Must We Take Sides?

There are many heroic people in history who spoke against tyranny. Two come to mind.

One, Elie Wiesel. At age 15, he was a part of the holocaust which killed six million Jews in Auschwitz. Having survived that reprehensible genocide, he wrote his memoir in a book initially titled And the World Would Remain Silent. The abridged version became a bestseller and translated into many languages, and considered a groundbreaking work on the terrors of the Holocaust.

Wiesel’s personal suffering with the Jewish people has become a symbol of repressed people anywhere in the world.

In 1986, Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace prize as “one of the most spiritual leaders and guides in an age when violence, repression and racism continue to characterize the world.” These memorable lines were part of his acceptance speech:

Two, Martin Luther King. A third-generation pastor in the family, Martin Luther received his doctorate degree in Theology from Boston University.

Having experienced race segregation in school, Dr. King was a passionate worker for civil rights for the Negro race, and quickly became leader of the first great Negro non-violent demonstration of contemporary times in the US.  

He led the famous bus boycott (requiring segregation of Negroes and whites in buses) that lasted 382 days. The US Supreme Court eventually declared unconstitutional the laws requiring such segregation. During this boycott, Dr. King was arrested, his home was bombed, he was subjected to personal abuse, but he emerged as a nonpareil Negro leader.

Dr. King spoke over 2,500 times denouncing injustice in massive non-violent protests and peaceful marches.

At the age of 35, Dr. King was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. He donated his prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement. Three years later, an assassin ended his life.

Our voice may not be as loud as the two great men's, but we have a voice nonetheless. It is grace given to us so we may speak up against what is wrong.

We cannot remain neutral.

We cannot be bystanders forever watching the tyranny parade—of injustice, lies, murder, treason, blasphemy, slander, insult, and all manner of oppression—marching by. As Elie Wiesel and Martin Luther King showed the world, and as written in Scripture, we need to take the side of good.

We must take sides. 

“. . . hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” 2 Thessalonians 4: 21-22 (NLT)


A Débutante at 80

One of my older cousins, a grandmother many times over, was turning 80; her eldest daughter sent us an invitation, RSVP, to her birthday party. I immediately confirmed our whole household's attendance (husband, sons #1 and #2, and me).

With all the new diseases spawned by pollution, chemicals in food, and modern-day stress, it’s becoming rarer for people to reach their 80’s, strong enough to weather a party. We had to be there.

When D-day came, however, Tony was still recovering from a three-day hospital confinement. So we left him at home in the care of a househelp. Two sons and I rushed to reach the venue on time.

But with the famous mad Manila traffic, the celebrator was already marching toward her throne when we huffed and puffed our way in. Yes, there was a throne on stage, complete with all the trimmings of a posh debut party! Yes, there were also eight roses (one representing each decade), eight candles, and eight dances with eight different partners (sons and grandsons). Yes, there was a tall cake with eight wishes, etc. etc. etc.

And yes, the débutante changed gowns twice!   

She was radiant and beaming, indulging her children and grandchildren who orchestrated it all. And she was stunning in both outfits—complete with false eyelashes, perfectly arched eyebrows, red lipstick, and bling-bling.   

“Mom when you turn 80 . . .” son #3 started to tell me.

“You do something anywhere near this, and I will walk out!” I threatened him.

He shut up, grinning. An off-stage character I am. My idea of a party is dinner around the table with close kin, feasting on filling food and boisterous banters.

But I rejoiced with my cousin on her special day of grace. She was blessed with verve to weather the feast and ceremonies, making the guests marvel and cheer with excitement.

I have attended many 18th debut parties through the years; this 80th for a grandma was, by far, the grandest yet.   


The Land Not Our Own

My only sister Aie and I get into discourses on anything and everything whenever we have a chance to be together. A chance came at the end of last year when she took a rare “leave” from her church work in the place of worship put up by our forefathers. 

She has taken on many jobs—preparing Sunday school materials, conducting the choir, helping with the youth ministry, preparing the weekly liturgy, some janitorial work where needed, assisting with fund raising to rebuild the decayed parsonage (Project Nehemiah), assisting the pastor, etc.

“A bit daunting for a senior,” I grimaced.

“They’re for the Lord, and I enjoy doing them,” she replied with no intention of shaming her manang (older sister).

I was chastened just the same.

“So what happens to your pieces of land?” I asked. She and her late best friend, Daisy, purchased two in different areas. “You have no time left for them.”

Thirty years ago, she and Daisy planted many trees on both. Today, the branches of one mahogany tree will be used for the construction of the parsonage.

“You can’t leave lands idle—they need nurturing,” I pushed.


“Assign someone in your place,” I nagged.


“Dave has done wonders with GraNaMED [the acronym created by our parents for the land they left us. It combines our names—five siblings]."   

Using his engineering savvy from two degrees, Dave personally took on GraNaMED two years ago after he retired from corporate work abroad. He has multiplied the produce, laggard for decades under two tenants. Now the land teems with life—rice, corn, all kind of vegetables, etc.   

“Dave has your passion for land and the only one who makes time to develop it, hands-on. Why not leave yours to him?” 

My thought balloon: The land is God’s, not ours, not even with a Title to show for it. By grand design, the land outlives us, the way it outlived Abraham and our Bible heroes to whom they were earlier bequeathed. We should, therefore, be good hands-on stewards of the land we can never own, so that it will continue to serve the generations to come.

“Decide soon,” I repeated.

Meanwhile, I will continue tilling my own land: pages of books that speak of the grace of our Master Landlord.   

(My header is a photo of the corn that Dave planted on GraNaMED. It will stay current only for four days, the duration of this post.)    


Circle of Life

Inspired by the Disney movie, Lion King, the hosts (nicknamed Ruth sub-clan) of our 74th annual clan reunion at the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019 chose one of the film’s songs as the theme, Circle of Life.

In the movie, this symbolic phrase refers to the series of events that unfolds on earth, then repeats itself again and again: from beginning to end, from cradle to grave, from birth to death. Simba grows up, learns about life, and becomes the Lion King—and then his son will likewise grow up, learn about life, and become the Lion King.

In the Bible, animals and people exist together and both go through the circle of life. Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 (NLT) reads, “ For people and animals share the same fate—both breathe and both must die . . . Both go to the same place—they came from dust and they return to dust.” 

With this theme, how does one honor the clan members who have gone home to Jesus? We found an old hymn, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” written in 1907 by Ada R. Habershon (music by Charles H. Gabriel). The lyrics hope for the circle to remain unbroken—that we who are left behind will follow in their footsteps and emulate their great faith so that one day, we will all be together in the great beyond for a grand reunion.  We used this hymn in a slide presentation remembering and thanking the Lord for our forebears during the memorial/thanksgiving service.

Will the Circle Be Unbroken? 

One by one their seats were emptied.
One by one they went away.
Now the family is parted.
Will it be complete one day?

The photos below tell the story of our clan’s circle of life—how its members have celebrated the grace of family, pioneered by my maternal grandparents 74 years ago. 

First family reunion, 1945  
Our grandparents with their 9 children, my mom among them
In 2018, we breached the 400 mark, with majority of clan members scattered all over the world. But a good number—150 to 200—make time to attend the reunion every year. 

Half of the family circle to end 2018 and begin 2019
74th clan reunion attendees 


Christmas Crafts

After finally convincing myself of the irrelevance of Christmas trees in December 2016, I threw away our old tree, except for two branches. These went into my centerpiece, a tall flower vase, in the living room. Old and dusty pink petals from silk flowers broke the monotony of green pine needles.

But habits and cravings die hard.

I’ve always been fascinated with crafts and love doing them. The Christmas season had been my time to indulge myself by creating thingies for my Christmas tree.

Since the tree had long gone into the garbage can, I carted the two tree branches left from the storage again, sat them inside my tall vase. This time I tackled origami, folding tiny paper butterflies to make  the tree branches look like they’ve been swarmed by these flying wonders of nature.

I also retrieved from a drawer the colorful turkey platter—since the turkey tradition is also gone for good—to the terrace to have a semblance of décor, which I didn't even attempt to have. In seconds, it was appropriated by our cat, Fiscal, who must have thought I brought it out especially for her.

Come to think of it, It seems like a cat, not a turkey, belongs there.

No tree, no turkey, no special décor. No distractions. Just a soundless time spent on crafts to soundly reflect on Christmas, the birth of Grace, as the Gift for all mankind.     


Someone Else’s Turkey

Two Christmas celebrations ago, we ended our tradition of preparing our own turkey dinner.

Son #3, who inherited the task from Tony years ago said, “I can’t do it alone.” Not without Manang  Vi, whom we asked to rest due to unexplained ailments (she loathed seeing a doctor) before Christmas 2016.  We ordered one from somewhere and tried to enjoy it as much as we relished our turkeys all the years before that.

It was not the same.

One year later, just before Christmas 2017, we lost Manang Vi forever. I guess, along with her passing, we passed up the tradition of having turkey on our own dinner table, ever. Son #3 suggested we have the bird in a hotel nearby.

And so we did.

Came 2018, and son #3 (the turkey point-person) had this brilliant Christmas gift idea for Tony, me, and son #1. “I’ll treat you to a staycation in the same  hotel that serves turkey for dinner.”

And so he did.

Yes, the dinner at 6:30 PM included a turkey, someone else’s turkey. It didn’t come with memories of raucous and laborious preparations, but it served as a neat photo background.   

“Isn’t this a great idea?” Son #3 wanted affirmation around our dinner table. “No pots, pans, and plates to wash; no kitchen mess; no left overs; no fuss.”

By 8:00 PM, the rich buffet for the first batch of diners ended. We took the elevator to Tony’s and my room, exchanged gifts for about 10 minutes, some photo ops (through my prodding).

And off the boys went to their own room.

In the silence, I took the chance to meditate on God’s Word, c/o JC’s Christmas gift—and thank Him for JR’s staycation treat, for giving Tony respite from what has been ailing him the past months, and for the gift of family, friends, and life itself.   

The Message 100, page 1383, reads:

The story of Jesus doesn’t begin with Jesus. God had been at work for a long time. Salvation, which is the main business of Jesus, is an old business. Jesus is the coming together in final form of themes and energies and movements that had been set in motion before the foundation of the World. (Eugene H. Peterson)

John 1:1-5 . . .

"The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
in readiness for God from day one.

"Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!—
came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out."

And all thoughts about turkeys and such came to pass.


Births on Christmas Eve

Attorney, our five-year-old dog, suddenly decided to give birth around mid-morning on the 24th of December. It’s a first for her, so she was edgy and nervous.

When the first puppy was birthed, all soaked and wrapped in a thin, translucent filament, Atty. was clueless about what to do. Son #3, JR, who is the rightful master of Atty., had to make like the obstetrician/veterinarian to help our first-timer do her job.
She even went hiding in the bushes, before she birthed the next two a couple of hours later—perhaps to be alone. Still, Atty. wasn’t the mother she was meant to be; she whimpered and whined with discomfort.  

It was at this point that Tony, sons #1 and #3 and I had to leave because we were booked in a nearby hotel for our Christmas dinner and overnight stay.

Coming home the next day, Dec. 25, we were told by Korina, our chirpy-and-treasure-of-a-househelp, that Atty. birthed two more just before midnight. And at last, JR's dog was free! Back to her old, peppy self—wagging her tail and wiggling all over her master.
Sans Motherhood 101, Atty. learned how it is to be a mom in those 12 hours and now the five puppies are quiet, being fed by her with no fuss, and hopefully, they are all content.
How awesome it is to witness the way grace wonderfully fashions nature! 


Tips for Word People at Christmas

Social media can sometimes do wondrous things. 

My friends’ posts about our OMF Lit Christian Writers’ Fellowship (CWF) Exchange Books Christmas Party were read by other friends in the US. One requested for a copy of my message—to share with other writers in the world.

I sent it faster than I could blink; I seize every opportunity to encourage others to write about The Word.

Media Associates International chose 777 words from the 2,400-word message. I am delighted to share it with you, my Leaves of Grace friends.
Tips for Word People at Christmas
By Grace D. Chong, the Philippines

For over 20 years, I worked in a company that arranged words in garden-fresh, creative ways to sell products—I was a creative director.  Every day I’d work with creative writers, art directors, and producers to develop commercials for products and services from A to Z, literally. A for airline, B for bank, C for clothing, D for detergent bars to MSG, pizza, soaps, to a zoo. It was an endless wordsmithing—re-arranging words, words, words.

Words were my staple for breakfast, lunch, supper, and meriendas (snacks) too. I breathed words every hour of my life. And I counted every one of those words. To sell a brand, we had to distill a lifetime worth of research on consumer insight into a 30-second commercial—which is no more than 40 words.

But one day, I, a wordsmith of the world, by divine intervention, suddenly had an epiphany moment. I turned the corner and faced words of a different kind—The WORD. I left writing words for a living; from that day forward, I started writing about how grace found me. My view of ordinary and mundane things, as though by magic, has turned extraordinary and surprising.

When you decided to be a writer, you transformed into WORD PEOPLE as well. We may have come from different wombs, different eras, and different experiences, but we are all now WORD people—you and I. Our one goal is to produce and market that one special commodity, or in Marketing, “product.” And that product is The WORD.

This product was launched on CHRISTMAS. It was on this symbolic day that the world witnessed an astonishing self-humbling: God almighty made Himself in the likeness of man. The greatest act of grace.

Jesus Christ became flesh in a manger. Through this human birthing, God revealed this truth: only through Jesus can man go on living in a glorious eternal home. No WORD PERSON of this world can ever fathom or write enough about this astounding act of grace delivered on Christmas day.

Grace remains the greatest mystery of all time.  In fact, His birth was not explained. The angel simply said, ” . . . Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2:10 KJV)

But Scripture, THE WORD, gives us wonderful clues—clues like believing in our Savior, born on Christmas, also births a new spirit in us.  “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name . . .” John 1:12 (KJV)

Like in a manufacturing firm, we wordsmiths develop this product by using our individual voices for various demographics: preschool kids, grade school children, Gen Z’s, millennials, working people, middle managers, Baby Boomers, church workers and retired seniors.

But Ernest Hemingway said this of writers, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” If I may add, since Christian writers have a master goal, we must try to be masters of our craft—because we write about the Master of all.

How? I read up on tips from various published authors on how to be a better writer, and I am surprised that I share with them these seven attitudes:

Be simple. Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”  The Bible is for all ages to understand.

Be clear. The difference between a writer and someone who writes is that a writer enlightens the reader, while someone who writes confuses the reader.

Be excited. Nothing should bore nor stump you when arranging words.

Be perceptive. More than having a rich vocabulary, word people must know the nuances of meaning that distinguish, say, “scriptural” and “Biblical.” Or the difference between a relevant idiom and an empty cliché.

Be open. Let’s handle criticism professionally. Editors always criticize draft copy. If the editors feel they must walk on eggshells when dealing with writers about edits, productivity suffers mightily.

Be precise. The devil is in the details of grammar, punctuation and syntax. From a careless writer, readers see a careless author.  We must not let editors do all the clean-up work for us.

Be your own editor. There is always something—a word, a phrase—that could have been said better after the book has been published.

WORD people—we all are, we are one in our goal of turning readers to THE WORD.

And this is what makes Christian publishers unique, different from all publishers. Our raw materials, for the only product we produce and sell, come from only one Supplier—the Supplier of Truth, which is The WORD, birthed on Christmas.

Merry Christmas!


What Roads to Take

Where am I going this New Year 2019? 

I don't know. But I hang on to God's promise found in Isaiah 42:12-16. Let me quote from this Bible translation, The Message 100, a Christmas present from son #1. 
“I’ve been quiet long enough. I’ve held back, biting my tongue. But now I’m letting loose, letting go, like a woman who’s having a baby—stripping the hills bare, withering the wildflowers, drying up the rivers, turning lakes into mudflats. 

“But I’ll take the hand of those who don’t know the way, who can’t see where they’re going. I’ll be a personal guide to them, directing them through unknown country. I’ll be right there to show them what roads to take, make sure they don’t fall into the ditch. These are the things I’ll be doing for them—sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute.”

Thousands of new years later, the promise still holdsfor you and me. Each of our roads will be strewn with grace every square inch of the way.

Happy New Year!