The Pain and Beauty of A Rebuke

“Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.” (Proverbs 15:32)

I will admit that I used to be one who was often late for dates and appointments. Not by a few minutes, but by half-hours, sometimes more. The excuses, not reasons, were constant and consistent: I got waylaid by a sudden corridor meeting, the boss called, one of my team members came into my cube to consult me just when I was getting ready to leave. Then on top of that, I got held up in unexpectedly heavier-than-usual traffic.

But I say “used to be” because I will also declare that I have managed to correct this many years ago. It was after I was to meet a friend for our usual get-together and I was close to an hour late, and he just about had it. That time around, he did not spare me his words: “Look, I work farther than you do from this place but I managed to make it a few minutes before our appointed time. Can’t you respect my time as I do yours?”.  The mood was ruined even before I could sit and settle myself for our much-anticipated lunch and conversation.

I made all conscious efforts to change since then. Not only because of that messed-up lunch appointment, but because I suddenly became self-aware of how often I had turned up late for client meetings, family gatherings, friend get-togethers. If I weren’t late, I’d be feeling harassed upon arriving at where I had to be, having left from where I came with no minute to spare. Sure, I wasn’t late, but I might as well have been as I would struggle to settle and compose myself while the meeting started. Among friends, I developed a reputation of one who was perennially tardy.

And yes, I succeeded. I changed. For years my batting average at punctuality was so good that I believe my reputation changed from a perennially tardy attendee to a stickler for punctuality.

Until the other Saturday.

My best friend and I had a date with a couple of friends at the Polo Club. We were to introduce two other friends to each other so that they could play a few sets of tennis. We reside a few minutes from the Polo Club, so I was taking my time getting ready and for some reason, slipped into my old, long-forgotten habit of leaving without any minute to spare.

Patty, my best friend, peeked into my room and, with that familiar exasperated tone, urged me to hurry. I remained relaxed, moved in slo-mo as I had one last glance at the mirror, switched off the lights, picked up my shoes from the shoe closet, slung my bag on my shoulders.

I heard the car start, Patty revving the engine and palming the car’s horn. My mobile phone rang, insistent and angry. I knew it was Patty calling to ask me what on earth was keeping me. I ignored the ringing and dumped my phone in my bag, went down the stairs, sat on the bottom step to put on my shoes, patted my dog, went out the door, out to the street and boarded the car where Patty, with lips pursed, almost jack-rabbited the moment I shut the door.

We were quiet. I knew she was upset. And I was… defiant.  Defiant!

Patty broke the silence. I was expecting her to rant at me the way she used to whenever she was angry. But she was different this time. In measured tones and words carefully chosen, she said, “I don’t want us being late. It is embarrassing. And it’s disrespectful. I found it disturbing that you were not moving with urgency when we were getting awfully late. I hope you understand why I am upset.”

I was quiet. I did not want to argue. And then I wanted to. Pride started getting in the way of my ability to think rationally.  I so much wanted to tell Patty that this was the first time in so many years that I caused us to be (almost) late so can’t she cut me some slack? Why can’t she see that?

I did what I learned to do when irrational emotions start creeping inside my heart. I did not count to 10.  I could have forced myself to think and feel the oft-repeated phrase “good vibes”, but I needed something else out of the way. Instead, I prayed a silent prayer.

And at that moment, I felt pride leave, almost physically.

I realised that my pride was killing me not so much because I knew she was right, but more because I had to admit I was wrong and was an idiot. Being rebuked by my best friend, or anyone else, is not a pleasant experience, but one that is necessary. Better her than the mute criticism of acquaintances or strangers. And I suddenly appreciated her effort to choose her words rather than berate me as if I were a little kid.

Before I could even speak, Patty continued, “Can we be friends now? I’m sorry, I had to tell you off.”

I was chastised. Pride had no place among my reactions. “You’re right… having improved all these years does not change the fact that I am causing us to be late today. I’m sorry.”

I recall a human resource training course that I attended in a previous job; it was about the importance of feedback. The lesson that struck me the most is that: “Feedback is a gift. Its beauty depends on what we do with the gift.” Pride often prevents us from appreciating the gift of negative feedback especially from those who matter to us and to whom we matter.

And just like any gift, a sincere feedback, most especially a rebuke, deserves at least two words in return: thank you.



For Whom My Heart Beats

I recall that a few years ago, I watched a movie where, in a scene, a soon-to-be mother was having her ultrasound conducted. Her husband and soon-to-be father of her baby was beside her, and their eyes were fixed on the monitor’s screen in front of them. The obstetrician had turned the monitor at an angle so that they can see the image clearly. It was a huge blob of grey, black, and white, distorting and pulsating one moment, then pausing to reveal the odd shape of a fetus’ head or limb the next.

The soon-to-be mother tried to choke back her tears, and the soon-to-be father, filled with awe and emotion, whispered, “A miracle….”.

Indeed, it is a miracle. They did not coin the phrase “the miracle of life” from nowhere. But I really did not grasp its full meaning then because these were, after all, actors instructed to shed a few tears and act awe-struck.

A few weeks ago, I underwent my annual executive check-up. After completing my treadmill stress test, the attending physician requested for more cardiac procedures done: a 2D echo with doppler and a nuclear imaging stress test. Earlier, my X-ray had shown a slightly enlarged heart and my recovery time after running the treadmill was slower than expected.

So a few weeks later, there I was, back in one of the freezing rooms of St. Luke’s Hospital, with no help from the thin gown I was wearing. The technician instructed me to lie on my left side while she ran the ultrasound wand along the left side of my chest. I felt myself getting drowsy and decided to nap a bit when a squishing sound filled the room. My eyes popped open.  Then I heard the distinct sound of pounding with a rhythmic cadence. My heartbeats.

My heartbeats… I was in this room with the machine that will tell me if the organ that keeps me alive needs repairing. In another room in the hospital, someone is waiting for a doctor to tell him what is not wrong with his liver, or his brain, or his stomach.

It was then that the oft-repeated cliché “miracle of life” made known its meaning to me.

Someone designed my body to be specifically what it is and to specifically work the way it does. That Someone designed me in such a way that I was formed from the union of my mom and my dad, who were formed likewise. That Someone determined the chromosomes I would have. I seemed to be like the rest of humans, yet that Someone gave me my own set of DNA to define me to be specifically who I am, different from the billions like me on earth – even my twin’s, if I had one. And every single one of the billions on earth is different from the rest.

My heart has its own purpose, as do the different organs of my body. Only Someone infinitely great and powerful could have designed an intricate work of art such as the human body – and everything else that human hands are incapable of creating. My heart is specifically designed to have arteries and ventricles – no other organ has those. Its arteries and ventricles are so designed to have their specific roles to play.

That I would have come from nowhere and out of a mere bang from somewhere is unbelievable to me. For how can a bang from somewhere… nowhere, be capable of such a creation?

And because of this, I cannot believe in a god, a vague god who is “out there somewhere”. I believe in God, the God who designed me to be specifically this way. I want to know more about God, my Creator.

There is a purpose why He designed me the way I am. I willingly will spend the rest of my life fulfilling that purpose. Because I am not an accident.  God is the reason my heart beats.

And it is for Him that my heart beats.





Just The Two Of Us

I was on my way to meet some friends at a cafe in Makati when my bluetooth automatically blared songs from my phone’s iTunes library. I didn’t pay much attention to them until one brought back fond memories of my childhood – and my brother Les. It was  Poetry Man by Phoebe Snow.

I was reminded that where we were once five, there are now just the two of us, having lost my eldest brother Kutch in 2015 to what we think was cancer. Until around 4 years ago I used to live in the family home that we all moved into in 1980, some 8 kms away from where Les moved to when he got married many years later. I used to be able to go visit him and his kids fairly often, but the distance and the traffic from where I now live, some 20 kms away further up north, now make this a challenge.

Snippets of our days together started filling my mind as I found my way unseeingly around the streets of Makati.

I hadn’t even started nursery when Les taught me the letters of the alphabet and taught me to tell time. Our mom had purchased a magnetic board that held all the letters of the alphabet and, huddled on our beds on many early weekend mornings, Les taught me which ones were which, which numbers where what. A magnetic clock went with the package, and he taught me how to use the hour hand, the minute hand, and the second hand.

He taught me how to tie my shoelaces during my pre-school years.  “Form two loops, and tie a knot.”

When I was finally in primary school and had my own proper school bag, he taught me how to arrange and line my books from largest to smallest, notebooks according to the order of classes.

When I was in high school, Les was in college.  I knew most of his friends, had crushes on some of them but knew that none of them would dare court me because I was “Les’s kid sister”. Les was my willing chauffeur to all my high school parties – a good reason for him to drive around the city or spend some time with his own friends.

For the most part of my college years, my dad worked abroad in Saudi Arabia.  While Les was the middle child, it was he, not my elder brother Kutch, who took over in my dad’s absence, screening my dates and telling them off when they’d bring me home a minute past midnight.

“It’s late.  You’re late.”

My date would be mortified. “I’m sorry, Sir.”

“That’s fine. Make sure this does not happen again.”

Then Les’s role took a turn that became evident when I sought his advice regarding a career move I was about to make in 2011. My mother had just passed away around a year earlier, my father much earlier in 1998. I was being offered a job for a more senior role and I thought it best to seek his advice.  He was ecstatic for me, and in that instant became my cheerleader.

Barely 5 minutes after ending the mobile call, it rang.  It was my Gail, my sister-in-law.

“Nes, Les is crying. He’s practically sobbing.”

I was puzzled.  And worried. “Why?  What happened?  I consulted him about a career move I am to make and I thought he was happy for me. Is there a problem???”

I could almost see Gail smile. “He loved it that you called him. He felt like being your dad and he liked it that you consulted him and sought his advice. He loves you very much.”

So today, soon after Phoebe Snow sang the last note of Poetry Man and Pat Metheny began to strum the first few bars of American Garage, I called him.

“Hey bud, I miss you and I love you.”

He chuckles the way he always does and says, “I miss you and I love you too, Nes.”

Our Dad would surely have been proud.


Milford Sound

Milford Sound, New Zealand.

I’d never seen a fjord.  I’ve seen photos of them from friends who’d travel to the northern parts of Europe, but didn’t know how majestic they are up close until I was… up close one.

We were on a ferry touring Milford Sound, around 2 hours away from Te Anau, in the southern island of New Zealand.  We were quite close to the bottom of the earth. 😊 I’ve seen a lot of beautiful places, many in the Philippines. Outside our country, Milford Sound counts among the most beautiful places on earth that I’ve seen so far.

I was rooted on this one spot at the ferry’s starboard as I gawked and soaked in as much of what I could see and feel. I couldn’t but thank our Creator for being who He is to me. And I found myself enumerating hundreds of answers to the 3 questions about Him that I learned from a Christian apologist named Ravi Zaccharias:

Are You not _____?
Did You not _____?
Will You not _____?

It is such a beautiful world.

When Life Throws A Curveball

It was then, in those five months of being without a job that I felt peace blanket me. I finally had the time to decompress, collect myself and do a lot of introspection. I finally had the time to sit still, listen to Him, and have serious conversations with Him. I finally had hours in the day to understand His word, and know so much of the Lord whom I now love more than ever.

I am amazed at how this year panned out for me.  It started on a low but will end on a high.  This year is also proving to be among the best in my life so far.

I never thought it would happen to me, but on the morning of January 8, almost a year ago, my boss called me to one of our conference rooms in the office. With a grim look on his face, he uttered words that prefaced the gloom and doom I felt minutes later: “I’ve got bad news for you…”.

The company I worked for aimed to improve its bottomline, requiring management to declare some roles redundant, mine included.  A few months later, I would learn that it underwent a massive restructure.

Numbness crept in, and I barely noticed our HR Head pulling out a form for me to sign as he handed me a check worth a few months’ salary. Surprisingly, I could barely stop myself, not from crying, but from laughing out loud at the ludicrousness of the moment.  “This could not be happening”, my mind kept repeating.  But it was happening.  It happened.

Stepping out of the meeting room, I grabbed my phone and called the one person I would entrust my life to if it came to it — Patty, my best friend.  “Hey, my role was declared redundant. I’m out of a job. I’ll see you in a while.” Unknown to me, Patty went up to her room to pray the moment our phone call ended. Unknown to her, I parked my car at some random street corner to pray. And the moment I got home, Patty and I sat in a corner to pray. Helpless and in surrender.

It was ludicrous because just 6 days prior, during worship, I told the Lord that I wanted to be more intimate with Him, that I wanted to know Him more. Six days later, I lost my job.  I could not understand it then, but as months rolled by, everything became crystal clear.

It was then, in those five months of being without a job that I felt peace blanket me. I finally had the time to decompress, collect myself and do a lot of introspection.  I finally had the time to sit still, listen to Him, and have serious conversations with Him. I finally had hours in the day to understand His word, and know so much of the Lord whom I now love more than ever.

In those months, He taught me to just trust Him. That everything was going to be ok. I had a huge mortgage to pay but realised I would willingly give  up my dream house if that were His will.  All I constantly prayed for was for Him not to abandon me, to guide me in my deepening faith in Him. And His constant reply to me was to learn to work not for myself, but for others and for Him. And above all else to be humble. That all I do must be for the fulfilment of my life’s purpose and for His greater glory.

Then when the time was right – in His time – I found a number of job opportunities, all in rapid succession.

I am now working for a multinational company, in a role that I truly enjoy.  It is different, it is challenging, and thus fulfilling. I am fast making new friends. If He wills it, I would like to stay here, continually learning new things. It is a good company to retire from.

I’ve learned that sometimes His messages aren’t always immediately crystal-clear, but eventually they become so.  I know there will be times when I will not be able to hear Him.  That He will choose to be silent. But I also know that His silence will have a reason behind it and that I will need to be steadfast in my faith the way He wants me to be.

Time flies. This year flew. And yes, this year is certainly among the best in my entire life.