My search for Teresa led me to Lord's Flock Catholic Charismatic Community, the group that sponsored the healing rally. The leader of this ministry, Sister Techie Rodriguez, invited everyone to "come and see" the center where they hold the Life in the Spirit Seminar. "Those of you who felt called by God, you need to attend the Life in the Spirit Seminar, and receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit," Sister Techie said. I love the supernatural. How did Michelle Corral learn to prophesy and speak in tongues? How did she receive the gift of vision? Sister Techie promised to teach everyone through the Life in the Spirit Seminar. When I stepped inside the hall with my two classmates that weekend where the seminar was held, the beat of the drum's cymbals welcomed us. People swayed to the lively praise song, their arms raising and waving. "Welcome, sister," the woman behind the table greeted me and took my name, wrote it on a piece of paper, which I pinned on my shirt. She directed us to take a seat on one of the plastic chairs arranged in rows. The room was half-filled, but when Sister Techie took center stage, it was fully packed. She started talking about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I love gifts. As a child, I spent the weeks leading to Christmas on the floor folding shirts and rolling it inside a piece of the new year's calendar and wrapping it in Christmas wrappers. It seemed my father's stature as the town doctor made him Santa Claus. People often knocked on our door asking for gifts. Papa would have those shirts and calendars printed with the logo of the clinic and hospital, and the townsfolk wore his shirt around the market and plaza. This would drive even more folks to our door. Yet, I never recalled receiving Christmas gifts. Papa gave everyone gifts but not to his children. I’ve always wondered why. But now, it dawned on me that his parents, Lolo and Lola, never gave him gifts either. I guess you bring your family's culture to your own family. But Lolo and Lola asked for many things from him and he would give them these things. Maybe, had we asked for gifts, I'm pretty sure he would have given us. We just never asked, and so we didn't receive. He'd been generous to me the most. I had been financially dependent on him the longest because of medical school. He paid for my keep until I started earning. So, I don’t know. I guess Papa can be miserly and generous to a fault. Aren't we all? One night, my cousins and I decided to hang plastic bags on the window, hoping to get something in the morning. I heard them talk about Santa Claus, that jolly man on the gift wrappers, who purportedly came at night on his sleigh. The next day, I found my plastic bag on the floor, while theirs were left hanging on the window. Santa must have passed! Yet, the plastic bags remained empty. We eventually gave up. When I grew older, I learned that Santa needed a chimney to get inside the houses. No wonder he never came to the Philippines, much more to a poor province in Mindanao. The homes didn't have chimneys; didn't need one. It seemed Santa had a preferential option for certain places. "I wished it snowed here," I once told Papa. He rebuked me. "Many people will die from frostbite." Years later, when I experienced my first snow in New York city in April, I realized why. Snow can sting you. Indeed, after the first few hours of excitement throwing snowballs at Central Park and lying on the ground making snow angels, while the rest of the New York cursed the one-day-8-inch snowstorm fluke, my fingers and toes started to tingle and grew numb. The snow boots, hastily bought at an outlet store, and the borrowed wool jacket, cap, and gloves couldn’t ward off the chill. Philippines couldn’t handle this weather. Children often wished for a lot of silly things. I wished we had a switch to turn on lights and not candles and hand-pumped gas lamps. I wished it would rain so hard that it would flood up to the waist so that we could have a vast pool everywhere. Papa, of course, did not find that funny. But he had a small "pool" the size of a large box built next to the backyard water pump. On the days the laundrywomen didn't use it, we would take turns hand-pumping water, tile by tile until hours after, it was six-tile deep. And we splashed with delight into the water. Years after, Papa bought a small generator that brought electricity to our house, the adjacent clinic, and a twenty-bed hospital. But the lights would turn off at nine in the evening. I'd be on my bed when the generator would gurgle and sputter into silence. Crickets would take its place in the dead of the night as I closed my eyes.
"Close your eyes and ask for the gifts of the Holy Spirit," Sr. Techie said. I put down my notebook and ball pen and laid my hands on my lap, palms upward. Now was the time to put the gifts to practice. "The gift of tongues is the Holy Spirit's language. Only your spirit will understand, but someone can ask for the gift of interpretation, discernment, and prophecy." I wanted it all, so I closed my eyes and lifted my hands. "Open your mouth and loosen your tongue. Babble like a baby because that's what you are in the eyes of the Lord. You are still a baby under training. Beg the Holy Spirit to give you the gift of tongues. You have to ask for it, and it shall be given you." People around me mumbled and begged. "Yes, Lord, I want to receive your gifts," I whispered. I opened my mouth and wiggled my tongue. "Lalalala," I heard the people say. No sound came out of my lips, but deep within, my spirit groaned for release. I strained to put into words the swollen longing from my heart that needed to spill out and talk to this God who touched me that night. And a key seemed to have unlocked my tongue. At first, it sounded like the clucking of the hen, and then some indistinct tribal language. From the fullness of my soul, the words spilled and filled the room, mingling with the other obscure rambling around me. Spirit to Spirit I connected with my God. He looked at me, only me. And my Spirit captivated, raised my heart to Him. For once, I was singled out, recognized, seen, heard, and held amidst the crowd. I was special. I basked in the warmth of that invisible gaze, tears streaming down my cheeks. I never felt special and loved as an only child.
As a middle child, I had to fight for attention. My birthdays went unnoticed. I took my first communion without my parents. I once ran after our van when it took off without me while I was playing in a municipal park, thinking, "They've forgotten me again!". Mama would, later on, relate to me how her heart went out to see me running after the van as though my life depended on it, eyes round with fear, my short hair flying, as I sprinted to the best of my short legs' ability to cover the distance. How could I have known that the driver was merely backing off and intended to come back for me? A shadow for so long, I learned to thrive on "neglect," until I discovered one day how to get my parents' attention. I came home from my kindergarten class and said, "Mama, my teacher seated me on the red table with the smart ones!" They got excited. Come graduation time, my seatmates got the medals for valedictorian and salutatorian. I had none. My brother, who graduated valedictorian in kindergarten, said, "I thought you're smart. All that bragging for nothing." My parents and siblings laughed while I fumed. I'm going to prove to them that I got what it takes to land in the honor roll. So, in first grade, I had one intention. I'm going up that stage for my ribbon, and make my parents proud. And I discovered an easy way to do this. My teacher loves flowers. She'd often have a rose in her vase. One day, I saw a classmate buy one from the vendors by the school gate and give it to her. He also wiped the teacher's desk clean and helped her around. At the end of the first quarter, he got the Deportment award for exemplary behavior. The next quarter, I wiped her desk before someone else did. I gave her my sandwich. Never mind if I went hungry for recess. I didn't have money to buy her a rose, so I picked one of the wild pink flowers that grew around the apartment. Tiny black ants feasted on my legs in the process. I almost got late from having to pat off the pests from my socks, but I had flowers that I handed out to her. She looked pleased and took the flowers, and put it in her vase. I beamed at her and walked back to my chair with my spirit soaring. After recess, as I was about to wipe her table clean, I saw the pink flowers in the trash can, wilted and dry. A red rose sat in the vase, elegant and tall. My heart sank. What a waste of time and effort. It wasn’t good enough to last the whole day in her precious vase. Nevertheless, I did get the Deportment award and finished first grade with a ribbon. Mama went up the stage three times: for Kuya and Ate, who both got academic awards, and then for me. But on the way home, Kuya snickered at my ribbon. "That's an award for suck-ups. It's not a real award." Ate joined in the laughter. I seethed and looked out the window. What a brag! So they think they are the only smart ones in this family? I will show them what I was capable of. In second grade, I ate my sandwich while studying. I did what the honor students did—participated in class and got perfect scores in the quizzes and tests. And it all paid off. I earned an academic award and the respect of my family. So wired was I to gain my parents' attention, that when I first joined and won the poster-making contest in second grade and realized I had talent in that as well, I added it on my arsenals along with publishing poems and short stories in the school paper. How proud I was when my achievement folder bulked up, and my frames of medals and ribbons adorned the walls of our home alongside those of my siblings. I now shared the spotlight. Although my older siblings' shoes were large to fill with every feat in the school, including Dance Troupe, Table Tennis varsity, and Citizen Army Training, I expanded my feet and stretched myself to the limit. Every success fueled my incessant craving for achievements even in medical school and during my residency years in anesthesiology.
This new spiritual experience was different. In this room full of people begging for God's attention, I got His undivided attention. How was it that while still devoid of any achievements, God had already singled me out? I had a call. I had a purpose. I was special. When the anointing came, I lined up for my turn. The elders laid their hands on the people. Some fell backward. Members of the community who stood behind caught them by the armpit and laid them on the floor. Rest in the Spirit, that was what they said. My heart beat fast as my turn came. I folded my arms on my chest, as was advised. Would I feel that electric shock again as I did at the Araneta Coliseum? When the elder laid down her hands, I closed my eyes and lifted my Spirit in surrender. Her warm hands hovered over my head, and she blew on my forehead. My mind went blank, and I tilted backward. The soft blow was like a push of a wrestler. A pair of strong arms caught me from behind and laid me on the floor. I felt like floating on clouds. Just like a child. I gazed at heaven for hours, just like those lazy afternoons when my playmates and I would lie on the grass and gaze on the clouds. Is this what Sister Techie meant when she said, "Rest in the spirit?" Moments after, a gentle tap on my shoulder, and the coldness of the floor brought me back on my feet. I left the place, knowing I would be back. I wanted more of this God. I wanted more of these gifts. It was like going back to a Catholic school, but this time, not to learn about theories, but to put theories into practice. Armed with a Bible and a spiritual journal, I went home excited to apply the things I have learned. "If you want to hear His voice, you need to know His voice," Sister Techie had said. "Read His words. He speaks to you every day." The Bible became my newspaper—the first thing that I opened in the morning to bring me good news and not bad. When a phrase struck me, I pondered on it and asked Him. Sister Techie also said that God speaks in my heart and mind. It won't be a loud or audible voice. I may even strain to hear it, especially if noise and distraction clutter my mind. But with practice, I will get better at it. I can practice by consulting Him in my day to day activities. At first, it sounded like asking the Spirit about mundane things. What clothes to wear, how to fix my hair, what food to eat. Wouldn't that be dumb? Surely God would want me to use my common sense for those kinds of stuff? "Obey in simple things, then the big things will be easy," Sister Techie had said. Simple things. Mundane things. God in the ordinary. It does make a bit of sense. Hmmm. Sounds easy. Until I tried it. So I asked Him, "Lord, how do I get rid of my acne?" For years, I had wasted money and tried all products in the market to no avail. When the Voice said, "Wash with Perla, (a white unscented laundry detergent) in the morning and evening, pull up your hair in a ponytail and headband, and don't look at yourself in the mirror for one month," I couldn't believe at first. "Do what now? Surely, you can't mean that? Does my face look like dirty laundry?" I stared at the mirror. It looked like the moon with all the craters of acne. Dirty laundry would be easier to clean up than my face. But me, not look at myself in the mirror? For a month?!" I was as vain as Gaston of Beauty and the Beast. Although my face looked beastly at the moment, I was a former beauty. I joined several local and national beauty contests and have won. One of which was Miss Tadeco, of the banana plantation that proudly bore the brand Chiquita. Although it sounded like an obscure beauty pageant, the judges were no other than two Miss Universe titleholders, Margie Moran and Gloria Diaz. Winning these contests bore a heavy peacock feather on my cap. But this new Life in the Spirit threw me in deep waters, and I didn't know how to swim. "Just trust and obey the Voice," Sister Tetchie had said. Her life testimony prodded me. She, too, lived a vain life catering only to herself until the Lord called her to her current mission of pastoring the Lord's flock. Her life story resonated within me. If this accomplished woman abandoned everything and followed God, who was I not to? So I said, "Yes, Lord. I will do as You say." Not only did the solution clear my face, but it also exorcized that unclean Spirit of vanity, among others. I threw away all the make-up, hair gels, and mousse. I even burned my pageant photos—those that showed me wearing the Best in Swimsuit sash. Mama was horrified to hear what I did to those photos. I was determined to do this make-over. The time I used to spend on beautifying my body got converted to thirty minutes of "beautifying my Spirit" through scriptural meditation. Sister Techie was right. The voice became more audible and clear with practice. And precise. One day, while I was in the National Bookstore, the Voice was clear as day. "Go up to the second floor. Walk down the aisle." I did, through the stairs. "Turn left. Turn right. Stop." I was in the religious section. "Where, Lord?" "Kneel." When I did, my gaze caught the word, Teresa. I gasped. Months had passed since I heard the prophecy. I had often wondered and asked God about Teresa. Who was she? And there right before me were three books that would solve the puzzle. The Life of Teresa of Avila. The Way of Perfection by Teresa of Avila. The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila. I grabbed the books and held them on my chest, afraid someone else might steal these precious treasures from me. With my heart beating fast, I headed to the cashier and paid for the books. They cost more than what I bargained for, but my allowance can undoubtedly handle these types of emergencies. After all, my soul's salvation was at stake. I could not wait to get back to the apartment to read the first book. While in the jeepney, I took out the thick maroon book, The Life of Teresa of Jesus: The Autobiography of Teresa of Avila. This book held the key to my call. I was about to find out her identity. On the cover was a caricature of a plump nun with a wrinkled, smiling face, holding a feather quill pen, her fingers crooked. She was garbed in a brown habit with a black veil and white cloth around her face. I opened the book, and the words from the first page struck me. Mystic. Visions. Locutions. Ecstasy. The internal Life. Just like my new Life in the Spirit. The days and pages flew fast. I gobbled the contents of St. Teresa's books, laughed at this saint's no-nonsense attitude, identified with her struggles, fell in love with her voice. She was just as vain as me and Sister Techie! And what a make-over the Lord had done with her. I found my spiritual mother, my mentor on this spiritual journey. The months that followed leading to my graduation were as colorful as St. Teresa's Life. Dr. Crush came back from his trip to America, dreaming of a future with me following him after my graduation. Nurses were in demand in the States, he said. Whereas indecision paralyzed me before he left, of what steps to make after receiving my diploma and taking the nursing board exam, the road became more evident. It was a crossroads, alright, and I needed to decide. The sooner, the better. There was no use beating around the bush. When Dr. Crush asked me what my plan was, I said, "I wanted to become a nun." He stared at me like I had grown two heads. "Are you sure?" I gave him a big smile that beamed from my real heart's desire. This new Life in the Spirit fast-tracked me from the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. I had accepted my fate in God's hands. "Nevermore certain in my life," I said. With those words out of my lips, I sensed the heavens cheering and applauding. It must have been my imagination going hyperdrive. He can only shake his head. When he dropped me off, I bade a final farewell. With all ties severed, I went into my apartment, locked the door, and leaned on it. My head reeled from what had transpired. Did that happen? It was easier than I imagined. I thought it would be painful after all the emotional investment I put into this relationship. I headed to the refrigerator and took out the jar of water. As soon as I finished the glass, I sat on the floor and cried in relief. "I did it, Lord. I broke up with him." My arms felt like God's warm embrace around me, congratulating me. "I couldn't have done it without You," I whispered. Amazing grace. Now, I was free to run after St. Teresa.
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