The first time I saw her, I was attracted to her round, expressive eyes. They are one of the loveliest pairs I have seen: full of joy, peace and sincerity.
The way she carriesherself is what King Solomon of Old would describe as a virtuous woman: clothed with strength and dignity.
She models how a woman can efficiently balance marriage, motherhood, ministry and career. Her husband is a retired pilot, a pastor and a government leader. They brought up three children, all successful in their chosen fields, and are now buildingtheir own families.
When I think of a phenomenal woman, hers is the face I remember. Her career began as a lecturer, then a professor, then a college dean, and now a chancellor to the University of the Philippines Mindanao.
To an onlooker, it seems like she smoothly rises her way to the top, like the sport of her youth where she steadily glides across the sea while being pulled by a Jet Ski. But just like every woman in a work dominated by men, there are difficult challenges along the way. Same goes with water skiing, only the tough determined skier can skim across the water gracefully.
She is a reputable research scientist, and a sought-after marketing consultant. To the world, she is known as Dr. Sylvia Concepcion. To her constituents, she is fondly called, "Ma'am Beng" or "Chancy". To a few of us, she is Nanay Beng.
"Nanay" or "mother" in Filipino is a term of endearment to women who take on a motherly role. Nanay Bengis our life coach, spiritual mentor, and other mother.
In important events, Dr. Concepcion is seated among VIPs in a presidential tables. Inher home, we eat with her at her dining table. There is absence of power distance. In her home, our safe sanctuary, we forget about her public image, for we know her simply as a mother.
Nanay Beng to me is like the food she serves us every Sundays and Wednesdays or whenever we have a get-together.
When my father lost his job, we ate the simplest meals. We, his children, were content with the different ways an egg is cooked, or with the vegetable stew that my mother serves, or with canned goods, instant noodles, and the like. So the meals that I got accustomed to were limited to what we can afford.
In the Concepcion's house, we are introduced to many kinds of recipes to eat. There I experiencea taste of different cuisines with names I could hardly pronounce or spell. All are sumptuous, prepared lovingly by the members of the family.
Nanay Beng, like her delectible meals, widens my perspective on a mother's love. I am accustomed to the ways my biological mother raised us. I did not know there are more possibilities of expressing love until I met Nanay Beng.
Part of my life's history is a series of traumatic past, of previous "mothers and fathers" who love differently, it hurt. When I arrived at the Concepcion's doorsteps, I was a soldier, heavily wounded who barely survived life's battles. I would understand if they closed their door at me, but they did not.
They welcomed me into her home, listened to my stories, prayed for me, hugged me, and included me in their family. Not just me, actually. They did the same for my husband while he was still single. And to few other wounded young people who sought shelter in their home.
The way Nanay Beng acceptsand lovesus brings healing to some wounds in our past. She personalizesher love for each of us. For instance, when I was pregnant, she baked fresh fish especially for me because "it's good for the baby". Or when it is my husband's birthday, she would cook his favorite Beef Salpicao which take hours to prepare.
She is someone who asks, "Who likes to drink coffee?". Then she would lovingly prepare the drink for those who do raise their hands. She serves selflessly, and she appears to enjoy what she is doing. She does all this loving and spoiling that we forget she is also an important public figure outside her home; that she is also mothering a whole university. But she never makes us feel we are a burden to her. When we are around, she is present to pay attention to our updates and stories.
Throughout the years, Nanay Beng, together with Tatay Nap, has given us more than coffee and food. She gives us sound wisdom on marriage, parenthood and personal development. She encourages us to pursue/finish our Master Degrees. It is a MUST! There is so much life lessons she shares to us and they are free. Good heavens! We cannot afford her consultation fee.
The family my husband and I enjoy today is founded by the Concepcions' guidance and example. There are many beautiful stories of their love to share.
It is impossible for me to recall my relationship with my husband without thinking about them. They were there right from the time my husband told them he liked me until the time we gave birth to our second son. They celebrated with our small victories: engagement, wedding, career advancements, positive pregnant tests and childbirths.
Today, even when we are far away, I still think about Nanay Beng. I want to emulate her life. I may not be able to follow her career path, but I am encouraged to excel on the path God prepared for me. More importantly, I want to be like her as a wife and a mother, which she handle so graciously. And yes, I want to be a mentor of younger women, too.
There is a brighter hope for tomorrow when you know there are people who love and support you.
Thank you, Nanay Beng, for loving us throughout the years, the ups and downs, in sickness and health. We miss you. We love you! Happy birthday!
"Strength and honor are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
She looks well to the ways of her household, and eats not the bread of idleness.
Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.
Many daughters have done virtuously, but you excel them all.
Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that fears the LORD, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates."