The Only Gift

A few days ago, my brother called me while I was at work and asked for my Christmas wish list. I opened my mouth to answer…

…then closed it again when I realized I had no idea what I wanted for Christmas.

Okay fine, I was just a bit too busy with work to really focus on those seemingly insignificant things. So I asked for time and tried to think of something, and I still came up short. I eventually managed to text him a few items I wanted later that day, but they weren’t things that I really, really want. In fact, some of them were just things I put there for the sake of having a wish list – nice to have, but not necessarily necessary.

It’s not that I didn’t know what I want, or that I didn’t want anything, really. I suppose we can count this as a sign of aging maturity,  as I haven’t made a wish list for my birthday or for Christmas ever since I turned 27. However, as I pondered on it further, I realized why I didn’t have a lot of things on my wish list this year.

It’s because God has granted most of them already.

Well, the ones that I asked for in all my prayers, anyway, which were the ones that I really, really, really wanted.

Direction.

And no, it’s not One Direction. ;) Early this year, I prayed for direction, because I felt like this year was the time to move, the time to do something new, especially with my career. My personal deadline was mid-2014, but God answered the prayer earlier, which led me to transition, which led me to one of the craziest adventures I’ve had this year.

I will write about it eventually, but let’s just say that this adventure led me to hold on tighter, to choose joy more, and to learn to be grateful. When I asked for direction, God really gave me that, and funny thing is that He kept me in the dark so I would learn to trust that He was leading me in the right path. In answering my prayer for direction, God made my faith stronger…and well, there’s a lot more to learn, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I got what I prayed for.

Open Doors.

This is connected to the prayer for direction, as I often prayed for doors to open when I asked God to lead me. But the more concrete thing with this is what had happened recently: I thought I lost one opportunity because I chose not to acknowledge it, so I let it go. I didn’t think it would come find me again, which I took as God telling me that that was one door opening for me again.

You know sometimes it still surprises me how swiftly God moves when the much-awaited perfect timing comes. Either that, or I just have these expectations that God’s timing is just slower, when really it’s on time.

But other than that semi-cryptic things I wrote up there (which I will write about eventually), there were many other doors that opened to me this year, in terms of travel, writing, and speaking. I realized a lot of things about myself, and what I really want to do in my life, and it’s both exciting and scary.

But I think that’s what open doors should really make us feel: excited and scared. But more excited because how can we be scared when we’ve got God on our side? :)

Forgiveness.

One of the things that I really prayed for this year is the grace of forgiveness – forgive others, forgive myself, and be forgiven. I ended 2013 with thoughts on this, and carried it over until 2014. I pondered, struggled, and worked on this in my heart, up until I had finally accepted that maybe there are some things that will really take time and that there are some things that I will probably never get, so I told myself that maybe what I wanted isn’t necessary anymore. Maybe I should just learn to live with what I was given, you know?

But you know what? It’s always when we surrender that God starts to move in ways that will always surprise us. It’s as if He’s just waiting for us to give Him the reins, and the moment we do, He moves like that, and we get the things we want in such an amazing package that we wouldn’t want it in any other way than He had given it to us.

And so forgiveness. Of all the gifts I received this year, this is the one I am most thankful for. So much of last year and early this year had me asking so many questions about what happened, had me feeling angry and sad at myself and at others because of the things I did and what they did and what I lost. I honestly didn’t think that reconciliation would be possible. But God had other things in mind, and He answered my prayer in the most perfect time, and I am just in awe and so grateful that He did.

It is a great grace to really experience forgiveness. How humbling it is to be able to give and receive it face to face. And as my friend said, truly, God works for the good of those who love Him. :)

All I want for Christmas

Looking back, this Christmas is now a lot more special because instead of asking for material things, I find myself just giving thanks over and over again. It feels like a huge bonus – not only did Jesus come down to be human, but He answered my prayers even if I didn’t deserve any of it. I believe He answered them for the same reason why He came down to be a child on this day: because He loves us.

And because of that, what else can I ask for? :)

13 Things About 2013

I almost skipped this post because if I can be totally honest, yesterday’s post kinda took a lot out of me. But I wanted to keep with tradition, and I wanted to end the year with a joyful and grateful note, and there’s always something a little joyful in looking back, right?

So, 2013. The Year of the Brave. I can’t believe it’s ending, and at the same time, I am really ready to say goodbye to 2013. 2013 wasn’t as difficult as 2009, or really completely as happy as 2010 or 2011 or 2012. If I can use a word to describe this year other than it being courageous, it’s…well, equal parts heart-filling and heartbreaking. That’s the best I can describe it, and truth was, I actually expected that. You can’t be courageous without it somehow breaking your heart, right?

But despite that, I still think that 2013 is good. It’s good. I remember telling my friend, when she asked me how I was, that I was good. I figured it was a more appropriate way than saying “okay” because okay is just…okay. Not really good, just…okay. Did that make sense? But good is another thing, and being in that place is enough for me now. :)

  1. With every year that I have gone to places, that is always the first thing I like to recap. :) 2013 saw me traveling again. The only new place in my list is Jakarta, my first out of the country trip this year. And then there were other places that I’ve been to before but took me a while to go back: Singapore and Guam. On the domestic front, I went to Tagaytay (for the nth time, twice), Subic and La Union. These trips, especially the international ones, kind of wiped my bank account…but what the hey. Money is just money, and I can always earn it back. The experiences in all those places are priceless, anyway.
  2. The first time I traveled alone. I think I don’t have to say why this is noteworthy, right? That Singapore trip was really a therapy of sorts (or as my friend Jam said when we saw each other, “rehab” :P), and it was a lovely, lovely time. I can’t wait to go out on my own again.
  3.  I think another reason why I was so broke this year was because I bought myself two big gifts: the much-awaited MacBook Air and my Kindle Paperwhite. I don’t regret them, of course, because I really wanted them, and they have made my reading and writing life a lot easier. :)
  4. My dog Batman passed away. On my birthday. :( I love that dog so much and it still makes me sad to remember him sometimes. He’s such a brave and lovely dog, the first one I really loved. I especially missed him on my saddest days in 2013. We had other dogs, sure, but I felt like Batman really knew me, and he really tried to comfort me when I’m sad. I’m sure other dog owners understand this, right?
  5. Grace.
    As I mentioned in my previous post, I ended 2012 with a note about graciousness, and that was definitely applied by 2013. There were so many exercises in grace this year, and I realized how grace is really hard work. This year saw me wrestling with un-gracious thoughts, trying my best to give grace and then realizing in the end that I need it just as much as I need to give it. I learned to lay my weapons down, to pick my battles (somewhat), cut people slack, and to ask for forgiveness. Grace is one of the many things that made this year brave and beautiful, and I am so, so grateful that it is free. :)
  6. Intentionality, again. I wanted to write a post on intentionality this year, and I read the post draft I had but it didn’t fit, and I didn’t feel like I am fit to write about it even after the whirlwind that is 2013. But I tried to be intentional this year, I really did. I prayed and tried to act with good intentions…but I think the biggest lesson I had about it this year is what a friend told me yesterday: sometimes good intentions aren’t enough. It’s a hard lesson to learn, because it required me to look even more outside of myself. Or I guess it’s really more in the context of expectations, really — how our expectations can sometimes kill our good intentions, something like that. I do believe that we can all benefit from being intentional with one another, but perhaps there’s more to this — I bet there really is. Perhaps there’s more to this in the next year.
  7. I finally finished a novelThis item was supposed to be I wrote a novel! but then I realized I’ve been doing that every year for NaNoWriMo. I joined Mina V. Esguerra’s #romanceclass this year, and I finally, finally finished a manuscript after how many years of leaving unfinished works in my hard drive. I even had it sent to beta readers, which is a great, great help, and I even got to revision stage. I pushed the release later and later because of some reasons (personal, among other things), but I am working hard to get it out really, really soon. And I even have an outline for the next ones. So let’s all cross our fingers for 2014 for this. :D
  8. I started tutoring kids.
    I will have a separate post for this eventually, but this is the short version: I became a Cornerstone tutor. In a nutshell, Cornerstone is our community‘s education program where tutors teach basic reading and comprehension and values formation to kids. I’ve heard of this for so long, but I didn’t exactly volunteer for it because I had busy weekends — or so I thought. Then things happened in my life and my SFC household head told our friend who heads the Cornerstone program in our area that I want to help. So I found myself waking up way too early on Saturday mornings just to go to our school and teach kids. I have more to write about this next time, but let me say that Cornerstone has definitely made my Saturday mornings brighter. :)
  9. Heartbreak. I know, I know. This sounds like the juiciest item, but let me elaborate. I guess we can start with my dog passing away, and then there were many more instances of it after that. Then there was also Haiyan/Yolanda, and that absolutely broke my heart in so many ways for my country. And yes, there was some that came from the romantic front. Okay, a lot of it came from there, and in some ways, I know it came from my own doing, too. And that is all the elaborating I would do, because the other details don’t need to be written down (at least, not now). Suffice to say that I learned the most from this, and it taught me to let go of so many things, and hold on to God’s goodness. Donald Miller hit the nail right on the head with this tweet: “Sometimes the most self-respecting decision you can make is to choose heartbreak over instant gratification. You’re worth the pain.” Yes, it is, and yes, I am. (You are, too.) I know I have done my share in breaking other people’s hearts too, and for that, I am really, really sorry.
  10. Vulnerability, being seen and loved. I learned about Brené Brown this year, and her TEDx talks on vulnerability and shame were some of my most favorite discoveries. Then who knew that I would be able to apply them this year? But I guess it follows because I wrote about having a brave heart last year, and having that means I have to learn to be vulnerable. It means trusting people, and allowing myself to be seen and loved and to be in the now. It means allowing myself to hope, to keep on walking, even if it was the last thing I feel like doing. It was this year that I really believed that while vulnerability reminds us of our humanity, it doesn’t make us fragile, not one bit. (And I am definitely reading Brene Brown’s book in 2014. :D)
  11. I found my core people this year. I’ve always known that I have a great set of friends, but this year they really, really shone in my life. I lost count of the times I slept at four to five in the morning to hang out, just talking and enjoying each other’s company. I lost sleep for so many nights but I don’t regret any of it because those were some of my favorite moments this year. More than those fun times, I also saw how my friends loved me and took care of me and were patient with me. Like what I told them last Christmas, their love and time and patience were some of the most precious gifts I received this year, and I am grateful. It is my hope that I can extend the same care and love that they showed me, too. :)
  12. Time is a friend. It took me a while to really, really feel this. If last year, I learned that space is good, this year, I learned that time is a friend. I didn’t understand it at first, and I resisted it even — because I am an impatient little girl who doesn’t know what’s good for her. :P I have made so many mistakes because I hurried things or wanted to hurry things, and I apologize for that. But I have learned, and am learning, that we really can’t hurry some things. That things really take time for it to work. And most importantly, healing takes time.
  13. Forgiveness. And just like last year, I got some last minute lessons this year, too. Before this year ended, I learned about forgiveness. Oh, it’s not that I don’t know about it. It’s really more about learning it all over again, and really, really feeling it this time. I remember during one of the times I went to Confession this year, the priest told me about how Jesus never said “love” in the Lord’s Prayer, but mentioned “forgive” twice, and perhaps it was because Jesus meant that forgiveness is a kind of loving. This year — especially in the last few weeks — I faced forgiveness, both in giving and receiving it. I learned how hard it was to forgive the people you love who have wronged you, and how it was even harder to ask for forgiveness from them. And even way harder is to forgive yourself from all the mistakes you made. Like courage, forgiveness is a conscious decision, a constant choice and sometimes even a battle because you need to work hard in forgiving all the time. I really liked what the priest told me then: Pray for a big heart. A small heart gets irritated by the smallest things and refuses to think about others. A big heart absorbs the pain and knows how to forgive. Jesus had a big heart that He was able to bear the pain on the cross and forgive. You need to pray for a big heart. That has been my constant prayer ever since I heard it, and I’d like to believe that God is answering that, one day at a time. This year, I prayed so hard for redemption…and I’d like to believe that it was an answered prayer. So thank you, thank You for this gift. Because she has been forgiven, she can love. Because she is loved, she can forgive. 

I’ve always liked the New Year because it always meant that everything seems new and fresh and there are always infinite possibilities. I am so done with 2013, not because it was a bad year (despite it being heartbreaking for most parts) but because I am ready for the next year. I am ready to welcome the coming year with all I am. I am still messy and imperfect and awkward, and the new year will not really take that away in a snap (if it will ever be taken away, that is). I will carry all that and the lessons I learned in 2013 to the new year, and I trust that God, in His infinite mercy, will use all of that and bring new things from this. Or perhaps He will make some of the old things seem new because He will give me new eyes to see it. I don’t know exactly, but I’m not really scared. :) God is good and faithful and He delights in me (delights in us!), so what’s to be scared about?

Image from we heart it
Image from we heart it

If I haven’t said thank you to you (family, friend, acquaintance, someone I argued with, someone I hurt, someone I asked forgiveness from, someone who hurt me and yes, I forgive you) yet for being a part of my 2013 then here it is: THANK YOU. Thank you for being a part of my year of courage. Thank you for being a part of the brave stories that roar. Thank you from the bottom of my sunflower-loving, solar-powered stargirl heart. ♥

Have a joyful 2014, everyone. :)