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Thank God for Mothers, Mentors,

and Other Memorable People

Grace D. Chong


Manila, Philippines 1
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the
Holy Bible: New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984
by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan.
All rights reserved.

Other Scripture quotations are taken from:

New American Standard Bible®. NASB®. Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1968, 1971,
1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by
permission. All rights reserved.
Holy Bible: New King James Version. NKJV. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982
by Thomas Nelson, Inc, Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Holy Bible: King James Version, KJV.
Holy Bible: English Standard VersionTM. ESVTM. Copyright © 2001
by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Gifts of Grace Book 1

Thank God for Mothers, Mentors, and Other Memorable People
Copyright © 2001 by Grace D. Chong

Cover and Page design by Jonathan De Vera

Typesetting by Dorothy Joy Quan

Published (2001) in the Philippines by

OMF Literature Inc.
776 Boni Avenue
Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila

Reprinted — 2002, 2003, 2004, 2008 (revised)

ISBN 978-971-0495-67-2

Printed in the Philippines

And of His fullness
have all we received,
and grace for grace.

JOHN 1:16, (KJV)

Acknowledgment 7

Author’s Note 9

1 My Guardian Mary 13

2 My Mother Chita 21

3 My Cousin Minna 29

4 My Mentor ABAJA 37

5 My Manang Ibay 51

6 My Father Mateo 61

7 My Neighbor Miriam 71

8 My Husband Tony 79

9 My Friend Delma 87

10 My Boss Mr. Sev 95

11 My Sister Aie 105

12 My Pal Lucy 113

13 My Eldest Son JC 125

14 My Auntie Ruth 133

15 My Lolo
I-Don’t-Know-His-Name 141

Coda 151
Reflections 153
Warmest Thanks To
The fifteen people who make up the fifteen
chapters of this book, through whom I was
abundantly blessed.
My friends and prayer partners at Pilar Village
Gospel Church who continue to push and
encourage me to write about God’s infinite grace.
Yna Reyes, Publications Director of OMF LIT for
seeing my heart in my manuscript at first pass.
Joanna Nicolas,
my editor, who was
adamant in
keeping my voice and style. Jon De Vera, OMF LIT
artist and book designer for the fresh look of this
new edition. Ggie Bernabe, my art director and
friend, for designing the first edition of this book
with her usual artistic aplomb. Edwin Sanchez,
artist of Prime Events, for the cover photograph on
the first edition of the book. The staff of Prime
Advertising Systems, Inc. for all the odds and
ends. Yollie Aquino for making me look good for
the photo ops. Lorenz Gabutina, whose poetry and
critique inspired me to press on. Atty. Daisy, of

Zambrano and Associates, for all her help in every way possible.
Malou Cortes, Nena Dumlao, Fellie Menor, Pat Yu, and all the
lovely Anns of the Rotary Club of Makati Central, for the fun and
laughter during my dry writing spells. Willa Maglalang and Carrie
Muñoz, closet poets of Dentsu Young & Rubicam-Alcantara, who
remain in touch to cheer me on. My sister, Aie Dacanay, whose
comments on every draft (after draft after draft) challenged me
no end. My three sons, JC, JB and JR whose quiet presence and
nonchalance over my moods kept me going. My husband, Tony,
for holding my hand.
And most of all, to our heavenly Father, who forever keeps
me from falling, for the gift of writing and living.

At dawn one day in summer, as I walked around
our neighborhood for the first of my daily morning
walks which I had baptized as my worship hour,
I could hear nothing but my footsteps. In the
silence, I sang an old hymn, “Count your bless-
ings, name them one by one. Count your
blessings, see what God hath done.” I did just that
and discovered it could take weeks, or years even.
It was a discovery that never would have
happened had I been in a rush to battle another
day’s traffic to my then
place of work.
Looking up, I saw
the glow of the remaining stars and street lamps.
In a heartbeat, they disappeared and out came the
shaft of the morning sun. It was a glorious sight—
the beginning of a new day.
It was like the genesis I had just decided to
take. Leave a glamour-filled career in advertising
after twenty-five years, and embark on a spirit-
filled one: Doing new things like counting my
blessings; walking while everyone is still sleeping;
watching my children become young men;
gawking at nature’s wonders; reading; writing;

pondering silence, words and meanings, for which I never had
extra energy or enough time before.
Gifts, from my then clouded view, were those that came
every year, a week before my birthday when my three sons
would ask, “What would you like on your birthday?” It is a
question which to this day never ceases to delight me. I know
that behind those stoic macho faces is a touching thought.
“How about a nice little letter saying what a great mother
I am?”
But I would receive, instead, a green dama juana bottle or a
CD of a Broadway musicale for my collection, or the book that
I had already read on my frequent trips to the bookstore, or a
book that they were intending to buy for themselves.
Precious gifts all—including those that came at birth, genes
inherited from forebears. Yet they were not among those I began
to count in that early morning hour.
Gifts, from my now unobstructed view, are those which have
been kept in my heart through the years and which have been
helping me rise and grow to a new level of being—braver,
stronger, wiser, kinder and happier.
I speak of the life-lessons God continues to teach and bless
me with through people—near and far, young and old, past and
present—who have come my way.

These lessons teach me to see things better from a new
perspective and in a deeper dimension—to fully understand His
redeeming grace.
It is not so much who these people are, but a patch of their
character and a sparkle in their spirit which, unknown to them,
have healed, inspired, taught, pushed, emboldened, disciplined
and empowered me in countless ways.
Through the pages of this book I am now sharing these gifts
with anyone who may care to read them. Truth is, at first I was
afraid that they would bare too much of my soul. But an inner
voice whispered, “What’s so wrong about sharing the fullness of
His grace?”
Most of these personal accounts were recorded on paper in
various timelines, or in my mind’s hard drive for a long, long time.
That’s why each one is different in tone, mood, and even verb
tense. Some are the way they were, some had to be updated,
some had to be rewritten.
You may read any chapter as your fancy takes you. Perhaps
you may feel it is uncannily familiar; your life may have also been
twitched and tweaked through one such person at another place,
another time.
It is my hope then that by reading this book, you, too, will
discover that your own “Gifts of Grace” are simply brimming over,
just waiting to be counted—one by one.

If it were possible, I’d share mine all at one time for you to
reflect on. But they keep pouring still and there are only so many
chapters to a book. Let me begin with fifteen.

P.S. Readers have requested that I add a reflection guide for

each chapter to this new edition of Gifts of Grace. A new section
called “Reflections” has indeed been written and it is found after
the last chapter. You may look them up after reading each
chapter or anytime you wish. Each page—written for a particular
chapter—includes an inspiring verse and a suggestion for
making your own step of grace.

“Sir?! I ain’t a sir! I’m a ma’am!” Mary barks in her Chicago
twang and hangs up. I freeze. Here I am, eighteen years old,
away from home for the first time in my life, lost among the
throng of passengers in the huge O’Hare International Airport
and my host hangs up on me. I am too scared to call again.
I have seen Mary only in photos, sent to us by her husband,
my Uncle Jose. Even in her photos she looks formidable and
colossal, a foot taller and wider than my dark, scrawny uncle.
Her coiffed hair is platinum blonde and her enormous frame is
always decked with large costume jewelry.
After that fateful phone call, I realize that living with this
immense American woman is the price—a very steep price—I
have to pay for what I had told everyone in the Philippines,
“The American Dream.” Scurrying back home is not an
Somehow I make it to 2649 N. Orchard Street, an old
three-story corner brick house with one apartment on each
floor. Mary and my uncle live on the third floor.
“So! You’re Joe’s niece from the Islands?” is her opening
salvo over my ponytail. I strain my neck to see her face. “Hi,”
I say shyly, wondering whether I should kiss her hand or just
buss her on the cheek. I do neither.
“Call me Mary,” she roars in baritone. “And listen, while
you’re here, you get a guardian—me. Ye hear?” I pray that my
uncle would arrive soon.

“You’re only eighteen and Joe ain’t home a lot, so that

leaves Mary,” she rumbles and carries effortlessly with one
humongous hand the big luggage, which kept me huffing and
puffing from the ground floor to the third floor. She leads me
to a small, cozy room, lined with books from floor to ceiling.
“I don’t know why your uncle keeps all this junk,” she rolls her
blue eyes and gestures with five, veiny large fingers. “This here
is the only spare room in this house.”
I look around and I see no cabinets, just one small reading
table, one narrow empty shelf, a night lamp, a lumpy gray
couch, and a small square glass pane masquerading as a
And I have never been more excited in my whole life! Here
are all these treasures—leather-bound literary classics of my
dreams on one whole wall, plus a lot of art and drama books I
never imagined existed, and a fantastic view of the whole
neighborhood if you opened that inky--dinky hole. I had never
met anyone yet who lived in a library!
My smile doesn’t escape her blue eyes. “I see you love junk,
too!” she concludes. “Get out of those winter clothes.” (I am
wearing my new three-piece suit, stiletto heels and dark
stockings). “It’s 98 degrees outside.”
In those few minutes she has taken over my life.

Gifts of Grace BOOK 1

It is nine o’clock in the evening but the sun is still stream-

ing through my newfound window. I know America is different
from the Philippines, but I never imagined an overstaying sun!
Uncle Jose, or Joe to his wife and her compatriots, arrives
shortly and we spend a hurried but warm reacquaintance so as
to make it to Mary’s call for supper in the dining room.
She scoops three ladleful of rice (yes, rice!) and piles them
onto my uncle’s plate. Next comes a meat dish with vegetables
that look like eggplant. “Zucchini’s good for you!” she says in
her brusque voice. “You ain’t nothin’ but a bag o’ bones and a
hunk o’ hair!” And she dumps a mountain of the eggplant
look-alike on my plate.
After dinner, I volunteer to wash the dishes. “Shoo! You
don’t know nothin’ about dishwashing. Go gab with your
uncle. But not too long. Joe, the twerp’s beat.”
“Wake up, Grrrreta Garbo!” a roar of thunder rouses me
from a jet-lagged sleep on my first morning in “the home of the
brave and the land of the free.” A big breakfast of cereals, fresh
milk and fruits greets me. “Eat! We gotta fill you up while
you’re here!”
I immediately settle into a routine (one that is propitiously
the opposite to Mary’s) after enrolling at Columbia College for
a degree in Mass Communications and later, at the Chicago
Art Institute for Master’s in Theater Arts. With classes in the


afternoons and play rehearsals till two or three in the morning,

there were no more Greta Garbo wake-up calls at ten in the
morning. By then she had left for work as clerk at Bell
Telephone. Always, a big breakfast is spread on the dining table
followed by a brash phone call from her: “Clean up after you’re
through and return everything to its proper place.” Each time I
come home at dawn, my lumpy gray couch is a warm bed ready
to jump into.
Saturday is clean-up and laundromat time. “Don’t you dare
touch that vacuum cleaner. Get your lil’ butt to the laundromat
and buy these while dryin’.” She hands me a grocery list and
some dollars. Laundromat days are always a treat. I take one of
my uncle’s books to read while waiting to transfer my clothes
from the washer to the dryer. And buying the groceries three
blocks away gives me the chance to gawk around and window
shop. A sparkling, super clean house and a big lunch always
await me, after which, “Scoot! Out of my kitchen!” More time
to read or watch TV or call my new American friends.
“Haven’t you heard of dating in the Islands?” Her voice
reverberates one Friday evening. The next thing I know, our
gorgeous-hunk-of-a neighbor appears and asks, “Hey, Mary, do
you mind if I take Grace out for a sundae?”
“Hey, little squirt, move your *** out o’ here,” she says by
way of an answer.

Gifts of Grace BOOK 1

Mary-patented comments are aplenty as the months go by:

“Your hair looks like death took a holiday. Here, go get a
haircut.” She hands me some dollars. “And I don’t want no
“Joe, take that little mouse of misery to a movie, and if you
think this here me is preparin’ dinner for the two of you, you
have a long think comin’.”
“Finish your pot roast, ye hear? You eat like a bird. No
wonder you’re ten pounds lighter than a cat!”
“For someone with straight A’s, you sure don’t know
nothin’. It’s a Sunday, and Sundays ain’t for sleepin’. Get your
tootsy off to church!”
To a true-blue Pinay (Filipina) like me, used to tact and
diplomacy back in llocandia, Mary’s western frankness is a
shocker to the nth degree. Living with her is similar to
watching a late-night suspense movie on TV by yourself.
Startling scenes leap at you at unexpected intervals. Your hair
stands on end, your feet are ready to bolt, and your heart races
as you hold your breath, yet you are riveted to the idiot box
because you know that it is just make-believe and something
good will come up in the end.
True enough, before the end of my first year, I discover
Mary is a fraud. A big-time fraud.


I unmask the real Mary. The one who likes me, or is truly
fond of me, or loves me. Maybe not as much as she loves my
Uncle Joe whom she barks at often, and serves hand and foot
always, but close. She has the lingo of a toughie from the Bronx
(where she was born) and the voice of a hoodlum from
Chicago (where she grew up). But I have proven beyond doubt
the truth of the adage: “Barking dogs never bite.”
From then on, I quickly learn to talk turkey like a Chicago
thoroughbred. I mimic her toughie Al Capone accent: “This
here vacuum cleaner is meant for younger hands, a sturdier
spine, and stronger back. Wanna crack your old bones?”
“I will stay in this kitchen till my dainty little fingers have
cleaned up every morsel, dried every plate, put everything
where they belong. Got any problem with that?”
“You stay where you are, put your shriveled feet up, and
watch Engelbert Humperdink (her favorite) till you’re blue in
the face. Wanna make something out of it?”
“Greta Garbo will do dinner tonight. If I see anyone within
two meters of this stove, she’s gonna’ get it. Ye hear?”
My guardian Mary is actually a marshmallow. Underneath
that crass and rough facade is a soft and sensitive heart—so like
a typical Filipino mother, except that she is not a Filipino and
neither is she a mother. In five happy years, she drums into my

Gifts of Grace BOOK 1

head the fundamentals of order, drills into my system basic

discipline, and infuses into my soul homespun values—as
though preparing me to be a mother too, when the right time
comes, something my own mother would have done had she
not been 18,000 miles away.
The night I was packing my things for my early flight home,
she thrusts a jewelry case the size of a shoe box on top of my
clothes. “I ain’t like your Uncle Joe. I don’t keep no junk. Take
this home!” Her voice booms about too much junk in the
house and leaves my little library. I open the case and a lump
forms in my throat. These aren’t her paste jewelry. These are
semi-precious gems, each wrapped in wads of white tissue
paper—antique bracelets, necklaces and earrings (heirloom
most likely) made of different colored stones in reds, blues,
yellows, greens and other colors of the rainbow.
Back in the land of my birth, I am now a mother myself
with a home of my own. I am putting into good use, every
blessed day, the rigorous five-year training the tough American
softy patiently, and gruffly, gave me.
I am also trying my best to shower my children with the
same love and care my guardian Mary unselfishly heaped on
this Greta Garbo in a strange land many thousand miles away.