Thursday, March 31, 2005

Letting Go

One of the things I have had to learn the hard way through my years of service in Lingkod is how to delegate. Political law has definitions for proper delegation; so does community. Both definitions involve giving sufficient standards. But standards vary per person, I have realized. I have had to close my eyes on many things around me because someone else was responsible for them and it would not help if I became my usual self and meddled.

How ironic that I could be such a perfectionist when I am also aware of my imperfections.

Our branch is once again sponsoring a major event in Lingkod, this time the Metro-Manila-wide Easter Celebration and Day of Renewal on Saturday, April 2. It is a whole day affair with talks, songs, and dances. There would be a good amount of time for worship and an anticipated Mass in the afternoon, to be celebrated by our friend Fr. Steve. I have been forced to minimize my participation in the preparations because of many concerns and now that the event is nearing, I have learned to keep my mouth shut and let the brothers and sisters take care of things. Is it easy for me? Far from it.

I remember our last service as a branch, which was the Unity Games for Luzon last May, and recalled how I also had to leave it to others to handle their respective services. It was a very blessed and memorable affair and the QT's really gave their all. But I could still think of little details to ask and obsess about, up to now.

Sebastian of The Little Mermaid said, "If you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself" and he proceeded to sing "Kiss the Girl" so the prince would kiss Ariel and remove her from the spell.

As a Christian, I cannot take matters in my own hands like that. I have to remember that there is a log in my own eye; that I should love others as I love myself; and I should always think of others as better than me. This means I should trust my brothers and sisters and have faith in God who is in control of everything.

My job on Saturday is to join the dance. My feet are dead from the rehearsals. I will let the singers do the singing. The musicians to do the playing. The speakers to do the talking. I shall keep in mind the theme, Rejoice and Be Glad!

I shall stop worrying! Lord, I trust that you would bless that day and keep it running smoothly. I lift up to you all our practical concerns. May the Holy Spirit so fill our hearts with the joy of Easter and move us to renew our commitment to follow your Son, Jesus, the Risen Christ.

I shall start praying.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Now Playing

The Lord is Risen! Alleluia!

And this is playing in my head...

Better Than I
Joy Williams

I thought I did what's right
I thought I had the answers
I thought I chose the surest road
But that road brought me here
So I put up a fight
And told you how to help me
Now just when I have given up
The truth is coming clear

You know better than I
You know the way
I've let go the need to know why
For you know better than I.

If this has been a test
I cannot see the reason
But maybe knowing I don't know
Is part of getting through.
I try to do what's best
And faith has made it easy
To see the best thing I can do
Is put my trust in you

For you know better than I
You know the way
I've let go the need to know why
For you know better than I.

I saw one cloud and thought it was the sky
I saw a bird and thought that I could follow
But it was you who taught that bird to fly
If I let you reach me, Will you teach me

For you know better than I
You know the way
I've let go the need to know why
I'll take what answers you supply
You know better than I.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Silence and Rest in the Storm

I went on silent retreat two weeks ago and the silence had not left me. We were encouraged to journal our thoughts and emotions. A dearest friend said she had never written so much in her entire life. I, on the other hand, could not put down my thoughts on paper.

It was a weekend perfect for a silent retreat. We held it at a retreat house surrounded by a lush garden, at the Mother of Life in Novaliches, which was ran by the Notre Dame de Vie Institute. Birds chirped to wake us up in the morning. The silence was conducive to our recollection. Brothers and sisters cooperated with the silence and concentrated on their own retreat, despite running into each other at every corner of the venue. Sr. Susay Valdez, rc, led us into deep prayer and meditation. The music from the Cenacle sisters and the Jesuit Music Ministry provided the soothing background to our individual struggles with our silence. A French priest said Mass for us and heard our confessions.

Despite the beauty of the surroundings, the writer in me refused to journal. I did not want to form the words to shape the pain that I faced that weekend. There was a certain finality to seeing things in writing and part of me could not accept the reality that I was in. So I dialogued with the Lord but wrote sparingly. He understood what I was going through more than anybody else, anyway. I was not entirely obedient to our retreat master’s encouragement, but I had learned that it would not kill me not to be a pleaser once in a while, as long as I was being true to myself and honest before my God.

Life handed me a curve ball three weeks ago and I am still reeling from the shock. Ally McBeal was right on the mark once again when I chanced upon a few minutes of its re-run on cable TV yesterday. It was the episode where Josh Groban was her client. I wasn’t able to catch the entire plot as I wasn’t able to watch the episode during its original run years ago, but this was what I gathered from the scene I tuned in to. Ally was talking to Josh’s father who was a preacher or a minister at their church, but who was suffering from a huge loss and was adamantly holding on to his own depression, to the dismay of his son. I might be sued if I got the plot all wrong but this served my purposes considering what I was going through while watching it.

Ally said to the preacher, in my own paraphrase:

“What surprises me is that you must have seen this happen several times in your congregation. A member of your church must have suffered like this and you helped them believe that they would recover from it. Why can’t you believe that it could happen to you, that things would get better?”

The preacher’s sad face mirrored the way I felt. He probably believed and had actually seen how people stood up from their own depression and moved on with their lives. But his pain was unique. His pain was too much. His limited human viewpoint was not enough to spark the desire to move on. He wanted to give up. I presume that he probably lost his beloved wife.

I found myself with those telltale signs of depression for a couple of weeks. I had no interest in anything – be it going to work, serving our community, eating my lunch, or updating my blog. All I wanted to do was to stay in bed and sleep all day. I questioned the things I believed in and doubted myself. I knew that God was watching me, inviting me to run to Him, and giving me His unconditional love. But I grew comfortable wrapped up in my own misery that I even turned my back on the truth as written in Scripture. If I were my pastoral leader I could easily point out the silver lining in this dark cloud, and indeed several people tried to reach out and help me see the light of God’s promise. Struggling with anger, unforgiveness, guilt and frustration that stubbornly clung on to me especially on mornings, I could not bring myself to smile and to go about my life as I had been used to.

I was shaken at the center of my faith and it was all I could do not to lose sight of God’s power. I sought out the Sacrament of Reconciliation repeatedly and obeyed the vow of silence that I was asked to commit to. I went against my own nature, for I used to need to talk about my feelings before I could process them, because I did not want to aggravate the situation. I saw my own limitations once more and found myself at the mercy of my weaknesses. People were praying for me but they could not fathom what exactly caused me to be so traumatized, except probably for a few who knew me very well.

I do not look at life in neat little folders. The colors are not clearly separated for they blend at some point and even mix together to form hues that express my passion. I have not been wired to be calm and collected amidst challenges, much as I hate to admit it. I was born passionate and in order to teach me to be less emotional about life, a strict gag order must be maintained. A vow of silence must be enforced. And by God’s grace, the silence could become the fertile soil upon which His Word could be cultivated anew inside me. In being still and single-minded before the Lord, I could then hear Him more clearly. Although I could neither see nor understand what He was up to in allowing this to happen to me, I learned what real faith was all about.

This week’s focus on the passion of Jesus is an opportunity for me to join my pain into The Pain, as Henri Nouwen put it. He wrote that the only way for us to move out of our own pain is to fix our eyes on the ultimate Pain that Jesus Himself went through, in order to show Salvation three days later. Yes amidst my little faith and huge doubt, I want to know Jesus Christ and the power of His rising. In Him my pain becomes manageable. In His rising comes hope for my own rising as well. As St. Paul drew strength from the Lord in His weakness, so shall I. There may be neither glory nor beauty as I hoped and imagined, but the promise of something more always lifts me up and allows me to soar.

I end with this text message I received:

“Eagles love the storm. When clouds gather, the eagles get excited. The eagle uses the storm winds to lift it higher. Once it finds the wing of the storm, the eagle uses the raging storm to lift him above the clouds. This gives the eagle an opportunity to glide and rest its wings. Use the storm to rise to greater heights.”

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

If It Ain't Broke, Why Fix It?

I went to the Land Transportation Office (LTO) yesterday to process the change of name in our car registration, something which my father had asked me to do four years ago. Somehow I could not longer put it off and had to take two days off from work just to get the whole thing done.

Painted in huge red letters all over the office were signs that said "DON'T DEAL WITH FIXERS". My experience yesterday proved that those signs were just for show. I went through the normal route and refused to pay a single centavo for illegal fees just to make my papers fly faster. I saw how fixers swarmed all over the place and buried my registration papers beneath bundles of the "no-show" documents of people who chose not to spend their entire day waiting for their turn.

I paid a huge price for my stubborn idealism - loss of two days' leave, exposure to a roomful of sweating people for five hours, and final exams on patience, endurance and perseverance. Somebody asked me after the whole ordeal that I put myself through whether it was worth it saving my 100 pesos. I said that I could not, in all good conscience as a Christian lawyer who works in the anti-graft court in the country, bring myself to pay my way to a shortcut.

I tried to look at the source of the problem. I talked to the chief of their division, a lawyer who was buried neck-deep in papers, and asked how come each registration had to take so many of the taxpayers' precious hours which could be better spent elsewhere. Well, no I didn't make that long speech. I simply showed her my Sandiganbayan ID and asked why they could not release documents at a more reasonable rate. She simply shrugged that their computers had jurassic speeds and left me to wonder if there was someone who sat on their computer upgrade proposals. She asked her staff to pull out my documents but I made no effort to ask that it be placed on top of the heap. I returned to the waiting area and resumed being bored to death for a couple more hours.

I was tired and irritated by the time I was done at that office. This experience, and a bigger one I can't write about, had shown me just how naive I still am. It was pointed out to me that I still believed in a perfect world where everyone would do the right thing. I get angry and frustrated when things don't work the way they are supposed to. Life is never going to work that way. If I don't want fixers, I can't insist that others make the same choice.

Some people choose to lie a little, sin a little, indulge a little. I insist on my idealism and get beaten up in the process, physically, and emotionally. I have to live with this choice and be happy with it. I have to eat my dinner after grueling hours of waiting with my conscience intact, and stop trying to change the world.

In hindsight, I guess I was truly irritated because I hated waiting.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

To sing, perchance to scream!

I got to watch the concert of Jars of Clay at the Araneta Coliseum last night. I got Upper Box tickets for free! Who would have thought that it is through the children of He Cares Foundation that the Lingkod volunteers would be able to get such a treat?! They were given complimentary tickets by the show's organizers and some of us were blessed enough to have been given the extra tickets. It's been a long time since I last went home half-deaf and with a sore throat. It was therapeutic!

Jars of Clay rock. They bid the Manila audience goodbye with something you would not hear from most bands, "God bless you!"

Well God bless you too and see you again in Manila soon!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Sister Act Meets Dangerous Minds

I have read about the sufferings of the early Christians, especially those accounts that were written in the New Testament. I have seen St. Paul’s long litany of difficulties and hardships and felt for him. I have thanked God for all the saints who died for the sake of the Gospel.

I did not know how comfortable and upbuilding community was until I was asked to serve a group of college students taking up a certain course in a certain university (details withheld intentionally). They were required to attend something but did not know it was going to be a half-day devoted solely to listening to strangers sing, talk and share about God. That those strangers were at least ten years older than them most likely did not help to spark their interest either.

I do not know what went on in their hearts and minds at that time, but I know for sure that I cannot judge or blame them for what happened. We cannot generalize against these students because we don’t know their side of the story. They could have just fallen prey to all the enemy’s distraction tactics. They deserve our love and prayers. It was, however, a memorable and humbling experience for all of us who served there.

I was led to reflect more why I’m still bothered up to now. I think I was the one in the group of servants who failed to hide her disappointment the most. I was hit at my three weakest points – my perfectionism, need for affirmation/appreciation, and impatience. For the first time since I started serving, I cut short my talk in the middle of the talk. I skimmed through my outline, delivered the major points, led the group into a song and ended with a prayer. The talk lasted all of ten minutes. If it were a test, I must have failed. Thank God for He gave me another chance, to address another group of students and to rely on Him for grace, strength and wisdom.

I did not know the meaning of pasaway until Saturday. We were teaching our pambato song, “Prince of Peace”, something which had always been appreciated by the youth, but a bunch of male students decided to poke fun at it and sing off-key, loudly, the women’s part. What would Jesus do, I wonder? As for Ella, give her a bunch of unruly boys who deliberately sings off-key at the top of their lungs and she would immediately lose half of her borrowed patience.

I’ve seen bored audiences before, sleeping listeners, required students, but nothing like that. People were standing up and walking in and out of the room during the talk. They were busy chatting with their seatmates and could not care less what was going on in front. Some were using their cellphone and talking loudly while seated in front.

I would like to honor Ted, Gay, Chris, James, Abby, Karreen and Marlon who exhibited extraordinary grace, patience and commitment. They stood in front and served the Lord with gladness despite the lack of interest and the antagonistic attitude of some of the students. They gently reminded me that God must have chosen us to serve those students because He was counting on us. They cheered me up with other horror stories from missionaries who served the youth ministry, to remind me that we were not singled out, and that all disciples must suffer.

I am thankful for all the lessons from that day. I hope that the next time that I run out of patience, need an encouraging nod from the audience, and wish for a harmonious rendition of Prince of Peace, I would be reminded that I am the Lord’s servant, who ought to love as He loves, give as He gives, serve as He serves.

A talk is a message of God’s love and a messenger should serve rain or shine. I could do more research on things that would interest the youth, practice using powerpoint, deliver current jokes, and such other things to prepare myself better, but there could be worse situations out there that I could never foresee. At gunpoint, threatened with death, at the sight of previous martyrs who were beheaded for their faith, our Christian forefathers never gave up and still spread the Gospel so it could reach us today. I pray that I could do my share if ever it must come to that.

It is true that we learn more from our most painful experiences. May God bless those students and the servants who were tested. May we see each other in heaven someday.