My Starbucks Confession

I’d like to confess something that some of you may already know about me…

I like going to Starbucks.😅

It started when I fell in love with their frappuccinos back in college, even if I did not (and still do not) have a sweet tooth. This love grew when I realized that I could have quality, quiet times in this coffee shop! My introverted self was overjoyed! Starbucks is usually expensive and unhealthy for my body, but ironically, it has been very good for my heart. I can’t even count the number of times the Lord has spoken to me thru His word, broken me, and revealed Himself to me in the various Starbucks shops I’ve stayed at before. There were moments when I would even cry quietly or write songs and poems and not have a care in the world. It has been a safe space for me.

During my quiet time last February 25, 2018, when I was struggling with insecurities, I was encouraged to be intentional in reminding myself of my identity in Christ. Each time I bought a drink in Starbucks, I decided to ask the barista to write one identity on it. Every time they finished preparing my drink, they would call out: “One Java Chip frappuccino for REDEEMED!” or “One Black Tea with Ruby Grapefruit & Honey for FORGIVEN!” …and I would receive it!

It was awkward at first, because the baristas usually gave me a confused look whenever I asked them to write these down. But as time passed by, my barista friends got used to it that even before I said my order, they would ask me in advance, “Hi Nicole! What would be your name for today? :)”

It was a really good way for me to remember my name — WHO I AM — my identity in Jesus! I am forgiven, redeemed, free, never alone, new, beautiful, accepted, alive, and many more! It fueled the desire in me to keep on digging deep in God’s word and seeing myself through His eyes. By God’s grace, this “Starbucks Identity Cups” experience even gave me the opportunities to engage in conversations about the Bible with the baristas that serve my drinks.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” -Colossians 2:6-7 

This afternoon, I was tempted to dwell on my insecurities again. I asked the Lord why He was still allowing me to have them despite me knowing and believing the truth, and even experiencing Him in my life. I didn’t get a specific answer from Him, but somehow, I did feel peace in my heart as I recalled how these insecurities have helped me to run towards Him and His word each time I hurt and fall. I felt the Lord shifting my focus on my struggle and what I can do to overcome it, to who He is and what Jesus, my Lord and Savior, has already done for me when He died and rose again. It reminded me of John 16:33 where it says:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

It has been a year since I started the Starbucks Identity Cups and I am still attacked by insecurities and worries every now and then. But, Jesus has always been constant, faithful, and gracious. And because He is who He is, I will fix my eyes on Him and trust that He will finish the work that He started in my heart. I pray that I will indeed stay rooted and find my true security and identity in Christ alone.

Since this isn’t the healthiest way, I am praying that I will be able to be more resourceful in finding other shops or spots where I can journal and dig deep without being distracted. But until then, I will most likely visit this coffee shop. (Please feel free to give suggestions. :) )

Will This Bring Me Closer To You?

I always tell my siblings how much our pomeranian, Copper, likes me. Whenever I get the chance to bond with him, he stays beside me and licks me continuously! Also, 99% of the time, he comes to me when I ask him to. But, my all-time favorite moment with him happens during our walks at the park. Whenever he’s more than a meter away, he would look back at me, see me squat on the ground, run towards me, and pounce his tiny bear-like body on my legs. Afterwards, he would sit under me like a baby penguin sits under its parent.

Most of the time, his clinginess is adorable. But, there are moments when I just want him to stay still or stay at a distance from me. For example, yesterday, I brought him to the groomers so he could have his overdue haircut. Instead of sitting on the passenger’s seat, he jumped to me and attempted to sit on my lap for the whole ride. I knew I could get in trouble for this because it was a distraction while I was driving. So, I did my best to softly push him to sit still on the chair beside me.

After his grooming, I picked him up and drove back home. Again, he wouldn’t stop going near me. So, I thought of a compromise. I allowed him to sit on my left leg as I leaned it on the driver’s door. This made him feel at ease and I was still able to turn the wheel without him blocking me. However, in the future, I would need a better plan.

Nonetheless, I do enjoy hanging out with Copper. Even if there are other spaces on my bed, whenever he’s on it, he positions his body beside mine. Whenever I lay down on the floor, he would go out of his “cave” (a.k.a. the space below my bed) and sit beside me. It warms my heart to know that he trusts me and chooses to be close to me.

This scenario reminded me of how the Lord is pleased when I choose to draw near to Him too. It says in Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Also, contrary to how I sometimes feel towards Copper’s clinginess, the Lord will never push us away when we seek Him. In fact, James 4:8 shows us that God will draw near to us when we draw near to Him.

In a way, this was a timely reminder for me because I have been dealing with a lot of major decisions lately. But by God’s grace, He has been helping me process my concerns with His Word, godly counsel, and prayer. Also, as I was pouring my heart out on my journal last night, I found myself writing these down:

“When faced with a difficult decision, Nicole, ask yourself this question: ‘Will this decision bring me closer to Jesus or farther away from Him?’”

“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. Because your love is BETTER than life, my lips will glorify you.” -Psalm 63:1,3

Can I honestly say these verses from my heart?

Do I enjoy God’s presence in my life?

Does my heart yearn for him, thirst for Him, run to him, trust him, and abide in Him and His word in every season of my life?

Do I like what God likes? Do I hate what He hates?

Do I pursue what He wants me to prioritize now?

Do I seek and love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength?

Or do I give him my leftover minutes in a day? And linger in my doubt, laziness, distractions, pride, worry, and desire for treasures that will fade away?

If I think about choosing a decision, no matter how big or small, that will take me or others farther away from the Lord, I would immediately need to have my heart and motives checked and renewed by Him. Because it just wouldn’t make sense. WHAT OR WHO COULD BE BETTER THAN JESUS?

NOTHING! NO ONE!

Copper chooses to be as close to me as possible all the time. If my dog can do that to me, how much more should I have the desire and will to draw closer to Jesus? It boils down to making a choice… and choosing Him every single time will only be by His grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit in me.

Courageous Caitie Launches Courageous Light

“There are moments that the words don’t reach. There is suffering too terrible to name. You hold your child as tight as you can and push away the unimaginable.”

These lines were taken from Lin Miranda’s song “It’s Quiet Uptown” from the American musical, Hamilton. I’ve been listening to the album for a few weeks now and I always take a deep sigh whenever I hear this particular song. In this tune, the main characters grieve over the loss of their child and other disheartening situations they experienced. It showed the reality of pain and how we feel and deal with it.

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (17)

 

I then remembered the story and life of  Courageous Caitie and how her parents (Jay Jay and Tine Lucas) and family shared their hearts, lives, and experiences to us earlier this year.

Their three-year old daughter, Caitie, was diagnosed last March 2016 with Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia (JMML), a rare cancer of the blood affecting infants and toddlers. Last March 30, her family posted an update on Courageous Caitie’s Facebook page which said: “Today our daughter has gone to Jesus already.”

courageous caitie 2

It has been been quite a roller-coaster ride for the Lucas family these past few months. But, by the grace of God, they still continue to share God’s love, goodness, grace, and power to people from all over the world. One of the many opportunities that God has given the Lucas family is a movement that aims to help families of children with illnesses find God’s hope and purpose. Last Saturday, their family launched this movement called “Courageous Light”.

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (1)

It was a privilege for me to witness the family gather relatives, friends, and strangers at the Gateway Mall Activity Center where they celebrated the life and legacy of Caitie. Here are some of the highlights of the launch last weekend:

 

1. STAR WARS – Star Wars characters showed a demo of how they used their lightsabers. The men and women part of the groups, The 501st Legion and FightSaber, also visit children in hospitals to help share the joy. They joined Caitie in distributing materials and visiting other kids in the hospital a few months ago too. (In the photo below: Jay Jay Lucas and Lem Enriquez hosting the event)

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (2)

 

2. VIDEOS – Videos of Caitie and her parents and family were shared to the audience. These videos included the first birthday of Caitie, hospital visits, interviews of her parents, wake services in the Philippines and in Singapore, and compilations of photos.

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (3)

 

3. GOD’S WORD – Mr. John Ong shared God’s Word and what it means to have Jesus in our hearts and lives; to have Him as our personal Lord and Savior.

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (6)

 

4. GALLERY OF PHOTOS – The family showcased a beautiful gallery of Caitie and their family. From the time she was born up until her heartwarming moments in the hospital with her parents, brother, and relatives. They also shared some of Caitie’s artworks, clothes, shoes, and things by displaying them on two tables (covered in glass) inside the activity center.

courageous caitie

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (8)

 

5. LIGHT CEREMONY – The couple distributed cupcakes to those who were in the activity center and they encouraged everyone to participate in blowing the candles to celebrate Caitie’s birthday. In the video below, you’ll hear how Jay Jay shared that the light represents Jesus and that it was their desire to encourage more and more people to keep on sharing the light (Jesus) to those around us.

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (5)

 

6. GOSPEL TREES – They posted large photos of painted trees without leaves. It was the task of the participants to paint the leaves using their fingertips. There were five trees in that area which represented these: HEAVEN (Yellow), OUR SINS (Black), GOD’S LOVE FOR US (Red), , NEW LIFE IN CHRIST (White), and GROWTH (Green). This gallery shared about God’s love, hope, and salvation for us.

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (9)

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (14)

 

7. COURAGEOUS LIGHT POSTCARDS – These postcards are printed Bible verses illustrated by different Filipino artists to remind us of the power of God’s Word. There were 100 selected postcards that were divided into four volumes. One volume is being sold at Php 495 each. The proceeds from these postcards will be used to fund materials for hospital visits and other events that can help families support their children with illnesses. They also sell other merchandise like notebooks, toys, shirts, etc.

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (18)

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (13)

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (16)

 

8. COURAGEOUS LIGHT VOLUNTEERS (a.k.a. Troopers) – The people who worked behind the scenes; those who helped with the program, posters, artworks, decorations, set-up of photos displayed, preparation of materials and merchandise, lights and sounds; the prayer warriors, those who committed to join the team in their hospital visits; and many more. Everyone did a great job! Praise God!

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (7)

While I was going around the activity center during the event, I caught glimpses of the couple and how they interacted with friends and strangers. Some of the guests who went there brought their child/children with illnesses to seek comfort from Jay Jay and Tine. It was very heartwarming to see the couple graciously welcome, encourage, and share Jesus to them that afternoon. They continued to point to Jesus for the source of joy, hope, peace, and security even during difficult moments. WOW.

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (11)

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (10)

Just before I went to another part of the gallery, I saw that the couple was being interviewed by one of the reporters in the area. As I watched them eagerly share, I thought to myself “Wow. Many years ago, they wouldn’t have imagined going through what they went through these past three years. But, despite the pain and loss, God’s love, hope, and grace continues to shine through the hearts and lives of the Lucas family. Even though I don’t get to communicate with them often, I am very much encouraged by them to keep my eyes on Christ even if I stumble or go through major bumps along the way.

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (12)

“You hold your child as tight as you can and push away the unimaginable.” [The Musical: Hamilton]

In the case of the Lucas family, they aren’t pushing away the unimaginable. By God’s grace, they are going through it; witnessing God’s hand at work in the lives of hundreds of thousands who are being blessed by their testimony of God’s goodness. And this new movement that they are starting is just the beginning of another opportunity to share Jesus to the world. Thank you, Lucas family, for continuously stepping out in faith and trusting in the Lord. I pray that He would embrace you, give you wisdom, strengthen you, keep you from falling into pride or sin, and guide you as you honor Him with the resources He has blessed you with.

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (4)

“Don’t let your lights go down. Don’t let your fire burn out.
‘Cause somewhere, somebody needs a reason to believe

So when you get the chance, are you gonna take it?
There’s a really big world at your fingertips and you know you have the chance to change it.”

-Britt Nicole’s “The Lost Get Found”

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” –Ephesians 3:20-21

 

The gallery will be displayed at the Gateway Mall Activity Center until August 13, 2016. But, for the succeeding Saturdays (until Sept. 3), there will be activities for parents and kids. Feel free to drop by! For more details, you may visit the Facebook pages of Courageous Caitie and Today with the Lucas!

My Boss’ Wedding

My colleagues and I went on a roadtrip to Batangas yesterday for our boss’ wedding. It was a perfect day to relax, enjoy the company of friends, celebrate with the couple, and of course, take a lot of photos. Haha. While we were on the road, one of my colleagues mentioned that the sad thing about bringing a camera to any event is that the photographer is rarely included in the photos. I do agree that the person behind the camera usually ends up with a few photos of himself/herself at the end of the day. However, I do think that bringing a camera still makes it worth the effort as it depends on the photographer’s purpose and focus.

IMG_0998

As soon as we got to the venue and settled down on our seats, I got my camera and started capturing the moments I observed and the people I was with. As the hours passed by, I didn’t even notice that I didn’t have much photos until my other colleague (who is also into photography) offered to take my photo because he knew that I didn’t have a lot of photos yet. I guess it brings a certain joy to my heart whenever I get to look through the lens, see the beauty in the moment, and preserve the memory. Somehow, having few photos or feeling the heavy weight of the camera while I walk up and down stairs and slopes in my 4-inch heels didn’t seem to matter anymore. It just wasn’t my main focus that day.

IMG_1329

IMG_1026

When I think about these things now, I can’t help but remember what I witnessed during my boss’ wedding. There was something about the ceremony, reception, and the hearts of the groom and bride that radiated peace and joy. Even though we can try to attribute it to the couple’s personalities, good weather, beautiful venue, or sincerity of their family members, I know that it was because of Jesus Christ – the focus of yesterday’s celebration.

IMG_0996

IMG_1006

When the pastor led the ceremony, he emphasized the importance of two things: 1) Trusting in Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, and 2) Loving like Him. Also, during the exchange of vows, the groom and bride mentioned this phrase “Now, I am excited to wake up each day…” Before they could finish the sentence, I was expecting them to say something cheesy like “…wake up each day and be beside you.” But, they didn’t. Instead, they said: “Now, I am excited to wake up each day and seek the Lord first, so I could know, love, and serve Him with you.”

That was just an amazing moment.

IMG_1044

In this day and age, whenever we hear the word “marriage”, people usually think that the main focus of it is the love between a husband and his wife. However, it was refreshing to see my boss and her husband publicly declare their commitment to God and to each other yesterday. They shared to their family and friends that their marriage is and will always be by God’s grace and for His glory. Clearly, it wasn’t about them. Even while they were exchanging their vows and honoring their parents, they gave the glory to God. It was encouraging to see them sincerely express their desire to know, love, and serve the Lord together as long as they live.

IMG_1023

One of the major highlights yesterday was the couple’s response to their “wedding bloopers”. There were quite a handful of bloopers in the speeches and technical difficulties. But, they didn’t let these little disappointments rob them of the joy that they had. Their wedding wasn’t about showcasing a perfect event or program. It was an opportunity and a privilege for them to give God the glory as they declare their love for Him and for each other. That was their main purpose and focus last night.

IMG_1337

IMG_1136

On our way back to the parking lot, I whispered “Thank You!” to God as I looked to the dark blue sky full of twinkling stars. I didn’t have a tripod with me so I couldn’t take a photo of the breathtaking view. But, in that moment, I remembered what had transpired throughout the day and how God encouraged my heart to focus on Him alone. Not on myself, my limitations, disappointments, or the situations I’m in.

IMG_1340

To my boss and her husband (Woohoo!), I pray that you will grow even more in love with the Lord as you enjoy this new season in your lives. Continue to give him the glory in everything that you do. Thank you for sharing your hearts with us on your special day.

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

[Numbers 6:24-26]

IMG_1314

I want to leave you with a song that was played during the reception. It’s called “The Marriage Prayer” by John Waller.