12 Highlights of My 2018

I almost forgot that I had an annual tradition of listing down twelve highlights of my year, which started last 2016. Hahaha. As long as I am alive, I plan to continue this simple way of remembering God’s faithfulness and grace every year. If I could summarize my 2018 in a few Bible verses, it would be Jeremiah 17:7-8, which says:

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

I chose these verses not because I was similar to the tree in the passage (believe me, I struggled with worries and insecurities big time last year!), but because of its humbling reminder that God IS all I need. He is THE ONE whom I should trust in both the highlights and hurdles of my life.

Here are the 12 Highlights of my 2018:

 

1. MEETING BOYCE AVENUE… AGAIN!

Boyce Avenue is my favorite acoustic band. By God’s grace, He has been allowing me to experience faith-stretching moments during their concerts in Manila since 2013. Last June 2018, I attended another concert and met the band for the fourth time! Yay! More details HERE.

2. NOVA

2017 was a challenging time for me because I saw my savings decrease more and more due to major car repairs. After much prayer and waiting, God provided a better, secondhand vehicle for me last 2018. Thanks to my dad and older brother, it was sold at a very reasonable price and with gracious terms of payment. I also had the privilege of dedicating my Innova (“Nova”) and myself (as the driver) to the Lord last year. It served as a reminder for me to use this blessing for His glory.

 

3. PROMOTION & LDP GRADUATION

By God’s grace, I graduated from our company’s Leadership Development Program and Toastmaster’s club last year. Also, He gave me the privilege of being promoted before the year ended — something that I did not expect!

 

4. MY 10,000TH DAY ON EARTH

A close friend of mine and I had a conversation last August 2017 and we ended up talking about reaching milestones, including the number of days we’ve been alive. When we computed mine, we realized that my 10,000th day on earth would be on the 3rd day of May 2018. I celebrated it with a cup of my favorite Frappuccino and a weekend getaway with the Lord!

 

5. ISLAND HOPPING & ROADTRIPS

Two travels last year that delighted my heart: 1) ISLAND HOPPING: Bacolod-Iloilo-Gigantes-Guimaras and 2) ROADTRIP: Pampanga-Dagupan-Bolinao-Bulacan. I went with my awesome former and current colleagues, respectively. It sparked my love for culture, nature, food, photography, and our Creator!

 

6. NEW DISCIPLESHIP GROUP & MENTORS

I ended my 2017 with a broken heart because my small group (discipleship group) of 15 years at church dissolved. Most of my dgroupmates already got married and my discipler moved to Davao for work. So, we only get to keep in touch online. However, in God’s perfect timing, He introduced me to a warm and fun new small group who loves Jesus! I praise God for my mentors, Tim & Kina, and for the blessing of being accountable to the rest of the group, as we encourage each other to grow in love and obedience to God and His word.

 

7. GARDENING MILESTONES

By God’s grace, He allowed me to grow the best bunch of cherry tomatoes I’ve grown since I started gardening a decade ago. He also helped me experience the struggles and joys of growing chili (siling labuyo), which I brought home from my Bacolod trip. This plant produced at least 800 pcs. of sili (and counting), which I shared to family and friends. Growing this plant was very timely too because of the unexpected price increase of sili last year (Php 1000/kilo). I also grew more sili seedlings and gave them to some friends. Last but not the least, I enjoyed growing stalks of pechay in our veranda.

 

8. MUSIC MILESTONES

When the Lord inspired my heart, He gave me the privilege of composing two full songs and a few more songs with pending stanzas. He also allowed me to busk (thanks to Jello!) and play/sing one of my original songs in public for the very first time in BGC. Lastly, God gave me the honor of singing at a bridal march of a colleague and a special number in a wedding of my close accountability partner. Both ladies are named Tin. Haha!

 

9. BIBLE STUDY GROUP IN THE OFFICE

By God’s grace, I took a leap of faith and started a Bible study small group in the office where I shared Jesus and His word to my colleagues. We met every Thursday night since April 2018 and it has been such a joy for me to get to know each of them more and to learn with them as we prayed and studied God’s word. More details HERE..

 

10. DIGGING DEEP AT THE PRAYER MOUNTAIN

My not-so-secret getaway is definitely a highlight for my 2018. If it wasn’t for this venue where I could be alone with God and nature, I probably would not have had the opportunities to quiet myself, find rest in Him, pray for my concerns, listen to Him without being distracted, and see the areas in my life that I needed to surrender completely. I went to the prayer mountain at least 10 times last year and slept for a night or two each time. More details HERE..

 

11. FAMILY MILESTONES

It was a colorful year for our family and I can only thank the Lord for His faithfulness and grace in each milestone that we had. 1) My older brother’s marriage, 2) My eldest sister’s engagement, 3) Our whole family’s US Visas getting approved, 4) My first niece / our parent’s first grandchild, 5) Our first time to wear costumes as a family on my 28th, and 6) My older sister’s 30th!

 

12. A YEAR WITHOUT SOCIAL MEDIA

It was only by the grace of God that I, a former addict of social media, survived the year without it! I learned so much through this humbling experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone who’s struggling as well. More details HERE..

 

By God’s grace, I have survived another year and I look forward to seeing Him move beautifully and mightily again this 2019. :)

Digging Deep on My 28th Birthday

Last Sunday, I celebrated my 28th year on Earth. Twenty-eight years. I still can’t believe it. Growing up, I used to imagine huge milestones happening in my life past 25 years old. But here I am, pretty much the same younger me, with more responsibilities, new found friends, and broken and grace-filled moments to reminisce on. A colleague asked me how I wanted to celebrate my birthday this year and two things immediately popped in my mind: Time and Words. These are the top two love languages that I treasure the most and I desired to feel God’s love through them on my birthday.

I have this natural desire to help others feel special on their birthdays or on any occasion. I still don’t know why the Lord allowed me to have this trait and yearning in me, but every time it happens, I get fired up! My mind begins to spark with creative ideas. I end up coordinating with people and going the extra mile (sometimes, even literally) to get materials or even cakes and gifts. And on some occasions, by God’s grace, I effortlessly am able to produce songs or poems for family or friends. Just two nights ago, when one of my close friends celebrated her birthday, instead of sending her the usual greeting, I ended up composing a short, three-stanza poem for her which made her cry. Hahaha!

I really don’t know. Sometimes, I do feel that it comes off as being extra, which unintentionally puts pressure on others around me. But another part of me wonders why I become conscious about it, when it honestly just feels like something I was made to do. Whatever this is, I know that it is only by the grace of God that I am able to do this and if it does allow others to feel the love of God, then maybe I shouldn’t overthink. But, if it doesn’t, then, I pray that the Lord would give me wisdom.

The downside, however, of doing and being what I just shared is that, at times, I sincerely wish I would someday get to experience it too. Not on the giver’s side, but on the receiving end. Sometimes, I hope others would also go the extra mile, buy me flowers or a cake, gather family or friends and throw a surprise birthday for me, or intentionally spend time and talk with me over my favorite Frappuccino, without feeling any pressure to do so. It’s not something that I often think about, but it does cross my mind every time I celebrate my birthday. This year, it was a humbling moment for me to realize that because I decided to stay offline (away from Facebook and other social media apps), more people WILL NOT remember my birthday. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, I do cherish moments when people would spend time with me or say words of encouragement to me. So, I thought that less people remembering it meant having less chances of experiencing these two love languages.

As expected, on my birthday, only a few family and friends greeted me. I did feel mini heartbreaks when I realized that some close friends forgot about it. But, at the same time, God graciously humbled my heart and renewed my thoughts and emotions throughout that day. It started when I read Ephesians 6:10-20 in the morning and the Lord reminded me of the importance of putting on the full armor of God. What struck me in the passage was verse 17 which says: “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” It was crystal clear that God was showing me where I should place my security – not in the words of men; but in His words, promises, and truths which are found in the Bible. I also felt the love of the Lord when He reminded me of my worth and salvation in Him.

By God’s grace, starting the day with His word helped me kick off the lies and discouragements that tried to attack me that day. God even allowed me to enjoy spending the first few hours of my morning at one of my favorite places – Farmer’s Market, where I bought ingredients for our family’s dinner later that day. He also gave me the strength to go to church after, despite having a messed up body clock and sore muscles that week. Moreover, even though some of my family members were out of town that weekend, they all made it to my birthday dinner at home!

 

As I was driving from the grocery store to our house before my birthday dinner, I had a moment with the Lord, which went something like this:

“Lord, in a little while, I’ll be celebrating my gardening-themed birthday dinner at home. I don’t know if all my family members could make it, but it would be nice to spend time with them tonight. I humble myself before you and acknowledge that I have been selfish in my thoughts. I wanted others to remember my birthday. I wanted others to greet me with words of affirmation. I wanted everyone and anything else but You, Jesus. Still, You never gave up on me. It’s pretty cool that my birthday theme tonight will be about gardening, remembering some of the vegetables I grew, and digging deep, because that’s what you allowed me to experience all throughout the year! Both in the garden and in my heart!

Because I was offline, you helped me have more time to dig deep in your word while I was at home, in a coffee shop, or in the mountain. You helped me dig deep in my relationships with family members, friends, and colleagues. So, Lord, even though I may not receive the time and words that I originally longed for from others around me, I am reminded that YOU ARE ENOUGH. In fact, it says in Isaiah 40:8 and Matthew 24:35 that YOUR words will never fade away. So, why should I long for others? Lord, I hold on to Your words. Lord, I hold on to You today.”

I ended my birthday singing praises to the Lord, as He filled my heart with joy and thanksgiving. It has been twenty-eight years of brokenness and grace. As long as I am still breathing here on Earth, I pray that the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart will be pleasing to the Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

Here are some more photos from my birthday celebration at home. I asked my family to dress up as the vegetables I planted and organic fertilizer I used through the years. I have to say, they did a pretty amazing job! Hahaha. Thanks, family, for being intentional in preparing for and celebrating my birthday with me. Introducing: The Corn family, Hot Chili, Gardener, Eggplant, Broccoli, Carrot, and Chicken poop fertilizer.

Oh, and did you notice my healthy Carrot “cake”? :D

(Special thanks to my sister, Camille, for her calligraphy skills and for helping me set-up; Gabo & Monica, for the free Milk tea & for helping me prepare the fruit kebabs; my parents, for sponsoring our main course; and our help Pajean, for taking our photo!)

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!

 

It’s Time to Go and Grow

There is something amusing about growing sweet corn in the city, or at least, attempting to. Haha! It feels weird, challenging, and fulfilling at the same time. Since the summer of 2015, I have tried to grow corn in our container bed three times. The first time produced the best results, the second time became a bit of a struggle because of the stormy weather, and the most recent one was, well… a product of grace.

 

I say this because I was not intentional in giving the seedlings organic fertilizer during its first month. So, when I finally gave the plants fertilizer, they grew fast! They grew so fast that the pollens were produced before the ear of the corn. In a normal cycle, the ear of corn and its hair must appear first, so that when the pollens appear, the hair can be pollinated.

It was very unusual of me because most of the time, I give my best efforts whenever I grow my plants. Just a few days ago, honestly, I was expecting only 10 kernels on each ear of corn, but by God’s grace, He allowed them to grow more. Whew! Although, the ears did not fully develop as you will notice in the photos below. This is obviously a consequence of my earlier actions.

 

Thankfully, in the Philippines, it is still a good time to start new corn seedlings since the next few months would not be as rainy as the previous ones. With this, I’ll be planting five more seeds this December and hopefully, by March 2018, plump ears of corn will be ready for harvest. Just so I can be accountable to you, this time, I will not be lazy or forget to fertilize during its early stages. I just purchased a sack of chicken manure for my plants. So, really, I have no excuses. But, if you remember, please remind me in the coming weeks? Haha!

 

In a way, it was a humbling experience for me to grow corn for the third time. I know that this is just one of my hobbies, but it does teach me to become more responsible and proactive with my actions. Gardening, through the years, has helped me appreciate the importance of patience and hope because it does take time and faith to wait and believe that the plants will grow and bear fruit. However, I am reminded that producing the results that I hope for would not happen if I sit and wait for things to unfold. I still need to be intentional in doing my part and in learning from my shortcomings.

Okay, Nic. You can do this! It’s time to go… and grow!