Category Archives: RANDOM THOUGHTS

On waiting… (again)

Waiting can really bring out the worst in people. I’m not very good at waiting, and this is proven by the fact that I am writing about this yet again (if you missed it, I first wrote about it here).

When I find myself in a situation where I have to wait, not only do I get impatient, but I tend to become more distracted and more emotional. I try to find ways to take away the discomfort that I feel, and more often than not, I end up spending my time on things that aren’t very important. Anything that will numb my “pain” quickly.

I know it’s the same for some people, but maybe the distractions and temporary solutions differ. Not all methods are bad, but they’re probably not the wisest ideas either.

The sad reality is that the distractions and temporary solutions never fully heal us or take away the discomfort, because the discomfort is there for a reason. I find that it usually serves as a warning signal–a sign that something needs to be checked.

When I find myself in a time of waiting, that’s when my enemies come out to play:  my impatience, lack of focus, skewed perspectives, tendency to be overly anxious,  even my selfishness and self-centeredness. All sorts of stuff come out during times like these, and when I do take the time to stop and really take a good look at myself, I am disgusted and frustrated, but at the end of the day, I am also grateful. The sooner these things come out, the sooner I am humbled, and the sooner I am more willing (and wanting!) to step aside and let God do His work in me. I can’t make all of these recurring or surfacing issues go away on my own, but He is able. I just wish I would remember this sooner, and run to Him first, instead of wasting my time on other things. *Sigh*

I like the way King David put it:

“Going through the motions doesn’t please you,
a flawless performance is nothing to you.
I learned God-worship
when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love
don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.”
-Psalm 51:16-17 (MSG)

Can you relate? What have you seen in the mirror lately?

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The Soundtrack to Our Lives

Some of my favorite soundtracks :)

I like listening to film scores. The music tells stories, just as much as the visuals do. I specifically like listening to the first and final tracks.

The first tracks are usually played in the beginning of the movie while the opening titles are appearing–there’s that feeling of hope and anticipation and excitement. I love music that makes you feel like anything can happen. In a way, there’s also a sense of history; it’s like the music lets you know that the story picks up from somewhere, and what will unfold next will be quite a journey. I love that.

Meanwhile, I like the final tracks because there’s some sort of happy ending (or at least you can tell which types of film scores I prefer). You can feel it in the music–there’s a sense of victory, triumph, and joy. A great score is one that leaves you with those feelings even after the music ends.

But a score will always be incomplete without the tracks in the middle. They’re not my favorite ones–they’re the ones filled with conflict, awkwardness, pain, and the like. When you listen to them on their own, without seeing the visuals–without context–it’s difficult to appreciate them at all. But we all know that we can’t take them out of the story. Without those tracks, the story would have no texture and the final tracks won’t have the same oomph.

As much as I love the beautiful first and final tracks, they can’t play all throughout the movie. A victory won’t exist without a battle, and moments of joy won’t stand out without seeing the moments of pain.

The same goes with life, though I often forget this. More often than not, I just want the good stuff to play on the background forever. But the truth is that there are going to have to be shifts and breaks–those are all part of my story. By faith, I know and believe that there is something even better to hold on to: the hope and the promise of a beautiful and wonderful final track.

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5 Reasons why Teaching & Speaking are like Kayaking & White-water Rafting

“You never paddle the same river twice.”

My uncle–the adventurer extraordinaire Anton Carag, Jr.–was in the middle of briefing our family about kayaking and white-water rafting when I stopped to write what he had just said. I had a feeling there was a deeper lesson in there somewhere.

Fast forward to today. I was busy developing a workshop that I’m giving next week to some students from the De La Salle-College of St. Benilde. As I was working on the talk outline, I realized that public speaking and teaching are both a lot like kayaking and white-water rafting.

1) Every river experience is different, just as every speaking opportunity is different.

If you’re someone who teaches and speaks on a regular basis, it’s easy to lose your passion and just go through the motions. And when I lose my passion, I often end up preparing less and I’m tempted to simply “wing it.” But just as every river explorer has to enter the river alert, focused, and ready, a teacher and speaker needs to enter every teaching space with the same attitude.

2) Preparation will be your best friend.

Practicing the fall

Before we started kayaking, we were given life vests and helmets to wear. After we put on our gear, Tito Anton briefed us on safety measures, then we were placed on kayaks near the river bed where we each had to practice falling.

To tell you the truth, I was relieved at this exercise. For starters, getting dunked into the river helped me get used to the cold water temperature, and it helped me simulate the experience and realize that it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be.

In the same way, preparing and practicing a talk or a lesson can help lessen fears and help you prepare for possible obstacles. Am I boring myself in this portion of the talk? Then chances are my audience will start yawning, too. Do I need to insert a video or an activity to keep them engaged? Practicing and simulating helps me anticipate possible roadblocks and adjust as needed.

3) When you hit obstacles, you have to keep digging.

The river has a lot of rapids and boulders that can cause the raft or kayak to stop, fly, or flip. My first instinct would just be to stop paddling and grab on to whatever I can until the obstacles pass.

However, we were taught that when those rapids come, all the more we need to paddle harder. Or sometimes they would call out, “Dig!” because the intensity of the paddling that was required looks a lot like digging.

In the same way, it’s easy to just trail off and change the topic when you hit roadblocks in teaching or speaking. Your students or audience look like they’re tuning out, their eyes glaze over, and blank looks or confused faces stare back at you.

Instead of getting discouraged or resorting to rushing through the material, all the more we need to seize the opportunity to keep digging. It could mean asking questions to try to untangle what’s confusing the audience, or it could mean thinking of metaphors or analogies that will help the audience grasp your point better. Of course, the best time to do this would be during the preparation process, but in case you encounter obstacles in the middle of the action, don’t stop and don’t give up. Just keep on digging.

4)  Speaking and teaching can make you nervous and anxious, but it can be fun and exciting. Although you won’t get to experience that until you put yourself out there.

If you read my blog last week, you know that I wasn’t very excited at the thought of white-water rafting. I’m not a fan of open water, much less raging rapids. But now that I’ve tried it, I can say that I’m really glad I did. I had a lot of fun and I enjoyed going through the adventure with my family. It was definitely an experience to remember.

The Happy Survivors!

In the same way, I’ve often found myself absolutely dreading upcoming talks and workshops. But I’ve pushed myself to keep on doing it because, for starters, I’ve been blessed to be able to learn from teachers, mentors, experiences, and books, and my heart is to share the knowledge to help others. And I can’t help but feel joy when a student tells me that they learned a lot (or something like that). It makes every moment of anxiety and every hour spent preparing worth it. Besides, I’ve also learned that feeling nervous is normal. It helps keep me grounded, too!

5) You’ll want to pray all the way.

I’ve realized that it’s all the same with kayaking, white-water rafting, teaching, and speaking: the Lord will be my strength through and through. I stake my confidence on Him more than anything, because my skills and preparation could possibly fall short, but He never will. :)

Are you a teacher/speaker/adventurer? Is there anything else you can add to this list?

Special thanks to Tito Anton Carag and his awesome team from Adventures & Expeditions Philippines, Inc. (AEPI). If you’d like to know more about having your own Cagayan Valley adventure (kayaking/caving/rafting/watching the circadian flight of bats), you can contact AEPI at (078) 844-1298, 0917- 532-7480, or aepi@whitewater.ph. We had a great time taking in the beautiful sights, eating the delicious food, and experiencing the life-changing adventures! We flew to Tuguegarao via Cebu Pacific Air, but our flight home was canceled due to bad weather, so we took a 10-hour bus ride back to Manila via G.V. Florida Bus Transport. Despite the long trip, the ride was very comfortable. Their buses are new, the restroom was clean, and we got to recline and watch movies on-board. If you’re looking to save money, it’s a great alternative. Here are some other photos from the trip:

 

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What are you doing with your talents and gifts?

When I think of giftedness, I think of Howard Wong.

You know, Howard.

You don’t know Howard?

Well, you should.

This is Howard. This Malaysian boy is 3 or 4 years old in this video, which I think was taken this year. (You can find the awesome excerpt below, but if you want to see the full version, you can watch it here)

My reaction: “GET OUT. No way. IS THIS REAL?”

Did you react the same way?

Well, apparently, he is the real deal. This is Howard at 3 years old:

Did he just wake up this way, you ask? Well, this is Howard at 23 months:

And before you fall completely off your chair, this is Howard at 18 months.

Howard is talented. He is gifted. But he, too, started somewhere. At 18 months, he was drumming to “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”, and 3 years (or so) later, he was drumming to Joan Jett. No matter how gifted he was at 18 months, he kept on drumming. And because he kept at it, he evolved from being gifted to being PHENOMENAL.

Every person has his or her own gifts. Can you run really fast? Speak eloquently on stage? Climb mountains without fear? Invest your finances wisely? Cook a delicious dinner? The list never ends. Some gifts may stand out more than others, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that every gift is special, and we all have at least one.

Everyone is gifted with something, but not everyone becomes phenomenal. I remember a tweet I read from leadership speaker and author Mark Sanborn: “Every day your skills are changing. They improve through use and intentional practice. They decline through lack of use and misuse.”

When you use your gifts and when you develop them through practice and with the help of a mentor, your gifts are enhanced. You create art. You make an impact. You bless others. I may not know Howard, but just watching his videos brightened up my day. His gift blessed me.

What are your gifts? Do you practice and develop them? Do you even use them? If this is the first time you’ve asked yourself these questions and you have some spare time on your hands, then you might want to try coming up with a Gift Growth Plan.

  1. Think of 3 things that you’re really good at. How would you know? Doing them comes easily to you, you enjoy doing them (they’re also called “strengths” because they make you feel strong), and people have recognized the gift and complimented you on it. Are you organized? Are you creative when it comes to crafts? Are you good at graphic design? Chances are that you have more than 3 gifts, but for the purpose of being able to focus, let’s work with 3.
  2. Plot out how you can use them or practice them more often. If it’s already part of your job, ask yourself where else you can contribute your gift. Maybe you can do some volunteer work that makes use of your specific gifts. Believe me, there are organizations out there that need what you have to offer.
  3. List down the resources that can help you use or develop your gift. Ask yourself: What do I need? Is there a class I can take? Do I have a good friend who can serve as my mentor? Do I need supplies or equipment? Write them down so you know what you need to work towards.
  4. Create action steps. Don’t stop at what you need or what you lack. Give yourself some “next steps” to act upon. Obstacles can be overcome by chipping away at them.

If you need a guide, you can download a sample Gift Growth Plan which I created for a fictional person (if you prefer mind-mapping, you can download this sample). But please don’t be boxed in by the templates and the methods–the point is just to get the wheels in your head turning again, so you can get those creative juices flowing!

You know what else struck me about Howard? The sheer joy on his face while he was drumming. In the course of using, practicing, and developing your gifts, don’t forget to have fun, too! More than anything, this is why I encourage being intentional when it comes to using your gifts: because when you use your gifts–especially when you use them to help or serve others–you feel “more alive.” And isn’t it pure joy to feel fully alive?

This Eric Liddell quote from the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire comes to mind: I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” God smiles when we use the gifts He gave us!

Before I end this, a note for the parents: it’s never too early to help your child recognize and develop some of their gifts. Howard Wong is proof of that. Try doing this exercise with your kids too!

Do you have a gift/strength that you get to use regularly? How does it make you feel?

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Your love is better than life. (Psalm 63:3)

The view from home / 10.23.10 / 2:58 pm


How to make an impact when teaching, speaking, or simply sharing

I have two more talks lined up this month, and when I prepare for a talk, I put a lot of thought into my outline or mind map for the talk. I don’t get too picky about every single word that I’ll use as I speak, but I do make an effort to make sure that my outline or mind map makes sense, and has some “flow” in it. I put myself in the shoes of an audience member, and I wonder if the information I plan on giving is sufficient, relevant, and helpful. I think about how to use creative illustrations and activities, and then I go back to what I have to edit some more.

In other words, as much as possible, I try to put a lot of time and effort into it. While the methods may differ, I know that most teachers or speakers would do the same thing. And whether you’re a seasoned speaker or you’re someone who makes presentations once in a blue moon, I think you’ll be able to relate to this.

Yesterday, as I was looking back on my old journals, I came across an entry I wrote after attending a talk by a man named Dr. John Ridgley. I don’t remember exactly what he does, but I know he’s a speaker and he talks about sharing an unchanging God with a changing world. He’s an Australian man who looks like he’s in his 60s, and he lived (or still lives) in India. One of the experiences he shared with us was when he came face to face with Mother Teresa, he was so blown away and speechless, that all he could say was, “God bless you!” (I think I would’ve done the same thing!)

I remember that he was a powerful speaker with a lot of funny anecdotes, but there was one thing he said that really stood out for me, and it was this:

“You can make an impact without saying a word.”

As I look back on this, it got me thinking that we can spend hours, days, and even weeks preparing for a lesson, talk, speech, or presentation, but sometimes we forget to factor in the most important part: what we do when we’re not in front or under the spotlight–what we do before we even begin.

There are many different things to think about: do we show sincerity, openness, humility, politeness, integrity? Do we practice what we preach?

I think those are all extremely important, but for today I’ll focus on one that I think is difficult to fake when you don’t have it: PASSION. I’ve found that people respond to passion. If you’re not passionate about the topic you’re talking about, then chances are, your audience won’t get passionate about it either. When you stand in front and you share and show your passion, you get the audience excited about sharing that journey with you.

So let’s say I have a topic I’m passionate about…great! But admittedly, there are days that no matter how much I love the topic, I can’t seem to come up with the passion I need. Do you ever have those days? Here are my two tips on what to do when faced with passion roadblocks:

1) Take a break. A car has to stop for gas, it just doesn’t run forever. Every so often you have to check on the oil, the brakes, etc. We kind of run the same way. Without stopping for a break, you won’t be able to check what needs attention until it’s too late. Take a break–the length differs, but do yourself a favor and take a step back, assess yourself and your life, and fill yourself up with what you need. Alone time? Family time? Vacation time? Sleep? Acknowledge it and go for it.

2) Pray. It may sound simple but it’s the one thing I can do that can make a huge difference. There are times when I feel like I’m beyond repair, and no amount of break time seems to bring back the fire and passion I once had. When this happens to me, I pray and I ask God for help. At the end of the day, I want the students to walk away with something that helped them or added value to their lives. They should not have to ‘suffer’ because I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. So I pray for strength, energy, clarity of thought, and I pray for excitement and joy to rise up within me so I can share that excitement and joy with others. When I acknowledge that it’s not about me and I invite God into the process, His grace more than makes up for what I lack.

Writing this all down helps me remember, and God knows I need the reminder! I hope this helps you in some way too. :)

Don’t you love surprises?

When I don’t know what to write, it helps to go back to my old diaries and blogs. It’s kind of like a treasure hunt. There are lots of random stuff, there are lots of stuff that are better off staying hidden, but there are also a lot of memories, thoughts, and insights that are golden–they’re valuable to me because they’ve been part of my journey.

I came across this entry that I wrote on this same week in the year 2007 (the year I made my decision to make Jesus the Lord of my life), which I thought I’d share with you.

“The other night, while we were having a steady night (shopping, dinner, dessert), I caught myself silently watching the Rivermaya Bagong Liwanag finalists who were sitting across me. They seem like nice people…young, optimistic, passionate, excited, shy…

I was thinking about how much their lives have already changed in the last couple of months and how much the life of the winner is going to change after the results are announced this week. As we were leisurely strolling around the Ortigas area, trying to burn calories and pass the time, I asked where they thought they would be if they had never auditioned for the show. I don’t recall them giving a definite answer; I just remember that they mumbled stuff and we laughed about it, but I’m pretty sure that they never expected to be tagging along with a seemingly random group of strangers on a steady Friday night, some of which, they would only listen to over the radio or see on TV. As for me, well, I’m as random as it can get. Haha.

I, for one, had no idea at the start of the year, that this is what life would be like for me this year. It was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. So much has happened this year. I felt like I’ve been to the bottom and back. I’m pretty certain that I’m not the person I was back in January.

A friend and I were talking last week about life’s uncertainties…I had even blogged about it, too. He said something that this year really served to remind us all about uncertainty…and how it does lead to excitement once you’ve worked it out in your head. After all, he said, we did realize that things were ALWAYS uncertain, and its the people around us that really matter.

This brings me to a thought I’ve had for last couple of years. Before, I just wanted to go away. I wanted to go back to New York, where I felt that anything was possible. I used to think that if I stayed here, I could already predict the way my life was going to go. I could already predict the type of people I would meet. I had myself believing that life in Manila would be like being stuck at a dead end. I used to think that only I had control over my destiny, and that if I had made wrong choices, I would miss out, or I would delay what was meant for me.

I’m so grateful for this year, because this was the year that the blinders came off, my old beliefs were shattered, and my perspective changed. I realized just how limited my vision used to be.

There are exciting and great things ahead. I believe that. This year proved to me that God can change the unchangeable, reach the unreachable, and He can soften the hardest of hearts. He is the Master of Surprises—and boy oh boy, do I love surprises.”

I wrote that in 2007, and it’s still so relevant for me today. This year has been filled with wonderful surprises for me, and I am simply amazed and grateful. If you told me last year that I would go through all of what I’ve been through in the past 9/10 months, I probably would’ve just laughed. This was the year that I’ve traveled more than I have ever traveled in my life, a reality that I can only attribute to God and His crazy generosity. I met wonderful people and experienced incredible things. I was pressed and pushed out of my comfort zone and I’ve been through the desert and back. But every twist and turn was worth it.

What about you–did you think you’d be where you are today? How did God surprise you this year?

Do all leaders really have to be readers?

There is a famous phrase that says “Leaders are readers.” I can’t verify if this has been consistently true throughout history, but on a personal level, I do know this for sure: reading helps me learn better, and learning helps me lead better.

Personally, I prefer reading books. I can go on and on about books, and those of you who have followed this blog long enough know this to be true. I always love giving books to people when my resources allow me to do so, but what I’ve learned throughout the years is that not everyone likes to read books.

“I tried,” says a friend, “but I really can’t sit still and read.” And that explains why I’ve seen some of the books I’ve given to people gathering dust on their bookshelves.

So what’s a non-reader to do? Do all leaders really have to be readers?

My answer is no. At least not everyone has to be a consistent book reader. Here are my 5 tips on how to learn and grow as a leader if you’re not into being a reader:

1) Opt for audiobooks. Do you feel left out when your friends talk about a book? More often than not, that book has an audio version. You can listen to it while you’re exercising, running errands, or while you’re stuck in transit. Yes, there are better things to do other than daydreaming!

2) Subscribe to podcasts or iTunes U. Podcasts are great options for those who want variety and don’t want to spend a single cent. You can find podcasts about everything under the sun, and just like audiobooks, you can enjoy them while you’re occupied with other tasks. Not a lot of people take advantage of iTunes U, but if you find it in your iTunes Music Store, do take the time to look around. There are some wonderful talks and lectures to be found if you spend some time digging. Podcasts and iTunes U tracks are all available for free.

3) Stick with the short stuff. Some people think they can never be readers because they can’t sit still long enough to read a whole book on just one topic. But nowadays, you can opt for lighter reading fare. Read blogs! You can read about a variety of stuff, and some blogs come with videos and pictures that will cater to your other learning needs.

4) Make listening appointments. Maybe you don’t like reading, but you have friends who devour books like potato chips. Chances are, they would love to talk about the books they just read, so I suggest asking them to fill you in on what they’ve learned. All you need is some time, a couple of focused ears, and an open mind. Paper and pen: optional.

5) Keep things bite-sized. As much as you try to avoid it, there may come a time when you’ll come across a book that you know you really want/need to read. Take the Bible, for instance. Reading the Bible is different from just hearing the Bible. When I read the Bible, I find myself having to read through a passage over and over to really ‘chew’ on it and let it sink in. If I were just listening to it, it would be too much trouble to keep having to go back to hear the same thing over and over again. Plus you can’t highlight an mp3! In cases like this, here’s my tip: just chop it up. When I started reading the Bible, I committed to reading one chapter a day. Nowadays, I’ve found that my time in the Word has been even deeper and richer when I just stick to reading 3 to 5 verses at a time and really taking the time to think them over. I’d like to think that reading 3 to 5 sentences a day is manageable for everybody. So whether you’re taking on the Bible or a book on business, you can do it! :)

One of my favorite definitions of success is from author and leadership expert John Maxwell. One portion of his definition says that success means “growing to your maximum potential.” If you look closely, that’s different from “maximizing your potential.” We can’t maximize our potential every day of our lives unless we plan on burning out quickly, but growth is something that can happen daily. Besides, we don’t even know what our “maximum potential” really is. The best we can do is to keep growing–and to keep growing, it’s always good to keep learning.

What are other ways that you learn? How do you make learning fun?

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Have you reached a breaking point lately?

While I was in China, I was offered to eat something that looked somewhat questionable. My friends and I were walking down a night market, and our local guide bought his favorite snack and eagerly invited me to try it. It looked like gelatin with pasta bits, served with parsley, wasabi and soy sauce (I think). Our new Chinese friend was such a kind fellow and I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I agreed to give it a try. After a quick prayer, I took a bite, and found that it was extremely salty and quite strange.

I later found out that those were not pasta bits. After doing some Google research, I learned that my mystery snack was called Tusun Dong or Tusun Jelly. Apparently, it is very high in protein, and what I thought were bits of pasta, were actually bits of worms.

Eeeek.

Rambutan for sale in a Bangkok market

Image via Wikipedia

But who am I to judge? Filipinos have strange dishes too, and we certainly have our share of questionable treats. Take the rambutan, for instance. We have a stash of fresh rambutan at home at the moment, and as I was snacking on some this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder what Westerners think of this scary-looking fruit. Judging by looks alone, this fruit practically screams “STAY AWAY!” However, if you do manage to pick one up and crack or slice it open, you’ll find that what’s inside looks nothing like what you see on the outside:

rambutan

Image by niznoz via Flickr

Rambutans on a white background.

If you’ve ever tried slicing one open, you’ll know that the fruit is actually smooth, tender, and sweet. But you’ll never really know that until you actually crack it and get rid of the spiky skin.

This reminds me of all of us as human beings. Regardless of what we’ve gone through or what our lives look like on the outside, there’s still hope and beauty to be found. But to see it, we have to go through some cracking and peeling — sometimes, we need to go through some challenges, or sometimes we need to let go of some things in our lives. Oftentimes it all seems impossible, but the good news is that there’s grace available. At the end of the day, once the struggles and circumstances have passed, there’s fruit to be found — beautiful, life-giving fruit.

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant,
but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who have been trained by it.”
– Hebrews 12:11

Painful is the right word. Times of pruning, cracking, struggling…these were not my favorite times. But when I look back on those seasons of my life, I can’t help but be grateful. Without the breaking, I would’ve missed out on a lot of blessings.

5, 6, 7, 8…

The subject of this post is attributed to an interesting conversation at my friend’s birthday dinner. The dinner was filled with creative types because the celebrant was my uber-talented friend Chinie, who is a theater actress/singer/dance choreographer. Sometime in the middle of dinner, our friend Steve Cadd (who also happens to be a director, singer, actor and pastor–ain’t that an awesome combination?) offered an observation: he said you can tell what industry a person works in by the way he or she counts.

Directors say: “3…2…1…action!”
Conductors say: “1…2…3…and…1!”
Mic/sound system technicians say: “1, 2…1, 2…”
and of course, dancers say: “5, 6, 7, 8!”

We went into a technical discussion about the reasons behind each industry preference, but it just got me thinking about the importance of a prompt, a cue, or a signal to indicate that something important is about to take place.

If these numbers could be translated, they would say:

“Get ready…”
“Be prepared…”
“Check yourself…”
“Take a deep breath…”
“Get into position…”

Anyway, I bring this up because this week is 5-6-7-8 week for me. It’s one of those times that I really need to refocus, prepare, quiet down and be still, which means that I’m drastically cutting my online time. (Do you ever feel the need to have one of these weeks? It can be pretty challenging, but I highly recommend it!)

But that’s me. My blog? It’ll keep on going. :)

In the coming days, you’ll be treated to several great posts from a variety of guest bloggers that I handpicked to take over my blog while I go offline. They’ll be posting about a variety of topics from life, death, love, learning, and a bunch of other thought-provoking stuff. I’ve already read most of them and they’re good. So please keep dropping by the blog and show our guests some love! :)

Alright, here we go! 5, 6, 7, 8…