It’s All About Me, Right?

“You can find the taco shells… at the… uhh… frozen section.”

Clearly, the staff member at the grocery store didn’t know where the taco shells were. Hahaha. I am able to laugh about this now, but last night, when it happened, I honestly couldn’t contain my irritation.

TACO, TOMATO, & CORN

It all started when I was buying ingredients for tacos and shrimp kebabs for yesterday’s dinner. The staff member was arranging the spices on the rack when I asked him where the taco shells were. I already had an idea but because the supermarket had around 40 aisles, I didn’t want to waste time going through a lot of them.

“Frozen section? But sir, they’re taco shells. Similar to chips?” I said. I even showed a picture of the taco shell which was on the packaging of the taco mix I was holding.

He slightly panicked, mustered enough strength, and said “Yes, ma’am. At the… uhh… frozen section.”

“Umm. I don’t think so. But, I’ll just find it somewhere.” I replied as I gave him an awkward and confused stare.

While I was pushing the cart away from him, my mind started to heat up. “What in the world?? Who keeps taco shells or chips at the frozen section?? Was he trying to look confident? If he didn’t know where it was, he could have said so or endorsed me to another staff instead! Ugghh.” I then saw another staff member and asked him where the taco shells were. He gladly assisted me and showed me the correct aisle.

A few minutes later, I went to the vegetable section to get tomatoes and raw corn. Again, I had another encounter with a staff member. After putting my tomatoes in a plastic bag, I asked a staff member who was arranging potatoes in front of me if he could weigh the bag for me. Without even looking at me, he said “Pumunta ka sa kabila.” In English, “Go to the other side.” He was referring to the staff lady who was two meters behind him. (Just two meters!!!)

I didn’t expect that to happen because every time I ask the staff members at the fruits, vegetable, meat, or even fish sections, they usually get the plastic bag and weigh them. If they weren’t in charge of weighing, they would give the bags to the one who is, so that we (customers) wouldn’t have to go around or walk towards the weighing machine. But, unfortunately, the staff member wasn’t in a good or polite mood.

I then walked towards the corn area. As I was selecting the peeled raw ears of corn, I noticed the date printed on the price tag. The packed date was May 7, 2017. It was only May 6. At that moment, I was already starting to have trust issues with this supermarket. If I would go to the store today, I would believe that they only peeled and packed them today (7th). BUT!!! They were packed a day before!

I got a few pieces anyway, paid for the items, and left the supermarket. As I was driving home, I thought about what happened in the grocery store and my encounters with the taco shells, tomatoes, and corn. “What a failure. Wow. They were soooo HAPPY to serve! Right.”

 

JOY IN SERVING

As soon as I sarcastically commented on their service today, I recalled what I read and learned from Matthew 25:31-46 an hour before I went to the supermarket. I remember being reminded by God to put others before myself. To love and serve others and not remain in my selfishness. I even wrote down the acronym shared by our senior pastor at church many years ago: JOY. Jesus first. Others next. Then, You (myself).

I realized how ugly my heart was when I was feeling entitled and selfish the whole time at the grocery store. I wanted people to serve me. I wanted them to make things convenient for me. It was all about ME. But, in reality, everything about me and everything that I have is only by God’s grace.

Maybe the staff member who didn’t know where the taco shells were was new at his job. Maybe the staff member who shrugged me off at the tomato section had deadlines to meet (sacks of potatoes he needed to finish arranging by last night? I don’t know.). And maybe, the computer used to print the price tags of the corn just accidentally had the wrong date — that they didn’t mean to deceive the customers.

Immediately, I apologized to God for my selfish attitude and for how I allowed my anger and annoyance to brew even for just 30 minutes that night. As I surrendered it to God, I remembered the good points that I did see that night too. First, I still got to find the taco shells (at the chips and salsa section) thanks to another staff member. Second, the store sold headless shrimps, which was the kind of shrimp that I needed for kebabs. Third, the cashier lady double checked with me if I wanted to check my balance first before swiping my debit card.

After remembering these things, I thanked God for preparing my heart even before going to the grocery store and for allowing me to instantly experience first-hand what it means to serve others joyfully. Putting others before myself helps change my perspective and behavior. I may not be able to change how people behave or react. But, I can always choose to humbly serve and honor God and others in any situation.

Before I went to the grocery store, after reading Matthew 25, I even asked myself “How can you be a blessing to others? How can you genuinely serve?”

Last night, my older sister (Michelle), younger brother (Gabo), and I were supposed to eat out. But, we decided to spend time together at home instead. Ate Michelle graciously offered to pay for the grocery items and I helped by buying the ingredients and cooking dinner for the three of us. After dinner, Gabo secretly followed me to the kitchen where I was washing the dishes and he whispered “Thanks for cooking dinner!”. When he left, I smiled and thanked God for His grace.

We are all called to serve each other, even through the simplest ways. How can you serve others today? :)

Ready, Set, Go! My First 10K at Nat Geo Run 2017

“Again, Nicole. Why are you doing this? Hahaha.” I said this to myself many times while I was struggling through my training a few weeks ago. I was a beginner runner who recently accepted the challenge of running 10 kilometers for the first time in my life. Although signing up for the Nat Geo Run at the Mall of Asia this year was very exciting, I did not have any clue about the proper way to run, the best kind of diet for runners, or how to comfortably breathe while running. Nonetheless, one of the valuable lessons I’ve learned throughout this experience is the importance of finishing well no matter how difficult, heartbreaking, or tiring the process is.

After going through eleven 30 to 60-minute interval trainings in a span of six weeks, quick mentoring conversations with seasoned runners, various articles online about preparing for a run, fasting from Starbucks frappuccinos, and riding an emotional rollercoaster this month, by God’s grace, I was able to finish running (and occasionally briskwalking) 10 kilometers around Pasay city. For someone who enjoys working out by following instructors in workout videos, running a long distance race outside was a challenging yet refreshing treat. But, without a doubt, I will be joining the succeeding marathons in the coming years.

Until now, I still have a hangover from the recent running event. Even my body clock’s still pretty messed up too, since I needed to wake up at 2 am on the day of the run. However, because it was a memorable experience, I’ll be sharing some of the highlights for me as I prepared and ran in this year’s Nat Geo Run. Hopefully, this will encourage you to willingly welcome challenges and faith-stretching moments not only in marathons, but in life as well.

 

BEFORE THE RACE:

1. Interval Trainings

For beginner runners, it is advisable to train at least once a week for 5K and at least three times a week for 10K. In my case, I used an app called “Running” which suggests a training plan recommended for a specific distance that I’m training for. The plan I used for six weeks started with 30-minute interval trainings which then progressed to 40-minute, 50-minute, and 60-minute trainings. The interval training I did consisted of both running and briskwalking.

2. Healthier Diet

I have to admit that I wasn’t strict in maintaining a healthy diet throughout the 6-week training. However, I did let go of one major unnecessary drink which eventually helped me jog and run better. Yes, I gave up my Kryptonite, Starbucks Frappuccinos. Surprisingly, after removing this from my diet, I didn’t crave for it anymore even until today. It does help to lessen calories and sugar especially if it won’t be beneficial to the body. I also was intentional in adding more fruits and vegetables to my meals and in taking in more than 2 liters of water everyday.

3. Support System

It also encouraged me to be surrounded by family and friends who cheered me on from the start of my training up until the race day itself. At first, I was already satisfied with running for 5 kilometers, but, one of my closest friends challenged me to do 10K instead. Also, my very supportive sisters woke me up at 2am on the day of the race to make sure that I wouldn’t be late.

 

DURING THE RACE:

1. Minding my Own Pace

I could sense how eager everyone was when we started to run. A bunch of happy and motivated 10K runners were determined to finish the race. However, after 10 minutes, I began to notice changes in the crowd. Some were slowing down, some were sprinting, others were lining up in the portable restrooms along the way, while others maintained their original speed. There were times when others would run faster than me and I would notice my legs running more quickly. Other times, when I would run beside runners who breathed heavily and were obviously very tired, I would somehow feel weighed down too. It was very interesting to see how quickly I accelerated or slowed down when I focused on the pace of other runners. But, when I decided to look ahead and run at a pace that worked for me, it freed me from feeling pressured and anxious.

2. Finding Strength in Weakness

Two weeks before the race day, I wasn’t doing well. Because of a number of difficult personal concerns that I needed to deal with, I wasn’t able to continue my training. As a result, I didn’t even have the appetite to eat for two weeks and my mind wandered off a couple of times in a day because of my distress. However, a few days before the marathon, God reminded me of the weeks of training that I did before and how I shouldn’t give up on it. He also showed me how it is still possible to run 10K despite having a weak body and spirit – by His strength which is magnified in my weakness. Not because of my ability to run, but because of His grace for me. I did show up that day and I did my best to finish the race.

Interestingly, while I was halfway through the race, I saw a man who was briskwalking while holding two walking sticks. I wasn’t sure if he was blind, but I was very much inspired by his determination to finish the race in spite of having a physical disability. God used that moment to encourage me to continue persevering even during difficult moments in life. There’s really no room for excuses. It just boils down to making a choice, either to give in to our weakness or to persevere as we trust in God who is able to help us finish well despite our weakness.

3. Stopping Over

There were about four water and Gatorade stations all throughout the 10K route. Those stations were my second favorite part of the race. My first favorite part is of course, the finish line. Haha. I still remember how I felt every time I saw the water station from afar. Just a small cup of cold water or Gatorade reenergizes and gives you an extra boost to go farther. I probably would not have finished well if I did not drink every 2 or 3 kilometers. (Thank you, sponsors: Summit and Gatorade. Although, for the next events, the event organizers may want to add more waste bins.)

4. Documenting Progress

Another thing that helped me persevere was being reminded of my progress along the way. The app that I was using, Running, was updating me every time I reached a kilometer. For me, I needed it because it gave me a bigger picture of the progress I’ve made so far. It also served as a slow countdown for me. I remember struggling through the first 3-4 kilometers, but when I saw the sign that showed “5K”, I started to feel more motivated. Then, I struggled again during the 6-7K run, but when I heard from the app that I already reached 8 and 9 kilometers, it didn’t seem that difficult anymore.

5. Encouraging Others

I already ran 9 kilometers by the time a random runner was sprinting ahead of us. He caught my attention because as he was sprinting, he joyfully exclaimed “Konti na lang!! Kaya natin ito!!”. In English, he said: “Just a few more meters!! We can do this!!”. The runners near me and I started to smile and laugh when we heard him say those words. But, looking back, it was really an encouraging moment for all of us. Even though the man was surrounded by strangers, that didn’t stop him from encouraging others to finish well with him. What a nice picture of our last few moments in the race. Before we knew it, we were already at the finish line! How I hope to encourage others to finish well too.

After the marathon, I spent time walking around to cool myself down and I expressed my gratitude to the Lord for a fun and meaningful experience for me. It was then that I realized how He graciously allowed me to enjoy preparing for and joining the race.

I arrived at the assembly line three minutes before the gunstart time.

I was able to witness interesting moments during the race.

I was able to feel the familiar pains and joys while I was running as I remembered all those nights of training.

I was even given the privilege of having a nice photo taken by one of the photographers at the event. (Thank you, Mr. Photographer, for capturing that one second of me giving two thumbs up while I was running in front of you. Awesome shutter speed and skills. Haha)

I was also able to enjoy freebies after the run, including a baby cup of Starbucks Frappuccino (how ironic!).

What a lovely first run! If it isn’t obvious yet, I really enjoyed it. Somehow, I feel that God really wanted me to still run and finish the race even though I wasn’t feeling well (in many aspects) a few days before the event. I’m glad I decided to push through because I would have missed out on His blessings and the many things I shared with you if I didn’t go. It is only by His grace that I was able to get out of bed at 2 in the morning and go through the activity that day. Now, I am even more encouraged to keep on persevering and trusting that even in my weakness, God can still help me start and finish the things that He wants me to accomplish, for His glory.

The verse that encouraged me to press on during the race:

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” –Philippians 3:13-14

As long as you’re still breathing, it’s not too late to try. It’s not too late to trust God as you grow through challenges and finish well. You just have to choose to do it.

Well…

Ready, set, go!

When You Love the Lord More

Three months ago, I was on the floor playing with our schnauzer when I overheard my parents’ conversation as they were having dinner. They were brainstorming about their action steps toward a certain issue which involved a temptation to do something which wouldn’t bring glory to God. If we think about it, that specific action wasn’t really a big problem. In fact, if we look at the world today, unfortunately, it has been a common practice by many. But clearly, that night, my parents did not have peace about it.

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I don’t think they knew that I heard what they were talking about but because I was only a meter away, I did hear everything. After five minutes, my mom said “I told the people involved that it wouldn’t be right and pleasing to God if we did that action step. Even if it is more convenient to do it, I know that this would not honor God.”

My dad then encouraged her and said “It’s good that you were able to say that to them. I agree with you. We should follow the standard procedures even if it would mean incurring additional costs, etc. Praise God, Darl!”

Their voices faded in the background as I continued to play with our dog. “What a relief!” I thought to myself. “It would have been very difficult if one or both of them wanted to do what wasn’t glorifying to God.”

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I learned a few things that night:

1. FUTURE PARTNER – For us single ladies, when praying for a partner to marry, it is crucial to choose someone who loves the Lord more than you, himself, or anything in this world. When someone loves the Lord more, by God’s grace, everything he will say, do, and think of will be for the glory of God. This desire and act of obedience will be out of the overflow of his love for the Lord. As a result, he will not only resist sin and pursue righteousness, but he will also lead his wife to pursue this and God as well.

In the same way, if we are given the privilege of becoming wives in the future, we must constantly build them up and encourage our husbands to continue loving the Lord and fleeing from sin.

2. ACCOUNTABILITY – Communication is key. Even if my parents have been married for more than 30 years, they still talk to each other and discuss concerns together. I learned that this is not only healthy for the relationship, but it also acts as an accountabilty system for a husband and his wife. Through this, they can process the situation together and encourage each other to become better for the Lord.

3. PERSONAL GROWTH IN THE LORD – Yes, it is only by God’s grace that we can say no to temptations and pursue God. But, I am learning that we still need to be intentional in growing in our walk with God; in abiding in His word. How can we obey someone we don’t trust and respect? How can we trust and respect someone we don’t know? How can we live for the Lord if we don’t even know who He really is? If we don’t study His word and accept Him as our personal Lord and Savior?

“Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” -Matthew‬ ‭22:37-38‬

We can do this! By God’s grace, let us love the Lord more each day. :)

12 Highlights of My 2016

“Sometimes, you will not know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” –Dr. Seuss

In the recent years, I have learned to appreciate both the little and big things more. By God’s grace, I noticed how I do not hesitate to say a word of encouragement or give others a pat on the back whenever I appreciate them. One of the major reasons why I do these is because I know that I will not live forever here on earth. In the same way, the people around me will eventually pass away. So, while I still have the opportunity to do so, I do my best to encourage and share God’s love and grace to others.

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The past year (2016) has been a crazy experience for me. It was the most liberating and humbling year I have had so far and I can only thank the Lord for watching over and working in and through me these past twelve months. I usually write down the highlights of my year in my journal. But today, I decided to share the highlights with you as well. I hope that through these memories (documented in photos), you would be encouraged to remember the goodness and grace of Jesus.

The twelve highlights of my 2016 that I am grateful for:

 1. PHOTOGRAPHY CLASSES

I had my first DSLR camera last September 2015, but I honestly did not know how to use the settings wisely. By God’s grace, He allowed me to enroll in a 5-day workshop (whole day workshop every Saturday) which helped me understand principles and various applications in photography. Commuting to Intramuros and attending classes in a room full of strangers was not a walk in the park for me. But, through this experience, I grew in my knowledge and skills in taking photos. Also, it was very humbling to be corrected by our professors and fellow classmates. I look forward to developing my skills and exploring photography more this 2017.

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2. PASTRY ARTS CLASSES

After stalling for many years, I finally invested in a short course on pastry arts. It consumed my Saturdays for three months last year, but it was worth the time, money, and effort. I saw what my strong and weak spots were in baking and I had the opportunities to develop and improve on them throughout the duration of the course.

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3. PRAYER MOUNTAIN WITH DGROUP

Last March 2016, I spent two days on a prayer mountain with my discipler and accountability partner, Ate Kriszel and Christine. If I could choose only one highlight for 2016, it would be that afternoon under a huge mango tree where I poured out my heart to those ladies. It was my first time to share my complete testimony to them (which encouraged me to share it to my family as well, a few days later). The testimony of how sinful I was before, how God’s grace worked in my heart and changed my life, and how He continues to prune me so I could grow even more. If you’re reading this, Ate K and Tin, I just want you to know that I really appreciate you both.

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4. BIBLE STUDIES WITH COLLEAGUES

We were not able to meet up weekly for the whole year of 2016. But, for the months that we had bible studies and small group accountability sessions with each other, we did experience God’s grace. Having a small group in the office not only encouraged me to be more intentional in my walk with God, but it also served as a constant reminder for me to pursue excellence for Him in the workplace.

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5. WORKSHOP ON WRITING YOUR STORY

My friend and I had the privilege of attending a workshop by Joy Tan-Chi Mendoza (author of “When a Good God Allows Rape”) last August 2016. It was entitled “Writing Your Story”. This is one highlight for me because it helped me process the experiences I have had since I was young and see how God can use my testimony or story to encourage others as well. That night also sparked a desire in my heart to be more intentional in praying for others.

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Thursday Tune #34: You Carry Me by Moriah Peters

6. COURAGEOUS LIGHT POSTCARDS

I rarely join contests online. But, last year, I was encouraged to submit original artworks to Courageous Caitie for their new project: Courageous Light postcards. I was not able to help Caitie financially while she was still in the hospital, so when they shared their concept for the postcards that will be used to share God’s word and encouragement to others, I did not hesitate to join. By God’s grace, two of my photos were selected and are now part of the merchandise being sold to help raise funds for other children with illness who need financial support. This experience helped me realize that even in our weakness, God can use us and the skills that He has blessed us with for His glory.

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7. GARDENING FIRSTS

It was my first time to plant and grow the ff. vegetables last 2016: Melon, Okra, Pechay, Lettuce, and Eggplant. Hooray for veggie milestones and organic urban gardening!

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8. SINGAPORE TRIP

This was my first out-of-the-country trip without my family. If I could summarize my trip in Singapore with some of my college friends, it would be like riding a rollercoaster. Hahaha. We experienced going through really good, crazy, and fun times and difficult and emotional ones as well. But, looking back, we saw how the trip helped us get to know each other more and see our own blind spots too.

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9. CLIMBING MT. MACULOT

During the first 30 minutes of the climb, I was starting to give up. Haha! But, by God’s grace, He gave me and my friends the strength to press on and finish the climb. This was the first mountain I climbed and although it had a rocky trail, the experience we had and the views we witnessed were breathtaking. It was such a good and thrilling moment to see God’s wonders 706 meters above sea level. I will definitely climb more in the near future.

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10. QUALITY FAMILY TIMES

Our family made a commitment this year to be more intentional in the way we spend time with each other and with God’s word. By God’s grace, we have been doing our best to meet up every Saturday night to study the Bible together and update each other with our current struggles and victories. We are also trying out a new action step to have dates with each other (e.g. Parents with one child; one sibling with another sibling; all girls; all boys, etc.). Please do pray for us, if you remember? It is our family’s desire to continue growing in love with the Lord and with each other.

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11. BOLD ACTS FOR AN INTROVERT

Some of my friends may not agree with this statement, but I really am an introvert. Hahaha. I do not need to be surrounded by a lot of people or activities for my heart to be filled or energized. I am very happy even in my alone times doing some of my favorite things such as photography, culinary-related tasks, small group or one-on-one conversations, etc. But, this year, I saw how God helped me get out of my comfort zone and initiate and participate in doing activities that an introvert does not usually do or enjoy doing. Haha. Some examples that I can think of: Spearheading a chorale group and rapping in front of the whole company during our Christmas party; recording my first original composition and publishing it on Youtube; being more friendly to others by initiating conversations in person; and a lot more.

Yes, these kinds of activities may not always fill my introverted heart. But through these, God encourages me to enjoy the moments and trust that He can use it for the good and for His glory.

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12. REDISCOVERING COURTSHIP

For four years (2011-2015), I have not considered or entertained the idea of dating and courtship for a number of reasons. It was during those years that God worked in my heart and helped me see my security and value in Him and not in a relationship. It was also during that time that God impressed on my heart to start this blog, flourish at work, and grow in my walk with Him. So, really, I did not see the need or desire for courtship. However, last 2016, God started to work in my heart and He encouraged me to start considering it again. As I welcome 2017, I am encouraged to continue trusting and surrendering this to the Lord and to do my part as I grow in knowledge, wisdom, skills, character, and obedience to His Word.

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Thank You, Lord, for the memories we have had in 2016. I cannot wait to grow even more in my walk with You this 2017.

“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” –Lamentations 3:22-23

Hello, 2017! :)