My Journey as a Writer
"The Spirit of truth will testify to me, says the Lord, and you also will testify."
- John 15:26b, 27a -
- John 15:26b, 27a -
I feared the writer's block.
When torrents of blog ideas poured the past week, a part of me dreaded the turn of tide.
Even in prayer and the spiritual life, I know dryness and aridity can happen: when I have to drag myself to pray, and God seems deaf and blind, and I don’t feel His presence. Yet, I pray anyway because that's what separates a disciple from a mere petitioner.
A disciple embraces the discipline of prayer even when the Lord responds or not.
So it must be the same with writing, I thought. It is a discipline so mental block should not stop me from writing even when the well of inspiration runs dry.
I thought one way of dealing with this is to deposit excess inspirational funds like saving in the bank, so I can still post blogs even when inspiration escapes me.
And that’s what I did. I stored potential topics and posts in my One Note App.
When the Well Runs Dry
One morning, it happened. My well ran dry. My heart felt cold. The words of the Bible left me unmoved. Nothing.
St. Teresa would advise an arid soul to pick up a good spiritual book and read through the prayer time. I heeded her advice, and it got me through my 30 minutes of uninspired time with God.
I went out to run. Again, my mind rattled like a noisy peddler. My legs shuffled like an old woman's and dragged my weary body.
It was the music that kept me going. At the very end, the upbeat tune blew some fuel to my limbs, and I ran like a child. I imagined myself chasing my playmates in a game of tag, and running in the fields while flying kites. My imagination took over and prodded me to run.
I recalled the endless days of playing under the sun. We ignored the passage of time. We played for the sheer joy of playing. Kids nowadays play for scores and prizes. No wonder stores sell those stress-relieving toys for six year-old children. Even their play had become stressful. Ah, they are missing a lot of things. We used to play not to compete but just to play, laugh and have fun. We can go hungry and not mind.
And if we did, there were the fruit trees to climb.
I'd often sit on the roof with a small plastic bag of salt, and eat tambis (watery rose apple fruit) dipped in salt until I could breathe no more from fullness. I’d languor under the shade of the overhanging tree, stare at the sky, and daydream. As a child, I had all the time in the world.
And I had a sudden realization. This must be the reason why Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven belonged to the children—the child-like, the child at heart because they have all the time in the world to listen.
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones.” That’s what Jesus said. “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” Blessed indeed are the childlike for Jesus reveals the secrets of the kingdom to them.
Once again I am reminded of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, the little one, who would sit on God's lap and to whom Jesus would say, "The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
It also occurred to me that God would not give a little one something so heavy to carry. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; For my yoke is easy, and my burden light,” Jesus said.
To be a little one is to be the Little Jesus' playmate as St. Therese is.
And there are many whom the Child Jesus would call to be His playmates, to play with Him. No wonder sometimes He’d disappear from me because He’s playing hide and seek with me. That day, He must have hidden from me.
I remembered my first blog about finding the voice of the little child in me, the one who would speak up without being prompted, who would tell the truth without malice nor intent to harm. That is the kind of writer He wants me to be.
I also imagined how children like to doodle and draw. Sometimes, the parents would be so proud of the work, they frame it and show it off. But most of the time, they just gather the doodled work and put it in a file, and most of the time the little one would not care what the parents would do with it. She just keeps on doodling and using up papers and scattering them everywhere. I will be like that little one. I will write and write and write to my heart's delight. Should God find a work of mine that He’d feel proud of, He’d most likely prompt me to publish it on the website or send me the agent to get it published. Otherwise, I will just doodle and doodle because I love to do it. And I consider it play.
Isn't that my intent, to find a work that I'd consider play, so it is a pleasure to do every day?
When Work Becomes Mere Play
My daughter talked about making another musical presentation for her project and how she's enjoying her boring summer course because of it. Music is definitely her oxygen.
“That's how work should be, like play!” I told her. “Now you are enjoying your school work.”
St Therese's doctrine makes perfect sense. She has indeed discovered the secret of finding favor in God's eyes in her little way.
Her simple doctrine, based on the gospel, is to be a little one.
The more I pondered on this, the more I realized her genius.
Imagine if you're a baby, the parent will always be there at your every cry, "Why my little one, what's wrong? Do you want to eat? You want to play?" And the parent stoops down to that child's level. And when the child falls on her feet while learning how to walk, the parent holds her hand until her legs have steadied. And even when they would allow the child to fall and cry, they will make sure she is safe and does not allow her to fall off the stairs or a cliff. She is ever before their watchful eyes.
That was St. Therese's secret—complete trust and surrender to God’s care. God gave her the highest honor even with her very simple doctrine because despite its simplicity, adults find it hard to do. They refuse to relinquish control, but a little one will not have her own agenda for the day. She would allow her parents to carry her wherever they go: whether out shopping, to the playground, or to the zoo. And the little one does not worry about her food; she knows her father will take care of her daily bread. And when the parent tells her not to do something because it can hurt her, a small one will obey, and if she does not, she'll eventually learn that it was for her own good when she gets hurt for not obeying.
And a child loves to play! So the parents allow her to play.
And that's how work should be, mere play.
And that’s what my writing should be, mere play.
That day, when I did not find inspiration in prayer, I turned to running. And I found God when I treated running as mere play. I ran like a child. And yesterday, I imagined the Little Jesus beckoning me to play outside with him, when I went out for my run. And we searched for secret nooks and trails, looked at strange flowers and just enjoyed the sun and the birds.
“Didn't you envy those whose hobby earned their keep and had become their source of income and means of living? Let your work become your hobby. See if you enjoy it more.”
My angel is right. That’s an advice for everyone. And I would add that if after a year, you still dread your work, for heaven's sake find another! Why on earth would you stick to knitting if you loathed it? Find a hobby that you'd enjoy. Best if you make your hobby become your work, then your work becomes mere play.
“If my work becomes mere play, would inspiration still leave me? Would I still have writer's block?" I asked my angel.
“Imagine a parent leaving the toddler in the crib and letting him cry. The child eventually learns that playtime is over. He needs to rest and sleep. Sometimes you have to stop playing, or working; it's time to rest and sleep.”
It was then that I realized this was the reason for my dryness in prayer, and my lack of energy in running and lack of inspiration in writing.
I slept late the previous night!
Matthew Kelly, best selling author of the book, The Rhythm of Life, once spoke to a group of health care professionals at Cincinnati Children's and said, "Your day starts the night before. If you don't get enough sleep, you've sabotaged your day, your work and yourself."
So that's the reason for my writer's block: tiredness.
“As a Christian writer, you deal differently with writer's block," the Lord seemed to tell me. "You don't store up your riches of inspired writing for future use because I've sent those messages not for your use but for My people. You do not hoard it. Some messages are more crucial and need to be delivered promptly than the others. A Christian writer operates differently. Your inspirations follow the principle of positive feedback, like a mother's breast that would keep on producing as long as the baby continues to feed on it. Once the mammary glands detect incomplete emptying of milk, it will stop producing milk. That's what will happen to inspirational writers like you. Once you hold on to these messages for future use, for fear of a writer's block, the inspirations will cease. You must write and never stop writing but know when to publish.”
The Pain of Waiting
Know when to publish. The comment pinched my heart. I remembered my book. Had I not waited long enough? Or did God change His mind? Or perhaps I only made up those promises that I claimed to be His. These doubts assailed me last Saturday.
In response to my doubts, the rain poured and brought me to the treadmill so I could watch this video and God could assure me that I had not imagined His promises.
God’s promises never fail whereas my heart change and my fleeting emotions varies with the season.
Even then, God is like a GPS with built-in alternate routes, some longer or slower, but nevertheless lead to the same destination. He recalculates when I make a wrong turn or wrong decision, when I've become lazy to fulfill my end of the promise and fail to do my part. He still makes ends meet.
Being born again and entering the womb has its growing pains. It's part of growing little before the Lord.
While growing up, my daughter used to complain of shin pains.
"The long bones of your legs are growing," I'd explain. Still, she'd complain every day as this happened. And I'd explain every day.
I'm like my daughter, constantly complaining of my growing pains. My impatience makes the waiting painful.
“When is the fulfillment of Your promise happening? You told Me…." and it goes on and on, the yakking and crying. Yet, God in His Fatherly goodness explains and repeats Himself every single day.
Now, I embrace His promises once more and look out for signs. The number 7, 10 and 30. Highway signs, reroutings, they're all before me. Recalculating.
Sometimes a writer's block is not just a block on the road. It's a sign that the road is not safe to navigate, a tree has fallen, or a ravine lies waiting in the end.
I stop and reroute, allowing God's internal GPS to lead me.
And it led me to write daily devotionals and add inspiring infographics to my portfolio.
Indeed, His well is deep.
The more I give inspiration, the more I receive inspiration
This morning, on the drive to school, after we had prayed the rosary, my daughter said, "I'm concerned about the five Advanced Placement (AP) courses I'm taking next school year."
At that moment, I knew I needed God to speak through me. I didn't want to give the wrong advice. I prayed in my mind, "Lord, use me as your mouthpiece."
And the first thing that came out of my mouth was, "What made you say that?"
She heaved out a sigh and said, "Right now, with just these two regular non-AP summer classes, I feel so tired and demotivated already. What more with the 5 AP classes?"
And I surprised myself with my answer and knew it to be divinely-inspired.
"To compare these two summer classes with your 5 AP subjects, you need to compare your reactions to these. Didn't you tell me that you hated these two subjects... that you dozed off in class out of boredom? And yet, the five AP subjects that you're about to take next school year made you so excited. You actually look forward to it. Realize that there are things that just flow easily from you, like your singing. Didn't you find it easier to present your research paper by using the Bohemian Rhapsody as your melody for your research summary and incorporated it in your powerpoint slide presentation because you hated public speaking? And you got an A for that. Some things flow naturally from you with less effort because that is your natural talent and gift. Just like a boat, when you do something that's not of your own interest, it's like sailing against the wind. But like your musical paper presentation, it was like you captured the wind with your sail and your boat traveled faster. It's like active transport in biochemistry when you do things that do not flow naturally from you. But when you use your talents and gifts, it's passive diffusion. It does not require much energy."
She nodded so I went on. "That's why we never forced any course on you for college. We always tell you to find a course that would develop your natural inclination and your passion so you don't end up with a job that you need to drag your feet on Manic Mondays and would always Thank God on Fridays. We want you to have a work that every day seems like a weekend."
She laughed, and I knew it made sense her. "So don't feel afraid and overwhelmed with your AP classes. He will give you the grace necessary to do these. But you have to offer all these to God and lift it up to Him. Allow Him to intervene. Tell Him, 'Lord, if I'm doing too much, please block or remove any AP subject that is not Your will.' Like I told you, He never imposes His will on people. You need to allow Him so He can intervene. Informed consent, that's what He obtains from us," I said and spoke like a research nurse that I once was.
"He will show you all the options before you. If you choose option A, this is the consequence. If B, then this and so and so forth. Sometimes, we think God is punishing us when bad things happen because of a wrong decision. Well, in the first place, He already gave an indication that that bad thing would happen if you do it and yet you still choose to do it. So the consequence shouldn't come as a surprise to you. Then there are options that He would present as more difficult, but He will also show you a better outcome from that. If you choose that, you need to brace yourself for the hard work, but He will assure you of a more glorious outcome. Remember Jesus--even He sweated and cried tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and had said, 'Lord take this cup away from me.' He was not really excited about His crucifixion. He saw what was about to happen, but the Father also showed Him the glory that would come out of that severe suffering. So in the end, He chose the difficult option and said, 'But not My will but Yours be done.' And see what glorious victory the resurrection gave Him. So do the same. Don't be afraid. Offer it all to God, and you will find the courage to do His will."
I pulled over to the curb. My daughter smiled and said, "Thanks, mommy," and got out of the car. As she took out her stuff from my backseat, she said, "Love you."
I smiled and said, "Love you, and God bless your day."
I sighed as I pulled away from the curb. Amazement and awe filled me as I reflected on what God had said to her through me. I smiled when I recalled how she once said, "How do you do it? I ask one simple question, and you talk and simply slip into a homily seamlessly."
I said, "I guess this is God's call for me, to preach and spread the good news to you on my driver's seat. This," I tapped on the steering wheel, "is to be my pulpit."
And yes, God did it again. I chuckled.
And I thought about the "informed consent process" God did with me concerning my manuscript. He also presented me with two scenarios when I debated whether to self-publish or to publish traditionally.
I chanced upon Rachelle Gardner's ebook last March, How Do I Decide? Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing (A Field Guide for Authors). God used it to speak to me. Before reading this book, I had considered self-publishing in Amazon Kindle for ebook and Amazon Scout for print and prayed to God about this. Both will not cost me anything, and I can have my book published without the rigorous process of querying, pitching and sending my manuscript to agents and editors and risk rejections.
After reading the book, I remembered what happened to my first self-published book, Running the Millionaire Lane. The Claretian Publications printed 1,000 copies, and most of these just gathered dust. After going through the Longridge Writer's Course, I realized I had published a rough draft. It was sheer vanity that pushed me to self-publish. No wonder people called it Vanity Press. Although my book had inspired some to start running, the book did not succeed as I hoped and dreamt it would.
Now, I feel the call to undergo the rigorous process of traditional publication for my novel. A book I deemed to help build God's kingdom deserved no less. I will avoid Cain's path; he presented the Lord with ordinary crops and did not make Him happy. I will imitate Abel who presented God with the best of his flock, thereby garnering God's favor. This would mean hard work, sacrifice, and patient waiting for the perfect time. God will get the book published in due season but not until He had purified my skill and my intentions, like gold tested in fire.
Prayer and discernment had revealed to me that if I choose to self-publish the trilogy, I would be so busy marketing the first book, I will not have the time to write the second one and the third. My impatience and haste will only lead to greater delay. And the risk of failure is higher because my book would not be refined, and not marketed professionally. I know there are those who've succeeded tremendously in self-publication, but they are more talented both in writing and marketing than I am. I know my weaknesses in both areas, and the only way to combat these is through traditional publication. This decision had given me peace.
It's the same decision-making process God did with my writer's life. He made me see what I enjoyed doing most, and it was blogging and novel writing. So I streamlined my efforts and let go of all the others. I felt more centered, focused and at peace with my writing career and ministry. It was a slow progress, but less chance of stumbling and falling on my butt.
I entered the garage and parked the car. The drizzle this morning had become a downpour, so I went straight to the treadmill for my 30-minute daily run.
The Youtube video, Supernatural Secrets of Destiny Dreams by Dr. Michelle Corral caught my eye. I had a weird dream this morning; and actually, not just today but for several weeks now. Perhaps she can shed some light into those dreams.
For instance, last week, I dreamt of two surgeons, fully scrubbed with masks, caps and gloved hands holding surgical knives. But I noticed that from waist down, they didn't have legs. Instead, their lower halves looked like trunks of trees with branches and some leaves. They looked odd and queer. They both addressed a patient (or was it me?) and said, "We need to operate on you and take out your trunk because it looks weird. You need to have real legs." And I thought, geez, why don't you operate on yourselves first. When I mentioned this to my aunt, she had said, "Wasn't that the same message that you wrote in your blog about taking out the plank in your own eye first before taking out the dust from the other's eye?" She was right. It was a call to humility and avoid a judgmental attitude.
The video only affirmed all of God's messages for me on discernment, humility, and the works of the Holy Spirit. He had used Dr. Michelle Corral as His mouthpiece and had spoken through her. He had addressed my concerns as He had addressed those of my daughter's this morning.
He also cast a light on why I had more dreams lately. I didn't realized until now the value and significance of night prayers. I thought saying my morning prayers were more important and missing my night prayers did not matter much. How wrong I was!
He truly speaks in many ways—through dreams, people, events, books, and videos. I only need to listen so I’d recognize His voice, choose from the many options, and decide well according to His will.
Amazing grace. Amazing God.
Three Days of Heat: When the Going Gets Tough, How the Crucified Christ Gets the Writer in Me Going
"Thank You for the clouds," I told my Lord the other day. The sun would have toasted me the way it did the day before that; for despite my cap and sunscreen, I got sunburnt.
Yesterday, the 100-degree Fahrenheit (more like Freakingheat) weather hit me. At first, I thought I could offer the heat for the poor souls in purgatory but decided to run on the treadmill instead. Prudence dissuaded me from sun exposure and the risk of fainting in the middle of the trail.
Today, I woke up early, to avoid running under desert conditions.
I ate a toast for my carb fix and a small amount of black coffee. Anything more within 2 hours would be bladder disaster.
The right piece of my wireless earphone refused to stay put and I had to use a bigger right bud. So much ceremony just for a run, I thought. Had I donned my running shoes and headed out without all these gadgets, I would have gone at 7:30 am and not at 8 o'clock.
But after 15 minutes on the trail, I delighted in the music; the random mix from the Don't You Worry Radio station in Pandora beckoned me to move and keep on going.
Lately, God's messages had preventive themes: protecting me from heat, shielding me from harsh criticisms, pulling me out of situations where I am most vulnerable and fragile and prone to fall, and delaying my success, so I don't get drunk and go tipsy from it.
"But just because He protected you from all these, that doesn’t mean He'll roll the red carpet for you," my angel blurted.
I winced and remembered the email query I had submitted to an agent. My countdown had started--and from the sound of my angel—I guess, to another rejection?
"You knew that God's favored ones did not live a life of pleasure, ease, and luxury."
Yes, I knew. David had to do the lowly task of being a shepherd in a brood of eight. Abraham had to endure the endless battle among his sons and descendants to this day. Joseph was sold into slavery. Peter, Paul and most of the apostles and disciples were killed. Even Jesus, the Begotten, the Christ and the Chosen One was tortured, whipped, crowned with thorns, treated like a vile criminal, made to carry a cross fitted for a bigger man (Barabbas), crucified and hanged until He died of asphyxia. His lungs swelled that water and blood came out from His pierced side.
God did not treat His favored ones lightly.
Now, the waiting was killing me…waiting to hear a reply from the literary agent. In the middle of the wait, I seesawed from high to low. One moment I'd be dreaming of a `yes', and the next of a `no'. I swung from one end of my emotional pendulum to another.
I had tried to dispel all my doubts with prayer and reading, but I'd often succumb to my fears and insecurities. Even with networking and a supportive community, I heard the voices within me the loudest, and they fought and disagreed about my destiny as a writer: these three voices, the evil, the good and my own voice (which tends to shift based on my spiritual predicament).
And I thought, what a beggar I was. Even in my writing, I was like that woman in the Gospel who would be grateful for the crumbs that would fall from the table, the morsel meant for the dogs. Something, anything that would encourage me to continue with this endeavor would do.
Like this pilgrim in the desert, I'd settle for a drop of water because I had been drinking from the sweat of my brow to quench my thirst.
I wished I resembled the saints who would be satisfied with knowing that they had done what they needed to do, and need not hear the praise of the Master for they merely did their duties as servants. But I didn't have that spirit of detachment. I'd often find myself peeking at my social media posts and counting the likes or hoping to read a comment only to be disappointed.
Then I'd plunge into self-pity and think, “It's maybe because the words are not from You, my Lord, so it's not touching the hearts of men. You have not inspired it with your Holy Spirit. It's just me and my delusion of being Your inspired writer.”
At one point, I cried to God and said, "I feel like a voice in the wilderness. I don't think anyone is reading all these stuff I'm writing." Then I cringed from my insolence. How full of self-love and attachment from my work those words had sounded! Those words obviously came from a typical middle child with attention-seeking behavior, or what I'd loosely and jokingly self-diagnose as the Middle Child Syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder subtype.
But kind and tender that You are, my Lord, that's when You sent Your little angels here on earth to encourage me with a simple word, an email from a friend, a comment, a like/love on the blog post. These boosted my dampened spirit. The loving tolerance of my family for allowing me to stay at home and live the writer's life should be more than enough. Even my busy junior high schooler took time to edit some of my posts. Their unending support should have made me very grateful.
Forgive me for lacking this gratitude when my mind is plunged into the darkness of desolation.
As I ran, I thought I had come so far with my running. I ran just because I loved to run. I didn't need anyone to encourage me.
I should feel the same with my writing.
I must simply write because I love to write but the waiting had paralyzed me and for the past days; I had not touched the book. And I felt dead.
I realized novel writing had become like oxygen for me in the same manner that music was for my oldest daughter. She would not and could not stop singing. When we left the house of my sister-in-law, where we stayed temporarily in transition for the move last year, the one thing my brother-in-law noticed when we were gone, was the house was quieter. Even with their small boys running about and shouting inside their house, the voice of my daughter singing every day and every moment of the day had filled the house with another dimension of sound.
Yes, that was my daughter. She can't stop singing. She'd rather be dead than not sing. So when we left, my brother-in-law noticed the difference.
That was passion.
And I felt the same way with novel writing. And I knew it was not just writing per se because this would be my third blog for the week. The Lord had inspired me to cut my blogs shorter (yet I still ended up with more than 1,000 words) into more manageable chunks as the inspirations just kept on pouring whenever I ran. I knew copywriters tend to go on and on and were known for the "But-wait…here's-more" kind of writing, but I felt people nowadays tend to be busier too. With long copies, they skim through most of the materials and inadvertently miss the more important ones.
Anyway, despite these three blogs, I still felt I had not done my writing. It was the novel. The books had been calling me to work on them. With the waiting, I realized I needed to start on something: the second book of the trilogy. This will keep me going, knowing that there was more at stake for me.
"Let love alone push you for it was love that pushed me to the Cross."
The voice startled me. It's my Lord!
"Let your righteousness surpass that of the Pharisees."
This gospel reading the previous day called me to write, not just out of discipline, routine, and habit, the same manner that these Pharisees performed their works out of tradition, ceremony, and even showmanship. That amounted to writing for the sake of getting likes and shares in FB and driving traffic to my website.
"Go beyond the practice. Live the spirit of what of you do, the spirit of love," the priest had said. I must have love. The priest said these Pharisees had become so picky with all their rituals in their rigid interpretation of the law that it had almost become impossible to perform all of it. It had become a severe burden too heavy to carry. The Catholic Church would suffer the same criticism. And time and again, You would remind us, Lord of the very essence of why we do the things that we do.
You did not want to take out all these customs and traditions for these are what binds us to our Apostolic heritage. You have come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill. The sacrificial lamb had become You. The blood offered for the atonement of sins had become Your blood. Truly, as You have said, "Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place." And You have fulfilled the Messianic promises and prophecies. We are physical beings and need to hold onto something tangible. And Your Incarnation is the very essence of Your physical presence. You who used to be intangible and out of reach came down from heaven and lived among us so we may touch You and hold You.
And should You deprive us of Your Physical Presence when You've promised that You shall be with us until the end of time? No, You did not. You continue to be physically present among us.
And this is what we are celebrating tomorrow, Corpus Christi Sunday: the Feast of the Body of Christ. Your body remains with us. Now in an even humbler form, in the form of the bread.
And what is this bread, my Lord?
On the night that You were betrayed, You took this bread, gave thanks to the Father and told Your disciples, "Take this, all of You and eat of it. For this is my body which will be given up for You. Do this in remembrance of Me." And You've done the same with the wine. And it shall become Your blood, the blood of the New and Everlasting Covenant so that sins may be forgiven. And again, You wanted us to do it in remembrance of You.
You've instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist on the night of Your betrayal and the eve of Your Passion and Death. At this point, Your disciples have not known and come to a full appreciation of this most blessed mystery of the Holy Eucharist.
But when You resurrected and made Your presence known in the breaking of the bread, Your disciples remembered this night and realized why their hearts were burning with Your presence.
It is You, broken and eaten by Your people so we can have that Physical Intimacy which You so longed to have with us.
But what had become of my heart, my Lord? Why does it not constantly burn when I look at the bread. Why does it wax and wane in its fervor and belief, sometimes cold, tepid and lukewarm and at other times full of love and desire for You? It's as though a veil is before my eyes, sometimes lifted and at other times covered my face.
The priest in the Miracle of Lanciano, who had raised the bread, had the same cold and tepid heart and doubted Your existence in the Eucharist, my Lord. But what did You do? You proved Your Presence once and for all and erased all his doubts. And to this day, these species of Your real presence still exists-- the bread that had turned into flesh, and not just any flesh but the flesh of Your heart, the very muscles of your Sacred Heart! No wonder many loved and devote themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We eat the flesh of Your Heart so our hearts will transform and burn with the same love as Yours. And Your blood, type AB, was just as fresh as it was before. Science had proven that these are real flesh and real blood without traces of preservatives.
Extract and peel the cataracts and scales off my eyes as You've done to Tobit, and to Paul for I am still blind. Let me see You, my Lord, in the Most Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Sacrament. Let my heart burn for Your heart constantly. Let me eat and drink You with a fervor and faith that can move mountains and change this cold and tepid heart so it may burn with love for You.
"Saul became blind because of the fierce bright light from heaven," my angel said.
I gasped at what my angel said. Saul was blinded by the light because God is like the sun that our eyes cannot behold. He was too bright but hidden in the most Blessed Host, I could stare at Him in loving adoration for hours without going blind!
I remembered that one day while driving, I noticed the sun hiding behind the thick clouds and I stared at it; but the light did not hurt my eyes. It glowed like a round host of the Blessed Sacrament. I realized at that moment how much You loved us! You keep on stooping down to our level so we could reach You, stare at You and even consume You.
Humility. This is something I need to learn more in this steep climb toward publication.
As though to show me the meaning of this, I approached an uphill terrain in my run. I took a shorter and lower stride (where my feet barely lifted from the ground) and clipped my hands to my side. I discovered this stance made the climb easier.
"When the going gets tough, remain grounded in Christ. Humility and obedience will make it easier for you to swallow words of criticism and turn it into points for improvement," my angel said. "Fix your eyes on the Crucified Christ as you struggle with your writing. Each rejection is akin to the nails on your hands and feet, the scourging on your tired back. Each turn-downs would be like the crown of thorns and the lance on your side."
I winced from the image—me in the place of my Crucified Lord?
"Don't think you can avoid the Cross. You must embrace it. Unless you die with Him, you will not rise with Him. Patience, persistence, and passion—these three will lead you to success."
I sighed and prayed for more detachment. I prayed that love alone would suffice to move me to write, not the praises of men because I also wither from false praises or empty encouragements. I'd rather have none and be grounded in the work of the Lord.
I will do what it takes to get His work published. I will train like a soldier so that I can worthily deliver His message in the service of my King.
The song, Don't You Worry, Child played, as if on cue. And I almost cried in the middle of the street. Trust God to send His tender whispers when I just braced and prepared myself for the whiplash. God would be like that. Now I wanted to bawl like His little child.
I finished my run on high spirits.
Thank You, Lord for the endogenous endorphins; just what I needed today.
I hit the running trail and wondered, "Where would my wandering thoughts lead me?"
The image of an onion, with its many layers, appeared in my mind.
I laughed. It led me straight to the kitchen. That didn't surprise me because I love my kitchen.
And it's not just because of the Ikea white cabinets or the granite countertop or the ample space it provided me to move. It's probably the place where I get to express my creativity, apart from the painting canvass, the piano keyboards or the blank computer screen.
Relaxed cooking calms my nerves.
Once, when my husband got home from the office and saw what was on the table, he said, "Rough day at work, huh?"
There were five dishes for my family of four; it was enough to feed an army.
But when writing or running engages my creative energy, nothing is left to inspire me to cook. So it's quite a balancing act. Whereas I could live on plain toast and black coffee, my growing teenagers would probably raise their fists and report me to social services for starving them.
Anyway, back to my onion, it dawned on me that my inner journey had become such as that. The more I delve within myself, the more I realize the many mysteries and facets of my faith.
And the more I came to understand the faith of others.
Last week, when the rainy weather prevented me from running outside, I used the treadmill and watched youtube videos to take my eyes off the blank wall in front of me. My husband happily installed a wall mount at eye level for my iPad.
The Sacred Journeys (a historic pilgrimage documentary) by Bruce Feiler featured the different religions and their beliefs; but instead of seeing our differences, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, I saw our similarities-- the search for One God.
And there I realized I had been mistaken in a lot of things about these other religions. I shrunk with shame for my own self-righteousness and prejudices.
I could almost hear my Lord saying to me, "You hypocrite! First, remove the beam out of your own eye, then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother's eye."
And I shook my head in wonder. It will probably take me a lifetime to remove the beam out of my own eyes. Whereas it may probably just need one gentle blow of the wind from my Lord to remove the speck from my brother's eye.
It was indeed foolish to devote my life changing others when I have trouble changing myself! I knew then that my Lord only wishes me to perfect myself through His grace. The work of changing the world does not fall on my shoulders for I am not God. He is the Savior, not me. My desire to change the world is still teemed with vanity and vainglory. It still boils down to my self-love.
I have to constantly remind myself that only love for God will pass through His furnace of fire. My Lord's eyes have a filter and can only see works of love. No wonder St. Paul had been so adamant about having love in all our works. Nothing is noteworthy unless there is love: no prophecies, miracles, gifts of tongues, exorcisms, and all acts of service are acceptable to God unless done in love.
The works that I do, however sublime or numerous, when not done out of love for You, my Lord, are nothing and will amount to nothing. But the smallest thing I do, whether it's just folding the laundry, washing the plates, and cooking for my family when done with much love and joy in my heart will pass Your filter, your furnace and will not burn into ashes.
Once again, I thank my dear little sister, St Therese for teaching me this most awe-inspiring truth. I thank all the help of the saints that You, my Lord had sent my way. It's in this Communion of Saints that I find much strength and grace.
For aren't You the God of the living and not of the dead? So all those who have gone ahead of me, who had run and finished the race, who had received their trophies in heaven, the Triumphant Church in heaven, they all look down upon me; And should I not seek their prayers? If I had asked prayers from my friends and families here on earth, why shouldn't I ask prayers from my friends and families in heaven, from them, who are now before Your most holy presence oh, Lord? They can see behind all my motives and even see whether what I ask for is good for me or not, whether it's in accordance with Your most holy will.
Yes, they are my help and my source of hope for they have been victorious; they, who were once sinners, are now saints. And they are only too happy to help me, struggling sinner that I am, who am still stuck in this vale of tears, a member of the Militant Church on earth who still have to put on the armor of God to avoid the snares of the evil one.
And what about the Suffering Church in purgatory? They too give me hope my Lord that in my imperfection, I would find mercy and salvation in the light of Your justice. But I pray that I spend my purgatory here on earth, so I don't need to pass through that place of purification and delay my union with You in heaven when the time comes that I should pass from this life to the other life. Yes, let me embrace my fire of purgation here with the daily yoke that You give, which are not meant to break me but to strengthen me; not to wound me but to heal me. Let me offer these little sacrifices, sufferings, annoyances with love in my heart for You. Then, You can transform me into a kind, gentle, loving and joyful child who smiles even in the midst of tribulations and trials.
Isn’t that what marks a Christian? Peace, joy, and love in our countenance?
That's what attracted me to my Born-Again Christian friends who loved the Bible so much that they memorize it and keep it always in their hearts. They had such loving, peaceful and smiling faces and I thought this is what religion should do to people--make them become the best versions of themselves. And I embraced them.
But it was not to be my call. You wanted me to unearth the mysteries of my own Catholic faith because there was so much wealth that's been buried in traditions and practices that we no longer knew why we did the things that we did.
Why did we go to mass? Why did we pray the rosary? Why did we honor our Lady and her most chaste spouse St Joseph? Why did we venerate the saints? Why did we confess to a priest?
There were many things I did not understand about my religion. And you called me to seek deeper into the truth of my own Catholic faith.
And like an onion, it had opened itself, layer by layer before my eyes. And like an onion, it made me cry. Literally. And it hurt me when I saw the painful history of my Mother Church but I also tasted the sweetness and spice of its many victories and glories.
And it is love for You that made me embrace this call to my faith. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta would say, “Religion is a call.” In the end, Your greatest desire is for everyone to be in one fold, one flock. So I embrace all as You've embraced all--saints and sinners alike. For I am a sinner, too who longed to become a saint. And I need a community, and You've given me my Catholic community where I thrive and grow and experience Your love in a deep, profound and mysterious way.
And I should not be concerned about what You do to others. You've said this to Peter when he asked about the fate of John: "What concern is it of yours? Come and follow Me."
Indeed, this should only be my concern, that I follow in Your footsteps, to walk Your path of humility, obedience, kindness, forgiveness, loving sacrifice, and peace.
And You've given me my community because You too felt loneliness when You suffered alone in the Garden of Gethsemane. You saw our human weakness, so You gave us the strength of community, of communion, the tradition of coming together and breaking the bread together and being One with You who promised never to leave us.
Like an onion with its many layers, you've given me relationships with differing depths of intimacy.
You, oh Lord, at the very core are the most intimate with me, at all levels (physical, spiritual, social, and emotional). Next to You is my husband, who mirrors all these levels of intimacy, and followed by my immediate family, the blood of my blood and flesh of my flesh.
You've then given me families and friends who would fill up my spiritual, social and emotional needs in varying degrees and levels, like the layers of the onion that would weave, overlap and interlock and cover my core relationships. Even the skin, the most superficial of all levels would serve its purpose and one I cannot do without.
Here I find the importance of giving and receiving support, of connection because we all ache to connect with one another.
The speech of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg deeply impressed me in this regard.
Even in my writing, You've provided me with a community who would cheer for each other and rejoice in each other's successes.
The Barefoot Writers.
That's where I drew inspiration from. It was that community that inspired me to create my website Inspiredcopywriting.com.
From that community, I got helpful feedbacks on how to improve my site. I fed on the food that they served in webinars, and I was able to find my voice and my niche.
Inspired copywriting. It is inspired by You. It's not inspiring copywriter because it would be presumptuous of me. That is Your task to make me one. What You ask of me is to draw inspiration from Your life; to live my life inspired by You. And it will be Your work in me should I also inspire others to love You. That is my call as a Christian. "They will know we are Christians by our love," as the song goes.
And that is what community is all about--giving and drawing inspiration to and from each other so we may all grow into one beautiful Body of Christ, and we all thrive and not just survive.
And that is the same call that our dear Pope Francis would make, he who now sits on the throne of Peter, the servant of all servants.
"And that is how you can change the world… by changing yourself," my angel said.
"Just you," he said and then took a small pebble and raised it before my eyes. He threw it in the lake. It fell and created ripples up to the very edge.
"Is that such a hard task?"
I shook my head. A small pebble, that's what I am but plunged in the water of God's love, my life will create ripples.
I believed in miracles, didn't I?
I laughed at where my wandering thoughts brought me.
Onion. Kitchen. Pebble. Water.
Of layers and ripples because our lives overlap, interconnect and affect the others.
Cupcakes are muffins that believed in miracles.
I laughed at these very simple but profound statement printed on the box that housed delicious cupcakes, cakes, and biscuits from the Silos Baking Co.
We were on our way to San Antonio, TX from Dallas and we thought it would be nice to have breakfast at this much-much-celebrated place in Waco called Magnolia Market. Apart from this bakery with a long queue, food trucks flanked the market complex and a playground with tables and benches in the open ground.
Who would have thought that a simple idea bred out of a woman's passion would give birth to this success slowly evolving into a tradition?
And that's God's promise to those who pursue one's passion and purpose: a life of fullness and abundance. The closer you get to your purpose, the happier you become.
And I thought about writing—my passion and purpose. I've never been happier with my work until now. I know I am drawing closer to my purpose, each day I write.
Last Wednesday, it was 88F outside, but I abandoned the treadmill and headed for the park. I was glad to be home. The three-day break rejuvenated me, but I longed for my routine once again—pray, run, read and write.
I ran in silence, enjoying the warm air. I had the park to myself. Suddenly, I saw in my mind a funnel.
What was that?
"God wants you to be a funnel."
It was my angel.
"He gave you a gift—the ability to devour books and understand the complicated."
He was right. It was a gift. "Why did He give me that gift?"
"He wants you to distil all the things that you've read and come up with the essentials. Like a funnel, open and wide at the top, you shall only pour out in digestible amounts the things He wants to your narrow bottom. Make the complicated simple."
I understood. I was once a research nurse. I rewrote many informed consents to readable level—7th grade. To do this, I employed the Flesch-Kincaid and Fry readability formulas.
I also gave a talk on how to create readable informed consents at the Health Care Education Association Conference. I didn't expect to find educators having trouble making this paragraph simple during the workshop portion:
This is a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial that aims to test the hypothesis that the investigational drug XYZ100 can alter the course of disease ABC by delaying progression of myocardial fibrosis and reducing ambulatory deterioration.
I was surprised when they clapped at my simplified version.
This is a study that will test whether study drug XYZ100 will reduce heart scarring and delay loss of ability to walk. You will be assigned to two groups in a random manner. This is like drawing lots or flipping a coin. One group will receive the study drug and another group will receive the placebo. Placebo is not a drug but it looks and tastes like a real drug. It is sometimes called a sugar pill or starch pill. This is a double-blind study. This means that neither you nor your study doctor will know what drug you are receiving.
"Don't think your past experiences were for nothing. God uses all your existing skills and abilities to build His kingdom."
I was excited. "So what am I to do?"
"Speak about the kingdom in the language of a child for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
"Remember St Therese of Lisieux?
"Yes, she made sanctity simple and easy. She wrote The Story of a Soul as a simple testimony, her story. That's why it became a best-seller," I said.
This way of writing is also what attracted me to copywriting. Copywriters write to push people to action. It's direct response marketing and not mere advertising. And the power of this type of writing lies on the credibility of the testimony.
And I realized, the Scripture writers were the greatest copywriters in the world. With their testimonies, billions had come to believe in Jesus. And as a Christian copywriter, this was part of my call, to testify to the Lord's work in my life. My message can only evoke a response from the reader when it is personal, simple and credible. Readers can smell a fake from afar. And if not, they'd do when they come near.
"How did St. Therese surmount the steep summit of perfection?" my angel broke into my reverie.
"A lift." That was how she described it.
"How different, Lord, are the paths along which You guide souls!" she had written in The Story of a Soul. "In the lives of the saints, we find many who left nothing behind them… but there are others, like our Mother St. Teresa, who have enriched the Church by their teaching. They were not afraid to reveal "the secrets of the King," so that souls, by knowing Him better, would love Him more… Unfortunately, when I have compared myself with the saints, I have always found that there is the same difference between the saints and me as there is between a mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds and a humble grain of sand trodden underfoot by passers-by."
"Instead of being discouraged, I told myself: God would not make me wish for something impossible, and so, in spite of my littleness, I can aim at being a saint," she wrote. "It is impossible for me to grow bigger, so I put up with myself as I am, with all my countless faults. But I will look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight, a little way that is quite new. We live in an age of invention. We need no longer climb laboriously up flights of stairs; in well-to-do houses there are lifts. And I was determined to find a lift to carry me to Jesus, for I was far too small to climb the steep stairs of perfection. So I sought in Holy Scripture some idea of what this lift I wanted would be, and I read these words from the very mouth of eternal Wisdom: "Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me." I drew nearer to God fully realizing that I had found what I was looking for. I also wanted to know how God would deal with a "little one," so I continued my search and found this: "You shall be carried at the breasts and upon the knees; as one whom the mother caresseth, so I will comfort you."
And this was the core of St. Therese of the Child Jesus' simple spirituality, and why she was embraced by all, this little flower. She would add, "Never before had I been gladdened by such sweet and tender words. It is Your arms, Jesus, which are the lift to carry me to heaven. And so there is no need for me to grow up. In fact, just the opposite: I must stay little and become less and less."
"This is hard," I told my guardian angel. "But probably the only way to pass through the eye of the needle, to be little."
"With man, it is impossible. But anything and everything is possible with God," he said.
He was right. I remembered just the other day when I dropped off my daughter at school, the traffic officer blew his whistle vigorously at me for trying to make a right pass (which was normally allowed during regular school days, but apparently not during summer classes). My blood boiled, and I was tempted to ignore him. At the same time, I felt the gentle breeze of the Holy Spirit calming my nerves. And the Spirit won and fanned down the angry flames in my eyes. I felt something die within me as I maneuvered the car to obey the traffic enforcer's bidding.
"You just chipped off a piece of your mortal shell," my angel had said.
"So is this how I am to kill the old man?"
"Yes. Each time you swallow your pride, bite your tongue from saying hurtful and angry words, overcome your weakness, you break off a piece of your sinful mortal shell, and the light within you is able to pierce out into the darkness of your earthly existence."
An antiviral, my antidote, I thought.
"Among the many," he had said.
"The Body and Blood of Jesus I took this morning, it healed me. The words 'Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, (this house that is mostly in disarray and dirty), but only say the word, and my soul will be healed,' did its purpose.”
Yes, those were the very same words the centurion told Jesus when he asked the Lord to heal his servant. His words amazed Jesus because the Roman soldier manifested a faith in Jesus’ authority over the spirits even from afar. It was Paulo Coelho who brought this to my attention in his book, The Alchemist.
"That is the most potent antidote to your viral illness. When He enters your body, He melts the mortal shell and thins it out," my angel said.
I envisioned His resurrection, and how the severe light pierced through His dead and mortal body, burning it into dust, leaving only the wounds that He bore as evidence of His former human body and how He assumed His Divine body that even Mary Magdalene did not recognize Him and thought He was the gardener.
"But why do some people remain wicked despite the fact that they receive His body and blood regularly?" I asked, and added to myself, just like me.
"Because venial and mortal sins thicken the mortal shell. As soon as He melts the shell away, these foolish men and women run out and cover their body with the filth of slander, malice, deceit, lies and these loathsome clothing as though they could not do without it for just a single day. So they lose the grace that His mystical presence provides. Because as I told you, it is by man's cooperative will that he is to be saved. God already opened the door for him, but he needs to make a move to enter the door of salvation and stay inside. More often than not, he ignores the open door. Worst for some, they enter and then decide to go out, lured by their former lives like the Israelites who clamored to Moses to go back to Egypt and eat the food of slaves rather than be in the desert of purification and eat the manna from heaven that the Lord provided freely. The foolishness of man…" I could sense my angel shaking his head in frustration.
So this is the reason why I also need to be cleaned regularly through the Sacrament of Confession.
I remembered Fr. Dom Gueranger's writing in the Liturgical Year, "It is the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts for the sole purpose of forming Christ, the New Man, within us, to the end that we may be united with Him forever as His members."
I imagine Him building Himself within me piece by piece, cell by cell, and the Holy Spirit gluing His pieces together until one day He will completely possess me. But each time I sin, the glue weakens. So I must strive to be loving to strengthen the glue. With the grace of the Holy Spirit, this love is infused with much warmth and fire.
"The Holy Spirit unceasingly shows His disciple the Great Original Whom he is to copy, namely Jesus, in Whom are all the virtues in all perfection." These words from Fr. Gueranger's book struck me.
It spurred me to deeper reflection. As we are a cell in God's most Holy Body, we embody a piece of God's perfection. When we perfect ourselves, we glorify God because we manifest a piece of His perfection on earth. We must encourage each other to be perfect because it makes God's image clearer to us, like putting pieces of the puzzle together to make a whole picture—God's Holy Image.
To imprint the message deeper in my soul, the priest in his homily gave a fresh take on the gospel reading about paying taxes, when Jesus had asked whose image was on the coin. And the reply was Caesar's and He had said, "Give to Caesars what is Caesars and to God what belongs to God." The priest then asked, "if the coin held Caesar's image, what holds God's image that should be given back to God?"
After a brief pause, he said, "WE hold God's image… Therefore, we must give our entire being back to God."
I was deeply moved to the core of my being.
God does not just want a piece of me or just a part of my life. He wants all of me; Everything that I am, I owe it back to God.
And St Therese did just that, as a child, she surrendered herself and entrusted her whole being to God.
Do with me as you please.
"You are a muffin right now. But God dreams that you shall become a beautiful cupcake—"
"Someday…" I sighed.
"He wants you to see that dream, share that dream and even live that dream now, not someday, when you're no longer living this earthly life, but now, so people will see that Jesus can truly bring the dead back to life, can perform wondrous miracles in the here and now—"
"—can turn muffins into cupcakes now," I added with a smile. If He can multiply the fish and bread, He can definitely turn this muffin into a cupcake.
I sighed and took a bite off the delectable cupcake. And I sighed with pleasure.
"God's pleasure will be immense when He sees your transformation from a muffin to a cupcake."
My heart dilated with joy because I believed.
And that's all it takes for a miracle to happen.
Twenty five years ago, 1992, around March, I sat inside the Araneta Coliseum at the topmost bleacher with four other classmates of our graduating class in nursing. My teacher invited us to this healing rally by renowned preacher and healer, Michelle Corral. Thousands of people gathered in this huge dome and I felt insignificant among the many. It was my first time. I felt ill at ease when the youth music ministry started playing an upbeat gospel music and urged people to stand up, sing and dance. I didn't care too much for this kind of worship or any kind of religious gathering outside of Sunday mass. But why was I here?
It was a healing mass. But I wasn't paralyzed like that man seated on a wheelchair at the front row, down right across the stage. Nor did I have some form of incurable lump on the face like that woman beside the man.
I was healthy at 21 years old, about to graduate from nursing at the top 10% of my class and had a boyfriend who was a medical intern. The world was waiting for me. Yet, here I was carrying a burden in my heart that needed healing-- a family crisis that threatened to destroy my family and a heart ailment that threatened the life of my father. So I was there, not for myself but for my family.
Little did I know that God brought me there not for my family but for myself. For after witnessing the healing of the paralyzed man who took three steps towards the stage, and the delirium of the others who claimed cure of whatever ailments they had, and amidst the frenzy of alleluias, praise the Lords and cries of thanksgiving, Michelle started calling out the young men and women present.
My classmates and I looked at each other. And she shouted all the more, waving her hand towards the young people seated at the very top of this huge coliseum, waving at us to come down and stand below the stage. My teacher urged us to go down. And so we pushed our way in the midst of the crowd, down the steps, into narrow passages until we finally reached the ground level. We stood there in rows and faced the stage.
Michelle started declaring prophecies. I was there with my eyes closed, still praying for the healing of my family and my father, my hands extended out when suddenly she uttered a prophecy that pierced my ears, like it was spoken for me and me alone. Among the many young people, this woman spoke these words that would send chilling sensation at the top of my head, down to my spine, and send the hair standing behind my nape. It was like a small thrill of electricity that struck me from above.
It was a call. God was calling me.
I cried and cried and cried. I could not stop crying. Tears just flowed from my eyes and I was shaking and saying, "Yes, Lord! Yes, Lord."
That night, my life went a 180-degree turnaround. This was a conversion that would bring me to many places. When I said my "yes", I declared my surrender to a God who personally called me by my name.
That day marked the beginning of my search for my purpose. That "yes" gave me the fortitude to break up with my boyfriend, pack up my things and pursue this Lord who had pursued me for a long, long time. Finally, He ensnared me and captured me. And He had never let go, ever since. He had brought me to many places in pursuit of His will.
Through the Lord's Flock Catholic Charismatic Community, my rebirth became more pronounced. I witnessed a different kind of Catholicism. In this community, I was introduced to the power of the Holy Spirit as manifested in tongues, prophecies, visions, miracles, interpretation of tongues and the like. I was astounded. And everything was explained using the Bible. Suddenly, I felt like I was transported to the time when the apostles had just received the Holy Spirit during the Pentecost. My spiritual life became more tangible and real. We were taught to consult God in everything. We were taught how to listen to that small voice in our mind.
And that voice led me to National Bookstore to a particular aisle, a particular shelf and three particular books: the works of St. Teresa. I did not know her. She wasn't the Teresa of Calcutta who founded the Missionaries of Charity in India. Neither was she Therese of the Child Jesus, the little flower. No, this was the founder of the Discalced Carmelites, the cloistered nuns who lived in the Carmelite monasteries. Yet, as I read about her life, I was astounded that she did not sound like my idea of religious and saints, the meek and gentle and kind. This was a voice who had the sharpness of a razor, who would discipline the most stubborn of people, the voice of a mother superior who would not tolerate mediocrity in the spiritual life. She was a voice who made me laugh and cry. She was a voice so alive that I took her as my spiritual mother and she readily took me as her erring child, that she didn't hesitate to straighten from my crooked ways. Under her maternal care, I began to desire the spiritual life. She was a mystic, so I learned a lot from her on how to discern the spirits, for I soon realized that there were many voices in my head who would pretend to be God. Therefore, I needed to discern which voice to listen to and which voice to reject.
Soon, her magnetism drew me to knock at the doors of Carmel to learn from the desert nuns and father on the ways of contemplative prayer. I no longer sought just the gifts of the Holy Spirit, I longed to know more of the Giver of these gifts. There was a thirst that I couldn't quench within me.
In the confines of Carmel, my spiritual director made me put aside the mysticism of my spiritual life. He wanted to purify me and to find God in the ordinary. He gave me the book of St. Therese of Lisieux, "The Story of a Soul." It was her memoir, her autobiography. At first glance, you would not find anything extraordinary about the book. It was so ordinary that it became extraordinary when upon its release, it had swept the world by storm. This young nun, who lived a hidden life for most of her life, who did nothing supernatural, entered the monastery at 15 years old and died at 24 years old and whose only work is a book that you cannot even call a literary masterpiece, but upon her death, had become the patron saint of the missions, and her book translated and distributed world wide, and loved by many.
What was it in her writing that was so powerful and evoked such a great response from popes and peasants alike?
The power of "The Story of a Soul" was its simplicity.
She made God accessible, even to a child. She made spirituality simple.
The work of the Holy Spirit in her hand produced this book, the outcome of the creative energy within her fueled by love for God. She wanted God to be loved by all men. She wanted to quench the thirst of Christ with conversion of the most sinful men. She sought for the lost and those in the darkness because she believed they would infuse the greatest aroma of sacrifice to God. She offered simple works as sacrifice for these intentions. She offered small sufferings for these intentions. She vowed that she will spend her heaven doing good on earth and shall shower the world with roses as an affirmation of her having heard the prayer and her efforts at helping the prayer to be heard by God.
But was it all that simple: offering sacrifices to God?
What kind of sacrifice? I tried to do it but all it brought me were pain and suffering. There was no joy in it. Yet as I read her book, it was clear she was not the kind of Catholic that made me cringe and run away from. She doesn’t have a sullen and morose face. She was not the hypercritical, overjudgmental and self-righteous Catholic who'd frown at me each time I fail and fall.
Her face was filled with peace and joy.
Years later, I would find another book that would speak of that joy, "The Joy of the Gospel," written by Pope Francis. And his smiling face was on the cover, again not the stern priest or strict nun or veiled elderly church-goer I used to see in my childhood years.
And I've seen the transition over the years, the transformation even in worship. Catholics have become happier, more Easter people.
It seemed in the past the suffering of the Cross had been emphasized more than the glory of the Cross.
Yet Jesus walked the earth joyfully. In His 33 years of life and 3 years of ministry, He suffered in agony for a day and then His resurrection would lead to joy and glory. He entered and left the earth in the spirit of joy. His birth and ascension brought joy and promise to the world.
He said, "I came so that you may have life and have it abundantly."
Many would interpret this as mere financial abundance. But this would be lie. Because St. Francis, a most wealthy son abandoned his wealth and embraced poverty to follow Jesus. And he found joy.
So what is this kind of sacrifice and suffering that Jesus is asking of me?
Or am I doing this sacrifice and suffering the right way? Or am I creating my own yoke and my own burden? For He also said, come to me all of you who are tired and burdened and I will give you rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light.
So apparently there is something about Christianity that I am not fully comprehending.
The Threefold Mystery of Suffering
"Why would someone desire suffering? Wouldn’t that make you a masochist?" I asked my angel.
"Only when you desire suffering for suffering's sake," my angel answered. "But when you desire it to give birth to a new life then this is a suffering that immolates the suffering of Christ."
I sat astounded and remembered my experience as a mother.
For nine months, I bore this baby in my womb, feeling sick in the first three months, hating all sorts of smell and puking at every occasion, getting dizzy and faint and feeling drowsy all the time.
Then came a respite in my second trimester were my body adjusted to this growing being within me. I learned to eat well, sleep well and even feel joyous about this new life.
Then the third trimester came when the burden of the baby became apparent with the weight and the size. I walked like a waddling duck, my back bearing the extra load. Towards the very end I just wanted to bear out the baby and let it out into the world. And the baby eventually did, with pain and suffering. Yet, I
bore it all lovingly, willingly, patiently and even welcomed the suffering of labor pain because I knew that there is glory and joy that would come out of it, that this pain and suffering is temporary.
And that's the threefold mystery of Christ passion, death and resurrection. He too suffered the pain of death on the Good Friday, had to wait in patience on Black Saturday for the glorious Resurrection that would come on Easter Sunday, new life for Him and for everyone.
He wants me to embrace and carry my cross and yet, He also promises the joy and glory that will come out of it.
But how will I know whether the Cross I am carrying at the moment is a cross of my own making or the Cross that came from Him.
It was then that I realized that the Cross that comes from Him is a purifying Cross, a Cross that would make me a better, happier and more loving person if I embraced it. It is a Cross that is meant to correct me, a sandpaper for my rough spots. Embracing it brings joy. The Cross also has the accompanying grace that makes it sweet, and peace is the fruit of embracing it.
On the other hand, the crosses that I create for myself breeds turmoil, unrest, annoyance, as well as rigidity, controlling attitude, goal-orientedness that caters to self. This kind of cross, I can imagine, would make Jesus tell me, "Is this the kind of sacrifice that you make? It ends up in grumbling and bickering?" No, that is not the kind of sacrifice that the Lord is asking of me.
And I think many Christians, including me, would preach this suffering and sacrifice in this light and even practice this kind of sacrifice in our lives. No wonder many would shy away from embracing this kind of faith and embracing the cross. It is painted in gory, bloody red of the Roman cruelty and not the spilling of love and passion from a God who longs to give and give, to the point of death.
And yet the question still hounds me, and I asked my Lord, "How did the saints embrace suffering and even seek suffering for the love of You?"
"Because love begets love."
That shook me to my senses. Love begets love. He who loves much is able to suffer much.
And I witness this everyday.
- The parents who are willing to sacrifice for their children,
- The soldiers who are willing to sacrifice for their country,
- The teachers, healthcare workers, firefighters, policemen and women, and all those who give much of their time and effort for a higher cause,
Those who do things out of love for God, those who give up family, friends, property, everything to follow God are those who've been moved to love Him this way. No one can do this unless he experienced the love of God. He who is loved and who love much seeks to suffer much for the love of Him because he had experienced the greatness of His love and suffering for his sake.
Power is in the love. That is the kind of sacrifice, a joyous one.
And I wept for I have not loved much. I still cringe from suffering.
"Can you take a bullet for me?" It seems this is the question of my Lord. "Can you drink the cup that I drank for you?"
Suddenly I understood how the martyrs felt. They must have been asked the same question. And the love that they had for the Lord made them run to the stake, the guillotine, the sword and to persecution for the Lord. It was love in their hearts, and not heroism, that made them give up their lives. It was love.
The Mass is a sacrifice of praise. We do not lament when we go to mass, we celebrate. Jesus had transformed the word of sacrifice from the negative to the positive, from darkness to light, from pain and suffering to joy and peace.
The Mass is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for the peace, joy and abundance of this life, a taste of the after-life. The Kingdom of God is here on earth, not just in the afterlife; it is within you.
That is the promise of the Holy Spirit, the power I still have to harness, the gifts I so long desire… the Gifts of the Holy Spirit which will bear the fruits of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Oh, my Lord, I pray that you may increase the love in my heart. Make it burn as it burned in your martyrs, apostles and disciples of long ago that I may not abhor and withdraw from suffering. Let me not embrace suffering with resignation and for suffering's sake. If I should embrace suffering let it be done in the way You did when You willingly gave your life for me… with much love in Your eyes as you gaze down at me. Let it be in that same spirit. Let it not be in grumbling and complaining as though all my life had been spent in suffering. Let it be with joy because you made me experience your kind of suffering and made me share in that experience. Let it be with gratitude that you found me worthy to share your sorrow as you wept for my sins and that of my neighbors. Pierce my heart with your love and imbue in me that kind of suffering so I may sacrifice for the sake of love and find joy in my heart.
And the image of the sword piercing my heart appeared. It was Fr. Nathan who mentioned it during the mini-retreat. It was the same image of the heart of my dear Mother Mary. It was the sword that fueled the heart to burn, as though the blood that spilled from the wound set the fire ablaze. It was the sword of suffering and pain that shared in sacrifice of the Son. It was my Mother Mary's heart pierced with a sword, a heart flaming and burning with love for mankind.
"So now you know the reason for suffering and with what motive you must embrace it. You can grow in the virtue of patience and perseverance," my angel said.
"You know that every suffering that comes from God will give you new life. Embrace it knowing that He bestowed it upon you so He can slay the old man in you. And when you embrace that suffering, the old man dies. Sometime he does not die in an instant. He struggles within and that's when you need to be patient as you wait in agony for its final death. And when finally you've overcome your old man, the new man in you will arise. For anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old is gone. The new has come."
So that's what it meant.
"Yes, and this happens because you cannot pour the Holy Spirit in the old man, the old body, in the same way that you cannot pour new wine into old wine skin. The old wine skin will burst and the wine will be spilled and gone to waste. No, the new wine can only be poured into new wineskin."
"So I should die to my old self, let go of old bad habits, faults and tendencies," I whispered. "Let the new man live. And I shall receive the Holy Spirit and His gifts in full measure."
"Overflowing," my angel reassured me.
"Pentecost is the outpouring of the Power of the Spirit," he said. "He cannot bestow the power and the gift of the Holy Spirit in a person who had not died to himself. No, the old wineskin must be abandoned. A new clothing must be worn so the Holy Spirit can move and manifest His power in all purity."
"The Feast of the Pentecost, long celebrated by the Jewish people as a feast of the harvest… 50 Days after the Passover, the festival of reaping, or the first fruits."
I reflected on this parallelism of the Pentecost of the Old Testament and the New Testament. The first Christian Pentecost came upon the apostles as they celebrated this Jewish passover. It yielded the first Christian harvest when the Holy Spirit descended upon men. Now God resides within each of them. He specifically told them to wait for this Spirit, this power that would transform them, to transform their fear to courage, their uncertainty and doubt to firm belief and unwavering faith. This Christian Pentecost shall yield in me a rich harvest in this life, beyond the material and the earthly, 50 days after the Paschal Mystery of the Lord's resurrection.
It's in the waiting: Ten days of waiting and not pre-empting the Lord.
"Wait for the right time to speak out. Wait for the power to manifest. Wait for the help that I will send your way," the Lord had promised.
As a Christian writer, I need to harness this power. My words are good for nothing without the anointing of the Lord. It will be blown by the wind like chaff.
"Wait, and be stouthearted wait for the Lord with courage. Wait for the Lord." My angel spoke these words over and over.
Forty days of Lent, I waited for the Lord. I restrained myself from blogging. I had to clarify His call and there I found my voice.
Forty days of Easter, I waited for the Lord. I restrained from bragging. I had to clarify my purpose and there I found my niche.
Another 10 days, He urged me to wait for the real power that was hidden within me, waiting to be released.
No wonder He brought me to Carmel, to get rid of the old man so the new man can emerge, to let go of the old wineskin so the new wine can be poured into new wineskin.
And now 25 years after, I am still running after my God who's relentlessly chasing me. Sometimes He'd catch me, sometimes I'd catch Him. I guess this earthly life is an endless pursuit of this Lover and His beloved.
But now at 45 years old, I am molting again. And I feel a different kind of rebirth, for He has led me to the writer's life. And after 50 days of preparation, I have learned how to live the writer's life in joy, peace and the spirit of abundance through proper pacing, patience and perseverance.
Rebirth. Pentecost. New wineskin. These words haunted me. What do these all mean after 25 years?
As I sat in the airport terminal, waiting for my flight, I googled Michelle Corral. How was she? Was she still active in the healing ministry? And I came upon this youtube video of hers and my mouth went agape.
How was it, my Lord that after 25 years You would still use the same vessel that You've used in the past; that she would still speak the language that my spirit would understand? Mysterious indeed are Your ways.
She talked of pouring new wine into new wineskin, even as I reflected about it last week, of a new anointing to stretch me into another supernatural level.
"Stretch your spirit into another level: a new level in prayer, in love," she said.
"Do not rationalize, do not go back to your natural, old life. Do not be afraid of the stretching, do not be stuck with your old schedule and your daily routine."
The only way He can pour out His power into me is through a new wine skin. This will mark my ability to stretch, to be flexible, to be available for God, on-call for God.
"What do you want of me today, Lord? Do with me as you please."
"And another level is the purification and emptying out process: the way of the cross that may entail inconvenience in your part," Michelle said. "The process of pouring out the wine from vessel to vessel prevents stagnation."
Here, too You're telling me, Lord that the only way to grow in faith is to serve, and to be poured out to others. Like the widow in 2 Kings 4, I should have nothing in the house but a pot of oil. None of me and all of You. This was the only way I can be fully united with You, when I am emptied of everything and all of me is poured out to all the vessels in need of my oil, even just a drop of oil. And to do this I need to focus. That's what Michelle said.
"And moving to a place of service is moving to a place of overflow. When you serve there is a place of overflow and not want," she added.
I am God's personal property. He does with me as He pleases.
So this was the secret of St Therese of the Child Jesus. She had total and complete surrender to the Child Jesus, to become His toy, for Him to enjoy. That is absolute surrender! For who would trust oneself to a child with all His "whims and caprices"? Amazing surrender, her key to the kingdom of God. She had the heart of a child who entrusted herself to the child Jesus for an adult cannot do that. Only a child can.
It is apparent that to become a new wine skin, I have to stretch. Be flexible. And wasn't this the lesson You've been teaching me lately? And through this video, You are stressing it further? A true disciple of Yours needs to be available to do Your bidding at all times, to be on-call. Am I prepared to do that, I who hate being on-call?
And yet, You would also reassure me that when You call, although it may seem inconvenient for me, in the end, it becomes the most convenient option. In your all-knowing wisdom, You'd show me Your supernatural ways, and I should not be afraid of this new level because it will be nothing compared to the old anointing. Truly You pour new oil and new wine each time. There is no stagnation in You.
Flexibility, the right pacing so I will enjoy my life and love my work.
It had been a very fruitful celebration of Lent, Resurrection, Ascension and the Pentecost. Today marked the beginning of the Ordinary Times in the liturgical calendar. Yet, I had emerged a new man from the past seasons of grace. So much had happened in my interior journey that there was no way I could just go back to where I came from. I felt a strange rebirth.
Now I can face my ordinary days with extraordinary and expectant eyes of faith, transforming the ordinariness of writing with extraordinary hope in the One Who had called me to write. Living in the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, I look at my future in a new light.
A mission awaits me. There is a purpose to fulfill, but this time I will not do it using my own will power.
It will be through the Power of the Holy Spirit.
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