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Thank God for Mothers, Mentors, and Other Memorable People
Grace D. Chong
OMF LITERATURE INC.
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 www.OMFLit.com 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)
7 9 13 21 29 37 51 61 71 79 87 95 105 113 125 133
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Author’s Note My Guardian Mary My Mother Chita My Cousin Minna My Mentor ABAJA My Manang Ibay My Father Mateo My Neighbor Miriam My Husband Tony My Friend Delma My Boss Mr. Sev My Sister Aie My Pal Lucy My Eldest Son JC My Auntie Ruth My Lolo I-Don’t-Know-His-Name Coda Reflections
141 151 5 153
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 spiritfilled 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 option. 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.
MY GUARDIAN MARY
“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 window. 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.
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It is nine o’clock in the evening but the sun is still streaming 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
MY GUARDIAN MARY
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.
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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 change!” “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.
MY GUARDIAN MARY
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
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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.
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