When the Once-Was-Lost Guides the Lost 

Ever wonder what your calling is? One evening I discovered mine, when I helped a beautiful stranger find her way to her destination–despite my trust issues.

What am I called to do and how do I discover it?

At 22 years old, taking my baby steps in the advertising world and continuously learning what it means to be disciple of Jesus Christ in the 21st century, this question is the most pressing on my list.  I’ve fallen to the erroneous thinking that God’s will was “way up there;” that it is only via an intense 3-day prayer and fasting with tons of serious planning and quiet time, and nothing else. I do not discount these methods, in fact, they are necessary. However, these are not the only methods God uses to reveal His calling to His kids. Our God-endowed personality, interests, skills, experiences, and present circumstances are all used by God to shape us into the kind of people He wants us to be. Sometimes, He even uses annoying and unexpected circumstances (like getting lost) to reveal His will to us, like what happened to me one Tuesday night, a simple yet unforgettable experience indeed.

January 17, 2017

I planned on going home on time at 5:30 but ended up leaving the office at 6:30 as I worked on a report due two days later. I left the office with my co-worker, Ginna, and our media director Ascon.

While Ginna and I walked together to our respective destinations, I felt something drop from my lunchbox so I looked behind and saw my colds medicine on the ground! Apparently I was carrying my lunchbox upside down so the contents from the zipper-less pocket fell off. I picked it up immediately and resumed walking; however three seconds later, I realized that my TAP card (aka my ticket to the bus and train), which was also inside that pocket, was no longer there! I told Ginna I had to walk back to find it (by this time my heart was racing), so I ran back a few feet and lo and behold, my TAP card was on the ground! “This has about $100 worth of rides!” I exclaimed to Ginna. After we crossed the road, we parted ways and I headed to the train station.

The escalator at Metro Wilshire/Vermont station in LA is a long one so I usually hurry down the steps to catch the coming train. However,  the guy in front of me who was carrying three gigantic bags took up the entire passageway of the escalator, so I couldn’t pass. I heard the train coming but I chose to stay put because I couldn’t walk past the guy, and I was not in a rush to go home anyway. By the time I reached the tracks, the train already left and had to wait four more minutes for the next one.

As I stood on the tracks, I noticed a lady in her late twenties with a wheeled luggage and a handbag standing beside me. After a minute or so, she came up to me, pointed to the TV monitor and asked, “Does that ‘4’ mean that the next train will arrive in 4 minutes? And ‘9’ 9 minutes?”

“Yes it does. So 4 minutes for the red line and 9 minutes for the purple line. Where are you headed?” She walked back to where the map was and pointed at the different train lines. “I was supposed to get down at 7th Street Metro Center but stopped here, so I just have to take this train and get off after 2 stops, right?”

“Yeah. You can take any train that passes here, whether the red or purple one. Where are you from?”

She replied, “San Francisco. That’s why I’m so lost. I’m trying to get to Anaheim,” pointing at Anaheim St., a station close to downtown Long Beach. I got confused and wanted to make sure of her destination so I asked again: “So you want to go to Anaheim? In Orange County?”

“Yeah that’s right!”

“Anaheim St. is just a name of a station; it’s not the same as Anaheim. Anaheim is somewhere here–” I pointed to the eastern part of LA near Norwalk where the green line train went (see photo below). “Anaheim St. is far from Anaheim!”

metro
Anaheim is further east from Norwalk (see green line). Anaheim St. is a station near downtown Long Beach (blue line, south bound)

She got shocked and grew anxious, I could tell, so I told her where she should go. “The best way for you to get to Anaheim is to take this train–the one headed our way–get down at the last stop which is Union Station, and take another train called the Metrolink. Unfortunately you already missed the last train because it’s already 6:50, and that’s the last trip of the Metrolink to OC tonight.”

“Oh my god. So is there any other way to get to OC?”

“You can take an Uber from here. Or you can go to Norwalk and take an Uber from there because Norwalk is closer to Anaheim. In that case, you’d still take this train and another one, the blue line train.” At this point I was wavering if I should tell her that I was going to Norwalk, but as I heard our train approaching, I surrendered my trust issues and told her: “You know what? I’m headed to Norwalk, too, so you can just go with me.”

“Okay that’s great I’ll just follow you then! Oh my god!”

We boarded the train and I could tell that she still felt agitated. I mean, who wouldn’t? Getting lost in unfamiliar territory (especially in a crazy city like LA) is no fun. I’ve been there and it’s annoying. Thankfully, she trusted me enough to follow my lead. After two stops, we dismounted the train and took another one that would connect us to our third train. Thankfully the trains arrived shortly so our entire travel time was under an hour.

While we sat inside the second train, I learned that her name was Natalie and that she was on vacation to meet with her friends here in Anaheim, and from there drive to Vegas. “I need to take a break from school!” she told me. I also shared with her how I just got out of work, an advertising agency, and that this was my usual route home, so she was in good hands. We talked some more–she showed me photos of her family and I showed one of mine, however due to my trust issues, I failed to ask her number or even her Snapchat/Instagram username. I wish I did. Anyway, back to the story.

During the commute, Natalie coordinated with her friend so he could fetch her from the Norwalk station. “My friend lives only 15 minutes away from Norwalk, so he’d pick me up.” When we arrived at Norwalk, I told her that my ride was there so I had to leave her. We hugged and said our goodbyes.

When I got inside our car, I told my dad the whole story and how time and time again, even back in Manila, I had several encounters of strangers asking me for directions even if I’m not as adept as he was. I don’t consider myself an expert on directions unless I have memorized the place. I asked my dad why this could be and he told me I looked trustworthy (thanks dad). As I pondered on this and my past experiences,  I wondered what place they have in my life. Are they accidental? What is God trying to tell me?

Miss Teacher

That’s when it hit me. In every area of my life where I’m good at or at least knowledgeable, I find joy in teaching others the things I have learned.  I like finding connections in things and seeing how they could relate to each other, and possibly how that could make people’s lives better. At the heart of every passionate deed is the desire to teach, the vision to see people know, grow, and soar.  Does that sound far-fetched? Not when you have a history of making math workbooks with sheets of stapled scratch paper and letting your “students” (aka dolls) “answer them.” Not when you’ve been volunteering for Sunday School for over five years. Certainly not when you’re notorious for being the family grammar Nazi and the tutor to two younger brothers.

Going back to my initial question: what am I called to do and how do I discover it? Do I have it all answered? Certainly not! However, I do know the backbone of my calling: it has something to do with teaching. This very blog is one manifestation of it! As a teacher, I’m not ending this without throwing the question back to you. What are you called to do and how do you discover it? God’s will is knowable–it’s not reserved for monks in the mountains or pastors on the pulpit. God’s will may not be completely revealed, but He shows us what we need to know at the moment. Where do we start? The Apostle Paul gives us insight:

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2 (emphasis mine)

Two things: do not be conformed (don’t take the world’s shape), instead, allow God’s truth to mold your mind. Start by knowing God–His character, His plan for the world, His heart–as the Holy Spirit through His Word reveals to you. Then as you grow in Him, He will change your desires. He will guide your mind. He will “align your stars” so to speak, so that you will live in the center of His will. Word of caution: this path to blessing is not problem-free. In fact the greatest trials happen to the greatest Christians; but you’ll never know the awesome life that you missed until you take the step of faith.

Finally, through it all, trust the process and the process-Maker. I used to think (and sometimes still do) that a single failure meant that I was not walking in God’s will. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As I look back at that fateful Tuesday night, I realized how delays–me leaving the office late, my medicine and TAP card dropping, the guy blocking the path of the escalator so I’d miss the first train–all led me to meet the lost Natalie and help find her way home. That’s exactly what Jesus did for me. I once was lost, but He found me. Sometimes I still feel lost, but His truth says otherwise: “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) If you feel lost in your life’s direction, turn to Jesus. Not only does He hold the promise to an exciting and adventurous life, He will guide you all the way. If you are already walking with Him and get or feel lost, fret not. Get back up, trust Him again (no matter how hard it gets, He loves you), and do what He tells you to do. He delights in guiding His children (Psalm 32:8). He knows the way, so let Him lead the way. He is the way.

PS: I’m praying I find Natalie again so we can get in touch. Natalie, I hope you read this! #findingNatalie (lol) 

Life Moves in Stages, so Don’t be in Such a Hurry!

What if things happened instantaneously? Let’s say I wanted to make banana bread. What if, after preparing the correct measurements and portions of the ingredients and mixing it all up, the bread magically appeared before me? Or what if I arrived at a certain country, expecting to have a job, then after sending out resumes, I immediately get calls and offers from various companies? Oops that sounded too real. Actually, it is. You can tell that I’m not a very big fan of waiting and waiting patiently.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was (and still am) waiting for a job after sending more than a dozen resumes to various companies. During this period of waiting, thankfully, I haven’t been much of a couch potato. However, after all the people in the house have gone to work and I am left alone, I wonder: when will I ever get to work and earn money? LORD, how long must I wait?

One of the grave effects of the Fall of man was the sudden default setting of the human mind to think ill of God’s intentions and grow impatient during a period of prolonged waiting. Whatever it is you’re waiting for–a knight in shining armor, damsel in distress, a job, healing, or financial breakthrough, you despise the fact that you have to wait. (If you don’t, please teach us antsy, anxious beings your secrets!)

To be fair, I have been enjoying my prolonged (excess) hours of sleeping, reading, and writing that would have otherwise spent on working. It is during these quiet and calm moments where God is teaching me more about Him. I have been studying the book of Exodus during my personal quiet time, and one day, I read Exodus 17. The first verse immediately caught my attention:

“Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink.” (Exodus 17:1, NASB)

Two words caught my attention: by stages. The Israelite exodus from Egypt and journey to the Promised Land did not happen overnight. In fact, it took them forty years to reach the place! More than the length of the journey, it was the word “stages” that captured my attention. God did not rush their growth. He led them by the hand, one step at a time. In this chapter, during that particular stage, water, an important and valuable necessity, was cut out.

Imagine the scenario. 2.5 to 3.5 million people travelling on foot with their children, goods and animals, setting up their tents and temporary shelters in a wilderness–a barren expanse of land. These were the people who crossed the Red Sea on dry land. These were the people who witnessed the plagues and the Passover and emerged from the plagued country of Egypt unharmed and wealthy (because they looted their Egyptian neighbors). Perhaps when they arrived at Rephidim, there was still water inside their jugs and pots, but after a few days, they quickly ran out. Perhaps they waited for a source of water to be discovered, but there was none. So these former slaves and now freed men went up to their humble leader, Moses, and quarreled against him, grumbling and complaining. “Why did you take us out of Egypt to kills us and our kids and animals with thirst?!” I felt hurt for Moses and for the LORD while reading these accusatory remarks. They could have just come up to Moses and asked him to pray to God for water. Why did they have to think evil of him? Why did they have to question God’s goodness and love for them?

As I meditated on these verses, I grew disgusted, not at the Israelites, but at myself. I did the same thing to Jesus by complaining and grumbling for not giving me a job during this stage in my life. I was so eager to move to stage ten, but He is still working on me at stage three. I wrote verse 1 according to my present circumstance so I could get a clearer idea of God’s message to me that morning:

“Then [Jenny] journeyed by stages from the city of Metro Manila according to the command of the LORD, and camped at North Hollywood, and there was no job for her to take…yet.”

The LORD already planned a means to provide water for Israel, but His timing differed from theirs. God has already planned to give me a source of income, but His timing differed from mine. If I claim Him to be my Lord as I said He is, then I should trust His timing.I confessed my sin to the LORD that day, for questioning His goodness and love for me. Every evil act and response is founded a wrong belief and view of the living God. I did not truly believe that God wanted what was best for me. I did not understand that God’s ways are higher than mine, and that He chose to work in stages.

If you think about it, life works and moves through stages. Sitting on a chair happens in stages: first you approach the chair (or get one), place it on solid ground or pull it out, bend your knees, place your buttocks on the seat, and lean comfortably. The same goes for the hundred other ordinary things we do out of habit and thousands of experiences we go through in our lifetime.Every stage begins and ends according to the will of God. Indeed they end, even if they seem like forever.

My stage of waiting for a job will eventually be over because God intends that I work. The ideal scenario is that as we move from one stage to the next, we become better individuals, and for the child of God, resembling Christ more and more.

As I contemplate on the idea of God working in stages, I picture a stage Father. In the theater of life, He is the Father who not only cheers for us in the seats, but also directs, designs our costumes, provides the props, writes the script, and does my make-up. He’s the only control freak I trust because He sees everything and does everything perfectly. Most importantly, everything, absolutely every single thing that He does is done out of His love for me and for everyone He created.How are you responding to the challenges you currently face in this stage of your life? Know that behind every act of God towards you, no matter how undesirable it may seem, is an act of love. Trust Him in this stage. He is bringing you to the Promised Land.

My Fruitful Jobless Season & the Fulfillment of my Introvert Dreams

As I write this, I am munching on my almost-midnight snack (appetizer for the actual midnight snack) and hearing only the clicking sound of my keyboard and the rumbling of the AC. I am all alone in our hotel room while my Mom is out partying with her friends. Yes, my Mom is partying. Not clubbing, but attending a birthday party (of course I had to delineate that). I’ve never been this alone in my life and I LOVE EVERY MINUTE OF IT. Earlier I just had dinner at The Habit–alone; took a long, warm, and slow bath–alone; read Elisabeth Elliot’s Let Me Be A Woman without noise and interruptions, alone; cried my heart out to God and blew my nose heavily in between–alone. Introvert dreams that would have otherwise been unfulfilled if I were back in Manila, or, if I already have a job.

Oh yes, that three-letter word that proves problematic to every normal person who just got out of college.

When 2016 kicked in, I was determined to find a job. Just like any person itching to get their minds and hands working, I sat myself down, went online, browsed through various companies and job listings on the big names of job search sites. Just like any other person, I expected answers. I hoped eagerly for a “We would like to set up an interview with you” in the next week or two after I sent out literally two dozen applications. I should have known. I learned the hard way. Job hunting is much like keeping healthy relationships: you gotta wait for the right time, usually a long time, and decrease your expectations.

So I decreased my expectations. After sending my resumes to over a dozen advertising agencies, I realized they probably won’t notice an applicant such as myself, a newcomer, who, although with legal status, does not have local experience. I’ve been told that the job culture here in the US prefers experience over education, which was quite the opposite in Manila. Actually in Manila, it’s 60% who you know, 30% what you studied, and 10% what you actually can do that are the bases for getting hired for the job. Anyway, so the day after I applied for the ad agencies, I shifted my focus to nearby companies (so that I don’t have to travel far) and those with clerical positions. I have to start from the bottom before I can say “now we’re here.” I applied as an admin assistant in the most random but legit companies. That was Monday night (actually Tuesday morning at around 1 AM).

The next day, I ran errands with my Mom, aunt, and uncle. On our way home, my phone rang, and it was from an unknown caller. I picked it up, and from the receiver spoke a man with what I thought was an Indian accent.

“Hi this is insert his name here–because of his thick accent I didn’t comprehend it. You applied for our job opening as admin assistant at insert company here. I reviewed your application and I think you would be fit for the job….”

This is it! It’s actually happening. It wasn’t quite what I expected, though. I thought it would happen around daytime while my mind is more alert and I just had breakfast and not at 7 PM when I can’t wait to get home and have dinner because my stomach’s crying out to me. Good thing my excitement got the best of me and spiked my alert levels with much needed adrenaline. “Oh okay so what time will the interview be?”

“Are you free at 9”

“AM or PM?”

My Mom, who was beside me, chuckled, “Syempre AM ano ka ba!” (Of course AM, what are you thinking?)

Fail. Am I really ready for this?

“In the morning of course. If 9 AM is not good for you, how about 9:20 AM, Wednesday, is that okay?”

“Yeah sure!”

“Okay, I’ll see you then, Jennifer!”

“See you!” (Who are you?!)

I got home feeling excited to have my first job interview for a position I applied for online. I’ve never applied for a job and been notified for an interview ever before, so this was all new to me. Although it wasn’t my first job interview, it was my first interview for a non-corporate company, especially for a start-up company, and most especially in the US! Someone actually dared to look into someone like me, who had no experience.

My Mom and I left the house 30 minutes before my call time. I estimated we had about extra 5 minutes just in case we got lost. Well, we got lost for about 8 minutes and required another 5 minutes to find our way back so I was late for my interview. Strike 2. I wanted to just ditch the interview to save my face, but then to do that would be even more disrespectful.

When Mom and I got to the office’s location, I was shocked. The office faced a railroad track, and its very edifice had no label whatsoever to tell you the company owned it or was in it. No company logo, no signage, nada. Just a plain, old, and low roofed structure with the address number. My Mom and I grew nervous for a bit. The Criminal Minds and CSI episodes all raced through my head in a matter of seconds. However, I still managed to knock at the door and wait for a response. After a few seconds, a tall European-looking man opened the door and confirmed the name of the guy I spoke to last night (he texted his name when he sent me the address). I got in, he closed the door shut, and my Momma remained outside. Poor Mom. I am so thankful for her. Good thing there was a restaurant right beside the strange, plain edifice, so Mom stayed there.

To cut the long story short, the interview went well. I think the guy saw me fit for the job. Twenty five minutes after I got inside, I went out to my Mom, who, unbeknownst to me then was actually worried and anxious about my state that, so much so that she told me, when I sat with her in the table: “I told myself, ‘If she’s not coming out there in twenty minutes or so, I will come knocking!'” Her inner Grissom and motherly radar were on red alert. Thankfully, I came out alive and actually sweaty (at least my armpits were) because a) I was nervous what the guy would ask…or do and yet b) he was really handsome so I was hoping he’d have a good heart (BUT NOT so he’d get my number or anything like that, okay, I’m just stating facts).

After that interview, Mom and I explored Hollywood via train and our feet. It was a great way and day to bond! I lost one of my favorite scarves though. 😦 Good thing Mom bought me Ghirardelli chocolates so I sorta felt okay about my scarf.

A week after that interview, the guy called me again while I was vacationing at my aunt’s place at Chino Hills. Actually he called while I was sleeping. I only found out he called an hour after he called, when I saw my phone. I called back immediately.

“So are you still interested in the job?”

Interested? Of course I was! Then the image of the place came to my mind, and my Mom’s worries over it. I thought twice. I told him I’d think about it first and get back to him after an hour. I called my Mom (who went to the gym at that time with my aunt) and related the news, and after a bit of discussion, and prayer, I called the guy again.

“When do I start?”

He told me he’d me on Tuesday for training (it was Saturday at the time of our call). After I hung up, I thanked the Lord and wrote on my journal: January 16, 2016. Hired at insert company name. I went downstairs, smiling, that finally my prayer has been answered.

When my Mom and aunt got home from the gym, Mom came up to me and related news from the first job offer that I got, prior to this one from the shady-place-but-handsome-boss place. “I called the person from the company. She said you might have an interview next week!” And that company was an ad agency.

Immediately my phone sounded. I got an email from the said agency stating that I have a presentation due next week. I was devastated. “But I already said yes to this guy.”

“Yeah honey but I’m worried for you! The area is not as…safe. Besides, this is a much bigger company.”

So after washing the dishes and watching an episode of Law and Order, I composed a message saying that I’m turning down the job I already had (in a subtler and kinder way). Once again, I’m letting go. insert derp face

Three weeks later, my introvert dreams came true. In the middle of those three weeks I also got to visit another aunt up north, see the Levi’s Stadium, meet new people, and eat dinner all by myself. Three weeks of pure relaxation, grace, waiting, and time with the Lord.

Finding a job is one thing. Getting the job and staying in it is another. I had so many expectations and misconceptions about work and jobs before I got here, and I’m glad that through my initial experiences, they are slowly being corrected. Indeed, even in my job hunting, God is in control. Moreover, He’s changing me. If I was in the same position last year, at this month,  I would have cried and complained to God for not giving me a job, as if He was obliged to give me one. I would have told Him that I hated being a bum and that He called me to work so He should give me a job. As I wait on Him to hand me greater responsibilities, He is teaching me that:

  • my future jobs are not to be my source of income and of life. He is.
  • He is in control. Always. Forever.
  • I should live in the present and be grateful for the things He sends my way.
  • I am to glorify Him in my present circumstances.
  • I should allow Him to shape my idea of the ideal life. I thought the ideal scenario was having a job straight outta uni. Eight months after graduation and I’m still “pre-employed.” Not all jobs and job-hunting experiences are created equal.
  • I have to work hard and be patient because the best things in life don’t come instantly. You can never get the top quality ramen of a Michelin star restaurant from a cup of instant noodles.

If you’re like me, a fresh grad with the high hopes of getting the job without the hurdles that you’ve experienced in college, I suggest you change your perspective and lower your expectations. This season of waiting is the season of preparation. I like how Jim Elliot put it: “Wherever you are, be all there.” Allow God to work mightily in and through you as you wait. As His child, that future job is not my main job. His work is.

And while you’re still jobless (“pre-employed”), go do the good things you’ve always wanted to do when you were still working! Now’s the time! 🙂

PS: This week, I actually have interviews (yes, more than one, yaaay) so please include me in your prayers. 🙂 Until then, I have to finish my reading list and rehearse! 🙂 

Don’t Follow Your Heart; Guard It!

June 17, 2015.

About 8 AM after I finished my daily quiet time and Bible meditation, I opened my planner and took out my pen. Instinctively, I began writing bullet points of the activities I planned on accomplishing that day. Cook lunch. Exercise. Cook dinner. Short prayer time. BLOG! Clean Mom’s bathroom. And a bunch of other activities. Activities I needed to do and ought to do; activities that honored my parents because I’m helping in the house; and above all, activities that gave me opportunities to glorify God with what I can.

When I got out of my room and went downstairs, my phone instantly connected to our home WiFi. (The WiFi range does not reach my room because the level where my room is is too high) Immediately, the notifications from my social media apps appeared: Facebook! Twitter! Instagram! Viber! Messenger! Instantly my mind forsook the plans I wrote and instinctively opened one app after another.

An hour later, I remembered I had to do even more important activities. I reluctantly put down my phone and hurriedly attended to my chores. However, when I heard my phone ring, I opened it to see the notifications. By the end of the day, I only ended up ticking three boxes of the 10 on my to-do list. As this practice turned into a habit, my activities turned into vain attempts at planning. I grew discouraged. At one point, I decided to just do whatever I felt like doing, since planning didn’t seem to work out for me. So I ditched my daily planning and went with the flow, doing whatever I felt like doing. At the end of each aimless day, I felt so discouraged and emotionally unstable.

Can you relate with what I went through? Perhaps you may not struggle with incontinent social media surfing as I do, but in other areas, you ditch self-control and do as you please, and realize you’re worse off than before. You watch a lot of TV even if you have so much work in your hands because you feel so drained from work. You know your body needs to be fit and healthy, but everyday you always feel the need to eat more than what is needed, or buy a tub of ice cream. You know you’re supposed to be kind to this person, but there is no emotional fiber of compassion in you for him or her, so you continually resist and respond in harshness. Whatever you struggle with, oftentimes it’s a result of misguided feelings. I feel you. Therein lies our problem. We feel so much, we forget how to think. We fully embrace one of this world’s defining philosophies: follow your heart.

I grew up watching movies and TV shows and listening to music that promotes this philosophy. Scripts and lyrics have a way of twisting reality in such a way that ‘following your heart’ looks desirable and worth doing. Disobey your parents so you can be with the girl/guy of your dreams? Go for it! Ditch school so that you can be a superstar? Sounds great! Party all night till you get drunk? Yaaasss all the way! I put these situations crudely, but I’m sure you can name several, even dozens, of songs, shows, and films that have these themes. Unfortunately for us who are exposed to it, our minds and worldviews are shaped by them, even in small doses. For us Christians, these doses, no matter how small, will weaken our desire to serve God wholeheartedly, Whose view of the heart is totally opposite.

To God, the heart is “deceitful above all things, and is desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9, emphases added). Our “hearts are full of evil,” and they are filled with insanity all our lives! (Ecclesiastes 9:3b, emphasis added) What comes out of our hearts are pure evil, according to the Lord Jesus: “evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” (Matthew 15:19, emphasis added)

If our hearts are deceitful above all things, desperately sick, and pure evil, why do we follow them so relentlessly?

Because when we follow our hearts, we serve ourselves. When we do what we want, at our time and our pace regardless of what others think and what God thinks, ultimately, we rob God of the glory that is due Him. Deep down, we desire our glory. Our comfort. Our happiness. The “follow-your-heart” philosophy that has pervaded our culture and society has produced a generation of self-serving, #selfieish individuals. Because we insist our own way, we pursue whatever makes us feel good, sometimes neglecting morality, leading us to following another fatal philosophy: hedonism.

Sadly, many Christians are guilty of this–including myself.

How many times have we said “I felt God called me to do this” to excuse our behavior and rationalize sin? God never called us to “feel” His will; He called us to know it, study it, discover it through His Word, and by walking in the Spirit. Being Spirit-filled is the Christian’s defense against the world’s follow-your-heart philosophy. When we are Spirit-filled, we obey God according to the rules He set out for us. Through the reading, meditation, and study of His Word, we discover what makes Him smile and what makes Him mad, and how we should live our lives. Even this is difficult for us sometimes, because we’re so used to following what we want to do and as a result, we loathe rules. We see rules as burdens to carry instead of channels of blessings. I know I do, until I learned the heart of God. God loves me, and He seeks after my good. He will never tell me to do anything that will harm me. Sure, some of the things He lets me do are uncomfortable (and in the future, some might even be dangerous), but He tells me not to fear because life on this planet is temporary. What I do here for Him reaps a hundredfold blessings for me in the life to come–which is eternal! So why should I worry?

I confess that the primary reason I failed to post here and share what God has been doing in my life was because I listened to my heart that told me a bunch of lies:

the timing is not perfect!

your intro sucks. Change it!

Don’t you want to see how many likes your photo on Instagram got? Stay at it. 

Feelings change, but the truth remains the same. If God calls you to do something, do it! By God’s grace, I am learning not to follow my heart, but to guard it, as Proverbs 4:23 instructs. We are commanded to “trust the LORD with all our hearts, and lean not on our own understanding….acknowledge Him in all our ways, and He shall direct our paths. Be not wise in our own eyes, fear the LORD, and depart from evil.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) We are called to “be renewed in the spirit of our mind” (Ephesians 4:23) and not to conform to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2). Therein lies the practical solution: renewing the mind. I’ll talk about that in one of my upcoming posts. For now, it’s pretty clear: we are not to follow our hearts. We are to guard them–ABOVE ALL ELSE as Proverbs 4:23 said (emphasis mine). Make it your top priority. Guard it as if you were the Louvre Museum protecting Mona Lisa from thieves and robbers. Tighten security, otherwise, terror will strike and leave you broken.

Guarding your heart from outside influence is difficult; but don’t be discouraged, dearly beloved! We are all in this together. Our God who is greater than our hearts (1 John 3:20) is faithful in keeping us faithful, so long as we keep on obeying Him. Don’t feel like doing what is right, good, and true? Do it anyway! It’s about time we regain control of our hearts. If we are to change this world for Jesus, let’s follow Him and guard our hearts with all our hearts! 🙂

You are Insignificant but Dearly Loved

What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” (Psalm 8:4)

Three weeks ago, I celebrated my 21st birthday in one of my favorite cities: New York City.

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My Dad, brothers, uncle, and I went to Liberty Island and paid Lady Liberty a visit. She was still as beautiful as when I first laid eyes on her three years ago. Actually, I thought she was even more beautiful that day when I saw her again. The weather was perfect–sunny but not hot, cool wind breezing through our faces, and just about the right levelof humidity, so we did not sweat. When you’re in New York, sweating concerned me because we walked a lot; I didn’t want to smell and look haggard in photos!

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During my birthday, I felt like I had the right to be treated specially; after all, it was my day. So when I did not get what I wanted exactly the way I wanted, I played bratinella inside. On our way back to Manhattan from Liberty Island, I told Dad I did not want to sit at the top of the boat because it was hot and I did not want to tan. Dad insisted we sit at the top since it was windy and the view was spectacular. I complained and tried to convince him out of it, but when his tone marked a sense of disappointment, I quit nagging and complied with his request. As I took my seat and saw the water around me, I realized my Dad was right. This was way better. I didn’t want to admit that I was wrong, so I shut up the rest of the trip . Strike one.

When we returned to Manhattan, we walked from Battery Park to Madame Tussaud’s near Times Square, where we waited for our bus that would take us to different key destinations. It was half past seven, and we were really hungry. The original plan was we would meet our other family members at Macy’s and then eat at a restaurant. However, Dad had to change the plan because he couldn’t walk anymore; his foot ached. Instead of meeting at Macy’s, we would just meet at Grand Central Terminal near our hotel.  The five of us went to Grand Central and bought dinner.

Below the main terminal, there was a food court. I wanted to eat something Asian–like rice or noodles–and have a small cake afterwards for my Dad and I to blow since it was his birthday the next day. However, Dad insisted we buy pizza. Pizza?! But I want Asian. Ugh, why doesn’t he let me get what I want? It’s so annoying. I just told myself I should be grateful I had food to eat. Strike two.

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The following day it was my Dad’s birthday. We explored other parts of Manhattan, and towards the evening we went to Koreatown and ate Korean food. My craving for Asian food was finally satisfied!

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That evening as I lay in bed, I realized my heart was full of spiritual toxins. Yes, I was having a great time exploring and enjoying the city, but inside I felt rotten. I complained a lot; I was very ungrateful, and not to mention, disrespectful. I hated myself. Frankly, the past few weeks during that month, I wasn’t doing my quiet time with the Lord consistently, and if I did, was really distracted. I’d rather log on Instagram and Facebook or hang out with my family. I lost intimacy with my Best Friend. It killed me inside. I cried that night, and before I closed my eyes and slept I told myself I’d spend my last day in New York with Jesus, even for just an hour or two. I set my alarm at 8:30 the next day, Mother’s Day, so that I can go off by myself.

The following morning, I woke up energized and prepared quickly to have my alone time. Our hotel was really near the New York Public Library along 5th Avenue at 42nd St, but the building I wanted to visit, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, opened at 1 PM, so I stayed at the Mid-Manhattan Library, just across the street from Schwarzman. Because the library opened at 10, I decided to go to Bryant Park first.

 As I was walking to Bryant Park, I prayed silently and asked God to speak to me. I wanted to hear Him and to help me change my stinky attitude. As usual, I saw a lot of people. Ever different, and some, ever weird. When I saw homeless people begging outside restaurants and shops, I told the Lord: “Lord, You must love them, too, don’t you?” He did not reply because I already knew the answer. I walked some more, and this time, I noticed the building towering above me.  I’ve never felt so small and so ‘1-in-a-million’ in my life. When I reached Bryant Park, God still wasn’t speaking. When I went inside the Mid-Manhattan Library, still n0 word from Him. Unfortunately, my solo adventure was cut short when my Mom called me to return to the hotel. She called at around 10:30 AM. I walked as briskly as I could because I thought the check-out time was at 12, and I still had to fix some things in our room!

When I got to the hotel, Mom told me the check-out time in our hotel was at 3 PM. Dang, I should have stayed longer. Then I had a better idea! “Mom, can I go to the NYPL at 1? The building I want to go to opens at 1. Pleeaaaase.”

“Sure, just be back quickly.” I felt so happy! I grabbed my backpack and zoomed out of the room. This time, I ran (when I could). I had to get inside the library no matter what.

When I got there, I was not disappointed. The place was so beautiful! I really wished our public libraries in Manila were just as beautiful and well-kept. I was amazed by the details of the architecture and the grandeur of the whole place! I didn’t have much time to look around much less read, so I feasted on whatever my eyes could lay on and took photos at the interesting spots. After 15 minutes, my Dad called me and told me to go back to the hotel. I was a bit dismayed, but at least I was happy.

As I walked hurriedly back to the hotel, that’s when God spoke to me. What He said was a slap on the face but a breath of fresh air at the same time. Only God can do that to me.

Jenny,

You are proud, and that is why you feel My disappointment. You’ve been focusing on yourself again, making yourself an idol. You rely on your feelings, choosing whatever you feel like doing, instead of obeying My commandments. My commandments are meant to protect you, not harm you! Your parents love you, and you should obey them because through your obedience, I will bless you. 

You want people to pay attention to you, so you get disappointed when your posts don’t get much likes or your friends don’t chat with you online. Well guess what: you are insignificant! Your existence does not make or break the world. Intelligent as you may be, you are puny. There are so many people around you, and your existence does not control theirs.

Yet, I love you. I love you so, so much.

I love you so much I consider you important and worth dying for. When I hung on the cross, I thought of you. I wanted you to be happy, to be intimate with Me, and to enjoy Me and the blessings that come with our relationship. I thought of this adventure of yours, and I wanted it to be as TALAMazing as possible–not because you’re good, but because I’m good. Yes, your existence does not make the world go round, but I am more than willing to risk My life just to save you–and I did.

Will you Trust Me? Will you stop running away from My plan and start running towards it? You made mistakes, and I forgive you. I do not condemn you.

I love you, child. Come home.

Love,

your Heavenly Father

I had no words for that response, only tears. As I walked back to the hotel, I couldn’t do anything but just confess my sin and weaknesses to God and humbly receive His love. What an awesome God! I began thanking Him for everything–that I existed, our family’s complete, we’re enjoying this vacation, our safety, the good weather, this dream come true…and so on! 🙂

This is what I truly loved about New York: I saw my smallness and insignificance. I realized how great, awesome, and loving God was. I started growing up. I fell in love with Jesus again. I learned that the antidote to pride is not denial or a change in behavior, but an inward transformation brought about by a deep conviction of one’s insignificance and need for surrender to the living God.

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Dear human being, you are highly insignificant, but you are dearly loved. God loves you and me! He wants all of us to experience our own amazing adventures because He is amazing! The first step we have to take is not to try to be good, but to humble ourselves and admit we can’t do it on our own. That we have messed up. That we want Him, and we trust Him because He knows best. Then He’ll come to our rescue. He’ll steal the show. He’ll set things straight. At the end of the day, all we’ll be able to say is: “God, thank You. Who am I, O sovereign LORD, that You care for me?” We will be grateful and not complain. We will praise the LORD and forget not all His benefits! 🙂