Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Pursuit of Happyness

"...And it was at that time that I thought about Thomas Jefferson writing that Declaration of Independence. Him saying that we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I thought about how he knew to put the 'pursuit' in there, like no one can actually have happiness. We can only pursue it." Christopher Gardner, "The Pursuit of Happyness"

It so happened that after my previous post where I said that I seemed to have forgotten how to be joyful again, I went to see this movie starring Will Smith and his son. It's a movie that took me on a long journey of one misfortune after another, and all the while I was asking if the hero would ever get the break that he badly needed and even, to my mind, deserved. Happiness seemed to be too elusive for Will's character Christopher, yet the knowledge that it was a true story and the assurance that there was going to be a happy ending allowed me to stick to it until the very end.

I left the movie house counting my blessings and vowing to persevere as much as Christopher Gardner did. All my concerns appeared to be petty when compared to his trials, and yet in the end he not only survived, he defeated all the odds that were against him.

Right before going to the movies, I had early dinner with my high school barkada. I was the first one to arrive at the restaurant. I chose a table beside the window, not knowing that it would lead me to live out a scene that was straight out of the movies.

I saw walking along the street outside the restaurant window a familiar face, but one I had not seen for a decade and a half. I knew it was him and I took a moment to hesitate before going out the door and calling out his name. He stopped, trying to find out who called him, then continued walking. I called out his name again, and this time I stepped on the sidewalk so he could see me.

He turned around and broke into a smile when he saw me. He walked, I walked, and when we were within hearing distance, we started talking at the same time. Then we laughed. I asked him where he was going, and he said he worked in the next building, and he mentioned the name of a law office. I said, "Oh, you're a lawyer now?" He said, "Yes, you too, right?" After a few minutes of talking we both realized we were standing on the street, so I invited him into the restaurant, where I left my purse, wallet, and important documents in my mad rush to catch him.

Did you ever see that "Friends" episode where Ross finally entered Rachel's childhood bedroom, and even if at that time, they had already hooked up and then broken up several times, Ross still couldn't get over the fact that he was in "Rachel Greene's room"? He had a huge crush on her in high school and referred to her using her full name, and he kept saying, "I can't believe I'm in Rachel Greene's room"? That's how I felt.

Let's call my friend-from-the-street Ross Geller. He was my biggest crush in high school. I had to say biggest because I had a new crush every quarter, but this guy, he lasted one schoolyear. He was my first dance in our J-S Prom! So when he sat down on the seat opposite mine in that dimly-lit restaurant, I wanted to pinch myself out of disbelief that Ross Geller was with me, after years of wondering about him, and we were actually talking.

Then I noticed The Ring - how could I not, when it gleamed and seemed to signal "THE END" to all my daydreams about Ross Geller? I hoped my reaction did not show. Somewhere between talking about our common friends and him telling me that he was so out of touch until the time we exchanged phone numbers and email addresses, I managed to ask how many children he had, and he said, "I have a 2- year old daughter".

The guy who introduced me to "Desiderata", who walked me home for almost 10 months, he became a lawyer, and not a doctor as he planned before, and he had a 2-year old daughter. And he was right there breathing the same air, and I had to think about other topics. So we talked about work and business, and I learned that our block's reviewers made it to his law school where they were being sold on CD-ROM format. People made a killing out of our hard work. He said he noticed all my side comments and obiter dicta in the reviewers that I edited. He also knew that I no longer lived in Pureza. He knew that I was a court attorney before, and he said he wondered which court I worked at. For someone not in touch with our batch, he sure remembered little details about me, my bruised ego whispered.

"How come you're not yet married, Laura?" I stared at my ringless finger and just laughed. What could I say? Because you're all married or otherwise simply unavailable! That's what I wanted to say. It was so nice to see him, but he had to run because he was going to have dinner with his wife. Of course! Good thing my best friends arrived and we reminisced a bit about high school, and they teased me to death about how much I liked Ross back then.

I couldn't help thinking how far we had all gone since high school, and how far we had yet to go.

"Maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue. And maybe we can actually never have it no matter what." Christopher Gardner

Christopher's life proved his theory, quoted above, wrong, as he was able to find happiness at the end of the movie, after blood, sweat and tears - literally. He pursued his dream and he eventually reached it.

I don't regret calling Ross Geller's name tonight, even if he turned out to be married. At our age, everyone's married, my friend texted me after I shared my little telenovela moment. Everyone except us, I texted her back. Anyway, marriage and happiness don't always go together, based on what I've heard. So it's happiness I pursue, and not necessarily marriage. The pursuit is as important as the destination.

I have already offered my state of life to the LORD, and if in the end it's just Him and me, then so be it. I know I could still be happy with that, as long as I know that
out of His great love, it's His will for me. Happyness and joy, well if not in this life completely, then for sure in eternal life, those would be the order of the day, everyday.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Distracted by Many Things

Without intending to, I overbooked myself this week. I was not able to control just how much I had crammed into my days. This list is not going to have parallelism at all: I had two Lingkod talks, a teambuilding activity in Punta Fuego, several meetings for my friend's online travel business, a monthly meeting for the parish Youth Alive! ministry, a retreat to plan for to be given to a graduating batch of grade 6 students, and writing assignments. I did not compromise on my prayer time and on daily mass because they allowed me to experience quietness in the midst of all my busyness.

Last Monday I begged God to make me productive and to show me how to manage my time reasonably. I woke up to Ash Wednesday in a state of panic - how could Lent come without me preparing my heart for it? The heat turned up too in the city, and it did not help that I had to catch several rides to fly around my different commitments.

Something I heard at mass told me not to dread this Lenten season. In one of the priest's prayers before blessing the ashes, he asked that God allow the people to keep this Lenten season in preparation for the joy of Easter. That woke me up, the reminder of Easter.

There is always Easter. There is the Resurrection. My Saviour has already saved me, I repeated to myself. I could count on Him to fix my schedule. I could turn to Him when I felt panic and anxiety attacks. I could rely on Him to heal me even if right now I have to be constantly on the go. Ella, Ella, you are distracted by many things again! Jesus told Martha that only one thing was needed, and Mary had chosen the Better Part.

I used to know how to simply sit at His feet and listen to His teachings. How come it's difficult to balance that everyday?

I seem to have forgotten how to be joyful again. It's hard to explain. I hope this Lenten season, I could be transformed into a more joyful person.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Rejoicing in Waiting

The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.
(Psalm 33:10-11, NIV)

Some friends told me upon learning that I was looking for a job, that surely "malakas ako kay God", meaning I enjoy a special favor from Him, and He would reward me handsomely after serving Him for many years, and even giving up my career for a time in order to do mission work in His name. I didn't want to express my contrary thoughts then, but now that I'm "in waiting" again, I reflect on how God rewards His servants like me and would like to share my thoughts.

I wanted to tell my friends that I knew right from the beginning, when I gave my life to the Lord and committed myself to follow Him, that I was in for an uphill climb. I knew that prioritizing service over career would mean being left behind in the latter. I knew that discerning my state of life and surrendering it to God meant not compromising on my essentials and valuing my identity as God's daughter over my desires and attractions. I learned from reading the lives of the saints that they who followed Him did not experience success as the world defined it. They might have needed a luxury or two and might have given up all of their desires altogether, but those were part and parcel of the job description of a disciple.

When I left the law firm that was making me work twelve (12) to fourteen (14) hours a day in favor of the Court in order to serve God more through Lingkod, I did not do it expecting a proportionate reward from God in due time. When I left the Court in order to volunteer as a mission worker for the Lingkod Office, I did not expect to meet the man of my dreams in the process who would sweep me off my feet. If those were part of God's plan, then I would have happily accepted them. But since they were not, this does not mean that I served a heartless, demanding God who did not want to reward His people.

The Lord never told me that He would shield me from pain or suffering; He only promised to be with me, and He has never failed me in that promise. I did them and shall continue to make such "foolish" decisions for him because I wanted to see Him face to face one day in heaven, and to bring others into a similar relationship with Him. Service was its own reward. I only wanted a room in my heavenly Father's house.

I am very far from leading a holy life. Impure motivations still envelop me, relentless temptations still overpower me, and there are days when I simply want to give up. However, the knowledge that God is with me quiets my heart. All of the anxieties and fears I battle with now, I share with Him openly during my prayer time and at daily Mass, and I have affirmed that I'd rather be in bad times like these with the Lord, than to have good times with someone else who would take me away from Him. Yes that's a line from a love song that I sing to Jesus in my heart.

His ways are not our ways. People like me who have left major service, mission work or even the religious life cannot expect to be welcomed by high-flying jobs and "all the things we gave up" in one glamorous package. In fact, we are called to do the opposite, to be lay people set apart for the Lord, fully submitting to His plans which are forever and far greater than our dreams and plans, as the Psalm I quoted above says.

I felt a peace that surpasses all understanding yesterday. I had three interviews in one government office, which went okay, but this was followed by a written examination, which I think I did poorly on. I was not prepared for it as I last read about the pertinent laws and cases some seven years ago, when I was reviewing for the bar! One question pertained to a procedure which I handled while I was a law intern but could not for the life of me remember in detail. I answered the exam with cold, clammy hands and a sinking sensation that I was not going to be hired, after all.

When I handed my papers, the admin officer reminded me that the hiring ban was coming up, 45 days before and after the elections. Considering the many other steps my application had to go through (ranking of all applicants, review by HR, call back for psychological exam, medical exam, and rigorous background check), they could not assure me that I would be hired or even if I were chosen, that it would be earlier than July.

As I left the office in a daze, part of me was saying I should be officially in panic. Hiring ban meant two of my pending applications would have to wait, unless the respective offices were granted exemptions. It meant lack of steady income for several more months. I searched for panic but there was none. I was reminded that God provided me with other skills and talents I could use for the meantime. Faces of friends who were willing to hire me as speaker, facilitator, writer, etc. flashed through my mind. I would get through this long period of dryness. My days of harvest shall come. I was going to be ok.

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places. (Hab 3:17-19, ESV)

Malakas talaga ako kay God! He shows His favor by making me go through periods of dryness and waiting and lack. These are precisely the things I do not like to face, but His plans are better than my plans. When the seasons change, I shall share about them again. For God is truly good and full of love, though we may not understand His ways! I rejoice in Him and praise Him continually.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Good day to Read Poetry

It is V-day, and although an Australian friend calls this "American rubbish", I must admit that today is a good day to read poetry. One grows rich just by reading these classics.

Acquainted with the Night
by: Robert Frost

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
O luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

    I ARISE from dreams of thee
    In the first sweet sleep of night,
    When the winds are breathing low,
    And the stars are shining bright
    I arise from dreams of thee,
    And a spirit in my feet
    Has led me -- who knows how? --
    To thy chamber-window, sweet!

    The wandering airs they faint
    On the dark, the silent stream, --
    The champak odors fall
    Like sweet thoughts in a dream,
    The nightingale's complaint,
    It dies upon her heart,
    As I must die on thine,
    O, beloved as thou art!

    O, lift me from the grass!
    I die, I faint, I fall!
    Let thy love in kisses rain
    On my lips and eyelids pale,
    My cheek is cold and white, alas!
    My Heart beats loud and fast
    Oh! press it close to thine again,
    Where it will break at last!

    Sonnet XXX by William Shakespeare

    When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
    I summon up remembrance of things past,
    I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
    And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:
    Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
    For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
    And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe,
    And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight:
    Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
    And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
    The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
    Which I new pay as if not paid before.
    But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
    All losses are restor'd and sorrows end.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I Still Do Not Understand

Whenever I read about how Jesus' disciples did not easily understand his teachings, I remember not to be too hard on myself in my own struggles to get my lessons.

Today's Gospel woke me up. The brief background before my sharing is this: things are moving verrry slowly in my job applications. I am being stretched in ways I never imagined possible. Yesterday I heard from my friend who encouraged me before to apply in her office, one which I highly respected and also dreamed of entering during my student days. I gathered all the necessary documents, carefully filled out the Personal Data Sheet this time (I hate filling up forms like those), and arranged where to meet her so we could be at her office first thing in the morning.

Then I got a call from her at 4:45 a.m. Her mom's blood pressure shot up and she could not leave the house yet. She said we had to move our plans but would still go to her office. Another call at 8 a.m. from her, this time in a frantic voice telling me that she called an ambulance and was going to bring her mother to the Philippine Heart Center.

I texted our friends from the chapel and prayed hard for her mother. Then I went to my prayer time, where I had to face my own reality: I still had nothing submitted to that office, which seemed to be the one I was most suited to, and that meant I would have to wait longer before being scheduled for interview.

I came before the Lord helpless, depressed, and afraid. I enjoyed the blessings that had come my way the past two months of joblessness, and I knew I was not in a completely pitiable state yet, but still the lack of certainty about my future was testing my faith to the limits.

Then I read this passage from Mark 8: 14-21:

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread,
and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.
Jesus enjoined them, “Watch out,
guard against the leaven of the Pharisees
and the leaven of Herod.”
They concluded among themselves that
it was because they had no bread.
When he became aware of this he said to them,
“Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread?
Do you not yet understand or comprehend?
Are your hearts hardened?
Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?
And do you not remember,
when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand,
how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?”
They answered him, “Twelve.”
“When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand,
how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?”
They answered him, “Seven.”
He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

These are men who walked with the Lord yet still they could not easily grasp what He was teaching them. I cannot blame the disciples because it was natural to focus on what was familiar to them. How could they connect the leaven that Jesus was talking about to the teachings of the Pharisees? Surely the Lord must have known that they forgot to bring bread and that was what he was warning them about, so they would not forget again, but they were wrong. I looked at how Jesus patiently taught them, despite their stubborn resistance, to look beyond what their eyes could see. He reminded them of the miracles they had already witnessed.

I was humbled by this exchange. I imagined Jesus talking to me, asking me, "Ella, do you still not understand? Is your heart hardened? Do you have eyes and do not see, ears and not hear? And do you not remember how I pulled you out of pits and dangers in the past, how I saved you from temptations and desolations, and allowed you to witness my miracles unfolding in your life?"

My heart has been hardened, Lord, and you know that. My eyes cannot see clearly right now, and my ears are not so attuned to you. I have forgotten how good you are, and how perfect your timing. Teach me again. Show me again. Remind me again. For I am a stubborn child and am slow of learning.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Throwing Bouquet

I attended a wedding last Saturday and learned something new. There's a "throwing bouquet" that's different from the one that the bride daintily carries to the altar. My friend, florist-singer-artist extraordinaire Sunday Cabagay showed me his creation and we realized the colors blended with my dress.

Since I hate fighting for flowers, I'm glad this one was handed for me to pose with. Flowers and Photos by Sunday of Kablooms. Please view his other creations here. For the curious, dress by BCBL. I swear by this boutique. :)

Preview of Bohol

These photos don't do Bohol justice, but we had to use my phone's camera because our digicam was acting up during our whole trip. Once I get hold of the cameras of my co-travelers, I would upload better photos. For now, these would have to do.

Above: Chocolate Hills but not from the highest peak.

Tita Fe, enjoying the cool breeze at the Chocolate Hills during her first visit to the famous tourist spot.

The Bohol Beach Club where we stayed overnight. Super bitin! I'll write more about this trip in my other blog.

These are the chimes that served as our background music during our fantastic lunch at the Bohol Bee Farm. It was highly recommended to us by a friend and we were not disappointed. It was a feast for the senses.

This is my candid shot of Mama, who is celebrating her 64th birthday today, February 11, on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Happy Birthday, Mama!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Birthday Surprise

It was the night before his birthday, and he thought we were going to have a meeting...

Then all of a sudden, he heard the guitar strumming!

Friends of Fr. Brian Steele, mgl from Banal na Puso came over to serenade him on the eve of his birthday. He was so surprised. We came bearing pancit, cake, softdrinks and ice. We sang until we had to be shooed away, as it was a school night, after all. And some of us still went to school.

As for me, I'm going to Bohol tomorrow for a holiday! See you when I get back!

Second Gear

Job-hunting shifted to second gear this week out of necessity. If only I could prolong my vacation and get paid for it! I still dream of a good three- or eight-day retreat, or a weekend getaway - alone - in some remote beach, or a three-day treatment at the spa. Maybe when I have regular paychecks coming these would be realized. My parents and I laugh at the list of things I have to pay for, but I use them as additional motivation to find a good job. The list is getting longer everyday.

A few weeks ago, I sent out my first wave of applications online and in person. Then I waited, going out for coffee with friends in the meantime. So far the government office I wrote about at the start of the year took three weeks to follow me up on additional requirements and I used that opportunity to scout the market for other possibilities. It also gave me a chance to weigh how I really felt about working in that office.

Yesterday I returned to the office to submit their requirements. I got the usual government office treatment - waiting outside the Personnel window for a few minutes before being entertained (staff were busy talking either on the phone or to one another), and listening to their conversations that had nothing to do with work whatsoever at 4:00 o'clock in the afternoon, official time. I said a silent prayer while filling up my Personnel Data Sheet,

"Lord, if it were just me I would not choose this office. If you want me to work here, please change my heart and show me the good side of this agency, as I now battle with judgmental thoughts against these government employees who are just being true to form. Take me to a more professional workplace, that's my fervent wish!"

Then I paid my former workplace a visit and had a chat with my blockmate who is not working there, together with my former boss. The Justice was so supportive of me and gave me a few suggestions where to apply. I told her where my resume had landed so far and she asked me which one I liked best, and I replied, and she assured me that she would help me. Justice helped me before too, when I cried my eyes out after my passport and visa application were taken to Hong Kong the only time that the Australian embassy in Manila decided to close. She made some calls and a few days later, my Australian visa arrived. I don't think it would work that easily this time, and she told me I might have to wait for months. She said she wanted me to work in her chamber again, unfortunately she did not have an opening for me. She thought of creating a position but dismissed the idea after Dinah pointed out that before the Department of Budget and Management approves that new position, it would be too late.

So last night I went to Jobstreet and enlarged my job search to include freelance writing jobs. I'm also helping a couple of friends in their team building activity later this month, as a Marshall and not yet as a Facilitator. I also updated my resume to look a bit more interesting to prospective employers. My previous resume bored me to death when I reviewed it.

I try harder to take it one day at a time. I have food, shelter and clothing so I have no right to complain, I tell myself. Of course I still cannot sit back and enjoy this fully. I am a choleric to the core.

Monday, February 05, 2007

If I Had a Column...

I aspire to be productive everyday and since I have the gift of time and high-speed Internet right now, the absence of a job should not be a hindrance to my creativity.

I have always imagined what I would write if I had a column in a magazine or a newspaper (not necessarily of general circulation), or if I had actual readers outside of my family and friends. This gave birth to the idea of creating another blog (finally, I gave in!).

Please visit me at http://kolumnista.blogspot.com. But don't go there yet until I have a few articles up already. Maybe a few days from now, I'll be officially up. The title of this blog-to-be is "If I Had a Column..."

If I had a column, I would write about these things.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Hawak- Kamay

I caught the last part of the Cenacle VocJam late this afternoon. I heard the first notes of "Power of Your Love" being played and a burst of voices while I was walking towards the newly-renovated Cenacle Retreat House. When I entered, I saw the Cenacle Garden transformed into a concert venue. There was an intimate, family atmosphere. Sr. Susay Valdez, rc and Hangad performed that song with such power that I stood mesmerized. After their song, which was loudly applauded, I joined the Lingkod QC sisters who were helping in the food sale. The "dirty" ice cream was sold out even before the concert ended. I enjoyed comfort food of puto and hotdog.

I was floored to listen to "Stand by Me Still" performed by Himig Heswita and Friends. I convinced the QT's to buy the CD's where Sr. Bubbles and Sr. Susay performed, namely "Prayers from the Upper Room" and "Stand by Me Still".

There was an encore of one of the crowd favorites and this caused our LSS our Last Song Syndrome. I first heard this song from The Posh kids who learned to play it on guitar last sem break. When Fr. Brian heard it during Otep's birthday, he could not understand the lyrics but he requested the kids to sing it again because it was "a nice song", according to him. We told him that "hawak-kamay" meant holding hands, but it also symbolized being there for one another.

What was just a nice song to me before became memorable after watching Sr. Susay and Sr. Bubbles sink their teeth, er voices, into it. I can't get it out of my head tonight. In fairness, the lyrics make sense.

Yeng Constantino (of Pinoy Dream Academy 2006)

Minsan madarama mo kay bigat ng problema
Minsan mahihirapan ka at masasabing “di ko makakaya”
Tumingin ka lang sa langit
Baka sakaling may masumpungan
Di kaya ako’y tawagin
Malalaman mong kahit kailan

Di kita iiwan sa paglakbay
Dito sa mundong walang katiyakan
Di kita bibitawan sa paglalakbay
Sa mundo ng kawalan

Minsan madarama mo
Ang mundo’y gumuho sa ilalim ng iyong mga paa
At ang agos ng problema’y tinatangay ka
Tumingin ka lang sa langit
Baka sakaling may masumpungan
Di kaya ako’y tawagin
Malalaman mong kahit kailan


Wag mong sabihin nag-iisa ka
Laging isipin meron kang kasama
Narito ako oh, Narito ako…


Sa mundo ng kawalan
Hawak-kamay, Hawak-kamay
Sa mundo ng kawalan…