8/29/2019

A Cover Story


In many advertising agencies years ago, each of those in the creative department would be assigned a partner. A writer would be paired with an art director, and they were called a concept team.

One of my first partners was Lydia.

Each frame of her storyboards was like a masterpiece—the figures were drawn with such flair they moved, and their faces spoke a thousand words. "When I grow up," she used to say, "I'd be a painter."

"You could be one right now," I'd reply, meaning it. 

"But I need a regular income," she said.  Her kids and my own were still of school age then.

I teamed up with other art directors through the years, till I I found myself solo as the department head. Lyds finally took the risk and mounted a one-man show, where I fell in love with one of her mother-and-child paintings.

"Why don't you take that?" she suggested.

"I can't afford you," I said.

"I'll give it to you at half the price, on installment."  Deal!

From then now, the works of Lydia Velasco are some of the more recognizable art pieces in the country. Her impressionistic renderings of the human form with expressive faces (women especially) hang in many mansions, homes, art galleries, and museums; some had been auctioned at Sotheby’s.

She fell ill recently, and I visited her—what a grand reunion it was at her huge art studio! Then an idea hit me as I swooned over her chefs-d'oeuvre. Would Lydia lend me one of her faces for the cover of The Other Cheek?

“Sure,” she said. “Choose!”

I took close-up shots of many faces and after saying our good-byes, I sent all photos to my publisher, explaining why.
 The cover artist and editors gushed over her images and tada!        

I thank the Lord for the grace of Lydia and her art—specially for this book on forgiveness.

“. . . If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.” Matthew 5:39 (NLT)

Lyds and I at her studio 

8/25/2019

The Other Cheek:

The Backstory

(An excerpt from my latest book, "The Other Cheek")    

Back cover                                                   Front cover 

One of my friends, Ggie, had nagged me about writing a book on forgiveness. “I have a gripping story for you,” she said, dangling a carrot. When that didn’t work, she pricked my conscience, “The number of hard-hearted people is alarming and growing every day. We need to learn how to forgive. As an author, you can help.”   

This went on, with predictable consistency, for over five years.  But each year, I'd write a book on another subject. She might have wondered why I never seemed to consider it—forgiveness being one of the hardest, if not the hardest, acts to bestow upon anyone who had deliberately done you wrong and deeply hurt you.

I have considered it; I have been turning it over in my mind since that day Ggie first raised the idea. However, I met three roadblocks.

One, there are far too many books already published about forgiveness—by authors with more authority than I will ever have.

Two, I could not put a finger on what forgiveness is exactly. Is it saying “I forgive you” or “I have already forgiven you” to someone who has caused you profound pain? Or is it simply moving on, ignoring the wound.

In the Old and New Testaments, there are many illustrations of forgiveness by different  characters in various timelines. Their formats and plots are not the same. Jesus also never spelled out the meaning of the term for us. 

Three, the astonishing, blanket forgiveness that was graphically demonstrated to us on the cross is inimitable. It. Cannot. Be. Matched. Only the Son of God, bleeding and in the throes of death, could spare all evil men with a sweeping statement, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing." Luke 23:34 (NLT)

How can humans even come close to such an immensely selfless act?

During one of my quiet times, while meditating on Matthew 5:39, I sat up and glimpsed a flash bulb. “But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.” 

The other cheek?!

This concrete image suddenly nailed it for me, like an “aha!” moment. Forgiveness, instead of hitting back, was mandated by Jesus Himself, and must therefore be humanly demonstrable. I started seeking out real-life stories for affirmation. To my surprise, aside from Ggie’s story, there are many. Too many, in fact, for one book alone. 

So, what does it take to forgive?

From story to story, this book takes snapshots of forgiveness moments among ordinary people in everyday life. These grace moments differ from person to person. But they all happen at that precise, although often imperceptible, instant when we are able to look at the circumstances leading to or surrounding the offense with clearer vision—finally understanding the big picture.

In Scripture, it all boils down to: what offering the other cheek means; what it takes to forgive.

 * * *

The above excerpt was inspired by and based on a  blog I posted last year, when I was still toying with the idea. I did not realize it then, but I was already writing the book's Foreword. And here it is! Grab a copy of The Other Cheek at the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF),  Sept. 11 to 16 at SMX MOA, Church Strengthening Ministry (CSM) booths. I will be there for book signing on the 11th at 3:PM.

8/21/2019

Whom is Dead


Over fern-and-tomato salad, my friends Yna, publications director of OMF Lit; Yay, a fellow author; and I talked about our favorite topic: books. Yes, books—and the elements of books: words.

“Did you know that whom is dead?” Yna asked. “You can now use who in its place—and it has become correct in many publications.”

What?!

But, but I take pains in teaching my students the difference and although it takes grace for me to remain calm wading through a mighty long explanation—resorting to mnemonic devices for them to remember—they eventually get it. And now I never have to mention whom ever?

Not that I didn't believe Yna, but as soon as I got home, I went to work and researched the bombshell. These I have culled from various readings:

“In practice, most people never use whom in speech because it sounds extremely formal. Or they don't use whom at all, and instead use who in all contexts.

My personal opinion: they don’t use it because they can’t tell how it differs from who. Figure these:

Who should we support?

Who do you wish to speak to?

These are utterly wrong in grammar. But now they are correct?! Let’s take some famous lines with whom and change it to who:

For Who the Bell Tolls (novel by Ernest Hemingway)

To who it may concern.

From who is this?

Not quite right, but now they are?! Well, for the longest time we’ve all been singing “Who Can I turn to?” and never found it wrong.

As a writer and a teacher, however, today I mourn the demise of whom. But I will still use it in loving memory of its correct usage in all my books.

8/17/2019

Malachi 3:11 Pest Control


Son #1 pointed out to me the streamers advertising a pest control company in our village. Its name? MALACHI 10:11.
Strange.

“Why would a pest control firm use a Bible verse for its name?” I asked.

“Look up the verse, Mom, and find the answer,” he replied.

Malachi 10:11, "‘I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,’ says the Lord Almighty." 

Hmm. You can interpret this in two conflicting ways: it is sacrilegious; it is pious. And a third one might come from admen: ingenious.

If I were still an ad gal, possessed with an out-of-the-box mindset, I would probably cheer its irreverence. My peers would gush, "Wow, brilliant!"

But now as a writer on grace, an earnest student of the Word, I don’t know what to think.

I niggle myself, “Have you lost your sense of humor?” Yeah, have I become dull and boring?

Mulling this further, I think this has to do with the copyright/plagiarism issues we authors (and teachers) face in today’s digital world. Try using a phrase or an image from the Net, and you get accused of using a creation not your own—to make money for yourself.

This Malachi 3:11 Pest Control is a commercial firm, advertising itself to gain customers in growing the business, for profit. Is there some kind of ethics violated then? Is this a moral issue?

Questions, questions. Scads of questions about what are acceptable today: same-sex marriage, for one; cursing people in public places, for another. Sigh, my space limits me to list more.

For me, Malachi 3:11 is simply an offshoot of verse 10, which is often quoted at church during offertory.

Here’s how Malachi 3:10 segues to Malachi 3:11, 10‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.' 11 'I will prevent pests from devouring your crops . . .’”  

Is the firm’s name an over-promise?  But aren’t most advertisements?

8/13/2019

Rant and Rave


A few years back, after I started this blog on grace, I also put up its polar opposite, where I was to rant and rave—you know the kind where all you do is complain and whine about anything. I thought that what I shouldn't say on this site, I'd freely write there.
I had four posts, which I struggled to compose. First off, I couldn’t find words nasty enough to make the post boil with rage. Unlike on this site where I couldn't stop writing, that angry site left me panting. I purposely forgot about it till its memory all came back when I reviewed my three most visited posts on leavesofgrace.  

Ewww! Did I write those?!

Conclusion? My most visited posts are those where I spouted venom—pieces that, in hindsight, are about disgrace. 

Conclusion? I have ceased to be a rant-and-rave person. Rather, even if I see things to rant and rave about, grace yanks out my blinders and fixes my vision on the vista of blessings.

Conclusion? Many people shun tame posts because they get excited over reading—and agreeing to—those that spew malice and insult.

Conclusion? Rant & rave is in.

Well, there are just too many blood-curling issues today that incite blustering. So this is the time I need to revisit . . .

My dad saying, “You can disagree without being disagreeable.”

My boss/mentor saying, “You get things done faster with friends rather than enemies.”

King Pyrrhus of Epirus (who defeated the Romans at Asculum in a.d. 279, but lost his best officers and many of his troops) saying, "Another such victory and we are lost." To him is attributed the popular adage, “Win the battle but lose the war.” Ranting and raving can win small battles, but the bigger picture is—the war. It's what should be won.

The Scriptures saying, “Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper—it only leads to harm. For the wicked will be destroyed, but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.”  Psalms 37:8-9 (NLT)

8/09/2019

2019 National Children’s Book Day


(Borrowed from the OMF Lit website)

To celebrate National Children’s Book Day, we asked some of our Hiyas authors to answer two simple questions.

These are the answers of award-winning and best-selling author Grace Chong.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF READING TO CHILDREN?

Various studies by educators and psychologists have been conducted to find out the advantages of reading to the young. No disadvantages have been recorded, only advantages—and they are countless.

Three of them are:

1. They learn about sounds, words, characters (animals, people, nature), thus developing their imagination, creativity, language skills and fluency.

2. They learn to listen, concentrate, and sit still, which is difficult for this new generation of kids who are given gadgets as “yaya” and see their elders busy on the same.

3. They learn critical thinking (especially if you read to them diverse books)—asking questions, forming opinions—and will be encouraged to enjoy reading, as they grow up, to find answers and new information.

 May I add a fourth, and the most important one for me:

 A kid who loves to read will devour the Bible, the Book everyone should read. 

WHAT’S THE LATEST CHILDREN’S BOOK YOU’VE READ THAT YOU REALLY LIKED?

My son just gave me this pasalubong from Iceland. Quite “timely.”
(Note: Iceland is the country that filed a resolution calling on the United Nations Human Rights Council [UNHRC] to act on killings linked to President Rodrigo Duterte's crackdown on illegal drugs. The president’s reaction: “Iceland, ano ang problema ng Iceland? Ice lang.” Translation: “What’s Iceland’s problem? Just ice.”)  

8/05/2019

Swimming Seasons


Seasons change with time; so do our swimming seasons.

There is this one resort club of which we have been members since over two decades ago, before it was even fully constructed. It is literally between mountains and overlooks the country’s smallest volcano within a lake, Taal.
Whenever we had guests from out of town, we’d take them there for swimming—just an hour drive away. It was convenient to take our then growing kids there for a swim, too, almost every month. 

And because it is up in the mountains, you could whisper to the clouds. Embraced by tall trees and various flora, the air is cool and the view (especially of the volcano) is breathtaking.

My late mom loved it there. She could do one lap, swimming backstroke or breast stroke, in her 80s without panting. My foster brother from the US loved it so much, he wanted to buy a house there.

The kids have grown up and son #2, after getting married, left to live in the US. But each time he and his family—now with our beloved grandson, Adrian—visit, we’d spend sometime up in he clouds.

In fact, we just arrived home after an overnight stay in what used to be our favorite R&R place. I say “was” because “progress” has mangled it. The one-hour drive has stretched to three hours because of horrible traffic. The view along the way is blocked by monstrous condominium buildings. And the place itself now has a tall hotel, instead of quaint cottages with winding stairs carpeted with green grass.

The saving grace is of course Adrian, whom his parents left with us for a week as they visit other places. He and I enjoyed swimming in the pool where he used to float on a plastic raft. Now he’s a swimmer far better than his aging Amah.

Sons #1 and #2 were elsewhere, perhaps having a massage or traipsing the hills. Tony, with his frail health, is now unable to navigate the pool and the jacuzzi, once his favorite haunts, but enjoyed our room with a book.

It was at meal time when we got together, treasuring the time and having fun while watching Adrian enjoy exotic Philippine dishes like inasal, kare-kare, and bibingka. He is still lapping it all up—not having visited the place in three years, a mighty long time if one were to consider his physical changes and ours.

This has been our latest swimming season, hopefully not our last. But hearing Tony, the boys and I pine for what was—well, it might be our season’s end.

Seasons change with time, so do we. Only One endures forever.

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” (Isaiah 40: 7-8 NIV)

8/01/2019

Mang Bino: Bespoke Shoes


Marikina used to be famous for bespoke shoes. But the flooding of China-made shoes caused Philippine shoemakers to fade into irrelevance.

It took over an hour of driving all over Marikina to find one: Mang Bino.

My friend Ggie, who accompanied me, and I were led to him by one of the workers of a huge shoe store. He saw my pitiful limp, and said that one is still living, “Very old but very good.” 

From the main road, the good Samaritan showed us a dark, narrow alley that was so creepy I almost turned around. But my toes, digging into my flip-flops, said, This is your last card.

We turned left when we hit the wall and in a corner was (photos below)—a heap of garbage swarmed by flies, a decrepit table with two chairs, and a little boy hovering about.
Then Mang Bino, unshaven and half asleep, materialized with a bottle of beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

“What kind of shoes do you want?” he rasped.

As I described my troubled toes, Ggie sketched Mang Bino on the little boy’s notebook. The old man smiled and showed us photos of unusual feet with the bespoke shoes he made for them. He also mentioned famous politicians as clients. “I was abroad making shoes for a long time.”

We did not ask why he came back and settled in the dump he calls home (starred last photo above).

In sum, he measured my feet, made sketches which I approved, and the deal was on. Two pairs—one formal and one casual, for pick up in two weeks.

Two weeks later . . .

The shoes caressed my feet, and so we said our goodbyes, and profusely thanked Mang Bino.

When I wore one pair for walking, however, my toes had tantrums—the same hysteria I feel with every shoes or slippers I wear. I tried on the other pair. Same result.

Two years ago, when I started having these grasping right toes, I had been whining every day.

But after my “last card,” my attitude took a U-turn. Because when I prayed to the Lord—for the nth time—to make this “torn in my flesh depart from me,” He replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)