Category Archives: when people are people

Grateful 34 part 1


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Yes, I am 34 now. No amount of compliments that I don’t look like my age can change that. And I have to say that 34 feels a lot different from 33, or 30. Unlike the years before, that just blend into the next, 34 feels like a huge cog in the wheel resounding with a solitary click.

My birthdays used to be a big deal to me and I loved to throw parties to celebrate, but lately, I have been wanting more and more to be left alone as I see the day approaching. Maybe it’s because I dread the extra year, and for some reason I have forgotten why I celebrated my birthdays in the first place: it’s not about the years I have, but it’s the years that God has been faithful.

The more birthdays, the longer that God’s been great in my life.

And wow, how that thought just chased the blues away.

The best cure for whining is a better perspective.

 

So, for my 34th birthday, I’ll be listing 34 things I’m grateful for so far. Here’s part one, in no particular order:
1. I am always reminded that it is not that I ask too much of my God, but I ask too little. I always pray, “I expect great things from You, because You are great,” and He, in turn, helps me walk my talk, by showing me just how much greater He actually is as opposed to my definition of “great.”

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2. Today, on my 34th birthday, I am off to a place where I haven’t been before. I’ve been wishing I could get away by myself for my birthday, and while I was willing to settle for someplace nearer and more familiar, I was given a business-class ticket to somewhere far far away, above and beyond my comfort zone. (And this also helped with me being ridiculously excited about my birthday again. hehe)

3. I have amazing parents. One of the running jokes in the family is that I get sick a lot becauseMom and Dad threw out the colostrum that I was supposed to have when I was a baby. But the thing is, from there, they have—by trial and error, with a lot of grace, patience, love and sense of humor—done a great job in raising me to be who I am today: still a work in progress, but far from a lost cause.

4. I am proud of my siblings. Would it sound obnoxious if I say that I think they are all exceptional? Well, I guess not if it’s true. If you know us, you know what I’m talking about.

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5. I am 34 already and I still get great birthday gifts from my friends and family. Thanks guys!

6. A life of forward motion. I’ve always lived by this, albeit I do get stuck in ruts once in a while, but I’m grateful that God still moves me forward, whether or not I want to.

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7. Growing up with pets. My mom said that my very first pet was a chicken—and that I eventually had it for dinner. After that, no more edible pets. Our house has always had a menagerie of different animals—dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, fish, guinea pigs, birds, an iguana (but that didn’t stay long), and a hedgehog. Loving and taking care of pets have taught me and my sibs how to be gentle, loving even the difficult to love, to forgive bites and scratches, to accept others how they are—although it was easier with animals because they are so cute—and eventually, about death, how to mourn and move on. 10665778_10152688413411210_5997660033304440003_n

8. The gift of words. I don’t know how I could’ve survived my tough depression years if I hadn’t been able to sublimate my thoughts through stories and poetry. Reading gives me the satisfaction that shopping could never supply. Few accomplishments feel as good, or come as regular (since it’s my job), as finally finishing an article for publication.

9. My friends. You guys know who you are. It’s amazing how many you are who consider me as a friend too. I know I haven’t been the best kind of friend to have, you never give up on me. You pull me out of my hermit modes, drag me into adventures, challenge me, offer and give comfort, solicited and unsolicited advice, listen patiently to my complaining, remind me of what I have forgotten, love me despite my dubious choices in life, for telling me that I am beautiful, pointing me back to God whenever I’ve lost my way. You guys are awesome.

10. The opportunity to teach writing. I always say that I write better than I talk, and I still believe that. There are many evidences and witnesses to support this. So, it’s a huge deal for me to be given the chance to teach Writing for Print for the first semester of this academic year at the St. Dominic’s College of Asia. I still don’t think I’m a good teacher, there were many things that could’ve been done better, but it’s so gratifying to see my students’ works show improvement throughout the semester.

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11. Being a magazine editor. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with my career as a magazine editor (because it can get stressful), but it has given me so many things in my life—new friends, experiences, free food and swag, trips, interesting conversations with interesting people, stories and the privilege to practice my craft for a living. Thank you, People Asia, 24/7 Nocturnal Navigator, Metro Society, Metro Weddings, Lucerne Luxe, HOLA!

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12. Mentors. My mom who taught me stories from the Bible and answered my questions even before I learned how to read, for teaching me about boys, men, and love by word and by example; my dad who first taught me how to swim, shoot a basketball, gave me my first roller skates, skateboard, and rollerblades, encouraged my pursuit of sports by supplying me equipment, lessons, he explained the mysterious world of professional tennis, golf and the Formula One, he’s always been my number one financier of everything I need to get ahead in life; Kuya JJ who let me play with his Transformers and Ghostbuster toys, who let me read his comicbooks on weekends with him and his high school buddies; Ate Lorna, for that year in Sunday School where, instead of the usual Bible stories, got us to study church doctrines and theology; Ilou, who showed me that notebooks can also be used to write stories, for those summer afternoons of just writing on the branches of the giant calachuchi tree in their backyard; Teacher Nina who helped me give grammar the respect and attention that it deserves, introduced new hifalutin words to our vocabulary every week, nurtured my growing love for reading, and coaxed stories out of me with some healthy dose of competition; Edgar Allan Poe (AKA Carlo Curay), who tolerated a highschool freshman who, just out of the blue, started writing poems about him and his friends and exchanged poem and poetry with me and called me Emily Dickinson (I had no idea people thought I had a crush on him, but it had never crossed my mind); Tina who opened up my creativity in new ways while in Baguio; April, who took me and my comic book geekiness to different places, most notably to Italy, hiring me as a research assistant and getting me to read the best of Philippine literature in English, and for introducing me to the best writers of our time, and she also gave me Merlin, my first official cat; Jacs took me under his wing and gave me my first real break in the magazine industry after I let him hitch a ride home with me to Cavite, this friendship has grown stronger professionally and personally, he is now one of my best friends; Rheea practically adopted me after an MRT ride after school, taught me the rudiments of making and managing a magazine on a skeleton staff, made me her firstborn’s ninang, and always welcome me into their home for a dinner and a nap; Tita Sandy, thank you for taking me in when I was in such a stressful mess and helping me make some sense out of this stage in my life.

13. My girl friends. I grew up getting along better with guys, so I took it as a sign of maturity when I started getting along with girls, and these friendships have helped me through times in my life that range from ridiculously shallow to honest-to-goodness earthshakers. They are my rock and fluffers, amazing women in their own right. Thank you for your lives, ladies, you are amazing.

14. My childhood friends. We’re scattered all over the place now: San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, Fort, Makati, Sucat, and Imus. A few of us are moms, a couple of dads now; one of us is a famous singer/actor/host, then we have a pastor, photographer, designers, teachers, accountant, IT expert, and editor (me!). I don’t think we’ve had the whole gang together for almost 20 years now, but  these people will always be close to my heart.

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15. My childhood church. Imus Unida was like the incubator for my faith. It was safe, all my friends grew up there. We all attended Sunday School together, sang in the choir, went to summer camps, starred in Christmas and Easter cantatas, attended the youth fellowship, started Xchange, served in an outreach. This church taught me to serve joyfully in the ministry, I got to witness lives given to God time and time again, I may not serve there anymore, but it will always be home.

16. My church now. WinMakati is a church that I chose to serve in, no matter what the circumstances are. I’m not entirely sure why I decided to call it home, but it felt like it. I feel my churchmates’ love and support, there is safety found in there for me. I love WinMakati, sometimes I don’t know know why I do, but every time I wonder and ask if I should still be there, the answer is always a resounding YES.

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Daring to Move

If/When I get a tattoo, I have decided that it’s going to be just one word, in English (no fancy Elvish/Chines/Hebrew/Whathaveyou script for me), and it would say:

FORWARD

But lately, as you can see from my intermittent blog posts here, it seems like I have been stuck in a rut where I have gotten comfortable in misery. And I notice that I have been scared to get out of it, no matter how miserable I am already. This is just plain stupid already.

And God’s calling me out of it, reaching out with his hand, but I have curled up in a ball, too inexplicably scared to even give Him my hand.

Deep breath. I need to do this. I’ve spent enough time stuck in the mire.

So here goes. This week, things will change.

They have to.

Wake up, sleeper. Get moving.

What I look for in a man

I have to admit that the thought that maybe I am meant to be single and unmarried for all my life does cross my mind once in a while. Once when the haze of meeting someone new clears and the reality that he is an actual person–both wonderful and flawed at the same time, working on an entirely different script that I didn’t write for him–has finally sunk in, I find myself fearfully stepping back. Heart carefully tucked just out of reach.

This does worry me a bit. But we’re working on it (God and I).

I was talking with a couple of girl friends over dinner this evening and I found myself rambling these thoughts aloud. And I stumbled into something that I didn’t really think of putting on any of my “must have” lists before. I’ve discovered my ultimate  non-negotiable when it comes to the man that I would want to marry and it’s all about:

Humility.

Not a humility that makes him shy and retiring, nor a humility that turns down recognition. I am still attracted to some measure of boldness, after all… I meant a humility that knows forgiveness because he asks and gives it.

I think I would need a man like that should I be married to one. I need him to place forgiveness above being right– which is different from speaking the truth, truth still needs to be said, just as forgiveness needs to be present because one must have love and truth at the same time. A man who knows when to ask for forgiveness even if he is the one wronged for the restoration of the relationship– I need that kind of man, just as much as I need a man who can forgive even when he’s angry.

I’m not saying that he needs to find forgiveness easy, no… I need him to understand the forgiveness given to him by our Father through His Son, and works it out in His life, even if and when it is hard.

I need him to be like that, because I need to be like that.

 

And that’s the kind of humility that makes me respect a man.

Tomorrow’s Freedom

Today’s surrender is tomorrow’s freedom. We come to you and lay our burdens down.
(All Sons and Daughters)

Last week came and went so fast and I was so tired through it all that I didn’t really feel or take note of what was happening, just finishing what was required. By the weekend, I was just wandering around in a daze. I couldn’t wait to get out of the city after work and I just stopped replying to messages, putting everything on hold until when I felt like it. (I still need to write my third Truth Thursday response…). I went through the motions for Sunday, setting up stuff that were needed for the service, just functioning to function. I couldn’t wait to get back home and sleep.

It’s already Monday and I’m still  feeling it, but the time is up for me to get my act together and come back to reality again. I know what I have to do, but like with everything else, it’s too much of an effort, I have to go to work early, I have so many things to do today…and… and blah.

Then I’m reminded that I need to soak in God’s presence for energy. To lighten my load, I need to transfer my burdens on His strong shoulders. My time alone with Him is not just something that I have to do as a spiritual discipline, but it’s something I need to unscramble my thoughts, to survive the days ahead of me.

I need to fight for this time, even if right now it feels like I’m moving neck-deep in molasses. There will be opposition, that’s for sure, but I realize that if I want to get out of this muck, this should be my all-or-nothing push out. And as I keep on pushing and fighting for God’s presence, I will gain the strength to resist these opponents dragging me down.

So I prayed. I prayed for this burden (whose name I don’t even know) weighing my heart down so much that it becomes difficult to breathe. I prayed for this season where everything is working but there’s no satisfaction or contentment in me. I prayed to get up. I prayed to breathe. I have had seasons like this before, just as there are seasons where everything seems so easy and every step is like a dance. I know that He is here even as I struggle in the mire, I need to keep my gaze on Him and see what He sees– not the gloom and heaviness around me, but the victory and freedom I have in Him.

But for today, there is surrender. Because this is all I can do.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

(Psalm 62: 5-8)

Out of the dust

photoYesterday, through happily teary eyes, I witnessed my good friends Daphne and Aleks get married.Until now I can’t tell their story without getting a lump in my throat because it’s just heart-achingly beautiful. Yes, it has a lot of heartbreak and a Great Sadness at the beginning, but it also has courage, faith, redemption–and love that just did not give up. Watching it come together in that fine end of summer afternoon in Tagaytay was just amazing.

“Your story gives me hope,” I wrote at the back of my place card that served as their guest book.

I saw how Daphne got her heart broken and her first wedding called off. She shared her healing process to us, full of grace and humility–without an an ounce of bitterness. And I got to watch as she opened her heart to love once again from the man who could’ve easily given up long before. She told me about the “unforced rhythms of grace” in her journey to the altar with Aleks. And now their prayers have been answered, and at the end of that road is another one where they will walk together as man and wife.

There is no heart too broken for God to make whole again.

And God, in His amazing and awesome power, once again makes beauty out of ashes.

Time for a change

I think I’ve complained enough to last me the rest of my life. I think I should just find things to be grateful about whenever I get the urge to whine and grumble.

So here goes.

To the people who work behind the scenes
Who stay up all night to finish the paperwork
Who come up with ideas for other people
Who makes us look good
Who miss time with their families
Who work sick
Who get yelled at
Who take the blame, but never get the credit

You guys who get your hands dirty so our feet wouldn’t
For those who wash the dishes.
Who clean up after us
Who work holidays
Who are there early to open and stay until the last person leaves to close up shop

Who don’t get paid enough.

THANK YOU.

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What I learned (and I’m still learning) from my job

Today marks my first six months as a PR manager and working at Stratworks. I felt rather silly today as I went around the office telling people that today was my sixth “monthsary” there, but I wanted to celebrate it– I couldn’t help it– mainly because I never thought I would get to make it to this point and still be happy at my job (or still have a job!).

See, even if people have been telling me to get into PR even years before, I never thought my career path would lead me here. I thought God and I had an understanding. Four years ago, when I was asked at my job interview (for managing editor of Metro Society) what I saw myself doing in five years, without any hesitation, I replied that I would be an editor-in-chief of my own magazine. Last year, I thought I was right on track until my career trajectory  dramatically veered off to another direction and I found myself at the other end of the media spectrum–in PR!

I have to admit, I still sometimes ask God, “What am I doing here?!” I had nothing to do with this! All I did was give them my resume and show up at the interviews! After Donna, the managing director of Stratworks (whom I have grown to admire and adore), made me PR manager after my second interview and left me alone in the conference room for a few minutes so she and the HR could discuss their offer, I just dropped my forehead to the table with a bonk and prayed, “Lord, You brought me here. All I had to do was show up. I have no idea what and how I’m going to do this job, but since You’re the one who led me here, I’m expecting that You’ll also help me figure it out. I know I can’t do this–not on my own– but for some reason, You think I can, so… I’m just going to take Your word for it.”

So, slowly I made my way through the unfamiliar world of being in a PR agency. My friends from the magazines would sometimes kid me about how i’m “so PR now,” but I would always tell them that it’s so much work! I don’t think I’ve ever worked this hard on a daily basis on one thing in my whole career! It’s like closing 10 magazines every day most of the time and I’m always amazed when things actually pull through.

I had never really appreciated PR people before when I was an editor. They were the people who always bugged us about our confirmations for various events that I couldn’t even feature in my publications; the invisible people who would send me gifts and leave piles of press releases on my table; they’re the ones who worry for me whenever I go on press junkets, and made sure I have vegan food and a ride home. Sometimes I ignored them, got annoyed with them, or just took them for granted. Some of them became my friends because they’re just so easy to be with.

And now, I’m one of them (And, there’s never a day that I wouldn’t be sorry for all those times I’ve been mean (even if not on purpose) to PR people before! Lord! If ever I become an editor again in the future, I will ALWAYS be nice to PR! I will always RSVP to invitations! I will use the stories that they give me whenever I can and it fits in my magazine!). I’m always amazed at how my colleagues could manage to do everything that needs to be done, and at the same time be nice and make sure people are happy. PR, after all, is the business of making everybody happy– from the clients to the people in the media.

Because of this, I find that it’s such a humbling job. Most of the time I feel like I have only 40% control over the outcome of the project because so much depends on the good will of other people. I learned to watch what I say to and about other people, to “keep my nose clean” as Mark, my PR Director, would always remind me. While we do give gifts, favor can’t be bought, it can only be won. It’s all about relationships, and these things take time, intention, and consistency.

I love watching my bosses and colleagues work. It’s such an education watching Mark and the rest of the PR team solve problems and interact with editors, reporters, cameramen, photographers, and even difficult clients. The writers work so fast and produce such great ideas from who-knows-where. Meetings with our strategic director always feels like being back in one of my favorite classes in college again. Our accounts people work so hard keeping everything in order for the clients and for us. The events and creatives group stay up all night setting up events and packing up after. Donna, even if she is everybody’s boss, still helps out in pitches and presentations– and whenever we’re stuck at something. What I love the most is how my bosses would always insist on keeping our integrity– even at the cost of other things.

 

I always tell people that being a PR manager is character-building for me. I’m not used to asking for help from other people, if I can do it myself. But being new to the business, there’s still so many things that I’m still learning. There’s still so much that I don’t know in this job that I have to learn to work and ask for help from other people who know more and have been doing this longer than me. I still make a lot of mistakes (although I’d like to believe I make less of them by now– or at least different mistakes to learn from). I still need to work faster. Sometimes I want to beat myself up over my shortcomings, but there’s just no time to wallow, not when so many things still need to be done– and besides, my boss won’t let me do it.

I’m glad that I ended up in Stratworks, out of all the agencies, for my first foray into this side of the industry. The work may get toxic at times, but the company doesn’t. The people here–while far from perfect–are like family. We all pitch in to help each other (even as we are assigned our own tasks and accounts). Whenever mistakes are made, the bosses and people don’t waste time blaming each other, but instead put the effort in fixing it. In a way, it reminds me of the “truth and love” operation of Jesus, how He did not hesitate pointing out what’s wrong, but He never condemned you for it. Instead of condemnation, He gives grace and strength to make things right. (This isn’t to say that we don’t get mad/exasperated/impatient at each other… it’s still a real world workplace after all.)

I once half-jokingly told an editor, who was telling me about an opportunity to get back to editorial, that my boss gives me free haircuts and hair treatments at her uber posh salon– how can I leave her company after that?! But really, beyond the Monday breakfast buffets, the out-of-country company outings, company bowling tournaments, chillouts and fun staff meetings– I feel valued here. And because I feel valued, the mountain of work becomes less of a burden, but more of an opportunity to show my appreciation for my bosses and colleagues (well, ok… not all the time–but always after the fact. hehe).

Don’t get me wrong. I still do get stressed (I think my friends and family could see that), I don’t like missing time with my friends and family, but it’s a different kind of stress that I often get a certain high from. It’s rather exhilarating sometimes, watching everything that you’ve pitched and worked hard for come together. I’m always happy to see people come to the events we invite them to. Sometimes, especially when the event is already close, every RSVP is always received with a whispered prayer of gratefulness (I am not exaggerating!). Each pickup is like a small miracle that needs to consistently happen again and again.

I’m sorry if I sound like I’m gushing (and trying really hard to get on the good side of my boss who have yet to evaluate me *cringe*), but I can’t help it. I’m happy in my job. I’m glad to be where I am right now, even as I have no idea what’s in store for me in the future here in this agency and in this industry. I am far from being adept (I hated filling up my self-evaluation form because I could see that even I’m not impressed by my performance so far), but I am learning. I’m just so grateful to my bosses and colleagues who are so patient with me. God bless Stratworks.

I could be singing a different tune tomorrow, or next week or next month. But here’s what I do know: the same God who has brought me here thus far, will continue to be faithful, so I don’t have to worry.

So, once again, here, by the grace of God, stands Stef, a PR manager. Let’s see what happens next.

This beautiful mess

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants, the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are God’s co-workers.” (1 Cor, 3:6-9 TNIV)

As the eldest sister in our family, I grew up with my parents leaving me in charge whenever they were away. I’ve gotten so
used to being officially bossy that I actually became really bossy and started telling, not just my siblings, but also my friends and people to behave, be good, do what is right, do what you’re told. I would take it personally whenever they would get in trouble after warning them about it. It became such a burden for me, that I would often cry to God, “Why won’t they listen to me?!”

Yep. That was me. I apologize for the me from ten years ago, and for whenever bossy me pops out.

These days God and I have been working on the living with the tension between truth and love, to embrace the messiness of lives that are still in progress. This world we live in is broken and messy and it is God’s job to transform lives and for growth, not ours. As His co-workers (naks! Isn’t that awesome?!), our jobs are to plant the seeds and create the right soil for growth.

Are we creating a good environment for people to grow closer to and stronger in the Lord? Growth, as you know, is a messy process, filled with joys, spills and scrapes, triumphs and mistakes. Outward appearances and actions often hide what is going on beneath a person’s defenses. Are we quick to judge, to point out others’ mistakes and slow to forgive and accept people as they come? Or are we creating a place of absolute safety for the people among us and for the ones who are seeking Jesus?

My prayer is that we continue to learn how to love, just as Jesus loved, with arms open wide for people who are the least like Him, the sinners– like you and me.

Drifting

 

M: How’s it been?

Me: Good. A little busy. A little lonely. A little awesome. GOOD.

M: That’s good. Aww… a little lonely? (Haha thought of lonely island just now)

Me: Haha. Yep. That’s me. Stef, the lonely island.

M: Do you see this as a ‘problem’ that needs to be solved?

Me: Not really. It’s more like a season for me. I know I’ll eventually drift back into a continent someday.

M: Yeah totally understand that season. Enjoy drifting! I just love the unplanned surprises that fall along the way. That’s the awesome part.

 

We forget a lot of things in the dark

 

 

“He’s dead! What are we going to do now?”

“I don’t know… I don’t know.”

“I’m scared. What if they come for us next?”

“Didn’t He tell us that this was going to happen?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t think it would be that bad!”

“We need to get out of Jerusalem, as soon as possible.”

“I thought God was on His side. Why did He let this happen to Him?”

“Didn’t Jesus say that He was His Son?”

“And I thought He was the Messiah.”

“Me too.”

 

“What are we going to do now?”

“I don’t know.”

 

(imagining the first Black Saturday)