Two Warriors

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“I promise to fight for you, and with you.”

I got published in the July-August issue of Health & Home Magazine. It was a piece I had written and originally posted in this blog, when I was still single, and a romance with Henrik, my now fiancé, was not even a fantasy.

The year before I wrote that piece had been spent mostly healing and learning from a heartbreak. Integral to that process was listening to stories, of men particularly – friends, kuyas, brothers, even Henrik (we had already become friends that time). I was inspired by their stories of heartbreak, and how they not just moved on, but moved forward, from the pain they experienced.

In one of the more memorable conversations I had, a kuya shared to me, “I was in so much pain, that I desperately prayed to God, ‘Lord, please do not let me miss the lesson here. I do not want to waste this pain.”

That, I realized, is the way we must respond to pain. God will allow us to experience pain to catch our attention, and to teach us extremely valuable lessons. The lessons vary for each of us – only the Maker knows what we need, and each lesson is always “customized” and “personalized”.

By a divine purpose unknown to us, we are allowed to go through pain, and we emerge broken and bleeding, and then we are left with wounds. These are battle marks, tokens of past experiences that have contributed to who you are today.

As I prepare for the journey of marriage with the love of my life, I am learning that it is crucial to understand your own, as well as your partner’s, wounds. Marriage brings two people together in such close contact that it is very much inevitable for old wounds and hurts to be surfaced. Learning about each other’s triggers and tendencies are an important part of preparing for marriage.

Of course, married couples may point out, and rightly so, that nothing will ever really prepare you completely for marriage. The married experience is vastly different from the unmarried couple experience, they say.

What we can do though, as an engaged couple, is to be filled with the Holy Spirit and practice grace towards each other. Oh, how true this is, especially in this season where I am constantly tempted to transform into a bridezilla! I am sure we will need much bigger doses and heaps of grace and the fruits of the Spirit later in marriage.

It is also important to listen, listen, and listen, and to speak the truth in love. We are the most honest and vulnerable with each other than we have ever been in our relationship so far, and it is both beautiful and painful at the same time. The assurance of love and safety is necessary as we speak the truth to teach other — another lesson I am currently learning.

In all this, I thank God for the blessings of this season. He answered my prayers by bringing me a warrior who sees and celebrates the warrior in me too. We have much to learn, certainly. And yet… the grace I experience in this season excites me to keep fighting for, and with, my warrior.

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Blessings of the Preps

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When Henrik and I decided to get married in the US, we knew a lot of waiting would be involved. It’s not the waiting per se that makes it hard, however. It’s the uncertainty of the whole process.

People react and respond differently when faced with uncertainties. As for me, depending on the severity of the situation, I can get worried, anxious, frustrated, sad, and even angry sometimes.

Recently, I have noticed in myself that I have been feeling these more often than usual.

They say one’s character is measured by how well you react and respond to situations. I am embarrassed to admit that I have not been the most patient and grace-filled person as of late. So in an effort to change that, I have been thinking on things I can be thankful for. Basically, I’ve been counting my blessings.

I thank God that I am getting married. I tend to take it for granted that the fact that I am engaged, and getting married, is a very beautiful gift wished for, prayed for, and often coveted by many people. Haven’t I dreamed of this countless times before?

I thank God for Henrik. He has been very supportive this whole time, and patiently endured my rants (most of the time, lol). You know you have a keeper when you have someone who is very much optimistic in marrying you. He has also been bravely and valiantly doing majority of our preparations.

I thank God for Henrik’s family and community, who have been helping Henrik with the preps. I never thought I’d have a hands-on groom (I don’t know why, but as a younger person I always assumed I’d have to do most of the preps lol), and now his own family is hands-on too! They’ve been doing their best with the preps, while doing their best to let me in on the plans. I’ve also found it amusing, and also very encouraging by the random messages from Henrik’s friends.

I thank God for this season of waiting. It is not the most fun, but it is a good season of refinement. God knows what I truly need, and through this season, He is surfacing many things from my heart. It is both a humbling and encouraging experience.

It is also a good reminder of what this season is supposed to be about — the pursuit of Christ-likeness and the refinement of our character. And this, as any Christ-follower knows, is always good preparation for marriage.

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Sarah the Bridechilla

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They say marriage brings out the best and worst in people. But this pre-wedding season is already testing me.

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The magic and high of the engagement has waned, and now I am faced with reality.

As many of my friends know, my wedding situation, just like my relationship, is a little unusual, compared to others’ situations here. I will be marrying an American, and we will be having two weddings.

Shortly after our engagement, Henrik, my fiancé, and I weighed the pros and cons, and decided to go for a Fiancé visa. This means the wedding will have to be in the US. This will be our “official,” legal wedding. Later, we will have another wedding ceremony in the Philippines.

Thinking about this wedding always gives rise to a mix of emotions.

I am happy with the prospect of finally being with Henrik.

I am excited for the upcoming wedding.

I am nervous about the entire visa process, and frustrated at the length and uncertainty of it.

I am very sad that the first wedding will not be in the Philippines.

I am dejected that I couldn’t celebrate with significant people from my community.

I am slightly jealous of all my other friends whose wedding preps are less complicated (or so it seems to me) than mine.

I fear that because I practically do not know anyone among Henrik’s circle, it would reduce the meaningfulness of the occasion for me.

But in the last few months, what I have been feeling was disappointment and frustration… at not being able to be part of the wedding preps. Our situation being the way it is, bulk of the preps will have to be handled by Henrik.

Supposedly, I’d be the most chill of all bridechillas, but no. The absence of things to do, the absence of control, has brought out the bridezilla in me.

Recently, though, I decided that I needed to come to terms with this as well, and so I pondered: why am I so… disturbed by all this?

And my main issue is: I have a vision and dream of what my wedding should be. It is incredibly disappointing and frustrating to know that I would not have that dream realized. And if I dig deeper, I know it is also a case of separation anxiety, and dealing with the sadness of leaving things behind. Because of this, I was holding on to anything that would give me some semblance of control.

Accepting that I wouldn’t be able to design my own wedding is finally me kissing this dream goodbye… for now. For, as my ever patient groom-to-be gently reminds me, we still have a Philippines wedding waiting to happen. Perhaps then, my vision could be realized.

There is one very important thing that this absence of control has caused me to do. It has forced me to focus and dwell on a major thing: that despite not having the “dream wedding” and not having everything happen the “right” way, I do have the right man.

I say this not as a kilig line, but as a reminder to myself that I still have the most important part of the wedding: the groom! I still have a man who loves me and is doing everything he can to be with me. And that is what matters most.

Sigh. I hope I always remember this when things are hard.

 

The Last Day of my 25th

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Five more hours. Five more hours and I turn 26.

Twenty six.

Despite all my disappointments and heartaches, my 25th year was still an amazing year, a year filled with changes, so many changes. It is, therefore a year filled with so many adventures. And as all adventures are, there is excitement, and there is fear, and just a lot of discomfort.

On my 25th year, I chose not to graduate.

It was a big decision, but one that I really decided was worth the sacrifice for a dream I wanted and had been praying for a long time. The decision came with some consequences, like not having a place to stay in Manila anymore, having to endure the discomfort of having to move my stuff a lot. And when my batchmates marched on the day of their graduation, I wondered if I made the right decision.

On my 25th year, I gained a new family.

Living outside IGSL, I lost something valuable — a community I had almost taken for granted. But I became part of a new church family, a new dgroup with wonderful people in it. The role these people played in my life in those uncomfortable transitions is very important, and I hold them dear to my heart.

On my 25th year, I traveled to South Asia.

It was the cross-cultural trip and exposure I had prayed for since 2014, since I determined to be a cross-cultural missionary. Those four months were the craziest, most difficult, most fun, faith-stretching and challenging months I have ever experienced.

Meeting different people, immersing myself in a different culture, seeing God’s power at work in the lives of the brothers and sisters in this part of the world was awe-inspiring. Being the recipient of such kindness and hospitality from these people was extremely humbling.

Knowing that ministry partners and friends contributed to send me there, and kept praying for me throughout the entire trip, was even more humbling.

But was also challenging, because of the very different and unfamiliar culture, for sure. The homesickness, the unfamiliarity, and many other unexpected changes stretched me to the point of breaking and revealed many things about my character.

On my 25th year, I fell in love.

I fell in love with a wonderful man who was everything I prayed for, and more. It was an unexpected gift I received, one that I am still somehow getting used to (hashtag ldr struggles), but at the same time, something I know is so right for me. I love you, Henrik. You inspire me in so many ways, and I pray that I can be a strong help for you, just as you have been to me so many times already.

My 25th year was filled with adventure — fear, excitement, and discomfort.

My 25th year was filled with proof of God’s kindness and love, a reminder that He truly loves me. So in these last 5 hours of my 25th year, I celebrate the Father, who showered me with protection and provision, I celebrate the Son, the sacrifice of whom I will not be able to enjoy these things, and I celebrate the Holy Spirit, who guides me and reminds me of these things.

On the 26th of February, I shall turn twenty six. But for now, I relish these last several hours of my 25th.

 

#throwbackpost: I just couldn’t say “No.”

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[I wrote this 8 years ago, in 2009, and first posted it on Facebook. Judging by the date and the comments, at the time I was a college student who had started doing her undergrad thesis, I was involved in several clubs on campus, I was a youth leader for our city-wide church youth organization, and I also had a part-time job. In other words, I was #stressed.]
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I just couldn’t say “No.”

I’ve been in such a daze these past few weeks. Been so caught up in a wide array of activities such that my mind has shifted to “numb” mode, sort of like a defense mechanism against all the physical ruckus I’ve been caught in. No time for other things. No time for haircuts, or vanity (believe me, make-up was the least of my priorities), nor for other internet joys like blogging (I can’t believe I’ve reached this point when Internet for me meant WORK).

And because I was so physically drained, my emotions have as well been put in a precarious mode. Because added to all the strain I’ve been under was the pressure dumped over me by commitments I’ve made and responsibilities I wasn’t necessarily willing to accept. It was what was making me feel overloaded. When the heart is light, but labor is heavy, I can fly. When my heart is heavy, work becomes a drudgery.

That’s me. No sleep, no strength plus burdened heart equals messy me.

And yet in those rare instances when I was able to catch some moments of peace and quiet (which was always the few minutes before I fall asleep in bed, at dawn), I’ve been reflecting…

What IS the source of all this? What, indeed, is the source of all this misery?
It was, as I’ve mentioned, the pressure loaded by my commitments.
Why did I have to make such commitments?

And the answer dawned on me, slowly and painfully, like a knife being slowly stabbed on my already pained heart.

I couldn’t say “no.” I couldn’t bring myself to disappoint people, nor leave them dissatisfied. It wasn’t just any kind of people, mind you. And yet therein lies the problem. They were still mere people. See, I’ve been so caught up in getting acceptance, so trapped in worldly pursuits. Pathetic. And so priorities were rearranged, decisions compromised….

“NO.” Such a powerful little word that, if uttered at the right moment in the right way, with precision and clarity of mind such that the person convincing you otherwise could see your decisiveness, could set an entirely different path altogether.

As such, I lacked courage to say it. It was in my mind, alright. But I lacked will. The very little will I had was overpowered by something stronger, something I underestimated.

All this happened a few weeks ago, and I am simply grateful for His loving forgiveness. Weaknesses were exposed yet again. Just as an individual with cancer has to have himself incised as soon as possible in order for the cancerous tissues to be taken out, so was it necessary for myself to undergo such an “operation” to expose my fatal motives.

Still, anyone would say that such fatal intentions would surely grow back again, without proper guidance.

What worries and pains me most is how I shall face future scenarios, when decisions by then would be much heavier and of more consequence. These decisions I’ve spoken of are but mere trifles compared to future decisions I would have to make. Could I be trusted to make them? Could I be trusted to stand my ground? Could I be trusted to say “No”, if need be?

I heavily doubt it.

So please, I implore, help me, God.

Have you had trouble saying “No”?

Having my Period, and how it’s like to be a Woman in India

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About a week ago, I had my period. 

I knew it was coming soon, so a few days ago, I told my host mother, ate Diana, that I needed period things.

We happened to be out in the busy business district of Jaigaon, in one particular street with all kinds of shops and restaurants. We had just finished shoe shopping when I told her of my need, and so we set out looking for a pharmacy. Because, as I have come to learn, the only shops that carried period things were pharmacies. And also some big grocery stores or supermarkets.

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As I’ve said before, these South Asian countries are the strangest I’ve ever been in, so far. The food, the clothing, the language, the culture… I have never been exposed to such South Asianness before. But this lack of availability of feminine products was baffling.

In the Philippines, even the smallest sari-sari store would almost always have feminine products. Here, they do have sari-sari stores, but period products would only ever be found in pharmacies and supermarkets. In these West Bengal parts of India however, there are no supermarkets.

[UPDATE: I am told that this is not the case in other parts of India.]

I wonder why they didn’t make it more common for more stores to sell period products. Periods are already not fun. A woman on her period is already on tiger mode stress level – why stress the tiger out even more? (Or maybe I’m just talking about myself haha.)

On the other hand, now I always remember to buy painkillers whenever I buy period products… and medicine here is insanely, amazingly cheap! Win!

This very minor inconvenience , however, is only one of the things I had to adjust to. I already had an idea of the status of women in South Asia, but experiencing it first hand and hearing about it from actual Indians and Nepalis was an altogether interesting experience.

The caste system still has very deep roots in many communities, sometimes even in Christian communities. In India, pregnant women are forbidden from taking ultrasounds, in an effort to reduce abortions of baby girls. Girls are generally seen as burdens at best, while boys are a blessing. Parents who have girls are deemed unfortunate, because the dowry system requires parents to shell out huge amounts of money to ensure the girls’ marriages.

Girls are also less likely to be educated, because “they will get married anyway,” so investing in her education is seen as a waste. It is therefore not uncommon for women to be employed in low-paying manual labor jobs, while men take blue-collared jobs. One of the shocks I had was seeing women doing heavy manual labor (mixing cement and carrying gravel at construction sites, for example).

It’s easy for a 21st century, western-influenced, egalitarian-leaning young woman like me to think all this to be “oppressive” at worst, or “restrictive” at best, but if there is anything I’ve learned from studying cultures, it is that culture is not easily changed, especially in a place such as India, where certain societal systems are deeply entrenched in the culture, and there are certain people in power who are actively working to keep the status quo.

It is a complicated problem, one that needs to be addressed at the worldview level. And the fact that people do not find it to be a problem is, I think, an indication of how big the problem. It is especially a sad and sobering realization for me that even some Christians do not think it to be a problem.

It was especially interesting for me to discover how Christian women are in South Asia. But that’s another blog post for another day.

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Baba’s Death

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At the India-Bhutan border.

In the last several weeks, I have attended a funeral, preached in a local church, and done several interviews for my research. 

As I write this, I am in Dalsingpara, a rural part of India near the India-Bhutan border, and I am… idle. I am, to be very honest, a bit bored. I know, I know. Just a month ago I was gushing over how everything here was multi-sensory stimulation.

Due to our new circumstances, however, our plans have changed, and I have no choice but to stay put here, and generally reflect on how God allows things to happen for a purpose.

My host family and I had only stayed several days in Butwal, Nepal, on our way to Pokhara and Kathmandu, where I was scheduled to meet and interview several pastors and evangelists, when the news about kuya John’s father’s death reached us. That same afternoon, we packed, rented a vehicle, and set out for India.

It took us 12 hours to reach Dalsingpara, India, and preparations for the burial quickly occupied my host family. The custom here is to have the burial within a day or two of the person’s death, and have a 7-day wake.

I have heard so many things about kuya John’s Baba (father) – orphaned at an early age, getting into the military, being shunned and prevented from being promoted because of his struggles, leaving the military, and finally becoming a Christian and prolific evangelist and church planter (and being persecuted for it).

I even heard bits of his love story, and how he ended up with Ama (mother).

Now, more than a week after we buried him, the house is filled with Baba’s photos, blown up and framed for the funeral earlier. From what I was told, he was a strong, boisterous, effusive character who loved talking and telling stories.

Now, I see his photos everyday, and I wonder: Baba, sayang! Why didn’t I get to meet you?

And my deep consciousness, there is the quesiton: God, why did you take him now? Even selfishly: God, why couldn’t I have met him?

But such is life – the unexpected happens, and we do not really know, or have control over, the future.

This, I believe, is one of the important things God is teaching me at this period. Nothing is ultimately within my control, and the sooner I accept that, the sooner I calm down and lose my anxiety.