Saturday, July 31, 2010

Up on the Prayer Mountain

Today we went to a place in Antipolo known as the Touch of Glory Prayer Mountain. I thought we'd get lost along the way since the only available address was a baranggay (town) something. And just to let you know, it's a literal mountain with all the trees in the world. I wondered if we would be able to differentiate it from the rest, especially if the only other clue we got was its name - "Prayer." My friend said jokingly, "Antipolo is just one straight road, based from our previous trip, if we feel like we're about to get kidnapped, then we must probably be very near." He was right!

I was hoping for sunshine this morning, but along the way rain started to pour. Then I heard a song playing in the car stereo "His love is better than life.. His love is better than light." I thought, "Yes, better than SUNlight. This is it! No turning back now. God will speak rain or shine."

When we got there, my siblings in Christ and I settled in separated prayer cells. Each of us stepped in a small enclosed room for silence and solitude. With only a lamp, a small table and our Bible keeping us company, the ninety minutes of quiet time was surprisingly insightful and refreshing.

Before the trip, I had several things to talk to God about. Points to ponder. Steps to take. People to pray for. Issues that mattered. However, I was moved to pray just these (copied from my journal):

1. Reveal to me the worst of my sins. Convict me Father so I may fully appreciate the gospel & have a better relationship with the people around me.

2. May You become my sole focus, my sole purpose. Please take off all my masks and make my face shine Your glory.

3. Lord, I confess of my anger problem. It is indeed my weakness and I pray that you would fill me with the Spirit, the Spirit of peace, love and truth. Please let me be rooted and established in love, and be blessed with the power to grasp how wide, how long, how high, how deep is the love of Christ.

4. Thank You, for Your love is better than sunshine. :)

5. (I wrote this down when I trekked a few steps up until I got to see a vast view of the mountains) Whenever I see nature, the sky, the trees and the flowers, I am always reminded that you hold the master plan. No one can thwart it. (It's quite difficult to remember this truth in the city when we're surrounded by buildings, billboards, buses and everything man-made.)

Time's up. Back to my favorite place in the house, the COMFORT room. :)

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Yummy Mission-filled Breakfast

I had an odd pairing for my breakfast today. In my usual days, you'd see me inhaling the news from the broadsheets as I digest my daily bread and coffee/milk. What partnered my meal today however was a story, the story of my brother from China. I'm not sure if you've met him before. His name is Brother Yun. I assure you he's someone worth meeting and his story is worth hearing. His life-story filled me with awe and wonder, I laughed, I cried, I felt like I was with him in his adventures the whole time. If you are interested, go to the nearest bookstore. His story is written in a book entitled "Heavenly Man."

I was amazed at how God can make himself known in the grandest and the most creative manner. Brother Yun was born in Henan province where Christianity was known as the "foreign devil." Christian families were mocked at, killed or even put into prison. His mother was one of the last people who had met a western missionary in their province when she was young. And because there were no bibles nor preachers to disciple new believers, Christianity was buried in the ground of Henan. His mom forgot about it all.

In the early 1970's when his dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, they became so poor that Brother Yun had to beg for food from friends and relatives. His mom, on the other hand, was on the verge of losing it as she thought of her dying husband and five children to support. Then suddenly, out of the blue, a voice came to her saying , "Jesus loves you." She then repented and prayed to God on her knees. That very same night, everyone in the family accepted Christ as Lord and Savior including Brother Yun. He was 16 year old then.

As I've told you, there was not a single Bible in sight. Most people put them in cans and buried them hoping for a time to be able to unearth and read them again. If you were caught to own one, the boxers would severely torture you and your whole family in the middle of the village. Creepy, huh? Brother Yun had one simple prayer every night when he became a believer, "Lord, please give me a Bible. Amen." He wanted to own one so badly that he said this was the most difficult time of his life. He fasted and prayed for months. Then...

He had a dream. He was walking up a steep hill trying to push a heavy trolley to beg for food. He had not much strength since he was still fasting (even in his dream). A kind old man came to him from the opposite direction with two other men and offered him a couple of rolls of bread. Brother Yun never felt such a compassion. When he opened the red bag handed to him, he saw a Bible. He was so ecstatic with the "vision" that his parents thought he was becoming delusional. That same day, about 4am, someone knocked on their doors. There were three people, the very same men he saw in his dream, looking for him. Brother Yun knew they were bringing the "bread" he had been waiting for. And it was, wrapped in the same red bag.

The Bible was so precious to Brother Yun. Would you believe he memorized a chapter of the Bible per day. In our case, we usually memorize a single verse per week! He read the bible in his waking hours and held it close to his heart come sleeping time. He swallowed every bite of God's word joyfully. I hope we would have the same desire and appreciation of His word.

When God led him to speak in front of at least forty people for the very first time, like us he did not know what to say. He was not able to undergo any seminary training or learn about hermeneutics and the like. You know what he did? He closed his eyes and memorized all the 28 chapters of the book of Matthew in front of the people. He did not know if the people would be able to understand or enjoy it, but that's what he did. By the time he opened his eyes, people were crying and convicted of their sins. That night dozens were led to Christ.

When I got to this part, I realized how magnificent God's word really is. It is a sword. It is good on its own. No entertaining activities, no out-of-this-world ideas, no extremely funny speaker is needed to support it. God's word is enough to cut through souls and lead them to Jesus.

I'm just on the fifth chapter of the book, 24 more to go, and I'm already very much amazed to see how God has been speaking and leading this young, faithful and willing lad. Sharing with you a heart-felt song written by our dear brother that unintentionally brought tears to my eyes. The backdrop of this song was during a time of persecution in China. Our brother couldn't go home anymore. He had to travel from place to place like a nomad in order to escape from the PSB who were hunting him like a red hot serial killer from China's most-wanted list.

Since the day I left home I've carried my cross
Running to the ends of the earth for Jesus
I've shared in the sufferings of my Lord
Proclaiming the gospel through eyes of tears
Many times through the wind and rain
Tears have fallen down my cheeks
Many things burden my heart
But Jesus' love keeps leading me
His love and grace encourage me
Keeping me perfectly from day to day

Although he was being pursued at, he felt like a bird, uncaged and free to fly. The more cops followed him, the more he fled, the more people were able to hear of the good news.

In the society nowadays, we have become too comfortable. We sit on plush couches in our small group meetings, sing happy praise songs together, hang-out with our brothers and sisters in Christ on weekends, (nothing wrong with that, BUT) we have become so comfortable that we forget to go out and fly like Brother Yun. We are contented with the here and now. The Matthew 28 mission has become a sweet dream of the future and has been replaced with attendance sheets, humongous buildings and tasky ministry roles.

I would just like to remind you that Matthew 28 is also OUR mission. We are fortunate enough that we are not in China where Christianity is barred in the so-called Three Self Patriotic Movement. They can't talk about the second coming of Christ, nor about the book of Revelation, nor about healing or deliverance of demons. If you are able to read this very message, you are free as a bird, living in a democratic country where freedom of speech reigns supreme. I hope you will use this God-given privilege for good.

May our breakfasts, our daily bread, remind us that we should not get cozy in our cage of comfort, locked in our tower of timidity, blinded by our own self-righteousness or illuminated only by pitiful ignorance. Let's go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded us. And surely He is with us always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Story of the Wisdom Tooth

Thanks to a curious girl friend who asked this question out of the blue yesterday, "Mitzi, would you know why we have wisdom teeth? Why do they exist anyway if they're only to be extracted?" And I was stirred to research about it.

It may seem to be a waste of blessings having two new but unwanted pairs of extra molars. This was not the case some thousands of years ago, particularly in the Paleolithic period of the stone age when people had an extremely different lifestyle (hunter-gathers), homes and diet. Their diet was filled with hard, rough meat and plants that required more chewing power. They literally bit off more than what they could chew. As a result, their jawbones became larger, their teeth cracked and some even got knocked out. Interestingly, wisdom teeth grew and pushed their other teeth forward to fill-in the gap.

We don't find use for these God-given molars because our teeth do not experience the same torture, especially at the present when we are able to eat much softer foods. The diet of today consumes more carbohydrates, vegetables and legumes. TENDERloin steaks and the recent rise of Wagyu Kobe beef have been the most popular choices for meat. People are willing to pay a fortune for the more delicate, or shall I say the more "teeth-friendly" cuts. Furthermore, new technologies have been created and new methods of cooking have been used since the very beginning of time.

I don't think simple evolution has a mind that can think of this and discern that people would need additional teeth to compensate for the lost ones. I doubt that wisdom teeth were also a result of a mere "coincidence" of nature. If that's the case then why would they always grow at the very back of the mouth? Or appear between the ages 17 to 25? They're simply too amazing to be a coincidence.

Cliche as it sounds, the story of the wisdom tooth reminds me that everything in this world exists for a reason. With His unlimited IQ, God has crafted and engineered all the details of the universe to perfection. And even this minute detail of our body, the wisdom tooth, was founded by Him. I guess the wisdom tooth does not only compensate for the lost ones, but it also serves as a reminder that God has the plan and He is in control.

The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it. ~ Psalm 89:11

Friday, July 23, 2010

SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) Rule # 1

If life is a battle, then I suggest you take a day's worth of training at SERE. Or if you are not up for the challenge (of being thrown into the jungle), then you can just digest one of their simple and yet, profound principles.

SERE, which stands for Survival Evasion Resistance Escape, trains armies, soldiers, navies, air-force to become experts in combat. They teach them to survive in the arctic, desert, open ocean, jungle, mountain regions, in-combat and captivity situations.

They're first and most important rule is ONLY THE MENTALLY STRONG SURVIVES.

Who do you think will survive in a battle: a man who has been trained for years, one who is well-versed with all the survival skills, and yet possesses a negative train of thought or a man who is not trained at all but is very much positive?

Answer: The second man. Why? The first man may have the know-how but in time of despair, anger may consume him, hope may abandon him and his own depression may kill him. I doubt that this man would be able to get his acts together and defend himself or his team when the enemy attacks. The second man with the right thinking has more chances of surviving.

Not all strong mindsets are the right mindset though. I realized this from a recent seminar I attended. There was this speaker who was sharing about positive thinking as a must when you have dreams. He said, "If you want to have abs, just think of having some pandesal (dinner rolls) embossed on your flat stomach everyday, I assure you you'd have your abs in no time. No physical effort is needed." I can't believe people would pay thousands to hear these things. (Don't worry, I got in for free.)

Here's the real deal, a true-to-life story, with a real battle faced. Once upon a time, in a faraway land of Soco, Judah, a battle rose between two nations. There was a nine-footer enemy who challenged the people of Judah for a one on one fight with him. This titan was a very well-trained champion in his army and was equipped with all the right gadgets (i.e. spear shaft, bronze javelin). I guess with his power no one could really beat him up. Not until a small 17 year old came his way.

Yes, you read it right. Seventeen.Year. Old. Boy. with no combat experience nor deadly weapons to back him up except for a sling and few stones, this brave 17 year old faced him with courage. He struck down the giant by a single sling shot. You know what earned him victory? Having not only the right perspective, but also a God who is on his side! He believed that the battle was the Lord's. "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied." (1 Samuel 17:25)

David won not by might nor by power, but by the spirit of God. Same goes with us in our own battles. We may sink in the ocean of piled-up work, surrender to the flow of the current, and choose to die over a hopeless struggle. We surely will if we do not have the right mindset and we forget the power of the great Lord.

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. ~Psalm 55:22

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Three Must-Tries!!!

When my mom and I had our girl-bonding time awhile ago, I stumbled upon an old magazine resting on an isolated table. It was entitled "Men's Zone." Despite not being the target market, I decided to check it out anyway, especially if the first page I happened to open was a tight macro shot of a mouth-watering crispy pata.

The few pages that ignited my taste buds showed the delectable food choices of the best restaurants in the Philippines last 2003. There were restaurants that had already closed down. I don't recall seeing a Mario's selling high-end Italian-American mix in St. Francis Square recently. There are some that I'd love to try.. oh my, am I lagging behind or what!

Here are the top three restaurants I would love to try soon!

On the green pasture of Tagaytay, lies a big house that enjoys the view of fresh lush greens and the pleasing cool breeze rarely found in the city proper. Massimo's Ristorante is a product of a creative and zealous chef, Hazel Lu, who mastered the art of cooking in Italy. And now, I will have to plot a date in my calendar for a day trip to Tagaytay. Should I try their Foie Gras & Roasted Fuji Apples with Balsamic Vinegar, Wagyu Sirloin or their Sea Scallops on Mushroom Risotto?

Now, if I can't travel that far at the mo, then I'd just go somewhere within the metro, particularly in the district of Malate. I'm not sure if you've been to 1808 Maria Orosa St where Mamma is located. I read that they serve a mean lamb shanks. And they are placed on a bed of parmesan-infused mashed potatoes. They also have popular Filipino appetizers (pampagana) like Chicharon Bulaklak (crispy pork intestines) and spicy chicken wings. Talk about pure comfort food delight! I'll let you know if the cholesterol's worth eating.

Then there's also Cafe Lupe in Makati, a weird Eiffel tower-like structure tucked at the corner of Edsa and the Pasig river. They serve an eclectic, yet very appetizing, blend of Ilocano and Mexican dishes. According to some diners, once they step inside cafe they forget about their work, the traffic and the stress. They feel like they've been transported to the sunny, upbeat and fun place of Boracay.

Let me know if you've been there or if you'd like to join me in my adventure. :)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Love Means Priority

Two days ago, I was invited to the piano contest of my cousin and I was extremely touched to see that eight of her friends from church (if I remember correctly) attended as well. They were comprised of businessmen, corporate women, probably some housewives as well and a pastor. Take note, it was on a Monday afternoon, when businesses were in motion and the pastor was supposed to take his rest. I was really happy for my cousin who was able to receive such a support from her church family.

If you were in her shoes, would someone, just even one, care to come and give you some encouragement?

I asked my friend a related question, "For example, there is an emergency and someone has to go to your house, who do you think would be willing?"

"My family?"

"Except family members"

"You? But you don't drive."

"Except me also."

"Hmm.. (thinking, thinking) I don't know. You're making me sad."

Something's not right in this picture. Although, it has been emphasized that as a church we should love each other and unite as one body. Most often than not, we work on our respective parts in the body and that's it. Seldom do we walk an extra mile to care for a brother, risk a painful rejection for correcting a member, sacrifice a weekend to build deeper relationship with a sister, or encourage a spiritual mother or father whose strength you admire. These are very simple things compared to how Jesus defines love, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.."

Something just felt dry. Maybe most of us have become preoccupied with our own circumstances, our own goals and trials, such that we don't have room for others anymore. Our number one rule in life has become "Time is gold." We attend fellowships for our own learning and keepsakes. When we go there, we don't have time to reach out to a hurting friend. She may just take more time and resources than what we can offer. We can choose to not bother since we can just pray for her anyway. Or perhaps, we are too focused with the ministry, the tangible result (i.e. an event, a program)that we fail to do what's more difficult.. what's more uncomfortable.. and what would make us depend on God more.

If you have read in my previous blog, God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power.. there's a continuation to that. He has also given us a spirit of love. And this gift is not merely a spirit to love ourselves. Absolutely not. It's primary purpose is for us to love God and secondarily, to love our neighbors. 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' ; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' (Luke 10:27). Did you see your own name there? No.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
~ John 13:34-35

It says "love one another." This means to love His disciples or in plain terms love your brothers and sisters in Christ. Everyone of them, no exceptions. This includes the pastor who you can't get along with, the strict church leader who rarely smiles at you and the boy who keeps on minding your tasks.

Do you have a great love for them? Are you willing to let go of your work in case a brother needs your help? Is your love for him greater than the deep love & loyalty between fraternity brothers? Are you willing to forgive him? Are you willing to die for him?

Sometimes it all boils down to one question. What/who do you love more, your job, your possessions, your reputation, your time, yourself or God's family?

I am not telling you to quit your job, abandon your family and become a people-pleasing servant 24/7. Rather, I'd like us to consider whether or not we have extended genuine care for our brothers and sisters, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, physically, even when we have nothing to gain and it is to our own inconvenience.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Love Takes Courage

I was a bit hesitant to join my aunt and her friend to a shopping trip last Sunday afternoon. I preferred to just stay at home and read one of the untouched old books tacked on my book shelf. But then I decided to go and keep my aunt (former yaya, bodyguard, driver, buddy-buddy) company anyway. We walked for a good 3 hours between piles and piles of clothes (would you believe this made me sleepy?), then we had dinner.

It was just three of us ladies on the dinner table. Born at least two decades apart from each other, we were in our 70's, 50's and 20's. Surprisingly, despite the age gap, we had one of the most insightful, open, honest and vulnerable conversations ever. I forgot how it started. I know when though, it was a few minutes past 6pm when we were a few bites away from finishing our pizza and pasta. The table was filled with colorful stories, hearty laughter, painful memories and hot dripping tears, that my aunt said we were like watching a movie.

My 72 year-old friend shared with us a scene from her childhood where she had a terrifying tummy ache. It was so painful that the pain extended to her knees. That night, she heard her mom telling God, "Lord, I hope that you can take the pain away from my daughter and give it to me instead." From then on, she realized that a parent's love is unfathomable. She then told me why we should appreciate our parents.

When we are single, our salaries go straight to our stomachs, our clothes, our gadgets and our gimmicks. Once we become parents, priorities change. We would think of what food to give to our babies, before our own stomachs could be filled. We would allot the first part of our income to the needs of our children. The second part for the bills, maintenance, etc, and only the remaining would be left to us. This is how parents think. That's why they are hurt if they see their children rebelling, withdrawing or simply unloving.

She also stressed that parents are very precious, precious individuals. They love us more than anybody else in the world (except for God of course). However, like any other sinner, they have their own shortcomings. Her father, for example, did not love her as much as her older siblings. She was left at home when her whole family was traveling. She was humiliated in front of her dad's peers. And she was the only one left without an inheritance. Despite this, she took care of her dad until his last breath. She realized that God can be the one to fill in the shortcomings of her parents. Actually, I think He did more than filling in. He has become her ultimate Father. Because God's love overflowed in her, her hate turned to love, her anger turned to peace and her bitterness turned to joy.

Our trials at home or anywhere else is but a fingertip ("kalingkingan") to the fullness of God's grace.

On the same day, I got to read a book entitled "Who You Are When No One's Looking," and I learned about courage. Courage is not merely rescuing an old lady from a burning building or taking a bullet for someone. Courage is not limited to these once-in-a-lifetime drama, it is a character trait that we can wear everyday as we seek to go against the flow, as we admit our weaknesses, as we allow others to see our vulnerability, as we strive for the right.

One such courage is relational courage. When we see a conflict, courage is talking about it and seeking to reconcile before the night turns to a day. Courage prevents us to wait blindly until all hurts and anger pile up. Courage is saying, "Dad, you know I'm a bit hurt with what you said. Despite that, I love you very much." While a coward would say to himself, "I don't want to talk to my mom anymore. She never understands." Courage is showing your love and appreciation unashamedly (even if it's a bit cheesy).

This is my challenge to all of you. If you haven't shown appreciation to your parents, pray for courage (and creativity?) to do so. If you're experiencing any relational rifts, pray for the courage to reconcile. If you love your parents, pray for the courage to tell them "I love you." If you're angry, pray for the courage to confront gently. If you're hurting, pray for the courage to open up to your parents or your mature God-centered friends.

I was in for the same challenge. That same night, I wrote a short note to my dad and placed it in his lunch pack (which I don't normally do). You see, like my dad, I do not like showing my emotions. I'm quite embarrassed to even show my love to someone. I find it extremely cheesy. So it took me a great deal of courage to do this. The next day, I got this surprising response and it was all worth it.

Hi Joyce (my second name),
Thanks for the wonderful letter.
Just remember always.. Your mom and I love you very much also.
It's just sometimes I'm moody because of stress at my work.
But no matter what happens, I will always love and take good care of our family.
Just take good care of yourself and indulge and work for your ambition.
We will support you all the way.
Again, love you always.
~ Papa

God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power. Boldness, not cowardice, is the mark of the spirit. Having this gift of the spirit or Holy Spirit, is the reason why we can take courage in every area of our lives. Go ahead and love your family courageously.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Interest vs. Passion

As I was browsing through the kids' section of a high-end retail shop, one particular book underneath a pile of fairy-tale pop-up cubes and boardgames called my attention. It was a book written by teens for teens. It talks about how gifted kids differentiate their passions from their interests.

A 14y.o. says that 'interest' is when her friends idolize a celebrity, until the next big star comes along. Passion is staying interested even after all her friends have moved on. Another girl describes passion as her love for science particularly insects. What she does is she gathers and studies all information about it until she feels like she's living in the world of roaches.

These cute & insightful explanations made me think of my own passion & interests.

I discovered mine through an 18-year looong process. Way back in grade 1, I started having my piano lessons on Sunday mornings. I enjoyed reading the notes and discovering the melodies behind the black stemmed eggs dancing in my piano books. But on weeknights I would hear my mom reminding me to practice for at least 30 minutes. I had done so quite grudgingly.

Alongside piano, I took some drawing and painting lessons. I really enjoyed them, except I rarely put them into practice. I got to live out my undercover Picasso only when I felt inspired or when I was extremely down or when needed in arts classes.

I also tried various sports. Result: I acquired a trauma for all balls bigger than a tennis ball.

Then came the greeting card making. It was a fun hobby. I enjoyed discovering the mechanisms of making pop-up, 3d, rotatable cards. I planned to make a hundred, but I stopped at 38 when I couldn't figure out what they were for. Then, I tried baking. It was exciting at first, but when people I cared for shunned sugary, baked goods, I got a little bit discouraged.

Just recently, I tried sewing. I've been making home-made journals and some weird out-of-this-world cushion. I'll show them to you next time. I'm still liking it.

I guess all these are mere interests. Like a fad, they come and go. With a happy trial and an exciting discovery, you keep them like a bestbud. But later as discouragements come or boredom strikes, you'd leave them for the next best thing.

Interests are external based. You started a hobby so you may sell your products. You joined a music band to impress your crush. Or you learned piano because your mom enrolled you in some compulsary weekend music lessons.

What I discovered about passion is that it becomes the air you breathe. It holds your soul captive with an intense desire to do something meaningful. It dwells in your thoughts when you work, eat, shop or play. It becomes a healthy addiction. Recently, I discovered that my passion is to learn more about our creator and our life. I enjoy chewing bits and pieces of His food as He brings them on my table everyday. And I long to share it through words of wisdom, of encouragement, of love.

This is my passion. To write about Him. To talk about Him. To serve Him. And to be a blessing to you (yes you!). Passion is not with my piano, for I did not see my future in it. Nor is it my greeting-card making stint, for I did not see much purpose in making a whole lot of it. It is also not in baking cakes, for I desire something different. Without vision, purpose, or unquenchable desire, then your "passion" is nothing but a simple interest.

Once you've discovered your passion or what seems to be your passion, pray about it. Be it in music, arts, business, writing, science or politics. God has given you that intense passion for a purpose. And only if you're able to do it for the Lord's greater glory, will it be fully quenched, fully joyful, fully contented and fully successful.

"Without passion man is a mere latent force and possibility, like the flint which awaits the shock of the iron before it can give forth its spark."
— Henri Frederic Amiel

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Thank you for coming, Basyang!

Thank you for coming, Basyang*!

I was quite surprised that in your old age, you've managed to hit our country hard. Most of us felt the painful slap, you aimed right in the eye of Metro Manila. And you know, we had to undergo a 24-hour massive blackout because of you. I was left with nothing much to tinker. No laptop (no power source), no journal projects (holding a needle is pretty scary in the dark), no TV, no DVD (usually this is my last resort if I'm bored), no phone.

What I had with me the whole evening were simply these five things: my cellphone with a half-full/half-empty batt and a flickering signal, a handheld eco-friendly manual flashlight, a Bible, my journal and an MP3 player with a little over 10 songs only. For six hours they kept me company and surprisingly I was not able to feel even an ounce of discomfort, boredom or anxiety.

During the dark, eerie night, I got to think and reflect. I realized that blackouts can be God's way of stripping off technology and plenty of other distractions (i.e. primetime telenobela, american series) so we may have one-on-one talk with Him, which is kinda long overdue.

First, I remembered Mr. Ondoy.

Mr. Ondoy was the country's crazy, unimaginable visitor last September. He swamped our houses with his abundant flow of muddy waters, he even reached the third floor in some homes. He also dragged and killed some people downtown near the riverbank. I've become more fearful with rains and typhoon news because of him. Unlike a decade ago, I would get all excited for rain. I'd sit in front of the TV all night long and watch the boring news channel just to hear these two lovely words, "No classes."

Typhoons were mere winds in the past. Everything is different now. Typhoons are becoming bigger, stronger and angrier.

I stumbled upon this chapter. It couldn't be any timelier.

God is our refuge and strength
Our ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way,
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
and the mountains quake in their surging.

According to hearsay, there will be more typhoons coming this year and some will probably be worse than Ondoy. I couldn't believe that Basyang, one of the first comers, was already that strong. Her winds were so fierce that I thought our glass windows would crack last night. I'm just grateful that we have God who is our refuge, our strength and our hiding place in times of disaster.

I can't imagine how mountains can "fall into the heart of the sea," I presume that it's something worse than the China and Haiti earthquakes and the tsunami in Thailand. Thus, until the time that mountains crumble and the earth melts away, we need not be afraid. Why?

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

Take note of the drastic contrasting scenes. Compared to the roaring seas and quaking land, God is in a river with peaceful streams. There we are invited. If you read on chapter 46 of Psalms, you'd see that more than the terrifying natural disasters, there would be tragic wars as well. And since God is the greatest and most powerful of all, in one word or mere breathe, He can cut swords, burn shields and melt the whole earth. Powerful, huh? So if ever we experience greater tragedies, remember...

1. To be still. There are several situations that are out of our control which God uses to exalt His name.

Be still...

2. To know our position. As we come before Him, we should acknowledge that He is our Lord and we are His people. Another realization I had awhile ago was that many of our prayers have been asking God to show us His will for us. I know there's nothing wrong with that. But if we want to know "our MISSION" more than "our GOD" then that's, hmm..., odd. We lose sight of who God is. We become more focused on what we, and not what God, can do. Oftentimes, we fail to see what God wants us to do (the reason why we keep asking for God's will) because we fail to know who God is.

... and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."

3. To rest in Him. When we are in His favor, we can hide in the shadows of His wings and as a loving Father, He can and will protect us.

The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

*Basyang is the second typhoon that hit the Philippines in 2010. The typhoon Basyang was named after Lola Basyang, a storyteller, created by a talented Filipino writer named Severino Reyes.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Comfort in Silence

My emotions have been stretched lately with all the relationship tension. Being the absorber of anger and blame, sometimes I am tempted to just lock myself in a room and be silent. This is my defense mechanism.

According to my friend, there are three most common defense mechanisms, going towards, going against and going away. Going towards is when a person decides to give-in to the stressor. He thinks that he should please others for them to not hurt him. Going against is when he fights the one giving him stress. He gets what he wants through force. He scares others off before they can even hurt him. And going away is drawing back and becoming silent. He thinks that with less emotional investment, he would be hurt less.

I guess I'm the third. I find it difficult to open up if I'm not comfortable nor at ease. How about you, what's your defense mechanism?

Anyway, back to the story. The deafening silence led me to read and fill my mind with comforting words in my quiet corner. It was really refreshing when I got to these beautiful poetic verses in Psalm 45:10-13 :

Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear:
forget your people and your father’s house,
and the king will desire your beauty.

The daughter is the whole church. Forgetting means that loyalty is not to the people or the father's house but to the Lord. I felt really loved when I read "the king will desire your beauty." If ever we feel unappreciated, let's remember this verse, that there's a king who appreciates and desires our beauty even if we're unworthy.

Since he is your lord, bow to him.

Although He loves us very much, He is still the King - someone we should worship.

The people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts,
the richest of the people.

In our new position, as His bride, we also receive honor from the King's subjects. Yesterday, my cousin asked me, what if the guy you love leaves you, will you be hurt? I said "Yes of course, but I know I can recover, because I trust God's plans and He is still our first and foremost husband."

All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold.

Wow, imagine that! I've always dreamt of wearing the 1800's elegant victorian gowns. But this princess gown is even better. And this is how precious we are in God. He reminds us that we are His princess. :)

Out-of-the-box Speaking 2

It was thesis term, moments away from graduation. It was time to build a product or craft a service or write a thing or two that would be beneficial and meaningful to certain industries or society. What I did was a mix of the first two. I made toys - educational toys teaching math and english - for kids. There were boardgames that taught mathematics, blocks of letters that taught english such that when you put them together they could create a whole new train. There were all sorts of fun games that I wished had existed when I was younger.

Now come the service part. Ladies who had a heart for teaching were invited. Mothers who had children, sisters who had younger siblings, women whose hearts melt for children in deprived situations (i.e. street children, sick kids, orphans) were welcome to learn and share their creative thoughts on teaching. These ladies gathered together in monthly meetings and sometimes they went out, brought the toys with them and taught kids unrelated to them (ala PeƱaflorida).

In one of our meetings, my cousin Shanda jumped up from her seat (imagine a Eureka moment with a yellow bulb above the head). She said why not share bible stories as well, spread the gospel through toys for kids!

Then I woke up.

~ 0 ~

As I was preparing for my much-awaited graduation day, David and Elaine were waiting for me in a room at a historical hall (like a Justice Hall of some sort). They were playing this board game that looked like monopoly or game of life, but with much realistic buildings, houses and cars. It even had an island where you could build a resort in. What they felt when playing was that the more they played, the more they earned, the more they became greedy.

When it got to Elaine's turn, she held on to the dice, and said "Before I throw them, let me share with you something." In her funny and quirky way, she enlightened the group with the gospel and told them about her God. All the players suddenly woke up from a trance and the board game dissolved and slowly turned to sands. Everyone got up from their seats, went outside the hall with an expression of longing, unquenchable thirst for God. They started sharing the joy with people they met.

The brightness of the sun pierced into the room and David saw an odd thing outside the window. The justice hall turned into a big, colorful playground. Afterwards, two large doors across the hall opened and we finally graduated. He then told me everything that I missed.

Then David woke up.

~ 0 ~

Our dreams were completely different yet somehow intertwined. Both showed the importance of gospel. Both had toys. Both had something related to business/money. I realized from the dreams that the gospel is our mission, and all the others that we value now (i.e. 8-5jobs, profession, business, studies, extracurricular activities) are nothing but avenues to spread it.

I remember one of the points in the Harvard Negotiation Process about interests. Interest will bring us to that position where we desire... not the other way around. If we were given the position first, we won't be assured that our interests would be taken cared of or our desires would be fully met.

All of us have interests and each of us having probably different ones because God made us that way. When we live for God, He doesn't necessarily flush out all our other interests in life. He is Wise enough to use His unique design in us for the advancement of His kingdom.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Black Mood and Friends

We are not always joyful and peaceful. It's reality. Due to our sinful nature, we cannot retain such enthusiasm with our lives and aim for the heavenly goal with great fervor all throughout our walk. I'm sure not even the most saint of all saints can stay pure (void of negative thoughts), calm (void of anger), joyful (void of loneliness) everyday. That's why apart from God's amazing grace, God has blessed us with friends who'd run the race with us, to encourage us along the way and remind us to look up.

Some of my dear friends ran alongside me while I was in my black mood. I was reminded of these things:

1. Because of Christ we can be free from sin, free from the slavery of anger, free from being fed up, free from depression. This artwork was created by my dear friend's missionary friend who became a blessing to her as their paths crossed when they were 24 years old. I was blessed by this as well in my 24th year.

2. When we delight ourselves in the Lord, our hearts align to Him, such that we are able to trust our affections. We canNOT trust the things that we feel, the thoughts that we have - if our hearts are NOT delighting in God. If it is not in line with His will. Delight Yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of Your heart.

3. Be Still. This friend of mine quoted Exodus 14:14 "The Lord will fight for you." And this other friend of mine (without any idea of my conversation with my girl friend) shared his most recent lesson/realization. It's also from the same verse! According to him, the context is this: Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt, and during this time they were right in between the sea and the Egyptians. They had no place to go and Moses was placed in the worst position ever (since he was the commander). Moses prayed and stood still. Indeed God was the one who fought for them. He cut through the water until there was a dry land to walk on. Interesting. The Lord will fight for you.

4. I also realized that different friends can be a blessing at different times. Sometimes they are the friends you get to meet weekly, other times they are those who live miles away that you get to IM with only once in a blue moon. The Lord's timing is good.

Thank You, Lord. And thank you brothers and sisters in Christ. :)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Love is Kind :)

Last Sunday, I got to visit a community church for the very first time. It was situated in a subdivision or a town homes miles away from my city, and it was how I imagined a local community church would be like.. a simple structure in a safe and pleasant village where everyone probably knows their neighbors and bake cookies for new movers. The structure was not really that impressive. At first I thought it was the white 2-story house at the corner of the road, but no, it was the smaller and emptier lot right beside it. It's green gate and a smiling face of an elderly man welcomed me as I walked in. I saw children seated in an air-conditioned-less room excited for their Sunday School. Then I walked through a narrow passage way leading to the backdoor of the bungalow. It was a room that would probably serve as a living room if it were turned to a house. It had wooden floors and walls with about 40 chairs lined in rows at the middle. There was a small platform in front that held their altar, a drum set and two guitars.

It was a simple church serving its simple purpose. People gathered together to worship and grow together in God. Sometimes modern, highfalutin churches replace this basic necessity with theatre-like services, concert-type praise and worship and other interesting and entertaining programs. And sometimes, what were once a product of good intentions (i.e. new ministry, new technology, new focus) would draw the church away from how Jesus first intended it to be.

The topic for the day was kindness. It started with songs of praises which reminded me of God's great kindness, of how it can bring us to repentance, and how His overwhelming kindness can never be repaid. Then came the speaker. He was a pastor who also had a day job (just like Paul the tent-maker). He did an exposition on Matthew 25:40, "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'"

To see the context of the verse, he discussed the verses from 31 to 40.

The Son of Man, Jesus Christ, will judge the people and separate the righteous from the unrighteous, to separate those who'd be going to heaven and hell. During this judgment moment, he distinguishes the saved from the perished. Those who are saved have received an undeserved kindness from their Father, and are tasked to pay-it-forward. Kindness is not merely a feeling of sympathy or empathy, it is an act.

Jesus (the King) tells us several ways of showing kindness, to give food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty.. home.. clothes.. care. Some of us may ask, "when did we (or will ever) see you hungry, or thirsty or in need of a home that we may help you?"

Here's His reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

You may ask questions like, "who are the least of Your brothers?"

Well they are the poor, sick, widowed, unkind, undeserving. They could be the unfortunate teenagers in the streets who irritatingly wipe your car windows with mysterious soap and water, robbers who got your wallet and ipod touch last week, classmates who couldn't pay you back their loan, the husband who cheated more than once, the father who is abusive, the cop who cunningly hid behind the big coconut tree, the uncle who raped you, the brother who took all your parents' attention, the teacher who humiliated you in front of the whole class, or the tax collectors who always ask for a bribe.

But you realized that they're not your "brothers" in Christ.

We should remember that we were once goats also. We were not born righteous. And Jesus Himself showed us kindness even when we were (and still are) sinners! So it's better that we show kindness without any discrimination, who knows, your greatest enemy might just get to know Jesus Christ because of your surprising kindness.

Of course it's very difficult to show kindness to the undeserving. Only if we realized the overflowing kindness the Lord has blessed us with will we be able to do so. If you remember the FRUIT of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5, kindness is part of it. The FRUIT includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Take note: it's FRUIT without an S. This means that all these attributes must work together. You cannot love without the other. You cannot love the jeepney driver if you don't have patience when he suddenly cuts you in the road.

Showing kindness is very random. When opportunities rise (meaning they're uncalled for), take them. You might not know that God's already using you in that person's life.

Another thing we should remember when helping is that it is only between ME (or you), the PERSON we're helping and GOD. The PERSON who experiences the grace of God may know of the help, but the rest of the world does not need to know.

There are several ways of showing kindness, be it in words or in actions. And most often, we must be sensitive to God's leading in doing so. Who knows, it may already be Jesus we'll be helping next. :)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Out-of-the-box Speaking

Let me tell you a short story.

Once upon a time, I got an invitation from a well-known direct selling multinational company for a marketing manager job. It was during a moment of steep economic decline and in a time like this, most companies were on 'freeze hiring' or retrenchment. The timing was quite spectacular. But I wasn't really looking for work. I knew in my heart that I was not meant for the corporate world. I was taking up my Masters in Entrepreneurship and alongside it, I wanted to learn more, read, travel, write, impart some knowledge and improve some skills.

I knew from my past jobs that being held in an 8 to 5 office schedule would eat up most of my waking time and that I would be left with only few precious hours for more meaningful things.
But then, I thought what the heck, might as well try it out. I would need to save for my future anyway.

I entered their office the next day. It was quite small and bare. I was still hesitant as I looked for the HR manager who was supposed to interview me. I found a pleasant lady who waved at me and invited me to her office. I walked in and we had a short chit-chat. She then asked what my expected salary would be. After a long and fruitful interview, she told me to wait for her call within seven days. I wasn't looking forward to the call. Then on one afternoon, when I was enjoying preparing a pot-luck party at home, I got the call. She told me to come to their office the next day for contract signing. There I went and I found out that the salary they were offering to me was twice as much as I was expecting. To cut the story short, I accepted the job. I worked and saved most of what I earned for a house. It was a 5-storey house, Carribean style with white walls and tall glass windows situated on a hill near a fresh river. I was saving it for my future family.

After some time, I finally got the opportunity to transfer to the house. When I was walking towards it with my baggage, I was filled with awe, thinking Finally, I have now fulfilled my dream. Suddenly, a fire struck the house. I didn't know how it started. Probably it was a faulty wiring or forest fire. My memory of that time wasn't clear. All I remembered was the blazing tongue of the bright yellow-orange flames annihilating the white structure. The house burnt to ashes and all my years of hardwork drifted like vapor in the wind. That very moment, I realized everything is indeed fleeting. God gives and takes away. Then I woke up.

It was all a dream, colorful, vivid and very much up-to-date (I actually applied for the same job in my waking hours). Praise God for He taught me great lessons through a dream and not with a real painful experience. One thing I realized is that God can easily give and take away anything and anyone that we hold onto dearly. Whether it be a house that you've saved up for ages, or a family that you've reared, God can take them away in a blink of an eye. This is extremely painful if this 'anyone' or 'anything' has taken the place of God in your life, and this place is the CENTER.

I'm also reminded about a teaching of Jesus, that we cannot worship both God and money. It's either we worship, follow, depend our decisions on God OR money/savings/car/house/etc. It's one or the other. I know the house in my dream or the money Jesus was pertaining to is not entirely evil, but it does distract us from focusing on God. It makes us do things based on our slowly-but-surely-comfortable way and not God's out-of-the-box way.

It's fascinating how God speaks. It's literally out-of-the-box which goes to show how powerful and magnificent is He.

Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

~ Psalm 37:3,4