Love and Marriage

How God wrote our 2013 story

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For some, 2013 had been a year of joy, marriage, birth, life, reunion. For some it was a year of sorrow, heartache, loss, tragedy, death. For most people active in social networks, it was a year of selfies. For even most, it was just like any other year. For Sam and I, 2013 was a year of change, the kind of change that enabled us to grow and marvel at God’s faithfulness together.

We could never really fathom how much God has been faithful to us ever since we got married. This year had been exceptionally awesome. I still remember us saying goodbye to 2012, both without jobs, praying, waiting, trusting, and hoping for the best. This time, we say goodbye to 2013 with the deepest gratitude, as God had answered our prayers, and specifically at that. And so we document the highlights that have brought color to our 2013, those that have spelled God’s love, faithfulness, and most of all, His majesty.

First, Sam got the job we specifically prayed for. Although I wasn’t particularly excited about living in Alaska because of the cold, it was Sam’s dream and he very much felt led. So where else does the wife go? That’s right, anywhere the husband goes.

Second, I had my third surgery for endometriosis in July, and I recovered pretty well. Insurance covered 98% of the total hospital cost.

Third, I was able to start chemotherapy for my Rheumatoid Arthritis and I’ve been better with less fatigue and more activities, although with almost the same amount and intensity of joint pains. But then again, insurance covers 99% of the total monthly cost. The path to healing has been rough for me, physically especially. Pain has become my friend; it has allowed me to cling onto Him for strength.

Fourth, We’ve been praying for a church where God could use us and whom we could treat as second family here in Juneau, and yes, God has answered our prayers by leading us to Auke Bay Bible Church.

Fifth, we’ve seen the Northern Lights right above our heads! The Aurora borealis reminds us of His majesty and how the heavens declare the glory of God. You could almost see how His hands move as if directing the rhythm of the dancing lights.

Sixth, Sam has learned how to snowboard and is slowly getting better at it. He’s now convincing me to learn how to ski.

Seventh, I started to blog this year. This has allowed me to find something to do besides reading and baking cupcakes. It has also helped me discover new support groups for Rheumatoid Arthritis and Endometriosis. My blogs have become a way for me to increase awareness and advocate support for RA and endometriosis research.

Eighth, we’ve met new people and developed new friendships. I guess this is important for anyone anywhere.

Ninth, we’ve found opportunities to pray for certain people and help them, especially during the Yolanda tragedy. Sam and I have always held on to this particularly important formula in our lives- that we are BLESSED TO BLESS.

Last, we are thankful for our families and how God continues to strengthen and uphold each of their ministries. We miss them a lot but we are confident that God is taking care of them. It is being far from them that moves us to value them even more and appreciate them as they are.

There are more things to thank God and praise Him for but I’ll leave the specific things to memory. God has taught us many things out here- patience, grace, lovingkindness, and more- practically everything we lack, and He still continues to teach us everyday. Yes, 2013 was indeed a year of change for us as we ventured into an entirely different environment and culture with different people. It was hard, but we have trusted in Him and He has made all things beautiful. God has always been and will always be faithful. And so we look forward to 2014 with the same hope that we had a year ago, and the same excitement that He is indeed going to fulfill His promises and unfold another chapter in the story He has written. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

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The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), the first time we witnessed it.
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Alaska- who would have thought?

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Most of you probably don’t know how and why we ended up living in the Last Frontier. Well, I don’t know either. One thing I’m sure of though, is that God plucked us out of that comfort zone called Bukidnon, and relocated us to an even colder place (as if Bukidnon wasn’t cold enough) called Juneau, Alaska. It has been 4 months since we left the Philippines and a lot of things have already happened. More than a year ago, we were in a period of perplexity, some disillusionment I might say, for not knowing where to go, and what to do. We both quit our jobs in a mission hospital, convinced that God was leading us somewhere else. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. It seemed as if we were waiting forever. It was during that period of waiting that we were tested- of our faith, our patience, and most of all discernment. I was the first one who got discouraged and doubted. I was convinced that we did everything we could to find Sam a job in the US. I talked to hospital HR departments; I called recruitment agencies, talked to some friends to help us, and sent online applications. After 6 months of waiting for that magical email or phone call, I felt that all my efforts were put to waste. And just as I was about to give up, as if hearing our plea, a friend suddenly informed Sam of a job opening. And then after that fateful referral and job interview, everything started to fall into place. Even if at one point we thought we lost that job because they never called Sam back in 2 months, and even if those 2 months of silent treatment brought about discouragement (this time it was Sam’s turn), everything miraculously worked out in the end. And it all happened in less than a year! Talk about answered prayer! Of course we are eternally grateful to the people who have helped us come here- our families, Michelle, BRH lab, admin and HR staff. Alaska! I mean I was planning to spend the rest of my life in hot, sunny (California) weather, or that group of tropical islands called the Philippines, but this? Who knew we would end up in Alaska?

Apparently, God did. He knew it all along. This brings me to Jeremiah 29:11. I will never get tired of this Bible verse, it gave us much encouragement during that period of waiting- “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Although God was speaking to the nation of Israel, it was as if He was speaking to Sam and I too. He already had plans for us, just as He had plans in restoring the nation of Israel. And He didn’t mean that plan would unfold right away. Whether it be less than a year or 40 years, it’s HIS plan, so He implements it HIS way in HIS time, no matter how much effort we put into it. In fact, this is supposed to take a lot of stress off our shoulders. We don’t have to worry about anything! Our job then is to wait and to continue seeking His will, discerning and desiring what He desires, trusting that whatever it is He gives you in the end, or wherever He puts you, it is always to prosper you. Easier said than done, though. I know that waiting is hard- many times we lose hope easily, or we could doubt God’s sovereignty. But you know what, during those times, it will be helpful to remember how God has been faithful to the nation of Israel, or how He has been faithful to you all these years. Why wouldn’t He be faithful to you now? “For the word of the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all He does.” (Psalm 33:4) You may get what you’ve always wanted and prayed for, and sometimes you may not. Everything might not end up as you expected, but it IS God’s best for you, and that is what’s important. Because, honestly, most of the time we don’t even know what’s best for us. We didn’t expect to live in Alaska ever (okay, maybe just me, because Sam loves it here), but God thought it best. Who are we then to refuse?

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Egypt, Israel, Petra on our Second Year (Part I)

Regret is the worst feeling one could ever have after having gone to such remarkable places without taking the time to write a journal about it. Well, I did start taking notes on the first few days, but after that, I finally succumbed to allowing our camera to take over the role of documenting our experience. Right now, we have over 4,000 photos of the experience, and I haven’t even organized them. So when I thought of writing about our Holy Land Tour last November of 2011, I already imagined digging through my rusty memories for significant things I could share. That’s why I’m writing it in parts. It would make it easier to remember. So, here goes.

EGYPT

Yes, we were there before political chaos broke out. Thank God for that. We all  know that Egypt is a very old place, and that its history goes back to the 10th millenium B.C. According to wikipedia, it has one of the longest histories of any modern state. Its sands have been witness to ancient civilizations that continue to baffle a lot of archaeological and other scientists today. I wish we could have stayed longer and explored more of the ancient ruins but as it was, we were on a tour and we still had two more countries on the list. Here are some points to take note of if ever you plan on going on a tour of Egypt:

1. Don’t expect to be in an oasis when you get there. Egypt is mostly desert, so naturally, it’s all sand. That means dusty shoes and clothes, and some powder on your face everyday. Even the carpets and the curtains of hotels are full of dust. So if you have allergies and the like, (especially allergic rhinitis) I would advice bringing some antihistamine and taking prophylactic measures like steroid sprays before travel.

2. We all know that oil is cheap in the middle east. But we didn’t expect it to be THAT cheap! When we were there, gas only cost 45 US cents a gallon! Get this. Gas was at 45cents per gallon while a bottle of water (500mL) cost $2! As water was scarce in the area, the cost of bottled water was like a whole lunch in Mcdonalds. We did wish we had the same water absorption and storage capacity of camels.

3. Camels. Yes, camels are very interesting creatures. They actually exist as two species- the Dromedary, which is one-humped and common in the middle east, and the Bactrian, or the two-humped camel, more common in central asia. The tourguide warned us however, that the tourist camels “parked” in the Pyramids of Giza were expensive and their handlers would trick you into taking a picture atop a camel for $5 but then they coax the camel to suddenly get up and walk with you on top (of course you couldn’t just jump your way down) and then later ask you to pay for the camel tour. So beware. Trust me, two of our tourmates fell victims to this and had to pay $100 just to get off the camel.

4. The pyramids were majestic. Thinking about all the blood and sweat that the ancient egyptians put into these monuments would all the more make you stand in awe of them. It reminded me of that scene in Transformers 2 where that shapeshifting robot was on top of a pyramid and destroying it. Thank God for special effects. I heard though that although the robots were computer-generated, the pyramids were not. They actually went to Egypt to film it at the Pyramids of Giza.

5. We went into a perfumery with the owner showing us how they made perfumes from flower oils and such. You know when you’re in the middle of picking a scent in a perfume store and your nose somehow fails you after the 4th or 5th scent and it seems like they all the smell the same? Well, you could try smelling ground coffee in between to neutralize and allow your olfactory nerves to recover.

6. As we traveled by bus to Israel, we passed by the Sinai Peninsula and stayed at a hotel which was located at the foot of the supposed Mt. Sinai, where Moses saw God in a burning bush and where the first ten commandment tablets were forged. Sam had a once in a lifetime chance of climbing Mt. Sinai, and I was thankful that he took that chance even if it meant leaving me alone in the hotel room at 2 in the morning. The pictures he took of the sunrise on the summit of Mt. Sinai were breathtaking!

7. I am not very fond of Mediterranean Food. Even though breakfast was always buffet, I always ended up eating only cereal, bread and a hard-boiled egg. Not to mention putting a lot of bread and hard-boiled eggs in our camera bag for “baon.” At first we found it embarrassing, but after seeing a lot of European and American tourists on the buffet tables with brown paper bags and ziplocs in their hands trying to take as much food with them on their tour as possible, we naturally followed suit. We didn’t expect to see Westerners making sure they had some “baon” for the bus tour from the breakfast buffet table, but we were glad to have seen them, at least we weren’t alone.

8. We also went to the River Nile, where Egypt’s ancient civilization started to unfold. It’s fascinating how the river overflowed and flooded the land every year, bringing vegetation to life and feeding thousands people. I haven’t read much about the mechanism of the flooding but the season of plenty at the beginning of the year, followed by a drought midyear, had been consistent events in Egyptian history which led to the development of the early Egyptian civilization. Today, the flooding no longer occurs.

As the tourguide went through much of Bible history, it was fascinating that he knew so much of it. Our Bible is not only God’s book of love and instruction for us, it is also the greatest book of history ever known. As we imagined ourselves in the sandals of the Israelites who roamed the desert for 40 years after the Egyptian pharaoh let them go, we couldn’t help but wonder how they managed to actually cross the Red Sea (which we also crossed, on a bus, through a tunnel), roam around that desert for 40 years, and finally reach their destination after generations of leaders. It’s different when you read the stories from the Old Testament, it’s really something else when you actually walk on the ground they walked on and experience the heat of the sun, the thirst, the hunger, that they went through. I probably would have died in the desert if I was with them. What I saw and everything I experienced in Egypt and even the trip out of Egypt was remarkable indeed. It made me realize the greatness of our God even more. It reminded me of how God had been faithful to His people, and how He promised to be faithful in the generations to come. Wait ’til I write about our next destination- Israel.

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*this is what Sam rode halfway up Mt. Sinai, they had to walk the rest of the way.

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*This is how it looks from the top of the supposed Mt. SinaiImage

* Sunrise on Mt. Sinai

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Goal-setting with God

My mom always reminded me of a time in my life when I liked writing down goals. I think I was in kindergarten, and was about 4 years old when I told the world (well, just my teachers, actually) that I wanted to become a doctor. It was a time in my life when I really, honestly, wanted to be of help to humanity. I just felt in my heart that it was what I wanted to do. Fast forward to 9 years later, I was 13 when my aunt and uncle in LA got married. Because I was left at home most of the time, and listened to the radio everyday, I came across a call for auditions for a production company in Santa Monica. And because I do love acting, I went to the auditions, and did a cold reading in front of agents and the like. An agent was very much interested in me, mostly because I was asian and she was trying to explain to my mom how asians are going to be the next big thing in Hollywood. I didn’t really know how true that was. But yes, that agent became my agent and she had me enrolled in acting school. Well it was actually an acting and modeling school. At that time I was torn between finishing High School (I was supposed to be a junior then), and finishing acting school. I had to think, rethink, and pray about it. I had to make a choice, weigh consequences, focus on priorities. And so I wrote down a list. The list consisted of details in my academic and career goals, including the wheres and the whens. I then mailed the list to my parents in the Philippines and for some reason, my mom kept the list all these years. I don’t have the list with me now but it was something like this:

My goals for the next 15 years:

1. Finish high school on time
2. Go to college, be sure to graduate
3. Try and audition for acting roles
4. After college, proceed to Medical School
5. Become a doctor

And….I did finish high school, on time. I did finish college and got a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work. While in college, I had a few acting stints and attended a workshop in ABS-CBN, but I quit after a bad experience. I applied for medical school, got accepted, finished medicine, and passed the board exam. It seems easy now that I could fit all of those years in just a 14-word sentence, but the months before the board exam actually proved a grueling struggle. Fresh out of the operating room, I was struggling with healing, and trying to cram all the knowledge I could into my exhausted brain. I was scared of failing, but at the same time confident that whatever happens, pass or not, God is sovereign. I told God, “I would understand if You don’t allow me to pass this exam, Lord, but if it really is Your will for me to become a doctor, I think this is the best way to prove it.” And I passed.  By now you would think that I achieved my goals to the very last detail. It didn’t end there, actually. When I was in college, a friend of mine and I were talking about our dreams and aspirations. One of those aspirations was getting married. We challenged each other to write down a certain age, a goal for getting married. I wrote down 27 and added that to my list of goals. I wasn’t really serious about it, but I thought it was the most ideal age for me considering I was yet to go through medschool. Fast forward to my 27th birthday. I was with my last ex-boyfriend and we were planning on our wedding. I actually got married at 27!

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Funny how God answers prayers that haven’t even been spoken. It’s funny how he knows our goals, and then honors them. When I look back, I see how faithful He has been to me. I may have made a few side trips, but He did keep me on track. You know, it helps when you write down your goals. You don’t just think about them. Writing them down would remind you (giving your mom or a friend a copy will help other people remind you too!). Letting God know about them will also remind you that you are not alone, and that there is Someone ahead of you, and that Someone is holding your future and looking forward to prosper you. Remember, goals are there to keep us focused on what we should be doing. It helps us commit to achieve something. But, we should be reminded that God is still sovereign. He already has written the details of our lives from the moment we were born. We must understand that He is in control of our past, our present and our future. And it will only be by His grace that He points us to the direction of His will. It will only be through Him and in accordance to His will that the goals we have written and set for ourselves will be actualized. Don’t be discouraged when you have goals that haven’t been achieved yet. God may have something better in store for you. You may be like me, whose childhood goals have been achieved. Or you may be someone praying for discernment, somewhat lost and waiting. Don’t despair. Just because the goals that I listed when I was kid had already been realized, it doesn’t mean I didn’t go through that stage of discouragement, and yes, despair. It doesn’t mean that I knew God’s will for me all along. I didn’t. I also got lost. I also doubted. And as I’ve mentioned earlier, I had a few side trips. I fell down, got up, brushed the dirt off my jeans and resumed living for God. God’s grace was and is still sufficient for me. His grace is sufficient for you too. Remember one of my goals was to become an actress, then at some point, I decided to quit early on? Well , I understood then that it wasn’t for me (at that time). Believe me, God is kind enough to help you understand why certain things aren’t for you at a certain point in time. Remember Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Have you written down your goals yet? I earnestly pray that you will be able to work hand in hand with God in achieving them.