(Written at 11:50PM, December 31, 2013.)

This time last year, I was running up a hill in Sagada to watch the fireworks. This time last year, I had no idea what 2013 had in store for me. “It’s a blank,” I told anyone who asked me what I thought 2013 would be like.

And that’s how each new year should start, I think: with no expectations, and all hope.

2013 was a year of traveling. I discovered more of my country, and returned to places I thought I’d already known, but obviously didn’t know enough. My country is just so amazingly beautiful and wonderful. I surfed in Zambales, Baler, and Daet, and enjoyed the local surfing community almost as much as I did the waves. I learned where the best turo-turos are in those cities. I memorized bus routes and the secret power sockets of local airports. I walked all over Daet, Davao, Baguio, Bacolod, Cebu, Tagaytay, Koronadal, Lake Sebu, Calaguas Island, Naga. I jumped a waterfall, flew over the rainbows and fountains of Lake Sebu, had coffee as dusk fell over Davao, saw the sun rise over the pine trees of Zambales. I renewed a fling with Baguio, and got schooled on how to negotiate with waves. I had to give up a lot of Metro-based weekends, and there would be months when I would be traveling nonstop that I can’t even remember what my own bed smelled like. It was tiring: but it was worth it.

I went to Africa, and broke all my misconceptions about that continent. Kenya was lush, Tanzania (specifically Dar Es Salaam) was Roxas Boulevard during rush hour transplanted beside the Indian Ocean, and Zanzibar was full of history and men who found me beautiful and said/sang so. I became the biggest fan of African sunrises, and of East Africans themselves. Until now I hear Swahili words echo through my dreams, and I will have it no other way.

There were lunches and dinners, and lunches that turned into merienda cena that turned into dinners. Or dinners that turned into all-nighters. There were conversations – endless miles of dialogue and discussion. Of sharing. Each time I share a meal, I am blindsided with knowledge and life.

I listened to music. Moonwlk, Skymarines, Rizza Cabrera, Flying Ipis were some of my favorite locals. I still can’t believe I was able to watch Tegan and Sara, Metric, Shortkut, and Jazzy Jeff live. When the bass dropped at exactly 00:00, May 5, 2013 (during the Do Over), I was dancing. And at that minute, I turned 31. Needless to say, I danced til my feet hurt.

I hosted Apl.de.Ap’s bloggers meet-up, was a guest at two radio stations (an FM station in Baguio and UP campus’ AM station), talked about international volunteering all over the Philippines, recruited everyone I met, and then spearheaded a series of short films about Filipino volunteers in Africa.

A dream was realized: finally managed to find a place where I can talk about my struggle with beauty. Thank you, Better Story Project, for having that safe space.

2013 was the year that I became a bridesmaid FIVE FREAKING TIMES. Despite all the hassles of being a bridesmaid, what an even bigger blessing to see my friends step it up a whole world higher, and make vows to God. They will become beautiful couples, and amazing parents.

This year, I found out who my friends really were. For all of you who picked me up, dusted me off, and held me as I cried: you’re all amazing and wonderful. My spiritual sisters are AMAZEBALLS. I honestly don’t know where I’ll be without all of you to raise my hands when I’m tired, to straighten my knees when I feel wobbly. Where would I be without you to remind me (vehemently) that I am beautiful and loved? That you are all looking out for me so ferociously, protectively, that you would seriously bite the head off the man who can’t decide if he will have me or not?

A special note on spiritual brothers: I will never forget how you all pamper me so to the point of spoiledness. My future husband will need to step up his game because how else can he top all the attention and love that I got from you? In the form of single malt (I see you, Nikka, Miyagikyu,  Laphroaig, Talisker to name a few) and other equally amazing alcoholic beverages (Hendricks, Bombay Sapphire and Hi-C Apple)? Or just sitting in a corner while I am served a home-cooked meal? Or being whisked away on a hot black Ford Mustang for city-based adventures? All those free dinners and lunches? When you walk with me when I know you would much rather just take a nice, air-conditioned cab instead of walking through the humid streets? I am told over and over that I am beautiful, a gift, precious, loved, and adored by you seriously hot, amazing, strong spiritual brothers. I am blessed to be surrounded by you wonderful men.

This is the year I learned I have the strength and presence of mind to love, and to tell a man, straight to his face (or ear, at least), “have me or not, just don’t put me back in a gray area. And think of me, think of being with me.” And that the world will keep on turning even after I said that. (It did not die of embarrassment or shame. Neither did I, unfortunately.) This was the year of weekly three-hour phone calls from New York, of keeping a relationship alive across 8,000 miles of ocean and over a year apart, because amazing (or awesome as he says it) takes work.

This is the year I learned that spending time with God is not a joke but is and must be a daily discipline. Because when He said “seek my face,” my heart said “Your face, O Lord, I will seek.” (And my heart would settle for nothing less than Himself from then on.)

This is the year I learned that the call in Isaiah 58 is no joke. Emptying myself out, being there for those in need, never turning my back on my own flesh and blood, on covering somebody else’s shame? What a pain. But such a beautiful, heart-building, soul-restoring pain. The lessons from Isaiah 58 are not done yet, but 2013 was a good start.

This is the year that I started learning how to do a bhujapidasana.

This is the year that I really, really KNEW that money is a tool. We should only have as many tools as we need to get the work done. Because all of this life is really just a preparation towards a gracious death, and blessed eternity. Money will not come with me to eternity.

2013 was the year I found a new home in Crystal Beach, Zambales. A place where I know I will always find rest and restoration, a quiet place for Your still small voice to find me. A place where I was adopted more than I wiggled my way into.

This is the year of my Crystal Beach family: overwhelming in their generosity, and astounding with their simple, pure love that does not require any conditions, who never got tired of saying “well, what you did was wrong, but I still love you. Want to have coffee?”

This is the year of walking barefoot across the sand, of moonlight spilling over my hair, of waking up in the middle of the night to taste the dew and coolness of night on my lips, of riding out golden sunsets on a surfboard, of laughter carrying over the ocean, of napping the afternoon away and waking up to share a toast with the sunset. This is the year of fog and mist, of prowling cities and islands, and watching new kinds of trees wave a hello at me.

I learned that I do not have to be the darling of social media, or have the Instagram/Facebook-perfect life. I learned how to never turn away from my own flesh and blood, even if they turn away from me. I learned how to deal with emotional hurts and scars: simply run to the One who made it all, the only One who can make me glad. I learned how to deal with the not-at-all-well-meaning “ANG TABA MO NA, GRABE” comments because, well, they can’t see me naked. And I have learned that I look a hell of a lot better naked. I learned that I really cannot eat pork anymore, but that the longganisa in Zambales is worth the stomach ache and pains.

There’s more, so MUCH MORE. What a blessing 2013 has been, and what a wild, crazy adventure it has been.

And so here I am coasting, gently, into 2014, buoyed up in the arms of my family. Even worse than 2013: I seriously can’t see where I will be after January 1, 2014. I have no idea where 2014 will find me, or how I’ll find 2014. But there’s hope.

“And Hope does not disappoint.”

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