Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Bowl of Wisdom: A Grieving Son

I got to meet my college bestbud today. Let's name him umm, Randy (he doesn't want to be named). We were accidental friends in college. He did not have much friends, neither did I especially during my 2nd year; and on our first meeting, when we learned that were in fact neighbors, we became instant carpool mates.

I've known him to be a worrywart. He's very panicky. He stutters a lot. And you know sometimes when he has a problem, rather than sympathizing with him, I would find myself laughing a bit, seeing him panicking with his eyes opening so widely. Stuttering is one of his weaknesses, but it was put to good use when he got caught once for violating the number coding system. His normal speaking voice seemed to the police like there was really an emergency.

Anyway, my friend here was very close to his mom. He explicitly admitted that he was her mom's favorite. I remember during the ego-booster club's (our barkada's name) Christmas parties, his mom would be the one to arrange the tables and chairs on the balcony. She would entertain all of Randy's friends. She knew each of us by name, and she treated us, her son's friends, as her own dear friends. She never failed to entertain us and made us feel at home, and to our guy friends, she freely let them sleep over at their house. This went on for six years, from 2004 to 2009; but when 2010 came, things changed.

Auntie Sandra (original name also replaced), Randy's mom suddenly felt some unusually painful back pains on May 2010. At first the doctor thought it was an ordinary sickness, so she underwent an operation. But even after the operation, she still felt the intense back pain. Later on they found out that it was due to a severe cancer. Although they had the means to pay for every little bit of hope -chemo, radiation, etc. - anything the doctor suggested, none was able to save her. She passed away four months later.

My friend seemed to be coping very well today when I got to meet him and my other friend for dinner. He was able to smile and he didn't look depressed or anything close to it. And so I asked him, "Randy, what made you not angry with God when you learned about your Mom's sickness?"

I was very surprised with what he said. He answered, "Mitzi, remember 'Our Father who art in heaven, hollowed be thy name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done.' It's His will Mitzi and not my will. He has a plan for each and everyone of us and I trust that His plan for my mom is perfect. I prayed to God before that if He would cure my mom's sickness, that would be great. But, if He would take my mom, then I'd let Him."

"My relatives thought that I would go crazy, or I would kill myself, because the one I loved the most had been taken away from me. Many people tell me, 'You know Randy, I really don't know what to do if that were to happen to me, I think I'd just lock myself in my room for weeks. I can't live without my mom.' But you know, I'm very thankful that God is here to guide me and tell me what to do. You know Mitzi, I feel the peace. It's like, no matter what happens around me, I am joyful inside."

"I'm also very thankful that my mom passed away when I already have a relationship with God. Because without Him, I really don't know what to do. You know Mitzi, this incident also changed my perspective in life. Before, my focus was to take Masters abroad, make business and earn big bucks. But now, things have changed. I just want to seek God and do His will." Indeed he didn't react to the problem like how the egobooster's club and his closest relatives expected he would. He reacted more gracefully than I probably would if that were to happen to me.

I'm writing this part of his life testimony to show to the world that it is possible to have God's unfathomable peace and undeniable joy in our lives, even if He takes away the one most dear to us.

Thank you Randy for allowing me to share bits and pieces of your life on this blog.

God bless you!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Discover Your Culture

CULTURE, as defined by my MBA professor, Mr. Efren Cruz is "the beliefs and expectations shared in an organization." An individual may act one way when outside the organization, but when joined in a collective group, he may act differently. He illustrated, "Inside my class, some of you may be very quiet. But I'm sure many of you are loud and would love to joke around outside this class." I saw many of my classmates smirked, we understood the point perfectly.

An organization has shared beliefs, values and expectations. These beliefs, values and expectations shape up an organization, these may differentiate one business from its competitor, or a daughter church from a mother church. These BVEs become the norm in a structure that everyone is expected to follow. But just as they step out of the structure of the church, they do not necessarily have the same BVE any longer.

Now, how do we know what the church's beliefs, values and expectations are? Are these etched on the structure or monument or printed on a banner? Are these the mission, vision and core values typed on the website? Are these the things being preached every Sunday? NOT NECESSARILY. One way you may discover your organization's real beliefs, values and expectations, the ones that lie in the core of the organization is through ROLE STORIES.

Role stories are stories being shared informally during lunch breaks, coffee time, or a few seconds brush through the hallway. These are the stories shared by churchmates who chitchat after the service, or officemates who happen to have lunch-outs together. Of course when they are together, they talk to each other. They share role stories. Role stories mirror the beliefs, values and expectations in their organization.

My professor cited an example, "You know my previous students would like to share things about me to other students. They would scare other students perhaps they would like to brag. They'd say, "Ang hirap talaga ng STRAMA, bawal mambola kasi boboldyakin ka."" (Strategic Management class is really difficult, you cannot woo the professor because the professor would snap at you.)

He learned this by listening to students and their stories. In each of the role story, there is always a hero or a villain. In my professor's illustration, he was the villain and perhaps the student who passed the course was the hero. The belief there was that the class was really difficult; and the expectation was that if you woo the professor you would be deadmeat.

Culture is not really like principles or policies that you can easily set in an organization. It is something to be discovered, something that has grown and developed through years of experience.

This got me thinking. What is the culture of the church nowadays? What do you hear after the service or prayer meeting when everyone's ready to head home? I've heard a couple of stories plenty of times. Listen and help me analyze these role stories:

1. "Napapagod na ako sa ministries, ang dami dami kong kelangan gawin." (I'm getting tired of the ministries, there are so much things I have to do!)

The hero here I guess is the person speaking ("ako" or "me") because he is the one tasked to do all the ministries. Ministries are valued as services for the Lord in the church and they are considered to be good. The expectation is that the ministries are too many and are tiring to do. Another possible expectation is that we have to do the ministries, for some it is a sign of growth, for others it is a must for every Christian.

Let us analyze this culture, why then do we get tired of doing the ministries? Perhaps it is because we have the wrong focus. We focus more on the service and not on the ONE whom we are serving. We worry about our to-do list that we are left with little time to commune with our Father in Heaven. This is the Martha culture.

2. "Mr. Plato is such a good pianist! I'm sure our praise and worship this Sunday will be successful!"

The hero here is obviously Mr. Plato who is the good pianist. He is believed to be talented and skilled. And because of this, the expectation is that on Sunday, if he were to play, the praise and worship would be successful.

This is the human pride culture. They value (or they look highly) on gifts, skills, talents, achievements, knowledge and the like. If these are the values of the church in order to "succeed" in doing its mission, then, we are guilty of Jeremiah 17:5. It says there, "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord."

Trusting in man means we do not trust the Lord. It is mutually exclusive my dear readers. It is either we trust man to do God's work or we trust in the Lord. It's either we trust Mr. Plato to move the hearts of people to sing praises to the Lord, or we trust the Lord. It's either we trust Ms. Sophie to teach entertainingly that the Sunday School kids would instantly have passion in reading the Bible, or we trust the Lord. It's either I trust myself to encourage you as you read this or I trust the Lord to do that.

What I noticed in these two examples are that the Martha Culture and the Human Pride Culture are similar in so many ways. First, their beliefs, values and expectations are focused on what man can do. The hero is the man who has done something good for the church and not the Savior who has saved the man from sin and enabled him to have eternal life and do the good works. Second, both of them turn the hearts of people away from the Lord. The previous takes the focus away from the Lord, the latter takes the trust away from the Lord.

I don't know what the culture in your church is. Try listening to role stories on Sunday. Compare them with the best standard of culture in the world, the Biblical Standard.

Happy listening everyone! :)

P.S. If you have noticed that your culture is different from the culture in the Bible, change is definitely possible.

STEP 1: Identify facets of present culture that prevent the organization from meeting its mission and vision. Compare it with Biblical Standard.

STEP 2: Pray about it.

STEP 3: Talk openly about problems of the present culture and what behaviors will bring us closer to the Bible culture.

Note: The examples above were written for illustrative purposes only. They were not intended to pinpoint any person specifically.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Life Lesson ~ Experienced Theory

I loved how our Supply Chain Management class professor handled our class today. She made us do a case study (which usually fills 5 to 10 short bond paper sheets when single spaced) after reading a one-page information about MasterTag. This was unlike the other case studies I've had in my other classes, where we were tasked to read 20 to 30 page-long case study materials with an average of 10 exhibits, complete with financial statements, operational strategies, etc. She said, "That's real life. You sometimes do not have all the information. You may have to scramble your way to determine which data to get."
I thought being enrolled in a management class that is very much related to engineering (Industrial) would be boring, but no. I was surprised when my professor was encouraging us to be as creative as possible with our case studies. We could develop our own numbers and crunch them up to compute for the metrics. (In our other assignments we could do case studies of hypothetical companies, but we had to base all info on real hard facts.) We could offer different solutions, different systems, and arrive at different recommendations. There was no right or wrong answer for her. She simply encouraged us to broaden our thinking, and deepen it to the very detail, like "How will you replenish the four racks of goodies in a Ministop shop? Should the delivery happen daily? every other day? Will you ask someone to do rounds every hour?"

Education, as she said, is not merely teaching about theory or experience. It is mixing both. If you teach based only on experience, then when someone asks you, "why should meat stew be cooked slowly?" You can only reply with "because my grandma tells me so." Whereas if you have a theory to back you up, like "slow evaporation keeps the taste full and meat tender," then the lesson is much stronger. Your student would know how to handle something (a task, an experience, etc.) when the environment changes. On the other hand, if everything is based on theory only, it lacks life and vigor. It rests only in the mind with no use for the new knowledge.

Indeed, a life-changing, powerful lesson is one that blends both theory and experience. It is a life lesson (life~experienced, lesson~theory) that sticks. I'd probably remember even after so many years that once upon a time I learned how to create a supply chain model for the colorful horticultural tag company, MasterTag. Maybe that's what all teachers should do, to teach experienced theory, whether it is a Supply Chain Management class, Strategic Management, Arts, Science, History or the Bible. And perhaps this goes out to more than the teachers, to parents who have youngsters, students who have maids at home, and Christians who have friends and families that have not yet tasted the grace of God!

Learn theory, experience the theory, and teach. God bless! :)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Spiritual Check-Up

If I may ask you, how is your relationship with God today? Please avoid telling me what you did or did not do. I'm not asking how often you did your quiet time this week or how long you prayed to Jesus. Nor am I asking if you prayed three times a day. I'm also not asking if you read the Bible in your devotion today. And most importantly, I'm not asking how many ministries you are involved in. What I'm asking is, how is your relationship with God today?

As I tried to answer this question myself and reflected for a while, a picture of a girl suddenly popped in my head. She was a good girl who studied hard at home and in school. She wanted to earn good grades to please her parents. She took home numerous medals and awards. This didn't make her any closer to her parents though. Her achievements did not equal to the depth of communication in their relationship and the delight they have for each other.

I realized that how I, and probably some of you, treat God is similar to how we'd treat our parents. Sometimes we feel that the love of God can be earned by merit. We forget that there's nothing we can do to make him love us any more or any less. He just loves us already. And Jesus made all that possible. He has done everything on our part already when He died on the cross. He was (and still is) the one who makes us clean, who paves the way for us to go to God!

If you were like the girl in my thought bubble, you would have probably started new ministries for Him. Nothing bad with that, but remember, what we do does not make us any closer to Him. A relationship is a matter of the heart, it is inward, it is hidden behind the veil of what our brothers and sisters in Christ cannot see.

Now, think again and dig deeper.. beneath the piles and rubbles of your ministries, of your schedule, of your actions.. search your heart. Do you see God there? If you see that He is at the very core of your being, then praise God! But, if you don't see Him in the midst of all the work you are doing for Him, and you don't see Him in your heart, then maybe it's time to stop achieving for a while (God doesn't need them anyway) and focus on what's most important, your relationship with Him.

Maybe you would like to say a little prayer with me:

Dear Lord,

Thank you for sending your Son on the cross to die for my sins. I know that all the works I do for You are incomparable to what Jesus has done for me. There is indeed nothing I can do to make you love me any more or any less. Thank You very much for loving me.

May you forgive me dear Lord if sometimes I delight more in the successes of my works than I take delight in You. I welcome you to my heart. Please reign in every part of me. Fill in all the cracks and crevices of my heart. May you become my only joy, only peace and only strength.

In Jesus' name I pray,

Take this vitamins before you go. May this blessing refresh you in your walk with Him. :)

An Irish Blessing

May the blessing of light be upon you
Light on the outside, light on the inside
With God's sunlight shining on you

May your heart glow with warmth like a turf fire
That welcomes friends and strangers alike

May the light of the Lord shine from your eyes
Like a candle in the window
Welcoming the weary traveler

May the blessing of God's soft rain be on you
Falling gently on your head
Refreshing your soul with
The sweetness of little flowers newly blooming

May the strength of the winds of heaven bless you
Carrying the rain to wash your spirit clean
Sparkling after in the sunlight

May the blessing of God's earth be on you
And as you walk the road
May you always have a kind word to those you meet

May you understand the strength and power of God
In a thunder storm and winter
And a quiet beauty of creation
In the calm of a summer sunset

And may you come to realize
That insignificant as you may seem
In this great universe
You are an important part of God's plan

May He watch over you and keep you safe from harm

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Bowl of Wisdom: As a Sales Woman

It was my first time today to become a sales woman, the one you'd see walking from door to door, greeting potential customers and offering a product. I was trying to sell a very ordinary product - noodles - in the busy streets of Divisoria with my Auntie. Not that I got a new job or anything like that, I simply wanted to try being a front liner. This was partly to help my grandmother in her small business, partly to enlighten me with details for my Strategic Management class paper, and partly to know how is it to treat customer - a customer.

I'd never gotten a chance to sell to people, apart from family and close friends who were kind enough to buy my banana cakes and crema de fruita. And so I was quite worried before the day began. I remembered how the sales reps in movies were treated. People would usually close the door on their face. They would avoid these persistent vacuum cleaner, makeup or furniture sellers at all costs. That's probably why there is such a sales concept called "foot in the door." Before a potential customer locks you out the door, put your foot in and ask a very simple question. You may build up the conversation from there.

Anyway, just to let you know, nobody closed their doors on us. (Whew!:D) Most of the people we visited were old clients who stopped ordering from us. We entered one of the stores. It was selling various processed foods (i.e. canned goods, evaporated milk, vinegar, soy sauce, etc.). We smiled at them. We introduced ourselves. There were no smiles from the owners still. We told them we were from 5 star. Then they smiled and eagerly told us, "Oh I remember your grandpa! He would sit here and talk with us before. It has been so long since then!" Then, my aunt and I asked how business is going. They shared with us many of the ups and downs and even told us why they stopped ordering. Most of the businesses in the area were not doing well. After some time, they even shared with us pictures of their grand children and great grand children.

I learned a number of things during my sales visits today.

First, selling is a humbling experience. Whenever I entered a new store, I had to smile and greet them even if they had not proved yet to be deserving. We had to excuse ourselves and say sorry for the time that was taken off them. I realized, if we only consider everyone we meet as customer (not the "king" who has everything, but one who has needs that we can help address) we will be able to consider others better or more important than ourselves, and therefore, learn humility.

Second, in order to influence, a relationship must be built; in order for a relationship to be built, start listening. Most of the people that bought noodles were those that had known my grandpa for twenty or more years. They had built sturdy relationship of trust from the many weeks and months and years and decades of sharing and listening. I got a taste of that when we asked "how is business going?" They went on and on telling us about the new market trends, new competitors and even some problems that they were facing. There seemed to be a shift from seeing us as sellers to partners or even as friends. This is also true in real life. In order to influence people (to buy, to believe or to do), we have to listen to them and let them know that we care.

Third, customers do not need products, they need benefits. By listening to them, we will be able to understand what is the real benefit they're looking for. The customers (retailers) awhile ago, did not buy noodles for the sake of having products for display, they bought them so that they may earn a living by selling them to customers at a mark-up price. But since some were not able to sell at a good price or some customers had transfered to different outlets already, then the product held no more benefit. And when they saw no benefit, they did not order any more.

One of my professors advised us that we should treat everyone as a customer. This includes the security guard in our offices/school, our neighbors, our maids, janitors, people selling squid balls on the streets, etc. The world will become a better place when there is humility.

Let me take this opportunity to challenge you to TREAT EVERYONE AS A CUSTOMER as well. There's no harm in smiling at someone, greeting her good morning, and asking her how she is. Time starts... now.

God bless you!:)