Rowena Grace Lizarda, 41, works as territory sales manager for a meat processing company and is also a business owner.
She is married to Jayson, a regional sales manager for a global company distributing consumer products. They have a teenage son. The couple separated in 2013.
Then later, their son met an accident. The unfortunate incident turned out to be a blessing in disguise. For it brought Rowena and Jayson back together in 2015 and led Rowena back to the Catholic Church.
My mother was my father’s second wife. I am their only child. We are my father’s second family.
As far as I can remember, my father lived with us in a house not too far away from his first family. Once in a while, my Dad took me with him when he visited his children. They were friendly to me, I had no problem with them.
Sadly, when I was but 14 years old, Mom suffered cardiac arrest and died— the first of three major tragedies of my life.
Dad, a geodetic engineer by profession, did not have a regular income. For practical reasons, we had to live with his first family a few years later.
Soon, it was time for me to go to college. I didn’t want to be a burden to my father’s family, so I worked as promo girl even in summers to get by— until I earned a Bachelor of Science degree.
After graduation, I easily got myself a job as sales coordinator for a well-known international hair brand. I worked myself up the corporate ladder.
At the time, my father was already suffering a lung disease. With my good salary, I was able to pay for his medical needs.
In 1994, some tension in the house rose to an unhealthy level so I decided to stay away. With a heavy heart, I left my old father to the care of my siblings.
I went to live with my cousins in Biñan, Laguna. There I met Jayson. We became friends, and a year after, we were already a couple. On July 26, 1997, we got married.
In the following years, I suffered two more major tragedies.
First, I lost my father. He had to go to the United States to get treatment for lung cancer— to no avail. He died there. I didn’t get to see him before he was buried. It was devastating, to say the least.
Second, my marriage collapsed.
Jayson and I were only in our early 20s when we got married. We weren’t really prepared for the challenges that marriage beset us.
We were blessed with a child. But even with such a gift, we could not reconcile our differences.
For one, we had contrasting religious persuasions. My husband grew up in a Catholic family. They were regular churchgoers. Jason even served as an altar boy.
I, on the other hand, hardly had a religious life to speak of. I was baptized Catholic but I rarely went to church. When I grew up, I only went when I felt like it.
When we started having marital problems, Jason suggested that I try out with him the Parish Renewal Experience (PREX) program of our parish church. I did. Later, we also attended a couples retreat of the Marriage Encounter group. But I guess, our problems had become so complicated, we couldn’t be helped by such programs.
Our arguments continued and in July 2013, Jayson and I agreed to separate ways.
I thought to myself, “I can carry on with life without a husband. I managed well enough without a mother and a father, didn’t I? At least, I have my son with me.”
The moment Jayson stepped out of our house, we didn’t speak to each other anymore.
He kept close to our son, however. He invited our son to go to Mass with him, and our son went with him once in a while. The boy told me his father asked him to invite me to go with them. I declined.
I also learned through our son that Jayson was attending this prayer gathering called The Feast.
“Dad is inviting us to The Feast,” he said.
I just shrugged my shoulders.
From time to time, our son attended The Feast with his father.
One time, my son came home with a souvenir photo— he and his father at The Feast.
Unimpressed, and even irritated, I cut out the photo of Jayson and threw it away, keeping only our son’s picture.
Finding The Feast
In May 2015, our son figured in an accident. He and a friend were riding his motorbike when they lost balance and crashed on the pavement, just a couple of blocks from our place.
Some neighbours who witnessed the accident called me and I rushed to my son. I gasped, gripped with fear, as I saw my son bloodied on the ground. The thought of losing him was unbearable.
Neighbors helped me to get him to the hospital. And as doctors attended to him, I prayed my hardest that day.
I thought of calling up Jayson but hesitated, given our situation. But I realized he is my son’s father after all, and my son needed his father that moment.
So, I called Jayson up and he came to the hospital right away.
Our son sustained an ugly gash on his chin so he had to undergo operation to stitch it up. He was confined for seven days. All those days, Jayson and I took turns to care for our son. Seeing him showing love for son made me think of what our son said the previous week…
He said, “Mom, I envy my friends and their family who go to church and spend time together on Sundays. Can’t we be a family again?”
When our son was out of harm’s way, Jayson again asked that we go to this prayer gathering. This time, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I thought maybe it was about time I gave us a chance.
My first experience at The Feast Bay Area was at Aliw Theater. I’d never been to anything like it. The worship, the Holy Mass and the talk, simply reduced me to tears as through them all, I felt God’s Presence, His love, mercy and compassion. I felt my heart was saying, “I belong here. This is my home.”
All these years, all the hurt I had gone through in life, I just kept them all in my heart, buried deep. That day, I felt God comforting me, soothing me, healing me, to the point that I just let go of all the negativities in my heart. And then I felt lighter, liberated. As if a dark cloud that had constantly been over my head was blown away. What a wonderful feeling!
Afterwards, Jayson and I had a heart-to-heart talk. It was not easy. All the hurt from the past came back but in the end, we reconciled and chose to give ourselves another chance. This time, we knew better and we invited Jesus to be in the center of our marriage.
Today, we continue to work things out between us as we go on with life together.
I am beginning to view life differently now. I used to think that having gone through hardships in life, I could do anything by myself through sheer hard work and perseverance. At The Feast, I realized my strategy was off. I went for the wrong things. I went after material things — beautiful home and a car— to feel happy. I splurged on expensive shoes and bags and latest gadgets.
Now, I just want a simple life. I don’t want gifts for myself anymore. I prefer to give to others and spend time especially with the less fortunate, in homes for the aged and orphanages.
When Jayson and I separated, I even got addicted to gambling, spending nights at a casino. It made me happy to squander my month’s salary in one night. But still all I felt was emptiness deep inside me.
I realize now that God is all that I need. He’s the one thing I’ve been missing in my life all along.
Back to The Church
In the past, I used to get bored while attending the Mass and I couldn’t wait for it to finish. Now, I savor the Mass. I hunger for God’s Word. I get excited every Sunday at The Feast, and I can’t wait to hear Mass, listen to the talks, and praise and worship God. Rain or shine, my family attends The Feast. No typhoon can stop us from going to the Bay Area.
I like it that after the Mass, we get to hear practical teaching on being good Catholics in layman’s terms. I don’t just appreciate my faith now, I also appreciate life. I’ve realized life is good. Life is beautiful and worth living.
Now that I have God in me, in my marriage, in my family life, everything is all right. All that I want I already have -– my husband and my son.