Describing women with the words “strong” and “independent” is another way of saying, “Get out of her way, she runs the show!” These words could not be any truer for Rissa Singson – Kawpeng, who is a Catholic communication powerhouse all by herself as an author, editor, speaker, media personality, and lay leader.
Because her married life didn’t start in the usual, socially dictated way, having married at 38 because of a vow to dedicate the prime years of her singlehood “to Jesus”, some people would wonder how Rissa, author of the seminal “Confessions of an Impatient Bride” and de facto editor of lay preacher Bo Sanchez’ wildly popular books, would turn out as a mom and wife.
The not-so typical wife of businessman Chris Kawpeng is mom to two lovely and elfin daughters, 8-year old Charlize and Erin, 7, when she’s not playing spiritual mother to others in her community, Light of Jesus (LOJ), via the Hunger Club, a group of young women she personally mentors and has Bible studies with.
Despite being a mostly stay-at-home mother, Rissa still finds herself juggling and balancing priorities on a daily basis.
“The hardest thing, which shouldn’t be hard is choosing your family,” Rissa said when asked about what her number 1 challenge as a working mom is. Even if the editor in chief of Kerygma magazine usually works from home and only goes to her office in Cubao twice a week, every day is a struggle to balance work and family demands. Apparently, the thing with working in the comfort of your home is the reality of having your children around while you’re still at it – mentally miles away yet physically present. With a smile, she shared how her daughters used to stalk her in her home office and delete or retype her articles for fun. Rissa explained the emotional tug of war that happened every time she had to turn down her kids’ requests for play time whenever she’s in the thick of beating a deadline.
In between bike rides
Despite how hard it can be, Rissa is still a believer in the “family first” motto. “I have to discipline myself to choose to play with them more. That’s something I have yet to learn and learn fast because my kids are growing up so fast,” she added. For her, the political will to be there for her kids translates into finishing her work strictly at 6:00 p.m. everyday and spending the rest of the evening with her family.
Every day this can seem like the Battle of the Stalingrad, especially if you consider that Rissa’s work also includes pressing concerns like women’s empowerment and rights, which she helps promote through LOJ’s mercy ministries, Grace to Be Born, a crisis shelter for pregnant women, and Jeremiah Foundation, a home for sexually abused girls.
Pretty serious stuff to help organize in between bike rides with your 7-year old, but Rissa seems to be winging it. To date, Grace To Be Born has saved over 200 unwanted babies in the past 6 years while Jeremiah Foundation is home to some 9 girls who have since begun anew through education, livelihood skills training, and formation.
Being immersed in women’s concerns, the mother of two still goes back to her primary role in the home and the impact she hopes to make on her two daughters, who during the interview skipped around their spacious Quezon City home in nearly identical blue summer dresses.
“I always say that my most important women’s ministry is my two girls.” Rissa was quick to add that no matter how many people look up to her, it wouldn’t really matter if she’s not successful in raising her own daughters.
And like many other great and profound things, there’s no shortcut to it. She says the only way to teach her kids is for her to live and experience things with them. “I love it when I preach when I’m outside, but I know when I’m at home, I preach more without words,” said Rissa. Seeing her children imitate the things she does, like praying, brings her extraordinary happiness.
To reinforce the message and example they get at home, Rissa makes sure her daughters are surrounded by good friends. She brings them to mingle with the kids of other LOJ preachers. This way, she is assured that Charlize and Erin will learn only good things from their peers.
For Rissa, the most valuable education her daughters can receive is one in loving. She shared about an inside joke they share in the family, one that started with her youngest: that their super power is love, especially when things get tough. “’The power of love! The power of love!’” Rissa said, mimicking Charlize.
Choices and chances
Married for almost 10 years to a man who was hardly her type but who turned out to be the silent, sturdy, and perfect foil for her all-over-the-place dynamism, Rissa couldn’t help but tear up during the interview thinking about the graces and blessings that seemed to just fall into her lap.
After one after the other, things fizzled with two suitors whom she thought would be “the One”, Chris entered Rissa’s life and never left. Looking at how her life played out, the feeling can be likened to a more emotionally charged version of seeing a massive puzzle getting its missing pieces nicely and finally fit.
For Rissa, who literally waited for years to get hitched, the phrase “Everything happens for a reason” takes on extra special meaning. Everything she did and went through during her single life prepared her for what she has now – her family.
“I got married at 38. The patience, the faith, even the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness of wanting to be married yet it’s out of your control. All of those things, they brought me to my married life,” she shared.
Holding back tears of unexplainable joy, Rissa is one of the few who can say she has seen and understood the reason behind waiting.
Rissa admits her life now is not “her dream” because it’s even better. “I know the Lord’s good. The Lord’s generous. I know he always gives us the best. I’ve always believed in that,” added one of the bright female minds behind Shepherd’s Voice Publications.
It probably wouldn’t seem normal for a couple to not fight, and so this is exactly what the Kawpengs did in the course of a decade of lovin’: intermittently have squabbles about matters, big and small.
When the reserved Chris clashes with the voluble Rissa, she remembers what it was like when she didn’t have him, when she was praying to God to send him, her spouse – then things automatically get better because gratitude enters the picture.
“I never forgot the desperation, the longing that I had when I was still single. I was praying to God to please send him,” said Rissa, trying to remember her younger self’s thoughts.
Seeing the wisdom behind the delayed gratification of her prayers, she emphasized: “Compared to if I didn’t wait, didn’t struggle to wait, I would have taken it for granted. I would have [taken] all these, our life, for granted.” Today, the mother of two gets a far away look reminiscing all she went through and sees how all that makes her a more grateful, gracious wife and mother.
When asked about her top secrets to marriage, Rissa said she believes in her close friend and co-preacher Bo Sanchez’ prescription that married couples should continue “to date”. According to the author of “Love Handles”, it’s important to exert the conscious effort to make time for each other and talk.
“The concerns of married life are always there, the demands of marriage life, making a living and raising kids will eat you up. It will consign your relationship to the least of your priorities,” she shared. This is probably why Chris and Rissa agreed on “hoarding memories” together rather than things. As evidenced by their clutter-free home, the couple would rather go on trips than spend on acquiring things they don’t need.
“Things get old, gadgets become obsolete, something that you like now will become junk later on, but memories it’s something that you take with you, it just sums up and makes your life richer as you grow older,” explained Rissa, whose eyes lighted up recounting a recent trip to Vancouver, which was a luxury because it lent them a internet-less, mobile phone-less existence for a few days.
For an outsider looking in, it’s easy to say that Rissa, the girl who at 29 was close to panicky because she wasn’t married yet, is living her dream. But talk to the author of “While You’re Waiting” and you’ll realize she’s actually living God’s.