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Wisdom from the (Parent)Hood 1: Reward Systems

3122985108-undermining-children-s-intrinsic-interest-with-extrinsic-rewardsAs a way to honor my parents, I’ll be writing about how they have influenced us to become who we are now. Like any earthly parent, they are not perfect, but I believe they have mostly been wise.

Some time ago, our parents were interviewed in a local radio program on how to raise kids who are “achievers”. My mom was honestly at a loss. She never did intentionally set out to push us to achieve. One thing she and our Dad did agree on, was that we would be raised in an environment where we will crave to learn. If they splurged on any kid stuff, it would be on anything educational.

We were never rewarded for getting awards or high grades. They believed that the feeling of fulfillment we get when we learn something new is reward enough for us, although they would appreciate us not for the recognition we get, but for setting out to always increase our learning. As a sign of appreciation for our hard work, we would have some kind of celebration, but we never thought of the celebration as a reward. Instead, it was an acknowledgement of our courage in facing a challenge to grow.

Even as little kids, they trained us to discern if an activity offered growth for us and to dismiss anything that would allow us to stagnate, which made it easy for us to not get addicted to the boob tube. I remember getting hooked with a digital game and my grades suffered. They did not punish me for it, but I came to a realization that I missed a lot of opportunities to learn, so I stopped. When I travelled for competitions more than I studied in my senior year in high school, which led to lower-than-usual grades, they did not freak out. Instead, they showed me how travelling exposed me to things I would never have learned inside the classroom otherwise.

So, dear Tatay and Nanay, thank you both for showing us how to value education and how to have the right attitude towards achievement. I love you to bits.

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Never Too Early (or Too Late) To Play the Right Tune

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Can you imagine playing this piano while cool breeze flow in from the garden? *homesick*

Our life group of middle/high schoolers has been talking about identity and purpose these past few weeks. Somehow, it reminded me of an old childhood friend (a bit akin to Bing Bong, but more tangible. Lol.)

I miss our piano a lot.

Not because it was gone. It was always there but unfortunately, it could no longer do what it was supposed to do–which was to produce the right tone when you press the right key. (My sister, who shall NOT be named, told us that our music teacher commented on her singing–“You know, people sing on the ebony or the ivory keys, but YOU–you sing on the cracks!” That cracked us up!).

It had been with our family for so long (it used to be my mother’s when she was still in high school) that by the time I was 12 years old, just when I was starting to play the harder classical pieces, some of the keys were either mute or unbearably off-key.

It came to the point when no one could bear to play it anymore. Everyone in the family was heartbroken, especially our mom, since she was the one who could really belt out Haydn and Mozart and all the other pieces with the intimidating flats and sharps. (My mom is quite the polymath, what with being a scientist, a musician, a linguist, and an artist at the same time–a quality often developed in young women in her time.)

But I guess if the piano had feelings, it would be the one that would hurt the most. Imagine not being able to do what you are supposed to do–not fulfilling that sense of purpose in your life. It was just there, living from day to day, gathering dust, not living at all, but merely existing.

Finally after more than 15 years, my mom could not bear it any longer. She splurged on having it repaired to make it as good as new. Now she enjoys playing the classics again and I’m sure, if the piano only could, it would jump for joy. I’m excited to go home and play again as well. And we hope the piano will live on to see the next generation make good music with it.

If the piano had feelings, I’m sure no one could match the peace and the joy that comes with knowing you are in your turf, that you are doing what you are supposed to do.

We are like that piano. We may be young or old–whatever our age is, we sometimes feel that we’re playing life off-key. We feel we’re missing out on what we should be doing. It is not yet too late. Just like that piano, you can still acknowledge that you need repair. And when you subject yourself to the proper tuning in the hands of the Creator who knows what you were made for, you’ll feel the joy of playing the masterpiece called your life.

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Dog Aria

malinois1A few months ago, my sister Deanna sent a pair of malinois-terrier hybrids to our home in Iloilo all the way from their Butuan City abode. In honor of our newest canines, I’m sharing about one of their “ancestors”, Forward. (Forward got one of the best names. We had two dogs named Kadta (Bite them) and Lagsa (Chase them) before. Visitors would freak out when they hear us calling the dogs to silence them when they start barking at people. My family have a lot of crazy moments, what can I say?)

When I was just starting out to learn to play the harder piano pieces, I would spend at least an hour daily practising a certain piece. The very first one I learned was entitled La Cucaracha (The Cockroach). It had a snappy, upbeat tune and best of all, it was easy to memorize.

Our mongrel, Forward, was in his senile stage already. I don’t know if he found my playing horrifying or if he really tried to sing along, but he took to accompanying my playing with a series of loud, albeit rhythmic, howls.

My family and my neighbors would be disturbed from their siesta with this performance, and so, that was the end of the cockroach stage. I took to playing slower pieces like Fur Elise and A Comme Amour.

However, a few days before Forward died, I played his “favorite” piece again. Despite difficulty in breathing, he belted out his best howls like never before. It was like good ol’ times. When he died, I never played La Cucaracha again. It just wasn’t the same.

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Wonderfully Terrifying

blog images.002A few years ago, I did a Bible Reading plan during Christmas season, entitled Rediscovering the Christmas Season.

It was very refreshing especially since there are application questions to reflect on for every passage.  One passage was particularly striking since it was something that I had read over and over again and yet somehow overlooked.  It seems when it comes to the Bible, I suck at being an active reader sometimes =P.  Maybe that’s why we need to always re-read.

The passage was in Luke 2:1-20.  In a nutshell, it’s about a group of shepherds being informed that Jesus Christ was born and how they responded to the news.  One of the application questions struck me: “Have you had an experience where God interrupted your life with an important message? How was that a combination of terrifying and wonderful?”

I thought of dramatic instances when God sent an angel to speak to me audibly or probably appear to me in a dream and I came up with NOTHING.  I don’t know why us girls always look for drama.  Maybe it’s in our genetic makeup. LOL.

Then I came upon the realization that the all-important message that both terrified me and awed me was no different from the message that the shepherds received that night.  They probably were wrapped up in their own lives before this encounter.  They were probably aiming for the “Shepherd of the Month” award, or finding ways to successfully keep off the wolves from the flock, or maybe discovering the DNA to make the sheep produce more wool, hence more money =).

And then came the announcement, “A baby has been born who will both be your Savior and your Lord.  That means he will not just die for you, he will also be in charge.”  And that was exactly what the terrifying message of God was to me…that I am just an ordinary human being, when all along, I thought I came to save the world in one form or another =P… I thought I had everything figured out and I thought that my life would be extraordinary in the eyes of everyone (glory to me!).  It terrified me to think that I may not get into the ranks of the rich and the famous.

But what awed me was that to this great big God, even if I would live an ordinary life in my eyes or in the eyes of other people, if I live for Him, it will be an extraordinary life in His eyes, and that is all that matters.

After all, if I did become rich and famous, people will forget about me someday. The story of my life will be buried in a dusty corner or in the deepest recesses of the minds of the future generation.  But what matters in the light of eternity, is that God has an extraordinary purpose for me even if I am just an ordinary teacher, employee, missionary, daughter, and sister (and someday, wife and mom).  That is what’s wonderful about God, He always picks the ordinary things, places, and people to bring about the extraordinary, not for our glory, but for His =).

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Running Epiphany

runningepiphany.001In honor of my coming back to running after almost a year. 

Five years ago, I lived next to ULTRA and I would usually spend 30 minutes daily to run around the ULTRA track. One day, I was met by the guard, who apologized profusely. The track was closed to give way to a family day being held by a school. Then she proceeded to suggest “How about following the path towards DepEd?”

I thought, “Why not?”

As I ran I almost wanted to bang my head on the nearest tree. For almost three years that I had been living across ULTRA, I never discovered just how beautiful the vicinity of the track was! Trees lined the path and the terrain was definitely better for training. And I could have run on it for free! Imagine the hundreds of pesos I could have saved for the past three years. I never dared to venture out of the track because it was the routine I got used to.

Then I realized, aren’t we like that with our lives sometimes as well? We get so used to our comfort zones that even when we could have something better, we never dare to step out in faith… to step out of the boat. How many times have we forgotten that Jesus did not just die for us on the cross so we could live with Him in heaven forever, but also that we may live our life on earth in holiness, in health, in grace, and in joy? Hence, years pass by before we discover, hey, if I had stepped out earlier, I’d have experienced walking on water sooner! Most of all, it would have saved us a lot of discomfort, anxiety and pain.

If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat — John Ortberg

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. — Jeremiah 33:3

…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. — John 10:10

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Movers & Shakers: Why the Campus?

Many times in the past few months, friends would ask me, why invest your life, your time, and your resources on a bunch of sometimes sniveling, sometimes naive, and sometimes hardheaded set of young people? I always tell them, because I’ve seen what can happen down the road. I’ve seen it in my own life.

There are many stories about great people who are fruits of the campus ministry. Personally, I’m privileged to know at least three.

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Reunion with college flatmates. Doc Debbie in yellow (rightmost)

The first one is Dr. Debbie Liao. Debbie was my roommate during my time as a student at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños. She’s one of those quiet, studious types, but I know that she has nerves of steel. She would silently aim for a goal and strike it methodically.  In our junior year, she gave her life to Christ (probably amazed that her arrogant roommate suddenly became such a goody goody).

What’s astounding about her is that she really has a heart for public health and she really pursued her passion despite people saying it was an unwise move. She participated in the Doctors to the Barrio (DTTB) Program. Her assignment was in Gamay, Samar. Her trip from Manila included an hour flight to Catarman, Samar and another hour and a half trip from Catarman to Gamay ON A MOTORCYCLE on roads that are sometimes non-existent in some areas. After her two-year assignment, she stayed on to be the municipal health officer, despite her being away from family and from church (thank God for podcasts!) for long periods of time. But she is committed to see the attitude towards public health change. Our best conversations would revolve around plans for disaster relief and how to best use the very limited resources available to save as many lives as possible in her area. She is an unsung hero and it is my privilege to be called her friend.

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Winning the Philhealth partner of the year award. Doc Debbie at the center

Doc Debbie was reached in the campus and is fully supportive of campus ministry.

The second one is Ria Mae Borromeo. I first met Iya when she was a sophomore computer science student at UPLB. She was my student in basic programming and I am ashamed to say that I embarrassed her on the first day of school. She came in a bit late and I said (in front of the class… how insensitive!), “Ms. Borromeo, you are late. Nakakahiya, ka-tukayo pa naman kita (It’s a shame since we have the same name).” She avoided me as much as possible the rest of the semester and just did her best in her assignments and projects. She eventually got a very good grade, but I guess the faux pas I made stuck with her.

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Computer Science students small group in 2006.

But God is faithful. One semester after that, I was visiting the youth service at Victory Alabang, and lo and behold, when the prayer for those who want to surrender their lives to God came, who would I find behind me raising her hand but my tukayo (person with the same name)? I apologized eventually for embarrassing her in class (I forgot about it already after that first meeting, but she didn’t!) but the most important thing was she forgave me and I was privileged enough to lead her to Christ.

Now Iya is in Japan for her PhD in Computer Science but her heart is to serve the country by coming back home after her stint and serving the state university as one of the long-distance education professors. She could have chosen to work abroad, but she believes in uplifting the nation’s educational standards. We could talk about geeky and girly stuff for hours, but we could also talk about how technology could further the aim to bring education nearer to those who are unable to attend university regularly.

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Iya with Every Nation Grace Tokyo church friends

Iya was reached in the campus and is fully supportive of campus ministry. She is also helping to start a discipleship culture in Keio University by helping the Christian student organization in the campus and connecting them to a local church.

Finally, there is Jerome Revilla, Iya’s batchmate. I met Jerome in his junior year as a computer science student. I was their teacher in software engineering. Jerome was such a brilliant student that despite not having a computer of his own, he was able to successfully finish assignments and projects with flying colors due to diligence and discipline. Since I was also assigned to take care of students who were running for honors, there were around fifteen from their batch that I built relationships with (including Iya). This became an avenue for me, my friend David, and a handful of other students who wanted to build a culture of honoring God and making disciples among computer science students, to lead those who are open to have a relationship with God. Honestly, I thought Jerome would be one of those guys who would become nice and smart professionals but who would not really be committed to Christ (sorry Jerome).

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Jerome with men from Every Nation Cyberjaya, E.N. Malaysia’s newest church plant

God proved my judgment wrong as Jerome moved to work near his family and minister to them, as well as to have more time to go on short-term missions trips to Cambodia and Vietnam with teams from Victory Muntinlupa.

At the beginning of this year, Jerome was re-assigned to Malaysia by his company. Now, he is actively helping the church plant of Every Nation Cyberjaya. Two weeks ago, he went home to celebrate his parents’ water baptism and Victory Weekend at VCF Muntinlupa.

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Jerome with his parents during their water baptism at the latest Victory Muntinlupa Victory Weekend

Jerome was reached in the campus and is fully supportive of campus ministry.

Sometimes, when we look at the students in the campus, in our short-sightedness, we cannot imagine God’s destiny and purpose for them. But we continue to lead them to Christ because discipleship will determine if they will simply be good men and women who profess to follow God but are afraid to change the status quo in their respective fields or if they will become disciples of Christ who are so captured by His heart that they become movers and shakers in this nation and beyond.

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Discipleship is Teamwork

Small group circa 2010. Everyone's a small group leader now!A few months ago, I was speaking with a new small group leader. Due to a recent influx of new members in her group, she is worried that she will not be able to effectively disciple these women.  She has a full time job and they did not work near each other, so she was worried she could not effectively guide them in their newfound faith. Then I asked her, “Why do you think you are alone in this?” I shared to her that I found myself in the same position six years ago. I was a new small group leader at Victory Fort and it was the first time for me to handle young professionals.  Before this, I handled students and I knew I was not entirely equipped to lead single professionals, who have an entirely different set of issues to deal with. I had five new girls, all of whom needed to go through personal discipleship.  I admit, I could not do personal discipleship with more than two people in the same period.  I like to focus on one, if possible. And yet, I could not miss the golden opportunity for the rest to grow in their relationship with God.

Joint small group cook-off competition

Joint small group cook-off competition (Lindsey’s coaching and small group, Novie’s small group, Gwen and I as guests)

Honestly, though, we were never taught in campus ministry that we have to do discipleship alone.  One of the biggest discipleship lessons I learned from Victory LB is to connect new believers with as many mature Christians as possible. So that night, I asked God for someone to help me. The next day, I saw one of the girls I volunteer in Kids Church with. She was having lunch alone in the cafeteria, and since I usually hate to see others eating by themselves (unless they give off the “Don’t bother me, please” vibe), I approached her and made small talk.

Joint small group Christmas party three years ago

Joint small group Christmas party three years ago

During the course of our conversation, I learned that she was looking for a victory group, since her leader joined a church plant. So, I invited her to my group. And, boy, was she was such a great addition! She helped me with the other girls who were ready for personal discipleship. Moreover, she was also a volunteer in Kids Church and helped me encourage the other girls to volunteer as well. Volunteering together brought us closer to each other, as well as to other people not in our group. This method of teaming up and connecting new people to others became a culture in our group.  In the past few years, we’ve travelled together for fun and we’ve gone to missions trips together. We’ve gone through different seasons in life. We’ve been bridesmaids to those who got married and godmothers to their children.  We’ve offended each other when we spoke the truth in love and yet resolved those offenses with forgiveness. We’ve prayed through ups and downs and we’ve had one goal in mind: for each of us to honor God and make disciples.

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Missions trip to Indonesia with Lindsey and Gwen

More than just different women placed in the same small group, we have become the greatest of friends despite each one being a leader of a different small group already.  We’ve also done our best to connect the girls in our groups with each other. I look forward to more years of shared life with them.

So, if you find yourself becoming a new leader and floundering, know that you need not be alone.  Seek to connect by asking God and looking for opportunities to team up with someone. And because this is all for His glory, surely He has prepared a teammate for you already.