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)


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.


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


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! 


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)


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.


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!"


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.


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


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. 


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.


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.”