Online Grace (2):

A Modern-day Gift  

In my time, a college diploma cost parents an arm and a leg. Imagine what students spent for a four-year degree:

1. Dormitory cost (if you lived far from school)
2. Daily fare (if your home is just a ride or two away)
3. Allowance (food, school supplies, and books)
4. New clothes/uniforms
5. Tuition and miscellaneous fees 

That was before the advent of computer.

The modern age has dropped a gift onto our lap, literally.
Via a laptop, one can earn a degree right in the comfort of home—or any place where one takes his laptop—through Online Learning.

E-Learning eliminates the first four items in the list above. And it drastically reduces the cost of #5.

I have friends whose children have opted to take their college degrees online, not for economic reasons but to avoid modern-day problems outside the home: smog, traffic snarls, allergens, robbery, noise, accidents, etc. They claim that E-Learning is a modern-day gift and the greatest revolution in today’s education. 

I say it is online grace, a wise option, for this tech-savvy generation.


Online Grace (1)

Promise Fulfilled 

At some point in our lives, we make promises to ourselves. How many of them have been fulfilled?

Unfortunately, the trite phrase “promises are made to be broken” continues to be overused. It is difficult to fulfill a promise (defined as avowal of intent). 

My friend Luisa went against the grain. She fulfilled a promise she made to herself: “I will finish my degree.”

While still a college sophomore, she eloped with her boyfriend. Naturally, her parents were heartbroken and angry, “You are an undergraduate. Your future is shut!”

That hurt.

But Luisa understood what her parents meant. A degree spells higher pay, esteem of peers, and chances of employment/promotion. With her husband’s support, she took an online course, poring over assigned readings and papers between her domestic duties. For Luisa, this was online grace.

She was able to successfully finish all academic requirements and received (coincidentally on her baby’s second birthday) her diploma in BA Marketing.
It was her baby that melted her parents’ heart, welcoming her and her husband back into the fold. 

But to Luisa, it was a fulfilled promise that gave her the confidence to bravely face her parents—and her future.


Dear Imee, Take 2

(Another open letter to Imee Marcos)

What is it about you that spurs me to write another letter?

It’s your propensity for pseudologia fantastica. In layman’s terms: lying.

You have all the money in the world to get what you want and yet, you could not buy them all: all three schools—Princeton, UP, and AIM—have no record of you finishing the degrees you claim to have earned. And no diploma is for sale from these schools.

All three schools have already denied your claim, yet you persist to lie. You show us photos of you in a toga at a graduation-like affair, which do not show you receiving any diploma. In fact, in Filipino, you insisted, “Ah, basta ang alam ko, nag-graduate ako.” (Transliteration: Ah, but what I know is that I graduated.)

It is not demeaning to tell the truth. In fact, you’ll be a better person because of it. It is not wrong to be an undergraduate—but lying is.  It makes the nose grow long the way puppet Pinocchio’s did with every lie. Only when he finally learned to be truthful did be become a real human being. 
Your allies, particularly Sara Duterte (the President’s daughter and head of your party), have come to your defense, “One does not need a college degree to run for the senate.”  I agree. So why continue lying?

Sara did not stop there, she sneered, “Everybody lies, so what’s the big deal?”

Well, many mortals do lie, but they are not running for the senate. You are.

Sara continued, “Honesty is not an election issue.”

See how low we’ve sunk?   

I am just one voice in the wilderness, but a voice nevertheless. I represent the voters who live by grace and faith in Scripture. Is it too much to ask for you to own up? If you have no diploma from these schools, say so. It will unburden you from the onus of lying.

There is no better time than now to speak the truth, so should you become a senator, you can face us, your constituents, squarely. 

“The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in those who tell the truth.” Proverbs 12:22 (NLT)


Lifetime Achievement Award

“Congratulations, Tita Grace!” was the first message I read on my phone on the 8th of March. It came from a young writer, Alvin, whom I always meet in literary and arts gathering.

“We have the same interests and you are brilliant,” I joked in one of those events. “We must be related.” True enough, after tracing roots and family trees, we discovered that somewhere down there, we share the same forbears.

From then on, he has called me Tita (Auntie), an honorific that delights me, especially when they come from young kindred souls. Here’s what Alvin uploaded.
Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Francisco Balagtas is an award given by the UMPIL (Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas), founded in 1974. Transliteration: Union of Writers of the Philippines. It is a lifetime achievement award for writers in various Philippine literature. Mine is for children’s Literature in English.

Francisco Balagtas (1788-1862), for whom the Award is named, was a prominent Filipino poet and author recognized as the “Prince of Tagalog Poets” and was likened to William Shakespeare for his contribution and influence on Philippine literature. The famous 19th century epic romance, Florante at Laura, was his most defining work.

Alvin’s message that day was totally unexpected and it shocked me, to say the least. I ran out of clever words to say. But a silent prayer, thanking the Lord for this recognition of what I do to serve Him, burst out of my lungs. Then I came to and clicked on a sticker showing a cartoon character jumping with joy. Send.

I stood up and did exactly that. 


The Prune Connection

Plum trees do not grow in tropical countries, which is why we don’t have them in the Philippines. We get their fruits when they’re shriveled and wrinkled—as prunes, in the imported goods section of the supermarket.

Dried prunes are a regular fare for me. Packed with fiber and a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals, including potassium, iron and retinol, they’re grace for a malfunctioning, aging body. 

Plum fruits belong to the genus Prunus of the Rosaceae family, which includes peaches, apricots, and nectarines. They exist in diverse colors and shapes with over 2000 different varieties.

The plums in son #2’s backyard are red and small. And when we were there in the spring, the plum tree was in full bloom.
My research on plums revealed these facts: they are rich in vitamin C and have components with antioxidant qualities. I decided that while in California, I should eat as much as I could. Who knows what oxidants I could get rid of from my body? 

Like Eve, I bit into it. But unlike Eve, I came out with a loud, “Eeewww!”

“What’s wrong, Amah?” asked Adrian, concerned.

“Have a bite,” I said, as Eve said to Adam.

Adrian did and shrieked even louder, “Eeewww!”

It was nothing like the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Plums are the sourest fruit I have ever tasted in my life. “They’re not ripe yet,” I told Adrian, who was geared up to harvest them with me.

“Let’s have my parents taste them when they come home,” he said, with a conspiratorial grin.

“Okay, I’ll keep quiet about the taste,” I agreed.

Hours later, here’s what we heard from the parents, “Eeewww!” “Eeewww!”

Am I glad we get plums as prunes.


Gender Neutral

"How about we stop labeling things as ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’ and we start enjoying or disliking them solely based on our own preference or on their own merits?"  my friend Ida asked on her FB page

I typed in my reply, "Let's start with devotionals."

My book Grace Found Me: 365 thoughts for busy women came to mind. It is targeted to women, but during the launching at the Manila International Book Fair and in my book tours, men would line up to have me sign their copy. When I asked for whom it was, they replied without missing a beat, "For me."   

Cover by Jon de Vera, 2012                                  New cover by Amor Aurelio, 2017 
Later, readers would tell me that their brothers or father or husband are using the book, too. Two young pastors also said they use this devotional for their quiet time. 

What does that say about Ida's post?

Of late, people are disregarding labels in choosing devotionals and books. They buy what they want to read. When my husband recently ran out of books (an overstaying typhoon prevented him from going to the bookstore), he took one of my Jan Karon's Mitford series (he likes thrillers and history books; I prefer real-life fiction and non-fiction) and surprise, surprise, he read it till the end.

Gone are the days when I would mistakenly go inside the men's comfort room and be thoroughly embarrassed. Now both sexes can go inside the toilet in Starbucks and many other joints. 

Going a bit further, in the men's section of a department store, you could find bling-blings, floral shirts, and socks in neon colors, far removed from brown and blue.

Many things are going unisex, too: schools (same uniform for both genders); gyms; fashion; even names. I know of Georges and Alexes who are girls.  And I have friends named Maria and Amy, both men.

But these are mere trappings. They don't really make that much difference if both sexes use them. However, I draw the line on what Scripture says about gender roles.

The Bible has laid out for us the disparate, yet complementary, frameworks of a man and a woman. Christians should live out these designs.

Genesis 1: 27, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

Of our different roles, ". . . husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered." 1 Peter 3:7 (ESV)


Rash, Rude, and Reckless

Memes, editorials, and blogs are all over the Internet about how our president, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, talks behind the podium and how he freely spews profanities.

Rash? He makes pronouncements minus proofs or thorough thinking. His campaign promises, among others, specified deadlines. “I will solve the drug and traffic problems in six months.” This made all the other presidential candidates look inutile.

“I will ask the Navy to bring me to the nearest point in South China Sea that is tolerable to them and I will ride a jet ski‎. I will carry a flag and when I reach Spratlys, I will erect the Filipino flag. I will tell them [Chinese], fist fight or gun fight?” This reduced every opponent to a ninny.

Rude?  Here are just a few of those remarks (all translated to English):

He cursed Pope Francis: “Pope, you son of a bitch, go home. You’re causing too much traffic. Don’t visit here anymore.”

He slammed the European Union: “Stupid!" He rejected an invitation to visit the bloc’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

He condemned former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno: “That’s why you really have to go, even back then. You're already stupid, son of a bitch, you keep on saying all sorts of things.”

He belittled, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights): “Look, you have a big head but it's empty. There is no gray matter between your ears. It's hollow. It's empty. It cannot even sustain a nutrient for your hair to grow because his hair here is gone.”

He disrespected the Arabs: “Sons of bitches, Arabs, very smelly. They smell really bad.”

He demeaned the Americans, particularly Chelsea Clinton: “So you Americans, Chelsea, be careful because you live in a glass house. I repeat. When President Clinton was fucking Lewinsky, what was your statement or your reaction?”

He insulted priests, "Is there an intelligent priest? They are all stupid. If they aren’t stupid, they wouldn’t enter priesthood. You are a man, but you chose to be a priest. You keep on looking at all the beautiful women that you can’t court. My God."

Not content with mincing humans, he aimed all the way up: “Who is this stupid God? This son of a bitch created something perfect and then you think of an event that would tempt and destroy the quality of your work.” On another occasion, he mocked Jesus, "Your God was nailed on the cross. F**k! How unimpressive, I am God and you will crucify me?! Motherf**er, I'd tell them: 'Lightning, finish all of them. Burn all non-believers.'"

He has gone too far--and farther. How could a president denigrate his position by blaspheming the loving, merciful God who died on the cross for me so I may be saved?

Reckless. All of the above, plus many more, shows the world a head of state who respects no one, with no qualms about hurting anybody, especially the people whom he should serve.

“You are not pro-Duterte?!” asked a faith sister who idolizes the president and glosess over his rudeness and rashness.

“I am pro-anyone who respects my belief in a God who espouses the values I hold dear in Scripture," I replied. 

“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.” (Ephesians 4:29 ESV) 

Photo credit: cnn.com


Two Left Feet, Take 3

This topic seems to be an unending saga for me.

After two blog posts, here comes another one, something I didn’t think would ever happen to me.

I am not a last-minute person. I am ready before deadline for two reasons: to avoid stress caused by hurrying and to make sure I have everything down pat, nothing overlooked. (This behavior may have stemmed from past mishaps—when I left a confidential storyboard inside a cab, or misplaced my flash drive before my talk, or the dress I was to wear had shrunk in the wash and became too tight to wear decently, etc.)

So there was this one momentous day when I had all my gear ready the night before my teaching schedule. Early in the morning, I had our driver take them all to the car, including my shoes. Because of my foot-and-toes’ abnormal condition, I wear them only when I am about to get down the car.

That’s when calamity struck. The black shoes I thought were a pair were not! 

I was going to dare wearing them thinking nobody would notice. But when I put one left shoe on my hurting right foot, the pain was unbearable.
We had to quickly turn around to get the right pair, which delayed us for 30 minutes. And yes, I was late for class.

This take-three blog reminds me of Murphy’s Law, “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” On a macro scale, it is life. If we are too concerned about spit and polish—well, there is no such thing.

Here today, gone tomorrow. Healthy now, sick later. Winner on Monday, loser on Tuesday. We could plan and plan, and then pffft.

I am not changing into a last-minute person, but this episode proves to me once again that life is all about grace. 

“Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)