I was baptized and raised as a Catholic. For 16 years, I studied in two Catholic schools where Catholicism was the center of education. But what supposed to be a space for shaping life and religion became a space for resistance.
There, attending religion classes meant strategically sleeping or catching up with my seatmates. Learning about God, Jesus, Mary, the Bible, and the saints were done for the sake of passing the subject. Prayers were a mere form of recitation to start and end each class. Pausing for the Angelus and the three o’clock prayers were not done for putting myself in His presence, but for fearing that I might get reprimanded if I didn’t. Hearing masses became a part of the grading system because even the teachers knew that most students will not attend if they won’t require us. And if I hear mass, nothing remains in my heart because I don’t believe in most priests.
I obeyed the system only because it was essential, not because I was intentional. Everything became an unwanted drill until I lost the essence of what it means to be a Catholic. My family and my teachers didn’t fall short with watering the seeds of Catholicism in me, but every single thing they planted gradually withered. Everyone was focused on establishing the religion that they forgot to teach us to also build a relationship with God.
How I met God again
Five months ago, I met Carla in Tawhai Floating Bar, Lakawon Island. She’s also a solo traveler, short-haired, bubbly, and an inch shorter than me. We instantly clicked when she started talking about her ex-boyfriend over our sandwiches by the bar until I convinced her to come with me to Siquijor at 4 PM the next day. After a long day on the island, I went back to my hostel in Bacolod to pack my things.
Michael, the receptionist who became my friend on my first stay in that hostel, invited me to their gig that night. I humbly refused because I had two articles to work on and I had to pack my things for my departure the next day. As I was about to sleep, I had a mini heart attack when the electricity went down. I was alone in the four-bed room and it browned out. Shit. I was scared, but the emergency lights were quick to light my way, which led me down to the lobby. Febs, the other receptionist on duty, kept me company through the night. We had a long but entertaining talk until she asked me to join her and Michael at Victory Church the next morning. I barely knew about it but I accepted the invite anyway.
I immediately checked on Carla when I woke up but she was out of reach. I was bothered but Febs and I still went ahead to SM City Bacolod for the Sunday service. It was my first time and I was surprised how everyone was so welcoming, so friendly, and so lively. Like wow, I’ve never felt such energy in a church.
“Just listen and do your thing. Don’t mind the people around you,” Febs kept reminding me as the band started singing worship songs. But I can’t help myself from watching the people around me. They were rejoicing, singing with their eyes closed and hands lifted up to the heavens. They were intense and I loved seeing how they freely expressed their love for God.
“This is how I want it,” I thought to myself as I observed. I can’t remember what the sermon was back then, but I won’t forget the feeling of being there. After the longest time, I finally felt God’s presence. I finally received Him. I finally believed in what I saw.
I kept calling Carla when the service ended but to no avail. I even called the hotel she was staying in but the receptionist told me that there was no Carla checked in there. Up to this day, I still haven’t heard from her. I can’t even find her in social media. I don’t know if Carla was her real name, if she’s avoiding me, if something unfortunate happened to her, or if she was a ghost. Damn, girl.
What she did was frustrating because my departure for Siquijor got delayed and I wasted my time waiting for nothing. But that didn’t matter for long when I realized how all those events led me to God again. The packing of my things, the refusal to Michael’s invitation, the brownout, the late night conversation with Febs, and the no-show incident of Carla. Everything made sense to me. I knew that God was showing His ways on me through the people I met.
When I came home back to my hostel that night, I asked a list of worship songs to Febs. I downloaded them on my phone and those kept me company when I encountered another series of brownouts on Siquijor the following day. That was different and scarier though because apart from being alone, I was staying in an old, wooden establishment named “End of the World.” With every blink of the bulb and flight of the cockroaches, I felt like the world was ending. I was helpless and scared, but the worship songs kept me brave. Little things, I know, but those showed me how big our God is.
I continued attending the Sunday services of Victory Church until now and it was the best thing that I ever did in my life. Sundays used to be an indication that another work week is coming, but ever since I met God again, Sundays became an exemplary worship day to me. It calls for an intimate day with Him, a learning day with Him, a day of love with Him, and a heaven on Earth with Him.
As days went by, my perspective in life changed. I felt like I was becoming the princess He wanted me to be. I became less resistant and more obedient, less worried and more at peace, less irritated and more understanding, less impatient and more forbearing, less tempted and more resolved, less hateful and more forgiving. I learned to live by His words, to trust His timing, to let His will be done, to act upon according to His plans, to prepare myself for what I’ve prayed for during waiting seasons, and to let go of my beloved bad habits. I learned to decrease, so He increased.
It’s not easy. I used to think that, “To see is to believe,” but then it works the other way around. I believed in Him that’s why I saw Him in everything. I thought I lack willpower for failing to fulfill those in my past life, but it turns out that I lack Him. I am not supposed to be in control. God should be in control. When I surrendered my life to Him, it became more enduring, more exciting, and more worth living.
Here, I listed some of the new habits that make my relationship with God more intimate.
Sunday service. As I have said, Sundays became exemplary to me. I always look forward to it because it is my Fatherly date with God. I either attend in Victory Parañaque or in Victory Malate, and every service ends with tears streaming down on my cheeks. Every word I hear feels like an assurance that He has my back, He has it all figured out, and He is always with me. Since then, the quote “A Sunday well-spent brings a week of content” resonated in me.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing my learnings from my favorite Sunday services.
Worship songs playlist. When I’m not listening to John Mayer or to Alina Baraz, I get lost in the world of worship songs. I listen to the songs of Hillsong most of the time, and “So Will I” is my current favorite. It has an excerpt that sings:
If the stars were made to worship so will I
If the mountains bow in reverence so will I
If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I
For if everything exists to lift You high so will I
If the wind goes where You send it so will I
If the rocks cry out in silence so will I
If the sum of all our praises still falls shy
Then we’ll sing again a hundred billion times
It’s so beautiful, it makes me cry when I’m in a deep level of meditation. Sing with me in this worship songs playlist.
Daily Bread Board on Pinterest. I spend most of my blank periods thumbing through Pinterest, if not Instagram. I have boards on Wedding, Fashion, Travel, Home/Hostel pegs, Resto pegs, Life below water, and Daily Bread. I feed the latter board the most because as the name suggests, it is my daily bread. Without the daily word of the Lord, I’ll be left hungry and thirsty for strength, wisdom, and faith. I’ll be nothing. Digest with me and visit my Daily Bread Board here.
Letters to God. I have a navy blue notebook that I always bring with me. Inside it are my to-do lists, travel plans, poems, and letters to my future husband and children, and to God. I write letters to Him almost every day where I tell how my day went, my intentions, my prayers, my thanks, my praises. It is a therapeutic routine, I tell you.
Get an easy-read Bible. In a world where most reading materials are found right at the tip of our thumbs, investing on its physical versions might sound impractical, especially when it is free online. But when I found out about Bible Journaling Philippines, I didn’t hesitate to get one. It makes reading His word more interesting because you can write and be creative on it.
Wait for a godly man. From how I see it, a godly man prays for and with you. He lives by God’s words. He puts God in the center of his life. He is unashamed to profess his faith. He doesn’t compromise because he stands firmly with his promises to God. He gets tempted just as any other human being, but he chooses to say yes to God, not to temptations. Most importantly, he brings you closer to God. When you see God in a man, everything else about him will just be a bonus. And here’s the best thing: your relationship with him will be glorious because God is the center of it.
Change of heart. I have to admit, going back to bad habits is tempting. It’s easier than making things right. But I learned that surrendering and change of habit should come with a change of heart. “Sometimes we fail to sustain the changes we’ve already started because there is only change of habit and no change of heart,” wrote Rica Peralejo in her devotional book Better than Jewels.
You see, it took me 18 years before I had a clearer vision of Him and of what I believe in. There are still struggling times, of course, but He always saves me through His unfailing graces, mercies, wonders, and love. He accepted me despite my pride and failures, and I believe He will do the same for you. We are loved and blessed.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” -Galatians 2:20
To everyone who has been a part of my spiritual journey, thank you very much.
Love and light,