My search for Teresa led me to the Lord’s Flock Catholic Charismatic Community, the group that sponsored the healing rally.
Sister Techie Rodriguez, the leader of the community spoke at the end of the healing service. “If you heard the Lord’s call, come and see. We are holding a Life in the Spirit Seminar in our center. You shall receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit,” Sister Techie said.
I love the supernatural.
How did Michelle Corral learned 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 wrote my name 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 rolling shirts inside a new year 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. Townsfolk wore his shirt around the market and plaza, a marketing strategy that would drive more folks to our door.
Yet, I never recalled receiving Christmas gifts. Papa gave gifts to everyone but us, his children.
One night, my cousins and I put 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. The homes didn't have chimneys. Didn't need one.
"I wished it snowed here," I once told Papa.
He rebuked me. "Many people will die of frostbite."
I wished for a lot of silly things then. 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 we could have a huge 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 into the water. Our joys were simple.
Years after, Papa got a small generator that brought electricity to our house, the adjacent clinic, and twenty-bed hospital. But at nine in the evening, we’d be on our beds before the generator would gurgle and sputter into silence. In the dead of the night, crickets lulled me to sleep.
"Close your eyes and ask for the gifts of the Holy Spirit," Sr. Techie said. I put down my notebook and pen and laid my hands on my lap, palms upward.
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 up 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.
I opened my mouth longing to put into words the groaning in my spirit. My heart swelled for 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.
“Kuriyakilamikah, kuah.” The strange syllables or something that sounded like that rolled off my tongue.
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 how her heart went out to see me running after the van, as though my life depended on it. My eyes were round with fear, my 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!” Papa and Mama got excited. But when graduation came, 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.
Fuming, I vowed that in first grade, I’m going up that stage with a ribbon and make my parents proud.
I discovered an easy way to do this.
My first grade teacher loved flowers. She’d often have a rose in her vase. This would come from a classmate who bought one from the vendors by the school gate and gave it to her. This boy would wipe her desk 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 he did. I gave her my sandwich. Never mind if I went hungry for recess. But I didn’t have money to buy her a rose. Unlike my other classmates who would have allowance and bought food in the cafeteria, the nanny packed us snacks and we walked home for lunch.
There must be another way to get flowers on her desk. On the way home, I saw the wild pink flowers that wounded on the fence around the apartment. That night, I asked the landlady if I can have some for my teacher. She agreed.
The next morning, I woke up early. and got ready for school. On the way out, I reached for three vines with the most flowers and pulled. It fought. I should have brought scissors but my little hands had what I needed. With more pulling, twisting, and tugging, I finally got what I wanted. Yes! But the joy turned to horror. Tiny black ants crept out of the flowers and down my hands. I threw the flowers on the grass, whisked the insects off and found more in my socks.
The minutes that followed became a dancing spree as I rid myself of the pesky insects that feasted on my arms and legs. I took the flower and whipped it on the grass until there were no more signs of creeping creatures. Then I ran to school and made it before the bell rang. Panting, I handed the flowers to her with a big smile. She looked pleased and put it in her vase.
Later that day, I went to her desk to wipe her table clean. The pink flowers were in the trash can and a red rose sat in the vase, elegant and tall.
My heart sank.
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.”
What a brag! So they think they are the only smart ones in this family? I’m gonna show them that I have what it takes to get academic awards.
I studied every night so I can recite in class and get perfect scores in the quizzes and tests. From 2nd grade up to medical school, I was on the honor roll list and made my parents proud.
So wired was I to gain my parents’ attention, that when I first joined and won the poster-making contest 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 school including Dance Troupe, Table Tennis varsity, and Citizen Army Training, I expanded my feet and stretched myself to the limit.
But this new spiritual experience was different. In this room full of people begging for God’s attention, I got His entire 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. When my turn came, my heart was beating fast. I had my arms folded on my chest as instructed.
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 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 my thoughts are filled with noise and distraction. 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 silly asking the Holy 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...
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. In fact, I walked the ramp for several local and a national beauty contests and have been crowned 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. And that was just the beginning. 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. 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 with 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, 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.
But 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.
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?"
When I did, my gaze caught the word, Teresa. I gasped.
I have wondered and asked 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 pounding, I headed to the cashier and paid for the books. They cost more than what I bargained for but my allowance can certainly handle these types of emergencies. Afterall, 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 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 clearer. 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 was my plan, I said, “I wanted to become a nun."
He stared at me like I had grown two heads. “Are you sure?”
I beamed. 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, or my imagination was going hyperdrive.
Dr. Crush could only shake his head. When he dropped me off, I bade a final farewell. With all ties severed, I went into my apartment and locked the door for good. My head reeled from what had transpired.
Did that really happen? 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.