Perfection-er

In my previous post, I talked about feeling quite depressed over my lack of inactivity and my feeling of uselessness, as I stayed home in most days. Turned out I was just bored and that I needed to change my perspective and attitude. God was preparing me for something bigger, better, and busier.

Last week, I started school. (I can’t believe I’m already in my senior year!) I knew that over the next ten months, I would be needing a lot of strength, wisdom, and grace because not only was I going to be busy, but I was going to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually challenged. Thus, on the eve of my first day of school, I posted a status on my Facebook account:

statusI didn’t realize these verses would be applied immediately, on the first week of school! God immediately granted my desire for useful activity, and oh, how much responsibilities He gave me! Firstly, the requirements for my majors (which comprise all of my subjects this semester) required intense, long hours of reading, reading, reading, reading…did I mention reading? Secondly, God revived His movement in my campus and specifically told me to be part of its core team when our youth pastor, Kuya Marty, told me to contact everyone and set a meeting. Then a friend of mine from a department in our youth ministry, ELEVATE, informed me that both of us were made admins of the host team. Add to that my commitment to meet two girls in school for Bible study, plus my own Dgroup upline (i.e., the group I attend for my personal “spiritual feeding and nourishment”), blogging, and Sunday School ministry. My hands and my plate were (at least from my point of view) overflowing with tasks!

At first I feared taking all these responsibilities (and until now I’m still praying and asking God if He can, if He will, put some on hold) because I feared not being able to juggle all of these with the growing demand in school, which was my primary ministry. Earlier this afternoon in our school chapel, this fear of incompetence and failure gnawed at me again. After my last class, I headed to the chapel to pray and have my quiet time because I wasn’t able to do so in the morning. I started thanking God about the fun day I had, and then I proceeded to the more serious stuff that really bothered me: the growing responsibilities and my fear that I would fail to deliver excellently. I reminded Him that I was bad at fulfilling my commitments, that I don’t want to fail Him and the people who were counting on me. I also told Him about my confusion about how to balance all these things and to deal with my insecurities (which still bother me)–my bad skin, increasing weight, baggy eyes even if I sleep early–and my unanswered questions about Him. In short, I was confused, disorganized, and fearful–all the things I utterly despise and do my best to escape from! As I dwelt on these negative things (a bad, bad idea), I started to cry. First in the volume of cologne sprays. Then a 500-liter water bottle. Then faucets. Inside the silent, public chapel. That’s when God, in His love and mercy, began conversing with me in my mind. I started it when I prayed, silently:

“Man, why did I even stay here? Why do I have to cry here? It’s so embarrassing…..Lord, You know my struggle. You know I’m bad at commitments. You know I want everything to be organized. Please guide me.”

Then amazingly, God replied.

“Honey, I want you to trust Me. I brought you here because I wanted to hug you, to let you know that I delight in you. I love you! I am delighted at you because you are walking in My will. Don’t worry! I love you, child.”

Of course, the pessimistic me did not believe, at least not completely. So God said:

“You’re here to have your quiet time, right? Okay open to Psalms, the chapter’s number is the date today.”

I said (in my mind): “Yeah, right, how am I sure I’m not just making this up and going after my feelings? Does God even do this?”

Although my question went unanswered at first, I went to Psalm 18 anyway. What I read shocked me and opened another valve in my eyes for more tears to flow. Here were some of the opening verses:

I love You, O Lord, my strength.”
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
And I am saved from my enemies.

In my distress I called upon the Lord,
And cried to my God for help;
He heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears.

Verses 7-15 talked about awesome and terrifying things God did–earthquakes, consuming fire, blazing coals, darkness, hailstones–the apocalyptic sort of thing. I thought: “Seriously, God? Lord, are You…mad at me?” I wasn’t getting the idea. Not until I started reading from verse 16 all the way until the end in verse 50. Here were some of the verses that struck me:

He sent from on high, He took me;
He drew me out of many waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy,
And from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
But the Lord was my stay.
He brought me forth also into a broad place;
He rescued me, because He delighted in me.

The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness;
According to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
And have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all His ordinances were before me,
And I did not put away His statutes from me.
I was also blameless with Him,
And I kept myself from my iniquity.

With the kind You show Yourself kind;
With the blameless You show Yourself blameless;

The Lord my God illumines my darkness.

As for God, His way is blameless;

The word of the Lord is tried;
He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.
For who is God, but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God,
The God who girds me with strength
And makes my way blameless?

- Psalm 18:1-3,6, 16-3,25, 29-32 (emphases added)

By the end of the chapter I was lamenting. Thankfully I kept it inaudible, except for my occasional snorting, but I was relatively quiet. But wait…there’s more! God replied with an even more personal message.

“See? Of course I still speak to My children in a very personal way! You see, I am delighted in you. You are not in sin in the sense that you remain in it habitually. Honey, I know that you are very particular about the smallest details. I am, too. I like details, too. I also think they are very important. And yes, I am after perfection. But you see, I am not a perfectionist in the sense that I judge you and condemn you for your smallest mistake. I am not a perfectionist; I’m a perfection-er. I am perfecting you. I know that throughout the perfectioning process, you won’t have it all together. And that’s okay. As long as you trust Me and obey Me and fear Me (and you do, all these things), I am with you. Okay?” :) 

I thought the overwhelming emotion I felt was a result of the difficulty of management. I haven’t even started some of them! The real issue was that, I was afraid of making mistakes. I feared failure so much, I recoiled at the idea of having too much responsibilities and a lot people to be accountable to. God also told me that time that the key was not to avoid responsibility, but to eliminate everything that hinders me and the sin that so easily entangles me so that I can run with perseverance the race that God marked out for me (Hebrews 12:1-2). I had to remove the distractions and just focus on the main thing, and to keep it the main thing at all times. God wouldn’t have allowed me to be given these tasks or He would have told me to let them go had He not given me the strength, power, and ability to fulfill them. :)

I also learned that God wasn’t utterly strict in the perfectionist sense. I was. It’s unfortunate how the “don’t-sin-or-else-God-will-thunder-lightning-on-you” ideology from Greek mythology and other pagan literature still influenced me. I had an erroneous view of God. Surely God feels saddened when I sin, even the smallest one. But that doesn’t mean He is totally displeased with me that He won’t talk to me or that I should expect to be disciplined tomorrow. No matter what happens, we must always remember that God is LOVE. Everything He does stems from His love. Nothing He does is done out of hatred the way we humans hate, or apathy. Even God’s “hate” towards people is grounded on love. Especially with children who sincerely seek Him and do His will, He is ever gentle, patient, merciful, and gracious. He knows our weaknesses. That’s why He’s perfecting us, because we have deficiencies. That’s also why He’s patient, because He knows we’ve been so used to this faulty system that we think it’s normal. But, no. His perfection and His holiness should be our norm. There is no middle ground.

If you have a perfectionist tendency like mine or if you, too, feel like escaping responsibility for fear of failure, may I encourage you today to pause, take a deep breath, and know that God does not desire to condemn you? Really, He doesn’t. The process hurts but it doesn’t mean God hates you. In fact, the fact that He’s investing so much in you–disciplining, molding, mentoring, discipling, guiding, providing for you–means that He really, really, really loves you! Also, I pray that you (and I) will realize that failure is not final. Neither is success. We fail, we get back up. We succeed, we move past that, otherwise we become complacent or even recalcitrant when we’re told to move forward. C.S. Lewis put it perfectly when he wrote in his book, Beyond Personality:

“…God’s demand for perfection need not discourage you in the least in your present attempts to be good, or even in your present failures. Each time you fall He will pick you up again. And He knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection.”

So trust His character. It’s the only thing that remains constant in this ever-changing world. :)

After that drama session with God, I wiped my tears and went out of the chapel with my head held high. I may not have all the facts together nor am I relieved of the chance of failure, but I know that I am kept safe by the One Who goes before me, the One who stands behind. The God of angel armies is always by my side! Above all, this Perfection-er of mine loves me. And really, that’s more than enough. :)

Reference:
Lewis, C.S. (1947). Beyond Personality: The Christian Idea of God. New York: The Macmillan Company. 
New American Standard Bible (NASB). (1995). The Lockman Foundation. via BibleGateway.com.

 

Missing Out On Life?

Earlier this evening, I browsed through my Facebook news feed and saw the various activities of my friends in church and blockmates in school: attending & witnessing a prestigious awards ceremony in the media industry; going to the beach with friends; volunteering in the freshmen orientation; attending youth group (ELEVATE) meetings. After a few minutes of browsing, I signed out of Facebook and stared at my laptop screen. A thought sprang from my heart and entered my mind, and bothered my entire being:

I’m at home, doing nothing productive of that sort that my friends are doing. I’m missing out on life. 

Remembering Philippians 4:4-7, the passage I read this morning for my quiet time, I anxiously prayed: Lord, how can I share you with my friends if I’m here stuck at home? You told me to build relationships, right?

The Lord answered me, although indirectly. My gut told me to grab the Our Daily Bread journal right across me, from my Mom’s book shelf, and open it to today’s date (June 5, 2014). I opened to the correct page and searched for the passage for the day: it was 1 Timothy 4:10-16. . I took Mom’s living application Bible from the shelf and opened to 1 Timothy, but for whatever reason I read verses 7-10 which said:

“Don’t waste time arguing over foolish ideas and silly myths and legends. Spend your time and energy in the exercise of keeping spiritually fit. Bodily exercise is all right, but spiritual exercise is much more important and is a tonic for all you do. So exercise yourself spiritually and practice being a better Christian, because that will help you not only now in this life, but in the next life too. This is the truth and everyone should accept it. We work hard and suffer much in order that people will believe it, for our hope is in the living God who died for all, and particularly for those who have accepted His salvation.”

I was  surprised by the straightforwardness of the language of this version, and for a while I was captivated by the beauty of its meaning. However, my anxiety did not go away. Again I recalled my quiet time passage this morning, Philippians 4:4-7. I opened to it from the same Bible, excited to read how the verses would be put.

“Always be full of joy in the Lord; I say it again, rejoice! Let everyone see that you are unselfish and considerate in all you do. Remember that the Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs and don’t forget to thank Him for His answers. If you do this you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.” (emphases added)

I was anxious and unpleasing to God, and I knew it. I put down the Bible and started praying. I told Him everything that bothered me. That nagging feeling that I was missing out on life by being stuck at home. That I feel scared I might not be as productive again in ministry in school. That His promise of the abundant life wasn’t being fulfilled in my life. I cried and prayed, and then, waited.

This time, God came to me in a rational way. He made me think. First, He asked me a question: “How do you define ‘life’?”

I knew the answer to the question, but He pressed on with more, and in the process, answered the first one.

“Is life the sum of all one’s activities and relationships built? Is life just that? Isn’t life–at least this one on earth–the training ground for your path to Christ-likeness? Isn’t real, abundant life one that lives out My good and perfect will?”

I kept quiet as the questions kept coming in  (in the form of thoughts, God talking to my mind, as if audibly, but not, because that would have been scary). “Okay, so let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you are missing out on life. Tell Me: what is it exactly you’re missing out on? What other thing could you possibly be doing now that would have been My will for you, since that’s what you want and pray for everyday?”

I kept quiet and thought about these things. I kept silent for a while. I realized how shallow and selfish my thoughts were. However, the problem went deeper than that.  When I pinpointed the root cause of my anxiety, I cried some more. God spoke to me again.

“Your problem is, you have trust issues. You believe that if you make a mistake or don’t feel satisfied with the rate your spiritual walk is going, you are automatically removed from the path of abundance. You base your spiritual growth on activity and feelings, not on My grace, My mercy, and My love. Not on Me. You still think that I’m not doing My job of taking care of you, and so you think there must be something missing in your life. Well there is. The joy that you should have been experiencing is replaced by anxiety, because you did not trust Me enough to guide you.”

The tears kept gushing like a waterfall.

“Besides, if you’re really missing out on life, I would have told you. I just need you to trust Me and obey whatever it is that I tell you at the moment. You will be okay.”

Perhaps you’re reading this and you’re like me, thinking that you’re probably missing out on life. There will be times that you will miss out on life, and God will surely tell you about it and show you how you can get back on track. However, if you’re like me, you’re just probably bored because your parents won’t let you out of the house and you’re stuck at home browsing the Net all day and watching TV. I realized my desire was misdirected. By thinking that I was missing out on life, I was actually thinking: I was missing out on fun activities that will make me happy and less bored. In this kind of thinking, the will of God is irrelevant. Whatever makes you happy, do it. This is a product of hedonism, of which I am very much guilty.

This whole drama is a test on perspective and proper definitions. God taught me to view life as a process of temporary refinement for eternal glory. I’m just an alien here on earth. Everything God allows me to go through is intended to make me more like Him and to make others (whoever He wants me to come in contact with) know Him. Somewhere in between, abundance lies. Joy overflows. Peace envelopes the mind. I was not missing out on life because I was fulfilling the command of the Lord to obey and honor my parents who commanded me to stay home. During the past few days, I have been discovering good and bad things about myself, but mostly bad. God has been teaching me how to overcome these things, although I must admit, I am a slow learner. There are certain areas in my life I still have a difficult time obeying. After my dramatic time with God, I thanked Him for letting me stay at home and realize these things at home, before I go out to “the real world” where I probably would have suffered the consequences of my ill heart before I even knew my heart was a wreck.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that doing activities as those I mentioned earlier makes you a more noble Christian or refined person. Perhaps they do, if that is God’s will for you. One truth remains: as long as you are in the center of God’s will, you are NOT missing out on life. God never makes mistakes when He places us where we are right now. We are wherever we are for two purposes: to honor Him and to become more like Him. After a few moments of silence, I thanked God for the blessings staying at home brought me: epiphanies of truth, rest (lots of sleep!), more time to myself, and preparation for the tougher stuff in the future. God kept His promise to me right after I prayed by allowing His peace to guard my heart and my mind in Him. :)

Everyday, we should pray for God’s will for our lives. How He wishes to carry that out is His prerogative. Our role is to trust Him, let go of control, and obey whatever specific commands He has for us. If you fail to do these three, then you are missing out on life! God never wanted for us to live in misery. God, by default, is joyful, and He wants us to be the same. :)

If you’re like me, a stay-home on-break student and you share my “missing-out-0n-life” feelings, don’t despair. Chances are, like me you’re just bored. Boredom is a dangerous situation because we often resort to doing nonsensical activities to fill our time. I suggest you consider doing the following things:

  1. Read the Bible and other Christian books so that you will grow spiritually. Remember what 1 Timothy 4:7 said: Spend your time and energy in the exercise of keeping spiritually fit. If you’re not a big fan of paper books, try audio books. There are also articles on the Net that can help you out, but for me, the written Word is still the best.
  2. Work out! Summer is the best time to do this because you sweat by default. Make the sweating a fun event by dancing or doing whatever sport you love! (or if you don’t have any, just dance whatever! Be a bit crazy and spontaneous)
  3. Clean the house. Even if you have househelp. It’s training for diligence, because it forces you to work. Laziness starts at home, you know.
  4. Learn a skill. I find it  unfortunate how we see the Internet only as a source of music, movies, gossip, and social media sites. It’s way much more than that! You can learn a new language, the history of the world, how to bake a cake, and even make a cool video by just clicking your way through some sites!
  5. Spend time with your loved ones. This works especially if you have siblings. Play games with them (if they’re not yet that old). Talk with them! Watch movies together. Clean the house together! (my brothers and I have been doing that the past 2 days) When you go back to school or start work, you’ll have less time to do this, so do it now!

Find out God’s will for you right now and fulfill it.Trust Him and leave all the worrying to Him. For sure, you’ll be missing out on misery and unnecessary pain, because you’re too engrossed in living the joyful, abundant, and exciting life! :)

 

P.S: always be grateful! ALWAYS. Too often we forget. I always do. It’s time we remember. A few photos of how my week went. Thank God for smartphones! :) Processed with VSCOcam with m3 preset

midnight workout! First time ever. Felt good. Felt sleepy afterwards. :)

midnight workout! First time ever. Felt good. Felt sleepy afterwards. :)

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lunch date with my Dad after enrollment. I AM ENROLLED! :) Thanks Dad!

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first time to have my hair curled! :) felt extra girly.

I liked the curly hair so much I didn't shampoo the next day to keep it intact, because it was only temporary. :p #smellsgoodtho

I liked the curly hair so much I didn’t shampoo the next day to keep it intact, because it was only temporary. :p #smellsgoodtho

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a beautiful butterfly posing in our bamboo tree! :) the wings are so beautiful ;)

I’ve Got The Drive!

baby Jenny driving

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always dreamt of driving my own car, or just driving a car, really. It was so cool being behind the wheel (or the manibela in Filipino), steering it whichever way you wish. That dream of becoming a non-professional driver should have been fulfilled summer last year if only I wasn’t such a professional procrastinator. This summer, however, I decided to make a U-turn. I made a vow to myself to learn how to drive before ending my teen years.

And so, three days ago, I embarked on my first ever driving class!

The experience was thrilling, quite nerve-wracking, and fun all at the same time. I can’t begin to describe it. Oh wait I just did.

Wednesday, 7:10 AM.

Dad brought me to Socialites Pasong Tamo in our car. When I got off, Ate Grace, the receptionist, ushered me to the vehicle, where my trainer, Mang Vic, patiently waited for me. I sat behind the wheel for the very first time in a long time (since that photo, maybe?).

Mang Vic started my lesson with a short lecture on the use of the brake, clutch (I used a manual car), and the gas pedals, as well as the handbrake and the gears. The lecture lasted about fifteen minutes. I was listening–really, intently, sincerely listening–but sadly, my mind wasn’t able to keep up. I had absolutely no knowledge about car things prior to the lecture, except for the fact that the brake is used to stop the car. Other than that, I’m a dummy. I didn’t tell Mang Vic that I was practically clueless, so just imagine my mild shock when he told me:

“Okay neng, ready ka na? Lalakwatsa na tayo, ah. Sige suotin mo na yung seatbelt mo. Gear 1 ka muna….”

I WAS GOING TO DRIVE ALREADY!!!!

I used to imagine my first driving moment as blissful, with a very relaxed me sitting behind the wheel, so sure of life and my future. Instead I was like,

“Dang, am I really driving?! Like, seriously. I don’t want to kill anyone today–not now, not ever! What if I run into a post?! Did my fee include insurance? What if this guy’s actually a phony?! Huhuhu where’s my Daddy???”

Okay, okay, laugh at me. I don’t care. :D I’m a scaredy-cat.

Well, I was a scaredy-cat until I remembered the men behind me. I remembered the Man who died for me and gave up His life for me, Who promised me that I can trust Him with all my heart. And trust I did.

There was another man–the one who inspired me to drive in the first place. The best driver in the world because he took me places even if he was tired (and he didn’t show he was tired, except when he wanted a massage :)). The man who made sure I was safe that day, so he followed me around in our car, waiting patiently for the hour to end.

My Savior and my Lord, and my Dad, literally behind me as I drove. How safe can you get? :)

So Mang Vic gave out the instructions. Press on the clutch all the way down, change gear to 1 (primera), step on the gas, then slowly release the clutch.

THE CAR MOVED! I ‘moved’ it! This is awesome!

We didn’t go that far, only a kilometer or two around Makati City. We were just going around Pasong Tamo, Metropolitan Avenue, Evangelista St.. When I traversed half a kilometer, I couldn’t believe what I was doing! I was actually driving! Driving was pretty simple, at least at first, when your trainer is beside you and assisting you with the steering wheel, and the greatest Men in your life are behind you, watching over you. :)

Although driving was easy in principle, it wasn’t easy in actuality, especially if you’re driving a manual. Dad wanted me to train in manual because it required a different discipline compared to an automatic, and he would most likely lend me our manual car because the automatic one gulped gallons of gas. I get shocked whenever the engine would die out because I let go of the clutch too much. :)) Thankfully, Mang Vic was patient, and by God’s grace, I was pretty alert and responsive to getting back on track.

When class ended that Wednesday, I was exhilarated, to say the least. I still couldn’t believe I drove a car around, and I wasn’t in Timezone or some arcade! :) I was shaking a bit when I walked to our car and sat beside the driver’s seat. As I walked to our car, I saw Dad smiling beaming widely at me. I think my gladness infected his own. :)

I thought I was the only glad person about actually driving, but as it turned out, my Mom and my lola (grandmom, Dad’s mom) were even happier. When I stepped inside the house, they were seated in the dining table, smiling and eager to ask me questions. And ask they did!

“O, kamusta? Mahirap ba? Nag-drive ka ba? Ano, madali lang? Anong pakiramdam? Traffic ba? O ano, marunong ka na?”  (ulit-ulit?! hahaha)

It was like nursery class all over again, with my parents asking how school went and how I felt. I wanted to tell them every single detail but I only skimmed through it, as there was crispy bacon lying seductively on the table, luring me to partake in its lardy glory. Nonetheless, I think they saw how happy I was because I could not find the words to describe everything.

The next two days were more challenging, especially today’s session. Yesterday, Thursday, Mang Vic taught me how to “hang” on an incline and turn left and right. Turning left and right was harder than I thought, especially around Makati’s city streets with the hard, thick gutters! Again, my Dad followed us around, this time, for two hours.

Friday, 7:05 AM

Although Dad was supposed to accompany me at my last and most challenging driving session, I didn’t ask him anymore because he was tired and slept very late from a photography, work-related engagement Thursday evening. So, for the first time in forever, I went to my driving session alone. (my Savior was still with me, though, so no worries. :D)

By the third day, I trusted Mang Vic even more. I regret not getting to know him and really engage him in a Godly conversation because I was quite nervous on the road. Nonetheless, I got to know him a bit. My level of trust for him increased when I found out he’s been teaching driving to various people of different sizes and ages for more than 26 years! Although he spoke fast at times and kept mentioning “kaya maraming naa-aksidente” (that’s why a lot of people get into accidents), I appreciated his honesty, clarity, and concern. Today I had to trust him even more because we did the thing I was very nervous about: driving in the highway.

south super highway? Piece of cake. #not :P

south super highway? Piece of cake. #not :P

Again like the first day when he shocked me with actual driving, Mang Vic gave me the jitters again when he told me to go straight along Zobel Roxas st. along the riles (railroad track) and turn left, exiting Makati proper, going to South Super Highway. It was about 7:45 AM at that time, traffic was light, and I was quite agitated. What if I suddenly stop in the middle? Will I get bumped from behind? Will it be the end of me as I know it?

“Calm down, child. Daddy’s got ya.”

I almost forgot I had a Heavenly Father aside from an earthly father. Unlike my earthly father, my Heavenly Father never gets tired or weary. He’s always with me, and I can always count on Him. (though my earthly father is very much reliable indeed. Love you Dad! :D)

And so, following Mang Vic’s instructions closely, keeping my cool, and enjoying the ride, I drove along South Super Highway! It was really cool. (to the pro-drivers out there, please be patient with my kababawan [shallowness]. Remember your first date. Yes, date.)

When we left the highway several minutes later, Mang Vic taught me parallel parking. The technique most people fuss over, by God’s grace, I was able to finish with ease (although with much reminder & instruction). But who cares?! I was able to parallel-park without bumping the car behind me! HAHAHA :D

After two hours of driving in the streets of Makati, I drove Mang Vic and I back to our base in Pasong Tamo. I was a bit saddened, to be honest. Three days went by really quickly! I knew I had to document this in some way, so I took the infamous selfie with Mang Vic. Thankfully, he was game for the photos! :)

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What was once a figment of my imagination is now a reality: I can drive! I’m not good at it (not yet), but I know how to do it already. I just need to practice, practice, practice. And practice some more. Some more. A lot, actually, until changing gears, stepping on and releasing the clutch without stopping the engine, and parking parallel is as natural as singing the alphabet song (i.e., the English alphabet).  :)

I know I have a lot to learn when it comes to driving, but in those three short days of my interaction with it, I already learned a few things about life. Life, like a car, can only be run by one person. Just one. Although Mang Vic was giving me instructions, I was the one running the car. I was the one primarily  stepping on the clutch, lifting the handbrake and steering the wheel, which makes me responsible. Whoever is driving is and should be responsible. Driving entails more of responsibility as it does enjoyment, because after those three days, I realize it was funner sitting at the back or beside the driver, calmly waiting to get to my destination. I realize a lot of people pay the price for bad driving because a lot of drivers forget that they are responsible. Parents lose their children way too early because a sleepy or drunk driver smashed into them along the highway. I hope and pray I may be a responsible driver! Or, should I lead people to Heaven, I pray that riding in a car with me driving will drive them to go on their knees! HAHAHA! :D

Until I can apply for a non-professional license, I have to have someone with me (someone with a license) whenever I drive. Thankfully, I’ve got my Daddy. He’s the best driver I know. You can sleep even as he drives along a literally rocky road. He can get a car out or park it in even if it’s only 3 inches away from hitting a wall or another vehicle. My confidence in safety lies in his expertise, and of course, his love for me.

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I guess it’s the same with life. With God on the driver’s seat, I have nothing to fear. Running life has been His expertise even before life (as we know it) began! :) His love is unfailing and constant, and worthy of all our trust. Why not trust Him? He’s got the best destination anyway. :)

So if you see me rollin one of these days, you better be ready….

…be ready to be ignored

…because I might not see you out of nervousness, focusing on the road and all, making sure I don’t let go of the clutch too much or the engine might stop. :D HAHAHA

8dhda

EDSA, here I come! Binondo, see you in a few! :D #buwisbuhay

The Host is Yet to Come

Last Sunday (Easter Sunday) and today were amazing. God gave me the privilege of doing one of the things I love the most: hosting or emceeing.

Last Saturday evening, I received a text message from my cousin, Miko, asking me if I can host an event on Easter Sunday, 4 pm. Immediately, I thought of the event  called Hymns Of Glory, an Easter Sunday concert at the Venice Piazza in McKinley Hill, where our other cousin, Deb, will perform as a singer. However, that event (to me at least) was “major” in the sense that it wasn’t held in church nor was it only for church members: it was held in a public place where many people can watch. Since the event was free, virtually anyone and everyone (so long as the place can accommodate it) can watch. I told myself, “Nah, it’s probably not it. Maybe it’s another event.”

So when I got the message, I replied: “What event?”

Two minutes later, Miko replied: “Hymns of Glory. Deb’s event? :) call time is 3 PM in Venice Piazza.” (those were the exact words. Just copied them from my phone)

To say that I was excited would be an understatement. I ran upstairs to the master’s bedroom and told my Mom about it (Dad was asleep so he wasn’t able to join in the fun). I asked her if I could host (i.e., asked her to bring me to the venue and support us hehe), and she said yes. I immediately asked Miko the details of the event, and later that evening, I received the program via email from the event coordinator, Jamie.

Come Sunday, I was super excited. And nervous. I prayed really hard that God will calm my nerves so as not to trigger a dystonia attack. Praise God for calming nerves! :) By God’s grace, even with limited practice, Miko and I performed and hosted to the best of our ability and, I must say, to our heart’s content. Moreover, I enjoyed the music played that night! Hymns of Glory was an Easter Sunday Concert launched by Megaworld Lifestyle Malls and Christ Commission Fellowship (CCF) Makati to celebrate the resurrection of our Saviour Jesus Christ through praise and worship, as “led” by really talented and Spirit-filled local Christian artists such as Jeff Lucas, Doki Puno, Deb Victa, and Barbie Almalbis!! :) To listen to good music in a concert as an audience member is fun and encouraging in itself. To listen to good music in a concert as a host of that same concert is another story. I’ll share my experience in a bit; let’s take a quick break as you check the photos while I…chill. Haha :D

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with THE Barbie Almalbis! #fangirl

with THE Barbie Almalbis! #fangirl

with the cousins, Deb & Miko

with the cousins, Deb & Miko

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all photos taken by my awesome father, Ferdie Talam! :) 

Hymns of Glory was the cherry on top of my very restful holy week even though I “worked” that Sunday. Although it was physically draining, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually the event was not exhausting at all because it was ministry: the outflow of my intimate relationship with God. Hosting was also my passion as part of my mission to be a communicator of truth. (That’s actually written in my mission statement, which I can share with you guys in another time) If Jesus did not rise from the grave, that event, Easter Sunday, and life in general would not have been possible. Praise God He is alive!

This morning until the afternoon, God gave me yet another opportunity to hone my hosting or emceeing skill. ELEVATE, the youth ministry of my home church, invited its hosts and other potential hosts for a 1-day training with a renowned local host who also happened to attend and serve in our church, Judah Paolo. I’ve been to several hosting training sessions before in and out of church, but so far, the one I’ve attended today was the best.

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Processed with VSCOcam with m3 preset

First of all, Judah Paolo was an amazing teacher, lecturer, and mentor. Speaking from 11 years (and counting) of experience in show business and in the church setting, he knows what he’s talking about, lives it daily, and makes a living out of it! (Next to serving God, that for me is the best way to maximize one’s hosting/emceeing skills) He engaged us without trying too hard while imparting and embedding truths in our hearts and minds. I really liked his insight on how to deal with fear. But before he shared that, he told us that, according to a survey, public speaking is a person’s no. 1 fear, while death follows in 2nd place. Imagine that! “In a funeral service, people would rather be inside the casket than give the eulogy.”

Fear and nervousness are natural responses to the foreseen fear of messing things up, stuttering, going blank, or being lame. It’s either you flee the scene or fight the fear. Fight is the better option, especially if you’re a Christian because (and here’s Judah’s insight), as Hebrews 10:19-22 says:

“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us… let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

“If you can come before God with boldness, how much more man?” Judah said. David also wrote on the same line: “The Lord is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6) 

That insight on fear was just one of the many things I learned from today’s training. However, personally, when it comes to hosting or being an m.c. (a messenger of Christ as Judah put it), the one thing I always keep to mind, as hard as it may be, is this: the show is not about me. I point to the main attraction.

I’m human just like the rest of you guys, and I struggle. A lot. (Hence, a blog on grace) One of the things I struggle with is pride and self-centeredness. I want to be known. A part of me desires people to applaud at my awesomeness even if I don’t have it (at least in the measure I want). A part of me likes seeing my name etched on everyone’s minds (or at least a lot of people). I only said  a part of me because, just like a lot of people, I don’t want the “perks” or the responsibilities that go with it. I don’t like my privacy invaded. There are days (and they are many) when I want to be alone and I can’t do that when people hound me (that is, if I’m a celebrity). It’s weird, right? I’m weird! I thank God because He loves and likes weird people like me. I also thank Him for not giving up on me just because I’m proud and self-centered (because He opposes the proud, James 4:6 says). Lately I’ve been hearing from Him from one of the Gospels, which talks about the world’s (or at least the Bible’s) first ever host or m.c.  Can you guess his name?

Clue: the book I’m studying now is the book of John.

Answer?

John the Baptist.

The evidences are clearly laid out in chapter 1. John the Beloved (the author of the Gospel, the “disciple whom Jesus loved”) is described as the witness sent by God to testify about Jesus, to prepare the way for Jesus, to point others (particularly Israelites) to Jesus.

Isn’t that what hosts do?

As hosts, we don’t ramble to the audience about ourselves, although we may share some things about ourselves just like John kept telling folks he wasn’t the Messiah or the Prophet. We guide the audience, the recipient of the message, as they receive the message of the main attraction, whether an artist,  keynote speaker, or even a video presentation. The show is not about us. How would you feel if you invited an m.c. to host your birthday party, and then after introducing you suddenly shouts out, “Oh by the way, my birthday was on January 3rd, three weeks ago. Happy birthday to me!” How would you feel? I would have fired that m.c. on the spot! M.c.’s are supposed to lead you to a better experience of the event, not of themselves.

As I reflected more on this while recalling Sunday’s event and today’s training, I realized that the art of hosting is a humbling event. For people like me who sometimes crave for attention, it’s quite disappointing to find out that even if you’re given so much airtime, there’s still an 80% chance people will forget about you after the event (unless you’re Ryan Seacrest whom I remember more than the American Idol grand champion). More than that, I think the most humbling thing about hosting (which I find to be the most beautiful thing about it), especially in the church setting, is that Jesus gets all the glory. When people come up to me and compliment me after a hosting gig, I smile and revert the glory back to Jesus. When people say they look up to me, I think to myself, “Wait what, me?! I’m not even a pro! Wow, thank you! Thank You!! This voice is Yours.” God gave me a voice not only to express my views or opinions, but more importantly, to voice out His views and His will for man. I am, quite literally, God’s mouthpiece.

Earlier I mentioned Judah’s revised the definition of the abbreviation m.c. (which really means master of ceremonies) to messenger of Christ. Personally, I think this applies not only to actual hosts, but to any person who has the brand marks of Jesus, who is His legit child and servant. You are a host, leading and pointing others to Jesus. Like John the Baptist (or John the Witness as I would call him), you can prepare the way for others to meet Jesus. You and I, we’re bridges people will walk over so that they, too, can enjoy a personal encounter with the Lord. When you communicate truth and grace to people, you are, in a sense, an m.c. Of course it’s still different from an actual event host, but hey, that’s still the greatest job in the world! Not only are you enjoying in the present, but you are also investing in eternity.

I hope God will continue to use me as a host, and I’m sure He will as long as I shall live. If you think you’ve got what it takes to be an m.c. and if you feel God is leading you to become one, do whatever it takes to be good at it! Read books. Watch Ryan Seacrest. Practice, practice practice! Practice some more. Speak. Talk. Read a loud. Do your homework!

And never forget: at the end of every gig, revert the glory back to Him who gave you your mouth and your voice. :)

P.S. (a.k.a. plug shameless HAHAHA): If you’re looking for someone fun, relational, and engaging to host your birthday party, debut, or what have you, you can hire me ! Hihi :) go to the contact page here

Jimmy Needham Concert & A Lesson on Appetite

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Exactly a week ago, April 9, I attended the concert of one of my most favorite Christian artists (and since that day, speakers): Jimmy Needham. If his name doesn’t ring a bell,  go to the end of this post and watch him sing my favorite song of his, “Forgiven and Loved.” Seriously, stop.  However, if you do know him and have heard his music, you’ll know he’s really blessed and wonderfully gifted. I said gifted because not only is his music entertaining and pleasant to the ears, but it’s also very heart-stirring and mind-activating. Jimmy (yes close kami? Haha) is currently on his “Guy, Guitar + Gospel Tour,” and I was so thrilled he dropped by Manila. The fact that the venue of his concert was at our very own church, CCF, made the event even more thrilling (because I feel so at home at that place, even with its magnanimity). To say that I was blessed that evening would be an understatement. Convicted and pierced are the more appropriate terms.

Before I continue sharing my concert experience, I must confess something. Prior to the concert, my relationship with God was pretty lukewarm. Two weeks have already passed since my second semester ended, and yet I still carried with me the habits I formed during my stressful days: an ‘okay, not-so-on-fire’ quiet time, a lack of passion and interest to pray and study Scripture, and the obsession with my self and my thoughts and desires. I promised God and myself that I would make it up to Him (to us) for the lost time and revitalize our relationship. I made up a list of things to do and goals to accomplish to keep my life in check. “As long as I remain consistent in doing these things, I will be successful. God would be happy. I’ll be joyful again, just like before.” Yeah right. On the night of Jimmy Needham’s concert, I was, yet again, proven  wrong.

One of the things I appreciate about Jimmy Needham is his love for Scripture. Towards the latter part of his concert, he shared with us his testimony, his walk with the Lord, and a passage from the Old Testament that really struck him the most. He loves the Old Testament so much, calling it the book for train wrecks. :D I agree with that nickname, because that was what Israel and man in general was. Stubborn train wrecks always being rescued by a loving and faithful God. Jimmy also went on sharing that the problem of most people today, especially Christians, is not a problem of doing, but of being. Within the heart, not the hands, lies the issue. Man’s issue with the living God is more than just a mere judicial problem of doing or not doing, but that of desire. How did he come up with that conclusion? Jimmy quoted the verse from which he gathered this insight, in Jeremiah 2:13:

“For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water.”

“Broken cisterns that can hold no water. The problem of Israel was not that they weren’t good enough. Israel’s greatest sin was that it did not desire the Living Water. They had no appetite for God.” (Needham, 2014)

When he said this, I was shocked. It was my first time to hear the verse, but already my heart connected with my mind. Our problem–our biggest problem–is a lack of appetite for all things Heavenly. This really struck me the most because…I have a huge appetite. Caveman’s, actually. Not for God, but for worldly things.

Sure, I love God. I do. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” I show my love for Jesus by obeying Him. I don’t obey Him so that I would love Him, but the other way around. Obedience is an expression of love. I know this. By God’s grace and the power of His Holy Spirit I am applying this, albeit very imperfectly, and I am striving to love Jesus more and more each day.

However, to look at my love for Jesus from the “appetite perspective” was a totally different story. Do I desire Him? Do I crave Him like I would with bacon, peanuts, and a romantic relationship with a loving, Christian guy? (yes you read that last part right. I’m human, too,  you know. It so happened I was female.) Was I willing to go on a spiritual feast everyday just so I can savor the richness of God’s Word and the loveliness of His presence?

The answers to all my questions, sadly, was a big fat no.

I loved God and obeyed Him, but oftentimes my obedience was a mere routine, “because God says so.” Because I would be a bad leader if I didn’t. Because I would feel like a hypocrite. Because it won’t be worth it if I don’t obey Him. All these reasons are valid, helpful even. But after Jimmy Needham brought the appetite issue, I realized there was more to God than just obedience. He really, really, really wants a relationship with me. God did not create creatures that would just obey Him; He created rational and social creatures that would love Him back and enjoy Him for all eternity.

Satan knew that if he introduced something overtly evil to us we would have just laughed at him, so he used something we love the most, use the most, and crave the most: FOOD. I was talking with my discipleship group two weeks ago, and I told them of my observation, how the food industry has been so prevalent in our lives today compared to a few years ago. There are over 25 million posts for #foodporn and over 2 million for #foodstagram on Instagram (most likely that also means 25 + 2 million posts on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other social media sites). Food is a basic human need. God gave us food for our enjoyment. Solomon himself said that eating and drinking is a gift from God. However, we’re human, and we have a knack for messing things up. We make curses out of  gifts because we place them above the Giver. We are more than willing to sacrifice our appetite for a life of inexhaustible joy for that of a temporary life and depraved existence. No wonder a lot of us (myself included) do not get to experience the abundant life Jesus promised.

Appetite for Jesus–wanting Him, craving for Him, desiring Him–was my greatest problem. Jimmy Needham helped me realize that. Thankfully, he didn’t just end with pointing out the problem. God is a restorer, not a demolisher. He breaks down for the intent of building up again. Trying harder, being good, coming up with a better plan were not plausible options. What then? Simple.

GRACE.

To be honest, I felt uncomfortable when Jimmy brought up the subject. That was what I least deserved. I’m like most people in that I find grace hard to accept because I feel strongly about the need for reparation of my sins. I fear falling on one end of the scale,  licentiousness, abusing grace, without realizing I fell on the other end: legalism, abhorring grace. Grace, if it is to be true, demands complete surrender and total acceptance and at the same time, realizes true life transformation. Actions are important, but only after the gift has been received. For a person who loves gifts and whose second first name is Grace, I found it surprising I was rejecting grace. It really is for the undeserved. God was handing out to me because HE LOVES ME. He loves you. When Jimmy Needham started singing “If I Ever Needed Grace,” I tried hard not to cry. I failed. Grace and my tear ducts made a contract I wasn’t aware of. On that evening, as I sat there and allowed God to work His magic, I felt at rest and at peace. I was home.

Our appetite for Jesus has to be constantly fed because the enemy competes for appetite for him. We must not surrender to the enemy. Trying hard to be goo or coming up with a “new and all-improved” program won’t do the trick. Coming to Jesus and feasting on His presence will. That’s what Jimmy Needham did, and that’s how God set him free from the bondage of pornography. I believe that’s how He’ll also set me (and you) free from a life of depravity, sin, loss, and just mere existence.

Truth be told, I still struggle with appetite–both physical and spiritual. Who doesn’t? God is good; He’s always willing to take me in when I humble myself before Him. I believe He’ll do the same for you. If you ever needed grace (and I bet you do), He will always be willing to give it to you.  All you need is a humble heart and a contrite spirit.:)

 

How’s your appetite for Jesus? Craving for Him lately? You don’t have to wait for the next sale or purchase a coupon online to avail of the buffet because He’s always available for the taking. 

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” – Jesus Christ (Revelation 3:20)

 

PS: Sharing with you guys photos to the concert. I went with my brothers, Josh and James, and my cousin, Jared. My other cousins and friends were there, too. Jimmy Needham you’re the best! :)

With camille

With Josh_Jimmy Needham

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Good Morning Garlichippy Pandesal!

Ever since I was a kid, I would always be excited to eat breakfast (not that I’m not ever excited to eat…just extra excited) when I would see a brown paper bag containing warm, soft pandesal on our dining table. Pandesal (Spanish pan de sal or “salt bread”) is not really salty at all (at least in the Philippines) and is a breakfast staple in many Filipino households. I love pandesal! This morning I started feeling like a kid again when I saw pandesal in our table. When I got back up to my room to have my quiet time, I began thinking about how I can make our pandesal extra special today because it was a bit stale. Also, I felt like cooking and inventing–and with a lot of pandesal and eggs (another breakfast staple and personal favorite) and CHEESE available from our cupboards, who wouldn’t wanna whip up something extra special?!

I forgot to mention: I also love garlic! Our entire family loves it. Thankfully the odor doesn’t stay on our breaths so we don’t worry about turning people off. :p So anyway, I thought about how I can marry  my favorite ingredients (eggs–scrambled–cheese, and garlic) with pandesal. And thus, Good Morning Garlichippy Pandesal was born!!! :) :D

It’s easy to make and requires no fancy ingredients. :)

Good morning garlichippy pandesal

Good Morning Garlichippy Pandesal

Prep Time: 5-10 minutes

Cooking Time: 10-15 minutes

Serves: 4-5

INGREDIENTS:

5 medium eggs

6 1/2 tsp low-fat milk

5 pandesal, each cut in half

10 slices of Quickmelt cheese (mozzarella)

5 tbsp grated cheddar cheese (you can add more if you like!)

8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped  (I used a lot because, as I mentioned earlier, we really loooove garlic)

15 tbsp cooking oil (3 for the egg; 12 for the garlic) or butter

parsley flakes for garnish

salt and white pepper

DIRECTIONS

  1. Beat the eggs in a bowl with a fork. Add in 2-3 pinches of salt, white pepper, cheddar cheese, and milk. All the recipes I found before stated that the amount of milk (in teaspoons) should be the same as the number of eggs you use. This time I want my eggs to be fluffy & creamy, so I added more milk. Whisk some more until the ingredients are thoroughly mixed.
  2. In a steel pan, put the 3 tbsp of oil (or butter) and heat enough before placing the eggs. Pour the egg batter to pan and after 10 seconds, do the Martha Stewart technique to achieve the creamy scrambled eggs texture: with your spatula, push the outer edges of the egg mixture to the center. Keep doing this until the eggs set and there are no more runny parts in the egg. This takes about 30 seconds. Add 2 more pinches of salt. Turn off the heat and transfer to a bowl. Set aside.
  3. Pour the remaining oil (or butter) over the pan and heat (or melt). When warm enough, place the garlic and fry until they are golden brown and really crispy. Just don’t burn them! Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  4. Top each pandesal with about a spoonful of eggs (depends on how big or small your pandesal is. Make sure the top is filled, but not overflowing). Place the slice of Quickmelt cheese on top of the eggs.
  5. Toast the bread for 1 minute & 30 seconds, or until cheese melts (since it’s quickmelt, 1.5 minutes works mighty fine).
  6. After toasting, place a teaspoon of the garlic chips on top of the egg & cheese. Garnish with parsley flakes. Serve warm and with the biggest, ear-to-ear smile on your face!!

CHEESY GARLICKY PANDESAL!!

I hope your morning will be good when you take that first bite of your “gourmetized” pandesal! :) You can also substitute the garlic chips for bacon, or use BOTH! I would love to try that sometime. Anyhow, if you do try this good morning bread, let me know how you find it! :)

Source: 

Photo of pandesal grabbed from pigpartsandbeer.com via Google Images

This 2014, I Will Be LAST

It’s only the second day of thew new year and already I can think tens of things to thank God for: good health of my family and friends. School resumes tomorrow (yes I’m thrilled). Allowance! (now you know why) My favorite sun-dried peanuts (sung song). The will to diet. Cool weather. Smell of roasted chicken. My happy, united family. Our family devotion earlier. My 1-hour nap earlier this afternoon. God’s assurance during our quiet time this morning: “You are safe in My arms. No matter what happens, you are safe.”

Those close to me know very well that I am a perfectionist (and if you’ve been following the blog you should have picked that up). In 2013, God demolished my wall of perfectionism. Part of it was my fault, part of it was His. At the start of last year, I already failed in my pursuit for discipline. In the two semesters that just passed I never made it to the dean’s list (even if I expected to make the cut). My idea of everyone in my family & extended families living to a old and gray age was dashed to the dust when my cousin, Trish, died at the age of 25, and a sister of one of my dear friends at 23. I was an erratic blogger, Gospel-sharer, and pseudo-discipler. The religious, philosophical, and ethical beliefs ingrained in my memory & heart have been challenged; some are still being tested, some were debunked, others were proven true. There’s the earthquake in Bohol and Yolanda’s unwelcome havoc in the Visayas. There’s also my hormones and romantic feels looking at the couples in school and telling me to join the bandwagon. The thing is, no one offered to ride the wagon with me. :( Chos! Hahahaha

2013 was the year where I learned a lot of things the hard way. I learned what grace truly means because I experienced being a wretch. I came to realize as I cried, searched for answers, groped in the dark, and shouted at God (He told me I could do that) that I have t truly experience my true state of wretchedness before I could fully enjoy grace. Everything I believed about God He shook, and when He did that I also realized that simply saying “may Your will be done, may Your kingdom come” does not suffice. Submission is key. Many times God showed me that I tried desperately and rather foolishly to control Him.

Lest I drown in pessimism, I must say that 2013 was also a year full of blessings not only for me, but also for my family, friends, and even for my country! Among the many blessings (both “good” and “bad”) I received last year were: our new house; new-found friends; tighter relationships with family and close friends; excellence in school requirements when I expected failures; 4-second appearance on a show on national TV (hahahaha); wonderful teaching experiences in Sunday school; my weight gain, this time NO LONGER accompanied by insecurity; real desire to help others; God’s looooooooooooooooooooonggggsuffering attitude towards me, and many, many more!

With my backpack full of lessons (and I have more empty backpacks to fill) and the very person of the God of Heaven and earth Himself, I am eager, excited, and encouraged to embark on a new, hopefully, more fruitful year. So here’s when the resolutions come in. For this year, I’m starting something new. I created a personal theme that would guide my actions and secondary goals for the year. Aside from grace, I crave for JOY. As I get to know my Lord and Savior, I learn that the key to His joy is to learn to be L.A.S.T.: Loving, Altruistic, Self-Controlled, and Thankful.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:36-39

“Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:4

“For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control.” – 2 Timothy 1:7

“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18

These were the verses the Holy Spirit used to convince me that indeed, I should aim to be LAST. Because, as the Savior Himself said, “… many who are first will be last; and the last, first.” (Matthew 19:30) Lasting joy belong to those who are willing to go last. I may never understand why or how that happens; I just know it does.

I hope you, too, will find a theme for yourself this year, or perhaps a renewed sense of vision, mission, or purpose. Forget what lies behind; reach forward to what lies ahead! :) Our life here on earth won’t last for long, but our training here will, so make sure we make the most out of it!

May we have a faith-stretching, heart-strengthening, mind-opening, and spirit-soaring 2014! :)