I’ve been high for a week now.
Nope, I am not into drugs or any harmful substance. This ineffable feeling of lightness, blessedness and euphoria have gripped me after I had the Christ Pursuit Retreat last November 27 until November 29, 2009.
I have been in retreats previously but this one tops them all.
Actually, I was not supposed to join this as my boss had already planned out something for her employees. But God has a plan, too. His mighty hand worked wonders again as I was informed that out of town trip had been cancelled. Divine Intervention? You, bet it was! In fact, when I learned about it, I lifted my hand up to heaven, thanking God for His blessing. I was inside the mall that time but I couldn’t care less. I have done other spontaneous and “crazy” stuff before, all in the name of fun and jokes. My lifting my hands and doing that “Yes!” gesture were not even enough to show my appreciation to God. He answered my prayers!
Asking permission from my boss was never a very easy task. But that time, when I asked her, she said “Yes, okay” without batting an eyelash. I almost fainted. Then it struck me. God was talking to me that time through her. It was as though HE was saying: “Go Edmun. Attend. I want you to be there. You need to be there. This one’s for you.”
And so I attended the Christ Pursuit retreat filled with hope, excitement and positive vibes. It was a long ride but nothing seemed to dampen my spirit that time. The heat, traffic, thirst and hunger were all ignored. And so, I arrived safely to the beauty of a place called Saung Nini located in Puncak, Indonesia. I met the service team from Manila, who welcomed us with their smiles. Everything practically screamed “Perfect” and “touched by God.”
The first activity was the staple of retreats: the getting-to-know activity which had us all in stitches. Then, we shared our expectations. After inspiring, rejuvenating and all the other usual adjectives were said (we were not allowed to repeat an answer), the words just escaped from my mouth: “LIFE CHANGING”. In all honesty, I did not know where that came from. Other adjectives were still available but there it was: Life changing. Did God put those words on my lips?
The next day proved to be the most memorable.
Talk number one was about our journey with Christ with Brother Empoy Torres as our speaker. I was one of the sharers after the talk.
“Give me any subject and I can probably write or tell ten stories about it. I always have a story in mind. And there’s this story that I know like the back of my hand. But I have not shared it yet because it the most difficult story to tell. It is the story of my life…”
These five sentences were my introduction. And then I shared my life’s story: my humble beginnings, my life of poverty. I shared with the group how my struggles have shaped me to become who I am now. I underscored the fact that God was not a moving force in my life then. I acknowledged his presence, yes. But I did not face Him as He pursued me.
The sharing also gave me the chance to honor my mother, her struggles, her pains, her fight with cancer and her great love for me. In sentences punctuated by sobs, I shared the greatness of the woman whom I owe a lot to. However, the appreciation of how God has worked His miracle on my mother was not part of the sharing. God had been trying to inch closer to me during the darkest hours of my life, extending His hand even. I just uttered a short prayer and moved away. This had always been the case: God reaching out to me, calming the storms around me, banishing the darkness that enveloped me, shielding me from the harshness of the world. And there was I, saying a quick thank you to Him and moving away. How could I just move away from Him?
I experienced hunger, rejection and ridicule. I washed dishes, made rags, sold vegetables on the streets and helped my mother do laundry just to earn extra money. As a child my toys were cheap, my TV time was in our neighbor’s house, my school uniforms were usually wash-and-wear and my new clothes and stuff are only bought during Christmas. I had been thin, dark and ugly. I just accepted life as it was but not actually prayed for a better life. I don’t think there are shame issues attached with me being poor all my life. But I do regret having been poor in spirit.
I shared with the group that despite my “dramatic” life, I still grew up to be a very happy and cheerful person. I failed to give credit to the One who made me happy despite the seemingly insurmountable odds that came one after the other. God brought the smile on my face and gave me the ability to do the same for others. God did not give up in pursuing me. But I was still cold, still distant.
Handling relationships had not been my strongest suit, as what my brothers and sisters learned from my sharing. But my greatest failure was my inability to reciprocate, or even just to acknowledge the presence, of Him who has pursued me for the longest time. How did I not have the courage and wisdom to face my “Pursuer”?
People had easily given up on me or they grew simply tired of running after me. And I don’t blame them. I can really be stubborn, insensitive and unaware at times. But God is one relentless pursuer, I must say. I felt embarrassed to think how He must have been thirsting and yearning to embrace me, His child.
And so, in one last attempt at finally getting to me, being close to me and embracing me, He sent me to Indonesia where I gave the most memorable and meaningful “YES” I have uttered in my more than three decades of existence- my saying “yes” to join SFC. This was His invitation to me. And I did not regret responding to this call. He finally found me and for the first time, I looked His way. At this point, I wondered: How great would it have been if I accepted Him early on in my life?
As an SFC member, I learned how to praise and worship Him, communicate with him and see Him in others. Having joined SFC, I was welcomed into a community where I got to realize the true meaning of “brotherhood” and “family”. And more importantly, in the turbulence that is OFW life, He guided me like He used to. He created these precious moments of silence that gave me the chance to talk to Him and actually listen to His message for me. I became closer to Him, yes!
But “close” was not enough. Being close with somebody does not make a relationship.
And so, to finally seal our relationship, God brought me to the Christ Pursuit Retreat. He talked to me again! And in the most powerful way yet!
He spoke through Brothers Mheng and Nemboy and Sister MK. My tear ducts were in hyper mode when talks 2, 3 and 4 were given. Every sharing, every word and every thought seemed to pull at my heartstrings and probe deep into my soul.
As the retreat drew to a close, I felt so blessed and renewed. This is exactly the state I’m in, right now. I do not, and never will, claim to be perfect. But I am a work in progress.
Life changing? Too early to tell. But I already saw the fulfillment of His promise in less than a week. I was given a test and I thankfully passed it with flying (soaring!) colors.
This had been my journey. The road ahead is charged with uncertainty but I will still press on. God will never abandon me. Never did, never will.
In my brokenness, I thank God for pursuing me, accepting me and loving me unconditionally. All throughout my life’s journey, He made me feel this: I was NOT a mistake. Never was, never will.
May God be praised forever!