Boyce Avenue Live in Manila 2018

Boyce Avenue’s concerts have always been inside jokes and cherished moments between me and God. You might be wondering, “What is the big deal with this lady and Boyce Avenue?” Well, they are my favorite band! I love three things about them: their acoustic music, exceptional vocal and instrumental skills, and culture as brothers. Also, by God’s grace, He has been allowing me to experience faith-stretching moments during their concerts in Manila since 2013.

I have been craving for their live music ever since their last concert here two years ago. So, when Wilbros Live announced that they were coming back this June 2018, I immediately bought my ticket. Ironically, I was not as happy as I would have expected myself to be after buying the ticket. It was because the production company that brought them back was different from the company that organized the concerts for Boyce Avenue in the past years. It was sad for me because family friends, who worked in that company, graciously helped me meet the band backstage after the concerts in 2013, 2015, and 2016. Now that Wilbros Live was bringing them to Manila, I absolutely did not have any chance of meeting the band. In their previous concerts, for some reason, they also did not sell Meet & Greet passes.

 

I was glad that I had the opportunity to watch their concert again. But at the same time, I felt sad that I wasn’t going to meet them in person. Despite this, I still thanked God as He encouraged me to still be content. I remember telling Him, “Lord, you allowed me to meet them when it seemed like an impossible situation. This happened three times before! You can allow it to happen again if You want to. So, who am I to demand from You or to not be grateful even when You take this away?”

Two months passed by and the concert day was fast approaching. By this time, my family and friends were already excited for me because they knew how much I loved Boyce Avenue and their music. After sharing my love for the band to one of my friends, I went home hoping that I could somehow still meet the band again. I told the Lord that He could easily allow it to happen if it was His will. But, if it was not His will, then I would still be thankful.

That same night, just three nights before the concert, I was scrolling through updates on Google about their concert. To my surprise, I stumbled upon the band’s announcement in their Twitter account about the Meet and Greet passes that they were selling since the start of May 2018. It was already May 29 at that time and I could not believe what I was reading! I was not able to closely monitor their updates before because I decided to log off from my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts earlier this year, as I have shared in a previous post HERE. Amusingly, I was both frustrated and extremely joyful that I saw the announcement that week! For the first time in the history of Boyce Avenue concerts that I have attended, I bought a Meet and Greet pass.

 

The night before the concert, Boyce Avenue’s management sent an email to those who purchased the Meet and Greet passes to inform us about instructions and its inclusions. Basically, the pass entitles us to have one photo with the band AND one personal item that we can ask them to sign. Even before the email was sent to us, I had already printed a collage of my previous photos with the band for them to sign. I just thought that it would be a cool idea to compile the Meet and Greet moments I have had with them in the past.

Fast forward to the night itself, we were all in line, waiting for the band to welcome us individually. As we patiently watched the time go by, the staff handed laminated IDs to us with the signatures of the band members. It was a pleasant surprise for us! Finally, they asked us to go inside the backstage area. There were about 25 people in front of me who went ahead with their Meet and Greet opportunities! As I was nearing the entrance door, I noticed that the people only had one photo with the band. They were not having their personal items signed by them! Literally, a minute before my turn, I quickly asked one of the staff members why the personal items were not being signed by Boyce Avenue. She responded by saying that it was because they already provided signed laminated IDs for us.

I felt my heart beat fast as I held on to my permanent marker and collage of photos printed on an A4 photo paper. I remember having a quick conversation with myself about “Seizing the opportunity vs. Shying away”. Each person literally had 8 seconds with the band and all I could think of was: “I know this seems impossible, Nicole, but you have nothing to lose if you try to ask the band. If it’s God’s will, He’ll allow it to happen.” When it was finally my turn, instead of giving them a hug during the first three seconds, I approached them by saying: “Hi! I know this isn’t allowed anymore, but is it okay if you still sign my photo?” Alejandro said: “Oh! You know what? We’ll just finish taking photos with everyone else and then we’ll get back to you.”

After this, the staff from the production company, including the bouncers, kept on re-directing me to go outside, farther from the backstage area. Every time they re-directed me, I tried to explain that my photo and ticket were still with the band – for their signature, but they kept leading me towards the exit. But, ten minutes later, all of the people got their photos taken with the band and they left the area one by one. I followed up with one of the bouncers and patiently waited at the exit gate. It did not take long until one bouncer walked towards me with an A4 photo paper in his hand and a brown envelope with my printed ticket on it. As soon as I got them, I saw the impossible happen right in front of my eyes. My collage was signed by the three Manzano brothers and I could not be more relieved. The band was so gracious and kind enough to grant my special request and I was so glad I took the risk of seizing the eight seconds that I had with the band.

Yes, this Meet and Greet experience was probably the most stressful I have had compared to the past three ones. But, God still allowed me to have a unique experience with Him and with the band this time. Meeting ones favorite band for the fourth time may seem like a trivial thing to some. But, it is certainly one of the languages that God uses to speak life into my heart, as He helps me exercise my faith in Him who is able to do anything. I was reminded of Philippians 4:6 where it says: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Thank You, Jesus, for always being so personal and intentional.

Thank you, Wilbros Live, for bringing Boyce back.

Thank you, Boyce Avenue, for being awesome as usual.

Special performances by Youtube stars: Moira dela Torre and AJ Rafael. :)

My Secret Getaway: Touch of Glory Prayer Mountain

Well, I guess it is not a secret anymore. Haha. At first, I did not want to share this place with you because it would mean that I would disclose one of my treasured secret getaway spots with the Lord. But, I decided to still let you know about this because I do want to encourage you to intentionally set aside time just for you and Jesus.

I have been to the Touch of Glory Prayer Mountain (Antipolo) for five times already: twice with my discipleship group from church and thrice by myself. I know that there are other prayer mountains and retreat areas to choose from. However, I personally enjoy this one because it is just an hour away from home and it has a good balance of nature and civilization. I enjoyed having accountability at the mountain with my group from church two years ago. But, nothing beats being alone with the Lord in the mountain for an extended period of time.

My introverted self cannot express how much of a joy this is too. This year, He allowed me to clearly hear from Him as I opened up my heart and placed my fears and concerns at His feet. He has been faithful in reminding me of His truths and promises for me and in revealing to me the things in my heart and life that I need to let go of and surrender to Him.

I usually stay overnight at the place because a day trip would not be enough for me. However, when I do get the chance, I spend three days and two nights in the place too. We have the option of staying in the dormitory (separate dormitories for men and women) which is around Php 350/night or to rent a private room which costs around Php 900-Php 1500/night, depending on the type of room.

Because I like to have my own space, I usually avail a private room worth Php 900. It has a bed (good for 1-2 people), a private bathroom (with a heated shower), a chair and table, an electric fan, and an air-conditioner. Some rooms have closets too. For the exact room rates and details on how to get to the place, you can contact their FACEBOOK page. If you are bringing a car, you can also search it using Waze.

This prayer mountain is not the biggest I’ve been to but it provides enough areas for one to have quiet times. The place has a church/chapel inside the compound, a cafeteria (which serves regular-tasting meals/snacks and canned/bottled drinks), a veranda below the cafeteria overlooking the mountains and trees, prayer huts, prayer cells, a big garden area with three bigger huts and a small court, plantations of homegrown vegetables, a souvenir shop, a pond area with a few wooden chairs, spacious open areas where people can meet under trees, and a parking lot just outside the compound which can accommodate around 10 vehicles.

Check-in is at 2 pm, while check-out is at 12 nn. However, if you arrive by 1 pm, sometimes, the room is already available for check-in. You can communicate with them in advance. They also entertain late check-outs whenever they do not have events. I usually go there on Saturday and leave on Sunday. But, if you have time to visit on weekdays, I would suggest this instead because they usually have more people coming in on Sundays, which might hinder you from experiencing more quiet and peaceful moments.

Also, I bring snacks, fruits, and a water tumbler with me whenever I go to the prayer mountain. I find this very useful especially in between hours when I feel sleepy or hungry. If ever you plan to do so, just make sure to throw the trash in the bins outside of the rooms because ants will find their way to your opened snacks, even if you try to seal them tightly. They do serve rice meals in the cafeteria, but they do not have a lot of options for snacks and fruits. You can also refill your water tumbler by using their water dispensers. If I’m not mistaken, refilling 500ml of cold or lukewarm water will cost around Php 5.00. A cup of hot water from the cafeteria will also cost Php 5.00.

In addition, the place has a relatively good signal for Globe and Cellular data (3G). In the garden area, you can get LTE. But of course, as much as possible, while you are there, I suggest that you limit (if not, fast) yourself from using the internet since this will most likely be a distraction.

Personally, I found it helpful to create an itinerary for myself before going up the mountain. This helps me stay focused on my objectives and desires in having solitude time with the Lord. I cannot wait to go back again and spend time with Him on the mountain. There is just something unique about knowing Him more through nature and the most random things outside of your home or your usual quiet time spots.

Here are some of the moments I’ve had with God on the mountain:

PAINTED SKIES

“You’re His child and that will always be enough.” As I was watching the sunset change the colors of the sky, this line was playing on my phone. It is from 4Him’s song “Measure of a Man”. The sunset had soft pink, purple, orange, and blue tones (Unfortunately, my phone wasn’t able to capture its beauty.). At that moment, I felt my Heavenly Father re-assure me that I am His child and that He is more than enough for me. It was as if He was literally painting colored skies in front of me.

LITTLE BOY

A random kid was running up and down the stairs beside the veranda where I was staying at. After a few runs, he went near me and asked: “Are you praying? Are you reading?” I said: “Yes!” Then, he skipped away. A few minutes later, he returned and asked me again: “What are you doing?” Then, I replied: “I’m praying and reading.” He said: “Are you reading the Bible?” Then, I said: “Yes”. He replied: “Okay!” and ran off while calling his dad. I found the situation funny. But, I also appreciated how innocent and pure it was. It reminded and encouraged me to have a childlike faith (humble, eager, honest, and joyful) as I continue spending time with the Lord.

COOL BREEZE

I was pouring my heart out to God and confessing the filth in it while I was alone in the garden area. I knew that I was not honoring God in the way I responded to different types of people. Then, He revealed to me how Jesus was radical in responding to difficult people; in extending the love and grace of God to them. My heart broke as my eyes watered because I knew and felt that God was urging me to follow Jesus’ example. Just when this was happening, I felt a long, cool breeze continuously blow towards me. It was a calming and heartbreaking moment for me. I remember saying this out loud: “Jesus is in my heart. Through Him, I can do all things!” (Philippians 4:13)

10:10

A plantation of leafy greens caught my attention because of the contrast between the two container beds. One was abundant with fruitful harvest. While the other one was a mess with leftover scraps. It immediately reminded me of John 10:10 and how Jesus wants me to have an abundant life with Him. “What is stopping me from experiencing this?”

Whether or not you go up to this specific mountain, my secret getaway, it is my prayer that you and I will get to experience Jesus in a deeper and more personal way this year.

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere…” –Psalm 84:10

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:13

“Draw near to God  and He will draw near to you…” – James 4:8

My Cherry Tomatoes Stopped Ripening on the Vine

The cherry tomatoes I grew this summer looked very promising. During the plants’ second month, I remember counting 45 buds and 120 tomato flowers, which would eventually become ripe tomatoes! Compared to the previous batches I have had in the past summers, this batch yielded the most number of fruits and I could not be more ecstatic! However, it was only the beginning of what I call my “Humbling Harvest”.

Before I planted the cherry tomato seeds last February, I thought that I would not have something new to share on the blog about growing these plants. Why? Because I already posted steps and photos a few years ago, as seen HERE. However, God used this batch to humble me and help me realize the ff.:

  1. I have so much to learn about gardening wisely.
  2. Our gracious God is more than able to turn seemingly impossible and discouraging situations around.
  3. Tomato plants only thrive in certain temperatures and I should be prepared for this.

It started when most of the flowers already turned into full-grown green, unripe tomatoes. I was so excited to see them turn into yellow green, orange, red orange, and red within the next few days. Based on my past experiences with growing tomatoes, the changes in their colors happen in less than a week. I even remember panicking before because the tomatoes ripened so fast that I had to give most of them away.

I expected the same result in this batch. But, when the unripe, green tomatoes stayed exactly the same after more than two weeks on the vine, I started to get worried. What was happening?! The fruits were not ripening on the vine; the remaining flowers were not turning into fruits; and the leaves were curling up and looking dehydrated.

I consistently and generously watered the plants twice a day and I monitored the leaves to make sure there were no pests sticking under them. I even added organic fertilizer to the plants, hoping that it would help them ripen. But, none of these things worked. It only left me with one choice: To kill the plant if the fruits still do not ripen after a week and accept the fact that I will be harvesting more than two hundred unripe green cherry tomatoes.

That week, I expressed my disappointment towards myself and the situation to God. I asked Him why He still allowed me to go through the experience of seeing them grow and bear fruit ONLY to end up witnessing their growth “freeze” in the heat of summer. My heart got more discouraged after I read articles online about the possible reasons why tomatoes do not ripen on the vine.

The only common answer I read that was applicable to my situation was the extremely hot weather. Apparently, tomato plants thrive between 18 to 29 degrees Celsius. Anything less or more than that would not be advisable for their growth. This explains why my plants stopped developing its fruits! While the green tomatoes were growing on the vine, we were experiencing very hot weather in the city! We had an average of 33 to 35 degrees Celsius.

It was during this time that God helped me realize how I should be wise in gardening. Even if I wanted to grow certain vegetables, I should do my own research on the ideal temperature, water levels, composition of fertilizer, soil condition, and the weather in our city. If I do not do so, I will be wasting resources and I would not be able to maximize the plants’ potential. Some time ago, I did experience this when I tried to grow broccoli in the hot Manila weather. Instead of producing the usual broccoli, the plant got so stressed because of the heat that it caused its buds and florets to be unusually huge.

Unfortunately, I still did not learn my lesson in planning first before planting. So, I told God that in a way, this heartbreaking yet humbling harvest of green, unripe cherry tomatoes really taught me a lesson. I also said that if it was NOT His will for me to see, harvest, and taste red ones this time, then it would be okay with me. I was choosing to be grateful, but honestly, I also struggled with watering the plants because I thought “Why bother when they will not ripen on the vine anyway?” My heartbroken self intentionally did not water them for three days.

During those days, the sky surprisingly became gloomy. Would you believe it? After weeks of extreme heat, we were being showered with soft rains. Just a few days before the weekend (when I was supposed to kill the plants), I saw my first light orange cherry tomato. I thought, “Is this for real? I have an orange tomato?!”

Despite me giving up on them, God was graciously watering and taking care of the plants for me. I ended up not killing the plants because of the hope that I suddenly had in my heart. The weather was becoming cooler and more green tomatoes were changing its colors. In less than week, by God’s grace, I was able to harvest a batch of bright red, smooth, and juicy organic cherry tomatoes from our veranda. Some of my friends could not believe how they looked! Their blemish-free skin made them seem like fake or toy tomatoes.

Before I planted the seeds, I felt that I wouldn’t be able to share something new about growing cherry tomatoes. But, I am able to share with you the best batch of cherry tomatoes I’ve grown since I started gardening a decade ago! This is only by the grace of God. I realized that He was helping me learn the value of not giving up on myself and others even when I do not see any progress or good results yet. God does not and will not give up on us. If I had given up on the plants and killed them right away, then I would have missed out on the privilege of sharing the fruits to my family, old and new friends, my colleagues, a VIP business partner at work, and many more.

Moreover, I just found out this month from a chef friend that when it comes to buying cherry tomatoes in the market, the ones still attached to the vine are far more expensive than those detached from it. There’s a higher value on it because of the variety’s uniqueness and appearance, especially since it makes a beautiful garnish as it adds sweetness to the dish. What an awesome trivia! It reminds me that, in the same way, we are nothing without God and we are only able to grow and bear fruit in this life when we are connected to the Vine (Jesus).

It says in John 15:4-5 “Remain in Me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Summer is ending soon, which means that the cherry tomato season for me will end soon too. I only have a few left ripening on the plants, but I do look forward to learning more about growing tomatoes next Summer! Hopefully, I’ll get to successfully grow beefsteak tomatoes by then! Haha.

Happy gardening and learning, everyone!

 

Finding True Success at Work

I’ve always imagined success at work as something that can be attained by climbing up the corporate ladder or earning millions from a business. I grew up knowing about God and I surrendered my life to Jesus, my Lord and Savior, when I was in 3rd year high school. But, I still struggled trusting in Him when He allowed me to be unemployed for eight months after my college graduation.

THE STRUGGLE

Soon, God graciously provided a job for me, but I eventually questioned my worth when I did not have a salary increase 1 1/2 years later. In my quiet times with the Lord, He asked me “Nicole, is your worth based on your salary? What if you never get an increase, will you still be faithful in doing your best for Me?” I realized that my work and ability to earn money were privileges from the Lord. He is my Ultimate Boss and if He wanted me to have an increase, He will allow it to happen. A few months later, my bosses realized that there was a miscommunication in the management concerning my salary. In God’s perfect timing, they gave me an increase and promoted me to a senior position.

However, after one year, I thought of resigning when our company transferred to a different city. But, God impressed on my heart to first try the new office for three months before deciding to leave the company. On my third month, a new colleague was hired in our team and I found out that she was also a follower of Christ. God then spoke to me through Colossians 4:5 and I felt a strong urge to stay in the company so I could share Jesus to my colleagues.

 

THE CALL

My new colleague and I started having weekly Bible studies at a 7/11 store. Eventually, more colleagues, including two managers, joined us weekly in coffee shops. We had a growing hunger for the Word, developed accountability, and became intentional in praying for each other. Last 2016, I invited a colleague from our Bible study group to a True Life retreat in CCF, where he surrendered his life to Jesus and got baptized. The year after, he also invited a friend to attend another True Life Retreat, where his friend accepted Jesus and got baptized too! Now, my colleague is part of a discipleship group and is pursuing Christlikeness. Also, by God’s grace, he facilitated at a True Life retreat last weekend!

However, it wasn’t too long until close colleagues started to resign. This did not motivate me because I felt that I was missing out on better opportunities. As a result, my attendance at work and our weekly Bible studies dwindled. But despite my stubbornness, God inspired me to trust His purpose for me by allowing me to have three encounters with colleagues.

FIRST, last August, my friend and I were able to share Jesus to a colleague through John 10:10 which says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” She accepted Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior and has been very excited to seek Him since that day.

SECOND, last September, another colleague asked me for counsel. By God’s grace, I listened and was able to share the gospel to her that day. She thanked me for helping her realize her need for a personal relationship with Jesus.

THIRD, just two months ago, a colleague asked if I could pray for him before going home. I did and I also shared the gospel to him. Two days later, he shared that he already downloaded a Bible app in his phone and started praying and studying one verse each day. After these encounters, God re-assured me of my purpose in the workplace: That is to be the best employee that I can be for Jesus and to share Him to my officemates.

When CCF (Christ’s Commission Fellowship) launched Life Goals this year, I knew that the Lord was telling me to begin sharing Him again. I had many fears and insecurities even after buying four booklets. “What if my colleagues aren’t interested? What if I don’t get to clearly facilitate and explain? I’m not a manager in the company, what influence do I have on my officemates?” But in 2 Corinthians 12:9, God showed me that His grace is sufficient for me, for His power is made perfect in my weakness. So, three weeks ago, I invited a few colleagues and they all said yes! However, just a few minutes before our first session, I found myself backing out as I told God, “Lord, can’t I just postpone this to next week?” But, the Lord reminded me that He is always with me. That night, the three ladies I invited made it! Plus, one of them invited another colleague to attend. They eagerly studied the Bible with me and expressed their desire to continue attending.

 

THE PURPOSE

In the next weeks, we continued meeting up and more ladies joined the group. As of today, I am having weekly Bible studies with six other lady colleagues. By God’s grace, after every session, they all share how much they appreciate the group and the opportunity to study His word. Two of them even said, “Nicole, thank you so much. Do you know that this is what we look forward to in our work week? This is clearly one of the reasons why you are in this company — so that you could start this and share the Bible to us.” This is only by the grace of God.

Sometimes, I think that I will only become successful if I keep on achieving my career goals. But, I am learning that True Success at work is not about what I have; it’s not about being in a better company, or having a better working environment. It is about being faithful and doing my best in what the Lord asks me to do for Him, with the resources that He has entrusted to me. It says in Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” I don’t know how long I’ll be staying in this company, but, please do pray with me, that I will continue to walk with Him and trust in His good plans and purpose for me. Thank you. To God be all the glory!