For the Wind will Always Blow Where it Wills

wind-dandelion

“If it is God’s will, He will bring you there no matter what.” I held on to this as 2016 began. I came out of a room in the Seminaryo with much hope despite the uncertainty. My Spiritual Director gave me a hug and reminded me to “shine for God, Lee-an.” “Remember that the lamp should not be hidden. Its purpose is to shine. So shine, Lee-an. The light is inside you. Shine!”

Two months ago, I was checking the schedule for the last semester I had in Don Bosco Center of Studies. Finally, I thought, this would be the last card I will be signing and the last enrollment I will ever do. As I copied my schedule, my eyes drifted to the schedules beside the postings for the Saturday Master in Religious Studies group. For a moment, I stopped what I was doing and found myself wondering what it would feel if I sat down in the classes in the other department. I smiled, shook my head and muttered, “impossible.” Because even if it tickled my curiosity, I thought that studying with a bunch of seminarians on weekdays seemed out of this world. I had an amazing job then at Poveda and I was happy where I was. Surely, it was just a fleeting “what if” running in my head, right? I can let go of the thought of imagining myself taking Pastoral Communications, Johannine Writings, Pneumatology, Spiritual Theology, Ethics, etc., right? It doesn’t make sense to quit my job, take another path and subject myself to another round of sailing into the uncertain seas, right? Little did I know that those questions actually took root in my heart and that God was probably smiling at how I was belittling how grace can actually work in the seemingly absurd and craziest of situations.

I passed my pink enrollment card to Ms. Gina, beamed as she said, “Matatapos ka na,” and walked away. As I was nearing the staircase, I walked back to the schedule board and checked it out again. I entertained the thought that crossed my mind as I scanned the schedules of those taking Theology: “But, what if?”

“But Father, I am happy where I am. I am having the time of my life! It’s just that, the images of those schedules bother me from time to time. I want to switch my mind off.”

Fr. Mike smiled. “I understand that you are happy but Lee-an, but as if you never learned what God has been teaching you all along.”

“I do not understand.”

“Isn’t there any hint of longing in between those bouts of joy?”

I paused for a while and closed my eyes. As how it was each time I was with my Spiritual Director, some images of the past came flitted into memory and there I felt it – I knew I desired something more even if I was deliriously happy where I was. And then a familiar question, “What if?”

“Imagine you are on your deathbed and the regrets of the past come crashing down on you. If God brings up this “what if,” would you be happy you did not even try?”

It was Holy Week of 2016. I went on an alay-lakad with friends and proceeded to attend the Holy Week Retreat with the Cenacle Sisters. For four days, I was made to reflect on the Gospel wherein Nicodemus spoke to Jesus in secret. I struggled with my “what ifs,” and tried so hard to reason out with God. “I am not brave enough to do something this crazy, Lord.” 

It was a beautiful Saturday night at the Cenacle. I was almost at the end of my retreat and I still didn’t have the guts to say yes to what was glaringly clear before me. I prayed for grace, for a word of assurance, for courage.

“Then we were invited to remember Abraham, our Father in Faith because he put all his trust in God. As somebody puts it very well, trust is the jump we make when we cannot understand anymore. So often in our lives, we don’t under-stand what is happening in us and around us but we are invited to trust. And then, in His own way, God “sees,” God “pro-vides,” and the lamb that suddenly appears –in the bush, in our lives–is the sign of God’s fidelity, the assurance of His presence.”

What is the blessing of darkness? That we become helpless and empty, unable to understand, and yet allowing God to work silently in us, to invite us to hope and trust in Him, simply because Jesus is risen, and His new life is within us, even if it is so hidden most of the time. The spark of the Divine is in us: the fire of his love in our hearts, the light of his wisdom in our minds, even if so dim.

-Fr. Robert Champoux, SJ

The next day, I sat down on my last session with the sister who helped me discern.

“You look very happy! So what was God’s message?”

I told sister that I may not know what may be ahead of me but I am sure that God wants me to take a crazy leap of faith. I may still have so many questions but when has God really failed me in my life? He had always been faithful even if I wasn’t. He had always provided even if I did not ask. And if He loves me this much, who am to say no when He asks me to jump?

“What passage in John’s Gospel struck you the most?”

Fighting my tears I read:

The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How can this happen?”Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this?

-John 3:8-10

He came to Poveda an hour earlier from his scheduled Mass. I was excited to talk to him again as I admired him greatly for his humility and passion. The phone rang in the office and I was told by the President to meet the mass presider in her office. I ran, opened the door and found his familiar smile greeting me as I entered.

“Kamusta na?” He said.

I proceeded on telling him what happened during my retreat and how I finally decided to resign from Poveda.

“You did tell me two years ago that I will leave two years later.”

He chuckled and asked me what my plans were. I replied that I still wasn’t sure yet but I have several options I was currently entertaining. Probably sensing there was more to what I was saying, he pointed out:

“But is that what you truly desire? What do you really want?”

I mentioned to him how I desired to teach Theology and how I’d like to make people understand that it is not simply an intellectual exercise. Theologizing should lead us to a deeper relationship with the One who we are getting to know more and more.

He looked at me intently for a minute and he said the words that confirmed what God really wanted me to do:

“Go take Theology. Take it with the brothers. I will support you. Don’t worry about the tuition. The Church needs people who will do just as you desire.”

“Are you joking?” I clarified.

He laughed and slapped my arm.

“Mukha ba akong nag-jojoke, Lee-an?”

I hugged the good priest after his mass and at that moment I knew that as he wrapped his fatherly arms around me, that was God embracing me and reminding me to take courage.

“This is just the beginning,” the good priest said.

Today, I write this on the last day of 2016. I am now taking Theology with the brothers on…weekdays. How I was able to sustain myself this year was not how I imagined it to be. I lived day by day not knowing what will happen and only hope became my reason to continue the crazy, uncertain journey.

I battled with my questions, I went through the pain of His silence and I almost lost hope.

Do I regret letting go of Poveda? In a way yes. It was painful for me to let go of my students and the family to whose spirituality I attribute much of who I am today. Then again, there are greater desires that I had to pursue and greater dreams that I needed to risk for. God was calling me to something more I know not what up to this very day.

2016 became a learning year for me. I felt the joy of Mary of Bethany as she sat with Jesus and listened to His every word. It was a pause that was needed; an out-of-this-world leap of faith that many questioned. Even I, at the later part of 2016 questioned the Lord again why I had to take the road less traveled when I could be an ordinary 8 to 5 office worker, doing the usual stuff ordinary 29-year-olds were doing.

But as my Spiritual Director said during our session this December, “God called you for something else and even if you may not be the ordinary 8 to 5 Millenial, admit it that you are happier and content doing this extraordinary call. You wouldn’t want to be in their shoes, right? You might be happier than the rest of them are.”

“So shine, Lee-an! There are unlimited possibilities that await those who say yes to His will. Take the lamp out from hiding. Go and let His face shine in you that the rest of the world may see.”

2016 was a year of painful uncertainty but it taught me greatly that when I put my hope in God who is the only certainty, I have nothing to fear. The Wind will always blow where It wills.

So 2017, let’s shine for the Lord. Bring it on. 

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Finding Nazareth: Letting Go, Moving On, Finding Home

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It was 2011. Clutching a letter I will never send to the person who broke my heart, I approached the life-sized Belen in the chapel of the nuns of the Servants of Saint Joseph. Feeling weak in the knees, I knelt and clutched the letter to my chest. “It is so hard to let go,” I whispered. I bowed my head, trying to fight the tears. But in the stillness of that night on the 29th of December, in the solitude of the provincial house of the sisters who took me in, I wept like I never did in my life.

I felt like a wreck after a four-year relationship. Fresh from World Youth Day – Madrid, what I was half-dreading came true: he left me for someone else. I remember telling the Lord during the Vigil night with the Pope: “If there is anything hindering me from totally being Yours, take it away. I only want to do Your will.” Having an inkling of what God might demand, I added: “But not this. Not us.”

I still held the letter close to my chest. My counselor made it clear the day before why I was with the nuns that night. I had to do the second to the last “letting go letter” and leave it in front of the tabernacle. It was a necessary step in my road to healing. I had to let go. I had to let it go.

I looked at the image of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, my eyes blurred by tears. “I was not expecting it would be this painful. I did not ask for pain. Why?” It was around ten in the evening and just like His reply to every “Why,” I was met by something I dreaded. I was met by silence.

“Come to us in Nazareth,” she said after I told her my story. “We just live a tricycle away from the hospital. Come spend a night with us.”

I was still a nurse back in 2011. That week, I was assigned to take care of an elderly nun from a congregation called Servias de San Jose. I recall entering the room filled with nuns who smiled at me warmly as I introduced myself. They noticed the cross I was wearing as asked if I was Catholic. I nodded and told them I just came from World Youth Day. I found myself going back to stay in that room longer after my shift. They made me share my story and I also listened to theirs.

That week, too, my counselor told me that it was time for me to do the second to the last activity: I had to pour out my feelings in a letter to the person who caused me pain. “You have forgiven three persons who have hurt you the most from way back. Before you get to forgive the last person, you must let go of this one.” The last person I had to forgive was me. I would never get to forgiving myself until I let go of my resentment with the others. And so on that 29th of December, I found myself in front of the gates of the nuns who I met in the hospital.

“Welcome to Nazareth,” one sister said.

“Nazareth…Nazareth.” The word “Nazareth” was chanted beautifully during lauds and vespers. It struck a familiar yet still mysterious chord in my heart that day. I knew the Lord was telling me something. But just like how God beautifully writes the stories of our lives, I wouldn’t know what it meant until I finally opened my hands and said: “I’m letting go of the hurt, Lord. I forgive the person. I am finally letting go.”

My counselor looked at me in the eye and leaned forward when I told him why I couldn’t find it in my heart to forgive. With a fatherly tone, he said: “Forgiveness is not a two-way street, my dear. You call that reconciliation. Would God grant us that? Praise the Lord if that will happen! But you see, forgiveness is really something you give without expecting anything in return. Forgiveness is really not to affirm the other that what he did doesn’t matter anymore. Forgiveness is something you do for you. It means that you are letting go of the hate so that light can finally shine through the cracks of your heart. Only then can you be free. Only then can you be at peace.”

I couldn’t still leave the letter in the manger before me. I wasn’t still very brave enough to do so. With a heavy heart, I turned my back and walked towards my room. “Let me do it tomorrow, Lord. Grant me the grace to just let it go.” I remember putting the letter in my Bible that night and just like any other night unknown to the world at rest, I cried myself to sleep.

“Happy Feast Day!” I was greeted by the nuns that morning. It was the congregation’s Feast Day – The Feast of the Holy Family. “You coming here is no coincidence,” the vocation directress told me.

I joined the entire province for lunch and I sat beside a very kind sister. She asked me how my stay was and I thanked her for welcoming me. I told her that staying there with them was a grace from the Lord since I prayed specifically for a place where I can do my counseling activity.

“Did God tell you a particular message while you were staying here?” I thought about it for a moment and I remembered the word that constantly made an impression on me from the very beginning. “There is one, sister. I still do not know though what it means. I only keep hearing the word, Nazareth.” I was sure I saw her eyes twinkle as I mentioned the word. She gave me a warm smile, held my hand and explained:

“You know, Lee-an, Nazareth is where Jesus spent His growing years in. There in that place He stayed with Joseph and Mary. Lee-an, Nazareth is the home of the Holy Family. Nazareth means home.” 

Sister squeezed my hand and looked at me with a gaze that made me tear up.

“Nazareth means you are home, Lee-an. From whatever tiresome journey you’ve gone through, Nazareth tells you: Welcome home. Welcome home, Lee-an.”

I ran to the room where I stayed to get hold of my Bible. I was home! How foolish of me to not let go when God has welcomed me in His home? I opened my Bible to get the letter.

It was gone.

“Well, maybe God did what you couldn’t. He took it away without you knowing. And you know what? That is how He loves you. Maybe He wants to tell you now that you should carry on. He’s got you covered. You only have to be still. When you are home in His arms, you only have to be still. Be still now, my child. Hush that questioning heart and just relish the feeling of being home.”

I left Servias that day with a peace that I knew came from the God who welcomed me home. Did the pain leave with the letting go? No. And it was there as I walked, waving goodbye to the kind sisters, that I realized how forgiveness can give us peace. That kind of peace that sits comfortably with pain and embraces it for peace does not mean the absence of pain. Peace is knowing that you have God within. Peace is being home with the God who loves us.

A week later from the day I left Servias, I received a text from the same nun who journeyed with me. The letter was still nowhere to be found. I remember rushing to the Adoration Chapel nearby filled with joy that God did something extraordinary to remind me how much He loved me dearly. I remember, too, that it was on that day that I began praying for the person who I loved and yet hurt me. Finally, after God affirming me that He wants me to move on, I did.

I gazed at Him and at that moment I knew…I was free.

Five years from that day, I finally found the courage to write this story. Looking back, I do not actually regret having gone through that moment of pruning. Yes, it is painful to subject your heart to the healing process but remember that a plant only bears much fruit when some parts of it gets cut away and pruned. It is only when you allow God to purify you that you will experience incomparable joy and I’m glad I made the decision to let Him have His way in me.

Five years from that day, I am still home. I have found Nazareth and if there is one thing I should not let go of, it’s just that. In God’s arms I am home. Finally finding home, finally finding joy, I am never letting go.

The Voice that will Soothe the Ache

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Have you ever felt that one instance among many when you pause and take in the view before you and…you just know that there is more to this life that you live?

Somehow, when you look at the sun rising and setting, you just know that there is this ache to be enlightened from all the mysteries that life brings.

Here’s something you need to ponder on: one day, everything will be put into the light and your questions will have answers. The emptiness that is there, despite you trying so hard to fill it in with the many things that you think will make you happy, will be gone when the appointed day comes that you meet the One who will heal that gaping hole in your heart.

But should we really wait for that day and then spend the rest of our days to while away? Or can we seek to hear an echo of what is to come? Maybe you simply need to take a step to be open to address that ache within.

I believe that when we were born, aside from the fact that the first cry we made was meant to expand our lungs to adapt to a whole new world apart from our mother’s womb, that first cry was the sound of the ache that our hearts make, reflecting the fact that we are not made for this world.

I guess the key is that in this busy and noisy world, we need to be stilled once in a while. The world has forgotten the value and beauty that silence can bring. Maybe because we are terrified of silence?  Maybe because when we are quiet we find that the issues that we have repressed come to the surface? We confront the truth of who we are and why things are?

It will only be in silence, however, that we will hear the voice that will break through the ache. That voice may not give you all the answers to your questions in one go but I’m pretty sure that He will give you one thing that will assure you that in this pilgrimage called life, you are never alone; He will give you hope.

So do not be so cautious with silence. It may be the answer you just need at the moment. Close your eyes. Feel your heartbeat. Lift your hands and with much faith, pray. In the calm, hear His voice say: “Come, child. Come.”

And you might hear a beat
On the door of your heart
When you do, let it open up wide
It’s the voice of Jesus
Calling you his bride.
So listen, little girl,
Somewhere there’s a King
Who will love you forever
And nothing in the world
Could ever come between
You, [my love] and this Lover.