Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Long Overdue, so This is Long

Some people go through life not knowing what they were meant to do. They graduate, take the first available job, make a career out of it, and never look back at their unfulfilled dreams and unrealized ambitions.

I'm the exact opposite. I seem to have made a career out of seeking God's plan for me. I have never been content with what is simply before me. I tend to look at the world and ache to serve. I have periodic wake-up calls that I am not the Messiah, though, and whenever that happens I learn to accept God's gifts that may not take the form of a big service or an important job, but could just be there to remind me that I'm His daughter by adoption and a follower of His Son, called to love more than to be busy or successful or helpful.

Tiredness and confusion; dead ends and blank walls, these and many other events remind me that I am human and I need grace every moment of every day to love the way God wants me to; that on my own, I cannot get things done. I cannot right all wrongs or expect others to. I cannot be nice, thorough, present, or correct all the time. Omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence belong to God, and the sooner I accept my limitations, the happier and more relaxed I will be.

So all my life I have not been what people called "normal". I followed the rules, yes, but the older I got, the more defined the rules became, until I found a personal relationship with Jesus, and followed Him with all that I had. From being a good student to a kabarkada ng bayan (everyone's friend) to an active multi-organizational member and leader, I was slowly transformed into a disciple of Christ. If before I actively served in choirs, newsletters, student councils and other clubs, I packed all of those into one and gave it all to God. I served Him as a writer, choir trainer, leader, speaker, dancer, driver, lawyer and singer for seven years through Lingkod-Quezon City.

I was not content with that, so I gave up being a lawyer and decided to be a full-time volunteer staff worker at the National Office of The Philippine Foundation of Ang Lingkod ng Panginoon. I prayed about it for six months and was very excited when I started. I felt then that I could do anything for the Lord! I was asked to be the national administrator of Lingkod, and since I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, I said yes in obedience, with joy and hope that it would be life-giving for me.

The experience was unlike anything I expected. Instead of making my heart sing because finally, I got to work with God's people directly, the career shift made me question my sanity. This is no exaggeration. Lingkod stood for something I believed in with my whole heart - for it introduced God to single young professionals and trained them to give their time, career, talents, money and other resources to Him. I saw how Lingkod members Christified (a coined term) their respective workplaces, and eventually, raised Christian families, and to be part of all that was such an honor.

In Lingkod Office I worked with fellow missionaries - professionals who gave up careers as accountants, engineers, businessmen, bankers, etc. to serve the Lord. I was in great company. We shared beautiful stories during lunch; had regular bible study and sharing; had company-sponsored retreats; had relationships with Lingkod members nationwide; and had a wonderful time whenever we had staff meetings.

Deep inside me, however, I could not keep up with the demands of the job. I served four roles while I was there and I could not keep up with them (I was national and office admin, corporate secretary, support staff to the national director, and assistant to the national women's moderator). In my previous workplaces, I could leave the worries of the job in the office and go home or attend Lingkod. When I was a staffer I could not leave behind my job. I carried it with me and consumed me! I slowly lost patience with myself and even others; I expected too much from people. I was not cheerful everyday and showed how burdened I was to my officemates. There was something terribly wrong with the setup that I could not put my finger on. The conclusion I have is that I was a square peg in a round hole. The hole wasn't evil; and there was nothing seriously wrong with me (although I was a square!). It was just a wrong fit.

To give it up seemed folly, however. After explaining the decision to be a staffer to my family, friends, brothers and sisters, I would have to re-explain that I would not serve there for life and was going to resign, without making Lingkod and its leaders look bad. The worst part was that it felt like turning my back on God and taking charge of my life again. I did not want to do that. I did not want to worry about little details like career, or insurance, or promotion. I wanted to serve God alone!

I was a mess. I had to make a decision quickly, however, because of some changes in the setup and staffing of Lingkod. A lot would be affected if I left and I wanted to give them a chance to find a replacement for me. Although, with the kind of job I felt I was doing, I felt they could hire anyone and they would do a better job!

I could not make a decision about my future without crying. It was too painful. I broke it down into two decisions - one was whether I should stay; and the other was where to go. Having decided that I should go, I revealed my decision and was at peace with it even with the myriad of reactions I received. Lingkod people were shocked; my family cheered (they never wanted me to give up my law practice). I learned later on from my officemates that I had the gift of administration and that I showed no signs (at least not to everyone) that I was miserable. That was a miracle because I'm a very transparent person. I thought they could tell that my heart was revolting and I was contradicting myself every single prayer time for months!

Even before my work in Lingkod ended, I started looking for a job. Nothing came out of it. I sent my resume to several headhunters, even signed up for a couple of online job placement sites, and applied in a few positions that seemed to interest me. Nada.

Their silence made me all the more frustrated with myself. I stared at my resume and wondered if I could be all that again. I searched my heart for direction, drive, dream, or desire, and found those slowly dying. In bits and pieces throughout this dark period in my life, I heard the Lord. He told me:

1. "You are mine. I will not let you go back to the world." This was His answer when I asked His blessing to apply in huge multinational corporations and have a high-flying job with the greatest perks in the world. The World, ugh.

2. "You will know that the job is for you because it will be easy, smooth, and effortless for you." He assured me with these words when one morning I could not believe that I was not being scheduled for interview left and right. It was also the end of the year and a bad time to apply anywhere.

3. "Now is not the time to move." This was in response to my prayer to bless my desire to study abroad. I was clearly given "No" as an answer to that one so I didn't file a single application despite hearing from several different law schools across the globe. This saddened me a bit. I also wanted to move to my own place already, even rent a tiny dorm room just to live away from home.

Unemployment attacks a person's self-esteem and I reached dangerously low levels before Christmas. That's why I went through Simbang Gabi, even alone, at dawn for nine days. I needed all the help I could get. By the way, I wasn't really unemployed at that time, as I still had Lingkod up to December 22. I was just dreading it.

I felt hope growing in my heart during the days leading to and even during the Christmas season. For the New Year, I prayed for joy and peace to come as well. I could not think much of the future anymore, I just lived one day at a time, going through errands, being productive whenever I could.

I was given a new prayer guide and spent a very long time of personal prayer this morning. Then, I attended a baptism as I was asked to be godmother of a beautiful baby girl by a couple who have been my friends since college and who have been walking this journey with me and the Lord. After the ceremony I rode with a friend going to the reception. Also a ninang at that baptism is the daughter of one of the top government officials, a good friend of the couple. I engaged in a casual conversation and then when she found out I was a lawyer and did not have a job, she asked me if I wanted to work for her dad's office. She just happened to be the chief of staff and she said her dad needed "spritual people". Since I had no plans of working for the government again, I did not take our little conversation seriously. The office she worked for was located just a few minutes away from my house, just a floor above my previous office at the Sandiganbayan. I knew Ted, I knew Bobby, and I used to work for Justice De Castro - those were the only credentials she needed to hear before offering me a job. I asked her about the work load and the salary range, as if we were sitting in her office and doing a proper job interview, but interspersed with personal stories and laughter.

When my lawyer friends at the party heard of my "job offer", they all encouraged me to take it, as the boss is a respected person, and it was extremely convenient for me. I still wasn't ready. I was in the middle of my drama as a jobless person. I was planning to apply as "housewife" but there were no openings in the employers I was praying for (had to slip that one in, hehehe).

Then my friend put in a good word for me with government-official's-daughter (let's call her the Princess). He said I could sing and could invite her to Lingkod, on top of my legal skills. Princess then said, "If you're recommended by him, you're good as hired. Please come to my office tomorrow. I will leave your name with the guard and he will take you directly to me. I will attend Lingkod if you come work for us. I will wait for you." Then she greeted me on the cheek as if we're very old friends.

Shall I come to court tomorrow seeking employment with the king? I gave myself today and tonight to pray about it. I told my parents, of course they were ecstatic that I would be working again and that I would be only seven minutes away from home. I told them to hold their horses because government appointments could take forever. Nothing was final yet. There was even an upcoming hiring ban due to the elections. Princess assured me, however, that she would fast-track my appointment and that they would apply for exemption from the ban.

I didn't want to grab the opportunity. I went to mass early. I saw Fr Steve and Fr Geoffrey before it started but I went straight to the church and talked to God. I told Him that since I needed a job, I would apply for this one, but He must show me if it was His will for me. Then I was reminded that He gave me the three senses above, and this all fit His promise for me. It was too easy. I hadn't even handed my application yet, and the door was opened for me. I wouldn't have to move. And I wouldn't exactly go back to the world, as I would be serving in government and fighting graft and corruption again.

So maybe I have to say goodbye to my worldly dreams again, and to my little desires to have my own apartment, and to travel. I could get them all in God's time anyway. Many things can still happen and it's premature to say whether I shall end up with this job. But during Mass as we sang the Our Father and I stared at my hands lifted up to heaven, I heard from God,

"Take my gift with open hands, Ella." This might be my daily bread, not enough to feed thousands, for that's not my job, but enough to sustain me, one day at a time. This way I could still hear mass everyday at our parish and even continue serving in the Youth Ministry. After mass I told the two priests the good news and they were happy for me. It was a miracle and an early New Year's gift from the Lord, they said.

Will take this one step at a time. First things first, like I have to send in my resume and application letter before the appointment process starts. While waiting for that, I could attempt to put some order in my life. It is a New Year, after all. This doesn't have to be the job I would die with, so it's ok if it's not perfectly fit. God is transforming my heart.

As in all things, I will continue to pray about this. I will keep you all posted. And please pray with me! Thanks.

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