I have a story to share. It’s the kind that has given people goosebumps. It’s made some people cry and it has definitely encouraged so many to start dreaming and believing again.
I had a dream so big and so seemingly impossible. It felt like I was reaching for the stars. A voice inside me said nothing is impossible. At the same time, another voice said I was crazy for even thinking that my dream could be a reality.
Today is my 37th birthday and I am celebrating it by getting this site up and running. I needed a place to document all the wonderful, amazing events that have been happening in my life…so tadaaa! Welcome to my playground on the internet. It is definitely a dream come true, but this isn’t the dream that has made people cry out of pure awe and joy. (So read on.) *wink*
Truly, the Lord has blessed me with my heart’s desires and more. I am overwhelmed and grateful beyond words. Today I choose to celebrate all the dreams that have been coming true, one after another. Today I celebrate all the challenges I have had to go through in life to be who I am today. I want to encourage you to keep on dreaming for whatever will fill you up with joy and if you’ve stopped – start dreaming again.
Around December 2017, I came across videos and articles of alternative forms of education in the States. I remember watching video after video about centers that offer the best of both worlds – personalized education and a community that celebrates individuality and meets up regularly.
I’ve been a homeschooling mom since 2011. My eldest was about to turn 13 when I started digging into these videos and articles. I knew he was entering a season where he needed to be around other teens more often but we both agreed that a brick and mortar school wasn’t the wisest choice if a community was all we were after. I remember thinking to myself, “There must be another option out there and if there isn’t any – what if…what if WE put something up?!”
The idea kept me up at night. I’d tell my husband about that vision and I’d be giddy, excited and scared all at the same time. I told friends about this dream to put up a center where teens had a voice in what they truly wanted to learn and what they wanted to spend their time on. Some brushed it off while others told me exactly what I needed to know to move this dream forward. What topped the list was – drumroll please – funds, and lots of it. I remember standing on the second floor of The Forum in BGC overlooking the Maybank Performing Arts Theater when my friend told me –
“You need to look for someone who believes in this vision, has lots of funds for it and is willing to invest.”
Sure. Easy. Gulp. Now, where in the world is that person?
By February I stopped figuring out how this dream could become a reality. My mom started getting sick around that time and taking care of her became my priority. My heart sank at the thought of letting go of my dream but at that point, it just seemed impossible. I had so much on my plate anyway – my mom, my family, homeschool and the need to move into a new home (how that happened is another miraculous story I need to share soon!).
Until one evening in May…. I came across this post on Facebook looking for part-time or full-time mentors for a Self-Directed Learning Center here in Manila. The post definitely sounded like the centers I was researching about from December to February. I sent a message right away to the person who posted the ad. I had to find out if this is what I thought it was. If I couldn’t put up my own center, I definitely wanted to help out whoever was doing it. That same night I was able to introduce myself and exchange messages with Joei Villarama, the founder of Abot Tala Self-Directed Learning Collaborative for Teens. We had set a meeting that same week so I could learn more about it and we could somehow figure out how I could help.
As I sat down for our lunch meeting, I remember hearing that small voice again telling me to share my heart and my vision. So I did and I remember being so passionate about what I was talking about. I could feel my heart beating so fast. I was giddy. I was so excited. Joei was smiling the whole time. Then she told me something so mind-blowing.
She said to her it seems like I wrote a poem or a story on a piece of paper sometime December. I was working on it til February and eventually dropped that piece of paper that same month. She happened to pass by and she found that piece of paper (also in February), picked it up and decided to work on it even more because she too loves the idea. She researched it and did everything she possibly could to make that poem or story come to life. She even took her family worldschooling and traveled across North America to visit different centers that offer alternative education. (Read about it here)
As she was listening to my story she realized that the piece of paper belongs to me. So she said, “I’m returning that piece of paper to you with funds you need to build it. Make it happen.” She said I should be the executive director of Abot Tala. What?! I was absolutely stunned. I wasn’t sure if I heard her right either. It was nothing but surreal. She barely knew me but she trusted me right away. It was a crazy, beautiful moment. So you’d think I said yes, right? Wrong.
Right after my meeting with Joei, I went straight to a pre-planned meeting with my life mentors, Ron and Joyce Titular. Ron was my boss for a few years and he knew me very well. Even before I could tell them how scary the offer was, he said — “Don’t be scared.”
However, days later, I started to feel fear creep in. I doubted myself. I told Joei that her center would fail if she got me as her executive director. I’m sure I came up with so many reasons why I wasn’t the right person for the job. I wanted to be part of it, but I was scared. I didn’t want her to return that piece of paper to me. Finders keepers!
I became Jonah, you know, the guy in the Bible who was running away from his mission. He eventually got eaten up by a whale (or some other big fish). At one point I told Joei I’d think about it, then soon after I told her I couldn’t do it. I was definitely Jonah and I got eaten up whole by my fear!
I remember thinking that my heart screamed that it was exactly what I wanted to do but the opportunity came at the wrong time. Accepting the mission would mean changing our family’s lifestyle which was already so convenient. I’d have to leave my comfort zone of being a homeschool momma who worked only a few hours a week teaching other homeschoolers and doing all sorts of random freelance jobs. I won’t bore you with all the other excuses I came up within my head. They all seem so trivial now that I think about it.
But you know what, Joei kept me in the loop. She’d still call me often to ask my opinion about certain things and I remember being so happy every time she called because I was still somehow part of it. Honestly, I still couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that she trusted me enough.
Little did I know, God was just preparing my heart that whole time. He was also preparing my family for this big leap we were all about to take. Every night before I went to bed, my head would be filled with thoughts about Abot Tala. Slowly, I felt the fear just melt away and it was replaced with incredible peace especially when I did anything to help out Joei.
In July, the founder and Executive Director of North Star Self- Directed Learning Center for Teens in Massachusetts (our model for the Abot Tala center) spent over a week here in Manila. It was such a rich, learning experience and it really helped me make an informed decision (because somehow, the offer was back on the table). My husband had finished reading the book, The Teacher Liberation, which talks about how setting up a center like this works before I even did. He was totally impressed with this self-directed learning model for a teen center. So much so, they invited him to be part of the board of Abot Tala. He too got to spend time with Ken and Joei and it was then that he saw me in my element.
By the time we got home from our meeting, he told me that there was no point in running away. He said this is what I am meant to do. Yes, there definitely will be changes but we just have to do what we can to make things work. We knew we were ready to take the leap – as a family. He reminded me to trust that if this is really meant to be, things will continue to fall into place. I was giddy and excited and my yes meter was at 90%.
Then this message came in from a former student who is now a good friend after she spent her gap year with me as my co-teacher.
It was just the confirmation I needed. This is definitely what I am meant to do in this season of my life. The next day, I took Ken to the airport and I got to pick his brain one last time (in person, at least). By the time we got to Terminal 1, my yes meter was at 100% and it wasn’t budging. I’m glad I was able to tell him in person that I was finally ready for this life-changing mission, not just for me but for so many. I knew that this time around, I was no longer scared. I no longer believed that the center would fail if they made me the executive director. I was done running away. My heart was so ready and so were the hearts of those closest to me. That day I officially left my comfort zone and moved into my courage zone. I haven’t left since and it’s been such an amazing ride. To this day, all the puzzle pieces just keep falling into place. It’s turning out to be such a beautiful picture, guys.
So here I am. 37 years old and aside from being a wife, mom, and daughter, I finally figured out what my mission in life is. I’ve graciously been placed in a position to help create a center where teens are free to learn whatever they want to learn; a place where they are free to make mistakes as they discover what they really want to do, at least in this season of their life. I am so excited to sit down and listen to teens as they share their hearts’ desires and dreams, both big and small, the same way I did when I met Joei for lunch that day. The heart of Abot Tala is believing in people’s dreams and it’s about helping in any way we can to make those dreams a reality. I am honored to be one of those people who’ll be able to say “you can do this” the same way Joei did when she tirelessly reminded me to remember this:
Thank you to everyone who continues to believe in me. It’s what keeps me going. Trust that I will forever pay it forward. Life is beautiful. God is good. Happy Birthday to me.
*This wasn’t meant to be a plug for Abot Tala. It’s just that this is the biggest dream that has turned into a reality, at least for this season of my life. However, if you are curious, you may also check out our FB page: Abot Tala or our website, www.abottala.com. *wink*