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“I don’t want you to pretend you are rich,” my Dad told me when I left for college. Until then, I didn’t know I lived in the ghetto. My Mom was the neighborhood doctor, and my Dad worked in a dental office. Our community never felt dangerous. My parents told me the people I associated with did drugs but as a kid, I just rolled my eyes and thought yea, yea. Looking back, it was probably true.

I grew up in the Philippines; we lived by the sea, the air was salty but not dirty. There was an enormous Catholic church near our house, and every Christmas food and trinket vendors filled the church’s courtyard. It was a very vibrant environment. In the summers, I went to my Grandma’s house in the country. She owned a general store that did not have power. All day, my cousins and I swam in the river and played made-up games in the street. We used flip-flops to knock down empty cans in a game kind of like baseball. You do not know you are poor when you are having so much fun.

When I went to college, I realized very few of my classmates lived in neighborhoods like mine; instead, they lived in gated communities. Therefore, whenever I invited people to my house, I told them my house is really small. My friends did not care, we were goods friends, went out together, and had fun. I do not remember feeling embarrassed. I knew my parents were good people, doing good work.

I am careful when new to a group; I am watchful of those who are impressed by material possessions. I still hear my Dad’s warning, “Don’t pretend you are rich.” My Dad is black-and-white, very rigid. Growing up, he told me over and over again – don’t drink, don’t do drugs. My mom and dad often reminded me to value myself, not stuff.  They said, “We can’t give you much, but we can give you a good education. No one can take that away from you.” Now I am older; I see I absorbed much from them and what was important to them became important to me.

When I moved from the Philippines to the US, I felt I lost my identity. I realized my identity was wrapped up in my degree and my accreditation. In the Philippians, I was guaranteed at least an interview in any company I applied. But when I moved here, it was hard. No one cared about my education or my experiences. I felt stripped away. I felt that way again when I was in a difficult job search years later. I wondered if I lost God’s favor. I think of Jesus praying and asking God, “Why have you forsaken me?” That detachment, I caught a glimpse of it. I have a small idea of how it must have felt for Him.

If anyone is having an identity crisis, I hope someone will tell him or her – God hadn’t forgotten you. Our circumstances do not define us. I realize it is hard to believe that when you feel like you are deep down in a well. For me, I had to say – Lord, I know you love me even though I don’t feel it right now. One thing that helped was to ask God, “What’s next?” instead of being stuck on “Why?” It’s cliché, but God is more interested in the condition of our hearts. There is so much God wants to accomplish through us but can’t because of the condition of our hearts. The dark periods are a part of pruning and not reprimands. I benefited from it. I learned I am blessed not because of what I have, but because I am the daughter of the Creator of earth. If given the choice, I would go through it again. I still have a long way to go & lots more pruning to live through, but God is good, and He is generous.

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