Let’s start from the top

It’s 2016! I know that everybody’s Facebook newsfeed is filled with greetings and cheers, photos of fireworks and sparklers, lots of food and extravagant celebration. Of course it’s a huge festivity, and we want to celebrate all the accomplishments and successes of the past year, and move forward to a bigger, better one.

Phrases and sayings like, “Goodbye 2015, Hello 2016!” or “New Year, New Life” have infiltrated the home page of all my social media accounts. And I wonder what these really mean to them.

(Heads up: This going to be an “I” post so bear with me.)

When I woke up this morning and reflected a bit on how I’m going to face this year, and how to plan it out basically, this phrase just hit me right away: Renew your mind. I remember it being drawn from the Scriptures, which goes, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Renew your mind.

This verse can be explained, deliberated and integrated in many ways, I believe. But one thing is certain: it’s making that conscious effort to renew your thinking, to change your perspective of things; trash the old and/or ugly way your mind works, and start again, start afresh.

But I believe that there is nothing you can do perfectly or excellently without the help of our Lord. I think it is Him, His Holy Spirit that will do the job of “renewing” us from the inside out by seeking Him, listening to Him, communicating with Him, obeying Him, collaborating with Him, and always sticking with Him in all sorts of season.

2015 has been the toughest year so far.

Even up to the last few hours of it, challenges have simply punched me in the face, and on all sides of my body. It was consuming, it was tiring. I was in distress. I was exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. It was awfully hard.

But one thing keeps me up and fighting: it’s God’s grace. My hope does not run out because I have it, I understand it. Even if I am not deserving, I have been graciously gifted with that.

I just had to keep reminding myself that despite the ugly, unpleasant things around me, I have a God who loves me, cares for me. I do not need anyone’s approval. I do not need anyone to define me, characterise me or validate me.

His grace is enough.

My Father’s love is enough. The identity that Christ gave me is enough.

I am saved. I am loved. I am a citizen of heaven. I am His. And nothing, NOTHING can ever change that.

I know we live in a very challenging world; we are exposed in a battlefield everywhere we go, and there’s already a grand one situated inside our minds. It is not hard to get blinded, to get derailed, to get lost. We are naturally weak, and we got to recognise this inherent flaw.

I am not gifted with a strong character, or a tough heart. I think everyone who knows me knows that. I would need so much support, encouragement and nourishment so I can build a stamina, some sort of defence mechanism. And I would need a lot of time to soak them all up.

One of the best things happened to me this year. I have developed the courage to come face to face with all my weaknesses amidst the adversities. I have learned how to look them in the eye, and identify them one by one and even provide a name for each one. I have tried my best to study how each one comes into existence, grows, and dies, or even resurrects.

And while I’m being pressed down, tortured and strangled by these things, I’ve found myself in a place where I am in need of some big time saving. I became more desperate for God, more thirsty for His presence and help. I would always be stuck in some way, and would always cry for rescue.

And in all those tribulations, I believe that God has never left my side. He has truly become my strength, a strong protective shield. I have always run to him for peace and comfort, which He has generously offered.

I have come to know Him, and got closer to Him on a different level.

I have recognised and accepted like never before that without God, I am nothing. I am no one. I am trash. That without seeking His grace and mercy, I am in complete destruction. Without Him, I am helpless–I am hopeless.

Christ is Hope.

This hope does not run out. This hope is abundant. This hope is available to me 24/7, and is only waiting for my go signal. This hope works. This hope revivifies. This hope renews. This hope sustains.

And so my battles continue this new year. Perhaps, we can say that there might be nothing new in the environment I’m living in, or in the situations I’ve got myself into. I have no control whatsoever in any of these things.

But I have control over my mind.

I have control on how I would react on these circumstances.

I have control on what direction I’d like to steer my vehicle to.

I have control on when to say what, and why and how.

And when I lose any form of control or direction in my body, I know that there’s one that will remain constant. One that will cancel out the noise and clear the skies ahead. One who will breathe life and bring light to my pathways. One who will remind me what I am, who I am, and where I am bound to go.

My Maker. My Captain.

As long as I have the ability to think properly, change and declutter my thoughts, I am hopeful and I am sure that my God will remain faithful and He will never let me down.

He has amazing plans for me. He has changed me and continues to refine me.

The assurance of His love is all I need to face the days to follow. I will remain grounded in that, and wait on His presence.

I will listen and allow Him to take over, and become Messiah in all aspects of my life as He’s always been.

So, to whoever’s reading this, partner with God this year, and see how things will change. Well, the may not, but you will!

Here’s to the new year!

.

R.

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 1.18.19 pm

Matthew 1:23

rrrr

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:23)

It could a little too overwhelming when you sit down and reflect what we really celebrate during Christmas. And essentially, it can be summarised in this very word, “Immanuel”.

It’s about God coming here to be with us, to dwell among us.

That the King of kings, the Lord of all lords would come to live with us so we could live with Him.

That the almighty God, the giver of all things would come to be so close, so near, so personal with us.

That Heaven’s most precious Son would come to reconcile us to the God Most High, ransom us, and bring us back to life.

There aren’t enough words and expressions we can use to convey the weight of these truths. And that the best thing to do in this season is to be thankful, to celebrate the goodness and the graces we have experienced, and we continue to receive.

Our King is with us, our Saviour is with us. He loves us and is always for us. He fights for us and He justifies us. He is always near.

Wishing you all a merry and glorious Christmas! And here’s to wishing you a successful year ahead!

.

.

R.

Backstory’s out!

rie manaloto unplugged 1

It’s been a week since the big event. I’m not a huge fan of celebrating anniversaries, commemoration days, and all that (except for Christmas and Easter perhaps). But realising that seven days have already passed since the project, I can’t help but look back on the previous months and everything that took place in those few, strenuous months—the several episodes and stages that the kids and I have to go through so that a musical event will effectively materialise.

(Heads up! This might sound a little too mushy-gooey. But please bear with me.)

It was a first time for me. First time that I was the “boss”, that I was on top of everything. First time that an entire show has been placed solely on my shoulders. Interestingly, I had to get to grips with how much power and authority I actually possess being the boss, the pilot of the plane. I called the shots, I ran the show. I could do everything that I wanted.

But at the same time, I had to face a myriad of responsibilities and demands, which all have piled up week by week during the preparation season. (Absolute buzzkiller, hey!) Demands from the show itself, from the theme and design, from the group’s purpose, and every single individual’s personal goals. I had to measure up to the group’s standards, my head directors’ standards, the parents’, the audience’s, to my own standards; and somehow find the right balance between all of those.

At one point, It was all just elusive. Listening to and looking over what everybody was saying and expecting, how on earth would you do it? How would I cater for everyone’s needs? How would I wedge everybody’s favourite songs in an 80-minute repertoire? How would I do all these without losing my identity and personal touch? How far could I take it?

It was fearful. It was difficult. There were times when my mind would just go blank, that all the complications around would just swoop me out of my disposition, and got me floating flaccidly with the clouds, pie-faced. Revisions were endless. There were at least twelve drafts produced before we locked in the final songs and their order in the setlist. If a particular number didn’t work (in terms of music and/or impact), then it needed to be either replaced or completely cut, regardless of the hours spent in preparing, arranging and polishing it.

As the director, I had to turn limitations into possibilities, and into actual acts. I had to enable the kids to work and succeed on their own pace, but without sacrificing the desired artistic quality; and making sure that only their strengths and passions were displayed on the night, and nothing that could vitiate their image as budding artists. It was also my job to look after their motivation, their engagement and enjoyment in the project. I mean, they’re kids still. You gotta give them a reason to stay focused and driven.

Oftentimes, it would just feel like the project was in a precarious state. Criticisms were getting too hurtful and alarming. Everybody was feeling exhausted. But then, there’s no turning back anymore because the date has been set, the venue’s been booked, the ad’s been released, people have been informed about it. So quitting was never quite an option at all. There were lots of frustrations, arguments, breakdowns. But we had to stick together and believe that it will all work out in the end.

Alright, for a supposedly “experienced”, “professional” person like me, I’m sure everything that I just said would just sound lame and dumb. You could be thinking, “Oh, what is wrong with this guy? He should know what he’s doing! He’s already done heaps of that! He’s already earned a lot under his belt. He should be ashamed of himself.”

I mean, I’ve been in several productions before, directed music for a lot of events and stuff. But for some reason, this one’s quite different. It felt like I went miles and miles down to zero, and start everything from scratch—and starting from scratch never felt so intense and gruelling. I was bogged down on the ground with all the clutters and scattered pieces, and I had to assemble them all together right along with my own self.

Now, I’m sorry if all those sounded so melodramatic. It was not the intention! You might even think that I am exposing my own weak side. Well, you may think that but it’s precisely what happened. And you can’t succeed until you learn how to face your weaknesses. I am a work in progress who is currently going through a rigorous state of refinement before I can self-actualise. And the best thing to do while in this phase is to be open, honest and accepting of your own flaws and limitations; and just be teachable. Strip away the prejudice and the inhibitions. Shut up and just do it!

When you saw the show, it may have looked so smooth, so easy and simple. Yet behind all the fun and fluidity were the many challenges, failures and hardships experienced individually and as a group. But like what I said, I believe that the group managed to pick ourselves up, and overcome the hurdles, and proved that determination will enable us to survive.

And I am just very proud of our kids who have displayed determination, maturity and stamina in order to deliver a good show. Of course, they’ve done that the past year for Wait For It and have succeeded in a lot of ways. But this time, I have witnessed it first hand, and got involved in many of their personal struggles, insecurities, uncertainties, confusions. Nevertheless, not one person gave up. Not one person stepped back and chose comfort and convenience. Everybody was on board regardless if rehearsals were demanding, boring, uncomfortable; even though their Kuya Rie nagged, complained and criticised nonstop.

I will also never forget how incredible it is to be mentored by our head directors, Tito Ferdie and Tita Geraldine “Ging”, who we normally call the Master Yoda-Queen Bae tandem. This time, I felt like a kid sitting on their lap, listening attentively to their stories, lectures and important lessons that have become my nourishment in this journey. They did not give up on me, and they choose to deal with my tantrums and crack-ups.

I cannot imagine doing this venture without them. I cannot imagine myself finishing anything without their invaluable say. They were the lifeline of this project, of this group. They’re the flickering rhythm you see on the cardiac monitor after someone got revived from a near-death scene—that after you see it, you know that you are safe, the chaos is over. They are my doctors. They are my role models. They have become Mom-and-Dad.

Again, I will never get tired of thanking our amazing parents for the indubitable and unrelenting love and support. They drove us to rehearsals, prepared our meals, opened up their homes for rehearsals, spent their weekends and lots and lots of time helping in the production and making sure that we didn’t get hungry and dehydrated. I wish I could state everything in detail to express how thankful we are. They are our champions!

Many could be wondering why a long-af essay as a backstory for a 1.5 hour long gig. It’s just a gig. Well, we in Filozart, do not just prioritise the end product of our undertakings. We value and and attach so much importance to the creative process—everything that is discovered, learned, experienced and solidified throughout this stage. It is where connections are formed, relationships are strengthened, and bonds are treasured. It is what we all remember and take home with us after the lights have gone out and the curtains closed. It’s what engenders growth. It’s what whips up the motivation to become bigger, better and bolder. It’s what makes us Filozart.

rie manaloto unplugged 2

Rie Manaloto

R.

Anástasis

Easter season. It’s that time of the year again that we remember the death and sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross for the salvation of humankind from sin. However, oftentimes, many of us forget how the story’s ended. Luke 24:1-8 recounts,

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered His words.

The rest of the chapter talks about how Jesus, after abandoning the tomb, has appeared to some people including His own disciples. I can imagine Him entering his homies’ hub with a huge smile and His trademark hailing, “Peace be with you” (verse 36).

So the story ended with Christ ALIVE. Off the cross and away from the tomb. My God is back to life and has ascended to heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19). My Redeemer lives and reigns forevermore, and because of Him we are set free (Galatians 5:1)–we live under God’s grace (Romans 6:14); we’re ransomed from sin and reconciled with the Father (Romans 3:23-24, 2 Corinthians 5:18). We are able to obtain and experience salvation because of what Jesus has done, and by believing in the power of the cross and that Jesus is truly Lord (Romans 10:9).

He is the reason why we can celebrate and be thankful for being justified, free, saved and loved.

We may not fully understand why or how this all took place, or what it really means for us. But I choose to believe in what the Scriptures say. I choose to feel gratitude by reflecting on God’s goodness and grace–by recognising that I’m a sinner and I need a Saviour; that I am nothing without God; that everything is in vain if I don’t make God a part of it.

I choose to believe in God’s promises and what’s written in His Word as we wait for His return. I choose to celebrate His love and share that with others to the best of my ability, however challenging it may be. I choose to continue to seek Him and get to know Him better and deeper.

Let us not forget that Jesus did not only die for us; He also rose again to live and reign, to justify and to save us, to find us and direct our ways. He LIVES. His love saves.

It’s all about Jesus, it’s all about His love.

Happy Resurrection Sunday!

IMG_4336

Rie Manaloto

R.

Director’s notes

Being with FilOz-Art, I, along with the eleven other kids have obtained some mentoring in the performing arts in the last few months. The whole Wait For It journey all started with a series of acting and improv workshops by the Cruz-Dimaano tandem (AKA the best tandem ever!).

In a way, it kinda works like school just as it feels and looks like an extended home for all of us. And interestingly, every time a term of workshop is finished, the ‘students’ get to do a showcase of everything we learned and discovered and studied. Thus, the Wait For It concert. (Although at first, we did not expect it to be that big. But we’re thankful that it has been).

Along the way, our creative director would release a small piece of writing, or what I’ll probably call a “director’s note.” It works like a “teacher’s remarks” section on the report card for each student that talks about their progress and what not. But for this particular case, it is beyond that. It also entails character analysis, personal reflection, recommendation, appreciation and a whole lot more, all written in a concise and cohesive body of writing.

I was the last person to get my report. I’d like to think that it wasn’t because I was the best nor I didn’t need it. But perhaps, it is because my case was extraspecial, so would be my growth and progress a person, a teacher, a student and a performer.

And so, here’s what came out of my report:

He wanted to challenge himself, he wanted to learn, he wanted to share his musical talent by coaching and nurturing young people. He got that and more.

In this process, he shared his heart and his soul. He not only got the singers to sing better, he also made ALL of the youth discover their voices and instil the belief that they can sing. He is the Kuya who ran, jumped, laughed and squealed with them. He protects them, nurtures them and he fights for them… in a heart beat.

He made himself vulnerable, not only to the group, but to himself. He put these strengths forward, faced his weaknesses, and felt his fears in its true form. It broke him, it shattered his beliefs, destroyed his preconception about life. He went through it all. It was the only way I knew to get him to where he wanted to be.

Out came a person stronger, sure and true to himself and ready to create his own destiny. He starts now.

I could probably say that these lines convey only a glimpse of my learnings and important discoveries and realisations. What my head directors taught me is just priceless–it’s something I’d carry with me everywhere I go. My gratitude is unspeakable, still in awe, still overwhelmed. I’m ready to learn more.

rie manaloto

Rie Manaloto

R.