You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. – Jeremiah 19:23
I was born into a staunchly Catholic family. Talk about faith and religion were common at the dinner table. We did everything that was required of a Catholic: Sunday mass, confession, abstaining and fasting during lent and even “misa de gallo” in Christmas season. My siblings and I even sang for Sunday masses as our own little choir during our college years. My eldest sister played the piano and my other sister and I sang. So, looking at that, you might automatically conclude that spiritually, we were on the right path.
In my family, academic achievements were always praised and often rewarded. My two older sisters blazed the trail. They were always getting honors in school. I, on the other hand was a slow-starting locomotive. I remember in grade three, I had a classmate that had exactly the same first name as me. Alejandro. Every quarter, the honor roll was announced in class. Somewhere between first and second honors, my teacher would read the name “Alejandro”. I would get so excited. Adrenaline pumped through my system, as I readied myself to receive my award. Finally, despite not studying, my genius finally shone through. Then, the very next second she would say the family name “Tanabe” and not “Lesaca.” And all that excitement would all come crashing down. I realized though that even back then, I wanted to achieve and get recognized for it.
It was not until college that I finally put in the necessary work to get honors. I was in the dean’s list every single semester. And I found my joy in this achievement. Getting into law school, finally graduating and passing the bar were feathers to put on my achievement cap. Working as a lawyer added to my happiness, not necessarily because I enjoyed the work but more because it was something I could be proud of. I worked as a court attorney under two Supreme Court justices, consecutively. It was indeed another feather on my cap.
That was how I was for a long time in my life. I felt like I did my duty and that I was a good boy because of my accomplishments. I thought my value depended on what I did and achieved. God was there and I prayed to Him so that I could attain my goals. It was His role in my life. I constantly prayed to Him, “Lord, help me to attain this, help me to reach that”. That was the extent of my prayers.
All this time, since my college days, my mom had a serious heart condition and diabetes. For years, we were in and out of the hospital, sometimes it took several months. At some point, taking care of my mom became so hectic that I could no longer hold down my job in the Supreme Court. I sadly filed my resignation and reluctantly gave up that achievement. Although it was done voluntarily, I found it very difficult to accept and assimilate it since it served as a source of achievement and pride for me. I knew in my mind that serving my mother was also very important. And I realized that God even placed the honoring of one’s parents immediately after the three commandments about our relationship with God. Somehow though, it remained a realization of the head and did not sink down into my heart. I found myself blaming my mother for her poor health and thus being the cause of my failure to pursue the legal profession. Though I never said this out loud to anyone, I repeated it often in my heart.
Year 2012, started off as a promising year. My mom’s health seemed to have finally stabilized. Though, she was not in the pink of health, we were able to care for her at home, with the help of 24-hour nursing. Since I didn’t need to be present to her all the time, I decided to start working again. I was taken under the wing of a lawyer who was so kind to allow me to learn and practice environmental law under his tutelage. It was a dream job since it was altruistic, cutting edge and the practice was both local and international. Within the first month on the job I was already being sent to Thailand to attend a regional NGO’s conference. Towards the end of the year, I was looking forward to a trip to Brazil to attend an international environmental conference. And, on top of that, I had a girlfriend, who I thought I was going to settle down with. My life seemed to be back on track.
In the middle of that year, my mom’s health took a turn for the worse. As a result, I was forced to leave that wonderful job to take care of her full time, again. Her health needs were rigorous. In less than a month, she passed on. Within 2 months from that, my girlfriend and I broke up. She was having quarter life crisis and was wanting to go away to pursue further studies in medicine. She wanted to maintain a long distance relationship. However, I was in no emotional state to deal with that kind of a relationship. So, within a matter of 3 months, I lost my job (again), my mother and my girlfriend.
I spent the remainder of the year and the succeeding one, being there for my father, who was deep in mourning. Without really thinking how I felt about it, I had decided not to go back to legal work because I saw that he really needed me. I helped out with the family business instead and dedicated my time and energy to helping my dad traverse the long, tricky road of mourning my mother’s death.
During that time, I constantly asked myself: should I leave my dad and return to law practice? For, after all, that dream job was still open and waiting for me. Every time I thought of and prayed about it, the answer was always, “no”. However, there was no inspiration at all as to what to do with my legal career. That was always a point of great anxiety and questioning. It constantly gnawed at me. It was a struggle between doing what I knew was right deep in my heart and doing what was practical and logical. It was difficult to give up that feather from my cap.
Losing my mom, a law practice and my girlfriend, left me feeling directionless. I was lost. I didn’t know what to do. For once in my life, there was no goal, no purpose and no achievement.
And so, I was floating…Aimlessly searching.
Until, one fateful day last year, I bumped into a college friend whom I hadn’t seen in many years. After our catch up chat, she invited me to attend a prayer meeting facilitated by the Living Hope Catholic Charismatic Community. I could not put my finger on it then but, there was something very different about her that day. Her presence felt lighter, brighter and peace giving. I was searching, so I said why not?
I attended prayer meeting that Friday. I liked it! Although, at that time, I found charismatic praise challenging, to say the least. I was particularly touched by the talk and the sharings that followed after. Being the devout and traditional Catholic I was, I didn’t realize how hungry I was for sensible and inspired reflections. Through the sharings, I saw how people tried to eke out their Christianity in this modern world and how God found them where they were. It was a vibrant Catholic community that had its heart in the right place. I didn’t realize how hungry I was for His word. I didn’t realize how hungry I was for Him.
That first prayer meeting started a small spark in my heart.
At first, I only wanted to attend when my friend would be there. For months it was like that. I was shy because I didn’t know anyone else other than her.
I don’t know what changed in me. Somehow, that little spark was now a flame. I hungered for more of Him. The hunger was now bigger than the shyness. So, even without my friend, I started to attend prayer meetings regularly. And that’s when I slowly saw my life and my relationships changing. The reading of God’s word, the talks, the sharings of fellow brothers and sisters, and the challenges for the week, and yes, even the charismatic praise, somehow changed my view on life. My weeks were now colored by these spiritual thoughts. Each Friday prayer meeting was an oasis for me, where I could eat and drink of God’s word. Where I could be filled with His truth. And the week that followed was the time for me to see God’s hand in everything around me and to apply all these new thoughts wherever I found myself.
God was changing me.
My prayers before Living Hope were 50/50. 50% for myself and 50% for others. When I started to attend prayer meetings regularly, I began praying so much more for others and less for myself. God was no longer my instrument for achievement. To my surprise, things seemed to get better. I slowly began finding peace with the portion that God had given me at this point in my life. I found myself doubting less and less that where I was and what I was doing was the right thing and that this was exactly where God wanted me to be. I no longer struggled with the thought of going back to that dream job. I was at peace losing that feather from my achievement cap. God had other plans, better plans for me.
God was acting in my life.
I saw changes in my father. His mourning seemed to lighten. He no longer needed to spend hours and hours everyday by the tomb of my mother. God gave him the grace to move on. And that was such a palpable blessing for me. God does listen and answers prayers.
Even if we were already a relatively a close knit and happy family, I saw how my family started to get even closer and more loving towards each other. We still have our small petty differences now and then, but the joy and warmth especially at Sunday lunches are very evident to me.
After attending prayer meetings regularly for months, my hunger for God’s presence became insatiable. I finally attended the Road To Damascus (RTD) retreat. My RTD retreat was long in coming. It was definitely worth the wait since God manifested Himself to me in a way I had never experienced before. I left the RTD on fire for Him.
Looking back on this part of my life journey, I have learned the following truths:
First, God loves me. More than I know. Even when my heart is not in the right place, even when it seems that my life is coming to ruin, He loves me.
Second, God has a plan for me. I may not have understood why all those things had to happen but now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see God’s loving hand in it all.
Third, God does the calling. In His time. In His way. I did not realize that seeing my college friend in the mall that day would start this forest fire in me. I was a practicing Catholic from my youth. I didn’t expect that this change would come into my life. But, God wanted me to go into a deeper and personal relationship with Him. No longer using Him as a tool for achievement or as a means to an end. He wanted me to see Him moving in my life and in the life of others. He wanted me to seek His will and not my own for my life.
Last, “the Lord gives and takes away”. (Job 1:22). God removed things from my life so that I could hear His call. He emptied me so that I realize that He is the only one that can fill and genuinely satisfy me. Not all these other things that I filled my life with. I now understand why I lost my mom, my career and my girlfriend at that time in my life. He had a plan. He wanted to give me more. He wanted to give me Himself. And if I was not emptied of all those things that occupied my life, I would not have realized Who it was that wanted to come in.