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.”