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.

 

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#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.

Sarah in South Asia: The Beginning of my Saga

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I am living my dream.

To be specific, I am living my cross-cultural dream.

It was around mid-2015 when I started thinking of my future after IGSL, my seminary. I was slated to graduate next year, and I needed a plan. I’ve always known that I wanted to minister cross-culturally. But where? And how? I’d expected that two years in seminary would’ve helped me come to a decision, but obviously, I hadn’t had any clear leading.

A DREAM PLANTED

Then the idea of having a cross-cultural exposure trip dropped in my head. If I really wanted to minister in a different culture long term, shouldn’t I at least try it out short term?

And by short term I meant slightly longer than the usual two to three week mission trips I’ve been a part of in the past. I was thinking around 6 months. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense! The idea kept growing.

Incidentally, I was enrolled in the classes of two wonderful professors, Dr. Ron Barber and Dr. Paul Lee, both of whom are missionaries and missiologists. Kuya Ron and Kuya Paul, as we fondly call them, have been missionaries for 20+ years, in Africa and Japan, respectively.

Inspired by kuya Ron and kuya Paul, my idea grew into a small dream. As I interacted with them, I knew I found heroes I could look up to – people who have devoted their lives to missions, and to influencing the larger Christian community through their teaching and research / publications.

My dream was growing. I too, wanted to influence the larger Christian community in a similar way. But, I knew I needed experience and mentoring.

MY THREE-PART PRAYER

And so I started praying for an opportunity to do research, and be exposed to cross-cultural ministry, and be mentored by missionaries as well.

The answer to the first part of my prayer came in the form of being allowed to write a thesis, and going to South Asia for research. (IGSL students are not required to write a thesis; I will be the first student to be allowed to do so… hopefully, they don’t take back the decision.)

Around January 2016, I contacted a couple with a ministry in South Asia, who are both IGSL alumni. I met them a few months earlier, when I had to write a story about them for a book IGSL was producing. It was a crazy idea, but I just suddenly asked if there was a possibility of joining them in India or Nepal or wherever they were, just for a few months, and let them “adopt” me, so to speak. And so the second and third part of my prayer was answered.

Thus, my South Asian adventures have begun.

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The Chundrima Bridge in Dhaka, Bangladesh

 

 

 

Dear Warrior, let’s journey together

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To my Warrior,

We have found each other.

The mere thought still fills me with a sense of unbelievable wonder and delight.

And you, my dear warrior — you are a sky full of stars, an ocean of deep wonders, a mountain of marvels.

You are a lover and slave of the High King of heavens and earth, a servant of people, a friend to many.

You are an encourager, supporter, and pursuer of my heart.

The road is still long.

There will still be storms to brave, and depths to journey, perhaps through dark tunnels, and even through barren heights when the sun will be high and unforgiving.

But we are together now.

Somehow, that brings me comfort and strength in this new journey.

With the King’s blessing on us, and with family and community cheering us on, I still promise to fight for you, and with you.

Fighting with you,

Your Warrior Princess

KILIGology: Thinking Straight While Kinikilig

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“He seems like a really nice guy.”

It was a Saturday night, and my friends and I had just met with My Special Friend, a guy I’d been getting to know in the last few months. Things were getting serious, and my friends had risen to the occasion to meet him and get to know him, a.k.a. grill him in a nice way, a.k.a. ask him some hard questions.

I was happy with how the night turned out. My friends delivered and really did ask him some serious, hard questions, and in my opinion, Guy delivered as well – he seemed really honest. Guy also said some really kilig-inducing stuff, stuff that made me feel na napakahaba ng hair ko. My kilig levels were off the charts.

Then Guy left, and my friends and I jumped into “deliberation” (like a panel, lol). As my friends and I continued talking, however, I felt the kilig slowly wearing off. While my friends were really, genuinely happy for me, they also raised some significant, legitimate questions about the Guy.

I’ve been thinking really hard about this, because as my closest friends know, in the past, whenever I felt kilig, all reason and logic fled me. This has then resulted to embarrassingly bad decisions, which then led to painful, painful heartbreaks.

But did it really have to? Did my kilig and my ability to be objective have to be mutually exclusive? In other words, hindi ba talaga pwedeng Utak AT Puso?

My musings, compounded with past conversations I’ve had with my Counselor, have led me to some things.

I MUST ACKNOWLEDGE MY kilig.

There is no point in denying this, or playing it down. It is a lesson I learned the hard way: honesty, especially to myself, is important.

I MUST IDENTIFY THE ROOT OF MY kilig.

This is the lengthy part. Bear with me as I explain this.

Identifying what made me feel kilig is important, so that I could identify which of my core emotional needs is/are being met.

When I think about it, the reason for my kilig was actually a sum total of Guy’s efforts and attitude towards me (his consistent respectful communication, his gifts, time spent with me, etc.).

But also, there were certain specific moments na kinilig ako. Like that night with me and my friends, when he said that “Sarah is worth the effort.”

On a scale of 1-10, my kilig level shot up to 15.

Now, back to emotional needs. We all have emotional needs, and when these needs are met, we feel “positive” emotions – contentment, happiness, kilig, etc. (While these needs are valid and legitimate, sometimes we don’t meet these needs in healthy, or legitimate ways. But that’s another blog post for another time.)

Two of my high emotional needs are (1) for me to feel that I am worthy… of friendship, of achievements, and of pursuit, and (2) to be thought worthy of someone I admired and respected. So when Guy, who I admired and respected, said that he thought I was worthy, I was on cloud nine.

It was important for me to identify this, because I am reminded that these needs could actually be met through other legitimate ways. This is why even without My Special Friend, or any guy for that matter, pursuing me, I can still be contented and fulfilled. Already, this thought lifts off whatever pressure I might feel to be in a relationship.

A more important reminder and realization, however, is that ultimately, my emotional needs will never be completely, fully met by My Special Friend, no matter how awesome he is. And I shouldn’t expect him to; it is an unfair expectation to put on him.

This is strongly tied to my faith — my needs are already met ultimately by God.

As I realized and was reminded of these, I felt myself getting calm and assured. And wonder of wonders — I found myself able to think clearly, while still feeling kilig! With the pressure lifted off, I was able to feel kilig and just enjoy it, and just be thankful for My Special Friend.

Of course, all this takes work and time, and you will feel emotionally exhausted in the end, especially if you are not used to thinking of these things.

But that’s why the next point is important.

I MUST INCLUDE OTHERS IN THIS JOURNEY.

Other people can help me think objectively, and remind me to be honest to myself. This is another very important lesson I learned in the most painful way. And it’s not just them grounding me in reality; it’s also having people to rejoice with, and yes, to feel kilig with.

For me, this includes a small group of close friends, my parents, and some older, wiser people I trust.

So can someone feel kilig and still be objective and think straight? I think yes! But it will take honesty to yourself and others, courage to face your own thoughts and emotions, and humility to let others journey with you.

Go ahead  — feel the kilig! And think objectively. Utak at Puso.