (NIV)

What kind of trees might the two in the midst of the garden look like? Were their leaves green? Magenta? Yellow? Were they as tall as redwoods? As short as dwarf willow? As elegant as cedar? As graceful as palm?
They were perhaps all of the above, because the Bible tells us they gratified all the senses. 

God’s Book further tells us that Adam and Eve were allowed to eat the fruit of all trees, including the tree of life, but not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2-3).

In our Bible study, we learned that eating the fruit of the tree of life represented choosing total reliance on God. It was there for the taking.

Eating the fruit of knowledge, on the other hand, represented human beings choosing for themselves what is good and evil, rejecting any direction from God. They were not to eat from it. “. . . but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die." Genesis 2:17

We know the story. Eve disobeyed God’s command and ate from the forbidden tree, offered some to Adam, and . . . why didn’t they die?

It was at that point that God extended grace.

Man has died spiritually because of sin, but he has a chance to be redeemed and live eternally through Jesus, the Tree of life.

11/10/2018

Heaven's Door


Aphorisms and idioms on the word door are many. Some of these are:

"Old ways won't open new doors." 

"When one door closes, another one opens." 
Helen Keller

"The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last." C.S. Lewis  

"To be a part of anything, get your foot in the door."

"If you need help, knock on someone's door."

In a metaphorical sense, door is found in many Bible verses. It is a non-physical entrance to nearly anything—an opportunity, a new beginning, another world, challenges, change, hope, choices, decisions, and grace.  It denotes passages and movements and has meaning to anyone who goes through it.

As a children’s book writer, however, I also think of a door in visual terms. Meaning, when I use the word door, I make sure it has a matching image for the young readers' appreciation. That picture should come to life through a book  illustrator’s pen or paint brush. 

So I ask myself, “How does this door look like?” It should be able to present the possibilities that door aphorisms convey. Would it be like any of the fascinating doors in this collage? 

There as as many door designs as there are artists who can invent them.

But there is one door which escapes my—and perhaps even all artists’—imagination: heaven's door:  

“. . . and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’” Revelation 4:1 (NIV)

How tall is that door? How wide? How ornate? How heavy? What’s it made of?

It can't be described to kids with words or images alone. One should be honest, and may come close to picturing it by resorting to superlatives, "That gateway to life everlasting is spectacular, glorious, magnificent—so much more beautiful than what all book illustrators can ever create together!"

11/08/2018

There Won’t Be a Third Goodbye


The first time I said goodbye to Liway was when she left for Canada for good. Together with some family members, she said they were relocating, but she was leaving a part of her heart here—especially in the church where we both served the same God. 

Saying goodbye is always tearful, but we convince ourselves that we’re not losing one another—there’s always e-mail and social media; Canada is not another planet, but just one long haul away. And the best panacea: prayer. It points us toward one direction and therefore keeps us together.

I do Facebook only sporadically, so I hardly read posts by Liway or her family. But somehow, last week, I did. There was a message from her son, Ron, that he flew from the Philippines to Canada to be with Liway in a hospital. "Priceless," he wrote.

What?!

A few days later, Ron posted another message that Liway didn't make it. 

No!

This second goodbye is more tearful than the first. It is virtual. No hugs, no fare thee wells one last time.

All I have left is this one blog post of gratitude—to God, for sharing Liway’s life with us; and to Liway herself, for her friendship. 
Once our church’s administrative officer, she was efficiency personified. Unknowingly, she taught me (a scatterbrained author) about filing, systems, methods, and prioritizing—all for the service of God. 

By grand design, there won’t be a third goodbye. When my own mortal breath shall stop, I will see Liway, with all our faith brethren, again and be overwhelmed by Jesus with grace, every second of our everlasting life. 

11/05/2018

Bling-bling of the Golden Years


It seems not too long ago when I was wearing heels as high as five inches, many of them in various colors and designs. I also remember wearing big beads around my neck, danglers on my ears, and rings that covered all my fingers.

Mani-pedi was part of my regimen—colors and designs got bolder and more edgy through the years. And oh, those fashion belts! They jangled and jingled as I walked.

Those were musts for dressing up and looking good.

While I wasn’t looking, however, those bling-bling have transmuted into reading glasses, then prescription glasses; a pair of hearing aids that needs constant change of batteries; dentures; flat, sensible shoes; and hair dye. And now this:
No, it’s not a corset; I wish it were. It is called lumbar support or brace. It’s to prevent the wayward spine from further deterioration and to free the nerves pinched by wear and tear.   

If you’re also in your golden years and are wearing all these newfangled bling-bling, you might even say there is nothing golden about these years: our hair and teeth are going; our eyes, legs, and fingers are failing; our muscles, bones, and bladder are weakening; and our energy, pep, and memory, waning.

Ah, but the Bible reassures us that growing old is a blessing.

“Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green." Psalm 92:14 (NLT)

God is giving golden agers the opportunity to pass on what we have learned through our many years on earth. The wisdom we have gained will help those still growing and learning.

“I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” Isaiah 46:4

The color of gold is grace.


11/02/2018

Last Selfie


Going home is exhilarating; saying goodbye is devastating.

These are diametrically opposed emotions, yet they co-exist. To go home, one must first say goodbye.

On our 30th day in America, ending a whole month of vacation, we got ready to go home. Son #2 took a leave from clinic-and-hospital duties to drive us to the airport. Hours earlier, at 3 AM, I woke up to say goodbye to Adrian and his mom who had a plane to catch for Toronto (to attend a granduncle’s wake).

Adrian and I hugged, and hugged one more time. He said, “Come again, Amah.” His mom gave me a tight squeeze, too, as I whispered my “thank yous.” I decided not to wake Angkong up to spare him the goodbyes.

Later in the afternoon, our bags were stowed in the car, too, all set to go home.   Along the way, son #2 stopped at I-Hop for our dinner.  Over roast beef and pancakes, the conversation was casual, nothing maudlin. And I stopped short of being mushy—muting what my mommy heart was saying, You did everything to make us enjoy our stay with your family, sparing nothing. Thank you. 

“Smile!” Son #2 said, as he held up his phone for a selfie. 
And that was that.

At the airport, he stacked our bags on a cart, gave me and his dad each a cursory hug, and said, “I will be in the parking lot. Call me after you’ve checked in.”

We did. And he drove back home. 

I coughed out the catch in my throat, and took off my shoes for security check.

On the plane, I looked out the window, strained my neck to see where we came from, and borrowed some words from an old hymn, “’Twas grace that brought us joy that far, ‘tis grace that will lead us home.”

10/30/2018

Aborted Plans


Nothing went as planned, but it turned out perfect just the same. 

I am referring to our vacation in the US this year. It was going to be one month for me, and one additional month for hubby. We were to fly to places unknown with cousins. Tony was scheduled to visit old buddies in other states.

But illness and a mishap got in the way. Tony got sick, then fractured his wrist. We decided to cut short his vacation and come home with me.

I say it was perfect because instead of traipsing all over America, we stayed home and spent all of our time with family—especially with Adrian, whose classes had ended for the year.

When it comes to traveling, Tony is the roamer and I am the roomer.  He loves going places while I am content staying put. With this trip, we discovered we could be both.

Tony needed the month to mend while I joyfully spent most of my time writing (over 40 blog posts scheduled till the end of November!) and dove into experiences I had not yet gone through: pop culture and sports. We watched the latest sci-fi movies and the NBA finals. In between, almost daily, we tried different restaurants in neighboring cities.  

And there were those two awesome days when Adrian’s parents went on an overnight date, leaving with us this delightful dynamo who was Tony’s solicitous caregiver. Grace overload.

The three of us went out to lunch twice—with Tony driving with one hand. This was Adrian’s version of a selfie in a Japanese Restaurant called Shomi, one of his favorite haunts.

The other was Ahipoki, offering raw Hawaiian dishes.

Alexander Graham Bell’s words rang true, “When one door closes, another opens.”


10/29/2018

10th Faceversary


Ten years ago, I did something daring: I joined Facebook.

Before making that decision, I thought about it for a long time. People of my generation grew up on snail mail and telegrams to communicate with each other. Now, what good it would do me if I ditched those and went digital, joining thousands of young people who had been there for some time?

I never got around to answering that question. On October 23, I opened my FB account. And my every day has never been the same again.

Two years earlier, I started blogging. So now, with FB, I became a legitimate and certified netizen. As unexpected bonus, I started receiving God’s daily dose of grace also from my computer screen.

I had forgotten about that habit-changing decision till I received a short video from FB reminding me of that fateful day. It’s a video made with cookie cutter (for millions of other users) but hey, it’s worth documenting it.

I took screen shots and here is the video frozen in time. Let me greet myself, then, with this new word FB invented, "faceversary." Happy 10th, Grace!