How Migration Deepened my Faith

To deepen my faith, God told me to step outside my comfort zone: 8,000 miles away from it.

Want to have deeper faith? Try migrating to a foreign country eight thousand miles away from home.

I prayed to the Lord to deepen my faith, so about two years ago, He called me and my family to pack our bags and migrate to the United States of America. I tried as much as I can to assuage my fears of starting anew in a far, foreign country. Even if I’ve been coming to the US as a kid, migration is a completely different ballgame and living there consisted of a whole new set of rules. No more yayas and helpers to do my chores for me. No more parents having to shoulder every expense at home. No more random hangouts with familiar friends who I’ve grown to love and appreciate.

The Honeymoon Phase

My first three months as an immigrant were blissful. Together with my grandma (Dad’s mom), I came right in time for Thanksgiving, my first of many. Less than a month later, one of my many cousins got married at Diamond Bar so along with the wedding came a slew of other fun activities: bridal showers, lettering her aisle signages, gown fittings, and out-of-town trips with our extended families. It was also during my second and third months where I was exposed to my first job interview at a lone attic-cleaning office right at the heart of San Fernando valley. Thank God He opened a door for me to work at an advertising agency where I currently work. Life moved in freeway speed (60 mph) and I enjoyed the ride.

Then as soon as I started working and my to-do list became even more routine and ordinary, the honeymoon phase ended.

Moving From Known to Unknown

Two months into my job, I worked until 11 PM to meet deadlines and manage the workload. I expected the overtime having been exposed to advertising from a young age, but it was the feeling of not being sure if what I’m doing is right, or how I should respond if I made any mistake, that weighed me down. As I was new to the company, I couldn’t seek solace among my co-workers, so when I went home I poured out my heart to the Lord. During those times, I lived with my one of my many aunts (one of Mom’s sisters) as my parents and brothers returned to Manila. Although I told myself that I should be grateful that I had relatives who loved me, I couldn’t help feeling lonely. When my mom and I talked via Viber, I held back the tears for fear of my tita (aunt) seeing my fragility. I felt like I was in my freshman year of college where I knew no one and felt alone in a big pond full of stronger, tougher fish. I recall praying: “Lord, I don’t know what to do but my eyes are on you.”

As I continued working, I slowly learned how to process my emotions and stress when the pressure mounted. By God’s grace, I was evaluated and kept my job! I opened up more of my heart and mind to my teammates and gained their trust. I became more acquainted with how things worked, yet by all means remained an amateur and hungered to learn. The Lord built my confidence in Him as I gained more knowledge and experience, yet there was so much more to learn in another space: my local church.

When I first attended CCF LA, I thought it would be easier to adjust because majority of the worshippers were Filipino, not to mention their worship style was similar to CCF back in Manila. In some ways it was easier to adjust, but in the most important aspect of church life, i.e., in loving and serving fellow believers, it was (and still is) a struggle. I became someone I never got to experience back in Manila: a first-timer, that girl who attends Sunday service and wants to be part of a group but isn’t. My cousin, Deb, who migrated a year earlier than I did introduced me to her discipleship group and friends. I appreciated her effort in bringing me to her gigs and events even if I mostly just talked to her. Once again, the Lord pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone by sincerely and genuinely getting to know new people who happened to be brothers and sisters in Christ. Today, although my relationships with many of them are still works in progress, I can say that God is teaching me to love in ways I’ve never loved before.

The past two years as an immigrant were nothing short of boring–if any, they were years of what I’d like to call “introduction to more fruit.” In John 15, the Lord Jesus called Himself the Vine and His beloved church as the branches. He desires to see His bride bear fruit, to bear more fruit, and as if it cannot go any level higher: much fruit. God has been working in and through my life all these years since childhood, but He placed me in a whole new level of faith that would take some time to learn. Back in the Philippines, there were some ways of doing things that were quite predictable, like working and daily routines; they were so familiar and systematized, you needed only to follow a certain steps and success follows. Even if life threw a curve ball, that was somehow predicted so you would know how to respond. But when I started living in the United States, I encountered new challenges and unfamiliar practices that made me uncomfortable, fearful, and lonely. Back in the Philippines, it was easier for me to be diligent even if I felt a strong urge to be lazy because people were watching, the weather was warm (not ideal for lying around), and again, I already knew what to do most of the time. I didn’t realize how moody I can be and how easy it is to justify laziness: “I deserve to watch Netflix all day because I’m sooo tired from work this week.” Whenever I applied that reasoning, I soon realized that I failed because unlike in Manila, I had no helper to cook me lunch or dinner when I did not feel like cooking. The place dictated new rules, and I was not willing to submit.

The unpredictability of life unsettled me. At times I expressed my annoyance by binge-watching, bing-eating, and binge-spending. Not therapeutic at all. My intimacy with the Lord grew cold as my quiet time became quieter–that is, I was either falling asleep or prioritizing Instagram over my Bible. Not helpful either. I became a fool. What person in their right mind would, if their tooth ached, continue eating candy instead of visiting a dentist? Thankfully, my Physician took the initiative. He placed a discomfort in my heart that made me seek Him. Today, by His grace, I’ve never been more closer to Him.

A lot of the learning in the past two years happened as I unlearned my former ways, some of which weren’t sinful but were not effective for deeper faith. Through it all–the unpredictability of life, my moodiness and foolishness–God is gracious. He is patient and kind, yet in His wisdom He disciplines His legitimate children (Hebrews 12:5-8). Many instances I behaved like an Israelite fresh off the camel who complained to the LORD and wished she was back in Egypt (aka the comfort zone). God showed me through His Word how He trains His best soldiers by moving them from a comfort zone, to a discipline zone, and eventually to a pleasure zone. As I reflected on the greatest characters in the Bible, most of them were immigrants: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Ruth, Paul, even the Lord Jesus Himself. Imagine Him migrating from Heaven to earth–surely it was worse than moving from a first-world country to a third-world country. Jesus moved from a holy, loving and sinless place to a dark, evil, and wretched territory! He, too, experienced feeling out of place and endured loneliness. He, too, had to “unlearn” His ways of doing back in Heaven because earth was a completely different place with a whole new set of rules. He used to be served by angels, but on earth He served men.

Faith in the God Who Knows

As I reflect on God’s hand at work in me the past two years, I experience His promise in Psalm 32:8: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” I see how He humbles my mind to trust and believe His Word, not merely on experience and established habits. Surely, habits are necessary and helpful for growth, but when my Father deems it best to replace an old habit with something better, He would do so even if I find it uncomfortable or unsettling. Pruning and discipline are part and parcel of Christlike discipleship (John 15:1-2). Sometimes that would mean moving to a foreign place where life is lived differently so that you would realize (as I do) that it’s not the place or the circumstances that dictate your success, but God Himself. When God moves you into the unknown, chances are He will make Himself known to you afresh so you may realize that indeed life is made through and for Him (Colossians 1:16). To my fellow earthly immigrants and sojourners, let us deepen our faith and fight the good fight by fixing our eyes on the God we know–the good and gracious God Who loves, guides us, and will never leave us.

2016: The Year of Moving On

In a short while, we will kiss 2015 goodbye and say hello to 2016. How does this make you feel? Are you overcome by excitement, paralyzed by uncertainty and fear, or discouraged by last year’s performance? Personally, I feel all three. Somehow in my jungle heart, all three emotions found room.

 

describe 2015 in 1 phrase

 

How would you describe your 2015, in one phrase? Share it with me on the comments below! Here’s my phrase: breaking up. I broke up with the life I used to love.

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In April 2015, I entered the United States as a permanent resident. Although I did not stay permanently yet at that time, that move opened the door to a more permanent move later. This move wasn’t painful at all, as my family and I were on vacation. They say time flies quickly when you’re having fun, and I couldn’t agree more because those two months felt like one! (Check out this post for more details on that vacay)

When I returned to Manila two months later, I moved from high school degree-holder to a bachelor’s degree-holder. I actually graduated, can you believe it?! Graduation gave me mixed feelings: eager anticipation at all the hours I can spend on my hobbies; dread at not finding a job; and discouragement, if the job hunting would take too long and I’ll have to spend my days as a bum. Before I got my first job, I thought my days and weeks would be spent in nothingness; however they were actually productive! I volunteered to build our youth ministry’s marketing and host the weekly service. At home I developed my cleaning and cooking skills and mastered the ability to sleep two times a day. My lifestyle shifted from erratic to slow-paced and regimented. Again, it was mostly a positive move, a pleasurable change.

By late September, I landed my first job. The change from unemployed to employed brought about another lifestyle change: from active to sedentary, as my work was 95% desk work. Nonetheless, I felt useful again. The terms, processes, ideas, and information that I stressed over back in college, made sense and felt easier to me. The best part is, I earned money! My salary wasn’t large enough to make me financially independent, but enough to fund my weekend excursions and some wants. 😀

After I resigned from my first ad agency stint two months later, I only had five days left before I changed address permanently. Five days! Change happened so fast, I felt like my life was a movie on fast forward. My schedule during those five days revolved around two things: packing my whole life and saying goodbye. I ate out with friends, mostly from church, and spent my “last days” reminiscing, taking photos, and receiving prayers and advice. Fixing my room gave me a mild case of sepanx (separation anxiety), especially on the day of my departure when I saw it mostly bare. Surprisingly, I did not cry. Perhaps things happened too quickly, there was no time left to cry. Haha :p In retrospect, these changes prepared me for the greatest move of all.

sepanx because of these people (plus more who are not in these photos huhu), our house, and my room

In November 25, 2015, my grandmother and I changed our home addresses. We moved to the United States to live there (here) permanently. Because my brothers had to finish school requirements, they, together with our parents, delayed their trip here. Again, another change, another move for me: it was my first time to be away from my family for an extended period of time, and from my friends and the places I’m familiar for an even longer period of time.

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If you knew me well, you’d know that I’m a careful and organized planner–not necessarily OC, but I dislike change and abruptness. If you want me to attend your party or event, you have to let me know three to six days in advance because a) it takes my parents that long to make a decision and b) I plan my schedule in advance so if you tell me too soon, I mostly have something to do already. Prior to migrating to the US, I only changed address once and schools four times (from preschool to university). Permanence is my preferred option. If I’ve gotten used to something, I’d rather stay there. (With food and leisure travel as the only exceptions!) So when the Lord told me to not only leave my house, but my country, my continent, and the friends I made, I was dismayed. I grew despondent when I thought of the idea of starting from scratch: making new friends, looking for a new house, moving from one apartment to another, learning the new roads and landmarks, and everything else that goes with migration.

I was so in love with my life in the Philippines that when I got here to the United States, I had to break up with it. For about a month, it was quite a struggle especially since I spent a quarter of my day online where most of my friends post about the latest happenings. Fear gnawed my resolve to begin anew. What will people think of me here? What if I can’t blend in and make any friends? What if I can’t be as home as I was in Manila? I grew desperate over my “ex”, who, although it helped me become a better person, wasn’t “the one” for me (or at least, not now).

Moving on is terrifying. You’re probably moving on from a breakup or some other life change right now. I kinda know how you feel because I know what it’s like to love someone (or in my case, something), only to realize later on that you have to part with it. God usually does that to His best disciples. Do you know why? During one of my devotions, the Lord inspired me with a powerful truth: Jenny, do you love Me or your experience of Me? As I struggled with this question, major figures in the Bible came to mind: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, the disciples, the Apostle Paul, and the Lord Jesus Himself. What was their common denominator? They all migrated from someplace to someplace else! Moving to another place and moving on is a test of faith on so many levels; it challenges your beliefs about God, His reality in your life, and if your faith is really as strong as you say it is. Moving taught me that my salvation in Christ Jesus was and is the only permanence I can hold on to in this life; everything else is temporary.

Last year, God told me at the start of the year that He was writing my story and that it was beautiful. He continues to write the chapters as my story moves on. For 2016, I will let go of the fear of moving on, and by faith, earnestly expect God to “work and to will His good pleasure” as I “work out my salvation with fear and trembling.” My greatest fear was to remain as I am without changing because I know I have so much left to improve! God is patient, gracious, and faithful. He will finish what He started.

This 2016, I pray that you, too, will continue to move forward; and if you must move on from something or someone that you held on to the past year, may you find the courage and the strength to do so. This next year will be a fresh start for all of us.

A blessed, joyful, and awesome 2016 to you, fellow earthling! 🙂

TALAMazing Adventure: God’s Timing Is Always Perfect

Sometimes things don’t go according to “our time,” because God’s time is way better. And when God intervenes, ADVENTURE happens! 🙂

Find out how God worked His impeccable timing in my life, and the adventure He gave me and my family! 🙂

Hello everyone!

Once again, it feels so good to be back here in my personal cyber space!  When it comes to timing, I am obviously not an expert in it, as the date of my last post indicates. During the months of February until early April, I was extremely busy as I finished the last leg of my college education. I am graduating in two weeks’ time! Frankly, I also succumbed to laziness during the remaining days of April and May…until today. I realized how selfish and disobedient I am for not sharing with the world how good, gracious, and faithful God is in my life. Indeed, He is faithful even if we are not! Moreover, God’s timing is always perfect. Always. I can say this, because I experienced it firsthand.

In one of my posts, Thankful for the Delay, I shared how grateful I was (and still am) to the Lord for delaying my graduation. It happened because I switched schools; the school where I eventually finished my studies did not credit all the units I took from my previous school and the units that were credited were insufficient to advance me to the junior year. Thus, I became a sophomore twice. That switch of schools happened because at that time, we thought we were migrating to the US.

This migration dates back to 1993.

lolo
My lolo (grandpa) many hairs ago. Haha

Twenty-two years ago, my grandfather Wiro, a US veteran, petitioned most of his 11 children and their families so that they can be permanent residents and eventually, citizens, in the United States of America.  My parents just got married, my aunts and uncles were starting their families and had little kids (my cousins), and none of them imagined that, over two decades later, most of them would be living in a land thousands of miles away.

Over the years since 1993, the US Embassy occasionally contacted us and informed us of our immigration status. I remember the first time I thought we were migrating to the US. The year was 2004, I was 10 years old and very much eager because I heard so many wonderful things about Disneyland and I wanted to see it for myself. That year we went to the US, but only for a vacation (and all my Disneyland dreams came true). Seven years later, we received another letter from the Embassy that made us think “we’re leaving.” Our relatives who were also petitioned thought the same way. That’s why I switched schools, my Mom resigned from her job, and a host of other things happened. But that year, and the next, God said it was not yet time. We had to wait some more.

When there was silence over the immigration issue, I somehow lost interest in it. After all, I was about to graduate and was looking forward to working in Manila. God graciously provided a new home for us and for the first time in my life & my brothers’ lives, we moved to a new house. We (including our parents) made more friends, served in various ministries in church, and enjoyed each other’s fellowship. After hearing and learning about devastating news from the US and signs of an improving economy in the Philippines, I got even more discouraged to migrate. I pondered about it at times and imagined myself living in a rented apartment in California, but I shrugged it off and went back to my busy Manila life.

Then came early 2014.

Around March, we got news again from the Embassy that they were processing our papers (my family’s and those of my relatives’), and that this 2-decade long wait would finally come to a close. Some of my relatives completed the processes and left the Philippines ahead of us. I thought our family would migrate last year also, but once again, God said no, just wait. Nonetheless, we completed all the procedures and submitted all the documents required of us in time, and before 2014 ended, we received our visas. We had to leave the Philippines on or before the first week of April 2015.

I did the math of the time needed of us to do what moving to another country entailed: fix all our documents, sort our stuff, sell whatever can be sold, attend goodbye parties (very important haha), etc. We needed at least a month and undivided attention. A month we had, but undivided attention we didn’t as we, my parents and I, were extremely busy with work and school respectively. Thankfully, God gave my parents wisdom to come up with a solution and the resources to execute it. We would leave in April, return to Manila, fix everything, and unless God says otherwise, return to the United States.

As our family counted down to the day when we would leave for the US, we prayed more earnestly and sought God’s will for our lives. As we prayed together, we grew closer as a family and more dependent on the Lord. In my personal time with the Lord, He reminded me that this earth is not my home. If He is indeed my God as I say He is, then I would trust Him—His plans, His motives, and His timing. If there’s one thing I really appreciate God for in this experience, it is His undoubtedly, wonderfully, and absolutely perfect timing.

As I look back, I am even more thankful for the delay that happened to me three years ago. If I was not delayed, I would be taking my master’s now, and I won’t be able to leave in early April because I had to complete my thesis. God commanded us to go out at a time when I have already finished college and thus be fully equipped to work and help my parents earn a living. My brothers aren’t too young to require extra attention, so they can be relied on to do chores at home (plus they’re really good boys so my parents never have to worry). By God’s grace, our relatives who have gone to the US ahead of us have been established and secured, and they were more than willing to help us (as well as our relatives who followed suit). Above all, God allowed us to spend a great deal of our time in Manila being grounded in His Word through our personal quiet time and corporate worship so that we can face the spiritual and emotional challenges that we would face in the US (more about that in my future posts—stay tuned!).

Oh, before I end, there’s one more thing.

Let’s go back three years ago, 2012, February.

My Mom was scheduled to visit her sister in April that year. Aside from visiting California, she’s visiting the East Coast: New York, Chicago, D.C.—all the cities I dreamt of visiting. In May that same year, I was turning 18. Where I come from, a girl turning 18 is somehow a huge deal. Titos (uncles) and titas (aunts) of Manila get excited and ask you where the party’s at. Parents get excited, too, but not as much as the titos and titas because they are the ones spending (haha). Unfortunately for my titos, titas, and parents, I wasn’t into the grand celebration. I had another idea of grand. I wanted to travel.

So when I learned that my Mom was going to the US that year and going to the East Coast, I prayed that she and Dad would let me spend my 18th birthday there with her. The other details of the story are written here (with details on the struggle and some awesome throwback photos), but long story short, I went with my Mom to the US and celebrated my 18th birthday in Chicago.

In October 2012, I posted a photo of myself posing in front of a City sightseeing bus in New York. Here’s the exact post from Facebook:

New York throwbackNow let’s go back to the not-so-present-present. March 2015. My parents briefed us on our US trip and excited us with the news that we’ll be visiting the East Coast! One day, as I was scrolling through my old profile photos on Facebook, I saw my earlier photo from New York. Call it a prediction or whatever, but I prefer to call it God’s favor and grace. Without me knowing it or expecting it, I returned to one of my favorite cities right exactly at the time when I said I would: after I graduate!

And the best part is, this time, my favorite boys are with me! We're complete!
And the best part is, this time, my favorite boys are with me! We’re complete!

Before leaving for the US a month ago, one of my best friends dedicated this verse to me:

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” – Proverbs 19:21

Even if we wanted to leave for the US years ago, God did not allow it to happen. Even if I wanted to graduate “on time,” God had His own version of “on time,” and truly it was the time! Even if we wanted to fix everything within a couple of months with our busy schedules, God told us not to and gave us a solution to make up for our lack of time. All of these, and more, only because God is in control.

Finally, last April 4, our family of five flew to the United States of America and began a journey of faith and fun—a journey we call the TALAMazing adventure.

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As unpredictable as our future may be, I daresay plunge right in, because God’s got us! I believe He’s got you, too. He has everything under control, including the proper timing. God’s timing is always perfect, so trust Him! 🙂

Stay tuned for more posts about our adventure! This time, I’ll post on time. Just like Jesus.

In the meantime, enjoy some of our photos during our first four weeks in the US! (Shot by my Dad and I, in random order) 😀

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cha2O

dennys

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Meet my beautiful and adorable niece, Kenna!

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