Lila is a pseudonym for a lady who struggled through a difficult childhood. Names of others involved in her story were also changed.
Lila’s family was rarely complete because her father worked as an overseas Filipino worker (OFW). She remembers going to church only a few times— when her father took her and her younger sister Angela. Whenever they did, Lila looked forward to climbing up the belfry, dropping coins during the Offertory, and eating out afterwards. Those were the happy memories.
She couldn’t say the same for the rest of her childhood days. One particular incident remains a blur in her mind, the time when her younger sister Angela got molested.
My father is my mother’s third husband. I remember, about the time I was five years old, there were four of us siblings living with our mother: Ate Nora, a half-sister from mom’s first partner; Kuya Dong, a half-brother from her second; and my younger sister Angela and me.
My dad took in my half-siblings and provided for all of us. I didn’t find the set-up odd and thought having a blended family was no big deal. We led a simple life.
Growing up, I didn’t see much of my father. He worked abroad as an OFW. To help out in the household expense, my mother plied goods at the pier and left my younger sister and me under the care of Ate Nora, or a distant relative who lived nearby, like Lolo Badong.
One time, Ate Nora left us by ourselves and next thing I knew, Angela, then only 3 years old, was beside herself crying aloud. Neighbors came around and started asking me questions. Rattled, I didn’t know what to tell them.
Later, Mom sued Lolo Badong, accusing him of sexually abusing Angela, fighting him tooth and nail. After seven years of trial, he was put behind bars.
Since that wretched incident happened, life seemed harder. Mom was constantly angry.
Soon, Angela showed signs of autism, and she also suffered epilepsy. I heard talk about the cause of her ailment—like my mom was taking doses of cough syrup while she was pregnant with Angela.
I found out later that my mother was addicted not just to cough syrup, but to some illegal drugs as well. I knew— because I watched her and her friends enjoying pot sessions at home. Sometimes, I found her drug paraphernalia in the bathroom.
Mom also gambled. She played bingo with the neighbors.
I suppose that was her way of coping with what happened to Angela. But that was not all that she had to contend with.
I guess with this what you might call dysfunctional family, there was hardly a chance my older siblings would turn out all right.
They didn’t finish their studies. So Kuya Dong could not hold a job.
Ate Nora, meanwhile, got pregnant out of wedlock. With her baby boy, she left us and lived with her partner. Soon, they got married but separated later, and Ate came back to us with her son.
With my father away, and my mother and older sibs in such a mess, I knew I would be the only one who had to take care of Angela. Just me.
Okay, as a child I didn’t really know much about God or asking help from Him. We were Catholics — but with our sorry situation, obviously, I didn’t learn much about my faith.
But I would not be alone in my darkest hours. God had seen me through it all, sending me angels to guard and guide me as I was growing up.
First, there was this van that came to our neighborhood every so often, with a couple of missionaries who told us Bible stories. I liked studying so I enjoyed the Bible sessions. Besides, the missionaries gave away prizes —like cookies in decorative tin cans.
The Bible lessons kindled a spark of faith in me that on my own, I went to church and attended Mass.
Second, during my teens, there was this high school classmate of mine who was a member of the Youth Ministry and served as lector in church. I liked the lectors’ all-white uniform so I joined her in church and soon I started training to be a lector too.
But alas, my friend and I had an argument so I stopped my training and stopped attending church altogether.
I have a cousin— Deena— who is a member of a non-Catholic sect. She gushed about the sect’s television program, so I watched it, and I got hooked.
Distraught, feeling empty, I easily found solace in the sect’s church service, so I wanted to be baptized in this religion.
But my mom, for all her flaws, won’t hear of my plan.
A relative of mine, however, told me, “Do not obey your parents if you think they are not good role models.”
We may not be good Catholics, but I guess we have somehow imbibed age-old Church teachings about consequences of straying away from our religion.
So, on her bidding for me to remain a Catholic, I obeyed my mother.
I guess God also wanted me to remain Catholic. Because it happened that cousin Deena and her family left our place and lived in the province. So, without Deena, I eventually lost interest in her religion.
Still, I felt lonely, incomplete, longing for a relief from my emptiness.
Finding The Feast
I went to college.
By God’s grace, I got into a wholesome group of friends who, instead of gimmicks during our free time, preferred to hold Bible studies. So, I’d been fairly a good girl during my college days.
For one, I did well in school, even receiving academic recognitions.
And I didn’t entertain suitors. From my Bible sessions, I learned that the right man for me is looking for the right woman and so, I had to be the right woman. Among other traits, I had to stay pure and I even took the vow of chastity during a Christian event.
After college, I started working in a multi-national company.
One day in January 2011, one of my closest friends invited me to attend The Feast Bay Area being held at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC).
I went with her. Amid the crowd of the Feast Bay Area I felt odd, especially during the Worship time. Raising hands. Do I really have to do that?
Anyway, I kept going back and became a regular.
But, deep in my heart, I had a confession, a prayer to God.
I think as a defense against my difficult life, I must have taught myself to be strong, to the point of being stoic— containing my feelings to be able to endure my ordeal.
I couldn’t feel God’s presence during the Mass, during praise and worship. I couldn’t feel Him in my heart. I knew I love Jesus but I didn’t feel His love. I felt empty inside. I didn’t know why.
And so, I cried, “Lord, send me someone to teach me to feel you physically, to feel you personally.”
Then came Bien –a sweet guy I met in my office. He comes from a decent family.
Angela and my mother liked him at once. It was a different case for my dad though. My mom had to talk to him to allow Bien to court me.
I’d set a high standard for my suitors. I turned Bien down twice but he was persistent. In time, he met, and even exceeded, my requirements for a boyfriend.
For unlike me, he was expressive of his emotions— especially his love for me and his family.
Back to the Church
God indeed was always with me even in my sordid surroundings. I’m glad He protected me from harm. He took my hand and patiently led me back to the Catholic Church. He taught me how to love through the people who love me, like Bien and other friends, who are now my regular companions to Feast Bay Area.
At The Feast, I learned about God’s unconditional love for me, and soon, I had no more reason not to love Him back and give my life to Him.
Now, I attend the Mass regularly. I even serve at the First-Timers Ministry of the Feast Bay Area.
The Lord, the same God who blessed me with academic recognition, good job, material and spiritual rewards, a loving community, Bien, and a caring family despite their imperfections, is not finished with me yet. I know He has a lot of good things in store for me and Bien, who is now my boyfriend.