Those who attended Bridgeport High School in the late 1970s may remember Malu Tiongson, an exchange student from the Philippines who shared her senior year with the class of ’78.
Pretty, personable and involved, she won the hearts of her peers, who elected her to the senior homecoming court.
Thirty-five years later, Maul Tiongson-Ortiz is still a queen of hearts. In her home of Pasig City in the Philippines, she is an artist, Christian writer and mother of three. It was her youngest child and only daughter, Clarissa, who changed her life and shed a brand new light on her talents.
“I understood now God's purpose for giving me a child with special needs,” she said. “He gave me Clarissa to make me the person He wants me to be - to mold me, to draw me closer to Him, and to teach me to rely on Him for strength, and not on myself.”
When Clarissa, now 26, was 18 years old, Ortiz gave her career a backseat and committed all her time to mothering and teaching her daughter, who had been born with Down syndrome and bipolar disorder.
As Clarissa came into adulthood, it was discovered that she was also hearing impaired. Despite those setbacks, it turned out that Clarissa had a gift for art.
It was exciting to discover that the mother and daughter, who were spending their time together - and depending heavily upon sign language to communicate - shared a passion which they could pursue together.
“Art is gift from God,” Ortiz said. “There are no hard and fast rules in appreciating art, but God gave us a special gift because it is through art that we can communicate with each other and display (His) amazing work through our lives.”
The women had been blessed with the same gift, but with different abilities to display it.
“God gave (Clarissa) eyes to see colors and hands to paint incredibly beautiful artworks,” Ortiz said. “(He) gave me the gift to collaborate with her and interpret and finish her paintings.”
Through Clarissa, Ortiz said she has learned to put priorities in order and become the mom she never thought she could be. The journaling of their shared experiences has led to the book, "Embracing God's Purpose for My Special Child," penned by Ortiz and available hereat Amazon.
Her hands-on approach to mothering ultimately led Ortiz to vice-presidency of the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines.
“I am part of fundraising committee and help conduct early intervention seminars for new parents of children with Down syndrome,” said Ortiz, who also volunteers for counseling duties.
It is all by God’s grace, she said. God created Clarissa for a very special purpose.
“While I teach her the A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s, she teaches me the more important things in life such as unconditional love, patience, perseverance, contentment, simplicity etc.”
As 2014 begins to unfold, Ortiz continues to seek out ways she can use her gifts to glorify God and enable others see their own God-given talents. She hopes her soon-to-be-released book, “Ikaw na Ang Maganda: How to Be Beautiful Inside Out" does just that. In the book – which is bilingual (Tagalog and English) – Ortiz, also a makeup artist, shares not only how to apply cosmetics, but also kindness, gentleness, patience, goodness and other fruits of the spirit.
“(In 2014), I also want to grow in my spiritual walk, to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength,” she said.
Read her "Clarissic Expressions" blog posts HERE, where Clarissa's art gallery can also be viewed.
After attending Bridgeport High School, Ortiz graduated from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.