I Was Supposed to Say Goodbye

Cliche as it sounds, we learn the most valuable lessons in times of difficulty.

The past two years, most specifically the past few months, were the hardest times for me.

Ticking off a few from the checklist of life’s dagok (strikes) are (in no particular order):

  • Heartbreak
  • Finished the rigorous medical school training (sleep-deprived, food-deprived, pressure to excel, some difficult people to deal with)
  • Presented a paper for an international medical schools conference
  • Volunteered for an NGO, got a pretty good case of how it is to be culture-shocked
  • Gave my all for Milk Matters and various service activities (pawis, luha, dugo) (blood, sweat and tears)
  • Contracted a debilitating pulmonary tuberculosis
  • Got me a good scolding from the parents for not taking better care of my health
  • Struggle to support myself financially
  • Letting go of some relationships
  • Pre-residency in UP PGH Pediatrics (repeat pattern of sleep deprivation and skipped meals)

Come to think of it, what I thought were strike outs– heartbreak, rigorous medical milestones for a student becoming a doctor, an infectious disease– were, in reality, God’s blessings. Looking at some of my difficult experiences, I realized that blessings and burdens are actually two sides of the same coin.

I was a bit baffled as I was listing the experiences above ,realizing I cannot set a definite demarcation between blessings and burdens. That I cannot just compartmentalize burdens to just that: a purely negative experience. No, they’re not. Burdens are actually blessings waiting to be learned from.

I can only say this in retrospect. I needed time and the grace to be changed for the better to see and believe.

As an imperfect human being (thank God for this realization), I wish I could say I’ve learned this blessing-in-a-disguise-of-burden as I was undergoing the dark phases of my life. Looking back, if I hadn’t really held on to God, hindi ko alam kung saan ako pupulutin ni Lord. And if I had let go of His Hand, as I was tempted to and did let go several times, He still held me.

What a faithful Being.

I was supposed to say goodbye to some of God’s gifts to me: my sorority sisters, my precious relationships with friends (brothers and sisters), my community…

The severity of the pain was blinding. I was tempted to let go and just leave the people who love me.

But God stayed. God wouldn’t let me go. And that gave me the safe and secure space to hold on to Him as well. I was safe and secure in His love for me.

I was supposed to say goodbye. But God has other plans for me. Better plans for me.

I would hold on to His promises. For I know the plans for you says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

PS. By saying goodbye, I do not mean to end my life. It was a way of staying away from some relationships.

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Pulling up by the bootstraps

I am in transition.

There are a lot of changes as I enter this new chapter of my life:

  • A new job (Pediatrics residency)
  • A new set of people to work with
  • A new environment with a familiar culture
  • A new condo unit with new roomies
  • A new district in Ligaya (a Catholic community) *
  • A new set of friendships to discover
  • A new way of lifestyle, particularly in taking care of my health (I have TB, ongoing treatment)

And, most importantly, a stronger and refreshed Gela whose identity in the Lord has been renewed after undergoing a formidable challenge.

In a lot of ways this feels like an early New Year for me. The kind when I look forward to a future brimming with hope and suffused with dreams. And, inevitably, I look back to the recent past that is pockmarked by hurts here and there, and mistakes that, if given another chance, I would best think twice before doing.

Buti nalang may Diyos na mapagpatawad, kahit hirap ako dun. (It’s a good thing the Lord is forgiving, despite my struggle in that area.)

Truth is, as I look back, instead of inwardly punishing myself like before, I am now more hopeful. More hopeful that I change for the better. I am trying to change for the better. And by changing for the better I mean:

  • Learning to receive and live the love that I have come to know in depth because of the Lord
  • Learning to love myself more by being rooted in God’s identity for me
  • Taking good care of the relationships God has given me and will give me (this is one of the most important!)
  • Being a good and kind friend to myself and to others
  • Showing my family how much I love them
  • Accepting my weaknesses and limitations, repent of my sins
  • Accepting the realities of life that sometimes, what we hoped for wouldn’t turn out the way we expected it to be
  • Accepting the reality that good friendships can be lost, and in the hopelessness of trying to reconcile again, just surrender it to God (this is why bullet #3 is important)
  • Forgiving and letting go. That way I am doing myself a big favor by allowing more room for love.
  • New goals for myself! I am very inspired to be accepted in my top (and only) choice for residency training. I am aiming for research, acing exams, honing my communication skills and being a compassionate Pediatrician
  • I am hopeful for my renewed desire to commit to Ligaya and further investigate its way of life
  • To train my eyes to see the good in people and in circumstances (and thank the Lord for them)

Overall, the goal is to continue having a heart being transformed by God into the woman I am made to be in whatever role I currently take on.

One night as I lay in bed, I counted these new changes and felt overwhelmed. I was on the verge of crying. Not tears of joy, but of anxiety. In my mind I saw myself jumping off a cliff’s edge, trusting I would land on solid ground that I did not see. It was scary.

But thanks to the grace of being able to stand in the strength of the Lord. These changes are for my good. They are His best plans. Though I do not yet see the whole map, I am willing to take the first few steps to wherever these changes are leading me. That entails having the Lord as my sole source of stability and strength.

Here’s to pulling myself up by the bootstraps!

I pray for spiritual and emotional maturity. Please pray for me. 🙂

*A good friend told me these changes are not sure yet. But, I am including it just because it is a potential change.

Love is (blind) dating

It felt like eons ago since I last saw my two best friends from high school. Coincidentally, we call each other “Mars” for “Mare”, amiga or close friends, the same way my closest friends in Medicine school call each other.

April, Tere and I have been good friends for 15 years now, through thick and thin, good and bad times. April is an aspiring lawyer and currently works for the government. Tere is a mother of three and belongs to the HR personnel in SM Puerto Princesa City.

It was catch-up time with all the people we knew, yet it never felt like there was ever any gap among the three of us.

We have grown, assuming the new roles we have chosen, trying to manage our priorities, lead our personal lives, achieving our dreams. Though I personally have to allot more time for them, they never really questioned the friendship. We have taken good care of each other for fifteen years and counting. I could never be more grateful for such true friends.

Being two of my closest friends, my lovelife (or its absence thereof) has been one of the hot topics of the dinner conversation.

“Hanapan niyo naman ako ng date,” I quipped.

A few rounds of kilig shrieks after, they rummaged through their facebook accounts, searched for possible and eligible men, called up their good male friends and went on to pile a list of names in their heads as to who would be my dates.

That is what you call supportive friends.

It was such a fun time with them compiling names, racking up their brains suddenly making an inventory of their male friends for a date with me.

Nakakatawa. I am excited how this date for me would turn out. *fingers crossed*

 

Parallel Experiences

I can’t help but think, as I am experiencing my uninspired moments in Christ’s Youth in Action staff, that these moments are going to recur when I proceed to Pediatrics residency.

Contrary to popular perception, staff work is actually toxic. It is so different compared to what the students apparently see. There are a lot of stretching of the self, a lot of dying, a lot of breaking, a lot of pruning, a lot of feedback (for me, because I am stubborn) that happen in the background and away from the prying eyes of the university students. A good shattering of expectations leads me to realize romanticizing staff work is not going to work if I want to stay.

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Christ’s Youth in Action Staffers doing a Rurouni Kenshin pose in honor of Flo. Cute namin!

Not that the shattering is a bad thing. It’s part of the process. And in staff, I’m experiencing what it really is like to be a disciple of Christ. And I feel I am not even closer to the woman He has created me to be. The disciplining of the leaders in CYA staff is probably one of the most strict, yet most loving, that I’ve signed up for.

I also cannot help but think, during this seemingly lack of enthusiasm in what I do, that I’ve dealt with similar moments before.

Cases in point: Phi Lambda Delta Sorority and my internship in UP College of Medicine.

Gela with Phi Surgery
I cannot count how many little boys I circumcised. Organizing a tuli mission is one of my main jobs when I was a leader in Phi.

No need to bore you with details, but these two big decisions of my life contained my most uninspiring moments. But look what came out of it: during my term as Phi’s Sister Caritas, Milk Matters was born. Then, I was able to graduate from UP College of Medicine with awards for leadership, service and meritorious performance. I passed the Physician Licensure Exam! Goodness abound.

So as I try to find ways on how to deal with this demoted spirit in staff work, especially since BUSIER days are coming, I have three lenses I can look at that can present me rich strategies I can be creative to use: to look back and be grateful; to look forward and be ready; and to experience the present– find joy in what I do and do the things that bring me joy. (Read Colossians 3:23 Whatever you do, do it for the Lord and not for men.)

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CYA Medicine just launched out! Here I am taking a two-hour teaching off my doctor work to cater to my brothers and sister in Medicine schools. (PLM and UP Med) High yield ito ang saya! No regrets doing it kahit sobrang pagod ako after this.

I am just afraid of completely missing out on what the Lord is trying to teach me in these moments of dry inspiration. I need grace for a good sense of detachment. Another strong motivation is I just do not want to go back to the old me. Not anymore. I want to learn Your ways, Lord.

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Just because I am radiantly beautiful and happy to be here. Where I am right now. Though I know not the road ahead of me, I trust in the Lord that He will carry me through, victoriously!

Grant me faith for the future. Grant me a grateful heart. Open my eyes to see your work in me and in others.

What are You teaching me? Teach me to persevere and find joy in things that I do, even if I don’t see its fruits.

One Seed Grows

MM WDC

This is the photo of my sorority sister, Ja Verceles, as she represents Milk Matters in an annual convention in Washington, DC. Milk Matters has been selected to participate through poster presentation and in the conference for global health.

I am so proud. I cannot help but thank the Lord for the grace to actually see this happen. I am thankful, that as I look at the photo I see two blessed things: 1. To see what Milk Matters has become, that I treasure it like a child borne out of my heart, and though I have become detached from it, my love for it has been stable, steady; 2. To see that my sorority sisters are growing out of themselves and becoming a better version of themselves through service.

Six years of intensely immersing myself in service taught me to focus on the latter blessing. To invest on people. To add value to their growth by helping them maximize their strengths and work on their core passion. That, in fervent hope, as they work tirelessly and relentlessly, a change of heart happens.

That is how I show my love– through service. Amazing how it gels together, when before the Milk Matters team only set our sights on just one milk drive and see how it goes from there. The Lord makes me see His work bloom right in front of my very eyes three years after its conception. I am but His servant.

It is great to see women with such big potentials who dedicate their efforts to help the poor and the sick Filipinos.

*This is the second international conference participated in by Milk Matters. The other one is an international award and representation in China. That is aside from the many accolades it has received in University of the Philippines College of Medicine and at regional and national levels.

Seeds of Service

Featured image above is a photo of one of my baby patients when I was intern. He was my inspiration when I wrote my speech entitled “Ang Bagong EDSA.” He just slept soundly on my chest. Little did he know he was instrumental in rekindling my fire for service, which was the EDSA speech’s spirit.

From my stint in the sorority up until staff work in a Catholic movement called Christ’s Youth in Action, seeds of service has been the prominent battle cry.

I was called for the planting. Look at my photos years before I was called as a staffer/youth missionary volunteer. How eerily prophetic it sounded.

God really moves in mysterious ways. These were my sentiments during my leadership years in Phi Lambda Delta that I can relate to staff work:

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“Sometimes, you really cannot sit under the shade of the tree whose seed you just planted. You plant the seed, and trust in God that He will put it under the care of the people whose good hearts become the roots, water and air for this worthy seed to grow and flourish. Mabuti talaga ang Panginoon.”

Prophetic. The worthy seed (at that time I was talking about Milk Matters) reminds me of the mustard seed talking about the kingdom of God. Look at where I am now. Instrument being used to be one of the builders.

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Meet the OG. Original gangster of Milk Matters. This was the first meeting of the team, when MM was still an abstract yet inspiring concept.

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“Ultimately, we serve because God called us to… Nagkamali ako along the way, but I am sure hindi ako nagkulang (sa effort).” I really gave it my best shot as the service arm leader for Phi. #noregrets One of my favorite jobs in the world.

And this is my nephew, cotton ball. Meet my fluffy cotton ball.

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“fLORD”

fLORD (flÖrd) v. action word meaning to be utterly amazed and awed as witness to the Lord at work

Exactly my experience this past week.

When Dyan Castillejo (Sports Unlimited TV personality) agreed to share her message to the participants of Christ’s Youth in Action- University of Santo Tomas Rekindle, it was the Lord moving His hand in this anointed Christian Life Series.* Ms. Castillejo and I happened to be on the same floor as she was also a guest for another UST event. She approached me for directions to the restroom. Grabbing this opportunity, I asked her to share her message of encouragement to our CLS participants. And she gave one powerful testimony about God!

The blessings started two days before that. Our large penalty and principal sums in a government institution was waived. From almost two hundred thousand bucks we were now down to pay only less than fifty grand.

Then, we initiated a series of personal leadership training called, “Launch Out!” for graduating students of Industrial Engineering. Every Tuesday from 2-4pm, a sort of meta-coaching sessions will be equipping them on how to be good, compassionate and competent leaders in the workplace.

Rekindle bagged a special place in my heart. To be honest, I only expected around 10-15 participants. Ten was a good and realistic number, I thought. When the icebreaker games started, batches of students came pouring in. Athletes comprise almost a third of the participants (we reached twenty three, more than half were men), so Ms. Castillejo’s powerful testimony was the Lord’s way of shaking us up. All in all the first session of Rekindle was a message for me that this is the Lord’s work. I was a witness on how the Holy Spirit moved among us, and we were caught in its trail of fire as it ignited not just the students but the servers as well. My doubts and worries for Rekindle vanished. With that amazing display of grace, I was floored by the Lord. Nasupalpal. (I love Tagalog words they perfectly capture the strength and potency of the exact thing I was going to say.)

We ended up having a fruitful discussion, and the sisters’ lives opened up to me like sunlight breaking through a sheath of dark thick clouds. I personally felt like staff work has renewed itself once again after a wake of a struggles to the reality of being a volunteer youth missionary.

Lastly, my supposedly free day Friday turned out to be a great day indeed. I joined the PGH NICU staff in a milkletting drive in Pedro Gil area. The experience was amazing.

I assisted mothers who donated their breastmilk for the sick babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I would be carrying their babies or helping them pump the breastmilk into the sanitized containers. Pang-Pedia talaga ako.

Here are the pictures. Enjoy.

Ate Myya taking the groufie with Ms. Dyan Castillejo during Rekindle.

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Arianna and I. She wouldn’t even look at the camera at first.Gela MM1

Gela MM

This one is a bochog baby! She looks like a Trolls figure with her hair. What a happy smiling bebe bochog.

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The last picture is a proof that I am in a health center. May nagluluto ng lunch after seeing patients (so that they the health team can eat together for bonding).

*Christian Life Series (CLS) is a series of talks given by CYA on how to live a good Christian life.

**All photos with children and mommies taken and posted with permission.

In the Thick of Good Things: Siksik, Liglig, Umaapaw (Filled, Full and Overflowing)

A month ago, since my last attempt to write in this blog, a looooooot of blessings have happened that arguably changed my life goals.

That’s the thing about so many good things happening: I cannot find the time to write them. My mind is screaming for some form of legitimate decongestion.

First off the list (my favorite, too) is representing my Sorority, the Phi Lambda Delta of the UP College of Medicine, in the 12th Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations. We have emerged as the National Winner. Amazing, wonderful, awesome, joyful, glorious are an understatement of my whole TAYO experience. It is a very personal encounter with the Lord. An experience of how magnanimous Jesus is.

Then comes the LPG explosion. My thoughts about it written in the previous blog entry.

Third is my agonizing ER duty of two weeks. Only one good thing can I say about this rotation: it has boosted my confidence to execute procedures 100%. But the stress is not worth it. When one has passed through DEM, then all other rotations are much easier.

Fourth is my ongoing Surgery rotation. I have dreaded it so much. I don’t like Surgery. So I prayed to God, telling Him I am at my wits’ end, and in a point where I hate what I am doing already. I don’t like going to duty anymore. I don’t like waking up in the morning to go to the hospital. I don’t like retracting body parts and interacting with impatient, masungit doctors. Ayoko na, Lord. If you could just inspire me, to bring back the fire in my heart to do my best and love what I do.

He heard my prayer. This morning, I just had the most amazing operation with former Dean of the UP College of Medicine, Dr. Dean Roxas. Assisting him are the Chief Resident Dr. Amabelle Moreno, 3rd year resident Dr. Leona Dungca, 5th year Resident Dr. Jeff Gonzales and my lowly self. The nurse, Ma’am Jonah, is so kind. Dr. Dean Roxas was passing on his clinical pearls: techniques, skills, rules of thumb in operation. It was amazing to see the best of the country’s doctors operate on and treat a patient. I learned so much from it.

Last but not the least, I have finally decided on two of the most life-changing decisions I’ve committed my heart to: Join South UD and become an AGL. These two are my upward call from God. Include Milk Matters and those three are probably the best gifts given to me to have a decision on. In so doing, I have also decided NOT to run for Superior Sister Exemplar of the Phi Lambda Delta Sorority.

So many good things from the Lord are still in store for me. That is His promise to me during Household.

The Lord came to me in a dream and He spoke to me in all His glory. I was facing the Paranaque House, outside the gate. He told me three things:

1. There are so many wonderful and good things that will happen in your life and through your life.
2. Yes, it is He who has been giving me the dreams prior to Household.
3. He told me to know Him more, to believe in Him and trust in Him.

I am already a committed CYA member. I have been in CYA for more than a year. Looking back, I can see how God’s hand has been with me. And how glorious He is and faithful to His promises. Lord, I am eternally grateful. I am eternally yours.

(May I add: I’ve been thinking about my long-forgotten dream. I want to set up and run my own humanitarian foundation. Or work for the World Health Organization/United Nations. Maybe God can hear my prayer and be blessed with both dreams? I also want to travel and see the world. To learn from their cultures.

Also, please pray for me. I beg for the special grace of humility, to guard my heart and mind.)

On Choosing

It’s my Confirmation Day.

After 25 years of saying yes to the Lord when I was a wee babe, I now renew my vows to Him based on a conscious and active, more mature choice.

“Ikakasal ka ba, Doctora?”

A question to which I couldn’t withhold my laughter. Funny how the elder women of the PGH Chapel speculate on the reason of my “late” confirmation.

“Hindi po, nakalimutan lang ako ng mga magulang ko,” I say with a smile.

Sometimes I am so tempted to just smile at them and nod, just for the heck of it. (Out of the five Villa kids, I am the only one who haven’t undergone the sacrament yet.)

I honestly expected a whiff of what Jesus experienced when He was baptized: the heavens opened, the clouds cracked to reveal such fullness of light, and God’s voice booming like the thunder saying, “this is my beloved daughter, with whom I am well pleased,” a dove descending in all its glory, my John the Baptist (the presiding Most Reverend) pulling me from the waters of the heart’s holiness in which I was submerged…

None of those happened. At least not exactly what I was expecting to happen.

Instead, we arrived late. For me it was late, for my mother and brother who acted as proxies, we got there with plenty of time still. Those who were being confirmed must be in the Chapel by 8am. We arrived 830am. (For me, late) But the practice ceremony didn’t start yet, note Filipino time. (For mom and bro, plenty of time).

I can remember a lot of little worrisome things, like my Baptismal Certificate has not arrived yet from the ancient holy annals of a church in Jaro, Iloilo (not a little thing when its absence can effectively ruin the validity of my Confirmation). Or when my brother suddenly have to go because of an upset stomach. When I remembered that I haven’t done my patient rounds yet for the day. When I stopped myself from telling my mom that my Littman stethoscope is stolen and she might pour another 2k worth of medicine merchandise for her daughter.

Joy is really precious. I have to protect it. Especially on the day I renew my Yes to God in the most important way.

And yes, despite the temporary unavailability of the Baptismal Certificate, I am boldly declaring and claiming it: I am finally Confirmed. Confeermed, so to speak.

All I ever pray for is this: May the Lord open ever wider His righteous gate to my heart, that I may receive Him and know Him ever more deeply, ever more genuinely, ever more into Him. (And to please help me in finding that Baptismal Certificate.)

*The homily of today’s anticipated mass was about choosing. Choice. What struck me was this: “Ang Diyos hindi namimili. Hindi namimilit.”

The Craze that is CYA Prayer Meeting

*This is supposed to come out in the CYA UMC Newsletter, if Pauline and Jorem decide to include this in the first place. I am not aware of the 200-word limit. This one’s about 600 words long. Hehe

We all have our own unique stories to tell about how we are evangelized.

We have come to grow in a personal and blessed relationship with God through a persistent brother who offers free food during events; or through a random invitation by a sister to get inside Youth Center and study. It is through these incidental and seemingly common gestures through which God acts to herald the good news of salvation in our lives.

Mine started in a prayer meeting.

The daily 5PM Eucharistic Celebration at the PGH Chaplain just finished. I remembered asking the Lord, “Lord, bigyan Niyo po ako ng spiritual group.” Back then, I was at the brink of giving up on my responsibility as a coordinator of service activities for my sorority in UP College of Medicine. I was tired, bitter and frustrated, because it seemed like my efforts to improve our service activities and to inspire the people to serve were fruitless.

Father Chester Yacub, SJ, the mass presider, was the approachable type of priest. I went to him and asked if he knew of a spiritual group I could probably join.

He leaned closer and lowered his voice, as if he was going to divulge something really important. “Alam mo biased kasi ako eh. Irerecommend kita sa group ko sa UP Diliman noong college. Narinig mo na ba yung CYA, o Christ’s Youth in Action?”

I never heard of it. “Sorry,” I replied.

“Okay lang. Doon ka nalang sumali,” he smiled. He then called the attention of two people who happened to be just a few meters away from us. It was Ate Ghea Mata and Kuya Joff Quiring. The next day, I was walking hand in hand with Ate Ghea (close na kami agad!) for my first CYA activity: the Thursday prayer meeting.

That prayer meeting was still so fresh and vivid in my mind. The people were genuinely warm. They received me with such openness that my tendency to be self-conscious and run far away from YC just flew out the window.

And just watch how these people worship! They are raising their hands! They sing with great passion before the Lord! Such strangeness! They are quoting Bible verses and encouraging one another in prayer. I listen and try to join them in singing songs of praise I never heard before. The whole experience feels wonderful and weird and mysteriously attractive all at the same time.

To my surprise, Ate Ghea was the sharer for that prayer meeting. Her experience of serving relentlessly the people affected by Yolanda struck right through my tired, bitter and frustrated heart of a servant leader. God was calling me to serve Him where I am. And to serve Him with my whole heart relentlessly.

That crucial first prayer meeting was followed by many other prayer meetings and CYA activities I was blessed enough to participate in.

Up until today, these prayer meetings still touch my heart in ways that the Lord can only do. He speaks through the worship leaders, the sharers, the main speakers. He speaks through the brothers and sisters who open their mouth and proclaim the message of God.

Up until today, the people in CYA still worship God in such wonderful strangeness. This strangeness probably stems from their close personal relationship with the good God. They pray with such ardor one would think they are plain crazy.

Well, they are. They are so crazy for Jesus it’s amazing. This is the kind of craze I want to be part of. This is the kind of craze I would commit my life to. And this craze started during that one prayer meeting, when Father Chester told me to join a group I never knew existed, but is now so close to my heart.