“I realized that the deepest spiritual lessons are not learned by His letting us have our way in the end, but by His making us wait, bearing with us in love and patience until we are able to honestly to pray what He taught His disciples to pray: Thy will be done.” ― Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control
I’ve not very been very vocal about my faith or my spirituality. Maybe because in this very secular world I didn’t want to tread on people’s toes or sensitivities. I know that we are all allowed to say what we feel, what we think and our faith is one of the most important testaments we can make. However, that being said, I think I’ve allowed myself to be more PC than I thought I would ever be. Because of that, allowed myself to not talk about how my faith gets me through each day. I’m reminded of Psalty the Singing Songbook from the Kids’ Praise series of music albums I used to listen to when I was little. I can still hear Psalty saying “God wouldn’t want you to hide your light under a bushel!” And that’s exactly what I allowed myself to do.
I am truly a church kid. I grew up getting up early on a Sunday morning, getting dressed in my Sunday best and going to church and Sunday school. I sang in the children’s choir and Christmas was always busy with children’s choir rehearsals. My summers were spent attending daily vacation church school, attending summer church camps and other church-based activities. It didn’t stop there. As I got older, i graduated to joining the chancel choir, acting as bible study leader, children’s choir conductor and summer camp cell group leader. If I were still in the Philippines, I would probably still be in church most weekends, happily involved in the various things church-related. Most of my oldest and most enduring friendships are with people I grew up with, in church. I am quite thankful that I grew up in church because I know that this has founded my faith and it is my faith that carries me through the dark days.
It is because I grew up in church that I learned to take solace in prayer and meditation. I find that the quiet times that I spend alone with my thoughts, tears, prayers and meditations ground me and steady me. It allows me to surrender everything to the higher power taking care of us. It is also because of that faith that the word surrender doesn’t feature negatively in my vocabulary. Surrender is sometimes the bravest thing to do.
Quite recently, I started listening to Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Conversations podcast. She had a conversation with Rev Ed Bacon about spirituality. It was such an ecumenical discussion about faith that it gave me a lightbulb moment. I had to look back on conversations about faith that I had with the friends I have here. I found that I had discussions about faith and prayer with friends who were Christian, Muslim, and others who didn’t necessarily ascribe to a particular religious doctrine. Spirituality and faith is universal. So talking about it is universal. It is funny that it’s taken me so long to realise this!
And today, as with all the most difficult days, my mantra is “In His perfect time, according to His perfect will.”
Easter brings a 4-day weekend with Bank Holiday Friday (aka Good Friday when I lived in Manila) and Easter Monday (which, thank you God, is also a bank holiday!). Easter also brings a lot of chocolate and it’s been a tradition at the firm that I work in for the shareholders of the firm to give us Easter eggs before the office closes for the long weekend. Easter also brings a time for me to rest. I’ve not been a 100% per cent for a while, so I am thankful for the statutory time off!
Easter was quite different for me when I lived in the Philippines. If you didn’t already know, the Philippines is a predominantly Christian country, where approximately 86% of the population are Roman Catholic (I belong to the 2% of the population, I think, who are protestant – I am a proud card-carrying Methodist!). So Easter is a big thing in the Philippines – almost as big as Christmas. But I think, whilst Christmas is a celebration of blessings (both spiritual and fiscal), Easter is more solemn…more devotional.
The country begins it’s slow down on Palm Sunday and all but shuts down in the afternoon of Holy Wednesday. The proceedings begin on Maundy Tuesday, the evening when the ritual of the Last Supper is celebrated and everyone goes into a collective retrospective, spiritually contemplative and prayerful mood. When I was younger, before the introduction of the mainstream cable TV subscription, local TV stations would cease their usual telecasts and it would only be “religious” films on TV (mostly about the last days of Christ, and Father Peyton TV specials). Children weren’t allowed to play and we were all told to be quiet when we did laugh out loud.
When I started participating in my local church activities, the weeks leading up to Easter Sunday were very busy. There were choir practices for the services that would be held for the evening of the Last Supper (Maundy Thursday evening) where we would have the ceremonial washing of the feet, the Last Supper and the service would end by the congregation stripping the altar of all its adornments in preparation for the afternoon service during Good Friday. On Good Friday, there is a service in church where the focus of reflection is Jesus’ seven last statements whilst he was crucified on the cross. I have been privileged to offer a reflection before. There is a lot of hymn singing and the whole week is prayerful.
On Easter Sunday, most of the Catholic population celebrate Christ’s resurrection in an early morning (usually at around 4 or 5AM) ritual called Salubong (sah-loo-bong). It is, most probably, the imagined reenactment of Jesus and Mary’s first meeting after Jesus has risen from the dead. I’ve always known the Methodists (and other protestant congregations) to have an ecumenical (all are welcome) Easter sunrise service that usually starts at 5AM. There is much singing and celebrating and then we all go back to our local churches to have our Easter Sunday services. There is more celebrating via a church lunch following the requisite Easter egg hunt for the children.
The season of Lent is slightly different for me these days. Since moving to the UK, because I’ve never really properly attached myself to a church, I don’t have the same Christian fellowship during these times. I don’t have a choir to practice songs with, or a service to attend, during most times. I know I should try to find a church, to regularly attend a Sunday service, to find Christian fellowship. I find that whilst Easter still means a lot to me, because it represents the day Christ offered Himself to die for my sins, the day I became free from the shackles of death, it has become less contemplative.
I find that the life I live is more socially secular and more personally spiritual. But I think that because of this lack of Christian fellowship, something is missing in my life. I miss talking to people about my faith. I miss sharing how little things in my life represent God’s goodness. I miss talking about the instantness of God’s answers to my prayers. I miss talking about how blessed I am to have certain people in my life because they represent God’s unconditional and illimitable love for me. I miss talking about how amazing it is when I see God’s hand in the turn of events in my life.
While I lament the lack of opportunity to shout my faith from the mountaintops, I am also thankful for this personal stillness in my life. I am reminded of the time when, in church, our youth group decided to focus on the internal spiritual growth of the church youth. We decided that we needed to establish our fellowship first, before reaching out to other churches. Because we felt the need for the bonds to be strengthened internally first before we reached out. I think my move to the UK symbolised that as well. Because after years of serving in church, after years of sharing myself, I needed to look inwardly and reassess my faith. I needed to tend to my own relationship with my God and my Saviour Jesus Christ. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never felt removed from God, there wasn’t a sense that I wasn’t connected to God. It was just I was letting Him do all the carrying (I don’t think He minded, but I know He would have loved it if I reached out to Him and carried my end of the yoke). It is a relationship I have with my God.
I mean, ultimately, it is a commensalist relationship we have with our God. Because whilst God can be without me (I am thankful that God loves me, and that this has never been a factor in His great plans for me), I am completely nothing without Him. I benefit because I am with Him. I am blessed because I am with Him. Life would be a lot less if I existed without Him.
But I want to continue building my relationship with my God. I stopped for a while. I focused on myself but wanting to establish myself without His guidance is an exercise in futility. Having my own way is what He has given us, we are free to make our own choices. But ultimately, if we are not guided by Him and if we do not surrender to His will, we might as well walk our life journeys in circles. When you do not have your internal compass you won’t get to where you need to go.
God has been waiting for me to properly come back, to pay attention to my relationship with Him. He has been a constant presence in my life, in the people He has put in my life to remind me that I’ve not been walking the walk. I am truly thankful that we have these Christian rituals during the year. Because they serve as good reminders – of God’s love for us, and our responsibilities to Him.
Che, one of my oldest and dearest friends, posted a photo of the four of us on Facebook. Apparently, the photo was taken 10 years ago. But before that photo was taken, we had been firm friends for ages.
I am so proud of the four of us, Che, Joanne, Maries and me. We hadn’t all grown up together. Che and Joanne went to the United Methodist church my mom transplanted us to (I stuck it out at the church I grew up in for a few weeks and then finally moved too). Maries and her family moved to Fairview and looked for a Methodist church and found ours. We weren’t all immediately friends. Che and Joanne and I were friendly, but I don’t think we became close until we all went to summer camp together. I am however, very thankful for the time when we became “real” friends. I don’t think I would’ve made it through my formative years if it hadn’t been for them.
Our friendship isn’t perfect, it’s got cracks. We’ve had arguments, some unspoken and I’m sure there are heartaches we haven’t expressed. But I think we overcame them because we grew up together in faith. I don’t know how you define religious, but my faith is important to me. I know their faiths are important to Che, Joanne and Maries too. I believe that what makes our friendships strong is because the foundations of our friendships is our faith. Our first, proper steps in our journey of faith were taken together. I firmly believe that our friendships are stronger because we grew in the Lord together.
We’re all a lot older now…and on other sides of the globe! I’m in England, Maries is in solicitor training in Australia, Joanne is mum to two darling babies in the Philippines and Che, well, Che is our resident jetsetter (I think she’s in Taiwan…at the moment!). I haven’t seen Che in years (8 to be specific) because when I went home (2 years ago!) she was away. I miss living so close to Maries (we lived on the same street in our little subdivision on Quezon City) and I miss Joanne being a text message and a quick 10 minute drive away (Che and Joanne are sisters by the way).
I wish my friends were with me. Because they would find it significant that we were living in the UK, where the Methodist faith started. I wish I were with my friends, because I miss THEM. It’s easy enough to make friends, but you miss the friends who KNOW you. I miss our Starbucks coffee dates (yes, there are other coffee chains available). Our gossiping at each others’ houses. I miss going out to movies with them. I just miss being with them. I do find myself wishing that there wasn’t such a huge time difference between us. Because there are times when I just want to share with them what I’ve seen, or something I saw on TV that I think they’d find funny too!
I suppose that is what happens when you follow your dreams. This what happens when we all grown up. You’ll need to expand your territory and you’ll have to leave the people that keep you grounded. It’s not the best of situations. In a perfect world, you grow up and live exactly where you were born, with the people you love and love you back. But it’s not a perfect world, is it? Not really. So we all go away and find ourselves and stretch our wings.
What is comforting to me though, is the fact that when we are together, it’s like we all never left Quezon City, or Fairview Park United Methodist Church, it’s like our friendships were never paused or there aren’t several thousand miles between us. Till we meet again girls!
Amidst all the posts about Easter egg hunts, chocolate eggs and bunnies, I allow myself to wallow in the real meaning of Easter. I rarely write about my faith. But I get through all the difficult situations in my life by clinging to my faith.
I love the commercial celebration of Easter. Don’t get me wrong. I love all the Easter themed cakes, chocolates and all the food that people normally serve during Easter. But to me, first and foremost, Easter is a celebration of God’s love for us. Because God loved us so much that He allowed his son Jesus Christ to die in our place for our sins. Easter is God’s gift to us, because through Christ’s death we are saved from eternal death, and through Christ’s resurrection, there is the hope that one day, we will be with God the Father, just as Jesus Christ rose to ascend to heaven to sit at God the Father’s right hand.
One of my favourite Easter quotes is from Basil Hume: “The great gift of Easter is hope – Christian hope which makes us have that confidence in God, in His ultimate triumph, and in His goodness and love, which nothing can shake.”
While I would love nothing more than to blog about food, the books I’ve read (I’ve managed to finish reading Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You! Hurray me!), the places Alan and I have been to eat, the musicals I’ve seen, it feels a bit self-indulgent. My father is still very ill and I feel that any enjoyment I feel about my life here is not allowed. He would say otherwise of course, because he has always said that I should live my life, that I should live the life I dreamed. But I cannot help but feel selfish.
I will write properly because to write about them would be honouring my father’s wishes. But right now I will allow myself to worry about him. Tomorrow is Sunday and Skype day. I will be able to chat with them and see all of them.
There are days when my grip on my faith is loosed by doubt. Why is my Abba still ill? Why is God letting him go through all this pain? But then I am reminded that these are questions that I mustn’t really ask. Because the God I believe in does not want His children to suffer. The God I believe in will turn a bad situation into a good one. The God I believe in is the God that heals. The God I believe in is a God who will take His children in His arms and comfort them. I know that I cannot understand my God’s wisdom because that is beyond my understanding. I must trust in His plan.
In His perfect time and according to His perfect plan.
Today we all celebrate our very own superwomen. I’m lucky because I get to celebrate Mothers Day twice. Today in the UK, as it’s Mothering Sunday and during the second Sunday in May when the Philippines (and I think most of the world) celebrates Mothers Day.
My dearest Ima. there are so many things I would like to thank you for. I thank the Lord daily for you, for all the things you do for us, for all the things you have done for us, for all the things you have given us and the things you give to us. But most of all, I thank you for raising us in a household founded on faith. Your faith has sustained us even during the most difficult of times. Your faith has buoyed us during the storms of life and we will forever be blessed by your daily testament of faith. Your faith has sustained ours and has strengthened our faith in God. That is your most precious gift to us.
Happy Mothers Day Mama! Today, most especially, I wish I could hug you. I love you.