Bel Amante Aurelio
‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ – Jeremiah 29:11
The year 2015 marked the 11th year from the day I had my Road To Damascus (RTD), a retreat facilitated by the Living Hope Catholic Charismatic Community.
My first exposure to the renewal movement was when I was 19 years old. I was invited by one of my neighbors to attend PREX (Parish Renewal Experience). It was really a memorable experience for me. But because I was a medical student at that time, my studies took priority over everything else. I never got the chance to attend any of their prayer meetings. Three years later, I found myself broken-hearted. I began to actively search for a community again. Another friend was kind enough to invite me to her community. After attending 3 prayer meetings, I felt like it was not the right fit for me. Meanwhile, I hung out with friends from Opus Dei. I remember that they were very prayerful and faithful to Catholic teachings. But time passed and I found myself going to fewer Opus Dei activities, until my friends and I graduated from medical school and we pursued different specialties. Still, I did not cease being a “seeker.” In early 2004, Julius (my fiancé then) and I were invited to a charismatic community of young people. We attended their retreat. However, for some reason, we did not find ourselves coming back to this community.
Then, in September 2004, I was invited to attend a prayer meeting conducted by Living Hope Catholic Charismatic Community. Ever since, we looked forward to each and every prayer meeting. We even found ourselves adjusting our schedules so we would be present every time. We knew then that we have finally found our home.
At the time I attended the RTD back in 2004, I felt like everything was going well in my life: I was about to get married in a year, and was just offered another year to be the Pediatric chief resident at UP-PGH. At that point, I really did not want to ask God for anything more, but in the middle of my personal prayers during the retreat, the image of a vast, calm, blue sea slowly unfolded before me. The sun was in what I could best describe as a state of “suspended sunset” over the horizon. I focused on this image and I remember feeling peaceful. I don’t remember sharing that vision to anyone. (I did not even know it was a vision, until much later). To my simple understanding, it was just God’s way to answer my prayer at that moment, to silence my mind and heart. Focusing on that image helped me to forget all my other thoughts and apprehensions. Needless to say, I did not think much of it until years later, when Julius and I were already living in the Cayman Islands. It was 2010 and we had a community retreat facilitated by one of the Living Hope founders who instructed us to “pray by memory.” As I spent time alone in my sacred space, my prayer brought back the image of the vision that I had already forgotten all these years. It was as clear as the day I first received it. I caught my breath, had goosebumps and felt that God delivered me a message at that brief moment. I realized that the vision was both a promise and a purpose—a promise to where He would bring me and my husband to start our own family, and a mission for us to establish our spiritual family in Cayman.
As I watch another beautiful Caribbean sunset, I remember that vision. I praise and thank the Lord for His promises are ever with me. God has taught me valuable life lessons throughout 11 years of life in community and 10 years of married life. By opening my eyes to a life in community, He showed me what I had been missing and eventually could not do without. By giving me my better half, Julius, He taught me that I will always have someone to share my faith journey with, especially when the road gets bumpy. By blessing us with 3 adorable children and an army of 4 angels in heaven, He allowed me to feel what unconditional love is. He has given me conviction to advocate for life and to be genuine first teachers to our children about God. In my inability to practice my original profession, God revealed to me my higher calling, and He proved that all things work for good for His purpose. By being a co-founder of the Cayman community only a year after Julius and I joined Living Hope Manila, God taught me that He indeed uses ordinary people to execute His extraordinary plans. Who would have thought that neophytes in community like us can take on such a daunting task? But truly, nothing is impossible with Him who is able to equip whom He calls!
By being part of the music ministry of the community, He has taught me what it truly means to worship with abandon. This is especially true during my most difficult worship experience. This was the time that I had to lead praise and worship on the very day that I found out that we lost our baby. By serving both my family and the community, He continues to show me that the most fulfilling things in life that give me profound happiness are devoid of glamour and prestige.
I thank God that the seed He planted in my heart more than eleven years ago has indeed grown. He continues to prune me and nourish me. Even through my weakness, He remains to be faithful. I am always overwhelmed when I reflect on His great love for me and my family. “For great is His steadfast love toward us; and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 117:2)