Things I want to tell the Married People in my Seminary

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So this last term, I had a class called Christian Marriage.

I enjoyed it! My professor is an excellent communicator, knew the material really well, and used real-life experiences (most of which are his own, which are mostly hilarious) as illustrations.

And because the class is called Christian Marriage, and because majority of the student population of IGSL are married, naturally, majority of the class was composed of married people. And because most of the students lived on campus with their own families, a lot of the married couples attended the class together. So they basically got to attend a two-hour weekly Marriage Seminar.

Then there are the singles. The singles, a small fraction of the population of the class. It’s like they didn’t know what to do with us, so they just dumped us into the class. But maybe I’m just being cynical.

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We are just a few of the single population of IGSL. We exist!

So I sat there in class, listening to my professor talk about marriage problems and how to relate with the in-laws, trying my hardest to relate to the interesting, but unrelatable topics. Some of my single classmates had given up altogether trying to relate and simply went to class just for attendance.

And like these fellow single classmates, there are some things I wish I could tell the married people / teachers / curriculum-developers / whoever-is-in-power-and-in-charge-of-the-courses here in seminary:

  • Why does it seem like everyone assumes that all the singles want to get married? Marriage is good, I get it. But singleness is also good. I don’t hear enough of THAT here.
  • Why not have a Christian Singleness / Celibacy class?! It’s a brilliant idea, if I may say so. Or okay, fine, so I might concede that there are certain topics about marriage I need to learn about, for future reference in the ministry. In that case, the class should be renamed Christian Marriage and Singleness. It would be divided into two parts: the first part would be a combination of Marrieds and Singles, and in the second part, the Marrieds and Singles would have their own classes.
  • This two-part class would be great, especially when it came to discussing some topics like sex and sexuality. Yeah, sexuality from a single person’s perspective – there’s an idea! It would also eliminate awkwardness from the marrieds and singles.
  • Speaking of which, I wonder why the marrieds assume that we know nothing about sex? Why treat us like naïve children as if we won’t be able to handle the discussion about sex? Seriously?

WHY GO THROUGH ALL THE TROUBLE?

The other day, one of the people-in-authority here said she read my Single’s Manifesto, and she commented that we did use to have a Christian Singleness class. But then they thought, Oh they’ll all get married anyway, so let’s just scrap that class off.

I was genuinely saddened when I heard that.

Because I don’t think we hear enough of the perspective of single ministers / missionaries, if at all. Already, in many cultures, singles are deemed less qualified to minister. This seminary, this unique place of learning, could’ve been that place where this notion could be challenged and examined, or at least this could have been the place where a conversation about this could be started. Sayang.

Also, I know how the desire (take note, desire!) for marriage can be enslaving. This desire… it can possess you, control you, and rule your thoughts and motives. It creeps in slowly, subtly, until it has grabbed ahold of you. Then it starts suffocating you.

I think communicating that not being married is also fulfilling can be liberating! And it doesn’t mean eliminating all longings for marriage. I know I still dream of marriage someday.. It’s just claiming the freedom of knowing that singleness and marriage are equally good and fulfilling in their own ways.

Last but not least, it would communicate that they value the singles. I’ve heard it said once or twice that the community here wants to be sensitive to singles. Well, this is one way of putting your money where your mouth is, methinks.

All this to say: I just wish for an avenue, a safe space for authentic communication of these really relevant issues. 

“Well, why don’t you start it?” some of you may say. Well, my impact won’t be as great as when it comes as a mandate from the authorities / leadership, will it?

ALL THAT BEING SAID, in no way am I saying that the people in my seminary are complete jerks to the singles. And I hope you don’t walk away cynical of the Christian community consisting of married people. We are not all insensitive. But I think, I believe, we can be more sensitive.

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I am Loved to the Skies (A Single’s Manifesto Pt.1)

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In this last term of my first year in seminary, I had a class called “Christian Marriage”.

The class was dominated by couples attending the class together. While I found the class interesting, I think what I appreciated most is my teacher’s effort to make the conversation relevant to the singles such as myself, although I think more can be done about this.

(Because until IGSL* comes up with a class called “Christian Singleness / Celibacy,” profs will be left with the awkward responsibility to try to make the class relevant to single students. But that’s another blog post for another time.)

Going back: so while the couples did their married couple-centric assignments, we were tasked to come up with a Single’s Manifesto, which I actually really enjoyed writing!

***

ATTITUDE TO MYSELF

As a single person, I embrace my identity, and it is this: that I am someone of infinite worth, a precious child of the Ruler of the Heavens, formed intricately from the womb, whose paths have been determined before the hinges of the world were in place, and who God Himself went down to the depths for and who He loved to the skies.

I will, only by the everlasting grace of God, live in this Truth moment by moment.

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I recognize and celebrate how God designed me as a unique Person: as someone with specific legitimate needs which ultimately will only be met by God, but which God allows to be met through other legitimate ways. I will not apologize for my needs, but be open to the ways in which God will choose to meet these needs.

I will strive to take responsibility for my own words, actions and choices. I will remind myself that in almost everything, I have a choice to make. However, I will understand the consequences of my choices and take myself to task regarding these. I will seek ways to grow in making wiser choices progressively.

I will seek opportunities to develop my talents and skills, knowing that this is the best way to honor God and steward these things. By committing to hone these talents, I am celebrating God’s unique design of me. Moreover, I commit to dedicate these talents for the sole purpose of glorifying God.

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I will be patient and gracious to myself, knowing that God Himself is patient and gracious with me, and that this is one way of loving myself. I will be kind to myself, because I understand that a lack of grace for myself is an indication of pride.

I will look at the present with joy, knowing that the only Person ever whose love for me is the purest, strongest, holiest is with me, has always been with me and will always be with me.

And I will look to the future with a calm, joyous assurance that this same Person has a plan and path laid out for me from the beginning of beginnings.

Whether this plan includes another human being I shall join with in marriage or not will not shake my faith, will not steal my joy, nor will it make me paralyzed with fear, because God Almighty is with me.

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*IGSL = International Graduate School of Leadership. My current school.

 

The Jewels I am Meant to Wear

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Photo taken from hitchcockmadrona.com

I am a ballerina in a Jewel Box.

I am a ballerina in a Jewel Box, a Jewel Box filled with clutter, trinkets from years gone by, plastic ornaments that look pretty but ultimately lack real value, glass accessories that sparkle but are actually fake.

I have accumulated a lot of sparkly things in the course of my life, some genuine, but mostly faux. I’ve kept these things around me, in the Box that is my life, and held them close.

I have collected quite a few of these faux  jewels – unnecessary commitments, some high-maintenance relationships, pursuits I didn’t really have the heart for, dreams I thought were mine but were actually imposed on me, loves that I thought should be mine…

In themselves, they might be good. They are good, but not the best for me.

So God took away some of them by bringing drastic changes in my life. It hurt, oh how it hurt, to let go of these things I have held on for so long.

I was crouching in a corner, clutching these, yelling and putting up a fight, and God lovingly, but firmly pried my fingers off. He took away one thing at a time. Oh, how it hurt.

He took away these pretty gems, and for a long time I crouched in the corner.

But my tears finally abated, and my sobbing finally ceased, and I saw… and then I saw the most wondrous thing inside the Jewel Box that is my life: space.

Now, with some of these things forcibly taken from me, I have space. For the first time in a long time, I finally had space to breathe, to think, to sing, to dance!

And I looked around the Box, and saw what jewels were left, and what jewels God placed –  commitments to hold on to, relationships worth strengthening and fighting for, pursuits that resonate from my heart, and dreams that ignite my passions.

I see now how God took away all the other gems from my Jewelry Box to show me that there are certain gems I am meant to wear. There are certain gems I am called to wear. There are certain relationships I am meant to build. There are certain dreams I am meant to pursue. There is a love that would be especially mine.

Other people may look better with the gems I desperately clung to… but I have my own set of Jewels God specifically shaped and prepared for me.

And you, dear reader, you have your own Jewels you are meant to wear.

The Way He Sees Me

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Last week, February 26, I turned twenty four.

I’m not sure if it’s the even number, but for the first time I actually finally feel like an adult. But as I look back on the past year, I realize that I did do a lot growing up on my twenty-third year.

It was painful, it was difficult, my heart was wrung many times over until it felt like not a drop of blood could make it beat again, but somehow I kept going. It was purely God’s grace, nothing more.

Here are some of the lessons I have started to learn:

PROGRESS, NOT PERFECTION

I had a birthday eve ritual. It began when I started in college, when I was about 17 or 18. Every night, before my birthday, I would do some reflecting, which was really a personal guilt-trip session. I would review and reflect on the past year, and always end up chiding and scolding myself for not doing more, not being more, not being enough. I would guilt myself so badly, and then at the end of the “reflection,” I would console myself with the thought, “I can do better this year. I can accomplish more.

But now I am learning to enjoy the journey and trust God in the seasons He puts me. I am learning to embrace who I am at this moment, knowing that He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it. I am learning that in this lifetime, I will never be perfect, and God loves me all the same.

Also, my need for a sense of accomplishment only brings frustration. But when I am making choices from a place of trusting in what Christ accomplished on my behalf, I feel more relief and peace.

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I AM WORTHY. I AM IMPORTANT. I AM VALUABLE.

I’m not sure when I began to believe the lie that I was not worthy, but somehow, I did. People hurt me, I have been judged and compared, I didn’t measure up, I didn’t accomplish enough, and all these somehow pounded and cemented in my heart and mind this vicious, cruel lie. And so my default interpretation in most situations is that I am not worthy, or important.

Now I am learning to embrace and live out my Identity, and it is this: that I am someone of infinite worth, a precious child of the Ruler of the Heavens, formed intricately from the womb, whose paths have been determined before the hinges of the world were in place, and who God Himself went down to the depths for and who He loved to the skies. I will, only by the everlasting grace of God, live with this Truth moment by moment.

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Being in community reminds me and allows me to live out my true identity. (Photo by Zillah Balico-Herrera)

EMOTIONAL MATURITY MEANS ACKNOWLEDGING MY EMOTIONS

A few months ago, I had a rather deep conversation with a person about the way I handle emotions. It was a long conversation, and finally she said, “Based on what you’ve told me, and based from what I know about you, you seem to tend to shun big emotions, and find a way to get rid of them, or ‘fix it’.”

That stopped me… and brought an epiphany: it is true! I do tend to tamp down “negative” emotions, especially if they are so intense. I think I actually even fear huge, negative emotions, because they make me appear less pleasant, or vulnerable, or less confident, or all of the above… and I do not want to appear as anything BUT pleasant, strong, and confident.

And because I’ve been avoiding and ignoring these for so long, the result is that I have become embarrassingly inept at handling them. Now I am learning to help myself by identifying and acknowledging my emotions. Instead of emotionally reacting, I can give a reflective response.

When I woke up on the morning of the 26th last week, I was at peace. It was a wonderful day, celebrating with my IGSL* friends and community, but amid the serenades and surprises and picture-taking, I became aware of a feeling inside me. It was not an intense emotion; in fact, it was a quiet, tranquil feeling. But its presence was solid and it drew my attention…

I finally realized that this – this was contentment. And I realized that for the first time since I was in college, I did not commence my birthday with a guilt trip session.

For the first time, I think, I am beginning, finally, to see myself the way God sees me: someone He accepts, delights and loves.

My birthday wish is that I will keep learning and living these truths, resting in God’s undying love for me.

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*I am currently studying at the International Graduate School of Leadership (IGSL).

 

I’m okay staying Single… forever.

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I have recently decided I don’t mind being single forever and not getting married.

Actually, I decided that last week.

Consider an episode I had with a friend last Sunday. I was talking to one of my Professors, someone I really respect, and whose insights I value. When he asked me, “What are your plans after seminary?”, I thought I was in for some free counseling time.

So I answered him.

I told him I was really keen on doing cross-cultural missions, evangelism and discipleship, and maybe humanitarian works.

I told him I was very much interested in Christian Apologetics, and that I desire to do further studies in that area.

I told him I was passionate about the arts, especially music and literature, and would very much like to study more formally and increase my platform.

I told him that while I plan all of these, I have no idea how to accomplish them, or how to combine them (or if I should), and that I just don’t know what to do next.

He affirmed my desires, then he said, “The key is to find a man with the same passions as you do…”

I have to admit I didn’t hear anything else after hearing the “The key is to find a man…” part of his statement. Because why does everything have to depend on me finding a man?! (Do I have issues with men? Maybe. No. Not really. Am I a – *gasp* – a feminist? NO!)

So I answered Professor, “Oh, but I’ve decided that I’m okay being single forever.”

I admitted that I think do like the idea of being in love, and getting married. I like the idea. 

But! There is a lot that needs to be done in the world, a lot of needs to be filled, and a lot I want to do. 

Between all my plans of cross-cultural missions, humanitarian works, higher studies and personal artistic development, not to mention my short-term goals of writing a book, publishing a book, traveling widely, and starring in a Broadway show (Joke! Or maybe not), where, I ask, WHERE WILL I FIND THE TIME TO EVEN DATE?!

So I decided, last week, that if I were to date and marry, he would have to share my dreams, and he would have to be absolutely, hundred-percent convicted that he is to be God’s agent to help me fulfill my dreams and help me blossom, just as I am fully convicted that I will support him and encourage him to greater heights with all my heart, mind and soul.

He would have to be that kind of man. If not, then I’d rather stay single.

SO AM I REALLY, REALLY SURE?

At this point, you, dear reader, are probably either smiling, laughing, or scoffing at my naivete… the same way the Professor at the beginning of this post reacted to my “declaration.”

This professor incredulously, and I think maybe even exasperatingly, asked me, “How old are you?!”

“Twenty-three,” I replied.

“YOU ARE SO YOUNG!” he roared. “TALK TO ME WHEN YOU’RE TWENTY SIX!”

Who knows? Maybe at twenty-six, or even twenty-five, I would change my mind. Maybe I’d change my mind next week! (Lol joke, I don’t think so.)

But to be honest, deciding to be single actually felt liberating. Really, really!

Also, just to get it out of the way, yes, I am aware that there may have been things I have not considered, or flaws in my logic or reasoning. (If you think so, please tell me how I erred in a nice way, down in the comments section.)

I’ll let time and life affirm or rebuke me, but for now, I’m enjoying this freedom of choice.

 

My Rookie Moment is Now: What to do when you’re the Rookie in the Room

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You must have both rookie smarts and veteran savvy.” 

–Liz Wiseman, Global Leadership Summit 2015

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The book project intimated me. I have never written a feature story of this type, for such a project.

When the editor gathers all the writers, she tells us graciously, but firmly, that she would remove from the book project anyone she deems unskilled enough. I look around the room, noting that the guy sitting across me has worked as a journalist for years. Everyone in the room probably has much more writing experience than I.

I am the rookie.

***

All four of us are gathered around a table, and we begin the meeting.

And I marvel at the fact that I am part of this group. All the other three are pastors, all have at least about a decade of ministry under their belt. One has an MDiv and working on his MA in Philosophy, and another has an MA in Biblical Studies with vast connections and training experience.

And there am I, the rookie.

***

I loved every bit of today’s Global Leadership Summit Philippines (GLS) Manila, but something struck me from Liz Wiseman’s session Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing. 

Rookies, she says, are inexperienced, but their advantage is that they tend to be more creative and more open to learning opportunities. She encourages the audience to think back to when they were rookies, how they struggled, but tended to be more resourceful.

“Think back to your rookie moments,” Wiseman says. And that’s when she goes on to say, “You must have both rookie smarts and veteran savvy.”

And it Just. Hit. Me. My rookie moment is NOW! 

In the last couple of years I believe I have heard from the Heavens and finally identified several things I am passionate about and fields I would like to pursue: missions, apologetics, and arts, generally speaking. And as I identified these fields, God actually gave me opportunities actually for me to actually venture into these fields!

I am a rookie in all these fields, no expertise to show. I hope to be able to make significant contributions and give provide meaningful leadership in these areas in the future, but I am not there yet. I say this with no self-pity attached, but simply as an honest self-assessment: I am undeniably inexperienced, and lacking in savvy in these areas.

So what must a rookie do? I picked up some things from Wiseman’s (and some of Bill Hybels’) talk:

-See this period of inexperience and lack of knowledge as an opportunity to learn. “Knowing the least can draw out the best.” As they say, when you’re at the bottom, there is nowhere to go but up.

-At this season, one must ask questions! Ask questions and take responsibility to learn and discover.

-Take this opportunity to develop “grit” – a passion and perseverance for the long haul.

-Be with veterans who have “rookie smarts,” experts and leaders who are teachable, creative, and love to discover. These traits “…can actually rub off.” Seek these leaders, and seek to be in their company. Be mentored by them.

-When challenges come, see it as an opportunity to learn and move forward.

-Learn and move forward, because a rookie has no other choice. No, wait, actually there is another choice – and that is to move backward, regress, refuse to grow.

-Develop self-awareness. Work through your character issues. Get help from people close to you. Get professional help if necessary. We all have our issues, and getting help should be seen as a favour we do to ourselves and to the people we will eventually lead (and relate with).

-Invest in relationships. Not the user-friendly kind for building platforms, but real, honest relationships where you could be both vulnerable and affirmed.

-Affirm your purpose. Affirm the purpose that made you start out in the first place. Affirm your “why,” otherwise you’d be lost. Or, if you haven’t found your “White-hot Why,” as Bill Hybels calls it, then discover it. Discover your priority.

So to my fellow dear beginners, rookies who are starting out but wish to accelerate in their companies, who wish to contribute to their organizations, who want to advance in their respective fields, who want to change the world… we are at a special phase.

Let’s take this as an opportunity to grow and learn.

We will eventually develop our savvy, but for now, let’s be smart. And when we finally do develop our savvy, hopefully we also retain our rookie smarts.

Four Lessons My Broken Heart Taught Me

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[GUEST POST: This is by my dear, awesome kuya Mark Andrew Rivera. He is a former Intern staff of Philippine CCC. Graduating as an MDiv-Biblical Studies major this year. A guitar-slinging Baguio boy trying to survive the harsh environment of Manila. Phlegmatic, eccentric, A slave of Christ.]

After being single for so long, I felt she was the one. I wanted to be extra-careful, because she was an invaluable ministry partner. I’ve prayed about her for more than a year, took advices from spiritual mentors, and read Christian materials about courtship. Confident that it was the wise decision, I decided to give-up considering other candidates and began pursuing her… What resulted was a rejection leaving me unable to continue the pursuit. Despite being hurt, I made effort wanting to fix the damaged friendship. Yet in the end I was left with no choice, but give her the space she wants away from me.

“How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand…there is no going back?” – Frodo Baggins (“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”, 2003)

Perhaps you are like me, who in some form experienced heartaches of a love lost, and you are left confronted with this question. How do you go on, Frodo asked. How, indeed? This is a part of the journey where we feel hurt, lost, trap. Worst of all, God seems silent. We have our own unique paths, so how one survives may not work on another. Each path is a unique, customized learning curriculum designed by God, and being brokenhearted is a prerequisite. But our story is not our own; it is God’s. We have to share His story in us, so let me share four things I have learned so far.  

  1. I’ve learned of wisdom’s limitation.

I have never understood the book of Ecclesiastes until I was rejected. I did everything to feel assured she was the one, and desired to know the wisest, godliest way to love her. And yet it still left me brokenhearted, realizing this gift of wisdom from God is not enough to know if “she’s the one”, and what I believed was the wisest, godliest way to pursue her was lacking to be effective.

The Teacher in Ecclesiastes lamented on how there is no end to acquiring wisdom, but its infinite amount is still insufficient to understand and answer the desired questions in life (v. 8:16-17; 12:12). No amount of Christian principles for courtship would assure you of getting the girl, or spare you from the inevitable heartbreak. To add whipped cream to the injury someone else gets what you longed without much difficulty (ref. v. 9:11)! Still, with sufficient wisdom the Teacher gives an answer for wisdom’s limitation, and the answer is beautiful.

God has made everything beautiful in its appropriate time, but he has also placed ignorance in the human heart so that people cannot discover what God has ordained, from the beginning to the end of their lives. -Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NET)

  1. I’ve learned about His faithfulness

Spiritual pride can make us believe we are invulnerable to sin, yet being brokenhearted can make us the most vulnerable. What I thought would never happen to me happened. In my heartaches I‘ve longed for alcohol and have taken my drinks. Though my Christian friends were unable to fully stop me from drinking, they at least made sure it would not lead to drunkenness. Without the care of sinning, I turned to pornography to satisfy my longings. Thankfully, spiritual mentors (without me telling them of my pornographic addiction, but knew my heartbrokenness) challenged me to attend Living Waters.

There the walls built from my hurts from God were slowly removed, and my relationship with the Father moved towards restoration. When non-Christian women expressed their desire to go out with me, I gave them the chance I never had from Christian women, who rejected me. Upon hearing this, Christian friends expressed their sorrow and continuously prayed for me. Eventually Jesus became so central in my life that I had to let them go.

I am thankfully to God for sending friends being more of an Elihu, rather than Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They were not “miserable comforters”, but comforters that protected me from my foolishness. Through them, God showed His faithfulness, and I’m sure He has done much more than I’m aware of.

“I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.” – Aslan (C.S. Lewis, “The Horse And His Boy”)

  1. I’ve learned to pray honestly

I would have to say that telling God how I honestly felt was very uncomfortable, but very necessary. Like David, I held my tongue, and, like David, the thoughts boiled up inside and I found myself spewing my disappointment against God (Psalm 39:1-7).

I didn’t blame the women, who rejected me; I blamed God for not being clear enough for me to understand why she wasn’t the one, why my “wisest” decisions now seems the most stupidest, or why I wasn’t someone she wants to love. Obviously, before the foundations of the earth, He knew and planned it all to happen. But just like David, I have nowhere to turn to, but to God, for mercy for what is happening and for forgiveness for speaking out of line (v.8-14). I cried for answers and was ready to be corrected. I wanted closure.

I will stand at my watch post; I will remain stationed on the city wall. I will keep watching, so I can see what he says to me, and can know how I should answer when he counters my argument. -Habakkuk 2:1 (NET)

The lesson I’ve learned about praying during my heartbrokenness wasn’t much about how to express the words properly. Rather, it is learning that God will always be loving and wise no matter how sweet or bitter we’ve talked to Him.   

  1. I’ve learned to hope again

Faith is hoping on the promises of God; my problem is hoping on things that the Bible does not specifically promise, specifically having a wife. I became traumatized in hoping in God and practicing wisdom, after it led me to rejection and hurt. My lesson on wisdom’s limitation has left me unbalanced and hopeless. So God used my academic studies to bring me to a short book in the Bible.

The book of Ruth is a love story with the main character, who is actually Naomi, changing her name to Mara (bitter), because of what God has done (Ruth 1:20). In the Jewish arrangement of the Old Testament, Ruth was placed after Proverbs as juxtaposition, to give an example of men and women of faith who have practiced wisdom. In fact the Hebrew adjective, khayil, used to describe the woman in Proverbs 31:10 is the same adjective used for Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 2:1; 3:11).

Ruth reinforces Proverbs to balance Ecclesiastes. Now I could explain more in detail how the book restored my hope on God and practicing His gift of wisdom to love again, but it would be too long and technical. I encourage you to study it yourself, and find hope directly from their story.

Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.” – Walt Disney (“Saving Mr. Banks”, 2013)

What is most amazing is that the Bible is not from imagination. The stories really happened, and they are there to balance the seemingly hopeless reality of our story. We can find our hope in God again and again and again.

If you have noticed, the Bible was the key in making me aware of God’s lessons. These were passages I’ve read and even studied, but somehow failed to appreciate. It was only when I was brokenhearted that I’ve understood and kept them to heart. God is not silent as we seem to feel; in fact He is eager to speak to us through His Word. I still have more things to learn from my experience, I’m sure, but they are still brewing inside me.

But what about you?

What are your stories and the lessons God taught you when He allowed your heart to be broken?

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