Monday, February 3, 2020

Wasting Time Gracefully with HIM

A Facebook memory came up today indicating that exactly 9 years ago, I went back to working full-time as a lay missionary (note to self: inform HR to correct my work anniversary date ;) ).  How appropriate because I do remember going back to mission work for one reason: to work for the renewal of the family and the defense of life.  And as we begin Pro-life month this February, allow me to share my journey as a Pro-life missionary and why even if the world thinks I have wasted my time, talent and treasure on this kind of life, I believe it is otherwise.

Last January, HR informed me that I was celebrating my 9th year as a lay missionary.  Because of that announcement, one of my younger colleagues asked me how many years in total I have been serving full-time for the mission.  You see, I actually first became a lay missionary in 2001 and 2 years prior to that, I was already a mission volunteer.  I served in the kids ministry for 3 years before I resigned and decided to shift to a teaching career in 2004.  It had been my dream to become a teacher since I was 7 years old and the opportunity came at the perfect moment. At that time, I felt so much peace being able to serve the Lord as a Christian Living teacher to 3rd and 6th graders and a Music teacher for 3rd to 6th grade. It was just like giving talks, teaching songs and facilitating activities for kids but this time, it was situated in a classroom.  I was happy sharing my love for Christ and my experience as a missionary to my pupils.  I felt immensely blessed to have been given that chance to share about how real God's love truly is. But after one and a half years, I felt a stirring in my heart and heard the Lord calling me back.  This time, I was invited to go on mission abroad.  

In June 2005, I was sent as a missionary to India and spent six months of my life there.  That mission trip was deeply humbling for it brought me to my limits.  God called me to go out of my comfort zone and take that giant leap of faith, in the midst of all the fear and uncertainty, trusting only in His plans.  Needless to say, God brought me to my knees many times while I was there and He spoke to me with so much love throughout that entire experience.

After I came back to the Philippines, I continued to work in the youth ministry until I got engaged in August of 2006.  At that point, I was tapped to serve in our community's Pro-life ministry.  I remember being enriched in Pro-life formation ever since I was in high school learning about the gift of life and the value of each person by virtue of his human dignity; attending seminars on chastity and sexuality education for teenagers. Which is why, I felt so much peace, once again, when I was called to serve in this advocacy work that same year.

I continued on as a lay missionary for about a year.  In that time, I got married and a month after our wedding, found out that I was pregnant. However, I lost my baby and spent months of healing, recuperation and soul-searching.  During that time, I decided to resign from full-time work (again), take the necessary rest that I needed and continue to discern and pray about God's plan for my life, now that I was married and struggling with my husband, to start our own family.

I began to volunteer part-time for an NGO and was involved in training, formation and program development.  The work that I was tasked to do still involved Pro-life work (Chastity formation for the youth and Natural Family Planning and Responsible Parenthood for parents).  As I went about my assigned responsibilities, I continued to spend more time in prayer, asking God to make me sensitive to His promptings and to lead me to the path that He had set for me. I would feel hopelessness and despair at times. Other times, I would feel loneliness and confusion.  But I continued to hold on to His promise and kept moving forward in my prayers and intentions.

At the tail end of 2008, I found out that I was pregnant once again.  But that joy was short-lived because right at the beginning of 2009, I lost my child again. I came to a point of surrender and asked the Lord to take all the love that I had in my heart and use it for whatever plans He had for me, my husband, and the family we longed to build. 

That year, I went back to teaching, but this time, only part-time.  I was assigned to teach Music and Health Education to high school students, where I was given the opportunity to tackle topics such as chastity and sexuality education, love and relationships, marriage and family dynamics. In that same year, I also enrolled in graduate school.  I wanted to choose a Masters degree that would help me enhance my knowledge in the Family and Life ministry but couldn't find a local program that would fit into my schedule and my financial capabilities.  The best course for me, as recommended by my university-assigned adviser, was a course in Educational Psychology with cognates in Family Life and Child Development. I continued to pray that the Lord would use this opportunity to mold me into a better educator, lay missionary and Pro-life worker for Him.  

In that same year, my husband and I were blessed with our daughter.  I cherished every moment as a parent and took my new role as a mother to heart.  I continued to pray to God for His constant guidance and asked Him to open up opportunities that would lead me even closer to Him, His plans for me and for the family that He had blessed me with.  In 2011, during our lay community's January conference, I felt the Lord speaking clearly and directly to my heart, prompting me to go back to the lay missionary life, as a Pro-life warrior.

It's been 9 years since then.  In that time, I made my way through real-life challenges as a mother and a wife, struggled to finish my coursework and thesis as a graduate student and went through so many roller coaster rides as a lay missionary. Some people would say that I probably wasted my time not focussing on building a career for myself.  It's been almost 19 years since I graduated from college.  Fifteen of those years in total were spent responding to His call to lay down my life for the mission. The remaining four were spent in teaching and formation, but in constant communication with the Holy Spirit that I would be sensitive to His leading. 

It is in mission work where I found peace.  It is here where I found love. I had my own share of trials and difficulties but I strived to get back up and find my way, each time I fell down or got distracted, constantly reminding myself to trust that the Lord has plans for me to prosper and not be harmed.  I have been given many opportunities to serve Him and many chances to share His love to people from all walks of life because of this ministry. I met my husband in mission work - a man who is totally different from me but who is also totally in love with the Lord just like me.  I am blessed to be raising my daughter in this kind of support environment, experiencing a real sense of community, sharing the same faith, striving for holiness despite our sinfulness and constantly responding to whatever new challenge the Lord sets before us. As a missionary, I learned to become the kind of person that I am - imperfect but persevering to work on my flaws, relying on Christ who strengthens me. I would not want it any other way. 

I am now waiting to graduate from my master's program and I am also currently taking a 6-month certificate course in Family Life Education, which I was given the opportunity (and the scholarship) to enroll in.  I am constantly being blessed to share everything that I have learned and experienced with others - young and old alike in different situations and settings - in parishes, schools and organizations. My daughter is turning 11 this year and my husband and I will be married for 13 years this coming May.  This year, I am also celebrating my 40th birthday.

Many people my age may have already accomplished so much more than I have. Even more may have probably built and established themselves, cementing their place in the world. In the eyes of many, I may have 'wasted' all this time. But yesterday's gospel reminded me otherwise.  The prophet Anna in the Gospel, waited in the temple for the Messiah.  She became a widow at 21 and until she died at the age of 84, she spent all her time in prayer. The Lord's presentation at the temple was the culmination of her many years in prayer and service. Our parish priest, Fr. Roland Jaluag reminded me in his homily yesterday that no matter what the world will say about how much time we spend in prayer, discernment and in the service of the Lord, it's not 'wasted' if we were able to spend it gracefully with Him.