I’ve been a Catholic my whole life. I was born and raised with the faith and values of a Catholic for as long as I can remember. I consider myself pretty lucky for that. And still, I learn something new about this faith almost every day. A new lesson, a new theological teaching, a new reality, a new revelation. This faith is definitely a learning experience.
But there are a few concrete, unshakeable things I’ve always known and believed. Like the one true Immaculate Conception of our one and only Lord Jesus Christ through our Blessed Virgin Mary. And 33 years later, He epitomises the one true and ultimate definition of love through His sacrifice. Finally, through His resurrection into Heaven, where He joins with our One True God, our lives are renewed, giving us eternal hope. This is all true, right?
But two nights ago, at the Easter Vigil Mass, I was more or less proven wrong. During the priest’s homily, he reminded us that “in every Good Friday in our lives, there will always be an Easter.” At first I thought, how can this be when there is only one Good Friday? But I realised he was talking about all those times in our lives when we’ve been betrayed, let down, left alone, felt helpless, blamed for something we didn’t do, lost someone, betrayed our loved ones, sinned, let others down and so on. He was talking about all those times we’ve experienced how Jesus felt when Judas betrayed Him, when Peter denied Him 3 times, when He fell while carrying the cross, and during His last moments of humanity, when He cries out to His father, “Why have you forsaken me?”. He was talking about the shame Judas and Peter felt, the sorrow Mama Mary felt, and the emptiness the apostles must have felt when their leader had died.
But, despite all this, what came/comes after Good Friday is a beautiful renewal of hope in our lives – Easter. This is one of the reasons why we celebrate Easter every year. To remind us that, through our faith in our one true God, death could not hold Him, nor could it hold us.
“But God raised him up, releasing him from the thrones of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it. For David says of him: ‘I saw the Lord ever before me, with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed. Therefore my heart has been glad and my tongue has exulted; my flesh, too, will dwell in hope, because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’.” Acts 2:24-28
In this time of feast and celebration, please join me in praying for those who have not been fortunate enough to celebrate with us – the poor, sick, lost, forgotten and those who have passed. Especially, beloved father and grandfather, Xavier Pereira who has left us in this world and joined our Father in His Eternal Kingdom. May His soul rest in eternal peace.
It was 6pm and my stomach was growling from hunger. I could smell a familiar scent coming from the kitchen downstairs. It was that beautiful combination of garlic, onion and oil – three staples in every filipino home. I was so excited to see what my dad was cooking. What could it be? Adobo? Corned beef? …other filipino dishes that I don’t really know the names for but tastes really good.. lol.
After patiently waiting for half an hour, I hear my dad loudly tap the edge of the pan twice *bangbang, which was a universal signal (or maybe just for filipino households) that dinner was ready and you better get your behind to the kitchen asap otherwise… well, I never really found out because as far as I can remember, I always came to dinner.
I race downstairs from my room, and to my utter disappointment, dinner was – alampaya (with some minced pork) which is Tagalog for, bitter melon. Which tastes exactly that. Except not melon. So, just bitter. Yeah… Gross. This is probably second on my list of food that I hate the most. The first being coriander, or cilantro, depending which part of the world you’re reading this from. #ihatecoriander
Anyway, you’re probably thinking this is an over reaction. And it totally is. But here’s why. There’s a subconscious reason as to why I hate finding alampaya for lunch/dinner. You see, every time this is dished up by my mum or dad, they never fail to remind me that I should be forever grateful for this vegetable because it saved my life.
Yes, my life. When I was really young, I almost died due to a “complication” (we’ll call it that coz I’m not exactly sure what it was) that I was born with (I think). And apparently eating this vegetable saved me. Being naive and proud when I heard this story countless times, I never really asked my parents for any details. All I did was roll my eyes, sucked it up and ate the damn vegetable to shut them up.
But this time around, I was an adult, and I could finally say no to this vegetable without feeling guilty. So when I saw what was for dinner, I, the 30 year old, said, “Ew. Yuck. Gross! I don’t wanna eat that!” Hahahah. Queue dad’s – “Hey, you should be thankful for this vegetable. It saved your life!” – line. And seriously, word for word, that’s what he said. To which I responded with a quick laugh and responded with a “Yeah yeah..” *rolls eyes. However, he continued…
Apparently, when I had this “complication”, I was really sick and lacked a certain type of blood cell. It was pretty critical. The doctor’s first opinion was for me to go into surgery. If the surgery was successful, there was still a high chance of me becoming paralysed for the rest of my life. My parent’s didn’t like the odds of that and got a second opinion, which was to get a blood transfusion and eat a whole heap of this life saving vegetable.
Can you imagine, had my parents gone with the first option? Had I survived, I probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy the many things I love and simple things I take advantage of in my life. Like, playing with my nieces, playing basketball #ballislyf, walking up to 10 kms a day during travels, having long random conversations with good friends while driving, and, dancing. Oh man, dancing. #dancingisalsolyf
I couldn’t help but contemplate on all the things in life we don’t want to do, but need to do. If only we could fully comprehend how much it’ll benefit us (and others) in the long run. Like, going to that meeting, driving your sibling to work, staying up another hour to apply for jobs, staying home, running errands, having that dreaded but needed conversation, doing that last set of reps, eating our vegetables and taking up our cross.
So for dinner that night, I happily ate my dinner, without picking out any of the alampaya off my plate, like I used to do.
What are you picking off your plate?
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,* take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-26
Its crazy how quickly things can change in your life. Within an instant, your life can go from stagnant to really busy. To the point where you find yourself spending less and less time at home with your family and loved ones. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. I feel like life gets busier the older I get. And because of this, the more I want so bad for time to slow down because I feel like I’m always playing catch ups with life itself. And then, something happens that snaps you out of your tunnel vision life, and you realise that there’s so much more to it. Unfortunately, sometimes, it takes something tragic for this realisation.
This morning, after waking up from much needed rest after spending the weekend barely at home or seeing my family, I got a phone call from my older sister telling me that our little sister had just gotten into a car accident and was at the hospital. She’s okay. Fortunately, the accident was minor. But had she taken a different route to work, it could have been a lot worse.
And for that, I’m thankful. I rarely think about my guardian angel. But today, I am so grateful that my sister’s was with her.
Whoever is reading this, take this time to hug your sibling, cousin, parents, friend, or workmate – someone who you haven’t talked to in a while, but want so much to have a personal relationship with. A good friend reminded me today that it’s not too late to start.
What a crazy week it’s been. I’m struggling to articulate what I’ve been through without sounding unnecessarily dramatic, so I won’t try. But can I ask you, whoever you are reading this, to please pray for me?
In an attempt to escape the last remnants of hopelessness in my mind, I want to tell you a story of a time I surrendered, and in my vulnerability, my ever faithful God answered me.
It was exactly seven months to this very day. It was a sunny morning in Zermatt, Switzerland, and eight friends excitedly embark on a journey upwards the Swiss Alps. I can’t speak for my seven other travel buddies, but from as early as I can remember, Switzerland was a country I always wanted to travel to. I remember being as young as seven and first hearing the name of the country – “Switzerland – what a fancy name, one day, I’ll go there!”. Twenty-two years later, there I was, living and breathing in it’s fresh cold air.
As we sat in the cable car, with the view of Zermatt all around us, it felt so surreal. Seriously, to this very day, I can’t find the right words to describe what we saw and how we felt. I held back my tears because I just wanted to live in the moment and not get too emotional. After 20 or so minutes, we stopped over at Trockener Steg, where we got our first mountain top glimpse of the Swiss Alps. We spent a good hour or so taking photos, and taking it all in, the atmosphere, the view, the joy, the realness of it all. The weather was perfect, it was cold, but not too cold to stop us from enjoying it. And from time to time, the sun would come out to remind us of His warm, loving embrace.
After taking advantage of this photo opportunity, we made our way to another cable car to reach a higher peak – 3,883 metres high, to be exact. During what seemed to be a long walk between Trockener Steg and the next cable car stop was when I first started feeling lightheaded, and short of breath. You hear about the physical struggles one may experience with the lack of oxygen while travelling up a mountain but it’s another thing to feel it. At the time, I didn’t want to voice my distress to my travel mates because I didn’t want to worry them. But honestly, I also selfishly didn’t want to miss out. I was having a FOMO moment, and I told my body “not here, not now!”. So I kept going.
When we got to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, which is supposedly the highest cable car station in all of Europe, my physical struggles got worse. The air felt thin and I honestly thought I was going to faint if I didn’t control my breathing. But I kept going. When the lift door opened to a set of stairs, my excitement quickly wore off and it turned into a mental battle.
You see, this was something I wanted for so long. Maybe I had forgotten about this desire because I got distracted with, well, life! But when we started planning our European travels, Switzerland was on the top of my list and 11 months later, there we were! I wasn’t about to stop and go back down the mountain because my body couldn’t handle it. Leading up to this trip, I had been through a lot physically (a story for another day) which put me on the sidelines for months and I wasn’t going to let it make me miss out on anything again. At least not this! So I kept going.
I climbed those stairs. It was hard. I was crying. I was struggling to breathe. Then I paused and looked up. And that’s when I saw Him. With arms wide open, crucified on the Cross, He welcomed me.
I ran to Him and sang underneath what felt like the last of my breath…
“Lord I need You, oh I need You. Every hour, I need You.”
Within an instant, I felt free from my physical struggles. Believe it or not, but I immediately started breathing regularly, and my lightheadedness disappeared. I was healed. I was set free. And because I was no longer held back by my physical inabilities, I was able to fully live in the moment. I had the best time up that mountain. He knew my heart’s desires and all I had to do was cry out to Him.
Sometimes, that’s all we need to do. Take our struggles, our shortcomings, our inadequacies, our incompleteness, be human and cry about it, then lift it up to Him. This is something we need to choose to do every single day.
“Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.” Psalm 118:5
I wanted to share this story because this week, I surrendered, so many times. I broke down while quietly drinking a cup of tea. I broke down in the shower. I broke down while messaging a friend in my state of vulnerability. I broke down while talking on the phone with a friend who is currently 16,024 kms away. I broke down in front of my laptop while feeling overwhelmed with my insecurities and my incapabilities. And each time I broke down, I surrendered.
He may literally answer me today, or tomorrow, or next month.
But He has already set me free.
“If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful, and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed.” — Pope Benedict XVI
“You can ask the universe all signs you want but ultimately we only see what we want to see when we’re ready to see it.” – Ted, HIMYM.
(Bonus points for anyone who knows exactly when Ted says this in the HIMYM series – without googling it.)
Thanks to Netflix, HIMYM is my go-to tv show that’s always running in the background when I’m getting ready for bed, or to go out, or whenever I just need something playing at the back. So it’s safe to say that I’ve watched the whole series more than enough times. Honestly, it would be FRIENDS if it was on the Australian Netflix (get it together mate!).
And there’s something about this quote that always stuck to me. I was reminded of it tonight, as I spent a quiet night in at home. I’m feeling a bit under the weather, and with a full weekend ahead of me, I wanted to get some rest in first. Already tucked under my doona at 7pm (an introvert’s dream!), I was flipping through Netflix for a movie to put me to sleep. Hmmm, maybe something in the romance category, they’re always (sometimes) a snooze-fest. I found the 2012 movie, The Lucky One, with the handsome Zac Efron in it. I remember falling asleep when I tried to watch it when it first came out, so I thought it would have the same effect.
Boy was I wrong. I watched the whole thing and I was completely captivated by their love story. For those that don’t know, it’s based off a novel by Nicholas Sparks, about a US Marine who finds a photograph of a young woman in the battlefield. This photograph serves as a lucky charm for the US Marine. During battle, he narrowly escapes death and comes back home. He then decides to track down this woman in the photograph (stalker much?) to say thank you and that’s where their story begins. It seems really simple, and I can understand why I fell asleep the first time I tried to watch it. It’s a bit slow paced, hardly any suspense and there are only a handful of characters that you get to know. But the main theme I got from it was fate.
Anyway, this isn’t a review on the movie. Lol. But what intrigued me was that I had received the movie in two completely different ways. It was the same sort of reaction I have when people tell me that they didn’t enjoy the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Surprisingly, a few people found it boring and weird. Where as for me, I found it enthralling, exciting, encouraging and really inviting. It made me really want to pursue my hopes and dreams, especially travelling.
“We only see what we want to see when we’re ready to see it.”
When I first watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in 2013/2014, I was at a crossroads in my career, or life, you could say. I really wasn’t happy with the direction I was going. Although I had moved out of home, steadily making my way up the ranks in my career, and earning decent money, I knew I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose in life. I wanted to seek more. I wanted more. This movie made me realise that I wanted more. So I went and sought! And now I’m in the career that I want to be in for maybe the rest of my life.. or at least a really long time. (Oh my gosh, this movie is so good! Go watch it!)
“…when we’re ready to see it.”
When I first watched The Lucky One in 2012, I was 25, and felt so pressured to be in a relationship. But I knew I wasn’t ready. After watching it five years later, I don’t know, maybe I am now.
Is there something (or someone) you see differently now than you did before? What would you do?
A mate of mine who is a talented writer/blogger recently asked me to type up a piece for her blog about a particular experience I had. I don’t want to ruin any surprises so I wont reveal too much about it. However, I will say that it was about an experience I have subconsciously tried to suppress deep in my mind and wish to never relive ever again.
Why you ask? Because it was about a boy. Hahaha.
But, as tough as it was to recall, I have no regrets. Feeling quite honoured for the opportunity, I also found it a blessing in disguise. It had brought up a lot of hurtful memories but also a lot of really fun ones. It may have even brought some butterflies to my stomach. 🙂
Anyway, it was a blessing because while writing this requested piece, it reminded me of the joy and the fruits of writing.
While I was travelling through Europe last year with some good mates, a lot of them tried to find time to journal. Whether it was during transit, or before bed time, or while inside a church/landmark, or any spare time we had, I often saw my travel mates busily scribbling down on their journals. It was an important part of their journey as it helped them digest and process all the different experiences they were going through. I, however, really struggled with journaling. I even bought a tiny notebook to help me get started but I still couldn’t bring myself to put my thoughts and experiences unto paper. At the end of it all, photo journaling through an instagram account is what I settled for. Still though, I often wondered what they wrote, and what motivated them to write.
I guess there are a lot different reasons why people write. To practice, to remember, to recall, to learn, to be a witness, to capture a moment, to go back in time.
Honestly, I never really thought of myself as a writer. I can be a bit of a grammar and spelling critic/nazi, so I had unrealistic standards on myself to be able to write well enough to post my writing in public. Obviously, with the new year turning, I’m trying to prove my harshest critic, myself, wrong. And it’s actually been quite fruitful. Mostly, it has made me realise that everyone is a writer, because everyone has a beautiful story to tell.
Why do you write? Whatever the reason is. Don’t stop, keep going. Write on, friend! As long as it comes from a beautiful place, you never know what kind of positive impact it will have on other people. And especially, on yourself.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou
One of the reasons why I traveled to Philippines was to attend a Singles For Christ International Conference (SFC ICON). Exactly a year from today, I had travelled to Singapore to attend the SFC ICON held there. And although last year’s ICON was a good experience, I felt a bit cheated because I got sick leading up to it. I went into a minor emergency surgery the day before my flight, so for the whole week that I spent in Singapore, I was very uncomfortable and was in a lot of physical pain. But I went anyway because I had a really strong desire to go.
The production last year was amazing – well planned and even better executed. The speakers and sharers were so inspiring, hearing their stories made me feel so fortunate for the life I had in Australia. But apart from that, I didn’t really get much from it because I wasn’t well enough to meet people. It was my first ICON and everyone always talked about how their highlight of any ICON was meeting new people from all over the world. I felt like I was robbed of this chance when I got sick and was very disappointed and frustrated with myself. At the end of the conference, when they announced that the 2017 SFC ICON was in Iloilo, I told myself I would go, God willing, to make up for what I missed out on because of my physical inabilities.
And so, with a lot of apprehension and fear, not knowing how I would find the money to be able to afford it, the flights were booked and there was no turning back. I had risked a lot to attend this conference, including the potential of landing a full time teaching position as a new graduate. But God provides.
Hoping I wouldn’t get sick again in the lead up to this year’s conference, I was, however, suffering in a different kind of way. I was suffering in desolation and felt so empty in my prayers. I wasn’t looking forward to the conference at all and had thoughts of backing out despite paying around 10,000PHP for the registration fees.
Oh, how I would have regretted that choice now knowing what God had in store for me at this conference.
I’ve been in this community for as long as I can remember. Starting from Kids For Christ, I joined Youth For Christ in 1999 and Singles For Christ in 2010. That’s almost 18 years of fruitful service that this community has given me. I particularly find extreme joy and thrill when I get the chance to work in a team to plan an event and watch it all unfold. I most especially love working in the production team – it’s my bread and butter. One of my service goals was to be able to work in the production team of an international conference, even if it was in the smallest way.
So of course, one of my highlights for this conference was when I was given the opportunity to be a production assistant for the Saturday segments of this year’s SFC ICON. Now I’m not sharing this to boast. I’m sharing this because I want to remind you how faithful our God is.
Desolation is one of the hardest yet most fruitful experience someone can go through. Imagine being in a relationship with someone but not having your feelings reciprocated. I prayed to Him, I spoke to Him, I reached out to Him and I felt nothing. It was so heartbreaking. I felt so empty.
But I was reminded of the humbling story of St Teresa of Calcutta, also known as Mother Teresa. She suffered through years of desolation, afraid that God had rejected her or was hiding from her. But despite these doubts, it didn’t deter her from serving, especially the poor, and finding her path to heaven.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Mother Teresa, but her story, as well as a good friend reminding me of the fruits of desolation, motivated me to push through with attending the SFC ICON. If I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t have experienced all the graces and blessings He had in store for me.
I am so happy to say that I am no longer in desolation. On the last day of Pre-ICON (a mini 3 day event for 200 or so ICON delegates before ICON), we were led into worship by the beach in Guimaras Island, Iloilo. My first thought, while suffering in desolation, was “Here we go, another worship to remind me of my emptiness in prayer.”. But as we reached the final song, Larger Than Life, my ever faithful God allowed me to feel His presence again. I felt Him in the wind gently caressing my face and blowing my hair.
“You are God of these dreams I’ve been longing.”
These particular words resonated in my thoughts. I thought about my dreams of being a teacher, a wife and a mother. Although I had desired these dreams, He planted them in my heart because He is the God of them. And then I thought about my suffering in desolation. Although it had emptied me and led me astray, He was still the God of my life and it led me back to Him. For the first time in months, I heard Him again. And He reminded me that..
He was in control. That He has planned for me my deepest desires. That it was going to be okay. That it’s ok to feel now, to feel again. To receive again, to receive His love through others. To trust again.. to trust in Him.
On Saturday night of ICON, during the final worship, I found myself in disbelief of how much He loved me. Everything that I had experienced, all the suffering from the year that passed, all the emptying of my cup, it had led me to that moment. And as tears rolled down my face, again I felt the wind, my God, gently caressing my face. I opened my eyes and saw the view He saved just for me.
With a cup overflowing – M.
Ps. S/O to our SFC aka Super Feeling Close crew – Ate Michel, Moosey, Girlie, Djeb, Tophie, Raimz & Qwayne. Thank you for allowing me to share this story with you that Sunday night post ICON. Only with God’s grace (and silliness) will He put together the most random group of 8 people and somehow get along to the point that we were super feeling close and missed each other when we started going our separate ways. God is truly good.
Earlier this week, through His grace, I found some stillness despite being in the central business district of Makati in Philippines. I had just finished a couple of really slow, half assed laps in our hotel pool. And before getting out to bake a few shades darker, I found solace under the shade and casually leant on the edge of pool.
With my head placed above my folded arms and the rest of my body still in the water, I heard myself breathe in. And then out.
In again. And out.
After a few seconds, I had achieved complete stillness in my mind and body. It didn’t last long because I was falling fast asleep and was awaken by the feeling of pool water rushing into my ears. Without thinking, I took a deeper breath through my nose and floated back up.
I should mention, I’m not an experienced swimmer. The “laps” I mentioned earlier weren’t accomplished with any graceful strokes. They were merely made up of a mix of dog paddling and barely surviving in the water. Hahaha. So when I realised that breathing in deeper meant I could float more, I was intrigued! I’m sure this is general knowledge to regular/professional swimmers but the science of it all was captivating.
So I kept doing it. Breathing in deeply, and slowly exhaling until I found myself sinking into the water until it reached my ears. And repeat.
Fascinated by the effect of breathing in the water, I slowly realised how simply we can apply this in our lives.
Sometimes we find ourselves drowning in the chaos that life throws at us. Because of this, we tend to only take on tasks we think we can handle. Little breaths of this and that. Little breaths of relationships. Little breaths of prayer. Little breaths of risks. Little breaths of God. I get it, life is hard. But at some point, even while only taking these little breaths of life, we still end up drowning.
Sometimes we need to be a little braver, and take in life as big breath of air, despite our fears and reservations. Because it is in our life giving relationships, prayer and risks, where we will find Him to help us stay afloat.
This is the air I breathe. Your holy presence living in me.
Today is an exciting day for me. And it’s not only because in less than an hour I’ll be flying off for a holiday/conference/self seeking journey.
I’m excited because today was the first day this year that I received Him through the Sacrament of the Eucharist. And what a blessing it was. For a whole month, which felt so long, I shamefully felt so unworthy to receive Him.
Don’t get me wrong, I never feel worthy of receiving Him. But today I was reminded of how blessed I was because He lets me have Him anyway. And although I had strayed away for so long and so far..
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
His love is so unconditional. And today I felt this love through the kindness and generosity of my family and friends.
Despite my keenness to get away from reality for a little while, I had a lot of apprehension in leaving for this trip. I was constantly stressed about how much it’s costing me, and not just my (non existent) money.
But upon reflecting, as you do right before you get on a plane, I leave with the comfort of knowing that I am loved and blessed. God, who always finds a way, provided for me. He went above and beyond through my mates who made sure I am where I am right now (shout out to you all ❤). All I had to do was open my heart to receive Him.
Oh Lord, forgive me for ever doubting You. Thank You for your graces and your faithfulness despite my lack of faithfulness in You.
Don’t hesitate to receive Him, my friends. For His promise is greater than you could ever imagine.