She wasn’t the first queen I’d met. I won’t compare physical beauty, because they are all unique. What they do have in common was an inner beauty that is more than moral or ethical.
It was Jesus.
First time I met Ms. Miriam Quiambao was when she came to The Edge Radio one Friday evening for an interview with Joyce Burton Titular, another queen in my life. But because I was helping man the chat room on a desktop that didn’t have speakers, I couldn’t hear much of her story. So I was really excited when I heard that she would be our guest on Gospel Jam.
She came after the show had begun, but no grand-diva-it’s-fashionable-to-be-late-entrance for her. Besides, she had already said she couldn’t make it at 6pm, so she wasn’t late. If Mark hadn’t announced her arrival, I think she would just have sneaked into the hall and sat down. She was very simply dressed, very beautifully kayumanggi, which is so refreshing to see in a celebrity, considering the onslaught of whitening products in the Philippine market. And despite her hosting and acting skills, she chose to be interviewed by Mark instead of narrating her story.
She had known about Jesus, she told us, since she was a little girl, because she grew up in a Catholic family, like most Filipinos do. She grew up without thoughts of beauty pageants and showbiz. “I was studying Physical Therapy, and I wanted to be a doctor,” she told us. In fact, she was studying for the board exam, while working as a gym instructor on the side when she was asked if she wanted to join the Binibining Pilipinas or Miss Philippines pageant.
At 23, with a clear vision of what she wanted to do with her life, she hesitated. What if the pageant schedule clashed with her board exam schedule? She decided to go for the pageant anyway, and a surprise came her way: the exam date was moved down, so she was actually able to do both!
She joined the pageant in 1999 and won, among other things the Bb. Pilipinas World title, making her our representative to Miss World. But a controversy arose on the citizenship of the Bb. Pilipinas Universe, and Miriam was asked to take over the title. I remember watching that particular Miss Universe, and ironically, this was the beginning of Miriam’s shining moment:
She made it to the semi-finals, where she said that because of her fall, she felt she “represented those women who have fallen both on and off the stage”. She eventually got to the Top 3, but faltered in answering the final question, and was declared 1st Runner Up.
She came home a star, having gotten the highest Miss Universe position since Margie Moran won it in 1973.
You know — her statement about that fall, that she fell and got back up? That seems to be descriptive of her life to this point.
When she got back, she got into showbiz, hosting an early morning show (Unang Hirit), then an afternoon program (Extra Extra) that evolved into a reality show called “Extra Challenge.” A beautiful woman like Miriam will, in my opinion, never run out of suitors, and at this time, at the height of her career, one captured her heart — and her hand. She met and eventually married an Italian businessman based in Hongkong.
And left her career and her country.
“I believe I should take care of my family,” she told Mark. They moved to Hongkong and lived quietly. Too quietly, perhaps. Because Miriam had uprooted herself to be with her husband, she eventually found herself alone, because her husband’s business took him travelling most of the time.
“We didn’t take the time to get to know each other very well,” she described her short engagement.
She filled the void with shopping. She was a bit thrown off by the isolation, because as a reality show host, she had gotten used to cameras following her everywhere. This only heightened her sense of being alone.
“I started attending new age groups,” she related. “But they only taught me to put myself first. But God was already showing me that I’m not first.”
Aside from having grown up a Roman Catholic, a former boyfriend had also invited her to attend charismatic services when she was still in the Philippines.
“But I got turned off because he was verbally abusive.”
She turned away from her childhood faith soon after that, and alone in Hongkong, she continued to turn away from the God of her youth. “I went into yoga, I followed this swami, I even followed this psychic and spent a lot of money on overseas calls and emails!”
In hindsight, she sees now that God may have allowed all her involvement with new age religion to distract her from what she had been going through. “I couldn’t really talk to my husband apart from our happy times. We had a short engagement, and we got married without really getting to know each other well, so when crisis hits, we didn’t know how to talk to each other. We just fell apart.”
She was sinking into depression, and was self-condemning. “I could hear voices in my head telling me to kill myself because everything wrong that was happening in the world was my fault,” she told us.
“What stopped you?” Mark asked.
“I heard myself answer: But if you kill yourself, that’s not love.”
The struggle continued, though, and after two and a half years of marriage, she and her husband agreed to a divorce.
“We felt that we were really not suited to each other, and he told me he had fallen in love with someone else.”
So she came home to the Philippines. Because she was still unemployed, she decided to invest, using her life savings and entrusting it to a friend. “The friend cheated me and a lot of other investors, and took our money.”
In August 2008, she realized she had done everything she could, that she thought she could do it all by herself. And she knew she had been wrong.
“Maybe I need to go back to my roots,” she shared her thoughts. “I’m going back to Jesus. No more confusion. Just one God. Jesus.”
Right after she thought this to herself, she logged into her Facebook, and typed in her status: “I wanna know You more.” Her chat window suddenly popped up, and a friend asked: “Hi! What are you doing on Monday?”
Miriam: “Nothing yet.”
Friend: “Wanna go to a Bible Study?”
She accepted the invitation, in her heart knowing that Jesus was answering the prayer she had just posted. She started visiting her friend’s church, and began learning more and more about Jesus.
“The more I got into Jesus, the more healing I got: my relationship with my family was healed, my mind-set, my self-image…”
She realized then, and is still amazed now, that God is the one who has been pursuing her and not letting her go. In spite of all that she had gotten into, in spite of her initial turning away from Him, she sees now how all this time God has been protecting her and watching over her.
“Remember that story about my near suicide attempt?” she asked her spell-bound audience. “A few days after that, I found a book that a friend had given me before I left Manila. It was The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren,” she said. “And as I read it, I realized I had a purpose, that God had a reason for me to be here.”
During her divorce proceedings, when she was still unemployed, a friend lent her money so she could fight for herself. The friend who had stolen the investment money has been brought to court, and the investors, including Miriam, are slowly being repaid. She has earned her license as a real-estate broker and has set up her own real-estate company, and has come back to showbiz.
As she ended her story, she quoted Jeremiah 29:11,12: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope.”
Then to everybody’s pleasant surprise, she sang:
Jesus.. Lover of my soul,
All consuming fire is in Your gaze,
Jesus, I want You to know,
I will follow You all of my life,
There’s no one else in history is like You,
And history itself belongs to You,
Oh,Alpha and Omega, You have loved me,
And I will share eternity with You,
It’s all about You, Jesus,
And all is for You,
For Your glory and Your faith,
It’s not about me
As in You should do things Your way;
You alone are God and I surrender to Your ways
Miriam Quiambao was queen of her life. But as she paraded on the stage of her life, she tripped. And fell. Hard.
But her loving Father, the King of kings, reached down with His nail-scarred hands and lifted her up to sit on His lap: His Princess!