Lhei Jatap, 32, and Jhay, 35, were baptized Catholics but didn’t find any reason to attend the Mass because they thought, “We were complete by having each other.”
The two first met in December 2003 during the orientation of their first job in a call center in Ortigas.
They have a baby boy in heaven, Isaiah Emmanuel, whose passing they commemorate every year by spending time at the Grace To be Born, a home for pregnant women in crisis and their babies.
WHEN I was growing up, our family prayed the Angelus every day. I remember, we all knelt before our altar, and my mom led the Rosary, mumbling the prayer —in Spanish. I didn’t understand a word, so I couldn’t appreciate it. Besides, the daily ritual so disturbed my playtime, I simply detested it.
I am the youngest in the family, so Mom usually brought me along when she attended the Sunday Mass in our parish church.
My dad was an overseas contract worker and was only home on vacations.
When I was already in my teens, he retired. I wasn’t used to him being around all the time. He imposed some rules that I felt like he was restricting me. I rebelled silently.
One day, he suffered heat stroke and died. The family deeply mourned his sudden passing. I was sad and at the same time angry that he left us so soon. I remember, after his burial, every afternoon, I would get his pack of cigarettes and dare him to come and stop me from smoking.That went on for a month or two until I got tired asking questions about his death. Unfortunately, because of his sudden demise and funeral expenses, our monthly payments for our house that was on loan got delayed.
A fresh college graduate at the time, I felt lucky to have landed a job at a top advertising firm. It was every Marketing graduate’s dream to work there. But I had to give it up and find a high-paying job to help my mother settle our dues for the house. Otherwise, we would’ve been thrown out of our home.
In December 2003, I started working in a call center company to earn more money. Because of the stressful nature of my job, I learned to drink as a way to relax, have fun, and socialize.
My job took my mind off my woes. I worked hard and so every year, I got promoted. I attributed my success to myself – my skills, diligence, and expertise.
The higher I stepped up through the ranks, the farther I strayed away from God. The last time I was inside a church was in 2005, when I needed to pray for something.
But generally, I was on top of my career. So I thought, I could live without God.
Then I met Jhay.
My family lived a comfortable life but suffered financial setback by the time I was born.
We were so hard up, I had to save my school allowance so I could buy toys. There were times when I couldn’t join Boy Scout activities because my parents simply couldn’t afford the expenses.
In my young mind, I felt deprived, and I perceived that I was deprived because I was unwanted. Like, I was unaccepted because there must be something wrong with me.
And ultimately, I blamed God for creating me so imperfect. In hindsight, this deep resentment must be a reason I didn’t take my religion seriously.
I was baptized a Catholic, but I hardly practised my religion. Actually, I was confused about faith. You see, I went to a non-Catholic school, and the teachings there about religion were contrary to what I knew little about Catholicism.
Meanwhile, I got to continue my studies because an uncle kindly paid part of my schooling.But my uncle was not able to continue financing my studies because he got swindled by one of his business partners.
Fortunately, my sister promised to take care of my school expenses. And so, I took a certificate course in a technological school and later, found a job as an insurance encoder. But this would not last long.
In 2003, I was out of job. Today, I see losing my job as a blessing in disguise.
Finding out I wasn’t working, my cousin and some of her friends invited me to come along with them to apply for work in a call center in Ortigas.
Aside from giving me a hefty salary, the job presented me an added bonus. There, I met Lhei.
I first saw her on December 6, 2003, during our office orientation but we got introduced only on December 8.
Jhay: Shortly after we met, Lhei and I became a couple. Most of our life revolved around work. On Sundays, we were working, or catching up on sleep. Our relationship got stronger by the years. And soon, we felt we were both ready to move to the next level.
I proposed marriage to her.
Lhei: And I said yes.
But by the end of September in 2009, our relationship was put to a test at the onslaught of super Typhoon Ondoy.
Jhay: There was heavy flooding in Metro Manila, especially where I lived in Pasig City. My apartment was not spared. Water reached almost up to the ceiling.
It was terrible. I lost everything to the flood— all the stuff that I’d labored to possess, even my clothes. I had to buy new clothes to wear to the office. I spent all my money to buy basic necessities.
Lhei: I got frustrated. There we were planning our wedding and then, in one snap, Jhay was back to zero. I felt like it was useless to continue our relationship. It’s as if we were stuck and going nowhere. When are we ever going to get started again?
Jhay: We decided to cool it off for a week and see if we could actually stand being away from each other.
Lhei: But during our “cool off” period, we actually had lunch together daily.
Jhay: That’s when we realized, we’ve found our match, our #forever.
Lhei: So we pushed through with our plan to get married on December 8, 2009, without considering the cost and the short lead time to arrange it. We labored to get going again. We worked harder and soon, we got married.
Jhay: With just a little over a month of preparation, I still wonder now how we were able to raise P60,000 to pay for our civil wedding. To think our combined income in a month then was less than that figure.
I realize now that even when we hadn’t made peace with God yet, He was already blessing us and showing us a hint of what was up ahead.
Finding the Feast
Lhei: For about seven months before my wedding, a friend, Melissa Fernandez, a servant usher at The Feast in Valle Verde Country Club, Pasig City, had been inviting me to attend the prayer gathering.
In New Year of 2010, as Jhay and I just got married, we were so happy and grateful. So I thought why not check out this gathering Melissa had been nagging me about. Sort of a thanksgiving for all the wonderful things we were enjoying.
So I said “Yes” to Melissa, and I told Jhay about it.
Jhay: When my wife said we’d go to some feast, I really thought we were going to a partywith food and booze. So I quickly agreed.
But then, when Lhei and I stepped into Valle Verde Country Club, something stirred within me.
You see, my spiritual journey started way back in 2000 when I attended the Christian Life Program (CLP) of the Singles for Christ (SFC) in Laguna. At the time, I had a girlfriend—my first— who was into this spiritual thing. So I attended just to please her.
But during the 13 Sundays of the CLP, I learned so much about Jesus that I experienced a spiritual awakening. I was the only one in my batch who went through the CLP without any absences.
Then, my girlfriend and I broke up. Consequently, my relationship with God, then still in its infant stage, also went awry.
Now, at Feast Valle Verde, I suddenly felt God’s presence. The warm welcome of smiling ushers at the lobby, Bro. George Gabriel, then the worship leader of the second session, leading worship onstage, with his eyes closed, hand raised, one teardrop on his cheek, plus the heart-piercing music—all these rocked me to my core.
Then, the talk about God’s unconditional love, mercy, and forgiveness— the entire experience rekindled the sleeping spirit in me. It felt wonderful.
I told Lhei, “Let’s attend every Sunday!”
Lhei: I was glad I finally accepted my friend’s invitation. At The Feast that day, I learned that God loves me so much. I had a totally different picture of Him all the while. I never thought that He is that loving. That He blesses us with so much every day.
I must admit though that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around that teaching that God is a good provider. It took a while for it to really sink in my head.
Jhay: At first, Lhei couldn’t understand or believe the concept. I had to explain to her every teaching.
Lhei: I had to see proof. For me, all of these things should have a logical explanation. To see is to believe. And God showed me.
Back to the Church
Jhay: The Feasthas led us to God and our Catholic Faith.Attending the Holy Mass, we began to appreciate the Sacraments. We asked God for forgiveness that we had not been practising our religion, especially the Sacrament of Marriage.
So, in February, we decided to get married in Church. Initially, we wanted to hold the wedding later in December to give us time to save up for it and so that it’s on the same date we met and went through the civil rites. But because of the teachings at The Feast and her mom’s insistence, we set a sooner date— June 2010.
And since then, the blessings started to pour in one by one.
Lhei: We set our budget to P100,000 for the wedding expenses— the reception venue, the photographer, the hotel. Yet we wondered where we would get the funds that we needed.
Jhay:That’s true.You see, before we got married, were living from pay check to pay check. Most of the time, the pay check was already pawned for a loan that would sustain us through the next payday.
Then out of the blue, Citibank called up to say they can give me a personal loan of up to P85,000. I was so surprised and so happy. I knew God was behind it.
Lhei:Skeptical as I was, I asked, “Why didn’t He make it P100,000 instead?
Jhay: Then sometime before the wedding, on a Friday night, we needed to pay the photographer the next day, but we were out of cash. We didn’t know where to get the money. Lhei was throwing tantrums already.
Lhei: Not knowing what else to do, we decided to calm down and pray.
Jhay: After our prayer, my mom knocked on our bedroom door and said that one of our wedding principal sponsors called up to say she couldn’t attend the wedding. So she just sent us her gift.
Lhei: It was money— more than enough to pay our photographer.
Jhay: She could have sent us a check, which would have been a problem because we needed to wait for Monday to have it encashed. But God knew what we needed. Our ninang sent us cash.
Lhei: But still, I complained. I was like, “If God was going to bless us anyway, why wait the last minute?” Why not save us as well from worrying?”
I didn’t understand back then that while God wants to bless us, He also wants us to grow our Trust in Him.
Jhay: Pretty much the same thing happened when we needed to pay for the venue. We were at our wit’s end, not knowing where to get money for the down payment.
Lhei: We were already fighting. But eventually, we got down on our knees and prayed.
Jhay:Then my best friend Marcus called up saying that his dad who’s one of our principal sponsors is asking if we could see him in his house.
Our ninong told us that by the time of our wedding he’d be flying to China to get an operation done. He wanted to congratulate us and give his gift to us personally.
Lhei: We couldn’t believe our eyes when he handed us his gift— a generous amount of cash.
Jhay: We were able to give the down payment for the venue.
Lhei: But still, I asked, “Why not sooner? Why not send us the money in advance? Save us the trouble of worrying and fighting.”
Jhay: On our wedding day, we had zero cash on hand. We didn’t know where to get the money to pay for our other wedding bills.
Lhei: When we counted all the bills and our cash gifts, we were relieved because we received cash gifts more than enough for payment of our bills. We even got to afford to go on a date.
Jhay: We were also able to extend our hotel stay. I thought, wow! Incredible. God is so good! But Lhei was not impressed.
Lhei: I was still not convinced. But as we faithfully attended The Feast, after listening to the teachings, I realized how materialistic I was — how much money had become my security blanket— when I should have mustered instead enough faith in God and His best plan for me.
Hearing God’s Words, I began to understand and accept His love and His goodness.
Call To Serve
Jhay: The more I went to The Feast, the more the roots of faith planted in my heart during my first CLP seminar gained ground and were growing deeper and deeper.
I felt my heart was overflowing with love for God and I could hardly contain it. I wanted to serve at The Feast.
Lhei: This time, we were already attending The Feast being held at the Philippine International Convention Centre (PICC). So, we signed up for a Light Group and we eventually became LG heads. We went through the leadership program to prepare us to be LG heads.
Jhay: We were so fired up with the love of God. We said “yes” to all invitations and opportunities to serve the Lord.
Lhei: We found ourselves joining the The Feast Secretariat, not knowing exactly what we were getting into.
Jhay: At the same time, Bro. Danny Pasa, co-leader of the Liturgical Ministry, of the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHC) asked if I wanted to become a lay minister. I said, “Yes!”
Lhei: We also joined the Media Ministry, then the Creative Events Group (CEG) with Bro. Mike Vinas and Bo. Audee Villaraza.
In 2011, Bro. Audee, head of CEG, asked us to serve as head of the ministry.
We said “Yes!”
Three years later, the CEG was merged with other groups, so we joined another ministry— the Servant Resources and Development Ministry (SRDM) through the initiation of its head, Sis. Ruth Collantes.
Jhay: All these years, I realized that every time I stepped up in my service in my faith community, the Lord would in turn bless me in my career. That my career is a reflection of my service.
I distinctly remember that on my first Sunday to serve at the Liturgical Ministry, I was asked to wear black formal pants, white button-down shirt and black shoes. I wore only casual clothes, even in the office, so I didn’t have any formal wear in my closet. I had to buy new ones. I needed P2,500 for the items.
Lhei: I complained and said, “Why do you have to spend P2,500 just to be able to serve? That’s too much.”
Jhay: But later, before I was installed as a lay minister, I got promoted and received a salary increase which was P2,500!
And so I told Lhei, “See how generous God is? I spent P2,500 only one time, but He’s giving it back to me every month.”
Lhei: It’s really amazing!
Jhay: When Lhei and I agreed to lead CEG, I got promoted at work— again a huge break for me. You see, to deserve the promotion, it was not enough that you are an efficient worker. The job calls for a college degree. I only finished a certificate course. But, with God, truly, nothing is impossible. The company gave me the post.
Lhei: How else will you explain that?
Jhay: Last year, when we said yes to SRDM, I was pirated by an international investment bank. I was given a generous compensation package that allowed us to purchase this house and lot in Binangonan, Rizal.
Lhei: It’s a two-storey house near my mother’s house.
Jhay: Not everything was smooth sailing though. In September 2012, at the height of our spiritual renewal and service, our faith was tested.
Lhei: Atthe time, we were already two years married, but still we weren’t blessed with a child. Then in mid-2012, I got pregnant. We were so ecstatic, we practically announced the good news to the whole world. And everybody was so happy for us.
Jhay: But our joy was cut short. Lhei suffered severe stomach pains so I brought her to the hospital. The doctor told us that the baby was coming out premature— at 14 weeks— and nothing could be done to stop the miscarriage.
Lhei: It was difficult to accept but what could I do but surrender to His will?
Jhay: I was more devastated than her. I got mad at God. I told Him, “I deserve this miracle, I deserve this baby. Why won’t You give this to me?”
In my grief, I didn’t know I dialed Bro. Audee’s office phone number. Thank God, he answered. That was a crucial moment. I don’t know what would have happened to me if I didn’t get to speak to him that time.
Over the phone, Bro. Audee comforted me, as I just walked around the hospital. When we finished talking, I found myself in front of the chapel. I stayed there, continuing to pour out my woes to God.
And as if to manifest that He heard me in this trying time, God came to me through Bro. Audee and the members of the CEG who visited us in the hospital that evening. If it weren’t for the love and support that they showed us, I would’ve probably reverted back to my previous lifestyle— a life without God.
But just the same, my ill feelings against God didn’t instantly go away. Harboring the resentments, I went back to my Feast service— but without the passion I felt earlier. I just went through the rudiments of my service.
Sometimes, I didn’t attend praise and worship, didn’t listen to the talks. I delighted in the fact that there were times when on Sundays, I was so busy with ministry work that I wouldn’t be able to attend the Feast proper.
I hardly prayed for more than two years. I couldn’t. I was hurting inside. The loss of our baby was too hard to take.
Lhei: I was hurting myself. And it was more painful seeing Jhay aching so much too.
But God never let us go. During Holy Week of 2015, we got to attend The Feast’s Holy Week retreat. And there, we were able to accept our fate.
Jhay: During the retreat, I talked to God again. I realized that no matter how you try to go away from God, He won’t let you go astray. You can’t go far away from Him. He will always be there, near you, beside you, with you.
And He’s such a good sport. He could’ve struck me down with lightning when I started acting up, throwing tantrums at Him, hating Him. But He’s such a loving God. He just took them all in — all my anger and hatred directed to Him. And when I was already okay, He just accepted me as if nothing happened.
Lhei: Thanks to The Feast, I have learned to surrender it all to our Almighty God. For He has got us covered. He knows what’s best for us.
I am more patient now and I’ve also become prayerful, especially during the times when Jhay was hurting. I prayed hard for his inner healing.
Jhay: I’m also more patient now. Our marriage is stronger because it is anchored in Christ. Even before going to The Feast, we had as our motto, Walang bibitaw or No letting go. But now, our motto is No letting go of each other and Jesus.
My wife’s prayers for me worked. If it weren’t for her prayers, I don’t know what would’ve happened to me.
Lhei: It’s good that we have an amazing God, who loves us unconditionally, who thinks of us every moment, every day, and wants to be with us now and forever.
Jhay: And thank God we found The Feast that teaches us all these things and guides us to live a life that is centered on God.